Mathilde Alanic: Shine! (part fifty-three)
Extract from Annie’s notebook
It has been two years today.
Two years, since I arrived at the house, to find the shutters closed. Between the slats, rays of a pale yellow light; they came from a pair of first-floor windows…
The earth shook under my feet. The chill of the scythe brushed my skin…
But I climbed, quieting my steps, the grand staircase of stone. I entered the chamber, and saw on the poster-bed a rigid figure, shrunken by suffering—
And barely, fixed so, recognizable to me.
Never again would I meet his gaze, never hear his voice! I fell to my knees and prayed; I allowed no sob to pass my lips, gone dry. I soon rose, enough in control to give details, material and precise information, to the cousins of M. Conan. They had arrived a few days earlier, and for these things, must turn to me.
My own feelings I had buried, and mechanically did the expected thing, wrote letter after letter to inform his particular friends, his relatives, and some few personalities from the literary or political worlds, those to whom M. Conan had been close. At my sad tasks, effaced and cautious of my position, I envisioned the tableau of Quentin Matzys, his Deposition of Christ. The apostles, the sorrowing mother, the two sainted women supporting her, bending towards the divine victim, making gestures of despair…
All the pity of the viewer attaches to this group, and none regards the poor Magdalene, humble adjunct to this scene of sublimity, caressing the swollen feet, numbed by her sadness, keeping back the tears that shine in her reddened eyes.
My master was not a god, and I do not compare myself to a saint. But this was how I felt, in those days of bewilderment. A sadness without complaint, which had no wish to make of itself complaint.
The approbation of my conscience was my support. And of his…I acted as if he were there guiding me, telling me his instructions. Such strength came to me from the sentiment: You have remained loyal, to yourself, and to others. You are not unworthy. You have the right to be here, to help his family, to serve his memory.
When the Armistice was concluded, Mme Conan and her son embarked for home. They found me at Kergrist. I led them to the little cemetery where Patrice had willed to sleep, under a menhir with a cross inlaid. And the unfortunate woman hung on my shoulder desolated, weeping her regrets and her lamentations.
I found proper words…to encourage her, to appease her. I told her of his long serene agony, the sacrifice accomplished with courage and resignation. And I applied myself above all to touching the frivolous teenager, to laud the high merits of his father, whose advice he had too much neglected, whose example of hard work, of disinterestedness, of integrity, must not be forgotten.
Olivier listened to me, serious and affected. I addressed his filial pride. The prestige of the deceased grew for him; he reproached himself that he had been a disappointment. He wept, for the intellect lost to sharing, the tender heart forsaken. Patrice, gone from the world, has gained more influence over his son, than while living.
Olivier has not failed in the promises he made that day, to his secret heart. His chosen path suits his tastes and temperament, and he walks it firmly, preparing for admission to Grignon, persevering in his work and resisting his mother’s blandishments. Despite her real loneliness, they are always futile. Often my young friend comes to see me at Saint Cloud.
During these visits, I have won him over to the memory of his father. I understand, faced with these young emotions, that inheriting the thoughts of a great man has invested me with a moral motherhood.
My legacy from Patrice is the care of his works left unfinished, the collecting from a multitude of notes and files, those concerning his study of the Celtic religions. I have extracted the important fragments, and organized them into a volume, one he wished to have titled: From Menhir to Calvary: on the Granite Land.
With what tender respect I pursued this duty, I leave to be imagined! The nobleness of thought and the height of poetic expression surpassing all that was known of Patrice Conan, has made a sensation in the literary world. Numerous have been the articles of praise, the letters of sympathy and regret.
The care and the necessary steps for this publication have absorbed me body and soul. I have hardly troubled over my own book, the story of Alban of Kerbestous—postponed by the war until this summer.
So many fatigues left me exhausted. I had gone to Bourboule to recover my dilapidated strength. From there, on the invitation of Christiane, I arrived to rest at a property she has bought in Touraine. I accepted this obliging offer with all the more pleasure, knowing Winifred was there, and her dear Hérisson.
Christiane has entrusted her household with the oversight of her domain. The stoicism of the blind man, the tireless devotion of his guide, have been for Christiane a profitable lesson. She has vanquished her selfish distastes, learned true generosity by bringing herself near the suffering of others. She finally knows the happiness of having aims in life and making oneself useful.
Now, she searches especially for the war-injured, and has surrendered the estates of her chateau to the poor children.
When I congratulated her, she said to me one evening, in her brisk and honest way:
“Yes, I’ve changed! And do you know what, if I look inside myself, was the start of this evolution? Oh, I didn’t realize it all at once. But it buzzed incessantly in my memory! Two little sentences from Amiel, that you had cited in a certain column. ‘Life is short, our time is never enough to bring joy to hearts that journey this dark way with us. Be swift to do good!’”
(2021, translation, Stephanie Foster; 1922, Mathilde Alanic, Rayonne!)