They came upon a river in flood, and while the Arabs sought a ford Owen went in search of blue pigeons, and succeeded in shooting several; and these were plucked and eaten by the camp fire that night, the coldest he had known in the Sahara. When the fire burnt down a little he awoke shivering. And he awoke shivering again at daybreak; and the cavalcade continued its march across a plain, flat and empty, through which the river’s banks wound like a green ribbon.... Some stunted vegetation rose in sight about midday, and Owen thought that they were near the oasis towards which they were journeying; but on approaching he saw that what he had mistaken for an oasis was but the ruins of one that had perished last year owing to a great drought, only a few dying palms remaining. Oases die, but do new ones rise from the desert? he wondered. A ragged chain of mountains, delightfully blue in the new spring weather, entertained him all the way across an immense tract of barren country; and at the end of it his searching eyes were rewarded by a sight of his destination—some palms showing above the horizon on the evening sky.
As the caravan approached the beach he caught sight of an Arab, or one whom he thought was an Arab, and riding straight up to him, Owen asked:
“Do you know Tahar?”
“Yes,” and breathing a sigh, he said he had travelled hundreds of miles in search of him—“and his eagles.”
“He left here two or three days ago for Ain Mahdy.”
“Left here! Good God!” and Owen threw up his arms. “Left two days ago, and I have come from Ain Mahdy, nearly from Tunis, in search of him! We have passed each other in the desert,” he said, looking round the great plain, made of space, solitude, and sun. It had become odious to him suddenly, and he seemed to forget everything.
As if taking pity on him, Monsieur Beclere asked him to stay with him until Tahar returned.
“We will hunt the gazelles together.”
“That is very kind of you.”
And Owen looked into the face of the man to whom he had introduced himself so hurriedly. He had been so interested in Tahar, and so overcame by the news of his absence, that he had not had time to give a thought to the fact that the conversation was being carried on in French. Now the thought suddenly came into his mind that the man he was speaking to was not an Arab but a Frenchman. “He must certainly be a Frenchman, no one but a Frenchman could express himself so well in French.”
“You are very kind,” he said, and they strolled up the oasis together, Owen telling Monsieur Beclere that at first he had mistaken him for an Arab. “Only your shoulders are broader, and you are not so tall; you walk like an Arab, not quite so loosely, not quite the Arab shuffle, but still—”
“A cross between the European spring and the loose Arab stride?”