There was only a fifty-yard run of the green patch free of boulders, so I just had to make a good landing. I went round again, and put the plane down in the best landing I ever made. It rolled to a standstill among the first stones. I at once turned off the petrol cock, struggled out of the cockpit, and shuffled with dragging feet into the shed. It was an open shed, built over a pumping engine, and the wind sighed mournfully through it. Another shed, six feet square, stood over a fireplace. This one was made from the sides of petrol tins, which creaked and clanked dismally in the wind. It was a bleak, solitary spot in the twilight. I felt the ashes, and fancied they had heat in them, perhaps from a fire of two or three days before and my heart bounded, until I realised that it might be due to the heat of the day. The flies were terrible; I had never seen so many flies before.
They crawled ceaselessly over my eyeballs, filled up my ears, and each time I forgot and opened my mouth (which I did frequently, for my tongue felt swollen and stuck unpleasantly to the roof of my mouth) they flew in. They tickled my tongue horribly, and I had to blow them out. Next, I looked at the mud-like water in the square water hole. I stirred the soft bottom with a stick, but it made no difference to the colour. I was parched with thirst, but decided not to drink till I had boiled the water. At first I could not find the wonderful road, where I hoped that lorries or cars would be passing. At last I found where it sprang out of the plain from nothing. This was queer, and after walking along it for 100 yards without finding any signs of traffic whatever, I felt that it was too much to take in, dismissed the whole thing from my mind, and turned back. I collected some chips and twigs and a piece of paper from the cockpit to start a fire going, the effort making my knees tremble. I rested before fetching more chips, and two logs. Then I scooped a half gallon tin of water out of the pool, and hung it over the fire.
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I lifted the tail of the Gipsy Moth to move it to a more sheltered position, because the wind was strong, but I had lost the strength to move it that way, so I fished out some rope and, fastening it to the tail skid, I pulled the plane towards the shed with a series of jerks. It took me half an hour to shift the plane a distance that should have taken half a minute. At first, when I panted I swallowed flies. Mercifully, after dark they vanished. By the time that I had got the plane in the lee of the shed, I felt done. As I moved towards the fire the roaring in my ears ceased, and a black film seemed to cover my eyes until the fire faded away to a pin-point in the distance. I dropped on the ground and rested. I was exhausted and in a panic – at being lost – panic-struck so abjectly that I was disgusted with myself. I was lost, true; in bad country, true; I had no petrol, true; but compared with what might have been, I was well off. So I reasoned with myself, but it was no use.
I was so ashamed of this panic that at last I made a great effort, and determined to dismiss it from my mind until I had slept. I fetched wood for the fire, taking several rests on the way. I drank some of the Chianti I had brought from Tripoli, but it tasted nasty. I dragged out the rubber boat, pumped it half full, turned it upside down, flopped on it, and fell asleep at once. When I woke half the water had boiled away. I stood it in a corner, tilted it in the hope that the mud would settle, then half filled another can. It was only fifteen or twenty yards from the fire to the water hole, but I took spells all the way. I dipped in the top of my vacuum flask, and drank the boiled water as it cooled. It tasted like nectar. I finished it all, except for some mud and slime at the bottom. I could not eat anything. Now and then I heard a slight rustle among the wood chips beside me, so made an effort and fetched a torch to see if it was a snake. I could find nothing. I drank nearly half a gallon of water from the next lot when it was cool enough. Every few hours through the night I woke and drank again. In spite of this I was still thirsty in the morning. It was about 6 o’clock when dawn came, and I lay indolently on my back watching the sky, or rather the haze, change colour from dark to light grey.
I ran over all the data of the last flight, thinking over each item of evidence, and going through all the movements one by one, a mental dead reckoning. Had I overshot Camooweal? I imagined it an isolated blob of buildings in the centre of a featureless plain. Had I crossed to the north of the track from Alexandra to Camooweal? It seemed a likely thing to happen in the haze, flying low while I was distracted by the instrument board for a few seconds. I felt too tired to move until a buzz reminded me of the plague of flies. Then I jumped up, fetched the map from the plane, and began reckoning the details of last night’s flight. I plotted all my movements carefully, one after the other. There was one discrepancy I could not understand. The water bore after Alexandra was shown on one of the maps, but I seemed to have reached it much sooner than I should have done. I had to let that pass. I made allowance for the drift on each of the courses flown, and in the end I reckoned that I was now 10 miles west of Camooweal.
Then I thought of petrol. The gauge showed empty, but the plane was tail down. I shook the plane by one wing, and I could hear a splash in the tank. I decided to measure it exactly. I fished out a hat and a shirt, and buttoned the shirt over the hat, so that only a small aperture was left open in front. It was rather difficult to see wearing this affair, but it kept most of the flies away; they disliked entering the shaded opening. I walked round the water hole and studied all the tracks visible. There were a number of old motor vehicle tracks coming in from different directions from the east, but they all stopped at the water hole. There were cattle tracks from the south and south-west. The track of a shod horse cheered me up, but it was two or three days old. Suddenly I spotted the fresh tracks of a wagon, and got excited. I followed them gaily, but my enthusiasm was short-lived; after fifty yards I found that I had been following the tracks of my own aeroplane.
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