It was dawn on the following morning before we sighted the oasis, whither we could travel but slowly, since, owing to the lack of camels, two of us must walk. Of these two, as may be guessed, the Sergeant was always one and his master the other, for of all the men I ever knew I think that in such matters Orme is the most unselfish. Nothing would induce him to mount one of the camels, even for half-an-hour, so that when I walked, the brute went riderless. On the other hand, once he was on, notwithstanding the agonies he suffered from his soreness, nothing would induce Higgs to get off.
“Here I am and here I stop,” he said several times, in English, French, and sundry Oriental languages. “I’ve tramped it enough to last me the rest of my life.”
Both of us were dozing upon our saddles when suddenly I heard the Sergeant calling to the camels to halt and asked what was the matter.
“Looks like Arabians, Doctor,” he said, pointing to a cloud of dust advancing toward us.
“Well, if so,” I answered, “our best chance is to show no fear and go on. I don’t think they will harm us.”
So, having made ready such weapons as we had, we advanced, Orme and the Sergeant walking between the two camels, until presently we encountered the other caravan, and, to our astonishment, saw none other than Shadrach riding at the head of it, mounted on my dromedary, which his own mistress, the Lady of the Abati, had given to me. We came face to face, and halted, staring at each other.
“By the beard of Aaron! is it you, lords?” he asked. “We thought you were dead.”
“By the hair of Moses! so I gather,” I answered angrily, “seeing that you are going off with all our belongings,” and I pointed to the baggage camels laden with goods.
Then followed explanations and voluble apologies, which Higgs for one accepted with a very bad grace. Indeed, as he can talk Arabic and its dialects perfectly, he made use of that tongue to pour upon the heads of Shadrach and his companions a stream of Eastern invective that must have astonished them, ably seconded as it was by Sergeant Quick in English.
Orme listened for some time, then said:
“That’ll do, old fellow; if you go on, you will get up a row, and, Sergeant, be good enough to hold your tongue. We have met them, so there is no harm done. Now, friend Shadrach, turn back with us to the oasis. We are going to rest there for some days.”
Shadrach looked sulky, and said something about our turning and going on with them, whereon I produced the ancient ring, Sheba’s ring, which I had brought as a token from Mur. This I held before his eyes, saying:
“Disobey, and there will be an account to settle when you come into the presence of her who sent you forth, for even if we four should die”—and I looked at him meaningly—“think not that you will be able to hide this matter; there are too many witnesses.”