Mathilde Alanic: Shine! (part thirty-three)
In the middle of the street, she saw M. Conan, a light overcoat on his arm, coming to meet her. Although the path was slippery with pine needles, Annie hurried to him, asking, “Am I late?”
The Le Goël family’s difficulty he took in a philosophical vein. “It was you I especially wanted to introduce to our menhirs. The sun is setting. Shall we go?”
They continued until the road met another leading to Auray. Farmhouses, massive haystacks, and pollarded trees scattered the dusk-hued plain. To the left was the mount of Saint-Michel, the belltower of Carnac rising brown against the pink sky. The woods grew denser. They walked on between little houses and the fences of a village.
Suddenly, with surprise, Annie saw they had come to a vast moor, where stood interminable rows of monoliths. These were eroded and eaten, by tempests of the changing seasons, by cataclysms that through centuries had assailed them; above all, by the outrages of ignorant humans…but the stones held to their grandeur and mystery.
Patrice said, “You are in awe of them, and I give myself that joy, of seeing yours. You and I, isn’t it so, feel like supplicants before this titanic assembly, so firmly planted in the earth. Our senses tell us a sovereign principle had guided the ordering of them. It was long thought they were funerary markers, but bones have not been found at their bases. Today, we suppose them like naves of open temples. But so it is, that men raised enormous blocks of stone, using means we don’t know. They would have worshipped the sun, as most primitive peoples.”
“And she keeps in reserve, until parting from this stronghold of the ancient faith, her kindest caresses,” Annie said. At its last angle, the sun now etched the pallor of dry grasses in trails of warmth; enlivened the mauves and purples of the heather. The menhirs seemed to grow, merging in length with their blue shadows. Flakes of mica in the granite lighted gold and sparkled at rough edges. Lichens added their matte turquoise and jade. These rounded oblong shapes, this prism of color, this variety of sameness, even the human traces in rude efforts to dress or notch them…
The stones at this brilliant hour scintillated, supernaturally alive.
Annie lowered her voice, her instinct towards this august place. “How quiet it is now! So easy to imagine the worshippers, prostrating themselves in their cathedral!”
“Religion permeates this land, of burial grounds and sanctuaries. No other is home to so many legends where love and death entwine, the profound with the poignant, ever the passion of humanity…Tristan and Ysolde, Merlin and Viviane, and in modern times, René and Lucie. When the magic of l’Armor takes hold of you, you are captivated forever. Such is the case with me.”
They rounded a curve, a place covered in oaks and beeches, already under deep shadow. A regular pounding came from the darkest corner…a woman on her knees at the edge of a spring, washing her linens in the fresh waters.
“A fellow of this country once fled in terror, convinced he’d seen a devilish washerwoman twisting the winding sheet destined for him,” M. Conan remarked. “This place must long have been dreaded. The oaks, the spring, all are signs of use by the druids, a retreat where they once hid themselves. The fairies come still, perhaps, to dance in this clearing, for here we have exactly the flowers they prefer!” He collected a stalk of wild verbena. “The herb of second sight. She gives me the gift of reading your thoughts, Annie. You would like to have been a sister of Velléda, and you think also that I am madder here than in the Senate!”
“Oh! If you are, I’m so grateful to you! I only wish I could express… This strange place! It truly makes me dizzy!”
Yielding to the impulse, she drew close to Patrice, her lips trembling. “I hadn’t confessed to you yesterday all I might. So often, I feel overwhelmed by things I want, and can’t have. I envy belief! To pray, like the primitive people who came to this place of adoration, or like the women who recite their rosary at the church in Kergrist, with a faith so deep, their hopes can have such confidence!”
Face to face they stood; Patrice studying the flushed cheeks, the tear-damped eyes that fixed on his, waiting and anxious. With forehead bowed, he stepped away, saying to her in a measured voice: “I’ve known it…I do know it…what you suffer. This trouble of mind is not doubt, which is a soft pillow, as Montaigne too lightly quips, but faith. To live firmly persuaded that a future state of justice and mercy compensates all our trials…only dream of how strong such conviction makes us! The road of thorns become a fiery highway, ascending to the light.”
Choked with emotion, Annie said, “I’ve sensed it. That serenity, of poor Uncle Augustin, just before his death. And then, to meet an angel like Winifred, to admire every day the courage and joy she gets from her belief! It makes me sorry, if anything I write might shake or offend such a conscience. I suffer doubt, but I promise myself that I won’t infect anyone else with this disease.”
“And I approve,” said Patrice. “To write is to have a mission. Let us seek to uplift, not to undermine, what consoles and sustains. Christian words may seem strange among pagan stones, but I will end my homily by telling you: read the beatitudes, child. They are alive and illuminating. The wonderful sermon on the mount answers every need of our hearts, every quibble of our intellect. Happy are those who hunger and thirst after justice, for they shall be satisfied. Happy are those who weep, for they shall be comforted. Read, and I predict, inside yourself you’ll hear once more the famous saying: You would not look for me, if you had not already found me.”
(2021, translation, Stephanie Foster; 1922, Mathilde Alanic, Rayonne!)