Eighty miles south, on the contrary, the Sierra Ventana, toward which the travelers might possibly have to betake themselves should the Guamini disappoint their hopes, the landscape was totally different. There the fertility is splendid; the pasturage is incomparable. Unfortunately, to reach them would necessitate a march of one hundred and thirty miles south; and this was why Thalcave thought it best to go first to Guamini, as it was not only much nearer, but also on the direct line of route.
The three horses went forward might and main, as if instinctively knowing whither they were bound. Thaouka especially displayed a courage that neither fatigue nor hunger could damp. He bounded like a bird over the dried-up CANADAS and the bushes of CURRA-MAMMEL, his loud, joyous neighing seeming to bode success to the search. The horses of Glenarvan and Robert, though not so light-footed, felt the spur of his example, and followed him bravely. Thalcave inspirited his companions as much as Thaouka did his four-footed brethren. He sat motionless in the saddle, but often turned his head to look at Robert, and ever and anon gave him a shout of encouragement and approval, as he saw how well he rode. Certainly the boy deserved praise, for he was fast becoming an excellent cavalier.
"Bravo! Robert," said Glenarvan. "Thalcave is evidently congratulating you, my boy, and paying you compliments."
"What for, my Lord?"
"For your good horsemanship."
"I can hold firm on, that's all," replied Robert blushing with pleasure at such an encomium.
"That is the principal thing, Robert; but you are too modest. I tell you that some day you will turn out an accomplished horseman."
"What would papa say to that?" said Robert, laughing. "He wants me to be a sailor."
"The one won't hinder the other. If all cavaliers wouldn't make good sailors, there is no reason why all sailors should not make good horsemen. To keep one's footing on the yards must teach a man to hold on firm; and as to managing the reins, and making a horse go through all sorts of movements, that's easily acquired. Indeed, it comes naturally."
"Poor father," said Robert; "how he will thank you for saving his life."
"You love him very much, Robert?"
"Yes, my Lord, dearly. He was so good to me and my sister. We were his only thought: and whenever he came home from his voyages, we were sure of some SOUVENIR from all the places he had been to; and, better still, of loving words and caresses. Ah! if you knew him you would love him, too. Mary is most like him. He has a soft voice, like hers. That's strange for a sailor, isn't it?"
"Yes, Robert, very strange."
"I see him still," the boy went on, as if speaking to himself. "Good, brave papa. He put me to sleep on his knee, crooning an old Scotch ballad about the lochs of our country. The time sometimes comes back to me, but very confused like. So it does to Mary, too. Ah, my Lord, how we loved him. Well, I do think one needs to be little to love one's father like that."
"Yes, and to be grown up, my child, to venerate him," replied Glenarvan, deeply touched by the boy's genuine affection.
During this conversation the horses had been slackening speed, and were only walking now.
"You will find him?" said Robert again, after a few minutes' silence.
"Yes, we'll find him," was Glenarvan's reply, "Thalcave has set us on the track, and I have great confidence in him."
"Thalcave is a brave Indian, isn't he?" said the boy.
"That indeed he is."
"Do you know something, my Lord?"
"What is it, and then I will tell you?"
"That all the people you have with you are brave. Lady Helena, whom I love so, and the Major, with his calm manner, and Captain Mangles, and Monsieur Paganel, and all the sailors on the DUNCAN. How courageous and devoted they are."
"Yes, my boy, I know that," replied Glenarvan.
"And do you know that you are the best of all."
"No, most certainly I don't know that."
"Well, it is time you did, my Lord," said the boy, seizing his lordship's hand, and covering it with kisses.