Children of Alsace: Les Oberlés
Library of Alexandria
The moon was rising above the mists of the Rhine. A man who was coming down from the Vosges by a path—a good sportsman and great walker whom nothing escaped—had just caught sight of her through the slope of forest trees. Then he at once stepped into the shadow of the plantations. But this single glance through the opening, at the night growing more and more luminous, was sufficient to make him realise afresh the natural beauty amidst which he lived. The man trembled with delight. The weather was cold and calm—a slight mist rose from the hollows. It did not bring with it yet the scent of jonquils and wild strawberries, but only that other perfume which has no name and no season—the perfume of rosin, of dead leaves, of grass once again grown green, of bark raised on the fresh skin of the trees, and the breath of that everlasting flower which is the forest moss. The traveller breathed in this smell which he loved; he drank it in great draughts, with open mouth, for more than ten strides, and although accustomed to this nocturnal festival of the forest, to these lights of heaven, to these perfumes of earth, to these rustlings of silent life, he said aloud: "Bravo, Winter! Bravo, the Vosges! They have not been able to spoil you." And he put his stick under his arm in order to make still less noise on the sand and pine-needles of the winding path. Then turning his head: "Carefully, Fidèle, good friend. It is too beautiful." Three steps behind him trotted a spaniel, long-limbed and lean, with a nose like a greyhound, who seemed quite grey, but who by daylight was a mixture of fire-and-coffee-and-milk colour, with fringes of soft hair marking the outline of his paws, belly, and tail. The beast seemed to understand his master, for he followed him without making any more noise than the moon made in passing over the tops of the pine-trees. Soon the moonlight pierced through the branches; breaking up the shade or sweeping it away from the open spaces, it spread out across the slopes, enveloped the trunks of trees, or studded them with stars, and quite cold, formless, and blue, created out of these same trees a new forest, which daylight never knew. It was an immense creation—quick and enchanting. It took but ten minutes. Not a tremor foretold it. M. Ulrich Biehler continued his downward path, a prey to growing emotion, stooping sometimes to get a better view of the undergrowth, sometimes bending over the ravines with beating heart, but watching with head erect, like the roebucks when about to leave the valleys for the upland pastures. This enthusiastic traveller, still young in mind, was, however, not a young man. M. Ulrich Biehler, called M. Ulrich throughout the countryside, was sixty years old, and his hair and beard, almost white, proclaimed his age; but there had been more of the sap of youth in him than in most, just as some possess more bravery or more beauty, and something of this youthfulness he had retained. He lived in the middle of the mountain of Sainte Odile, exactly twelve hundred feet in the air, in a forest-house without any pretension to architecture, and without lands of any sort except the sloping meadow on which it stood, and at the back was a very small orchard, ravaged periodically by hard winters. He had remained faithful to this house, inherited from his father, who had bought it for a holiday residence only, and here he spent the whole year alone, although his friends, like his lands, were plentiful in the plains. He was not shy of men, but he did not like to give up his own way of living, consequently there were some fanciful stories told about him.