Peck's lengthy translations
the mountain fell
by D. C. Peck with assistance from Petit Robert
I, Chapter 1
herdsman, who had
disappeared, and whom they
believed dead, had passed
several months entombed in
a chalet, supporting himself
was holding in his right hand a kind of long blackened stick, thrusting the end
of it from time to time into the fire. The other hand rested on his left thigh.
was the 22nd of June, around nine oclock in the evening.
made some sparks rise from the fire with his stick; they remained hanging on the
soot-covered wall, where they shone like the stars in a black heaven. You could
see him better then, Séraphin, for an instant, while he held his poker still:
you could see better, too, across from him, another man who was much younger,
and he too was leaning with his arms on his knees, his head bent forward.
said Séraphin, the older one, "I see it... You are bored."
looked at Antoine, then began to smile in his little white beard:
it hasnt been so long since we came up."
had come up into the mountains around the 15th of June with the others from Aïre,
and one or two families from the neighboring village called Premier: that didnt
make very many days, in fact.
began again to poke the embers where he had thrown one or two pine branches; and
the pine branches caught fire, so that you could see the two men perfectly, sitting
across from each other on either side of the hearth, each on the end of his bench
-- the one already old, dry, rather big, with small bright eyes buried in their
sockets without eyebrows, under an old felt hat; the other much younger, twenty
or twenty-five years old, who wore a white shirt and a brown jacket, with a small
black moustache and short, black hair.
come," said Séraphin. "As if you were at the other end of the world....
As if you were going to be separated from her forever."
shook his head and was silent.
had only been married for two months; and its important to observe at once
that the marriage had not been arranged without difficulty. Orphaned of his father
and mother, he had been placed at thirteen years old as a domestic with a family
of the village, while she whom he loved had been well off. And for a long time
her mother refused to hear any talk of a son-in-law who would not be able to furnish
the household with its accustomed portion. For a long time old Philomène had shaken
her head, saying: "No!", then "No!", and again "No!"
What would have happened if Séraphin had not been there?--that is, exactly in
the place where he was needed and important in that place; for he was the brother
of Philomène, Mayes widow, and, being unmarried himself, it was he who conducted
his sisters affairs. Well, Séraphin had taken Antoines side, and he
had got the upper hand. The wedding had taken place in April. Now Séraphin and
Antoine were in the mountains.
custom of the people of Aïre is to come up with their animals around the 15th
of June, into the high pastures, some of which were those of Derborence, precisely
where they were, the two of them, that evening, Séraphin having taken Antoine
with him in order to teach him the ways, because he himself was beginning to get
old. He was lame, he had a stiff leg. And the rheumatism having turned up a little
while ago in his left shoulder, this too began to refuse him its services--whence
came all kinds of inconveniences, seeing that the work doesnt long wait
in the mountain chalets, where you have to milk the animals twice a day and, every
day, make the butter or the cheese. So Séraphin had brought Antoine with him in
the hope that Antoine would soon be prepared to replace him; well, he saw that
Antoine didnt seem ready to bite (as they say) at this work, which was new
to him, and that he was languishing far from his wife.
now," he went on, "isnt it getting better? Is it such a terrible
thing to have me for a companion?"
wasnt thinking of himself, he thought only of Antoine.
was to Antoine that Séraphin addressed himself again before the fire, that evening
of the 22nd of June, towards nine oclock; and as the flames began again
to fall, he fed them anew and revived them with some pine branches.
Of course not," Antoine said.
was all; he had fallen silent. And, at that moment, Séraphin was silent as well;
they felt growing around them something completely inhuman and, over a long time,
unbearable--the silence. The silence of the high mountains, the silence of the
places uninhabited by men, where men are present only temporarily, provisionally;
then, if ever so little one should be silent himself, he cocks an ear in vain,
he hears only that he hears nothing. It was as if nothing existed anywhere, from
us to the other end of the world, from us to the bottom of heaven. Nothing, nothingness,
a void, the perfection of a void; a total cessation of being, as if the world
had not yet been created, or was no more, as if one were before the beginning
of the world or after the end of it. And the ache lodges itself in your breast
where its like a hand that closes round the heart.
the fire begins again to crackle, or its a drop of water that falls, or
a little wind that trails across the roof. And the least little noise is like
a large noise. The waterdrop falls resounding. The branch bitten by the flames
cracks like a rifle shot; the sighing of the wind fills up the capacity of the
space for him who is alone. All kinds of little sounds that are big, and they
return; he becomes alive himself because they themselves are alive.
come," Séraphin had begun again.
fire crackles again.
if you want to go down on Saturday.... And you could stay two or three days in
the village and spend Sunday with her...."
Me," said Séraphin, "Im used to being alone. Dont trouble
yourself about me."
began to smile in his beard that was almost white, while his moustache remained
black--it was about nine oclock in the evening, the 22nd of June, at Derborence,
in the chalet of Philomène, where the two men were sitting before the fire.
cracked from time to time in the roofing. You could hear Séraphin continue:
come back when you want to; me, Ill always get along. Besides," he
said, "when you return, you wont be all alone here."
smiled in his white beard, holding his little grey eyes calmly upon Antoine:
I dont count?"
again in the roofing, made of beams and big flat stones which rose obliquely above
them and had only one side, the chalet being leant back against a projection of
rock that stood for its rear wall.
its arranged for Saturday.... Its only going to be three days...."
cracks in the roofing; the slabs of slate, exposed during the day to the heat
of the sun, are much expanded by it, and then, the evening and the cold coming
on, they contract again, making movements sudden and far apart, as if someone
were pacing on the roof. A step that one takes cautiously up there, then stops,
as when the careful thief, having ventured himself a bit farther, assures himself
that he has not been heard. It cracked, it cracked no more; and they, under the
roof in silence again, they saw each other, then saw each other no more. It was
the flame rising, the flame falling once more.
Antoine had raised his head again; a new kind of sound had just made itself heard.
It was no longer the roof that cracked; it was a sound much more hollow, rumbling,
and it came from the background of space. One would have said a rolling of thunder,
which had been preceded by a sharp detonation; and now, though continuing, it
was broken up by the shocks themselves prolonged by their own echoes.
said Séraphin, "there they begin again...."
"Eh? You have
heard nothing, these nights past? So much the better for you, its because
you sleep so well. And its also," Séraphin went on, "because youre
not yet familiar with our neighborhood. Well, up there... You have only to remember
what the mountain is called... Yes, the arête where the glacier is... Les Diablerets...."
sound died away little by little, becoming very soft, almost imperceptible, as
when a little wind moves the leaves of the trees.
you know very well what they say. Well, that He
lives up there, on the glacier, with his wife and his children."
sound had ceased completely.
it happens that he grows bored and he says to his little devils: Take up
the quoits. Its there where there is the Quille, the Ninepin, you
know, rightly called the Quille of the Devil. Its a game they play. They
take aim at the ninepin with their quoits. Ah! the beautiful quoits, I tell you,
the quoits of precious stone... some blue, some green, some transparent.... Only
it happens sometimes that the quoits miss the ninepin, and you can guess where
they go. Over the edge of the glacier, no? Nothing else, its the hole. The
quoits have nothing else to do but fall. And you see them falling sometimes when
theres a full moon, and it is precisely now that there is a full moon...."
"Do you want to
come and see?"
uneasy? You cant say, but he was curious; and, as Séraphin had risen, he
too rose. Séraphin went before, Séraphin opened the door. You saw that there was,
in fact, a beautiful full moon that stood out white and brilliant on the floor
of beaten earth behind them.
was a bed of grass, a flat bed with a few chalets. It was a kind of plain, but
narrowly closed off, because of the rocks that you could see, all about you, rising
upward. For, first turning towards the south, the two men saw where the moon had
emerged from behind many horns of rock there, at the foot of which they stood;
then, turning towards where the moon was setting, they saw that the walls began
there, though still not very high, and continued in a half-circle to the north
Séraphin raises his
arm. You can see his hand in the clear night, you see that he holds his forefinger
outstretched; its almost above his head. You must raise your head in the
same direction. Séraphin points to something above, some fifteen hundred meters
And its easy
to see that on this side as well, that is, on the north side, you are completely
closed in, and to the east the same, where the opening there is hidden by the
first row of the mountains. Séraphin raises his arm, there is born before us a
new wall, higher still than the others; and you see that on all sides you are
at the bottom of a hole; that this grand wall, however, is riven from top to bottom
by narrow gorges in which little cascades are hanging in motion. The gaze follows
it; then there is the finger held up by Séraphin that obliges the gaze to stop.
was straight up, just at the edge of the walls, just on the crest. It overhung
mightily, surmounted all along the edge of the void by the thickness of the glacier.
And something there shone out softly, a luminous fringe, dimly transparent, with
green and blue reflections and a glimmer as of phosphorus: it was the fracture
of the ice up there, but it was at this hour, it too, full of a grand silence
and a grand peace. Nothing moved anywhere under the impalpable ash that was the
light of the moon; one saw it float softly in the air or be laid down in a thin
layer upon everything, everywhere it could find to lie down.
held the raised arm. He said:
there where it overhangs. But it seems to be finished for the evening."
voice was loud in the silence.
he said, "its that that always falls, from as far back as one can remember."
had lowered his arm.
old people spoke of it in their times. And they, when they were still young, they
had already heard the old people speak of it.... Only, there it is, it is capricious....
They heard from
time to time the tinkling of the neckbell of a goat somewhere nearby. The chalets
were spread out on all sides. They were huts of dry stone. One of the slopes of
their roofs was as if snow-covered by the moons light: the other was lost
in the shadow it cast upon the ground. And the two men were still waiting to see
whether something would happen, but still nothing happened.
time to time, at the most, a breath of air brought to your ear the distant whispering
of a cascade. The puff of air itself was like when one passes a hand over a piece
of fabric, because it ran close to the earth. Everything slept among the men,
everything slept among the beasts. And up there....
there, where they still watched, there was only in the light of the moon that
thin fringe of ice, so fine, so slender that it seemed at times that you saw it
stir like a thread that is lifted by a little breeze. And Antoine believed that
he had seen it stir, he was even about to tell Séraphin, when the old man began
to shake his head:
think the devil has gone to his bed, so perhaps we should do the same?"
therefore had said nothing. The two men went back into the chalet and drew the
door shut behind them.
lay themselves down on the straw mattresses placed on the boards fixed to the
wall, which made two levels, so that they slept one above the other as in a ship.
lay on the upper level.
hung their shoes by the laces from a peg on account of the rats.
had climbed up to his level.
night," Séraphin had said to him.
And she, all of a sudden she had been
there, in his dreams, after Antoine had rolled himself up in his brown wool bedcover
and turned himself to face the wall. Why isnt it all right? It is Thérèse.
returned, and she was there in person and in the fields, having found room for
herself and for them in the little space between Antoine and the wall. He said
hello to her, she said hello to him. He said to her: "Well, what?";
she said, "Well, its like this." They had been obliged to make
their meetings far from the village, because there are always the curious. There
are always the curious, there are always those who interfere with those who dont
care about them. She had a rake on her shoulder; he saw how, with the teeth of
the rake, she caught the clouds in passing. The clouds fell upon his head. Why
is he sitting higher than she is on the slope? He sees her only from the back
and she is bending forward, thus showing, between the bun in her hair and her
shawl, a little of her brown skin. "Is anything the matter?"--"Oh!"
she said, "its not me."--"Oh! Then what is it?"--"Oh!"
she said. "Its my mother."
wasnt going well in those days.
began to slide. He said, "Wait for me." She slid still faster on her
rear end, without however making the least movement herself. It was as if the
ground disappeared beneath her; and she fled still more rapidly before him; but
he followed, and thus the distance that separated them remained the same, so that
he could speak to her, she could reply to him. They went quickly. He spoke to
her, he said: "Only, you know, watch out for the Rhône!" Because at
the bottom of the slope there was the river Rhône, and its not winter, he
thought. "My mother says that we wont have enough to live on, if we
There had been a shock;
is he still sleeping?
noise he believed he had heard continues to be heard.
it in his head? There is a noise of water in his ears; he sleeps, is he sleeping?
He turns over, he sees that the door of the chalet is opening; someone cautiously
puts his head forward in the moonlight, which stops just in the middle of his
back, making a perfectly straight line.
says to himself, "it has all been arranged since then, lets see...
sure, of course, now we are married, its done; that was in the old days...."
reopens his eyes; he sees that someone has gone out of the chalet, and the square
of moonlight behind the door is empty, like a painters canvas that hasnt
yet had paint.
He has gone
back to sleep; has he gone back to sleep?
suddenly the roof fell in, and one of the beams that sustained it, cast down on
its end, came crashing into the wooden planks where Antoine lay upon his mattress.
[pronounced dair-bor-ANSE,] the word sings sweetly; it sings sweetly to you and
a little sadly in the head. It begins a bit hard and marked, then hesitates and
subsides, as one sings it still, "Derborence," and ends in emptiness,
as if one wanted to signify by that the ruin, the loneliness, the oblivion.
desolation lies now on the places that the word designates; no more do the herds
go up there, the men themselves have turned away from it. It is five or six hours
from the plain, when one comes from the west, that is, from the Pays de Vaud.
Derborence, where is it? They tell you: "Its back over there."
You must ascend for a long while against a stream of beautiful water that is like
the air above the stones of its bed, so clear is it. Derborence, it lies between
two long, irregular arêtes that you must first ascend for a great while; they
are like two knifeblades the backs of which have been fixed in the earth and the
notched edges show their steel, shining out in some places and in others eaten
up with rust. And, on the right and on the left, they increase in height, these
arêtes; as you rise, they themselves rise; and the name continues to sing sweetly
to you in your head as you pass by the beautiful chalets at the bottom, which
are long, well-plastered in white, with roofs made of shingles like fish scales.
There are sheds for the animals, there are copious fountains.
ascend still; the grade becomes steeper. You have arrived now in the great pastures,
intersected by the rock projections that cut them into successive levels. You
pass from one of these levels to the next. Already you are not far from Derborence;
you are no longer very far from the region of the glaciers, because by ascending
you arrive at last at a place that is a col [a mountain pass], formed by a contraction
of the arêtes just above the pastures and chalets of Anzeindaz, which makes like
a little village there, well above the highest of the trees and a little before
the grass itself ceases.
it is there, quite near. You have only to carry on straight ahead.
suddenly, the ground disappears beneath your feet.
the line of pasturage, which sinks in the middle, begins to trace its deep curve
into nothingness. And you see that you have arrived because an immense hole opens
abruptly in front of you, in the shape of an oval, like a vast basket with vertical
walls, on top of which you must bend over, because you are yourself standing at
nearly two thousand meters and it is five or six hundred meters down to the bottom.
bend, you thrust your head a little forward.
it seems a bit of winter you have come upon in full summer, because of the shadow
that dwells there nearly all the day, making its sojourn there even when the sun
is at its highest point in the heavens. And you see that there is nothing more
than rocks there, and more rocks, and still more rocks.
walls fall away steeply on all sides, more or less high, more or less smooth,
while the path slips away down the one that is beneath you, writhing upon itself
like a worm; and, wherever you cast your eyes, across from you as well as to the
left and to the right, there is, standing upright or lying flat, hanging in the
air or fallen, there is, thrusting forward in spurs or withdrawn behind, or still
forming the creases which are the narrow gorges--there is everywhere the rock,
nothing but the rock, everywhere the same desolation.
sun above partially colors it in diverse fashions, because each of the arêtes
projects its shadow on the other and the arête in the middle projects its shadow
on the one to the north; and one sees the top of the heights, yellow like a ripe
grape, or pink like a rose.
the shadow is rising already, it rises more and more; it ascends in little thrusts,
irresistibly, like water in the basin of a fountain; and even as it ascends, everything
diminishes, everything grows cold, everything falls silent, everything fades away
and dies; while one sad color, one bluish shade is diffused like a thin fog below
you; across from you you see two gloomy little lakes gleam still a little, then
cease to gleam, laid flat in this jumble as of zinc roofs.
there is the bottom again, but look closely: nothing moves there. You can watch
for a long time, and attentively: everything there is stillness. Look: from the
high walls on the north to those on the south, nowhere is there any more place
for life. On the contrary, everything is covered up again, except a giant obstacle.
there is something that stands everywhere between you and what is living. It seems
at first like a gravel pile, the cone of which is half-attached at its smaller
end to the northern wall; and from there, spread out everywhere, like dice spilled
out of a dice-box, it is in effect like dice, dice of all sizes, a block that
is square, another block that is square, the superposition of blocks, then a succession
of blocks, small and large, covering all the bottom to the limit of ones
other times, however, they came up there in great numbers, to Derborence; they
even say that there were nearly fifty who came up, some years.
came up there by the gorge that opens out at the other end to the Rhône;
they came from Aïre and from Premier, the Valaisan villages perched high
up on the northern side of the valley of the Rhône.
moved up towards the middle of June with their little brown cows and their goats,
having built for their use up there many little chalets of dry stone, covered
with slate leaves, where they remained for two or three months.
bottoms in those times were from the month of May painted a beautiful green, for
up there it is the month of May that holds the paintbrush.
there (one says "up there" when one comes from the Valais, but when
one comes from Anzeindaz one says "down there" or "there at the
bottom"), the snow, when withdrawing, made big cushions; they uncovered on
their edges, in the black moisture that the old grass has badly covered with a
kind of dull felt, all kinds of little flowers opening to the extreme limit of
the fringe of ice thinner than a pane of glass. All kinds of little flowers of
the mountains, with their extraordinary brightness, their extraordinary purity,
their extraordinary colors--whiter than the snow, bluer than the sky, or sprightly
orange, or violet--crocuses, anemones, the primroses of the pharmacists. They
made from afar, among the grey spots of snow that were growing smaller, much brighter
spots. As on a silk scarf, one of those scarves that the girls buy in town, when
they come down for the fair, to the fairs of Saint-Pierre or Saint-Joseph. Then
its the essence of the fabric itself that changes: the grey and the white
going away, the green bursting out everywhere; it is the sap that returns, its
the grass that shows itself anew; its as if the paint had been let fall
from the brush in drops of the color green, and then they all joined together.
Derborence, you were beautiful, in those times, beautiful and pleasant and welcoming,
holding yourself ready from the beginning of June for the men who were going to
come. They only waited for your sign. One afternoon, the diffuse and monotone
sound of the stream in the gorge was pierced and broken up instead by the tinkling
of a cowbell. One saw the first animal appear, then ten, then fifteen, until there
were a hundred.
goatherd blew upon his horn.
lit the fires in the chalets; everywhere above from the chimneys or through the
holes of the doors, pretty little blue plumes of smoke wavered softly in the absence
of any currents of air.
columns of smoke grew larger, they flattened out, they found themselves mingled
in their upper parts, making like a transparent ceiling, like a spiders
web, held flat halfway up the walls above you.
below, life resumed, and life continued, with these roofs placed not far from
one another like little books on a green carpet, all these roofs bound in grey;
with two or three little streams that gleamed in places as when one raises a sabre;
with round specks and oval specks that moved about a little everywhere, the round
specks being the men, the oval specks the cows.
Derborence was still inhabited, that is, before the mountain fell upon it.
now it has just fallen.
The people of Anzeindaz
said: "It began with a salvo of artillery; the six pieces of the battery
had been fired off at the same time."
they said, "there was a blast of wind."
there was a fusillade, with explosions, cracklings, discharges, coming from all
sides, as if someone were firing on us from above; the whole mountain was in an
had blown the door wide open, like a blow with the knee. The ashes from the hearth
fell all over us as if it were snowing in the chalet...."
eh? On the col, were not very far below the place where the landslide broke
away, though a little more to the side and behind; and the first noise was caused
by the cracking of the overhang when it came down; after that it was a war between
one arête and the other, between one height and the other; it was like thunderclaps
around each of the summits that follow one another in a semi-circle, from the
Argentine to the Dents-de-Morcles, from the Rochers-du-Vent to Saint-Martin."
were already up and about. There were three of them. They couldnt find their
The animals that
theyd brought in for the night, but which hadnt been tied up, were
making a great disturbance in the shed, where they threatened to overturn everything.
men had first of all to go and put some order into the herd.
had a horn lantern but they didnt need it, on account of the beautiful full
moon that was out that night; but soon they were astonished to see the moon rapidly
grow darker, fade away, become sorrowful as when there is an eclipse, while the
gleam of the lantern became more clear, making a circle on the short grass before
And it was then
that they had seen that great pale cloud rise up before them. The silence returned
little by little; the cloud, the cloud grew larger, more and more, behind the
ridge that still hid them from the depths of Derborence, rising there like a wall
that rose above another wall. It was like a great cloud of smoke, but flat, without
billows; it was like a fog, but slower, heavier; and the mass of those vapors
spread upward from itself, like dough rising, as when the baker puts the dough
in his kneading-trough, and it swells in the trough, and it overflows the trough.
was the mountain that had fallen.
men coughed, they sneezed, they bent their heads forward, trying to shelter behind
the brims of their hats.
it was a fine powder, an impalpable dust, which being suspended everywhere, penetrated
everything; and they were obliged to plunge on into it all the same, for now it
came upon them. They took a few steps into it, then a few more steps into it,
then they stopped; they said to one another:
it safe to go any farther?"
"Is it solid ground
there? Were not going to be able to see."
they were pushed forward by their self-respect; they were pushed forward by curiosity.
the noises became more and more infrequent, more and more spaced out, hollower,
more and more internal, like the beginning of a long digestion; they came now
from underneath you and as if from within the earth; so that the three men were
easily able to advance up to the edge of the void, there where the col is.
saw nothing. They saw only that boiling white mass. They were soon deprived of
all view; soon again, by a fault or fissure that appeared in the vapors, they
perceived the vapors themselves, but the vapors hid everything. They hid not only
the bottom of the combe, they hid also the walls that encircled it; and thus they
could not tell from where the landslide had broken away, nor could they see the
landslide itself--they could still distinguish nothing but the billows themselves,
as when one looks into a washtub; they could distinguish only the confusion itself,
faintly lit by the moon, and reddened by the moon, which was reddish in the heavens,
then disappeared in the heavens, then reappeared still one more time.
lantern alongside the men grew dim, then regathered its force, then grew dim once
again; they were lying flat on the ground, no higher than the height of their
faces, that is, the forehead and the eyes.
one of them said:
many do you think there were?"
The third said:
to know if they had already all come up or not.... Fifteen, twenty...."
a little now to the lack of air, though still coughing from time to time, they
remained there, having begun a conversation in low voices; and it grumbled hollowly
under them all the while; and, because they lay with their chests against the
mountain, they heard with their chests the sounds of the mountain, which rose
up through their bodies to their senses.
men from Sanetsch had likewise come running, that is, those who were from the
northeast side at the other end of the big walls; they were still above the passage
of the Porteur-de-Bois which plunges straight down towards these bottoms by the
rock chimneys. Those men, they spoke to one another in their own language, a language
that you cant understand, because its the German gravel; they spoke
to one another while making gestures, seen by no one, not even seen by themselves.
To come there, they had had to traverse a whole stretch of the lapiéz,
the rocks which have long ago been worked by the rain water, so that they look
like a frozen sea, having a succession of crests, of folds, of overhangs, all
pierced by round holes where the water eddies. And they too were examining the
depths, from which ascended only, by way of response, the inexplicable rumblings,
the grumblings destitute of any meaning: from which ascended only these tongues
and these whirlpools of dust.
were taken within it, with the taste of powdered slate in their mouths; they were
taken in a thickness, then into a new thickness: enveloped, then less enveloped,
then enveloped once again.
for the men of Zamperon, they stayed clutching their mattresses until the day
appeared. There are three or four chalets, where the men come up from Premier,
a village in the neighborhood of Aïre. Zamperon, its three or four chalets just
a little below Derborence, at the head of the gorge that descends to the Rhône.
Its inhabitants thus found themselves just in the blast of air when it came, tearing
away the stones of their roofs, even blowing the roofs off of two or three little
haylofts, carrying them far off like straw hats, demolishing a stretch of young
trees on a projection of the mountain; and, passing through the holes in their
unplastered walls, it had struck the men on their mattresses as with the point
of a stick, pushing them down in their beds.
heard the cheese tubs toppling over, they heard the benches falling to earth;
the doors were shaken as if they had been taken in two hands. At the same time
it heaves and it rumbles; at the same time it cracks, at the same time it whistles;
it was passing all at once in the air, at the surface of the earth and under the
earth, in a confusion of all the elements where one could no longer distinguish
what was noise from what was movement, neither what these noises signified, nor
from where they came, nor where they were going, as if it had been the end of
the world. So that having seized the frames of their beds to keep from being thrown
to the ground, the men of Zamperon held on there, lying flat, more dead than alive.
Unmoving, without cries, their mouths open in fear, but their mouths full of silence,
shaken by trembling, their limbs emptied of life, they hadnt dared move
for a long time. Then, little by little they heard no more of the hollow displacements
and the remote slidings; still they said nothing, they did not call to one another.
had to wait until day appeared, which in that season fortunately comes early.
As early as 3:30, something pale and uncertain moves and vacillates already, normally
making the stars fall one by one, like the fruits from the tree when they are
ripe. That day, there had not been the mountain, there had not been the crests,
neither had there been the sun. The day came late and spread itself out tardily
and with difficulty, but a little everywhere at the same time, without appearing
first at any one point in the heavens. One saw that the space was entirely occupied
by a yellow fog, at which the first man who left his chalet was astonished, and
where he was astonished to find himself--then there was another thing that astonished
him without his knowing yet what it was.
was called Biollaz, from Premier.
up on his mattress, when finally he could see, he had called to his colleague;
he had said:
He called again:
Hey! Loutre!" (No response.) "Or are you dead?"
saw the sky through a hole in the roof that had been made by the blast of wind
during the night; the hole was just above him, large enough to let a man pass
through it. And, as there was still no response, he thrust a leg out from beneath
his cover, a leg still trousered because he lay fully dressed; he lay there listening.
And nothing, and still nothing, and he thrust out the other leg.
Loutre had stirred.
saw Loutre looking at him, lying on his bed.
not coming with me?"
other shook his head.
Too bad, Im going just the same."
stands up. Its full day now in the room, thanks to the hole in the roof,
so that Biollaz moves without difficulty; everything in the chalet is on the ground,
the things that had been hung from pegs or placed on shelves have left their pegs
and their shelves, the milk tubs have been overturned.
putting on his shoes, Biollaz makes his way over the puddles towards the door.
tries to open it; the door opens no more. A sagging in the wall there has set
off the frame.
He had to pass
through the hole in the roof.
pushed him up from below and supported him by the legs; he gets through the opening
then, from which he stoops holding Loutres hands; and, having leapt from
the roof to the ground, he is astonished at the fog, astonished at the same time
at the grandeur of the silence that surrounds him.
something is missing, something that was there is there no more; its the
sound of the stream that has ceased to be heard, though this is the time of the
year when it is most full of water.
Loutre, where are you?"
do you hear?... The Lizerne...."
They found themselves
outside, the two together. They make their way on the path strewn with leaves
of slate that the wind has blown there, which were split in the middle in falling,
having fibers like wood.
come out of the other houses.
can hardly see one another at a distance, then, having come nearer, they still
dont recognize one another, causing fear in one another, because of their
ashen faces. They scarcely speak to one another; they sigh, they look at one another,
they shake their heads for a long time. They come to the house of the Donneloyes;
the door opens abruptly. And a young boy comes out and looks at them, but has
he seen them? Because all of a sudden he sets off running down the path to the
valley. They call to him:
hear them. They call him, but he has already disappeared, swallowed up by the
opacity of the air which opens and closes, like a heavy curtain without folds.
continue to advance up the path that leads to Derborence. They had hardly a quarter
of an hour to walk. They continued struggling through a kind of fog that was like
leaves of dirty cotton wool, placed one before another with pockets of air between,
like the pages of a book joined at the top by the binding and, at the bottom,
separated one from another. The pages became ever more frayed at the edges; they
were more and more penetrated by the light; at last the men were able to see.
That is, having stopped on the path, they saw that the path was barred. They saw
that it was like a great wall across the path, and, across the path, it was like
the front of fortifications, with a glacis, the defilading, the battlements, the
loopholes. The wall stood before them and it had fallen there during the night;
fallen from where? They still couldnt see. But it was there, forming a dam,
with big blocks and little ones, of sand, of gravel, of rubble, while the bed
of the stream coming out of it was dried up, showing naked to the bottom of its
bed, where some pools remained trapped.
It was old
Plan, who keeps his sheep in the high ravines of the Derbonère.
the left before them, on the southwest side, there opens in the thickness of the
chain a kind of steep couloir, so rocky and arid that only the sheep frequent
They see the flock tumbling
down in the rubble, looking itself like a rockfall.
see it in the bottom of a hollow like a little lake with troubled waters when
a little wind passes above it.
see it wandering on the slopes where it seems a shadow of a cloud.
saw it, and before them, there was old Plan:
was perched on top of a block of rock, where he held out his hand towards them:
go any farther!"
his head in his white beard. He wore a long overcoat. It was rust-colored, moss-colored,
his overcoat, the color of bark, the color of stone; it had the color of the things
of nature, having long known the bright sun, the downpours, the snow, the cold,
the heat, the wind, the outbursts and the tranquillity of the air, the long succession
of days and nights.
go any farther! D... I...."
A.... You understand?"
as he spoke thus, something moves below, among the rocks; someone was coming or
trying to come up.
that it is a man, but scarcely was this man still standing upright, taking a step:
obliged to cling with both hands to the nearest rock before making for the next,
which he risked nonetheless; and then fell from it.
look, they look more closely.
they said, "Its Barthélemy!"
they ran to meet him while one heard old Plan, who cried out:
out! No farther... Stop! Stop!"
Thérèse, the previous
evening, had installed herself on the bench before their house. She had sat herself
there in her brown dress with lots of folds, out of which came the sleeves of
her rough linen shirt. She had sat herself there, she had let herself lean forward,
arms on her knees; she looked vaguely below her, above the little trees of the
orchard, all the way to the bottom of the big slope, where it disappears suddenly
from view; the bottom of the valley and the plain, that is, a large plain, smooth
as a sheet of paper, where the Rhône flows.
this you endure, ah! it creeps along. Eight days since Antoine has gone and eight
days, its like eight months!
had let her head fall forward: its the Rhône that she saw on the flat green
bottom. The Rhône was grey and white and had much too large a bed, because its
current carries along the sand and rocks that encroach upon its banks (which is
why they have since corrected it).
was marked there like a route on a map, that is its bed, singularly tortuous and
capricious with its borders of grey silt; whereas the river itself ran in the
middle and you saw it moving in the middle, a brighter grey and almost white,
creeping on its belly like a snake.
also it endures, there neither does anything change; ah! one knows it well, the
Rhône, one knows it only too well!
all that time, she thought, since all that time it tells you its old story, always
the same (that anyone can hear by lending an ear, that you can hear still better
Antoine will return on Sunday--but he will have to go up again. Hardly joined
together, thus we are separated; hardly married, unmarried, hardly brought together,
put apart again; if only Antoine could return in earnest! And me, I am gazing
at the Rhône; should it be so, when you are two, that you have so much time to
I am bored,
I am tiresome to myself.
heard footsteps on the other side of the house, because the people were returning
home to have their soup.
day was ended; it began at four oclock in the morning, it ended at eight
in the evening.
home; one heard the sound of their tread, sometimes dull, sometimes grating, dull
on account of the mud, grating on account of the big flat stones that had been
placed in it here and there, as in the ford of a stream.
this side of the village, the houses had façades of two colors, white on the bottom,
brown above; from the other, their rears lower down dominate the narrow passage
that opens between them and the next row of buildings, which are also black and
white from the front, looking from the front well placed and arranged, like beehives
in a garden; from the back, all black, set there higgledy-piggledy, casting the
always dirty passage into shadow.
in front of the houses there was no one, but behind, in the alley, people came
and went constantly, the women with their rakes on their shoulders, the young
girls with their buckets of water, and only one or two men--for it is the village
of summer, from which nearly all those who are old enough or strong enough have
gone up into the mountains, and where there remain only the infirm, the aged,
the very poor, the imbecile.
weather was fine. She saw between her feet the little red ants that carry their
eggs in single files to the bottom of a narrow groove that theyve dug out
in the dust--a kind of alley, too, for the ants, as with us, she told herself;
the ants with their eggs bigger than themselves, its like us with our bales
of hay that are also bigger than we are.... [filards de foin, Valaisan
term for net of cords for carrying hay]
whole body felt hot; a rush of blood made a noise in her ears. She was having
trouble breathing, though she stood up; she was all red, she became pale, she
became all red once again.
wrong? she asks herself; and then an idea enters her mind: after all, she is married,
and married for two months.
could it be?
Again she changes
color; ah! surely thats what it is, she tells herself; if not, what could
it be? because she was in excellent health.
thats what it is! At that she changes color still another time, she begins
to smile, her lips are again as red as her shawl--having turned her head, having
leant her head against the wall, and the thickness of the bun in her hair made
it soft behind her head.
feels good, she doesnt stir. "Because, if its that.... If its
that, I wont be alone anymore. And there will be two of us while hes
gone, and when he comes down again, there will be three...."
mountains are in front of her, just at the level of her eyes. Not just one, or
two, or ten, but hundreds; they are ranged in a semi-circle like a garland of
flowers suspended at the base of the heavens.
are higher than the forests, higher than the pastures, higher than the rocks;
floating there, all that snow, all those colored ices, that are strangely detached
from those below them, that have become strangers to their bases already blackened
by the shadow. And the more the shadow rose below them, the more they became lighter,
the more also their brightness increased, made of all the pinks, all the reds,
all the tones of gold and silver.
made a softness round her heart. In April, when they were married, the peach trees
were in bloom. They begin to blossom again, it is a promise. She ran her eye over
the whole range of mountains one more time: its like when the peach tree
blossoms, in effect, like when the eglantine opens, like when the quince tree,
more uncertain, more timid, tardier, shows the last of its bouquets; for the mountains
at this moment have begun to grow pale, to pass away; they were fading, they were
becoming grey; but what difference does that make? she thought, because tomorrow
they will blossom once again.
were walking no longer in the alley. The women were calling their children. They
came to their doorsteps, crying out a name two or three times, then again crying
out a name. And Thérèse saw that she had forgotten herself. Her mother would be
waiting for her, because she ate at her mothers house since Antoine was
no longer with her.
running. She passed through the gardens so as not to meet anyone, for otherwise
she would be stopped and would lose still more time. She sees the open door, a
bright red square at the top of the outside staircase, which she climbs, holding
onto the railing because her head is spinning a little.
said to her: "Well! Just in time.... Where have you been?"
could see Philomène all in black before the hearth, where the cooking pot hung
from the hook. Philomène turned her head towards her when she came in, then said
to her: "Come on, come on, hurry up and light the lamp."
takes up a larch twig--the evening of the 22nd of June, around 8:30 perhaps, while
Séraphin and Antoine were sitting before the fire at Derborence; they were before
the fire, Séraphin and Antoine, and the stars were appearing one after another,
the moon was just beginning to rise. In the big black kitchen, there is one bright
place, it is the fire, her mother is in front of it; Thérèse takes up a twig and
with the twig draws near the fire--the 22nd of June. She returns, holding in her
hands, which are bright within, a little trembling flame, which she brings near
the wick of the lamp, hanging at the end of its little chain from one of the beams
of the ceiling.
You can see
that on the polished walnut table there are two tin plates set across from one
And Philomène arrived
with the cooking pot, which she placed on a pinewood ring made especially for
it, then she sat and took her place without saying anything more.
began to eat her soup; it is the 22nd of June, while six hundred meters lower
down, at the bottom of the plain, the Rhône continues to creep along on its belly
and rubs itself against the stones, making a light displacement in the air like
when one walks in dry leaves. Suddenly Philomène stopped eating, holding her big
round tin spoon midway between her plate and her mouth; she had been looking at
wrong with you?"
why arent you eating?"
dont know," said Thérèse. "Im not hungry."
shrugs her shoulders.
I see, its because hes not here.... Come, come, my poor girl. Its
not only to you that these things happen.... Me too, I was married.... And me
too, your poor father, when he went up into the mountains, he left me alone the
spoke without mildness on account of a residue of resentment that she felt without
suspecting it; she continues:
then it is you who has chosen him, your husband, isnt it? But you know very
well the customs of the country, eh, seeing that you were born here; you should
know that one is a widow at least two months of the year round here...."
Thérèse shakes her head.
what is it?"
The 22nd of
June, around nine oclock in the evening, under an oil lamp with its little
yellow flame that has the shape of an upsidedown heart.
and my head is spinning."
said Philomène, "for how long?"
"It was your
was worn out. And you could see that Philomène was beginning to smile, something
that had not happened since her daughters marriage; looking at her daughter,
she, "if its that, its a good illness; its one of those
illnesses to which you make a bow when they come to find you...."
Thérèse felt all her blood rise once again to her face, making like a hot cloth
under her skin, then it went away:
surely that," said Philomène.... "Oh! its a good illness. It should
not make you afraid, and its not necessary to force yourself. If youre
not hungry, dont eat.... Im going to make you a cup of camomille and
then youre going to lie down...."
"He knows nothing
about it, him, of course? Oh well! its all right to give him a nice surprise."
Thérèse had gone to bed.
was in their own house, a house that had been renovated expressly for them. The
bed was a big one of larchwood, a square bed, that is, as long as it was wide,
and which, fixed to the wall by some bolts, rose almost to the ceiling on its
I can lie across
it when hes not with me.
he will be coming down soon, he will be coming down from the mountain; and there,
I will say to him: "My lord, come into the bed."
amused herself by thinking of him, because there were two places. She would say
to him: "You smell of the mountain, you smell of the smoke and the goat...
It makes no difference, my lord," said she, "come next to me all the
same, because I am alone and I am cold."
is it that they made us a bed so wide, if there were not to be two of us here?
"I can lie here lengthwise, you see, but I can lie here crosswise if I want
to, it bores me; come quickly near me," she would say.
would say to him: "Put yourself there, but I forbid you to touch me.... I
must speak to you first; it is a secret.... Promise that you wont repeat
it to anyone... Do you promise?"
hold his hands still, if necessary. I will say to him: "Dont touch
me.... My lord, oh! my good lord, what you are doing is forbidden."
him, he will say: "A little kiss, only one...."
would say: "Where?"--"On the eyelid."--No, she would say,
"because first I have something to tell you. Turn your face to the air, me,
I put my head flat, so that you wont prick me with your beard. And that
way I will have your ear up next to my mouth, its on account of the secret,
over again in the great bed and the hours of the night began to pass. Possibly
she dozed off.
There must have
been a little storm.
"This secret, what is it? Is it money? Is it a visit?"
continued to make a storm. The sound, which had begun in her dream, slid very
softly into reality. She opens her eyes, she hears it still. It is a rolling of
thunder. It lengthens and rumbles above the mountains to the north; next she hears
it coming, with some jolts, like a wagon heavily laden with pine logs that are
dashing against one another; it passes above her; at last, it crashes against
itself, on the other side of the valley, in the mountains to the south which send
It returns backward,
crashing against itself.
shutters bang, one hears a ladder fall; the windows of Thérèses chamber,
which had been badly closed, throw themselves wide open.
is cold in her nightshirt as she goes quickly to close them, but then she sees
also that there is no lightning at all, despite the fact that the thunder continues,
making noises above the roof like eddies mixed with loud cracklings.
sees that the night is fine, and, in a bath of moonlight, the trees are writhing
weirdly, again, raising their arms with their leaves all sticking out like hair;
then, falling again, are motionless, and begin again to be round, under this soft
bright rain of moonlight that drips on their surfaces as on well-polished feathers.
She hears someone
speaking in the street, the kitchen has a window that opens onto that side; she
goes quickly to the kitchen, she is naked under her nightshirt, her feet are bare.
The thunder is dying away little by little.
were some crackings again, like in the wooden partitions in a room when the temperature
changes: then everything has become tranquil again, it seems, except that, everywhere
in the village, the windows and doors are opening. Heads appear at the windows;
in front of the doors whole people appear, who say: "What is it?"
people turn to one another. One raises his head; one sees that the stars are in
their ordinary places: a big red one, a green one, a little one that is white
between the roofs. Some tiny points, some round, the ones that move, the others
that dont move. Someone said:
not a storm."
doesnt dare to show herself.
men have put on their trousers, the women have put a dress over their shirts;
one hears a womans voice saying:
How do you know?"
doesnt dare to show herself, her nightshirt fits badly and keeps sliding
off her shoulder.
one ever know?... There are some storms that are cut in two by the mountain. It
can be good weather here and foul among the Germans...."
people look at the mountain, which only appeared here and there to the north between
the houses; everything is calm, even up on the summits.
you think so? We would see the flashes."
else they are exploding mines," someone said.
crazy. Me, I say its an earthquake. My bed was shaking under my back."
said one of the Carrupts, for they are nearly all Carrupts in Aïre, "there
was a cask that I didnt wedge properly. It rolled up against the door of
The men are
white and black in the moonlight; the women are black spots that almost fill up
the openings of the little lighted windows where they are standing.
said another, "the noise, it always makes noise, an earthquake."
"I know so."
then its over."
we go back to bed?"
is now the 23rd of June.
listens still, but the doors are closing one after another, the windows are closing
as well; everything has become perfectly peaceful not only in the heavens, but
also on the earth, and all about her in the village, where there is only the babbling
of a fountain which has once again begun to make itself heard and will not be
silent again until morning.
Only Maurice Nendaz
had guessed what had happened; he was a lame man who walked with a cane.
had once broken his leg while cutting wood in the forest, the left thigh; and,
as it had been badly set, it made an angle with itself, so that it was shorter
than the other one.
step, he lurched to the side.
still made his way a little farther up the alley, while the windows were shutting
up and the doors were making noise in falling shut again; then, withdrawing himself
behind the corner of a hayloft, he called out in a low voice:
It was one of
his neighbors, a young man of fifteen or sixteen years, who hadnt yet gone
"Are you sleepy?"
Nendaz said to him. "No?... Well, go put on a jacket and come with me."
are you going?"
Justin put on his
jacket; as for Nendaz, he was already ready to leave, his hat on his head, his
stick in his hand.
didnt say anything to anyone?... Good! Thats good. We must let them
sleep peacefully for a little while longer."
can hear the sound he makes with his stick on the stones; you could hear the sound
he made with his bad leg that thumped louder than the other when he stepped up.
soon as you leave the village, the path that leads to Derborence begins to ascend,
taking the flank of the mountain where there are little layers of rock piled on
top of one another, between which only a few thorny bushes and some stunted pine
trees with red trunks are pushing out. By day you can see plainly the oblique
line the path makes there; it is straight as if one had traced it with a ruler;
you follow it with the eye its whole length as far as a cut in the rocks, two
hundred meters higher, where suddenly it disappears. But at that hour, and as
the moon began to hide itself, it was all they could do to distinguish the irregularities
in the surface, which were large and rather troublesome, for the two men had no
lantern at all. There are round stones that slip away beneath the soles, there
are leaves of schist that rock to and fro; there are pebbles that make sudden
rushes and where the point of the foot stumbles. Thats why they were going
slowly and why Nendaz went first, having also to make his bad leg obey, which
was not always easy. Nendaz said nothing. You dimly saw him lean to the side,
right himself, lean to the side, while his right hand took support on the tip
of his walking-stick. One heard him panting because he was having trouble. From
time to time he paused for a moment without turning round, and Justin made a halt
in his turn, having before him, in the shadow, only a kind of blacker shadow,
which was without a head, because Nendaz was holding it bent forward.
a little bit of white was mixed in the air as when, in a pot of somber colors,
one lets fall a little bright color and stirs it in.
approached the far end of the straight line that the path made on the slope, and
then there was no more path. By that time, the air which was black had begun to
become grey, the grey itself became more and more transparent and light about
them, where things regained their proper colors little by little. The pines became
green, their trunks red; the flowers were white and pink on the branches of the
dogrose. It became day, it began to be broad daylight; you could use your eyes
once again, and you looked; you saw that the rocks stood erect before you, barring
the path. But you saw also that there was a cleft in these rocks.
Nendaz had stopped abruptly; he listens; he says to Justin:
He is leaning out
over the void; Justin who has rejoined him leans out just as he does; and what
one hears is nothing, that is, nothing anymore.
harsh voice that speaks there, five hundred meters below you, at the bottom of
the gorge, it has died. Or at least was becoming silent, already feeble and cut
by silences as when one squeezes someone by the throat, and he cries out less
and less strongly, less and less.
is that narrow fissure there, that sabre slash that has been made into the mountain.
water has for a long time sawed through the rock from top to bottom, as when the
sawyers raise and lower their long-toothed blades in the trunk of an oak, one
of them standing above it, the other below.
has thus been opened in the course of the ages (ah! what patient and minute work!),
a narrow channel between vertical walls, which are almost touching in the places
where they overhang; at the bottom of which it flows, unseen, but ordinarily making
heard a kind of long continuous sigh, which rises and amplifies itself from echo
Well, it is this sound
of water that was heard no more; and Nendaz listens and Nendaz said:
just what I thought."
Lizerne?" said Justin.
then, is it blocked up?"
shakes his head, he stands upright; and, as the day continues to come on, you
could see that the path was not interrupted, that it took abruptly the side behind
the cleft, following a right angle in the gorge where it ascended again.
went almost flat now along the flank of the rocks; it stretched out ahead for
a fairly long way, going parallel to the torrent; it traversed here and there
some fallen rocks; then it made a turn and ceased to be seen.
Nendaz, having shaken his head again, resumed their journey; he carried on as
far as the turning, from which the view extended freely far to the north; then
he points to something up there, in the air, something that begins to appear above
the farthest wooded hill; something yellowish, something that shines in the morning
light, something flat like a pine board, the top of which already extends above
the surrounding peaks.
that he did.
what that is?"
said that he didnt.
think it is a mist, no? or smoke? or that its a rising fog? Look well. Because
smoke curls upward, doesnt it? and fog is in shavings like when a carpenter
pushes his plane along a plank. No, you see, it rises straight up, it is smooth.
You cant guess?..."
didnt have time to say whether he had guessed or not: someone was coming
down the path. Some rocks had been set rolling, otherwise they wouldnt have
seen anyone yet, then they saw. It was a young boy of about fourteen years, that
is, a little younger than Justin. He was brown and grey on account of trousers
that stopped above his shoes and a dirty shirt. He was running, he walked for
a few steps, he began running again. He came straight at the two men, he didnt
even seem to have seen them. But they, they had seen him and they saw also that
he must have a hole in his head or a wound in his hair, from which the blood had
flowed on his cheek and had dried on his cheek, mingling there with his tears;
for he was crying, then he stopped crying, then a great sob came again from his
breast and he began to run still faster while swallowing it down.
said Justin.... "Its a Donneloye from Premier.... His name is Dsozet.
He must be coming from Zamperon."
Nendaz opens his arms wide, blocking the path; but can it be that the other only
suspects the presence of Nendaz, his eyes obscured by his tears? He came on, he
didnt stop, he ran straight at Nendaz; and Justin in his surprise didnt
even make a gesture, whereas Nendaz turns aside, afraid of being knocked over
on account of the cliff that began just at the side of the path.
And the other
has got away already; then Nendaz to Justin:
Run after him, catch up with him! You must get to the village before him. And
go to the president, do you hear? And tell the president to come and join me here
with two or three men...."
had already set off; Nendaz began to cry out:
him that its at Derborence. Yes, the noise we heard last night, the blast
of wind. And the smoke... The Diablerets...."
cried out still:
Diablerets has come down...."
was an hour later that the stretcher appeared.
they bring down an injured goat on a stretcher, the men of the high chalets, when
a goat has, for example, torn out a horn while fighting or has broken a hoof.
They fasten it onto the stretcher, they cover it with an old cheese cloth. One
of the men seizes the stretcher in the front, the other in the back.
meet them sometimes thus on the mountain paths, and they descend slowly, advancing
the right foot at the same time, advancing at the same time the left foot, in
order to keep their balance.
see them coming from far off. You ask yourself: "What are they carrying?"
Then a gust of wind lifts the edge of the cloth, or its the animal itself,
raising its head, that turns it aside; then youre reassured, because you
see its little beard, you see the kind of pompom it has under its chin, its big
eyes quick and startled; while its little muzzle, open to its pink tongue, lets
out a rasping and trembling cry.
were carrying a stretcher that morning, and it was well covered with a cheese
cloth, but it was not a goat that was lying on it. Something heavier. Something
larger. It was someone, it was a person and one who was even too long for the
stretcher, so that part of him went beyond it and hung in front of it. You saw
that there were two legs. And, at the back of the stretcher, they had arranged
a red and white checked saddlecloth stuffed with hay as a pillow for the head,
for it was a man they were carrying, that morning, and carrying with great difficulty.
were four of them carrying it; they were taking turns, two by two. Four of the
men of Zamperon, including Biollaz and Loutre; and the two who carried the stretcher
went before, the other two following, their hands empty.
a given moment, the two who carried the stretcher lay it down on the path; the
others then came to take their place.
walked on thus, each time, for four or five minutes, in turns, on the narrow and
difficult path; they had been at it for four or five good hours, for it was also
a long path. They had to descend the gorge from one end to the other, under a
ribbon of sky hardly any larger and no less tortuous than the path: and they went
there turn by turn, two by two, their arms stiff, their shoulders drawn down,
their necks held forward with the veins standing out as thick as their thumbs,
taking care to place their feet at the same time on the earth--five or six minutes,
turn by turn, and then they stopped.
stood then all four about the stretcher; they said:
their heads, they said:
of them tore up a clump of grass from beside the path and, bending over the injured
man, with awkward gestures he wiped away the froth that came out from the corners
of the lips, making him a red beard on top of his own, full of bubbles as when
with a pipe one blows in soapy water.
man made no resistance. He said nothing, he didnt move. He looked into space
with empty, vaporous eyes. His eyes were wide open but they were grey, as if their
gaze were turned within. He had a red beard above his short black beard; he had
a large face that had been brown, that had been cheered by good color, animated
by the fresh air; that was now grey and green like a stone that has rolled in
the moss, that has been worn away, then polished, for the skin, dusty elsewhere,
was shining in places where it was stretched by the bone. And suddenly Barthélemys
breathing became shorter, more hurried, pushing out a new thickness of froth;
his chest had been crushed; and they were bringing him down quickly to the village
in order to try to save him.
men having put him down on the path called to him, shaking their heads, under
the narrow sky, in the gorge that stayed dark even in the brightest sun; they
said, "Barthélemy, do you want to drink?", one of them having in his
pocket a horn flask that he refilled at a trickle of water that flowed beside
the path, then he bent down; but the water ran out onto Barthélemys chin,
the water spread out around his mouth that doesnt understand anymore, that
refuses it, that says no.
set out again; they saw Nendaz, who was coming to meet them.
had carried on making his way up the gorge with his bad leg and his walking-stick,
having made thus a part of the distance; they had made the other part.
two men who were carrying nothing then took the lead. Nendaz said to them:
is the mountain?"
two men nodded.
I understood.... Last night.... So," he said, pointing to the stretcher,
"is that all thats left?"
two men nodded.
those who had gone up?"
is one with a broken arm; hell be along in a moment, theyve made him
off his hat and crosses himself; the two others did the same.
do they know?"
they thought it was a storm."
they dont know?"
by now," said Nendaz, "they should know, because there was a young boy
from among you who passed a few moments ago, and me, Ive sent Justin to
The men with
the stretcher came up.
"Who is it?"
said Nendaz. "Barthélemy...."
had his hat in his hand, he came near.
Barthélemy, its me. Its me, Maurice Nendaz.... Do you hear me? Hey!
back to the Introduction.|
ahead to Part I, chapter 6|
do not reproduce this text in any form for commercial purposes. The Derborence
logo at the top of this page was taken in June 2000 from Le Godey in the Derborence
valley, with the telephone poles and wires removed. Feedback and suggestions are
Translated in about 1983, posted on this site 22 June 2001.