Mathilde Alanic: Shine! (part thirty-one)
“Jean-Pierre Le Goël.”
The copper plaque, shining on the openwork of a gatepost, informed the stroller thus, and he stopped. A ground-floor window between green shutters stood open to let in the evening air. The visitor, attracted by a voice, peered inside and surprised an enchanting tableau. A young woman with brown hair under netting like that of da Vinci’s Beatrice, bent her slender neck over delicate embroidery. Near her, a woman sewed, her face bathed in pale shadow beneath the canopy of a diaphanous headdress. Facing the women sat a huge, bearded Neptune, working his giant’s fingers with delicacy, as with an ivory shuttle he wove a fine batiste.
And seated in an armchair, Annie Le Goël read aloud to the attentive trio.
She grew aware of his gaze. She lifted her head and exclaimed: “Monsieur Conan!”
At once, they were all on their feet. A senator at the door! And a famous writer! M. Conan, ushered in with dispatch and ceremony, dropped a heavy bundle on the table.
“Oof! I promised you books, Mlle Le Goël! And I wanted to meet your hosts, after all you’ve said about them!”
A flush of pleasure mantled the bronzed cheeks of the sailor. The mother’s fine features grew rosier, and the daughter’s more golden. Serious and cordial, Patrice went on: “I’m delighted my secretary, who merits all respect, has found with you a place of rest and calm. That is what she needs to keep up her strength and carry on with her work.”
He shook hands all around, and said to Annie: “I’m alone this day. The house is not very lively…but it profits me, as I get things done. So here we have Taine, Le Braz, Le Goffic and La Villemarqué, who will introduce you not only to our history but to the Breton soul.”
“You’ve started me already, monsieur, with your own books. I was reading, just now, some of Fairies of the Sea and Woods, as a treat for my wonderful hosts!”
“I’ve made you a nuisance to them!”
With great dignity, Jean-Pierre Le Goël protested, “We are proud, monsieur, of all that does honor to the name of Breton!”
M. Conan returned a smile of gratitude; then he noticed a rectangular frame hung near the chimney, four medals displayed with multicolored ribbons, below them a long silver whistle.
“You’ve served in the military, and in China! A career of service and duty summed up in whole…and here we have the true glory of our Bretagne, her incomparable sailors!”
For a moment, the Chief Petty Officer, embarrassed, sought to honor him with a military salute. However, seeing now the fabric pinned to the chair, and amused by the contrast, Patrice cast an expressive eye over the strong hands, hardened and chapped by rough work.
“What, is it you crafting this cobweb?”
“I sail no more, but for fun. I must have my hobbies! This cloth is what my daughter embroiders on,” explained the colossus, with the smile of a child.
Such good hearts, such candor and dignity, are worthy of the Arthurian age, thought the writer, moved to a great respect. In a few minutes, he and the family were deep in talk, culminating with an invitation to the Le Goëls, Annie too, to visit next day, near evening at Kervenno.
At twilight they would walk down to Kermario and Kerlescan, to view the stones at that poetic hour. “But you are saturated with menhirs and cromlechs, living in this country. Perhaps they have no novelty for you.”
Timid, Mme Le Goël said, “Oh! It will be so interesting to see them with you, monsieur. You are a professor, and you know all their history!”
“Their history? The stones must speak themselves before we could know with certainty! We are reduced to presumptions, which at least make controversies for the archeologists. And we may all be in error, save those who believe the legend of St. Cornély, whose persecutors were turned to stone by Heaven.”
M. Conan, at this, stood to take his leave, and went out escorted by the family. At the front alcove, Annie unhooked her hat. “Monsieur, may I walk along with you a short way?”
“I would have asked you to. We will talk about your novel.”
After a few steps, the senator turned to the three householders at the Le Goël door, and sent them a last friendly wave.
“Annie! What luck for you to have found this refuge!”
“Yes,” she agreed in a low voice. “But I have to say, that to see trust…and tenderness… And togetherness…! It makes me compare myself and feel sad. I want to rebel against fate.”
“Her laws we must not seek to understand,” M. Conan said, moved by this complaint. “Don’t compare. We each are given our lots. Now! If my memory doesn’t mistake me, this little lane will take us to an interesting place, not far from your house. You may come here to dream at your leisure. Perhaps you’ve already found Men-er-Roch?”
“No. I’ve never heard the name.”
A hundred or so steps further, and the path between stands of fruit trees, then empty patches kept clear, revealed two farmsteads, old cottages curving under vast thatched roofs, a well sheltered under a stone box. To the left was a rocky slope of gorse and broom.
(2021, translation, Stephanie Foster; 1922, Mathilde Alanic, Rayonne!)