Mathilde Alanic: Shine! (part four)
A burst of energy made her straighten. She looked at the envelope, on the table where she’d thrown it. Why allow defeat, when her luck had turned? The dear sufferer, cowed by the domineering Clélie, would regain her balance in a peaceful atmosphere. To tear her from this gloomy, hostile house…though it would call for struggle, labor, action…could be done. And must, without delay!
But first, to send the telegram before the post office closed. The counsel of M. Conan could only be good and wise…Annie would follow it and authorize the review to publish her name. From there, a quick run to the house of Mme Barral, mother to him Annie considered companion of her life to come.
An elderly neighbor, who at times helped in the house, consented to watch Marceline. Annie like an arrow flew to the post. Her dispatch on its way, she hurried to the rooms of Mme Barral.
It was Saturday evening. Sylvain must arrive from Vitré at around this hour. Each week the young man, assigned for six months to a branch of the factory, returned to Rennes for the Sunday. What to say to him of this marvelous news? Annie dreamed ahead, enjoying his surprise, how he would feel…
Mme Barral was from that same part of the country as the Desrousseaux sisters, Clélie and Marceline. The ups and downs of life had pushed her too from Cévennes to the Breton capital. Being widowed, she had come to live in the faubourg Saint-Hélier, and was now neighbor to the old companions of her convent-school days. Clélie hadn’t the strength of will to push off one who, by evoking a more glittering past, flattered her pride. Work in hand, the widow had visited in the evenings, taking advantage of the lamp.
This habit lasted until Sylvain left his regiment. The young man gained acceptance easily enough at the Lin de Bretagne, for knowing that he must find favor with Clélie. Involved in the city’s intellectual movement, he brought to Uncle Augustin the papers, the major reviews, which benefited Annie. Himself employed at the Soufflet factory, he sometimes joined her on the way home.
They discussed literature. Sylvain contributed to a few local publications. He spoke of his distaste for commerce. Ah! If it were only possible to follow his aspirations! Annie, timidly, confessed her attempts at poetry. Barral showed himself a severe critic. However, a short time after, Mlle Le Goël had been shocked to find, on the page of a theatrical magazine, one of her sonnets, composed at age fourteen to honor a little company of performers at her school, entitled “Amitié”.
The blood rushed to her cheeks. “This is treason! To print this nonsense! Then decorate it with the sparkling signature of Stellina…which only points up the triteness!”
Sylvain, amused at her reproaches, smiled. “I agree with you. The prosody is defective. But I enjoyed your definition of friendship: My name alone says Love, Power, and Pity; I share with you the joy and suffering… And most particularly, I have a taste for this bad verse: To stanch your tears, beside you I remain! I see you, completely yourself, in this role.”
“Don’t joke. Your friendship has been sweet to me, more than you guess! My mother doesn’t understand me… Annie, our talks have helped me bear with a heartrending disappointment, a great sentimental… Perhaps we might, one day, when certain material difficulties have been ironed out, ‘share the joy and suffering’. Would you wish to say with me: We wait! We hope!?”
She could not answer. But his confusion spoke eloquently. Sympathy sincere and loyal seemed to her a measure of faith more certain than needy passion, easily raised. For, at a timely hour, she’d had this instruction in the dangers of love; Annie, by her father’s adventure had been made wary of the fatal enchantment, the illusion that leads to the abyss. Sylvain spared her those precious floridities, the odes she attracted for her fresh complexion, pale blonde hair, and trim figure, which revolted her as though they were insults. His reserve better showed his esteem, and the seriousness of his feelings.
Mlle Virot, at this moment, had passed near the young people, and turned her head with exaggerated discretion. Annie could explain no further. But their bargain, silently, was concluded.
Now the modest dream could blossom. How sweet to live together in intellectual communion, everlasting! For the success of Annie would lead to that of Sylvain. He would find more openings, ones more lucrative, in placing his articles and stories. The sadness of the past would fade away. Her young man would develop the talents he sensed in himself, constant and tormenting.
She flung up the twisting staircase that led to Mme Barral’s rooms, eager to announce all these promises of joy. When the widow appeared, at a cheery ringing of the bell, Annie threw herself into her arms.
“Oh, dear madame, I must kiss you! I’ve had the wildest luck! Is Sylvain here?”
“No!” Mme Barral had accepted the honor without effusion, and with an air a bit constrained. “My son is not coming to Rennes tomorrow. I’ll be going to him, by the morning train.”
“Oh.” Disappointment brought Annie up short.
“Yes, he’s invited me to lunch. A ride in a car! He is making good connections there. But if you’ll confide in me, I’ll let him know what this is about.”
Crestfallen, Annie cast her eyes around the little room, with its parquet floor mirror-polished, its freight of Louis XIII furniture, stiff and haughty, chairs pushed to the walls, round woven mats at their feet. A certain link fixed itself in her mind, between this correct and glacial orderliness, and this woman stiltedly polite. All Annie’s desire to open up to her died.
(2020, translation, Stephanie Foster; 1922, Mathilde Alanic, Rayonne!)