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 I, Chapter 1

...A herdsman, who had
disappeared, and whom they
believed dead, had passed
several months entombed in
a chalet, supporting himself
on bread and cheese...
Dictionnaire geographique

He 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.

It was the 22nd of June, around nine o’clock in the evening.

He 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.

"Well," said Séraphin, the older one, "I see it... You are bored."

He looked at Antoine, then began to smile in his little white beard:

"Yet it hasn’t been so long since we came up."

They 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 didn’t make very many days, in fact.

Séraphin 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, 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."

He shook his head and was silent.

Antoine had only been married for two months; and it’s 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, Maye’s widow, and, being unmarried himself, it was he who conducted his sister’s affairs. Well, Séraphin had taken Antoine’s side, and he had got the upper hand. The wedding had taken place in April. Now Séraphin and Antoine were in the mountains.

The 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 doesn’t 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 didn’t seem ready to bite (as they say) at this work, which was new to him, and that he was languishing far from his wife.

"Come, now," he went on, "isn’t it getting better? Is it such a terrible thing to have me for a companion?"

He wasn’t thinking of himself, he thought only of Antoine.

It was to Antoine that Séraphin addressed himself again before the fire, that evening of the 22nd of June, towards nine o’clock; and as the flames began again to fall, he fed them anew and revived them with some pine branches.

"Oh! Of course not," Antoine said.

That 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 it’s like a hand that closes round the heart.

Happily, the fire begins again to crackle, or it’s 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, come," Séraphin had begun again.

The fire crackles again.

"Besides, if you want to go down on Saturday.... And you could stay two or three days in the village and spend Sunday with her...."

"And you?"

"Oh, me... Me," said Séraphin, "I’m used to being alone. Don’t trouble yourself about me."

He began to smile in his beard that was almost white, while his moustache remained black--it was about nine o’clock in the evening, the 22nd of June, at Derborence, in the chalet of Philomène, where the two men were sitting before the fire.

Something cracked from time to time in the roofing. You could hear Séraphin continue:

"You come back when you want to; me, I’ll always get along. Besides," he said, "when you return, you won’t be all alone here."

He smiled in his white beard, holding his little grey eyes calmly upon Antoine:

"Unless I don’t count?"

"Oh!" said Antoine.

Something cracks 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.

"Well, it’s arranged for Saturday.... It’s only going to be three days...."

Something 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.

But 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.

"Ah!" said Séraphin, "there they begin again...."

"Who does?"

"Eh? You have heard nothing, these nights past? So much the better for you, it’s because you sleep so well. And it’s also," Séraphin went on, "because you’re 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...."

The sound died away little by little, becoming very soft, almost imperceptible, as when a little wind moves the leaves of the trees.

"Nonetheless, you know very well what they say. Well, that He lives up there, on the glacier, with his wife and his children."

The sound had ceased completely.

"Sometimes it happens that he grows bored and he says to his little devils: ‘Take up the quoits.’ It’s there where there is the Quille, the Ninepin, you know, rightly called the Quille of the Devil. It’s 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, it’s the hole. The quoits have nothing else to do but fall. And you see them falling sometimes when there’s a full moon, and it is precisely now that there is a full moon...."

He said:

"Do you want to come and see?"

Was Antoine uneasy? You can’t 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.

It 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 and east.

Séraphin raises his arm. You can see his hand in the clear night, you see that he holds his forefinger outstretched; it’s almost above his head. You must raise your head in the same direction. Séraphin points to something above, some fifteen hundred meters above you.

And it’s 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.

It 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.

"Up there...."

Still Séraphin held the raised arm. He said:

"Yes, there where it overhangs. But it seems to be finished for the evening."

His voice was loud in the silence.

"Oh!" he said, "it’s that that always falls, from as far back as one can remember."

He had lowered his arm.

"The 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.... Too bad."

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 moon’s 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.

From 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....

Up 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:

"I think the devil has gone to his bed, so perhaps we should do the same?"

Antoine therefore had said nothing. The two men went back into the chalet and drew the door shut behind them.

They 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.

Antoine lay on the upper level.

They hung their shoes by the laces from a peg on account of the rats.

Antoine had climbed up to his level.

"Good night," Séraphin had said to him.

He had replied:

"Good night."

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 isn’t it all right? It is Thérèse.

She 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, it’s 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 don’t 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, "it’s not me."--"Oh! Then what is it?"--"Oh!" she said. "It’s my mother."

It wasn’t going well in those days.

She 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 it’s not winter, he thought. "My mother says that we won’t have enough to live on, if we have children."

Watch out!

There had been a shock; is he still sleeping?

The strange noise he believed he had heard continues to be heard.

Is 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.

Where is she?

"Ah!" he says to himself, "it has all been arranged since then, let’s see... sure, of course, now we are married, it’s done; that was in the old days...."

He thinks: "Saturday...."

He 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 painter’s canvas that hasn’t yet had paint.

He has gone back to sleep; has he gone back to sleep?

But 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.

Chapter 2

"Derborence" [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.

For 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: "It’s 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.

You 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.

Derborence, it is there, quite near. You have only to carry on straight ahead.

And, suddenly, the ground disappears beneath your feet.

Suddenly, 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.

You bend, you thrust your head a little forward.

Derborence, 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.

The 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.

The 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.

But 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.

For 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.

For 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 one’s view.

In 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.

They 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.

They 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.

These 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.

Up 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 it’s 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, it’s the grass that shows itself anew; it’s as if the paint had been let fall from the brush in drops of the color green, and then they all joined together.

Ah! 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.

The little goatherd blew upon his horn.

They 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.

The columns of smoke grew larger, they flattened out, they found themselves mingled in their upper parts, making like a transparent ceiling, like a spider’s web, held flat halfway up the walls above you.

And, 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.

When Derborence was still inhabited, that is, before the mountain fell upon it.

But now it has just fallen.

Chapter 3

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."

"Then," they said, "there was a blast of wind."

"Then 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 uproar."

"The wind 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...."

"Us, eh? On the col, we’re 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."

They were already up and about. There were three of them. They couldn’t find their tinderbox.

The animals that they’d brought in for the night, but which hadn’t been tied up, were making a great disturbance in the shed, where they threatened to overturn everything.

The men had first of all to go and put some order into the herd.

They had a horn lantern but they didn’t 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 their feet.

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.

It was the mountain that had fallen.

The men coughed, they sneezed, they bent their heads forward, trying to shelter behind the brims of their hats.

But 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:

"Is it safe to go any farther?"

They said:

"Is it solid ground there? We’re not going to be able to see."

Only they were pushed forward by their self-respect; they were pushed forward by curiosity.

Besides, 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.

They 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.

The 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.

And one of them said:

"How many do you think there were?"

"My God!"

The third said:

"Need to know if they had already all come up or not.... Fifteen, twenty...."

Accustomed 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.

The 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 can’t understand, because it’s 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.

They 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.

As 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.

They 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 hadn’t 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.

They 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.

He was called Biollaz, from Premier.

Sitting up on his mattress, when finally he could see, he had called to his colleague; he had said:

"Are you coming?"

No response. He called again:

"Loutre! Hey! Loutre!" (No response.) "Or are you dead?"

He 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.


There, Loutre had stirred.

Biollaz saw Loutre looking at him, lying on his bed.

"You’re not coming with me?"

The other shook his head.

"Well! Too bad, I’m going just the same."

Biollaz stands up. It’s 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.

After putting on his shoes, Biollaz makes his way over the puddles towards the door.

He 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.

Loutre pushed him up from below and supported him by the legs; he gets through the opening then, from which he stoops holding Loutre’s 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.

For something is missing, something that was there is there no more; it’s 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, Loutre, where are you?"



"Loutre, do you hear?... The Lizerne...."

Then Loutre said:

"I’m coming."

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.

Men come out of the other houses.

They can hardly see one another at a distance, then, having come nearer, they still don’t 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:

"Hey! Dsozet!"

He doesn’t 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.

They 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 couldn’t 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.


"Who is calling?"

It was old Plan, who keeps his sheep in the high ravines of the Derbonère.

On 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 it.

They see the flock tumbling down in the rubble, looking itself like a rockfall.

They see it in the bottom of a hollow like a little lake with troubled waters when a little wind passes above it.

They see it wandering on the slopes where it seems a shadow of a cloud.

They saw it, and before them, there was old Plan:


He was perched on top of a block of rock, where he held out his hand towards them:

"Don’t go any farther!"

He shook 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.

"Don’t go any farther! D... I...."

He was laughing:

"D... I... A.... You understand?"

And as he spoke thus, something moves below, among the rocks; someone was coming or trying to come up.

They see 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.

They look, they look more closely.

"Hey!" they said, "It’s Barthélemy!"

And they ran to meet him while one heard old Plan, who cried out:

"Watch out! No farther... Stop! Stop!"

Chapter 4

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.

Ah! this you endure, ah! it creeps along. Eight days since Antoine has gone and eight days, it’s like eight months!

She had let her head fall forward: it’s 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).

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.

There also it endures, there neither does anything change; ah! one knows it well, the Rhône, one knows it only too well!

Since 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 at night).

Possibly though 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 occupy yourself?

I am bored, I am tiresome to myself.

She heard footsteps on the other side of the house, because the people were returning home to have their soup.

The day was ended; it began at four o’clock in the morning, it ended at eight in the evening.

They returned 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.

From 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.

And 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.

The 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 they’ve 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, it’s 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]

Her 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.

What’s wrong? she asks herself; and then an idea enters her mind: after all, she is married, and married for two months.

Ah! could it be?

Again she changes color; ah! surely that’s what it is, she tells herself; if not, what could it be? because she was in excellent health.

Surely that’s 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.

She feels good, she doesn’t stir. "Because, if it’s that.... If it’s that, I won’t be alone anymore. And there will be two of us while he’s gone, and when he comes down again, there will be three...."

The 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.

They 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.

It 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: it’s 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.

They 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 mother’s house since Antoine was no longer with her.

She began 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.

Someone said to her: "Well! Just in time.... Where have you been?"

You 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."

Thérèse 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 another.

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.

Philomène 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 her daughter:

"What’s wrong with you?"


"Then why aren’t you eating?"

"I don’t know," said Thérèse. "I’m not hungry."

Philomène shrugs her shoulders.

"Oh! I see, it’s because he’s not here.... Come, come, my poor girl. It’s 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 whole summer...."

She spoke without mildness on account of a residue of resentment that she felt without suspecting it; she continues:

"And then it is you who has chosen him, your husband, isn’t 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...."

But Thérèse shakes her head.

"It’s not that."

"Ah! then what is it?"

"I don’t know...."

The 22nd of June, around nine o’clock in the evening, under an oil lamp with its little yellow flame that has the shape of an upsidedown heart.

"You don’t know?"

"I feel sick...."


"Yes, and my head is spinning."

"Ah!" said Philomène, "for how long?"

"Just today."

"It was your month?"


Thérèse was worn out. And you could see that Philomène was beginning to smile, something that had not happened since her daughter’s marriage; looking at her daughter, then:

"Oh!" said she, "if it’s that, it’s a good illness; it’s one of those illnesses to which you make a bow when they come to find you...."

Meanwhile Thérèse felt all her blood rise once again to her face, making like a hot cloth under her skin, then it went away:

"It’s surely that," said Philomène.... "Oh! it’s a good illness. It should not make you afraid, and it’s not necessary to force yourself. If you’re not hungry, don’t eat.... I’m going to make you a cup of camomille and then you’re going to lie down...."

She went on:

"He knows nothing about it, him, of course? Oh well! it’s all right to give him a nice surprise."

Thérèse had gone to bed.

It 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 high feet.

I can lie across it when he’s not with me.

But 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."

She 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."

Why 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.

She 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 won’t repeat it to anyone... Do you promise?"

I’ll hold his hands still, if necessary. I will say to him: "Don’t touch me.... My lord, oh! my good lord, what you are doing is forbidden."

And him, he will say: "A little kiss, only one...."

She 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 won’t prick me with your beard. And that way I will have your ear up next to my mouth, it’s on account of the secret, Antoine...."

She turned 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.

He said: "This secret, what is it? Is it money? Is it a visit?"

She said: "Guess!"

It 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 back.

It returns backward, crashing against itself.

The shutters bang, one hears a ladder fall; the windows of Thérèse’s chamber, which had been badly closed, throw themselves wide open.

She 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.

She 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.

What is happening?

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.

There 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?"

The 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 don’t move. Someone said:

"That’s not a storm."

She, she doesn’t dare to show herself.

The men have put on their trousers, the women have put a dress over their shirts; one hears a woman’s voice saying:

"Eh! How do you know?"

She doesn’t dare to show herself, her nightshirt fits badly and keeps sliding off her shoulder.

"Does 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...."

The 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.

"Do you think so? We would see the flashes."

"Flashes of what?"

"Of lightning...."

"Or else they are exploding mines," someone said.

"You’re crazy. Me, I say it’s an earthquake. My bed was shaking under my back."

"Mine, too."

"Me," said one of the Carrupts, for they are nearly all Carrupts in Aïre, "there was a cask that I didn’t wedge properly. It rolled up against the door of the cellar."

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.

"But the noise?"

"Oh!" said another, "the noise, it always makes noise, an earthquake."

"And the wind?"

"It makes a wind."

"You think so?"

"I know so."

"And then what?"

"Well, then it’s over."

"Well, we go back to bed?"

Someone asked again:

"What time is it?"

Another said:


It is now the 23rd of June.

Thérèse 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.

Chapter 5

Only Maurice Nendaz had guessed what had happened; he was a lame man who walked with a cane.

He 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.

With each step, he lurched to the side.

He 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:

"Hey! Justin."

It was one of his neighbors, a young man of fifteen or sixteen years, who hadn’t yet gone in.

"Are you sleepy?" Nendaz said to him. "No?... Well, go put on a jacket and come with me."

"Where are you going?"

"You’ll see."

Justin put on his jacket; as for Nendaz, he was already ready to leave, his hat on his head, his stick in his hand.

"You didn’t say anything to anyone?... Good! That’s good. We must let them sleep peacefully for a little while longer."

You 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.

As 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. That’s 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.

But 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.

They 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.

Maurice Nendaz had stopped abruptly; he listens; he says to Justin:

"You hear?"

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.

The 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.

It is that narrow fissure there, that sabre slash that has been made into the mountain.

The 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.

It 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 to echo.

Well, it is this sound of water that was heard no more; and Nendaz listens and Nendaz said:

"It’s just what I thought."

"La Lizerne?" said Justin.


"What then, is it blocked up?"

Nendaz 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.

It 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.

And 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.

"You see?"

Justin gestured that he did.

"You know what that is?"

Justin said that he didn’t.

"You think it is a mist, no? or smoke? or that it’s a rising fog? Look well. Because smoke curls upward, doesn’t 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 can’t guess?..."

Justin didn’t have time to say whether he had guessed or not: someone was coming down the path. Some rocks had been set rolling, otherwise they wouldn’t 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 didn’t 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.

"You know him?"

"Yes," said Justin.... "It’s a Donneloye from Premier.... His name is Dsozet. He must be coming from Zamperon."

Then 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 didn’t stop, he ran straight at Nendaz; and Justin in his surprise didn’t 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.

The other passes.

And the other has got away already; then Nendaz to Justin:

"Hurry! 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...."

Justin had already set off; Nendaz began to cry out:

"Tell him that it’s at Derborence. Yes, the noise we heard last night, the blast of wind. And the smoke... The Diablerets...."

He cried out still:

"The Diablerets has come down...."

It was an hour later that the stretcher appeared.

Sometimes 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.

You 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.

You 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 it’s the animal itself, raising its head, that turns it aside; then you’re 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.

They 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.

There 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.

At a given moment, the two who carried the stretcher lay it down on the path; the others then came to take their place.

They 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.

They stood then all four about the stretcher; they said:

"Hey! Barthélemy."

They shook their heads, they said:

"He doesn’t hear."

One 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.

The man made no resistance. He said nothing, he didn’t 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 Barthélemy’s 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.

The 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 Barthélemy’s chin, the water spread out around his mouth that doesn’t understand anymore, that refuses it, that says no.

They set out again; they saw Nendaz, who was coming to meet them.

He 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.

The two men who were carrying nothing then took the lead. Nendaz said to them:

"It is the mountain?"

The two men nodded.

Nendaz said:

"Me, I understood.... Last night.... So," he said, pointing to the stretcher, "is that all that’s left?"

The two men nodded.

"Of all those who had gone up?"

They said:


"And at Zamperon?"

"There is one with a broken arm; he’ll be along in a moment, they’ve made him a bandage."

Nendaz takes off his hat and crosses himself; the two others did the same.

Then they said:

"Down there, do they know?"

"No, they thought it was a storm."

"Ah! they don’t know?"

"Oh! by now," said Nendaz, "they should know, because there was a young boy from among you who passed a few moments ago, and me, I’ve sent Justin to warn them."

The men with the stretcher came up.

Nendaz said:

"Who is it?"

They told him:


"Ah!" said Nendaz. "Barthélemy...."

He had his hat in his hand, he came near.

"Barthélemy, Barthélemy, it’s me. It’s me, Maurice Nendaz.... Do you hear me? Hey! Barthélemy...."

goback.gif (2185 bytes)Go back to the Introduction.
gonext.gif (2192 bytes)Go ahead to Part I, chapter 6

bookpen.gif (2870 bytes)Please 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 welcome, . Translated in about 1983, posted on this site 22 June 2001.


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