"That's my opinion too," said the Major, "for if I am not mistaken, instead of being harmless, the Gauchos are formidable out-and-out bandits."
"The idea!" exclaimed Paganel.
And forthwith commenced a lively discussion of this ethnological thesis-- so lively that the Major became excited, and, quite contrary to his usual suavity, said bluntly:
"I believe you are wrong, Paganel."
"Wrong?" replied Paganel.
"Yes. Thalcave took them for robbers, and he knows what he is talking about."
"Well, Thalcave was mistaken this time," retorted Paganel, somewhat sharply. "The Gauchos are agricul-turists and shepherds, and nothing else, as I have stated in a pamphlet on the natives of the Pampas, written by me, which has attracted some notice."
V. IV Verne
[illustration omitted] [page intentionally blank]
"Well, well, you have committed an error, that's all, Monsieur Paganel."
"What, Monsieur McNabbs! you tell me I have committed an error?"
"An inadvertence, if you like, which you can put among the ERRATA in the next edition."
Paganel, highly incensed at his geographical knowledge being brought in question, and even jested about, allowed his ill-humor to get the better of him, and said:
"Know, sir, that my books have no need of such ERRATA."
"Indeed! Well, on this occasion they have, at any rate," retorted McNabbs, quite as obstinate as his opponent.
"Sir, I think you are very annoying to-day."
"And I think you are very crabbed."
Glenarvan thought it was high time to interfere, for the discussion was getting too hot, so he said:
"Come, now, there is no doubt one of you is very teasing and the other is very crabbed, and I must say I am surprised at both of you."
The Patagonian, without understanding the cause, could see that the two friends were quarreling. He began to smile, and said quietly:
"It's the north wind."
"The north wind," exclaimed Paganel; "what's the north wind to do with it?"
"Ah, it is just that," said Glenarvan. "It's the north wind that has put you in a bad temper. I have heard that, in South America, the wind greatly irritates the nervous system."
"By St. Patrick, Edward you are right," said the Major, laughing heartily.
But Paganel, in a towering rage, would not give up the contest, and turned upon Glenarvan, whose intervention in this jesting manner he resented.
"And so, my Lord, my nervous system is irritated?" he said.
"Yes, Paganel, it is the north wind--a wind which causes many a crime in the Pampas, as the TRAMONTANE does in the Campagna of Rome."
"Crimes!" returned the geographer. "Do I look like a man that would commit crimes?"
"That's not exactly what I said."
"Tell me at once that I want to assassinate you?"
"Well, I am really afraid," replied Glenarvan, bursting into an uncontrollable fit of laughter, in which all others joined.
Paganel said no more, but went off in front alone, and came back in a few minutes quite himself, as if he had completely forgotten his grievance.
At eight o'clock in the evening, Thalcave, who was considerably in advance of the rest, descried in the distance the much-desired lake, and in less than a quarter of an hour they reached its banks; but a grievous disappointment awaited them--the lake was dried up.
CHAPTER XVIII IN SEARCH OF WATER
LAKE SALINAS ends the string of lagoons connected with the Sierras Ventana and Guamini. Numerous expeditions were formerly made there from Buenos Ayres, to collect the salt deposited on its banks, as the waters contain great quantities of chloride of sodium.
But when Thalcave spoke of the lake as supplying drinkable water he was thinking of the RIOS of fresh water which run into it. Those streams, however, were all dried up also; the burning sun had drunk up every thing liquid, and the consternation of the travelers may be imagined at the discovery.
Some action must be taken immediately, however; for what little water still remained was almost bad, and could not quench thirst. Hunger and fatigue were forgotten in the face of this imperious necessity. A sort of leather tent, called a ROUKAH, which had been left by the natives, afforded the party a temporary resting-place, and the weary horses stretched themselves along the muddy banks, and tried to browse on the marine plants and dry reeds they found there-- nauseous to the taste as they must have been.