Mathilde Alanic: Shine! (part thirty-two)
“We’ll cross the moor. We should be there in five minutes.”
As they climbed, the placid terrain came broader into view, the beaches and their dunes, the meadows in their browns and greens muted by falling dusk, and the little pools of the salt flats glimmering like broken mirrors. The sunset was a stripe of red-gold fire; the gentle azure of the sky stretched pale above. At the limits of the horizon the sea was a deepening teal reflecting rose.
Larks soared, swirling, to sing in the air their farewell to the day. Swallows came next, drunk with speed, encompassing the walkers within a noisy spiral. And raising itself little by little as they climbed to the summit of a small hill, somber and potent against its clearing, was the squared mass of a great dolmen.
“You see, Chateaubriand was not the first with the lofty idea of eternal rest at the oceanside,” Patrice said, laying a hand on the granite shelf. “The isles of Morbihan, as well as these shores, house a number of funerary monuments. L’Amorique was held by the ancients as the antechamber to the beyond. They brought their dead, their leading citizens, from far away. He to whom this tomb was consecrated would have been a chieftain.”
“If he chose his final home, we owe him that much of homage, at least,” said Annie. “He was sensitive to beauty.”
She sat on the spare, stony earth, clasping hands around her knees, and softly added: “What peace! What serenity! It must be good to sleep here forever!”
“Sleep forever? Do you mean to say, lie down and never wake? Do you think of it? To be or not to be…to sleep, perchance to dream… Or, less Hamlet than Socrates, who sought proof that nothing is lost of our being, from body to soul. Annie! I pity you for your doubts…I pity you as though unbelief were an infirmity!”
She raised her eyes, avoided his, her glance humble. “It wasn’t my fault. I was too young when I read Voltaire and Volney. And then La Dantec.”
“And all from the library of my Uncle Olivier, who was an atheist, like most men of his generation. Ah, my child, who am I to preach to you? But you’re a Celt…you’re enthusiastic, idealistic. Sooner or later you must rebel against these dry straits of skepticism. Remember what we’d discussed…negativity kills, affirmation gives life… Now, look, an earthly star ignites!” Changing tone, he showed her this. “The lighthouse of the Teignouse! And another gleam there, the light of Quiberon. In a moment, you will see the beam of Belle-Ile rake the darkness. But now I must return to Kervenno. Will you stay here, in tears, at the foot of a heathen’s tomb?”
“I love this place,” Annie said, standing to leave with regret. “I will come back.”
“As I thought, poetic solitude is what pleases you. I was seduced by it myself.”
Together they walked back to the point where the path diverged.
“Come tomorrow with your wonderful hosts! Days are too hot to hike here, but these long nights are delightful. I’ll have the car at Carnac to take you home. Goodnight, Annie! Sleep well, and give consideration to Hamlet. Sleep. But perhaps dream.”
He strode off down the road.
Back at the little house, Annie heard a choir of praise for her employer.
“So down to earth, so easy to talk with! And we knew he was a good person!”
“But,” Annik said, innocently, “you called him a venerable gentleman. Venerable, I would call old. And M. Conan looks young.”
“How old might he be?” Mme Le Goël said. “Forty-two? His hair is grey at the temples, but he has a small moustache and a thin build. And for being so distinguished, he is certainly young!”
“And what honor he does us!” declared M. Le Goël. He leafed a booklet from the Morbihan bureau of tourism, and added, in confidence: “I am teaching myself about these menhirs. We forget, don’t we? I don’t want to look ignorant tomorrow!”
But between plans of the day before and the next day’s meeting, rose an obstacle…
Unexpected relatives from Erdeven dropped in on their Le Goël cousins. As it was impossible to let visitors off without a generously weighty meal, Annie, slipping out at the end of the soup course, went alone to Kervenno, bearing the regrets of her hosts.
(2021, translation, Stephanie Foster; 1922, Mathilde Alanic, Rayonne!)