Moreover, it must have struck Thalcave that instead of being the guide he was guided; yet, with true Indian reserve, he maintained absolute silence. But on reaching a particular point, he checked his horse suddenly, and said to Paganel:
"The Carmen route."
"Yes, my good Patagonian," replied Paganel in his best Spanish; "the route from Carmen to Mendoza."
"We are not going to take it?"
"No," replied Paganel.
"Where are we going then?"
"Always to the east."
"That's going nowhere."
Thalcave was silent, and gazed at the geographer with an air of profound surprise. He had no suspicion that Paganel was joking, for an Indian is always grave.
"You are not going to Carmen, then?" he added, after a moment's pause.
"Nor to Mendoza?"
"No, nor to Mendoza."
Just then Glenarvan came up to ask the reason of the stoppage, and what he and Thalcave were discussing.
"He wanted to know whether we were going to Carmen or Mendoza, and was very much surprised at my negative reply to both questions."
"Well, certainly, it must seem strange to him."
"I think so. He says we are going nowhere."
"Well, Paganel, I wonder if it is possible to make him understand the object of our expedition, and what our motive is for always going east."
"That would be a difficult matter, for an Indian knows nothing about degrees, and the finding of the document would appear to him a mere fantastic story."
"Is it the story he would not understand, or the storyteller?" said McNabbs, quietly
"Ah, McNabbs, I see you have small faith in my Spanish yet."
"Well, try it, my good friend."
"So I will."
And turning round to the Patagonian he began his narrative, breaking down frequently for the want of a word, and the difficulty of making certain details intelligible to a half-civilized Indian. It was quite a sight to see the learned geographer. He gesticulated and articulated, and so worked himself up over it, that the big drops of sweat fell in a cascade down his forehead on to his chest. When his tongue failed, his arms were called to aid. Paganel got down on the ground and traced a geographical map on the sand, showing where the lines of latitude and longitude cross and where the two oceans were, along which the Carmen route led. Thalcave looked on composedly, without giving any indication of comprehending or not comprehending.
The lesson had lasted half an hour, when the geographer left off, wiped his streaming face, and waited for the Patagonian to speak.
"Does he understand?" said Glenarvan.
"That remains to be seen; but if he doesn't, I give it up," replied Paganel.
Thalcave neither stirred nor spoke. His eyes remained fixed on the lines drawn on the sand, now becoming fast effaced by the wind.
"Well?" said Paganel to him at length.
The Patagonian seemed not to hear. Paganel fancied he could detect an ironical smile already on the lips of the Major, and determined to carry the day, was about to recommence his geographical illustrations, when the Indian stopped him by a gesture, and said:
"You are in search of a prisoner?"
"Yes," replied Paganel.
"And just on this line between the setting and rising sun?" added Thalcave, speaking in Indian fashion of the route from west to east.
"Yes, yes, that's it."
"And it's your God," continued the guide, "that has sent you the secret of this prisoner on the waves."
"His will be accomplished then," replied the native almost solemnly. "We will march east, and if it needs be, to the sun."
Paganel, triumphing in his pupil, immediately translated his replies to his companions, and exclaimed:
"What an intelligent race! All my explanations would have been lost on nineteen in every twenty of the peasants in my own country."
Glenarvan requested him to ask the Patagonian if he had heard of any foreigners who had fallen into the hands of the Indians of the Pampas.
Paganel did so, and waited an answer.
"Perhaps I have."
The reply was no sooner translated than the Patagonian found himself surrounded by the seven men questioning him with eager glances. Paganel was so excited, he could hardly find words, and he gazed at the grave Indian as if he could read the reply on his lips.