At last, about midnight, the fog disappeared, and Germain could see the stars shining through the trees. The moon also shook itself clear of the vapors that shrouded it and began to sow diamonds on the damp moss. The trunks of the oak-trees remained in majestic obscurity; but, a little farther away, the white stems of the birches seemed like a row of phantoms in their shrouds. The fire was reflected in the pool; and the frogs, beginning to become accustomed to it, hazarded a few shrill, timid notes; the knotty branches of the old trees, bristling with pale lichens, crossed and recrossed, like great fleshless arms, over our travellers’ heads; it was a lovely spot, but so lonely and melancholy that Germain, weary of suffering there, began to sing and to throw stones into the water to charm away the ghastly ennui of solitude. He wanted also to wake little Marie; and when he saw her rise and look about to see what the weather was like, he suggested that they should resume their journey.
“In two hours,” he said, “the approach of dawn will make the air so cold that we couldn’t stay here, notwithstanding our fire.—Now we can see where we are going, and we shall be sure to find a house where they will let us in, or at least a barn where we can pass the rest of the night under cover.”
Marie had no wish in the matter; and although she was still very sleepy, she prepared to go with Germain.
He took his son in his arms without waking him, and insisted that Marie should come and take a part of his cloak as she would not take her own from around Petit-Pierre.
When he felt the girl so near him, Germain, who had succeeded in diverting his thoughts and had brightened up a little for a moment, began to lose his head again. Two or three times he walked abruptly away from her and left her to walk by herself. Then, seeing that she had difficulty in keeping up with him, he waited for her, drew her hastily to his side, and held her so tight that she was amazed and angry too, although she dared not say so.
As they had no idea in what direction they had started out, they did not know in what direction they were going; so that they passed through the whole forest once more, found themselves again on the edge of the deserted moor, retraced their steps, and, after turning about and walking a long while, they spied a light through the trees.
“Good! there’s a house,” said Germain, “and people already awake, as the fire’s lighted. Can it be very late?”
But it was not a house: it was their camp-fire which they had covered when they left it, and which had rekindled in the breeze.
They had walked about for two hours, only to find themselves back at their starting-point.
IN THE OPEN AIR
“This time I give it up!” said Germain, stamping on the ground. “A spell has been cast on us, that’s sure, and we shall not get away from here till daylight. This place must be bewitched.”