“An Alpine Idyll” belongs at the end of the Nick Adams cycle of stories. A now mature Nick has come down from a month’s skiing in the mountains with a friend, John. They witness a peasant burying his wife and the reader experiences an epiphanic moment of recognition shared with Nick, though not with his friend.
The story opens in the early morning with two young men carrying their skis as they are climbing down from the mountains into the valley. They pass a churchyard just as a burial is ending. The narrator, who remains unnamed throughout the story but who is clearly Nick Adams, greets the priest but does not receive a greeting in return. The young men stop to watch the sexton shoveling earth into the new grave. When the sexton rests, a peasant standing at the grave takes over, spreading the soil as evenly as he would manure in a garden.
The grave filling looks unreal to the young men, and they cannot imagine being dead on such a beautiful May morning. They walk up the road to the town of Galtur; the narrator explains that they were skiing in Silvretta for a month but that with the coming of the warmer weather the skiing was spoiled. It was too late in the spring to be up in the Silvretta; they stayed too long, and the May morning in the valley seemed more natural than the spring in the high mountains.
They arrive at an inn, and, after greeting the owner, who gives them their mail, they go inside to drink beer while they read the accumulated post. During an exchange of conversation, John notes that it is no good doing a thing too long, such as skiing in the mountains in the spring. The open window draws Nick’s attention to the white road and dusty trees and the green field and stream beyond. Inside, the sunlight filters through the empty glasses. John is asleep with his head on the table. Two men come into the inn: the sexton and the bearded peasant from the burial. Both order drinks, for which, after a brief argument, the peasant insists on...
(The entire section is 811 words.)