They rowed down in the midst of moored boats, whose long oblique cables grazed lightly against the bottom of the boat. The din of the town gradually grew distant; the rolling of carriages, the tumult of voices, the yelping of dogs on the decks of vessels. She took off her bonnet, and they landed on their island.
They sat down in the low-ceilinged room of a tavern, at whose door hung black nets. They ate fried smelts, cream and cherries. They lay down upon the grass; they kissed behind the poplars; and they would fain, like two Robinsons, have lived for ever in this little place, which seemed to them in their beatitude the most magnificent on earth. It was not the first time that they had seen trees, a blue sky, meadows; that they had heard the water flowing and the wind blowing in the leaves; but, no doubt, they had never admired all this, as if Nature had not existed before, or had only begun to be beautiful since the gratification of their desires.
At night they returned. The boat glided along the shores of the islands. They sat at the bottom, both hidden by the shade, in silence. The square oars rang in the iron thwarts, and, in the stillness, seemed to mark time, like the beating of a metronome, while at the stern the rudder that trailed behind never ceased its gentle splash against the water.
Once the moon rose; they did not fail to make fine phrases, finding the orb melancholy and full of poetry. She even began to sing—
“One night, do you remember, we were sailing,” etc.
Her musical but weak voice died away along the waves, and the winds carried off the trills that Leon heard pass like the flapping of wings about him.
She was opposite him, leaning against the partition of the shallop, through one of whose raised blinds the moon streamed in. Her black dress, whose drapery spread out like a fan, made her seem more slender, taller. Her head was raised, her hands clasped, her eyes turned towards heaven. At times the shadow of the willows hid her completely; then she reappeared suddenly, like a vision in the moonlight.
Leon, on the floor by her side, found under his hand a ribbon of scarlet silk. The boatman looked at it, and at last said—
“Perhaps it belongs to the party I took out the other day. A lot of jolly folk, gentlemen and ladies, with cakes, champagne, cornets—everything in style! There was one especially, a tall handsome man with small moustaches, who was that funny! And they all kept saying, ‘Now tell us something, Adolphe—Dolpe,’ I think.”
“You are in pain?” asked Leon, coming closer to her.
“Oh, it’s nothing! No doubt, it is only the night air.”
“And who doesn’t want for women, either,” softly added the sailor, thinking he was paying the stranger a compliment.
Then, spitting on his hands, he took the oars again.
Yet they had to part. The adieux were sad. He was to send his letters to Mere Rollet, and she gave him such precise instructions about a double envelope that he admired greatly her amorous astuteness.