The weather now began to change, and the atmosphere became damp and heavy. It was the rainy season, "_le tempo das aguas_," as the Spanish call it, a trying season to travelers, but useful to the inhabitants of the African Islands, who lack trees and consequently water. The rough weather prevented the passengers from going on deck, but did not make the conversation any less animated in the saloon.
On the 3d of September Paganel began to collect his luggage to go on shore. The DUNCAN was already steaming among the Islands. She passed Sal, a complete tomb of sand lying barren and desolate, and went on among the vast coral reefs and athwart the Isle of St. Jacques, with its long chain of basaltic mountains, till she entered the port of Villa Praya and anchored in eight fathoms of water before the town. The weather was frightful, and the surf excessively violent, though the bay was sheltered from the sea winds. The rain fell in such torrents that the town was scarcely visible through it. It rose on a plain in the form of a terrace, buttressed on volcanic rocks three hundred feet high. The appearance of the island through the thick veil of rain was mournful in the extreme.
Lady Helena could not go on shore as she had purposed; indeed, even coaling was a difficult business, and the passengers had to content themselves below the poop as best they might. Naturally enough, the main topic of conversation was the weather. Everybody had something to say about it except the Major, who surveyed the universal deluge with the utmost indifference. Paganel walked up and down shaking his head.
"It is clear enough, Paganel," said Lord Glenarvan, "that the elements are against you."
"I'll be even with them for all that," replied the Frenchman.
"You could not face rain like that, Monsieur Paganel," said Lady Helena.
"Oh, quite well, madam, as far as I myself am concerned. It is for my luggage and instruments that I am afraid. Everything will be ruined."
"The disembarking is the worst part of the business. Once at Villa Praya you might manage to find pretty good quarters. They wouldn't be over clean, and you might find the monkeys and pigs not always the most agreeable companions. But travelers are not too particular, and, moreover, in seven or eight months you would get a ship, I dare say, to take you back to Europe."
"Seven or eight months!" exclaimed Paganel.
"At least. The Cape Verde Islands are not much frequented by ships during the rainy season. But you can employ your time usefully. This archipelago is still but little known."
"You can go up the large rivers," suggested Lady Helena.
"There are none, madam."
"Well, then, the small ones."
"There are none, madam."
"The running brooks, then."
"There are no brooks, either."
"You can console yourself with the forests if that's the case," put in the Major.
"You can't make forests without trees, and there are no trees."
"A charming country!" said the Major.
"Comfort yourself, my dear Paganel, you'll have the mountains at any rate," said Glenarvan.
"Oh, they are neither lofty nor interesting, my Lord, and, beside, they have been described already."
"Already!" said Lord Glenarvan.
"Yes, that is always my luck. At the Canary Islands, I saw myself anticipated by Humboldt, and here by M. Charles Sainte-Claire Deville, a geologist."
"It is too true," replied Paganel, in a doleful voice. "Monsieur Deville was on board the government corvette, La Decidee, when she touched at the Cape Verde Islands, and he explored the most interesting of the group, and went to the top of the volcano in Isle Fogo. What is left for me to do after him?"
"It is really a great pity," said Helena. "What will become of you, Monsieur Paganel?"
Paganel remained silent.
"You would certainly have done much better to have landed at Madeira, even though there had been no wine," said Glenarvan.
Still the learned secretary was silent.
"I should wait," said the Major, just as if he had said, "I should not wait."
Paganel spoke again at length, and said:
"My dear Glenarvan, where do you mean to touch next?"
"Plague it! That is a long way out of the road to India."
"Not it! From the moment you pass Cape Horn, you are getting nearer to it."
"I doubt it much."
"Beside," resumed Lord Glenarvan, with perfect gravity, "when people are going to the Indies it doesn't matter much whether it is to the East or West."
"What! it does not matter much?"
"Without taking into account the fact that the inhabitants of the Pampas in Patagonia are as much Indians as the natives of the Punjaub."
"Well done, my Lord.