The sky was turning pale through the trees when I awoke. Nova was still asleep. I watched her in silence and sighed as I remembered her cruelty to our poor monkey. She had probably also been the cause of our misadventure by pointing us out to her companions. But how could one hold this against her when faced with the perfection of her body?
Suddenly she stirred and raised her head. A gleam of fear came into her eyes and I felt her muscles contract Since I did not move, however, her face gradually relaxed. She remembered; she managed for the first time to withstand my gaze for a moment. I regarded this as a personal victory and went so far as to smile at her again, forgetting her previous reaction to this earthly manifestation.
This time it was less intense. She shivered, stiffened again as though about to take flight, but stayed where she was. Encouraged, I smiled more broadly. She trembled again but eventually calmed down, her face soon expressing nothing but profound astonishment. Had I succeeded in taming her? I became bold enough to put my hand on her shoulder. A shiver ran down her spine, but she still did not move. I was intoxicated by this success, and was even more so when I thought she was trying to imitate met.
It was true. She was trying to smile. I could sense her painful efforts to contract the muscles of her delicate face. She made several attempts, managing only to produce a sort of painful grimace. There was something tremendously moving about this excessive labor on the part of a human being to achieve an everyday expression, and with such a pitiful result. I suddenly felt extremely touched, filled with compassion as though for a crippled child. I increased the pressure of my hand on her shoulder. I brought my face closer to hers. She replied to this gesture by rubbing her nose against mine, then by passing her tongue over my cheek.
I was bewildered and hesitant. To be on the safe side, I imitated her in my clumsy fashion. After all, I was a foreign visitor and it was up to me to adopt the customs of the great Betelgeuse. system. She appeared satisfied. We had gone thus far in our attempts at communication, myself none too sure how to continue, frightened of committing some blunder with my Earthly manners, when a terrifying hullabaloo made us start up in alarm.
I found myself with my two companions, whom I had selfishly forgotten, standing bolt upright in the gathering dawn. Nova had sprung to her feet even more quickly and showed signs of the deepest terror. I understood immediately that this din was a nasty surprise not only for us but for all the inhabitants of the forest, for all of them, abandoning their lairs, had started running hither and thither in panic. This was not a game, as on the previous day; their cries expressed sheer terror.
This din, suddenly breaking the silence of the forest, was enough to make one's blood run cold, but I felt besides that the men of the jungle knew what was in the offing and that their fear was caused by the approach of a specific danger. It was a strange cacophony, a mixture of rattling sounds like a roll of drums, other more discordant noises resembling a clashing of pots and pans, and also shouts. It was the shouts that made the most impression on us, for although they were in no language familiar to us, they were incontestably human. The early morning light revealed a strange scene in the forest: men, women, and children running in all directions, passing and bumping into one another, some of them even climbing into the trees as though to seek refuge there. Soon, however, some of the older ones stopped to prick up their ears and listen. The noise was approaching rather slowly. It came from the region where the forest was thickest and seemed to emanate from a fairly long unbroken line. I compared it to the noise made by beaters in one of our big shoots.
The elders of the tribe appeared to make a decision. They uttered a series of yelps, which were no doubt signals or orders, then rushed off in the opposite direction from the noise. The rest of them followed, and we saw them galloping all around us like a driven herd of deer. Nova, too, was about to take to her heels, but she paused suddenly and turned around toward us—above all toward me, I felt. She uttered a plaintive whimper, which I assumed to be an invitation to follow her, then took one leap and disappeared.
The din grew louder and I fancied I heard the undergrowth snapping as though beneath some heavy footsteps. I admit that I lost my composure. Caution prompted me, however, to stay where I was and to face the newcomers who, it became clearer every second, were uttering these human cries. But after my ordeal of the day before, this horrible racket'! unnerved me. I was infected by the terror of Nova and the others. I did not pause to think; I did not even want to consult my companions; I plunged into the undergrowth and took to my heels in the young girl's footsteps.
I ran as fast as I could for several hundred yards without being able to catch up with her, and then noticed that Levain alone had followed me, Professor Antelle's age precluding such rapid flight. Levain was panting beside me. We looked at each other, ashamed of our behavior, and I was about to suggest going back or at least waiting for our leader, when some other noises made us jump in alarm.
As to these, I could not be mistaken. They were gunshots echoing through the jungle: one, two, three, then several more, at irregular intervals, sometimes one at a time, at other times two consecutive shots, strangely reminiscent of a double-barreled gun. They were firing in front of us, on the path taken by the fugitives. While we paused, the line from which the first din had come, the line of beaters, drew closer, very close to us, sowing panic in us once again. I do not know why the shooting seemed to me less frightening, more familiar than this hellish din. Instinctively I resumed my headlong flight, taking care nevertheless to keep under cover of the undergrowth and to make as little noise as possible. My companion followed after me.
We thus reached the region in which the shots had been heard. I slowed down and crept forward, almost on all fours. Still followed by Levain, I clambered up a sort of hillock and came to a halt on the summit, panting for breath. There was nothing in front of me but a few trees and a curtain of scrub. I advanced cautiously, my head on a level with the ground. There I lay for a moment or two as though floored by a blow, overpowered by a spectacle completely beyond my poor human comprehension.