I’d been invited to a private party, the birthday of Madame Cousineau the wife of the former mayor of the village I presently live in, who sadly, had been killed last year in battle. Madame. Cousineau had rented the public house, and even though things like good wine and fine pastries are hard to find in occupied France, there seemed to be enough to make the evening merry. An accordionist provided music, and together with the wine and laughter, the war almost faded away for a few hours.
I sat at a table talking with Madame Cousineau when, to my astonishment, Captain Smithwick suddenly appear as if out of thin air.
“Bonsoir mesdames,” he said in perfect French.
“Ah, Bonsoir Monsieur Favreau,” Madame Cousineau replied. “This is my friend Mademoiselle Antionette Lafleur. We met only a few days ago, but have already become fast friends. Antionette this is Monsieur Andre Favreau, he is also quite new to our little town.”
I held out a hand. “So good to meet you, Monsieur Favreau. What, may I inquire, brings you to this fine village?”
“I am here to help teach at the school,” he said, expertly entering into the charade. “They are in need of a new mathematics teacher. I have travelled here from my town of Hautmont to fill in for a few weeks until they find a more permanent solution.”
“I’ve heard that Mr. Favreau is an excellent teacher,” Madame Cousineau said. “My hope is that he can stay.” She smiled at him with excessive charm, and I wondered if she was considering him for as a contender for a new husband. Or perhaps, she knew him as I did, a covert agent working for the crown. I’m not always informed of who might be working with the resistance, or collaborating with British Intelligence in any given location. That way, if I’m arrested I don’t become a liability to others should I be interrogated.
Captain Smithwick, bowed, then offered his hand to me. “Mademoiselle, might I have this dance?”
I glanced at Madame Cousineau whose lips twitched, but she remained graceful if not perturbed at being overlooked. I hated to be the cause of offence to the lady being honoured, but I could hardly say no to Captain Smithwick.
We joined several other couples in the middle of the room who were dancing to a waltz that the accordionist was playing, God be with our Boys Tonight. The tune always made me think of Daniel, and how I longed to hear news of him, and hoped and prayed he was safe. And then, after we had danced in silence for a moment, Captain Smithwick spoke quietly in my ear, answering my prayers. “I have news of your husband.”
My heart grew cold with fear, as I immediately jumped to the worst conclusion.
“Is Daniel all right? Where did you see him?”
“He seemed to be doing fine. I can’t to tell you his whereabouts of course, but I can say that I saw him a week ago in Belgium. He sat amongst his fellow soldiers sharing a drink on a cold evening. I didn’t speak to him, but I can tell you that he was laughing at a shared joke, and that he seemed to be of sound health.”
Relief flooded my heart. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to live with the constant anxiety of the unknown where Daniel is concerned. The things I’ve seen so far in this war have caused me more than a few sleepless nights as I lay awake praying for my husband wherever he may be. I often have to chase out certain images from my mind that disrupt my times of intercession for him.
“Thank you,” I said. “This means a lot to me that you would tell me this.” I suddenly felt like I needed some more of that French wine on offer.
“How are you doing?” Captain Smithwick asked. “From all the reports I have seen, you are doing your job with admirable aplomb.”
“I’m glad to hear the reports of my contributions are positive. I’ve had some very frightful moments, but so far, I seem to have emerged unscathed. I’m rather used to being Antionette Lafleur.”
Captain Smithwick looked around the room as we danced. “Not everyone has done as well as you.”
“Last week we lost two operatives in two separate locations.” One of them was found out by an informant for the Germans and was executed. The other died because of a faulty grenade.”
“What are you doing here really?” As much as I appreciated the update on Daniel, I didn’t believe for a minute that Captain Smithwick would go out of his way to find me, simply to report a inconsequential sighting.
He leaned in closer and I could feel his breath on my ear.
“We are expecting the arrival of a certain Germany officer. Field Marshall Franz Keitel. He is a very valuable target for British Intelligence. Report at once if you see any one of that rank entering the hôtel de ville.”
I’d been trained in recognizing the rank and uniform. “Understood,” I said.
The song ended and he smiled at me before turning and walking away. As I returned back to my table and sat down, but when I search the room for where he’d gone next, I couldn’t find him anywhere. He was gone.