“Hold on tight, Maka,” he cried, and then, taking hold of the African’s shoulders, he gave one mighty heave, lifted both men, and set them on their feet beside him.
Ralph would have willingly sacrificed the rest of his school-days to be able to perform such a feat as that. But the Africans were small, and the captain was wildly excited.
Well might he be excited. He was wet! The strange man whom he had pulled up had stumbled against him, and he was dripping with water. Ralph was by the captain, tightly gripping his arm, and, without speaking, they both stood gazing before them and around them.
At their feet, stretching away in one direction, farther than they could see, and what at first sight they had taken to be air, was a body of water—a lake! Above them were rocks, and, as far as they could see to the right, the water seemed to be overhung by a cavernous roof. But in front of them, on the other side of the lake, which here did not seem to be more than a hundred feet wide, there was a great upright opening in the side of the cave, through which they could see the distant mountains and a portion of the sky.
“Water!” said Ralph, in a low tone, as if he had been speaking in church, and then, letting go of the captain’s arm, he began to examine the ledge, but five or six feet wide, on which they stood. At his feet the water was at least a yard below them, but a little distance on he saw that the ledge shelved down to the surface of the lake, and in a moment he had reached this spot, and, throwing himself down on his breast, he plunged his face into the water and began drinking like a thirsty horse. Presently he rose to his knees with a great sigh of satisfaction.
“Oh, captain,” he cried, “it is cold and delicious. I believe that in one hour more I should have died of thirst.”
But the captain did not answer, nor did he move from the spot where he stood. His thoughts whirled around in his mind like chaff in a winnowing-machine. Water! A lake in the bosom of the rocks! Half an hour ago he must have been standing over it as he scrambled up the hillside. Visions that he had had of the morrow, when all their eyes should be standing out of their faces, like the eyes of shipwrecked sailors he had seen in boats, came back to him, and other visions of his mate and his men toiling southward for perhaps a hundred miles without reaching a port or a landing, and then the long, long delay before a vessel could be procured. And here was water!
Ralph stood beside him for an instant. “Captain,” he cried, “I am going to get a pail, and take some to Edna and Mrs. Cliff.” And then he was gone.
Recalled thus to the present, the captain stepped back. He must do something—he must speak to some one. He must take some advantage of this wonderful, this overpowering discovery. But before he could bring his mind down to its practical workings, Maka had clutched him by the coat.