A VISIT TO RHEIMS WITH THE COMMANDING GENERAL

By “Mademoiselle Miss”

Ambulance 13/1- February 2, 1918

At my last writing I was on the eve of a historic trip to Rheims with General de Mondesir. As so rarely happens in this world, the event far surpassed my fairest anticipations. It was not only a trip of picturesque and archaeological interest, but it was also an inspiration and a promise. The memory of that tragic but ever victorious city gilded by the afternoon sun of one of those rare, still, lustrous days that belong to no season, having the finest charm of all of them, should be enough to sustain me through the grayest days in the calendar. The General’s auto came for me at 11 o’clock and carried me through hills and valleys to his headquarters, where the severe lunch table was adorned with mimosa that one of the officers had brought from Nice. After lunch the General and I seated ourselves in his luxurious auto, with the brisk little tri-color unfurled – sign that the general of a Corps d’Armee is on board – and away over steaming brown levels, for the mists were taking flight, to “la ville Martyre”. Just now, since shells are dropping all the time, regulations are very severe, and entrance is forbidden to all except actual combatants. But for General Mondesir all doors are open. We left the car at the threshold of the most devastated quarter and wandered through the ruined streets filled with sunshine but empty of all life save a straggly cat or two, and a few old women seeking kindling among the debris. Utterly amazing these old women of Rheims, as seasoned to danger as any veteran in the trenches, wearing their fulled white caps as though they were steel helmets, and looking for firewood in the very spot where a shell had fallen a little while before, and where another might fall at any moment! By devious ways that took us through all the most impressive vistas of desolation, we came at last to the cathedral. How can I ever describe the unearthly glory of that spectacle! It seemed as if the very fire from heaven had descended upon those dauntless towers, and that it was not merely a temple that one saw, but the high altar itself, whence exhaled all the prayers and hopes and aspirations, all the courage and will to conquer, of this beautiful land. In the open place, surrounded by a tiny grille, and unscathed amidst all the destruction, stood the statue of Jeanne d’Arc, upon her high-stepping charger, the very soul of la Pucelle, come alive in bronze to defend the citadel. The General and I were photographed beside her. Then the old guardian unlocked the portal of the cathedral and we passed into the interior, all patterned over with sunlight- no longer irised as of old- and giving glimpses of the azure vault that former worshipers had missed. Particulars here are perhaps in order, but you may imagine all you like that is grave and glorious. I have bits of thirteenth century glass that are worth a king’s ransom. As we left the cathedral, shells shrieked over our heads, but somehow one couldn’t imagine there was any danger, and we went quietly on seeking various points of vantage from which the General has made truly rare sketches. As the daylight turned from gold to rose, we went to Saint Remy Church, very beautiful and less wrecked. As we returned through the valley of the Veste, roofs and walls had melted to a mist of green and violet, but still the twin towers burned like lighted tapers, and the evening star arose, a sign of promise, in the ardent west. The General gave orders to make a detour of several kilometres in order that I might see the reflection of the charming little church of —–“amuse itself,” as my companion expressed it, in the tiny lake in the gloaming. Just at dusk we reached —–, seat of the headquarters, where the General had to be at a certain hour to witness the testing of some signal apparatus .   Here I thought my conge would be given me, and that I would have to eclipse as soon as possible. But not at all. I was led to a lovely old terrace where vines clambered, and one looked down upon the gray, sleepy little village nestling among gnarled apple trees, half melting into the background of silent forts. A few moments we stood there musing on the dreamy loveliness of a scene that Gray might have copied for his elegy. The village clock struck five. Suddenly there was a rush and a long whizzing sound up into the windless air, and out spread and fell slowly the most beautiful rocket I ever saw – like a downfall of golden caterpillars. Then another, and another, and the test was successfully over. So ended the day in a triumphant burst of beauty. Christmas for me was the threshold of heaven, but the memory of Rheims will help me to live on earth.

“Extracts from a private letter (not intended for publication) by Miss Norman Derr. Published in The Methodist Review- Volume. 101,Series 5, Vol 34, Part 1, 1918

No copyright page found

Volume: Vol. 101, Ser. 5, Vol. 34, Pt. 1

Subject: Theology; Methodist Church

Publisher: New York, N.Y. : Phillips & Hunt

Language: English

Call number: 31833017365229

Digitizing sponsor: Internet Archive

Book contributor: Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center

Collection: allen_county; americana

Notes: There are no chapters. No copyright page found. This digital copy is from a photocopy of an original book

Full catalog record: MARCXML

 

 

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