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"When I lived at
Chavanoz, I used to go right up to the top of old Andre's walnut-trees.
Have you ever taken a magpie's nest? It's very difficult!"

Then a discussion arose as to how one ought to climb a poplar. Miette
stated her opinions, with all a boy's confidence.

However, Silvere, clasping her round the knees, had by this time lifted
her to the ground, and then they would walk on, side by side, their arms
encircling each other's waist. Though they were but children, fond of
frolicsome play and chatter, and knew not even how to speak of love, yet
they already partook of love's delight. It sufficed them to press each
other's hands. Ignorant whither their feelings and their hearts were
drifting, they did not seek to hide the blissful thrills which the
slightest touch awoke. Smiling, often wondering at the delight they
experienced, they yielded unconsciously to the sweetness of new feelings
even while talking, like a couple of schoolboys, of the magpies' nests
which are so difficult to reach.

And as they talked they went down the silent path, between the piles of
planks and the wall of the Jas-Meiffren. They never went beyond the end
of that narrow blind alley, but invariably retraced their steps. They
were quite at home there. Miette, happy in the knowledge of their
safe concealment, would often pause and congratulate herself on her
discovery.

"Wasn't I lucky!" she would gleefully exclaim. "We might walk a long way
without finding such a good hiding-place."

The thick grass muffled the noise of their footsteps. They were steeped
in gloom, shut in between two black walls, and only a strip of dark sky,
spangled with stars, was visible above their heads. And as they stepped
along, pacing this path which resembled a dark stream flowing beneath
the black star-sprent sky, they were often thrilled with undefinable
emotion, and lowered their voices, although there was nobody to hear
them. Surrendering themselves as it were to the silent waves of night,
over which they seemed to drift, they recounted to one another, with
lovers' rapture, the thousand trifles of the day.

At other times, on bright nights, when the moonlight clearly outlined
the wall and the timber-stacks, Miette and Silvere would romp about with
all the carelessness of children. The path stretched out, alight with
white rays, and retaining no suggestion of secrecy, and the young people
laughed and chased each other like boys at play, at times venturing even
to climb upon the piles of timber. Silvere was occasionally obliged to
frighten Miette by telling her that Justin might be watching her from
over the wall. Then, quite out of breath, they would stroll side
by side, and plan how they might some day go for a scamper in the
Sainte-Claire meadows, to see which of the two would catch the other.

Their growing love thus accommodated itself to dark and clear nights.
Their hearts were ever on the alert, and a little shade sufficed to
sweeten the pleasure of their embrace, and soften their laughter. This
dearly-loved retreat--so gay in the moonshine, so strangely thrilling
in the gloom--seemed an inexhaustible source of both gaiety and silent
emotion. They would remain there until midnight, while the town dropped
off to sleep and the lights in the windows of the Faubourg went out one
by one.

They were never disturbed in their solitude. At that late hour children
were no longer playing at hide-and-seek behind the piles of planks.
Occasionally, when the young couple heard sounds in the distance--the
singing of some workmen as they passed along the road, or conversation
coming from the neighbouring sidewalks--they would cast stealthy glances
over the Aire Saint-Mittre. The timber-yard stretched out, empty of
all, save here and there some falling shadows. On warm evenings they
sometimes caught glimpses of loving couples there, and of old men
sitting on the big beams by the roadside. When the evenings grew colder,
all that they ever saw on the melancholy, deserted spot was some gipsy
fire, before which, perhaps, a few black shadows passed to and fro.
Through the still night air words and sundry faint sounds were wafted to
them, the "good-night" of a townsman shutting his door, the closing of a
window-shutter, the deep striking of a clock, all the parting sounds of
a provincial town retiring to rest. And when Plassans was slumbering,
they might still hear the quarrelling of the gipsies and the crackling
of their fires, amidst which suddenly rose the guttural voices of girls
singing in a strange tongue, full of rugged accents.

But the lovers did not concern themselves much with what went on in the
Aire Saint-Mittre; they hastened back into their own little privacy, and
again walked along their favourite retired path. Little did they care
for others, or for the town itself! The few planks which separated them
from the wicked world seemed to them, after a while, an insurmountable
rampart. They were so secluded, so free in this nook, situated though it
was in the very midst of the Faubourg, at only fifty paces from the Rome
Gate, that they sometimes fancied themselves far away in some hollow of
the Viorne, with the open country around them. Of all the sounds
which reached them, only one made them feel uneasy, that of the clocks
striking slowly in the darkness. At times, when the hour sounded, they
pretended not to hear, at other moments they stopped short as if to
protest. However, they could not go on for ever taking just another
ten minutes, and so the time came when they were at last obliged to say
good-night. Then Miette reluctantly climbed upon the wall again. But all
was not ended yet, they would linger over their leave-taking for a
good quarter of an hour. When the girl had climbed upon the wall, she
remained there with her elbows on the coping, and her feet supported
by the branches of the mulberry-tree, which served her as a ladder.
Silvere, perched on the tombstone, was able to take her hands again, and
renew their whispered conversation. They repeated "till to-morrow!" a
dozen times, and still and ever found something more to say. At last
Silvere began to scold.

"Come, you must get down, it is past midnight."

But Miette, with a girl's waywardness, wished him to descend first; she
wanted to see him go away. And as he persisted in remaining, she ended
by saying abruptly, by way of punishment, perhaps: "Look! I am going to
jump down."

Then she sprang from the mulberry-tree, to the great consternation of
Silvere. He heard the dull thud of her fall, and the burst of laughter
with which she ran off, without choosing to reply to his last adieu. For
some minutes he would remain watching her vague figure as it disappeared
in the darkness, then, slowly descending, he regained the Impasse
Saint-Mittre.

During two years they came to the path every day. At the time of their
first meetings they enjoyed some beautiful warm nights. They might
almost have fancied themselves in the month of May, the month of
seething sap, when a pleasant odour of earth and fresh leaves pervades
the warm air. This _renouveau_, this second spring, was like a gift from
heaven which allowed them to run freely about the path and tighten their
bonds of affection.

At last came rain, and snow, and frost. But the disagreeableness of
winter did not keep them away. Miette put on her long brown pelisse, and
they both made light of the bad weather. When the nights were dry and
clear, and puffs of wind raised the hoar frost beneath their footsteps
and fell on their faces like taps from a switch, they refrained from
sitting down. They walked quickly to and fro, wrapped in the pelisse,
their cheeks blue with cold, and their eyes watering; and they laughed
heartily, quite quivering with mirth, at the rapidity of their
march through the freezing atmosphere. One snowy evening they amused
themselves with making an enormous snowball, which they rolled into
a corner. It remained there fully a month, which caused them fresh
astonishment each time they met in the path. Nor did the rain frighten
them. They came to see each other through the heaviest downpours, though
they got wet to the skin in doing so. Silvere would hasten to the spot,
saying to himself that Miette would never be mad enough to come; and
when Miette arrived, he could not find it in his heart to scold her.
In reality he had been expecting her. At last he sought some shelter
against the inclement weather, knowing quite well that they would
certainly come out, however much they might promise one another not to
do so when it rained. To find a shelter he only had to disturb one of
the timber-stacks; pulling out several pieces of wood and arranging them
so that they would move easily, in such wise that he could displace and
replace them at pleasure.

From that time forward the lovers possessed a sort of low and narrow
sentry-box, a square hole, which was only big enough to hold them
closely squeezed together on a beam which they had left at the bottom
of the little cell. Whenever it rained, the first to arrive would take
shelter here; and on finding themselves together again they would listen
with delight to the rain beating on the piles of planks. Before and
around them, through the inky blackness of the night, came a rush of
water which they could not see, but which resounded continuously like
the roar of a mob. They were nevertheless quite alone, as though they
had been at the end of the world or beneath the sea. They never felt so
happy, so isolated, as when they found themselves in that timber-stack,
in the midst of some such deluge which threatened to carry them away at
every moment. Their bent knees almost reached the opening, and though
they thrust themselves back as far as possible, the spray of the rain
bathed their cheeks and hands. The big drops, falling from the planks,
splashed at regular intervals at their feet. The brown pelisse kept them
warm, and the nook was so small that Miette was compelled to sit almost
on Silvere's knees. And they would chatter and then lapse into silence,
overcome with languor, lulled by the warmth of their embrace and the
monotonous beating of the shower.



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Keywords: silent, saint-mittre, shelter, pelisse, almost, beneath, another, however, delight, children
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