Mathilde Alanic: Shine! (part thirty-nine)
This mental stagnation came in company with a strange fearfulness, a disquiet. “If I were superstitious, I would believe I was having a presentiment. What bad luck is lurking in the shadows? Or can it be good?”
As she reached the Rue de Bac, a taxi rounded the corner and continued by the Boulevard Raspail. She saw at the window a thin little face with large eyes…Olivier Conan! Annie stood in place, amazed.
“They’re back! And I knew nothing about it!”
What reason for this sudden return? She hurried her steps… Would she find M. Conan at his house?
She wasn’t prepared to see them so soon, and felt a surge of trepidation. Eight weeks since the hasty farewell on the moor, a sad evening when the sun sat lowering in a leaden sky, a thin-edged circle of vermillion, distilling over the land of monoliths a strange light.
This image enveloped her as she climbed the grand staircase, of sumptuous design; the next flights more shadowed, more ordinary. The parting phrases spoken by Patrice echoed in her memory, enigmatic and troubling.
“I am leaving Kervenno, not having done the work I expected. The story of Brigid, the Irish virgin, must stay in suspense. Viviane has been wandering through these woods. The fairy has kept me from the saint.”
At the second landing, Annie took a deep breath. Her legs seemed hardly to support her; her knees quivered. And when she touched the bell, even the vibrations of its ring shook her nerves.
Melanie soon opened to her. “Ah! Mademoiselle Le Goël! You are well, mademoiselle? Yes, M. Conan is in his study.”
The familiar voice answered her timid knock. She entered, and in a sudden paralysis, retreated into the velvet curtain, unable to take a step forward.
Patrice sat up from his table. “Annie! It’s you!”
His tired face brightened. Annie’s heart hadn’t ceased to flutter, and now gave a leap. But she was able to make herself sound natural:
“I hope nothing bad happened, to bring you home so early.”
“We were driven to it. We had stopped for a few days, as you know, with friends from Sarthe. One of the children became ill, the throat was a little white. And so at once we had to pack, take the first train, tumble out in the middle of the night, telephone Burquét at the earliest hour, and rush-rush, deliver our son to be examined. A waste of time, I’d like to think! But we can’t always condemn an excess of caution.”
“And any mother would take alarm. I hope it was only fear that made her want to dash off… I was amazed to see Olivier a moment ago, in a car, when I was crossing the street. I feel bad I hadn’t known you were here! I’d have arranged something to welcome you home. Yesterday, I couldn’t come for the letters…I was down with an awful migraine. But I’m sorry to have left things undone. You must think I’ve been negligent.”
Like the coward who whistles in the night for courage, Annie heard herself speak all these words, and took reassurance. M. Conan tapped the folder and the bundles of correspondence. “Apologize! Far from it! I owe you congratulations for managing this mare’s nest, day to day, and so faithfully!”
“Your stay at Rennes was busy?”
“Yes, too much so. These parochial quarrels are a nuisance, and unluckily the French, for enjoying universal suffrage, have a poor understanding of the duties this imposes, a small sense of politics at all. The more words spoken, the more valued the opinion… I’ve grown tired of words, Madame Novelist, a singular and malignant phobia for a writer!”
He looked gently at his protégé. “But what, of interest, can you teach me? In your letters, you speak too little of yourself.”
“The publisher tells me Petiot will be in bookstores in the spring.”
“Well! The serial in the Voix de Paris has been read. Success brings its repercussions…in your own part of the world, yes, in Rennes. Many spoke to me about you with praise; however, Méléda de Trémorvan criticizes you lavishly. And that is a certain sign of success, denigration from a rival! The Causeur Breton launches barbs at you, as well, in an article alleged to be humorous…”
“Which must be signed Clitandre, or the Hunchback of the Hedgerow, or even Sylvain Barral!” said Annie, with a smile half-bitter. “Ah! I would like that mentality of Mme de Trémorvan’s, convinced she births a masterpiece, when scribbling those elucubrations tricked out in iridescent ink, and with the plume of an eagle! I am so far from such self-regard that I pity my publisher. He will lose money.”
“He’ll be compensated by your second book. And Alban? Have you drawn him out of limbo?”
Note: France did not have universal suffrage until 1944, if women count. But Alanic doesn’t insert any commentary on Patrice’s remark, as to Annie’s (her own) thoughts. Meanwhile, the word elucubration (to write by lamplight; figuratively, to burn the midnight oil; by extension, to write with showy effort; the product of such writing) exists in English, too, and I let it stand, since it’s a nice one to come across if you don’t know it.
(2021, translation, Stephanie Foster; 1922, Mathilde Alanic, Rayonne!)