Mathilde Alanic: Shine! (part eleven)
Augustin, from that point reassured, waited his hour with admirable patience. Seated at the foot of the bed, Annie intently sought the least sign, the most feeble call. Her uncle received his comforts and care with a near smiling calm, that clearly said:
“Nothing need be done, but what contents you.”
Wholly master of himself, having ordered his affairs of conscience, he arranged the temporal with an equal lucidity.
“Naturally,” he told his niece, “the safe-box containing the Le Goël family papers will be yours. Your aunt will give you a few thousand francs from me. You have been unhappy with us…I am to blame.”
Clélie went to the door and left without returning. Augustin continued, looking at Annie:
“You have lived in a cage. For all that, you must not despise anyone. Your father has wept over you…I was there in his last moments. He hadn’t time to repair his mistakes. Forgive! Human misery causes more evil than we suspect. You have lived among people embittered and harsh, but…which is something…honest. Be merciful to their memory. Forgive those who trespass against you, that you may one day be forgiven yourself.”
Clélie was back, his tonic in her hands. Without speaking, trying herself to give the comforting beverage, she approached the bed, but the cup shook in her hands. Augustin gently pushed away the second spoonful.
“Please. No more. Let me sleep.”
Annie once again took her post by the bed of pain. After a few hours of sleep, the dying man opened his eyes, His gaze traveled and rested on the young woman, with meaning. In the depths of clouded pupils a point of light flickered, reflecting perhaps a gleam from the heavens. The eyelids fell. But the radiance of a mysterious smile still lit the parchment-like face. Night ended; dawn showed white through the glass. And in peace and sweetness, the soul parted on an exhalation.
Annie closed the extinguished eyes, from which she had won a last look—a supreme consolation.
Clélie, after the burial, locked herself in her room. Reduced to solitude, crushed by her double mourning, haunted by funereal visions in this house where everything spoke of the departed, of her sorrows, Annie asked herself with anguish:
“What will I do with the rest of my life? Soon I’ll be twenty-four, but I feel weary of it all as if I’d come to the end of a century!”
Yet it seemed to her useless to attempt anything. What was the good, if effort, trials…if undeserved suffering…ended in this black chasm, where at the bottom waited death?
Ah! How lucky Uncle Augustin was to have regained his faith! Believe in an eternal justice, submit to affliction with forbearance, because a magnificent hope lights the unknown…
As faith aids life, so it aids death.
This meditation was abruptly cut short. Mother Sosthène rapped and entered.
“Mamzelle, Mme Conan has sent me to look for you. Go! Your good uncle would counsel this himself. Don’t stay by your lonesome brooding behind closed shutters…it’s friendship you’re wanting!”
Annie was touched by these simple encouragements. But before agreeing to go, she knocked at the door of Mme Le Goël. “Aunt, is there anything you need?”
“Nothing and no one!” answered Clélie, from the room’s depths. “I want to be alone.”
The dryness of her voice seemed to fade with fatigue. Annie persisted:
“It won’t be any trouble if I’m gone for a few hours? Mme Conan has invited me to spend the afternoon at her house.”
“Stay as long as you like.”
Given leave, Annie went without remorse to the hospitable home where comfort and sympathy waited. She found the writer by himself at a desk overflowing with papers; Mme Conan and her son at the same instant being taken for a walk, by friends.
“Now. What will you do?” asked M. Conan.
Five days ago he’d been elected by an imposing majority. From her uncle’s deathbed Annie had listened to the cheering crowd outside the new senator’s house.
What will you do? The question she had posed to herself, reaching no resolution. She laid out for him, confusedly, her doubts. The road ahead was hidden by a fog. The deaths of her mother and her uncle had set her morally free…but ignorant of real life, she hesitated to launch into uncertainty. Her first efforts, seen in print, allowed her to judge what her work particularly lacked. Her modest factory job kept food on the table, but stole away the mental strength creativity demanded, and throttled her imagination.
(2020, translation, Stephanie Foster; 1922, Mathilde Alanic, Rayonne!)