Glenarvan had a boat lowered immediately, and went on shore, accompanied by Paganel. The learned geographer gladly availed himself of the opportunity of making use of the language he had been studying so conscientiously, but to his great amazement, found he could not make himself understood by the people. "It is the accent I've not got," he said.
"Let us go to the Custom-house," replied Glenarvan.
They were informed on arriving there, by means of a few English words, aided by expressive gestures, that the British Consul lived at Concepcion, an hour's ride distant. Glenarvan found no difficulty in procuring two fleet horses, and he and Paganel were soon within the walls of the great city, due to the enterprising genius of Valdivia, the valiant comrade of the Pizarros.
How it was shorn of its ancient splendor! Often pillaged by the natives, burned in 1819, it lay in desolation and ruins, its walls still blackened by the flames, scarcely numbering 8,000 inhabitants, and already eclipsed by Talcahuano. The grass was growing in the streets, beneath the lazy feet of the citizens, and all trade and business, indeed any description of activity, was impossible. The notes of the mandolin resounded from every balcony, and languishing songs floated on the breeze. Concepcion, the ancient city of brave men, had become a village of women and children. Lord Glenarvan felt no great desire to inquire into the causes of this decay, though Paganel tried to draw him into a discussion on the subject. He would not delay an instant, but went straight on to the house of Mr. Bentic, her Majesty's Consul, who received them very courteously, and, on learning their errand, undertook to make inquiries all along the coast.
But to the question whether a three-mast vessel, called the BRITANNIA, had gone ashore either on the Chilian or Araucanian coast, he gave a decided negative. No report of such an event had been made to him, or any of the other consuls. Glenarvan, however, would not allow himself to be disheartened; he went back to Talcahuano, and spared neither pains nor expense to make a thorough investigation of the whole seaboard. But it was all in vain. The most minute inquiries were fruitless, and Lord Glenarvan returned to the yacht to report his ill success. Mary Grant and her brother could not restrain their grief. Lady Helena did her best to comfort them by loving caresses, while Jacques Paganel took up the document and began studying it again. He had been poring over it for more than an hour when Glenarvan interrupted him and said:
"Paganel! I appeal to your sagacity. Have we made an erroneous interpretation of the document? Is there anything illogical about the meaning?"
Paganel was silent, absorbed in reflection.
"Have we mistaken the place where the catastrophe occurred?" continued Glenarvan. "Does not the name Patagonia seem apparent even to the least clear-sighted individual?"
Paganel was still silent.
"Besides," said Glenarvan, "does not the word INDIEN prove we are right?"
"Perfectly so," replied McNabbs.
"And is it not evident, then, that at the moment of writing the words, the shipwrecked men were expecting to be made prisoners by the Indians?"
"I take exception to that, my Lord," said Paganel; "and even if your other conclusions are right, this, at least, seemed to me irrational."
"What do you mean?" asked Lady Helena, while all eyes were fixed on the geographer.
"I mean this," replied Paganel, "that Captain Grant is _now a prisoner among the Indians_, and I further add that the document states it unmistakably."
"Explain yourself, sir," said Mary Grant.
"Nothing is plainer, dear Mary. Instead of reading the document _seront prisonniers_, read _sont prisonniers_, and the whole thing is clear."
"But that is impossible," replied Lord Glenarvan.
"Impossible! and why, my noble friend?" asked Paganel, smiling.
"Because the bottle could only have been thrown into the sea just when the vessel went to pieces on the rocks, and consequently the latitude and longitude given refer to the actual place of the shipwreck."
"There is no proof of that," replied Paganel, "and I see nothing to preclude the supposition that the poor fellows were dragged into the interior by the Indians, and sought to make known the place of their captivity by means of this bottle."
"Except this fact, my dear Paganel, that there was no sea, and therefore they could not have flung the bottle into it."
"Unless they flung it into rivers which ran into the sea," returned Paganel.