King Solomon's Mines HTML version
6. Water! Water!
Two hours later, that is, about four o'clock, I woke up, for so soon as the first heavy
demand of bodily fatigue had been satisfied, the torturing thirst from which I was
suffering asserted itself. I could sleep no more. I had been dreaming that I was bathing in
a running stream, with green banks and trees upon them, and I awoke to find myself in
this arid wilderness, and to remember, as Umbopa had said, that if we did not find water
this day we must perish miserably. No human creature could live long without water in
that heat. I sat up and rubbed my grimy face with my dry and horny hands, as my lips and
eyelids were stuck together, and it was only after some friction and with an effort that I
was able to open them. It was not far from dawn, but there was none of the bright feel of
dawn in the air, which was thick with a hot murkiness that I cannot describe. The others
were still sleeping.
Presently it began to grow light enough to read, so I drew out a little pocket copy of the
"Ingoldsby Legends" which I had brought with me, and read "The Jackdaw of Rheims."
When I got to where
As any that flows between Rheims and Namur,"
literally I smacked my cracking lips, or rather tried to smack them. The mere thought of
that pure water made me mad. If the Cardinal had been there with his bell, book, and
candle, I would have whipped in and drunk his water up; yes, even if he had filled it
already with the suds of soap "worthy of washing the hands of the Pope," and I knew that
the whole consecrated curse of the Catholic Church should fall upon me for so doing. I
almost think that I must have been a little light-headed with thirst, weariness and the want
of food; for I fell to thinking how astonished the Cardinal and his nice little boy and the
jackdaw would have looked to see a burnt up, brown-eyed, grizzly- haired little elephant
hunter suddenly bound between them, put his dirty face into the basin, and swallow every
drop of the precious water. The idea amused me so much that I laughed or rather cackled
aloud, which woke the others, and they began to rub their dirty faces and drag their
gummed-up lips and eyelids apart.
As soon as we were all well awake we began to discuss the situation, which was serious
enough. Not a drop of water was left. We turned the bottles upside down, and licked their
tops, but it was a failure; they were dry as a bone. Good, who had charge of the flask of
brandy, got it out and looked at it longingly; but Sir Henry promptly took it away from
him, for to drink raw spirit would only have been to precipitate the end.
"If we do not find water we shall die," he said.
"If we can trust to the old Dom's map there should be some about," I said; but nobody
seemed to derive much satisfaction from this remark. It was so evident that no great faith
could be put in the map. Now it was gradually growing light, and as we sat staring
blankly at each other, I observed the Hottentot Ventvogel rise and begin to walk about
with his eyes on the ground. Presently he stopped short, and uttering a guttural
exclamation, pointed to the earth.