Mathilde Alanic: Shine! (part forty-five)
Annie walked up the rue de Rennes, coming to the post office. Inside, she asked that a call be put throught to Mme Fougerays. To her unspeakable relief, it was Christiane herself who answered.
“Good day, mademoiselle novelist! So! Yesterday, I respected your working hours.”
“And this morning I found your kind note. Do you remember your postscript?”
“Perfectly. I repeated my invitation, which you always shoo away. But I am tenacious.”
“What would you say if I took you seriously?”
Christiane, whose voice had been a little rude, answered with unmixed pleasure:
“I would be enchanted! I am never insincere. I’ve wanted for a long time to have you as a traveling companion. I’m certain we won’t bore each other. Do you mean to say you accept…you’ll come with me? I’ll delay my departure, then, if need be.”
“No, far from it! I will be ready on the day you name, which is…?”
“The morning after tomorrow night. I’ll reserve another place on the P. L. M.”
“I’m so grateful!”
“And I hardly dare believe it! The itinerary suits you? Our first stop at Menton?”
“Oh, very well! And because…it won’t matter. The important thing is that I leave. Please, for charity’s sake, don’t ask me. I’m ill, overcome. The doctor advises rest…that’s all that needs saying. You have offered to take me to the Midi. Your benevolence is well known, enough for it to seem plausible.”
“Ah. Count on my complete discretion. And shall I come see you this evening?”
“I’ll go to your house before dinner, instead. If you’re free, I’ll stay and talk. Otherwise, I’ll leave at once to begin preparing… This afternoon, I have to warn the Gazette Féminine, and meet with my editor.”
“Understood. Well! Until then!”
Returning to the street, Annie searched for a crémerie, where she could have a light meal, to avoid the fatigue of bearing up at the Bertrand table, with its desultory conversation, and even the solicitude of the kindhearted Winifred. When it seemed likely the most plaguing of gossips would be about their business, she returned alone to the boardinghouse. After, by dining with Christiane in the evening, she made herself invisible to the regulars of her house.
All who saw her the next day, her dark-circled eyes and sunken cheeks, found the plan easy to approve. Annie’s quick exit and sojourn in the Midi were matters of health. Winifred helped to clear her dresser, shelves, and wardrobe, and pack her belongings. Her unfinished manuscript, safe in its sack, Annie tucked inside a jewelry case.
But as she replaced her family papers in their box, to be left in Winifred’s care, her fingers grazed a hard object, the glass of a little picture frame. It was the portrait of Alain Le Goël, the reprobate, the outcast.
She took up the poor photo and considered it with a singular feeling of melancholy and remorse. “Father, I was too absolute! I wanted to hate you… I didn’t know! I didn’t know how destroying temptation can be! I pity you now, for being weak. When I was a child, you hurt me, but your example protected me, too. I forgive you. Please forgive me. You cried for what you’d done, at the hour of your death. Come with me in exile!”
The following day passed punishingly, unreal as a fevered dream, where one is seen passive in the midst of traps and humiliations. Her last morning, Annie rid herself of dutiful formality, the task avoided until then. She composed a pneumatic telegram, addressed to Mme and M. Conan.
The suddenness of my decision will surprise you. I have been ill, and have remained nearly confined, these last two days. The doctor, who saw me yesterday, has ordered immediate rest, and if possible, a stay in a sunny country. The always excellent Mme Fougerays has proposed that I travel with her, but she leaves this evening. I would be afraid to travel alone, so this chance I could not have hoped for, I must take. I am too exhausted to go to you, to ask my leave in person. Excuse this! I beg all your indulgence in offering to you my most respectful sentiments, my devotion, and infinite gratitude!
She could well picture Mme Conan prostrating herself at this whirlwind departure, crying ingratitude certainly, and rude manners…
But he, he would understand.
And yet he would not guess the wrenching pain that made her vacillate at the open box, at dropping inside this thin sheet of paper—
To finish, all, between herself and one she would have sacrificed her life for.
(2021, translation, Stephanie Foster; 1922, Mathilde Alanic, Rayonne!)