Authors: Anne Hébert
Also by Anne HÃ©bert
Am I Disturbing You?
AurÃ©lien, Clara, Mademoiselle, and the English Lieutenant
Burden of Dreams
The First Garden
In the Shadow of the Wind
A Suit of Light
Day Has No Equal but the Night
Translated by Norman Shapiro
Copyright Â© 1970 Ãditions du Seuil
English translation copyright Â© 1973 Crown Publishers Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
This edition published in 2000 by
House of Anansi Press Inc.
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Toronto, ON, M5V 2K4
Tel. (416) 363-4343Â Â Â Â Â Fax (416) 363-1017
First published in French as
in 1970 by Ãditions du Seuil.
General Paperbacks edition published in 1982.
Stoddart Publishing edition published in 1994.
Distributed in Canada by
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Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication Data
HÃ©bert, Anne, 1916â2000
Translation of: Kamouraska
I. Title.Â Â II Title: Kamouraska. English.
PS8515.E16K313Â Â 2000Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â C843'.54Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â C00-930744-3
PQ3919.H37K3313Â Â 2000
While this novel is based on an actual event that took place many years ago, it is still very much a work of fiction. The real participants in the drama have lent it only their outermost, “official” gestures, as it were.
From that point on, they have gradually developed within my own mind, and have come to be imagined creatures all my own. â
Cover design: Angel Guerra
Page composition: Joseph Gisini/Andrew Smith Graphics Inc.
We acknowledge for their financial support of our publishing program the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP).
Printed and bound in Canada
The summer went by from beginning to end. Unlike other years, Madame Rolland didn't leave her home on Rue du Parloir. It was very fair, very warm. But neither Madame Rolland nor the children went to the country that summer.
Her husband was going to die, and she felt a great calm. He was just slipping away, ever so gently, hardly suffering at all, and with such admirable good taste. And Madame Rolland waited, dutiful and above reproach. If she felt a pang in her heart from time to time, it was only that now and again this waiting seemed about to assume distressing proportions. That peaceful sense of being free, ready for anything â that feeling that surged through her, down to her very fingertips â couldn't bode any good. Everything seemed bent on taking place as if it would soon be clear, past all the waiting, just what her real expectation meant. Somewhere beyond the death of that man who had been her husband for almost eighteen years. But even now grief was working its protective defenses. She clutched at it, hanging onto it like a railing. Anything was better than that awful calm.
I should have left Quebec. Gone away from here. All alone in this barren, empty July. There's no one I know left in town. I go
out, and people stare at me like some strange beast. This morning, back from market. Those two young hoodlums, looking me up and down. Watching me every step of the way. I shouldn't go out alone. The city's not safe anymore. No doubt about it now. People are watching. Spying. Following me. They keep coming closer and closer all the time. They're right behind me. That woman, yesterday, almost on top of me. I could feel her there, with that steady, deliberate step. Right at my heels. And when I turned around, she jumped into a doorway and hid. Yes, I saw her disappear inside. Nimbler, quicker than anyone, except . . . Oh, yes, that's what tugs at my heart. So nimble, so quick . . .
I could have shaken her off, silly thing. No trouble at all. Could have taken a cab. Crossed the street. Gone into a shop. Could have sent for my driver to hitch up the horses and come pick me up. But I just kept walking, never looked back. Sure I was dragging her right behind me, there all the time . . . Walking, always walking. People turn and stare as I go by. That's what my life has been. Feeling humanity split in two to watch me pass between the rows. The Red Sea parting to let the holy army cross. That's what this world is like. Life in this world, this life of mine. And one fine day I had to face this miserable world. Stand up to it. With two policemen by my side, no less. Me, Elisabeth d'AulniÃ¨res. Widow of Antoine Tassy, wife of JÃ©rÃ´me Rolland. And I felt like laughing in the whole world's face. Oh, what a ride, what a lovely sleigh ride! From Lavaltrie to Montreal. The warrant for my arrest, the two policemen stinking of beer, the ride through Montreal. And in such style! The warden tells me how sorry he is, and he bows and scrapes right down to the floor. The black door shuts behind me. Four moldy walls. The smell of the toilet. The cold. The indictment . . . Court of King's Bench. Session of September 1840. The Queen against Elisabeth d'AulniÃ¨res-Tassy . . . My wild youth. Interrogations. Witnesses. And each time I had to spruce up my innocence.
Like beauty between two dances, like virginity between two affairs. Two months locked up, then home. Reasons of health. Family reasons. Good-bye, prison. And good-bye to you, dear warden. You poor bewildered man. Well, you have my maid to console you. Justice can hold her as long as it likes. Two years behind bars. Poor AurÃ©lie Caron. But time wipes the slate. And now you're free, as free as your mistress. A new life, a new start . . . They'll never extradite my lover. Charges withdrawn. Two years. Just have to accept things the way they are. Get married again. No veil this time, no orange blossoms. JÃ©rÃ´me Rolland, my second husband, and honor is restored. Honor. What an ideal to set yourself when love is what you've lost. Honor. A fine obsession to dangle before your nose. The donkey and his carrot. Daily dole at the end of a stick. And the hungry little ass goes trotting all day long. All his life. Until he can't go on anymore. What a farce! But it keeps you going, a whole life through. Oh, how I love to walk through the streets, with the image of my virtue just a few steps ahead! Never out of my sight. Eyes peeled, like a prison guard. Always on that image. The Sacred Host in the holy procession. And me, right behind, like a silly little goose. Yes, that's all a virtuous woman is. A gaping fool that struts along, staring at the image of her honor . . . To dream, to escape, get rid of the obsession. To lift the mourning veil. To look at every man in the street. All of them. One after another. And have them all look back. To run away from Rue du Parloir. Find my love, at the end of the earth. In Burlington. Burlington. The United States.
In a while you'll leave Canada, won't you? That's all I ask. Please, tell me how I can write you.
Oh, how the poor thing suffered! How cold he was that winter, all alone, all the way to Kamouraska. Four hundred miles, to Kamouraska and back. Oh, love, love. You've hurt me so! Why pity you? You ran, ran off like a coward. Left me behind, by
myself, to face that pack of judges. That horde. My love, my love. Let me bite you, beat you, kill you . . . Never to see that face again, that lovely face. And age bearing down on me, coming to get me. It hasn't touched me yet. At least not much. Two fine little lines from my nose to the corners of my mouth. The constant strain to be virtuous, I suppose. But still, I know my good days are numbered. Disaster can't be far away. Crow's-feet â more like claws â all around my eyes. Starting to lose my shape. But still in one piece. Yes, I'm all in one piece. And after the hell they put me through. My trial by horror. My ordeal of the flesh. But flesh that simply wouldn't be destroyed. See for yourself. Like the salamander. My body is so far ahead of my soul. All my teeth, good breasts, my buttocks firm. A filly. A two-year-old. And standing tall besides. Proud look of virgins that won't give in. A husband, two husbands. And the love that left me one February night, left me on the shelf to gather dust. There in Sorel. After the tragedy at Kamouraska. When my love came back from Kamouraska. I'd never come so close to being happy. And he ran away. The one and only man. He ran away, blood dripping from his hands. Burlington. Burlington. I seem to hear that name, ringing in my ears, shrill as a bell. To taunt me. Make me die by inches. Ding, dong, ding . . . No need to play the martyr's role. It hasn't been so hard to lead a virtuous life these eighteen years. Model wife of JÃ©rÃ´me Rolland. Mild little man who insists on his rights before he'll go to sleep. Every night, or so it seems. Until his heart can't stand it anymore. And me, always the dutiful wife. Period or not. Pregnant or not. Nursing or not. And sometimes even a galling little pleasure from it all. Oh, the shame of that pleasure stolen from my love. Why mince words, why pretend? I was nothing but a faithful belly, a womb for making babies in. Eight children by him. And three with the one before. With Antoine Tassy, the squire of Kamouraska! See the third? Who could his father be, do
you suppose? This child . . . The source. The real beginning of my woman's life. Dear little Nicolas, whom do you look like? Your eyes? My lost love's eyes. I know it for sure. The image of my love, this third son of mine. So dark, so slender. This little man. My little devil off at school.
Soon I'll be free. A widow again. Oh, to be decked out already in fine, sheer crape and the best black veils. The cheap ones turn green before you know it. Wiping my eyes, my tearless eyes. Breezing along in some unknown city, huge and endless, filled with men. My sails unfurled. Roaming the seas . . . The city is like the ocean, haughty and wild . . . Leaving, to find the only tenderness my heart ever knew. Lost love. And this squalling brood of mine. Carrying them, giving birth to them, nursing them, weaning them. Days, nights, my every minute. The death of me and my reason for living, both at once. No time for anything else. Eleven babies in twenty-two years. This dull, blind land. And all the blood, the milk, the chunks of crusty afterbirth. So much, so much. Poor Elisabeth, unstinting Elisabeth. Dear little Nicolas, one and only child of my love. The holy sacrifice I offered up, there in the snow. In the cove at Kamouraska, frozen over, smooth as a dry, dusty field. Murderous love. Treacherous love. Deadly love. Love. Love. The only living thing in this world. The madness of love.
Please tell me how you are and how the poor child is doing.
His last letter, stopped by the judges.
Madame Rolland stands erect, hardly breathing, hands poised on her crinoline skirt. Bends her head toward the shutters and takes a sharp look between the slats. Pricks up her ears, hidden by her hair pulled tightly back. The street below exhales its warm, wet breath. Along the eaves the gutter clatters, overflowing. In the bedroom thick with velvet, filled with furniture from England, a man's voice rasps in an inaudible mumble. Something about the gutter.