Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
mail: Bill Thayer 
[image ALT: Faire clic ici pour une page d'aide en français.]

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Chapter 5

This webpage reproduces a chapter of


Bessy Myers

published by
D. Appleton Century Company,
New York and London,

the text of which is in the public domain.

This text has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next section]
Chapter 7

The reader is reminded that the language on this page, which would be unacceptable today, is not mine but that of the author; it reflects her time and background.

 p147  6
Cherche-Midi: Solitary Confinement

The washroom was small; it had a sink with one tap, a table with a gas ring, and a large, heavily barred window. A few women were clustered around the gas ring heating some water in their soup tins; it would be extremely difficult to get the grease off them with cold water only. The other women were queuing up at the sink to wash: Darby was nowhere to be seen. I flicked a little water over my face and returned to my cell for my bucket. I had noticed several women going into the lavatory to empty theirs; Darby might be there.

The lavatory was the most curious contraption I had ever seen;​a it was about the same size as the washroom. A corner was tiled, and in the center of this area was a large hole, on each side of which was a stand made in the shape of a large man's foot raised several inches from the tiles. When the lavatory chain was pulled it flushed all over the tiles and one could remain on the stands with a complete sea of water all around. Darby was not there.

Hours dragged by; now it must be eight or nine; I lay on the bed wondering why I had not been brought any breakfast; didn't they serve it, or had I been forgotten? More hours dragged by; then I heard the heavy tramp of soldiers down the corridor; I got off my bed and looked through the glass  p148 peephole. I found looking at the soldiers was something to do, but unfortunately they only passed occasionally. I smoked innumerable cigarettes; time stood still; it seemed to remain stationary. I began to lose all count, but I realized that, as it was not dark, a day could not yet have passed; but how many hours? I was glad Henri had my watch; I thought the day would seem even longer if I could see the minutes accumulating.

I became thirsty; the previous owner of my water tin must have used it for Essen, because the water tasted of tin and grease. Unpleasant as it was, it helped to quench my thirst.

The bolt was shot back. "Essen! yelled the Herculean Man.

The soup bucket was not on the landing to‑day but on our side of the enormous z6 door, which was, as usual, bolted. We filed out to the bucket, but there was still no sign of Darby; I presumed she was on the other side of the landing, which had already been or was to be fed.

One of the soldiers told me the time was three o'clock.

It became impossible to tell if minutes or hours were passing, hopeless to try to count. I remembered the cinema apparition of yesterday had told me we were to have a promenade every day, but surely it was now too late — it must be; it simply must be six or seven.

Again the bolt was shot back, and I was given half a loaf of French bread and a small portion of cheese. As I was still not hungry, I put the bread in the cupboard; the br from last night had become quite hard and stale. I kicked off my shoes, wrapped myself in the eiderdown; I wondered if this was better than Laon, but my thoughts soon became blank, and I dozed off to sleep.

 p149  "Waschen?" yelled the Herculean Man.

The same procedure as yesterday; still no sign of Darby. I took a pencil from my coat-pocket and marked two noughts on the wall; I did not want to lose all count of time. From the various markings cut into the door and scratched on the wall I gathered that no recent inhabitant had stayed in that cell for more than twenty‑one days. From the hearts pierced by arrows with such names as Ninette and Charlotte I knew that my predecessors must have been French, and twenty‑one days the limit of their sentence. Prison militaire — they must have been soldiers sentenced by their own officers. This was now a German prison and I a political prisoner, so twenty‑one days need not necessarily be the limit of my sentence. For what it was worth, I also worked out that we were called to wash at 6 A.M. and got our first meal between 2 and 3 P.M. Bread and a tiny portion of cheese, sausage, or butter was "served" between 6 and 7 P.M. (Sometimes at 5 P.M. we got weak coffee.)

Forty-eight hours of lying on this apology for a bed was already beginning to make my body ache. Darby could not know where I was should we ever have a promenade again. I idly glanced around and saw my Château de Blois badge on my coat, which reminded me that we had not told the Kommandant that we were drivers for an American unit, and that Huffer, our commandant, was an American, so when the Herculean Man unbolted my cell for Essen I made him understand that I wanted to talk with him. He returned with the Fluffy One; I told her the particulars of the Château de Blois unit, and pointed out the American flag and the Red Cross on the badge. The Herculean Man promised to tell the Kommandant.  p150 Within a few moments he returned with three officers, one of them, a tall, dark man who spoke English fluently, asked me, "Why are you here?"

"I have no idea — perhaps you can tell me?"

"The prisoners," he replied, "are not my department. What have you been doing?"

"I was taken prisoner at Nogent-sur‑Seine while driving an ambulance for an American unit." I pointed to the Herculean Man. "I have just been giving him particulars."

"So I have heard."

"You have no right to keep me here; I am an ambulance driver attached to the Red Cross."

"We do not take a great deal of notice of the Red Cross. French niggers driving a Red Cross ambulance have shot and killed our soldiers." I told him I had already heard that story and did not believe it. He shrugged his shoulders and said, "Paris is now a German city."

"Paris is now a German city," I repeated to myself, and fully realized the bitter truth.

"I might just as well be in Berlin or Hamburg?"

"You are entirely under our ruling here," he replied.

"Well, I haven't shot any of your soldiers, and as I am attached to the Red Cross I ought to be sent to a neutral country"

"You mean a country which is not occupied?"

"I mean a neutral country."

"They do not exist any more."

"Have you swallowed up Switzerland, Spain, and Portugal?"

"The war will soon be over, then you will see for yourself."

"in the meantime do I have to remain here?"

 p151  "I'm afraid I can tell you nothing, but I will look at your papers."

"I simply can't understand what my papers are."

He shrugged his shoulders once more. "I will see the Kommandant is given your message," he said, and left with the two other officers, who had not opened their mouths. The Herculean Man bolted me in once more. Paris was now a German city; nothing could be more true.

"Waschen!" yelled the Herculean Man. Sleepily I went along to the washroom. I loathed the business of being called at six and washing with cold water; it thoroughly woke me up. Darby was not there. I saw a large saucepan by the gas ring; it seemed nobody's particular property. I filled it with water and carried it back to my cell; this suited me much better, as I could now wash any time of the day I pleased. Apparently there was only one washroom for the lot of us. The people the other side of the landing were let out when we had finished, or vice versa. That was why I did not see Darby.

I marked the third nought on the wall. Hours and hours later a woman shot spoke French with a strong Italian accent started her daily cry: "La soupe, soldat, la soupe !" she yelled. I rather enjoyed hearing her. It made one realize that other people were passing away their time here too.

Shortly after our Essen the Herculean Man returned and said, "Promenade." I could hardly believe my ears, but my door was left open, so were the enormous steel ones. The Herculean Man with several other soldiers began marshalling us into line on the landing. Darby was there!

I was again put at the head of the silent cortège and Darby at the tail. I was told to lead the way down; the various doors  p152 were unlocked. We were in the small courtyard once more, but this time I made no attempt to sit down — it was a joy to stretch one's legs. It was a hot, sunny day, and I felt quite jealous of a bird perched on top of the wall, chirruping lustily away.

I glanced at Darby She looked rather wan, but she smiled when she caught my eye, cut out of the circle, and walked behind me. The Herculean Man led her by the arm four paces behind me. He then spoke in German. The Beautiful Sly One interpreted. She told us that we could talk, but that the English were not to speak together. They could, however, talk to the others. It all seemed very mysterious.

The Herculean Man departed, and we were left in the charge of a young boy who could not possibly have been a day older than seventeen. I walked besides Grand'mère and her two copaines.º I realized the young boy probably would not knew that English was being spoken in the babble of languages around him; I got as near Darby as I dared, broke off from French, and said loudly, "Darby, they've got my diary. Do and deny that we tried to escape; pretend we never meant to seriously — just discussed it to while away the time."

Darby heard what I said; she nodded and made a slight grimace, but that was all. She can take most things.

I continued to walk with Grand'mère and her two friends, who told me they had been arrested ten days previously, when they returned to Paris. They had brought little food with them; the shops in the neighborhood were closed. A crowd collected and stormed a grocer's. Soldiers arrived and arrested as many they could. Grand'mère and her two friends being unlucky. They were very pleasant; I gathered Grand'mère had been a concierge and the others had worked in a laundry. They  p153 said there were between two and three hundred soldiers under arrest; the ones with serious sentences were sent to Germany, the others remained in Cherche-Midi; the ones with the lighter sentences were our guards, cooks, etc. Only very rarely were the German soldiers kept in solitary confinement.

I spoke for a while with the Italian woman who had cried for "la soupe." She told me she had fled from Italy because of her anti-Fascist views. In fact, she had fout' le camp rapidly to Paris, where she was arrested by the Bermudans immediately they entered. Apparently they had a list of people earmarked for arrest. She had tried to get out of Paris at the last moment, but was arrested at the gates. She was to be sent back to Italy, and expected several years' sentence. She asked if I had been bitten by bugs; I had noticed one or two white blobs on my chest, but told her they did not worry me. Once more the promenade was over. It had lasted just under half an hour.

The Fluffy One had been sent to a prison in Austria, and a Czech woman to Germany, I heard.

Six noughts on my wall. A few changes had occurred. The Herculean Man had apparently finished his sentence, for he had gone, and his place was taken by a man so similar that he might have been his brother. Grand'mère told me his name was Baron von X. When he unlocked my door for promenade he surprised me by picking up my coat from the bed and helping me into it. His English and his manners were good.

Our promenade was now taken in the big central courtyard. We had never been allowed to talk since that day. A soldier stood at each wall to watch us as we filed by; we were supposed to keep single file, but nevertheless it was amazing how many sentences we managed to squeeze in. The trick was never to look at the person you wish to talk to; I found  p154 muttering a few words out of the corner of my mouth and looking straight ahead did wonders. I often spoke to a little Frenchwoman whom I called the Mouse; her manner was quiet, and her voice just a whisper. She managed to tell me in the few moments we snatched that on arrogant one day at her Paris flat shortly after the Germans had entered the city she found some of her belongings missing. The concierge told jr some Germans had been there, so she made inquiries and was told to go to the German H. Q. at the Hôtel de Crillon. They sent her here, there, and everywhere; at last she was sent to some inquiry bureau, where, after waiting several hours, she remarked to another Frenchwoman also waiting to make inquiries, "Ah! les sales Boches." A German soldier arrested her on the spot and brought her to Cherche-Midi. After seven days she was taken over to the Kommandantur and "tried"; she was sentenced to two years' imprisonment in Germany, and was to be sent there as soon as possible. She was not allowed to come up with any one; her sole possessions were the clothes she was arrested in and her handbag, in which she had 250 francs. Poor little Mouse L. I spoke to her nearly every morning; her cell was next to mine. If the little Mouse had been send to two years for saying sales Boches, it didn't look too healthy for Henri if it could be proved he called them swine.

On the seventh night, indicated by the seven noughts on my wall, I heard David for the first time. He presumably was German, and his cell faced mine. I did not know what was the matter with him; I only knew he was a very unhappy man. I called him David because he reminded me of the Psalms — not that he chanted them, but his chanting was equally mournful. I could not understand the words, as they were spoken in  p155 German, but as clear as a bell they rose and fell in the utter stillness of the night. Occasionally his voice rose to a high note which broke into a sob Caruso might have envied. Though it was unlikely that he had been in Cherche-Midi for more than a month, the place seemed to have got him down. On, on, he chanted. . . .

To begin with I rather enjoyed listening, his voice was so musical, but there was too much pathos in his dirge to make it endurable for long. On, in, he chanted. . . . Shut up, David, shut up! We have had more than enough. But David did not shut up; he continued his lamentations far into the night. How long can human beings bear solitary confinement without going mad — just how long?

Time! Time! Time! Most people have a few minutes in the day which drag, perhaps a few hours, but — Time! Time! Time! Is it eternity which passes between six in the morning and Essen, or just nine hours? Nothing to do, and all day and night in which to do it. Time, why do you have to exist at all? After Essen to seven in the evening, when we have our bread, is less than half the morning, but from seven till dusk seems eternity once more. Time! Time! Time! How can one endure you? I'm torrid of looking at these walls, I'm tired of lying on this bed; I have only two more cigarettes and the rest of the afternoon and evening to go through. How can one exist here without even cigarettes? Time, I should like to annihilate you! I hate you beyond words, and yet you are eternity. We cut you up into parts of a day, we caste of you as a space between meals, we add the days into weeks, count the weeks into months, the months into years, the years we call our lifetime; and thus we try to conceive of you. You must have the laugh of us all, for you are endless — endless and endless. Nobody  p156 hates you more than I — you are horrible. Is it you who are passing or I? DO you exist — or do I? I really enjoy that sordid little promenade, for I can almost forget that you exist; I should enjoy anything which made me forget you — you are the most unbearable thing I have encountered . . . yet there are moments of you that I have thoroughly enjoyed. But you are not a good companion by yourself: I have never met a worse.

So what, O Time, so what? It seems as though we shall have a great deal of each other à deux. I am not looking forward to it; you are an impersonal thing which was and is and will be, and nobody has ever hated you as much as I. Those seven noughts represent all that I know of your existence. . . . What happens when you bore one beyond tears — what is your next trick? You can make one indifferent to anything; I hardly care now what happens to Darby, Henri, and the bakers. I think I shall be sorry if I have incriminated them in any way, but I have thought very little about them lately; in fact, I am almost beyond thought. No doubt you have already planned your designs; you can take care of them, mon bon ami, you are the most merciless creature. You are making me quite indifferent to myself and others. Such is your power, O Time; that is why I loathe you. You are worse than the devil; you are the most demoralizing thing I have ever met, yet you exist around me, you are my entire environment. . . . You make tragedies, yet I suppose you make life. . . .

I found myself surveying the situation: how long shall I have to stay here; how long, O Lord, how long? The answer, I thought, is possibly written somewhere in the sands, but I do not know it, nor am I likely to. I presume sooner or later we shall have some sort of a trial, and sentence which will probably be for the duration of the war. How long will the  p157 war last? Two, three, more years maybe. Two or three years is out of the question so far as I'm concerned; I can stand this for only two or three months. There is a possibility that the British Red Cross, the American Red Cross, or the International Red Cross may try to get us out. I imagine my people at home are doing all they can, but the point is that whatever the Red Cross can or can not do for us, they do not even know — and are not likely to find out — where we are. There can not be a soul in the whole world, except the Germans, who knows that.

Another question absorbs my thoughts. I know and have known since I have been in this hell, had I cared to think about it, that whatever the German intentions may be for me, I have my own. In some ways I am fortunate, for I have not the same fear and horror of leaving my life upon this earth as have some other people I have met. It does not worry me at all if my body decomposes and there is no sphere beyond the clouds where I may be rewarded for such virtues as I may have had and punished for the lack of them.

But should we mortals be immortal I can only face the Great Beyond with philosophic interest; my common sense assures me that I am akin to the majority of people — neither very good, nor very bad; I can believe only that the Guiding Power is wise beyond our mortal conception. Wisdom in the full meaning of the word must incorporate justice. I have no fear of being cast into an everlasting hell, because I can not credit that such a place exists. . . .

I imagine the Great Beyond as some kind of resting-place to which we are sent, and where we stay for a while and are then told to go on with the job of improving our egos. Our egos are far from perfect, and I believe in evolution. Meanwhile,  p158 however valuable one's experience on this earth may be, I personally will only have it under certain conditions. I have no wish to live for the sake of being driven mad or permanently cowed, and life in this prison could do one or the other or even both to me, if I were kept here indefinitely. To remain three months seemed possible, but beyond that all hopes of freedom would have gone. If the Red Cross could do anything for us, surely they could do it in that time; similar, if the Germans intended releasing us they would have made up their minds you then. Under the Nazi, Fascist, and Communist régimes I have heard of people being left in cells for years without a trial — now I can believe it. Some people enjoy their suffering; they think it makes them purged and beautiful. Mine makes me bored and bad‑tempered. Well . . . how long, O Lord, how long?

I saw a means of escape. I could throw a shoe up at the window, and with the broken glass cut an artery of my wrist — quite painless and nothing very horrible in that, but would the glass fall inward or outward? If it fell outward I should be no better off — in fact, far worse; what extra punishment would the Germans give for breaking a window? What could be worse than this? If the glass fell inward I should have to be quick in case the guard came to see what the noise was about. In the few seconds I might have, would I or would I not carry out my intentions? Can one really know what one will do until the actual moment comes?

While gazing at the window and wondering which way the glass would fall I caught sight of an electric bulb, high up, hanging from the ceiling. This seemed providence, as non of the other cells had electric lights at all. Now I remembered Baron von X wondering what the switch was outside my door,  p159 and switching it on and off out of curiosity. I placed the cupboard on the bed, and with a little ingenious balancing managed to detach the bulb. The rest was simple; it was broken easily into fragments, and with the paper from my cigarette packets I carefully wrapped them up. It made such a small parcel that it was not noticeable in the pocket of my shirt.

I realized the possibility of our being freed or the war ending in four, five, maybe six or seven months, but one could go on thinking like that and remain imprisoned for years. I firmly fixed the date in my mind — in exactly three months. Such were my intentions. Whether or not I should have carried them out when the time came is, of course, impossible to say. I know only that I am glad I made that decision, because afterwards I came to the conclusion it was that and that alone which gave me the mental relaxation I had during the rest of my stay in Cherche-Midi. The Fiend being up the German soldiers and screaming his head off in my face, the perpetual yellings of the Bully, the endless heavy tramp of the soldiers' great, the endless banging of the steel doors in the courtyard, the endless metallic thud of the bolts, the perpetual feeling of hunger, the lamentations of David, being bitten alive by bugs, the gnawing of the rats, and the general sordidness, misery, and suffering had little effect on me. I felt I had made up my mind: I would live in these surroundings for three months, and for three months only.

The following morning, after Waschen, Baron von X told me to collect my belongings, as I was being moved to nursery cell. He carried my edition and greatcoat for me; we crossed the landing, and he opened a cell door near the first one I had occupied. He gave me no explanation for this change. However, as all the cells on the south side of the corridor  p160 were similar, I was indifferent to the move. The day dragged on as all the others had.

On the way to the lavatory on the day of the "ninth nought" I saw a sight which made me stand stock still. A woman whom I had not seen before was walking down the corridor, the weight of her bucket seeming to double her up; her face was bright yellow, her lips dead white, and her eyes clear blue. Her eyes fascinated me; tears were running down her cheeks like water, from a tap, yet her eyes were neither reddened nor swollen. She put down her bucket and asked if I knew where she emptied it. She was holding her side, doubled up with pain. I asked what was the matter; she muttered, "Je suis tellement malade." I gathered the trouble was liver. I picked up her bucket, as she seemed quite incapable of carrying it, and showed her the lavatory and washroom. Between groans and sobs she told me that she had evacuated her château near Soissons; it had been shut up, and on her return a few days previously she had found it in a filthy condition, occupied by German soldiers. She complained to one of them, and a few hours later he arrested her; he accused her of spitting in his face. I believed her when she says it was an utter lie. She seemed a delightful woman; spitting was obviously a thing she would never dream of, but I could imagine her becoming voluble when she found her château like a pigsty. She was taken to Paris and tried at the Kommandantur. The soldier who accused her was brought there too. He said she had stood on the left side of him, and yet he accused her of spitting on his right cheek. The president of the court himself saw the blunder, but as the soldier swore on oath there was nothing to be done. (Once a German soldier has sworn on oath it is a very serious offence against him should he be  p161 proved incorrect.) She told me the president of the court shrugged his shoulders and sentenced her to six months' imprisonment. She had been desperately ill for some time, and unless she had medical treatment she doubted if she would ever leave the Cherche-Midi alive. Her name was Suzanne de P., and while she had been hurriedly whispering her story to me the tears continued to flow down her face. I told her she must ask Baron von X to take her to the doctor. I carried her bucket back to her cell; she sat on her bed and rocked herself to and fro. Her cell was opposite mine and faced north into a small courtyard. All the cells facing north were in perpetual gloom, getting practically no light or air.

During promenade I saw poor Suzanne de P. sitting on a bench, and in the strong sunlight she looked, if possible, even a brighter yellow; the tears flowed unceasingly, but still her eyes were neither reddened nor swollen. On the return to our cells she could hardly get up the stairs. I asked why she had come down. She says that the soldiers had insisted upon it, she hadn't been able to se the doctor yet, she hoped to see him the next day. Her fiancé was attached to one of the embassies, and she hoped through his influence she might get sent to a hospital.

Just before dusk Baron von X gave me four peaches and a cake of Morny soap. He told me that Suzanne de P. had sent them over to me; her fiancé had been allowed to send her a hamper. Four peaches and a cake of soap in the Cherche-Midi was luxury; such a handsome reward for carrying a desperately ill woman's bucket for a few yards seemed ironic. But thinking a little about Suzanne de P. helped to break the monotony; eating the four peaches did, too.

Another day began. I woke up conscious of my face; it felt  p162 stiff, but was not painful. I found I could open my eyes only with difficulty; I groped for my flapjack to see what had happened. My reflection in the mirror appalled me — my face was so unlike a face that in the end I was forced to smile. I realized what it was; bugs, bugs, and then bugs. There was no even contour to my chin; white blobs were hanging like bunches of grapes from ear to ear. Another white bunch clustered around the corner of my mouth; one side of my nose was twice the size of the other, and my forehead and eyelids had bunches of blobs all over them. It looked as though I had been plastered with a thousand white slugs whose dead whiteness contrasted oddly with the gray-green of my face.

Baron von X unbolted my cell.

I simply can not stay in this cell," I said.

"I am afraid you must. There is not another one to put you in."

"But I can't stay here — this cell is alive with bugs."

Baron von X shrugged his shoulders. "I am sorry, to be this is a French prison."

"I'm not interested in the nationality of the bugs. You can see for yourself what they had done to me."

"There are bugs in every cell in this prison. I too have been bitten." He pulled up his sleeve and showed me a couple of white blob, but there was no comparison between these and my condition. At the moment I had only slight discomfort, but, should ever they irritate, instinct told me, "Don't scratch, whatever you do — don't scratch."

Baron von X said there was nothing to be done about the bugs, as they were embedded in the walls, but he would see that my bites were attended to. "You must see the doctor," he said.

 p163  When I queued up for Essen a sympathetic expression passed over the little cook's face, and he ladled me out an extra large portion.

At promenade Darby gave me quite a shock — she had been bitten too, but was flaming scarlet. "You idiot," I muttered as I passed her. "Don't scratch them."

"I haven't," she muttered back. "they've just gone that colour."

It was peculiar — her scarlet face and my dead white one. I gathered most of the women have been bitten from time to time, but nothing like Darby and me. I wondered why we had been suddenly so virulently attacked.

During the afternoon I waited for Baron von X to take me to the doctor, but I did not see him again for the rest of the day. He had only a short term of imprison for having a night out in Paris which ended in his getting very drunk. The left fair cook, when he brought around the bread in the evening, gave me three cigarettes and two matches of his own accord. He could not speak one word of English or French, but by the tone of his voice I gathered he was sympathizing with me. It was infuriating, not being able to understand a word he said.

I gingerly arranged my eiderdown and buried my face in my overcoat; my knowledge of bugs is slight, but I knew they usually slept in the day and hunted at night. As the dusk deepened into darkness I wondered what the walls would bring forth. I told myself it was no use getting into a flat spin, and fell off to sleep.

I was awakened suddenly by a burning pain across my back and shoulders; drowsily coming out a heavy sleep, I thought my bed must have caught fire. It wasn't the bed, but myself.  p164 It felt as though a lighted match was being run up and down my back. I felt a plonk on my face as a bug dropped off the ceiling. I hastily flicked it off, and in doing so set up a violent irritation. I found that digging one's nails into the burning flesh momentarily relieved the pain, but it returned almost instantaneously like a ball of flame.

I was so busy concentrating on my face and back that I came to the conclusion I must be Michigan things when I felt a burning sensation on my chest. I had seven cigarette and four matches. I doubted if there was much chance of getting any more until the next evening, so to hunt for my tormentors by the light of a match meant chain-smoking in the morning and no cigarettes for the afternoon. However, I lit one to see what was happening in my bed; by the brief flicker I managed to squash four bugs into my eiderdown, through the others running about were legion. I soaked my towel in the saucepan, and wrapped it around my face and tried to arrange it across my back and shoulders. I found this relieved the pain considerably, but I had nothing to put on my chest, which burned more than ever. I found myself losing all control of myself and started scratching as hard as I knew how.

It was a restless night. I constantly had to dip the towel into the water; David continued his mournful lamentations — his dirge was now getting thoroughly on my nerves. I also heard a most peculiar noise underneath my bed. To begin with I thought it must be a prisoner in the cell below trying to burrow his way out; it sounded as though he would arrive in my cell at any moment. I came to the conclusion that any prisoner trying to do this would never make such a noise; it scuffle, scuffle, scuffle, gnaw, gnaw, gnaw — the gnawing sound was stupendous. An occasional squeak made me realize  p165 that it must be either rats or mice. What with the noise they made, David, and the bugs, the night seemed interminable.

tackled Baron von X in the morning. "You promised to take me to the doctor, but you never did."

He apologized for forgetting, and said he would take me during the morning.

Something must have gone wrong with the organization of the Cherche-Midi, for I met Darby in the washroom. Poor Darby, she looked as though she was coming to the end of her tether.

"Myers, I'm slowly but surely going mad."

I could think of nothing to say except, "It's a great life if you don't weaken." Beyond the exchange of these words, we did not speak; there seemed nothing to add.

I filled my saucepan with water, washed my soup tin, emptied my bucket, and swept out my cell within a matter of two minutes. I always meant to wash myself during the day, but as the days passed I found that less and less could I be bothered to do so. I could go for days without washing at all or combing my hair. Cleanliness hardly interested me, my personal appearance not at all. The little powder I had left in my flapjack I was saving up, for what I did not quite know — possibly to create an impression on the president of the court when, if ever, we had a trial.

Later on in the morning Baron von X came to my cell. "Come with me to the doctor," he said.

I followed him across the landing, down the corridor, past a queue of soldiers waiting for the doctor. He knocked on a door, and I was told to go in. The doctor was a short dark man. His first words were, "Why are you here?"

"I have no idea," I replied.

 p166  Baron von X was standing stiffly to attention. The doctor nodded his dismissal and asked me why I was smiling.

"As I've never had any privacy since I've been here, it seems strange to have it now."

The doctor spoke quite good French and English; when he was at a loss for a word in one language he switched over to the other. It was some time before we got on to the subject of my health; he wanted to know what I had been doing and why I had come to France. I gave him a brief summary.

"Have you any idea," I inquired, "if I shall be freed? As I am attached to the Red Cross, I ought to be."

He shook his head. "I'm afraid I can tell you nothing. I have not seen your papers, and in any case I am allowed to discuss only generalities and health with the prisoners."

"Now we are getting on the subject of health, what about these bites?"

He could see my face, but I started to pull off my shirt to show him the rest; he didn't seem interested.

"I can see, I can see," he said.

"Is there anything to be done about it?"

"I'm afraid very little. The best is to give you some soap. Rub it on the bites so that it forms a thick paste and then the air will not get at them, and I hope they will irritate you less. Did you sleep last night?"

I shrugged my shoulders, "What do you think? You are a doctor."

He gave me two little white pills and said, "Take them this evening, and I do not think anything will disturb your sleep.

I thanked him. "It's good of you to try to cure these bites, but I suppose the real answer is to kill the bugs."

 p167  "Yes, that is the real answer, but it is impossible to do so here; all the walls are impregnated with them."

"I couldn't agree more," I said somewhat sourly, and asked why I had been in the prison a fortnight and was only bitten once or twice before. He told me it was a question entirely of the condition of one's blood. There were certain types which bugs would never suck, but it seemed now my blood was in the right state for them.

Baron von X led me back to my cell. Essen, promenade, and the day was over. The same performance as last night. Fortunately during the evening a soldier came round and I was able to buy some chocolate, cigarettes, and matches, so now I had some matches to spare for the hunt — not that it helped much if one squashed four or five bugs by the light of a match. Plonk, plonk . . . only too well did I know how they dropped off the ceiling. I killed a few, only to have more falling off or crawling up the bed; I was never quite sure if it was my old bites irritating or fresh ones occurring. Flames of irritation were now shooting all over me; it became a question of scratching till it grew painful to do so. Groups of bites I discovered were bad enough on the fleshy parts of one's body, but on the tops of one's toes and fingers, the palms of one's hands, the shinbones of one's legs and the soles of one's feet they were almost unbearable. Those were too painful to attempt to scratch; the only relief I found was to cool off my hands and feet in my saucepan of cold water.

Baron von X had arrived during the afternoon with two soldiers carrying a tub of water. He had given me a large cake of soap and a square of linen which he said the doctor  p168 had sent. The soldiers came back to fetch the tub, but I retained the soap and the piece of linen. I had lathered my bites very thoroughly and found in the daytime it did not relieve me a little, but the warmth and the mere touch of an edition started them off again. If I squashed five, six, seven bugs in my eiderdown? Plonk, plonk — off they dropped from the ceiling. As I squashed and killed them I felt like the walrus trying to sweep away the sand. Sometimes curiosity made me want to know whether it might be eight or nine, or eight or nine hundred which were causing me so much misery; but even curiosity would not allow me to waste too many matches. I had a but the idea and rolled into spills the paper which I had saved from my chocolate and cigarette packets; then for a few seconds I had a continuous flow of light by which I killed innumerable of my little bedfellows, but it was an unequal struggle. By their very number they won the night, which I spent chiefly in sitting on my bed soaking my hands and feet in water and wringing out towels. The pills which the doctor had given me made me feel extremely drowsy; if Morpheus had been in my cell I doubt if he could have slept.

As the gray light of morning broke I watched the bugs crawling up the wall to return to their niches. At night they were very small, no bigger than an ant, but at dawn they were large and bloated. If they crawled within my reach I picked up my shoe and squashed them with a feeling of hatred; it was my blood, not theirs, which was squelched on the walls.

During the afternoon Baron von X came into my cell.

Auf Wiedersehen. I'm off now, and tomorrow I shall go to London.

 p169  I thought he was joking. "How are you going to get to London, and what will you do when you get there?"

"I have finished my sentence to‑day, and I rejoin the Air Force. To‑morrow I fly, and bomb, bomb, bomb London."

"Well, you can try if you like, but you will probably be shot down — I hope you are, but I hope you don't get killed."

Baron von X seemed to think the probabilities of his being shot down very remote.

"Anyway, if you are, and become a prisoner of war, you will be well treated. If ever I get back to England it would be amusing, would it not, Baron, if I came to visit you in one of our prison camps?"

Baron von X smiled. He did not think that very possible. The war, he assured me, would be over within a month. We shook hands and said, "Auf Wiedersehen."

War is war, but I liked Baron von X and the Bald-headed Man. I first noticed the latter a few days before among the soldiers. He had a clear white skin, startlingly blue eyes, and a perfectly bald head. He seemed to supervise when Essen was brought around. When my soap tin was filled he escorted me back to my cell, clicked his heels, bowed, and said, "Bon appétit." When he shot the bolt home it was the first time since I had been there that I did not notice the dull metallic thud.

I woke up a few days later to find him standing in the doorway. He smiled and said, "Guten Tag." I could not imagine what time of the day it was.

"Guten Tag," I replied. "What is it you want?"

He looked surprised. "I've come to call you. It is time for you to wash."

p170 "Oh, I'll be along in a minute." I had to pause for a second to control my feelings, as I was not far from tears; being called with a smile and a good morning brought home very near indeed. Later the Bald-headed Man told me he was imprisoned because he had failed to carry out an order; his sentence was fairly light. He spent most of his time downstairs in the office with the Fussy Man or over at the Kommandantur, so unfortunately I saw little of him. He spoke fairly good English, and went out of his way to do what he could for me. He would give me presents of biscuits or an extra ration of cheese, and, as the man with the tray did not come around very often, I had only to ask him for chocolates of cigarettes, and if he could he would bring them to me.

Occasionally one or two officials had visited my cell, apparently out of curiosity, for they always asked me why I was imprisoned. When I told them I did not know they asked the soldiers who were showing them around. They said, "For espionage." On another occasion they said, "For maiming the wounded."

There was a young doctor with whom I spoke sometimes in our corridor; he had spent a few months at Margate, which he had thoroughly enjoyed. He told me he had met many "smart" possible there, and had seemed disappointed in me when I replied that I had never been to Margate. After the fantastic story of my maiming German wounded the next time I saw him I asked if he had any knowledge of this; he told me they were absolutely forbidden to discuss the prisoners' cases with them, and for doing so he might get an extra sentence, but he looked wise and said he knew why I was there.

 p171  "Well, do tell me," I almost screamed.

He obviously knew something, for he said, "Youth recently been to Soissons, have you not?"


"There were many German soldiers there?"

There were several hundred — one or two I quite liked — but what's that got to do with it?"

He said nothing.

"Do you mean that I am accused of espionage?"


"It is not true."

"Prisoners always say that they are innocent."

I presumed they must be taking my diary seriously. Well, tant pis. Even if they were going to accuse me of espionage on account of my diary I realized that could not be the original reason for bringing us to the Cherche-Midi. Until they searched me they had no knowledge of my diary, so the thought once more returned that we were there either through the snake in the grass at Soissons or through my argument with the disagreeable Prussian in Henri's bureau. I discredited the story of maiming their wounded, as it was utterly absurd.

Since it was impossible to know why we were there until we were charged, it was hopeless to think about it any more.

The next morning I met Darby again in the washroom. She looked even worse than before.

"Myers, how long can one stand this?"

"Three months," I said promptly.

Later in the morning, when I was drowsily thinking, I regretted my remark, as I should have hated to feel responsible  p172 if I had influenced any one on such a decision one way or another.

Our chief guard now was a man whom Darby and I called the Bully. Darby said she had never met a man who so aptly fitted the word. He certainly did. He was a cross between a lout and a bully, but his bark was worse by far than his bite. He was fat, coarse, had a large, loose mouth and little piggy eyes, and like all bullies, loved the sound of his own voice. He strutted about and roared all day long; he banged doors and he screamed and shouted, but underneath all that noise there was no real malice. He was not a pleasant person, but he was human. I think most of the soldiers stood in awe of him, but the little fair cook was magnificent. One day when the Bully unbolted my door for Essen the soup bucket was put in the corridor just outside my cell, which was nearest the enormous steel door. While the Bully was busy opening the other cells the little cook with a movement as quick as lightning drew from his pocket a packet of cigarettes and a box of matches and threw them across the corridor on to my bed. His movement had been so swift that had not the cigarettes and matches landed on my bed I should not believe my eyes. "Danke schön, I muttered as I went to the bucket with my soup tin. I lingered till I was the last to have mine filled; the Bully was busy rebolting the cell doors, and I stood by mine and beckoned the little cook. He hurriedly looked up and down the corridor to see what the Bully was up to and then came over to me. I thrust ten francs into his hand. "Nein, nein," he muttered, and refused to take the money.

On other occasions he brought me whatever he could — an extra ration of cheese or butter at night, which was a boon,  p173 for now I knew what it was to be really hungry. Quite regardless of bugs, the gnawing sounds underneath my bed, and David, who still continued his lamentations, there were nights when hunger alone would have prevented my sleeping. By eleven or twelve in the mornings it became acute; it was more than emptiness, it was a definite pain. I used to save my cigarettes in the hope that smoking would alleviate it, but I found that smoking when I was as hungry as that simply made me feel sick and giddy. Nothing helped extract soup and bread. If I was too hungry to sleep in the mornings I would spend the time between Waschen and Essen longing for something to eat. How I pitied the women who were there without money and could not buy the few luxuries the tray man occasionally brought around. When he did not come, the little gifts from the Bald-headed Man and the little cook made an entire difference to the day. The joy one can have from a slab of chocolat Menier. . . .

Since my arrival the silent cortège had changed considerably. Darby and I were now two of the oldest inhabitants. During Waschen when I saw strangers I felt like an old girl at school, and showed them what there was to learn.

Grand'mère and her two copaines were still with us; the three of them had now been put in a room together. They had managed to scrounge several empty bottles. Now our coffee-cum‑tea was served in the main courtyard and given to us just before we returned to our cells after promenade. Grand'mère and Co. brought all their bottles down and had them filled. In the morning they used to heat their extra coffee in their soup tins on the Gast stove, and they never failed to give me some. I generally gave them cigarettes if I had any to spare. I quite often stood in their doorway  p174 drinking and the Bully used to see us from the landing, but he never said a word.

The little Mouse too was still with us; if possible she was even more quiet. The Sly One and the Brisk Woman had been put together; they never opened their mouths during promenade, and were silent when they washed.

One day when I met Darby on the landing, she says, "I realize we are here for duration."

I shrugged my shoulders. Three months, I thought; not a day longer.

Eighteen noughts had now accumulated on my wall. It annoyed me to think that those little harmless circles represented so much, and so little. I still faintly looked forward to promenade; it was muy main contact with my fellow-prisoners, and made me realize that a world other than German soldiers still existed.

Suzanne de P. had left us. Grand'mère told me she had been taken away in the middle of the night, I presumed to a hospital; for her sake I was glad, but I missed her. She had taken my name and all particulars, and had assured me that if the chance arose she would get her fiancé to do what he could for me. I doubted if he could do anything, but the mere thought of something being done occasionally gave me a feeling of hope.

I had learned from one of my fellow-prisoners that Huffer was in Bordeaux.

From the little I had seen of the new arrivals, Louise, Collette,​b Schiaparelli, Jeanne, the Polish woman, and the Petite Parisienne, I liked them all, but unfortunately we had recently been cursed by the presence of Carmen Morey. She was a German-Swiss who had lived in Berlin for many years, and  p175 had frequently visited France, where she was arrested in October, 1938, and sentenced to death for espionage. In April, 1940, when the Germans came to France, they freed her and fêted her as a heroine, until they suspected her of double-crossing them. She was now in the Cherche-Midi pending her trial in Berlin. We had to suffer her; in sheer deviltry she was a queen bee.

Louise had been with us a fortnight; she was a delicate, frail-looking woman of over forty. She had arrived in a dark blue satin coat and skirt, with a white blouse; she had a quiet manner, a great sense of humor, and was full of courage and common sense. She spoke four languages perfectly, including English. Her cell was near mine, and we always washed together and talked as much as we dared during promenade. The little cook and three other soldiers were now sent to the courtyard to see that we did not speak. I did most of my talking as I passed him; he always shook his head and said, "Nicht sprechen," but I never took any notice, as I guessed he would not report me.

The Bully, who was in chief charge of the promenade, had made a new rule; if any one was seen talking she was immediately sent back to her cell.

Grand'mère had been allowed to see her son, and she had offered to give him any letters that I wanted mailed. I thought this an opportunity to get in touch with Henri, but when I mentioned this to Louise she says, "Don't be a fool and trust any one here; your letter may be intercepted. Whatever you write, even the mere fact of your writing to Henri may make him a suspect. Don't forget you are one yourself."

I took her advice.

The next day Grand'mère's son and daughter-in‑law came  p176 to visit her. She was a kind-hearted soul and had asked several people if they wanted letters posted; she naturally was given quite a few. On leaving the prison her visitors were searched and the letters found on them. No one knew what happened to the son, but the daughter-in‑law joined us as a prisoner, and we did not know how long she would remain with us. Grand'mère had over a year added to her sentence. Carmen Morey had overheard Grand'mère asking who wanted letters posted, and had immediately reported this to the Fiend, who had now joined the Bully as one of the guards.

Many of the German soldiers had no time for her; they had warned us that it would be to her advantage to report on us as much as possible.

I saw Carmen Morey for the first time one day at promenade. She was sitting on a bench with her ankle bandaged; the French had taken her outside Paris to be shot with her accomplices. Fortunately for her, the Germans had occupied the town that day, and all that happened to her was a wound in her leg from a stray piece of shrapnel from the retreating French. When she told me she was a journalist and had read all the Swiss papers and recently listened to the B. B. C. broadcasts I was more than interested. I had had no news whatever of the outside world since I was captured, and I did not know if England was still fighting or whether she had thrown in her hand when France capitulated. Carmen Morey told me that the opinion of the Swiss Press was that England could not hold out for more than a fortnight, and that the King had fled to Canada. Whether England could or could not carry on the war alone I had no idea, but I was convinced that the King had not gone to Canada. I was more than definite in my mind about that; if England was being badly bombed the  p177 Queen might go with the Princesses, but the King, I felt sure, would stay to the end.

Feeling very depressed, I repeated this conversation to Louise, who said, "My dear, don't believe a word. I heard Churchill speak. England is carrying on, and the R. A. F. is doing wonders. There is no thought of capitulating. Surely you don't imagine that England will lose the war?"

I felt much better after that.

Marie, the Polish woman, had been with us only a few days. She was a tall, handsome, Junoesque type who carried herself magnificently; she always reminded me of a caged lion. She had one of the most beautiful skins I have ever seen, and washed herself from top to toe every morning. She was accused of helping Polish suspects to fout' le camp from Paris. Her sentence was twenty years' imprisonment.

There had been a rumor going around for some time that the Germans found the Cherche-Midi uninhabitable for their soldiers, and that we were all to be moved to another prison. Rumor mentioned the name of several prisons, but Fresnes was most frequently spoken of as our abode. If we were to be moved, no one had any idea whether or not we should still be kept in solitary confinement. I asked the Polish woman if she was looking forward to our prospective change.

She says, "I am entirely indifferent. I have no intention of spending twenty years in German prisons. I shall finish my life."

She spoke in a very detached voice.

"You are taking all this very calmly," I said.

She threw back her head and said with unforgettable pride, "I am a Polish woman."​c

 p178  The first day Collette was with us she became rather hysterical, and when Louise and I met her during Waschen she was in a bad state. Her arrest had been a surprise and shock to her, be she had calmed down afterwards and had become quite philosophical. In her youth she must have been beautiful, but now she was rather plump. She had pretty curly brown hair and wonderful soft brown eyes. She was typically French — charming and attractive and generosity itself. For reasons which I discovered later she was allowed visitors, who brought her real French coffee, fruit, chocolates, and cigarettes. Whatever Collette had she always shared with her friends.

Schiaparelli had the most sensational first morning of us all. It was caused chiefly by the Fiend, who now at the mere sight of me went into a fit of rage. I never discovered any quality in him which could be called human; he was pure fiend, but to give the devil his due Darby did tell me one day he spoke a few civil words to her. He never did that to me, but then our dislike for each other was entirely mutual. Our first contretemps had been over my cigarette ends. Since my arrival I had always put them out on the floor and swept them together with the crumbs of bread and general accumulation of dust into a corner of the cell by the door; in the mornings we swept our little piles of dirt into the corridor, which later on was cleaned up by the soldiers. The first morning the Fiend was in charge of us the sight of the little pile of cigarette ends had a distinct effect on him when he unbolted my cell for Waschen. He screamed and bellowed in German; he knew neither French nor English, to be from certain words I gathered he was saying cigarette ends, dirt, and swinish English. He seemed unable to control his voice; it poured  p179 from him with a thunderous volume which enveloped the air. It was shattering to listen to — the noise went around my cell, along the corridor, across the courtyard, and could be heard in the streets, I was afterwards told. His protruding eyes looked as though they might pop out of his head at any moment, the nerves in his cheeks twitched, and his loose mouth slobbered all over his face. To stand up to that roar of sound was as exhausting as battling against a tempestuous wind. . . . After some time there was a momentary lull.

The Fiend was now dancing up and down gesticulating wildly with his hands, his face still twitching. He took a step forward and knocked my head against the wall. I had expected something like this to happen, as he was obviously beyond any self-control. This seemed to sober him up; he banged my door to, only to open it again within a second. I gathered I was to brush the cigarette ends out into the corridor.

While I did this he stood beside me and yelled and screamed. The little cook and one or two other soldiers with whom I was on quite friendly terms were leaning against the table on the landing. They seemed quite oblivious of the din; their faces were quite expressionless as they gazed at the floor.

Sleep after this was out of the question; I felt as though I had been engulfed in a raging storm. I spent some time digging out bugs in the plaster of the wall and in a very short while had killed twenty-eight. During promenade Louise told me that she had been quite deafened in her cell by the noise of the Fiend. She thought he should be reported for using physical violence. I did not agree, as I thought it would do more harm than good.

The next morning when he had unbolted my cell I had  p180 hoped for a quieter time, but it was not to be, for Schiaparelli had arrived during the night. On my arrival in the washroom the only occupant was the Polish woman; she was stripped naked, sluicing herself with water. Schiaparelli came in, leaving the door open; she was hysterical to the point of collapse. I flicked some cold water over her face, but it did little good. She obviously had little idea where she was or what was happening; she was screaming and quivering all over.

I heard the Fiend's voice coming down the corridor apparently to see what was up. The Polish woman turned to me and said in French, "Shut the door, we don't want that devil in here." To prevent him coming in I had to shut the door in his face. He burst it open, roaring as loudly as yesterday. This had the effect of momentarily frightening Schiaparelli out of her wits. I think she lost all sense of sight. Yelling with terror, she banged into things as she rushed round the room like a mad thing trying to escape. The Polish woman remained naked at the sink entirely ignoring the scene.

The Fiend grabbed hold of Schiaparelli. I tried to wrench her away from him, but I don't think she was conscious of the fact that she was being pulled this way and that. I couldn't compete with his strength, and, still roaring, he dragged the demented woman down the corridor. I followed behind them and on the landing met the Bald-headed Man. "You must do something," I said under cover of the Fiend's barrage. "If she is left by herself . . ." I shrugged my shoulders.

The Bald-headed Man at once took in the situation. He nodded and disappeared. I followed the Fiend across the landing and stood watching him throw Schiaparelli into a cell opposite mine. Before I had time to run into my cell he landed  p181 me a terrific push, and I had the unpleasant experience of having the door slammed within a fraction of my face.

After a few days Schiaparelli became more or less her normal self; the Bald-headed Man had done what he could for her. One could now judge what she was really like. In her youth, like Collette, she must have been beautiful, but now at fifty she was beginning to look rather passée. She too was French, with the wit and charm of her race. We called her Schiaparelli because I believed her capable of making a model dress even by tearing up one of our filthy, archaic army blankets.

She had been sentenced to six months' imprisonment for tearing down one of the posters the Germans were plastering over Paris. The poster, she told me, depicted a German soldier carrying a French baby; underneath was a statement that German soldiers would care for the children of France. The worst part of her story, I thought, was that she had been informed against by a Frenchman who obviously must have been in the pay of the Germans. He had seen her tearing down the poster and reported her to the préfet, who had said, "Mais alors, c'est formidable," and let the matter rest there. The Frenchman returned a few days later, and for the préfet's lack of zeal reported both him and Schiaparelli to the Kommandantur. Schiaparelli did not know what happened to the préfet.

In the night the Fiend was once more on the war path; his screamings in the courtyard woke me. It was pitch dark. I could hear the supplicating voice of a man he was beating up and the dull thud of something heavy hitting something soft . . . the agonizing yells of the victim . . . innumerable men's voices arguing, the Fiend's voice rising well above the commotion  p182 . . . the sound of heavy feet tramping back to the enormous steel door of the courtyard . . . the sound of the bolt being shot back . . . the voices of the Fiend, the soldiers, and the victim's screams getting fainter and fainter as they went farther into the bowels of Cherche-Midi . . . the heavy tramping of the soldiers as they came up and once more crossed the courtyard . . . the banging of the various steel doors again . . . I realized this place could boast of dungeons. . . .

The next day during promenade Louise told me that the cause of last night's trouble had been one of the soldiers criticizing the Army, a fatal thing for a German soldier to do.

Since Grand'mère had tried to smuggle the letters out, as a punishment smoking was forbidden. The soldiers, however, brought me more or less what I needed. I had not seen the Fussy Man for some time, but as he passed through the courtyard he smiled and gave me a cigarette, which, since he had given it to me I presumed I could smoke. The Bully roared, and the Fussy Man interpreted, adding under his breath, "Smoke it upstairs."

During the afternoon the Bald-headed Man unbolted my cell and said, "A lady from the Red Cross."

"You mean for me?"

"Yes, for you."

It was such a surprise that I could hardly take in the fact.

"Come along, come along," he said.

I leaped off the bed; the enormous steel doors were open — I was across the landing and down the stairs in a flash. I did not even notice the Fussy Man standing on the landing. The only thought in my mind was that there was some one from the Red Cross who wanted to see me. I was brought to a  p183 standstill by both men trying to catch me up and shouting, "Have you gone mad?"

"But you said there was some one to see me."

"No, no, you can not see her — it is not allowed. She has brought you some food."

They led me back to the landing. In my excitement I had not even noticed the table. It was covered with a clean white tablecloth and laden with sandwiches of white bread filled with Russian salads, pots of jam and marmalade, tins of canned fish and fresh fruit — luscious peaches and branches of grapes. It was a staggering sight.

My two guards pressed me to take all I wanted, but my disappointment was so acute at not seeing the "lady from the Red Cross" that, altho recently I would have eaten dry bread with pleasure, the sight of all this food did not even tempt me. It was my guards who gave me more than my share. I arranged my booty on my bed, and was annoyed with myself for being so disappointed. I had thought I was beyond any form of feeling. However, I found the sandwiches delicious, I had not tasted white bread for so long. I wondered if our benefactress could realize how much her gift would mean. . . .

In the evening voices from the courtyard floated up to my cell; the soldiers were singing the Horst Wessel song. It brought back memories of the Soissons bakery, which now seemed so remote that it had no more reality than a dream.

The next day, on coming upstairs after promenade, I found the Bald-headed Man and the Fussy Man talking excitedly to each other. They beckoned Darby and me and told us we were to be "tried" the following day.

"How do you know?" I asked.

 p184  "I've seen your name over at the Kommandantur on the list for to‑morrow," the Bald-headed Man replied.

They both said they did not know what the charge was.

I began to look forward to the morning. At least it would be something definite.

On waking I spent most of the next morning trying to tidy myself. I combed my hair and tried to clean my uniform. Since there was nowhere to put one's clothes, I had always hung them on a knob of the wire and steel contraption which opened and closed the window. The whitewash from the walls made my uniform look more white than khaki; with a little effort I made it look fairly presentable.

The day brought forth no trial, but it was of momentous importance to me, for my visitor was the Gestapo man.

Thayer's Notes:

a What follows is a description of a Turkish toilet, a squat toilet of a type still in use in many parts of the world although already in Myers' time long uncommon in England; like many other travelers, I've seen and used them in a number of countries, including France in the 1960s. That our author, though a seasoned traveler (p30), should find them so curious is yet another indication of a fairly sheltered life.

As an aside, I'll go Bessy Myers one step further. In a hotel in Agde in the summer of 1966, my room had one of these Turkish toilets — which by the addition of a shower head had thoughtfully been arranged to double as a bath facility. To date, I've never seen another one of those.

[decorative delimiter]

b The author consistently spells Collette. Since her French is excellent (except for her idiosyncratic spelling copaine for copine) I've kept the spelling although the common first name, originally short for Nicole, has only one l. The temptation to 'correct' it is made greater by the name of the famous writer Colette — in her case a last name — but, despite the baneful effect of a very brief Kirkus review which in our age of information explosion has engendered multiple uncritical clones all over the Web, she is not the woman mentioned by Myers: the writer Colette was never imprisoned during the war. Those webpages also follow the review in stating that Schiaparelli was the famous clothes designer. The reviewer obviously didn't read our book, merely flipping thru it in a great hurry: on p181 Myers writes that "Schiaparelli" was her nickname for one of her fellow prisoners. The Italian designer herself spent almost all the war years in New York City — although in April 1940 she was spotted being elegant at the bar of the Ritz in Paris (Margaret Hughes, Les lauriers sont coupés, p36).

[decorative delimiter]

c True pride in our identity and our country isn't something that frequently finds a natural opportunity to be so unadornedly stated; but when it does, it's magnificent. I remember hearing a similar statement only once in my life, and although the circumstances were hardly as dramatic, it has stayed with me vividly.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 11 Feb 21