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Miette, however, would stare at
him with her large black childish eyes gleaming with anger and silent
scorn, which checked the cowardly youngster's sneers. In reality he was
terribly afraid of his cousin.

The young girl was just attaining her eleventh year when her aunt
Eulalie suddenly died. From that day everything changed in the house.
Rebufat gradually come to treat her like a farm-labourer. He overwhelmed
her with all sorts of rough work, and made use of her as a beast of
burden. She never even complained, however, thinking that she had a debt
of gratitude to repay him. In the evening, when she was worn out with
fatigue, she mourned for her aunt, that terrible woman whose latent
kindliness she now realised. However, it was not the hard work that
distressed her, for she delighted in her strength, and took a pride in
her big arms and broad shoulders. What distressed her was her uncle's
distrustful surveillance, his continual reproaches, and the irritated
employer-like manner he assumed towards her. She had now become a
stranger in the house. Yet even a stranger would not have been so badly
treated as she was. Rebufat took the most unscrupulous advantage of
this poor little relative, whom he pretended to keep out of charity. She
repaid his harsh hospitality ten times over with her work, and yet never
a day passed but he grudged her the bread she ate. Justin especially
excelled in wounding her. Since his mother had been dead, seeing her
without a protector, he had brought all his evil instincts into play in
trying to make the house intolerable to her. The most ingenious torture
which he invented was to speak to Miette of her father. The poor girl,
living away from the world, under the protection of her aunt, who had
forbidden any one ever to mention the words "galleys" or "convict"
before her, hardly understood their meaning. It was Justin who explained
it to her by relating, in his own manner, the story of the murder of the
gendarme, and Chantegreil's conviction. There was no end to the horrible
particulars he supplied: the convicts had a cannonball fastened to one
ankle by a chain, they worked fifteen hours a day, and all died under
their punishment; their prison, too, was a frightful place, the horrors
of which he described minutely. Miette listened to him, stupefied, her
eyes full of tears. Sometimes she was roused to sudden violence, and
Justin quickly retired before her clenched fists. However, he took a
savage delight in thus instructing her as to the nature of prison
life. When his father flew into a passion with the child for any little
negligence, he chimed in, glad to be able to insult her without danger.
And if she attempted to defend herself, he would exclaim: "Bah! bad
blood always shows itself. You'll end at the galleys like your father."

At this Miette sobbed, stung to the heart, powerless and overwhelmed
with shame.

She was already growing to womanhood at this period. Of precocious
nature, she endured her martyrdom with extraordinary fortitude. She
rarely gave way, excepting when her natural pride succumbed to her
cousin's outrages. Soon even, she was able to bear, without a tear, the
incessant insults of this cowardly fellow, who ever watched her while he
spoke, for fear lest she should fly at his face. Then, too, she learnt
to silence him by staring at him fixedly. She had several times felt
inclined to run away from the Jas-Meiffren; but she did not do so,
as her courage could not brook the idea of confessing that she was
vanquished by the persecution she endured. She certainly earned her
bread, she did not steal the Rebufats' hospitality; and this conviction
satisfied her pride. So she remained there to continue the struggle,
stiffening herself and living on with the one thought of resistance. Her
plan was to do her work in silence, and revenge herself for all harsh
treatment by mute contempt. She knew that her uncle derived too much
advantage from her to listen readily to the insinuations of Justin,
who longed to get her turned out of doors. And in a defiant spirit she
resolved that she would not go away of her own accord.

Her continuous voluntary silence was full of strange fancies. Passing
her days in the enclosure, isolated from all the world, she formed ideas
for herself which would have strangely shocked the good people of the
Faubourg. Her father's fate particularly occupied her thoughts. All
Justin's abuse recurred to her; and she ended by accepting the charge
of murder, saying to herself, however, that her father had done well
to kill the gendarme who had tried to kill him. She had learnt the real
story from a labourer who had worked for a time at the Jas-Meiffren.
From that moment, on the few occasions when she went out, she no longer
even turned if the ragamuffins of the Faubourg followed her, crying:
"Hey! La Chantegreil!"

She simply hastened her steps homeward, with lips compressed, and black,
fierce eyes. Then after shutting the gate, she perhaps cast one long
glance at the gang of urchins. She would have become vicious, have
lapsed into fierce pariah savagery, if her childishness had not
sometimes gained the mastery. Her extreme youth brought her little
girlish weaknesses which relieved her. She would then cry with shame for
herself and her father. She would hide herself in a stable so that she
might sob to her heart's content, for she knew that, if the others saw
her crying, they would torment her all the more. And when she had wept
sufficiently, she would bathe her eyes in the kitchen, and then again
subside into uncomplaining silence. It was not interest alone, however,
which prompted her to hide herself; she carried her pride in her
precocious strength so far that she was unwilling to appear a child. In
time she would have become very unhappy. Fortunately she was saved by
discovering the latent tenderness of her loving nature.

The well in the yard of the house occupied by aunt Dide and Silvere was
a party-well. The wall of the Jas-Meiffren cut it in halves. Formerly,
before the Fouques' property was united to the neighbouring estate, the
market-gardeners had used this well daily. Since the transfer of the
Fouques' ground, however, as it was at some distance from the outhouses,
the inmates of the Jas, who had large cisterns at their disposal, did
not draw a pail of water from it in a month. On the other side, one
could hear the grating of the pulley every morning when Silvere drew the
water for aunt Dide.

One day the pulley broke. The young wheelwright made a good strong one
of oak, and put it up in the evening after his day's work. To do this
he had to climb upon the wall. When he had finished the job he remained
resting astride the coping, and surveyed with curiosity the large
expanse of the Jas-Meiffren. At last a peasant-girl, who was weeding the
ground a few feet from him, attracted his attention. It was in July, and
the air was broiling, although the sun had already sank to the horizon.
The peasant-girl had taken off her jacket. In a white bodice, with a
coloured neckerchief tied over her shoulders, and the sleeves of her
chemise turned up as far as her elbows, she was squatting amid the folds
of her blue cotton skirt, which was secured to a pair of braces crossed
behind her back. She crawled about on her knees as she pulled up the
tares and threw them into a basket. The young man could only see her
bare, sun-tanned arms stretching out right and left to seize some
overlooked weed. He followed this rapid play of her arms complacently,
deriving a singular pleasure from seeing them so firm and quick. The
young person had slightly raised herself on noticing that he was
no longer at work, but had again lowered her head before he could
distinguish her features. This shyness kept him in suspense. Like an
inquisitive lad he wondered who this weeder could be, and while he
lingered there, whistling and beating time with a chisel, the latter
suddenly slipped out of his hand. It fell into the Jas-Meiffren,
striking the curb of the well, and then bounding a few feet from the
wall. Silvere looked at it, leaning forward and hesitating to get over.
But the peasant-girl must have been watching the young man askance, for
she jumped up without saying anything, picked up the chisel, and handed
it to Silvere, who then perceived that she was a mere child. He was
surprised and rather intimidated. The young girl raised herself towards
him in the red glare of the sunset. The wall at this spot was low, but
nevertheless too high for her to reach him. So he bent low over the
coping, while she still raised herself on tiptoes. They did not speak,
but looked at each other with an air of smiling confusion. The young man
would indeed have liked to keep the girl in that position. She turned to
him a charming head, with handsome black eyes, and red lips, which quite
astonished and stirred him. He had never before seen a girl so near;
he had not known that lips and eyes could be so pleasant to look at.
Everything about the girl seemed to possess a strange fascination for
him--her coloured neckerchief, her white bodice, her blue cotton skirt
hanging from braces which stretched with the motion of her shoulders.
Then his glance glided along the arm which was handing him the tool; as
far as the elbow this arm was of a golden brown, as though clothed with
sun-burn; but higher up, in the shadow of the tucked-up sleeve, Silvere
perceived a bare, milk-white roundness. At this he felt confused;
however, he leant further over, and at last managed to grasp the chisel.
The little peasant-girl was becoming embarrassed. Still they remained
there, smiling at each other, the child beneath with upturned face, and
the lad half reclining on the coping of the wall. They could not part
from each other. So far they had not exchanged a word, and Silvere even
forgot to say, "Thank you."

"What's your name?" he asked.

"Marie," replied the peasant-girl; "but everybody calls me Miette."

Again she raised herself slightly, and in a clear voice inquired in her
turn: "And yours?"

"My name is Silvere," the young workman replied.

A pause ensued, during which they seemed to be listening complacently to
the music of their names.

"I'm fifteen years old," resumed Silvere.



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Keywords: shoulders, become, chisel, nature, coping, remained, smiling, endured, hospitality, pulley
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