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When
the moon shone, its rays glided between the trunks of the trees, and
phantoms seemed to flit along the river-side in white robes. Miette felt
no nervousness, however, only an indefinable emotion as she followed
the play of the shadows. As she went onward with slower motion, the calm
water, which the moon converted into a bright mirror, rippled at
her approach like a silver-broidered cloth; eddies widened and lost
themselves amid the shadows of the banks, under the hanging willow
branches, whence issued weird, plashing sounds. At every stroke she
perceived recesses full of sound; dark cavities which she hastened
to pass by; clusters and rows of trees, whose sombre masses were
continually changing form, stretching forward and apparently following
her from the summit of the bank. And when she threw herself on her back,
the depths of the heavens affected her still more. From the fields, from
the distant horizon, which she could no longer see, a solemn lingering
strain, composed of all the sighs of the night, was wafted to her.

She was not of a dreamy nature; it was physically, through the medium of
each of her senses, that she derived enjoyment from the sky, the river,
and the play of light and shadow. The river, in particular, bore her
along with endless caresses. When she swam against the current she was
delighted to feel the stream flow rapidly against her bosom and limbs.
She dipped herself in it yet more deeply, with the water reaching to her
lips, so that it might pass over her shoulders, and envelop her, from
chin to feet, with flying kisses. Then she would float, languid and
quiescent, on the surface, whilst the ripples glided softly between her
costume and her skin. And she would also roll over in the still pools
like a cat on a carpet; and swim from the luminous patches where
the moonbeams were bathing, to the dark water shaded by the foliage,
shivering the while, as though she had quitted a sunny plain and then
felt the cold from the boughs falling on her neck.

She now remained quite silent in the water, and would not allow Silvere
to touch her. Gliding softly by his side, she swam on with the light
rustling of a bird flying across the copse, or else she would circle
round him, a prey to vague disquietude which she did not comprehend.
He himself darted quickly away if he happened to brush against her.
The river was now but a source of enervating intoxication, voluptuous
languor, which disturbed them strangely. When they emerged from their
bath they felt dizzy, weary, and drowsy. Fortunately, the girl declared
one evening that she would bathe no more, as the cold water made the
blood run to her head. And it was in all truth and innocence that she
said this.

Then their long conversations began anew. The dangers to which the
innocence of their love had lately been exposed had left no other trace
in Silvere's mind than great admiration for Miette's physical strength.
She had learned to swim in a fortnight, and often, when they raced
together, he had seen her stem the current with a stroke as rapid as his
own. He, who delighted in strength and bodily exercises, felt a
thrill of pleasure at seeing her so strong, so active and adroit. He
entertained at heart a singular admiration for her stout arms. One
evening, after one of the first baths that had left them so playful,
they caught each other round the waist on a strip of sand, and wrestled
for several minutes without Silvere being able to throw Miette. At
last, indeed, it was the young man who lost his balance, while the girl
remained standing. Her sweetheart treated her like a boy, and it was
those long rambles of theirs, those wild races across the meadows, those
birds' nests filched from the tree crests, those struggles and violent
games of one and another kind that so long shielded them and their love
from all impurity.

Then, too, apart from his youthful admiration for his sweetheart's
dashing pluck, Silvere felt for her all the compassionate tenderness of
a heart that ever softened towards the unfortunate. He, who could never
see any forsaken creature, a poor man, or a child, walking barefooted
along the dusty roads, without a throb of pity, loved Miette because
nobody else loved her, because she virtually led an outcast's hard life.
When he saw her smile he was deeply moved by the joy he brought her.
Moreover, the child was a wildling, like himself, and they were of the
same mind in hating all the gossips of the Faubourg. The dreams in which
Silvere indulged in the daytime, while he plied his heavy hammer round
the cartwheels in his master's shop, were full of generous enthusiasm.
He fancied himself Miette's redeemer. All his reading rushed to his
head; he meant to marry his sweetheart some day, in order to raise her
in the eyes of the world. It was like a holy mission that he imposed
upon himself, that of redeeming and saving the convict's daughter. And
his head was so full of certain theories and arguments, that he did not
tell himself these things in simple fashion, but became lost in perfect
social mysticism; imagining rehabilitation in the form of an apotheosis
in which he pictured Miette seated on a throne, at the end of the Cours
Sauvaire, while the whole town prostrated itself before her, entreating
her pardon and singing her praises. Happily he forgot all these fine
things as soon as Miette jumped over the wall, and said to him on the
high road: "Let us have a race! I'm sure you won't catch me."

However, if the young man dreamt like this of the glorification of his
sweetheart, he also showed such passion for justice that he often made
her weep on speaking to her about her father. In spite of the softening
effect which Silvere's friendship had had upon her, she still at times
gave way to angry outbreaks of temper, when all the stubbornness and
rebellion latent in her nature stiffened her with scowling eyes and
tightly-drawn lips. She would then contend that her father had done
quite right to kill the gendarme, that the earth belongs to everybody,
and that one has the right to fire a gun when and where one likes.
Thereupon Silvere, in a grave voice, explained the law to her as he
understood it, with strange commentaries which would have startled the
whole magistracy of Plassans. These discussions took place most often in
some remote corner of the Sainte-Claire meadows. The grassy carpet of a
dusky green hue stretched further than they could see, undotted even by
a single tree, and the sky seemed colossal, spangling the bare horizon
with the stars. It seemed to the young couple as if they were being
rocked on a sea of verdure. Miette argued the point obstinately; she
asked Silvere if her father should have let the gendarme kill him, and
Silvere, after a momentary silence, replied that, in such a case, it
was better to be the victim than the murderer, and that it was a great
misfortune for anyone to kill a fellow man, even in legitimate defence.
The law was something holy to him, and the judges had done right in
sending Chantegreil to the galleys. At this the girl grew angry, and
almost struck her sweetheart, crying out that he was as heartless as the
rest. And as he still firmly defended his ideas of justice, she finished
by bursting into sobs, and stammering that he was doubtless ashamed
of her, since he was always reminding her of her father's crime. These
discussions ended in tears, in mutual emotion. But although the child
cried, and acknowledged that she was perhaps wrong, she still retained
deep within her a wild resentful temper. She once related, with hearty
laughter, that she had seen a gendarme fall off his horse and break his
leg. Apart from this, Miette only lived for Silvere. When he asked her
about her uncle and cousin, she replied that "She did not know;" and
if he pressed her, fearing that they were making her too unhappy at the
Jas-Meiffren, she simply answered that she worked hard, and that nothing
had changed. She believed, however, that Justin had at last found out
what made her sing in the morning, and filled her eyes with delight. But
she added: "What does it matter? If ever he comes to disturb us we'll
receive him in such a way that he won't be in a hurry to meddle with our
affairs any more."

Now and again the open country, their long rambles in the fresh air,
wearied them somewhat. They then invariably returned to the Aire
Saint-Mittre, to the narrow lane, whence they had been driven by the
noisy summer evenings, the pungent scent of the trodden grass, all the
warm oppressive emanations. On certain nights, however, the path proved
cooler, and the winds freshened it so that they could remain there
without feeling faint. They then enjoyed a feeling of delightful repose.
Seated on the tombstone, deaf to the noise of the children and gipsies,
they felt at home again. Silvere had on various occasions picked
up fragments of bones, even pieces of skulls, and they were fond of
speaking of the ancient burial-ground. It seemed to them, in their
lively fancies, that their love had shot up like some vigorous plant in
this nook of soil which dead men's bones had fertilised. It had grown,
indeed, like those wild weeds, it had blossomed as blossom the poppies
which sway like bare bleeding hearts at the slightest breeze. And
they ended by fancying that the warm breaths passing over them, the
whisperings heard in the gloom, the long quivering which thrilled the
path, came from the dead folk sighing their departed passions in
their faces, telling them the stories of their bridals, as they turned
restlessly in their graves, full of a fierce longing to live and love
again. Those fragments of bone, they felt convinced of it, were full of
affection for them; the shattered skulls grew warm again by contact with
their own youthful fire, the smallest particles surrounded them with
passionate whispering, anxious solicitude, throbbing jealousy. And when
they departed, the old burial-ground seemed to groan. Those weeds,
in which their entangled feet often stumbled on sultry nights, were
fingers, tapered by tomb life, that sprang up from the earth to detain
them and cast them into each other's arms.



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Keywords: against, gendarme, without, admiration, father, silvere's, deeply, nights, flying, current
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