From the Earth to the Moon
Chapter 21. How A Frenchman Manages An Affair
While the contract of this duel was being discussed by the president and the captain-- this
dreadful, savage duel, in which each adversary became a man-hunter-- Michel Ardan was
resting from the fatigues of his triumph. Resting is hardly an appropriate expression, for
American beds rival marble or granite tables for hardness.
Ardan was sleeping, then, badly enough, tossing about between the cloths which served
him for sheets, and he was dreaming of making a more comfortable couch in his
projectile when a frightful noise disturbed his dreams. Thundering blows shook his door.
They seemed to be caused by some iron instrument. A great deal of loud talking was
distinguishable in this racket, which was rather too early in the morning. "Open the
door," some one shrieked, "for heaven's sake!" Ardan saw no reason for complying with
a demand so roughly expressed. However, he got up and opened the door just as it was
giving way before the blows of this determined visitor. The secretary of the Gun Club
burst into the room. A bomb could not have made more noise or have entered the room
with less ceremony.
"Last night," cried J. T. Maston, ex abrupto, "our president was publicly insulted during
the meeting. He provoked his adversary, who is none other than Captain Nicholl! They
are fighting this morning in the wood of Skersnaw. I heard all the particulars from the
mouth of Barbicane himself. If he is killed, then our scheme is at an end. We must
prevent his duel; and one man alone has enough influence over Barbicane to stop him,
and that man is Michel Ardan."
While J. T. Maston was speaking, Michel Ardan, without interrupting him, had hastily
put on his clothes; and, in less than two minutes, the two friends were making for the
suburbs of Tampa Town with rapid strides.
It was during this walk that Maston told Ardan the state of the case. He told him the real
causes of the hostility between Barbicane and Nicholl; how it was of old date, and why,
thanks to unknown friends, the president and the captain had, as yet, never met face to
face. He added that it arose simply from a rivalry between iron plates and shot, and,
finally, that the scene at the meeting was only the long-wished-for opportunity for
Nicholl to pay off an old grudge.
Nothing is more dreadful than private duels in America. The two adversaries attack each
other like wild beasts. Then it is that they might well covet those wonderful properties of
the Indians of the prairies-- their quick intelligence, their ingenious cunning, their scent
of the enemy. A single mistake, a moment's hesitation, a single false step may cause
death. On these occasions Yankees are often accompanied by their dogs, and keep up the
struggle for hours.
"What demons you are!" cried Michel Ardan, when his companion had depicted this
scene to him with much energy.