In Search of the Castaways
Part 4 out of 11
"It was some years ago," replied Manuel. "Yes; all I heard
was that some Europeans were prisoners, but I never saw them."
"You are making a mistake," said Glenarvan. "It can't be some
years ago; the date of the shipwreck is explicitly given.
The BRITANNIA was wrecked in June, 1862. It is scarcely
two years ago."
"Oh, more than that, my Lord."
"Impossible!" said Paganel.
"Oh, but it must be. It was when Pepe was born.
There were two prisoners."
"No, three!" said Glenarvan.
"Two!" replied the Sergeant, in a positive tone.
"Two?" echoed Glenarvan, much surprised. "Two Englishmen?"
"No, no. Who is talking of Englishmen? No; a Frenchman
and an Italian."
"An Italian who was massacred by the Poyuches?" exclaimed Paganel.
"Yes; and I heard afterward that the Frenchman was saved."
"Saved!" exclaimed young Robert, his very life hanging on the lips
of the Sergeant.
Yes; delivered out of the hands of the Indians."
Paganel struck his forehead with an air of desperation,
and said at last,
"Ah! I understand. It is all clear now; everything is explained."
"But what is it?" asked Glenarvan, with as much impatience.
"My friends," replied Paganel, taking both Robert's hands
in his own, "we must resign ourselves to a sad disaster.
We have been on a wrong track. The prisoner mentioned
is not the captain at all, but one of my own countrymen;
and his companion, who was assassinated by the Poyuches,
was Marco Vazello. The Frenchman was dragged along by the cruel
Indians several times as far as the shores of the Colorado,
but managed at length to make his escape, and return
to Colorado. Instead of following the track of Harry Grant,
we have fallen on that of young Guinnard."
This announcement was heard with profound silence.
The mistake was palpable. The details given by the Sergeant,
the nationality of the prisoner, the murder of his companions,
his escape from the hands of the Indians, all evidenced the fact.
Glenarvan looked at Thalcave with a crestfallen face,
and the Indian, turning to the Sergeant, asked whether he had
never heard of three English captives.
"Never," replied Manuel. "They would have known of them
at Tandil, I am sure. No, it cannot be."
After this, there was nothing further to do at Fort Independence
but to shake hands with the Commandant, and thank him and take leave.
Glenarvan was in despair at this complete overthrow of his hopes,
and Robert walked silently beside him, with his eyes full of tears.
Glenarvan could not find a word of comfort to say to him.
Paganel gesticulated and talked away to himself. The Major never
opened his mouth, nor Thalcave, whose _amour propre_, as an Indian,
seemed quite wounded by having allowed himself to go on a wrong scent.
No one, however, would have thought of reproaching him for an
error so pardonable.
They went back to the FONDA, and had supper; but it was a gloomy party
that surrounded the table. It was not that any one of them regretted
the fatigue they had so heedlessly endured or the dangers they had run,
but they felt their hope of success was gone, for there was no chance
of coming across Captain Grant between the Sierra Tandil and the sea,
as Sergeant Manuel must have heard if any prisoners had fallen into
the hands of the Indians on the coast of the Atlantic. Any event of this
nature would have attracted the notice of the Indian traders who traffic
between Tandil and Carmen, at the mouth of the Rio Negro. The best
thing to do now was to get to the DUNCAN as quick as possible at
the appointed rendezvous.
Paganel asked Glenarvan, however, to let him have the document again,
on the faith of which they had set out on so bootless a search.
He read it over and over, as if trying to extract some new meaning
out of it.
"Yet nothing can be clearer," said Glenarvan; "it gives the date
of the shipwreck, and the manner, and the place of the captivity
in the most categorical manner."
"That it does not--no, it does not!" exclaimed Paganel, striking the table
with his fist. "Since Harry Grant is not in the Pampas, he is not
in America; but where he is the document must say, and it shall say,
my friends, or my name is not Jacques Paganel any longer."
CHAPTER XXII THE FLOOD
A DISTANCE of 150 miles separates Fort Independence from the shores
of the Atlantic. Unless unexpected and certainly improbable delays
should occur, in four days Glenarvan would rejoin the DUNCAN. But to
return on board without Captain Grant, and after having so completely
failed in his search, was what he could not bring himself to do.
Consequently, when next day came, he gave no orders for departure;
the Major took it upon himself to have the horses saddled, and make
all preparations. Thanks to his activity, next morning at eight o'clock
the little troop was descending the grassy slopes of the Sierra.
Glenarvan, with Robert at his side, galloped along without saying a word.
His bold, determined nature made it impossible to take failure quietly.
His heart throbbed as if it would burst, and his head was burning.
Paganel, excited by the difficulty, was turning over and over
the words of the document, and trying to discover some new meaning.
Thalcave was perfectly silent, and left Thaouka to lead the way.
The Major, always confident, remained firm at his post, like a man on whom
discouragement takes no hold. Tom Austin and his two sailors shared
the dejection of their master. A timid rabbit happened to run across
their path, and the superstitious men looked at each other in dismay.
"A bad omen," said Wilson.
"Yes, in the Highlands," repeated Mulrady.
"What's bad in the Highlands is not better here,"
returned Wilson sententiously.
Toward noon they had crossed the Sierra, and descended into
the undulating plains which extend to the sea. Limpid RIOS
intersected these plains, and lost themselves among the tall grasses.
The ground had once more become a dead level, the last mountains
of the Pampas were passed, and a long carpet of verdure unrolled
itself over the monotonous prairie beneath the horses' tread.
Hitherto the weather had been fine, but to-day the sky presented
anything but a reassuring appearance. The heavy vapors, generated by
the high temperature of the preceding days, hung in thick clouds,
which ere long would empty themselves in torrents of rain.
Moreover, the vicinity of the Atlantic, and the prevailing
west wind, made the climate of this district particularly damp.
This was evident by the fertility and abundance of the pasture
and its dark color. However, the clouds remained unbroken
for the present, and in the evening, after a brisk gallop
of forty miles, the horses stopped on the brink of deep CANADAS,
immense natural trenches filled with water. No shelter was near,
and ponchos had to serve both for tents and coverlets as each man
lay down and fell asleep beneath the threatening sky.
Next day the presence of water became still more sensibly felt;
it seemed to exude from every pore of the ground. Soon large ponds,
some just beginning to form, and some already deep, lay across
the route to the east. As long as they had only to deal with lagoons,
circumscribed pieces of water unencumbered with aquatic plants,
the horses could get through well enough, but when they
encountered moving sloughs called PENTANOS, it was harder work.
Tall grass blocked them up, and they were involved in the peril
before they were aware.
These bogs had already proved fatal to more than one living thing,
for Robert, who had got a good bit ahead of the party, came rushing
back at full gallop, calling out:
"Monsieur Paganel, Monsieur Paganel, a forest of horns."
"What!" exclaimed the geographer; "you have found a forest of horns?"
"Yes, yes, or at any rate a coppice."
"A coppice!" replied Paganel, shrugging his shoulders.
"My boy, you are dreaming."
"I am not dreaming, and you will see for yourself. Well, this is
a strange country. They sow horns, and they sprout up like wheat.
I wish I could get some of the seed."
"The boy is really speaking seriously," said the Major.
"Yes, Mr. Major, and you will soon see I am right."
The boy had not been mistaken, for presently they found themselves
in front of an immense field of horns, regularly planted and stretching
far out of sight. It was a complete copse, low and close packed,
but a strange sort.
"Well," said Robert.
"This is peculiar certainly," said Paganel, and he turned round
to question Thalcave on the subject.
"The horns come out of the ground," replied the Indian,
"but the oxen are down below."
"What!" exclaimed Paganel; "do you mean to say that a whole herd
was caught in that mud and buried alive?"
"Yes," said the Patagonian.
And so it was. An immense herd had been suffocated side by side
in this enormous bog, and this was not the first occurrence
of the kind which had taken place in the Argentine plains.
An hour afterward and the field of horns lay two miles behind.
Thalcave was somewhat anxiously observing a state of things
which appeared to him unusual. He frequently stopped and raised
himself on his stirrups and looked
V. IV Verne around. His great height gave him a commanding view
of the whole horizon; but after a keen rapid survey, he quickly
resumed his seat and went on. About a mile further he stopped again,
and leaving the straight route, made a circuit of some miles north
and south, and then returned and fell back in his place at the head
of the troop, without saying a syllable as to what he hoped or feared.
This strange behavior, several times repeated, made Glenarvan very uneasy,
and quite puzzled Paganel. At last, at Glenarvan's request,
he asked the Indian about it.
Thalcave replied that he was astonished to see the plains so saturated
with water. Never, to his knowledge, since he had followed the calling
of guide, had he found the ground in this soaking condition.
Even in the rainy season, the Argentine plains had always been passable.
"But what is the cause of this increasing humidity?" said Paganel.
"I do not know, and what if I did?"
"Could it be owing to the RIOS of the Sierra being swollen
to overflowing by the heavy rains?"
"Sometimes they are."
"And is it the case now?"
Paganel was obliged to be content with this unsatisfactory reply,
and went back to Glenarvan to report the result of his conversation.
"And what does Thalcave advise us to do?" said Glenarvan.
Paganel went back to the guide and asked him.
"Go on fast," was the reply.
This was easier said than done. The horses soon tired of treading over
ground that gave way at every step. It sank each moment more and more,
till it seemed half under water.
They quickened their pace, but could not go fast enough to
escape the water, which rolled in great sheets at their feet.
Before two hours the cataracts of the sky opened and deluged
the plain in true tropical torrents of rain. Never was there
a finer occasion for displaying philosophic equanimity.
There was no shelter, and nothing for it but to bear it stolidly.
The ponchos were streaming like the overflowing gutter-spouts
on the roof of a house, and the unfortunate horsemen had to
submit to a double bath, for their horses dashed up the water
to their waists at every step.
In this drenching, shivering state, and worn out with fatigue,
they came toward evening to a miserable RANCHO, which could
only have been called a shelter by people not very fastidious,
and certainly only travelers in extremity would even have entered it;
but Glenarvan and his companions had no choice, and were glad
enough to burrow in this wretched hovel, though it would have
been despised by even a poor Indian of the Pampas. A miserable
fire of grass was kindled, which gave out more smoke than heat,
and was very difficult to keep alight, as the torrents
of rain which dashed against the ruined cabin outside found
their way within and fell down in large drops from the roof.
Twenty times over the fire would have been extinguished if Mulrady
and Wilson had not kept off the water.
The supper was a dull meal, and neither appetizing nor reviving.
Only the Major seemed to eat with any relish. The impassive McNabbs
was superior to all circumstances. Paganel, Frenchman as he was,
tried to joke, but the attempt was a failure.
"My jests are damp," he said, "they miss fire."
The only consolation in such circumstances was to sleep,
and accordingly each one lay down and endeavored to find in slumber
a temporary forgetfulness of his discomforts and his fatigues.
The night was stormy, and the planks of the rancho cracked
before the blast as if every instant they would give way.
The poor horses outside, exposed to all the inclemency of the weather,
were making piteous moans, and their masters were suffering quite as much
inside the ruined RANCHO. However, sleep overpowered them at length.
Robert was the first to close his eyes and lean his head against
Glenarvan's shoulder, and soon all the rest were soundly sleeping
too under the guardian eye of Heaven.
The night passed safely, and no one stirred till Thaouka woke
them by tapping vigorously against the RANCHO with his hoof.
He knew it was time to start, and at a push could give the signal
as well as his master. They owed the faithful creature too much
to disobey him, and set off immediately.
The rain had abated, but floods of water still covered the ground.
Paganel, on consulting his map, came to the conclusion that
the RIOS Grande and Vivarota, into which the water from the plains
generally runs, must have been united in one large bed several
miles in extent.
Extreme haste was imperative, for all their lives depended on it.
Should the inundation increase, where could they find refuge?
Not a single elevated point was visible on the whole circle
of the horizon, and on such level plains water would sweep along
with fearful rapidity.
The horses were spurred on to the utmost, and Thaouka led the way,
bounding over the water as if it had been his natural element.
Certainly he might justly have been called a sea-horse--
better than many of the amphibious animals who bear that name.
All of a sudden, about ten in the morning, Thaouka betrayed symptoms
of violent agitation. He kept turning round toward the south,
neighing continually, and snorting with wide open nostrils.
He reared violently, and Thalcave had some difficulty in keeping
his seat. The foam from his mouth was tinged with blood
from the action of the bit, pulled tightly by his master's
strong hand, and yet the fiery animal would not be still.
Had he been free, his master knew he would have fled away
to the north as fast as his legs would have carried him.
"What is the matter with Thaouka?" asked Paganel. "Is he bitten
by the leeches? They are very voracious in the Argentine streams."
"No," replied the Indian.
"Is he frightened at something, then?"
"Yes, he scents danger."
"I don't know."
But, though no danger was apparent to the eye, the ear could
catch the sound of a murmuring noise beyond the limits of
the horizon, like the coming in of the tide. Soon a confused
sound was heard of bellowing and neighing and bleating,
and about a mile to the south immense flocks appeared,
rushing and tumbling over each other in the greatest disorder,
as they hurried pell-mell along with inconceivable rapidity.
They raised such a whirlwind of water in their course
that it was impossible to distinguish them clearly.
A hundred whales of the largest size could hardly have dashed
up the ocean waves more violently.
"_Anda, anda!_" (quick, quick), shouted Thalcave, in a voice like thunder.
"What is it, then?" asked Paganel.
"The rising," replied Thalcave.
"He means an inundation," exclaimed Paganel, flying with the others
after Thalcave, who had spurred on his horse toward the north.
It was high time, for about five miles south an immense towering
wave was seen advancing over the plain, and changing the whole
country into an ocean. The tall grass disappeared before it
as if cut down by a scythe, and clumps of mimosas were torn up
and drifted about like floating islands.
The wave was speeding on with the rapidity of a racehorse,
and the travelers fled before it like a cloud before a storm-wind.
They looked in vain for some harbor of refuge, and the terrified
horses galloped so wildly along that the riders could hardly
keep their saddles.
"_Anda, anda!_" shouted Thalcave, and again they spurred on
the poor animals till the blood ran from their lacerated sides.
They stumbled every now and then over great cracks in the ground,
or got entangled in the hidden grass below the water.
They fell, and were pulled up only to fall again and again,
and be pulled up again and again. The level of the waters
was sensibly rising, and less than two miles off the gigantic
wave reared its crested head.
For a quarter of an hour this supreme struggle with the most
terrible of elements lasted. The fugitives could not tell how far
they had gone, but, judging by the speed, the distance must have
been considerable. The poor horses, however, were breast-high
in water now, and could only advance with extreme difficulty.
Glenarvan and Paganel, and, indeed, the whole party, gave themselves
up for lost, as the horses were fast getting out of their depth,
and six feet of water would be enough to drown them.
It would be impossible to tell the anguish of mind these eight
men endured; they felt their own impotence in the presence
of these cataclysms of nature so far beyond all human power.
Their salvation did not lie in their own hands.
Five minutes afterward, and the horses were swimming;
the current alone carried them along with tremendous force,
and with a swiftness equal to their fastest gallop; they must
have gone fully twenty miles an hour.
All hope of delivery seemed impossible, when the Major
suddenly called out:
"A tree?" exclaimed Glenarvan.
"Yes, there, there!" replied Thalcave, pointing with his finger
to a species of gigantic walnut-tree, which raised its solitary
head above the waters.
His companions needed no urging forward now; this tree,
so opportunely discovered, they must reach at all hazards.
The horses very likely might not be able to get to it, but,
at all events, the men would, the current bearing them right
down to it.
Just at that moment Tom Austin's horse gave a smothered neigh
and disappeared. His master, freeing his feet from the stirrups,
began to swim vigorously.
"Hang on to my saddle," called Glenarvan.
"Thanks, your honor, but I have good stout arms."
"Robert, how is your horse going?" asked his Lordship,
turning to young Grant.
"Famously, my Lord, he swims like a fish."
"Lookout!" shouted the Major, in a stentorian voice.
The warning was scarcely spoken before the enormous billow, a monstrous
wave forty feet high, broke over the fugitives with a fearful noise.
Men and animals all disappeared in a whirl of foam; a liquid mass,
weighing several millions of tons, engulfed them in its seething waters.
When it had rolled on, the men reappeared on the surface,
and counted each other rapidly; but all the horses, except Thaouka,
who still bore his master, had gone down forever.
"Courage, courage," repeated Glenarvan, supporting Paganel with one arm,
and swimming with the other.
"I can manage, I can manage," said the worthy savant.
"I am even not sorry--"
But no one ever knew what he was not sorry about, for the poor
man was obliged to swallow down the rest of his sentence
with half a pint of muddy water. The Major advanced quietly,
making regular strokes, worthy of a master swimmer.
The sailors took to the water like porpoises, while Robert
clung to Thaouka's mane, and was carried along with him.
The noble animal swam superbly, instinctively making for the tree
in a straight line.
The tree was only twenty fathoms off, and in a few minutes
was safely reached by the whole party; but for this refuge they
must all have perished in the flood.
The water had risen to the top of the trunk, just to where the parent
branches fork out. It was consequently, quite easy to clamber up to it.
Thalcave climbed up first, and got off his horse to hoist up Robert
and help the others. His powerful arms had soon placed all the exhausted
swimmers in a place of security.
But, meantime, Thaouka was being rapidly carried away by the current.
He turned his intelligent face toward his master, and, shaking his
long mane, neighed as if to summon him to his rescue.
"Are you going to forsake him, Thalcave?" asked Paganel.
"I!" replied the Indian, and forthwith he plunged down into
the tumultuous waters, and came up again ten fathoms off.
A few instants afterward his arms were round Thaouka's neck,
and master and steed were drifting together toward the misty
horizon of the north.
CHAPTER XXIII A SINGULAR ABODE
THE tree on which Glenarvan and his companions had just found refuge,
resembled a walnut-tree, having the same glossy foliage and rounded form.
In reality, however, it was the OMBU, which grows solitarily on the
Argentine plains. The enormous and twisted trunk of this tree is planted
firmly in the soil, not only by its great roots, but still more by its
vigorous shoots, which fasten it down in the most tenacious manner.
This was how it stood proof against the shock of the mighty billow.
This OMBU measured in height a hundred feet, and covered with
its shadow a circumference of one hundred and twenty yards.
All this scaffolding rested on three great boughs which sprang
from the trunk. Two of these rose almost perpendicularly,
and supported the immense parasol of foliage, the branches of which
were so crossed and intertwined and entangled, as if by the hand
of a basket-maker, that they formed an impenetrable shade.
The third arm, on the contrary, stretched right out in a horizontal
position above the roaring waters, into which the lower leaves dipped.
There was no want of room in the interior of this gigantic tree,
for there were great gaps in the foliage, perfect glades,
with air in abundance, and freshness everywhere.
To see the innumerable branches rising to the clouds,
and the creepers running from bough to bough, and attaching
them together while the sunlight glinted here and there among
the leaves, one might have called it a complete forest instead
of a solitary tree sheltering them all.
On the arrival of the fugitives a myriad of the feathered tribes
fled away into the topmost branches, protesting by their outcries
against this flagrant usurpation of their domicile. These birds,
who themselves had taken refuge in the solitary OMBU, were in hundreds,
comprising blackbirds, starlings, isacas, HILGUEROS, and especially
the pica-flor, humming-birds of most resplendent colors.
When they flew away it seemed as though a gust of wind had blown
all the flowers off the tree.
Such was the asylum offered to the little band of Glenarvan. Young Grant
and the agile Wilson were scarcely perched on the tree before
they had climbed to the upper branches and put their heads
through the leafy dome to get a view of the vast horizon.
The ocean made by the inundation surrounded them on all sides,
and, far as the eye could reach, seemed to have no limits.
Not a single tree was visible on the liquid plain; the OMBU
stood alone amid the rolling waters, and trembled before them.
In the distance, drifting from south to north, carried along
by the impetuous torrent, they saw trees torn up by the roots,
twisted branches, roofs torn off, destroyed RANCHOS, planks of sheds
stolen by the deluge from ESTANCIAS, carcasses of drowned animals,
blood-stained skins, and on a shaky tree a complete family of jaguars,
howling and clutching hold of their frail raft. Still farther away,
a black spot almost invisible, already caught Wilson's eye.
It was Thalcave and his faithful Thaouka.
"Thalcave, Thalcave!" shouted Robert, stretching out his hands toward
the courageous Patagonian.
"He will save himself, Mr. Robert," replied Wilson; "we must go
down to his Lordship."
Next minute they had descended the three stages of boughs,
and landed safely on the top of the trunk, where they found
Glenarvan, Paganel, the Major, Austin, and Mulrady, sitting either
astride or in some position they found more comfortable.
Wilson gave an account of their investigations aloft,
and all shared his opinion with respect to Thalcave. The only
question was whether it was Thalcave who would save Thaouka,
or Thaouka save Thalcave.
Their own situation meantime was much more alarming than his.
No doubt the tree would be able to resist the current, but the waters
might rise higher and higher, till the topmost branches were covered,
for the depression of the soil made this part of the plain a
deep reservoir. Glenarvan's first care, consequently, was to make
notches by which to ascertain the progress of the inundation.
For the present it was stationary, having apparently reached its height.
This was reassuring.
"And now what are we going to do?" said Glenarvan.
"Make our nest, of course!" replied Paganel
"Make our nest!" exclaimed Robert.
"Certainly, my boy, and live the life of birds, since we can't
that of fishes."
"All very well, but who will fill our bills for us?" said Glenarvan.
"I will," said the Major.
All eyes turned toward him immediately, and there he sat in a natural
arm-chair, formed of two elastic boughs, holding out his ALFORJAS damp,
but still intact.
"Oh, McNabbs, that's just like you," exclaimed Glenarvan,
"you think of everything even under circumstances which would
drive all out of your head."
"Since it was settled we were not going to be drowned,
I had no intention of starving of hunger."
"I should have thought of it, too," said Paganel, "but I
am so DISTRAIT."
"And what is in the ALFORJAS?" asked Tom Austin.
"Food enough to last seven men for two days," replied McNabbs.
"And I hope the inundation will have gone down in twenty-four hours,"
"Or that we shall have found some way of regaining _terra firma_,"
"Our first business, then, now is to breakfast," said Glenarvan.
"I suppose you mean after we have made ourselves dry,"
observed the Major.
"And where's the fire?" asked Wilson.
"We must make it," returned Paganel.
"On the top of the trunk, of course."
"And what with?"
"With the dead wood we cut off the tree."
"But how will you kindle it?" asked Glenarvan. "Our tinder
is just like wet sponge."
"We can dispense with it," replied Paganel. "We only want a little
dry moss and a ray of sunshine, and the lens of my telescope,
and you'll see what a fire I'll get to dry myself by.
Who will go and cut wood in the forest?"
"I will," said Robert.
And off he scampered like a young cat into the depths of the foliage,
followed by his friend Wilson. Paganel set to work to find dry moss,
and had soon gathered sufficient. This he laid on a bed of damp leaves,
just where the large branches began to fork out, forming a natural hearth,
where there was little fear of conflagration.
Robert and Wilson speedily reappeared, each with an armful of
dry wood, which they threw on the moss. By the help of the lens
it was easily kindled, for the sun was blazing overhead.
In order to ensure a proper draught, Paganel stood over
the hearth with his long legs straddled out in the Arab manner.
Then stooping down and raising himself with a rapid motion,
he made a violent current of air with his poncho,
which made the wood take fire, and soon a bright flame
roared in the improvised brasier. After drying themselves,
each in his own fashion, and hanging their ponchos on the tree,
where they were swung to and fro in the breeze, they breakfasted,
carefully however rationing out the provisions, for the morrow
had to be thought of; the immense basin might not empty so soon
as Glenarvan expected, and, anyway, the supply was very limited.
The OMBU produced no fruit, though fortunately, it would likely
abound in fresh eggs, thanks to the numerous nests stowed away
among the leaves, not to speak of their feathered proprietors.
These resources were by no means to be despised.
The next business was to install themselves as comfortably as they could,
in prospect of a long stay.
"As the kitchen and dining-room are on the ground floor,"
said Paganel, "we must sleep on the first floor. The house is large,
and as the rent is not dear, we must not cramp ourselves for room.
I can see up yonder natural cradles, in which once safely tucked
up we shall sleep as if we were in the best beds in the world.
We have nothing to fear. Besides, we will watch, and we are numerous
enough to repulse a fleet of Indians and other wild animals."
"We only want fire-arms."
"I have my revolvers," said Glenarvan.
"And I have mine," replied Robert.
"But what's the good of them?" said Tom Austin, "unless Monsieur Paganel
can find out some way of making powder."
"We don't need it," replied McNabbs, exhibiting a powder flask
in a perfect state of preservation.
"Where did you get it from, Major," asked Paganel.
"From Thalcave. He thought it might be useful to us, and gave it
to me before he plunged into the water to save Thaouka."
"Generous, brave Indian!" exclaimed Glenarvan.
"Yes," replied Tom Austin, "if all the Patagonians are cut
after the same pattern, I must compliment Patagonia."
"I protest against leaving out the horse," said Paganel. "He is part
and parcel of the Patagonian, and I'm much mistaken if we don't see
them again, the one on the other's back."
"What distance are we from the Atlantic?" asked the Major.
"About forty miles at the outside," replied Paganel; "and now,
friends, since this is Liberty Hall, I beg to take leave of you.
I am going to choose an observatory for myself up there,
and by the help of my telescope, let you know how things are
going on in the world."
Forthwith the geographer set off, hoisting himself up very cleverly
from bough to bough, till he disappeared beyond the thick foliage.
His companions began to arrange the night quarters, and prepare
their beds. But this was neither a long nor difficult task,
and very soon they resumed their seats round the fire to have a talk.
As usual their theme was Captain Grant. In three days, should the
water subside, they would be on board the DUNCAN once more.
But Harry Grant and his two sailors, those poor shipwrecked fellows,
would not be with them. Indeed, it even seemed after this ill success
and this useless journey across America, that all chance of finding
them was gone forever. Where could they commence a fresh quest?
What grief Lady Helena and Mary Grant would feel on hearing there
was no further hope.
"Poor sister!" said Robert. "It is all up with us."
For the first time Glenarvan could not find any comfort to give him.
What could he say to the lad?
Had they not searched exactly where the document stated?
"And yet," he said, "this thirty-seventh degree of latitude
is not a mere figure, and that it applies to the shipwreck
or captivity of Harry Grant, is no mere guess or supposition.
We read it with our own eyes."
"All very true, your Honor," replied Tom Austin, "and yet our search
has been unsuccessful."
"It is both a provoking and hopeless business," replied Glenarvan.
"Provoking enough, certainly," said the Major, "but not hopeless.
It is precisely because we have an uncon-testable figure, provided for us,
that we should follow it up to the end."
"What do you mean?" asked Glenarvan. "What more can we do?"
"A very logical and simple thing, my dear Edward. When we
go on board the DUNCAN, turn her beak head to the east,
and go right along the thirty-seventh parallel till we come
back to our starting point if necessary."
"Do you suppose that I have not thought of that, Mr. McNabbs?"
replied Glenarvan. "Yes, a hundred times. But what chance is
there of success? To leave the American continent, wouldn't it
be to go away from the very spot indicated by Harry Grant,
from this very Patagonia so distinctly named in the document."
"And would you recommence your search in the Pampas, when you
have the certainty that the shipwreck of the BRITANNIA neither
occurred on the coasts of the Pacific nor the Atlantic?"
Glenarvan was silent.
"And however small the chance of finding Harry Grant by following
up the given parallel, ought we not to try?"
"I don't say no," replied Glenarvan.
"And are you not of my opinion, good friends," added the Major,
addressing the sailors.
"Entirely," said Tom Austin, while Mulrady and Wilson gave
an assenting nod.
"Listen to me, friends," said Glenarvan after a few minutes'
reflection; "and remember, Robert, this is a grave discussion.
I will do my utmost to find Captain Grant; I am pledged to it,
and will devote my whole life to the task if needs be. All Scotland
would unite with me to save so devoted a son as he has been to her.
I too quite think with you that we must follow the thirty-seventh
parallel round the globe if necessary, however slight our chance
of finding him. But that is not the question we have to settle.
There is one much more important than that is--should we from this time,
and all together, give up our search on the American continent?"
No one made any reply. Each one seemed afraid to pronounce the word.
"Well?" resumed Glenarvan, addressing himself especially to the Major.
"My dear Edward," replied McNabbs, "it would be incurring
too great a responsibility for me to reply _hic et nunc_.
It is a question which requires reflection. I must know first,
through which countries the thirty-seventh parallel of
southern latitude passes?"
"That's Paganel's business; he will tell you that," said Glenarvan.
"Let's ask him, then," replied the Major.
But the learned geographer was nowhere to be seen.
He was hidden among the thick leafage of the OMBU, and they
must call out if they wanted him.
"Paganel, Paganel!" shouted Glenarvan.
"Here," replied a voice that seemed to come from the clouds.
"Where are you?"
"In my tower."
"What are you doing there?"
"Examining the wide horizon."
"Could you come down for a minute?"
"Do you want me?"
"To know what countries the thirty-seventh parallel passes through."
"That's easily said. I need not disturb myself to come down for that."
"Very well, tell us now."
"Listen, then. After leaving America the thirty-seventh parallel
crosses the Atlantic Ocean."
"It encounters Isle Tristan d'Acunha."
"It goes on two degrees below the Cape of Good Hope."
"Runs across the Indian Ocean, and just touches Isle St. Pierre,
in the Amsterdam group."
"It cuts Australia by the province of Victoria."
"After leaving Australia in--"
This last sentence was not completed. Was the geographer hesitating,
or didn't he know what to say?
No; but a terrible cry resounded from the top of the tree.
Glenarvan and his friends turned pale and looked at each other.
What fresh catastrophe had happened now? Had the unfortunate
Paganel slipped his footing?
Already Wilson and Mulrady had rushed to his rescue when his long
body appeared tumbling down from branch to branch.
But was he living or dead, for his hands made no attempt to seize
anything to stop himself. A few minutes more, and he would
have fallen into the roaring waters had not the Major's strong
arm barred his passage.
"Much obliged, McNabbs," said Paganel.
"How's this? What is the matter with you? What came over you?
Another of your absent fits."
"Yes, yes," replied Paganel, in a voice almost inarticulate with emotion.
"Yes, but this was something extraordinary."
"What was it?"
"I said we had made a mistake. We are making it still,
and have been all along."
"Glenarvan, Major, Robert, my friends," exclaimed Paganel,
"all you that hear me, we are looking for Captain Grant where
he is not to be found."
"What do you say?" exclaimed Glenarvan.
"Not only where he is not now, but where he has never been."
CHAPTER XXIV PAGANEL'S DISCLOSURE
PROFOUND astonishment greeted these unexpected words of the
learned geographer. What could he mean? Had he lost his sense?
He spoke with such conviction, however, that all eyes turned
toward Glenarvan, for Paganel's affirmation was a direct answer
to his question, but Glenarvan shook his head, and said nothing,
though evidently he was not inclined to favor his friend's views.
"Yes," began Paganel again, as soon as he had recovered himself a little;
"yes, we have gone a wrong track, and read on the document what
was never there."
"Explain yourself, Paganel," said the Major, "and more calmly
if you can."
"The thing is very simple, Major. Like you, I was in error; like you,
I had rushed at a false interpretation, until about an instant ago,
on the top of the tree, when I was answering your questions, just as I
pronounced the word 'Australia,' a sudden flash came across my mind,
and the document became clear as day."
"What!" exclaimed Glenarvan, "you mean to say that Harry Grant--"
"I mean to say," replied Paganel, "that the word AUSTRAL that occurs
in the document is not a complete word, as we have supposed up till now,
but just the root of the word AUSTRALIE."
"Well, that would be strange," said the Major.
"Strange!" repeated Glenarvan, shrugging his shoulders;
"it is simply impossible."
"Impossible?" returned Paganel. "That is a word we don't
allow in France."
"What!" continued Glenarvan, in a tone of the most profound incredulity,
"you dare to contend, with the document in your hand, that the shipwreck
of the BRITANNIA happened on the shores of Australia."
"I am sure of it," replied Paganel.
"My conscience," exclaimed Glenarvan, "I must say I am surprised
at such a declaration from the Secretary of a Geographical Society!"
"And why so?" said Paganel, touched in his weak point.
"Because, if you allow the word AUSTRALIE! you must also allow
the word INDIENS, and Indians are never seen there."
Paganel was not the least surprised at this rejoinder.
Doubtless he expected it, for he began to smile, and said:
"My dear Glenarvan, don't triumph over me too fast.
I am going to floor you completely, and never was an
Englishman more thoroughly defeated than you will be.
It will be the revenge for Cressy and Agincourt."
"I wish nothing better. Take your revenge, Paganel."
"Listen, then. In the text of the document, there is neither mention
of the Indians nor of Patagonia! The incomplete word INDI does not
mean INDIENS, but of course, INDIGENES, aborigines! Now, do you admit
that there are aborigines in Australia?"
"Bravo, Paganel!" said the Major.
"Well, do you agree to my interpretation, my dear Lord?"
asked the geographer again.
"Yes," replied Glenarvan, "if you will prove to me that the fragment
of a word GONIE, does not refer to the country of the Patagonians."
"Certainly it does not. It has nothing to do with Patagonia,"
said Paganel. "Read it any way you please except that."
"_Cosmogonie, theogonie, agonie_."
"AGONIE," said the Major.
"I don't care which," returned Paganel. "The word is
quite unimportant; I will not even try to find out its meaning.
The main point is that AUSTRAL means AUSTRALIE, and we must
have gone blindly on a wrong track not to have discovered
the explanation at the very beginning, it was so evident.
If I had found the document myself, and my judgment had not
been misled by your interpretation, I should never have
read it differently."
A burst of hurrahs, and congratulations, and compliments followed
Paganel's words. Austin and the sailors, and the Major and Robert,
most all overjoyed at this fresh hope, applauded him heartily;
while even Glenarvan, whose eyes were gradually getting open,
was almost prepared to give in.
"I only want to know one thing more, my dear Paganel," he said,
"and then I must bow to your perspicacity."
"What is it?"
"How will you group the words together according to your
new interpretation? How will the document read?"
"Easily enough answered. Here is the document," replied Paganel,
taking out the precious paper he had been studying so conscientiously
for the last few days.
For a few minutes there was complete silence, while the worthy
SAVANT took time to collect his thoughts before complying with
his lordship's request. Then putting his finger on the words,
and emphasizing some of them, he began as follows:
"'_Le 7 juin_ 1862 _le trois-mats Britannia de Glasgow a sombre apres_,'--
put, if you please, '_deux jours, trois jours_,' or '_une longue agonie_,'
it doesn't signify, it is quite a matter of indifference,--'_sur
les cotes de l'Australie. Se dirigeant a terre, deux matelots et
le Capitaine Grant vont essayer d'aborder_,' or '_ont aborde le
continent ou ils seront_,' or, '_sont prisonniers de cruels indigenes.
Ils ont jete ce documents_,' etc. Is that clear?"
"Clear enough," replied Glenarvan, "if the word continent can
be applied to Australia, which is only an island."
"Make yourself easy about that, my dear Glenarvan; the best geographers
have agreed to call the island the Australian Continent."
V. IV Verne
"Then all I have now to say is, my friends," said Glenarvan,
"away to Australia, and may Heaven help us!"
"To Australia!" echoed his companions, with one voice.
"I tell you what, Paganel," added Glenarvan, "your being on board
the DUNCAN is a perfect providence."
"All right. Look on me as a messenger of providence, and let
us drop the subject."
So the conversation ended--a conversation which great results
were to follow; it completely changed the moral condition of
the travelers; it gave the clew of the labyrinth in which they
had thought themselves hopelessly entangled, and, amid their
ruined projects, inspired them with fresh hope. They could
now quit the American Continent without the least hesitation,
and already their thoughts had flown to the Australias. In going
on board the DUNCAN again they would not bring despair with them,
and Lady Helena and Mary Grant would not have to mourn the irrevocable
loss of Captain Grant. This thought so filled them with joy
that they forgot all the dangers of their actual situation,
and only regretted that they could not start immediately.
It was about four o'clock in the afternoon, and they determined
to have supper at six. Paganel wished to get up a splendid spread
in honor of the occasion, but as the materials were very scanty,
he proposed to Robert to go and hunt in the neighboring forest.
Robert clapped his hands at the idea, so they took Thalcave's
powder flask, cleaned the revolvers and loaded them with small shot,
and set off.
"Don't go too far," said the Major, gravely, to the two hunters.
After their departure, Glenarvan and McNabbs went down to examine
the state of the water by looking at the notches they had made
on the tree, and Wilson and Mulrady replenished the fire.
No sign of decrease appeared on the surface of the immense lake,
yet the flood seemed to have reached its maximum height;
but the violence with which it rushed from the south to north proved
that the equilibrium of the Argentine rivers was not restored.
Before getting lower the liquid mass must remain stationary,
as in the case with the ocean before the ebb tide commences.
While Glenarvan and his cousin were making these observations,
the report of firearms resounded frequently above their heads,
and the jubilant outcries of the two sportsmen--for Paganel was every
whit as much a child as Robert. They were having a fine time of it
among the thick leaves, judging by the peals of laughter which rang
out in the boy's clear treble voice and Paganel's deep bass.
The chase was evidently successful, and wonders in culinary
art might be expected. Wilson had a good idea to begin with,
which he had skilfully carried out; for when Glenarvan came back
to the brasier, he found that the brave fellow had actually
managed to catch, with only a pin and a piece of string,
several dozen small fish, as delicate as smelts, called MOJARRAS,
which were all jumping about in a fold of his poncho, ready to be
converted into an exquisite dish.
At the same moment the hunters reappeared. Paganel was carefully
carrying some black swallows' eggs, and a string of sparrows,
which he meant to serve up later under the name of field larks.
Robert had been clever enough to bring down several brace of HILGUEROS,
small green and yellow birds, which are excellent eating, and greatly
in demand in the Montevideo market. Paganel, who knew fifty ways
of dressing eggs, was obliged for this once to be content with simply
hardening them on the hot embers. But notwithstanding this,
the viands at the meal were both dainty and varied. The dried beef,
hard eggs, grilled MOJARRAS, sparrows, and roast HILGUEROS,
made one of those gala feasts the memory of which is imperishable.
The conversation was very animated. Many compliments were paid
Paganel on his twofold talents as hunter and cook, which the SAVANT
accepted with the modesty which characterizes true merit.
Then he turned the conversation on the peculiarities of the OMBU,
under whose canopy they had found shelter, and whose depths
he declared were immense.
"Robert and I," he added, jestingly, "thought ourselves
hunting in the open forest. I was afraid, for the minute,
we should lose ourselves, for I could not find the road.
The sun was sinking below the horizon; I sought vainly for footmarks;
I began to feel the sharp pangs of hunger, and the gloomy depths
of the forest resounded already with the roar of wild beasts.
No, not that; there are no wild beasts here, I am sorry to say."
"What!" exclaimed Glenarvan, "you are sorry there are no wild beasts?"
"Certainly I am."
"And yet we should have every reason to dread their ferocity."
"Their ferocity is non-existent, scientifically speaking,"
replied the learned geographer.
"Now come, Paganel," said the Major, "you'll never make me admit
the utility of wild beasts. What good are they?"
"Why, Major," exclaimed Paganel, "for purposes of classification
into orders, and families, and species, and sub-species."
"A mighty advantage, certainly!" replied McNabbs, "I could dispense
with all that. If I had been one of Noah's companions at the time of
the deluge, I should most assuredly have hindered the imprudent patriarch
from putting in pairs of lions, and tigers, and panthers, and bears,
and such animals, for they are as malevolent as they are useless."
"You would have done that?" asked Paganel.
"Yes, I would."
"Well, you would have done wrong in a zoological point
of view," returned Paganel.
"But not in a humanitarian one," rejoined the Major.
"It is shocking!" replied Paganel. "Why, for my part,
on the contrary, I should have taken special care to preserve
megatheriums and pterodactyles, and all the antediluvian species
of which we are unfortunately deprived by his neglect."
"And I say," returned McNabbs, "that Noah did a very good thing
when he abandoned them to their fate--that is, if they lived
in his day."
"And I say he did a very bad thing," retorted Paganel, "and he has
justly merited the malediction of SAVANTS to the end of time!"
The rest of the party could not help laughing at hearing the two
friends disputing over old Noah. Contrary to all his principles,
the Major, who all his life had never disputed with anyone,
was always sparring with Paganel. The geographer seemed to have
a peculiarly exciting effect on him.
Glenarvan, as usual, always the peacemaker, interfered in
the debate, and said:
"Whether the loss of ferocious animals is to be regretted or not,
in a scientific point of view, there is no help for it now;
we must be content to do without them. Paganel can hardly expect
to meet with wild beasts in this aerial forest."
"Why not?" asked the geographer.
"Wild beasts on a tree!" exclaimed Tom Austin.
"Yes, undoubtedly. The American tiger, the jaguar,
takes refuge in the trees, when the chase gets too hot for him.
It is quite possible that one of these animals, surprised by
the inundation, might have climbed up into this OMBU, and be
hiding now among its thick foliage."
"You haven't met any of them, at any rate, I suppose?"
said the Major.
"No," replied Paganel, "though we hunted all through the wood.
It is vexing, for it would have been a splendid chase.
A jaguar is a bloodthirsty, ferocious creature. He can
twist the neck of a horse with a single stroke of his paw.
When he has once tasted human flesh he scents it greedily.
He likes to eat an Indian best, and next to him a negro,
then a mulatto, and last of all a white man."
"I am delighted to hear we come number four," said McNabbs.
"That only proves you are insipid," retorted Paganel,
with an air of disdain.
"I am delighted to be insipid," was the Major's reply.
"Well, it is humiliating enough," said the intractable Paganel.
"The white man proclaimed himself chief of the human race;
but Mr. Jaguar is of a different opinion it seems."
"Be that as it may, my brave Paganel, seeing there are
neither Indians, nor negroes, nor mulattoes among us,
I am quite rejoiced at the absence of your beloved jaguars.
Our situation is not so particularly agreeable."
"What! not agreeable!" exclaimed Paganel, jumping at
the word as likely to give a new turn to the conversation.
"You are complaining of your lot, Glenarvan."
"I should think so, indeed," replied Glenarvan. "Do you find
these uncomfortable hard branches very luxurious?"
"I have never been more comfortable, even in my study.
We live like the birds, we sing and fly about. I begin to believe
men were intended to live on trees."
"But they want wings," suggested the Major.
"They'll make them some day."
"And till then," put in Glenarvan, "with your leave, I prefer
the gravel of a park, or the floor of a house, or the deck of a ship,
to this aerial dwelling."
"We must take things as they come, Glenarvan," returned Paganel.
"If good, so much the better; if bad, never mind. Ah, I see you
are wishing you had all the comforts of Malcolm Castle."
"I am quite certain Robert is perfectly happy," interrupted Paganel,
eager to insure one partisan at least.
"Yes, that I am!" exclaimed Robert, in a joyous tone.
"At his age it is quite natural," replied Glenarvan.
"And at mine, too," returned the geographer. "The fewer
one's comforts, the fewer one's needs; and the fewer one's needs,
the greater one's happiness."
"Now, now," said the Major, "here is Paganel running a tilt
against riches and gilt ceilings."
"No, McNabbs," replied the SAVANT, "I'm not; but if you like,
I'll tell you a little Arabian story that comes into my mind,
very APROPOS this minute."
"Oh, do, do," said Robert.
"And what is your story to prove, Paganel?" inquired the Major.
"Much what all stories prove, my brave comrade."
"Not much then," rejoined McNabbs. "But go on, Scheherazade, and tell
us the story."
"There was once," said Paganel, "a son of the great Haroun-al-Raschid,
who was unhappy, and went to consult an old Dervish. The old sage
told him that happiness was a difficult thing to find in this world.
'However,' he added, 'I know an infallible means of procuring
your happiness.' 'What is it?' asked the young Prince. 'It is
to put the shirt of a happy man on your shoulders.'
Whereupon the Prince embraced the old man, and set out at once to search
for his talisman. He visited all the capital cities in the world.
He tried on the shirts of kings, and emperors, and princes and nobles;
but all in vain: he could not find a man among them that was happy.
Then he put on the shirts of artists, and warriors, and merchants;
but these were no better. By this time he had traveled a long way,
without finding what he sought. At last he began to despair of success,
and began sorrowfully to retrace his steps back to his father's palace,
when one day he heard an honest peasant singing so merrily
as he drove the plow, that he thought, 'Surely this man is happy,
if there is such a thing as happiness on earth.' Forthwith he
accosted him, and said, 'Are you happy?' 'Yes,' was the reply.
'There is nothing you desire?' 'Nothing.' 'You would not change your
lot for that of a king?' 'Never!' 'Well, then, sell me your shirt.'
'My shirt! I haven't one!'"
CHAPTER XXV BETWEEN FIRE AND WATER
BEFORE turning into "their nest," as Paganel had called it, he,
and Robert, and Glenarvan climbed up into the observatory to have
one more inspection of the liquid plain. It was about nine o'clock;
the sun had just sunk behind the glowing mists of the western horizon.
The eastern horizon was gradually assuming a most stormy aspect.
A thick dark bar of cloud was rising higher and higher, and by degrees
extinguishing the stars. Before long half the sky was overspread.
Evidently motive power lay in the cloud itself, for there was
not a breath of wind. Absolute calm reigned in the atmosphere;
not a leaf stirred on the tree, not a ripple disturbed the surface
of the water. There seemed to be scarcely any air even,
as though some vast pneumatic machine had rarefied it.
The entire atmosphere was charged to the utmost with electricity,
the presence of which sent a thrill through the whole nervous
system of all animated beings.
"We are going to have a storm," said Paganel.
"You're not afraid of thunder, are you, Robert?" asked Glenarvan.
"No, my Lord!" exclaimed Robert. "Well, my boy, so much the better,
for a storm is not far off."
"And a violent one, too," added Paganel, "if I may judge
by the look of things."
"It is not the storm I care about," said Glenarvan,
"so much as the torrents of rain that will accompany it.
We shall be soaked to the skin. Whatever you may say, Paganel,
a nest won't do for a man, and you will learn that soon,
to your cost."
"With the help of philosophy, it will," replied Paganel.
"Philosophy! that won't keep you from getting drenched."
"No, but it will warm you."
"Well," said Glenarvan, "we had better go down to our friends,
and advise them to wrap themselves up in their philosophy and their
ponchos as tightly as possible, and above all, to lay in a stock
of patience, for we shall need it before very long."
Glenarvan gave a last glance at the angry sky. The clouds now covered
it entirely; only a dim streak of light shone faintly in the west.
A dark shadow lay on the water, and it could hardly be distinguished from
the thick vapors above it. There was no sensation of light or sound.
All was darkness and silence around.
"Let us go down," said Glenarvan; "the thunder will soon burst over us."
On returning to the bottom of the tree, they found themselves,
to their great surprise, in a sort of dim twilight, produced by
myriads of luminous specks which appeared buzzing confusedly
over the surface of the water.
"It is phosphorescence, I suppose," said Glenarvan.
"No, but phosphorescent insects, positive glow-worms, living diamonds,
which the ladies of Buenos Ayres convert into magnificent ornaments."
"What!" exclaimed Robert, "those sparks flying about are insects!"
"Yes, my boy."
Robert caught one in his hand, and found Paganel was right.
It was a kind of large drone, an inch long, and the Indians
call it "tuco-tuco." This curious specimen of the COLEOPTERA
sheds its radiance from two spots in the front of its
breast-plate, and the light is sufficient to read by.
Holding his watch close to the insect, Paganel saw distinctly
that the time was 10 P. M.
On rejoining the Major and his three sailors, Glenarvan warned
them of the approaching storm, and advised them to secure
themselves in their beds of branches as firmly as possible,
for there was no doubt that after the first clap of thunder the wind
would become unchained, and the OMBU would be violently shaken.
Though they could not defend themselves from the waters above,
they might at least keep out of the rushing current beneath.
They wished one another "good-night," though hardly daring to hope for it,
and then each one rolled himself in his poncho and lay down to sleep.
But the approach of the great phenomena of nature excites
vague uneasiness in the heart of every sentient being,
even in the most strong-minded. The whole party in the OMBU
felt agitated and oppressed, and not one of them could close
his eyes. The first peal of thunder found them wide awake.
It occurred about 11 P. M., and sounded like a distant rolling.
Glenarvan ventured to creep out of the sheltering foliage,
and made his way to the extremity of the horizontal branch
to take a look round.
The deep blackness of the night was already scarified with sharp bright
lines, which were reflected back by the water with unerring exactness.
The clouds had rent in many parts, but noiselessly, like some soft
cotton material. After attentively observing both the zenith and horizon,
Glenarvan went back to the center of the trunk.
"Well, Glenarvan, what's your report?" asked Paganel.
"I say it is beginning in good earnest, and if it goes on so we
shall have a terrible storm."
"So much the better," replied the enthusiastic Paganel; "I should
like a grand exhibition, since we can't run away."
"That's another of your theories," said the Major.
"And one of my best, McNabbs. I am of Glenarvan's opinion,
that the storm will be superb. Just a minute ago, when I
was trying to sleep, several facts occurred to my memory,
that make me hope it will, for we are in the region of great
electrical tempests. For instance, I have read somewhere,
that in 1793, in this very province of Buenos Ayres,
lightning struck thirty-seven times during one single storm.
My colleague, M. Martin de Moussy, counted fifty-five minutes
of uninterrupted rolling."
"Watch in hand?" asked the Major.
"Watch in hand. Only one thing makes me uneasy," added Paganel,
"if it is any use to be uneasy, and that is, that the culminating
point of this plain, is just this very OMBU where we are.
A lightning conductor would be very serviceable to us at present.
For it is this tree especially, among all that grow in the Pampas,
that the thunder has a particular affection for. Besides, I need
not tell you, friend, that learned men tell us never to take refuge
under trees during a storm."
"Most seasonable advice, certainly, in our circumstances,"
said the Major.
"I must confess, Paganel," replied Glenarvan, "that you might
have chosen a better time for this reassuring information."
"Bah!" replied Paganel, "all times are good for getting information.
Ha! now it's beginning."
Louder peals of thunder interrupted this inopportune conversation,
the violence increasing with the noise till the whole atmosphere
seemed to vibrate with rapid oscillations.
The incessant flashes of lightning took various forms.
Some darted down perpendicularly from the sky five or six
times in the same place in succession. Others would have
excited the interest of a SAVANT to the highest degree,
for though Arago, in his curious statistics, only cites two examples
of forked lightning, it was visible here hundreds of times.
Some of the flashes branched out in a thousand different directions,
making coralliform zigzags, and threw out wonderful jets
of arborescent light.
Soon the whole sky from east to north seemed supported by a phosphoric
band of intense brilliancy. This kept increasing by degrees till it
overspread the entire horizon, kindling the clouds which were faithfully
mirrored in the waters as if they were masses of combustible material,
beneath, and presented the appearance of an immense globe of fire,
the center of which was the OMBU.
Glenarvan and his companions gazed silently at this terrifying spectacle.
They could not make their voices heard, but the sheets of white light
which enwrapped them every now and then, revealed the face of one and
another, sometimes the calm features of the Major, sometimes the eager,
curious glance of Paganel, or the energetic face of Glenarvan,
and at others, the scared eyes of the terrified Robert, and the careless
looks of the sailors, investing them with a weird, spectral aspect.
However, as yet, no rain had fallen, and the wind had not risen in
the least. But this state of things was of short duration; before long
the cataracts of the sky burst forth, and came down in vertical streams.
As the large drops fell splashing into the lake, fiery sparks seemed
to fly out from the illuminated surface.
Was the rain the FINALE of the storm? If so, Glenarvan and his
companions would escape scot free, except for a few vigorous
douche baths. No. At the very height of this struggle of the
electric forces of the atmosphere, a large ball of fire appeared
suddenly at the extremity of the horizontal parent branch,
as thick as a man's wrist, and surrounded with black smoke.
This ball, after turning round and round for a few seconds,
burst like a bombshell, and with so much noise that the explosion
was distinctly audible above the general FRACAS. A sulphurous
smoke filled the air, and complete silence reigned till the voice
of Tom Austin was heard shouting:
"The tree is on fire."
Tom was right. In a moment, as if some fireworks were being ignited,
the flame ran along the west side of the OMBU; the dead wood and nests
of dried grass, and the whole sap, which was of a spongy texture,
supplied food for its devouring activity.
The wind had risen now and fanned the flame. It was time to flee,
and Glenarvan and his party hurried away to the eastern side
of their refuge, which was meantime untouched by the fire.
They were all silent, troubled, and terrified, as they watched
branch after branch shrivel, and crack, and writhe in the flame like
living serpents, and then drop into the swollen torrent, still red
and gleaming, as it was borne swiftly along on the rapid current.
The flames sometimes rose to a prodigious height, and seemed almost
lost in the atmosphere, and sometimes, beaten down by the hurricane,
closely enveloped the OMBU like a robe of Nessus. Terror seized
the entire group. They were almost suffocated with smoke,
and scorched with the unbearable heat, for the conflagration
had already reached the lower branches on their side of
the OMBU. To extinguish it or check its progress was impossible;
and they saw themselves irrevocably condemned to a torturing death,
like the victims of Hindoo divinities.
At last, their situation was absolutely intolerable.
Of the two deaths staring them in the face, they had better
choose the less cruel.
"To the water!" exclaimed Glenarvan.
Wilson, who was nearest the flames, had already plunged into the lake,
but next minute he screamed out in the most violent terror:
Austin rushed toward him, and with the assistance of the Major,
dragged him up again on the tree.
"What's the matter?" they asked.
"Alligators! alligators!" replied Wilson.
The whole foot of the tree appeared to be surrounded by these
formidable animals of the Saurian order. By the glare of the flames,
they were immediately recognized by Paganel, as the ferocious species
peculiar to America, called CAIMANS in the Spanish territories.
About ten of them were there, lashing the water with their powerful tails,
and attacking the OMBU with the long teeth of their lower jaw.
At this sight the unfortunate men gave themselves up to be lost.
A frightful death was in store for them, since they must either
be devoured by the fire or by the caimans. Even the Major said,
in a calm voice:
"This is the beginning of the end, now."
There are circumstances in which men are powerless, when the
unchained elements can only be combated by other elements.
Glenarvan gazed with haggard looks at the fire and water leagued
against him, hardly knowing what deliverance to implore from Heaven.
The violence of the storm had abated, but it had developed
in the atmosphere a considerable quantity of vapors,
to which electricity was about to communicate immense force.
An enormous water-spout was gradually forming in the south--
a cone of thick mists, but with the point at the bottom,
and base at the top, linking together the turbulent water
and the angry clouds. This meteor soon began to move forward,
turning over and over on itself with dizzy rapidity,
and sweeping up into its center a column of water from the lake,
while its gyratory motions made all the surrounding currents
of air rush toward it.
A few seconds more, and the gigantic water-spout threw itself on the OMBU,
and caught it up in its whirl. The tree shook to its roots.
Glenarvan could fancy the caimans' teeth were tearing it up from the soil;
for as he and his companions held on, each clinging firmly to the other,
they felt the towering OMBU give way, and the next minute it fell right
over with a terrible hissing noise, as the flaming branches touched
the foaming water.
It was the work of an instant. Already the water-spout
had passed, to carry on its destructive work elsewhere.
It seemed to empty the lake in its passage, by continually
drawing up the water into itself.
The OMBU now began to drift rapidly along, impelled by wind
and current. All the caimans had taken their departure,
except one that was crawling over the upturned roots,
and coming toward the poor refugees with wide open jaws.
But Mulrady, seizing hold of a branch that was half-burned off,
struck the monster such a tremendous blow, that it fell back
into the torrent and disappeared, lashing the water with
its formidable tail.
Glenarvan and his companions being thus delivered from the
voracious SAURIANS, stationed themselves on the branches windward
of the conflagration, while the OMBU sailed along like a blazing
fire-ship through the dark night, the flames spreading themselves
round like sails before the breath of the hurricane.
CHAPTER XXVI THE RETURN ON BOARD
FOR two hours the OMBU navigated the immense lake without
reaching _terra firma_. The flames which were devouring it
had gradually died out. The chief danger of their frightful
passage was thus removed, and the Major went the length of saying,
that he should not be surprised if they were saved after all.
The direction of the current remained unchanged, always running
from southwest to northeast. Profound darkness had again set in,
only illumined here and there by a parting flash of lightning.
The storm was nearly over. The rain had given place to light mists,
which a breath of wind dispersed, and the heavy masses of cloud
had separated, and now streaked the sky in long bands.
The OMBU was borne onward so rapidly by the impetuous torrent,
that anyone might have supposed some powerful locomotive
engine was hidden in its trunk. It seemed likely enough
they might continue drifting in this way for days.
About three o'clock in the morning, however, the Major noticed
that the roots were beginning to graze the ground occasionally,
and by sounding the depth of the water with a long branch,
Tom Austin found that they were getting on rising ground.
Twenty minutes afterward, the OMBU stopped short with a violent jolt.
"Land! land!" shouted Paganel, in a ringing tone.
The extremity of the calcined bough had struck some hillock,
and never were sailors more glad; the rock to them was the port.
Already Robert and Wilson had leaped on to the solid plateau
with a loud, joyful hurrah! when a well-known whistle was heard.
The gallop of a horse resounded over the plain, and the tall form
of Thalcave emerged from the darkness.
"Thalcave! Thalcave!" they all cried with one voice.
"Amigos!" replied the Patagonian, who had been waiting for the travelers
here in the same place where the current had landed himself.
As he spoke he lifted up Robert in his arms, and hugged him to
his breast, never imagining that Paganel was hanging on to him.
A general and hearty hand-shaking followed, and everyone rejoiced
at seeing their faithful guide again. Then the Patagonian led the way
into the HANGAR of a deserted ESTANCIA, where there was a good,
blazing fire to warm them, and a substantial meal of fine, juicy slices
of venison soon broiling, of which they did not leave a crumb.
When their minds had calmed down a little, and they were able to
reflect on the dangers they had come through from flood, and fire,
and alligators, they could scarcely believe they had escaped.
Thalcave, in a few words, gave Paganel an account of himself since
they parted, entirely ascribing his deliverance to his intrepid horse.
Then Paganel tried to make him understand their new interpretation
of the document, and the consequent hopes they were indulging.
Whether the Indian actually understood his ingenious hypothesis
was a question; but he saw that they were glad and confident,
and that was enough for him.
As can easily be imagined, after their compulsory rest on the OMBU,
the travelers were up betimes and ready to start. At eight o'clock
they set off. No means of transport being procurable so far south,
they were compelled to walk. However, it was not more than forty miles
now that they had to go, and Thaouka would not refuse to give a lift
occasionally to a tired pedestrian, or even to a couple at a pinch.
In thirty-six hours they might reach the shores of the Atlantic.
The low-lying tract of marshy ground, still under water, soon lay
behind them, as Thalcave led them upward to the higher plains.
Here the Argentine territory resumed its monotonous aspect.
A few clumps of trees, planted by European hands, might chance
to be visible among the pasturage, but quite as rarely as in Tandil
and Tapalquem Sierras. The native trees are only found on the edge
of long prairies and about Cape Corrientes.
Next day, though still fifteen miles distant, the proximity of the ocean
was sensibly felt. The VIRAZON, a peculiar wind, which blows regularly
half of the day and night, bent down the heads of the tall grasses.
Thinly planted woods rose to view, and small tree-like mimosas, bushes
of acacia, and tufts of CURRA-MANTEL. Here and there, shining like pieces
of broken glass, were salinous lagoons, which increased the difficulty
of the journey as the travelers had to wind round them to get past.
They pushed on as quickly as possible, hoping to reach Lake Salado,
on the shores of the ocean, the same day; and at 8 P. M., when they
found themselves in front of the sand hills two hundred feet high,
which skirt the coast, they were all tolerably tired. But when the long
murmur of the distant ocean fell on their ears, the exhausted men forgot
their fatigue, and ran up the sandhills with surprising agility.
But it was getting quite dark already, and their eager gaze could
discover no traces of the DUNCAN on the gloomy expanse of water that
met their sight.
"But she is there, for all that," exclaimed Glenarvan, "waiting for us,
and running alongside."
"We shall see her to-morrow," replied McNabbs.
Tom Austin hailed the invisible yacht, but there was no response.
The wind was very high and the sea rough. The clouds were scudding
along from the west, and the spray of the waves dashed up even to the
sand-hills. It was little wonder, then, if the man on the look-out could
neither hear nor make himself heard, supposing the DUNCAN were there.
There was no shelter on the coast for her, neither bay nor cove, nor port;
not so much as a creek. The shore was composed of sand-banks which ran
out into the sea, and were more dangerous to approach than rocky shoals.
The sand-banks irritate the waves, and make the sea so particularly rough,
that in heavy weather vessels that run aground there are invariably
dashed to pieces.
Though, then, the DUNCAN would keep far away from such
a coast, John Mangles is a prudent captain to get near.
Tom Austin, however, was of the opinion that she would be able
to keep five miles out.
The Major advised his impatient relative to restrain himself
to circumstances. Since there was no means of dissipating
the darkness, what was the use of straining his eyes by vainly
endeavoring to pierce through it.
He set to work immediately to prepare the night's encampment
beneath the shelter of the sand-hills; the last provisions supplied
the last meal, and afterward, each, following the Major's example,
scooped out a hole in the sand, which made a comfortable enough bed,
and then covered himself with the soft material up to his chin,
and fell into a heavy sleep.
But Glenarvan kept watch. There was still a stiff breeze
of wind, and the ocean had not recovered its equilibrium
after the recent storm. The waves, at all times tumultuous,
now broke over the sand-banks with a noise like thunder.
Glenarvan could not rest, knowing the DUNCAN was so near him.
As to supposing she had not arrived at the appointed rendezvous,
that was out of the question. Glenarvan had left the Bay
of Talcahuano on the 14th of October, and arrived on the shores
of the Atlantic on the 12th of November. He had taken
thirty days to cross Chili, the Cordilleras, the Pampas,
and the Argentine plains, giving the DUNCAN ample time
to double Cape Horn, and arrive on the opposite side.
For such a fast runner there were no impediments.
Certainly the storm had been very violent, and its fury must
have been terrible on such a vast battlefield as the Atlantic,
but the yacht was a good ship, and the captain was a good sailor.
He was bound to be there, and he would be there.
These reflections, however, did not calm Glenarvan. When the heart
and the reason are struggling, it is generally the heart that wins
the mastery. The laird of Malcolm Castle felt the presence of loved ones
about him in the darkness as he wandered up and down the lonely strand.
He gazed, and listened, and even fancied he caught occasional glimpses
of a faint light.
"I am not mistaken," he said to himself; "I saw a ship's light,
one of the lights on the DUNCAN! Oh! why can't I see in the dark?"
All at once the thought rushed across him that Paganel said he was
a nyctalope, and could see at night. He must go and wake him.
The learned geographer was sleeping as sound as a mole.
A strong arm pulled him up out of the sand and made him call out:
"Who goes there?"
"It is I, Paganel."
"Glenarvan. Come, I need your eyes."
"My eyes," replied Paganel, rubbing them vigorously.
"Yes, I need your eyes to make out the DUNCAN in this darkness, so come."
"Confound the nyctalopia!" said Paganel, inwardly, though delighted
to be of any service to his friend.
He got up and shook his stiffened limbs, and stretching and yawning
as most people do when roused from sleep, followed Glenarvan
to the beach.
Glenarvan begged him to examine the distant horizon across the sea,
which he did most conscientiously for some minutes.
"Well, do you see nothing?" asked Glenarvan.
"Not a thing. Even a cat couldn't see two steps before her."
V. IV Verne
"Look for a red light or a green one--her larboard or starboard light."
"I see neither a red nor a green light, all is pitch dark,"
replied Paganel, his eyes involuntarily beginning to close.
For half an hour he followed his impatient friend, mechanically letting
his head frequently drop on his chest, and raising it again with a start.
At last he neither answered nor spoke, and he reeled about like a
drunken man. Glenarvan looked at him, and found he was sound asleep!
Without attempting to wake him, he took his arm, led him back to his hole,
and buried him again comfortably.
At dawn next morning, all the slumberers started to their
feet and rushed to the shore, shouting "Hurrah, hurrah!"
as Lord Glenarvan's loud cry, "The DUNCAN, the DUNCAN!"
broke upon his ear.
There she was, five miles out, her courses carefully reefed,
and her steam half up. Her smoke was lost in the morning mist.
The sea was so violent that a vessel of her tonnage could not
have ventured safely nearer the sand-banks.
Glenarvan, by the aid of Paganel's telescope, closely observed
the movements of the yacht. It was evident that John Mangles had
not perceived his passengers, for he continued his course as before.
But at this very moment Thalcave fired his carbine in the direction
of the yacht. They listened and looked, but no signal of recognition
was returned. A second and a third time the Indian fired,
awakening the echoes among the sand-hills.
At last a white smoke was seen issuing from the side of the yacht.
"They see us!" exclaimed Glenarvan. "That's the cannon of the DUNCAN."
A few seconds, and the heavy boom of the cannon came across the water
and died away on the shore. The sails were instantly altered,
and the steam got up, so as to get as near the coast as possible.
Presently, through the glass, they saw a boat lowered.
"Lady Helena will not be able to come," said Tom Austin.
"It is too rough."
"Nor John Mangles," added McNabbs; "he cannot leave the ship."
"My sister, my sister!" cried Robert, stretching out his arms
toward the yacht, which was now rolling violently.
"Oh, how I wish I could get on board!" said Glenarvan.
"Patience, Edward! you will be there in a couple of hours,"
replied the Major.
Two hours! But it was impossible for a boat--a six-oared one--
to come and go in a shorter space of time.
Glenarvan went back to Thalcave, who stood beside Thaouka,
with his arms crossed, looking quietly at the troubled waves.
Glenarvan took his hand, and pointing to the yacht, said: "Come!"
The Indian gently shook his head.
"Come, friend," repeated Glenarvan.
"No," said Thalcave, gently. "Here is Thaouka, and there--
the Pampas," he added, embracing with a passionate gesture
the wide-stretching prairies.
Glenarvan understood his refusal. He knew that the Indian
would never forsake the prairie, where the bones of his fathers
were whitening, and he knew the religious attachment of these
sons of the desert for their native land. He did not urge
Thalcave longer, therefore, but simply pressed his hand.
Nor could he find it in his heart to insist, when the Indian,
smiling as usual, would not accept the price of his services,
pushing back the money, and saying:
"For the sake of friendship."
Glenarvan could not reply; but he wished at least, to leave
the brave fellow some souvenir of his European friends.
What was there to give, however? Arms, horses, everything had
been destroyed in the unfortunate inundation, and his friends
were no richer than himself.
He was quite at a loss how to show his recognition of the
disinterestedness of this noble guide, when a happy thought struck him.
He had an exquisite portrait of Lady Helena in his pocket,
a CHEF-D'OEUVRE of Lawrence. This he drew out, and offered
to Thalcave, simply saying:
The Indian gazed at it with a softened eye, and said:
"Good and beautiful."
Then Robert, and Paganel, and the Major, and the rest,
exchanged touching farewells with the faithful Patagonian.
Thalcave embraced them each, and pressed them to his broad chest.
Paganel made him accept a map of South America and the two oceans,
which he had often seen the Indian looking at with interest.
It was the most precious thing the geographer possessed.
As for Robert, he had only caresses to bestow, and these he lavished
on his friend, not forgetting to give a share to Thaouka.
The boat from the DUNCAN was now fast approaching, and in another
minute had glided into a narrow channel between the sand-banks,
and run ashore.
"My wife?" were Glenarvan's first words.
"My sister?" said Robert.
"Lady Helena and Miss Grant are waiting for you on board,"
replied the coxswain; "but lose no time your honor, we have
not a minute, for the tide is beginning to ebb already."
The last kindly adieux were spoken, and Thalcave accompanied his
friends to the boat, which had been pushed back into the water.
Just as Robert was going to step in, the Indian took him in his arms,
and gazed tenderly into his face. Then he said:
"Now go. You are a man."
"Good-by, good-by, friend!" said Glenarvan, once more.
"Shall we never see each other again?" Paganel called out.
"_Quien sabe?_" (Who knows?) replied Thalcave, lifting his
arms toward heaven.
These were the Indian's last words, dying away on
the breeze, as the boat receded gradually from the shore.
For a long time, his dark, motionless SILHOUETTE stood out
against the sky, through the white, dashing spray of the waves.
Then by degrees his tall form began to diminish in size,
till at last his friends of a day lost sight of him altogether.
An hour afterward Robert was the first to leap on board
the DUNCAN. He flung his arms round Mary's neck, amid the loud,
joyous hurrahs of the crew on the yacht.
Thus the journey across South America was accomplished, the given
line of march being scrupulously adhered to throughout.
Neither mountains nor rivers had made the travelers change their course;
and though they had not had to encounter any ill-will from men,
their generous intrepidity had been often enough roughly put to the proof
by the fury of the unchained elements.
END OF BOOK ONE
In Search of the Castaways or The Children of Captain Grant
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In Search of the Castaways
CHAPTER I A NEW DESTINATION
FOR the first few moments the joy of reunion completely filled
the hearts. Lord Glenarvan had taken care that the ill-success
of their expedition should not throw a gloom over the pleasure
of meeting, his very first words being:
"Cheer up, friends, cheer up! Captain Grant is not with us,
but we have a certainty of finding him!"
Only such an assurance as this would have restored hope to those on
board the DUNCAN. Lady Helena and Mary Grant had been sorely tried
by the suspense, as they stood on the poop waiting for the arrival
of the boat, and trying to count the number of its passengers.
Alternate hope and fear agitated the bosom of poor Mary. Sometimes she
fancied she could see her father, Harry Grant, and sometimes she gave
way to despair. Her heart throbbed violently; she could not speak,
and indeed could scarcely stand. Lady Helena put her arm round
her waist to support her, but the captain, John Mangles, who stood
close beside them spoke no encouraging word, for his practiced eye
saw plainly that the captain was not there.
"He is there! He is coming! Oh, father!" exclaimed the young girl.
But as the boat came nearer, her illusion was dispelled;
all hope forsook her, and she would have sunk in despair,
but for the reassuring voice of Glenarvan.
After their mutual embraces were over, Lady Helena, and Mary Grant,
and John Mangles, were informed of the principal incidents of
the expedition, and especially of the new interpretation of the document,
due to the sagacity of Jacques Paganel. His Lordship also spoke in
the most eulogistic terms of Robert, of whom Mary might well be proud.
His courage and devotion, and the dangers he had run, were all shown
up in strong relief by his patron, till the modest boy did not know
which way to look, and was obliged to hide his burning cheeks
in his sister's arms.
"No need to blush, Robert," said John Mangles. "Your conduct has
been worthy of your name." And he leaned over the boy and pressed
his lips on his cheek, still wet with Mary's tears.
The Major and Paganel, it need hardly be said, came in for their
due share of welcome, and Lady Helena only regretted she could
not shake hands with the brave and generous Thalcave. McNabbs soon
slipped away to his cabin, and began to shave himself as coolly
and composedly as possible; while Paganel flew here and there,
like a bee sipping the sweets of compliments and smiles.
He wanted to embrace everyone on board the yacht, and beginning
with Lady Helena and Mary Grant, wound up with M. Olbinett,
the steward, who could only acknowledge so polite an attention
by announcing that breakfast was ready.
"Breakfast!" exclaimed Paganel.
"Yes, Monsieur Paganel."
"A real breakfast, on a real table, with a cloth and napkins?"
"Certainly, Monsieur Paganel."
"And we shall neither have CHARQUI, nor hard eggs,
nor fillets of ostrich?"
"Oh, Monsieur," said Olbinett in an aggrieved tone.
"I don't want to hurt your feelings, my friend," said the
geographer smiling. "But for a month that has been our usual
bill of fare, and when we dined we stretched ourselves full
length on the ground, unless we sat astride on the trees.
Consequently, the meal you have just announced seemed to me
like a dream, or fiction, or chimera."
"Well, Monsieur Paganel, come along and let us prove its reality,"
said Lady Helena, who could not help laughing.
"Take my arm," replied the gallant geographer.
"Has his Lordship any orders to give me about the DUNCAN?"
asked John Mangles.
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