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For hours and hours they remained
there, with that same enjoyment of the rain which prompts little
children to stroll along solemnly in stormy weather with open umbrellas
in their hands. After a while they came to prefer the rainy evenings,
though their parting became more painful on those occasions. Miette was
obliged to climb the wall in the driving rain, and cross the puddles of
the Jas-Meiffren in perfect darkness. As soon as she had left his arms,
she was lost to Silvere amidst the gloom and the noise of the falling
water. In vain he listened, he was deafened, blinded. However, the
anxiety caused by this brusque separation proved an additional charm,
and, until the morrow, each would be uneasy lest anything should have
befallen the other in such weather, when one would not even have turned
a dog out of doors. Perchance one of them had slipped, or lost the way;
such were the mutual fears which possessed them, and rendered their next
interview yet more loving.

At last the fine days returned, April brought mild nights, and the grass
in the green alley sprouted up wildly. Amidst the stream of life flowing
from heaven and rising from the earth, amidst all the intoxication of
the budding spring-time, the lovers sometimes regretted their winter
solitude, the rainy evenings and the freezing nights, during which they
had been so isolated so far from all human sounds. At present the days
did not draw to a close soon enough, and they grew impatient with the
lagging twilights. When the night had fallen sufficiently for Miette to
climb upon the wall without danger of being seen, and they could at last
glide along their dear path, they no longer found there the solitude
congenial to their shy, childish love. People began to flock to the Aire
Saint-Mittre, the urchins of the Faubourg remained there, romping about
the beams, and shouting, till eleven o'clock at night. It even happened
occasionally that one of them would go and hide behind the piles of
timber, and assail Miette and Silvere with boyish jeers. The fear of
being surprised amidst that general awakening of life as the season
gradually grew warmer, tinged their meetings with anxiety.

Then, too, they began to stifle in the narrow lane. Never had it
throbbed with so ardent a quiver; never had that soil, in which the
last bones left of the former cemetery lay mouldering, sent forth such
oppressive and disturbing odours. They were still too young to relish
the voluptuous charm of that secluded nook which the springtide filled
with fever. The grass grew to their knees, they moved to and fro with
difficulty, and certain plants, when they crushed their young shoots,
sent forth a pungent odour which made them dizzy. Then, seized with
strange drowsiness and staggering with giddiness, their feet as
though entangled in the grass, they would lean against the wall, with
half-closed eyes, unable to move a step. All the soft languor from the
skies seemed to penetrate them.

With the petulance of beginners, impatient and irritated at this sudden
faintness, they began to think their retreat too confined, and decided
to ramble through the open fields. Every evening came fresh frolics.
Miette arrived with her pelisse; they wrapped themselves in it, and
then, gliding past the walls, reached the high-road and the open
country, the broad fields where the wind rolled with full strength,
like the waves at high tide. And here they no longer felt stifled; they
recovered all their youthfulness, free from the giddy intoxication born
of the tall rank weeds of the Aire Saint-Mittre.

During two summers they rambled through the district. Every rock ledge,
every bed of turf soon knew them; there was not a cluster of trees, a
hedge, or a bush, which did not become their friend. They realized their
dreams: they chased each other wildly over the meadows of Sainte-Claire,
and Miette ran so well that Silvere had to put his best foot forward
to catch her. Sometimes, too, they went in search of magpies' nests.
Headstrong Miette, wishing to show how she had climbed trees at
Chavanoz, would tie up her skirts with a piece of string, and ascend the
highest poplars; while Silvere stood trembling beneath, with his arms
outstretched to catch her should she slip. These frolics so turned them
from thoughts of love that one evening they almost fought like a couple
of lads coming out of school. But there were nooks in the country side
which were not healthful for them. So long as they rambled on they were
continually shouting with laughter, pushing and teasing one another.
They covered miles and miles of ground; sometimes they went as far as
the chain of the Garrigues, following the narrowest paths and cutting
across the fields. The region belonged to them; they lived there as in a
conquered territory, enjoying all that the earth and the sky could give
them. Miette, with a woman's lack of scruple, did not hesitate to pluck
a bunch of grapes, or a cluster of green almonds, from the vines
and almond-trees whose boughs brushed her as she passed; and at this
Silvere, with his absolute ideas of honesty, felt vexed, although he
did not venture to find fault with the girl, whose occasional sulking
distressed him. "Oh! the bad girl!" thought he, childishly exaggerating
the matter, "she would make a thief of me." But Miette would thereupon
force his share of the stolen fruit into his mouth. The artifices he
employed, such as holding her round the waist, avoiding the fruit trees,
and making her run after him when they were near the vines, so as
to keep her out of the way of temptation, quickly exhausted his
imagination. At last there was nothing to do but to make her sit
down. And then they again began to experience their former stifling
sensations. The gloomy valley of the Viorne particularly disturbed
them. When weariness brought them to the banks of the torrent, all their
childish gaiety seemed to disappear. A grey shadow floated under the
willows, like the scented crape of a woman's dress. The children felt
this crape descend warm and balmy from the voluptuous shoulders of the
night, kiss their temples and envelop them with irresistible languor. In
the distance the crickets chirped in the meadows of Sainte-Claire,
and at their feet the ripples of the Viorne sounded like lovers'
whispers--like the soft cooing of humid lips. The stars cast a rain of
sparkles from the slumbering heavens. And, amidst the throbbing of the
sky, the waters and the darkness, the children reposing on the grass
sought each other's hands and pressed them.

Silvere, who vaguely understood the danger of these ecstasies, would
sometimes jump up and propose to cross over to one of the islets left
by the low water in the middle of the stream. Both ventured forth, with
bare feet. Miette made light of the pebbles, refusing Silvere's help,
and it once happened that she sat down in the very middle of the stream;
however, there were only a few inches of water, and she escaped with
nothing worse than a wet petticoat. Then, having reached the island,
they threw themselves on the long neck of sand, their eyes on a level
with the surface of the river whose silvery scales they saw quivering
far away in the clear night. Then Miette would declare that they were
in a boat, that the island was certainly floating; she could feel it
carrying her along. The dizziness caused by the rippling of the water
amused them for a moment, and they lingered there, singing in an
undertone, like boatmen as they strike the water with their oars. At
other times, when the island had a low bank, they sat there as on a bed
of verdure, and let their bare feet dangle in the stream. And then for
hours they chatted together, swinging their legs, and splashing the
water, delighted to set a tempest raging in the peaceful pool whose
freshness cooled their fever.

These footbaths suggested a dangerous idea to Miette. Nothing would
satisfy her but a complete bath. A little above the bridge over the
Viorne there was a very convenient spot, she said, barely three or four
feet deep and quite safe; the weather was so warm, it would be so nice
to have the water up to their necks; besides which, she had been dying
to learn to swim for such a long time, and Silvere would be able to
teach her. Silvere raised objections; it was not prudent at night time;
they might be seen; perhaps, too they might catch cold. However, nothing
could turn Miette from her purpose. One evening she came with a bathing
costume which she had made out of an old dress; and Silvere was then
obliged to go back to aunt Dide's for his bathing drawers. Their
proceedings were characterised by great simplicity. Miette disrobed
herself beneath the shade of a stout willow; and when both were ready,
enveloped in the blackness which fell from the foliage around them, they
gaily entered the cool water, oblivious of all previous scruples, and
knowing in their innocence no sense of shame. They remained in the river
quite an hour, splashing and throwing water into each other's faces;
Miette now getting cross, now breaking out into laughter, while Silvere
gave her her first lesson, dipping her head under every now and again so
as to accustom her to the water. As long as he held her up she threw her
arms and legs about violently, thinking she was swimming; but directly
he let her go, she cried and struggled, striking the water with her
outstretched hands, clutching at anything she could get hold of, the
young man's waist or one of his wrists. She leant against him for an
instant, resting, out of breath and dripping with water; and then she
cried: "Once more; but you do it on purpose, you don't hold me."

At the end of a fortnight, the girl was able to swim. With her limbs
moving freely, rocked by the stream, playing with it, she yielded form
and spirit alike to its soft motion, to the silence of the heavens,
and the dreaminess of the melancholy banks. As she and Silvere swam
noiselessly along, she seemed to see the foliage of both banks thicken
and hang over them, draping them round as with a huge curtain. 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.

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