Sept 10 1915
Beauvais, France ~
Not long ago, Warsaw fell to the Austro-German troops ending over a century of Russian control of the city, and the news left us feeling anxious for the tide of the war on the Eastern front. Bulgaria announced that it had joined the German side with the intention of invading Serbia. I fear that any hopes for an early end to this war are being dashed even as I write this entry.
As always, I wonder where Daniel is tonight. Is he safe? Is he thinking about me?
Last night I took part in a desperate, but necessary gamble. These are the types of things that make one’s pulse race! In order to save the life of a member of the French Resistance (whom I’ll call CV), I had to drive from a small town just across the line of German demarcation through a German checkpoint. CV, who is the head of a large spy ring, together with a British operative, had been caught by two German soldiers on a side street leaving a meeting past curfew. When the soldiers started to grow suspicious, CV managed to surprise the officers by suddenly pulling his revolver and disarming the two soldiers of their guns.
They took the two German soldiers into the cellar of a bar run by members of the resistance. However, one of the soldiers carried a trench knife, which the British operative somehow missed. The German fellow flashed his knife, and fight followed. The two Boche were shot dead, and CV was stabbed in the right side of his chest, narrowly avoiding a punctured lung.
Because his wound was deemed serious but not immediately life threatening, members of the resistance quickly arranged for an automobile with a specially designed hidden cargo space. Because of my command of the French language and conversational German, my ability to drive a car, and because I had already had spent some time in the direct presence of German soldiers and knew how to act, I was summoned to smuggle CV across the line.
It amazed me how much contraband a seemingly witless girl, chattering non-stop gossip and batting her eyelashes can smuggle past smiling German guards. One just needs a certain amount of self-possession and some official looking papers. Though I fooled them, my stomach was in knots the whole time.
After making it through the German checkpoint, I helped CV into the front seat of the car and we continued on. With so much blood loss, I feared for his life so I pushed the French-made Peugot to its mechanical limits, speeding through the French countryside by moonlight. It’s a good thing my driving skills are up to the task! Even though CV was badly wounded he still managed to stare wide-eyed out at the speeding landscape while firmly gripping the dashboard with his free hand. I tried to calm him with conversation but he only responded vaguely, interspersing the conversation with exclamations like, “Mon Dieu, femme, watch out for that pothole!” or “Bon sang! I will die on this road!
We made it to the triage unit in Beauvais in just under three hours, but by this time, CV was semi-conscious. As American soldiers carried him onto the operating table, one of them said, “The doctor in charge is away on another emergency.”
I stared back with disbelief. “I just risked my life to save this man and now you tell me the doctor is out?”
“I can help him.”
The voice was American and female. She wore a nurse’s white uniform and had a mound of curly dark hair pinned back off her square face. Attractive in an unconventional way, she impressed me with her take-charge attitude.
“I’m Nurse Haley Higgins, and I’ve assisted on many operations similar to what this man needs. Please stand back, or if you can’t do that, wash your hands.”
I wasn’t about to leave the room, not after what I’d just been through. Determined to see CV through to the end, I washed my hands.
Nurse Higgins didn’t disappoint. In good order, she stemmed the bleeding, stitched the wound, and dressed it, saving the man’s life. I did what I could to assist.
“Nice work,” I said afterward, staying true to my French persona. “I’m Antoinette LaFleur, by the way.”
“Thank you,” Nurse Higgins returned. “For the compliment and for your help. I’m going to have a coffee. Would you like one?”
A pot of overcooked coffee sat on a gas ring, and though it was quite possibly the worst coffee I’d have tasted, I drank it gratefully.
“You’re very surprising, Mademoiselle LaFleur,” Nurse Higgin’s said as we retired in two uncomfortable wooden chairs. “I’d never have guess by looking at you, that you had what it takes to dupe the Germans and rescue one of our own.”
I smiled wryly. “I can say the same thing for you. You are more adept, and might I say, more intelligent than some of the egotistic doctors I’ve encountered on the field.”
Nurse Higgin’s sighed. “I fear, we women will always be underestimated.”
“What part of America are you from?” I asked. I was quite certain I recognized a New England accent.
I sipped my coffee, keeping the butterflies of unease at bay. Boston was a large city. I was quite certain I’d never met Miss Higgin’s before, but the Hartigan family was rather well known in social circles.
I glanced at Nurse Higgin, her dark eyes staring at nothing as her mind worked. Her manner poised, yet simple. I relaxed. Miss Higgins was the type to spend her free time reading medical journals, not the social pages in the local rags.
This afternoon, I received a parcel and a note by post. To my astonishment, CV’s German made Böker trench knife was inside. The note was penned by Nurse Higgins.
Our soldier awoke with deep-felt gratitude toward you and admiration for your courage to cross into enemy lines. He insisted that I find a way to give you this knife as a gift. I suggest you refrain from keeping it on your person.
I laughed at that. Imagine my carrying a German knife about France? I would take Nurse Higgins’ advice and mail it on to London.