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|Earth to the Moon||Jules Verne|
HOW A FRENCHMAN MANAGES AN AFFAIR
|Page 2 of 5||
Barbicane must have passed the border half an hour ago.
There was an old bushman working there, occupied in selling fagots from trees that had been leveled by his axe.
Maston ran toward him, saying, "Have you seen a man go into the wood, armed with a rifle? Barbicane, the president, my best friend?"
The worthy secretary of the Gun Club thought that his president must be known by all the world. But the bushman did not seem to understand him.
"A hunter?" said Ardan.
"A hunter? Yes," replied the bushman.
"About an hour."
"Too late!" cried Maston.
"Have you heard any gunshots?" asked Ardan.
"Not one! that hunter did not look as if he knew how to hunt!"
"What is to be done?" said Maston.
"We must go into the wood, at the risk of getting a ball which is not intended for us."
"Ah!" cried Maston, in a tone which could not be mistaken, "I would rather have twenty balls in my own head than one in Barbicane's."
"Forward, then," said Ardan, pressing his companion's hand.
A few moments later the two friends had disappeared in the copse. It was a dense thicket, in which rose huge cypresses, sycamores, tulip-trees, olives, tamarinds, oaks, and magnolias. These different trees had interwoven their branches into an inextricable maze, through which the eye could not penetrate. Michel Ardan and Maston walked side by side in silence through the tall grass, cutting themselves a path through the strong creepers, casting curious glances on the bushes, and momentarily expecting to hear the sound of rifles. As for the traces which Barbicane ought to have left of his passage through the wood, there was not a vestige of them visible: so they followed the barely perceptible paths along which Indians had tracked some enemy, and which the dense foliage darkly overshadowed.
After an hour spent in vain pursuit the two stopped in intensified anxiety.
"It must be all over," said Maston, discouraged. "A man like Barbicane would not dodge with his enemy, or ensnare him, would not even maneuver! He is too open, too brave. He has gone straight ahead, right into the danger, and doubtless far enough from the bushman for the wind to prevent his hearing the report of the rifles."
"But surely," replied Michel Ardan, "since we entered the wood we should have heard!"
"And what if we came too late?" cried Maston in tones of despair.
For once Ardan had no reply to make, he and Maston resuming their walk in silence. From time to time, indeed, they raised great shouts, calling alternately Barbicane and Nicholl, neither of whom, however, answered their cries. Only the birds, awakened by the sound, flew past them and disappeared among the branches, while some frightened deer fled precipitately before them.
For another hour their search was continued. The greater part of the wood had been explored. There was nothing to reveal the presence of the combatants. The information of the bushman was after all doubtful, and Ardan was about to propose their abandoning this useless pursuit, when all at once Maston stopped.
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