About eight o'clock
they woke with a start
. Amazed and
, she shrank
from the unexpectedness other waking. She wasn't dream
ing. It was true
. She had been married the day before and was waking up with her husband
in a bed in the neighbour's house. He was pushing back his hair and swear
ing as he painfully lifted his head. He had gone to bed dead drunk
. "You cannot refuse,"
they said. "After all, you are the bridegroom."
Halfway through the evening
he was drunk already and a shock
of brown hair had fallen forward over his face without his making any effort at all to throw it back with a shake of his head as he usually did. Shifting from leg to leg, her senses
blunted with sleep, she watched, heavy-eyed, the progress of the festivity
, diverted from time to time by the almost wild pleasure
he was taking in his own wedding feast
Since it was her wedding too, she resolute
ly stayed awake, all the while envying her cousin
who slept peaceful
ly, her head against the corner of the wall. They were the same age: thirteen-and-a-half
. At that age sleep could be pardon
ed, she had heard them say again and again. Of course, but not on the night of one's wedding.
It was long after midnight when at last he signalled her to follow him. They went through the garden
so that no one could see them or play mean trick
s on them. She helped him to jump over the fence
, to cross the ditch
, and to climb the stair
s. He fell across the bed and began to snore at once, his hands clenched like a child's. He was eighteen
. She slept, curled round on an empty corner of the mattress
They got up quickly as soon as they woke, ashamed
to have stayed in bed long. He ran to hitch
up a buggy which he drove around in front of his in-laws' house. His wife's trunk
was loaded on and he helped her up. He was embarrassed
; she, almost joyful
. Then he turned the horse at a trot
towards the property
that had been prepared for them. He was to be the second neighbour
down the road. She waved happily again and again and her mother, who, crying, kept watching,until they had rounded the corner, the blond braid that swung like a pendulum over the back of the buggy seat.
All day they worked eagerly getting settled. In the evening they went to bed early
. He embrace
d her eager
ly. Face to face
with a heat
d and entangled her in its curious movement, she was frightened
"What are you doing?"
He answered quietly, "You are the sheep and I am the ram."
she said. It was simple when one had a reference
On the first morning
s of their life together, after he had left for the field
s, she ran quickly to her mother
"Are you managing?"
her mother always asked.
the child replied smiling.
"Your husband, is he good to you?"
she said. "He says I am a pretty sheep."
Sheep... sheep? The mother, fascinate
d, watched her daughter attentively but did not dare to question her further. "Go back to your husband now,"
she said. "Busy yourself about the house and get his meal ready."
Since the girl hesitate
d uncertainly as if she did not understand, her mother sprinkled sugar
on a slice of bread spread with cream
, gave it to her and pushed
her gently toward the door
. The child went down the road eating her bread and the mother, reassured, leaned sadly
against the wall of the house watching the thick swaying braid
until the girl turned the corner of the road.
Little by little the young wife
spaced her visits. In autumn
when the cold rain began to fall, she came only on Sunday
s. She had found her own rhythm
. Was she
, too ambitious
? Perhaps she was simply inattentive. Her tempo
was too swift. She always hurried now. She wove more bed covers than her chest could hold, cultivated more vegetable
s than they could eat, raised more calves than they knew how to sell.
And the children came quickly—almost faster than nature
permits. She was never seen without a child in her arms, one in her belly, and another at her heels. She raised them well, mechanical
ly, without counting them; accepted them as the season
s are accepted; watched them leave, not with fatalism
and untroubled, always face to face with the ineluctable
cycle that makes
the apple fall when it is ripe
The simple mechanism she had set in motion did not falter. She was the cog wheel
that had no right to oversee the whole machine. Everything
Only the rhythm was too fast. She outstripped the seasons. The begetting other children pressed unreasonably on that of her grandchildren
and the order
was broken; her daughters and her sons already had many children when she was still bearing others — giving her grandson
s who were younger than they were and for whom they could have no respect
She had twenty-three
children. It was extravagant
, as one child was carried in the front door, beribboned
and wailing, one went out the rear door alone, its knapsack
on its back. Nevertheless, it was extravagant. She never realized it.
When her husband was buried and her youngest son married, she caught her breath
, decided finally on slippers and a rocking chair
. The mechanism could not adjust
to a new rhythm. It broke down. She found herself disoriented, incapable
of directing the stranger
she had become, whom she did not know, who turned round and round with outstretched arms, more and more agitated.
"And if I should visit my family?"
she asked her neighbour one day. She had children settled in the four corners of the province
, some even exile
d to the
. She would go to take the census
or, rather, she would go like a bishop
to make the rounds of the diocese
She had been seen leaving one morning, walking slowly. She had climbed into the bus
, a small black cardboard suitcase in her hand. She had smiled at her neighbours but her eyes were still haggard
She went first to the States. She was introduced to the wife of her grandson who spoke no French
and to all the others whom she looked at searchingly.
she said, "is she my child or my child's child?"
s had become confused. She no longer knew.
She went back to Sept-Isles
. One day, when she was rocking on the veranda
with one of her sons, he pointed out a big dark-haired young man who was coming down the street.
her son said. "He is my youngest."
He was eighteen and a shock of hair fell forward over his face. She began to cry
"It is he,"
she said. "It is my husband."
The next day she was taken to the home of one of her daughter
s, whom she called by her sister
's name. Her daughter took care of her for several days and
then took her to the house of the other daughter who, after much kindness, took her to the home of one of the oldest of the grandsons. She asked no questions. She cried.
Finally, one of her boys, chaplain
in a home for the aged, came to get her. She followed him obedient
ly. When he presented her to the assembled community, she turned to him and said quietly, "Tell me, are all these your brothers?"