The Major counted them. All were there except one--that one was Robert Grant.
CHAPTER XIV PROVIDENTIALLY RESCUED
THE eastern side of the Cordilleras of the Andes consists of a succession of lengthened declivities, which slope down almost insensibly to the plain. The soil is carpeted with rich herbage, and adorned with magnificent trees, among which, in great numbers, were apple-trees, planted at the time of the conquest, and golden with fruit. There were literally, perfect forests of these. This district was, in fact, just a corner of fertile Normandy.
The sudden transition from a desert to an oasis, from snowy peaks to verdant plains, from Winter to Summer, can not fail to strike the traveler's eye.
The ground, moreover, had recovered its immobility. The trembling had ceased, though there was little doubt the forces below the surface were carrying on their devastating work further on, for shocks of earthquake are always occurring in some part or other of the Andes. This time the shock had been one of extreme violence. The outline of the mountains was wholly altered, and the Pampas guides would have sought vainly for the accustomed landmarks.
A magnificent day had dawned. The sun was just rising from his ocean bed, and his bright rays streamed already over the Argentine plains, and ran across to the Atlantic. It was about eight o'clock.
Lord Glenarvan and his companions were gradually restored to animation by the Major's efforts. They had been completely stunned, but had sustained no injury whatever. The descent of the Cordilleras was accomplished; and as Dame Nature had conveyed them at her own expense, they could only have praised her method of locomotion if one of their number, and that one the feeblest and youngest, the child of the party, had not been missing at the roll call.
The brave boy was beloved by everybody. Paganel was particularly attached to him, and so was the Major, with all his apparent coldness. As for Glenarvan, he was in absolute despair when he heard of his disappearance, and pictured to himself the child lying in some deep abyss, wildly crying for succor.
"We must go and look for him, and look till we find him," he exclaimed, almost unable to keep back his tears. "We cannot leave him to his fate. Every valley and precipice and abyss must be searched through and through. I will have a rope fastened round my waist, and go down myself. I insist upon it; you understand; I insist upon it. Heaven grant Robert may be still alive! If we lose the boy, how could we ever dare to meet the father? What right have we to save the captain at the cost of his son's life?"
Glenarvan's companions heard him in silence. He sought to read hope in their eyes, but they did not venture to meet his gaze.
At last he said,
"Well, you hear what I say, but you make no response. Do you mean to tell me that you have no hope--not the slightest?"
Again there was silence, till McNabbs asked:
"Which of you can recollect when Robert disappeared?"
No one could say.
"Well, then," resumed the Major, "you know this at any rate. Who was the child beside during our descent of the Cordilleras?"
"Beside me," replied Wilson.
"Very well. Up to what moment did you see him beside you? Try if you can remember."
"All that I can recollect is that Robert Grant was still by my side, holding fast by a tuft of lichen, less than two minutes before the shock which finished our descent."
"Less than two minutes? Mind what you are saying; I dare say a minute seemed a very long time to you. Are you sure you are not making a mistake?"
"I don't think I am. No; it was just about two minutes, as I tell you."
"Very well, then; and was Robert on your right or left?"
"On my left. I remember that his poncho brushed past my face."
"And with regard to us, how were you placed?"
"On the left also."
"Then Robert must have disappeared on this side," said the Major, turning toward the mountain and pointing toward the right: "and I should judge," he added, "considering the time that has elapsed, that the spot where he fell is about two miles up. Between that height and the ground is where we must search, dividing the different zones among us, and it is there we shall find him."
Not another word was spoken.