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 6

Philomène had been awakened at an early hour by the feeling that something had happened to her the previous evening, something agreeable; and, in fact, it is something agreeable, for she saw that it was this promise of a baby, while a little ash-grey light slipped into the chamber through half-open shutters. The idea that one is going to be a grandmother is an agreeable thing. A baby arrives and settles everything.

Everything was arranged or she continued to arrange it, little by little, in her head, while she dressed. She said to herself: "At last, since the moment this marriage was made...." She said to herself: "And then, it turns out for the better." For when a baby is going to come, it turns out for the better. They were going to need her, and for an old woman that is to enter back into life, which she thought about also, very happy and warm, on this side of the windows, while on the other side the day continued to come on.

And, all the while, she continued to reflect and there! she said to herself, thinking of Thérèse: "I shouldn't have let her go to bed at her house last night. What was I thinking of? I should have kept her here, because one is always a little nervous, the first time."

But she said to herself: "Oh well! I'll quickly make some soup and then I'll bring her some, good and hot under a cloth, so that she can eat it in bed.... It will be better for her to remain lying down."

The door of a shed opens, it's the goat that someone is about to milk. There are hardly any cows in the village in summer and, what's more, hardly any healthy men either: it's a village of goats, of women, of children and of the aged. You hear someone draw back a rusty bolt that throws out a great cry like when they bleed a pig, and one drives a knife into the great vein in its neck. Someone coughs. The fountain is made of a tree trunk that they've sawed down the middle and then hollowed out--it's old Jean Carrupt who is coughing. So bearded with moss, the fountain, that from so far off one can hardly distinguish it from the grass-covered bank against which it is set, having for a pipe only a simple wooden gutter that is all split, so that half the water is lost before it reaches the basin.

Old Jean Carrupt always rises early, and he's always thirsty; they are nearly all Carrupts in the village, moreover, having in order to recognize one from another only their forenames or their nicknames.

Jean Carrupt had been to drink at the fountain; he comes back shuffling his feet.

Philomène had lit a fire, she had hung the cooking pot from its hook: they began to come and go under the windows in a pretty pink color that was first of all in the sky to the east, then trickling down upon us from above.

Old Carrupt's coat was pink upon his back, an old coat he had not been out of for more than twenty years.

He turns his back to you, turns himself toward the slope that dominates the village.

Time passes.

Suddenly old Carrupt growled something.

A woman said to him:

"What is it, Father Jean?"

Again he growls something.

"Eh! well, that's true.... Hey! Marie.... Don't you see? On the path."

"Who is it?"

"I don't know."

"What are they doing?"

"Oh! when they are young, they amuse themselves...."

It was in fact on the path, as when the children play "couratte" (which is the name they give to the game), and it was the two boys. The one was running, the other was running. Dsozet was ahead, Justin just behind. When the one who was behind ran faster, the one ahead did the same, so as not to let himself be caught. The game is that someone tries to catch you, and he who catches you has won.

The women were watching:

"Where are they going?"

"Why are they running?"

And you saw that Dsozet's lead, however much he tried to keep it and however much effort he made, was diminishing more and more; there, in fact, the other forces his pace and the other comes even with him; but a surprise, for he doesn't tap him on the back, he doesn't leap upon him, as you thought he would: he simply passed by his side without saying anything to him, without even looking at him.

"It's Justin. Where is he coming from like that?... But he was here last night...."

"Of course, I saw him."

Thus it is that calamity advances on two legs, or on twice two legs, but you don't know who it is; thus it is that bad news comes and goes rapidly, but you still don't suspect it--and the women are calling Justin now, because he's very near:

"Hey! Justin!"

He doesn't answer. He leaves the path to take off through the gardens as if he wants to avoid being questioned as he passed. As for little Dsozet, he had been quickly lost from view, having taken the route that leads to Premier without entering the village.

Philomène, hearing the voices of the women, came to her doorstep. She sees them hurrying between the houses to try to see where Justin is going and to whose house. It's easy to guess, in fact, that he is seeking someone. At last, he stops before the house of the president, who is at the other end of the village, just next to the place where Rebord serves drink in a chamber on the first floor, where one ascends by a wooden staircase as steep as a ladder.

Justin enters the president's house, he has reappeared with the president. Then the calamity has come upon us. For Justin reappeared. Justin comes out of the president's house, he raises his arm, he points toward the north. Justin makes gestures with both arms, then, using only one, he points again in the direction of the mountains. The president shakes his head. The president looks about him, he comes forward. He is a little old man, who has a white moustache; he is called Crettenand. He puts his hand to his white moustache, he smoothes it; he shrugs his shoulders in a brusque movement, they remain for an instant raised to the level of his ears. And there is everywhere a great silence, and you hear again the cry of a cock, who sings out full of derision; then you hear Rebord come running down his stairs.

He makes a noise like the rolling of a drum.

A man's voice said:

"It's not true!..."

And a woman's voice:

"Ah!... Ah!... Ah!..."

A long cry that comes thrice, each time still more piercing, then breaks off at its finest point like a reed under a blast of wind.

And everyone began to stir in the village, as they ran to the meeting between Justin and the president.

"The mountain?"


"And then what?... On Derborence?... It's not possible, come on, what are you telling us?"

"You remember the noise that was made last night?..."

One weeps, the women call, the children cry out; they come pushing forward, and they push forward and they jostle each other in the alley: it is the calamity that has come upon us, and they understand finally that it has come upon us, because four or five men surround the president.

There were some women who laughed, saying:

"Come on, come on, it's only a story...."

The president said:

"I know nothing, I know nothing, leave me be, we must go and see...."

Philomène had come forward also; she slipped between the women, she made a path between those raised arms, those heads which were shaking:

"Well," she said, "well, president?..."

He steps forward, he said:

"I know nothing, ask Justin."

"Well," she said to Justin, "and Seraphin?"

"I don't know."

"And Antoine?"

"I don't know."

She began to run towards Thérèse's house, where nothing seemed to have stirred yet, because the house is rather removed from the place where the noise was being made. She saw that the front door was not locked.

She knocked on the door of the chamber.

"Is that you, mother?"

She says: "It's me."

She enters; she said: "You've left the windows open, you are going to take cold...."

She quickly closed the windows.

"You must be careful, you know, in your condition.... Have you slept well?... Ah! it is me who has awakened you.... Too bad. I wasn't calm about your condition, that's why I have come."

One hears almost nothing through the windows ornamented with the bottoms of glass bottles.

For a while she straightens the little curtains that the wind disturbed last night; she says:

"You must stay in bed this morning; it's more prudent. I'm going to bring you some soup."

She still hasn't turned round; she hears Thérèse say:

"Oh! no, I'm going to get up."

"Well, you're feeling better?"

"Oh! yes," said Thérèse: "I feel completely well."

But suddenly a cry is heard, piercing the walls and the thickness of the glass, people come running by in front of the house:

"What's that noise?"

"Oh! it's nothing," said Philomène.

"But you, mother, what's the matter with you?"

Because Philomène had had to turn round at last, and she shows a face the color of dirty paper, while she holds her hands one upon the other at the level of her waist in order to prevent them from trembling.

And, despite the darkness where she is standing, Thérèse stares at her because one can't prevent the truth from showing.

"Nothing's the matter."

Thérèse said:

"That's funny."

She is sitting on the bed.

Someone knocks on the front door.

Thérèse hears her mother speaking and another woman's voice speaking low in the kitchen; she can't understand what the women are saying. The sound nevertheless increases outside, coming still nearer; Thérèse asked again: "What is it?"

The two women have come in; the second is her mother's sister, Catherine.

"Oh!" said Catherine, "pay no attention, it is Barthélemy's wife, she is grieving.... Her little one is not going to...."

They'd stopped, the two of them, standing beside the door, obviously upset and seeking to appear calm, held back there and wanting to advance, seeing that they must say something and not finding anything to say; Philomène's hands moved still more uncontrollably on her striped apron.

"Wait," said Thérèse, "I'm coming, I'm getting up."

"No," said Catherine, "it's better for you to stay there...."

But at that moment a tolling of the bell is heard, then another; then still another.

It is Barthélemy who has just died; the bearers saw that he was dead because his mouth opened in his beard.

They had almost arrived in the village. They set the stretcher on the path; then, heads bare, they gathered round him, those four, and Nendaz, and then all the others who came, having ascended to meet them (that's why the noise had gone by): that is, the president, Justin, Rebord, the men, the women, the children.

The women fell to their knees while someone set off running to the chapel.

Another tolling of the bell.

Thérèse said:

"Who has died?"

"Oh!" said Catherine (and she could no longer find her words), "it is the little one of Barthélemy's wife, my God! Of course, it's surely him.... Ah! the poor woman!"

Another tolling. Thérèse said:

"He wasn't sick yesterday."

"Yes, the little one of Barthélemy's wife... She said that he had the croup... It took him last night...."

Another tolling.

"She ran through the houses like a madwoman.... As if we could do anything...."

Another tolling. The kneeling women rise again. The bearers take up their burden again, placed at each end. They've drawn the cheese cloth over the face of death.

There is a great peace on the mountains that you can see ranged high in the air in a semi-circle about you. From the place the dead man is leaving, you dominate still the whole village; you see, above the roofs, the emptiness that makes the valley this morning to be filled with a soft haze where the color of the sun is alongside the color of the shadow, the two colors stitched together like the stripes on a flag. Then, still higher, it brightens, and it brightens still more the more the eye is raised; it shines with tranquility, these towers, these horns, these needles, all in gold or all in silver, and they move a little, like the flame of a candle when one passes by it.

Everything is tranquil in the mountains, everything is at rest; for me there will never again be rest.

Barthélemy leaves his place. They made him leave his place, he doesn't say no, he lets them move him. He descends yet a little farther. And the others come along behind. They no longer dare to cry out so much, they no longer dare even to say anything, they silenced their tears which now flowed noiselessly.

And rest. But, for me, there will never again be rest, no, never again, in this life.

For her mother and her aunt have tried to hold her back, but they didn't have enough strength. Thérèse runs across the room, she puts herself at the window and sees. It is at first sight Barthélemy being carried; one man is at his feet, one man is at his head and he is lying out flat. They are upright, he is stretched out; they are walking, he is motionless under his cloth, he offers no resistance; first his feet hanging off the stretcher, then the swelling where his head lies on its pillow.

Tranquility, rest. And he comes like that, and then comes everyone else.

Old Carrupt goes to meet them; he doesn't understand very well what is happening, letting out at times a little groan.

"Ah!" she said, "that's nice, it is a misfortune and you hide it from me."

Her mother and her aunt try to pull her back; but now, it is Barthélemy's wife who comes with her six children.

The bell continues to sound; one tolling, then another, then another. Another tolling, and Barthélemy's wife holds the littlest child against her, giving her hand to another who is just beginning to walk, and there are two more holding to her skirt behind.

She has six children.

There is Nendaz with his walking-stick, and Thérèse recognizes Nendaz.

He comes.

He is a face among all these faces a little above the ground and at the height of the little low windows in a row in the walls of brown wood--with beards or without beards, with hair all tangled or close shorn, or quite long among the women and knotted up in buns, brown or black or even blond....

"Ah! That's nice!"

Then to Nendaz:

"Come, come, what is it?"

Because Barthélemy is under the window, where he lies flat, he has his face covered, he is seen from above in all his length, you can see that he's not moving; then his wife began to sob again, letting her tears flow down her face into her mouth. They make black stains on the front of her grey jacket.

There are the arms raised up, the hands held flat on either side of the head; the men, on the contrary, let their hands hang down, the president, Justin, Rebord, Nendaz, the others--hardly numerous, and for a long time to come, alas! hardly numerous, because of all the dead men up there; it's a little village, a little village of ghosts, of women, of children, of the aged; meanwhile, they come, they're now below Thérèse; then she said:

"What has happened?"

She speaks still of Barthélemy; she said:

"I think he's dead. Is it true, Maurice Nendaz?"

Nendaz passes with his walking-stick.

"Why doesn't he answer me? Ah! it's funny," said she, "what's the matter with them? Justin!"

Justin seemed not to have heard, he passes her also, he has already passed.

Then a women looks up at Thérèse.

"You don't know? You don't know yet?.... My God!..."

She fell silent without finishing her sentence.

It is as if she had already forgotten Thérèse. The bell sounds a tolling.

"Don't stay like that at the window, you'll take cold," said Philomène. "We will explain it to you...."

And Thérèse:

"Explain what to me?"

But the explanation had already come, because another woman said:

"The mountain has fallen."

"What mountain?"

"The Diablerets."

"And where has it fallen?"

"On Derborence."

Then Thérèse said:

"And them?"

But she begins to laugh:

"The mountain!"

She laughed again:

"It can't fall like that, all the same, a mountain!"

Then all of a sudden:

"And Antoine, where is he?"

"Oh! Antoine, my husband! Antoine, my husband!"

Chapter 7

They calculated later that the collapse had been of more than a hundred and fifty million cubic feet; that makes a noise, a hundred and fifty million cubic feet, when it comes down. It made a great noise and had been heard through the whole valley, though it's one or two leagues wide and at least fifteen long. Only they didn't know right away what the noise signified.

Now they were going to know, because the news went, going very fast, though they had then neither telegraph, nor telephone, nor automobiles. It was soon spoken. They said: "The mountain has fallen."

The news had arrived almost as promptly at Premier as at Aïre, on account of little Dsozet. He was standing by the fountain as they washed the blood off his face; and, from his mouth, the news ran from house to house.

The sun moves always white and shining above you in the sky that's a little curved and falls to meet you like the vault of a cellar; beneath it the news travels on.

First it followed the path, then it left the path.

It ran straight down, leaping over the hedges.

A man who is repairing the bisse [traditional water distribution channels through the mountains] raises his head: "What is it?" "It is the mountain...." "What mountain?"

And then the lizards that are warming themselves in the sun, stretched out among the stones, go back in to hide themselves in their holes.


The news passes and goes still farther, proceeding towards the great valley that hollows out suddenly there, in two colors among the pines; the news tumbles down across the steep side and the vines as far as the Rhône, which strikes you suddenly full in the face with its white fire.

There, there is a small village, where a doctor mounts his horse about eleven o'clock, having fixed the satchel with his instruments behind him on his saddle.

And, before noon, the news arrives in the chief town (Sion), where the government is, creating a great tumult of voices in the cafés.

They are drinking there the fine muscat of the region:


A wine almost so brown that it's golden; a wine that is warm under the palate with a harsh taste, while its bouquet rises in the nose behind the mouth.

They said:

"It appears that not one of them survived!"

"And the animals?"

"Not one!"

They came to the doorsteps, raising their heads; but the place where they were here relative to the mountains made it so that they could see nothing. Nothing at all. Only, way up there, towards the west, a kind of little greyish cloud, transparent like muslin, stretched flat on the sky behind the crags.

Until about six o'clock in the evening, there had hardly been anyone up in the mountains except the inhabitants of Zamperon, at least those who were left, that is, very few, for they were now only five or six, of which one was a woman. They had put their animals to graze in the fields right round the chalets in order not to have to watch over them; and straightaway they had taken up, one a hammer, another a pickaxe, trying to free a jammed door or nail down the laths of the roofs again.

derb-anziendaz1.jpg (44103 bytes)It was then that the men of Anzeindaz had appeared; they had made a long detour over the heights to avoid having to pass near the landslide.

Part of the path from Anzeindaz over the Pas de Cheville down to Derborence (DCP, 2000).

They came. They didn't say anything at first. They came and they said nothing. They stared at the people of Zamperon, who didn't say anything either; then they shook their heads.

And they said:


The people of Zamperon said: "Yes," and they shook their heads.

"Ah!" said the men of Anzeindaz, "it is a great calamity. Was there anyone able to escape?"



"Only one! And the state he's in! They've just taken him down."

They understood one another only with difficulty, because they didn't speak entirely the same dialect; nevertheless the men of Anzeindaz continued:

"We came to see if you needed a hand. We could send you a work team."

But the people of Zamperon:

"Oh! for us, you can see, no thank you.... We will get out of this difficulty alone, we will...."

They pointed then to the hollow of Derborence: "And as for them, there...."

They let their hands fall again; they said:

"They don't need anybody."

And they sat for a moment all together on the end of a wall in the sun, where they began to drink the eau-de-vie that the men of Anzeindaz had brought with some clothing in a sack; meanwhile, the Germans from Sanetsch were descending also for the news. They were hanging one above another as on a rope ladder in the chimneys of the Porteur-de-Bois, where they were seen and then seen no more, where they were seen again, as the white cloud that floated still against the walls discovered them, or closed itself upon them again.

They arrived; and, them, they tried to make themselves understood by gestures, as they spoke only German: thus there were the men of three countries united for a moment, drinking the eau-de-vie together, because Derborence is the point where the frontiers of three countries meet: those of Anzeindaz coming from the west, those from Sanetsch from the northeast.

Sitting beside one another, they passed the cup, gazing before them at the other side of the stream, on the projection of the mountain; the forest of young pines had been torn up, and they saw that all the trees had been knocked down in the same direction, that is, in the direction away from the blast of wind, some torn out at the level of the ground, others broken in the middle, as when someone has tried to cut the wheat with a bad scythe in dry weather.

They said something each one in his own tongue.

They passed the cup, they gazed at the stream, they saw that the big stones that ornamented the bottom of its bed had by now become dry, leaving among them the puddles full of silence, and the puddles shone like eyeglasses. The great voice of the water was dead, which they tried instinctively to find again with their ears there where it should have been and in the air where it was no more, wondering at the new silence at the same time that they yielded to it.

For they fell silent too one after another, after which the men of Sanetsch, like those of Anzeindaz, turned towards their homes.

But Aïre was full of people. Immediately they had ascended from Premier where the parish church is, the vicar and many of the inhabitants.

In his turn, a little after noon, the doctor had arrived on his horse white with foam.

There had also been the broken arm: it was a young man of twenty years named Placide Fellay; he was sitting in a kitchen, while the doctor, having procured some small boards and some strips of cloth, set the fracture.

Two men were holding him by the shoulders and by the legs.

The dead man, him, one saw only that he was good and dead: the 23rd of June. People kept arriving; the doctor bent over the bed where they had laid Barthélemy to listen to his heart: there where there should have been the beatings of a heart, there was no longer anything but silence.

They brought a mirror, they held it before Barthélemy's mouth; the surface of the mirror remained as brilliant as it had been (because they had rubbed it on a knee beforehand).

The doctor stood up, he shook his head. And:


A long wail broke out three times, then another three times, and it's heard as far as the street, where they stop:

"It's Barthélemy's wife."

Meanwhile the justice had just arrived, while the doctor, with two or three men and a mule loaded with provisions, prepared to set out for Derborence.

And then they questioned Biollaz, but he said:

"You will see...."

Biollaz and Loutre who had been with him, and Biollaz:

"The rocks, the rocks that are bigger than...."

He pointed to the houses of the village:

"Two or three times bigger than our buildings and they've blocked up the stream... The Lizerne... They have covered up all the pastures.... What else do you want me to say?..."

Someone said:

"And Barthélemy?"

"Oh! him," said Biollaz, "his chalet was a little to the side and a little above the others.... What's more, he had been caught under it, him too, you see. Even so it would have been better for him, poor man, if he had been killed with the first blow...."

They said to him:

"That makes how many?"

He said:

"That makes nineteen... fifteen from Aïre and four from Premier...."

"And how many cows?"

"Lord," he said, "at least a hundred and fifty.... And then the goats...."

But, as the mule was ready, the men of the expedition set off without delaying any longer.

And it's in this house, in that one. It is here, and here again, and there, and still farther away. Over there, someone laughs. People say that it's the wife of the dead man who laughs, because she has gone mad.

It happens now all the time, the people unknown to you in front of your house; they stop, they look, they shake their heads.

Old Jean Carrupt, who doesn't understand very well what has happened, continues his walk. From time to time, he stops too and growls something.

In ten or twelve houses, the calamity, here and here again and over there, while people stop and look, and they hear voices, cries, wailings, nothing more; they hear laughing and crying at the same time.

The landslide of Derborence, a 23rd of June--only ten days after they had gone up there.

"Ah!" said someone, "if they had only waited a little...."

"What do you want? It was the time. They went up as usual."

"Me," she said, "I don't believe it, your stories."

They had made Thérèse lie down; her mother and her aunt were near her.

Every few minutes, someone knocked on the door.

"Oh!" said Catherine to whomever was knocking, "oh! don't come in, please, don't come in... It's better to leave her in peace."

And the people who pass in front of the house:

"There also.... Yes, there were two.... A brother and a husband... the brother of the mother, the husband of the daughter...."

"Antoine Pont."

"And Séraphin Carrupt as well."

Thus the dead were named by their names and one by one they were counted; while you saw at the top of the stairs, when you opened the door, the reflection of a big fire that burned on the hearth of the kitchen.

It seemed that she was expecting a child.

You saw that the water boiled in the cooking pot suspended from the hook; and, she, in her bed:

"Come now, how can it fall like that, a mountain?... You make me laugh...."

She was upset. As they thought that she was becoming feverish, they'd put a compress of cool water on her forehead. "If the mountains fall just like that, what are we going to do? We're not short of mountains here...."

She said:

"Take away this compress."

Then Philomène, swallowing back her tears:

"Oh! please, Thérèse, please!"

And Thérèse:

"Leave me in peace. I'll be all right...."

"Oh! it's not only for you that we are distressed."

"For whom?"

She doesn't move, she ponders.

Suddenly she asks:

"What is that noise?"

"It's the people."

She said:

"What people?"

"The people who've come for news."

"Oh! then," she said, "it's true.... It's true, since there are all those people.... The mountain.... Oh!" she said to her mother, "and you, do you believe that he's dead?"

"They don't know yet. We must wait. They don't know anything; they've just gone to see."


"The doctor and the justice."

"Ah!" she said, "we must wait? We must wait until when?"

"Until tomorrow or the day after. I promise we'll tell you everything."

"Oh!" she said, "it's not worth it."

She said:

"Why are they troubling themselves?"

She says:

"And me, can't I go up with them?"

She sat up in bed, while the two women rushed over, each taking her by a shoulder and forcing her to lie back down.

"And what could you do up there, my poor daughter? One can only wait, you see. Do like us. For what could we do, I ask you, ah! yes, what could we do, we women, my poor daughter?"

Among the tears that are flowing down her cheeks:

"And you must think also of him."


"Him, the little one who's going to come."

"All right."

She made no more resistance, she let herself be pushed back, she is once again completely tranquil on her pillow. She crossed her hands on the bedcover. The mountains will soon become pink. The mountains fall upon us from above. They are beautiful to see, but they are evil.

She said:

"And if I have a baby? If I have Antoine's little baby? Him, I know very well that he's not coming back. But then, the little baby, he will be an orphan, he will be an orphan before he's even born?... Ah!" she said, "it would have made him happy nevertheless, Antoine. I would have told him the secret in his ear.... Well! I will tell him nothing. He will never know, never. It's funny."

Suddenly she cried out:

"Well! I don't want it... I don't want it. A baby who won't have a father, is that still a baby? Oh! take it away from me," she said, "take it away from me, take it away from me!..."

 Part II

Chapter 1

He sticks out his head....

It’s two months, or nearly so, after the landslide; they had had plenty of time to calculate it, having rolled out for this purpose their tape of gummed cloth, with the measurements indicated by black arrows, stretching it flat against the surface of the rocks, first lengthwise, then across. Then one of the men had climbed to the top of one of the blocks of rock that seemed the highest, trying thus to ascertain the thickness of the mass, one of the employees of the surveyor; for they too had ascended to Derborence, following the doctors, the representatives of the justice, the curious.

A hundred and fifty million cubic feet.

They had calculated the consequences of the fall, so as to modify the plans of the commune and replace on the pages of the register what had been inscribed as pasturage and fertile land with the notation: unusable land.

It’s a rather long job, but the men who had undertaken it had plenty of time to do it well. Nothing came to disturb them in their work, for the curious became every day fewer; and nature, she left them alone, having returned to her repose, having returned to her immobility, having descended again into indifference. In the end the men from the city had come, had ascended up onto the glacier, and they had walked over its whole length, in order to be certain that no new crevasse had shown up, behind the point of rupture, more or less future risks, if not the imminence of a new danger. But everything had seemed to be properly in its place on the beautiful linen sheet, smooth and white, unbroken, that covered again the flat fields of ice that lay behind the crest.

The clouds of dust having now lifted little by little above the walls, the bottoms of Derborence had become visible again from everywhere about. The opacity of the air had given place at last to a perfect clarity. All those who had pushed up that far had been able to verify, just by raising their heads, at the extreme frontier of the heavens, the point from which the landslide had broken free. It was a place where formerly the wall had made a projection and overhung under its burden of ice, all bristling with seracs: one saw that this which had stood out was now a hollow, that this which had been convex had become concave. The projection of rock had been replaced by a vast couloir, very steep, the contents of which had been turned out in one stroke on the pasturage, making it cease to be a pasturage, on those who lived there, who had ceased to live there, on those who had life and who had been deprived of life. Now there was nothing anywhere but the immobility and the tranquility of death, the only thing that still made any movement being up there in the couloir a sort of muddy mass, a kind of river of sand, earth, and water, that continued to descend; but, well contained in its banks and channelled by them, it came to end by spreading out noiselessly on the cone of debris at the bottom of the descent. It is silent, it hardly moves, a progress so imperceptible that you must watch for a long time to see that it’s progressing.

They had taken up a collection in the country, which had permitted them to indemnify in part those who had right by the loss of their livestock. To replace what they had lost at Derborence, moreover, they’d assigned them some new parts of the commune’s pasturage elsewhere.

For the rest, there was only a little correction to make on the map, only an annotation to enter on the pages of the survey. It will be necessary also to examine if it won’t possibly be a good occasion to draw the map anew, because it is presently colored in green.

And green signifies grass, and grass signifies life.

Nothing more up there but old Plan with his flock of sheep, and the flock wandered in the ravines like the shadow of a cloud.

It’s obliged to keep moving all the time. Nothing grows, in fact, in these solitudes, but a little thin grass through the crannies in the rocks, as in a paved court between the paving stones; the flock had to beg from blade of grass to blade of grass. So it advances, and it grazes as it advances. From morning to evening it is moving. It’s square, it’s pointed, it’s in the form of a triangle, in the form of a rectangle, and, sometimes on the slopes, sometimes in the bottom of the combe, it resembles the shadow of a cloud that the wind is continually modifying above you. It advances, it is bent round in passing over a knob, it is bent round in the other direction in plunging down into a hollow. It becomes convex, it becomes concave; it makes the sound of rain with its hooves. It makes with its teeth a sound as when the waves, in gentle weather, return in little blows to knock the pebbles upon the beach.

He stood planted in the earth along the hillside like an old larch tree touched by winter.

Planted there, bolt upright, immobile in his overcoat, nodding up there in his overcoat, his beard white under his old hat with its frayed brim:

"D... D... I...."

He laughed.

"Nobody left.... Nobody left? Ah! you think so...."

He said:

"The surveyors have gone, they have done well.... But that is not a reason, just because they have gone...."

He resumed:

"D... I... DIA... B...."

At that moment, a stone, detaching itself above from the flow of mud, came down to batter itself on the rocks, making a noise like a laugh.

"I see," he said, "you understand me, you do."

Then the great wall begins everywhere to laugh because of the echoes sent right and left, which soon made only a single clamor; the whole mountain bursts out laughing, him, he answers the mountain:

"I see very well, I don’t need to go on, you know your name...."

It falls silent little by little. It becomes little by little more quiet, he allows it to quieten down:

"You, you know what happens, you are up on things.... Me, I know; and you, you know," he said to the mountain. "You, you do things by just letting them happen. But he who puts you up to it, you know him well, no? D... I... A... B... And you hear them as I do, at night, the poor ones, those he holds prisoners there. At night, when I’m in my stone hut and you, you are up there: that’s what they say, no? Now they lament and they despair, having found no rest. Having a bodily form, but nothing within, and they are empty shells; only they make noises at night, and one sees them, isn’t that true?..."

The mountain begins to laugh, still again.

Then also, that head stuck out; but one couldn’t see it because of the projecting rocks that surrounded it, hiding it completely.

Chapter 2

He sticks out his head.

It was nearly two months after the landslide.

It would have been necessary, in order to see him, to have the eye and the wings of the eagle that turns in circles in the heights of the air, from which he directs his piercing and meticulous gaze upon us, distinguishing immediately that which lives from that which does not, that which moves from that which does not, that which is animated from that which is not; being above things with its little grey eye for which distance is nothing, but the least movement, the least change in the disposition of objects or beings, as when the hare gambols about, as when the baby marmot leaves its hole....

Him, nobody saw him, because he was too little, too lost in the middle of this great desert of rocks.

Only the eagle would have seen him, because his head moved, and the rocks all about it did not move. When the eagle turns slowly in a circle on his great motionless wings, only inclining them more or less according to the direction of the wind and the pressure of the air, as barks do with their sails; then it turns and turns again, it goes, it comes back, dominating from on high the immense hollow where the blocks of stone lie now like scattered gravel.

That’s where this head showed itself. There, in the full sun which, more than two hours earlier, had risen above the arête; in a little stain of shadow like a drop of ink fallen on a grey blotter.

You could have seen it from far above, but it is only from far above that you could have seen it, when he stuck out his head and his head was at first all that showed.

You would have to be able to say to the eagle: "Lower your flight a little, come down in order to see better. Leave these great heights where you now remain, quickly, and fall."

But then, suspending its fall, it would hesitate, for man is not its prey, and it is afraid of man. Even a poor man who sticks out from beneath the ground, a poor man who appeared in the middle of an empty space that the blocks leave between them in their hazardous superposition--stuck out of the shadow, stuck out of the depths, stuck out of the darkness; who strives towards the light.

He makes a brighter patch in the semi-obscurity that surrounds him; he is white of skin with white shoulders; he sticks out his head, he raises his head.

But he can see nothing from where he is.

Nothing but the blue of the sky, when he looks above him; a sky smooth and flat, cut in a circle, stretched taut, like the paper cover on a pot of jam.

He must raise himself a little more on his hands and knees on the inside of the fault, which runs wider from bottom to top; you can’t see him completely, because he’s in the shadow; then his head comes to the edge of the sunlight.

The sun strikes him on the head.

He stops again.

You can see that he has long hair, it falls to the nape of his neck.

You can see his two hands, first he spreads them before his eyes, throwing them from one to the other side of his head, over his ears, where they stick like wet linen.

His eyelids fluttering, he closes his eyes, he reopens them, he recloses them.

He sits with his head in the sun to which he is no longer accustomed, and he must reaccustom himself to it; for it’s beautiful, but it does harm, and it is good, but it burns you.

It’s like when you give little infants too much wine; the bloods sings to him in his ears; he doesn’t know anymore if the buzzing is inside or outside, having lost the habit of hearing, lost the habit of seeing, lost the good habit of telling colors, lost his taste, lost the sense of smell, lost the faculty of recognizing shapes and judging distances.

He closes his eyes, he reopens his eyes; he puts his fingers in his ears, he shakes his head like a dog coming out of the water. Then, little by little, the sweetness of life began all the same to make itself felt again all about him, speaking to him very softly with its sun, its colors, all its good things, and it was like he had warm clothing all over his body.

He breathes deeply as if taking a drink.

The air enters, it has a taste and an aroma, it descends through his body, it flows to his stomach, it circulates in his belly, restores his strength; then he raises himself again a little between two big blocks of stone half-covered with debris until he has reached the edges, from which the view extends out on all sides.

There, he stretched out on a slab of rock.

His body entirely surrounded by the sun now, entirely under its influence: ah! he has enough room, finally, he has even more room than he needs.

He stretches out his legs and yawns. He raises his arms above his head; he extends them out on each side of his body. He touches nothing. He touches only the air that is soft, that is elastic, that gives way immediately, then comes back.

Ah! that’s good; he says to himself: "Ah! it’s good!"; he yawns. He scratches his head, his neck, his back, his thighs; he is seen, he is seen entirely, he has the color of turnips; you can see that he has now only the remnants of shoes from which his toes are sticking out. One of the legs of his trousers stops at the knee; the other is split up the side. He feels good, he yawns yet again, he stretches out on his other elbow. He has a kind of jacket torn in the back up to his shoulders; and, wide open in the front, it exposes his chest, which is hollow, and he has a tough beard on his chin.

He is entirely, from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head, of one and the same color, which is changing rapidly now, becoming more and more clear: the leather, the material, the cloth, his own skin, his own hair, all of it has been repainted in a kind of grey becoming white.

And you see that he has found in his pocket an old crust of black bread that he must have slipped there on purpose; then, holding the crust in two hands before him, he makes a noise with his teeth that you can hear.

The flies become more and more numerous; the butterflies also, the little white butterflies, and some others delicately grey and blue, rising and descending, softly balancing in the air like a piece of torn paper. He eats greedily, swallowing with his saliva, in a little black cloud of flies that turns about him.

Now, he looks, he sees. Objects place themselves for him one before another; objects once again have distances between them. The space organizes itself round him in height and depth. The sun aids him. The sun wanted to hinder him, it did not succeed. Man forces the sun to aid him; if you don’t want to, you see, I force you; and that, it’s a stone, that is a stone. He sees the shattered rocks, the edges of which are sparkling in the light: blue with white veins, violet like the periwinkle, brown like the chestnut, other colors like clover blossoms or like soot; ah! stones, as many as one wants, as he sees, and, superposed or juxtaposed, they seem unreal; but there is the sun above, and the sun is something that exists.

It exists; me, I exist, he says to himself; but then where am I?

He sees that he’s in the middle of a great desert of rocks; he searches as hard as he can to put it in order in his head.

And from the other side of a long night (but have I stayed in the same place or have I changed my abode, moving thus under the ground, and perhaps I’ve passed under the whole mountain, for how long has it been?), from the other side of a long night, he finds again the same sun, but he sees that when the same sun shone then, it was a beautiful field of green grass, all a rich pasture where the cows were scattered about, where the men carried the manure, spreading it over the fields. Everything was alive, the bells tinkled on the necks of the animals, the men called back and forth between them--silence! He looks: no more men, no more animals, no more grass, no more chalets; he sees the rocks and then more rocks, and then more rocks. He sees everywhere an enormous field of rocks that descends in a gentle slope to the other mountains, those that stand on the south side, and he recognizes them, while something shines at their feet and at first he doesn’t recognize what it is; it’s water, it is two little lakes.

They weren’t there before; where am I? He scratches his head again.

With each movement he makes, the flies that cover him fly off with a noise like a plucked violin cord--he’s at Derborence all the same: that’s what he tells himself. I’m there, I can see very well that I’m there. For the bottoms are changed, but the high places that rise up all about are not changed. Down here everything is different, up there everything remains the same. He names the summits one by one, for the names also come back to his memory: Cheville up there, and here is the point of Peigne, down there is the gorge, there is Zamperon, there on the left is the Porteur-de-Bois; then, turning a little, he twists his head up behind--then he begins to laugh.

Because now he understands.

He turns all the way about towards the north: it is something like fifteen hundred meters above you, under Saint-Martin; there’s the edge of the glacier; he sees the place where it has broken off, and the break shines still fresh.

He understands, he says to himself: "I see."

He shakes his head: "There it is, I understand, the mountain has fallen."

It has fallen on us from above, I remember the noise there was and the roof knocked flat on one of its sides against the ground.

You see very well the route it has followed, my God! Ah! it’s come down nicely, and from high up; you can see the route from where it has come, straight down and exactly upon us, as if it had aimed right at us; and not a house, of course--casting his eyes then over the immensity of debris, because he himself is almost in the middle--not a trace of grass, not a trace of animals either, nor any trace of men.

He says to himself: "Where are they?" He says to himself: "They must have escaped."

He says to himself: "Me, I was caught."

He says to himself: "But there, I am uncaught, and it took some time, but I am uncaught all the same."

Then he is happy, he sees only one thing: that he is alive. He has eyes that serve him to see, a mouth that breathes, a body (and he touches it) to go as he wants, where he wants, as much as he wants.

He sees that he has a voice also that comes back to him, because the words he is thinking now are forming themselves on his tongue; a voice that goes faster than he does and which runs ahead of him to announce him as a dog would.

He elaborates in his throat a sound that he pushes out and which is still harsh and inarticulate; but he hears, he hears himself; he proves to himself that he exists, pushing out thus a first cry, which is sent back to him by the echo:


Someone answers: "Oh!"

And then, he said:

"It’s me."

"It’s you?"

"Yes, it’s me, Antoine Pont."

He says his name, he repeats it, he said:

"The mountain has come down."

He says:

"The mountain has come down on me, do you understand, but I have come out of the mountain."

He laughs aloud. Something laughs.

He says:

"Ah! it amuses you?... It amuses me, too. Where are you?"

He stands up.

It was now a little before ten o’clock, for the sun was already rather high in the sky. It shows itself only rather late here, however, above the arête to the east, having first to make a long voyage behind it and to approach by patient steps, from slope to slope, to the summit.

The sun shone white and round a good distance above the comb of rocks that shut off the view to the eastern side; it had become hot and even burning.

Antoine looks again to the right and left: then turning himself towards the opening of the gorge, he heads in that direction over the blocks of stone.

They were more or less big and very unequally distributed, often being found wedged between two other blocks already in place. Some of them stood completely upright, dominating the herd of other rocks like a herdsman his sheep. There were some that were angular and pointed; there were some that were round, some that were slender, all mixed with gravel and sand; some of them made in places a sort of continuous plank, while others left holes or large crevices between them.

He set off on his route cautiously, but he laughed with pleasure. Sometimes he let himself slide on his rear end, sometimes, on account of his torn shoes, he progressed on foot only after having chosen carefully the place he was going to step.

It wasn’t very far to the bottom of the landslide and to the level of one of the little lakes that had been formed behind the dam; the water now escaped at the end, making a cascade, then disappeared immediately between the blocks of stone.

He looks at the water, he wonders at it, because it makes a hole where in reflection the mountain returned carrying on its summit, that is to say in its depths, a scrap of blue sky like a bit of cloth left behind on washing day.

He laughs, he laughs aloud; he says: "And then what? Ah!" he says to himself, "there is no one.... Hola! Hohé!"

He gives the cry of the mountains between his hands, held as a megaphone about his mouth: "Hohé!..." but there was only a dull noise that rose vaguely, far behind him, in the rocks.

"Hey," he said, "what? Are you so far away now!... Hey! listen, it’s me.... Do you hear me? Antoine Pont! Hohé! Antoine...."


He began to laugh:

"They’re not waiting for me anymore."

He cries out again in a loud voice:

"Yes, of course, it’s me.... The mountain came down on me, but I got myself out all the same. Don’t you believe me?"


"Good," he cries; "all right then! I’m coming."

Then he sets off among the largest of the blocks, those that have rolled the farthest; the grass continues to grow up in the gaps between them. It grows there beautifully green, serving as a paving for these alleys. For they really are alleys. They’re tortuous, they intersect; some of them end in an impasse, others are half-obstructed in the middle; you quickly lose your orientation in the diversity and confusion of passages.

It took time to find his way there, but his good humour served him well.

He appears suddenly at the place where the path began again, the impression of the mules’ shoes and the marks of hobnailed boots remained printed in the mud; the old path of the men, ah! he recognized it.

It’s at the bank of the torrent, which has found its old bed.

Ah! he knows where he is now. The same water, the same quantity of water, its same color, the same skipping among the same rocks.

He sees the old path, the path of former times marked out before him; he has only to follow it. There it is! And nothing impedes his progress anymore, as the first barberry bushes and the first pine trees appear, ornamenting there the edge of the path, and here, to the right and left, the steep sides of the mountain. He’s there! He begins to sing, he raises his arms, he speaks aloud all by himself. In less than a quarter of an hour he will be at Zamperon.

A little girl who was grazing a white goat near the path turned round, let go of its cord, then ran away crying out.

He laughed louder than ever.

"What’s the matter with her?... Hey! Little one...."

She disappeared round a turn of the path.

The goat too ran off, bounding up from tier to tier of the slope, trailing its cord behind it.

"You too!... Eh! what’s wrong with you? Eh! the little thing," he said.

But meanwhile, round the bend, three or four chalets appeared; in one of them the door is open and from the chimney, with its cover raised, rises in the air above it a fine plume of white smoke like the tassel on a reed.

Someone is making a fire with wet wood.

A woman comes to the doorstep; the cries of the little girl begin again to be heard. The woman turns towards him.

She disappears immediately into the interior of the house.

There, she reappears already, holding in her arms the little one whose head she has covered with a corner of her apron; she is followed by a boy of fourteen or fifteen years. And the boy stops a moment motionless before the door, while the woman runs off; then he too runs off.

But, him, he said:

"Good morning to all who are here, and good morning to all who are not here."

He entered into the great groundfloor chamber where it is dark, and the fire on the hearth is dark because it has been covered.

"This is the Donneloye’s house here?" he said.... "Ah!" he said, "is there no one here?"

There is no one, in fact. But what is there for him to do? He sees that there is something good to eat hanging from a peg in the ceiling. There is butter and fresh bread on a shelf. He breaks the loaf over his knee, he scoops up the butter with his finger. There is milk in a pot. So what if they’ve run away? He unhooks the piece of viande séchée [dried meat] which is narrow and long, not much thicker than a sausage and with a hole in the end through which a string has been passed; he bites into it. He drinks, he eats; he eats and he drinks pell-mell. He makes a great noise with his jaws without seeing anything, nor hearing anything, closed off to everything except to the good taste and to the warmth that descends through his whole body. He makes a noise with his mouth, he makes a noise with his stomach: after so many days and days where he has been with dry bread and water! How many days was it? he wonders. Like being in prison, only much worse, because in prison there’s light to see by, or nearly enough....

He doesn’t move. He is content. He remains sitting on the bench, he remains leaning on the table. Ah! good. Then he says to himself: "And now then...." He has forgotten where he is; he’s forgotten where he’s coming from.

Ah! he says, well, it’s the mountain. The mountain? Yes, you remember. Ah! yes, then you must go. Ah! he says: "It’s true, the mountain has fallen."

Suddenly he was afraid because it is still very near.

If it should fall on you again, if it should begin again to fall.

"There’s no one here?... Well then, thank you."

The fire smokes white behind him on the hearth, having been covered over with wet pine needles.

Thank you.

His head is spinning. He sees the path before him. He sees from whence he has come, and it’s to the right. So I must take the left.

And the birds begin to be numerous and become more and more so, while there seem to be two torrents, one which flows below him, the other of birds above his head.

There are woodpeckers, there are jays, there are woodpigeons, there are little hedge-birds, more and more numerous, more and more clamorous: "Yes," he said, "it’s me; but you shut up!"

Then as his fatigue came over him, he let himself fall to the side of the slope on the moss.

Chapter 3

That evening Thérèse had ascended as far as a little garden her mother owned a little above the village, not far from the path that leads to Derborence.

For despite everything she had continued to live, and the little one also lived inside her. She continued to live; she was up, she went, she came, she had even begun to work again.

Now there are eight widows and thirty-five orphans in the village, but they continue to live, them too; that’s the way it is. The tree that you chop in the middle grows over the scar. The cherry tree that is wounded produces a white gum to cover over the wound.

She was only a little drawn and thin, and, dressed all in black, a little pale under her tan.

She bent down, she stood up again; when she leant forward, she felt her baby press up against her chest. "My God!" she thought, "luckily he is there, him, and he, at least, hasn’t left me; him, he has stayed faithful to me."

The infant kept her company, and she consoled herself with him in her solitude; but suddenly the thought came to her that he was not going to have a father. "What’s going to become of us?"

She tired quickly; a few strokes with the hoe, though she was strong, sufficed to put her out of breath. It will be only me to bring him up, me who am alone, me who am a woman....

Night began to fall. You could see that it was going to come earlier than usual, because the weather was stormy.

Fatigue had obliged Thérèse to stand up, and, her hands on the shaft of her hoe, she saw across from her, above the great mountains, that the sky was becoming black, just where the sun had gone down a moment before, extinguishing its fine colors, as when you thrust a flaming torch into the sand.

Then a man passes below her on the path, and a woman passes, hurrying to get home; then there is no one, while the air darkens more and more about Thérèse, as when you dissolve some dyes in water.

The bushes across the slope seemed to melt down like butter on the fire.

It was time to return, her too, but she hadn’t the spirit. She hadn’t enough to make up her mind about anything, not even enough to move, remaining there, half-leaning over, without a movement, under the black sky. And it was then that she thought she saw something, something pale that had moved, a little in front of her, behind the bushes.

Only, in her condition, it often happens that you think you see things that are only in your head. There is a little disorder in your ideas. You have longings, you have a taste for things that is false, you can’t always distinguish anymore between what is real and what you invent for yourself.

She looks again, she looks more closely.

It was something white that moved again behind the bushes, about fifty meters in front of her.

Who knows where it had come from? It seemed suspended in the air, because the branches were hiding the lower part. She tried to reason with herself; she said: "What is it?" She said: "It’s one of the neighbors"; but the neighbors wear hobnailed boots that make noise; the shape over there was perfectly silent. It slips sideways, that’s all; it moves, then is motionless. It was like the top of one of those scarecrows made of four branches and an old shirt that they put in the garden to scare away the sparrows. Only this white thing continued to stir, making from time to time a movement upward. And there, little by little wonder gives place in Thérèse to disquiet and disquiet to fear, because at the same time that she watched, it seemed to sense that she was watching; that was the feeling she had, and it grew stronger and stronger; she let go of the handle of her hoe, which fell among the clods. She didn’t call out, having no more voice in her mouth. Her heart made a sound like someone knocking on a door with his finger, and the door doesn’t open, so he knocks still louder. And she stays like that until the moment when a rasping voice came, but was it only one voice?

"Hey!... Hey!..."

A kind of cough, from which at last something like words came out; and it seemed to her that someone was saying: "Is it you, Thérèse?" But already she could hear nothing more, because she had taken off running.

Lightning begins to flash. She was illuminated, she runs. She runs still, she is illuminated. The path is like a white thread in grass which becomes very green; then there is no more grass, no more path.

She continues to run; someone was saying to her:

"My God, what’s the matter?"

She sees that she has mounted the stairs; suddenly the fire glows in front of her on the kitchen hearth.

"What is it now, Thérèse?"

She dropped onto the bench without answering, holding her hands together between her clasped knees.

You can hear from far off the rolling of thunder.

"And your basket, and your hoe?"

The lightning continued; there was a bright window across from her in the kitchen wall, then it was gone.

A blazing white window that appears, disappears, appears again; she, she is illuminated, then is not, then is once again.


You can see her, she is holding her head forward, then you see her no more.

"Oh! he’ll get wet," she said all of a sudden.

She said:

"If it’s him...."

She said:

"It is him and it’s not him... Oh!" she said, "they can’t really get wet.... The rain passes through them, the poor things, they don’t feel the rain...."

Then you can see Philomène raise her arms and let them fall, for she is illuminated, she too.

The whole kitchen is illuminated, the whole kitchen is in the dark; the fire has time to become red before it disappears again.

"What are you talking about?"

"Oh! yes," says she, "you know very well...."

She didn’t seem to notice the storm, neither even to hear it, though it had burst open now in a great downpour that beat upon the roof like dancers’ feet on the boards of a dance floor.

"Yes, that’s what they say...."

Because she raised her voice as the rain redoubled its force:


"The people of Zamperon, what they say of Plan, the shepherd...."

Philomène shrugs her shoulders.

"Oh! he knows things, Plan," said Thérèse, "and then, he is very old. Well, he says that he hears them at night. Because they are alive and they are not alive; they are on the earth and they are not of the earth."

"Come now," says Philomène, "and all the masses we have had said.... One every Sunday for your poor husband and for Seraphin...."

"Oh!" said Thérèse, "maybe that’s not enough, because they haven’t been buried.... Maybe they must make their purgatory, in the same place where they died, since they died without sacraments. So they come here to complain to us, to complain to me...."

She was speaking calmly; the storm was moving away already, having passed behind the mountain.

The great rain had ceased, giving way to a fine little rain; the fire had become red again, the lamp once again began to give light:

"They come out because they need us.... Maybe they see us and recognize us, though they themselves are only a little air.... Maybe there is one who misses me...."

"What are you saying?"

"Oh!" says she, "I don’t know, only I was afraid because he doesn’t weigh anything anymore."

The lightning had become less frequent, it had changed color. It’s going away, does everything go away? And the storm passes, but everything passes. He had a body and he has one no more.

"Listen," says Philomène, "suppose I went to find Maurice Nendaz?"

You could see that she was beginning, she too, to be afraid.

"We are only two women here," she says. "He will give us his advice."

She blows her nose. She goes to find her cape and covers her head and shoulders.

Thérèse hasn’t said anything.

And Philomène goes out; she, she remains leaning, her arms on her knees. You can hear the sound of the little rain that comes fine and soft on the roof like many birds’ feet.

You hear nothing more. You hear the sound of a walking-stick. You hear that someone is mounting the stairs with an uneven step.

She didn’t move.

Then a man’s voice said to her:

"Come now, Thérèse...."

"Oh!" she said, her head between her hands, shaking her head slowly, "nonetheless I saw...."

"What did you see?"


Maurice Nendaz said:

"Where was that?"

"I was in the garden, it was white, it didn’t weigh anything. You know very well what they say, you know very well what Plan says. What do you think, Maurice Nendaz? What, suppose they do come back after all! And they don’t touch the ground, because they have no more weight. They make no sound at all, it is like smoke, it’s like a little cloud that moves about as it wants...."

"Listen," says Maurice Nendaz, "I’ll have to go and see. You say it was...."

"Yes," says she, "just near the path...."

"Listen," says Maurice Nendaz, "you mustn’t torment yourself.... It may just be your condition, and that’s all. All you have to do is shut up the house well.... And me, listen, well, I’m going to go and see. And if I see something, well, I’ll come back and tell you... if I see nothing, I won’t return."

He said:

"All right?"

"Oh! of course," said Philomène. "That way, we will be calm...."

She, she hadn’t answered, she hadn’t changed position.

You could hear the sound of the walking-stick as it went away into the night....

Chapter 4

He awakened toward the end of the afternoon. He had slept five hours at a stretch.

He doesn’t know where he is anymore. It’s Antoine.

He looks about him, he sees that evening is coming on, but why he is there, all alone, and why he’s in the bottom of the gorge, he can’t recall anymore.

He was sitting in the moss; he began to feel cold, because the sun had left him in its course over the mountains, which were now between himself and the sun; he touches himself again over his whole body, applying his hands to his legs, to his chest, wondering: "Who is it?" and then he says to himself: "It’s me."

He’s happy. He stands up.

He doesn’t know very well anymore where he’s going; neither does he know very well where he’s coming from, on account of a great disorder in his head; but the birds have come back, and they are coming in still greater numbers, showing him the right direction.

Besides, there is the stream that you can see when you lean over.

Antoine goes along where the stream flows, along where the birds tell him to go, which are growing in numbers ceaselessly. And no longer only the great sad birds of the high mountains that soar solitary above the precipices, like the eagle; no longer only the kite that watches from on high for its prey cowering among the rocks; no longer only the choucas that one sees turning and fluttering, black with yellow beaks, around a fissure where they have their nests in the sides of the walls.

Smaller birds, less wild, the birds you see when you descend; when you leave the rocks for the pastures, the pastures for the forest: the scolding jays, the pigeons that coo softly, and then all the hedge birds, green, grey, brown, spotted with yellow, red, blue; those that have a collar; those that have a little colored feather at the tail, in addition to the black and white magpies; and they rose in ever greater numbers before him, showing him the path.

Antoine was delighted to see them and they were delighted to see him, though timorously, giving out little startled cries, the blackbird, or interrupting the song they had begun; and him: "Stop! wait for me, don’t run off! Where are you going?", saluting them with a laugh, because it’s lower ground that they are announcing, the good warmth, the bread and wine in abundance, a house, a real bed: "Hello!... Hey! stop there. Don’t be afraid, it’s me...."

He sweeps aside his hair that prevents him from seeing; the memory partly comes back to him all of a sudden. "Ah! it’s true, ah! it’s me." He repeated it: "The mountain has fallen, but I’ve saved myself all the same."

Then he sets off running, but he must soon stop again, because the shreds of the shoes he had on had hardened again under the effect of the dryness, and injure him; he sits down, he sees that he has bloody feet; they are grey like the earth with brown stains. He pulls off what’s left of his shoes and throws them into the gorge.

In this place the gorge is vertical to a height of at least two hundred meters; the path, cut into the rock, is suspended on one of its sides.

Now he can walk more easily, but he must be careful on account of the pointed and sharp stones; the birds continue to fly off before him, because the bushes are beginning again, more and more numerous, as he descends.

"And then it’s true, I have a wife."

He says to himself: "Only is she waiting for me?..."

He shook his head as he walked.

"And the others?" he said.

He walked along shaking his head.

"How long has it been since....?"

That he doesn’t know, nor the other things either. He sees that he doesn’t know anything. He sees only that he is a man named Antoine Pont, who had been captive under the landslide, who has got out of it; then....

Then what?

Then he descends.

He reasons to himself. He descends where? He descends home. Home, that is to say, in a house, and in this house there is a wife.

In the house where I’m going, there is my wife. What’s her name?

He sees that he must learn it again and learn the entire world again, the sky, the trees, the birds: "But, wait," says he, "here’s one I recognize.... It’s easy, it moves its tail. Little one!"

Seeing a wagtail in somber dress at the end of a branch, and which in fact moves its tail in little shakes; but the birds are beginning to go to bed, because the night is coming on and the gorge opens out still more onto the sky, which is becoming black.

Then he continues on his way as fast as he can: "Ah! it’s you," he said to the trees, "ah! you’re coming. Ah! there you are," he said to the birds and to the trees; "and, me, it’s me. Me, it’s Antoine. The mountain fell down on me."

And thus he progresses still to the place where the path leaves the gorge, discovering to your eyes the great valley where the Rhône is.

He sees the Rhône, he says: "The mountain has fallen."

To whom is he speaking? To the Rhône. For the Rhône is there and he sees it. It was still light enough for one to see it marked in white and twisting tortuously like a serpent among the rocks, under the mountains that are burdened with clouds. You could still see well enough for him to have recognized it; he said: "That’s it, so now I take a left."

High up on the slope, he turned parallel to the river’s course, heading upstream.

It was still light enough for him to distinguish the shapes of the trees, the apple trees that are low and round, the pear trees that are pointed, the apple trees like balls, the pear trees longer and higher... then it is to the left, it’s no longer very far; while casting his looks over the slope he perceives the village, with its low roofs, stony, packed together, which make in a hollow of the slope a place that looks like a quarry (for quarrying is the work of hollowing the earth out deeply in order to put above that which was below).

He runs, he stops; he leaves the path.

It feels strong and warm, it feels like the earth has been cured under the sun, the dry grass, the thyme and the mint, because he walks on it, and it’s soft under his feet; the warm stone (on this side where he is standing), the grain about to ripen, the promise of grapes.

He left the path, he made his way across the bushes and the pines; it was then that he saw her or thought he saw her, all in black before him, a woman. And this is the garden, isn’t it? Of course! our garden. She bends down, she stands up again, she is motionless.

Is it her or not? But yes, it’s her.

He wanted to call out, but he is astonished at the sound his voice makes, so harsh, difficult to push out, and there are like prickles in it that scratch in his throat in passing, so that the words he wanted to pronounce remain unsaid.

He says:

"Hey! Hey!"

That’s all.

He cries:

"Hey! Wife."

Suddenly there is nothing more to be seen.

"I saw nothing," said Maurice Nendaz, "nothing at all."

It was the next morning.

"Oh!" he said, "I came last night already, because the poor woman claimed that she had seen it."

He had risen early.

He was with Rebord, and with his walking-stick. He had been to search out Rebord. Rebord had descended his wooden stairs.

A fine rain had been falling all night and had only just ceased, the sky being at this hour, above you, like a somber grey stone slab solidly fixed halfway up the mountains.

They raised their heads, the two men, in vain. Nendaz said: "We must go up still a little farther; she swears it was on the other side of the garden that it appeared."

"Oh!" says Rebord, "with the rain we had last night!"

He didn’t seem to have much desire to push on farther; he was a stout man.

Nendaz was small and thin, Nendaz was leaning over his stick.

And Rebord said: "It’s only a silly tale."

And Nendaz said: "Of course, but you understand, she is a woman. I promised her that I would go and see."

Meanwhile the lights came on behind them in the windows, one here, another further off, another again, making red points in the confused crowd of houses, like the embers of cigars. And you could see as well that, at the far eastern end of the valley, someone introduced the end of a crowbar between the arête of the mountains and the sky.

Someone pushed down on the crowbar; the stone slab of fog raised a little from the mountain.

Someone pushes down, it raises a bit; it falls again; the sky raises again; then a welcome light slipped through the chink, a welcome light streams down upon us.

It’s as if someone were raising the slab of a tomb. Life returns. Life touches the dead, and they start at its touch. A horizontal flash, as when an arm thrusts out, comes and says: "Rise up!" The roofs of the village are seen with their chimneys, some of which are smoking in the paleness--while you have one bright cheek and one still in shadow.

Nendaz had one bright cheek, Rebord had one bright cheek.

"Get up," it said, "come out of your sleep, come out of death...."

Indeed, they came out of death, they came out of death everywhere, and you could hear all kinds of sounds, as you could see all kinds of signs. The lights had become more numerous at the same time that they paled. Someone coughs, someone blows his nose, someone calls, a door opens.

And once again over there, in the east, someone pushed down on the end of the crowbar; then the slab of fog was lifted entirely from the mountain, splitting open in the middle, so that the light now comes on you, not only from the side but from above, and you can see one another, you can see everything, reconstructed, brought back to life again.

"Well," said Rebord, "do you see anything?"

"Well," said Nendaz, "well, no, I see nothing."

From where they were, they could see nonetheless the whole side, where the path ascended that leads to Derborence. There were the gardens before them, in a semi-circle, two or three of them; then the slope rose more steeply and rose up to the sky, having regained its colors, grey, reddish brown, blackish, with bands of green, on account of the rock, the pines, the bushes.

"So?..." said Rebord.

"So what?" said Nendaz.

"We should go home now," said Rebord....

He still didn’t seem very reassured, and, as Nendaz didn’t move, continuing to cast the brightness of his gaze in all directions:

"It’s the fault of that old man.... Yes, old Plan, the shepherd.... He has turned the heads of the people of Zamperon. As if we hadn’t done all we could. All the holy offices, all the masses.... It’s the least they could do to remain still, what do you think?"

Nendaz shakes his head; that’s all.

Just in front of them there was a little hayloft that had been built at the edge of the meadow and the woods. It belonged to a man named Dionis Udry, whom they could see at that moment leaving his house and setting off in their direction. It’s a hundred meters or so at the most. They see Dionis open the door of the hayloft; it’s not even locked. He pulls it toward him; but then, instead of going in, they see him take a step backward, then he leans his head to the side, sticking it into the opening of the door.

All of a sudden he turns towards Nendaz, whom he must have seen as he passed; he raises his arm, he makes a sign for Nendaz to come.

Nendaz put forward a leg and at the same time put forward his walking-stick.

"You’re going?" said Rebord.

"Of course I’m going."

Nendaz goes, and Rebord hesitates, then decides to follow him, but at a distance, two meters behind him, then three meters, while Dionis hasn’t moved. And, as Nendaz approached, Dionis said:

"Come see this.... Someone has been lying here, last night, come quick and see.... I haven’t touched anything."

Nendaz arrives, he looks through the opening of the door as well. The loft is three quarters full of hay, which makes a slope from the door to the roof on the opposite side. And on this slope, in the swelling, elsewhere all bristly and crisscrossed by straws in all directions, there is a smooth place, a place where the hay is like felt, a place like clay in which a body has been molded.

"Well?" said Dionis, "what is it?"

Nendaz scratches behind his ear.

"Don’t know."

"But it is someone?"


"Who’s been there, then?"

Suddenly, then, one hears Rebord:

"My goodness, me, you never know.... Me, I’m going to go get my rifle."

It is he who raised the alarm in the village, because as he passed he said to people:

"Be careful, there’s a thief around."

He doesn’t want to hear anything, he ascends his wooden stairs; he reappears with an old stone-rifle, a powder-flask, a bag of balls.

The neighbors could see him as he loaded his weapon, pouring in the powder, tamping it, pushing the rod down the barrel, sitting on one of the steps of his stairs, as his wife leans towards him from above:

"Don’t go.... Rebord, stay here; Rebord, you hear me? Don’t go!...."

Some of the neighbors are there, and they watch him without understanding.

It came on full day; it even seemed that it was going to be fair. The sky was full of cracks like dry earth; at the same time, it was rising, slipping upward along the slope of the mountains. You could see a long way before you and already far above you in the clear and clean air like a freshly washed pane of glass, where what was left of last night’s rain, in round drops on the leaves of the trees, threw a thousand little sparkles in all colors. A cock crows again, opening its beak wide. And him then, it is him who appeared above as if the crowing of the cock had brought him out; and Nendaz saw him first, then Dionis, but they don’t know what they are seeing.

It is three or four hundred meters from them, it is white. It came out from behind a bush, in the direction of Thérèse’s garden: it appeared, it disappeared, it reappeared. It was as if it were trying to hide itself, and at the same time it were trying to see; the white spot disappears once again.

Then there it is again, nearer them.

Then Dionis in his turn draws back, as if, in proportion as it came down towards them, he felt less safe; Dionis draws back, Nendaz draws back--the sun shines on the mountain, then the sun too hides itself; and you see that the whole village is there now, reaching the hedge at the limit of the houses; all the people of the village are there, who look, who don’t see anything, who see something or who thought they saw something, while Nendaz and Dionis have rejoined them.

"Eh! You see it?"




"It’s not there anymore."

Another voice:

"Yes.... Lower down now... behind the burned pine tree."

"Nevertheless," said Dionis, "someone lay in my hayloft last night...."

Then there is a woman’s cry.

"Oh! I know very well, I know very well, me; it’s...."

They ask the woman:

"Who is it?"

"It’s the dead.... They’re coming back, you can’t stop them."

Someone leads her away.

But that’s how the idea circulates rapidly from head to head, and the idea enters into the heads, and the fear enters into the heads; because if it is the dead, in fact, what can be done to stop them from approaching and entering our houses next, those who care nothing for doors nor for locks?

One man seizes a pitchfork, another takes up a stick, still another goes to get his flail--being only a few, these men, because of those who were killed and of those who are up in the mountain huts. It is a village of summer, that is to say, lots of women and children and a few old men.

You can see nothing more for a moment; suddenly, you perceive that the white thing is coming right down towards you, having been hidden for an instant because it had crossed through a woods.

Several of the women ran off, several of the women made it to the bottom of their stairs or the openings of their doors, in order to get easily into shelter in case of need.

And then one hears a rifle shot.

It’s Rebord, firing into the air.

The white thing disappeared.

They pounced on Rebord, they said to him:

"Come on, you are crazy! Do we even know who it is or what it is? You’ll make a disaster."

He shook his head: "It was only in the air."

He said:

"It’s my business."

He was already reloading his weapon, no matter what they could say to stop him, and, raising his head:

"You see, it’s gone...."

Pointing to the slope before him:

"There’s nothing there now, there’s no one there anymore."

Maurice Nendaz (who was a man of sense) then made a sign to Justin. He took him a little apart. He said something to him in a low voice.

Justin took off running towards the village of Premier, where the parish church is.

While all the others gestured to one another, while the women led away the children who had been frightened by the shot, while they pointed as well to the slope where nothing more was moving, where there was no longer any living person: only is living the right word? Is living what we should say? What is it made of, do we know? Is it a being that weighs something? Is it perhaps only a little air? It is perhaps a form that exists only to the eyes, which is, which is no more, which appears, which disappears; but then a woman’s voice was heard.

The voice said:

"Where is he?"

The voice said again:

"Who fired that shot?... Oh!" said the voice, "you’ve frightened him.... Oh! now he won’t come back...."

It was Thérèse.

"Because it’s him, I’m sure of it, it is him, and last night I wasn’t sure because the darkness can fool you, but if he reappears in broad daylight now, if you have seen him.... Where is he?"

Nendaz took her by one arm, Dionis by the other.

"Where is he? I want to go and find him."

Philomène was there, too, standing behind her daughter; there was a man to the right, a man to the left of Thérèse; she was a little in front of everyone, she said:

"Let me go!"

They said to her:

"No, stay here, one doesn’t know. And besides, you see," said Nendaz, "there’s nothing there now, it’s no longer there."

She doesn’t move, she seems to be completely calmed down; they look, there is nothing there now.

There had been a little still pale sun that brightened the slope for a moment with its pretty colors, where it made the trunks of the pine trees all red, where it made certain rocks gleam like panes of glass: it hides.

Then someone said: "Oh!"

Thérèse had made an abrupt movement with her shoulders and found herself free. She began to run straight before her then, while Nendaz runs after her, but he can’t overtake her on account of his bad leg. And she runs as far as the end of the garden, at the bottom of the slope where the rocks begin; there she suddenly stops.

She calls:

"Antoine! Antoine, it’s me...."

She says:

"Antoine! Is it you?..."

Then, above, three hundred meters from her, those who were watching saw the white thing reappear, rising from behind a bush where it had been hidden since the rifle shot.

Someone who has the body of a man, but no longer the appearance of a man, as she sees better now from where she is; who looks at her, hesitates.

She hesitates, she too. She tries to recognize him, she does not succeed. You can see that he is a man or a kind of man, who has a beard, and no eyes. He has a mouth, but does he have a voice in his mouth? Something black hangs from the top of his form; he is nearly naked with a body the color of the rock, a body that is like the body of a dead man.... She draws back a little.

Him, he still doesn’t move.

And Nendaz saw her draw back, then Nendaz approaches with his walking-stick:

"Wait, Thérèse, wait.... We still don’t know, we’ll know in a few moments...."

But the bell in the chapel had begun to toll.

It’s a shepherd who was caught under the landslide of Derborence. He remained imprisoned for nearly two months under the debris. He reappeared; no one could believe it. But now at this moment the bell in the chapel tolls, because they have here only a chapel where the curate of Premier comes to say mass once a week. A very little bell, with a clear voice like the voice of an infant; it comes, it has been heard, it rises, it enlarges more and more its flight; then, as when the wave beats upon the shore and then draws back, it strikes the hillside and is sent back to you.

It returns: it turns above you making circles like the sparrowhawk, called the good-luck bird.

And the curate of Premier, whom Justin had been to find, appears then between the houses.

He is white and black. He holds Our Lord before him and it gleams. A choirboy in red and black carries the cross.

He passes near the fountain, they all kneel down. They’re not afraid anymore. He comes forward, he is behind the cross; the cross goes before.

He comes near Thérèse; Thérèse kneels down. At first she lowers her head; she raises it again and stays on her knees, turned towards where the cross and Our Lord are going. If it’s him, one is going to know. Whether it’s him or only his shadow; whether he is in the body or only in spirit; whether he really exists or is only a vain appearance, while Our Lord and the cross are advancing still to the place where the slope suddenly steepens.

She clasps her hands.

And him...

Him, he takes a step forward, he stops. He has come out from behind a bush, he takes another step forward, then a step sideways like a drunken man, then stops.

Are you a man? Are you a Christian? Are you a real being? He wants to answer, they can see that very well; he can’t, he can’t yet, he takes a step, he is motionless, he takes a step.

"Is it you, Antoine Pont?"

Come, because we’re waiting, if it is really you. Our Lord awaits you, and the instrument of his torment. The cross of wood held in the air with two hands is before you. Is it really you, Antoine Pont, husband of Thérèse Maye, Christian and son of a Christian?

The bell is still tolling.

The man up there began to come forward, he hesitated no more, he came still faster; and is it him? yes, it’s really him, because he came right up to the cross. And the cross began to shine in a burst of sunlight that came over the mountains.

The bell was still tolling.

Him, he bent down, he lowered his head and neck; then, all bent forward, he tumbled over on his knees.

goback.gif (2185 bytes)Go back to the Introduction.
gonext.gif (2192 bytes)Go ahead to Part II, chapter 5

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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