derborence.jpg (14277 bytes)Dwight Peck's lengthy translations

Derborence, by Ramuz

when the mountain fell

translated by D. C. Peck with assistance from Petit Robert


Part II, Chapter 5

She looked at him from a distance. She said:

"Oh! Antoine, is it really you?"

And, him, he looked at her as well:

"And you, is it really you?"

Then he began to laugh and turned his back on her.

She’d thought he would be dancing for joy. She had thought that he would approach her and take her by the head and never let her go. Oh! they were going to say things to one another, so many things; they would be standing, or sitting. Oh! they would be standing up first, but he would say to her: "Sit down"; and for a long time then, feeling the warmth of one another, they would speak softly, then they would speak no more, because they would have no need to speak.

And here he began to laugh.

The kitchen was still full of the steam of the hot water and the smell of soap. He has been washing. They had brought him a new set of clothes. Rebord, one of whose trades it was, besides that of selling drink, had shaved him carefully after having cut his hair.

Antoine looked at himself in the mirror.

"Ah! what a little face I have!"

He looked at himself again in the mirror:

"Not much bigger than my fist.... And," he said, "an awful look to it. It’s not surprising. You understand, two months in the cellar.... Well," he said, "this Rebord, he wanted to shoot me up there.... Oh! he’s a former soldier...."


But him, he said:

"That, that’s a book.... It’s your prayer book, or what?"

And, she, still watching him carefully, though from a distance, as if she didn’t dare approach him:

"Oh! Antoine, is it you?"

"Just touch me, it’s skin, it’s flesh, and now that I’ve passed under the cross.... Just touch," he said, "you’ll see, it’s not imaginary, it’s solid, it endures, it’s me...."

"Oh!" she said, "is it possible?"


He was continuing to make an inventory of the objects he found in the room; he made a tour of the room, naming them one by one.

"Ah!" he said, "that, that’s the brooch I gave you."

There were a lot of people standing before the house, but they didn’t venture to enter. Old Philomène was putting the kitchen into order. She went out with a tub full of soapy water, which she emptied at the foot of the wall.

They said to her:

"Well, what? Is it really him?"

They said to her:

"How is he feeling?"

But then he opened the window abruptly, under which a whole crowd of children were assembled; he frightened the children with his white face, thrusting it out at them with a loud cry. And the children scattered in all directions, as when one fires a rifle at a flock of starlings that has set upon the vines.

He pulled his head back into the chamber laughing; then suddenly he resumed casting his eyes about the walls, because he said: "I must relearn everything."

She would have wanted at last to go to him, to hold out her arms to him, to clasp him against her; she didn’t dare.

She would have had many things to say to him, she found nothing to say to him: the astonishment she felt of him made her forget it all.

She would have wanted to say to him: "Listen, there is a surprise for you, and it’s a good surprise"; but him:

"Well! A chair.... Ah! it looks comfortable...."

He tried it, and then he laughed; why was he laughing? He laughed, he began again:

"Well, a pin cushion! So, you’re still sewing?"

All of a sudden he asked:

"What month is it now?"

He said:

"And what day is it?"

He said:

"And the date?"

"I have lived seven weeks less than everybody else, less than you. Only," he said, "now that the good times have come back, I’m going to have to catch up."

Someone knocked on the door of the kitchen. It was the president.

"Can Antoine come out?" The curate wanted to speak with him.

He was ready. He had only to put on his hat. Everyone was standing in the street and along the side of the house. He opened the door. They were astonished at seeing him, they didn’t recognize him. "Oh! he is much smaller than he was," they said. "Is it true? Oh! is it really true? Oh! he is thinner and more gaunt!"

Nonetheless they came forward to grasp his hand, the women, the neighbor women, the neighbor men, even the children, though timidly and mistrustfully. He didn’t say anything, he laughed at everybody. The president walked alongside him. The weather was fine, with a little northern breeze that felt cool on one’s cheek.

He walked beside the president, the others were obliged to follow along behind because of the narrowness of the street. He wasn’t very steady on his legs. And to see him in broad daylight, he seemed such a stranger to the sun, with his color that had the appearance of the plants that have grown up under dead leaves or those vegetables that one whitens in the cellar. He laughed as he turned round towards everybody, he said to the president: "It’s not very easy for me, I have been under the rocks, you understand...."

"It will go easier," said the president, "and anyway we’re here now...."

"It’s just that I’m no longer under the rocks...."

And he breathed the air deeply once again eagerly: "Ah! it’s good!"

He turned round, he said: "It’s good, but it makes my head swim."

He stayed shut up with the curate and the president for nearly an hour.

Now it was in front of the town hall that the people were standing. They were arriving already from Premier, where the news had been quickly carried, and these soon made a greater proportion of trousers among the dresses. Someone asked: "What is he doing?"--"Oh!" they said, "they’re questioning him."

And him, when he came out, he said: "I must go and find my wife, I’ve hardly seen her yet....", but they said to him: "Come on! what about us?..."

They said to him:

"Her, she’ll have plenty of time to see you later; as for us, we have only a short time here...."

It was the men of Premier who stood themselves before him: "Salut! Hello!"

They said:

"Is it you? If it is you, you’ve certainly got smaller...."

And there were those who, seeing him a little nearer, turned away fearfully, or went to hide behind others who were already there, gazing from a distance at Antoine’s face, his hands, his legs, what remained of his body under clothes that were too big for him (like a scarecrow, in fact, that you put in the garden to frighten away the birds); gazing from a distance at the two holes in place of his cheeks under his cheekbones, his cracked lips, his yellow teeth that stuck out--very like a dead man among the living.

"It’s not possible, ah!"

They’d needed to assure themselves that he was there, not only with their eyes, but with their ears and their hands, making him speak, passing a hand over his clothes; then they said:

"Now, come on!"

Rebord took him under one arm, Dionis took him under the other.

They led him to Rebord’s house because they said: "We’re going to have a drink to this."

They helped him ascend the wooden staircase, making a great clatter on the steps. Will it hold under the blows, the staircase? for it cracks and you can feel that it’s bending under the weight, but they enter, all those at least who could find space in the drinking room, and the others remained under the windows or went to drink in the houses roundabout.

Him, they sat him down facing the light at a table in the back; they said to him: "Do you want anything to eat?"

They said to Rebord: "Bring some cheese and some dried meat.... You owe him that much...."

They said to Rebord: "Where have you put your rifle, you old fool? Have you hidden it well? It won’t be necessary for you to play us another bad trick...."

They said to Antoine: "To your health!"

They put down their glasses and then looked at him.

All the while more people came mounting the staircase, and before entering they examined Antoine through the open window.

They didn’t say anything; some of them went back down the stairs without making any noise. But the others, on the contrary, couldn’t restrain themselves:


He raised his head; he turned his vague eyes on them, as if they were hurt by the sunlight.

"Pont! it’s you. It can’t be true.... Where have you come from?"

They said to him:

"How did you manage to get out from under there?"

The village made a noise like a disturbed beehive.

Chapter 6

"Wait!" he said, "I haven’t got my ideas sorted out yet.... Where am I? Ah! yes, I’ve come out from under the earth; and there you are, you, and here I am, me. Good!"

"To your health!"

"It’s funny, because they’ve already questioned me at the town hall.... Well! I don’t know anymore. It goes, it comes again."

"Health, Antoine!"

"Only, if you’re finishing the harvest now, you must explain to me, because you hadn’t begun the hay when.... Yes, you hadn’t begun it. Oh! I remember.... What day is it? what date? I already asked my wife that. What did you say? What? The 17th of August? the 17th of August of what year? It’s just that I’ve been living for a long time outside of years, outside of weeks, outside of days...."

They answered him.

"Someone must count it up; me, I can’t. You count," he said to Nendaz. "How long does that make?"

"That makes seven weeks and even a little more than seven weeks. It makes nearly eight weeks."

"It can’t be true!"

Sitting at his table, surrounded by everyone, a glass in front of him.

"It’s just that one no longer has the habit of days.... One saw the day only from time to time above oneself; it was there, then it wasn’t there.... A great distance above me, between the rocks.... The mountain fell down."

They came in from the air outside. Wasps came in, and bees; flies came in. All kinds of flies came in; some were blue or green, the black ones made a fog all about you. The black ones made around your head like one of those muslin things they wrap about them when they go to take honey out of the hives. He was in the cloud; he raised to meet you two pale sunken eyes that struck you without seeing you.

People came in, went out; they said to other people: "You, be quiet"; but him, without noticing anyone, he continued to follow behind his eyes, with a gaze as if turned inward, the movement of things that were passing there, that is, one thing, then suddenly another thing:

"Wait, it’s coming back.... The mountain has fallen down."

He asked:

"Did it make a noise as far as here, the mountain, when it fell down?"

"Oh! of course," said Nendaz, "but we didn’t know what it was. We would have thought it was a storm, if the weather hadn’t been so fine."

"Ah! the weather was fine?"

"Lord, stars like we’ve never seen and not a cloud in the sky. Then, we had gone to bed.... It was only me; ask Justin. Because I said to myself: ‘Maybe it’s something else’; and me, I had an idea."

"Me," said Antoine, "I didn’t hear a thing. For me," said he, "it was not a sound, it was too great for the ears. It’s like if a knee had pressed me down; and I tumbled off the wall with the plank and the mattress. The plank, the mattress, and me, there we are, all three of us on the ground...."

"Listen, listen," someone said. "Be quiet, you!"

The man with the broken arm had arrived.

"As for me," began the man with the broken arm, "a beam struck me on the shoulder.... They repAïred my arm with two little boards...."

But him, without interrupting himself:

"The mountain fell down, the mountain fell down on me, then I remained on the ground without moving, because I just didn’t know whether I could move, and anyway I didn’t want to move. How long? Who could say?... And then, there was someone...."

As if he had in fact heard someone, inside himself:

"And this someone was calling me.... Yes...."

But it seems that he has already forgotten what he was saying, and who is it? One doesn’t know. Him, he had passed on to something else:

"That’s how one is," he said. "Because I was only occupied with not moving and didn’t go to see, you understand, wondering if I still had my arms and legs. I could also have broken my spine in two, couldn’t I? It said to me: ‘Where are you?’ I said: ‘Here.’ And then that’s all. Then I began to stir a little bit, the ends of the fingers of my right hand, and then the hand, and then the arm up to the elbow, and then the whole arm...."

"Salut, Antoine!" someone said.

It was still more of the men of Premier who had come in; but him:

"I thought: ‘I have at least one of them, that’s good; now let’s see about the other one’; and with my right arm I paid a visit to the left one...."

Someone said to him: "You’re not drinking?"

He said:

"I’m drinking, I’m fine. And at the same time, I raise my left arm...."

He was laughing, everyone had raised their arms, too.

"Only, there were both my legs still, and meanwhile I asked myself: ‘Did someone call me?’; in any case, no one called anymore. I saw that I had my knee, that made one, and the other knee, that made two. And both of them in good condition, as I also saw, making movements with my knees like a little baby being taken out of its diapers."

They spoke to him, they asked him questions, he didn’t listen to them.

He was led from within by his recollections, as they came into his mind, and they came in disorder; he was carried ahead of himself by them, then led back by them.

"Finally I was sitting up and I could see that I wasn’t missing anything, that is, that I had two arms, two legs, and a body, not to mention my head; only, you know, that’s when I raised my arm, then I could raise it; see, I raise it; well, there was a kind of ceiling three inches above my head; it was the mountain that had fallen, it was a big piece of mountain making an inclined plane. And me, I was trapped beneath it, caught in the angle and as much as to say buried alive, as I saw.... The 23rd of June, you say? Well! yes, the 23rd of June, towards two o’clock in the morning nearly, that’s about right. And I began to yell with all my strength, as if anyone could have heard me...."

He took up his glass; it is he who said:

"Health!... Health to you, too, Placide, ah! you’re there, ah! you got a broken arm!.... And the others?"

No one answered him. Already he was thinking no longer of his question.

"Ah! it’s just that one is foolish in such moments, you see. And first of all I yelled as loud as I could; then I thought: ‘I must economize the air’; that’s what made me shut up. I told myself that I might not have much more of it for a long time, and I shortened my breath as much as I could, closing my mouth, sealing my lips, breathing only with my nose, in little breaths, like this...."

He made a gesture of pinching his nostrils.

"Because, think of it, if the air had run short, not only the space and the light, but the air...."

"And the bread?" someone said.

He said:


"And the water?"

But him:

"You’re going too fast, because the air is the beginning for us, or what? it’s more important even than bread and water; and then, then I was content, seeing that the air at least had not deserted me, on account of the empty spaces everywhere among the rocks that were piled one on top of another, making a great thickness, but full of fissures through which the air could enter. So that I had to creep about on hands and knees, not being able to stand upright; and thus I realized my luck, the chalet having held solid on all the part behind, that is, where it was backed up against the rock...."

He said:

"We had already made two cheeses, and we had brought up enough bread for six weeks. Well, picture that the cheese and the bread had been stored on the good side, that is, against the rock, on a plank, and going with my hand along the rock...."

Everyone said: "Ah!...." And Antoine: "You understand?.... And even my mattress was left to me...."

They understood. He went on still.

You have to picture that the mass of the landslide was pierced by holes that went in all directions, as in a sponge; unfortunately, these holes didn’t communicate with one another. There’s one that ends here, and there is, of course, another that begins again over there, but between the end of the first and the beginning of the second, there is nothing to do, it’s barred. A separation without much thickness, perhaps, but more solid than a wall, being made of the same mass, made of compacted rock, of rock of a single piece, and he would have needed to blow it up with a mine to move it. You see, the time lost! Just count it! Seven weeks.

He followed a fissure flat on his chest for as long as he could, then he passed into another flat on his chest, then he was on his knees and the rock below him began to rise.... He spoke still: "I was encouraged when it rose, because the daylight, it’s up above; but there! I began to descend again, then I was discouraged."

"It took time," he said; "it took one day, two days, maybe three or even four; how could I know? But you can guess, no? because I had nothing to drink.... My mouth began to dry up, my lips were all cracked, my tongue was like a piece of leather and had got too large for my mouth; and I returned to stretch out on my mattress, telling myself: ‘Stay calm’; if only I could have had a utensil to urinate in; you remember what they say of travellers lost in the desert who survive only by redrinking it.... Ah! you have the luck, you others, under the open sky, with your clocks to tell the time with; and I said to myself: ‘With their fountains, their beautiful fountains! the springs above the ground’--nothing but a tiny little bead of water from time to time that oozes from the end of a sprig of moss!..."


What was that?

They are at Rebord’s, the drinking room is full; he raises a finger: "Cloc...."

Like a pendulum that beats, slowly at first, then faster, faster still: "Cloc... cloc... cloc...."

He got up from his mattress, he crept forward holding out his hands. And suddenly he raises his head: the water streams down onto his face, he has only to open his mouth.

"It was the runoff from the glacier that had at first been stopped up in its passage, and which percolated once again between the rocks, having diverted one of its streams towards me; it made like a thin cord that I felt moving between my hands, coming from the roof to the ground. I felt it move between my hands as if alive, when I raised them vertically and it was alive there, and me, I was going to live by it; then I went quickly to search out a bucket, which I placed beneath it, thinking: ‘If ever it stopped....’ And there it is! I was saved! Because now I had everything, you understand, everything that we need to stay alive, something to eat, something to drink, something to breathe, someplace to sleep; having only now to pass the time, of which I had also plenty before me, what do you think? As for time, I was going to have as much as I needed, one sees that now, eh? seven weeks, and even more than seven weeks...."

The whole afternoon, like that, at Rebord’s house.

He was interrupted in his discourse by the people who came in or by the questions that they posed, or because they drank to his health, and of course he had to respond.

But each time he set forth again in his explanation:

"It was like the drains that are under the roads. It was so narrow that I slid myself along rubbing on both sides. I made marks in order to know how to return, in the places where there was light; in the places with no light, I made the same journey many times in both directions, until I had learned the route by heart.... I went for a long time in one direction, and then nothing more, it was barred; I had to go back.... Sometimes it was just above me that there appeared between the rocks a kind of slender attic window; I tried to go straight up towards it, like a chimneysweep in a chimney, I ascended, I ascended; all of a sudden, I see: a slab projects into the passage, I was forced to go back down. Then the daylight appeared on my left and once again I went towards the daylight like the sprout of a plant, thinner and more flexible than a thread, stronger than an iron bar; but me, I didn’t have its abilities, nor its strength, being thus called all the time from one side or the other by a hope that was mistaken. Seven weeks of time," he said, "and it required perseverance and prudence, because it turned out often that the fault was obstructed by debris; and it was cautiously, with the tips of the fingers, with great slowness, that I worked to clear it. You understand the time that takes."

He repeated:

"Seven weeks!"

The evening was beginning to fall.

"Finally," someone said, "then here you are."

They looked at him attentively, they said to him:

"And you already have a better look to you, you look like you’re feeling better...."

In the evening light, facing the window, they gaze at him and see that he has a bit of pink in his cheeks:

"It’s the wine, you’ve been drinking too much water! Hey! Rebord, another glass.... Yes, there, on the edge of the cheekbones.... To your health. To your good health!"

But him, this time, he didn’t drink; they see that he is reflecting, his hand around his glass resting still on the table.

Suddenly, he said:

"How many were there?"

"Where’s that?"

"Up there."

There was a silence, then someone said:

"Let’s see, perhaps twenty or so...."

"Eighteen," someone said.

Then Antoine said:

"And there were how many who came back?"

They heard the cries of the birds in the trees.

At last they said:

"Well, there’s you."

Someone said:

"And then there’s Barthelemy."

But Antoine:

"And him, where is he?"

"Listen," said Nendaz, "you’re tired.... We’ll talk of this another time, if you’d rather...."

But Antoine:

"Where is he?"

"Well," said Nendaz, "the poor man.... Yes, it’s a disaster," said Nendaz; "he was caught under the rocks."

"Then?" said Antoine.

"Then?" said Nendaz.... "Well, yes...."

"Oh!" said Antoine, "I understand. I was up there, I know what it is. It comes down on you, it carries everything away. And I understand: the others, all the others, Jean-Baptiste and his sons, the two Mayes, all the Carrupts, Defayes, Bruchezs.... I understand, but...."

He bangs his fist on the table:

"But there is one who is not dead.... Ah!" he said, "I had forgotten.... Him, he’s alive, I tell you.... When the mountain fell... Ah!" he said, "it’s my fault, it had slipped my mind."

He said:


They heard again the cries of the birds in the trees.

And Antoine sees him; Antoine says nothing more, because he sees him. Antoine keeps silent still, staring fixedly before him. What he sees is a man already old, dry, with bright little eyes buried in their sockets without eyebrows. They are sitting together in front of the fire, around nine o’clock. And then....

Antoine bangs his fist on the table.

"He’s alive, I tell you; he is alive, because he called out to me. I was on the ground with the mattress. He’s a friend, you understand. More than a friend, a father...."

The people all about him remained silent:

"Without him, I wouldn’t be married, I couldn’t have.... Well! he’s alive," he said.... "He called to me, I was on the ground.... He said: ‘Hey! Antoine.’ I wanted to answer, I had no voice left. ‘Hey! Antoine, are you there?’ I wanted to say yes, nothing came out.... I must have lost consciousness. But he’s up there, he’s alive.... Yes, Séraphin."

They remain silent; then he said:

"I must go and search for him."

All day the women had been at Thérèse’s house. All the time people were knocking, because they came for news or they were neighbors who expected to find Antoine at home. She had to say to them:

"He is not here."

"No," she said, "he’s gone to the town hall with the president and the curate."

Then, as the afternoon advanced:

"No, he has not come back yet. I think you’ll find him at Rebord’s. He’s with his friends, he has been drinking...."

It’s funny, because I am his wife.

Philomène, she was seated before the fire; Philomène shook her head; she said: "It’s a good fortune...."

"Ah! what luck, indeed," someone said. "To regain like that a son-in-law and a husband after seven weeks!"

"Oh! yes," said Philomène, "it’s a good fortune. Only," said Philomène, "it’s a great misfortune as well. Because he was not alone up there, and he has come back alone. There were two. My poor brother!"

She crossed herself.

"My poor brother!... And he is dead for the second time...."

It was now eight o’clock in the evening. The people had withdrawn little by little; Philomène, the last, had returned to her house; him, he was still not there. Has he forgotten his wife? Has he even forgotten that he is married? "And he has noticed nothing," she said to herself; "even though it’s nearly three months along...."

She set herself in front of the mirror where she put herself in profile, so that the lamp would illuminate the front of her body; and looking at herself from the side: "But yes, it shows," she said, "and especially when I’ve put on my new dress, because it’s tighter in the waist.... Well, he has noticed nothing...."

She waited a moment longer in the chamber where the bed was made and where the lamp shone softly, while the evening meal was prepared on the kitchen table; still he didn’t come.

"I’m going to go look for him."

She goes to the door and opens it, and she sees that the stars are already in the heavens; she didn’t dare go any farther, on account of the people.

They would laugh at her. There she is, running after her husband, no? Leave him be. He has found his friends, it’s only natural. Let them drink a glass together. He’ll come home in his own good time.

That’s what people would say; weren’t they right? "Well," she said to herself, "he will come when he wants to; me, at least, I will be here. I’m going to sit down in the kitchen so that he’ll find me straightaway when he returns, still faithful, the first thing."

She didn’t move again, her hands in the hollow of her skirt.

Then there were voices in the distance; one heard them very distinctly, because the village had become completely silent. It’s the men, several men, many men.

The voices are approaching, she hears:

"Now we’ll let you go."

She hears the voice of Nendaz:

"Good night, Antoine."

She hears a third voice:

"See you soon, no?"


"Good night.... Watch out, there’s a step.... Okay? Well, good night...."

The step approaches. The step mounts the stairs where it stumbles on each stair. It stops before the door for a moment.

She hears that a hand is searching for the latch and having difficulty finding it.

And, she, she had risen, so that he would have her before him immediately, the first thing, as she wanted; but he said:


He said:

"Ah! it’s true, little one!... It’s you.... Ah!" said he, "I have a wife...."

Then he passes his hand over his face:

"That’s not all!"

She said:


"Your name is Thérèse; you see, I remember.... And of course one is married, only, it is necessary... before...."

"Antoine," said she, "Antoine!..."

"Where are my weekday clothes? It’s because he’s alive.... Them, at Rebord’s, they didn’t believe me.... I must go and search for him."

He had come forward, he looks all about him, he stops; he is like a plant the stalk of which doesn’t hold anymore, like a tree that has been sawn across the base. He is obliged to hang onto the doorframe before entering the chamber to lie down:

"No, he’s not dead, it’s just as I told them. He is not dead, since he called to me.... He can’t get out, that’s all there is to it. He’s still captive under the rocks...."

She can’t answer anything. And the lamp softly lights the big bed with its bedcovers turned down; but him:

"Are they in the closet?"

"Antoine! Listen, Antoine, I have something to tell you."

But he fell over like a man who has got a blow on the head.

He fell half onto the bed, and the upper part of his body is flat on the bedcovers, but his legs are trailing across the floor.

You could see that he was asleep immediately, and now nothing could drag him from his sleep, as she sees, for she took off his shoes and his jacket, she lay him out on his back, she put up his legs; he felt nothing, he made no objection, supple and docile like a dead man still warm.

He slept with his arms crossed, his mouth half open. And from his mouth at regular intervals came a loud noise like that of a wood saw, such that, in his condition, Thérèse didn’t have the courage to lie by his side, as was her duty as his wife.

She passed the night at her mother’s house.

 Chapter 7

Thus it is that, the next morning, the neighbors saw her coming and the neighbors said to her:

"Well, there you are already!"

They were surprised that she had not spent the night with her husband; but seeing the thing was already done:

"You come too early, come on!... You must let him sleep. These men, when they are tired, you’ve seen them sleep for three days.... Yes, three days and three nights straight through."

It was already late, however, it was nearly nine o’clock.

And, as Thérèse hesitated to enter:

"Oh! go on in," the neighbors said to her. "Either he is still sleeping and you won’t disturb him, or he’s up now and it hardly matters if you disturb him anyway...."

They laughed. They were laughing as she entered. And they didn’t see her anymore, then she reappeared:

"My God! My God!"

"What’s the matter?"

"You haven’t seen him?"




"Ah! my God, he’s not there!"

They told her:

"Ah! that’s nothing! You frightened us. Well! he’s just gone out; you only have to go look for him, he’s surely in the village."

But she, she shook her head, she shook it again and again:

"Oh! no," she said, "me, I know; he has gone again."

"Gone again where?"

"Up there."

Just then a representative of the justice and a gendarme had arrived from the valley to collect Antoine’s declarations. They had asked where he lived; someone had shown them the house. They approach; they see a woman making movements with her head and great gestures with her arms upward from the stairs. And she, seeing them coming, begins to laugh with a false laughter.

"Ah! there you are, you.... Ah! it’s just the moment! it’s just the moment to come...."

Then changing her tone:

"Oh! please, go up quickly!... If he is up there... Oh! please.... Who knows what might happen?"

He was up there, in fact.

Having left before daylight, in his folly, he had made the whole journey in the opposite direction; and, wearing his white shirt and his new clothes, he appears at Biollaz’s house, a little before the place where the big rocks appear that the moss today has painted in gold, in bright yellow, or grey upon grey, or dark green; a little before the landslide where the biggest of the blocks, the ones like houses, nourish in their fissures all species of plants, the myrtle, the whortleberry, the thorny-barberry with its woody fruits, its hard leaves.

He puts his head in the opening of the door:

"Is anyone there?"

He asks:

"You don’t recognize me?"

"My Lord, no!" said Biollaz.


"Antoine who? There are lots of Antoines around here."

"Antoine.... Look at me better.... Come on.... Antoine Pont, from Aïre."

"Not true!"

Biollaz steps back.

Then with his eyes still fastened on this face that he sees entirely now because Antoine has taken off his hat, he supplies with his imagination his good coloring and his former shape; he rounded him out, he colored him in.

"Oh! wait.... But of course! it’s really you! Where did you come from?"

Antoine said:

"From under the rocks."

He pointed his arm towards where it was, and it was very near.

"I was taken like the others; only, me, I’ve got out."

"Not true!" said Biollaz.

And Biollaz said again:

"How did you do it?"

"On my belly, on my hands and knees.... Seven weeks...."

"And where are you coming from now?"

"From the village."


It’s Biollaz who’s calling:

"Loutre, hey!"

Loutre is working nearby. Loutre comes:

"You know who this is?"

Loutre stayed some distance off, distrustfully.


"Nevertheless you know him well. You must have seen his brand.... A.P."

"My Lord, in any case," said Loutre, "he’s not wanting loose skin on his neck."

"Take it off."

"And he needs a little stuffing under his cheeks."

"Restuff them."


"That’s it, Loutre. You see, you can come closer, you’re not risking anything...."

Loutre approached, and Loutre too said:

"Where have you come from?"

Antoine once again stretched out his arm towards the north where the walls are, and where you could see the base of the heap of rocks; then he began his story again, while Biollaz asked him:

"When is that?"

"Yesterday... no, the day before yesterday."

Biollaz calls again:

"Hey! Marie."

It’s the wife of Donneloye who lives in one of the neighboring chalets. She appears on the doorstep and stops. Biollaz speaks to her from a distance:

"Hey! Marie, you remember, the day before yesterday, the phantom.... Yes, when you ran away. It had an appetite, you remember, it had a good stomach. Well! here’s your phantom."

"Ah!" she said. "Who?"

"Pont, Antoine."

And Dsozet appeared beside her, sticking out his head to see better.

"It’s true," said Antoine, "but I was hungry, you can imagine, seven weeks! And, it’s true, I mustn’t have been very pretty to look at.... But it’s me, yes I promise you that; it’s me," he said, addressing himself to Donneloye’s wife, "and I’m going to pay you what I owe you, of course."

Donneloye’s wife took one or two steps out of her house.

"Well," said Antoine, "I went down to the village and in the end they had to recognize me, because at the beginning, yes, they had been like you.... They even fired on me. They took me for an apparition.... We drank together," said Antoine.... "They made the curate come," said Antoine, "and then we drank together."

Dsozet, him too, had approached.

"Only, you see," he continued, "there’s one who remains up there; it’s on account of him that I’m going back up. You haven’t seen anyone, have you? I got up before daylight, because otherwise, I’m sure, they would have prevented me from setting out; they would have said: ‘There is no one’.... Well! I say there is someone."

There were now several men who surrounded Antoine without understanding very well what he was saying; and him:

"Because he’s not dead.... Séraphin, you remember him.... Séraphin, Séraphin Carrupt; rather old; yes, him, that’s him. The brother of my mother-in-law, and, if I am married at last, it’s thanks to him, because my mother-in-law didn’t want me for a son-in-law. You understand, an old friend, more than a friend...."

He continued:

"Well! him, he’s still there...."


"Up there.... We were together in the chalet when the mountain fell. Oh! I recall it well, now.... He was sitting before the fire. He said to me: ‘You’re bored?’ He said to me: ‘And then, don’t I count?’ Much more than a friend, a father; I’m an orphan, me. Well! me, I got myself out, but he’s still up there, yes, under the rocks. I’ve told them in the village, but they won’t believe me; that’s why I’ve come back up. And I’m alone, but you’re going to help me. How many are you? At least ten. He’s alive, I tell you, I remember well, I was on the ground, he spoke to me, he said: ‘Where are you, Antoine?...’ Only he hasn’t known how to find the right passage out."

"You think so?" they said, "you think so, after all this time?"

"And me?... I was there for seven weeks. Him, it’s been hardly two days more.... Listen, are you coming?... Oh! of course you’ll come. We’ll try to call him; or it may be better to have a rifle and fire off a couple of shots. That will make him find the right direction...."

He was speaking more and more abandonedly, faster and faster and in great disorder, posing his questions without waiting for an answer. The others all about him, the others shook their heads. Then two of them, Biollaz and Loutre, left with Antoine just the same.

The three men took the right side of the stonefall, so as to get above it quickly. They ascended the steep slope, and they made the stonefall descend past them as if being lowered on a rope. Being arched in the middle, it flattened out above; the big blocks became more like gravel, and littler ones more like sand.

First of all you had before you an elevation, a ridge like a wave, and the slope behind the ridge was hidden; the slope appears, it lies open, it falls away; this was the last slope.

"Oh!" said Antoine.

"Yes," said the men, "and you should have seen it when it was smoking!"

"It was smoking?"

"God, all that dust! For three whole days you couldn’t see anything."

But now you could see everything, you could see everything better and better; now you could hear everything. It was only when the hobnailed shoes of the three men bit into the rock, making a noise like a dog chewing on a bone, that the silence was a little disturbed. Then it was no longer disturbed at all, because the three men had arrived on a kind of landing where they stop, while Antoine looks all about below him, then shakes his head:

"To think that I got out of that alive!"

He said:

"But, since I got out of it alive, he will get out alive, him too."

He considers once again below him the enormous disaster that it is, this kind of frozen sea, all this immensity of death where no one remains; Antoine says:

"He is there."

Everything is dead; nonetheless Antoine says:

"He is alive."

And they had a good look, nothing moved in any part of these spaces, neither on the gleaming surfaces of the rocks, nor in the holes that made dull spots among them, nor above the surface: not a bird, this morning, turning in the heavens on its big wings or fluttering with cries before a fissure in the walls. Everything was dead, but, him, he said: "He is alive." He stretches out an arm, he says:

"See there, those two big blocks, do you see them? Well! that’s where I came out. And the chalet," he said, "the chalet must be a little lower, but where? Ah!" he said, "it’s hard to find yourself again in all this rubbish.... It’s necessary first to orient yourself, it’s not easy. Where is the north? Ah! there it is! Well," he said, "that’s good: here’s the slope of debris. Because we were backed up against a bank of rock and the little rocks passed above.... He should be there. Séraphin...."

He calls:


He calls with all his force. He put his hands over his mouth like a megaphone, pushing out with all his force the three syllables that make three notes one after another, and seem at first to be lost, because for a long moment one hears nothing more; then they come back to you, having been dashed against the walls on the other side of the combe. The name comes back to you the first time almost intact, it comes back the second time muffled and worn down in the angles of the rocks; the third time, it is only a rustling as when light coattails trail behind you on the ground.

"We should have had a rifle, and fired off a shot," says Antoine.

He said:

"But you must have a pickaxe and a shovel to lend me...."

Chapter 8

Towards evening, little Dsozet arrived in Aïre, he said:

"Yes, he’s up there, but...."

He touched his forehead.

"And Dionis with the gendarme?"

For they too had set off that morning towards Derborence:

"Of course!" said Dsozet, "they’re there, too; that’s who sent me."

"They sent you? Why?"

"Because Antoine won’t come down. He says he won’t come down without Séraphin...."

"What is he doing?"

Little Dsozet, with the top of his finger, touched his forehead once again.

But, she, something stirred in her heart; she said: "I have to go there."

"Oh!" said Dsozet, "you think so? He’s taken a pickaxe and a shovel, because he says that Séraphin is under the rocks and that he’s alive. He says that he heard Séraphin calling him. The men wanted to accompany him, but the men returned."

"Why did they return?"

"Because they were afraid."

"Who were they afraid of?"

"The herdsman."

"What herdsman?"

"The herdsman with the sheep."

"Ah! Plan."

"Yes, the one in the Derbonère. Well! he comes down with his sheep. He sits himself on a rock. He tells you: ‘Don’t go any farther.’"

They shake their heads:

"Oh! that one, he knows things, that one!"

"Yes, exactly, and when you want to pass, he cries out to you: ‘No farther...’ and you don’t dare go any farther."

"And Antoine?"

"Oh! him, he went on all the same.... It seems as if he is risking nothing."

They shook their heads.

"Plan says that he’s false."

They said:


And Dsozet:

"Antoine. Plan says that he isn’t real.... Yes, that he is a spirit. Yes, that you can see him, but that he’s not like us, that he has no body at all.... And that he has come to lure us away, because they are unhappy and jealous of us and they are bored under the rocks...."

"Well!" someone said, "what should we do?"

But a voice made itself heard inside her, and the voice said: "Thérèse, go find him."

The voice said to her: "You foolish woman, did you tell him in good time what you had to tell him, in time to be useful, at the time when you should have? If only you had tried to restrain him, staying by your husband during the night hours, which are the worst counsellors. The cross had shown you that it was really him, but you didn’t believe it? Have you forgotten that he is your flesh, too, woman without memory?"

The men took little Dsozet for a drink at Rebord’s, though he was scarcely old enough, and, to her, the voice spoke: "Repair your error now, you negligent woman; go up there, woman, go to him. Go, find the words that are necessary; find as many as you must, so that he will understand, so that he will come home.... Wake him up, for he is in a daze. Go to him with your secret; go, say to him: ‘There are going to be three of us. For there is a little one who is going to come, and he’s going to need you.’"

They took little Dsozet for a drink at Rebord’s; they said to him: "You must sleep here tonight, and then tomorrow morning we’ll see what there is to do."

She, she called her mother who was weeping in the kitchen. She says:

"I’m going to go."


"Up there."

"Oh!" said Philomène, "Oh! Thérèse...."

But she:

"Please, go bring a basket. Put a white cloth and two bottles of old wine in it. Then put in it everything one needs to make a good meal, because it’s for him, and he mustn’t have much to eat with him, up there. Some ham, some fresh bread, mother.... It’s so that the little one will have a father."

At the same time she prepared herself to leave; but she didn’t get very far that evening.

The people had not yet gone to bed; they were discussing things amongst themselves, in little groups before their doors. They fell silent when they saw Thérèse coming. She followed the alley where it began to become dark. There was a big red spot that was an open door, in which a black head made a movement, or you could see the shape of a shoulder that was leaning a little to the side and forward. They were silent, she said good evening, they said good evening to her.

She continued her journey as far as Rebord’s house.

She goes up the steep wooden staircase. She makes a noise on the steps, but it’s a noise they don’t hear, so loudly are they talking in the drinking room. She knows very well what she’s doing, for it’s not the custom among us that the women enter the cafés. She doesn’t enter. She looks through the window near the door; and the windows give on the staircase, so that when you’re standing upright on the steps, only the top of your person (that is, the forehead and the eyes) are above it, which is convenient because you can see in without being seen.

She sees. She sees that he is there; she had guessed rightly; it’s Nendaz.

He is there with little Dsozet whom they are getting a drink, though he’s scarcely old enough, and Rebord, then the president, then the men of Premier.

She remains standing on the step, she calls.

You can see only the top of her head and her eyes; she’s in the dark and not well lit; her hair is black, her forehead is white, her eyes are black; she says: "Nendaz! Nendaz!" He doesn’t hear her immediately because of the noise and because his back is turned; he turns round suddenly.

And the noise in the drinking room falls off until there is no more at all, as when one of these piles of firewood, which one provides for the winter under the eaves, falls to the earth:

"Listen, Nendaz, can you come for a moment?"

They look in her direction, but she has already disappeared.

Nendaz gets up, Nendaz leans on his walking-stick, he goes out on the steps, he descends the staircase.

"Nendaz, won’t you come with me?"


"Up there...."

"To do what?"

"To look for him...."

"Oh brother," said Nendaz.

Perhaps he sees that she is going to go, whatever he does; then he is embarrassed. One doesn’t let a woman go alone on the paths, especially a path like that one, which is solitary, which is dangerous, which never ends.

He scratches behind his ear; he says:

"Okay, when?"

"First thing in the morning."

Chapter 9

There were already some men in the fields, because the rye had to be got in quickly. The men had the base of the stalks at the level of their sickles, the ground was so steep.

Elsewhere you could see the loose sheaves standing upright three by three, leaning one against another and tied together at the top; from a distance, in the day not yet well begun, they looked like little women making small talk.

She was with Nendaz and Dsozet, who was taking advantage of their company to ascend again to Zamperon.

It was hazy and calm; the air had the color of ripe wheat. That same color filled the whole valley, opening out on their left and just beside them falling away into a void where they could see nothing. But from those depths which still remained hidden, a message came to you all the same, that is to say a voice, telling endlessly an old story that never ended and maybe never began: it was the Rhône that you couldn’t see, the Rhône that you heard.

Because since forever it has been there, and immemorially it murmurs there, raising its voice when the night comes, letting it fall and weaken as the day increases.

She walked quickly, and Dsozet briskly as well, being in his young years; but Nendaz followed only with difficulty, making the iron tip of his stick grate against the stones.

She, something is carrying her forward. You could see her, she had her basket in her arms. You could see her from afar now, for the kind of wheat-colored haze that was all about them (was it the light mist of mornings of fine weather, or could it be that autumn is already approaching?), the haze was dissipating, drifting off without the least breath of air, and it was neither rising nor separating; it settled rather, like when there is a fine powder in solution in a liquid--and the powder goes to the bottom.

She, she was pushed forward. They said nothing, she said nothing. You could see Nendaz leaning on his walking-stick. You could see the great mountains that began to shine in the heights of the air now returned to their clarity. Then all of a sudden it became somber, it became cold, it became dark and sorrowful, as if you had jumped ahead three months in the year.

The gorge is a saber cut that has been struck all across the mountain, and the cut is so deep that the sun enters it for only a few minutes, at the moment when it passes just above.

From time to time, Thérèse stopped to let Nendaz catch up with her. Little Dsozet walked alongside Nendaz. She heard Nendaz say:

"How’re you doing?"

Little Dsozet said:

"I’m doing fine."

"And that hole in your head?"

"It wasn’t a hole, it was only a scratch."

"Well, has it healed?"

"Oh!" says he, "a long time ago...."

Thérèse had gone on. She heard nothing more. Then, again, little Dsozet said to Nendaz:

"You don’t believe me?"

"Of course not, you’re too little."

"You won’t ask Rebord for me?"

"You wouldn’t even know how to use it."


Love pushed her on. She stopped, she set off again. And Dsozet:

"Me!... You believe that! There is one among us also, in Premier.... It’s a rifle that belongs to Cattagnoud, the old soldier. Cattagnoud lends it to me when I bring him the wood for his fire.... Oh! I know very well how to make sparks with the flint; only you can’t fire Cattagnoud’s rifle because the barrel is bent.... Well, if Rebord lent me his.... Oh! I would know how to pour in the powder and then tamp it, put the ball in and then tamp that...."

You could hear Nendaz, who said:

"And the recoil?"

"What’s that?"

"When the shot is fired, the shock you get in the shoulder."


"Oh! indeed, you’d fall on your rear end, that’s all there is to it. How old are you?"


"Well, wait till you’re twenty."

They had made a stop for a moment to catch their breath, sitting all three against the slope that bordered the path; Thérèse said nothing, for she had nothing to say. It was little Dsozet who continued to speak:

"It’s not fair."

"Why isn’t it fair?"

"Because Cattagnoud, when I do him a favor.... Well, me, I’ve done you a favor."

"Well, wait a bit, we’ll see about it...."

And, as they set off again:

"Oh!" said Dsozet, "they’re there, up there in the rocks, and I’ve seen them. They have their holes among the rocks, those marmots. They’re shrewd," he said, "but me!... There’s one that sits in front of the others to watch over everything that happens. When it sees you coming, it whistles...."

He whistled between his fingers.

"But me, I’m shrewder still than they are; I know what I’m going to do. There are the rocks, I’m going to hide behind them. I’m clever, when I want to be, you know, and nimble. I can creep a long ways on my stomach, I can...."

"Yes, but with a rifle.... It’s heavy, you know, and it’s very long.... It’s longer than you are...."

It was already growing brighter. They had rejoined the stream that at first flowed in the depths below; but it rises towards you little by little and in the end it is at your level. They walked thus for a long time, then they saw the first chalet. It had been built to the right of the path in the middle of a square of meadow that is dominated by the forest, itself dominated by the rocks. They advance yet a little farther, and a second chalet appears, then a third, then a fourth, equally poor and tiny.

Love has carried her this far. They are three. Biollaz is in front of his chalet. Biollaz saw them coming from afar.

"Ah!" he said, "you come, too?"

Thérèse said:

"Where is he?"

"Ah! my poor woman!" says Biollaz.

He says:

"You see, I’m afraid that he hasn’t got his head anymore.... It’s on account of Séraphin, that’s your uncle, yes? Well, Antoine, him, he claims that he is alive.... He borrowed a pickaxe and a shovel from us. We did our best, but we couldn’t stop him from going to search for him."

"And you?" says she.

"Us, we don’t dare."

"Why not?"

"Oh! that’s just the way it is...."

She says:

"I must go there."

"Oh!" says Biollaz, "that’s not wise."

At that moment, you could see Dionis and the gendarme coming to meet them; they too said:

"There’s nothing to do! He claims he hears his voice."

"The voice of Séraphin."


"Under the rocks."

She said:

"We must go and look for him."

"Oh!" said the gendarme, "it would be better for you to wait until he comes back, when he can’t do anymore.... Me, I have to go back down. But you, you have only to stay here; when he returns, you speak with him...."

She goes forward. She shakes her head without answering, she goes forward.

Donneloye’s wife came out of her house:

"Ah!" she said, "you at last, Dsozet, where did you spend the night? Oh!" she said, "Thérèse, Madame Thérèse, don’t go any farther, stay with me, it’s better."

Thérèse didn’t seem to hear her.

And Donneloye’s wife calls to her son:

"Dsozet! Dsozet! come here.... Dsozet, I forbid you to go any farther."

She placed herself in the middle of the path, barring the passage to him, so that Dsozet had to obey.

But she, she passes.

And Nendaz and Dionis and Biollaz go with her.

You follow the stream still, you turn to the left. And there, the other times, when she had come, oh! she remembers it well, it was a beautiful flat bottom that had presented itself, fresh to see, richly peopled with men and animals--now, it’s one big rock, another big rock, a third big rock. It’s all a wall of big rocks, like the façades of houses that are there, where she is looking, telling you: "Don’t go any farther."

They left between them only narrow tortuous passages, like shadowed alleys, where she was going to have to go; because above those that were in front, higher than her and behind, you perceive the grey bulge of the mass of the landslide looming up, hiding by its elevation even the expanse that comes behind it.

And all these things tell you: "Stop!"

But they said to Thérèse: "Go anyway."

Then he appeared in his great overcoat, with his curved staff that came almost to his shoulder.

He appeared to the left of Thérèse, on top of a rock; and he was up there like on a pedestal, for he moved almost not at all, only shaking his head under his great hat, and his white beard.

To the left of Thérèse and the three men, a little above them, there where the ravine of the Derbonère comes out by a pocket at the edge of these bottoms.

"Stop!" he said.

And he said:

"Who are you?"

"Ah!" he said, "I see, it’s Antoine’s wife.... Well! Only do you know, woman," said he, "whether he that you’re seeking is still the same as him that you knew?"

He said:

"They fool you with their appearance.... They still haven’t found rest. And they wander under the rocks, jealous of you, envious of you."

Nendaz, Dionis, and Biollaz stop. She, she continues forward....

"Woman," said Plan, "woman, be careful.... They have the appearance of bodies, but there is nothing under that appearance.... Just come pass one night with me in my hut under the cliff, if you want to hear them and if you want to see them. I have heard them and seen them, me: they’re white, they wander about, they moan; they make a sound like when the wind strikes the edge of a rock, like when a stone rolls in the bottom of the stream."

Meanwhile, she too stopped; and him, raising his hand:

"You know what it’s called, up there?... Yes, you see well, the arête and the crack in it.... D... I... A... He won his shot, this time...."

He shook his head.

"And as for him that you’re seeking, listen to me, he is also false like the others. He’s only bolder than them, that’s why he came down."

Plan said:

"Don’t go. Because you will be cursed as well. Don’t go where he is trying to lure you. It’s full of holes in the rocks, it’s full of rocks that are teetering; it’s all in creases, all in fissures.... Don’t go, Thérèse, don’t go!"

She said to the men:

"Are you coming?"

Nendaz said:

"You want to go there?"

He went on:

"Then maybe it would be better if you went there alone."

"All right," she said, "I’ll go alone."

Chapter 10

To ascend to Derborence, you reckon seven or eight hours, when you’re coming from the Pays de Vaud. You go against the flow of a pretty stream, skirting along the banks. The water confined within its banks is like many heads and shoulders pushing ahead of one another to go faster. With great cries, with laughs, with voices that call out, as when the children come out of the school and the door is too narrow to let them pass all at the same time.

You leave behind the lovely chalets, low and long, with roofs carefully covered with polished shingles against the rain, that shine like silver. The fountains have spouts as big as arms; they make the churns turn.

And then, nothing more, nothing more but the cold air.

Nothing more but a little bit of winter that breathes upon your face when you lean out over the void, nothing more than the enormous hole full of shadow--where he was again, him, but would you be able to see him, there, all the way down to the bottom?

Oh! he’s much too little.

At six hundred meters below you, he would be only a miniscule white dot, imperceptible to the naked eye, among the immensity of those wastes where the rocks, in the shadow, are bluish when wet, or a sorrowful grey with black spots like those you see on the faces of the dead.

He’s too little for you to see him, all the same suddenly the rocks awaken, it seems that they begin to dry out, they brighten, they come to life again for an instant; and above the arête the sun, leaping suddenly, has come upon them; but he is no bigger than an ant at the foot of those heaps of rock.

He didn’t raise his pickaxe any the less for that; then he seized the shovel, searching for him who was no more, and that’s poor Séraphin.

He wasn’t right in his head, that’s why he raised his pickaxe in the sun; then, bending down, seized the flat shovel by the handle, digging out a trench, scarcely evident yet anyway in the debris of black schist, all intermixed with stones, against which the iron of the tool clanged sometimes, making a clear sound.

She, she had only to listen for where the sound came from, though at first completely lost in the narrow passages that the biggest blocks left between them on their fronts, more complicated still and more tangled than the alleyways of a village; for where are you now? where should you go? in which direction? She could just see a little sky like a blue skein half-unravelled above her; where is the south? where is the north?--completely lost at first, then the sound of the iron striking a hard and resonant material came to her, said to her: "Here."

He raises the pickaxe and lets it fall; it speaks to you from a distance.

She stops; she has only to listen for where the sound comes from, she goes on. She edges again round this block of stone and then another; then the blocks become smaller, more crowded together, at the same time that they are piled up higher, making the steps of a staircase where she climbs--in these wastes where a woman would never dare to venture herself alone, but she isn’t alone, because there is love, and love comes with her and love pushes her forward.

He raises his pickaxe in both hands, having taken off his jacket and his vest.

He turns his back to Thérèse.

He has kept on his fine white shirt, his new trousers; he is there, he’s very small, for before him all the great pile of stones raises up its mass; nevertheless he raises his pickaxe and lets it fall; and he raises his pickaxe again.

She leaps from one block to the next one, from one mass of rock to another mass of rock; he doesn’t hear, he’s making too much noise himself. Then he stops swinging the pick and takes up the shovel.

The voice had said to Thérèse: "Go closer."

The voice had said to Thérèse: "Keep going, don’t be afraid, don’t let him go again; if he runs away, run after him...." She calls him, he doesn’t hear.

And again:


He heard, this time; he turns. He saw her, but he begins to shake his head; he shakes it several more times to say no, and again no, and again no.

She starts forward again; she sees that he’s saying something; she doesn’t understand what he’s saying to her. Then he lets the pickaxe fall; he turns round yet once again, sees her coming; and suddenly he begins to run straight ahead of him towards the heights of the rockfall.

Them, they watched from down below; at first they saw nothing. They saw the stones.

That is to say, Nendaz, Dionis, Biollaz; that is to say, in all, five men who were come from Zamperon.

They saw nothing, they had ended by sitting down. "What should we do?"

"Oh! there’s nothing to do.... We’ll wait for her, she’ll come back all right."

"And him?"

"Oh! him...."

The sun had descended upon them in the meantime; they had been right in the middle of one of those indentations that the sun cuts out in the band of shadow, while to their right it projected a point far before them and to their left was in sawteeth, on account of the irregularities of the mountain chain behind which the sun was passing.

The southern chain, right behind them.

It lifted towards the heights of the air its battlements, its square towers, its pointed roofs, its steeples; then the sun, when it comes, slips in between their gaps, stretching down towards you, and then it withdraws.

They saw the little lakes shining, a little ahead of them, to their right; and melancholy, they were no longer melancholy, on account of a little movement that was made on their surface, as if the sun in passing had stirred a finger in the water.

The water, which was black, became more blue than the sky; there was like a fine silver net thrown on it; through the holes in the mesh, you saw a tiny white cloud that advances, leaves the bank, like a bark over the one lake, then passes into the other.

"Hey! Look!"

It’s Carrupt. He stands up at the same time as he raises his arm.

"Don’t you see him?"


"Antoine, of course!..."


"Beyond the big rocks, on the slope, among the little ones...."

"Ah! yes, I see him."

And the others:

"Ah! me, too."

On account of the distance, Antoine was already no more than a white point up there, the color of his trousers lost among the dark spots between the rocks. Nothing but the little white spot of his shirt, but fortunately it was moving and constantly changing its place, the other colors on the rockfall being motionless. Him, he was changing his place; they could follow him with the eye: it’s upward that he was moving, towards the top and the farthest part of the rockfall, in the side of the great walls.

"Where is he going?"

"Oh! fine, he’s running away."

"Damn!" say the men, "he won’t be coming back."

And then they said:

"And her?"

"Oh! her," said Nendaz, "surely she’s going to come down; what do you expect her to do, if he doesn’t want to hear her?"

But at that same moment there was a brown spot that began to move a little below the white one; as that one ascended, it ascended, as that one moved farther off, it moved farther off.

Had love been asleep? But now love has awakened.

You could see them very well, both of them, in the sun, on that slope that seemed from below almost uniform, almost smooth, but in reality and from closer was all knobs and hollows, fissured, pierced with holes. He went before, she had great difficulty following, but she went, because love sustained her. From time to time, to advance, she had to help herself with hands and knees on account of a great leaning block in her way; sometimes also you saw her slide back as the stones slid away under her weight.

They said:

"She is lost, if she goes on."

They said to Nendaz:

"Call her, you know her better than we do."

"It’s too far," said Nendaz.

They said:

"Ah! but.... It’s just that...."

They didn’t know what to say anymore.

Besides, at that moment they could no longer see Antoine; a moment later they could no longer see Thérèse. Both of them, they had disappeared behind the height of the escarpment.

This is the story of a herdsman who was captured under the rocks, and here he is returning to the rocks as if he could not do without them.

This is the story of a herdsman who disappeared for two months, and he reappeared, and he disappeared again; and, now, there’s his wife about to disappear with him.

They were still there, the five of them, and behind them, on the rock, old Plan also was still there; but, before them, there was no longer anything but rocks and still more rocks, nothing more that was alive, nothing more that moved in the sunlight.

Then one of the men began to say things in a very low voice:

"Maybe old Plan is right, how do we know?"

Someone answered: "My God!" in a low voice.

"If it was really a man, would he have gone back up again?"

"My God!"

"And maybe it’s only a spirit, and came down to fetch her."

Still they stood there motionless. The sun slid to the side, and thus the sun left them, but it was still close to them with its triangle of light. Strangely, the indentations were moving across the space; the little lakes had become grey again like zinc foil.

It’s a game that is played by the sun and the shadow in the spaces that lie between the teeth of the arête or through the interstices that separate the different links; and, them, having received yet once more one of the rays on the neck, they had turned to the side from which it came....

They’re astonished then, and it’s at old Plan that they are astonished, because they see him shrug his shoulders, and then he shrugs them again. Old Plan holds his head raised towards the height of the rockfall; suddenly, he turns away and makes a movement with his curved staff.

And they did not yet understand what was happening, but they saw that old Plan was leaving, having made a half-turn and his flock with him.

It was then that having turned their heads round again, and having also raised them, they too saw something moving up there in the rockfall; and it’s Thérèse up there, isn’t it? and it is she, and she is leading him.

It’s not possible!... But yes! it is she and they are two.

It’s a man and a woman.

The five who were there had in front of them the great mountain with its ramparts and its towers; and it is evil, it is all-powerful, but there! a weak woman rose up against it, and she has beaten it, because she loved, because she dared.

She will find the words that she has to say, she will come with her secret; having life inside her, she was there where there was no more life; she leads him who is alive in the midst of those who are dead.


They shout between their hands the cry of the mountains; they hear their cry coming back to them, and it is from up above that someone has answered them.

A man’s voice, a woman’s voice.

And it was she, and it was he; now they saw that the man was helping the woman in the difficult places; there where the rock made a wall, he jumped down first, he took her in his arms.

And, on the fine summit of the wall, the edge of the glacier reddened in the light like a gleam of honey; but, behind them who came, and even as they came, the combe entered into silence, into cold and into death.


Derborence, the word sings sadly and sweetly in the head as you lean over the emptiness, where there is nothing more, and you see that there is nothing more.

It is winter below you, it’s the season of death all the year long. And as far as the eye carries, there are only the rocks, and the rocks, and still the rocks.

For nearly two hundred years.

Only, sometimes, a flock of sheep appear in these solitudes, on account of a little grass that grows there, there where the rocks leave them room to pierce through; it wanders about for a long time like the shadow of a cloud.

It makes a sound like a sudden rainshower when it moves about.

It makes, when it grazes, a sound like that of very small waves that come, the evenings of fine weather, in rapid beating and rebeating, knocking on the bank.

The moss, with a slow and meticulous paintbrush, paints in lively yellow, in grey upon grey, in all sorts of green, the biggest of the blocks of stone; they nourish in their fissures several species of plants and bushes, whortleberry, myrtle, thorny barberry, with the hard leaves, with the woody fruits, that tinkle softly in the wind like little bells.

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bookpen.gif (2870 bytes)Please do not reproduce this text in any form for commercial purposes.  Feedback and suggestions are welcome, . Translated in about 1983, posted on this site 22 June 2001.



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