The Inn by Guy de Maupassant
Resembling in appearance all the wooden hostelries of the High Alps
situated at the foot of glaciers in the barren rocky gorges that
intersect the summits of the mountains, the Inn of Schwarenbach serves as
a resting place for travellers crossing the Gemini Pass.
It remains open for six months in the year and is inhabited by the family
of Jean Hauser; then, as soon as the snow begins to fall and to fill the
valley so as to make the road down to Loeche impassable, the father and
his three sons go away and leave the house in charge of the old guide,
Gaspard Hari, with the young guide, Ulrich Kunsi, and Sam, the great
The two men and the dog remain till the spring in their snowy prison,
with nothing before their eyes except the immense white slopes of the
Balmhorn, surrounded by light, glistening summits, and are shut in,
blocked up and buried by the snow which rises around them and which
envelops, binds and crushes the little house, which lies piled on the
roof, covering the windows and blocking up the door.
It was the day on which the Hauser family were going to return to Loeche,
as winter was approaching, and the descent was becoming dangerous. Three
mules started first, laden with baggage and led by the three sons. Then
the mother, Jeanne Hauser, and her daughter Louise mounted a fourth mule
and set off in their turn and the father followed them, accompanied by
the two men in charge, who were to escort the family as far as the brow
of the descent. First of all they passed round the small lake, which was
now frozen over, at the bottom of the mass of rocks which stretched in
front of the inn, and then they followed the valley, which was dominated
on all sides by the snow-covered summits.
A ray of sunlight fell into that little white, glistening, frozen desert
and illuminated it with a cold and dazzling flame. No living thing
appeared among this ocean of mountains. There was no motion in this
immeasurable solitude and no noise disturbed the profound silence.
By degrees the young guide, Ulrich Kunsi, a tall, long-legged Swiss, left
old man Hauser and old Gaspard behind, in order to catch up the mule
which bore the two women. The younger one looked at him as he approached
and appeared to be calling him with her sad eyes. She was a young,
fairhaired little peasant girl, whose milk-white cheeks and pale hair
looked as if they had lost their color by their long abode amid the ice.
When he had got up to the animal she was riding he put his hand on the
crupper and relaxed his speed. Mother Hauser began to talk to him,
enumerating with the minutest details all that he would have to attend to
during the winter. It was the first time that he was going to stay up
there, while old Hari had already spent fourteen winters amid the snow,
at the inn of Schwarenbach.
Ulrich Kunsi listened, without appearing to understand and looked
incessantly at the girl. From time to time he replied: "Yes, Madame
Hauser," but his thoughts seemed far away and his calm features remained
They reached Lake Daube, whose broad, frozen surface extended to the end
of the valley. On the right one saw the black, pointed, rocky summits of
the Daubenhorn beside the enormous moraines of the Lommern glacier, above
which rose the Wildstrubel. As they approached the Gemmi pass, where the
descent of Loeche begins, they suddenly beheld the immense horizon of the
Alps of the Valais, from which the broad, deep valley of the Rhone
In the distance there was a group of white, unequal, flat, or pointed
mountain summits, which glistened in the sun; the Mischabel with its two
peaks, the huge group of the Weisshorn, the heavy Brunegghorn, the lofty
and formidable pyramid of Mount Cervin, that slayer of men, and the Dent-
Blanche, that monstrous coquette.
Then beneath them, in a tremendous hole, at the bottom of a terrific
abyss, they perceived Loeche, where houses looked as grains of sand which
had been thrown into that enormous crevice that is ended and closed by
the Gemmi and which opens, down below, on the Rhone.
The mule stopped at the edge of the path, which winds and turns
continually, doubling backward, then, fantastically and strangely, along
the side of the mountain as far as the almost invisible little village at
its feet. The women jumped into the snow and the two old men joined
them. "Well," father Hauser said, "good-by, and keep up your spirits
till next year, my friends," and old Hari replied: "Till next year."
They embraced each other and then Madame Hauser in her turn offered her
cheek, and the girl did the same.
When Ulrich Kunsi's turn came, he whispered in Louise's ear, "Do not
forget those up yonder," and she replied, "No," in such a low voice that
he guessed what she had said without hearing it. "Well, adieu," Jean
Hauser repeated, "and don't fall ill." And going before the two women,
he commenced the descent, and soon all three disappeared at the first
turn in the road, while the two men returned to the inn at Schwarenbach.
They walked slowly, side by side, without speaking. It was over, and
they would be alone together for four or five months. Then Gaspard Hari
began to relate his life last winter. He had remained with Michael
Canol, who was too old now to stand it, for an accident might happen
during that long solitude. They had not been dull, however; the only
thing was to make up one's mind to it from the first, and in the end one
would find plenty of distraction, games and other means of whiling away
Ulrich Kunsi listened to him with his eyes on the ground, for in his
thoughts he was following those who were descending to the village. They
soon came in sight of the inn, which was, however, scarcely visible, so
small did it look, a black speck at the foot of that enormous billow of
snow, and when they opened the door Sam, the great curly dog, began to
romp round them.
"Come, my boy," old Gaspard said, "we have no women now, so we must get
our own dinner ready. Go and peel the potatoes." And they both sat down
on wooden stools and began to prepare the soup.
The next morning seemed very long to Kunsi. Old Hari smoked and spat on
the hearth, while the young man looked out of the window at the snow-
covered mountain opposite the house.
In the afternoon he went out, and going over yesterday's ground again, he
looked for the traces of the mule that had carried the two women. Then
when he had reached the Gemmi Pass, he laid himself down on his stomach
and looked at Loeche.
The village, in its rocky pit, was not yet buried under the snow, from
which it was sheltered by the pine woods which protected it on all sides.
Its low houses looked like paving stones in a large meadow from above.
Hauser's little daughter was there now in one of those gray-colored
houses. In which? Ulrich Kunsi was too far away to be able to make them
out separately. How he would have liked to go down while he was yet
But the sun had disappeared behind the lofty crest of the Wildstrubel and
the young man returned to the chalet. Daddy Hari was smoking, and when
he saw his mate come in he proposed a game of cards to him, and they sat
down opposite each other, on either side of the table. They played for a
long time a simple game called brisque and then they had supper and went
The following days were like the first, bright and cold, without any
fresh snow. Old Gaspard spent his afternoons in watching the eagles and
other rare birds which ventured on those frozen heights, while Ulrich
returned regularly to the Gemmi Pass to look at the village. Then they
played cards, dice or dominoes and lost and won a trifle, just to create
an interest in the game.
One morning Hari, who was up first, called his companion. A moving, deep
and light cloud of white spray was falling on them noiselessly and was by
degrees burying them under a thick, heavy coverlet of foam. That lasted
four days and four nights. It was necessary to free the door and the
windows, to dig out a passage and to cut steps to get over this frozen
powder, which a twelve hours' frost had made as hard as the granite of
They lived like prisoners and did not venture outside their abode. They
had divided their duties, which they performed regularly. Ulrich Kunsi
undertook the scouring, washing and everything that belonged to
cleanliness. He also chopped up the wood while Gaspard Hari did the
cooking and attended to the fire. Their regular and monotonous work was
interrupted by long games at cards or dice, and they never quarrelled,
but were always calm and placid. They were never seen impatient or ill-
humored, nor did they ever use hard words, for they had laid in a stock
of patience for their wintering on the top of the mountain.
Sometimes old Gaspard took his rifle and went after chamois, and
occasionally he killed one. Then there was a feast in the inn at
Schwarenbach and they revelled in fresh meat. One morning he went out as
usual. The thermometer outside marked eighteen degrees of frost, and as
the sun had not yet risen, the hunter hoped to surprise the animals at
the approaches to the Wildstrubel, and Ulrich, being alone, remained in
bed until ten o'clock. He was of a sleepy nature, but he would not have
dared to give way like that to his inclination in the presence of the old
guide, who was ever an early riser. He breakfasted leisurely with Sam,
who also spent his days and nights in sleeping in front of the fire; then
he felt low-spirited and even frightened at the solitude, and was-seized
by a longing for his daily game of cards, as one is by the craving of a
confirmed habit, and so he went out to meet his companion, who was to
return at four o'clock.
The snow had levelled the whole deep valley, filled up the crevasses,
obliterated all signs of the two lakes and covered the rocks, so that
between the high summits there was nothing but an immense, white,
regular, dazzling and frozen surface. For three weeks Ulrich had not
been to the edge of the precipice from which he had looked down on the
village, and he wanted to go there before climbing the slopes which led
to Wildstrubel. Loeche was now also covered by the snow and the houses
could scarcely be distinguished, covered as they were by that white
Then, turning to the right, he reached the Loemmern glacier. He went
along with a mountaineer's long strides, striking the snow, which was as
hard as a rock, with his ironpointed stick, and with his piercing eyes he
looked for the little black, moving speck in the distance, on that
enormous, white expanse.
When he reached the end of the glacier he stopped and asked himself
whether the old man had taken that road, and then he began to walk along
the moraines with rapid and uneasy steps. The day was declining, the
snow was assuming a rosy tint, and a dry, frozen wind blew in rough gusts
over its crystal surface. Ulrich uttered a long, shrill, vibrating call.
His voice sped through the deathlike silence in which the mountains were
sleeping; it reached the distance, across profound and motionless waves
of glacial foam, like the cry of a bird across the waves of the sea.
Then it died away and nothing answered him.
He began to walk again. The sun had sunk yonder behind the mountain
tops, which were still purple with the reflection from the sky, but the
depths of the valley were becoming gray, and suddenly the young man felt
frightened. It seemed to him as if the silence, the cold, the solitude,
the winter death of these mountains were taking possession of him, were
going to stop and to freeze his blood, to make his limbs grow stiff and
to turn him into a motionless and frozen object, and he set off running,
fleeing toward his dwelling. The old man, he thought, would have
returned during his absence. He had taken another road; he would, no
doubt, be sitting before the fire, with a dead chamois at his feet.
He soon came in sight of the inn, but no smoke rose from it. Ulrich
walked faster and opened the door. Sam ran up to him to greet him, but
Gaspard Hari had not returned. Kunsi, in his alarm, turned round
suddenly, as if he had expected to find his comrade hidden in a corner.
Then he relighted the fire and made the soup, hoping every moment to see
the old man come in. From time to time he went out to see if he were not
coming. It was quite night now, that wan, livid night of the mountains,
lighted by a thin, yellow crescent moon, just disappearing behind the
Then the young man went in and sat down to warm his hands and feet, while
he pictured to himself every possible accident. Gaspard might have
broken a leg, have fallen into a crevasse, taken a false step and
dislocated his ankle. And, perhaps, he was lying on the snow, overcome
and stiff with the cold, in agony of mind, lost and, perhaps, shouting
for help, calling with all his might in the silence of the night..
But where? The mountain was so vast, so rugged, so dangerous in places,
especially at that time of the year, that it would have required ten or
twenty guides to walk for a week in all directions to find a man in that
immense space. Ulrich Kunsi, however, made up his mind to set out with
Sam if Gaspard did not return by one in the morning, and he made his
He put provisions for two days into a bag, took his steel climbing iron,
tied a long, thin, strong rope round his waist, and looked to see that
his ironshod stick and his axe, which served to cut steps in the ice,
were in order. Then he waited. The fire was burning on the hearth, the
great dog was snoring in front of it, and the clock was ticking, as
regularly as a heart beating, in its resounding wooden case.
He waited, with his ears on the alert for distant sounds, and he shivered
when the wind blew against the roof and the walls. It struck twelve and
he trembled: Then, frightened and shivering, he put some water on the
fire, so that he might have some hot coffee before starting, and when the
clock struck one he got up, woke Sam, opened the door and went off in the
direction of the Wildstrubel. For five hours he mounted, scaling the
rocks by means of his climbing irons, cutting into the ice, advancing
continually, and occasionally hauling up the dog, who remained below at
the foot of some slope that was too steep for him, by means of the rope.
It was about six o'clock when he reached one of the summits to which old
Gaspard often came after chamois, and he waited till it should be
The sky was growing pale overhead, and a strange light, springing nobody
could tell whence, suddenly illuminated the immense ocean of pale
mountain summits, which extended for a hundred leagues around him. One
might have said that this vague brightness arose from the snow itself and
spread abroad in space. By degrees the highest distant summits assumed a
delicate, pink flesh color, and the red sun appeared behind the ponderous
giants of the Bernese Alps.
Ulrich Kunsi set off again, walking like a hunter, bent over, looking for
tracks, and saying to his dog: "Seek, old fellow, seek!"
He was descending the mountain now, scanning the depths closely, and from
time to time shouting, uttering aloud, prolonged cry, which soon died
away in that silent vastness. Then he put his ear to the ground to
listen. He thought he could distinguish a voice, and he began to run and
shouted again, but he heard nothing more and sat down, exhausted and in
despair. Toward midday he breakfasted and gave Sam, who was as tired as
himself, something to eat also, and then he recommenced his search.
When evening came he was still walking, and he had walked more than
thirty miles over the mountains. As he was too far away to return home
and too tired to drag himself along any further, he dug a hole in the
snow and crouched in it with his dog under a blanket which he had brought
with him. And the man and the dog lay side by side, trying to keep warm,
but frozen to the marrow nevertheless. Ulrich scarcely slept, his mind
haunted by visions and his limbs shaking with cold.
Day was breaking when he got up. His legs were as stiff as iron bars and
his spirits so low that he was ready to cry with anguish, while his heart
was beating so that he almost fell over with agitation, when he thought
he heard a noise.
Suddenly he imagined that he also was going to die of cold in the midst
of this vast solitude, and the terror of such a death roused his energies
and gave him renewed vigor. He was descending toward the inn, falling
down and getting up again, and followed at a distance by Sam, who was
limping on three legs, and they did not reach Schwarenbach until four
o'clock in the afternoon. The house was empty and the young man made a
fire, had something to eat and went to sleep, so worn out that he did not
think of anything more.
He slept for a long time, for a very long time, an irresistible sleep.
But suddenly a voice, a cry, a name, "Ulrich!" aroused him from his
profound torpor and made him sit up in bed. Had he been dreaming? Was
it one of those strange appeals which cross the dreams of disquieted
minds? No, he heard it still, that reverberating cry-which had entered
his ears and remained in his flesh-to the tips of his sinewy fingers.
Certainly somebody had cried out and called "Ulrich!" There was somebody
there near the house, there could be no doubt of that, and he opened the
door and shouted, "Is it you, Gaspard?" with all the strength of his
lungs. But there was no reply, no murmur, no groan, nothing. It was
quite dark and the snow looked wan.
The wind had risen, that icy wind that cracks the rocks and leaves
nothing alive on those deserted heights, and it came in sudden gusts,
which were more parching and more deadly than the burning wind of the
desert, and again Ulrich shouted: "Gaspard! Gaspard! Gaspard." And
then he waited again. Everything was silent on the mountain.
Then he shook with terror and with a bound he was inside the inn, when he
shut and bolted the door, and then he fell into a chair trembling all
over, for he felt certain that his comrade had called him at the moment
he was expiring.
He was sure of that, as sure as one is of being alive or of eating a
piece of bread. Old Gaspard Hari had been dying for two days and three
nights somewhere, in some hole, in one of those deep, untrodden ravines
whose whiteness is more sinister than subterranean darkness. He had been
dying for two days and three nights and be had just then died, thinking
of his comrade. His soul, almost before it was released, had taken its
flight to the inn where Ulrich was sleeping, and it had called him by
that terrible and mysterious power which the spirits of the dead have to
haunt the living. That voiceless soul had cried to the worn-out soul of
the sleeper; it had uttered its last farewell, or its reproach, or its
curse on the man who had not searched carefully enough.
And Ulrich felt that it was there, quite close to him, behind the wall,
behind the door which be had just fastened. It was wandering about, like
a night bird which lightly touches a lighted window with his wings, and
the terrified young man was ready to scream with horror. He wanted to
run away, but did not dare to go out; he did not dare, and he should
never dare to do it in the future, for that phantom would remain there
day and night, round the inn, as long as the old man's body was not
recovered and had not been deposited in the consecrated earth of a
When it was daylight Kunsi recovered some of his courage at the return of
the bright sun. He prepared his meal, gave his dog some food and then
remained motionless on a chair, tortured at heart as he thought of the
old man lying on the snow, and then, as soon as night once more covered
the mountains, new terrors assailed him. He now walked up and down the
dark kitchen, which was scarcely lighted by the flame of one candle, and
he walked from one end of it to the other with great strides, listening,
listening whether the terrible cry of the other night would again break
the dreary silence outside. He felt himself alone, unhappy man, as no
man had ever been alone before! He was alone in this immense desert of
Snow, alone five thousand feet above the inhabited earth, above human
habitation, above that stirring, noisy, palpitating life, alone under an
icy sky! A mad longing impelled him to run away, no matter where, to get
down to Loeche by flinging himself over the precipice; but he did not
even dare to open the door, as he felt sure that the other, the dead man,
would bar his road, so that he might not be obliged to remain up there
Toward midnight, tired with walking, worn out by grief and fear, he at
last fell into a doze in his chair, for he was afraid of his bed as one
is of a haunted spot. But suddenly the strident cry of the other evening
pierced his ears, and it was so shrill that Ulrich stretched out his arms
to repulse the ghost, and he fell backward with his chair.
Sam, who was awakened by the noise, began to howl as frightened dogs do
howl, and he walked all about the house trying to find out where the
danger came from. When he got to the door, he sniffed beneath it,
smelling vigorously, with his coat bristling and his tail stiff, while he
growled angrily. Kunsi, who was terrified, jumped up, and, holding his
chair by one leg, he cried: "Don't come in, don't come in, or I shall
kill you." And the dog, excited by this threat, barked angrily at that
invisible enemy who defied his master's voice. By degrees, however, he
quieted down and came back and stretched himself in front of the fire,
but he was uneasy and kept his head up and growled between his teeth.
Ulrich, in turn, recovered his senses, but as he felt faint with terror,
he went and got a bottle of brandy out of the sideboard, and he drank off
several glasses, one after anther, at a gulp. His ideas became vague,
his courage revived and a feverish glow ran through his veins.
He ate scarcely anything the next day and limited himself to alcohol, and
so he lived for several days, like a drunken brute. As soon as he
thought of Gaspard Hari, he began to drink again, and went on drinking
until he fell to the ground, overcome by intoxication. And there he
remained lying on his face, dead drunk, his limbs benumbed, and snoring
loudly. But scarcely had he digested the maddening and burning liquor
than the same cry, "Ulrich!" woke him like a bullet piercing his brain,
and he got up, still staggering, stretching out his hands to save himself
from falling, and calling to Sam to help him. And the dog, who appeared
to be going mad like his master, rushed to the door, scratched it with
his claws and gnawed it with his long white teeth, while the young man,
with his head thrown back drank the brandy in draughts, as if it had been
cold water, so that it might by and by send his thoughts, his frantic
terror, and his memory to sleep again.
In three weeks he had consumed all his stock of ardent spirits. But his
continual drunkenness only lulled his terror, which awoke more furiously
than ever as soon as it was impossible for him to calm it. His fixed
idea then, which had been intensified by a month of drunkenness, and
which was continually increasing in his absolute solitude, penetrated him
like a gimlet. He now walked about the house like a wild beast in its
cage, putting his ear to the door to listen if the other were there and
defying him through the wall. Then, as soon as he dozed, overcome by
fatigue, he heard the voice which made him leap to his feet.
At last one night, as cowards do when driven to extremities, he sprang to
the door and opened it, to see who was calling him and to force him to
keep quiet, but such a gust of cold wind blew into his face that it
chilled him to the bone, and he closed and bolted the door again
immediately, without noticing that Sam had rushed out. Then, as he was
shivering with cold, he threw some wood on the fire and sat down in front
of it to warm himself, but suddenly he started, for somebody was
scratching at the wall and crying. In desperation he called out: "Go
away!" but was answered by another long, sorrowful wail.
Then all his remaining senses forsook him from sheer fright. He
repeated: "Go away!" and turned round to try to find some corner in which
to hide, while the other person went round the house still crying and
rubbing against the wall. Ulrich went to the oak sideboard, which was
full of plates and dishes and of provisions, and lifting it up with
superhuman strength, he dragged it to the door, so as to form a
barricade. Then piling up all the rest of the furniture, the mattresses,
palliasses and chairs, he stopped up the windows as one does when
assailed by an enemy.
But the person outside now uttered long, plaintive, mournful groans, to
which the young man replied by similar groans, and thus days and nights
passed without their ceasing to howl at each other. The one was
continually walking round the house and scraped the walls with his nails
so vigorously that it seemed as if he wished to destroy them, while the
other, inside, followed all his movements, stooping down and holding his
ear to the walls and replying to all his appeals with terrible cries.
One evening, however, Ulrich heard nothing more, and he sat down, so
overcome by fatigue, that he went to sleep immediately and awoke in the
morning without a thought, without any recollection of what had happened,
just as if his head had been emptied during his heavy sleep, but he felt
hungry, and he ate.
The winter was over and the Gemmi Pass was practicable again, so the
Hauser family started off to return to their inn. As soon as they had
reached the top of the ascent the women mounted their mule and spoke
about the two men whom they would meet again shortly. They were, indeed,
rather surprised that neither of them had come down a few days before, as
soon as the road was open, in order to tell them all about their long
winter sojourn. At last, however, they saw the inn, still covered with
snow, like a quilt. The door and the window were closed, but a little
smoke was coming out of the chimney, which reassured old Hauser. On
going up to the door, however, he saw the skeleton of an animal which had
been torn to pieces by the eagles, a large skeleton lying on its side.
They all looked close at it and the mother said:
"That must be Sam," and then she shouted: "Hi, Gaspard!" A cry from the
interior of the house answered her and a sharp cry that one might have
thought some animal had uttered it. Old Hauser repeated, "Hi, Gaspard!"
and they heard another cry similar to the first.
Then the three men, the father and the two sons, tried to open the door,
but it resisted their efforts. From the empty cow-stall they took a beam
to serve as a battering-ram and hurled it against the door with all their
might. The wood gave way and the boards flew into splinters. Then the
house was shaken by a loud voice, and inside, behind the side board which
was overturned, they saw a man standing upright, with his hair falling on
his shoulders and a beard descending to his breast, with shining eyes,
and nothing but rags to cover him. They did not recognize him, but
Louise Hauser exclaimed:
"It is Ulrich, mother." And her mother declared that it was Ulrich,
although his hair was white.
He allowed them to go up to him and to touch him, but he did not reply to
any of their questions, and they were obliged to take him to Loeche,
where the doctors found that he was mad, and nobody ever found out what
had become of his companion.
Little Louise Hauser nearly died that summer of decline, which the
physicians attributed to the cold air of the mountains.