Mathilde Alanic: Shine! (part fifty-two)
A fine rain, that lasted through the morning, dampened the woods next day. Patrice had not left the house. Ushered by Marie-Jeanne, Annie found him in the library, stretched in his armchair.
From seeing her enter, he affected gaiety.
“Ah! This is kind of you. I thank you for your devotion. Your patient is lightheaded today…the bad day that alternates with the good, which they say is the rule.”
When they were alone she saw again that look, from the sunken and feverish eyes, that had moved her the evening before. In a hushed voice, as one who speaks in a dream, he murmured:
“I am not hallucinating. You are before me. If I call, you answer. So strange! You will make me regret dying.”
She could not say a word, but stood still, one trembling hand hanging helpless against her skirt. Only this betrayed the intensity of her feelings.
Patrice said, still low: “And yet, at death’s door it is necessary I be. I could not have been afforded this supreme happiness…we could not have come together else. No, don’t cry. I have wronged you too much to deserve your tears. You had put all your confidence in me, and like an enemy guide, I led you to the chasm. But nothing of my punishment has been withheld. Your leaving taught me how badly I was to blame. The pain was mine to bear alone, to hear you called unjustly ingrate, faithless. I bowed to it, I humiliated myself with my cowardice. And is grace too kind to me, that I find you near me again, in my last hours on earth?”
Her strength was at its limit. Annie fell into a chair, bent over her knees, hands pressing her forehead. When she found her thoughts, her voice, she could offer only brokenly, in bewilderment:
“For me…oh, for me these days…are all I will ever look forward to! What’s left of my life, outside of what can’t matter now? Nothing. If you leave the world, then God let me join you! It will all be unbearable, wretched.”
“My child. My poor Annie.”
He tried to rise, with a strained effort, but fell pale to his cushions, his eyes unseeing. Then, with a feeble lift of the hand:
“Hush! You don’t mean to, but you speak blasphemy. And you add to my remorse. May my memory not be your defeat… I feel I will suffer for it, in this mystery world I soon must enter. I was only a man among men, and it’s you I have harmed most. Don’t add to the weight. Live and work!”
“Work? How can I, for what good? I have no more left. My will is dead and everything on earth is hopeless.”
“It isn’t. Nothing is. Any true effort cannot be lost. You have a gift, and rare abilities. You must use them until the end. Sow your ideas with a generous hand. Let the wind carry them. If some fall on barren ground or are choked by tares, a portion will sprout, unfold themselves and fruit. And if you never know the outcome, you will yet have done good. There was a plan designed for you…bear with it, give your best from what you’re given, and tell yourself, ‘However small, however unsung, these acts are mine. I serve.’”
He stopped here, his breath spent.
With eyes fixed on him, arms slack on her knees, Annie listened to these counsels, born of solicitude and inspired by enlightenment from the edge of life, pronounced with the gravitas of prophecy.
Patrice took a few sips of tonic; and revived, he calmly said:
“Dear child, we will speak no more on dire topics. I would like to live for a while, to see my family, and to kiss my son. But I must say this. Allow me to quit life with my conscience at rest. You are too young to be mired in inertia. The woman who once read your future told you that you belong to the class of Shining Ones. Make joy! Shine!”
“I can’t shine easily when everything returns its own sadness and gloom.”
“The earth is only a lump of dirt, water and air. And she shines in space. From your pains, your experiences, your tears, Annie, make light!”
Marie-Jeanne entered, with a cup of milk. Patrice put between Annie’s hands a worn volume, and spoke in a negligent way:
“Here, Mlle Le Goël, open this old book, a copy of the first edition of Jocelyn. I’ve reread the poem recently. Underneath the simplicity, the lulling harmony, I have discovered depths that escaped me until now. The verse I transcribed last night, on this leaf I use for a placeholder, struck me especially.”
He accepted the cup, and with Marie-Jeanne’s aid began to drink, while Annie unfolded the sheet and read, taken by emotion as though her heart would stop, to see those lines written in so frail and halting a hand:
May God illumine as He disposes
His hands before time in Heaven have placed us
As two pure souls, to awake in His presence
Then allow to Him alone the naming
Of this Passion or Friendship which is Love in essence
Patrice was watching Annie, and seeing her affected to distraction, wished to spare her the pain of speaking.
“It’s quite beautiful, isn’t it?”
He was natural, poised, as though he concluded a commentary on a piece of literature. “Unfortunately, I cannot make a gift to you of this precious book. But take that page with you, as a souvenir of your patron. It will be the last thing I’ve written.”
“Monsieur, monsieur,” Marie-Jeanne chided. “Don’t say such things that turn our hearts over. Look at how you make the poor young lady cry!”
“I offer every apology! You must not weaken each other…so inappropriate. I told you I was having a bad day, Mademoiselle Le Goël. We will adjourn this meeting, I’ve chatted a little too much. And tomorrow, yes? Until…”
The phrase remained unspoken, but its ending could be guessed.
“Until there are no more tomorrows.”
(2021, translation, Stephanie Foster; 1922, Mathilde Alanic, Rayonne!)