Peck's lengthy translations
the mountain fell
by D. C. Peck with assistance from Petit Robert
I, Chapter 6
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.
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.
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."
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."
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.
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.
Carrupt had been to drink at the fountain; he comes back shuffling his feet.
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.
Carrupt's coat was pink upon his back, an old coat he had not been out of for
more than twenty years.
turns his back to you, turns himself toward the slope that dominates the village.
Suddenly old Carrupt
said to him:
it, Father Jean?"
he growls something.
well, that's true.... Hey! Marie.... Don't you see? On the path."
when they are young, they amuse themselves...."
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
The women were watching:
are they going?"
are they running?"
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.
Justin. Where is he coming from like that?... But he was here last night...."
course, I saw him."
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:
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.
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.
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.
makes a noise like the rolling of a drum.
man's voice said:
And a woman's
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.
everyone began to stir in the village, as they ran to the meeting between Justin
and the president.
then what?... On Derborence?... It's not possible, come on, what are you telling
the noise that was made last night?..."
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.
were some women who laughed, saying:
on, come on, it's only a story...."
nothing, I know nothing, leave me be, we must go and see...."
had come forward also; she slipped between the women, she made a path between
those raised arms, those heads which were shaking:
she said, "well, president?..."
steps forward, he said:
know nothing, ask Justin."
she said to Justin, "and Seraphin?"
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.
knocked on the door of the chamber.
that you, mother?"
says: "It's me."
enters; she said: "You've left the windows open, you are going to take cold...."
quickly closed the windows.
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."
hears almost nothing through the windows ornamented with the bottoms of glass
For a while she straightens
the little curtains that the wind disturbed last night; she says:
must stay in bed this morning; it's more prudent. I'm going to bring you some
She still hasn't
turned round; she hears Thérèse say:
no, I'm going to get up."
you're feeling better?"
yes," said Thérèse: "I feel completely well."
suddenly a cry is heard, piercing the walls and the thickness of the glass, people
come running by in front of the house:
it's nothing," said Philomène.
you, mother, what's the matter with you?"
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.
despite the darkness where she is standing, Thérèse stares at her because one
can't prevent the truth from showing.
She is sitting
on the bed.
on the front door.
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?"
two women have come in; the second is her mother's sister, Catherine.
said Catherine, "pay no attention, it is Barthélemy's wife, she is grieving....
Her little one is not going to...."
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.
said Thérèse, "I'm coming, I'm getting up."
said Catherine, "it's better for you to stay there...."
at that moment a tolling of the bell is heard, then another; then still another.
is Barthélemy who has just died; the bearers saw that he was dead because his
mouth opened in his beard.
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.
women fell to their knees while someone set off running to the chapel.
tolling of the bell.
"Who has died?"
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
the little one of Barthélemy's wife... She said that he had the croup... It took
him last night...."
"She ran through
the houses like a madwoman.... As if we could do anything...."
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.
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.
is tranquil in the mountains, everything is at rest; for me there will never again
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.
rest. But, for me, there will never again be rest, no, never again, in this life.
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
And he comes like that, and then comes everyone else.
Carrupt goes to meet them; he doesn't understand very well what is happening,
letting out at times a little groan.
she said, "that's nice, it is a misfortune and you hide it from me."
mother and her aunt try to pull her back; but now, it is Barthélemy's wife who
comes with her six children.
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
She has six children.
is Nendaz with his walking-stick, and Thérèse recognizes Nendaz.
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....
"Come, come, what
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.
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:
still of Barthélemy; she said:
think he's dead. Is it true, Maurice Nendaz?"
passes with his walking-stick.
doesn't he answer me? Ah! it's funny," said she, "what's the matter
with them? Justin!"
seemed not to have heard, he passes her also, he has already passed.
a women looks up at Thérèse.
don't know? You don't know yet?.... My God!..."
fell silent without finishing her sentence.
is as if she had already forgotten Thérèse. The bell sounds a tolling.
stay like that at the window, you'll take cold," said Philomène. "We
will explain it to you...."
But the explanation
had already come, because another woman said:
mountain has fallen."
where has it fallen?"
she begins to laugh:
"It can't fall
like that, all the same, a mountain!"
all of a sudden:
Antoine, where is he?"
Antoine, my husband! Antoine, my husband!"
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.
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."
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.
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
First it followed the path,
then it left the path.
straight down, leaping over the hedges.
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?"
then the lizards that are warming themselves in the sun, stretched out among the
stones, go back in to hide themselves in their holes.
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 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.
before noon, the news arrives in the chief town (Sion), where the government is,
creating a great tumult of voices in the cafés.
are drinking there the fine muscat of the region:
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.
"It appears that
not one of them survived!"
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.
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.
of the path from Anzeindaz over the Pas de Cheville down to Derborence (DCP,
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
And they said:
people of Zamperon said: "Yes," and they shook their heads.
said the men of Anzeindaz, "it is a great calamity. Was there anyone able
one! And the state he's in! They've just taken him down."
understood one another only with difficulty, because they didn't speak entirely
the same dialect; nevertheless the men of Anzeindaz continued:
came to see if you needed a hand. We could send you a work team."
the people of Zamperon:
for us, you can see, no thank you.... We will get out of this difficulty alone,
then to the hollow of Derborence: "And as for them, there...."
let their hands fall again; they said:
don't need anybody."
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.
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.
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.
said something each one in his own tongue.
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.
they fell silent too one after another, after which the men of Sanetsch, like
those of Anzeindaz, turned towards their homes.
Aïre was full of people. Immediately they had ascended from Premier where
the parish church is, the vicar and many of the inhabitants.
his turn, a little after noon, the doctor had arrived on his horse white with
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.
men were holding him by the shoulders and by the legs.
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.
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).
doctor stood up, he shook his head. And:
long wail broke out three times, then another three times, and it's heard as far
as the street, where they stop:
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.
then they questioned Biollaz, but he said:
and Loutre who had been with him, and Biollaz:
rocks, the rocks that are bigger than...."
pointed to the houses of the village:
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?..."
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...."
said to him:
makes nineteen... fifteen from Aïre and four from Premier...."
how many cows?"
he said, "at least a hundred and fifty.... And then the goats...."
as the mule was ready, the men of the expedition set off without delaying any
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.
happens now all the time, the people unknown to you in front of your house; they
stop, they look, they shake their heads.
Jean Carrupt, who doesn't understand very well what has happened, continues his
walk. From time to time, he stops too and growls something.
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.
landslide of Derborence, a 23rd of June--only ten days after they had gone up
someone, "if they had only waited a little...."
do you want? It was the time. They went up as usual."
she said, "I don't believe it, your stories."
had made Thérèse lie down; her mother and her aunt were near her.
few minutes, someone knocked on the door.
said Catherine to whomever was knocking, "oh! don't come in, please, don't
come in... It's better to leave her in peace."
the people who pass in front of the house:
also.... Yes, there were two.... A brother and a husband... the brother of the
mother, the husband of the daughter...."
Carrupt as well."
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.
seemed that she was expecting a child.
saw that the water boiled in the cooking pot suspended from the hook; and, she,
in her bed:
how can it fall like that, a mountain?... You make me laugh...."
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...."
"Take away this
swallowing back her tears:
please, Thérèse, please!"
"Leave me in
peace. I'll be all right...."
it's not only for you that we are distressed."
She doesn't move,
Suddenly she asks:
is that noise?"
who've come for news."
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?"
don't know yet. We must wait. They don't know anything; they've just gone to see."
doctor and the justice."
she said, "we must wait? We must wait until when?"
tomorrow or the day after. I promise we'll tell you everything."
she said, "it's not worth it."
"Why are they troubling
me, can't I go up with them?"
sat up in bed, while the two women rushed over, each taking her by a shoulder
and forcing her to lie back down.
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
Among the tears
that are flowing down her cheeks:
you must think also of him."
the little one who's going to come."
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.
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."
she cried out:
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!..."
He sticks out his
Its 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
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.
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.
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 its progressing.
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, theyd assigned them some new parts of
the communes pasturage elsewhere.
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
wont possibly be a good occasion to draw the map anew, because it is presently
colored in 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
Its 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.
Its square, its pointed, its 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.
stood planted in the earth along the hillside like an old larch tree touched by
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:
left.... Nobody left? Ah! you think so...."
"The surveyors have
gone, they have done well.... But that is not a reason, just because they have
I... DIA... B...."
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.
see," he said, "you understand me, you do."
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:
see very well, I dont need to go on, you know your name...."
falls silent little by little. It becomes little by little more quiet, he allows
it to quieten down:
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 Im in my stone hut and you, you are up there: thats 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, isnt that true?..."
mountain begins to laugh, still again.
also, that head stuck out; but one couldnt see it because of the projecting
rocks that surrounded it, hiding it completely.
He sticks out his
It was nearly two months
after the landslide.
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....
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
he can see nothing from where he is.
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.
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 cant see him completely, because
hes in the shadow; then his head comes to the edge of the sunlight.
sun strikes him on the head.
You can see that
he has long hair, it falls to the nape of his neck.
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.
eyelids fluttering, he closes his eyes, he reopens them, he recloses them.
sits with his head in the sun to which he is no longer accustomed, and he must
reaccustom himself to it; for its beautiful, but it does harm, and it is
good, but it burns you.
like when you give little infants too much wine; the bloods sings to him in his
ears; he doesnt 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.
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.
breathes deeply as if taking a drink.
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.
he stretched out on a slab of rock.
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.
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.
thats good; he says to himself: "Ah! its 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 dont want to, you see, I force you;
and that, its 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.
exists; me, I exist, he says to himself; but then where am I?
sees that hes in the middle of a great desert of rocks; he searches as hard
as he can to put it in order in his head.
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 Ive 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 doesnt
recognize what it is; its water, it is two little lakes.
werent there before; where am I? He scratches his head again.
each movement he makes, the flies that cover him fly off with a noise like a plucked
violin cord--hes at Derborence all the same: thats what he tells himself.
Im there, I can see very well that Im 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.
now he understands.
all the way about towards the north: it is something like fifteen hundred meters
above you, under Saint-Martin; theres the edge of the glacier; he sees the
place where it has broken off, and the break shines still fresh.
understands, he says to himself: "I see."
shakes his head: "There it is, I understand, the mountain has fallen."
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.
see very well the route it has followed, my God! Ah! its 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
He says to himself: "Where
are they?" He says to himself: "They must have escaped."
says to himself: "Me, I was caught."
says to himself: "But there, I am uncaught, and it took some time, but I
am uncaught all the same."
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.
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.
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:
then, he said:
its me, Antoine Pont."
says his name, he repeats it, he said:
mountain has come down."
"The mountain has
come down on me, do you understand, but I have come out of the mountain."
laughs aloud. Something laughs.
"Ah! it amuses you?...
It amuses me, too. Where are you?"
It was now a little
before ten oclock, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
wasnt 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
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.
laughs, he laughs aloud; he says: "And then what? Ah!" he says to himself,
"there is no one.... Hola! Hohé!"
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.
he said, "what? Are you so far away now!... Hey! listen, its me....
Do you hear me? Antoine Pont! Hohé! Antoine...."
began to laugh:
not waiting for me anymore."
cries out again in a loud voice:
of course, its me.... The mountain came down on me, but I got myself out
all the same. Dont you believe me?"
he cries; "all right then! Im coming."
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. Theyre
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
It took time to
find his way there, but his good humour served him well.
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.
at the bank of the torrent, which has found its old bed.
he knows where he is now. The same water, the same quantity of water, its same
color, the same skipping among the same rocks.
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. Hes
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.
little girl who was grazing a white goat near the path turned round, let go of
its cord, then ran away crying out.
laughed louder than ever.
the matter with her?... Hey! Little one...."
disappeared round a turn of the path.
goat too ran off, bounding up from tier to tier of the slope, trailing its cord
Eh! whats wrong with you? Eh! the little thing," he said.
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.
is making a fire with wet wood.
woman comes to the doorstep; the cries of the little girl begin again to be heard.
The woman turns towards him.
disappears immediately into the interior of the house.
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.
him, he said:
to all who are here, and good morning to all who are not here."
entered into the great groundfloor chamber where it is dark, and the fire on the
hearth is dark because it has been covered.
is the Donneloyes house here?" he said.... "Ah!" he said,
"is there no one here?"
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 theyve 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 theres light to see by, or nearly enough....
doesnt 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; hes forgotten where hes coming from.
he says, well, its the mountain. The mountain? Yes, you remember. Ah! yes,
then you must go. Ah! he says: "Its true, the mountain has fallen."
he was afraid because it is still very near.
it should fall on you again, if it should begin again to fall.
no one here?... Well then, thank you."
fire smokes white behind him on the hearth, having been covered over with wet
head is spinning. He sees the path before him. He sees from whence he has come,
and its to the right. So I must take the left.
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.
are woodpeckers, there are jays, there are woodpigeons, there are little hedge-birds,
more and more numerous, more and more clamorous: "Yes," he said, "its
me; but you shut up!"
as his fatigue came over him, he let himself fall to the side of the slope on
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.
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; thats 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
She was only a little
drawn and thin, and, dressed all in black, a little pale under her tan.
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, hasnt left me; him, he has stayed faithful to me."
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. "Whats
going to become of us?"
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....
to fall. You could see that it was going to come earlier than usual, because the
weather was stormy.
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.
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.
bushes across the slope seemed to melt down like butter on the fire.
was time to return, her too, but she hadnt the spirit. She hadnt 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.
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 cant always distinguish anymore
between what is real and what you invent for yourself.
looks again, she looks more closely.
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: "Its one of the neighbors"; but the neighbors wear hobnailed
boots that make noise; the shape over there was perfectly silent. It slips sideways,
thats 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 didnt 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 doesnt 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?
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.
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.
continues to run; someone was saying to her:
God, whats the matter?"
sees that she has mounted the stairs; suddenly the fire glows in front of her
on the kitchen hearth.
is it now, Thérèse?"
dropped onto the bench without answering, holding her hands together between her
You can hear
from far off the rolling of thunder.
your basket, and your hoe?"
lightning continued; there was a bright window across from her in the kitchen
wall, then it was gone.
white window that appears, disappears, appears again; she, she is illuminated,
then is not, then is once again.
can see her, she is holding her head forward, then you see her no more.
hell get wet," she said all of a sudden.
"If its him...."
"It is him and its
not him... Oh!" she said, "they cant really get wet.... The rain
passes through them, the poor things, they dont feel the rain...."
you can see Philomène raise her arms and let them fall, for she is illuminated,
The whole kitchen
is illuminated, the whole kitchen is in the dark; the fire has time to become
red before it disappears again.
are you talking about?"
yes," says she, "you know very well...."
didnt 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.
thats what they say...."
she raised her voice as the rain redoubled its force:
people of Zamperon, what they say of Plan, the shepherd...."
shrugs her shoulders.
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."
now," says Philomène, "and all the masses we have had said.... One every
Sunday for your poor husband and for Seraphin...."
said Thérèse, "maybe thats not enough, because they havent 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...."
was speaking calmly; the storm was moving away already, having passed behind the
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:
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...."
are you saying?"
says she, "I dont know, only I was afraid because he doesnt weigh
lightning had become less frequent, it had changed color. Its going away,
does everything go away? And the storm passes, but everything passes. He had a
body and he has one no more.
says Philomène, "suppose I went to find Maurice Nendaz?"
could see that she was beginning, she too, to be afraid.
are only two women here," she says. "He will give us his advice."
blows her nose. She goes to find her cape and covers her head and shoulders.
hasnt said anything.
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
You hear nothing more.
You hear the sound of a walking-stick. You hear that someone is mounting the stairs
with an uneven step.
Then a mans voice
said to her:
she said, her head between her hands, shaking her head slowly, "nonetheless
did you see?"
"I was in
the garden, it was white, it didnt 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 dont touch the ground,
because they have no more weight. They make no sound at all, it is like smoke,
its like a little cloud that moves about as it wants...."
says Maurice Nendaz, "Ill have to go and see. You say it was...."
says she, "just near the path...."
says Maurice Nendaz, "you mustnt torment yourself.... It may just be
your condition, and thats all. All you have to do is shut up the house well....
And me, listen, well, Im going to go and see. And if I see something, well,
Ill come back and tell you... if I see nothing, I wont return."
of course," said Philomène. "That way, we will be calm...."
she hadnt answered, she hadnt changed position.
could hear the sound of the walking-stick as it went away into the night....
awakened toward the end of the afternoon. He had slept five hours at a stretch.
doesnt know where he is anymore. Its Antoine.
looks about him, he sees that evening is coming on, but why he is there, all alone,
and why hes in the bottom of the gorge, he cant recall anymore.
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: "Its
He stands up.
know very well anymore where hes going; neither does he know very well where
hes 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
is the stream that you can see when you lean over.
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
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.
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, dont run off! Where are you
going?", saluting them with a laugh, because its lower ground that
they are announcing, the good warmth, the bread and wine in abundance, a house,
a real bed: "Hello!... Hey! stop there. Dont be afraid, its me...."
sweeps aside his hair that prevents him from seeing; the memory partly comes back
to him all of a sudden. "Ah! its true, ah! its me." He repeated
it: "The mountain has fallen, but Ive saved myself all the same."
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 whats left of his shoes and throws them into
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.
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.
then its true, I have a wife."
says to himself: "Only is she waiting for me?..."
shook his head as he walked.
the others?" he said.
walked along shaking his head.
long has it been since....?"
he doesnt know, nor the other things either. He sees that he doesnt
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 he descends.
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.
the house where Im going, there is my wife. Whats her name?
sees that he must learn it again and learn the entire world again, the sky, the
trees, the birds: "But, wait," says he, "heres one I recognize....
Its easy, it moves its tail. Little one!"
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
Then he continues on
his way as fast as he can: "Ah! its you," he said to the trees,
"ah! youre coming. Ah! there you are," he said to the birds and
to the trees; "and, me, its me. Me, its Antoine. The mountain
fell down on me."
thus he progresses still to the place where the path leaves the gorge, discovering
to your eyes the great valley where the Rhône is.
sees the Rhône, he says: "The mountain has fallen."
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: "Thats
it, so now I take a left."
up on the slope, he turned parallel to the rivers course, heading upstream.
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, its
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).
runs, he stops; he leaves the path.
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 its soft
under his feet; the warm stone (on this side where he is standing), the grain
about to ripen, the promise of grapes.
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, isnt it? Of course! our garden. She bends down, she stands up
again, she is motionless.
it her or not? But yes, its her.
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.
is nothing more to be seen.
saw nothing," said Maurice Nendaz, "nothing at all."
was the next morning.
he said, "I came last night already, because the poor woman claimed that
she had seen it."
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.
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."
says Rebord, "with the rain we had last night!"
didnt seem to have much desire to push on farther; he was a stout man.
was small and thin, Nendaz was leaning over his stick.
Rebord said: "Its only a silly tale."
Nendaz said: "Of course, but you understand, she is a woman. I promised her
that I would go and see."
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
Someone pushed down
on the crowbar; the stone slab of fog raised a little from the mountain.
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.
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.
had one bright cheek, Rebord had one bright cheek.
up," it said, "come out of your sleep, come out of death...."
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.
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.
said Rebord, "do you see anything?"
said Nendaz, "well, no, I see nothing."
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.
go home now," said Rebord....
still didnt seem very reassured, and, as Nendaz didnt move, continuing
to cast the brightness of his gaze in all directions:
the fault of that old man.... Yes, old Plan, the shepherd.... He has turned the
heads of the people of Zamperon. As if we hadnt done all we could. All the
holy offices, all the masses.... Its the least they could
do to remain still, what do you think?"
shakes his head; thats all.
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. Its
a hundred meters or so at the most. They see Dionis open the door of the hayloft;
its 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.
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.
put forward a leg and at the same time put forward his walking-stick.
going?" said Rebord.
course Im going."
goes, and Rebord hesitates, then decides to follow him, but at a distance, two
meters behind him, then three meters, while Dionis hasnt moved. And, as
Nendaz approached, Dionis said:
see this.... Someone has been lying here, last night, come quick and see.... I
havent touched anything."
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.
said Dionis, "what is it?"
scratches behind his ear.
"But it is
been there, then?"
then, one hears Rebord:
goodness, me, you never know.... Me, Im going to go get my rifle."
is he who raised the alarm in the village, because as he passed he said to people:
careful, theres a thief around."
doesnt want to hear anything, he ascends his wooden stairs; he reappears
with an old stone-rifle, a powder-flask, a bag of balls.
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:
go.... Rebord, stay here; Rebord, you hear me? Dont go!...."
of the neighbors are there, and they watch him without understanding.
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 nights 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 dont
know what they are seeing.
is three or four hundred meters from them, it is white. It came out from behind
a bush, in the direction of Thérèses 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.
there it is again, nearer them.
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 dont see anything, who see something or
who thought they saw something, while Nendaz and Dionis have rejoined them.
You see it?"
not there anymore."
down now... behind the burned pine tree."
said Dionis, "someone lay in my hayloft last night...."
there is a womans cry.
I know very well, I know very well, me; its...."
ask the woman:
dead.... Theyre coming back, you cant stop them."
leads her away.
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?
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.
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.
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
And then one hears a
firing into the air.
on Rebord, they said to him:
on, you are crazy! Do we even know who it is or what it is? Youll make a
He shook his
head: "It was only in the air."
"Its my business."
was already reloading his weapon, no matter what they could say to stop him, and,
raising his head:
see, its gone...."
to the slope before him:
nothing there now, theres no one there anymore."
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.
took off running towards the village of Premier, where the parish church is.
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 womans voice was heard.
The voice said again:
fired that shot?... Oh!" said the voice, "youve frightened him....
Oh! now he wont come back...."
its him, Im sure of it, it is him, and last night I wasnt sure
because the darkness can fool you, but if he reappears in broad daylight now,
if you have seen him.... Where is he?"
took her by one arm, Dionis by the other.
is he? I want to go and find him."
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:
They said to her:
stay here, one doesnt know. And besides, you see," said Nendaz, "theres
nothing there now, its no longer there."
doesnt move, she seems to be completely calmed down; they look, there is
nothing there now.
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.
someone said: "Oh!"
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 cant
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.
"Antoine! Is it
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.
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.
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.
he still doesnt move.
Nendaz saw her draw back, then Nendaz approaches with his walking-stick:
Thérèse, wait.... We still dont know, well know in a few moments...."
the bell in the chapel had begun to toll.
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.
returns: it turns above you making circles like the sparrowhawk, called the good-luck
And the curate of Premier,
whom Justin had been to find, appears then between the houses.
is white and black. He holds Our Lord before him and it gleams. A choirboy in
red and black carries the cross.
passes near the fountain, they all kneel down. Theyre not afraid anymore.
He comes forward, he is behind the cross; the cross goes before.
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 its him, one is going to know. Whether its
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.
clasps her hands.
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.
you a man? Are you a Christian? Are you a real being? He wants to answer, they
can see that very well; he cant, he cant yet, he takes a step, he
is motionless, he takes a step.
it you, Antoine Pont?"
because were 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?
bell is still tolling.
man up there began to come forward, he hesitated no more, he came still faster;
and is it him? yes, its 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.
he bent down, he lowered his head and neck; then, all bent forward, he tumbled
over on his knees.
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Translated in about 1983, posted on this site 22 June 2001.