Mathilde Alanic: Shine! (part twenty-one)
Annie, arrested by this proposition so attractive and unexpected, shot Winifred a significant look. “I thank you infinitely, madame! But won’t you find very near to you an ideal…an obliging and kind companion?”
“Winifred?” Mme Fougerays smiled. “Much the same as companioning myself! She agrees with everything I say! No, and won’t be offended at a bit of friendly rudeness, Mlle Le Goël, be assured. And then, she adores her little pupils, this stupid good girl! She even devotes her vacation hours to them. Her heart is as vast as the Palace Hotel…each has a chamber there!”
“More or less comfortable, more or less spacious!” added Winifred gaily, filling their cups.
The smell of tea colored the air, enlivening the warmth of their conversation, with overall a sense of wellbeing and intimacy. Wholly involved, lighting her Russian cigarettes, grazing on glacéed fruits, Christiane was solicitous of Winifred, while she tossed out problems of logic to interest Annie. She amused herself so much, she was disconcerted when the maid tapped at the door, to say the car of Mme Fougerays was waiting.
“Is it time already?” Christiane consulted a bracelet watch encircled with diamonds. “I ordered my chauffeur for nine-thirty, to spare the two of you the rest of your evening. But, the evening is so well begun! How sad to be finished already! Let’s go somewhere, the three of us! Naturally, I’ll bring you home. The Grand-Guignol, or the Cirque, eh? Some spectacle that will stir, something dazzling… The others put me to sleep.”
Winifred, jubilant, rose at once to improve her toilette with an innocent bauble and to search for a wrap. But Annie, standing, said:
“Pardon me, madame, for resisting this temptation. I have work waiting in my room…”
“Oh, you are a bore! Always fleeing, like a nymph who eludes capture, and whom we wish to pin down all the more! I admire you, such a stoic and austere laborer. But never forget my proposal to take you travelling…I am quite serious, you mustn’t insult me by believing I can’t keep a promise! The day you name, I will make myself free, remember that.”
Touched, Annie offered thanks again, then returned to her faithful cell, while Winifred flew down the stairs after Mme Fougerays. Annie lit her lamp, and sat in her armchair. Spent and tired, she needed an effort of will to dispel the impressions of the last two days, the hurtful memories, the vague fears.
The shroud of light on the cloth gilded a sheet half-written. She relegated reflection and trouble to the shadows; forced herself to see nothing but the illuminated circle in which lives that depended on her, her created people, were evoked.
The last page! With a blithe pen, Annie sketched that fateful word: Fin. But regret at once mixed with joy…to take leave of Mauricet and his grandfather, so long her invisible hosts, seemed to her a parting with genuine friends, company she had loved.
Fear took over next, as she reread her copy. It was inferior; she had aimed for better things! She wanted to throw all the laboriously written pages in the fire.
M. Laffenel, however, having looked over her manuscript, gave a favorable opinion.
“All personal sympathies aside,” he assured her.
Not her breakthrough, perhaps, but a sensitivity and grace, sober purpose, the liveliness of well-drawn characters painting a picture of ordinary life that would be attractive to readers of “For the Little One”. In short, the feuilleton passed muster; in September, it would appear in the Voix de Paris.
Annie was comforted. Beyond this she felt a void open itself, where for six months the work had monopolized her brain. Launching the novel requested by Foyer for the following year became her new preoccupation.
But on what theme to craft a story?
“Watch the world go by,” Patrice recommended.
Without doubt, her surroundings offered plenty to observe. Buffoonery and drama, personalities original to the point of beggaring belief. Would she tell how the equivocating Liégeois stood accused of bigamy, just when he’d become engaged to silly Olga? Or how the Viennese beauty, boast of the Bertrand dinner table…a queen, to judge by her distinction and elegance…had disappeared in mystery, found later among the shameful troop of cabaret walkers?
No, all that was repugnant and dreary.
Annie’s taste carried her towards serenity and beauty. She saw herself ill-adapted to analyze such sins, such dishonesty and villainy, and was tempted to take warning, that her limitation was an inferiority of judgment or intellect…
Her obsession on these matters carried her back and forth, and one evening she opened up to M. Conan, as side by side they strolled the boundaries of the Queens’ terrace. She had just arrived to meet him at the Palais du Luxembourg. The senator, fatigued by an overheated session, allowed himself to be seduced by the pastoral odors of lawns and trees, drawn in through the library windows.
“Will you come out with me for a stroll, while we talk?” he proposed. “My head is spinning.”
(2020, translation, Stephanie Foster; 1922, Mathilde Alanic, Rayonne!)