Mathilde Alanic: Shine! (part nine)
She opened the door of an adjoining room. The boy put aside his picture-book and came to greet Annie. He was a pretty child, delicate, his thin face overweighed by a high forehead, his large feverish eyes shadowed by lashes too feminine.
“Mlle Le Goël was a little friend of your lovely great uncle…go back to your play, my dear! Yes, he’s a lamb, but his health is very capricious! It gives me so much worry! The Côte d’Azur or d’Argent in the winter, the mountains in the summer… It separates me from my husband, which is not amusing. Finally, this year, Olivier has been better. I hope we can go to my uncle, at Havre, and relax after all of the election to-do. I feel very deprived I can’t to go to Normandy, where I grew up, as often as I’d like! But the climate has been too cold for my baby chick, who takes chills.”
While she chattered, Mme Conan pottered about the room, plumping a cushion, raising the blind. A noise in the street caught her attention.
“Goodness! What are those boys doing, running and shouting?”
Annie got up to look. Through the sheers, she could see the scene clearly. On the opposite walk, five or six young ruffians followed on the skirts of an oddly dressed woman, in a gown with a train, no hat, but a veil stuck to her face. The boys like a flock of sparrows dispersed when a stone came hurtling towards them. Augustin Le Goël went out to the unfortunate woman, taking her by the arms. Mme Conan, seeing the two retreat into the Lin de Bretagne, understood. From talk among her maids and housekeepers, she had learned the trials of Annie’s family. She had even heard of the broken romance. Such things can never be secret in a populous neighborhood where gossip is the chief entertainment.
Finding the pale, trembling girl holding tight to the back of a chair, she was overcome with sincerest pity. She sought a pleasant diversion. “I’ll ring for someone to bring the tea!”
Annie wanted to disappear. Through dry lips, she managed: “Oh, please, madame… I should go home.”
“But this is the hour my husband has promised to return! Stay, stay…wait! Why, here’s the car bringing him!”
Annie sat, her legs too weak for walking. She had just seen Mother Sosthène aiming for the shop to give assistance. The patient after such escapades generally collapsed, grew docile; if made to lie down, she would doze. The presence of her daughter was not essential…and above all, Annie wanted no delay consulting with M. Conan on the tasks to be undertaken.
“Bless the gods!” The professor and candidate entered the office, all business, all animation. “Here I am alive, after these endless meetings! What a thicket I’ve got tangled in! At last, here we are…it’s good of you to come today, Annie! If you like, we’ll set ourselves to shrinking the backlog.”
“Refreshment first, my love!” Mme Conan offered a cup of tea, a tartine of butter and honey.
“Excellent thought! We’ll have more heart for the work to come, won’t we, mademoiselle Le Goël? I can’t get used to calling you mademoiselle! Forgive me if I still see a little girl, with an inquisitive nose and eyes lost in a dream, surrounded by blonde locks.”
“Keep to the old ways, monsieur, like Mme Josèphe. It reminds me of the good times.”
Accustomed to suffering without complaint, Annie quieted her nerves, not to trouble the bright conversation around the tea things. The tray was carried off, the mother and little boy leaving next. The writer opened a leather-bound binder, and searched for a letter, folded unsealed among others. He became grave, hesitating before Annie.
“You are feeling stoic?”
She forced a small laugh. “I am, being forced to it. And I don’t even know it! As M. Jourdain said of prose.”
“Well. Better you have this told you plainly. You will probably not have the pleasure of hearing your piece performed in the coming season. The director of the Public Theatre has declared bankruptcy, and his successor won’t endorse his engagements. Don’t torture yourself beyond measure. It needs a little patience…have hope!”
“Disappointment can hardly surprise me,” she said, low-voiced. “Early on, before I’d dreamed of or tried anything, I made myself envision the worst outcome likely.”
This moral strength evidenced a self-control so strict, that Patrice Conan regarded the young woman with astonishment.
Annie arranged the blotter, sat before the table and said gently: “I’ve come to work, monsieur, if you’ll tell me my duties.”
And they began reading through a stack of letters, notes, and telegrams.
(2020, translation, Stephanie Foster; 1922, Mathilde Alanic, Rayonne!)