Each word spoken by Thalcave was instantly translated, so that the whole party seemed to hear him speak in their mother tongue.
"And what about the prisoner?" asked Paganel.
"He was a foreigner."
"You have seen him?"
"No; but I have heard the Indian speak of him. He is brave; he has the heart of a bull."
"The heart of a bull!" said Paganel. "Ah, this magnificent Patagonian language. You understand him, my friends, he means a courageous man."
"My father!" exclaimed Robert Grant, and, turning to Paganel, he asked what the Spanish was for, "Is it my father."
"_Es mio padre_," replied the geographer.
Immediately taking Thalcave's hands in his own, the boy said, in a soft tone:
"_Es mio padre_."
"_Suo padre_," replied the Patagonian, his face lighting up.
He took the child in his arms, lifted him up on his horse, and gazed at him with peculiar sympathy. His intelligent face was full of quiet feeling.
But Paganel had not completed his interrogations. "This prisoner, who was he? What was he doing? When had Thalcave heard of him?" All these questions poured upon him at once.
He had not long to wait for an answer, and learned that the European was a slave in one of the tribes that roamed the country between the Colorado and the Rio Negro.
"But where was the last place he was in?"
"With the Cacique Calfoucoura."
"In the line we have been following?"
"And who is this Cacique?"
"The chief of the Poyuches Indians, a man with two tongues and two hearts."
"That's to say false in speech and false in action," said Paganel, after he had translated this beautiful figure of the Patagonian language.
"And can we deliver our friend?" he added.
"You may if he is still in the hands of the Indians."
"And when did you last hear of him?"
"A long while ago; the sun has brought two summers since then to the Pampas."
The joy of Glenarvan can not be described. This reply agreed perfectly with the date of the document. But one question still remained for him to put to Thalcave.
"You spoke of a prisoner," he said; "but were there not three?"
"I don't know," said Thalcave.
"And you know nothing of his present situation?"
This ended the conversation. It was quite possible that the three men had become separated long ago; but still this much was certain, that the Indians had spoken of a European that was in their power; and the date of the captivity, and even the descriptive phrase about the captive, evidently pointed to Harry Grant.
CHAPTER XVII A SERIOUS NECESSITY
THE Argentine Pampas extend from the thirty-fourth to the fortieth degree of southern latitude. The word PAMPA, of Araucanian origin, signifies _grass plain_, and justly applies to the whole region. The mimosas growing on the western part, and the substantial herbage on the eastern, give those plains a peculiar appearance. The soil is composed of sand and red or yellow clay, and this is covered by a layer of earth, in which the vegetation takes root. The geologist would find rich treasures in the tertiary strata here, for it is full of antediluvian remains--enormous bones, which the Indians attribute to some gigantic race that lived in a past age.
The horses went on at a good pace through the thick PAJA-BRAVA, the grass of the Pampas, _par excellence_, so high and thick that the Indians find shelter in it from storms. At certain distances, but increasingly seldom, there were wet, marshy spots, almost entirely under water, where the willows grew, and a plant called the _Gygnerium argenteum_. Here the horses drank their fill greedily, as if bent on quenching their thirst for past, present and future. Thalcave went first to beat the bushes and frighten away the cholinas, a most dangerous species of viper, the bite of which kills an ox in less than an hour.
For two days they plodded steadily across this arid and deserted plain. The dry heat became severe. There were not only no RIOS, but even the ponds dug out by the Indians were dried up. As the drought seemed to increase with every mile, Paganel asked Thalcave when he expected to come to water.