We were lost in the desert!
THE DEATH WIND
“The fact is,” said Higgs presently, speaking with the air of an oracle, “the fact is that all these accursed sand-hills are as like each other as mummy beads on the same necklace, and therefore it is very difficult to know them apart. Give me that water-bottle, Adams; I am as dry as a lime-kiln.”
“No,” I said shortly; “you may be drier before the end.”
“What do you mean? Oh! I see; but that’s nonsense; those Zeus will hunt us up, or, at the worst, we have only to wait till the sun gets out.”
As he spoke, suddenly the air became filled with a curious singing sound impossible to describe, caused as I knew, who had often heard it before, by millions and millions of particles of sand being rubbed together. We turned to see whence it came, and perceived, far away, rushing towards us with extraordinary swiftness, a huge and dense cloud preceded by isolated columns and funnels of similar clouds.
“A sand-storm,” said Higgs, his florid face paling a little. “Bad luck for us! That’s what comes of getting out of bed the wrong side first this morning. No, it’s your fault, Adams; you helped me to salt last night, in spite of my remonstrances” (the Professor has sundry little superstitions of this sort, particularly absurd in so learned a man). “Well, what shall we do? Get under the lee of the hill until it blows over?”
“Don’t suppose it will blow over. Can’t see anything to do except say our prayers,” remarked Orme with sweet resignation. Oliver is, I think, the coolest hand in an emergency of any one I ever met, except, perhaps, Sergeant Quick, a man, of course, nearly old enough to be his father. “The game seems to be pretty well up,” he added. “Well, you have killed two lions, Higgs, and that is something.”
“Oh, hang it! You can die if you like, Oliver. The world won’t miss you; but think of its loss if anything happened to me. I don’t intend to be wiped out by a beastly sand-storm. I intend to live to write a book on Mur,” and Higgs shook his fist at the advancing clouds with an air that was really noble. It reminded me of Ajax defying the lightning.
Meanwhile I had been reflecting.
“Listen,” I said. “Our only chance is to stop where we are, for if we move we shall certainly be buried alive. Look; there is something solid to lie on,” and I pointed to a ridge of rock, a kind of core of congealed sand, from which the surface had been swept by gales. “Down with you, quick,” I went on, “and let’s draw that lion-skin over our heads. It may help to keep the dust from choking us. Hurry, men; it’s coming!”