All around the table faces fell, and Trystan was unable to smother a slight groan. Father shook his head. “No, no, I do not mean that you will not be going. Your mother and I will stay home, and Jethro will drive you there, with Mr. Hudson and Miss Brooks, and wait for you after you have toured the desert room. They have both agreed to stay over the extra day, before leaving for their well-earned holiday.”
“Oh, splendid!” Trystan exclaimed. “I am sorry mother is ill, she will be well again soon, won’t she?”
“Yes, son, I am sure she will be well in a day or so. If not, I will call in Doctor McGregor, and he will cure her. I think it is mostly that she is just over tired from the trips we have made. When I am certain that she is well rested, we will all go and see the second floor of the Pleasure Dome. I understand it is the most amazing, awe inspiring part of the whole building. So after today, we will take a rest of perhaps a week before we go back.” As they left the table, Lancelot murmured “Omni bene, Sine poena, Tempus est ludendi; Venit hora, Absque mora, Libros deponendi.”
Trystan heard him and asked “What was that?”
“It’s a little Latin poem we boys say at the end of the school year. Roughly translated to English, it’s:
All is well,
The time is for playing;
Comes the hour,
For laying books down.”
“Oh, I like that. I will remember it, and say it too, when I go to your school.” Trystan grinned.
“Well, here we are, children,” Miss Brooks said. “Remember to stay together, and be quiet as we tour the facility.”
Mr. Hudson shook his head. “It’s not like touring a museum or art gallery, Miss Brooks. These rooms seem to be many miles in size, and somehow they are able to keep each visiting group invisible to all others. But I do hope you will all stay reasonably close, children. That way we can talk about what we see, and you can see how much you can identify yourselves.” Mr. Hudson was forty, about 5’8”, very slightly paunchy from not enough exercise, and with dark, receding hair and brown eyes. He was a good tutor, and the children liked him. He was always ready to laugh and often told them jokes.
Miss Brooks sniffed. She was a very prim and proper schoolmarm type, small and slender, and always dressed in a mannish style. Her blonde hair was done in a severe knot at the back of her head, and Trystan for one didn’t think she even knew how to smile, never mind laugh. She was a good tutor, but boring. “I’m sure you know what you’re speaking of, Mr. Hudson. Still, I do expect the children to behave with decorum.” She looked at each one, then turned and led them through the door.
Once they entered the desert room, they were struck by the arid heat. What they saw were salt flats, sandstone and sand dunes, with no sign of life. No wonder this part of the Sahara was called The Land of Terror!
“Let’s walk to that high dune,” Mr. Hudson pointed. “Perhaps there is something more interesting on the other side.” They worked their way across a salt flat, then to the dune. It really took some effort to climb the dune, but when they reached the top, they could see an area that was not as arid. There were trees!
“Look!” Trystan said and pointed. “There’s a date palm, and a tamarisk. I don’t know the others.”
They slipped and slid down the side of the dune. There were some flowering plants, though none of them could name them. As they walked, they passed other trees, and the land became more populated. They seemed to be moving much faster than they were actually going. Somehow the landscape seemed to be flowing past.“Probably done with electricity” Trystan opined.
They were in an area now where there was some drainage, where there was enough rain to make Oases possible. At first, they had to be careful of small life forms; they saw scorpions, scarab beetles, skinks, chameleons and one cobra.
They reach an oasis with several date palms and a well with a small pond. They were so hot by then that Miss Brooks insisted that they take a short rest, have a cool drink and splash their faces with water. Trystan managed to get the neck of his shirt wet, and Miss Brooks tut tutted and worried about the harm wearing a damp shirt would do.
“Nonsense!” Mr. Hudson said. “In this heat, it will dry quickly, and will help cool him as it does.” They rested for a short while then moved on. Soon they saw larger forms of life.
“Look!” Trystan shouted, “An Ostrich!”
Miss Brooks shushed him, but Mr. Hudson asked if they knew anything about Ostriches. “They can’t fly,” Trystan told him.
“They are the largest bird in the world, and though they can’t fly, their legs are strong.” Lancelot said. ”They can sprint up to up to forty three miles an hour, and can cover thirty one miles in an hour. A single stride can cover ten to sixteen feet. Their legs can also be formidable weapons. Ostrich kicks can kill a human or a potential predator like a lion. Each two-toed foot has a long, sharp claw. They use their wings as a rudder to help turn while running.”
“Well, Lance, you have certainly been paying attention to your lessons,” Mr. Hudson said.
The others commented on how strange the Ostrich was.
“Look,” Clarissant said,” birds!”
“Secretary birds and Bustards, I think,” Linette said. “Do you suppose the secretary birds take notes at bird meetings?” she giggled, and the others laughed.
There were more interesting animals, hyenas, gazelles, sand fox and even a jackal before they rounded a hill and came to the door. They went out into the hall, and sighed. “I am sad and happy we are through the desert,” Clarissant said. “I’m sad, because it was so interesting, and happy because even though today is warm, it’s a lot cooler than it was in there.”
“Yes,” Miss Brooks said. “It was extremely hot in there; I do not think I would ever travel to the desert. I am exhausted by the heat.” She looked it, her face shiny with perspiration, and her crisp shirt collar limp and damp, stray hairs clinging damply to her forehead.
“I think,” Mr. Hudson said, “we should go to the tea room and rest and cool off. Miss Brooks certainly needs it, and I am sure do the rest of us do too. Perhaps they will have some cold sarsaparilla to help us cool down.”
This suggestion was greeted with cheers, and they all made their way to the tea room. Mr. Hudson ordered sandwiches and sarsaparillas for himself and the children, but Miss Brooks insisted on a nice cup of tea. They relaxed and talked about the desert, and the other rooms they had seen in the Pleasure Dome. An hour later, rested and much cooler and more comfortable, they went out to find Jethro waiting, and enjoyed the ride home.
“I hope mother is feeling better,” Clarissant said. The others agreed. They loved her and were worried about her, even when they were enjoying their outing.