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Authors: Hubert Aquin

Next Episode (9 page)

BOOK: Next Episode
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The revolution will come the way love came to us one June 24 when, naked and glorious, we annihilated each other on a bed of shadow while a conquered people was learning how to march in step. It will come in the manner of the absolute and repeated event that consumed us, whose plenitude is haunting me tonight. This nameless book is undecided, as I myself have been since the Seven Years War,
anarchical too as one must be at the dawn of a revolution. We can’t wish soberly for revolution, we can’t explain it like a syllogism or call it in the way that we proceed in court. The inevitable disorder is already gaining on me, moulding my soul: I am invaded like the field of a battle I prepare for feverishly. It is on us and in us that the great disruption begins; it is in our vulnerable existences and our loving encounters that the first blows are dealt. The anarchy that heralds its approach manifests itself through our ministry; it throws us in prison, broken, unsatisfied, sick. The revolution I call for has wounded me. Before hostilities have begun, my own battle is already over. Prematurely disqualified, evacuated to the interior, out of the line of fire, I’m a wounded soldier; but what a cruel wound, for according to the letter there’s no war yet and that’s what is wounding me. My country is injuring me. Its prolonged failure has flung me to the ground. Wounded and ghostly, I experience behind bars the first tremors of a story that has never been told, that resembles this book only because it too is untold and because I don’t know the names of my brothers who will be killed in battle, any more than I know the titles of the different chapters of my novel. I don’t even know what will become of my characters who are waiting for me in the Coppet woods. I’ve reached the point of wondering if I’ll get to the Hôtel d’Angleterre in time, because that’s the only thing that concerns me now: the time that separates me from our meeting is slipping by.

Melancholy permeates me through all the valves of reading and boredom. Between the second-last sentence and this one, I’ve let four or five national revolutions pass, the same number of empires, of holy alliances and joyous entries. In the same rift I’ve seen a dozen revolutions turn to failure, starting with the revolution of Geneva in 1781, that of the United Provinces of the Netherlands in 1787, that of the Austrian Netherlands, and of Liège. In less than twenty-four hours I lived from 1776 to 1870, from the Boston Tea Party to the Camp de la Misère
on the Meuse near Sedan, seeking nourishment in the harsh water of my memories. Since yesterday, somewhere between H. de Heutz and Toussaint l’Ouverture, I’ve been submerged in the secular water of revolution. I have shuddered at the thousand suicides of Tchernychevski and at the insurrectional romanticism of Mazzini. These elder brothers in despair and outrage are nearly as present in me as the Patriotes, my unknown brothers, who wait for me secretly, impatiently. Will they recognize me?

My brothers-in-war are virtual, as are the unlikely characters who await me further along in this story, who may surprise me, and as I encourage them to do specific deeds, they’ll oblige me to remember them, not wait for them as I’m doing now, fascinated by the area of freedom they move in as if they were inside a prehistory I have to end by writing something that they haven’t done yet, that they’ll do in the exact proportion to which my indifferent invention brings them up to date.

All night long the centuries file past beneath the windows of our love. But I’ve lost you, my love, and this music no longer intoxicates me. I must see you again. Without you, I die. The vast landscape of our love is darkening. I see neither the ravaged pedestal of the High Alps nor the great dead flows of the glaciers. I see nothing: neither the synclinal vault of the lake nor the overturned mass of the Hôtel d’Angleterre nor the Château d’Ouchy nor the crest of the grand hotels of Lausanne nor the invisible chalet I’ve dreamed of buying in Evolène in the high valley of Hérens, nor the vesperal form of the Château de Coppet. Nothing can save me now. My leaded coffin is sinking to the bottom of an uninhabited lake. Decades of failures and pitched battles no longer sustain me, any more than the centuries of my life in love that have been reduced to a few dates on an envelope.

I need you; I need to retrieve the thread of our story and the ellipsis that will take me back to the heat of our two consumed bodies. I don’t know where to pick up. I remember that
dialogue with H. de Heutz in the Coppet woods. But so much has happened since then, at such a brisk pace, and I’m so engaged in this jolting process that it’s less urgent for me to recount what happened between Coppet and now than to concentrate on what is happening and what is threatening to happen. Time sweeps me along. This long wait has in no way conditioned me for action. And when there is action, I’m caught off guard, compelled to improvise even though I’d carefully prepared myself for any eventuality. All that I should have guessed when I found myself in the Château d’Echandens, facing H. de Heutz who had me in his sights.


started to blur at the point in that confused meeting where I was acting, while admitting implicitly that there could be no witnesses to my conversation with H. de Heutz. I got out of the trap, and it didn’t occur to me that, while I was pushing H. de Heutz ahead of me at gunpoint, some other person was very close by, observing me, no doubt delighted to watch me bash down a wide-open door with such bravado. It was during the interval between my confinement and my flight, between the time when I disarmed H. de Heutz and when I stuffed him into the Opel’s trunk, that I stopped being logical. I was behaving like a fugitive who couldn’t be punished while I jumped with both feet into a gaping trap. Moreover, I was displaying a deranged self-confidence. Yes, I should have been careful, because everything happened as it does in the movies with murky ease. The more I think back to those few minutes, the more I wonder how plausible this sequence is. I even wonder if H. de Heutz didn’t politely slow down his reaction time when I went to disarm him simply to help me out. I’m sure he did: he cheated imperceptibly to give me time to get into the victor’s skin, to smoothly abide by the scenario that had been devised to trap me. H. de Heutz didn’t resist my injunction. He curled up in the trunk of the car. Just as I was slamming the lid on his head,
he must have given a hint of a contented smile, for I was meekly obeying him and he didn’t even have to state his orders clearly. I had become his medium: unbeknownst to me, H. de Heutz had driven me into a cataleptic state and, from his hermetically sealed position, he continued to guide me into recklessness and rapture. If only I’d had the strength to turn around, I’d have spotted two eyes fixed on me at one of the windows on the north side of the chateau.

It’s possible that the situation I’m in now is making me overstate the degree of premeditation behind the trap H. de Heutz, dear man, had set for me. Let’s admit that he’d anticipated my getaway attempt and that, among other possibilities, I might jump into the little Opel to do it. All right. But how could he have precisely imagined I’d make him get into the trunk of the car I was borrowing from him? He couldn’t foresee what approach I would make, so he was predicting something else: that I’d commandeer the Opel for my getaway! Following the internal logic of this method, after H. de Heutz had rearmed he’d have taken off after me in the other car, which I hadn’t seen but which had to have been in the garage, whose doors were shut. What’s more, H. de Heutz was positive he’d catch up with me: there’s just one road through Echandens and as soon as he saw me drive away in one direction or the other, he had plenty of time to calmly open the garage doors and take out the other car. In any event, I was bound to be driving down his road with a few minutes’ lead at most. A strictly technical problem: I couldn’t escape from him – unless of course in his haste he lost control of his vehicle and smashed his skull against a hundred-year-old tree, which was highly unlikely if you know H. de Heutz.

What happened was that as soon as I departed from H. de Heutz’s plan, he was neutralized and, who knows, maybe even helpless – for a few seconds anyway. Because it would be underestimating him to deny that he’d anticipated everything that might happen, even his own death! Consequently,
the other person was already at my back, veiled by the curtains at a window. And that other person had watched me manoeuvre H. de Heutz, following a rather baroque protocol; when he saw me turn onto the road that runs through Echandens to Saint-Prex, he’d had time to pull on his jacket, secure his high-calibre weapon in an embossed leather holster, go to the garage from the inside, take out a big car and, unbeknownst to me, start tailing me, since I hadn’t taken the precaution of glancing inside the garage to check the make of the car. Now, since I knew neither the make of the car that was following me nor the identity of its driver, I didn’t even know if I was being escorted, because of course the other person – H. de Heutz’s friend – took the precautions necessary to avoid attracting my attention, constantly changing his position on the road, his angle of surveillance, and the distance between us. At one point he must have taken the liberty of coming within a hair’s breadth of the Opel and looking me in the eye just like that. The highway to Geneva is wide enough and busy enough to conceal the expert designs of a spy. When he passed, nearly touching me, how could I have known it was him? How can you unmask an enemy when, paradoxically, you’ve implicitly eliminated him and he doesn’t exist?

And so I drove from Echandens to Place Simon-Goulart in Geneva without thinking, even as a suspicious reflex, that throughout this enchanting journey the other person was on the road very close to me, travelling along in my wake – or was I in his? – passing me on the left or right, getting a solid lead over me (while keeping my reflection in his rear-view mirror) or impetuously letting me pass while never losing sight of me. In Geneva I went directly to Place Simon-Goulart, which in the transparency of daylight opens onto an expanse of mountains and eternal snow. Just as I was parking near the Banque Arabe, an innocuous-looking stranger was parking his car near mine, never losing sight of me. It was that other person! He observed me at leisure while I was listing all the
reasons why I should clear out of Place Simon-Goulart where my Volvo was waiting. He may even have taken a position behind the great barred window of the Banque Arabe, pretending to fill out a form while keeping an eye on me as I hesitated, gracelessly and awkwardly, not too sure what to do with the Opel and the Volvo – one full, the other empty – while the morning sun illuminated the great belt of peaks and spires, plunging the layered flanks of Mont Maudit into shadow. There was no doubt about it: I’d been duped from start to finish. It had all started in the grand salon of the Château d’Echandens when I was sitting across from H. de Heutz and the three big windows that looked out on the chateau’s elegant grounds and the incantatory space of the great valley, where Lac Léman was lighted up by the first rays of sun which at that moment was at its apogee.

For twenty-four hours now I’ve hardly slept. At two a.m. I was still following a shadow that was following me, and at sunrise, around half-past five, I was facing my personal enemy number one, demoralized from listing the mistakes that had brought me to this sorry pass, unable to imagine anything to fill the conversational gaps except the story of a nervous breakdown: two children, abandoned wife, escape, my pitiful ambition to rob banks and my final resolution to make judicious use of my special Colt, blowing my brains out in a vacant lot in Carouge. Since yesterday I haven’t had time to recover except during a few hours of comatose sleep. And now in a sense I’m enjoying an infinitesimal intermission which will give me just enough time to figure out what’s happened to me and to prepare myself for what’s ahead, an infinite margin of obstacles and time separating me from our meeting on the terrace of the Hôtel d’Angleterre. The latest events surprised me so much that I have trouble recalling the order in which they occurred. I remember H. de Heutz leaning against the trunk of the car, overcome by suffering and constantly recalling his final hours with his wife and children in Belgium,
somewhere in the former Austrian Netherlands. At the last moment, he told me, he’d hesitated between suicide in the Meuse and flight. He also told me that what hurt him most was his vague recollections of his two little boys, for he couldn’t clearly recall their features or the timbre of their voices. H. de Heutz wept abundantly as he described his appalling life.

And that was when I perceived a sign! Everything began to move at lightning speed; first, I ran through the Coppet woods, heading for what I assumed to be the very heart of the forest. After a few minutes of this frantic race I came to a promontory that looks down on the village of Coppet. There, in a dazzling landscape just above the turquoise water and facing the Roc d’Enfer that stands at the front of the tangled group of massifs, I pricked up my ear: no suspicious sounds, none I could make out at any rate. Groping in my back pocket, I realized that I still had the keys for the Opel. Oh well, H. de Heutz didn’t need them now: he’d simply got into the other person’s car. For a moment it seemed to me (but was I mistaken?) that the other person was a woman: no doubt the one who’d been walking on H. de Heutz’s arm through the streets of Geneva and had suddenly disappeared as if by magic. How could I be sure? I’d only caught a glimpse of the car: I hadn’t so much seen it as guessed at it. It had practically sprung up behind me, silently, on the small road. It was H. de Heutz’s smile that made me sense it, his gaze that made me react, even more than the tires gliding along the asphalt and the engine’s imperceptible roar. That was when I realized I was surrounded and therefore had no choice: his sudden intrusion was forcing me to execute H. de Heutz before a witness and, at worst, expose myself to a surprise shot by the intruder. I turned around, I saw the car slip behind the leaves, and I spied the other person at the wheel: a woman. I saw her blonde hair first. But could I trust such a fleeting sight taxed in advanced by such hallucinatory circumstances? The blonde hair was probably a side
effect of the sun’s brightness and my own dazzlement, so that I couldn’t actually be sure the other person is a woman, one who improbably has blonde hair. A fleeting sight distorted by danger, what I remember is vague and uncertain, unless fear made my vision particularly keen! Anyway … When I heard a car door slam, I quickly realized that if I tried to get away in the Opel, I’d erupt into the middle of the woman’s field of vision and give her a moving target. I kept H. de Heutz in my sights while I walked around the car. Once I was in front of the grille I was in a better position. H. de Heutz was facing me, right in the middle of the historic space where the other person’s silhouette would soon appear. The seconds galloped by faster than my thoughts. I came within a hair’s breadth of pressing the trigger, spelling the end of H. de Heutz. But what would happen then? The other person, the blonde woman, was very close to me but I didn’t know exactly where: I could only sense her. If I had rushed to kill H. de Heutz, she’d have emptied her magazine into my head and I’d have collapsed inopportunely. Before I lost my way in this brisk current of possibles and imponderables, I made a hint of a movement of retreat, on tiptoe at first, keeping my gun pointed at H. de Heutz, who was looking at me; then, after I was far enough away that my footsteps were muffled, I started running towards what I thought was the heart of the forest – only to find myself, after a few minutes of an exhausting sprint, in the natural observatory that looks down on the village of Coppet, opposite the gutted temple of the Dents du Midi, alone at last, absolutely alone, not yet knowing if I was threatened or unpunished, but well aware that H. de Heutz was no longer within range of my gun and that though I’d narrowly escaped a second trap, I had failed doubly in my mission. H. de Heutz was still alive. And the deadline for my meeting with K, closer now, was haunting me.

BOOK: Next Episode
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