August 19, 1916
As usual, I’m carefully using my own code system to record my life as an operative. A year has past and I find that I have almost settled into a kind of normalcy. It never ceases to amaze me how adaptable the human spirit really is. I take on my given role as Mademoiselle LaFleur everyday almost as if donning a familiar dress, and my real identity almost fades into the background. One thing I’ll never get used to though, is the immediacy of the danger.
I’d been invited to a cocktail party by a German officer, Hauptmann Gottleib Auerswald whom I met at the library of the town in which I’m stationed. We’d struck up a conversation and he invited me to a birthday party of a friend.
In fact, I knew he’d be at the library that day, as my job was to meet him, and somehow acquire an invitation. Staying as guest at his home (a large estate the Bosche had appropriated from the mayor of the town) was none other than Generalmajor Felix Scholz. It was known through our network that Generalmajoy Scholz was on his way to the front, carrying orders for a major attack on Allied trenches planned in three days time. Telephone wires had been cut by French operatives and the Germans were forced to relay messages in person. Generalmajor Scholz not only carried the orders but was going to help plan the attack. My instructions were to sneak into his room and search for the orders. I was given a camera which was cleverly disguised as a pocket watch to take snapshots.
A little fluttering of the eyelashes, and I had my invitation. That was the easy part.
“You look wonderful, Mademoiselle.” Hauptmann Auerswald greeted me a the door of the estate house and took my arm. I wore my best summer dress, a royal blue affair with lace trim around the collar and on the cuffs of the sleeves, dainty pearl buttons that ran from my neck to the synched waist, and instead of a hat, since the party was indoors, I had flowers tucked into my braided hair which encircled the crown of my head. And very importantly, I had a matching draw-string purse.
By the look on Hauptmann Auerswald round face, I could see that he was pleased. A portly man in his early forties with a crooked nose and wispy blond hair thinning on top, Hauptmann Auerswald wasn’t handsome by any stretch of anyone’s imagination, despite a crisply pressed uniform and his boots shined to perfection. He looked like he had been in a few brawls when he as younger and though he seemed polite enough, his eyes reminded me of a hungry wolf more than a refined gentleman. I had to force myself to smile and be winsome enough to gain his trust for the time being.
The house was full of German officers and some enlisted men, as well as French servants both men and women. There was more wine and cheese than I’d seen in quite some time as well as well as plates of fine pastry.
After introducing me to a few of his colleagues, some of whom seemed to regard me with some distaste, I asked him for a tour of the house. “It reminds me so much of the home I grew up in the south.”
We walked slowly, arm in arm through the beautiful stone mansion which had high ceilings and expensive furniture in very room. Soon Hauptmann Auerswald led me up the grand staircase and along the open upper corridor which overlooked the main livingroom where most of the guests were mingling.
“The bedrooms are on the left,” he said as we proceed further down the hall. He stopped at one of the doors and opened it to reveal a very large bedroom overlooking the front garden.
“This is where I am staying.” He smirked, then added, “I am a married man, otherwise…” He left the sentence open.
“Are many guests staying here right now?” I asked, changing the subject.
He waved his hand dismissively. “No, just Generalmajor Scholz who is stays in the room at the end of the corridor.” I took note that the room was not visible from below and was at the top of another stairway leading down to the ground level.
After heading back to the main floor, Hauptmann Auerswald led me to a large study where several German officers were sipping brandy as they sat in front of a roaring fire.
“Gottleib where have you been hiding this one?” An officer raked me with his eyes, a vulgarity I’d become accustomed to by now. A little bit older than Hauptmann Auerswald , he had the look of a battle-hardened man, with steel blue eyes, a solid chin, and close cropped brown hair just starting to grey at the temples.
“We only met yesterday,” Hauptmann Auerswald explained. “I thought she’d look good on my arm tonight.”
“That she does Gottlieb,” the man said without a trace of a smile. His face was as cold as a stone and he didn’t bother to get up from his chair. After introductions were made the man simply nodded stiffly and turned back to his companion.
We went back into the great room and joined in on a few conversations. I didn’t say much, dutifully playing the part of the quiet mademoiselle on the arm of the important German officer.
After about half an hour I excused myself to freshen up in the privy and quickly made my way to the rear of the house. I quickly found the stairway leading up to the second level and soon I was standing in front of the door to Generalmajor Scholz’s door. In basic training, one of the first things we’d learned was how to pick a lock. We were each given a small folding lock pick kit, a contraption that resembles the famous Swiss Officer’s knife, except instead of blades there is several steel picks with various types of serrated edges. I’d anticipated using it tonight and I had put it in my purse along with my Browning pistol and the camera—the cleverly disguised as a pocket-watch. I recognized the lock on the door immediately as being one of the locks we’d been trained on. It only took a moment for me to manipulate the gears and pins to get inside and lock the door behind me.
In the large bottom, drawer of the bureau, the obvious spot, I found a brown leather satchel. Inside was a large white envelope, which contained what looked to be orders from the Große Hauptquartier-(General Main War Office.) I used the tiny camera to snap pictures of the document.
Just as I was putting the satchel back the way I found it, I heard footsteps in the corridor. My heart lept into my throat as I frantically looked around the room. I heard a key enter the doorlock just as I managed to slip into a wardroom and softly shut the door.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of being trapped like that in the dark. At any moment the door could open and I would be found out. They would search my bag and after that would surely come an interrogation, imprisonment, torture, and then a firing squad; all probably within a day or two. My thoughts were as black as the closet interior. I slipped out my pistol and placed it on my temple. There could be no other choice if that door opened and Generalmajor Scholz stood there, seeing me. I prayed I would have the courage. My thoughts went immediately to Daniel. God have mercy!
I heard the mattress springs on the bed as someone sat down on it. I prayed that he wasn’t settling in for the night! It was only just after eight pm. My prayers must have been heard because only a moment later I heard what sounded like a bottle of pills being opened and then closed again and then the mattress springs squeaking again as he stood up. Moments later I heard his footsteps as he walked across the room and out the door. When I heard the door being locked I finally put down my revolver and let out the long breath I’d been holding.
I had no time to think about what just happened, though. When I rejoined Hauptmann Auerswald I counted approximately five minutes had passed on my wristwatch. More than I had planned but still within a reasonable time frame.
“Are you feeling alright?” Hauptmann Auerswald said as he took my arm again. I had forced my hands to stop shaking but I am sure my face was still pale. He must have noticed. I took the opportunity to find a reason to leave the party; which at that point, I couldn’t wait to do.
“To be honest, I’m feeling rather unwell. I may not be used to some of the rich pastries,” I said placing a hand on my stomach.
With some reluctance, he called a taxicab for me and before long I was back in my flat. I’m still forcing calm into my breath and steadiness into my hand as I write this.
First thing in the morning I will hand the film to my contact in the village and my mission will be finished.
I hope I can sleep tonight.