It was a pretty creature, like a small camel without a hump. The head was small and the body flattened, the legs were long and slender, the skin fine, and the hair the color of _cafe au lait_.
Paganel had scarcely looked at it before he exclaimed, "A guanaco!"
"What sort of an animal is that?" asked Glenarvan.
"One you can eat."
"And it is good savory meat, I assure you; a dish of Olympus! I knew we should have fresh meat for supper, and such meat! But who is going to cut up the beast?"
"I will," said Wilson.
"Well, I'll undertake to cook it," said Paganel.
"Can you cook, then, Monsieur Paganel?" asked Robert.
"I should think so, my boy. I'm a Frenchman, and in every Frenchman there is a cook."
Five minutes afterward Paganel began to grill large slices of venison on the embers made by the use of the LLARETTAS, and in about ten minutes a dish was ready, which he served up to his companions by the tempting name of guanaco cutlets. No one stood on ceremony, but fell to with a hearty good will.
To the absolute stupefaction of the geographer, however, the first mouthful was greeted with a general grimace, and such exclamations as--"Tough!" "It is horrible." "It is not eatable."
The poor SAVANT was obliged to own that his cutlets could not be relished, even by hungry men. They began to banter him about his "Olympian dish," and indulge in jokes at his expense; but all he cared about was to find out how it happened that the flesh of the guanaco, which was certainly good and eatable food, had turned out so badly in his hands. At last light broke in on him, and he called out:
"I see through it now! Yes, I see through it. I have found out the secret now."
"The meat was too long kept, was it?" asked McNabbs, quietly.
"No, but the meat had walked too much. How could I have forgotten that?"
"What do you mean?" asked Tom Austin.
"I mean this: the guanaco is only good for eating when it is killed in a state of rest. If it has been long hunted, and gone over much ground before it is captured, it is no longer eatable. I can affirm the fact by the mere taste, that this animal has come a great distance, and consequently the whole herd has."
"You are certain of this?" asked Glenarvan.
"But what could have frightened the creatures so, and driven them from their haunts, when they ought to have been quietly sleeping?"
"That's a question, my dear Glenarvan, I could not possibly answer. Take my advice, and let us go to sleep without troubling our heads about it. I say, Major, shall we go to sleep?"
"Yes, we'll go to sleep, Paganel."
Each one, thereupon, wrapped himself up in his poncho, and the fire was made up for the night.
Loud snores in every tune and key soon resounded from all sides of the hut, the deep bass contribution of Paganel completing the harmony.
But Glenarvan could not sleep. Secret uneasiness kept him in a continual state of wakefulness. His thoughts reverted involuntarily to those frightened animals flying in one common direction, impelled by one common terror. They could not be pursued by wild beasts, for at such an elevation there were almost none to be met with, and of hunters still fewer. What terror then could have driven them among the precipices of the Andes? Glenarvan felt a presentiment of approaching danger.
But gradually he fell into a half-drowsy state, and his apprehensions were lulled. Hope took the place of fear. He saw himself on the morrow on the plains of the Andes, where the search would actually commence, and perhaps success was close at hand. He thought of Captain Grant and his two sailors, and their deliverance from cruel bondage. As these visions passed rapidly through his mind, every now and then he was roused by the crackling of the fire, or sparks flying out, or some little jet of flame would suddenly flare up and illumine the faces of his slumbering companions.
Then his presentiments returned in greater strength than before, and he listened anxiously to the sounds outside the hut.