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reading--ill-digested and lacking all solid foundation--gave him
glimpses of the world's vanities and pleasures, especially with regard
to women, which would have seriously troubled his mind if his heart
had not been contented. When Miette came, he received her at first as
a companion, then as the joy and ambition of his life. In the evening,
when he had retired to the little nook where he slept, and hung his lamp
at the head of his strap-bedstead, he would find Miette on every page of
the dusty old volume which he had taken at random from a shelf above his
head and was reading devoutly. He never came across a young girl, a good
and beautiful creature, in his reading, without immediately identifying
her with his sweetheart. And he would set himself in the narrative as
well. If he were reading a love story, it was he who married Miette at
the end, or died with her. If, on the contrary, he were perusing some
political pamphlet, some grave dissertation on social economy, works
which he preferred to romances, for he had that singular partiality for
difficult subjects which characterises persons of imperfect scholarship,
he still found some means of associating her with the tedious themes
which frequently he could not even understand. For instance, he tried
to persuade himself that he was learning how to be good and kind to her
when they were married. He thus associated her with all his visionary
dreamings. Protected by the purity of his affection against the
obscenity of certain eighteenth-century tales which fell into his hands,
he found particular pleasure in shutting himself up with her in those
humanitarian Utopias which some great minds of our own time, infatuated
by visions of universal happiness have imagined. Miette, in his mind,
became quite essential to the abolition of pauperism and the definitive
triumph of the principles of the Revolution. There were nights of
feverish reading, when his mind could not tear itself from his book,
which he would lay down and take up at least a score of times, nights
of voluptuous weariness which he enjoyed till daybreak like some secret
orgie, cramped up in that tiny room, his eyes troubled by the flickering
yellow light, while he yielded to the fever of insomnia and schemed
out new social schemes of the most absurdly ingenuous nature, in which
woman, always personified by Miette, was worshipped by the nations on
their knees.

He was predisposed to Utopian ideas by certain hereditary influences;
his grandmother's nervous disorders became in him so much chronic
enthusiasm, striving after everything that was grandiose and impossible.
His lonely childhood, his imperfect education, had developed his natural
tendencies in a singular manner. However, he had not yet reached the age
when the fixed idea plants itself in a man's mind. In the morning, after
he had dipped his head in a bucket of water, he remembered his thoughts
and visions of the night but vaguely; nothing remained of his dreams
save a childlike innocence, full of trustful confidence and yearning
tenderness. He felt like a child again. He ran to the well, solely
desirous of meeting his sweetheart's smile, and tasting the delights
of the radiant morning. And during the day, when thoughts of the future
sometimes made him silent and dreamy, he would often, prompted by some
sudden impulse, spring up and kiss aunt Dide on both cheeks, whereat the
old woman would gaze at him anxiously, perturbed at seeing his eyes so
bright, and gleaming with a joy which she thought she could divine.

At last, as time went on, Miette and Silvere began to tire of only
seeing each other's reflection. The novelty of their play was gone, and
now they began to dream of keener pleasures than the well could afford
them. In this longing for reality which came upon them, there was the
wish to see each other face to face, to run through the open fields, and
return out of breath with their arms around each other's waist, clinging
closely together in order that they might the better feel each other's
love. One morning Silvere spoke of climbing over the wall, and walking
in the Jas with Miette. But the child implored him not to perpetrate
such folly, which would place her at Justin's mercy. He then promised to
seek some other means.

The wall in which the well was set made a sudden bend a few paces
further on, thereby forming a sort of recess, where the lovers would be
free from observation, if they were to take shelter there. The question
was how to reach this recess. Silvere could no longer entertain the idea
of climbing over, as Miette had appeared so afraid. He secretly thought
of another plan. The little door which Macquart and Adelaide had set up
one night long years previously had remained forgotten in this remote
corner. The owner of the Jas-Meiffren had not even thought of blocking
it up. Blackened by damp and green with moss, its lock and hinges eaten
away with rust, it looked like a part of the old wall. Doubtless the
key was lost; the grass growing beside the lower boards, against which
slight mounds had formed, amply proved that no one had passed that way
for many a long year. However, it was the lost key that Silvere hoped to
find. He knew with what devotion his aunt Dide allowed the relics of the
past to lie rotting wherever they might be. He searched the house for a
week without any result, and went stealthily night by night to see if
he had at last put his hand on the right key during the daytime. In this
way he tried more than thirty keys which had doubtless come from the old
property of the Fouques, and which he found all over the place, against
the walls, on the floors, and at the bottom of drawers. He was becoming
disheartened, when all at once he found the precious key. It was simply
tied by a string to the street door latch-key, which always remained in
the lock. It had hung there for nearly forty years. Aunt Dide must every
day have touched it with her hand, without ever making up her mind to
throw it away, although it could now only carry her back sorrowfully
into the past. When Silvere had convinced himself that it really opened
the little door, he awaited the ensuing day, dreaming of the joyful
surprise which he was preparing for Miette. He had not told her for what
he had been searching.

On the morrow, as soon as he heard the girl set her pitcher down, he
gently opened the door, sweeping away with a push the tall weeds which
covered the threshold. Stretching out his head, he saw Miette leaning
over the brink of the well, looking into the water, absorbed in
expectation. Thereupon, in a couple of strides, he reached the recess
formed by the wall, and thence called, "Miette! Miette!" in a soft
voice, which made her tremble. She raised her head, thinking he was on
the coping of the wall. But when she saw him in the Jas, at a few steps
from her, she gave a faint cry of surprise, and ran up to him. They took
each other's hand, and looked at one another, delighted to be so near,
thinking themselves far handsomer like this, in the warm sunshine. It
was the middle of August, the Feast of the Assumption. In the
distance, the bells were pealing in the limpid atmosphere that so often
accompanies great days of festival, an atmosphere full of bright gaiety.

"Good morning, Silvere!"

"Good morning, Miette!"

The voices in which they exchanged their morning greetings sounded
strange to them. They knew only the muffled accents transmitted by the
echo of the well. And now their voices seemed to them as clear as the
notes of a lark. And ah! how delightful it was in that warm corner, in
that holiday atmosphere! They still held each other's hands. Silvere
leaning against the wall, Miette with her figure slightly thrown
backwards. They were about to tell each other all the soft things which
they had not dared to confide to the reverberations of the well, when
Silvere, hearing a slight noise, started, and, turning pale, dropped
Miette's hands. He had just seen aunt Dide standing before him erect and
motionless on the threshold of the doorway.

The grandmother had come to the well by chance. And on perceiving, in
the old black wall, the white gap formed by the doorway which Silvere
had left wide open, she had experienced a violent shock. That open gap
seemed to her like a gulf of light violently illumining her past. She
once more saw herself running to the door amidst the morning brightness,
and crossing the threshold full of the transports of her nervous love.
And Macquart was there awaiting her. She hung upon his neck and pressed
against his bosom, whilst the rising sun, following her through the
doorway, which she had left open in her hurry, enveloped them with
radiance. It was a sudden vision which roused her cruelly from the
slumber of old age, like some supreme chastisement, and awakened a
multitude of bitter memories within her. Had the well, had the entire
wall, disappeared beneath the earth, she would not have been more
stupefied. She had never thought that this door would open again. In her
mind it had been walled up ever since the hour of Macquart's death. And
amidst her amazement she felt angry, indignant with the sacrilegious
hand that had penetrated this violation, and left that white open space
agape like a yawning tomb. She stepped forward, yielding to a kind of
fascination, and halted erect within the framework of the door.

Then she gazed out before her, with a feeling of dolorous surprise. She
had certainly been told that the old enclosure of the Fouques was
now joined to the Jas-Meiffren; but she would never have thought the
associations of her youth could have vanished so completely. It seemed
as though some tempest had carried off everything that her memory
cherished. The old dwelling, the large kitchen-garden, the beds of green
vegetables, all had disappeared. Not a stone, not a tree of former times
remained. And instead of the scene amidst which she had grown up, and
which in her mind's eye she had seen but yesterday, there lay a strip
of barren soil, a broad patch of stubbles, bare like a desert.
Henceforward, when, on closing her eyes, she might try to recall the
objects of the past, that stubble would always appear to her like a
shroud of yellowish drugget spread over the soil, in which her youth lay

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