Page:Oliver Spence.djvu/37

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meeting with anything but the traditional burning sand and blistering stones, until, almost without warning, they found themselves in hilly country, and green growths began to show between the interstices of the stones. As the explorers ascended, the air grew cooler, and the glare of the sun on the soil less painful to the eyes. Soon the travellers were astonished and delighted to observe what appeared to be human habitations in the far distance. The explorers proceeded, and could hardly believe their eyes when they found themselves walking along a rustic road, with smiling fields, and picturesque houses and cottages, the invitingly open doors of which, seemed to offer lavish hospitality to the hungry and weary travellers. The houses and fields appeared to be deserted, however, and although the travellers called a halt, and cooeed, no answer was received. Exhausted nature could hold out no longer, and the travellers marched into one of the largest of the houses. There was no one within. The first chamber in which they found themselves was apparently a sort of reception-room, although there were none to receive them. It was furnished in a quaint, comfortable style, which, to the travellers, seemed vaguely familiar. They threw themselves into the roomy arm-chairs, and rested and waited. Still no host. There were several open doors leading to other chambers, so at last they determined to explore the house still further. They passed into another chamber and found themselves in a large dining-hall, containing several tables covered with fruit, bread, and what looked like wine; they soon found that it was wine, light, but good. the fruits were luscious, the bread sweet and milk-flavoured. Having made sad havoc with the edibles, and eaten their fill, our burglars passed out into the road again. They had been walking about fifteen minutes when they heard, O joy of joys! the splashing of water and voices speaking in what seemed to be the English language. They rushed hastily in the direction of the sound, and who shall paint their astonishment when they he held a fine blue lake, in which were a number of young men and women bathing, chatting and laughing together, apparently supremely unconscious of any possible impropriety in their conduct.

The strangers soon attracted the attention of the bathers, and at once an old man, who had been sitting smiling at the sportive gambols of the young people, came forward, and with an expression of astonishment, not unmixed with alarm, upon his honest, aged face, inquired of the strangers, in very excellent, courteous English, whence they had come. In a few words the strangers informed their interrogator that they formed a party fitted out by the Australian Government for the purpose of exploring the Great Sandy Desert. The old man listened attentively, but not without some apparent uneasiness.

Meantime the arrival of the intruders had abruptly put an end to the aquatic sports of the swimmers. They left the water and first drying their bodies with, some pieces of a white, soft material, which were strewn about the bank, leisurely proceeded to clothe themselves in loose, scanty garments of the same material. That work completed, they stood around in graceful attitudes, awaiting the attention of the Elder, as he was called.