The Village Treat

The day of the village treat at Trelliswood was fine. The vicar and several of the more active ladies of the church arrived early to help the household staff set up the amusements and the tea-tent. When the villagers from Wapping-on-the-Flume arrived all was in readieness.

After stopping by the tea-tent, to make sure that everything was under control, Lady Rose took a short walk by the greenhouses where the gardener, Mr. Brown, was showing the plants to visitors from outside the walls, he being very protective of the flora. She could just make out the words, "Lady Rose does the roses herself, of course, just like her mother. Won't let another soul touch 'em. Not the ones on the grounds, of course, too many of 'em, but the prize ones here. Got the gift, she does."

She was distracted by a sound from the house, it sounded like something breaking. Glass perhaps. Guests were not allowed up at the house, and most of the staff was out dealing with the treat.

Lady Rose turned and made her way gracefully toward the house, passing by the lawn where young Francis was just starting the three-legged race, and up the road to the house. She listened again and decided that the sound had come from the study. She moved off to the study, and looked in.

A man was there, so engrossed with rifling her father's desk that he had not detected her presence. He was a low sort of fellow, dressed in what might pass for Sunday best in London, but which was very much not the fashion in Wapping-on-the-Flume.

Lady Rose took a moment or two to quietly watch the fellow and size up the situation before she calmly asked him what he was doing there.

The man was a rough looking little creature and he had gone through her father's desk as well as he could, with little concern for order, and was now concentrating his attention on a locked drawer.

When Rose spoke, he jumped, then looked around wildly for the speaker. When he saw Rose, he made a little noise, "Eeep," then turned and raced off through the open French windows.

At that moment, Rose really wished she knew exactly where Godfrey was. But not wanting to lose sight of the intruder, she gave chase, all the while looking for someone to summon Godfrey to help give chase.

Lady Rose ran after the man, with skirts held in one hand, and gave a shout when she had breath. The man had fled toward the treat, but when the shout was given and a few faces turned toward him, he changed direction and raced instead toward the woods on the grounds. Rose saw Godfrey come out of the tea tent, and gave a halloa to him. He saw the situation in a flash and joined the chase shouting in his turn for the gamekeeper to fetch the guns.

At those words, the little man gave an extra burst of speed and soon Lady Rose and Godfrey were looking for signs of him in the woods having lost sight of him. Eventually, they were forced to conclude that he had evaded them in the woods.

"What happened, my Lady?" asked Godfrey when they gave up and sat down to rest on a log.

Lady Rose described the scene in the study, the look, dress and demeanor of the man she caught rifling through her father's things. They decided to return to the study to take a closer look at the scene to try to determine what the intruder may have been looking for.

The intruder had some definite objective in mind, that was clear. He had scorned to take several valuable objects in the room, instead concentrating his attention on the desk and various papers of Rose's father's. Diaries had been rifled, as well as notes from an expedition to the African interior which he had been planning to make into a book. The notes were from an early trip they made, about five years ago, rather than the more recent trip which was cut short because of the illness they both contracted, the illness which led to their untimely deaths.

"Now who would be interested in my father's Africa trip notes?"

"I can't really say, Mum," replied Godfrey.

"Well, let's straighten things up a bit here and rejoin the festivities," said Lady Rose.

Before she left her father's study however, Lady Rose pocketed the notes from her father's Africa trip, to peruse them later. Maybe they would provide a clue.

The Treat was a great success and Lady Rose was unable to get back to the notes until late that night. They covered a trip taken by her parents taken in 1881 and 1882. They had travelled by steamship to Nigeria and thence up the Niger river toward Lake Chad with the goal of eventually reaching the Tibesti mountains. Although the notes were extensive about the plants discovered and so forth, she was surprised to find no maps or sketches of their path. She could roughly follow their progress but details were strangely lacking.

		*		*		*		*
Although the attempted theft was disturbing, there were no further attempts, and soon Rose was back to worrying about her greenhouses. This was an especially delicate time, since her calculations indicated that almost any day now the rare Martian "Triyear Flower" would bloom. This rare plant brought back by her parents twenty years ago bloomed only once every three Martian years, or about once every six Earth years. She had been away the last time it bloomed, and did not want to miss this occassion for the world. The plant bore a single bloom at the top of its thick stem, and upon blooming gave off a rare and luxurious perfume. After three days, the bloom closes for another six years.

One day, she went into the greenhouse and smelled a strange odour. Instantly she realized that the bloom must be beginning and this was the first hints of the perfume! She raced to the plant and saw that it had not yet opened, but the bloom was not so tightly closed as once it was.

She immediately sent for her brother-in-law, Francis, Sr. - as he was a world-renowned botanist and her father's assistant (he had taken over the management of the greenhouses after Lady Rose's father's untimely death). He would want to begin the scientific observation of the plant's blossoming, as well as be present for the momentous occasion. In fact, all of the household would be interested to know that the flowering time had come.

Francis arrived in jig-time and immediately began to make notes.

Francis, Jr. arrived shortly thereafter with the photographic equipment and began to set it up, he was a keen amateur photographer and it came in handy at times like this. One by one, the rest of the family arrived as did the invaluable Godfrey.

"This is marvellous," said Francis. "I missed it the last time, you know. No one saw it save your parents, may they rest in peace."

As the minutes slipped away, the bloom opened more and more and the perfume grew stronger. "If only there were some way to preserve this aroma!" opined Francis.

Rose leaned in close to examine the bloom and noticed something odd. Inside the bloom was something that looked like ... paper? A small envelope of oiled paper?

She gasped in surprise. "What is it?" asked her brother-in-law. "Come look at this." They both peered into the developing blossom at the envelope. With a glance at Francis, who gave her a nod, Rose gently lifted the envelope out of the blossom, being careful not to damage the precious flower. She tried to see if there was any writing on the outside.

It was a simply folded piece of oiled paper with no writing on it at all. With trembling hands, the flower forgotten, Rose opened it and removed the few sheets of paper within. There was a roughly sketched map and a few pages written in her father's hand.

Beloved Rose or Janet,

if you are reading this, we are probably dead. Or we have just handed it to you after plucking it from the Three-Year Bloom and we are all having a good laugh.

In any case, we found the most astonishing thing purely by accident when we travelled to Africa. As you know, we intended to head to the Tibesti mountains to seek what plant life we could find. It seemed to us that the Southern route, through Nigeria presented fewer difficulties and so we sailed South. We travelled up the Niger to a point South of Sakati and then skirted the mountains heading to Kano. We took this route since there was war in the East around Lake Chad, a man called Rabeh is taking land. He may have fallen by now and that may be the better route.

In any case, from there we travelled by camel to the Northern End of Lake Chad where we watered the beasts and filled our own stores. Then we set off toward the mountains.

The deserts are hard travelling and we had been in the desert for a week and a half before a sandstorm blew up. Your mother and I were seperated from the rest of the party and became hopelessly lost. For a week we wandered in the desert, as our water ran slowly out. When all seemed lost, we found an oasis and were saved.

More than saved! Near the oasis, more than half buried in the sand were ruins. But what ruins! A city lurked there underneath the sand a fabulous and well preserved city. We examined the ruins as we rested and recovered.

Your mother found a bit of magnetic iron and we were able to make a crude compass.

Our fourth day there, though, we heard sounds and saw strange figures in the city. Perhaps they were nomads, perhaps something else entirely. We withdrew but scarcely had we arrived at camp when we heard the noises again, surrounding us. We mounted our camels quickly and set off.

Another week's ride due South, found us at the village of Dunaga whose people helped us to return and who told us stories of the ghost city of the desert.

We returned to Britain, resolved to outfit another expedition and return to the city to plumb its secrets.

We fear that other's may have heard of this city though and its treasures, for we have since heard other rumours about it, and it is said to be thick with riches. We therefore are hiding this map in the bloom of the flower where no one wil find it. Rose, at least, will surely be here when next it blooms if some mishap befalls us before that time.

This is our last legacy to you, if that is true, this map and the instructions we gave -- find Dunaga and ride due North an hundred miles. Find a depression, a cliff wall of rock of sorts. Descend and follow it to down, always down, and there at the low point is the oasis and the city.

Our love to you both,

Algie and Tilda

Godfrey and Rose shared a knowing look. The man in the study was rummaging through Rose's father's papers, particularly his notes from their Africa trip!

"We have not only been given a bequest, but I think a quest as well," Rose said to her sister. "Let's have a family council to discuss the contents of this letter and what, if anything, we should do about it."

That night, after a fine dinner of roast lamb, the family gathered in the study with port for Francis, and a small sherry for Rose and Janet.

The faces in the room turned expectantly to Lady Rosewater Davington, the head of the family.

Lady Rose began the discussion by relating the full details of the "Village Treat Intruder" so that all present would be familiar with that incident.

"The discovery of our parents' note in the flower has pretty much solved that mystery. Whoever it was showed interest in their Africa trip notes. Word of their discovery of the Lost City has circulated."

She continued, "Mother and father were great explorers and raised us all to be interested in the world around us. It would be against their wishes if we did not return to Africa and continue their explorations of the Lost City."

"Therefore, I have resolved that we undertake an expedition," she finished.

The family, almost en masse, raised their glasses in a cheer and hearty accord.

"I will lead the expedition, along with Godfrey. But . . ." she paused, for she knew what she would say next would disappoint many in the room. "We will be the only two family members to go. I do not want to put anyone here in harm's way. The demeanor of the intruder makes me cautious. There may be very unsavory types who would do anything to obtain the secret mother and father left us. Godfrey and I will begin preparations tomorrow."

Lady Rose was right. Her sister, brother-in-law and young Francis were particularly upset that she should undertake this expedition without another of the family along for help and support.

"I need you here, at Trelliswood, to guard the estate, the greenhouses and each other," she replied. "When Godfrey and I return, we want to return to you all, safe and sound."

It was obvious to everyone that her mind was made up. Lady Rose could be very stubborn. And everyone knew she was capable - and also safe under Godfrey's charge. They all sat down to make a preliminary list of what provisions and supplies they would need, the younger members of the family especially glad that they could participate here by suggesting useful items for the trip. Amelia made a very helpful suggestion - that the Lost City be named, so that all the family could discuss it without disclosing the actual topic to anyone overhearing - a bit like a code name, she thought.

"Wonderful," said Lady Rose. "Everyone, put on your thinking caps. The Lost City needs a proper name."

As the family discussed names for the Lost City and considered equipment, routes, and transport, Godfrey slipped quietly from the room. A moment later, he returned with a silver salver upon which rested a visiting card. "Mr. Jonathan Sanders-Davington," he announced in a loud voice.

"Sandy, here?" exclaimed Rose. "Show him in, by all means."

Godfrey nodded, "Shall I put him in the Blue Room, Miss?" Rose nodded, and Godfrey marched out to where Jonathan waited. "If you will come this way sir, the family awaits you in the drawing room."

"The family? is the clan gathered? have I missed another family emergency?"

"I'm not at liberty to say, sir," replied the faithful Godfrey. He conducted the visitor to where the family awaited. He opened the door and Jonathan Sanders-Davington swept into the room.

As he entered the room, in a strangled voice, thick with emotion, he said, "Rose, I am so dreadfully sorry about Aunt Tilda and Uncle Algie - I came as soon as I heard ..."

Johnathan tailed off as he saw the family gathered in the room; as they all stared at him he felt rather like the accused standing in the dock ...

The ever-graceful Lady rose to the occasion, extended a hand and met Johnathan by the door. "Sandy, it's been so long. You remember Janet and Francis, and the children?"

"Rose, a feast for the eyes as always - you haven't aged a day, have you?" Johnathan said as he grasped Rose's hand.

"Of course I remember Janet and Francis," Johnathan began as he strode across the room and shook Francis Sr's hand, "But the children! My how they've grown - and aren't there two more? It is fourteen years since my last visit after all."

Janet spoke, "You remember Francis, Jr., but you may not have ever met Aemilia and Geoffrey. Children come and meet your cousin Jonathan."

"Of course I remember Francis Jr. and I have a present for him in my bags; as for Aemilia and Geoffrey - I'm sure I'll be able to rustle up something in the morning"

The children stood forth to be inspected as Rose asked, "Jonathan, have you dined? Godfrey, ask Cook to prepare a plate for Mr. Sanders-Davington."

"That would be capital Rose! I came on the first train from London after the Aerial Liner arrived and missed any dinner; tell me is Mrs Slocombe still the cook? she made a fabulous spotted dick"

"She is, and she still does. Her Jenny is Janet's Lady's maid now. Mr. Slocombe passed on a few years back, poor man, so we've got a new stableman," Rose said.

Rose returned to her seat, "It is strangely fortuitous that you should have arrived at just this time, Sandy. But I'm sorry, perhaps you are tired and would rather eat and rest now, and hear all this tomorrow. It is not terribly urgent and will wait."

"Yes, I think that would be best, Rose. You know I can never think properly on an empty stomach - it distracts me far too much" replied Johnathan

"Then by all means, eat, and tell us of your adventures in Africa," said Rose. A moment later, Godfrey arrived with a tray upon which rested a plate laden with cold meats, pickle and bread; a glass and a bottle of beer; and sufficient flatware.

"Godfrey," said Rose, "I think the rest of us will have coffee, and perhaps a small amount of cake and jam for the children."

"I will take coffee, Aunt Rose," said Francis, Jr., very much on his dignity.

Soon, all were settled in and listening to Jonathan's tales.

He began, after he had eaten, with how he took his first lion on the Veldt north of Capetown, and how that lead to the the adventure with the Mad Zulu Withc-Doctor.

This, naturally, lead to the attack by Hippos on the waters of Lake Victoria and that, of course lead into the tale of the Bull Elepephant on the slopes on Mt Killmanjaro. Just as he began to regale them with the story of his encounter with the Masaai Warriors, Johnathan noticed the drooping heads of the children, and interrupted himself, thus, "But that, I'm afraid is a story for another day - along with how my good friend Allan Quatermain found the mines of King Solomon. For now I am far too tired to continue and think it almost time to retire."

"Indeed," said Rose. "We will tell our tale tomorrow after breakfast."

Janet roused the children and took them to bed, Rose departed as well, but Francis produced a pair of cigars, "Care to take a turn in the garden before we turn in?"

"Splendid idea Francis! Nothing settles the spirit like a spot of tobacco and fresh night air, I've found. Damnably hard to find on Mercury, though!"

The men walked about the grounds for a few minutes, chatting about the weather and the flora, before Francis said, "I'm glad you're here, old man. Rose has gotten a wild idea in her head and is about to run off again. I won't say anymore, we'll be talking about it after breakfast, but I do hope you can convince her to let you go along."

"Well you know Rose. If she's decided I can't then neither hell nor high water will let me go with her - but I promise you I'll follow her in that situation!" said Johnathan most emphatically.

After Francis took his leave, Johnathan stood awhile on the terrace contemplating the grounds of Trelliswood and his myriad happy memories of the place.

"I'll not let Rose down like I did her parents ..." he murmured quietly to himself, before turning to go back to the house and his bed. As he did so the moonlight reflected briefly on the tear slowly rolling down his cheek ...

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