Mathilde Alanic: Shine! (part twenty-eight)
Indeed, the next morning she could have believed herself a carefree teenager, giggling while she roamed the countryside with her pretty and artless companion. As a beginning traveler, open to new enthusiasms, reveling in her freedom, Annie held back those exclamations she would willingly have made, at the least road accident along this seacoast way; at the sea above all, the pearly waters with their gliding multicolored sails.
Sometimes the explorers went by rocky lanes that wound spirals around a small church, clung to by a few thatched cottages, the core of a little fishing village. At other times, by quays along the ports they reached the causeway leading to the grand coast, where the elegant residences climbed.
From their hill these dominated a vast expanse of low ground, salt flats, oyster beds, meadows turned by the tides into pools, separated from the ocean by undulating dunes. To the west a large agglomeration of houses, a robust belltower, a high hill rising steep to the sky, and at its crest a small square, a tiny Acropolis.
“Carnac! And the Mont Saint-Michel, that can be seen from everywhere here,” Annik informed her.
“Yes, I’ve seen it already from the train! And…isn’t that Kervenno?” Annie pointed to a clump of trees protruding between Carnac and Kergrist. “I’m going there this afternoon. My employer, M. Conan, and his family, will be living at the chateau for a time.”
“Ah! Are those the Parisians people talk about? Papa often will sail with M. de Kervenno. But this time he is touring the coasts of Norway and Scotland, for a month. Papa would miss us too much!”
“I understand that!” With affection, Annie went on: “Well, my gracious Annik, will you guide me a little way, after lunch, along the road to Kervenno?”
After following the main road up to the start of a sandy path, Annik stopped.
“Go on from here, and always move to the right. You will cross two villages and you will be at the grand allée that leads to the manor. Impossible you could lose yourself!”
A quarter of an hour’s walking between the low walls along the paths, and Annie arrived at the edge of an impressive fir grove. As it mounted, little by little, the slope of a hill, the avenue became more majestic, the treetops lifting higher. Boughs, heated by the sun, exhaled their resinous perfume.
The powerful trunks made a colonnaded enclosure, that revealed an immense prospect streaming with light. To the left lay the pale blue sea, the peninsula of Quiberon stretching alongside. Opposite, at the limit of the plain sat Carnac before the mound of Saint-Michel. How the tale of history told by these sights must favor the imagination of a poet and historian! With happiness for him, Annie thought of it.
Trees of every sort appeared now, oaks and elms, beeches and limes, so thickly planted they formed a defensive wall. Her stroll brought her, unexpectedly, to the manor porch. She saw a granite frame with sturdy uprights, carrying at the top curiously chiseled stone baskets that overflowed with flowers and fruits; and wooden panels, askew, fencing the base. Then, through the open gate, ivy-laden gables, fitted square and somewhat oddly, around a square gazebo.
Nearby, the chatter of chickens and bellowing of cattle indicated the immediate neighborhood. Worried, Annie asked herself if the rusticity of this house, lost in the woods, could fall in accord with the tastes of Mme Conan.
She was soon enlightened. Finding neither a bell nor a knocker, Annie hazarded the sandy courtyard, making towards the porch enclosed by balusters of the Breton style. From the open window came a sharp voice. Mme Conan when upset spoke in this heightened tone.
“Who would want to sleep in a mushroom bed? This place will kill Olivier! I’m leaving as soon as possible!”
To herself, in disappointment, Annie said: “That’s how it is! Already they talk about leaving.” Rather than show herself at such a moment, she longed to retrace her steps. But a white-coiffed housekeeper exited a lower door, with the aloof demand:
“You wish to speak to?”
“Mme Conan,” murmured the visitor, more and more discouraged.
“Take the middle entry! Ring!” The Bretonne gave this dry answer, before withdrawing to her retreat.
(2021, translation, Stephanie Foster; 1922, Mathilde Alanic, Rayonne!)