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
“A nice little boy held a golden ewer,
Embossed, and filled with water as pure
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 Ventvoegel 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.
“What is it?” we exclaimed; and rising simultaneously we went to where he was standing staring at the sand.
“Well,” I said, “it is fresh Springbok spoor; what of it?”
“Springbucks do not go far from water,” he answered in Dutch.
“No,” I answered, “I forgot; and thank God for it.”
This little discovery put new life into us; for it is wonderful, when a man is in a desperate position, how he catches at the slightest hope, and feels almost happy. On a dark night a single star is better than nothing.
Meanwhile Ventvoegel was lifting his snub nose, and sniffing the hot air for all the world like an old Impala ram who scents danger. Presently he spoke again.