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Ramuntcho   By: (1850-1923)

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By Pierre Loti

Translated by Henri Pene du Bois



The sad curlews, annunciators of the autumn, had just appeared in a mass in a gray squall, fleeing from the high sea under the threat of approaching tempests. At the mouth of the southern rivers, of the Adour, of the Nivelle, of the Bidassoa which runs by Spain, they wandered above the waters already cold, flying low, skimming, with their wings over the mirror like surfaces. And their cries, at the fall of the October night, seemed to ring the annual half death of the exhausted plants.

On the Pyrenean lands, all bushes and vast woods, the melancholy of the rainy nights of declining seasons fell slowly, enveloping like a shroud, while Ramuntcho walked on the moss covered path, without noise, shod with rope soles, supple and silent in his mountaineer's tread.

Ramuntcho was coming on foot from a very long distance, ascending the regions neighboring the Bay of Biscay, toward his isolated house which stood above, in a great deal of shade, near the Spanish frontier.

Around the solitary passer by, who went up so quickly without trouble and whose march in sandals was not heard, distances more and more profound deepened on all sides, blended in twilight and mist.

The autumn, the autumn marked itself everywhere. The corn, herb of the lowlands, so magnificently green in the Spring, displayed shades of dead straw in the depths of the valleys, and, on all the summits, beeches and oaks shed their leaves. The air was almost cold; an odorous humidity came out of the mossy earth and, at times, there came from above a light shower. One felt it near and anguishing, that season of clouds and of long rains, which returns every time with the same air of bringing the definitive exhaustion of saps and irremediable death, but which passes like all things and which one forgets at the following spring.

Everywhere, in the wet of the leaves strewing the earth, in the wet of the herbs long and bent, there was a sadness of death, a dumb resignation to fecund decomposition.

But the autumn, when it comes to put an end to the plants, brings only a sort of far off warning to man, a little more durable, who resists several winters and lets himself be lured several times by the charm of spring. Man, in the rainy nights of October and of November, feels especially the instinctive desire to seek shelter at home, to warm himself at the hearth, under the roof which so many thousand years amassed have taught him progressively to build. And Ramuntcho felt awakening in the depths of his being the old ancestral aspirations for the Basque home of the country, the isolated home, unattached to the neighboring homes. He hastened his steps the more toward the primitive dwelling where his mother was waiting for him.

Here and there, one perceived them in the distance, indistinct in the twilight, the Basque houses, very distant from one another, dots white or grayish, now in the depth of some gorge steeped in darkness, then on some ledge of the mountains with summits lost in the obscure sky. Almost inconsequential are these human habitations, in the immense and confused entirety of things; inconsequential and even annihilated quite, at this hour, before the majesty of the solitude and of the eternal forest nature.

Ramuntcho ascended rapidly, lithe, bold and young, still a child, likely to play on his road as little mountaineers play, with a rock, a reed, or a twig that one whittles while walking. The air was growing sharper, the environment harsher, and already he ceased to hear the cries of the curlews, their rusty pulley cries, on the rivers beneath. But Ramuntcho was singing one of those plaintive songs of the olden time, which are still transmitted in the depths of the distant lands, and his naive voice went through the mist or the rain, among the wet branches of the oaks, under the grand shroud, more and more sombre, of isolation, of autumn and of night... Continue reading book >>

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