Mathilde Alanic: Shine! (part eight)
On the designated evening, Annie went to the town hall, accompanied by her uncle. They were among the first to arrive, and found seats in a good row not far from the stage. When Patrice Conan appeared, he was greeted by warm applause. He bowed, and smiled at a few acquaintances. His eyes coming to rest on the troubled face of Annie, the smile grew wider, more cordial.
She blushed in joy and innocent pride. But soon a strange uneasiness stole over her, and she had to turn her head, as though drawn by a magnet. Sylvain Barral, seated at some distance, stared at her with a dark, disgusted face. Annie then recalled that the Breton Buzz, a few weeks past, had officially announced “The Revenge of Armande” victorious, with the added information that “M. Conan, the illustrious professor and writer who honors our city of Rennes, made one of the jury.”
This insidious and deflating proximity, the laureate could not ignore. Its source gave freely of himself today, his smile frozen in envy and malice. To these hurtful impressions Annie closed her soul, and to memory. Patrice Conan spoke.
He was of medium height, but carried his head of thick, shining brown hair upright; he resembled the celebrated Quentin Massys portrait of Erasmus. In oratory, he possessed those natural gifts that confer authority: an easy physicality, black eyes penetrating and gentle, a resonant, musical voice whose inflections bent to the nuance of his thought.
Breton of lineage and birth, his Celtic heritage increased by an Irish grandmother from whom he’d gained the name Patrice, the master loved religiously the old earth under which lay concealed so many secrets. He untombed her rich folklore and made this live again in his poems and stories.
Breton as well, the audience were captivated, thrilled with a deep enthusiasm at hearing evoked the splendor of that legendary land. The valiants of the Round Table, Perceval, King Arthur, and Merlin the enchanter, came forth from the mists of ages. It was intoxicating, the writer’s eloquence, and was everyone’s opinion the spell had ended too soon!
They showed their enthusiasm in a prolonged round of shouts and bravos. Annie listened to the comments of the crowd around her, delighted for him, until a discordant note grated through the laudatory.
“Clever thought, launching a campaign by exhuming such outmoded bric-à-brac… The druids! The bards! Oh, no, the young have had enough of looking backwards! We are futurists!”
Augustin Le Goël threw a glance of contempt over his shoulder, at the mocking face of Sylvain Barral. He grumbled, under the brush of his mustache, “The young! Rather the failures, who believe themselves intellectual, and are not even intelligent!”
Annie stuck close to her uncle, so surprisingly combative this evening. Once outdoors, he explained himself:
“You see, my dear, we do not call ourselves Le Goël with impunity! That shivering you feel in your depths, when you hear one speak of Bretagne, where our forefathers lived… You know that the name of Conan means king! He may be descended from such. Whether our line was noble, I don’t know…at times I’ve suspected it. I’ve tried to decipher some papers, almost illegible, that came from an aunt in her nineties. I was given the sheaf of them too late.”
They crossed the bridge, and had reached the avenue when an automobile stopped nearby. A voice they knew told them who’d climbed out, as he said, closing the door:
“Never mind, go on! I assure you, friends, a little walking will do me good! Farewell!”
This night in July was so moonlit, that on his way home M. Conan had recognized uncle and niece. He came to them, familiarly. “My neighbors! Good evening, M. Le Goël! Annie, a complaint, on behalf of Mme Conan and myself. Why haven’t you visited us yet?”
“I was afraid to be a bother, monsieur, to either of you. You have so much to do right now!”
“Don’t be shy. My wife was kept at home by migraine this evening, but we had spoken of you in the afternoon. She hasn’t forgotten your kindness, your gentle ways with the dear old man we were so fond of.”
“When he was weak and blind, I was only too happy to be of use to him!”
“But to have sensitivity, and to know when it’s needed, are always rare qualities. By the way, seeing me buried in letters these latter days, Mme Conan regretted you weren’t free to help sort the jumble, which can only get worse!”
“Oh! Monsieur, what a satisfaction that would be!” Annie spoke with some passion. “And, actually, I hardly ever take my annual vacation. I could! I’m entitled to a fortnight at least. While I wait for leave, I might help you in the evenings, if you’d like.”
“Very much! Since we’re neighbors, nothing easier! Mme Conan detests new faces…I will carry home happy news, and that will please her. Goodnight!”
The next day, a Sunday, Annie found herself in the large courtyard, shaded by its chestnut trees, climbing those steps she had so many times hopped up in the past. Mme Conan came to her in the vestibule, to extend an affable hand.
“So many years since I’ve seen you, Mlle Le Goël, but I would know you anywhere by that crown of golden hair!”
Aged thirty-five, a brunette, Mme Conan had a creole languor in her movements. She approached, and her words were like a warm hug. Ushering Annie into the study, she burst into a fretful fuss before the growing mass of paperwork on the table.
“My poor husband is truly submerged. I’d predicted it! What’s the good of launching himself into such a mare’s nest! One of the election men accompanies him on his rounds, but for his professional correspondence, which never ends, he needs someone. Now, myself, I find writing a horror! And then, so many things to look after…my son to care for. Olivier!”
Uncle Augustin (“he explained himself”) is referring to the meaning defined below:
Goel, in the Hebrew Bible and the rabbinical tradition, is the person who, as the nearest relative of another, is charged with the duty of restoring that person’s rights and avenging his wrongs. One duty of the goel was to redeem a relative who had been sold into slavery.
taken substantially from Wikipedia
(2020, translation, Stephanie Foster; 1922, Mathilde Alanic, Rayonne!)