Page:Lake Ngami.djvu/373

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365
SAND-WELLS IN THE DESERT.

reptiles; and, in some places, the wallowing of elephants and rhinoceroses had converted it into a substance not unlike a mass of well-kneaded dough, heaving with insect life, and tinted and variegated by the stains of larger animals. Yet we drank, or rather gulped it with avidity!

We encountered also a vast number of "sand-wells," varying from one to three fathoms in depth, with an average diameter at the top of twenty feet. The construction of these pits indicated great perseverance and skill, and had evidently been formed by a pastoral people possessed of large herds of cattle. No European would have ever dreamed of looking for water in such localities, since it usually lay ten feet below the surface of the ground, which gave no indication whatever of its presence. Not having been used or kept in repair for many a long year, several were partially filled with sand, but the greater portions were still in tolerable order. They contained no standing water, but plenty of moisture; and, by inserting a reed—the plan adopted by the Bushmen when the liquid will not flow—enough to quench a person's thirst was generally obtained. Elephants had been at work in many, but were clearly disappointed.

About sunset we came to a large vley where a troop of elephants had evidently only a short time previously been enjoying themselves. This circumstance put my men on the qui vive; and my Griqua interpreter, who was one of the most chicken-hearted of beings, took good care to magnify the danger of encountering these animals at night. He declared that it was absolutely necessary to come to a halt; but this did not suit my purpose at all. I assured my men that elephants, if left unmolested, were very timid and civil beasts, and that, no doubt, if we met them and only gave them room to pass, they would in all probability treat us with equal courtesy. This having in some degree quieted their apprehensions, we proceeded till about nine o'clock, when we unloaded the tired oxen and camped for the night.