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Chapter XI

Containing an Account of Our March across the Great Desert.

THE mountain path along which we strode ran, for about a mile, sheer up the valley of the hills, at a width of from a hundred and sixty to a hundred and seventy feet. It was a rough, uneven way, composed for the most part of big, loose stones, over which we found progress neither easy nor pleasant. This proved extremely provoking, for, at a distance, the road appeared as smooth as though it had been paved with white asphalt. However, the end came at last, and a curious one it was, consisting, as it did, of an immense white wall, fully a hundred feet high, which presented so abrupt a termination that at the first glance we imagined it an impassable barrier. Fortunately we were wrong in our surmises, for to the right of us we discovered a narrow opening into which Dick immediately plunged, Jimmy and I following. Burdened as we were with things, we found the ascent arduous in the extreme, for it was no less an undertaking than that of mounting the precipitous sides of the great wall. But as it was imperative that we should mount it, we took things in the most workman-like fashion, and after half-an-hour's severe straining found ourselves arrived at the wished-for height in safety. Then we threw ourselves upon the ground with a sigh of relief and partook of some breakfast, of which we were much in


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need, and after devoting half-an-hour to a smoke, we hoisted our swags and once more pushed forward.

This new road was almost as difficult to travel as its predecessor, and swift progress was consequently an impossibility. Nevertheless we advanced at a fairly decent rate, still passing up the valley of the hills, for by this way alone we felt sure old Morton had intended us to journey. The only difficulty we had of choosing our road on this occasion was when we suddenly emerged upon the base of a hill and stood not knowing whether to steer to the right or left, but the right being the larger valley of the two, we entered it after a few moments' consideration. And well it was we did so; for not alone did it turn out to be the proper one, but after going a short distance we struck a very easy pathway, at the bottom of which a small clear stream flowed merrily along. Yet much vexation of spirit was caused us as we discovered alps rising upon alps, as the poet puts it. But, thank heaven, there is an end to all things, even to the height and breadth of mountains, and just before sundown we had the extreme felicity of finding ourselves at the very top, for to the westward, or right before us, the hills began to slope.

We decided to camp there that night and begin the descent in the morning. In the meantime the sky appeared so heavy and threatening that we began to look about us for shelter. Both Jimmy and Dick declared it was going to rain in torrents, and that unless we discovered some refuge we should have a very disagreeable time of it. This salutary warning stimulated our energies, and a great hole being perceived some twenty feet up the side of a jagged wall, Jimmy was relegated aloft to explore. Upon his shouting that it was the very place, Dick and I ascended, and found ourselves in a kind of cave about twelve feet in width and as many in depth—just large enough for us to stretch ourselves at ease.

We had not been ensconced in this airy retreat many minutes before a most terrific clap of thunder shook the mountain to its very foundation. It was followed by peal


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after peal in rapid succession, till the whole place trembled and swayed like a ship at sea. Then the lightning flashed in huge vivid flames, illuminating the sudden darkness with a weird and terrible splendour, bathing the far-off mountain peaks with blinding clouds of fire, and playing before the entrance of our cave in a sort of ghostly glee as though delighted at the inconvenience it was creating. Such a wild world of fire it had never been my lot to see before. One could easily imagine that the gates of the infernal regions had been thrown open, and all the hideous fire contained therein let loose upon the world.

Then the rain splashed down, big, solitary drops at first, as it falls in tropical regions. But the drops soon grew to a deluge, and fell in such vast quantities as to make one quite believe that the Supreme Being had repented of his promise. How it roared and hissed! The noise was so deafening that it was impossible to hear each other speak. Stones, torn by the force of the rain from their resting-place on the side of the mountain, rattled unceasingly before the entrance of our cave, till, with a noise like the crack of doom, a huge mass of the mountain gave way, and precipitated itself so violently before us that, for several seconds, we thought our end had come. Our rocky retreat shook so fiercely that we instinctively clutched the wall for support, expecting every moment some dire calamity.

But the storm was too violent to last long, and, as is the case in these regions, a couple of hours afterwards the moon came out and there was not a vestige of the wild hurricane seen in the sky. Had it not been for the sudden coolness of the air, and the roar of the flood water as it rushed foaming down the rocky valleys, no soul would ever have guessed that so short a time ago the wildest elements of nature had raged so furiously.

Next morning, after passing a most comfortable night, we descended from our airy perch and proceeded on our way. The storm water had already run itself dry in the gully beds, and above, the sun was shining as though nothing unusual had occurred during his visit to the


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people in the northern world. The rocks and soil were slippery, but that, merely causing a little more precaution, interfered not with the swiftness of our descent.

All that day we pushed rapidly on till night-fall, when we camped. We suffered so extremely with the cold that night—our clothes being entirely unsuited for anything in the way of chilly weather—that we were glad to see day-break and feel the first rays of the warm sun.

About noon on the same day we came into a world of vegetation, which was so unusual a sight that I could scarcely credit my senses. The farther we proceeded the thicker grew the trees and grass. Down the centre of the valley we were now treading flowed a small stream, and we wondered if this was one we were to follow till it led us to the river that “lost itself in the sand.”

Later on the descent became more steep and the ground more slippery and damp, causing us to be extremely cautious in our movements. Around us grew numerous small ferns, which, the farther we descended, grew gradually larger till we were in the midst of a true gully of ferns, a veritable fairy picture. Above us, a mass of gold and green, stretched the beautiful broad fronds, creating a canopy that almost excluded the light of the sun. Down, down, by the side of musical waterfalls, deeper and deeper we got, the ferns becoming larger and larger and the light from the blinding sun less and less. The change was so great from what we were accustomed to that had I awakened in this spot I should have had no difficulty in convincing myself that I had shuffled off this earthly coil and had left a world of misery for one of marvellous beauty. At our feet whirled the small bright stream which, like a streak of silver, shot over the dark rocks or darted from beneath a bridge of leaves, singing as merrily as the Brook of Tennyson.

I was enraptured with the beauty of the fairy-like spot and imagined many things which were both foolish and fanciful. We, however, had no time to dwell on its romantic beauties. Our duty was to get out of it before


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the night came on, for the place, to say the least of it, was shockingly damp, and thoughts of rheumatism and ague fretted our ignoble souls. At last, after many slips and falls, all of which were of no consequence, we emerged once more upon open ground and saw before us a huge valley, at the bottom of which rushed a considerable stream of water.

“That's the river,” said Dick. “Our duty is to follow it to the end. We need fear nothing now.”

“Wonderful,” I replied. “The ways of Providence are truly inscrutable. We could not have come more direct had we known every inch of the way.”

“Then you have no more doubts of the existence of the Golden Lake?” queried he, significantly.

“I own you have the laugh of me, Dick; but I always flattered myself that I was a very practical sort of fellow.”

“And yet you came on such a journey as this?”

“Well, to tell you the truth, I never thought it would resolve itself into anything but a hunting expedition. I own up to being wrong and am now converted.”

We descended to the bed of the valley and continued our march along the side of the river. Dick whistled and sang in evident glee, while I smoked more complacently than had been my wont for many a day. We shot a couple of wild ducks that evening, and on arriving at a fit place camped, and Jimmy prepared for us an admirable supper. We three were now in excellent health and spirits and fully confident of reaching the Golden Lake, which I may at once say I was no longer a misbeliever in. I had seen too many real proofs to doubt its existence. To have remained callous under such circumstances would have been absurd, and I now entered as heartily into our undertaking as I before had indifferently.

The next eight days were of the most enjoyable description, that is, by comparison with our former joyless existence. We had followed the river for about twenty miles and had at last come into a country magnificently wooded, grassed, and literally stocked with game. Not more welcome to the


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Israelites of old was their promised land than this splendid stretch of country to us. Here we pitched our camp, and as our larder required replenishing, Dick and I passed the time in easy explorations and bagging game. Jimmy rarely went with us on our shooting expeditions, taking more delight in remaining in camp preparing the provisions and stuffing to his heart's content. His cooking was truly wonderful, and his ingenuity quite enough to make a professional cook eat his nails with envy. No lack of articles baulked his good intentions. One day he gave us a sort of bread made from roots he had collected and pounded between two granite stones, which, though it tasted a trifle earthy, was such excellent eating that we ordered him to prepare two or three pounds of it for use on the journey. Another day he served up a dish of boiled rushes, which he also collected on the bank of the river, and which, though not quite possessing the flavour of asparagus, made a capital substitute for that vegetable, and added a decided flavour to the wild turkey we were then eating. Countless other dishes, which it is not necessary to enumerate, but which he seemed to manufacture from absolutely nothing, adorned our primitive board. He was a perfect jewel of a companion, a priceless black pearl.

At length the time came for us to resume our way once more, and we pursued the course of the river for the best part of two days, at the end of which period the country again presented a desolate face, nothing but a few scanty shrubs and some black bare rocks meeting the view. But we were all in excellent health, thanks to the good food and long rest, and nothing daunted with the prospect before us, we pushed rapidly on.

By degrees the river dwindled down and down till it came to a sudden stop in a sheet of water not more than twenty yards long and as many wide, and so extremely shallow that we could see the bottom quite distinctly. To the west, or on the desert side of this pool, which was so insignificant an ending to the great mountain torrent we had followed so long, rose three black, spire-shaped rocks,


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looking for all the world like so many solemn sentinels guarding the sacred waters of the vanquished river.

“These must be the Three Brothers,” said Dick, looking towards the great rocks, “but where old Morton saw the resemblance is beyond me.”

“He evidently gave them that name,” I replied; “not for their resemblance to each other, but because they are the only rocks hereabout. I own I should have preferred a likeness—not that brothers necessarily resemble each other—though it would have seemed more within the consistency of things if there had been the ghost of a similarity. But after the Great White City, we cannot speak too highly of Morton's nomenclature.”

We camped that night at the foot of the Middle Brother, and before the sun had risen next morning over the great grey hills, in our rear, we had once more begun our mighty march. We steered due west, for Morton had said that he had steered east from the waterhole in the desert, and that such a course had brought him straight up to the Three Brothers. Each man had sufficient food to last him about six days, but of that we thought but little, well knowing that the scarcity of water would be our one great trouble. With care, we could count on three, or perhaps four days' supply, and in that time we hoped to cover ninety miles at least. I doubt if we ever should have gone forth so badly equipped had we not known that Morton had crossed before, and what he had done we most decidedly felt capable of accomplishing. Besides, it was too late to think now. We had got ourselves into an unenviable predicament and there were only ourselves to get us out. Hardwicke kept on asserting that the farther west we got the more would the country improve, and I thought he might be right, well knowing that he could not be very far wrong.

The ground over which we went, though barren of the tiniest blade of grass, was firm beneath the feet, so that we strode along at a good swinging pace. All that day the sun beat fiercely down upon us, scorching the very flesh


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beneath our clothes, causing unspeak able inconvenience, but preventing not our excellent progress.

Soon after we had left the Three Brothers we saw the reason of their name. Looking at them from the desert they were as like each other as though they had been sculptured with an especial object. Beyond a little irregularity in their size—the centre one being much the taller of the three—they were as like as so many peas, and brothers they must have seemed to poor old Morton who found at their base such a quantity of precious water. We waved the three great silent stones a last good-bye and set our faces once more towards the regions of the setting sun.

We walked full thirty-five miles that day, and ceased only when the red sun had sunk some three hours in the desert. The break of day saw us again journeying onwards, and we had accomplished many miles before the god of light had attained his intensest heat. Then, being thoroughly done up, we called a halt and did not attempt to push on till the blazing ball of fire had begun to rush down the western slopes of the sky, when, shouldering our swags once more, we walked far into the middle of the night. We pursued the same tactics on the following day, and as a consequence got on extremely well, for so great was the heat during five or six hours of mid-day that we should have exhausted ourselves had we attempted to continue the march during that time.

On the evening of the fourth day we finished our supply of water, and mine were not enviable feelings at that moment. Around us, as far as the eye could see by the fast dying light, stretched the great, brown, dreary desert, as uninviting and forbidding as the jaws of the grave. No hill, shrub, tree, or stone rose out of the great, flat, melancholy waste to break its dreadful monotony. It was the one sombre, barren prospect; a sea of sand, cheerless and terrible, without an end or beginning.

That night we resumed our march, Dick first, I following, and Jimmy bringing up the rear. Like three spectres we


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glided on beneath the bright moonlight and the millions of stars that hung like glittering jewels in the air. We spoke little, and that little was not comforting. What consolation can speech give to men in such an extremity? We talked of our unfortunate position, of the dreadful sameness of the country, of our chances of discovering the water Morton had so miraculously found, till at last the conversation broke down completely, and we marched on in moody silence. Once we stopped and sank a well in what seemed to be a likely place, but we had not the good fortune to discover water, Dick remarking that if there was any thereabouts, it was far too deep for us to hope to reach it.

We tramped on till three o'clock the following morning, when, being thoroughly dead-beat, we flung ourselves upon the sand, utterly wretched, and almost dying of thirst. Indeed, the thought flashed through my mind, as I threw myself log-like to the earth, that it would matter but little if I never rose again.

We slept but a short time, the rays of the sun and the burning thirst within forbidding the luxury of such sweet forgetfulness. With difficulty I managed to force two or three mouthfuls of food down my throat, but to eat was impossible. I wanted to drink, drink, nothing but drink. Like people fleeing from some evil, we once more shouldered our swags, and struck out across the burning sand. No sign was there of mountains, no cloud in the sky, no blade of grass that we might even chew. It was one vast, deadly desolation, over which the spirit of woe had sown the seeds of despair.

The day crept on, slowly it seemed, dreadfully, horribly slowly. The sun mounted its meridian, pouring on our devoted heads the concentrated rays of all his power. Then he began to sink, sink, lower and lower, flooding the ghastly plain with a sea of blood-red fire, lighting its hideousness as with the flames of hell. The whole wide world seemed ablaze. Earth and air met in one magnificent conflagration, almost overpowering with its intenseness the soul that gazed upon it. Then the fierce light gradually died away,


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changing from red to pink, and pink to yellow, and yellow to green with incredible swiftness, till the east had grown to glimmering pearl, and in the west the cloud of fire was gradually losing itself in the bosom of the air. Then of a sudden it broke as if by magic, and away up in the sky we saw pleasant mountains, and cool-looking valleys, and broad, blue lakes, fringed with edges of gold. Spellbound and fascinated we stood surveying the wonderful scene, and while yet we gazed the picture passed away, and the cold, unpitying stars came out, and night, with the swoop of an eagle, spread her dark pinions over the earth.

We had now been more than twenty-four hours without water, and felt so acutely our thirst, and the great exertions we had undergone, that our walk was little better than an ungainly shuffle. Yet on we pushed, how I scarcely know, the same grim silence prevailing. We had not the heart to talk, even if there had been an interesting subject at hand. Even the weird and beautiful sunset, though it had stamped itself ineffaceably on my mind, called up no exclamation. I gazed upon it in silence, I passed on in silence, following like a spectre in the tracts of my cousin Hardwicke. No word he spoke, but ever and anon he would turn his head to see if we were following, and wave his hand, and then swing on again. It was an awful journey. My throat became so sore that on attempting to force some food down it, I inflicted upon myself such misery that I inwardly vowed I would endeavour to eat no more, and I thought then of the rich man in hell crying for a drop of water, and I wondered how the angels could refuse to give it.

We walked, as on the preceding night, till our strength gave out completely, and then, weary, despairing, and hopeless, with more of death than life in our bodies, we flung ourselves upon the sand, and tried to read our future in the stars. Our future—that, alas, was plain enough; and it was a dreadful thing to contemplate that we should die in the very prime of our manhood, die for a drop of water. But what else was there to look forward to? Hope


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there was none. Even God's influence on this spot seemed as barren as the barren sand. I had made up my mind that we would die that night, and I tried to gaze upon death with philosophical indifference; asked myself what mattered a few years more or less on earth. Death was the certain goal of life, and in the grave, perhaps, was the end of all. And then visions of youth, and life and love flew, as it were, before the eyes of my brain, and I grew furious with my direful fate, and arose in my agony, shouting incoherently, but the stars shone on unchanged, and the cold, placid moon looked down, freezing me with her stare.

Sleep came not near us that night. The long dreary hours were passed in fitful dozes. Whenever my eyes shut and slumber dazed my senses, the vision of a crystal stream of water would present itself before me, flowing along so cool and merrily as to turn the great brown desert through which it passed into a more than heavenly paradise. Yet when I knelt to drink I could not force the water through my lips into the burning throat that literally gasped for its cool touch, and in the struggles incident to the attempt I would awake and wish that I were dead. Dick spoke little of his sufferings, but his cheeks had grown thinner, his eyes more sunken, and his general aspect gaunt and wild. Jimmy, brave little man, was the least affected, through being, I suppose, more used to privations than either my cousin or I, and troubling himself not one whit with the curse of thought. He was nevertheless in a most wretched plight. His tongue, almost hanging from his mouth, had become swollen and black as his face, while his bloodshot eyes resembled two round balls of fire. Yet he never complained, and when he was aroused from slumber (for he seemed to sleep well enough) sprang up with avidity.

A slight dew fell that night which somewhat damped our clothes, so we took them off and wrung them over the billy-can, thereby hoping to accumulate a few drops of water, but in that we were doomed once more to disappointment, and were forced to press our swollen tongues upon the damp clothes to gain a moment's relief.




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Once more we trudged upon our weary way, but this time all vitality was gone from the springing step and, like drunken men, we staggered along. Then out came the blazing sun scorching our flesh and confusing our brains, and still no break in the endless plain, no sign of a rain-cloud in the misty, burning blue. But from the far-off north-lands the fiery breeze tore down upon upon us, burning the skin till it cracked and peeled from our faces, and whirling into our eyes and parched-up throats clouds upon clouds of red-hot sand. I could have given up the journey without a pang, could have contentedly laid down, like a tired child, and passed into the great unknown; but Dick, who now walked beside me, seeing the look upon my face, wound his arm round mine, and gazing entreatingly into my eyes, pointed westward with his other hand.

Finding it impossible to proceed in our horrible condition, under so fierce a sun, we were forced to rest for many hours during the middle of that day. We rigged up a sort of triangular tent with the two rifles and gun as supports and a rug for the roof, while a second one we transformed to a curtain, which hung down on the sunny side. It offered, in a kind of primitive way, a very fair protection, but the wind arising shortly after, blew the whole construction down, and as other attempts to fix it failed, we were constrained to sit baking in the sun, enduring all the agonies of the damned, till Hardwicke motioned us to once more journey on.

I obeyed, as did Jimmy, though every spark of hope and interest in life had died out of my breast, leaving nought behind but a dead, dull langour. We staggered on, and on for it was not walking, and the sun went down in a sea of fire as before, and the stars came out, and the moon sailed on, and the wind came roaring over the great black desert, yet on we staggered, we three; on, on, till Nature refused her aid, and I fell senseless to the earth.

When I awoke, the east was beginning to lighten with the coming day. I felt frightfully cold and ill, and on stretching out my hand found that my clothes were completely saturated,


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and on dropping my hands again to my sides I felt, to my great astonishment, the touch of wet grass. In a moment I had turned on my face and buried it in the yellow herbage, which was covered with a thick dew. I tore it up in handfuls and pressed it into my cracked and parched-up mouth. Poor as it may appear it was a foretaste of heaven, and I felt new life and hope come back. Then I remembered my companions, and found them stretched a few yards distant, apparently dead. But dead they were not, though how any of us remained alive was a miracle, and I awoke them by pressing some of the dew from the grass between their swollen lips. At first Hardwicke gazed dreamily upon me, then at the grass in my hand, and then around him, and a new light beamed from his bloodshot eyes, and he sprang quickly to his feet.

He then collected a large handful of the spongy yellow grass, motioning Jimmy and I to do the same. This he rubbed carefully over the dew-laden earth and then squeezed it, as you would a sponge, over the billy-can, and to my surprise it actually yielded several drops of water. I now saw the drift in an instant, and set to work in good earnest, as did Jimmy, and in a little over an hour we had the can, which held about three pints, full of water. By that time the sun had arisen, and every glistening drop had evaporated under its rays.

Who can imagine the pleasures of that drink—ah, who? Only he who like ourselves has been dying of thirst. The first mouthful hissed on my burning tongue as water hisses when thrown against some heated metal. I felt that I could drink a gallon, but as our allowance (about a pint each) had been served out, I dared not consume more than half of it, though a desperate temptation seized me to do so.

“Well,” said Dick huskily, for though the liquid had loosened his throat he could not yet speak distinctly, “Fate does not throw much in our way, but when she does she can't say that we refuse to take advantage of it.”

“No,” I answered in a similar tone. “But that was a rare idea of yours, Dick. I should never have thought of it.”




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“The idea was not exactly mine, old fellow,” he answered. “It is said that Eyre once saved his life by a somewhat similar process. He was the first explorer, you know, who ever crossed from east to west. As soon as I saw the damp grass in your hand, the story I had heard came back to me, and I beheld a way of escape.”

“True, we have warded off the inevitable, but for how long?”

“Who can say?—perhaps till we die, like decent old people, in our beds. You shake your head. I shook mine last night, because I began to doubt Providence, but you see how little I knew. We have water enough here for another day. Who can tell what the next twenty-four hours may not bring forth? Before the sun sets to-morrow night we may have reached the Golden Lake.”

It was no use prolonging the topic, for Dick, when he pleased, was as argumentative as any fellow I ever knew, so I asked him abruptly what he thought of our position as regards the well old Morton had found.

“We have passed it, wherever it is,” he answered; “so we must expect nothing in that quarter. Chance led him to it and led us by, which reminds me that we had better push on before the sun becomes too oppressive.”

He evidently wished to talk as little as possible of our painful position, and as I was in no mood to prolong so spiritless a subject, I readily acquiesced with his suggestion, and, shouldering our swags, once more we turned our faces westward and trudged rapidly off.

Most strange and wonderful is the inner man, and most astonishing is the effect a little refreshment has upon it. Our spirits rose a hundred per cent., and a new activity seemed to have taken lodgment in our heels. We swung along with something of the old vigour, for the black cloud of despair was fringed with a tiny silver rim, and hope, faint, but still hope, was once more in the ascendant. We halted about noon, the sun being too hot to travel under, nor did we begin our journey again till he had lost all his power and was beginning to sink beyond the distant


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horizon. Then we walked on and on through the calm bright night, munching the food as we went, and washing it down with sips of water. We journeyed far into the best part of that night, then flung ourselves once more upon the sand and slept feverishly on till daybreak, when we arose with weary spirits and continued our dreary march. The privations and suffering we had undergone were now beginning to play sad havoc with my constitution. I trembled so violently that I feared I was going to be seized with the ague or some other formidable form of disease, though I breathed no word of suspicion to my cousin, knowing that if such should be the case what extra worlds of pain it would cause him. The thought was too horrible to contemplate. Had I really fallen ill, I think I should have blown my brains out.

That morning the last drop of precious water was consumed, and yet no mountains loomed up to meet the view. We were all unfitted for another severe struggle with fate, our previous privations being so great as to totally debar us from attempting to combat fiercely with adverse fortune. Fate seemed to take a hideous delight in thwarting us. Our misery had been extreme enough, God knows! and yet the black cloud of evil destiny seemed as though it gloated in the intense gloom it had spread over the landscape of our lives. The hot sun poured its fierce rays upon us with redoubled vigour, as though glad of the opportunity it possessed of tormenting the hearts that had been bold enough to pierce the regions over which it had held unchallenged sway since the world began.

How we lived through that day I cannot tell. I was conscious of staggering on and on, how I knew not. Before my eyes swam many strange sights, while in my ears a thousand bells seemed clanging a hideous discord. The hot sun scorched me through and through. My tongue grew too big for my mouth. I tried to speak but was conscious only of uttering some unintelligible sound. And to add horror to horror, away up above us, circling round and round in the terrible burning blue, were two great


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vultures. Ever and anon would they scream loudly as though impatient of our respite from death, yet kept they straight above our heads and always the same great distance. Dick eyed them, but spoke no word. He took the shotgun from Jimmy and loaded it, but the great things gave him no opportunity to shoot, and we were forced to march on, on, greeted every now and again with a hoarse caw from the vampire birds above.

By degrees the sun went down. I watched it sink lower and lower into the far-off west, leaving a great wide cloud of fire in its wake, but I no longer gazed upon it with interest. I only wished to lie down and sleep. Then Dick seized my arm and pressed his flask to my lips, and I remember I drained it mechanically. It was only a mouthful, but, like some wondrous elixir, it brought me back to life, and I read his action in his eyes. He had given me his last drop.

Brave heart, brave Dick! Eternity shall never blot from my soul the love and gratitude that your great heartedness has engraven there.

It was long into the night before we fell utterly exhausted upon the yielding sand—to die. We had battled hard against fate, but fate had conquered. I commended my soul to God as I closed my eyes that night, for I felt certain they would never open again on earth. And yet they did, and I looked up and saw that the sun had arisen, and felt that my sleep had actually refreshed me. Above still soared the two great vultures, though they were closer, if anything, than they had ever been before. For a time I lay watching their wonderful, horrible movements, fascinated by their inimitable grace on the wing, and the dreadful ideas that associated them with ourselves. And as I pictured a fate too horrible to even write, the great birds uttered a hoarse caw. It sounded like a diabolical laugh, a laugh that told of victory secured. I shut my eyes to hide their dreadful forms, and all my nerves palpitated violently. Then, like one dazed, I sat up and tried to think, and as my brain wandered listlessly over many things, lacking the concentrated power of deep thought, I happened


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to turn to the westward and almost fell back with sudden astonishment, for straight before me I perceived a long, low chain of mountains.

I looked again and saw it, then rubbed my eyes and saw it again; and lest I was yet dreaming, I shut my eyes for a little space and then opened them, and still the hills were there. It was no dream, no illusion. We had come up with them during the night. The Golden Lake was close at hand, and the great journey was over at last.

I awoke my companions.

“The mountains—the mountains!” I shouted hoarsely, excitement lending me the power of utterance. “We are saved—we are saved!”

Dick and Jimmy bounded to their feet, the former trembling like a boy with excitement, and the latter looking with open-mouthed wonder at the scene. Intense was the gaze my cousin fixed on the blue outline of the hills. His breath came quickly, and all his frame denoted an eagerness I had never seen before. Then he turned to me.

“Yes, yes,” he gasped; “it is the mountains, Archie; it it is the mountains. Thank God we are saved, we are saved!” And I thought he would have broken down with very joy. His hollow eyes shone with the brilliancy of diamonds, while the red blood rushed in torrents to his haggard cheek. No other word was spoken, but with the frenzy of madmen we seized our swags, utterly regardless of the devil-birds above, the burning thirst within, and rushed staggering on towards the goal that had loomed at last.

Excitement lent us such great energy that we bounded madly along; for had we not come to the mountains—the mountains that held everything, even life itself?

Suddenly Hardwicke seized me by the arm, and pointing away to the southward whispered hoarsely in my ear—

“Look, Archie, look! The One Tree Hill!

Yes, there it was, the great bare mount standing out in bold relief from among its fellows, and upon its massive brow there stood a solitary tree.




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A feeling of infinite joy rushed through me, and I thanked that power which had so miraculously guided our footsteps over the dreary waste.

Towards the great hill we now steered. How we got over the ground I cannot attempt to tell. On, on we went, swaying, staggering, and at times almost falling; yet on, on, moved by some vital impulse, some power which is beyond me to analyse. And then I have but dim remembrances of what passed, till we rested and a handful of water was thrown in my face, and a flask put to my lips.

We had reached the goal and were saved.

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