Mathilde Alanic: Shine! (part forty-eight)
She no longer feared her memories of the place would wake a fresh despair. She could overcome this. Her soul was mingled with a world of mourning souls, in a universal torment. She was delivered, free.
When at times the old wound ached again, the knowledge of having acted for the best soothed it.
The war’s sorrow, the black wings had come to beat against the roof of the Le Goël family. Annik was a widow, of Jean Drézanno. It had been so for more than a year, the daughter gone to the home of her childhood, her baby held to her heart.
Annie seized a piece of writing paper to draft a telegram. The next morning, the answer came: We wait for you impatiently.
There were always crowds on the Paris-Brest train. At this present pass, with cars loaded to excess, a journey taking five days ended with Annie’s descent to the platform at Plouharnel. As everywhere, the changes of wartime were striking. The little tramway had been replaced by a taxi. The taxi sped in a mad race with army trucks full of high-spirited American soldiers, full of whistling and shouts.
Annie stepped from the vehicle, and at once Annik with her son in her arms was at the doorway. Mme and M. Le Goël were behind her, aged by these years of affliction. But the family’s mourning was alleviated by a brightness, by the radiance of a smile, innocent against the shoulder of a young mother.
“How beautiful!” murmured Annie, kissing the downy cheek.
“He looks like his father, you see,” answered Annik, with simplicity.
No tears, no complaints, only the sacrifice accepted with calm courage. Amazed with respect, Annie gave her friend a long embrace. They needed no words to understand each other.
And the little room of Annik’s brother, a sailor lucky to have avoided the submarine ambushes, received its guest once more. The seashells, the exotic island crafts, the Lilliputian man-o-war, kept their old places. The moor, dressed in its autumn gold, rose high to the purple clouds, outside the glass.
Objects remained themselves, immutable. For the living, everything had changed.
Little Georges, upright on his chubby legs, was beginning to make short forays. Annie soon felt confident and withdrew her hovering hands, as the two women walked the paths around the house. They guarded the precious baby between them, their attention absorbed in matching their steps to his.
They talked easily over the cherub’s blond head. On the slope’s scrappy grass was a black and white cow, grazing; then a goat, bellowing. Then a flock of sparrows flying from a haystack, each giving rise to childish syllables.
Annie felt her mind quieten. Kergrist at once had offered its old tranquility, and again she knew that she was stronger here. By the evening of that day, Georges accepted her as belonging to the house. She stood by while he was undressed, the many necessities for his bedtime attended to, Georges throughout chattering and giggling. Annik raised him high in her arms, wrapped in his nightgown, to plant a wet kiss on the cheek of his Awt Neenee.
The day’s successes made him gambol a bit in his cradle, prudently covered with a net to keep the him from climbing free. He fingered at the laces, calling to his “Awt”—not liking Annie’s backing from his sight.
But here she surprised a look on Annik’s face, faraway and pensive, a Madonna’s, who will become the Mother of Sorrows. The child plays and laughs, sheltered at the mother’s breast, and in the mother’s heart dwells a powerful, self-abnegating love.
Darkness crept on, the women keeping silent. The baby at last settled into sleep. Then the friends together went to the washroom next door, to make their own night preparations.
A blaze of gorse cheered the hearth, while at the table under a hanging lamp, the Le Goël women stitched. M. Le Goël, tamping a sparing portion into the bowl of his pipe, instructed Annie on the locality’s principle doings.
After mentioning this person and that, known to her from her first visit, he said in a tone of reverence: “Monsieur de Kervenno has fought them like the devil! He was at Dixmunde, the Bosporus, all the heavy spots. He is still at sea, right now. By the way, I was told that one of his friends, very ill, has lived at the chateau for a fortnight or more. Have you heard it?”
Mme Le Goël answered, her knitting needles clacking: “No. I haven’t forever met anyone from Kervenno.”
“They couldn’t tell me the patient’s name. But surely not M. Conan. That, Mademoiselle Annie would have known.”
“I haven’t heard… It’s been a while…” Annie leaned to the back of her chair, putting her face in shadow. “I don’t see the Conan family, not now I’ve stopped being his secretary. Paris is a large place, and I don’t run my errands there, since I don’t live in town anymore. And the war has turned everything upside-down… I know that M. Conan was determined to be mobilized, even with his age and poor health.”
(2021, translation, Stephanie Foster; 1922, Mathilde Alanic, Rayonne!)