Mathilde Alanic: Shine! (part fifty-one)
They took some time arriving within sight of the grand entry, flanked by its pilasters of granite. At last, for their halting progress, they had climbed the stairs. But it was by the right wing they went indoors, into the library. Patrice lifted his hand to the shelves, where escaping from the hearth, fleeting reflections danced.
“My friends, my books! I am not alone here.”
Exhaling an exhausted, “Ah!”, he fell onto a stiff chair at the chimney corner, closed his eyes, and stretched his thin fingers along its carved arms. Annie was taken aback, filled with sorrow, and did not dare speak or offer help, for fear of betraying her terrible doubts. But Kervenno’s housekeeper, just then, majestic in her starched coiffe, pushed aside a tapestry that sheltered the threshold to a passage.
“Forgive me, monsieur, I was delayed. I was in the cellars, about to come look for you, when I heard footsteps. And so, have you found a friend?”
She turned to Annie, with some astonishment.
Patrice stirred and gave a cheerful nod. “The best of meetings, yes! Mlle Le Goël was my secretary. She has just arrived at Kergrist, for her own health, and had walked to Kervenno to ask after mine.”
“I remember Mlle Le Goël, very well. She is a connection of the Le Goël family?”
“No. But good friends. Sometimes that’s better,” said Annie.
“So true!” Marie-Jeanne said, approving. “Well, I’m delighted for monsieur! You will give him a little company.”
“More than that, as Mlle Le Goël offers me her talents as a reader…she will spare my tired eyes.”
Patrice, Annie saw, practiced a simple diplomacy. Her freedom to enter the chateau was now assured.
“But it’s getting late,” Patrice went on. “You are not yet strong. Take yourself off, dear Mademoiselle, before the night falls. You will be frightened in the forest.”
“I can brave it.”
“But dangerous encounters are not prevented by courage, and I want to see you tomorrow.”
As Annie came to him, to give him her hand, he attached to her a long, thoughtful gaze, and murmured in a voice almost elusive:
“Tomorrow! I hardly believe it. What happiness in my saddest hour!”
Once she was far from the chateau, in the midst of the woods empty and deeply shadowed already, Annie rested her arms against a tree and allowed the tears forced down to flow. Her sobs rose like the moan of a wounded animal. But when her shuddering nerves were exhausted, feeling weakened and hesitant, she pursued her way.
The grey mantle of autumn twilight thickened. Now and then, from the depths of the dim horizon, a light groped blindly, searching sea and sky. These beams were a memory of war, of the incessant surveillance, of enemies in ambush and the rallying to hunt them. Annie thought of the woman, drawn across the ocean by small-minded self-interest, held there by fear, who might never outrace the dark angel come to hover at Kervenno.
How many grains were left in the hourglass? One shake, and they all could slip away.
The weight of these ideas made her breathless, as she hurried down the path, as though her chest was bound in iron. When she reached the little house, she saw two diamonds of light cut through the shutters of Annik’s room. Annik was undressing Georges for bed, inducing cooperation by singing him a song, the old favorite:
J’aime bien tourner la meule
Du moulin quand tout va bien
Annie felt, stopping near the glass, envious. Yes, jealous of this widow, serene in her unchanging mourning. Annik, it could be guessed without need of proof, would love only once in life. But of her lost love she kept this surviving promise, a son.
And every day the task of motherhood brought her powerful consolations.
Harder, and little compensated, was the role that devolved on a woman without a husband, without children, whose life’s work was cerebral. When her labors were spent, she had no reward but that of conscience. Ah! How much more satisfying, the kisses of those small lips!
“I can’t, any longer,” thought Annie. “I am powerless from now on. Everything that inspired me, all my ambitions, will dry up. It was wanting him to care about my work that kept me at it, even when we were forced apart. I’ll stay here, in this house, if they are willing to make a place for me, and live on my memories… Rest is the only good I can aspire to.”
(2021, translation, Stephanie Foster; 1922, Mathilde Alanic, Rayonne!)