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The
insurrectionary force might well have thought they were following some
gigantic causeway, making their rounds along some military road built on
the shore of a phosphorescent sea, and circling some unknown Babel.

On the night in question, the Viorne roared hoarsely at the foot of
the rocks bordering the route. Amidst the continuous rumbling of the
torrent, the insurgents could distinguish the sharp, wailing notes of
the tocsin. The villages scattered about the plain, on the other side of
the river, were rising, sounding alarm-bells, and lighting signal fires.
Till daybreak the marching column, which the persistent tolling of
a mournful knell seemed to pursue in the darkness, thus beheld the
insurrection spreading along the valley, like a train of powder. The
fires showed in the darkness like stains of blood; echoes of distant
songs were wafted to them; the whole vague distance, blurred by the
whitish vapours of the moon, stirred confusedly, and suddenly broke into
a spasm of anger. For leagues and leagues the scene remained the same.

These men, marching on under the blind impetus of the fever with which
the events in Paris had inspired Republican hearts, became elated at
seeing that long stretch of country quivering with revolt. Intoxicated
with enthusiastic belief in the general insurrection of which they
dreamed, they fancied that France was following them; on the other side
of the Viorne, in that vast ocean of diffused light, they imagined there
were endless files of men rushing like themselves to the defence of the
Republic. All simplicity and delusion, as multitudes so often are, they
imagined, in their uncultured minds, that victory was easy and certain.
They would have seized and shot as a traitor any one who had then
asserted that they were the only ones who had the courage of their
duty, and that the rest of the country, overwhelmed with fright, was
pusillanimously allowing itself to be garrotted.

They derived fresh courage, too, from the welcome accorded to them
by the few localities that lay along their route on the slopes of the
Garrigues. The inhabitants rose _en masse_ immediately the little army
drew near; women ran to meet them, wishing them a speedy victory, while
men, half clad, seized the first weapons they could find and rushed to
join their ranks. There was a fresh ovation at every village, shouts of
welcome and farewell many times reiterated.

Towards daybreak the moon disappeared behind the Garrigues and the
insurgents continued their rapid march amidst the dense darkness of
a winter night. They were now unable to distinguish the valley or the
hills; they heard only the hoarse plaints of the bells, sounding through
the deep obscurity like invisible drums, hidden they knew not where, but
ever goading them on with despairing calls.

Miette and Silvere went on, all eagerness like the others. Towards
daybreak, the girl suffered greatly from fatigue; she could only walk
with short hurried steps, and was unable to keep up with the long
strides of the men who surrounded her. Nevertheless she courageously
strove to suppress all complaints; it would have cost her too much
to confess that she was not as strong as a boy. During the first few
leagues of the march Silvere gave her his arm; then, seeing that the
standard was gradually slipping from her benumbed hands, he tried to
take it in order to relieve her; but she grew angry, and would only
allow him to hold it with one hand while she continued to carry it on
her shoulder. She thus maintained her heroic demeanour with childish
stubbornness, smiling at the young man each time he gave her a glance of
loving anxiety. At last, when the moon hid itself, she gave way in the
sheltering darkness. Silvere felt her leaning more heavily on his arm.
He now had to carry the flag, and hold her round the waist to prevent
her from stumbling. Nevertheless she still made no complaint.

"Are you very tired, poor Miette?" Silvere asked her.

"Yea, a little tired," she replied in a weary tone.

"Would you like to rest a bit?"

She made no reply; but he realised that she was staggering. He thereupon
handed the flag to one of the other insurgents and quitted the ranks,
almost carrying the girl in his arms. She struggled a little, she felt
so distressed at appearing such a child. But he calmed her, telling her
that he knew of a cross-road which shortened the distance by one half.
They would be able to take a good hour's rest and reach Orcheres at the
same time as the others.

It was then six o'clock. There must have been a slight mist rising from
the Viorne, for the darkness seemed to be growing denser. The young
people groped their way along the slope of the Garrigues, till they came
to a rock on which they sat down. Around them lay an abyss of darkness.
They were stranded, as it were, on some reef above a dense void. And
athwart that void, when the dull tramp of the little army had died away,
they only heard two bells, the one clear toned and ringing doubtless at
their feet, in some village across the road; and the other far-off and
faint, responding, as it were, with distant sobs to the feverish plaints
of the first. One might have thought that these bells were recounting to
each other, through the empty waste, the sinister story of a perishing
world.

Miette and Silvere, warmed by their quick march, did not at first feel
the cold. They remained silent, listening in great dejection to the
sounds of the tocsin, which made the darkness quiver. They could not
even see one another. Miette felt frightened, and, seeking for Silvere's
hand, clasped it in her own. After the feverish enthusiasm which for
several hours had carried them along with the others, this sudden halt
and the solitude in which they found themselves side by side left them
exhausted and bewildered as though they had suddenly awakened from a
strange dream. They felt as if a wave had cast them beside the highway,
then ebbed back and left them stranded. Irresistible reaction plunged
them into listless stupor; they forgot their enthusiasm; they thought no
more of the men whom they had to rejoin; they surrendered themselves to
the melancholy sweetness of finding themselves alone, hand in hand, in
the midst of the wild darkness.

"You are not angry with me?" the girl at length inquired. "I could
easily walk the whole night with you; but they were running too quickly,
I could hardly breathe."

"Why should I be angry with you?" the young man said.

"I don't know. I was afraid you might not love me any longer. I wish I
could have taken long strides like you, and have walked along without
stopping. You will think I am a child."

Silvere smiled, and Miette, though the darkness prevented her from
seeing him, guessed that he was doing so. Then she continued with
determination: "You must not always treat me like a sister. I want to be
your wife some day."

Forthwith she clasped Silvere to her bosom, and, still with her arms
about him, murmured: "We shall grow so cold; come close to me that we
may be warm."

Then they lapsed into silence. Until that troublous hour, they had loved
one another with the affection of brother and sister. In their ignorance
they still mistook their feelings for tender friendship, although
beneath their guileless love their ardent blood surged more wildly
day by day. Given age and experience, a violent passion of southern
intensity would at last spring from this idyll. Every girl who hangs on
a youth's neck is already a woman, a woman unconsciously, whom a caress
may awaken to conscious womanhood. When lovers kiss on the cheeks, it is
because they are searching, feeling for one another's lips. Lovers are
made by a kiss. It was on that dark and cold December night, amid the
bitter wailing of the tocsin, that Miette and Silvere exchanged one of
those kisses that bring all the heart's blood to the lips.

They remained silent, close to one another. A gentle glow soon
penetrated them, languor overcame them, and steeped them in feverish
drowsiness. They were quite warm at last, and lights seemed to flit
before their closed eyelids, while a buzzing mounted to their brains.
This state of painful ecstasy, which lasted some minutes, seemed
endless to them. Then, in a kind of dream, their lips met. The kiss they
exchanged was long and greedy. It seemed to them as if they had never
kissed before. Yet their embrace was fraught with suffering and they
released one another. And the chilliness of the night having cooled
their fever, they remained in great confusion at some distance one from
the other.

Meantime the bells were keeping up their sinister converse in the
dark abyss which surrounded the young people. Miette, trembling and
frightened, did not dare to draw near to Silvere again. She did not even
know if he were still there, for she could no longer hear him move. The
stinging sweetness of their kiss still clung to their lips, to which
passionate phrases surged, and they longed to kiss once more. But shame
restrained them from the expression of any such desire. They felt that
they would rather never taste that bliss again than speak of it aloud.
If their blood had not been lashed by their rapid march, if the darkness
had not offered complicity, they would, for a long time yet, have
continued kissing each other on the cheeks like old playfellows.
Feelings of modesty were coming to Miette. She remembered Justin's
coarseness. A few hours previously she had listened, without a blush,
to that fellow who called her a shameless girl. She had wept without
understanding his meaning, she had wept simply because she guessed that
what he spoke of must be base. Now that she was becoming a woman, she
wondered in a last innocent transport whether that kiss, whose burning
smart she could still feel, would not perhaps suffice to cover her with
the shame to which her cousin had referred. Thereupon she was seized
with remorse, and burst into sobs.

"What is the matter; why are you crying?" asked Silvere in an anxious
voice.

"Oh, leave me," she faltered, "I do not know."

Then in spite of herself, as it were, she continued amidst her tears:
"Ah!



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Keywords: insurgents, amidst, distance, feverish, without, leagues, daybreak, garrigues, tocsin, thought
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