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Authors: Hubert Aquin

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Words learned, words silenced, our bodies naked at the national solstice, our bodies struck down as they emerged from a caress and the last snow of winter slowed our fall, everything around me is shaken in a crisis of depreciation, as though we were approaching a global conflict. The storm that rages in the financial section strikes my very heart: morbid inflation makes me swell, overflow. I’m afraid, terribly afraid. What will happen to me? I’ve felt helpless ever since Bakunin’s death in a common prison in Berne, awash in debt and forgotten. Revolution, where are you? Are you sinking in flames in the middle of Lac Léman, absurd sun that sheds no light on the depths where I’m making my way, incognito?… Between July 26 and my inflationary night, I keep inventing the arms of the woman I love and celebrating through the weary repetition of my prose the prophetic anniversary of our revolution. I keep coming back to this torrid room. Beneath our mingled bodies a muffled sound came to us from the joyful city: a constant gasping, unendurable punctuation transmitted all the way to our maquis. And I remember the disorder we inflicted on everything around us; I remember the brightness of the sky, the darkness inside our flying cabin. It was hot, very hot, on that June 24. It seemed to us, my love, that something was about to begin that night, that our torchlit parade would set fire to the colonial night, fill with dawn the great valley of the conquest where we’d seen the light of day, where on this summer night we’d reinvented love and, in the tremors and the tricks of pleasure, conceived a dazzling event that is loath to come into being. But tonight I am depopulated: my streets are empty, desolate. All these joyous people are abandoning me.
The important persons I yearned for are breaking away from the future. The plot is being resolved at the same time that my sentence is dislocated without any fuss.

I won’t accept that what was being made ready on that particular June 24 won’t come about. An apocryphal sacrament joins us inextricably to the revolution. The project we’ve started we shall finish. To the very end I’ll be the person I began to be with you, in you. These things happen. Wait for me.

 

I
FLOOR THE
gas pedal. There’s a quiet place I know near the Château de Coppet. I can get there in a few minutes. I’ve already wasted too much time. As soon as I’ve finished with my passenger, I’ll leave the Opel near the Coppet station and take the omnibus-train to Geneva where I’ll get my Volvo back; this time, I’ll take the expressway so I’ll be on the terrace of the Hôtel d’Angleterre at half-past six to join K. Better yet, I’ll take the train to Lausanne, I’ll get a taxi at the station, and I’ll be at the Hôtel d’Angleterre three or four minutes later. I’ll abandon the Volvo immediately and gladly and report the incident to the Bureau, a mere formality. After all, I’m not going to travel around in a car that’s already been identified. Here I am at Coppet, ravenously hungry (it’s already past twelve-thirty), but I’ll eat when it’s over. I’m anxious to be done with H. de Heutz and all the rest. Before I board the train that will take me to Lausanne, I’m sure I’ll have a few minutes to munch a
croûte zurichoise
at the station restaurant, washed down with white wine from the Valais. While I wait and as I make my way through Coppet en route to the Château, I concentrate on the problem of von Ryndt-de Heutz. The minute the trunk is open, I’ll bring him out at gunpoint and haul him into the forest. It won’t be hard to find the clearing where I picnicked with K one beautiful Sunday afternoon. Here is
Necker’s chateau already, with its worn-out romanticism and its princely iron gate. Now I just have to turn left. Yes, that’s it. I stay in second gear. All around me there’s nothing and no one. I’m perplexed. This bit of road doesn’t lead to the little forest, at least I don’t think it does. I stop the car, letting the engine idle. I decide to go on. I advance a few hundred feet: already the broader landscape looks familiar. Yes, I’m here. I advance cautiously, nearly at a walk; if I take anyone by surprise I can always claim I’m a tourist exploring the area around the chateau. All that’s missing is an edition of Benjamin Constant’s diary. I know where I am now. The edge of the forest. Will I have trouble finding the entrance we used in the parchment-green Renault we’d rented for nine days? I still can hear the melody of “Desafinado.” It’s following me, a lyrical germ of my state of mind and of my desire to escape by hiding in this woods near the Château de Coppet, and in the piece of writing that is taking me back to Switzerland and helping me get over my hunger while I drive my passenger into the forest, brushing against the branches of the Jurassic pines that fill this woods where other exiles have ventured before me.

I turn off the ignition. A religious silence surrounds the little blue car. The air feels good, very mild. The only sound is the peaceful murmur of nature. Nothing suspicious. I take the gun from the waistband of my trousers; I turn the cylinder, check the safety, the trigger, the number of cartridges. Everything’s in order. Still nothing around. I can make out the hum of a train in the distance: most likely it’s the fast train between Zurich and Geneva that departs the Lausanne station at 11:56. I study the ground around the car: no trap, no unexpected difference in level, and, all things considered, enough clear space to give me room to play with my favourite banker. Now is the time. Not a sound from inside the trunk; I press my ear against its sun-warmed wall and hear absolutely nothing: it’s as if I’ve transported a corpse. Really, there’s no sign of life
in the little overheated coffin. But surely H. de Heutz hasn’t disappeared by magic. This is getting on my nerves. I lift the licence plate that acts as a double panel and insert the key to unlock the trunk.

Ever since I got up this morning I’ve been fighting a constantly renewed emotion. It’s Sunday. A beautiful day. And on highway 8 between Pointe-au-Chêne and Montebello, I see a beige car travelling without me. There’s something thrilling about the countryside as you leave Pointe-au-Chêne to go up the Ottawa River towards Montebello and arrive at Papineauville. I like that winding road, the lazy twists and turns of the Ottawa, the elegant hillsides along our border – secret undulations stamped with intimacy and a thousand memories of happiness. I also like this extreme landscape where there is still room for me. When all this is over, I’ll settle there in a house set back from the road, not on the shore of the Ottawa but in the hinterland with its lakes and forests on the road between Papineauville and La Nation. That’s where I’ll buy a house, close to La Nation, near the entrance to the big estate on Lac Simon where you can portage all the way to Lac des Mauves and La Minerve. And I’ll cry because it’s taken me so long to find the house between Portage-de-la-Nation and La Nation or between La Nation and Ripon or on the Chénéville road between La Nation and Lac Simon. I’m terribly afraid I’ll die hanging from the bars in a penitentiary cell with no time to return to La Nation, lacking the freedom to go there and stretch out in the warm summer grass, to run along the edge of the great forests filled with deer, to gaze at the enormous sky above the house where one day I’ll live a sweet life without tears. Where is the country that resembles you, my true and secret native land, the country where I want to love you, where I want to die? This morning, a Sunday flooded with childlike tears, I cry like you, my child, because I’ve not yet arrived at the sunny fields of the countryside around La Nation that spreads out in the
warm light of the country we’ve come back to. The next hours will break me. A few more hours would give me time to get on highway 8 at Saint-Eustache, where our brothers died, then go up the Ottawa through Oka, Saint-Placide, Carillon, Calumet and Pointe-au-Chêne, and from Pointe-au-Chêne to Montebello and on to Papineauville, where I’ll head for La Nation by way of Portage-de-la-Nation and Saint-André-Avelin. A few hours would bring me to La Nation, near a house set back from history which I’ll buy one day. Will I be there a few years from now? Let me go back to that summer Sunday deep in the countryside I love. Let me lie down again on the warm earth of the country, my love, and in the vulnerable bed that awaits us. The sun lights up a house that I don’t know, that I won’t be able to get to before night, not tomorrow or the day after or any other day before my appearance at the courthouse before the Court of Queen’s Bench, where I’ll have to answer for the gloom that postponed my journey to La Nation, to that house of sun and sweetness where we’ll live one day. Before the judge, I’ll have to answer for the night and exonerate myself of the suicidal eclipse of an entire people; I’ll have to answer for my brothers who took their own lives after the defeat at Saint-Eustache and for those who imitate them, while a screen of melancholy prevents them from seeing the sun that’s lighting up La Nation at this very moment. I can’t break the hoops that are tightening around me and go on to the house that awaits us on the winding road from Papineauville to La Nation, to make my way towards you, my love, and towards the few days of love I still dream of living. But how am I to get out of this situation? It’s impossible.

And how can I get rid of H. de Heutz? The lid of the trunk springs open a crack. I jump back. My passenger, who’s curled up inside, is well and truly alive. He looks all around him, then unfolds himself suspiciously. He’s obviously numb. Now he’s standing here outside the trunk.

“Don’t move or I’ll shoot.”

Now he is looking at me. He’s as solemn as a Buddha minus the smile. I could shatter that image as I grip the 45 firmly in my right hand.

“And now, toss me your papers.”

He complies. I bend down to pick up his Florentine leather wallet. Three blue-on-blue hundred-Swiss-franc notes. A business card: Charles-André Junker, Imefbank, rue Petitot 6, Geneva. Telephone: 26 12 70. That’s a banker I’ll soon be consulting about the appreciation of our revolutionary investments in Switzerland. Mechanically I pocket the engraved card and the 100
FS
notes. Quickly I empty the compartment of his papers. There’s a driver’s licence in the name of François-Marc de Saugy, boulevard des Philosophes 16, Liège. Profession: procurator.

“Procurator of Carl von Ryndt and H. de Heutz I assume?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know those names …”

“It’s pointless to waste my time, Monsieur … de Saudy …”

“De Saugy …”

“… Monsieur de Saugy. Your
ID
is in order: you have an expert supplier, I can see that. But I’m not interested in the forger’s art … I know who you are – de Heutz or von Ryndt, I don’t care! – and I know that you’re working against us. I may as well tell you, we’ve dismantled your clever organization and we’re well aware of your close ties with your counterparts in Montreal and Ottawa. To put it bluntly, you’ve had it. Now that we’re face to face again, you’ll understand my dilemma: it’s you or me. It’s the logic of battle. And since I’m the one who is holding you, my dear banker, your time is up. You can say your prayers, as long as they’re brief …”

I see him decompose before my eyes. No doubt he’s trying to get out of this and reverse the situation. This time, though, I’m the one holding the weapon and I’m very comfortable in this position. If I feel relaxed, it’s simply because I’ve got the upper hand. In a way I’m savouring my advantage.

“Look … Please. Let me explain …”

“… explain how you collaborate with the
RCMP
and its big sister the
CIA
; and how you regularly contravene article 47b of the Swiss federal constitution to gain access to the bank accounts of certain anonymous investors. Sure, go ahead and explain. I’m all ears.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Monsieur. Believe me, the truth is sadder and certainly less mysterious. At the chateau this morning I put on a show for you. I played my part … I repeat: the truth is rather depressing. What can I tell you? I’m seriously ill. For weeks now I’ve been living like a fugitive …”

“Don’t tire yourself. I know you’re going to talk nonsense to try to gain some time. But it’s not working.”

“I’m not making this up, I swear. It’s the truth. I swear, on the heads of my children!… Yes, I have two children, two little boys. And I haven’t seen them for weeks. They’re in Belgium. I abandoned them. I ran away. Couldn’t face up to my problems any more. It was the bankruptcy: I didn’t know what to do. And I panicked. One night I wrote a letter to my wife, confessing everything, then I took off without seeing her again, like a coward. My wife didn’t have enough to live on for a week. I boarded the express train to Basel. And I thought that once I was there, where no one knows me, I could steal some money and send it to my wife …”

Listening to his story I feel giddy. H. de Heutz seems so overwhelmed and genuinely moved that I let down my guard. Yet it’s obvious that he’s having a joke at my expense. This entire cock-and-bull story bears a strange resemblance to the one I told him this morning at the Château d’Echandens when I was unilaterally disarming him. Right now H. de Heutz is spinning exactly the same convoluted yarn. It’s plagiarism. Does he really think I’ll swallow it?

“I’m not lying. I went to Basel first. I thought that with my Mauser, I’d work miracles and become a high-class thief
overnight: impeccable, polite with cashiers, unpunished to the end. I thought all I’d need was this weapon and my despair, and in a few days I’d make my fortune and send money orders to my wife. I lived in that state for a few days but I never stole anything, never sent a penny to my wife. Every day I’d think: ‘Today’s the day. Today, I’ll succeed.’ And I’d tell myself that soon, when I was rich, I’d bring my wife and children to Switzerland. We could settle here happily, rent a villa in the mountains in the Val d’Hérens near Evolène. I know a wonderful spot around there. I want to live there with my wife and children. You can’t imagine how I long to see those boys. I don’t even know if my wife’s been able to get her hands on any money. When I left Liège I had debts, a mass of debts she didn’t know about. Could she have grown discouraged and killed herself, after strangling the children? I’m afraid. I don’t know what to do. I wonder if I’ll ever see my two little boys again. They probably expect me to turn up at dinner-time every evening. When I was in Liège, I always came home from the office at the same time. They must be asking their mother when I’ll be back, and she must be telling them that I’ve gone away for my work or that I’m dead. It would be good, actually, if she told them I’d died in the war and that I would never come back to play with them …”

BOOK: Next Episode
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