Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

rippling over gnarled roots and granite beds, they hasten down their steep paths ; in such times the avalanche falls. The frost-hardened snow binds all fast during winter ; but the warmth of spring melts the snowy mass, at the bottom of which many hollows form, causing the whole foundation to slip, and the mass to fall from its high position upon the lower lands, where the busy life in villages, mills, and forests is in a moment hushed. There are cases, however, of persons being extricated from under these accumulations of snow, and such an event will form the substance of the present narrative.

This occurrence happened in Bergoletto, a secluded village of Piedmont, in the year 1756, after a winter distinguished by heavy falls of snow, which had not only blocked

up

the mountain-passes, and filled the vales with enormous wave-like drifts, but threatened to crush the villagers' homes by its accumulation on the house-roofs.

When the sun of March began to warm the wintry heaps, the rustics resolved to clear their huts from the snow pressure, and were thus employed on the 19th of March, when an event diverted the labours of the hamlet from roof-clearing to a more anxious task. On this morning the village clergyman was on his way to the church, and observed several of his parishioners busily engaged upon their houses. Nothing called his attention to one group of workers in particular, and he was proceeding, when a well-known sight arrested his gaze. He had directed his eye to the Alpine summits around, all bright in their snow-coverings, when the vast fields of snow suddenly moved downwards with a sound like the echoes of distant thunder. Beneath were the busy workers ; all heard the alarm from the heights, and the shout of the vicar announcing the danger. The clergyman rushed towards his house, and all fled as the impulse of the moment dictated. We must not stay to describe the fate of the village, in which thirty houses were destroyed, and the rector, with twenty-two of his people, perished, but follow the adventures of one family. The father, Joseph Roccia, was on his housetop with a son when the dreaded sounds were rd, and springing off, they both sought to reach the church. Whilst rushing with the speed of terror, Roccia heard a crushing sound behind, and turning, beheld his son knocked down by the

snow,

descending masses. He rushed back to extricate the boy, and glanced towards his home; but that home no longer met his gaze ; in its place was a snow chaos, heap piled on heap, burying all under its huge mass. Beneath were his wife, daughter, little son, and a sister ; there lay besides all his worldly wealth. The shock overcame Roccia, who was carried in a senseless state to one of the preserved houses, where he remained almost helpless for five days.

The first alarm being over, all the surviving peasants thronged to the scene of ruin, hoping to extricate some at least of their friends from their icy prison. Three hundred men collected round the avalanche, and found that the mass of snow measured nearly three hundred feet long, sixty wide, and, worst of all, nearly fifty in depth. The peasants did not, however, abandon all hope ; they well knew that animals and human beings had often existed for many days beneath huge masses of snow, and hoped to detect the position of the buried houses, and clear away the snow from each cottage. To work they accordingly went. Iron rods were plunged deep in the

in order to search for the exact position of each house before commencing the excavation. But the snow now fell so thickly that every opening was quickly filled up by the descending showers ; added to which the great depth of the heap seemed to preclude all hope of extricating the buried population, until increased warmth should thaw the mass.

At length the warm breezes and sun of April began to act upon

the snow, and again the villagers commenced on the 18th of this month their work of sorrow ; for hope could not animate their labours, as one month had elapsed since the fall of the avalanche, and none could expect to find their relatives alive. To extricate the bodies of friends for Christian burial, was now the only object in excavating, and Roccia was amongst the most active labourers. The desire of beholding his wife and children animated his efforts. Though not hoping to see them alive, he resolved to gain for them a burying place, where daily their simple graves might recall the memories of the dead. On April 24 he proceeded so far as to touch with a pole the roof of his house ; but the object of his labour was not attained, six feet of hard snow being yet above the roof. This very night, when the exhausted Roccia was seeking strength in hasty slumbers for the morrow's work,

his brother, who dwelt in a neighbouring hamlet, dreamed that his sister, Roccia's wife, was still alive, and that he heard her supplicating voice praying for help.

Deeply affected by this occurrence, the brother hastened to the scene of ruin, and imparted his dream to Roccia. Men may profess to despise dreams, but there are some of them which assume so much the character of prophetic intimations from superior beings, that the most sceptical man is insensibly swayed by their influence. Roccia was in no mood for disputation ; and such a dream called up bright hopes in his heart, and accelerated the labours of the excavating party. The house was at last reached, an entrance effected, and, with a palpitating heart, Roccia searched the rooms. To his astonishment, nothing was visible-neither form of the living nor of the dead met his view.

This was mysterious ; but the strangeness of the circumstance suggested hope, and the excited peasants were prepared for some unusual interposition of Providence. It was now surmised that the whole family might have escaped to some cattle sheds in the vicinity of the house, and an excavation was instantly commenced in that direction. At last, when it was thought they were close to the outhouses, a boring rod was thrust into the snow, that if living persons were near their attention might be attracted, and their cries reach the digging party. When the rod was drawn back, all listened, and plainly heard a faint voice utter the words “ Help, dear husband !" The sound was feeble, but it proved that life still lingered beneath the snow, and in a moment every arm was employed in tearing away the remaining obstacles.

An opening was at last made into the place where it was supposed Roccia's family were confined, and his brother sprung into the chasm. There all was total darkness ; he begged the inmates to speak. Roccia’s wife replied : now her husband and friends entered, and in a few moments Roccia embraced his wife, daughter, and sister. This was a bright day for all ; but the happiest events are not without some alloy, and thus it happened in the present case. Roccia inquired for his little son ; the poor little fellow had died, and his body lay in a corner of the shed, which had thus sheltered the living and dead under one roof.

The state of the three survivors was most distressing ; not

one was capable of moving, and their emaciated appearance proved that death must soon have fallen upon all, had relief been much longer delayed. All eventually recovered from their debility ; but the eyes of Roccia's wife were injured for the rest of her life, on account of their long seclusion from light and abrupt transition to the open day, which had produced a paralysis of the optic nerve.

But how was this party so long preserved under such fearful circumstances ? The means by which this was effected were told by Roccia's wife to her husband, and consisted of a series of providential combinations.

In the first place, the reader must remember that the nature of snow permits a volume of air sufficient for respiration to reach men or animals who may be buried therein. Thus one common cause, of death in the usual cases of burial beneath masses of matter, is to a great extent removed when snow is the superincumbent material.

Let us now note the causes which combined to preserve this engulfed family When the avalanche fell, they were not in the house, but in a stable at some distance; a circumstance which proved the chief cause of their deliverance. Had all been in the house at the moment of the crash, they must have perished from starvation, as no provisions could have been procured sufficient to support life during their long entomb. ment. In the stable the means of subsistence were at hand; six goats, some fowls, and an ass being in the place, and one of the goats was at the time giving milk, which we shall soon find became of the utmost use.

When the first crush of the avalanche was heard, a part of the ceiling gave way, upon which the affrighted family rushed to the manger for shelter. This was formed under the strongest part of the building, which resisted the enormous weight bearing upon it, and thus preserved the family from instant death. But they were now in total darkness, confined to the narrow manger, with no prospect, save a lingering death from hunger. A terrible contrast this with the quiet preparations for church, which a few minutes previously had occupied the attention of the villagers. In a short time the majority would have been raising the hymn of holy worship in that Alpine church ; but no bell sent its quiet sound that day over the valleys of this Piedmontese district.

The first thought of this snow-shrouded family respected their means of subsistence till the avalanche could be removed. They knew that every arm in their own and the surrounding hamlets would be employed day and night for their deliverance, which it was hoped a few days' labour would accomplish. These expectations were not realized, on account of the vast depth of the snow debris ; but this hindrance could not be known to those so suddenly overwhelmed. They therefore began to prepare the means of subsistence for a few days. It happened that the daughter of Roccia had about a dozen chestnuts with her, which were distributed amongst her relatives ; but this resource was soon exhausted, and it was resolved to use all means for preserving the milk-giving goat in health, with the hopes of deriving sufficient nourishment from her daily supplies. To procure food for the goat was not difficult, as over the manger was a hole leading to the hayloft, from which the animal dragged its food, being raised to the opening on the shoulders of the women. In the midst of these contrivances, it was remembered that a number of loaves of bread were deposited in a shed not far from the stables ; could these be reached, abundance of food was certain. The attempt was made, but the wall of hard snow resisted the

persevering efforts of the women to reach the spot. They were now forced to rely upon the goat's milk, and water pressed from the snow. But such food was not sufficient for the little boy, who was seized with acute pains in the bowels after they had been in this state for a week. It is difficult to imagine the agonies of the mother, in such a place; a dying child writhing in her arms; no means of assuaging its bitter pains at hand ; while the total darkness prevented her from seeing the condition of the poor boy, and the fearful stillness around and above suggested the feeling that here all must find a grave.

The absence of sound was to them the most terrible circumstance, as it clearly told the vast depth of their burial-place, and the remoteness of all help. The only sounds were within the cavity in which they rested, and proceeded from their own voices, and the movements of the animals imprisoned with them. The ass and four of the goats were buried in the snow, and their struggles broke for a time the monotony ; but at last this ceased, telling that death had already entered the place; and at the end of a fortnight the

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »