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"And you?"

"I!" said Miette; "oh, I shall be eleven on All Saints' Day."

The young workman made a gesture of surprise. "Ah! really!" he said,
laughing, "and to think I took you for a woman! You've such big arms."

She also began to laugh, as she lowered her eyes to her arms. Then they
ceased speaking. They remained for another moment gazing and smiling at
each other. And finally, as Silvere seemingly had no more questions to
ask her, Miette quietly withdrew and went on plucking her weeds, without
raising her head. The lad for his part remained on the wall for a while.
The sun was setting; a stream of oblique rays poured over the yellow
soil of the Jas-Meiffren, which seemed to be all ablaze--one would have
said that a fire was running along the ground--and, in the midst of the
flaming expanse, Silvere saw the little stooping peasant-girl, whose
bare arms had resumed their rapid motion. The blue cotton skirt was
now becoming white; and rays of light streamed over the child's
copper-coloured arms. At last Silvere felt somewhat ashamed of remaining
there, and accordingly got off the wall.

In the evening, preoccupied with his adventure, he endeavoured to
question aunt Dide. Perhaps she would know who this Miette was who had
such black eyes and such red lips. But, since she had lived in the house
in the alley, the old woman had never once given a look behind the wall
of the little yard. It was, to her, like an impassable rampart, which
shut off her past. She did not know--she did not want to know--what
there might now be on the other side of that wall, in that old enclosure
of the Fouques, where she had buried her love, her heart and her flesh.
As soon as Silvere began to question her she looked at him with childish
terror. Was he, then, going to stir up the ashes of those days now dead
and gone, and make her weep like her son Antoine had done?

"I don't know," she said in a hasty voice; "I no longer go out, I never
see anybody."

Silvere waited the morrow with considerable impatience. And as soon
as he got to his master's workshop, he drew his fellow-workmen into
conversation. He did not say anything about his interview with Miette;
but spoke vaguely of a girl whom he had seen from a distance in the
Jas-Meiffren.

"Oh! that's La Chantegreil!" cried one of the workmen.

There was no necessity for Silvere to question them further, for they
told him the story of the poacher Chantegreil and his daughter Miette,
with that unreasoning spite which is felt for social outcasts. The girl,
in particular, they treated in a foul manner; and the insulting gibe
of "daughter of a galley-slave" constantly rose to their lips like an
incontestable reason for condemning the poor, dear innocent creature to
eternal disgrace.

However, wheelwright Vian, an honest, worthy fellow, at last silenced
his men.

"Hold your tongues, you foul mouths!" he said, as he let fall the
shaft of a cart that he had been examining. "You ought to be ashamed of
yourselves for being so hard upon the child. I've seen her, the little
thing looks a very good girl. Besides, I'm told she doesn't mind work,
and already does as much as any woman of thirty. There are some lazy
fellows here who aren't a match for her. I hope, later on, that she'll
get a good husband who'll stop this evil talk."

Silvere, who had been chilled by the workmen's gross jests and insults,
felt tears rise to his eyes at the last words spoken by Vian. However,
he did not open his lips. He took up his hammer, which he had laid down
near him, and began with all his might to strike the nave of a wheel
which he was binding with iron.

In the evening, as soon as he had returned home from the workshop, he
ran to the wall and climbed upon it. He found Miette engaged upon the
same labour as the day before. He called her. She came to him, with her
smile of embarrassment, and the charming shyness of a child who from
infancy had grown up in tears.

"You're La Chantegreil, aren't you?" he asked her, abruptly.

She recoiled, she ceased smiling, and her eyes turned sternly black,
gleaming with defiance. So this lad was going to insult her, like the
others! She was turning her back upon him, without giving an answer,
when Silvere, perplexed by her sudden change of countenance, hastened to
add: "Stay, I beg you--I don't want to pain you--I've got so many things
to tell you!"

She turned round, still distrustful. Silvere, whose heart was full, and
who had resolved to relieve it, remained for a moment speechless, not
knowing how to continue, for he feared lest he should commit a fresh
blunder. At last he put his whole heart in one phrase: "Would you like
me to be your friend?" he said, in a voice full of emotion. And as
Miette, in surprise, raised her eyes, which were again moist and
smiling, he continued with animation: "I know that people try to vex
you. It's time to put a stop to it. I will be your protector now. Shall
I?"

The child beamed with delight. This proffered friendship roused her from
all her evil dreams of taciturn hatred. Still she shook her head and
answered: "No, I don't want you to fight on my account. You'd have
too much to do. Besides which, there are persons from whom you cannot
protect me."

Silvere wished to declare that he would defend her against the whole
world, but she closed his mouth with a coaxing gesture, as she added: "I
am satisfied to have you as a friend."

They then conversed together for a few minutes, lowering their voices as
much as possible. Miette spoke to Silvere of her uncle and her cousin.
For all the world she would not have liked them to catch him astride
the coping of the wall. Justin would be implacable with such a weapon
against her. She spoke of her misgivings with the fright of a schoolgirl
on meeting a friend with whom her mother has forbidden her to associate.
Silvere merely understood, however, that he would not be able to see
Miette at his pleasure. This made him very sad. Still, he promised that
he would not climb upon the wall any more. They were both endeavouring
to find some expedient for seeing each other again, when Miette suddenly
begged him to go away; she had just caught sight of Justin, who was
crossing the grounds in the direction of the wall. Silvere quickly
descended. When he was in the little yard again, he remained by the wall
to listen, irritated by his flight. After a few minutes he ventured to
climb again and cast a glance into the Jas-Meiffren, but he saw Justin
speaking with Miette, and quickly withdrew his head. On the following
day he could see nothing of his friend, not even in the distance; she
must have finished her work in that part of the Jas. A week passed in
this fashion, and the young people had no opportunity of exchanging a
single word. Silvere was in despair; he thought of boldly going to the
Rebufats to ask for Miette.

The party-well was a large one, but not very deep. On either side of
the wall the curb formed a large semicircle. The water was only ten or
twelve feet down at the utmost. This slumbering water reflected the two
apertures of the well, two half-moons between which the shadow of the
wall cast a black streak. On leaning over, one might have fancied in the
vague light that the half-moons were two mirrors of singular clearness
and brilliance. Under the morning sunshine, when the dripping of the
ropes did not disturb the surface of the water, these mirrors, these
reflections of the heavens, showed like white patches on the green
water, and in them the leaves of the ivy which had spread along the wall
over the well were repeated with marvellous exactness.

One morning, at an early hour, Silvere, as he came to draw water for
aunt Dide, bent over the well mechanically, just as he was taking hold
of the rope. He started, and then stood motionless, still leaning over.
He had fancied that he could distinguish in the well the face of a young
girl who was looking at him with a smile; however, he had shaken the
rope, and the disturbed water was now but a dim mirror that no longer
reflected anything clearly. Silvere, who did not venture to stir, and
whose heart beat rapidly, then waited for the water to settle. As
its ripples gradually widened and died away, he perceived the image
reappearing. It oscillated for a long time, with a swing which lent
a vague, phantom-like grace to its features, but at last it remained
stationary. It was the smiling countenance of Miette, with her head
and shoulders, her coloured neckerchief, her white bodice, and her blue
braces. Silvere next perceived his own image in the other mirror. Then,
knowing that they could see each other, they nodded their heads. For
the first moment, they did not even think of speaking. At last they
exchanged greetings.

"Good morning, Silvere."

"Good morning, Miette."

They were surprised by the strange sound of their voices, which became
singularly soft and sweet in that damp hole. The sound seemed, indeed,
to come from a distance, like the soft music of voices heard of an
evening in the country. They understood that it would suffice to speak
in a whisper in order to hear each other. The well echoed the faintest
breath. Leaning over its brink, they conversed while gazing at one
another's reflection. Miette related how sad she had been the last week.
She was now working at the other end of the Jas, and could only get out
early in the morning. Then she made a pout of annoyance which Silvere
distinguished perfectly, and to which he replied by nodding his head
with an air of vexation. They were exchanging all those gestures and
facial expressions that speech entails. They cared but little for the
wall which separated them now that they could see each other in those
hidden depths.

"I knew," continued Miette, with a knowing look, "that you came here to
draw water every morning at the same hour. I can hear the grating of the
pulley from the house. So I made an excuse, I pretended that the water
in this well boiled the vegetables better. I thought that I might come
here every morning to draw water at the same time as you, so as to say
good morning to you without anyone suspecting it."

She smiled innocently, as though well pleased with her device, and
ended by saying: "But I did not imagine we should see each other in the
water."

It was, in fact, this unhoped-for pleasure which so delighted them.



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Keywords: knowing, chantegreil, distance, justin, leaning, evening, question, jas-meiffren, without, moment
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