March 29, 1918
I awoke to the rattling of the windows. The concussive force of whatever was behind the blast was strong enough to break the ones in the attic of the pension outside of Paris where I now resided. I wasn’t alone to be startled out of deep sleep. Voices reached me from outside, loud and screeching with panic.
Dressing quickly, I rushed into the street along with dozens of other Parisians, all of us casting fearful glances at the sky.
“Another Zeppelin?” a distraught woman asked.
Her husband squinted as his chin tilted upwards. “I don’t see one.”
“Perhaps flying too high to be seen?”
Another man offered, “An aeroplane. Dropping a bomb.”
“Did you hear the engines?” his neighbour asked. “Those blasted things are so loud they wake the dead.”
Paris had been bombed many times already since the start of the war, but nothing quite like this. What kind of plane could carry such a large bomb and not make a sound? My mind raced for an explanation.
The onslaught continued at intervals throughout the day and by the time evening had come, information about the attack had been announced by army officials. Casement fragments had been found at the bomb sites.The Germans had apparently invented artillery that could fire long distance.
Twenty one shells fell that first day, and now, six days later, the citizens of Paris are on edge. Queues at the main railway stations numbered into the thousands as people sought to escape the city, until ticket sales were suspended.
The only comfort was found in the realization that, though the powerful guns were able to strike from as much as one hundred kilometres away, they were not very accurate. Very few military installations had been hit. The Bosche were obviously hoping to demoralize the inhabitants, but the French are as resilient as ever, frightened yes, but not defeated in spirit.
Today’s shelling, however, has been the worst of all. I received a message from Captain Smithwick to meet with him in a square not far from where I was staying. Earlier in the day, one of the great pillars in Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais Church was hit by a German shell causing the roof to collapse. Being good Friday, the church was filled with congregants.
“It will be days before the dead are numbered, “ Captain Smithwick said. “The Bosche got lucky. Those blasted guns are so far away, I wonder if they even know what they’ve done.”
“Children?” I asked.
He pinched his lips as a plume of cigarette smoke escaped through his nostrils into the chill air. “Yes. The shell hit the pillar and then exploded in the knave. Most wouldn’t have known what hit them, but I’m sure some died slowly under the rubble. There are survivors though it is expected the dead to outnumber the living.”
My stomach clenched at the horror.
After another tug on his cigarette, Captain Smithwick said, “Members of Paris’s high society were in attendance. Amongst the dead is Baronne Violette De Champlain who was visiting from Bouchais. I need you to go to Bouchais and deliver a message.”
“All right.” The delivery of a message was amongst the most benign of the tasks I’d been called upon to complete.
Captain Smithwick continued. “The Baronne was very generous to our efforts here in France. Her fortune was left to her from her husband who was killed early in the war. However he also left equal rights to the fortune to his mother Hélène De Champlain. The mother and the daughter-in-law didn’t see eye to eye on many matters. Despite Madame De Chaplain’s objections, Baronne Violette De Champlain gave generously to our efforts here in France, funds used for training, weapons and tactical supplies. These donations have always been more readily available than what we can access from the English and French governments because we could circumnavigate the usual red tape.” Smithwick threw his cigarette stub down onto the cobblestone and ground it out with his heel. “Madame De Chaplain, however, has shown her opposition this entire time for reasons we don’t know. It is only because the Baroness was a very strong woman that the contributions were continually made. Now that she is gone, we fear those resources will be stopped, which would mean we would have to shut down many of our operations.” Captain Smithwick settled his gaze on Ginger. I need you to go convince Hélène De Champlain to keep sending money.”
“I don’t understand. Why me?”
Captain Smithwick reached into his pocket and pulled out a photograph. It showed an elegantly dressed woman in her late twenties posing for the photographer. “This is Madame De Champlain’s daughter Félicité. She died of cholera a year after this photo was taken.
“Oh,” I said, understanding. I bore a striking resemblance to the daughter, especially with my darker hair colour. “It would be like her own daughter coming to persuade her from the grave.”