I never thought that by escaping I would become a woman. I had grown up in Islington, where my father had bought a shop on his retirement from the sea. He had brought home his lovely French wife, and settled there. My mother regretted this. Not only had her family disowned her for marrying a non-Catholic, but she soon found my father ill-tempered and selfish. I grew up speaking French as well as I could English. And although my real name was Anthony, she called me Antoine. I was very close to my mother, and it was hard for me when she died in the first few months of the war. She could not bear to hear what was happening to her beloved France, or perhaps my father was eventually too much for her. Under my mother’s influence for so long I had grown up loving quiet, pleasant things. I liked flowers, listening to pleasant music and walks in the parks. I never did well at school, but could read very well. I spent much of my time reading stories. My mother had brought some French novels with her, and she had read these to me at night. I could not read French very well, but I knew most of them. After she died I found myself wanting to read them again. They all had girls or young women as heroines, but I did not mind that. At times I used to identify myself with these women, before I remembered that I was a boy.During the first two years of the war I went on working in my father’s shop. This I did not do very well, and he was forever beating me.
I never cared for all that was being said about the war. All the young men in the street went off to fight. I never wanted to go, especially when I heard of so many of them being killed at the Front. Many people whispered that I had no business not being in uniform, that I was a coward, and worse. But I used to shrug it off, even when one young girl gave me a white feather. Then at the end of 1916 we all heard that the government was to start calling men up to go into the army, whether they wanted to go or not. I was terrified, for I knew it would soon be my turn.Needless to say, by February my call-up papers arrived. Of course I had to go, as someone said I may be shot if I didn’t. My father laughed, saying it would make a man of me.
At least, I remember thinking, I would be free of him now. I hated every minute of army life. From the moment they cut my hair so short, to the time of the events I am about to tell you about. My basic training at Longmoor was sheer purgatory. I never did well at anything, not drill, shooting or combat. The sergeants were always striking me, and I was often on a charge, or on extra duties. I was never at ease with my fellow soldiers. They all used such bad language, and talked about nothing but sex and women. They drunk heavily, swore all the time and got into fights and rowdy behaviour. They would not talk to me if they could help it. They knew I was not one of them. I knew it too, but realised that I could do nothing about it. I could only wish the war would not go on much longer, and that I would not be killed in it. I know that no soldier liked the trenches, and I found them even worse than Longmoor. It was such a nightmare. The raids on enemy trenches were the worst, and I do not know how I came back alive from any of them. I do not think that I ever killed a singleGerman. Somehow I survived. I took it a day at a time. I lived in hope that this nightmare would end, and I could be away from all this, and not killed.
We had been in the same trenches for months. Even the best soldiers were battle-weary. Or dead. In September we were told that we would be taken out of the fight for a short while, for even the senior officers realised that we had had too much. We were overjoyed, all expecting that we would go back to Blighty for a time.But we were only moved a few miles away. We were sent to a village called Eglise Saint-Martin, which was also used as a supply station for the Front. In our tents we could still hear the guns in the distance, and often saw German planes fly over us. At night we saw the flashes of the guns and bombs on the northern horizon. Still, we were glad to be out of it. It was there that I finally became useful to my regiment.In all this time the army had a low opinion of me. I am sure that my sergeant resented that I was still alive, while so many real soldiers had been killed that summer. But when it came out that I spoke French fluently, and that I was almost the only one who spoke French at all, I was much in demand. I was assigned to a Lieutenant Carruthers, an officer who was not much older than me. He was a public school boy, it seemed. He treated me with the utmost contempt, except when he needed my services as interpreter, and kept watching my legs as I walked. It was said that he was queer, and I did everything I could not to be alone with him.
Carruthers was liaison officer with the civilian population. This was a joke, as he could not manage twenty words of French, and his haughty behaviour always soon got the French annoyed. I often had to change the wording as I interpreted what he said, but they understood his attitude well enough. A fortnight after we arrived I was told to drive Carruthers out of the village to the home of a Madamoiselle de Mallarmes, who wanted to organise a canteen and entertainment service for the troops. He complained all the way to the chateau about having to give sweet talk to some old French spinster, without any real point to it. He was really sick of the war too.
But when we arrived at this modest mansion a few miles out, the story was different. Colette de Mallarmes was a young woman, about twenty-eight and fairly pretty. She had taken over the keeping of the house, she told Carruthers through me, after her father had died on the Marne, and as her brother was a prisoner of war in Germany. She was very pleasant, and businesslike too. I could see that she had little regard for Carruthers’ attitude. But she took a liking to me. I had to be there to interpret, and at one point she broke off the conversation with the officer began asking me about myself, in French. We had a pleasant conversation, and Carruthers hung about listlessly. She was definitely interested in me. But when she began to ask me if I really wanted to be in the war, Carruthers butted in again, even though he understood nothing of what we said. Carruthers was constantly trying to use his scanty French to ask her to go out to dinner with him. She kept acting as if she did not understand. Later I was sent to the kitchen with the maid Marie to be given something to eat, while Carruthers lunched with Madamoiselle. I got to like Marie too; she was in her late thirties, and with a sharp tongue. Soon after Madamoiselle joined us, having somehow given Carruthers the slip. She seemed to take pleasure in talking to me. I did not know why, but perhaps she saw me as one who needed protection from the horrors of this war. In that she was right. Our pleasant conversation was shattered by Carruthers bellowing `Harris! Private Harris!’ through the house. (That was me: 1246745 Private Harris, Anthony.) Sir wanted to go straight away, and took his leave in as gallant a manner he could manage. Madamoiselle bid him farewell politely, and warmly added when speaking to me in French that I would be welcome if I were to call. Carruthers said nothing on the journey home, and was beastly to me for the rest of the day.
It was a week later that I saw Madamoiselle again. The soldiers’ canteen was set up, and she was serving behind the counter. She instantly recognised me, and called me aside. Once again she invited me to call at the chateau. She even persuaded me to call that very night, which I did. I know that she was of a different class than I was: she would normally only associate with officers. But she told me that she thought our officers were just like little boys who liked playing soldiers, and I agreed with her. Of course I understood that she was not interested in having an affair with me, and I then realised that I had never had any interest in women. Still, so that the tongues were not wagging, I never told anyone where I was going when I called at Chateau Mallarmes. But she allowed me to call her Colette, and called me Antoine. Colette knew some English, but we mostly spoke French. She spoke several times about her feelings on the war. She said it was terribly wrong that young men should go off to get killed, as a result of what was really a silly game played by the crowned heads of Europe, and for reasons the soldiers on the whole did not even understand. This I saw quickly. I did not know exactly why we were fighting the Germans. I knew it had something to do with an Archduke being shot, but I could not say why that meant I was the trenches. It was fine for her being a woman, she said. She did not have to face the death and horror. But too many men were going through all this, and it was all wrong. And throughout those few weeks she gave me her support. She had seen I was different in temperament from all those other soldiers. She provided for me a safe haven where she could show me her drawings and play music on the piano. I was no expert in either, but loved to see and hear all this. During the day I even found it bearable. We were being trained in new tactics, for when we went back to the Front. Almost every evening I could, I went to Chateau Mallarmes. While the other soldiers went off drinking, or in search of women, I set off on the road from Eglise Saint-Martin towards the house. No-one asked me where I had been. No-one was at all interested. The house was a few miles out of the town. It may have been fairly large, but Colette lived there alone with Marie. All the other servants had left, either to go to war or because she could not easily maintain a large household. Some of the family’s lands were being fought over by the two armies, and she had to make economies while the war was going on.
The house was so feminine in its way. Colette had lived there without men for nearly three years. All the decorations were feminine, where there were plants in pots, and flowers in almost every room. After so long in the trenches, though, I found such a feminine decor so enchanting. There was a scent of cologne and talcum powder throughout the house. I so loved to be there. Such pleasant conversation with Colette, and sometimes Marie. The music, art and stories. I forgot the war when I was there. Perhaps she was lonely too. There was that last night, or so it proved to be. After Colette had played the piano, and I had sang. She had joked before about the way my voice had not really broke. I still sang a little too high for a man. My voice was a joke all over the camp, but I did not care about that then, for I so enjoyed singing with Colette. Then we sat in the salon, drinking coffee. Colette then said to me, in the conversation that last evening: `You know, Antoine, and don’t take this the wrong way, it might have been better for you if you were a woman. You don’t seem to be the kind of person that can live easily in the world as men have to nowadays.’ I had never thought about this before. But before I could ask her why she said it, Marie entered saying that Madamoiselle had a surprise visitor: Colonel MacGregor, my Commanding Officer. We both knew that there would be trouble if I was seen at her home, for a common soldier may not associate with a lady of breeding, so Colette spirited me away. She had Marie take me down the back stairs to the kitchen, and I slipped out of the kitchen door without the Colonel seeing me, and then round the back of the house, avoiding the officer’s driver. I walked home, wondering about what she had said. Of course I had never thought of myself as anything other than a man. And often felt ashamed when I was accused of not acting in a manly way: I was clearly no soldier, and was often afraid that I would show cowardice in the face of the enemy one day, and be court-martialled and shot for it. But it was far from my mind to be anything other than a man. As a child I had usually got on better with girls than boys. But I had never thought much about lady-friends. Nor did I think much of the whores that often hung about garrisons. Some other soldiers had noticed my lack of interest, and hinted that I may be some kind of nancy-boy. This I certainly thought not. But the idea Colette had given me about being a woman. That both filled me with horror, and got my imagination. Of course it was impossible, even if I wanted it, I told myself. But I could not stop myself thinking about it all the way back to camp. I was seeing myself in long skirts, with long hair, and sitting primly in a drawing room. I would be sewing, or playing the piano. Of course this idea was awful to me. I was, after all, a man. And I was certainly no pansy. But there was such an air of peace around this idea. I found myself thinking about it even as I lay awake in my tent that night.I tried to dismiss it.
No, Tony, you are not a woman. You could never be a woman. You are a man, for better or worse. You can forget all this. But I could not just forget it. It made such a pleasant fantasy.But at the same time, I found myself thinking that being a man had its drawbacks. To be a man at that time, in 1917, meant wearing a uniform and scrambling about in a muddy trench, just to kill and be killed. For a short while this fantasy of being a woman felt such a good one. It was a sad end to a lovely evening, but also the end of a great time. The next day, unexpected, all the soldiers were told that we were to march back to the Front immediately. Jerry was pushing forward they told us, and every man was needed to hold the line. As we had just had a holiday we were ready to return to the fight that very day. I could not even go to say goodbye to Colette. It was again sheer purgatory, much worse for having been away from it for a time. Again I was wallowing in the muddy, filthy trench, with shells and bullets raining over my head.
Almost a week later, I was perched upon a parapet looking out to No Man’s Land, taking my turn as lookout. Word had come down the line that the Germans had reinforcements and were soon to attack. The bullets and shells were coming at us in force now, and my platoon was ordered to stand and watch for any enemy advances. I was still saddened to have been pulled away from Colette’s house, where I had felt like a decent person again, especially when it was back into this hell-on-earth. I thought of all this with tears in my eyes. I was feeling very tired, resting against the trench parapet………and then I was in the conservatory at the back of the chateau, moving along among the plants, almost floating. I saw Colette coming towards me, laughing and reaching to take my hands. Colette led me out into the garden, where the sun shone brilliantly, and there was not a cloud, or a shell, or an enemy plane, to be seen. Colette breezed along, taking me with her, in the sense that we had both escaped from a nightmare, into the light. She wore a long, wispy white dress to her ankles, her long brunette hair flowing. I wore a white dress too, my hair, just as long, flowing behind me. We two danced down the lawn with joy, our beautiful white dresses flowing as we went, and………a shell exploded in No Man’s Land. It woke me up. I had been dreaming, as I slept on the parapet. The guns opposite were blazing, and below me the sergeant was saying something about Jerry softening our trenches up before charging us. I was saddened when I had waken from that dream, but puzzled too. Why was I wearing a dress in that dream, and looking like a woman? A minute or so later I was wondering if what Colette had said had anything to do with it, that last night. Why did she say that? I was still wondering about all this, and trying to make sense of this fantasy I had picked up, when all hell broke loose. A shell fell into the trench behind me. There was an explosion. The flash and the roar stunned me.It took me almost a minute to realise that I was not dead. In fact, I was not harmed at all, only shaken and mud spattered. But beneath me was a sight of gore and destruction. The sergeant and the six men with him all lay in several pieces. I had seen many awful sights like that throughout the summer. But it shocked me so much that I had come so close to being blown to pieces like that. I stood gaping at it all. Then a sound in No Man’s Land caused me to turn around. The battle-scarred ground fifty yards away from me was filling up with soldiers: soldiers with greenish uniforms and spiked helmets. Their bayonets flashed on the ends of their rifles. The Germans were coming in my direction, and I was the only soldier left alive in that part of the trench. I threw down my rifle, jumped down into the trench, and ran.Before I knew what had happened, I was running down the trench which led away from the front line, towards the sleeping quarters. My helmet had fallen off. A tall figure barred my way.`Harris! Where are you going? And where’s your weapon?’ It was Sergeant-Major Daly, who had been a terror to me since my first day in the regiment. `Germans coming, sir’ was the most I could get out. `Right, I’ll send some men down. Go back to your post. Get your rifle and hold them as long as you can.’ I was horrified. Back where I had just come, there was a commotion. The enemy were in our trenches, and were running down them to kill every Englishman they could find. Daly wanted me to go back and face them alone, or so it seemed. He was mystified when I did not move. Angered, he bellowed `Go Back!’ at me. I knew I could not. I panicked. I pushed at Daly, and ran past him as he fell. Away from the German bayonets. I was running further away from the war all the time, and I heard his voice bellow `Stop that man! He’s a deserter!’ But everyone was soon running to defend themselves, and none hindered me as I ran on, through the trenches, and then along the supply road.
I only stopped running when I was in the main street of Eglise Saint- Martin. I must have ran for miles. Then I realised what I had done. As far as the army were concerned, I was now a deserter; I had shown cowardice in the face of the enemy. And I had acted with violence to a superior rank. The army would not wish to hear about panic, or shell-shock or trench fatigue when they caught me. None of these existed as far as the high command was concerned, I knew from hearing of other men who had ran. I would certainly be arrested, court-martialled and shot, as an example to all other soldiers. Perhaps this was far worse than facing the Germans. All I could do now was to keep moving. It was about four in the morning, and few people were about. Before the military police saw me and questioned me, I had to leave the village. The roads were out of the question. I took to the fields, dropping my webbing straps as I went. If I was thinking where I was going I would have reasoned that I could not go to Chateau Mallarmes, for I could not expect even Colette to harbour a deserter. But it seemed at that point a safe place to go, the only place I could think of in my panic. As dawn was breaking I remember falling down on the kitchen doorstep, just as Marie was opening the door. `Monsieur Antoine!’ she exclaimed, as she saw me, mud spattered, agitated and just collapsing. `Help me!’ I remember saying, just as all went black. It must have been some hours later, for when I woke up, I was in a bed, in a room that was getting dark. My uniform was lying across a chair, and I was wearing a nightshirt, a little old and worn. I noticed that I had been bathed. I lay there a while, and Colette eventually came in, with Marie. Colette looked very serious; not really angry, but very sad. `So you have deserted, dear Antoine?’ I nodded, knowing I had put her in a serious position as well as myself.`I thought you would, as a matter of fact.’ She sounded very sombre and practical. `Still, it is very dangerous, but I feel I must help you. I am willing to hide you, but we must take desperate measures. Can you get up now?’ I could, and rose from the bed. I told her what had happened, and she was silent for a few minutes before answering.`Antoine, you know you cannot go back now. They are certainly looking for you by now, and you know you will face a firing squad if they catch you. The only thing I can do is hide you. And I will.’ I was so glad, and was just about to thank her, but she motioned me to be quiet. Then she went on:`But I can only do that if you do everything I tell you to do from this moment on. Now, I must hear you to agree to do what I say, without once questioning or disobeying, and only then can I help you. Now, Antoine, do you agree to do exactly what I tell you to do while you are hiding here?’
At first I wondered what she had in mind. I was giving up my soldiers’ obedience for another domination. Still, she was helping me even if it meant risking serious trouble for herself. And anything was better than being shot at, either by Germans or English.I said `Yes, Colette, I will do exactly what you say.’I felt strange, as if I had let myself in for something terrible. Colette nodded to Marie, who went over to the chair, where my uniform lay, and picked it up. Colette told me to follow them both down to the kitchen, where the great fire blazed. `First of all,’ Colette told me, `we must get rid of any evidence that you were ever here. For this reason everything you brought with you must be destroyed.’ She nodded again to Marie. I stood there in the nightshirt while the maid threw my battle dress tunic onto the flames. She poked the fire as the uniform was consumed, and soon ceased to be recognisable. Then each of my boots went on the fire. Then my soiled underwear. I was at first glad to see the end of it all, and felt that I was being freed from the horror of army life. Then I saw my uniform trousers go on the fire, and feeling the breeze around my legs, wondered what I would wear now. Soon all I could see were my tunic buttons, and Marie went on poking, so that these would melt. No evidence that I was a soldier remained. Nor any male clothing but this threadbare nightshirt. Then Colette led me away, barefoot in the nightshirt, to another part of the house, leaving Marie to keep my clothes burning. `Now I am going to change you so much, not even that stupid officer would recognise you if he saw you.’
I had never been upstairs in the chateau before. We went into a bedroom, not very large but bigger than most I had been in. It was a ladies’ room, I could see. It had pink and white wallpaper, and almost all the furniture was trimmed with lace. The coverlet on the bed was soft and lacy too. There was a dressing-table covered with bottles and flasks, and other ladies’ cosmetics. Was it Colette’s room, I wondered. As if she had read my thoughts, she told me `This used to be my room, before my father died and I moved into the master bedroom. It will be your room from now on.’ I could not understand this. How could I be expected to live among such feminine surroundings; this confection of pinks and creams?`Now Antoine, you must lose your nightshirt. You will take it off.’ This was shocking: no woman but my mother had seen me naked. But Colette was talking in the same businesslike way she had got me to accept her conditions. I knew I could not refuse. While I stood naked before her, she looked me over. My body was far from manly. I was rather small and thin. In fact I looked much more like a young boy than a soldier. My manhood was not the largest either. I had very little hair on my body. Even my voice was a little high-pitched for a nineteen-year-old boy, as I have already said. Colette asked me if I shaved yet. She was pleased to hear I did not. I was certainly underdeveloped for my age, and Colette seemed pleased at what she was seeing. Despite her businesslike manner. Then she opened a drawer at the dresser, taking something out. Coming back to me she told me to put them on. They were a pair of knickers. At that time knickers were long, coming down past my knees. They were cotton, with wide lace trimmings around the hems of the legs. I felt strange as I pulled them up. They were fairly modern for the time: they did not have an open crotch, as some still did. To feel them against my skin was the strangest sensation. They hung loose, and felt so light, with the lace tantalising my thighs. Then I was told to put on a camisole. This fitted well with the knickers. I now realised how rough the material of my uniform was. This felt very soft, and in a way a gentle caress of my abused body. I was beginning to see what she was doing to me. To my dismay, Colette was dressing me as a woman. Of course I felt that I did not want this; I am, after all, a man. But I had promised to do all she said, in order to hide from the Military Police. If it had been anyone other than Colette who was doing this to me, I might have refused. Then again, I was in a state of near-panic, knowing I would be shot if I was found. I could not think straight, and just did as I was told. Colette then spoke. `Now, Antoine – and I’m calling you Antoine for the last time – I will need to change you completely, and the only way I can hide you is to disguise you as a young woman. I want you to grip the end of the bed while I put this corset on you.’I was shocked to hear this, but did so, while she put this garment around my waist and upper body, threading the strings through the holes in it. Then she was pulling the strings tight, and soon I felt as if I was being crushed, as my waist went inwards, and the flesh on my chest was being pushed upwards and outwards. For a moment I was gasping to breathe.
Colette drew the strings together, tying them into a bow. She then inserted pieces of material into the bosom of the corset. I was finding by now that I could breathe, if I took small breaths. My chest could not expand as I breathed, and for a short while I struggled to breathe. The corset felt tight, and I still found it very hard to wear. I could see my reflection in the dressing table mirror; I had a narrow waist and breasts, just like a woman. It had another effect at the same time. I felt so constricted, I could not easily do anything, other than what I had been told. A sense of being submissive, that I had to accept whatever she did with me, came over me at this point, and stayed. What was she doing to me? I was a man (though not much of one) and she was turning me into a woman. This was to hide me from my pursuers. But even as I had given up the trenches and the army, I was being subjected to something as terrible as this. Me, as a woman! I wanted to die. Now came the stockings. These she rolled up my legs, and tied them above the line of the knicker legs with garters. I was feeling very strange by that time, but apart from the very strange feelings I was having, I was near to panic. But I knew I could not go anywhere from here. In any event the Military Police would soon see me on the road or at a station, and I could not hope to get very far. And I then realised with horror, that all my masculine clothes had gone into the fire, and were at this moment being reduced to ashes. I was trapped, and felt a little like crying. Colette moved me onto the seat in front of the dressing table. `You see,’ she said, `even if I disguised you as a Frenchman someone would ask why you were not in uniform, and check on you. You have no papers. And I do not think I could hide you in the attic. Not for as long as this war may last, and someone would look there first. Now, we must hide that ugly sun-tan.’ She began to put rouge and powder on my face. `For the time being, you must become Antoinette, my cousin and companion. you must learn to walk as a woman, to act and even think as a woman. I will show you everything you need to know. If you learn properly no-one, not even your Sergeant Major, or your idiot officers, would ever suspect that you are the boy that has run away.’ I wanted to ask her for how long must I do this thing. But I was in no position to question her, and realised that there was no easy way out. I had agreed to this, and it would after all hide me from the wrath of my officers.
She painted my lips bright red. `From now on, Antoinette,’ she was telling me, `you must not speak any English. If anyone speaks English to you, you must act as if you did not understand. You must speak French all the time. You already speak it well, and I will help you improve it, so that in a while you will be able to speak it without any impediment.’ She walked away. I saw my face in the mirror, covered with paint and powder. It did not look right, as my hair, like any soldier’s, was cropped short. Colette returned, carrying a wig. The hair was long, and it was reddish brown, a colour almost like mine. She eased it onto my head, and put it into place. It seemed to fit perfectly, and looked so much like real hair that nobody could tell the difference. Now in the mirror I saw a young woman in her corset and frilly knickers. The cosmetics showed their effect. Truly, no-one who had known me would recognise me now. In spite of myself I was soon tossing my new hair over my shoulder, and thinking how pretty I looked. Then I again realised what was happening, and did not know what to think. Colette then put a silky petticoat over my head, bringing it down over me, and it cascaded around my ankles in a wide motion, at the same time hugging the top half of my body. This was the strangest yet. I knew it felt all wrong, but I was feeling strangely soft and at ease with myself. My new clothes were causing me to relax and feel protected from the fears of war and of being caught deserting.Now she produced a dress from the wardrobe to put on me. It was a deep purple, and went down to the ankles too, but I could not help feeling somewhat resigned to it, and at the same time put at ease by this too. Colette did up the buttons, and soon I was a woman, in outward appearance.I cannot describe how I felt when the hem of the dress reached my ankles. The feel of what was clearly a feminine garment. Of course I resented it. No ordinary man would not. But I was no ordinary man, I realised. Although I would not admit it then, there was a sense of reassurance about it. As if by being put into a dress I was being protected from the harshness of the world. Not completely a woman, for then I was told to put on a pair of high boots that laced up and with high heels. It felt difficult at first to walk about in them, for I kept feeling that I would fall over. Now Colette brushed my new hair, saying that we had best see about jewellery the next day. In the mirror I saw my transformation was complete. I saw a young woman, in a long, purple, flowing dress, with long, reddish brown, flowing hair. It was true, I realised, that nobody in their right mind could decide that I was a soldier, had they not known what had just happened. I was truly horrified at what I had become, but fascinated as well.
Colette led me downstairs. I found it so hard going down the stairs, balanced on those high heels, but she held my hand all the way down. When we reached the drawing room she told me to sit down, and rang for Marie. The maid looked surprised when she saw me dressed in that female apparel. Perhaps more surprised at how I looked than the fact that I was wearing it at all. Colette, with a mischievous smile said, `Marie, I wish to present Madamoiselle Antoinette de Colbert, my cousin. Do you think she looks pretty?’ `Yes, Madamoiselle, she looks a very pretty young lady.’ Marie smiled as she said it. She was obviously in on the deception. `Shall I serve the Madamoiselles tea?’ Colette agreed, and Marie left. I noticed straight away that Colette referred to me in French as her `cousine’, not as `cousin,’ as a male cousin would be in French. Also when Marie said that I was a `young lady’ (demoiselle). Strangest of all, both had spoken of me as `she’ (elle). This was all very clear in French, a language where male and female are shown as clearly different. This was not the last time I would be aware of my new gender through language. When Marie had gone Colette spoke to me in a softer manner than before. She had been so businesslike while she was changing me, but now she was more conciliatory. `I’m sorry, Antoinette, I know I’ve forced you into this, but believe me, it is the only way. I know you will find it hard to dress and act as a woman, but at least you stand the best chance of not being discovered. I told her that I understood what she was trying to do, and that I truly appreciated she was putting herself in danger by helping me. She was after all giving me a disguise that no-one would be likely to suspect. `I have thought of all this before,’ she told me. `I thought for a long time that if I could save one soldier from this blasphemy that goes on at the Front, it would be a good deed done for reason and common decency. At least you may never face German bullets, or British ones, ever again. Even in such a terrible war no-one would ever shoot at a woman civilian. `But first you must learn a new name and new ways. You are Antoinette de Colbert, my cousin from the Antilles'(the French West Indies) `who has come to live as my companion for the duration. We will say you are from the Antilles to explain your unusual accent. And I really do have relatives living over there; the de Colberts. I was there before the war, and will tell you all about Martinique.’ `At the same time you will need to be trained in all the ways of womanhood. I will need to teach you to walk and move gracefully, to entertain, and all kinds of arts such as flower-arranging and playing the piano. It will be difficult, but you must try to be as convincing a woman as you can.
`But you must realise that your life depends on how well you can do all this. You may not see very many people, but I am sure that your soldiers will be looking for you. And they will hear if anyone notices anything strange about the new young woman at Chateau Mallarmes. You must work very hard indeed at everything I teach you.’ I was still horrified at being changed into a woman. But I found the idea of flower-arranging and playing music pleasant. Far more than acting like a soldier and being shot at. Still I had to bring up one important issue. `Colette, how long will I need to go about dressed as…like this?’ Colette looked very serious indeed. `I do not know, Antoinette. I have no idea at all. I do not think we can do much while your army is so close. I feel it may not be until after the war is over, and then a little longer.’ I was mortified. `But that might not be for years!’ I remembered when everyone said in 1914 that it would be over by Christmas. Now that was three years ago. `I could not go on living like this all that time.’ `Do you think there is any other way?’ I clutched onto straws. `Yes, if I wore my uniform, or if you lent me some farm-worker’s clothes, I could take my chances on slipping past the MPs and getting back to England.’ `Oh, Antoinette, you are mad!’ (she said `Tu es folle’ and not `tu es fou:’ Another feminine form in French.)`You must have already been reported as having deserted. You cannot hope to get any farther than the railway station. If that far. They are looking for anyone with your description. And they would want to see your papers, which you have not got. They will be looking for you at the Channel ports, and almost everywhere from here to Boulogne.’ `And worse still, you no longer have any male clothes. We just had to burn your uniform, remember. The only men’s clothes we have in this house is the old nightshirt you were using earlier. Even that will have to be burned this very night, to avoid any suspicion. Of course you are free to leave as you wish, but you have no alternative but to stay. And you must stay on my terms.’ It was true. My skirts and petticoats whispered around my legs as in silent mockery. In running from the war I had doomed myself to an indefinite period of dressing and masquerading as a woman. Still, it was better than death – or was it? After talking for a few hours more about dresses and feminine behaviour Colette ushered me up to bed. After undressing me, cleaning off my face-paint and helping me wash, she tucked me up, in a long night dress and cap, between the soft sheets.
Then she kissed me good night, and told me `Tomorrow, Antoinette,you have much to learn.’ I was still in a state of shock, and did not know what to think of it all. But I now felt assured that no-one would ever again make demands upon my manhood which I would never be able to meet.
As promised, my training began the next morning. Marie had filled a small sit-in bath by the fire, and I sat in it, noticing it had sweet-smelling herbs in the water. Then I was dressed in a set of underwear like I had been the previous night. The worst part of it was being laced into my corset. Why should women wear such a garment, that made it so difficult to even breathe? For all that day I could not forget this constricting mass of whalebone and cloth, pinching at my waist, and pushing at the flesh of my chest. At least I had learned to breathe before the day was over, in short breaths. On reflection, there was no doubt, I thought as I looked in the mirror, that my shape was very feminine. My body came out with my false breasts, went in at the waist, and out again at the hips. With this garment under my clothes, I looked unmistakably like a woman. And safe from being arrested, I was beginning to think. Then I was shown an array of dresses and skirts. Some were very narrow, from before the war, although Colette steered me towards more full, wide skirts. `Perhaps I should get you some shorter ones’ she said. I noticed that she was always wearing the new style of skirt that came down just below the knee, showing her dark stockings. Would I like to wear shorter skirts myself? I caught myself thinking. But for me, at least for the present, I had to prance around in long skirts, learning to take little steps. I was to learn how to sit, rise, pour tea, and to place objects, all in such a feminine manner. Colette had me walk around the room, talking little steps, for a long time. It was hard to do all this, in shoes that seemed to want to tip me over. Then she had me walk around with a book balanced on my head. `A young lady should be able to move with grace and decorum’ she told me. Colette often smiled as she had me doing this. I knew that she was trying hard to teach me all this. If I was not a convincing woman, I realised by now, I was in serious danger of being seen through, and arrested as soon as I met someone else. It must have been a total of very many hours that she had me sitting and rising in a very feminine way. I was beginning to like sitting in the drawing room, in that soft armchair, though.
There was a certain serenity in sitting there in my skirts. Once she showed me about sitting at a table. She demonstrated how a gentleman would pull out my chair, while I would sit down. I found the idea of another man behaving towards me in this manner a little strange, and horrifying. I wished at the time she had not mentioned men. I felt as if I was living in a small, imprisoned state. My movements were so restricted, that I was forced to go on in such a dainty manner. Later in the day I tried to cheer myself with the thought that I would stand a better chance at being taken for a woman if a military policeman saw me. I felt pleased with such a thought. Or at least that was what I thought I was pleased at. Most of the day my training went on. Even when I sat down to eat, it was the same. Colette made sure that I ate slowly, taking small mouthfuls. I had got used to eating heartily in the trenches, but Colette told me: a young lady must behave in an elegant fashion, especially at the table. I had never used a table napkin before, but now I learned the arts of proper folding and use. I did not really want to know which fork to use, but Colette taught me mercilessly. A young lady must know all this by my age. She would be taught it all. Indeed there was a large amount of table manners that I had to learn, even before the many arts of entertaining that a young lady needed to know about would be revealed to me. But I must know all of this, and be proficient. If I showed I had no idea of all these feminine arts, someone would be suspicious, and I would risk being caught. At the end of the first day Marie got me ready for bed. When she unlaced my corsets I was surprised at the effect. I could breathe again. Colette came in to brush my wig, to show me what cosmeticsto put on to make my skin soft and beautiful, and eventuallykissed me good night. I fell asleep not knowing what to think. It was a high price to pay for not getting shot at, I thought at the time. But was it at all unpleasant? I felt embarrassed in a masculine sense. I should not be expected to dress as a woman, but Colette was adamant all the way through that there was no alternative. The next morning I was waken by Marie again. I was bathed in the same way, and then laced up again in my corsets. These were a little easier to wear, as I was breathing the right way. Once again I was dressed in petticoats and other lingerie, and then in a blouse and long skirt. More training followed, throughout the day. I was getting so much of it that I was getting confused. And it was so alien to me that I was finding it difficult by now. Perhaps there was a feeling of resentment in me of dressing and learning to behave like a woman.
There was a time that day that Colette said she thought it may be better if she gave up training me as a lady. Perhaps I would be better suited to pose as a servant-girl. This seemed really awful to me. The thought of scrubbing pans and serving her under Marie’s supervision, while still wearing women’s clothes. It was even worse than wearing women’s clothes and a life of leisure. That made me try much harder. I even tried very hard to master the arts of table-manners, so that this would not happen. Colette later said that I was a good pupil. Later I realised one of the reasons why I tried so hard not to be made a servant-girl. The thought of wearing a maid’s uniform, similar to the one Marie did, was terrible to me. I felt that I would not like to trade my soft skirts and lacy petticoats for a life like that. Before I had been there a week, I knew the names of every type of female apparel (in French), could put powder and paint on my face well enough, could go about with a walk and movements that were decidedly feminine. I was speaking French all the time, and was learning new words as I went. Even though I was not to be a maid, I still took my turn in household duties. The house was too big for Marie to keep clean on her own, so Colette and I did some light dusting and sweeping. I put an apron over my blouse and skirt, and went around with a feather duster. Of course I resented all this. I was still a man, wasn’t I? If my fellow soldiers heard about all this, they would laugh and deride me something awful. Then again, they had treated me with contempt the time, and I had never been able to live up to what a man was supposed to be, or even wanted to. I even went through a phase, in the second week, of considering that I had forfeited my manhood by running away, and that my fate of being changed into a woman was a just punishment. So I was `hiding behind women’s skirts’ in more senses than one. I had been called to fight for my country, I reasoned. And when the time had come to give my all, or die resisting the Germans, I had shown cowardice. So this was to be my fate: rather than being shot as a deserter, I was condemned to dress and act as a woman. I was to wear dresses, skirts, petticoats and corsets, and to act in a passive manner. The exercises Colette had had me do: this elegant way of walking, sitting down, curtsying. Of course I was to do all this. I was not a man any more, and was only fit to be a woman. It was a just penalty for a coward, for one who had not been a man when his country called him. I had proved to be no man. So now fate had decreed that I should be a woman. Poetic justice. I thought for a while this may be a fate worse than death, and a deserved one. But later I thought again.
I see now that being a man, as society demands, is a wrong idea, and that I should not have been expected to behave in such an aggressive manner. As Colette had told me, because the crowned heads of Europe had a silly quarrel over who was the top nation and who should have what lands, young men should not have to prove their manhood by killing and being killed. This I was beginning to understand. But by the third week, I was finding being a woman much easier. Perhaps when I looked out of the window to the north, every night that week, to see the flashes of the gunfire and bombs on the horizon, I was feeling safe and reassured that I was not in the middle of that, even if I was dressed as a woman. Or perhaps it was then that I began to like the sensation of lace and satin on my body. Especially after my uniform, I felt soft and at ease with myself. Of course it may be a little more difficult to move around, but even then I was able to do so without stumbling. And it was still not very comfortable wearing corsets all day. It took me a long time to admit it to myself, but my new life in skirts and petticoats was bringing me a peace I had not known since I was a child. Colette noticed in that third week how much at ease I was, and told me that I was doing very well indeed. I was trying the many dresses, skirts, blouses and lingerie that I found in my wardrobe. They were all very pleasant. It might have been hard to admit it, but I, a man, or perhaps a man no longer, enjoyed wearing all these women’s clothes. Underneath I wore the same type of knickers, corsetry and petticoats as usual. On top I always during the day put on an ankle-length full skirt and a tight white blouse, often fastened at the neck with a cameo. In the evenings I was expected to wear more elaborate dresses, satins and lace, as Colette did. My hair – or the hair of my wig – was often tied up in an elaborate style, or pinned up in a simple bun. I was beginning to wish my real hair would grow longer more quickly, so that it could be styled too. Ringlets, perhaps. It was late October, almost a month since I had become Antoinette, that I met someone else in my new sex. Unexpected, Marie announced that Madame Monan and her daughter Michelle had come to call. Colette told her to show them in. I was sitting by the fire, in my long frock, when it happened. I almost panicked, and rose, trying to leave the room before they came in. Colette ordered me to stay (she had not commanded me to do anything for two weeks), saying `You need to meet people, Antoinette. You have the training to do it, and you cannot remain hidden forever. But if you say no more than you need to, you will get through it.’
I dropped Madame Monan a curtsy when Colette introduced me. Madame remarked what a pretty young lady I was. Colette asked me to pour tea, and the conversation went on. I was feeling less tense all the time, and even found it fairly easy to engage in polite conversation. The two French women stayed for almost an hour. I was still nervous, but Colette later told me that I had done very well. When I was introduced as Antoinette de Colbert, Colette’s cousin (or rather `cousine’), who had come from Martinique to be her companion, I found it all very strange. Madame Monan had to know everything about my family, the Antilles and about me. I told them about my father who owned a sugar plantation, my sister who was married, and my own education at a convent school, just as Colette had drummed into me how I must tell it when asked. I was even talking about Sister Anne-Marie who taught me Latin, and how I loved embroidery (this last was true, although Colette had just started teaching me), when Colette intervened, asking me to pour tea, and then changing the subject. I liked Michelle too. She was nearly eighteen, and giggled very often. When her mother asked to see something in another room, and Colette had to go to show her, I was alone with Michelle for a while. Colette later said she was very nervous about leaving me. Michelle told me about her own convent school, which she was leaving at Christmas, and about some funny things that happened recently. We both sat there giggling without stopping. Madame Monan invited us to dinner on Tuesday week just before she left. I felt that I had scored points there, and both Madame and her daughter seemed to like me. Colette then said with a smile, `It appears that you ought to get about more, Antoinette.’ So the following Sunday, I went with Colette to church. When I was much younger I used to go to the French church in London with my mother, but that was some years before. Now I felt such a sense of ease, sitting in the Mallarmes pew with Colette and Marie. It felt a little strange, though. As a woman I was wearing a hat, and I had had to take my hat off when I had gone to church as a boy. The mass was also attended by a number of British soldiers. They sat in pews separate from the French, and I had no reason to speak to them. But I knew I needed to avoid coming too close to them, just in case. I had never known until that Sunday that Sergeant-Major Daly was a Catholic.
But at the end of the mass I found myself in a dilemma. I caught sight of the confessional. Surely what I was doing was a sin against God. Men should not be women!. I was just on the point of going straight into the box and confessing all to the priest. But Colette realised what was happening. She took my arm. `There will be time for that later, Antoinette,’ she whispered to me. `You cannot afford to do anything now, or else you risk being discovered. Come, perhaps you can speak to Father Bernard another time.’ Then she steered me to where Madame Monan and Michelle were, along with some other of the `better’ families of the area. That was the first time I had ventured forth as Antoinette. Now there came several trips to the village. Twice we went to do some shopping, and also to call on various people. I got to know Madame Fourrier, Doctor Martin and his wife, and the Lazaire sisters, two young girls, who thought the world of me. There were no young men around in any of these families, for they had all gone away to the war. This I realised was better for me, for I did not know how I could talk to a man, in my new sex. I soon found all this very easy, as I entered the polite society of the district. No longer was I afraid of being discovered. Colette had trained me very well, I now saw. I felt sure that everyone who met me saw a pleasant young woman. I realised I liked the thought of it. Now I no longer resented my skirts and feminine manner. Of course I told myself all the time that it was better than the trenches. But it may have been hard to admit that I was enjoying my time in the world of women On the Thursday Colette told me that I needed a new dress, as we would be dining with the Monans the following week. She gave me a detailed account of what to expect. It was then that I asked her how I could ever repay her for what she was doing for me. She only said that there may be a time that I would do her family a great service, but not yet. I did not ask her any more about it.So on the Friday we took the carriage to Eglise Saint-Martin. I was shown into the fitting-room of Madame Arouet’s dress shop. When the time came for me to remove my dress and petticoats I almost panicked, but did so without the shopgirl noticing anything. Colette had made me put on a kind of strap which tucked my manhood away, just for times I was to be seen without my skirts and petticoats. It was again very strange, when the shopgirl talked to me, as if I really was a girl from the Antilles, and needed to know what were the right clothes and underclothes to show off a young lady’s figure the best. Soon it was over, without any incident, and I was to return on the Monday for the dress.
Just before Colette and I mounted the carriage, Colette suddenly remembered something she needed at the haberdashers’. She ran off, telling me to wait for her. She was not thinking, because up to then she had made sure I never left her sight when we went out. Still, I was alone in public for the first time since I became a woman, and I felt pleased. I went over to the milliners’ to look in the shop-window. Yes, I was by now looking at ladies’ hats, thinking how I would look in them. No qualms about it. But I was paying too much attention to these creations to realise that someone was coming up from behind. `Mam’selle, turn round, will you.’ said a slurred masculine voice in English. I turned to see two British soldiers. Two lance-corporals, both rather drunk, and looking as if they thought a lot of the sight of me. `My name’s Pete, and this is my pal Henry,’ said one, the smell of beer on his breath. `What’s your name, love?’I was mortified to hear them. And even more horrified to realise that `Pete’ was Lance-Corporal Millson, who had terrorised me since I got to the Front. Now he was making eyes at me, in his drunken way. They were both being very offensive, as if they were thrusting their groins forward as they spoke to me. It was both fascinating and horrifying at the same time. I recovered my presence of mind `Excusez-moi Messieurs, je ne parle pas anglais. Je dois partir..’ I babbled on, trying to convince them I did not understand them. I turned away, knowing how dangerous the situation was. But Millson grabbed my wrist, a little too hard. `Allez..nous… Mam’selle’ he slurred. Then he said to his companion. `If we can get her down the back alley, she’ll drop them for a shilling.’ I felt his other arm snake around my waist, first hugging me, then coming to rest on my buttock, which he squeezed. I squirmed as he touched me there, and felt sick smelling his beery breath. I was terrified. Did they take me for a prostitute? Or were they planning to rape me? Now they would certainly discover my true sex, and would probably beat me up before they turned me in. I opened my mouth to scream, but realised I might easily give myself away. All kinds of questions might be asked, and I may not be able to maintain the deception Here I was, in the middle of the street, with a British soldier holding onto me, one hand holding my wrist, and another caressing my bottom. Millson was pressing up against my body, his groin against my other buttock, where I could feel his rising manhood. This last was the most horrifying, and the most exciting.What could I do? If I screamed I would risk attention drawn to me. Much worse if I tried to fight him off, and even then I would not do very well.
All I could do was to struggle a little, pleading quietly `S’il vous plait Monsieur…lachez-moi…Monsieur…’ Millson was paying little attention, he was both pressing closer to me with his burgeoning penis pushing at me in his trousers, and at the same time trying to steer me towards an opening to an alleyway. `Stop, you men!’ said another male voice. The two soldiers looked up, their faces going white. I looked round, to see Sergeant-Major Daly had just appeared. `Corporal Millson, unhand that young lady.’ He did so, with a sheepish look on his face. Daly gave them a lecture on bothering ladies of breeding, ordered them back to camp, and told them to see him that evening. When the other soldiers had gone he turned to me. He raised his hat. `I am sorry that this has occurred, Miss’ he said in English. `Are you all right?’I babbled on in French. `Merci, Monsieur, je suis tres bien. Ce n’est pas compris. Je dois get her down the back alley, she’ll drop them for a shilling.’ I felt his other arm snake around my waist, first hugging me, then coming to rest on my buttock, which he squeezed. I squirmed as he touched me there, and felt sick smelling his beery breath. I was terrified. Did they take me for a prostitute? Or were they planning to rape me? Now they would certainly discover my true sex, and would probably beat me up before they turned me in. I opened my mouth to scream, but realised I might easily give myself away. All kinds of questions might be asked, and I may not be able to maintain the deception Here I was, in the middle of the street, with a British soldier holding onto me, one hand holding my wrist, and another caressing my bottom. Millson was pressing up against my body, his groin against my other buttock, where I could feel his rising manhood. This last was the most horrifying, and the most exciting.What could I do? If I screamed I would risk attention drawn to me. Much worse if I tried to fight him off, and even then I would not do very well. All I could do was to struggle a little, pleading quietly `S’il vous plait Monsieur…lachez-moi…Monsieur…’ Millson was paying little attention, he was both pressing closer to me with his burgeoning penis pushing at me in his trousers, and at the same time trying to steer me towards an opening to an alleyway. `Stop, you men!’ said another male voice. The two soldiers looked up, their faces going white. I looked round, to see Sergeant-Major Daly had just appeared. `Corporal Millson, unhand that young lady.’ He did so, with a sheepish look on his face. Daly gave them a lecture on bothering ladies of breeding, ordered them back to camp, and told them to see him that evening.
When the other soldiers had gone he turned to me. He raised his hat. `I am sorry that this has occurred, Miss’ he said in English. `Are you all right?’I babbled on in French. `Merci, Monsieur, je suis tres bien. Ce n’est pas compris. Je dois partir…’ I had to convince him that I was French, and female, if I were to walk away free from this meeting. But then he offered `May I escort you to your home, Miss?’ I answered again in French, as if I did not understand him. Luckily, Colette returned at this point, and immediately took charge of me, and after hearing what had happened from the Sergeant Major, thanked him while she steered me towards the carriage. Before getting up to the carriage, I thanked Daly again, in French, and dropped him a curtsy. He responded by raising his hat again. I said little to Colette until we had left town. Then I told her all about it, and who Daly was. Of course it was a near miss, but I had succeeded in convincing him that I was a young girl. And when I was the same soldier who attacked him as I deserted! `Of course,’ said Colette, `you must have made his day. he saw you as a delightful young woman that he had the honour of saving. He’s probably dreaming about you now.’ At first I felt very uneasy about the thought that men could be interested in me sexually. This made me feel vulnerable. But I also saw the funny side of it – Daly had acted in a totally different manner than I had expected him to when I last saw him. We laughed the rest of the way home. That night as I lay in bed, I found myself thinking about my encounter with the soldiers. It was not so much that near escape that was on my mind. It was the feeling of being helpless, restrained by Millson. The sense of being menaced in this way gave me feelings which were not completely repulsive to me. It was the way his erect penis was so close to me that I could feel it. Of course I thought Millson was revolting, but what if it were a more handsome, pleasant young man… Perhaps now that I had become a woman, some experiences on these lines would be possible. I drifted off to sleep, without much thought as to how practicable such ideas were.
The day arrived when we went to dine at the Monans. It was to be another target in my transition into womanhood. Colette had been training me all week for it, and I was less wary about being caught out by then. We arrived at the Monan home in the early evening. The footman took my wrap, and I went with Colette into the drawing room, me wearing my new, beautiful, pink dress for the first time. How proud I was of it, especially when both Dr Martin and Monsieur Monan, a local businessman, both turned to look at me admiringly when I entered. Almost everybody knew me already. Michelle and the Lazaire sisters were present, with their widowed mother. I later met Monsieur Lachaille, Monan’s business partner, with his young second wife Claudine. Their son would arrive later, they said. I was seated when the Lachailles were introduced to me and shook hands with them sitting down. I had always been told to stand up to do so before, but Colette had told me to remain seated to shake hands as women always did. The girls all had much to say to me. They were fascinated by this young lady from overseas. In no time at all we four were sitting giggling and gossiping. The younger Lazaire sister, Marguerite, was in the same class as Michelle at school. Colette felt no need to stay with me then, but went to discuss matters of more importance with Claudine Lachaille. Shortly before dinner was served another guest arrived. A young French cavalry officer entered, and I was introduced to Lieutenant Emile Lachaille. He looked a smart young man, only about twenty, and I found myself thinking that he was rather handsome. I was a little surprised when I held out my hand in greeting. He took it, clicked his heels, raised my hand to his mouth, and kissed it. The sensation of his lip, with his moustache, pressed against the back of my hand. I had butterflies in my stomach as he did it. I found it hard to keep my composure. But I succeeded in holding a pleasant conversation with him. Then came another shock. After the dinner-gong sounded Madame Monan asked Emile to take me in to dinner.Now I did not know how to handle it. I put my arm in his while he escorted me into the dining room. The feel of a young man’s touch was not something Colette had prepared me for. I did not know what to do: should I pretend to enjoy it, in order to keep my credibility? And then, if I was really enjoying it, should I do so? I may be dressed convincingly as a woman, but I was after all really a man. I decided to put all that out of my mind, while I was in such pleasant company.
We had a lovely conversation all through, as he was seated next to me. He deliberately avoided talking about the war, which I was glad of, but talked mostly about his life at the training academy, where he had just finished. I did not tell him any more than the details Colette had furnished me with about Martinique. I did a lot of listening to his pleasant conversation. Then came the moment Colette had warned me about. Madame Monan and Madame Lachaille exchanged nods, and all the ladies rose to leave. I rose too, giving Emile a smile as I did. As I gathered my long, flowing skirts to go, I noticed him watching me, an appreciative look on his face. As was the custom at that point, the ladies went up to use the lavatory, and to attend to their toilet. I took my turn at the mirror, touching up the rouge on my face, titivating with my hair, and joining in the conversation that was already developing among the young women. Then we went down to the drawing room,where we went on with our conversation and gossip. We had left the men to their port and cigars, and their conversation about business, politics and the war.During this time Colette whispered to me to ask if I was all right. I told her I was. At first I had felt a little annoyed about being expected to leave before such `important’ conversation went on. Then again, I soon realised that I did not really want to smoke, drink and talk about war. In fact this lively talk about dresses and young men was far more interesting to me. I joined the other young girls about the sofa in the drawing room.`You temptress, Antoinette,’ Marguerite Lazaire called me as I sat down. `You have Emile Lachaille all over you. I am sure he is really smitten by you.’ I played the role by saying that Emile was a very handsome young man, and that I enjoyed his conversation. I was speaking as if I were a real young girl, who would be really enamoured of such a young man. I was beginning to notice that I was actually feeling exactly like that. Francoise, Marguerite’s elder sister, whispered in my ear that Emile had long been expected to marry Michelle. Was I going to take him from her? `No,’ I said `I do not think so.’ Shortly after the men came in to join us. Michelle succeeded in collaring Emile, and I needed not speak to him again that night. I joined in a conversation about music with Colette and Doctor Martin. Colette later played the piano, and the evening ended pleasantly. But it was the first of several evenings. I did not see Emile again for a while, for he had to rejoin his regiment a few days later, but all those people, especially those young girls, I saw a lot of those few weeks.
There were no balls at that time, for all the young men were away at the war. Still, Colette taught me to dance. In the manner that all young girls learned, as she told me, she wound up the gramophone and we danced together the waltz and all the other dances. `It will be different when you dance with your first man,’ she told me. I was surprised that I no longer found that idea shocking. Of course I was telling myself that I should pretend very hard in order to get away with this. I should even try to feel exactly what a young woman should. But this was already coming very easily. Indeed I was getting butterflies in my stomach whenever I thought of Emile. No matter, I was very convincing, wasn’t I? And it was a few weeks after that first soiree that I received a letter from Emile. It was addressed to `Madamoiselle Antoinette.’ Colette had to help me read it, because I still found it hard in places to read French. It said little other than he was thinking of me, especially in those dark times. But it was not hard to read between the lines. `He’s enamoured of you, Antoinette,’ Colette chuckled. Of course I was flattered, but glad he was so far away. It could be complicated otherwise. Again, I thought, a young man at the Front would be glad of a beautiful young woman to think of, and I was doing him a service. Indeed it was not so long before that I was a young man at the Front myself, as I had to remind myself at that point, and at least as a young woman away from the war I could do a little good. That was my reasoning. But over the next few weeks I was allowing myself all kinds of daydreams. They concerned myself and Emile, where I dance with him at a ball, and how we slip away, and he kisses me in the dark. I was so looking forward to seeing him again. I did write two letters to him. I used some soft, pink writing paper, and sprayed a little perfume on them. Young men like receiving letters from ladies like that. But on Colette’s advice I did not write anything that sounded like I was attracted to him. Even if it were true, she told me, it was not the done thing for a young girl to appear to be `fast.’ Just after Christmas, my first pleasant Christmas since my mother died, we did meet at that ball. It was to be the only ball for some time, given how the war went. How glad I was when I sat in my beautiful pink-and-white ball gown (from Colette’s wardrobe, with an alteration so that I need not show much of my breasts), Emile came up and asked me to dance.
Colette was right! How I loved sailing across the floor, Emile’s arm around my waist, and one of my hands on his shoulder and the other in his hand. I felt so dainty, and so special, to be treated like this. Such a fine young man, and I was so proud to be seen on his arm that night. I felt the envy of so many women. But he did not try to get me away from the ball. And I knew by then that I should never make the first move, for men did not like forward women. It was then that I noticed that I was not the only girl he was paying his attentions to. My adventure did not happen, as I secretly hoped it would. At the gathering of the New Year, Monsieur Monan announced the engagement of his daughter Michelle to Emile. I was very disappointed. I even found myself crying a little in private. Then after a while I dried my tears, while I reasoned that it was much better this way. Of course I could never marry a man, as I was not a real woman. It was very pleasant having this young man’s attentions, and certainly showed how convincing I was. But I must remember that I was only dressed as a woman in order to avoid being shot as a deserter. But I was truly enjoying being a woman. So many lovely experiences. By now there seemed to be no time in sight when I could return to being a man. By the New Year of 1918 I was no longer even thinking about this time. Now I felt content with my frocks and petticoats, and my feminine ways. There was no hurry to become a man again, I now felt. I could happily wait out the war as Antoinette, living the life of a young woman.