In Search of the Castaways
Part 3 out of 11
Paganel's surprise became absolute stupefaction.
The Major and his cousin exchanged sly glances, and McNabbs
said, mischievously, with a look of fun on his face, "Ah, ah,
my worthy friend; is this another of your misadventures?
You seem to have quite a monopoly of them."
"What!" said Paganel, pricking up his ear.
"Yes, it's clear enough the man speaks Spanish."
"Yes, he certainly speaks Spanish. Perhaps it is some other language
you have been studying all this time instead of--"
But Paganel would not allow him to proceed. He shrugged his shoulders,
and said stiffly,
"You go a little too far, Major."
"Well, how is it that you don't understand him then?"
"Why, of course, because the man speaks badly," replied the
learned geographer, getting impatient.
"He speaks badly; that is to say, because you can't understand him,"
returned the Major coolly.
"Come, come, McNabbs," put in Glenarvan, "your supposition
is quite inadmissable. However DISTRAIT our friend Paganel is,
it is hardly likely he would study one language for another."
"Well, Edward--or rather you, my good Paganel--explain it then."
"I explain nothing. I give proof. Here is the book I use daily,
to practice myself in the difficulties of the Spanish language.
Examine it for yourself, Major," he said, handing him a volume in a
very ragged condition, which he had brought up, after a long rummage,
from the depths of one of his numerous pockets. "Now you can see
whether I am imposing on you," he continued, indignantly.
"And what's the name of this book?" asked the Major, as he took
it from his hand.
"The LUSIADES, an admirable epic, which--"
"The LUSIADES!" exclaimed Glenarvan.
"Yes, my friend, the LUSIADES of the great Camoens,
neither more nor less."
"Camoens!" repeated Glenarvan; "but Paganel, my unfortunate fellow,
Camoens was a Portuguese! It is Portuguese you have been learning
for the last six weeks!"
"Camoens! LUISADES! Portuguese!" Paganel could not say more.
He looked vexed, while his companions, who had all gathered round,
broke out in a furious burst of laughter.
The Indian never moved a muscle of his face. He quietly awaited
the explanation of this incomprehensible mirth.
"Fool, idiot, that I am!" at last uttered Paganel. "Is it really a fact?
You are not joking with me? It is what I have actually been doing?
Why, it is a second confusion of tongues, like Babel. Ah me!
alack-a-day! my friends, what is to become of me? To start for India
and arrive at Chili! To learn Spanish and talk Portuguese! Why, if I
go on like this, some day I shall be throwing myself out of the window
instead of my cigar!"
To hear Paganel bemoan his misadventures and see his
comical discomfiture, would have upset anyone's gravity.
Besides, he set the example himself, and said:
"Laugh away, my friends, laugh as loud as you like; you can't
laugh at me half as much as I laugh at myself!"
"But, I say," said the Major, after a minute, "this doesn't alter
the fact that we have no interpreter."
"Oh, don't distress yourself about that," replied Paganel, "Portuguese
and Spanish are so much alike that I made a mistake; but this
very resemblance will be a great help toward rectifying it.
In a very short time I shall be able to thank the Patagonian
in the language he speaks so well."
Paganel was right. He soon managed to exchange a few words with
the stranger, and found out even that his name was Thalcave, a word
that signified in Araucanian, "The Thunderer." This surname had,
no doubt, come from his skill in handling fire-arms.
But what rejoiced Glenarvan most was to learn that he was
a guide by occupation, and, moreover, a guide across
the Pampas. To his mind, the meeting with him was so providential,
that he could not doubt now of the success of their enterprise.
The deliverance of Captain Grant seemed an accomplished fact.
When the party went back to Robert, the boy held out his arms
to the Patagonian, who silently laid his hand on his head,
and proceeded to examine him with the greatest care, gently feeling
each of his aching limbs. Then he went down to the RIO,
and gathered a few handfuls of wild celery, which grew on the banks,
with which he rubbed the child's body all over. He handled him
with the most exquisite delicacy, and his treatment so revived
the lad's strength, that it was soon evident that a few hours'
rest would set him all right.
It was accordingly decided that they should encamp for the rest of the day
and the ensuing night. Two grave questions, moreover, had to be settled:
where to get food, and means of transport. Provisions and mules were
both lacking. Happily, they had Thalcave, however, a practised guide,
and one of the most intelligent of his class. He undertook to find
all that was needed, and offered to take him to a TOLDERIA of Indians,
not further than four miles off at most, where he could get supplies
of all he wanted. This proposition was partly made by gestures,
and partly by a few Spanish words which Paganel managed to make out.
His offer was accepted, and Glenarvan and his learned friend started
off with him at once.
They walked at a good pace for an hour and a half, and had to make
great strides to keep up with the giant Thalcave. The road lay
through a beautiful fertile region, abounding in rich pasturages;
where a hundred thousand cattle might have fed comfortably.
Large ponds, connected by an inextricable labyrinth of RIOS,
amply watered these plains and produced their greenness.
Swans with black heads were disporting in the water,
disputing possession with the numerous intruders which
gamboled over the LLANOS. The feathered tribes were of most
brilliant plumage, and of marvelous variety and deafening noise.
The isacus, a graceful sort of dove with gray feathers streaked
with white, and the yellow cardinals, were flitting about
in the trees like moving flowers; while overhead pigeons,
sparrows, chingolos, bulgueros, and mongitas, were flying
swiftly along, rending the air with their piercing cries.
Paganel's admiration increased with every step, and he had nearly
exhausted his vocabulary of adjectives by his loud exclamations,
to the astonishment of the Patagonian, to whom the birds,
and the swans, and the prairies were every day things.
The learned geographer was so lost in delight, that he seemed hardly
to have started before they came in sight of the Indian camp,
or TOLDERIA, situated in the heart of a valley.
About thirty nomadic Indians were living there in rude cabins made of
branches, pasturing immense herds of milch cows, sheep, oxen, and horses.
They went from one prairie to another, always finding a well-spread
table for their four-footed guests.
These nomads were a hybrid type of Araucans, Pehu-enches,
and Aucas. They were Ando-Peruvians, of an olive tint, of medium
stature and massive form, with a low forehead, almost circular face,
thin lips, high cheekbones, effeminate features, and cold expression.
As a whole, they are about the least interesting of the Indians.
However, it was their herds Glenarvan wanted, not themselves.
As long as he could get beef and horses, he cared for nothing else.
Thalcave did the bargaining. It did not take long. In exchange
for seven ready saddled horses of the Argentine breed, 100 pounds
of CHARQUI, or dried meat, several measures of rice, and leather
bottles for water, the Indians agreed to take twenty ounces of gold
as they could not get wine or rum, which they would have preferred,
though they were perfectly acquainted with the value of gold.
Glenarvan wished to purchase an eighth horse for the Patagonian,
but he gave him to understand that it would be useless.
They got back to the camp in less than half an hour, and were hailed with
acclamations by the whole party or rather the provisions and horses were.
They were all hungry, and ate heartily of the welcome viands. Robert took
a little food with the rest. He was fast recovering strength.
The close of the day was spent in complete repose and pleasant talk
about the dear absent ones.
Paganel never quitted the Indian's side. It was not that he was
so glad to see a real Patagonian, by whom he looked a perfect pigmy--
a Patagonian who might have almost rivaled the Emperor Maximii,
and that Congo negro seen by the learned Van der Brock,
both eight feet high; but he caught up Spanish phrases from
the Indian and studied the language without a book this time,
gesticulating at a great rate all the grand sonorous words
that fell on his ear.
"If I don't catch the accent," he said to the Major, "it won't
be my fault; but who would have said to me that it was a Patagonian
who would teach me Spanish one day?"
CHAPTER XVI THE NEWS OF THE LOST CAPTAIN
NEXT day, the 22d of October, at eight o'clock in the morning,
Thalcave gave the signal for departure. Between the 22d and 42d
degrees the Argentine soil slopes eastward, and all the travelers
had to do was to follow the slope right down to the sea.
Glenarvan had supposed Thalcave's refusal of a horse was that
he preferred walking, as some guides do, but he was mistaken,
for just as they were ready, the Patagonian gave a peculiar whistle,
and immediately a magnificent steed of the pure Argentine breed
came bounding out of a grove close by, at his master's call.
Both in form and color the animal was of perfect beauty. The Major,
who was a thorough judge of all the good points of a horse, was loud
in admiration of this sample of the Pampas breed, and considered that,
in many respects, he greatly resembled an English hunter.
This splendid creature was called "Thaouka," a word in Patagonia
which means bird, and he well deserved the name.
Thalcave was a consummate horseman, and to see him on his prancing
steed was a sight worth looking at. The saddle was adapted to the two
hunting weapons in common use on the Argentine plains--the BOLAS
and the LAZO. The BOLAS consists of three balls fastened together
by a strap of leather, attached to the front of the RECADO. The Indians
fling them often at the distance of a hundred feet from the animal
or enemy of which they are in pursuit, and with such precision
that they catch round their legs and throw them down in an instant.
It is a formidable weapon in their hands, and one they handle
with surprising skill. The LAZO is always retained in the hand.
It is simply a rope, thirty feet long, made of tightly twisted leather,
with a slip knot at the end, which passes through an iron ring.
This noose was thrown by the right hand, while the left keeps fast
hold of the rope, the other end of which is fastened to the saddle.
A long carbine, in the shoulder belt completed the accouterments
of the Patagonian.
He took his place at the head of the party, quite unconscious of
the admiration he was exciting, and they set off, going alternately
at a gallop and walking pace, for the "trot" seemed altogether
unknown to them. Robert proved to be a bold rider, and completely
reassured Glenarvan as to his ability to keep his seat.
The Pampas commenced at the very foot of the Cordilleras. They may be
divided into three parts. The first extends from the chain of the Andes,
and stretches over an extent of 250 miles covered with stunted trees
and bushes; the second 450 miles is clothed with magnificent herbage,
and stops about 180 miles from Buenos Ayres; from this point to the sea,
the foot of the traveler treads over immense prairies of lucerne
and thistles, which constitute the third division of the Pampas.
On issuing from the gorges of the Cordilleras, Glenarvan and his band
came first to plains of sand, called MEDANOS, lying in ridges like waves
of the sea, and so extremely fine that the least breath of wind agitated
the light particles, and sent them flying in clouds, which rose and fell
like water-spouts. It was a spectacle which caused both pleasure and pain,
for nothing could be more curious than to see the said water-spouts
wandering over the plain, coming in contact and mingling with each other,
and falling and rising in wild confusion; but, on the other hand,
nothing could be more disagreeable than the dust which was thrown off
by these innumerable MEDANOS, which was so impalpable that close one's
eyes as they might, it found its way through the lids.
This phenomenon lasted the greater part of the day.
The travelers made good progress, however, and about four
o'clock the Cordilleras lay full forty miles behind them,
the dark outlines being already almost lost in the evening mists.
They were all somewhat fatigued with the journey, and glad
enough to halt for the night on the banks of the Neuquem,
called Ramid, or Comoe by certain geographers, a troubled,
turbulent rapid flowing between high red banks.
No incident of any importance occurred that night or the following day.
They rode well and fast, finding the ground firm, and the
temperature bearable. Toward noon, however, the sun's rays were
extremely scorching, and when evening came, a bar of clouds streaked
the southwest horizon--a sure sign of a change in the weather.
The Patagonian pointed it out to the geographer, who replied:
"Yes, I know;" and turning to his companions, added, "see, a change
of weather is coming! We are going to have a taste of PAMPERO."
And he went on to explain that this PAMPERO is very common
in the Argentine plains. It is an extremely dry wind which blows
from the southwest. Thalcave was not mistaken, for the PAMPERO blew
violently all night, and was sufficiently trying to poor fellows
only sheltered by their ponchos. The horses lay down on the ground,
and the men stretched themselves beside them in a close group.
Glenarvan was afraid they would be delayed by the continuance of
the hurricane, but Paganel was able to reassure him on that score,
after consulting his barometer.
"The PAMPERO generally brings a tempest which lasts three days,
and may be always foretold by the depression of the mercury,"
he said. "But when the barometer rises, on the contrary,
which is the case now, all we need expect is a few violent blasts.
So you can make your mind easy, my good friend; by sunrise
the sky will be quite clear again."
"You talk like a book, Paganel," replied Glenarvan.
"And I am one; and what's more, you are welcome to turn over my leaves
whenever you like."
The book was right. At one o'clock the wind suddenly lulled,
and the weary men fell asleep and woke at daybreak,
refreshed and invigorated.
It was the 20th of October, and the tenth day since they had
left Talcahuano. They were still ninety miles from the point
where the Rio Colorado crosses the thirty-seventh parallel,
that is to say, about two days' journey. Glenarvan kept
a sharp lookout for the appearance of any Indians, intending to
question them, through Thalcave, about Captain Grant, as Paganel
could not speak to him well enough for this. But the track
they were following was one little frequented by the natives,
for the ordinary routes across the Pampas lie further north.
If by chance some nomadic horseman came in sight far away,
he was off again like a dart, not caring to enter into conversation
with strangers. To a solitary individual, a little troop of
eight men, all mounted and well armed, wore a suspicious aspect,
so that any intercourse either with honest men or even banditti,
was almost impossible.
Glenarvan was regretting this exceedingly, when he unexpectedly met
with a singular justification of his rendering of the eventful document.
In pursuing the course the travelers had laid down for themselves,
they had several times crossed the routes over the plains in common use,
but had struck into none of them. Hitherto Thalcave had made no
remark about this. He understood quite well, however, that they
were not bound for any particular town, or village, or settlement.
Every morning they set out in a straight line toward the rising sun,
and went on without the least deviation. Moreover, it must have
struck Thalcave that instead of being the guide he was guided;
yet, with true Indian reserve, he maintained absolute silence.
But on reaching a particular point, he checked his horse suddenly,
and said to Paganel:
"The Carmen route."
"Yes, my good Patagonian," replied Paganel in his best Spanish;
"the route from Carmen to Mendoza."
"We are not going to take it?"
"No," replied Paganel.
"Where are we going then?"
"Always to the east."
"That's going nowhere."
Thalcave was silent, and gazed at the geographer with an air
of profound surprise. He had no suspicion that Paganel was joking,
for an Indian is always grave.
"You are not going to Carmen, then?" he added, after a moment's pause.
"Nor to Mendoza?"
"No, nor to Mendoza."
Just then Glenarvan came up to ask the reason of the stoppage,
and what he and Thalcave were discussing.
"He wanted to know whether we were going to Carmen or Mendoza,
and was very much surprised at my negative reply to both questions."
"Well, certainly, it must seem strange to him."
"I think so. He says we are going nowhere."
"Well, Paganel, I wonder if it is possible to make him
understand the object of our expedition, and what our motive
is for always going east."
"That would be a difficult matter, for an Indian knows nothing
about degrees, and the finding of the document would appear
to him a mere fantastic story."
"Is it the story he would not understand, or the storyteller?"
said McNabbs, quietly
"Ah, McNabbs, I see you have small faith in my Spanish yet."
"Well, try it, my good friend."
"So I will."
And turning round to the Patagonian he began his narrative,
breaking down frequently for the want of a word,
and the difficulty of making certain details intelligible
to a half-civilized Indian. It was quite a sight to see
the learned geographer. He gesticulated and articulated,
and so worked himself up over it, that the big drops of sweat
fell in a cascade down his forehead on to his chest.
When his tongue failed, his arms were called to aid.
Paganel got down on the ground and traced a geographical map on
the sand, showing where the lines of latitude and longitude cross
and where the two oceans were, along which the Carmen route led.
Thalcave looked on composedly, without giving any indication
of comprehending or not comprehending.
The lesson had lasted half an hour, when the geographer left off,
wiped his streaming face, and waited for the Patagonian to speak.
"Does he understand?" said Glenarvan.
"That remains to be seen; but if he doesn't, I give it up,"
Thalcave neither stirred nor spoke. His eyes remained fixed on the lines
drawn on the sand, now becoming fast effaced by the wind.
"Well?" said Paganel to him at length.
The Patagonian seemed not to hear. Paganel fancied he could detect
an ironical smile already on the lips of the Major, and determined
to carry the day, was about to recommence his geographical illustrations,
when the Indian stopped him by a gesture, and said:
"You are in search of a prisoner?"
"Yes," replied Paganel.
"And just on this line between the setting and rising sun?"
added Thalcave, speaking in Indian fashion of the route from
west to east.
"Yes, yes, that's it."
"And it's your God," continued the guide, "that has sent you
the secret of this prisoner on the waves."
"His will be accomplished then," replied the native almost solemnly.
"We will march east, and if it needs be, to the sun."
Paganel, triumphing in his pupil, immediately translated his replies
to his companions, and exclaimed:
"What an intelligent race! All my explanations would have been lost
on nineteen in every twenty of the peasants in my own country."
Glenarvan requested him to ask the Patagonian if he had heard
of any foreigners who had fallen into the hands of the Indians
of the Pampas.
Paganel did so, and waited an answer.
"Perhaps I have."
The reply was no sooner translated than the Patagonian found himself
surrounded by the seven men questioning him with eager glances.
Paganel was so excited, he could hardly find words, and he gazed
at the grave Indian as if he could read the reply on his lips.
Each word spoken by Thalcave was instantly translated, so that the whole
party seemed to hear him speak in their mother tongue.
"And what about the prisoner?" asked Paganel.
"He was a foreigner."
"You have seen him?"
"No; but I have heard the Indian speak of him. He is brave;
he has the heart of a bull."
"The heart of a bull!" said Paganel. "Ah, this magnificent
Patagonian language. You understand him, my friends, he means
a courageous man."
"My father!" exclaimed Robert Grant, and, turning to Paganel,
he asked what the Spanish was for, "Is it my father."
"_Es mio padre_," replied the geographer.
Immediately taking Thalcave's hands in his own, the boy said,
in a soft tone:
"_Es mio padre_."
"_Suo padre_," replied the Patagonian, his face lighting up.
He took the child in his arms, lifted him up on his horse,
and gazed at him with peculiar sympathy. His intelligent face
was full of quiet feeling.
But Paganel had not completed his interrogations. "This prisoner,
who was he? What was he doing? When had Thalcave heard of him?"
All these questions poured upon him at once.
He had not long to wait for an answer, and learned that the European
was a slave in one of the tribes that roamed the country between
the Colorado and the Rio Negro.
"But where was the last place he was in?"
"With the Cacique Calfoucoura."
"In the line we have been following?"
"And who is this Cacique?"
"The chief of the Poyuches Indians, a man with two tongues
and two hearts."
"That's to say false in speech and false in action," said Paganel,
after he had translated this beautiful figure of the Patagonian language.
"And can we deliver our friend?" he added.
"You may if he is still in the hands of the Indians."
"And when did you last hear of him?"
"A long while ago; the sun has brought two summers since then
to the Pampas."
The joy of Glenarvan can not be described. This reply agreed
perfectly with the date of the document. But one question still
remained for him to put to Thalcave.
"You spoke of a prisoner," he said; "but were there not three?"
"I don't know," said Thalcave.
"And you know nothing of his present situation?"
This ended the conversation. It was quite possible that the three men
had become separated long ago; but still this much was certain,
that the Indians had spoken of a European that was in their power;
and the date of the captivity, and even the descriptive phrase
about the captive, evidently pointed to Harry Grant.
CHAPTER XVII A SERIOUS NECESSITY
THE Argentine Pampas extend from the thirty-fourth to the fortieth
degree of southern latitude. The word PAMPA, of Araucanian origin,
signifies _grass plain_, and justly applies to the whole region.
The mimosas growing on the western part, and the substantial
herbage on the eastern, give those plains a peculiar appearance.
The soil is composed of sand and red or yellow clay, and this is
covered by a layer of earth, in which the vegetation takes root.
The geologist would find rich treasures in the tertiary strata here,
for it is full of antediluvian remains--enormous bones,
which the Indians attribute to some gigantic race that lived
in a past age.
The horses went on at a good pace through the thick
PAJA-BRAVA, the grass of the Pampas, _par excellence_, so high
and thick that the Indians find shelter in it from storms.
At certain distances, but increasingly seldom, there were wet,
marshy spots, almost entirely under water, where the
willows grew, and a plant called the _Gygnerium argenteum_.
Here the horses drank their fill greedily, as if bent
on quenching their thirst for past, present and future.
Thalcave went first to beat the bushes and frighten away
the cholinas, a most dangerous species of viper, the bite
of which kills an ox in less than an hour.
For two days they plodded steadily across this arid and deserted plain.
The dry heat became severe. There were not only no RIOS,
but even the ponds dug out by the Indians were dried up.
As the drought seemed to increase with every mile, Paganel asked
Thalcave when he expected to come to water.
"At Lake Salinas," replied the Indian.
"And when shall we get there?"
When the Argentines travel in the Pampas they generally dig wells,
and find water a few feet below the surface. But the travelers could
not fall back on this resource, not having the necessary implements.
They were therefore obliged to husband the small provision of water
they had still left, and deal it out in rations, so that if no one
had enough to satisfy his thirst no one felt it too painful.
They halted at evening after a course of thirty miles and eagerly looked
forward to a good night's rest to compensate for the fatigue of day.
But their slumbers were invaded by a swarm of mosquitoes, which allowed
them no peace. Their presence indicated a change of wind which shifted
to the north. A south or southwest wind generally puts to flight
these little pests.
Even these petty ills of life could not ruffle the Major's equanimity;
but Paganel, on the contrary, was perfectly exasperated by such
trifling annoyances. He abused the poor mosquitoes desperately,
and deplored the lack of some acid lotion which would have eased
the pain of their stings. The Major did his best to console
him by reminding him of the fact that they had only to do with
one species of insect, among the 300,000 naturalists reckon.
He would listen to nothing, and got up in a very bad temper.
He was quite willing to start at daybreak, however, for they had
to get to Lake Salinas before sundown. The horses were tired out
and dying for water, and though their riders had stinted themselves
for their sakes, still their ration was very insufficient.
The drought was constantly increasing, and the heat none the less
for the wind being north, this wind being the simoom of the Pampas.
There was a brief interruption this day to the monotony
of the journey. Mulrady, who was in front of the others,
rode hastily back to report the approach of a troop
of Indians. The news was received with very different feelings
by Glenarvan and Thalcave. The Scotchman was glad of the chance
of gleaning some information about his shipwrecked countryman,
while the Patagonian hardly cared to encounter the nomadic
Indians of the prairie, knowing their bandit propensities.
He rather sought to avoid them, and gave orders to his party
to have their arms in readiness for any trouble.
Presently the nomads came in sight, and the Patagonian
was reassured at finding they were only ten in number.
They came within a hundred yards of them, and stopped.
This was near enough to observe them distinctly.
They were fine specimens of the native races, which had
been almost entirely swept away in 1833 by General Rosas,
tall in stature, with arched forehead and olive complexion.
They were dressed in guanaco skins, and carried lances twenty
feet long, knives, slings, bolas, and lassos, and, by their
dexterity in the management of their horses, showed themselves
to be accomplished riders.
They appeared to have stopped for the purpose of holding a council
with each other, for they shouted and gesticulated at a great rate.
Glenarvan determined to go up to them; but he had no sooner moved forward
than the whole band wheeled round, and disappeared with incredible speed.
It would have been useless for the travelers to attempt to overtake
them with such wornout horses.
"The cowards!" exclaimed Paganel.
"They scampered off too quick for honest folks," said McNabbs.
"Who are these Indians, Thalcave?" asked Paganel.
"The Gauchos!" cried Paganel; and, turning to his companions,
he added, "we need not have been so much on our guard;
there was nothing to fear."
"How is that?" asked McNabbs.
"Because the Gauchos are inoffensive peasants."
"You believe that, Paganel?"
"Certainly I do. They took us for robbers, and fled in terror."
"I rather think they did not dare to attack us," replied Glenarvan,
much vexed at not being able to enter into some sort of communication
with those Indians, whatever they were.
"That's my opinion too," said the Major, "for if I am
not mistaken, instead of being harmless, the Gauchos are
formidable out-and-out bandits."
"The idea!" exclaimed Paganel.
And forthwith commenced a lively discussion of this ethnological thesis--
so lively that the Major became excited, and, quite contrary to his
usual suavity, said bluntly:
"I believe you are wrong, Paganel."
"Wrong?" replied Paganel.
"Yes. Thalcave took them for robbers, and he knows what
he is talking about."
"Well, Thalcave was mistaken this time," retorted Paganel,
somewhat sharply. "The Gauchos are agricul-turists and shepherds,
and nothing else, as I have stated in a pamphlet on the natives
of the Pampas, written by me, which has attracted some notice."
V. IV Verne
[illustration omitted] [page intentionally blank]
"Well, well, you have committed an error, that's all, Monsieur Paganel."
"What, Monsieur McNabbs! you tell me I have committed an error?"
"An inadvertence, if you like, which you can put among the ERRATA
in the next edition."
Paganel, highly incensed at his geographical knowledge being brought
in question, and even jested about, allowed his ill-humor to get
the better of him, and said:
"Know, sir, that my books have no need of such ERRATA."
"Indeed! Well, on this occasion they have, at any rate,"
retorted McNabbs, quite as obstinate as his opponent.
"Sir, I think you are very annoying to-day."
"And I think you are very crabbed."
Glenarvan thought it was high time to interfere, for the discussion
was getting too hot, so he said:
"Come, now, there is no doubt one of you is very teasing and the other
is very crabbed, and I must say I am surprised at both of you."
The Patagonian, without understanding the cause, could see
that the two friends were quarreling. He began to smile,
and said quietly:
"It's the north wind."
"The north wind," exclaimed Paganel; "what's the north wind
to do with it?"
"Ah, it is just that," said Glenarvan. "It's the north wind that has
put you in a bad temper. I have heard that, in South America,
the wind greatly irritates the nervous system."
"By St. Patrick, Edward you are right," said the Major, laughing heartily.
But Paganel, in a towering rage, would not give up the contest,
and turned upon Glenarvan, whose intervention in this jesting
manner he resented.
"And so, my Lord, my nervous system is irritated?" he said.
"Yes, Paganel, it is the north wind--a wind which causes many a crime
in the Pampas, as the TRAMONTANE does in the Campagna of Rome."
"Crimes!" returned the geographer. "Do I look like a man
that would commit crimes?"
"That's not exactly what I said."
"Tell me at once that I want to assassinate you?"
"Well, I am really afraid," replied Glenarvan, bursting into
an uncontrollable fit of laughter, in which all others joined.
Paganel said no more, but went off in front alone, and came
back in a few minutes quite himself, as if he had completely
forgotten his grievance.
At eight o'clock in the evening, Thalcave, who was considerably in
advance of the rest, descried in the distance the much-desired lake,
and in less than a quarter of an hour they reached its banks;
but a grievous disappointment awaited them--the lake was dried up.
CHAPTER XVIII IN SEARCH OF WATER
LAKE SALINAS ends the string of lagoons connected with the Sierras Ventana
and Guamini. Numerous expeditions were formerly made there from
Buenos Ayres, to collect the salt deposited on its banks, as the waters
contain great quantities of chloride of sodium.
But when Thalcave spoke of the lake as supplying drinkable water
he was thinking of the RIOS of fresh water which run into it.
Those streams, however, were all dried up also; the burning
sun had drunk up every thing liquid, and the consternation
of the travelers may be imagined at the discovery.
Some action must be taken immediately, however; for what little water
still remained was almost bad, and could not quench thirst. Hunger and
fatigue were forgotten in the face of this imperious necessity.
A sort of leather tent, called a ROUKAH, which had been left
by the natives, afforded the party a temporary resting-place,
and the weary horses stretched themselves along the muddy banks,
and tried to browse on the marine plants and dry reeds they found there--
nauseous to the taste as they must have been.
As soon as the whole party were ensconced in the ROUKAH, Paganel
asked Thalcave what he thought was best to be done.
A rapid conversation followed, a few words of which were
intelligible to Glenarvan. Thalcave spoke calmly,
but the lively Frenchman gesticulated enough for both.
After a little, Thalcave sat silent and folded his arms.
"What does he say?" asked Glenarvan. "I fancied he was advising
us to separate."
"Yes, into two parties. Those of us whose horses are so done out with
fatigue and thirst that they can scarcely drag one leg after the other,
are to continue the route as they best can, while the others, whose steeds
are fresher, are to push on in advance toward the river Guamini,
which throws itself into Lake San Lucas about thirty-one miles off.
If there should be water enough in the river, they are to wait on
the banks till their companions reach them; but should it be dried up,
they will hasten back and spare them a useless journey."
"And what will we do then?" asked Austin.
"Then we shall have to make up our minds to go seventy-two
miles south, as far as the commencement of the Sierra Ventana,
where rivers abound."
"It is wise counsel, and we will act upon it without loss of time.
My horse is in tolerable good trim, and I volunteer
to accompany Thalcave."
"Oh, my Lord, take me," said Robert, as if it were a question
of some pleasure party.
"But would you be able for it, my boy?"
"Oh, I have a fine beast, which just wants to have a gallop.
Please, my Lord, to take me."
"Come, then, my boy," said Glenarvan, delighted not to leave
Robert behind. "If we three don't manage to find out fresh
water somewhere," he added, "we must be very stupid."
"Well, well, and what about me?" said Paganel.
"Oh, my dear Paganel, you must stay with the reserve corps,"
replied the Major. "You are too well acquainted with the 37th parallel
and the river Guamini and the whole Pampas for us to let you go.
Neither Mulrady, nor Wilson, nor myself would be able to rejoin
Thalcave at the given rendezvous, but we will put ourselves under
the banner of the brave Jacques Paganel with perfect confidence."
"I resign myself," said the geographer, much flattered at
having supreme command.
"But mind, Paganel, no distractions," added the Major. "Don't you take
us to the wrong place--to the borders of the Pacific, for instance."
"Oh, you insufferable Major; it would serve you right,"
replied Paganel, laughing. "But how will you manage to understand
what Thalcave says, Glenarvan?" he continued.
"I suppose," replied Glenarvan, "the Patagonian and I won't have
much to talk about; besides, I know a few Spanish words, and,
at a pinch, I should not fear either making him understand me,
or my understanding him."
"Go, then, my worthy friend," said Paganel.
"We'll have supper first," rejoined Glenarvan, "and then sleep,
if we can, till it is starting time."
The supper was not very reviving without drink of any kind,
and they tried to make up for the lack of it by a good sleep.
But Paganel dreamed of water all night, of torrents and cascades,
and rivers and ponds, and streams and brooks--in fact,
he had a complete nightmare.
Next morning, at six o'clock, the horses of Thalcave, Glenarvan and Robert
were got ready. Their last ration of water was given them, and drunk
with more avidity than satisfaction, for it was filthy, disgusting stuff.
The three travelers then jumped into their saddles, and set off,
shouting "_Au revoir!_" to their companions.
"Don't come back whatever you do," called Paganel after them.
The _Desertio de las Salinas_, which they had to traverse,
is a dry plain, covered with stunted trees not above ten
feet high, and small mimosas, which the Indians call
_curra-mammel;_ and JUMES, a bushy shrub, rich in soda.
Here and there large spaces were covered with salt,
which sparkled in the sunlight with astonishing brilliancy.
These might easily have been taken for sheets of ice, had not
the intense heat forbidden the illusion; and the contrast these
dazzling white sheets presented to the dry, burned-up ground
gave the desert a most peculiar character. Eighty miles south,
on the contrary, the Sierra Ventana, toward which the travelers
might possibly have to betake themselves should the Guamini
disappoint their hopes, the landscape was totally different.
There the fertility is splendid; the pasturage is incomparable.
Unfortunately, to reach them would necessitate a march of one
hundred and thirty miles south; and this was why Thalcave thought
it best to go first to Guamini, as it was not only much nearer,
but also on the direct line of route.
The three horses went forward might and main, as if instinctively
knowing whither they were bound. Thaouka especially displayed
a courage that neither fatigue nor hunger could damp. He bounded
like a bird over the dried-up CANADAS and the bushes of CURRA-MAMMEL,
his loud, joyous neighing seeming to bode success to the search.
The horses of Glenarvan and Robert, though not so light-footed,
felt the spur of his example, and followed him bravely.
Thalcave inspirited his companions as much as Thaouka did his
four-footed brethren. He sat motionless in the saddle, but often
turned his head to look at Robert, and ever and anon gave him
a shout of encouragement and approval, as he saw how well he rode.
Certainly the boy deserved praise, for he was fast becoming
an excellent cavalier.
"Bravo! Robert," said Glenarvan. "Thalcave is evidently
congratulating you, my boy, and paying you compliments."
"What for, my Lord?"
"For your good horsemanship."
"I can hold firm on, that's all," replied Robert blushing with pleasure
at such an encomium.
"That is the principal thing, Robert; but you are too modest.
I tell you that some day you will turn out an accomplished horseman."
"What would papa say to that?" said Robert, laughing.
"He wants me to be a sailor."
"The one won't hinder the other. If all cavaliers wouldn't make
good sailors, there is no reason why all sailors should not make
good horsemen. To keep one's footing on the yards must teach
a man to hold on firm; and as to managing the reins, and making
a horse go through all sorts of movements, that's easily acquired.
Indeed, it comes naturally."
"Poor father," said Robert; "how he will thank you for saving his life."
"You love him very much, Robert?"
"Yes, my Lord, dearly. He was so good to me and my sister.
We were his only thought: and whenever he came home from
his voyages, we were sure of some SOUVENIR from all the places
he had been to; and, better still, of loving words and caresses.
Ah! if you knew him you would love him, too. Mary is most like him.
He has a soft voice, like hers. That's strange for a sailor, isn't it?"
"Yes, Robert, very strange."
"I see him still," the boy went on, as if speaking to himself.
"Good, brave papa. He put me to sleep on his knee,
crooning an old Scotch ballad about the lochs of our country.
The time sometimes comes back to me, but very confused like.
So it does to Mary, too. Ah, my Lord, how we loved him.
Well, I do think one needs to be little to love one's
father like that."
"Yes, and to be grown up, my child, to venerate him," replied Glenarvan,
deeply touched by the boy's genuine affection.
During this conversation the horses had been slackening speed,
and were only walking now.
"You will find him?" said Robert again, after a few minutes' silence.
"Yes, we'll find him," was Glenarvan's reply, "Thalcave has set
us on the track, and I have great confidence in him."
"Thalcave is a brave Indian, isn't he?" said the boy.
"That indeed he is."
"Do you know something, my Lord?"
"What is it, and then I will tell you?"
"That all the people you have with you are brave.
Lady Helena, whom I love so, and the Major, with his calm manner,
and Captain Mangles, and Monsieur Paganel, and all the sailors
on the DUNCAN. How courageous and devoted they are."
"Yes, my boy, I know that," replied Glenarvan.
"And do you know that you are the best of all."
"No, most certainly I don't know that."
"Well, it is time you did, my Lord," said the boy, seizing his
lordship's hand, and covering it with kisses.
Glenarvan shook his head, but said no more, as a gesture from Thalcave
made them spur on their horses and hurry forward.
But it was soon evident that, with the exception of Thaouka,
the wearied animals could not go quicker than a walking pace.
At noon they were obliged to let them rest for an hour.
They could not go on at all, and refused to eat the ALFAFARES,
a poor, burnt-up sort of lucerne that grew there.
Glenarvan began to be uneasy. Tokens of sterility were not the least
on the decrease, and the want of water might involve serious calamities.
Thalcave said nothing, thinking probably, that it would be time enough
to despair if the Guamini should be dried up--if, indeed, the heart
of an Indian can ever despair.
Spur and whip had both to be employed to induce the poor
animals to resume the route, and then they only crept along,
for their strength was gone.
Thaouka, indeed, could have galloped swiftly enough, and reached the RIO
in a few hours, but Thalcave would not leave his companions behind,
alone in the midst of a desert.
It was hard work, however, to get the animal to consent to walk quietly.
He kicked, and reared, and neighed violently, and was subdued
at last more by his master's voice than hand. Thalcave positively
talked to the beast, and Thaouka understood perfectly, though unable
to reply, for, after a great deal of arguing, the noble creature yielded,
though he still champed the bit.
Thalcave did not understand Thaouka, it turned out, though Thaouka
understood him. The intelligent animal felt humidity in the atmosphere
and drank it in with frenzy, moving and making a noise with his tongue,
as if taking deep draughts of some cool refreshing liquid.
The Patagonian could not mistake him now--water was not far off.
The two other horses seemed to catch their comrade's meaning,
and, inspired by his example, made a last effort, and galloped
forward after the Indian.
About three o'clock a white line appeared in a dip of the road,
and seemed to tremble in the sunlight.
"Water!" exclaimed Glenarvan.
"Yes, yes! it is water!" shouted Robert.
They were right; and the horses knew it too, for there was no
need now to urge them on; they tore over the ground as if mad,
and in a few minutes had reached the river, and plunged in up
to their chests.
Their masters had to go on too, whether they would or not but
they were so rejoiced at being able to quench their thirst,
that this compulsory bath was no grievance.
"Oh, how delicious this is!" exclaimed Robert, taking a deep draught.
"Drink moderately, my boy," said Glenarvan; but he did not
set the example.
Thalcave drank very quietly, without hurrying himself,
taking small gulps, but "as long as a lazo," as the Patagonians say.
He seemed as if he were never going to leave off, and really
there was some danger of his swallowing up the whole river.
At last Glenarvan said:
"Well, our friends won't be disappointed this time; they will
be sure of finding clear, cool water when they get here--
that is to say, if Thalcave leaves any for them."
"But couldn't we go to meet them? It would spare them several hours'
suffering and anxiety."
"You're right my boy; but how could we carry them this water?
The leather bottles were left with Wilson. No; it is better
for us to wait for them as we agreed. They can't be here till
about the middle of the night, so the best thing we can do is
to get a good bed and a good supper ready for them."
Thalcave had not waited for Glenarvan's proposition to prepare
an encampment. He had been fortunate enough to discover on the banks
of the _rio a ramada_, a sort of enclosure, which had served as a fold
for flocks, and was shut in on three sides. A more suitable place
could not be found for their night's lodging, provided they had
no fear of sleeping in the open air beneath the star-lit heavens;
and none of Thalcave's companions had much solicitude on that score.
Accordingly they took possession at once, and stretched themselves
at full length on the ground in the bright sunshine, to dry
their dripping garments.
"Well, now we've secured a lodging, we must think of supper,"
said Glenarvan. "Our friends must not have reason
to complain of the couriers they sent to precede them;
and if I am not much mistaken, they will be very satisfied.
It strikes me that an hour's shooting won't be lost time.
Are you ready, Robert?"
"Yes, my Lord," replied the boy, standing up, gun in hand.
Why Glenarvan proposed this was, that the banks of the Guamini seemed
to be the general rendezvous of all the game in the surrounding plains.
A sort of partridge peculiar to the Pampas, called TINAMOUS;
black wood-hens; a species of plover, called TERU-TERU; yellow rays,
and waterfowl with magnificent green plumage, rose in coveys.
No quadrupeds, however, were visible, but Thalcave pointed to the long
grass and thick brushwood, and gave his friends to understand they
were lying there in concealment.
Disdaining the feathered tribes when more substantial game was at hand,
the hunters' first shots were fired into the underwood. Instantly there
rose by the hundred roebucks and guanacos, like those that had swept
over them that terrible night on the Cordilleras, but the timid creatures
were so frightened that they were all out of gunshot in a twinkling.
The hunters were obliged to content themselves with humbler game,
though in an alimentary point of view nothing better could be wished.
A dozen of red partridges and rays were speedily brought down,
and Glenarvan also managed very cleverly to kill a TAY-TETRE, or peccary,
a pachydermatous animal, the flesh of which is excellent eating.
In less than half an hour the hunters had all the game they required.
Robert had killed a curious animal belonging to the order EDENTATA,
an armadillo, a sort of tatou, covered with a hard bony shell,
in movable pieces, and measuring a foot and a half long.
It was very fat and would make an excellent dish, the Patagonian said.
Robert was very proud of his success.
Thalcave did his part by capturing a NANDOU, a species of ostrich,
remarkable for its extreme swiftness.
There could be no entrapping such an animal, and the Indian did not
attempt it. He urged Thaouka to a gallop, and made a direct attack,
knowing that if the first aim missed the NANDOU would soon tire out horse
and rider by involving them in an inextricable labyrinth of windings.
The moment, therefore, that Thalcave got to a right distance,
he flung his BOLAS with such a powerful hand, and so skillfully,
that he caught the bird round the legs and paralyzed his efforts at once.
In a few seconds it lay flat on the ground.
The Indian had not made his capture for the mere pleasure and glory
of such a novel chase. The flesh of the NANDOU is highly esteemed,
and Thalcave felt bound to contribute his share of the common repast.
They returned to the RAMADA, bringing back the string
of partridges, the ostrich, the peccary, and the armadillo.
The ostrich and the peccary were prepared for cooking by divesting
them of their tough skins, and cutting them up into thin slices.
As to the armadillo, he carries his cooking apparatus with him,
and all that had to be done was to place him in his own shell
over the glowing embers.
The substantial dishes were reserved for the night-comers,
and the three hunters contented themselves with devouring
the partridges, and washed down their meal with clear, fresh water,
which was pronounced superior to all the porter in the world,
even to the famous Highland USQUEBAUGH, or whisky.
The horses had not been overlooked. A large quantity of dry
fodder was discovered lying heaped up in the RAMADA, and this
supplied them amply with both food and bedding.
When all was ready the three companions wrapped themselves in the ponchos,
and stretched themselves on an eiderdown of ALFAFARES, the usual bed
of hunters on the Pampas.
CHAPTER XIX THE RED WOLVES
NIGHT came, but the orb of night was invisible to the inhabitants
of the earth, for she was just in her first quarter.
The dim light of the stars was all that illumined the plain.
The waters of the Guamini ran silently, like a sheet of oil
over a surface of marble. Birds, quadrupeds, and reptiles were
resting motionless after the fatigues of the day, and the silence
of the desert brooded over the far-spreading Pampas.
Glenarvan, Robert, and Thalcave, had followed the common example,
and lay in profound slumber on their soft couch of lucerne.
The worn-out horses had stretched themselves full length on the ground,
except Thaouka, who slept standing, true to his high blood,
proud in repose as in action, and ready to start at his master's call.
Absolute silence reigned within the inclosure, over which the dying
embers of the fire shed a fitful light.
However, the Indian's sleep did not last long; for about ten
o'clock he woke, sat up, and turned his ear toward the plain,
listening intently, with half-closed eyes. An uneasy look began
to depict itself on his usually impassive face. Had he caught scent
of some party of Indian marauders, or of jaguars, water tigers,
and other terrible animals that haunt the neighborhood of rivers?
Apparently it was the latter, for he threw a rapid glance
on the combustible materials heaped up in the inclosure,
and the expression of anxiety on his countenance seemed to deepen.
This was not surprising, as the whole pile of ALFAFARES would
soon burn out and could only ward off the attacks of wild beasts
for a brief interval.
There was nothing to be done in the circumstances but wait;
and wait he did, in a half-recumbent posture, his head leaning
on his hands, and his elbows on his knees, like a man roused
suddenly from his night's sleep.
A whole hour passed, and anyone except Thalcave would have lain
down again on his couch, reassured by the silence round him.
But where a stranger would have suspected nothing, the sharpened
senses of the Indian detected the approach of danger.
As he was thus watching and listening, Thaouka gave a low neigh,
and stretched his nostrils toward the entrance of the RAMADA.
This startled the Patagonian, and made him rise to his feet at once.
"Thaouka scents an enemy," he said to himself, going toward the opening,
to make careful survey of the plains.
Silence still prevailed, but not tranquillity; for Thalcave
caught a glimpse of shadows moving noiselessly over the tufts
of CURRA-MAMMEL. Here and there luminous spots appeared,
dying out and rekindling constantly, in all directions,
like fantastic lights dancing over the surface of an immense lagoon.
An inexperienced eye might have mistaken them for fireflies,
which shine at night in many parts of the Pampas; but Thalcave
was not deceived; he knew the enemies he had to deal with,
and lost no time in loading his carbine and taking up his post
in front of the fence.
He did not wait long, for a strange cry--a confused sound of barking
and howling--broke over the Pampas, followed next instant by the report
of the carbine, which made the uproar a hundred times worse.
Glenarvan and Robert woke in alarm, and started to their feet instantly.
"What is it?" exclaimed Robert.
"Is it the Indians?" asked Glenarvan.
"No," replied Thalcave, "the AGUARAS."
"AGUARAS?" said Robert, looking inquiringly at Glenarvan.
"Yes," replied Glenarvan, "the red wolves of the Pampas."
They seized their weapons at once, and stationed themselves
beside the Patagonian, who pointed toward the plain from whence
the yelling resounded.
Robert drew back involuntarily.
"You are not afraid of wolves, my boy?" said Glenarvan.
"No, my Lord," said the lad in a firm tone, "and moreover,
beside you I am afraid of nothing."
"So much the better. These AGUARAS are not very formidable either;
and if it were not for their number I should not give them a thought."
"Never mind; we are all well armed; let them come."
"We'll certainly give them a warm reception," rejoined Glenarvan.
His Lordship only spoke thus to reassure the child, for a secret
terror filled him at the sight of this legion of bloodthirsty
animals let loose on them at midnight.
There might possibly be some hundreds, and what could three men do,
even armed to the teeth, against such a multitude?
As soon as Thalcave said the word AGUARA, Glenarvan knew
that he meant the red wolf, for this is the name given to it by
the Pampas Indians. This voracious animal, called by naturalists
the _Canis jubatus_, is in shape like a large dog, and has the head
of a fox. Its fur is a reddish-cinnamon color, and there is
a black mane all down the back. It is a strong, nimble animal,
generally inhabiting marshy places, and pursuing aquatic animals
by swimming, prowling about by night and sleeping during the day.
Its attacks are particularly dreaded at the ESTANCIAS,
or sheep stations, as it often commits considerable ravages,
carrying off the finest of the flock. Singly, the AGUARA is
not much to be feared; but they generally go in immense packs,
and one had better have to deal with a jaguar or cougar
than with them.
Both from the noise of the howling and the multitude of shadows leaping
about, Glenarvan had a pretty good idea of the number of the wolves,
and he knew they had scented a good meal of human flesh or horse flesh,
and none of them would go back to their dens without a share.
It was certainly a very alarming situation to be in.
The assailants were gradually drawing closer. The horses displayed
signs of the liveliest terror, with the exception of Thaouka,
who stamped his foot, and tried to break loose and get out.
His master could only calm him by keeping up a low, continuous whistle.
Glenarvan and Robert had posted themselves so as to defend the opening
of the RAMADA. They were just going to fire into the nearest ranks
of the wolves when Thalcave lowered their weapons.
"What does Thalcave mean?" asked Robert.
"He forbids our firing."
"Perhaps he thinks it is not the right time."
But this was not the Indian's reason, and so Glenarvan saw when he lifted
the powder-flask, showed him it was nearly empty.
"What's wrong?" asked Robert.
"We must husband our ammunition," was the reply. "To-day's shooting
has cost us dear, and we are short of powder and shot.
We can't fire more than twenty times."
The boy made no reply, and Glenarvan asked him if he was frightened.
"No, my Lord," he said.
"That's right," returned Glenarvan.
A fresh report resounded that instant. Thalcave had made
short work of one assailant more audacious than the rest,
and the infuriated pack had retreated to within a hundred steps
of the inclosure.
On a sign from the Indian Glenarvan took his place, while Thalcave
went back into the inclosure and gathered up all the dried
grass and ALFAFARES, and, indeed, all the combustibles he could
rake together, and made a pile of them at the entrance.
Into this he flung one of the still-glowing embers,
and soon the bright flames shot up into the dark night.
Glenarvan could now get a good glimpse of his antagonists,
and saw that it was impossible to exaggerate their numbers
or their fury. The barrier of fire just raised by Thalcave had
redoubled their anger, though it had cut off their approach.
Several of them, however, urged on by the hindmost ranks,
pushed forward into the very flames, and burned their paws
for their pains.
From time to time another shot had to be fired, notwithstanding the fire,
to keep off the howling pack, and in the course of an hour fifteen dead
animals lay stretched on the prairie.
The situation of the besieged was, relatively speaking,
less dangerous now. As long as the powder lasted and the barrier
of fire burned on, there was no fear of being overmastered.
But what was to be done afterward, when both means of defense
failed at once?
Glenarvan's heart swelled as he looked at Robert. He forgot himself
in thinking of this poor child, as he saw him showing a courage so far
above his years. Robert was pale, but he kept his gun steady, and stood
with firm foot ready to meet the attacks of the infuriated wolves.
However, after Glenarvan had calmly surveyed the actual state of affairs,
he determined to bring things to a crisis.
"In an hour's time," he said, "we shall neither have powder nor fire.
It will never do to wait till then before we settle what to do."
Accordingly, he went up to Thalcave, and tried to talk to him
by the help of the few Spanish words his memory could muster,
though their conversation was often interrupted by one or the other
having to fire a shot.
It was no easy task for the two men to understand each other, but,
most fortunately, Glenarvan knew a great deal of the peculiarities
of the red wolf; otherwise he could never have interpreted the Indian's
words and gestures.
As it was, fully a quarter of an hour elapsed before he could get
any answer from Thalcave to tell Robert in reply to his inquiry.
"What does he say?"
"He says that at any price we must hold out till daybreak.
The AGUARA only prowls about at night, and goes back to his lair
with the first streak of dawn. It is a cowardly beast, that loves
the darkness and dreads the light--an owl on four feet."
"Very well, let us defend ourselves, then, till morning."
"Yes, my boy, and with knife-thrusts, when gun and shots fail."
Already Thalcave had set the example, for whenever a wolf came
too near the burning pile, the long arm of the Patagonian dashed
through the flames and came out again reddened with blood.
But very soon this means of defense would be at an end.
About two o'clock, Thalcave flung his last armful of combustibles
into the fire, and barely enough powder remained to load
a gun five times.
Glenarvan threw a sorrowful glance round him. He thought of the lad
standing there, and of his companions and those left behind,
whom he loved so dearly.
Robert was silent. Perhaps the danger seemed less imminent
to his imagination. But Glenarvan thought for him, and pictured
to himself the horrible fate that seemed to await him inevitably.
Quite overcome by his emotion, he took the child in his arms,
and straining him convulsively to his heart, pressed his lips
on his forehead, while tears he could not restrain streamed
down his cheeks.
Robert looked up into his face with a smile, and said,
"I am not frightened."
"No, my child, no! and you are right. In two hours daybreak
will come, and we shall be saved. Bravo, Thalcave! my
brave Patagonian! Bravo!" he added as the Indian that moment
leveled two enormous beasts who endeavored to leap across
the barrier of flames.
But the fire was fast dying out, and the DENOUEMENT of the terrible
drama was approaching. The flames got lower and lower.
Once more the shadows of night fell on the prairie, and the glaring
eyes of the wolves glowed like phosphorescent balls in the darkness.
A few minutes longer, and the whole pack would be in the inclosure.
Thalcave loaded his carbine for the last time, killed one
more enormous monster, and then folded his arms. His head
sank on his chest, and he appeared buried in deep thought.
Was he planning some daring, impossible, mad attempt to repulse
the infuriated horde? Glenarvan did not venture to ask.
At this very moment the wolves began to change their tactics.
The deafening howls suddenly ceased: they seemed to be going away.
Gloomy silence spread over the prairie, and made Robert exclaim:
But Thalcave, guessing his meaning, shook his head.
He knew they would never relinquish their sure prey till daybreak
made them hasten back to their dens.
Still, their plan of attack had evidently been altered.
They no longer attempted to force the entrance, but their new
maneuvers only heightened the danger.
They had gone round the RAMADA, as by common consent, and were trying
to get in on the opposite side.
The next minute they heard their claws attacking the moldering wood,
and already formidable paws and hungry, savage jaws had found their way
through the palings. The terrified horses broke loose from their halters
and ran about the inclosure, mad with fear.
Glenarvan put his arms round the young lad, and resolved to defend him
as long as his life held out. Possibly he might have made a useless
attempt at flight when his eye fell on Thalcave.
The Indian had been stalking about the RAMADA like a stag,
when he suddenly stopped short, and going up to his horse,
who was trembling with impatience, began to saddle him with the most
scrupulous care, without forgetting a single strap or buckle.
He seemed no longer to disturb himself in the least about the
wolves outside, though their yells had redoubled in intensity.
A dark suspicion crossed Glenarvan's mind as he watched him.
"He is going to desert us," he exclaimed at last, as he saw him
seize the reins, as if preparing to mount.
"He! never!" replied Robert. Instead of deserting them,
the truth was that the Indian was going to try and save his
friends by sacrificing himself.
Thaouka was ready, and stood champing his bit. He reared up,
and his splendid eyes flashed fire; he understood his master.
But just as the Patagonian caught hold of the horse's mane,
Glenarvan seized his arm with a convulsive grip, and said,
pointing to the open prairie.
"You are going away?"
V. IV Verne
"Yes," replied the Indian, understanding his gesture.
Then he said a few words in Spanish, which meant:
"_Thaouka; good horse; quick; will draw all the wolves
away after him_."
"Oh, Thalcave," exclaimed Glenarvan.
"Quick, quick!" replied the Indian, while Glenarvan said, in a broken,
agitated voice to Robert:
"Robert, my child, do you hear him? He wants to sacrifice
himself for us. He wants to rush away over the Pampas,
and turn off the wolves from us by attracting them to himself."
"Friend Thalcave," returned Robert, throwing himself at the feet
of the Patagonian, "friend Thalcave, don't leave us!"
"No," said Glenarvan, "he shall not leave us."
And turning toward the Indian, he said, pointing to the frightened horses,
"Let us go together."
"No," replied Thalcave, catching his meaning.
"Bad beasts; frightened; Thaouka, good horse."
"Be it so then!" returned Glenarvan. "Thalcave will
not leave you, Robert. He teaches me what I must do.
It is for me to go, and for him to stay by you."
Then seizing Thaouka's bridle, he said, "I am going, Thalcave, not you."
"No," replied the Patagonian quietly.
"I am," exclaimed Glenarvan, snatching the bridle out of his hands.
"I, myself! Save this boy, Thalcave! I commit him to you."
Glenarvan was so excited that he mixed up English words with
his Spanish. But what mattered the language at such a terrible moment.
A gesture was enough. The two men understood each other.
However, Thalcave would not give in, and though every instant's
delay but increased the danger, the discussion continued.
Neither Glenarvan nor Thalcave appeared inclined to yield.
The Indian had dragged his companion towards the entrance of the RAMADA,
and showed him the prairie, making him understand that now was
the time when it was clear from the wolves; but that not a moment
was to be lost, for should this maneuver not succeed, it would
only render the situation of those left behind more desperate.
and that he knew his horse well enough to be able to trust his
wonderful lightness and swiftness to save them all. But Glenarvan
was blind and obstinate, and determined to sacrifice himself at
all hazards, when suddenly he felt himself violently pushed back.
Thaouka pranced up, and reared himself bolt upright on his hind legs,
and made a bound over the barrier of fire, while a clear,
young voice called out:
"God save you, my lord."
But before either Thalcave or Glenarvan could get more than
a glimpse of the boy, holding on fast by Thaouka's mane,
he was out of sight.
"Robert! oh you unfortunate boy," cried Glenarvan.
But even Thalcave did not catch the words, for his voice was drowned
in the frightful uproar made by the wolves, who had dashed off
at a tremendous speed on the track of the horse.
Thalcave and Glenarvan rushed out of the RAMADA. Already the plain
had recovered its tranquillity, and all that could be seen of the red
wolves was a moving line far away in the distant darkness.
Glenarvan sank prostrate on the ground, and clasped his
hands despairingly. He looked at Thalcave, who smiled with his
accustomed calmness, and said:
"Thaouka, good horse. Brave boy. He will save himself!"
"And suppose he falls?" said Glenarvan.
"He'll not fall."
But notwithstanding Thalcave's assurances, poor Glenarvan
spent the rest of the night in torturing anxiety. He seemed
quite insensible now to the danger they had escaped through
the departure of the wolves, and would have hastened immediately
after Robert if the Indian had not kept him back by making him
understand the impossibility of their horses overtaking Thaouka;
and also that boy and horse had outdistanced the wolves long since,
and that it would be useless going to look for them till daylight.
At four o'clock morning began to dawn. A pale glimmer appeared
in the horizon, and pearly drops of dew lay thick on the plain
and on the tall grass, already stirred by the breath of day.
The time for starting had arrived.
"Now!" cried Thalcave, "come."
Glenarvan made no reply, but took Robert's horse and sprung into
the saddle. Next minute both men were galloping at full speed toward
the west, in the line in which their companions ought to be advancing.
They dashed along at a prodigious rate for a full hour, dreading every
minute to come across the mangled corpse of Robert. Glenarvan had
torn the flanks of his horse with his spurs in his mad haste,
when at last gun-shots were heard in the distance at regular intervals,
as if fired as a signal.
"There they are!" exclaimed Glenarvan; and both he and the Indian
urged on their steeds to a still quicker pace, till in a few minutes
more they came up to the little detachment conducted by Paganel. A cry
broke from Glenarvan's lips, for Robert was there, alive and well,
still mounted on the superb Thaouka, who neighed loudly with delight
at the sight of his master.
"Oh, my child, my child!" cried Glenarvan, with indescribable
tenderness in his tone.
Both he and Robert leaped to the ground, and flung themselves
into each other's arms. Then the Indian hugged the brave boy
in his arms.
"He is alive, he is alive," repeated Glenarvan again and again.
"Yes," replied Robert; "and thanks to Thaouka."
This great recognition of his favorite's services was wholly unexpected
by the Indian, who was talking to him that minute, caressing and speaking
to him, as if human blood flowed in the veins of the proud creature.
Then turning to Paganel, he pointed to Robert, and said, "A brave!"
and employing the Indian metaphor, he added, "his spurs did not tremble!"
But Glenarvan put his arms round the boy and said, "Why wouldn't you let
me or Thalcave run the risk of this last chance of deliverance, my son?"
"My lord," replied the boy in tones of gratitude, "wasn't it
my place to do it? Thalcave has saved my life already, and you--
you are going to save my father."
CHAPTER XX STRANGE SIGNS
AFTER the first joy of the meeting was over, Paganel and his party,
except perhaps the Major, were only conscious of one feeling--
they were dying of thirst. Most fortunately for them,
the Guamini ran not far off, and about seven in the morning
the little troop reached the inclosure on its banks.
The precincts were strewed with the dead wolves, and judging
from their numbers, it was evident how violent the attack must
have been, and how desperate the resistance.
As soon as the travelers had drunk their fill, they began
to demolish the breakfast prepared in the RAMADA, and did
ample justice to the extraordinary viands. The NANDOU fillets
were pronounced first-rate, and the armadillo was delicious.
"To eat moderately," said Paganel, "would be positive ingratitude
to Providence. We must eat immoderately."
And so they did, but were none the worse for it.
The water of the Guamini greatly aided digestion apparently.
Glenarvan, however, was not going to imitate Hannibal at Capua, and at
ten o'clock next morning gave the signal for starting. The leathern
bottles were filled with water, and the day's march commenced.
The horses were so well rested that they were quite fresh again,
and kept up a canter almost constantly. The country was not so
parched up now, and consequently less sterile, but still a desert.
No incident occurred of any importance during the 2d and 3d of November,
and in the evening they reached the boundary of the Pampas,
and camped for the night on the frontiers of the province of
Buenos Ayres. Two-thirds of their journey was now accomplished.
It was twenty-two days since they left the Bay of Talcahuano,
and they had gone 450 miles.
Next morning they crossed the conventional line which separates
the Argentine plains from the region of the Pampas. It was
here that Thalcave hoped to meet the Caciques, in whose hands,
he had no doubt, Harry Grant and his men were prisoners.
From the time of leaving the Guamini, there was marked change
in the temperature, to the great relief of the travelers.
It was much cooler, thanks to the violent and cold winds
from Patagonia, which constantly agitate the atmospheric waves.
Horses and men were glad enough of this, after what they had suffered
from the heat and drought, and they felt animated with fresh
ardor and confidence. But contrary to what Thalcave had said,
the whole district appeared uninhabited, or rather abandoned.
Their route often led past or went right through small lagoons,
sometimes of fresh water, sometimes of brackish. On the banks
and bushes about these, king-wrens were hopping about and larks
singing joyously in concert with the tangaras, the rivals in color
of the brilliant humming birds. On the thorny bushes the nests
of the ANNUBIS swung to and fro in the breeze like an Indian hammock;
and on the shore magnificent flamingos stalked in regular order
like soldiers marching, and spread out their flaming red wings.
Their nests were seen in groups of thousands, forming a complete town,
about a foot high, and resembling a truncated cone in shape.
The flamingos did not disturb themselves in the least at the approach
of the travelers, but this did not suit Paganel.
"I have been very desirous a long time," he said to the Major,
"to see a flamingo flying."
"All right," replied McNabbs.
"Now while I have the opportunity, I should like to make the most
of it," continued Paganel.
"Very well; do it, Paganel."
"Come with me, then, Major, and you too Robert. I want witnesses."
And all three went off towards the flamingos, leaving the others
to go on in advance.
As soon as they were near enough, Paganel fired, only loading
his gun, however, with powder, for he would not shed even
the blood of a bird uselessly. The shot made the whole assemblage
fly away _en masse_, while Paganel watched them attentively
through his spectacles.
"Well, did you see them fly?" he asked the Major.
"Certainly I did," was the reply. "I could not help seeing them,
unless I had been blind."
"Well and did you think they resembled feathered arrows when
they were flying?"
"Not in the least."
"Not a bit," added Robert.
"I was sure of it," said the geographer, with a satisfied air;
"and yet the very proudest of modest men, my illustrious
countryman, Chateaubriand, made the inaccurate comparison.
Oh, Robert, comparison is the most dangerous figure in rhetoric
that I know. Mind you avoid it all your life, and only employ
it in a last extremity."
"Are you satisfied with your experiment?" asked McNabbs.
"And so am I. But we had better push on now, for your illustrious
Chateaubriand has put us more than a mile behind."
On rejoining their companions, they found Glenarvan busily engaged
in conversation with the Indian, though apparently unable to make
him understand. Thalcave's gaze was fixed intently on the horizon,
and his face wore a puzzled expression.
The moment Paganel came in sight, Glenarvan called out:
"Come along, friend Paganel. Thalcave and I can't understand
each other at all."
After a few minute's talk with the Patagonian, the interpreter turned
to Glenarvan and said:
"Thalcave is quite astonished at the fact, and certainly it is very
strange that there are no Indians, nor even traces of any to be seen
in these plains, for they are generally thick with companies of them,
either driving along cattle stolen from the ESTANCIAS, or going
to the Andes to sell their zorillo cloths and plaited leather whips."
"And what does Thalcave think is the reason?"
"He does not know; he is amazed and that's all."
"But what description of Indians did he reckon on meeting in this
part of the Pampas?"
"Just the very ones who had the foreign prisoners in their hands,
the natives under the rule of the Caciques Calfoucoura, Catriel,
"Who are these Caciques?"
"Chiefs that were all powerful thirty years ago, before they were driven
beyond the sierras. Since then they have been reduced to subjection
as much as Indians can be, and they scour the plains of the Pampas
and the province of Buenos Ayres. I quite share Thalcave's surprise
at not discovering any traces of them in regions which they usually
infest as SALTEADORES, or bandits."
"And what must we do then?"
"I'll go and ask him," replied Paganel.
After a brief colloquy he returned and said:
"This is his advice, and very sensible it is, I think.
He says we had better continue our route to the east as far
as Fort Independence, and if we don't get news of Captain Grant
there we shall hear, at any rate, what has become of the Indians
of the Argentine plains."
"Is Fort Independence far away?" asked Glenarvan.
"No, it is in the Sierra Tandil, a distance of about sixty miles."
"And when shall we arrive?"
"The day after to-morrow, in the evening."
Glenarvan was considerably disconcerted by this circumstance.
Not to find an Indian where in general there were only too many,
was so unusual that there must be some grave cause for it;
but worse still if Harry Grant were a prisoner in the hands of any of
those tribes, had be been dragged away with them to the north or south?
Glenarvan felt that, cost what it might, they must not lose his track,
and therefore decided to follow the advice of Thalcave, and go to
the village of Tandil. They would find some one there to speak to,
at all events.
About four o'clock in the evening a hill, which seemed
a mountain in so flat a country, was sighted in the distance.
This was Sierra Tapalquem, at the foot of which the travelers
camped that night.
The passage in the morning over this sierra, was accomplished without
the slightest difficulty; after having crossed the Cordillera
of the Andes, it was easy work to ascend the gentle heights of such
a sierra as this. The horses scarcely slackened their speed.
At noon they passed the deserted fort of Tapalquem, the first of the chain
of forts which defend the southern frontiers from Indian marauders.
But to the increasing surprise of Thalcave, they did not come across
even the shadow of an Indian. About the middle of the day, however,
three flying horsemen, well mounted and well armed came in sight, gazed at
them for an instant, and then sped away with inconceivable rapidity.
Glenarvan was furious.
"Gauchos," said the Patagonian, designating them by the name which had
caused such a fiery discussion between the Major and Paganel.
"Ah! the Gauchos," replied McNabbs. "Well, Paganel, the north wind
is not blowing to-day. What do you think of those fellows yonder?"
"I think they look like regular bandits."
"And how far is it from looking to being, my good geographer?"
"Only just a step, my dear Major."
Paganel's admission was received with a general laugh, which did not in
the least disconcert him. He went on talking about the Indians however,
and made this curious observation:
"I have read somewhere," he said, "that about the Arabs there
is a peculiar expression of ferocity in the mouth, while the eyes
have a kindly look. Now, in these American savages it is quite
the reverse, for the eye has a particularly villainous aspect."
No physiognomist by profession could have better characterized
the Indian race.
But desolate as the country appeared, Thalcave was on his guard
against surprises, and gave orders to his party to form themselves
in a close platoon. It was a useless precaution, however; for that
same evening, they camped for the night in an immense TOLDERIA, which they
not only found perfectly empty, but which the Patagonian declared,
after he had examined it all round, must have been uninhabited
for a long time.
Next day, the first ESTANCIAS of the Sierra Tandil came in sight.
The ESTANCIAS are large cattle stations for breeding cattle;
but Thalcave resolved not to stop at any of them, but to go
straight on to Fort Independence. They passed several farms
fortified by battlements and surrounded by a deep moat,
the principal building being encircled by a terrace, from which
the inhabitants could fire down on the marauders in the plain.
Glenarvan might, perhaps, have got some information at these houses,
but it was the surest plan to go straight on to the village
of Tandil. Accordingly they went on without stopping, fording the RIO
of Los Huasos and also the Chapaleofu, a few miles further on.
Soon they were treading the grassy slopes of the first ridges
of the Sierra Tandil, and an hour afterward the village appeared
in the depths of a narrow gorge, and above it towered the lofty
battlements of Fort Independence.
CHAPTER XXI A FALSE TRAIL
THE Sierra Tandil rises a thousand feet above the level of the sea.
It is a primordial chain--that is to say, anterior to all organic
and metamorphic creation. It is formed of a semi-circular
ridge of gneiss hills, covered with fine short grass.
The district of Tandil, to which it has given its name,
includes all the south of the Province of Buenos Ayres,
and terminates in a river which conveys north all the RIOS
that take their rise on its slopes.
After making a short ascent up the sierra, they reached the postern gate,
so carelessly guarded by an Argentine sentinel, that they passed through
without difficulty, a circumstance which betokened extreme negligence
or extreme security.
A few minutes afterward the Commandant appeared in person.
He was a vigorous man about fifty years of age, of military aspect,
with grayish hair, and an imperious eye, as far as one could see
through the clouds of tobacco smoke which escaped from his short pipe.
His walk reminded Paganel instantly of the old subalterns in
his own country.
Thalcave was spokesman, and addressing the officer, presented
Lord Glenarvan and his companions. While he was speaking, the Commandant
kept staring fixedly at Paganel in rather an embarrassing manner.
The geographer could not understand what he meant by it, and was
just about to interrogate him, when the Commandant came forward,
and seizing both his hands in the most free-and-easy fashion,
said in a joyous voice, in the mother tongue of the geographer:
"Yes, a Frenchman," replied Paganel.
"Ah! delightful! Welcome, welcome. I am a Frenchman too," he added,
shaking Paganel's hand with such vigor as to be almost alarming.
"Is he a friend of yours, Paganel?" asked the Major.
"Yes," said Paganel, somewhat proudly. "One has friends in every
division of the globe."
After he had succeeded in disengaging his hand, though not
without difficulty, from the living vise in which it was held,
a lively conversation ensued. Glenarvan would fain have put
in a word about the business on hand, but the Commandant related
his entire history, and was not in a mood to stop till he had done.
It was evident that the worthy man must have left his native country
many years back, for his mother tongue had grown unfamiliar,
and if he had not forgotten the words he certainly did not remember
how to put them together. He spoke more like a negro belonging
to a French colony.
The fact was that the Governor of Fort Independence was a French sergeant,
an old comrade of Parachapee. He had never left the fort since it
had been built in 1828; and, strange to say, he commanded it with
the consent of the Argentine Government. He was a man about fifty
years of age, a Basque by birth, and his name was Manuel Ipharaguerre,
so that he was almost a Spaniard. A year after his arrival in the country
he was naturalized, took service in the Argentine army, and married
an Indian girl, who was then nursing twin babies six months old--
two boys, be it understood, for the good wife of the Commandant
would have never thought of presenting her husband with girls.
Manuel could not conceive of any state but a military one, and he hoped
in due time, with the help of God, to offer the republic a whole
company of young soldiers.
"You saw them. Charming! good soldiers are Jose, Juan,
and Miquele! Pepe, seven year old; Pepe can handle a gun."
Pepe, hearing himself complimented, brought his two little feet together,
and presented arms with perfect grace.
"He'll get on!" added the sergeant. "He'll be colonel-major
or brigadier-general some day."
Sergeant Manuel seemed so enchanted that it would have been
useless to express a contrary opinion, either to the profession
of arms or the probable future of his children. He was happy,
and as Goethe says, "Nothing that makes us happy is an illusion."
All this talk took up a quarter of an hour, to the great astonishment
of Thalcave. The Indian could not understand how so many words
could come out of one throat. No one interrupted the Sergeant,
but all things come to an end, and at last he was silent,
but not till he had made his guests enter his dwelling,
and be presented to Madame Ipharaguerre. Then, and not till then,
did he ask his guests what had procured him the honor of their visit.
Now or never was the moment to explain, and Paganel, seizing the chance
at once, began an account of their journey across the Pampas,
and ended by inquiring the reason of the Indians having
deserted the country.
"Ah! there was no one!" replied the Sergeant, shrugging his
shoulders--"really no one, and us, too, our arms crossed!
Nothing to do!"
"Yes, civil war between the Paraguayans and Buenos Ayriens,"
replied the Sergeant.
"Well, Indians all in the north, in the rear of General Flores.
Indian pillagers find pillage there."
"But where are the Caciques?"
"Caciques are with them."
"There is no Catriel."
"There is no Calfoucoura."
"And is there no Yanchetruz?"
"No; no Yanchetruz."
The reply was interpreted by Thalcave, who shook his head and
gave an approving look. The Patagonian was either unaware of,
or had forgotten that civil war was decimating the two parts
of the republic--a war which ultimately required the intervention
of Brazil. The Indians have everything to gain by these intestine
strifes, and can not lose such fine opportunities of plunder.
There was no doubt the Sergeant was right in assigning war then
as the cause of the forsaken appearance of the plains.
But this circumstance upset all Glenarvan's projects,
for if Harry Grant was a prisoner in the hands of
the Caciques, he must have been dragged north with them.
How and where should they ever find him if that were the case?
Should they attempt a perilous and almost useless journey
to the northern border of the Pampas? It was a serious question
which would need to be well talked over.
However, there was one inquiry more to make to the Sergeant;
and it was the Major who thought of it, for all the others
looked at each other in silence.
"Had the Sergeant heard whether any Europeans were prisoners
in the hands of the Caciques?"
Manuel looked thoughtful for a few minutes, like a man trying
to ransack his memory. At last he said:
"Ah!" said Glenarvan, catching at the fresh hope.
They all eagerly crowded round the Sergeant, exclaiming,
"Tell us, tell us."
Back to Full Books