Mathilde Alanic: Shine! (part thirty-seven)
“Ah! Don’t undress,” Annik pleaded at dinner. “Mother will let me go out with you this evening! We’ll see them dance the ridée.”
The two friends left again at the fall of dusk, arm in arm, pushing through the crowd. Houses with their illuminations, and the lamps of the boats, found gleams of color in sails muted silver by the evening, throwing bright reflections on the waves. The moon sat high, outfacing the frayed clouds and the poor lights of earth, with the splendor of her rays.
Rumor came of activity, a fanfare, then the passing of the torches. After the rustic musicians marched two singers in round hats and short blouses, playing the biniou and bombarde, more than ever with that air of imperiousness and ceremony. The procession moved ahead in good order, lanterns and flags held high and straight by the future sailors, the little schoolchildren in their Sunday clothes. After this, all the young people, boys and girls, in large groups and occupying the whole of the quay, sang at the tops of their voices an old, minor-key ballad.
J ‘aime bien tourner la meule
Du moulin quand tout va bien
The end of the parade came, and its dispersal brought back a turbulent crush of bodies. The musicians rallied in their quarter, the cider house of Marec; they sat on a bench with its back to the wall, and without interrupting themselves began a sort of rapid waltz. Couples pushed forward, the girls hanging by their hands from the shoulders of the men, hoisted on their tiptoes and twirling like tops. A brief rest. Another refrain.
This time, a shiver of excitement roused them all: the ridée was beginning. Annie watched hands join for a slow and grave circle dance, and followed the gestures of linked arms that rose and fell, with a bounce marking the cadence, and a hop in place.
The strange melodies of the Breton bagpipe and oboe, the twisting rhythms, exercised a fascination on the spectators, who watched with fixed eyes as the human chain passed and passed again.
Each minute, one of the bystanders would give in to the irresistible pull, move forward as though hypnotized, and break through for a place in the roundelay, which never stopped, but at its paces, went onwards. The music and movement, the fantastic shadows of night, were part of a profound secret, buried subconsciously in these heirs of an ancient race.
Annik, the wise and modest Annik, submitted to the powerful attraction. She had stretched her neck, silent but ardent, viewing the revolutions of the first ridée. When the second began, she could hold back no more. She gripped Annie’s hand fiercely.
“Quick! Let’s go!”
Annie felt she was dreaming. Here she was in the spinning circle, doing her best to raise and lower her arms to the measure the minstrels stamped out. In the uncertain light of the lanterns, the ribbon of dancers moved in a gauzy haze, faces coming clear at moments, and vanishing into shadow. In one of these flashes, Annie made out the handsome Breton with the blond moustache and tender blue eyes, at the right of Annik. And Annik, in imperceptible degrees, was turning herself away from her companion.
A vigorous hand separated the two girls, and M. de Kervenno introduced himself between them. “Two ladies side by side, what a pity! No man of heart could bear it! Besides,” he confessed, in his jolly way, “the temptation is too great. If I die this year, at least I have danced one more ridée!”
They barely had beaten out three entrechats, when the music stopped. Kervenno, furious, apostrophized the piper. “Come now, old Jobbe! You’ve done this to insult me! Take up, take up…I have a student to instruct!”
A voice, a little sharp, came to Annie’s ear. “You have a disposition to the dance, Mlle Le Goël…I hadn’t known. Here is your occasion to cultivate it.”
In the darkness, she recognized Patrice Conan. To her belief, the words, the surprise expressed, were sardonic. Suddenly she saw herself participating in a scene not hers, wearing another’s clothes—a burlesque. What idea of herself was she giving? Reddening as though spited, shamed, she stammered an excuse and tore her hand from the gallant Kervenno’s.
“Thank you, monsieur! I only joined in for fun… I’ve really had enough… I’m winded…”
Stepping away, she submerged herself in the crowd. She followed the little serpentine lanes, picking her way with difficulty.
At length she came to the house, where on the threshold was Mme Le Goël, waiting.
“Are you alone, Annie?”
“We lost each other. Annik will be home soon. Pardon me for not keeping you company, but I’ll go up to my room, if you don’t mind…I have a little headache. The noise, the crowd, and dusty air…”
(2021, translation, Stephanie Foster; 1922, Mathilde Alanic, Rayonne!)