Mathilde Alanic: Shine! (part fifty)

Pastel drawing of blonde woman in blue hat

Mathilde Alanic
(part fifty)













“No,” she begged him. “Don’t give yourself pain. Don’t think of it anymore.”

“I harmed you. I troubled your life. I stole your peace…you can’t know how remorse has weighed on me.”

“But never mind… Forget, all of it, you must. Please, you must. Be calm.”

“It cannot be forgotten. We pay in the end. One day you’ll know this balancing of accounts, as the hour approaches. I think of Joseph de Maistre… I have plumbed my conscience, that of a man reputed honest. And I have seen a horrid cesspool!”

“Oh, but you make your faults an exaggeration! Every person, the most upright, the most pure, wrongs someone…that is the hard truth of life. And if it’s only for my sake, be calm. You hurt me most when you hurt yourself.”

Nothing in their demeanor or inflection revealed the poignant gravity of these exchanges. They spoke with the appearance of tranquility, their voices measured. To nudge matters to a lighter sphere, Annie tried:

“And you mustn’t set back my recovery. A few days ago I was still that sorry object that bears a hospital number…a patient!”

“My poor child! Yes, you are too thin, I noticed it.”

“I was kept wrapped in cotton wool, far from rumors of war. Then I came back to shelter with the Le Goëls of Kergrist. I wouldn’t have thought to resume my old nursing duties here! I am taking you in charge! And it will be necessary for you to heal, I promise you, and soon.”

She affected an air of authority, lowering on him an imperious frown. He smiled. The smile lent irony to the heartbreaking face, the bones hugged by cheeks that in turns showed a burning flush or a livid pallor.

“I accept your care with much gratitude, never doubt it. But I fear, although unwilling, that I shall thwart these directives. You must not let hope lead you astray. The case you undertake is a desperate one, Daring Girl.”

Pointing to the leaves of copper-red and amber, that spread a sumptuous carpet on the earth, he recited, still smiling:


All-seeing oracle of Epidaure

You say to me, though leaves once more

Begild themselves before my eyes

That this is for the final…


“Oh!” she interrupted. “Don’t allow it. Don’t dwell on depressing things, we must not let go of hope!”

“I do hope,” he answered calmly. “But my hope now soars beyond the world.”

Taking up the open magazine, Patrice thrust it towards his companion. “Read these lines of Henri de Régnier: ‘Stèle’! They are in accord with my state of mind just now, in this pale country that seems a limbo, where the idea of death hovers.”








I am nothing, this evening, but a man among men

A heart alone, that quivers and beats

I know what we are, what every man is

Akin to smoke, battered by the wind

My living state surrounds me, an acrid smell

And I feel the sweat of combat dry itself


My hearth no longer waits to host its gods

Today I see the augury of what will come

And I am tired of it, of being what we are

Knowing what it has been to live…

How much of life is vain


Annie read in a low voice the fine words, marked by male disenchantment, but at the last trailing line, an ardent protest rose in her:

“No, no, no! Living is not vain! Even when our intuitions lead us astray, we have a sense of justice that belongs to our souls!”

“Annie, a moment ago I stopped at that line, having the same objections…and then I made my way to the crest of the hill. In the valley the fog crept the earth, but the clouds slowly thinned, and the sun came out. And I thought that life, if it seems at times a diffuse dream that can overwhelm us, as the poet pictures it, becomes clear and logical when a ray of light from above shines down.”

“Yes! And without that light our acts are incoherent, and we suffer for them.”

Annie blushed then, as though overcoming a modesty, and offering her thoughts, made a sign towards the tumulus of Saint-Michel. “On the moor of Kermario, you recalled for me the words of Pascal… ‘You would not seek me if you had not found me.’ Know this… I am not seeking. I have been reading the Gospels at night, and the Imitation.”

“Annie! You give me joy! I’ll go with a greater peace knowing you’ve found what sustains, what illuminates.”

Furtively, she wiped her eyes. A great breeze swept in, shuddering the branches, whispering mystery from tree to tree. Patrice shivered and closed his fur collar.

“The evening wind! And Marie-Jeanne is not here yet. It is time for me to go in.”

In silence Annie give him her arm. He accepted this support, walking up to the path. She saw that each effort cost him immense pain, her heart squeezed tight against sobs which could not come out, her pace matched to his exhausted one.

How many more days could he walk even so far?







Photo of my grandmother in 1920sShine! (part fifty-one)
















(2021, translation, Stephanie Foster; 1922, Mathilde Alanic, Rayonne!)