Bonsoir, Mademoiselle Marchand. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. I know you do so at great risk to your safety.
Of course. People need to know what is happening here in France so close to the front. Four years of German occupation is too long. And thank you for meeting me after dark. This city has eyes everywhere.
I haven’t seen many women in the streets this close to the front. Is there a reason you haven’t fled to Paris with the rest of the refugees?
My duty is with the Croix-Rouge française as a nurse. And I already fled to Paris in 1914 with my family – my maman and papa and my twin sister Rosalie – after the Germans bombed my hometown of Soissons four years ago. Paris had no use for me. Or my sister. We have been here with the troops for the past two years, and we will not abandon the men now in their hour of need. The Germans will be making a move to cross the Marne River soon, they’ll be pushing toward Paris within the week. I am certain of it.
Is this common knowledge or is this information you gleaned from your other line of work?
I believe this is common knowledge. But…well…let’s just say I have my sources to verify the accuracy of this information.
Can you share with us some specifics about the work you do with a certain British unit stationed here at the front? And the nickname – or is it a codename – that they’ve given to you?
I have been working with British Intelligence for about a year now. I am fluent in German which has been particularly useful with prisoner interrogations. I cannot share my codename with you, but I imagine it is the nickname that the Germans have given to me that is of more interest to you. Even my sister has heard about la sorcière de la rivière, although she has no idea that I am that woman. She would not approve of my espionage work, and I imagine she would have me packing and returning to our parents in Paris if she found out about it.
I’m sorry, but I don’t speak French. Could you translate la sorcière de la rivière for me?
Of course. In German, La sorcière de la rivière is die Hexe des Flusses. But in English, I would be known as The Witch of the River. I guess you could say that my interrogation tactics are effective. I have been told that German officers are to take their own lives if capture is imminent so they will not have to face me. And they all assume I am a witch since…well, how could a woman so small and unassuming as myself possibly outsmart a man? Especially the brilliant and courageous men of the Kaiser Reich?
You are a very brave woman indeed, Mademoiselle Marchand. I’m not sure I could stand up under the pressure of interrogating a German officer.
They bleed just like us, monsieur. They fear for their lives and tremble at the inevitability of death. When their uniforms are removed, they are no different than the men on our side of the river. Most of them just want to go home. And speaking of going home, I must get a message delivered so I can get home to my sister before she starts wondering where I am. Take care of yourself, monsieur. The Germans will be occupying these streets by this time next week, so you would be wise to follow the rest of the refugees to Paris.
And what about you? When will you be retreating?
That is a complicated question. There are other forces keeping me here besides my sister and the troops. There is a man…well, let’s just say that sometimes the past wraps itself around your life and snakes its way into the present sending you on a course you never imagined possible.
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Sarah Adlakha is a native of Chicago who now lives along the Mississippi Gulf Coast with her husband, three daughters, two horses, and one dog. She started writing fiction shortly after retiring from her psychiatry practice. Her debut novel, She Wouldn’t Change a Thing, was a CNN most anticipated book of 2021. Midnight on the Marne is her second novel.