However, the unknown had not profited by the tumult to quit his post. Besides he could not have done it in the midst of that compact crowd. There he held on in the front row with crossed arms, glaring at President Barbicane.
The shouts of the immense crowd continued at their highest pitch throughout this triumphant march. Michel Ardan took it all with evident pleasure. His face gleamed with delight. Several times the platform seemed seized with pitching and rolling like a weatherbeaten ship. But the two heros of the meeting had good sea-legs. They never stumbled; and their vessel arrived without dues at the port of Tampa Town.
Michel Ardan managed fortunately to escape from the last embraces of his vigorous admirers. He made for the Hotel Franklin, quickly gained his chamber, and slid under the bedclothes, while an army of a hundred thousand men kept watch under his windows.
During this time a scene, short, grave, and decisive, took place between the mysterious personage and the president of the Gun Club.
Barbicane, free at last, had gone straight at his adversary.
"Come!" he said shortly.
The other followed him on the quay; and the two presently found themselves alone at the entrance of an open wharf on Jones' Fall.
The two enemies, still mutually unknown, gazed at each other.
"Who are you?" asked Barbicane.
"So I suspected. Hitherto chance has never thrown you in my way."
"I am come for that purpose."
"You have insulted me."
"And you will answer to me for this insult?"
"At this very moment."
"No! I desire that all that passes between us shall be secret. Their is a wood situated three miles from Tampa, the wood of Skersnaw. Do you know it?"
"I know it."
"Will you be so good as to enter it to-morrow morning at five o'clock, on one side?"
"Yes! if you will enter at the other side at the same hour."
"And you will not forget your rifle?" said Barbicane.
"No more than you will forget yours?" replied Nicholl.
These words having been coldly spoken, the president of the Gun Club and the captain parted. Barbicane returned to his lodging; but instead of snatching a few hours of repose, he passed the night in endeavoring to discover a means of evading the recoil of the projectile, and resolving the difficult problem proposed by Michel Ardan during the discussion at the meeting.
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."