"What a language!" he said. "How full and sonorous it is! It is like the metal church bells are made of--composed of seventy-eight parts of copper and twenty-two of tin."
"But, I say, do you make any progress in it?" asked Glenarvan.
"Most certainly, my dear Lord. Ah, if it wasn't the accent, that wretched accent!"
And for want of better work, Paganel whiled away the time along the road by practising the difficulties in pronunciation, repeating all the break-jaw words he could, though still making geographical observations. Any question about the country that Glenarvan might ask the CATAPEZ was sure to be answered by the learned Frenchman before he could reply, to the great astonishment of the guide, who gazed at him in bewilderment.
About two o'clock that same day they came to a cross road, and naturally enough Glenarvan inquired the name of it.
"It is the route from Yumbel to Los Angeles," said Paganel.
Glenarvan looked at the CATAPEZ, who replied:
And then, turning toward the geographer, he added:
"You have traveled in these parts before, sir?"
"Oh, yes," said Paganel, quite gravely.
"On a mule?"
"No, in an easy chair."
The CATAPEZ could not make him out, but shrugged his shoulders and resumed his post at the head of the party.
At five in the evening they stopped in a gorge of no great depth, some miles above the little town of Loja, and encamped for the night at the foot of the Sierras, the first steppes of the great Cordilleras.
CHAPTER XII ELEVEN THOUSAND FEET ALOFT
NOTHING of importance had occurred hitherto in the passage through Chili; but all the obstacles and difficulties incident to a mountain journey were about to crowd on the travelers now.
One important question had first to be settled. Which pass would take them over the Andes, and yet not be out of their fixed route?
On questioning the CATAPEZ on the subject, he replied:
"There are only two practicable passes that I know of in this part of the Cordilleras."
"The pass of Arica is one undoubtedly discovered by Valdivia Mendoze," said Paganel.
"And that of Villarica is the other."
"Well, my good fellow, both these passes have only one fault; they take us too far out of our route, either north or south."
"Have you no other to propose?" asked the Major.
"Certainly," replied Paganel. "There is the pass of Antuco, on the slope of the volcano, in latitude, 37 degrees 30' , or, in other words, only half a degree out of our way."
"That would do, but are you acquainted with this pass of Antuco, CATAPEZ?" said Glenarvan.
"Yes, your Lordship, I have been through it, but I did not mention it, as no one goes that way but the Indian shepherds with the herds of cattle."
"Oh, very well; if mares and sheep and oxen can go that way, we can, so let's start at once."
The signal for departure was given immediately, and they struck into the heart of the valley of Las Lejas, between great masses of chalk crystal. From this point the pass began to be difficult, and even dangerous. The angles of the declivities widened and the ledges narrowed, and frightful precipices met their gaze. The mules went cautiously along, keeping their heads near the ground, as if scenting the track. They marched in file. Sometimes at a sudden bend of the road, the MADRINA would disappear, and the little caravan had to guide themselves by the distant tinkle of her bell. Often some capricious winding would bring the column in two parallel lines, and the CATAPEZ could speak to his PEONS across a crevasse not two fathoms wide, though two hundred deep, which made between them an inseparable gulf.
Glenarvan followed his guide step by step. He saw that his perplexity was increasing as the way became more difficult, but did not dare to interrogate him, rightly enough, perhaps, thinking that both mules and muleteers were very much governed by instinct, and it was best to trust to them.
For about an hour longer the CATAPEZ kept wandering about almost at haphazard, though always getting higher up the mountains. At last he was obliged to stop short.