Thanks to his taste for languages, he did not despair of being able to speak the language fluently when they arrived at Concepcion. He studied it furiously, and kept constantly muttering heterogeneous syllables.
He spent his leisure hours in teaching young Robert, and instructed him in the history of the country they were so rapidly approaching.
On the 25th of September, the yacht arrived off the Straits of Magellan, and entered them without delay. This route is generally preferred by steamers on their way to the Pacific Ocean. The exact length of the straits is 372 miles. Ships of the largest tonnage find, throughout, sufficient depth of water, even close to the shore, and there is a good bottom everywhere, and abundance of fresh water, and rivers abounding in fish, and forests in game, and plenty of safe and accessible harbors; in fact a thousand things which are lacking in Strait Lemaire and Cape Horn, with its terrible rocks, incessantly visited by hurricane and tempest.
For the first three or four hours--that is to say, for about sixty to eighty miles, as far as Cape Gregory--the coast on either side was low and sandy. Jacques Paganel would not lose a single point of view, nor a single detail of the straits. It would scarcely take thirty-six hours to go through them, and the moving panorama on both sides, seen in all the clearness and glory of the light of a southern sun, was well worth the trouble of looking at and admiring. On the Terra del Fuego side, a few wretched-looking creatures were wandering about on the rocks, but on the other side not a solitary inhabitant was visible.
Paganel was so vexed at not being able to catch a glimpse of any Patagonians, that his companions were quite amused at him. He would insist that Patagonia without Patagonians was not Patagonia at all.
But Glenarvan replied:
"Patience, my worthy geographer. We shall see the Patagonians yet."
"I am not sure of it."
"But there is such a people, anyhow," said Lady Helena.
"I doubt it much, madam, since I don't see them."
"But surely the very name Patagonia, which means 'great feet' in Spanish, would not have been given to imaginary beings." "Oh, the name is nothing," said Paganel, who was arguing simply for the sake of arguing. "And besides, to speak the truth, we are not sure if that is their name."
"What an idea!" exclaimed Glenarvan. "Did you know that, Major?"
"No," replied McNabbs, "and wouldn't give a Scotch pound-note for the information."
"You shall hear it, however, Major Indifferent. Though Magellan called the natives Patagonians, the Fuegians called them Tiremenen, the Chilians Caucalhues, the colonists of Carmen Tehuelches, the Araucans Huiliches; Bougainville gives them the name of Chauha, and Falkner that of Tehuelhets. The name they give themselves is Inaken. Now, tell me then, how would you recognize them? Indeed, is it likely that a people with so many names has any actual existence?"
"That's a queer argument, certainly," said Lady Helena.
"Well, let us admit it," said her husband, "but our friend Paganel must own that even if there are doubts about the name of the race there is none about their size."
"Indeed, I will never own anything so outrageous as that," replied Paganel.
"They are tall," said Glenarvan.
"I don't know that."
"Are they little, then?" asked Lady Helena.
"No one can affirm that they are."
"About the average, then?" said McNabbs.
"I don't know that either."
"That's going a little too far," said Glenarvan. "Travelers who have seen them tell us."
"Travelers who have seen them," interrupted Paganel, "don't agree at all in their accounts. Magellan said that his head scarcely reached to their waist."
"Well, then, that proves."
"Yes, but Drake declares that the English are taller than the tallest Patagonian?"
"Oh, the English--that may be," replied the Major, disdainfully, "but we are talking of the Scotch."
"Cavendish assures us that they are tall and robust," continued Paganel.