July 5, 1915
Mademoiselle Julia Durand doesn’t know who I really am.
Our unexpected friendship has been the biggest surprise of this mission so far. Every morning the lovely Julia knocks on my door with an invitation for me to join her for tea and cupcakes on a cozy rooftop balcony with a view beyond the train tracks and into the fields and forests below. Sparrows chirp happily nearby as the sunshine covers us in warmth, or if it rains, we shelter under a large umbrella.
Around Julia, I’m somehow able to relax, too, oddly enough, and feel like I can be… myself, which is strange since my identity is assumed.
Have I enjoyed myself a little too much on this mission?
While we were sipping tea yesterday morning, Julia asked, “Your cousin still has not arrived, has she?” I suddenly felt overcome with guilt. Being a spy was challenging. Even more challenging is lying to a someone who feels like a friend. Of course, there was no cousin. My gaze flitted to the train track. Those two adjacent rows of steel bars that disappeared over the horizon had brought me news of German movement and the volume of their supplies. News I printed on scraps of paper and covertly inserted in the hollow cylinder handle of my plain black umbrella, a message spreading technique that made me grateful for the rain when it came. No one noticed when it was taken and another similar black umbrella left in its place.
“I…I just hope that something awful hasn’t happened to her,” I sputtered, noticing that I had stopped making eye contact. I quickly caught Julia’s gaze. “It seems everything these days is unpredictable. I haven’t received word from her yet, so I am not sure how long I can wait.”
Julia patted my hand in sympathy. “I’m sure she’s fine, Antoinette.”
This war was so unpredictable, I thought to myself later as I lay in bed. Over the last few days I’d overheard snippets of conversations between German soldiers as they gathered in the hotel and in the restaurant across the street, finding ways to insert myself into the situation, convincing them that I was a harmless, silly, French girl.
Preparations were being made for the next train, though I couldn’t hear clearly enough exactly what was being planned. Then, early in the morning—it was barely dawn—I heard the chuga-chuga-chuga-chuga of a train slowing… and slowing… and slowing… and then it stopped. Hopping out of bed, I scurried to the window, concealing myself with the dark curtain.
One of the doors on a freight car opened and a German soldier jumped out. He carried a flashlight although the lights from the back of the hotel lit up the whole area quite adequately. The door closed after him and he strutted to the back of the hotel and entered. After a few moments, he returned with six more soldiers. Other German soldiers began to exit the passenger cars that were further along the track and joined the first group of soldiers. I quickly started counting. In all, there were thirty men, infantrymen judging by the rifles they were carrying. A commanding officer, probably a sergeant, although I was too far away to see his markings, started barking out orders just as several small transport trucks arrived. The doors on the freight car opened wide and the soldiers began to unload heavy wooden crates, moving them to a waiting transport trucks.
This, undoubtably, was what I was here to see. British Intelligence wanted to track German troop movements through this area of France. I wondered how many operatives like me were on similar missions, all in small towns, staying in hotels and peering out of windows. Perhaps they also drank tea on rooftops waiting for trains. Under the dim light of a lit candle, I scribbled what I saw, inserted it into cylinder handle of my umbrella, and dressing quickly, delivered it to the umbrella stand on my way to presumably seek out breakfast. I lingered in the kitchen area, begging the cook for an early cup of tea. Afterward, I notice my umbrella was gone, and another in its place. I took it to my room, and once safely inside, opened the handle and found a note.
Get out IMMEDIATELY. Don’t speak to anyone.
I don’t know who wrote the note, or who delivered it. I whispered goodbye to Julia under my breath. I’m so sad that I didn’t get to say it in person.