From the time of leaving the Guamini, there was marked change in the temperature, to the great relief of the travelers. It was much cooler, thanks to the violent and cold winds from Patagonia, which constantly agitate the atmospheric waves. Horses and men were glad enough of this, after what they had suffered from the heat and drought, and they felt animated with fresh ardor and confidence. But contrary to what Thalcave had said, the whole district appeared uninhabited, or rather abandoned.
Their route often led past or went right through small lagoons, sometimes of fresh water, sometimes of brackish. On the banks and bushes about these, king-wrens were hopping about and larks singing joyously in concert with the tangaras, the rivals in color of the brilliant humming birds. On the thorny bushes the nests of the ANNUBIS swung to and fro in the breeze like an Indian hammock; and on the shore magnificent flamingos stalked in regular order like soldiers marching, and spread out their flaming red wings. Their nests were seen in groups of thousands, forming a complete town, about a foot high, and resembling a truncated cone in shape. The flamingos did not disturb themselves in the least at the approach of the travelers, but this did not suit Paganel.
"I have been very desirous a long time," he said to the Major, "to see a flamingo flying."
"All right," replied McNabbs.
"Now while I have the opportunity, I should like to make the most of it," continued Paganel.
"Very well; do it, Paganel."
"Come with me, then, Major, and you too Robert. I want witnesses."
And all three went off towards the flamingos, leaving the others to go on in advance.
As soon as they were near enough, Paganel fired, only loading his gun, however, with powder, for he would not shed even the blood of a bird uselessly. The shot made the whole assemblage fly away _en masse_, while Paganel watched them attentively through his spectacles.
"Well, did you see them fly?" he asked the Major.
"Certainly I did," was the reply. "I could not help seeing them, unless I had been blind."
"Well and did you think they resembled feathered arrows when they were flying?"
"Not in the least."
"Not a bit," added Robert.
"I was sure of it," said the geographer, with a satisfied air; "and yet the very proudest of modest men, my illustrious countryman, Chateaubriand, made the inaccurate comparison. Oh, Robert, comparison is the most dangerous figure in rhetoric that I know. Mind you avoid it all your life, and only employ it in a last extremity."
"Are you satisfied with your experiment?" asked McNabbs.
"And so am I. But we had better push on now, for your illustrious Chateaubriand has put us more than a mile behind."
On rejoining their companions, they found Glenarvan busily engaged in conversation with the Indian, though apparently unable to make him understand. Thalcave's gaze was fixed intently on the horizon, and his face wore a puzzled expression.
The moment Paganel came in sight, Glenarvan called out:
"Come along, friend Paganel. Thalcave and I can't understand each other at all."
After a few minute's talk with the Patagonian, the interpreter turned to Glenarvan and said:
"Thalcave is quite astonished at the fact, and certainly it is very strange that there are no Indians, nor even traces of any to be seen in these plains, for they are generally thick with companies of them, either driving along cattle stolen from the ESTANCIAS, or going to the Andes to sell their zorillo cloths and plaited leather whips."
"And what does Thalcave think is the reason?"
"He does not know; he is amazed and that's all."
"But what description of Indians did he reckon on meeting in this part of the Pampas?"
"Just the very ones who had the foreign prisoners in their hands, the natives under the rule of the Caciques Calfoucoura, Catriel, or Yanchetruz."
"Who are these Caciques?"
"Chiefs that were all powerful thirty years ago, before they were driven beyond the sierras.