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Part I, Descent to Omaha Beach

Controlling the approaches of Britain and France, what could be more strategic than the beaches and coastlands of Normandy and Brittany? Always in the past these provinces had been not only kingdoms, but gates and doors through which armies passed from the Continent to the British Isles or from Britain to France. Caesar, Tiberius, the Anglo-Saxon tribes, the Normans, and, latterly, the Nazis and the Western Powers of Britain and the U.S.—the gates of Britain and France were vital to every enterprise of an invader. How could it be any different, as long as Europe’s topography was organized in such a way?

In a real spiritual sense, the gates were just as important. For that reason religious orders had instinctively founded chief centers of worship and learning at the Gates of Britain and the Continent. By the time of the 1960s, however, they had been turned into “prime tourist sites.” Mount St. Michael on the "British" side and Mont de Miguel on the French. No one thought of them any longer in the old way—as holy fortresses of the Lord standing against the legions of the night. But had they lost all power and strategic value in the spiritual, even though in the natural they were only the focii of tour agencies?

Ron and Carol Swenson, American students at the French and English Language Institute in Paris, boarded the tour bus for a week of vacation in Normandy and Brittany. It was mainly for Ron’s encouragement, of course, since Carol had already mastered French in college back home in the states. Already fluent in the language, she had sat through the boring but rigorous regimen with him at the Institute, earning a reward of sorts for her efforts in being chosen a top student representative for the Institute at a fancy dress affair hosted by the government.

Even with sleep in her eyes from her recent tumble from bed in their run-down Montparnasse “atelier”-—actually a sort of seventh floor linen closet with a free-standing commode of 19th century vintage, a water spigot and no sink, a bare bulb light, and a cavernous, step-in, shelved wardrobe--she felt new life in her, as if a new page were turning for her and also Ron. How dreary their lodgings were, even though she had got Ron to put in a "garden," a flower box on the roof above their rooms. She wasn't at all surprised when she came across their neighborhood, including their own building, featured in the book's photograph section as a prime example of early 19th century daguerreotype, a time when the neighborhood was considered elegant.

Cheap Parisian Lodgings for Students and Artists

But at least now they were cheap (cheap for Paris, that is!). They could afford, barely, to reside there. Paris was extremely high-priced in everything, particularly rent. She had never appreciated the states so much as she did now, forced to pay extortionate prices just to subsist. Yet, despite the difficulty of life, the charm of Parisian scenes lingered, fragrant with better times in the past. And beauty had a way of stealing in, unannounced, surprising her in the midst of deprivation in a foreign country that didn't like Americans very much. That sense of beauty and excitement around the corner now tugged at her, and could not be ignored.

Carol Swenson

Tremendously excited with the thought of the tour, Carol sat down in the front row of the bus, while Ron put their carry-on bags away. He carried his camera and a book of theology, while Carol had her books of Dylan Thomas’s poetry, art supplies, and a box of chocolates for a treat along the way.

The bus was filled with a great mixture from the sound of the languages spoken—German, Dutch, French, English, and even Polish and Spanish. Whatever language used, everyone seemed to be discussing the shocking death of Edith Piaf. Though the driver was French, the passengers were apt to be, like Ron and Carol, mostly visitors in residence in Paris or students at various universities, but everyone knew who she was even if few could name the most important government ministers under DeGaulle.

It was April, and they had just a few more weeks to go at the Institute before their final exams. The money gift that came from Carol’s parents so unexpectedly, with a note to enjoy themselves on a vacation if they could get away from school for a few days, made it all possible. They had been so strapped in finances up to that point. The money would only pay for the trip but would keep them eating while they finished school. It had been hard in Paris, with the high cost of everything. They had lived practically on bread and cheese and tea the whole two years of their stay.

But that was, they knew, part of the sacrifice of their calling: missionaries to Africa.

Carol, her head covered against the light rain with a brilliant red scarf, glanced over at Ron, who was burying himself in his book and ignoring the Parisian scenes flitting by the window.


He turned to her slightly, his eye still holding its place on the text of Karl Barth’s Dogmatica profundica, Volume II.

Carol’s eyes darted rapidly from the scenes of the great city she had not yet grown used to even after two years of impoverished studenthood, fixing on his book. Paris never slept, of course, but at that time of the morning it was showing extra bustle. People were weeping on the street corners, hugging each other as they clutched issues of papers with Edith Piaf’s name plastered all over them.

“Can’t you put that boring old thing away for even five minutes?” she fired off at him in French, having cried all she was going to cry for the favorite French torch singer. “This is our vacation! Let’s enjoy it and live a little!”

Ron gave her a smile and turned back to his book, which to him was hardly boring but fascinating in its implications. Imagine-—no props for faith offered the Church’s traditional belief system! Just pure existential faith! What could be more thrilling and daring, intellectually, than Barth’s theology?

Disgusted, she let him go, and turned to watching Paris show off all her colors, charm, and chaos in the avenues and streets through which the bus sped. Much as she loved the faded old queen city, she was relieved when they passed through the suburbs into the open country and saw farms and rural scenes for the first time.

She turned to the tour map that the driver handed out to them on boarding.

“We first going to see Giverny!” she said to Ron, who made no indication he heard her. “Monet’s Gardens no less!”

A furrow appeared in her brow as she looked out. “I hope this rain stops!”

She couldn’t budge Ron from his book even with mentioning Giverny and Monet, so she gave up and turned to her own books for the remaining time on the way to Giverny.

Left to herself, she leaned back and let her thoughts roam. “City of Light--ha!” she thought. “Paris, despite some nice boulevards, was mainly big, old, dingy-colored, not too nice smelling buildings jammed together, which made her feel claustrophobic at times. The street scenes made up for it, for the real color and light of the city was in the people. Seemingly, Paris attracted every kind of person and nationality on earth. Paris had extremes of wealth and poverty, all mixing together in the most fantastic way. Dior-dressed women, smelling of Chanel No. 5, stepped from limousines and mingled with beggars, flower girls, and shopkeepers. But Paris had no morals! Prostitutes in mini-skirts and black mesh stockings sat at the tables with the sons of respectable families, who dined at adjacent tables without anyone objecting! She was always getting winks, pinches, and propositions, even though she let it be known she was happily married. “Married?” the men would scoff. “One man is good, two, three, four are much better, oui?”

To their thinking marriage should not be restraining to anyone. “Being married is no excuse for not having a little excitement!” men would laugh at her, and women, even the concierge at their pension, said the same.

If only she didn’t love Ron so much, if only she didn’t love Christ even more—Paris would have been a great temptation, she knew. Women ruled, and men were their slaves (or pretended to be) in Paris! A beautiful woman could seemingly write her own ticket—just as little Edith Piaf had done for twenty or so years until her final collapse from whatever drugs or alcohol or “excitement” killed her.

The bus slowed, then pulled into a hotel’s drive, stopping at the door.

“Rest stop, and a restaurant for those who wish to dine!” the driver called out in French. “We will be picking up our tour guide here—Monsieur Alexandre Hippolyte Gascard, S.J., Professor of Assyriology from the Sorbonne.”

Carol’s soaring heart sank the moment the vinegarish-looking savant came aboard. An unsmiling, graying Jesuit scholar and Assyriologist who struck Carol as a too-precise French pedant with little personal charm, he carefully explained just what they would be seeing that first day of the tour, and how he would see them all the way through Normany, but he would be leaving them when they turned on the road from Normandy to Brittany, to see Mont de Miguel, which lay outside of his “purlieu,” as he called his arcane field of knowledge which, to her, could have no bearing on French civilization.

How could he not be excited with the things they would be seeing? Carol wondered, dumbfounded. Was the man a walking corpse? What archeologist’s spade had turned him up? He seemed a perfect match for Mrs. Grundy, and she mentioned this to Ron, who nodded but hardly noticed the man. “How could they pick such a prig as him?” she muttered to herself. What could they be thinking of at the travel agency? In any case, she was determined to enjoy herself.

“If anyone does not show up in time for departure, we will leave that person behind!” the professor admonished them. “We have a very strict schedule to keep, and with that said I won’t issue another warning! I am not accustomed to repeating myself! So be on time and keep together with the group, or be left behind! I’ve left people to walk back to Paris before, and I’ll do it again if you prove to be a laggard!”

Then he led them into the hotel like a rigid schoolmaster with his cowed, pasty-faced students.

Seated at a little table with Ron, Carol scanned the menu, trying to get her thoughts of the tour guide. She knew they could afford a real meal—and she was starved for something more than bread and cheese!

Maybe she overdid it—turtle soup, crepes, escargot, truffles, etc., following but they weren’t finished with the whole meal when the professor rapped on their table in passing and they saw they had to leave immediately or complete the tour on foot!

Highly annoyed, since she was only half way through the ordered courses, Carol considered doing just that! So she didn’t scramble to get herself and Ron to the bus and finished their meal. When they reached the curb, it was already pulling away.

Ron woke up at the sight and began to run after it though without any chance of catching it.

Carol fell back, beginning to laugh. The bus got away, leaving Ron standing in the street, bellowing.

He turned back to her, furious.

“Oh, let them go!” she laughed. “That gloomy guide they dug out of some Jesuit cemetery would have ruined the tour and made us perfectly miserable the whole time! Now we can see things ourselves the way they should be seen, without his views getting in the way or anybody telling us how we should look at things!”

Ron didn’t look so sure of it, and his Scandinavian moodiness began to drop on him.

Knowing the signs, she immediately swept up to him and kissed him. “It won’t be so bad if just the two of us go to Normandy, will it? Wouldn’t you like that better? Just us two?”

He softened in her Gypsy-like charm as he always did. “Okay,” he said, slowly, his blue eyes gazing deep into her dark eyes. “But how are we going to get there now? A cab? I suppose we could hire one, if we don’t run out of money to pay the fare. Maybe we could catch up with the bus. They headed somewhere here in Giverny.”

As if in promise of a good turn of fate, sunshine broke out of the clouds and lit the street brilliantly. Paris, promising light, couldn’t produce much, but the countryside more than made up for Paris. It was glorious on the outskirts of Giverny.

They took a cab from the hotel, after unsucessfully trying to find out what it might cost them to go from there to Giverny. Feigning a misunderstanding, the cabby overshot Giverny even though Ron kept showing him the tour map and pointed out the Monet Gardens several times. They were miles away from the site when they realized what had happened. Carol was furious, but Ron waved at her to hold tight, and they quickly decided to go on to Rouen, Joan of Arc’s home town.

“Surely, he can’t miss Rouen!” Carol groused, then laughed at herself. Ron smiled, and together they looked forward to seeing the birthplace of the legendary maiden who saved free France from the English tyrant, King Henry the Third, or Fourth, or was it Sixth? One Henry was enough for France, anyway!

“The treacherous, effete dukes of the Burgundians, who didn’t want France to unify, caught her and the English tried her in a kangeroo court and then burned her at the stake for heresy,” Carol remarked. “Under pressure, all alone, she lost her courage once and recanted, but it didn’t do her any good. They still wanted to put her to death, so she went back to wearing men’s clothes for the bonfire.” Ron didn’t seem to hear, as he had returned to his volume of Barth’s church dogmatics.

This time Carol didn’t mind his callous inattention. The countryside was just stunning—all radiant with light and sparkling moisture. It was a perfect spring day to be out doing what they were doing. Somehow, she thought, they would economize and get back to Paris, even if they had to hitch-hike. She had her dad’s American Express card for an emergency, should they run completely out of money.

She was fascinated with the scenes. With a direct flight from New York to Paris, she hadn’t seen anything like this. It was a dream come true-—to be seeing France in all its glory.

How beautiful were the old farms, every building cared for, every fence painted, every stone set in stone walls with ivy to run along the top as if pleading to be painted! She couldn’t fault anything she saw—-it was more than she had hoped to see.

French farmers, and their wives, worked out in the fields without machinery, with various work animals and carts. That willow tree draped partly over a blue-painted gate.

The group of wine barrels with cats perched on top, sunning themselves. Fields of broccoli, leeks, onions, and various flowers for the Paris markets--it looked as if things had not changed for hundreds of years. Had war been fought in these parts? They looked so utterly peaceful--like Eden must have been like before Adam and Eve sinned. There was no sign whatsoever that all this had been a major battleground of World War II, where hundreds of thousands of men had clashed, along with thousands of planes, armored vehicles, tanks, and artillery.

Taking his time on most of the route, the cabby speeded up as they neared Rouen. He then accelerated, speeding down the narrow lanes in the outskirts, nearly running over geese and dogs and various farmer’s carts.

“Why go so fast?” she protested in French.

The cabby smiled, speeding up still more.

It was growing so terrifying that Ron grew concerned, pulling his attention away from his book.

“He’s going to kill us all!” Carol said to him after a near collision with a loaded milk van. “How do we get him to slow down? He’s drunk and gone totally crazy!”

Burning rubber, the Mercedes Benz braked hard on the slippery cobblestones, and Carol and Ron were nearly thrown into the front seat.

Right ahead of them was the Rouen Cathedral, and they had nearly driven into it!

Tumbling out, Carol and Ron scrambled to get clear of the cab while they still could.

The driver, smiling, relieved himself on the cathedral wall as they looked on dumbfounded by his impudence, then demanded an outrageous sum, but Carol took the money and thrust it into his hand, trying hard to remember that she was a Christian and keep some words from being said.

The cabby swung away from the curb, honking his horn, and Carol stood looking at him. “He probably does this to Americans, to pay us back for rescuing the French from the Nazis in World War II!”

Ron didn’t comment, which meant he probably agreed. But what where they to do? They were in Rouen, still in one piece, thank God!

Feeling out of sorts after so inartistic an arrival, Carol shook her head. “I’m really not in the mood to see the cathedral. I’ve seen Notre Dame and the other main sights in Paris, so why don’t we just walk around the old town for a while and relax?”

“But what about our bags?” Ron said.

“Oh, no!” Carol moaned. Just then they remembered.

Down the street sped their bags in the back of the madman's cab.

Carol sank down on the curb. “All my paint supplies—-gone! I was going to paint Mont St. Miguel and the sea! Oh God, why does this have to happen to us? We had--”

She began to weep. She had brought her painting gear from the states, and couldn’t afford to replace it.

Ron pulled her to her feet. He smiled at her gamely. “We’ll buy some supplies for you here, if there is a shop. Don’t give up so easily.”

Carol didn’t recover this time so quickly. She let him lead her on, but her heart wasn’t in it. There wasn’t any chance they could find what she wanted, and at a reasonable price. They tried the markets and shops, with no luck. Flowers, postcards, TVs, auto parts, radios, furniture, portraits painted on the spot, fresh vegetables and fruits, antiques, various items of boudoir plumbing, clothes, leather goods, perfumes, chocolates, light fixtures-—but utterly no paint supplies.

What a disaster the dream vacation had turned into! And the clouds caught up to them and it began to rain heavily! How odd the rain looked running down the main sculpture set in the street, a most strange sight, for it was a tongue carved in marble, erected by some immensely rich, oil well Arab sheik.

They had to get out of the wet, so they went first into a restaurant for coffee, since it was too eary for dinner.

Carol sat, her elbows on the table, looking up into Ron’s face. “Well, got any plans? I think I have run out of steam!”

Ron, she knew, was content most anywhere, as long as he had a good book. But this was to be their romantic interlude. The extensive language studies were dull to the point of tears, and high-priced, inflationary Paris had been a struggle to survive in—this was their brief moment to enjoy, before they wound up their affairs in Paris, bought their mission supplies, and sailed to Africa to begin their six years of missionary service.

Ron said nothing, and she let the matter drop for the moment. They ordered coffee and pastry.

When they were half way through, Carol had an idea. Her face lost all its uncharacteristic sadness and she was beaming once again.

“I’ll write dad. I am sure he’ll understand when I tell him what happened—-all our bags stolen, etc. He won’t mind if we use the credit card in this real crisis. Forget our money worries! We can afford to do it the right way. We’ll rent a car and stay in nice places too! Well, what do you think?”

Ron scowled at first, but she kept bearing down on the fact their bags had been stolen, and he eventually came round to her thinking.

“They would insist they help us out in this emergency, dear!” she insisted. “They know what this outing means to us! Don’t make them out to be tightwads, for they’re far from that. Let’s not let the expense keep us from enjoying ourselves this last time. Dad’s business, the water company, is doing well, so they can easily afford whatever we put on the card. Well? Do you want to make them misers, or give them the chance to help us out when we truly need help?”

He knew what she meant. Just a couple years older than her, still in his twenties, he felt the same, though his mind was more mature in some ways.

She was glad she had had her handbag, with the card in it, when she leaped of the cab. Otherwise, she knew, they would have lost it too. She normally hated carrying anything, but it was the most easy thing to stuff with sun glasses, gum, chocolate, etc., that she didn’t like to carry in her pockets.

She also knew something else she could do. Leaving the café, she dragged Ron back to the markets, and there, using the card, she bought a portrait artist’s entire paint set and gear.

Ron had to look away as she finished the negotiation. His face was red when he heard how much the man had charged them.

“Well, it was the only way to get what I need,” Carol explained, smiling. “Hey, wipe that frown away. You’re not paying for it!”

He had to chuckle at that, and humor restored, they turned toward the next task. Where would they get a car?

Inquiring at various shops, they were finally directed to a line of taxis back outside the cathedral.

“We want to drive ourselves there,” they explained to the group of cabbies. The men shook their beret-topped heads, as if they hadn’t heard of such a thing before.

Carol knew they were just holding out for more money. “We want to rent a car for several days! We will return it here! How much?”

After considerable squabbles, one man stepped forward as if he had been appointed their representative. “Five thousand francs a day, not including petrol,” he said.

Carol’s face fell. She turned to Ron. “They’re absolute thieves. That’s about 100 bucks a day, in our money! I think I’d rather walk to Normandy than pay them that!”

Ron agreed, and they started walking away. They had gone half-way down the street when the cabbies were running to catch them.

“Five thousand francs, Madame!” a voice cried out.

Minutes later, after showing their identification and paying in advance for a week, they were on their way.

Handling the vehicle, which was a British car with the steering wheel on the right side, was a challenge for Ron.

He managed to get them out of the medieval district of Rouen without a mishap, and Carol, settling back in the seat beside him, began to think there was going to be a romantic interlude after all.

Just a mile or so from town the car sputtered and stopped in the road.

Ron checked the tank. “No!” he cried. “They let us go without any gas! I wouldn’t doubt if there’s no oil or water in it either!”

Carol clapped her hands over her face. “Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord!”

“I’ll go to the nearest farm house and see if I can buy some gas,” Ron said, standing in the drenching rain.

“I’m going too! You’re not leaving me alone with a million French donkeys, are you?”

They pushed the car over to the side, locked it up, then hurried to find the closest farmstead.

Several cars and buses passed them, horns blaring at them and going both directions, but no one would stop when they tried to hale them.

Spotting a lane leaving the road, Carol instinctively pulled Ron’s arm, and they tried it. Slipping in mud, stepping in puddles, they followed the lane through dense hedgerows, and suddenly it opened up on a farmyard. A couple old trucks, looking like vintage World War I army vehicles, and a barn and attached house stood in big sheets of standing water. Wading through, they reached the door, a porch that ran all along the side, and knocked. The moment they knocked, it sounded like a pack of wild dogs threw themselves on the other side.

Then they heard a woman’s high voice, and the howling and snarling fell instantly silent.

A long moment passed, as an eye appeared in a big crack in the door, examined them at leisure, then the door swung open and poodle dogs of all sizes and colors tumbled out all around them.

Carol and Ron were astonished. The woman of the house was an old woman, with long silvery-grey, braided hair falling down nearly to her waist, dressed in silk pantaloons and a deep-cut silk blouse that left nothing much to be imagined.

The Goat-Lady

If she wasn't strange looking enough, all around her were cashmere goats with big satin ribbons and bows tied to them like pets! In the midst of all her pets, she was making black raspberry jam!

“Come in! Come in, my dears!” she called, forgetting the jam and crooning to her goats at the same time. Trying to push through the curious goats was difficult, but Carol and Ron persisted and got into the house. Fortunately, the pet goats and dogs were kept out on the porch, and they found themselves alone with the lady in her kitchen.

Stone floors, plastered walls, an antique lantern-like light fixure of pewter, a huge iron range, a butter churn, everything looked as if it had come out of the 19th century or an even earlier age.

The lady introduced herself, smiling sweetly at Carol, and winking at Ron. “It is wonderful to have a man in my kitchen,” she began, talking to Ron first. “I’m afraid an old lady might say or do something she might later regret. But there haven’t been anyone like you here for—for—“ Her eyes misted. She seemed to forget what she was saying as she turned back to them.

“I so adore to have such young people in my house! You are lovers eloping from your parents’ control, oui?”

Carol glanced at Ron to catch his reaction, laughed at his expression, and decided it best to go along with this most charming Frenchwoman. Had she been an important somebody’s mistress in “better days”? No doubt she had quite some stories to tell.

“Yes, we are newlyweds, “ Carol replied. “We are on our second honeymoon—really our first—since we didn’t have the money to do much on the first.”

The lady’s face grew very sober, almost disappointed, as Carol explained. She seemed to think of something, then her face became radiant.

“Married? Married? Well, well, that isn’t the worst thing in the world that could happen! And you are in the right country, where we know how to fix things like that so that everybody can be happy. But you must stay with me! I will fix dinner for you, and you two will eat it alone—I do not dine with other people anyway. I will give you my dear Hippolyte’s—-or was it Jules’?-—favorite room in the house—for I never use it since—since—oh dear--“ She seemed to lose her train of thought again. They waited, and sure enough, she saw them again, recollected where she was, and they were off on the right track once more.

“Please, leetle darlings, let go of your wet things. I will wash and dry them, and in the morning you can have them again like new! Where are your bags? In your car outside?”

Carol explained, since her French was much better than Ron’s, having started hers in college. “Madame, we ran out of gas. And it is a hired car. A cabby took our bags, so we have just what we are carrying. I hope we will be no trouble to you. We can pay for any expense we cause you. We will need gas for the car so we can get on our way to—“

At the mention of their going so soon, the goat-lady frowned and pouted. “No, no, no!” she cried. “You cannot go now!” She pushed them both out of the room, and they found themselves propelled into another room, which turned out to be an antique bathroom. “Take off your wet things-—everything! I have robes for you, slippers, stockings, and men and ladies’ lingerie—“ She winked at Ron and Carol, and they had to laugh. It was the most antique sort of wink they had ever witnessed. It was done so elaborately, it might have been done in the Sun King’s parlor by some aristocratic lady of court.

When she had gone out, and they were removing their sodden clothes, Carol turned to Ron. “I think she’s some old retired dance hall queen, with those flirtatious manners of hers! Don’t you agree? Imagine, retired to a goat-farm after years and years of revues in Paris! How could she stand it? Missing all that excitement and glamour of the past? Never to see a shred of it come again, with no one knocking at her window to be let in secretly? Maybe she was the lucky one, you never know. And she was married—at least she says so!”

The door opened rather too soon, with Ron standing without his pants in surprise as the goat-lady entered without a blush, handing him his robe and a prophylactic and some lady’s things along with a robe to Carol. She glanced professionally at Carol’s figure and clucked her tongue.

“You could do the dancing well enough,” she observed, scrutinizing Ron’s legs and torso. “You look—ah, a good match for a good woman.“ Then she hurried out.

Ron bustled into his robe as Carol laughed at his expense. “She did that on purpose!”

When they were ready, wearing robes, slippers, and whatever else she found for them, they were conducted out into the parlor, which was a well-to-do, gentleman farmer’s—circa 1840. It was chilling and damp as a French penal colony cell in there, but their hostess soon got a warm fire going in the antique stove. Carol was leafing through some albums of musical comedies, and was trying to place their hostess in one of the can can chorus lines. Their hostess came in and saw what she had, and laughed. She went to the piano, strummed a bit of a music hall tune, got up, took a few steps, arched her neck and wriggled a bit, singing a few bars in an old lady's quivering treble before she seemed to remember her dinner on the stove and hurried out, cursing in street market French.

Ron sat in a big, overstuffed chair with every sort of lace tacked to it, and he looked across at Carol who lay full length on the antique ottoman. “You really want to stay here? This place is incredible. Like a museum! And there’s goat hair everywhere, if you haven’t noticed!”

Carol agreed. “Yes, it is very quaint, just like her. But she means well. So why not? Do you want to go back out in that?—“ They heard the rain beating on the roof.

Ron shivered. “Well, she’s got all our clothes, doesn't she? So how can we go? It must be a trick she plays on her guests. This way they are captive audiences until Madame Lonelyheart tires of them and shows them the door!”

Their hostess dashed in, carrying dusty bottles. She examined one, then another. “These are my—er—husband’s—very fine vintages! You will adore the champagne!”

She didn’t seem to hear as Carol tried to explain that they didn’t drink alcoholic beverages, except a ltitle wine now and then, and that they were missionaries.

Their champagne poured in cupid-decorated goblets and given to them, their hostess vanished back into the kitchen. She swept back in for a moment, put on a record of Debussy's "The Sunken Cathedral," and departed.

She returned with a gaudy gold, over-ornamented candlelabra, all lit, and set it down on the table. It should have been tasteless French decadence, but it didn’t have that effect at all.

The room was now strangely beautiful and enchanting, in the candlelight. The golden sheen on the candlelabra, the gilt frames on the family pictures, the delicate Breton laces, the velvets and tassels of the curtains, the ornate dark furniture, the leopard skin spread on the Persian carpet—-it was a classic scene out of Sarah Bernhardt’s heyday, when she was playing the lead in "La Dame aux Camelias."

Their aged hostess seemed to take on beauty too, as she came in again to see how they were doing. She held a plate of sliced cucumbers, with tiny cherry tomatoes, and little diced beets as garnish. With the vegetables was a sweet and lemon-laced mixture. They were handed little forks that carried heraldic emblems.

Very hungry, Carol tried it, and it was delicious.

When they finished this, a thin vegetable clear soup with an artistic swirl of plum sauce arrived. Then followed course after course, each one more elaborate.

The food was wonderful in taste, even if the selection based on her farm produce was a bit quixotic, and each plate was as elegant as the best in Paris.

“Superb!” Carol muttered to Ron, who was saying nothing but eating everything set before him. Comfortable, warm, attended to by an excellent cook, he wasn’t protesting in the least.

Dessert came at the last, which was simply wild strawberries, sliced in a decorative way with a light cream sauce of some kind sprinkled on it instead of heavy clotted Danish cream that was so popular in European capitals. They couldn’t have handled anything the least bit heavy at that moment. This was just perfect.

As they finished their dinner, they heard their hostess going up the stairs. She seemed to be moving furniture over their heads. Then she reappeared, and with smiles ushered them to their bedroom. She beamed at them as she threw open the door.

They went in, and stood there amazed, finding themselves in an all-pink boudoir.

“I thought you said it was your late husband’s favorite room?” Carol said. “Philippe, did you say that was his name?”

The goat-lady laughed. “My husband?” she said, as if she had forgotten. “ Oh! Yes, dear, dear Philippe! No, you are wrong. It was Etienne-Louis! My darling preferred this color. He wanted me to feel more at home in his room!”

Carol frowned. “You aren’t giving up your boudoir for us, are you? I wouldn’t think of taking yours from you and invading your privacy. We can go stay at a hotel tonight!”

The lady looked shocked. “Oh, no! This is all yours! Feel at home! Stay here as long as you wish! Please! It doesn’t cost me a franc. My poor departed husband, my divine Leon, would be very displeased if you left! Please stay!”

Carol almost felt like the lady would be hurt if they didn’t accept. She nodded. “It’s very very beautiful.” She went over to the canopied bed. “I’ve never slept in a bed like this before. I'd feel like Marie Antoinette and wouldn't be able to sleep, thinking of the guillotine.!”

“It is lovely,” murmured their hostess, apparently overlooking Carol's grim allusion to an executed head of state. “I am glad I saved it for this special day. And my husband Pierre-Baptista is glad too!”

She then swept out, leaving them alone.

Carol looked over at Ron. The room was lit with candles. The stove was lit. A bottle of champagne, with chocolate eclairs and more prophylactics tied with a pink bow on the pillow—-what hadn’t she thought of?

Ron went over to the bed and sat down. He looked over to her, and that was all that she needed.

In the morning, as their car sped toward the national war shrines of Omaha Beach, they couldn’t yet believe their good fortune in stumbling on the goat-lady’s farm. She had even prepared a hearty English-style breakfast for them, to see them on their way. And she refused to accept one franc, hard as they pressed to pay her. “No, it was my pleasure, my darlings!” she cried over and over. “Marcel and I wouldn’t have it otherwise!”

She stood with her goats and the ghosts of her many, many “husbands,” watching them depart down the road once they had loaded into gas for the trip. Carol couldn’t forget how the goat-lady had looked, like something out of the medieval ages—her long, silvery hair, the ancient-looking clothes she wore—and her fantastic, antique-filled “farm home” hidden away behind high, thorny, inpenetrable hedgerows. Weren’t those tears in the old woman’s eyes-—tears for old passions remembered—-Carol wondered as she took her last glimpse of the once very naughty goat-lady?

If only she could paint her! She was an absolute original. But there was no time. They both felt they needed to be on their way. Perhaps on their return, they could stop by and get a portrait done, if the goat-lady would agree to it.

Later, Carol stood transfixed by the stupifying spectacle of the massed crosses, tens of thousands of them, stretching to the far lengths of the huge fields of the cemetery of the Anglo-American Dead of World War II. It took away all desire to speak.

Reacting the same as she had at the Minneapolis showing of Hiroshima Mon Amour, she bawled like a baby.

Ron nudged her. "What do you see that I see, and hear that I hear?" She thought he was making fun of her at first. "Graves, you mean? Countless lives cut short for the sake of our freedom?" she answered without really looking.

Ron did not say any more. He simply pointed. Carol then saw what he was trying to get her to see--if only she could open her eyes to see it. The patterns of light and shadow--ever changing as the wind blew the grasses and the branches of trees, were playing across the sea of graves.

Then, hearing the whispering sighs of the wind, she heard it too. It was like the slightest echo of a grand symphony, and the music was better than any human composer could have created.

For long moments afterwards, when they were driving to Bayeux, they couldn’t find any words to describe what both felt.

“I just hope they lived long enough to love and be loved, before-—before-—they were slaughtered,“ was all Carol could get out.

Ron nodded gravely as a young man would when contemplating death and kept driving through the misting rain.

Bayeux was like Rouen—-very old, very much destroyed in the war, but already rebuilt to a large degree, with valiant attempts to restore the half-timbered medieval buildings to the state they had been.

Bayeux and Cathedral

The town bustled, particularly at the marketplaces, and they walked along, thinking to buy what they needed for a picnic, if the weather would ever clear up enough for one. But it remained too wet, and they turned in at the museum. There they viewed the main attraction, the famed Bayeux Tapestry.

Over two hundred thirty feet long, the tapestry chronicled the events of the Norman Invasion of England, starting with the epic battle where England went as the prize to the winner. They examined the hundreds of Norman and English soldiers battling at Hastings, as the Duke William of Normandy fought it out with the King of England for the throne.

Carol and Ron together viewed the inscriptions. “It is over 600 years old,” Carol remarked, translating for him since he was still wasn’t her match in French. “Nuns may have sewn it, somewhere over in England, not France where it was found. How it got over here in France, nobody knows for sure, except that the local bishop, His Eminence Odo, may have commissioned it and brought it home. It has survived several fires and the World Wars, by being taken and hidden away in caves. Even so, it is a miracle of preservation. Originally, it was white, but now the linen is light tan from age.”

“Does it say how much there was originally?” Ron asked her, just to humor her and make her think he wasn’t reviewing passages of his theological book the whole time, thanks to his photographic memory.

She turned back to the inscriptions. “From the abrupt ending, some panels are perhaps missing, and they don’t know what they were portraying. It would be interesting to know! My guess is that it was probably the best part, but too controversial for the old bishop, and he had it torn off before the tapestry was displayed publicly in the cathedral! ”

“Interesting theory, dear.” Ron observed, smiling. “But how can it ever be proved? They’ll probably never find the missing panels after all these centuries. Dampness would rot them if they are kept down in some dark crypt or hole.”

“What about the Qumran scrolls of the books of the Bible, found by some Bedouin goatherds in the Israeli desert after being lost for two thousand years?”

“You have a point,” Ron laughed. “But this isn’t desert country. It’s much too damp to preserve old things like cloth or paper from even a hundred years ago.”

“Well!” she retorted. “This much of the tapestry survived 600 years of fire, wars, and invasions, did it not? Why shouldn’t the missing portion survive the same way? They must have known about the dampness back then to do something about it. Were they that stupid to not to have thought of a way around the problem? And I thought you were the logical one!”

Ron let her win this time. He had lost interest anyway in the Bayeux tapestry, as he recalled where he had left off reading in Barth’s theology.

They left the museum, intending to reach Mont le Michel before the tide came in. They had several hours to do it. After that, the tide would keep them cut off from the Mount and the abbey until the following morning.

Carol turned to Ron as he drove toward the most beautifully-sited abbey in France--—one of the world’s most spectacular architectural masterpieces, as every travel authority agreed.

With her new paint set and gear, Carol had to try them out doing an interesting old bridge spanning a river whose name they could not tell, for the sign was missing.

Carol Immersed in Her Art

While Ron read his book, she worked on it for a half an hour, but the lighting wasn't quite what she wanted, so she bundled up her stuff and they trooped back to the car. “How are you liking the trip so far?”

His mind on other things than the scenery, he didn’t say anything, as he was always sparing on obvious words.

She kissed him. “Well, I’m liking it too. Very much, in fact!”

Part II, Ascent to Mont St. Michel

Ron exchanged seats and let her drive the last hour or so. While she drove he read in his book. She saw it was Barth’s, and this time she frowned, looking at him as he read obvious to the world around him, but she held her comment back for later.

They reached the road leading across the vast grasslands of the salt marshes to the abbey in the distance. She pulled up, for the sight of it was staggering, beyond the capacity of the various descriptions and pictures of it they had seen and heard.

It could hardly be believed—-all that ancient maze of buildings dedicated to Michael the Warrior Archangel stacked on a steep-sided, 400 foot high mountain, with the sea in the distance, and all around the salt marshes and mud flats.

“Do you want to drive the rest of the way?” she said to him. Ron nodded, and they exchanged places.

It was hard, once they got across the salt marsh causeway, to find a place to park. The Mount had a lot of tourists to accommodate, and parking space was extremely limited. They tried first one spot and then another in the tiny village that clustered beneath the abbey that crowned the summit of the mount. Each time they parked, someone came out from a shop or restaurant and motioned them away.

“What are we going to do if they don’t let us get out of this car?” Carol cried.

Ron drove up another alley, which was a cul de sac like so many others. It had cars parked all along it, and he was about to back out when he spotted an open garage. Inside was space for several cars beneath the small hotel situated above. “That’s it!” he said. He slipped quickly in.

On the verge of tears, Carol was relieved. “Yes, we’ll stay here then! Well, I’m glad that’s settled.”

They climbed the stairs to the ground floor. The concierge was at the desk. They took a room, paying with the card. The concierge gave them advice as to the better places to eat. Your bags? They were asked.

“All stolen,” they told her. “We don’t have anything but what you see we are wearing.” The concierge looked shocked and offended, but after they started to explain what had happened in Rouen she interrupted them, handed them the room key and said if there was anything they wanted, she would see to it they got it. “I trust you don’t judge all my countrymen by his terrible actions!” she said, pointing out an aged, crumpled U.S. flag draped on a wall next to the French tricolor. “If it were not for the Americans—well-—the execrable Nazis might still be in charge of civilization! My husband and I were in the Resistance, fighting both the Vichy and the Nazis, but—ah!--so many, many of my friends and family were executed whenever we shoot a bad Nazi—one hundred of us had to die for one of them, the monsters! I can never forgive them—-that is why no Germans ever stay here! I send them out immediately even if I have all empty rooms!”

Carol paused to look at the concierge. “That isn’t right—-you must forgive—and forget too! On my mother's side, all my people were natives, Indian people, and they were badly treated too--but we had to forgive our persecutors. Otherwise we would hate them and be enslaved by our own hatred.”

The concierge looked as if a donkey had made a rude noise. “Forgive the Nazis?” She began to laugh. “You can forgive the Nazis? But you didn’t know any! WE KNEW the Nazis! When you know a Nazi, and he kills your family and rapes even the little girls as their parents are forced to watch, then come and tell me I should forgive them!”

Carol was shaking her head listening to this, but she let it go.

When they went up to their suite, the concierge sent her daughter, a young girl with some things for the lady—toiletries, a fashion house-designed chemise, and dainty feminine things she might want for the night, along with a beautiful robe. Former hotel guests had left very nice things by mistake and no doubt wouldn’t come to retrieve, the girl explained. Carol smiled and told her to thank her mother.

“Poor Ron!” she said to him “I wish they had some left-behinds for you too! I almost feel guilty enjoying these exquisite things!”

But she might not have said anything, for when they returned after dinner they found everything a young man might want laid out on the bed. It was superb—the best French wear, Pierre Cardin robe, pajamas, underwear, stockings, and even several ties and a pair of dress pants. Besides this, there was a box of chocolate eclairs from Maxims, and a bucket with champagne, not to mention bouquets of carnations.

“I wonder what we’re paying for all this!” he murmured, aghast.

Carol shrugged. “Calm down! Remember, this is daddy’s gift! Mom, you know, is full-blood Yakima Indian, and as sharp as her people can be, she must have foreseen there’d come a time we’d need the card and got him to give it to us.”

As soon as she was ready for bed, she found Ron sitting up with his Barth, his eyes fixed on the dense print.

Ron and Carol Swenson

She tried to get his attention. Several times she tried, with no success. Finally, she had to pull the book away. “This is our second honeymoon,” she had to remind him. “We haven’t come all this way just to be bookworms!”

He seemed so distracted, however, that she decided they had to have a little talk. “What is bothering you? Cmon, tell me. What is so interesting in your book anyway, that is better than this time away from Paris, and just the two of us to enjoy it?”

He murmured a few words, but she wasn’t buying his explanation.

She put her fingers on his lips. “Stop it! I want the truth! What is going on with you—and us! You are beginning to concern me!”

This seemed to sober him, and he appeared to consider his words most thoughtfully.

She waited until he was ready, and then he told her what she already knew, how he had been making his way through Barth’s Church Dogmatics, point by point, and, getting her attention, he continued by explaining how he had slowly come to realize that Barth meant what he had first declared, that God is an “infinite qualitative” distance away from man, and that theology must come to grips with that reality or it wouldn’t be able to compete with the views of modern man that were mainly based on science and technology.

Carol looked at him with a stunned expression for some long moments.

“But you know that isn’t true!” she finally protested. “I don't care who objects or imagines it didn't happen as the Bible reports, the truth is that God Himself bridged the gulf between Himself and mankind. He became man in Jesus Christ! We believe that as Christians! That was the whole point of the miracle of the Incarnation—we could never reach him, granted, so He came down and reached us in Jesus! Only that way could God could be touched, heard, spoken to, hurt, even killed for our sake! Barth doesn’t accept any of that, does he? It is only some kind of show or appearance or symbolical gesture. In other words, God still was God, and man remained man! Never the twain shall meet, right? How can He be a Christian and hold such views? There would be no point to life, to speaking about Christ, if I believed that tripe!”

Ron, visibly flinching at the sound of the word "tripe," didn’t reply to her irrational, feminine ourburst, and she took it she had prevailed with her logic, since he wasn’t objecting to her impression and had no rebuttal to her charges.

The conversation at that point seemed to be going nowhere, so she let it drop. It wasn’t a good practice to get the best of your man intellectually, she thought. She tried to be casual about about her objection, while telling him her position. “I wish you wouldn’t read him anymore,” she said, turning out the light. “I have a feeling that it is getting to be more important than our faith in God, the mission we’re called to, and it’s grown more important than—than us. You care about us, don’t you? Of course you do!”

To prove her point, she put his arms around him, and he took her cue-—but somehow she knew he was going through the motions and withdrawing after a few moments of reassurance for her benefit. He was fast forgetting all the little touches that lovers know, and only she was remembering how they used to love each other. This was terrible, she knew. What was she going to do?

An hour later he went out of the room, and later she got up to go to the bathroom and found him reading in the bathroom.

“What?’ she cried, struggling to awaken herself. “Don’t tell me!” She glanced at his book. “What is it? A drug you’ve got to have?”

He gave her that thousand-miles-away. abstract, intellectual look he often had lately. “I know you don’t like it, but to do him justice I have got to finish his book before I can make up my mind, fairly and objectively.”

“Okay!” she retorted, her last shred of control gone. “But I really don’t think it is doing you—us—any good! I wish you would—throw it out the window before I--”

They could hear the waves now slapping at the mount’s base, for the sea had returned to all side of le Mont St. Michel.

She was sorely tempted, again in the morning. She found Ron still fast asleep and got his book and was standing at the window, which was open to the spring breezes. But the tide was out. It would land on the rocks below or the sandy shore and he could easily get it back. She had lost her opportunity.

Putting the detested thing away, she decided to wait until a better time presented itself.

The next day they planned to see the abbey cloisters and church and then take a long walk on the salt marsh that spread for miles around. If they wanted to stay on another night, they could.

After that they could take a leisurely drive back to Paris via Tours, afterwards stopping to see the various chateaux in the Loire Valley and their famous gardens to make up for Monet’s gardens at Giverny which they had missed, thanks to the rascally taxi driver.

After a Continental breakfast, they left the hotel for their walk as soon as the tide was out. The salt marsh grasses were wet, and little pools of water stood there and there, yet the ground was firm, thanks to the thick roots of the grasses. They had walked about a mile toward the southwest when they saw sheep.

“Sheep way out here?” Carol cried. They had to investigate.

They walked a longer distance than they had wanted to go, but they reached the sheep, and their shepherd—-a youngish-looking old man as tall as a giant in a scruffy woolen sweater and overalls with a transistor radio handing on a strap round his neck. He was watching them come with his sharp eyes perched over puffy bags, obviously the occupational hazard of shepherds watching sheep all night.

Looking up at a man who seemed to be about seven feet tall, Carol began with her rapid-fire French, introducing Ron and herself, then inquired about him, and he replied in perfect King’s English that he had taught for years at a college in Cambridge.

“What are you doing herding sheep?”

“Why not?” he laughed. “Here I can usually get away from everything modern and decadent—-until the tourists come in the tourist season, that is!”

“Oh!” Carol burst out. “I am afraid we are disturbing you then!”

“Not at all. You see, I sometimes find it a bit lonely out here, with days and even weeks going by before I see anyone. Sheep have a problem relating with shepherds, you see. They’re like babies which never really grow up. So I am always ‘daddy’ to them, and that can be a constraint to communication!“

Then he paused, extending a hand that engulfed each of theirs in turn. “Jean-Baptiste Banqui,” he said. They exchanged their names, and he had them put their names in a small black address book, after explaining that his memory was failing.

“But where do you camp? Do you have a tent somewhere?” said Ron in an odd manner of an adult speaking down to a child, looking doubtfully round the vast marshes.

Carol darted an annoyed glance at him when he said that, taking a cue that Ron was humoring the old man, while thinking him a bit mad.

“Oh, no,” the shepherd-scholar replied forth-rightly, ignoring the tone Ron was using. “I have to go with my sheep up to higher ground on the mainland, before the tide from the bay returns. Would you please honor me by being my guests? And I can show you some strange artifacts from ancient times, statuary in fact, that the tidal waters cover most of the time and most people know nothing about, since the tall grasses hide them even during the day when the tide is out. Well, monsieur?”

Shifting uncomfortably on his feet, Ron looked at Carol, but Carol nodded eagerly.

“But they’ll be wondering what happened to us back at the hotel,” Ron observed ruefully, thinking of the book he had left behind.

“Yes, we’d be happy to visit your camp!” Carol told him. "And I'd love to see the ancient statues."

The shepherd then blew a whistle, and an unkempt sheepdog they hadn’t seen out on the marshes came bounding toward them. With another sign from the shepherd, the dog went to work, and began to move the scattered flock back toward the mainland.

“But they haven’t finished eating!” Carol said.

“Oh, they can still eat all they like, as they walk long. You’ll see.”

It was as he said. Despite the dog’s best efforts, the flock wasn’t going anywhere fast. It was slow going as the sheep made their way back, most pausing to eat a little here and there of the luxuriant, waist-tall marsh grasses. It took considerable time to make progress enough to reach the site of the ancient statuary.

At first glance, the statues were small, dark, barnacle-incrusted, and not very impressive in execution. Yet they were obviously very old, and had been submerged for long centuries from the looks of them. A grouping of three, there was a centaur, then a boy with odd bird-toed feet, and a girl that stood somewhat distant from them, looking off in another direction.

Anticipating their questions, their guide explained, "They could be ancient Celtic, evidenced by the crude rendering of their faces and the expressive and poetic arrangement of the triad, seeming to tell a story which we may now only guess about. What it could have been, we may never know, but it was important enough for the creators to memorialize in stone and then set here, strangely enough, in the sea's path. Perhaps, he thought the statues had a better chance at the mercy of the sea and tides than on land where anyone could desecrate them."

Carol, gazing at the triad, seemed to take a particular interest in the boy, and went up close, trying to take in every detail as if she meant to paint him when she returned to the Mount.

"Why, look!" she exclaimed. "He's wearing some sort of apron of leaves, as if he were Adam or shared his experience somehow!"

Their guide smiled. "You are very observant, Madame! Most people I bring here, and that number is small and select, never notice it. They are usually too taken with the centaur or the girl. But this detail, I quite agree, is very significant. It is as if a reversal has taken place in the artist's imaginative world, and he has made this figure a small antitype of the First Man, for reasons we cannot know. What could possibly link this figure and Adam together? What sin? What crime? What lapse of vision or intellect? What tree of knowledge of good and evil did he eat of? What tree of life did he neglect and miss?

Shaking his own very intellectual head, their guide looked away, indicating he never expected a resolution. Some things, in his view, were best left mysteries and enigmas rather than seek an easy, therefore false explanation.

Carol, come to respect his views after so late an acquaintance, glanced over at Ron, but he too did not wish to interject any opinion on the matter.

As they waited for the sheep and then followed, the three talked. Carol, forgetting the triad of statues, was full of questions despite Ron’s reluctance and glum silence.

“Ron’s afraid our concierge will think we’ve perished,” Carol said after a while. “Maybe we should try to get back before the tide.”

“That’s all right. Don’t worry. I will drive you back in my Citroen, which is much faster than having to walk it. And I can place a call for you to the hotel not to expect you right away. Whatever you decide, we have two hours to get you back before the Mount is cut off by the tide.”

A squall was sweeping in from the sea at that moment, and with it came flying sand and the strong tang of salt—an unmistakable sign the tide was coming back in somewhat early.

Carol glanced back at the Mount, and the incredible sight of the still living, breathing Middle Ages, standing fully intact and impregnable, in the midst of the salt marshes of the coast, made her shiver. It was no longer the majesty and beauty that attracted her, nor its massive show of strength and endurance. Rather, the sea that was sweeping in, its waves were the real ruler of the coastlands—and that meant change would come even to the Mount-—eventually it too would be worn down by the waves and ground into sand on the seashore. It was only a matter of time, a very short space of time in a geological time frame.

As she walked along she couldn’t help comparing. The gentle octogenarian giant and her own much shorter, slighter-framed husband. A sudden insight startled her. She saw what was being revealed to her in formerly vague ways was now being sharpened in clearly defined outlines. It was more felt than intellectualized but, nevertheless, just as true as anything a logician could formulate. But how can I confront him without making him defensive? She wondered.

A great urge to shout at him—-to turn back, to turn back, before the sea swept over and drowned him—-that gripped her and she was hard put to resist, but she decided to let it pass-—and the moment of danger was over. Limply, she trudged along, her options seemingly exhausted. Would she have to let Ron go without a struggle? If she tried any strong armed tactic, she knew it wouldn’t work—but if she did nothing, was that any better?

The critical moment was there, tingling away at the ends of all her nerves. She wanted to cry, to jump and down, to scream. But she couldn’t! It would make Ron think she had turned crazy too!

She felt like waves of tears were sweeping over her soul. Tears for Ron! She was seeing him being swept away and drowned before her eyes. Barth, the old godless, lying monster, had won! Christ-—and Michael the Archangel with Him--had lost.

Rain was falling on them when they reached the shepherd’s camp. It turned out to be more than a tent. A couple World War II galvanized steel army huts stood among sand dunes, half buried in the dunes with sea grasses growing on their roofs. The doors on the huts were open and Carol could see a "Citroen" so modified with parts of other cars as to be almost unrecognizable, and a small yacht named "Yachti".

Why did he live in a primitive tent when he could live in something more substantial? Carol wondered, and she could tell Ron was thinking the same thing as they watched their host first gather his sheep into wattle-sided pen for the night and pour them some water in a trough that looked so ancient it might have once done royal service in Bethlehem.

Their host opened the securely-tied tent flap of a long low army tent, crawling in because of his height, to light a lamp.

Ron looked like he might want to refuse, but Carol gave him a look and he gritted his teeth. “Alright,” he said to her in a whisper as they waited. “But I am not promising we will stay.”

They stepped in when their host called.

The moment they did so Carol gasped. Sevres porcelains? Persian carpets? Bookcases of rare books. A chess set with ivory pieces and marble gameboard. A Korean celadon vase (mishima), Koryo dynasty, 13th Century, holding a dried wildflower arrangement. Except for the reprint of Rudolfe Bresdin’s “The Good Samaritan,” it was the exquisite domicile of a dilettante sultan transported to the 20th Century!

“Do you like it?” the shepherd chuckled. “Now you know why the car and boat occupy the army huts. Mechanical things can’t suffer from modernity. We will be more comfortable here, and we get to hear the sounds of the sea waves, without the sound of a metal walls being hammered by rain.”

Carol peered at Ron to see what he was now making of it all. She could see he wasn’t so intent on leaving—-as if a greater dream than he had ever encountered was distracting him from the world of John Barth.

Their host, after giving them Algerian-made, Berber design cushions to make themselves more comfortable, got them blankets to lay round their legs for warmth.

“It isn’t that cold now, but there is still some chill at nights. I didn’t feel it when I was younger, but I guess it is the damp. Anyway, I can always pipe in heat from a gas furnace and generator outside in the army hut if it really gets cold.”

“Have you decided?” he asked as he poured them each a glass of wine. He handed them menus. “I’ll call first and later pick up dinner for you at the hotel. Which do you prefer? Sea food? Meat dishes? Truffles? I know you Americans mostly like beef steaks done rare. They have those too, for a lot of Americans and Britons and Australians pass by here and would think they’re starving if they weren’t served steak.”

Carol and Ron talked over their selections while he was gone for a few moments to see about the car. They heard it start up, after some coughing, for it was classic and vintage, like most everything in the camp.

The shepherd entered the tent, glancing at them expectantly.

“We’re be happy to accept your invitation!” Carol said. “If you want us to stay, where would you put us up? Here?”

Their host laughed. “No, not here. I have no regular bathing and bathroom facilities to offer you. My dog, my little sheep, and their old keeper live rather primitively, and prefer it so. But I wouldn’t think to subject my guests to the lack of amenities. So this is fit only for misanthropic bachelors and recluses! I will drive you to the village and you can have nice clean rooms at the hotel with a private bath, which I hire year-round for me and my guests from Paris and abroad.”

He told them to make themselves at home, and then with their dinner choices he hurried out to the "Citroen," and they heard him go to make a call from his crank-armed army field telephone.

“Guests?” Carol wondered aloud. She looked around. There was no sign he did much entertaining in the tent.

She crawled over to the bookcase, and began to look at the titles. Camus, Sartre, Heidegger, and other leading existentialists.

“You shouldn’t be going through his things,” Ron said as he began to pull out the books and look inside each cover.

“Oh, hush!” she said. “Just look at this! You’ll never believe it unless you see it”

Ron’s eyes widened. Each book was autographed for their host! And they were First Editions, which meant they were worth a small fortune each!

“Now do you want to leave?” Carol taunted him, knowing he had dreamed of such encounters as this with a great mind, but had no way to bring it about.

Ron shook his head slowly. His look of astonishment and even awe was something she would never forget.

Later, after a splendid, mostly sea food dinner only the coastal Francophone Scandinavians, the Normans, could concoct, the conversation turned quite serious as Ron and Monsieur Blanqui the teacher turned shepherd got going on the subject of French Existentialism.

Carol, relishing the exotic Arabian Nights decor, let them talk without interruption.

Ron’s questions, she noted, turned from being general at the beginning to more and more a narrowing focus on the relation of Existentialism to modern Christian theology. To her it seemed he was throwing at their obviously learned host a line of questioning not so much about the existence but the possibility of communication and even the linguistic problems relating to Christianity’s God. He was asking this strange man they had met by chance earlier that day how existential “alienated man” could apprehend an infinite God with his finite mind and spirit.

“Rudolf Bultmann, in his excellent Kerygma and Jesus Christ and other books has set ground rules for the discussion for this question for most of us, as you probably know,” observed Ron in his soft-pitched, precise voice that their host had to bend close to hear. “I really can’t see how anyone can do better than he did, showing so clearly as he has that there really isn’t a Incarnation, nice as the idea is for bridging the gulf between God and man.”

Carol’s ears burned. Had she heard him correctly? She couldn’t believe it, even so, that Ron had jettisoned so much of his once evangelical-based faith as he was now confessing, as if she wasn’t present. Had he forgotten all about Mt. View Chapel, its people, and what they believed God to be, based on His scriptures? She could see the chapel even now, more distinctly than ever, for the great distance she had traveled away from it somehow made it stand forth all the more.

Mountain View Chapel

Yet Ron, in coming to Mont St. Michel, had stumbled on a genuine philosopher, a peer he could talk to on his own level, whom he obviously wanted to use to confirm or show convincing arguments to the contrary what he had decided was the truth.

Carol, hardly knowing if she should leave in disgust, or stay to see what came of it, decided to hang in for the results, though it took extreme self-control to sit there while the fate of her marriage and the fate of their mission was being decided right before her.

“If he really doesn’t believe in Christ in his heart, I’ll never go to Africa with him!” she resolved, tears glistening in her eyes, as she fought down the fury rising within. “I leave him right here on the beach!” She gazed at them both, wondering what terrible fate was in store for them. Would their marriage end that night too? She couldn’t bear living with the likes of Barth and Bultmann, two black-robed angels of disbelief and hypocritical Biblical scholarship, the rest of her life. Were they part of her marriage vows?

An hour passed as Ron and Monsieur Banqui broached one question after another to each other, which were so abstruse with theological and philosophical terms that Carol was hard put to follow. She was an artist—-not a theologian. She had married a theology student, not knowing she would have to come to grips with the fact someday that she needed to know what exactly he believed Christ meant in terms of the “human condition,” as he was always calling it.

To her Christ had to be a true, living Person, or nothing at all to her. Faith was a simple matter of a trusting relationship, and God honored faith, by showing those who believed in Him things reason could never see and grasp--like heaven, like the beauty and mystery of life, like promised things only God could do, and so on.

It was a living relationship, lover to lover, friend with friend! You related, person to Person with Christ-—you didn’t ever call Him a myth or a symbol of something and then proclaim the goodness of that mythical Person while denying His life and connection in time and space to human beings.

What an ultimate insult, treating so intensely personal a God that way!

Yet that was what Barth and Bultmann and their de-mythologizing school of theology were doing!

To her mind they had bowed to existential philosophy and thrown out the heart and soul of Christian belief, while holding to the trappings of the doctrines! They were actually denying the whole reason for the Incarnation and claiming it was valueless, of no real significance. To their thinking, God did not become man in any real way. As human beings she and Ron and every other human being could not claim Christ as a fellow human!

All this she was seeing clearly, yet how could she express it to Ron. He would refuse to hear her arguments in favor of a reachable, living, personal Christ—since she couldn’t put her arguments in the precise theological language he demanded.

Finally, she felt deathly tired of the discussion, which seemed to grow increasingly favorable to Barth and Bultmann and their spooky Christ that fascinated them all the more because He was no longer real, altogether sucked out of all His life and meaning. Not able to bear a moment more of it, she left the tent to get some fresh salt air.

When she returned to the tent a few minutes later, determined to return to the Mount, even if it meant having to wade there alone through the water, she found Ron sitting back, silent, his hands clasped on his head as he was thinking something over.

She wondered what she might have missed, but it was growing late. “Could you drive us back, Monsieur? You’ve been so kind to give us dinner, but I prefer to sleep on the Mount tonight.”

“Of course!” their host replied quickly, putting his books away that he had pulled out to show Ron one passage after another. “I’m sorry I’ve been so windy. I’m afraid all this philosophizing has been boring to you. But I felt it was important to carry the ideas of the great teachers to their ending conclusions. When a man goes to the end of a thing, only then can he see it for what it truly is—oui? So I am sorry I bored you terribly with this kind of discussion!”

“Oh no, it was interesting, I just can’t talk that long on one subject!” she said. “I just have had a long day, and want to get back while we still can. That is, if there is still a road to drive on.”

Their host checked his watch. “We have fifteen minutes exactly. I know the tides. This one, with the wind, means higher waters than usual, but we should be able to make it across. I’ve done it many times before. If I have to, I’ll stay on the Mount tonight.”

“Are you sure that won’t be trouble for you?”

He laughed. “Not at all! Remember, returning you to the Mount was part of the agreement in getting you here for dinner. I’ve enjoyed our time together immensely. But we must go at once.”

They hurried out to the car and in a few moments he had it running. They then discovered how such a large man could find space for his long limbs. He had modified it, so that his seat was actually pushed to the back seat, and both Ron and Carol sat in seats alongside of him. The moment they were all seated they were off through the dunes.

The sandy road led through a strange world of hillocks and grassy stretches much like that described in Emily Bronte's WUTHERING HEIGHTS, until the terrain smoothed out and they saw the glint of sea water spreading toward the far-off Mount. The hybrid Citroen’s motor roared as their driver gave it full throttle.

It seemed too late to try to get to the Mount before the waves cut off it off from the mainland, but their car kept flying along the edge of the waves, with spray hitting their windshield.

It seemed to Carol it was clearly too late and they should turn back. The whole area around the Mount was under water, she could see as they neared the road that led across the cordgrassed marshes.

Their driver, pausing a moment, then swung the wheel and dove right into the water at a point where it seemed they would be drowned for sure. Carol gasped where she sat in the back seat. She saw Ron in the passenger seat gripping the dashboard with blanched knuckles as if that would do any good.

The amazing, customized, amphibious Citroen didn’t stall and kept moving through the water on the now submerged roadway. But customizing can do only so much to a machine, she figured. As the car struggled through the sea, which was increasing depth with every minute, Carol expected didn’ it to fatally stall at any moment. Then what would they do? There was no question in her mind that all of them would drown, since she knew both she and Ron couldn’t swim a lick.

Sheer horror kept her from crying for help. Their driver didn’t seem to notice anything particularly alarming, and kept plowing through the water toward the Mount which seemed impossibly far to reach.

She couldn’t believe her ears when he spoke next. He had turned to Ron, practically shouting at him. “My great-grandfather, Monsieur, was imprisoned in the abbey dungeon in 1843. He was a raving fellow, a socialist revolutionary, as they called his type in those days. He was sentenced for life, but they pardoned him after four years, when he fell ill, and it looked as if he might die and become a martyr for his cause. But you—my intrepid young friend—your coming here and our meeting is no mistake. This sea tide is like my fashionable, modern philosophy, Existentialism, and also your theology which seeks to accommodate it. They both are sweeping away the road from the mainland—which is man, let’s say—and the Mount—which we will call God. They’ll never reach the Mount and are making it impossible for anyone else to reach it. That is the little lesson brute nature affords us at the moment! But have faith, my children! No one who’s honest can live without faith. Forget the philosophies of us old, dying men—we’ll—“

The engine died. The worst that Carol feared had happened. They were stalled in the midst of the tide! Why had she ever pushed Ron into accepting the madman’s invitation? They were doomed in an experimental vehicle gone bad!

Their driver, however, pushed open the door with brute strength, grabbed Ron and Carol with his giant hands, and like puppets they were pushed ahead of him as he strode through the water. Shocked by the frigid water, Carol was like a doll in his grasp. Ron too knew better than to resist and let the giant French egghead-philosopher push him along through the waves that struck as high as his chest now.

“I’ve got a rope—-grab and hold it—-and I’ll go ahead from this point.”

What else could they do but act as they were told? The moment they grabbed it he pulled and off they went as he plunged through the water like a thoroughbred horse. In another minute he the water was down around their calves, then they were stepping out of it altogether. But the tide as sweeping at them with greater waves than before, and they hurried up the sloping road just ahead of its crests.

Gasping for breath, Carol and Ron high enough to see they were safe, and they looked back to thank their rescuer, but he was gone. Carol screamed. They saw him heading back into the water with leaping strides that belonged more to a centaur than to a human being.

“What is that old lunatic doing now?” Ron shouted at her. “He’ll drown his old fool self!”

But though they fully expected him to perish before their eyes he came surging back toward them, the aged Citroen in tow. The car was safely on the higher ground with them when he stopped to rest after pulling the brake and tying the car to strong piers of an ancient dock that once stood there and landed drunken, celebrating, Normans returning home from England’s conquest.

“It’s been through higher water than this many times before,” he told them, stomping to get some of the water out of his shoes. “I’ll get it running again tomorrow after a good, little flush of her pipes. Don’t worry about any damage to it. I’ve modified it to take the salty baths she gets here. You’ll see!”

Carol simply stared at him in response. Was he a man or something hybridized from Titan and horse? He couldn't be a simple human being, her expression was clearly saying.

Slogging up the road to the hotel through the village, Carol started laughing, since it seemed so ridiculous to return in such a state. What would the concierge think of them?

She soon found out, as they stepped in sodden shoes into the hotel lobby. The moment the concierge came out of her room to greet them she started laughing.

“Oh, no! Not again!” she cried, in French. “You poor, poor dears! I hope you don’t catch colds for this abominable treatment of Monsieur Blanqui’s!” Tiny though she was, she shook her finger up at the giant, and he looked as if he were a small, abashed schoolboy being admonished by a school-mistress of the 19th Century.

She led the way to their rooms, gathering more towels and clothes for them on the way at the head of the stairs, since the elevator was shut off after 4 pm for lack of current.

She pushed the giant man-horse into a room, handed him one stack of towels, and told him in French that a robe would be coming soon. Turning back to Ron and Carol, she saw personally to their needs by drawing a hot bath, then left them to go below for onion and cheese soup and some heated wine to help bring their body temperatures up to normal.

She entered and sat down on the rim while Ron and Carol clung to each other in the big tub, trying to cover body parts.

A typically unblushing French concierge, she seemed not to notice Ron’s embarrassment. “That nasty old beast Blanqui!” the concierge observed dryly. “He’s always trying to drown my guests! He has almost succeeded with several of them-—a very fine couple, a British Viscount and Viscountess, the Bracegirdles-—two weeks ago. I thought we’d never get her revived! Poor darling, she was just too delicate to come out of the shock quickly.”

Carol, feeling life come back into her limbs, sighed with relief as she sipped her heated wine. “That’s all right,” she murmured. “We enjoyed the dinner and conversation, not to mention a tour of the tidal marsh. I think we’re not going to be the same after this. Yes, indeed!”

The concierge darted a puzzled glance at Carol, but Carol’s eyes were closed, as she leaned her head back on Ron’s hairy chest.

Later, the concierge departed, Carol was the first out of the tub, and she pulled her robe around her and went into the bedroom. It was, she knew, the perfect moment as her eye fell upon the volume of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, eyeing it the same as it were a very angry, coiled black African cobra in their bed.

“No,” she thought, deciding to wait. “I’ll let him do it. That’s a man’s job.”

A few minutes later Ron stumbled into the room, his face carnation-pink as his whole body was pink from the hot bath water. He went over to the huge book lying on their bed like a hole of blackness and finality that had nearly sucked all his faith into bottomless oblivion. He stared down at it fixedly as if hypnotized by it.

“Are you going to do it, or do you want me to?” Carol said quietly, and at the sound of her voice he jerked and seemed to awaken to the real world.

Without a word Ron unlatched the window, and sea breezes swept freely in taking the curtains out of the room as they exited.

With a heave the heavy tome dropped like a black stone through hundreds of feet of space as it fell toward the distant waves below. They must have both imagined it-—or did they really hear it? Simultaneously, they waited for the impact and thought they heard the sound of one very solid object strike the water.

“Hallelujah, we're free at last!” was all Carol could think to add as she felt his hands and arms take hold of her.

The hour was theirs alone-—indescribable, absolutely indescribable, sweet, and beautiful, and it was like they were making up for very precious lost time.

In the morning she got up, bright and early, dressed, and then filled out almost a dozen postcards seated at a bonheur du jour, small, dainty writing table, sending one to a friend telling about the amazing contraption they called a toilet on the Mount. The other cards related their itinerary and how photogenic everything was. There was, of course, a letter added to her parents, thanking them for the wonderful time they were having. “Ron is fine—-couldn’t be better,” she wrote. “We’re really looking forward to the end of our studies and heading for Cameroon and the mission station among the nomadic Fulani. She marked many kisses on the card in the remaining space, drew a little happy face, and gave the letter and cards to the concierge.

“Did you sleep sweetly like a newborn after your little seawater-bath?” the concierge asked, her dark-lined gimlet eyes peering at Carol over her spectacles. She seemed to have a bit more on her mind. “It sounded like there was window open in your room, and furniture moving around too.”

Without a word despite the inquiring glance and questions, Carol smiled at her, shrugged, and turned to the elevator.

She left the elevator on their floor and went in to see how Ron was doing. “That was close,” she thought as she found him dressing. She handed him his Pierre Cardin Cupid-decorated silk briefs, then took them back and lay down on the bed.

She looked up at him shyly as he climbed beside her and started stroking her cheek. “Hey, let’s forget going down for breakfast and have it in our rooms instead,” she whispered, giving his shorts a fling.

“Good idea?” he replied. “I can think of something better we can do right here.”

So the lovers did what lovers do, utterly unmindful of the eternal verities, that would someday, long after Africa, snatch their life stories and set them far, far out amidst the stars a million years hence!

To Carol, as she lay asleep after a busy day touring the great abbey of St. Michael, toward morning came verses of an old “Fighting the Good Fight of Faith” Reformation-inspired hymn whose verses she had not sung for many years since her church began using a new, more “ecumenical” hymnal that left it out.

Faith of our fathers! Living still in spite of Dungeon, fire and sword: O how our hearts beat high with joy Whene’er we hear that glorious word!

Faith of our fathers! We will strive To win all nations unto thee, And through the truth that comes from God Mankind shall then be truly free.

Faith of our fathers! We will love Both friend and foe in all our strife: And preach thee too as love knows how, By kindly words and virtuous life.

Faith of our fathers, holy faith We will be true to thee to death! We will be true, we will be true, We will be true to thee to death!

Later, she told Ron as they were driving into the outskirts of Tours, the site of Charles Martel’s turning-point victory over the invading Moslem armies from Arab-ruled Spain. “You wouldn’t believe it! An old hymn I remember singing in church way back when I was a little girl came to me when I was still asleep this morning.” She began humming it, and he nearly drove off the road as he looked at her stunned.

“Why are you looking at me that way?” she cried, steadying the wheel with one hand. She could see his thoughts even before they were spoken sometimes, but this time they came with a whole avalanche of emotion, as if his entire being had been swept by a giant wave.

“The same thing happened to me!” he finally burst out.

That made them both sit silent the rest of the way into Tours. The World War II battlefields and cemeteries of the Normandy beaches, Joan of Arc’s Rouen, St. Michael the fighting archangel’s church on the Mount St. Michael, their rescue from the sea by their strange friend the shepherd-scholar, Charles Martel’s battlefield at Tours, then the shared song. What could Almighty God be telling them? What did He have in mind for them in Africa when they got off the boat at Douala, the port for the capital of Yaounde?

John F. Kennedy had been assassinated the year before, right? It was plain to all that the world had changed forever. They might be asked to sacrifice more than their American comforts and conveniences. Long life and retirement was no longer assured them. It made them think again about their commitment with the mission board—but a year later, with a big trunk full of art supplies subscribed by a generous friend, and all the gear missionaries are supposed to need for survival in the bush, they landed at Douala in the utter chaos subsaharan Africa called a port. Ron’s hero, Albert Schweitzer at Lambarene, had prevailed as his model and he wasn’t turning back.

But for Carol-—it wasn’t the world-famous Dr. Schweitzer, no matter how noble his self-sacrifice for native Africans-—that decided whether she would go plunge her young life into the depths of Africa’s Sahel or not. She knew that too many tears of hers were already in God’s bottle, just too many tears for her to try to take them back—and love!—she knew the German-hating concierge back on the Mont St. Michel was dead wrong, that love could conquer all if given a chance. Christ’s love had to be given a chance by someone! So why not in her life? And in Ron’s? Talk about excitement! She was thrilled to the innermost fiber of her being, over the joy she could see that lay right ahead just around the corner.

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