The Case of Mata Hari
I finger tapped the heavy file that I had placed on the side table, trying my best to disguise my anxiety
and impatience at the waiting. They told me the lieutenant-colonel was still having a meeting and it
might still take a while before he could see me. I had no choice but wait. It would be bad timing to
cause his displeasure at this critical moment. I was suddenly aware that my palms were damp; I had
been sweating, as if my own life was on the line.
But it was not I who was on trial.
I flip open the first page of the file and her picture jumped at me: her oval face with the porcelain-like
skin tone, her pencil-lined nose, sensuous mouth always suggestive of a deep kiss, her exotic
oriental costume as a Balinese dancer, the cleavage between her breasts clearly visible between the
bejeweled cups of her stage-brassiere. Her eyes were downcast in this picture, as if she was too shy
to look right into the camera, or that even then she could sense a tragic turn in her life---too many
How can she possibly be a spy?
I do not believe it. I refuse to believe it!
No, I do not judge by experience alone. The past months spent as the captain prosecutor of the case
led to the building up of this file. I had volunteered to find enough evidence to indict her. My superior
gave me his backing, putting in strong recommendation based on my excellent legal expertise both in
la Faculté de la Place du Panthéon and active service.
« It is the right thing to do, my son. A traitor like that only deserve one end : facing a firing squad ! »
I had kept my lips tight, my thoughts locked, least they would betray my real intention. I volunteered
for the job not because I wanted to find her guilty. Quite the contrary, I did that because I knew it was
the only chance to find her an escape from that fate. Under ordinary circumstances, I might be of
greater help to her as her defending counsel. But this is no ordinary time. We are at war and it is
military tribunal under which the defense was not even allowed to question its own witnesses. She
would have no chance at all if left to these hounds who had sensed blood in the air.
No, the case can only be broken down from within. And I am determined to be that key that will unlock
For the past months, I have interogated her no less than fifteen times. I was harsh at the questioning
sessions, least someone would report my being too sympathetic to the accused. I knew her past life
now as much as I know the lines on my own palms. I knew about her unhappy childhood, her ruinous
marriage to that Dutch officer, the death of her son, her divorce, her jumping from bed to bed after
returning to Europe. I knew her preferences to men in uniform, any uniform. I know of her
promiscurity, her abandonment of her body at a whim, or out of charity, favoring common soldiers who
could never pay the same price she demanded from officers. Yes, she is a harlot, as she admitted.
She has slept with half of the men all over Paris and a few on the other side as well.
But I love her !
Yes, I, Pierre Bouchardon, captain of the French Army, her prosecutor, has loved her for so long time
! And no just since she was arrested and I handed the case.
She could not recognize me when I first walked into that cell at St Lazara prison. There were too many
men in her life : come and go. And a body was just a body, possibly, the faces are not essential to a
few nights’ pleasure. She could not recall our week spent together in a small hotel outside the capital.
I was much younger then, leaner, still full of ideals and dreams. How could I grow old so fast while she
seems ageless ? She was no different from the very first night I took her to bed. Even now, when I
questioned her in that cell, I could recall her every curve by looking at her clothed figure : the
breasts, the nipples, the slim waist for her years in dancing. We made love so many times, she was
both tender and enticing, cunning even at times, wouding her legs round my waist like slim serpents.
« You are my apple-boy. » she had said.
And I had laughed.
« You do not even ask for my name. » I mused.
« Names are superfulous. I know you are someone I can count on you. » she countered with a giggle.
I was madly in love for her. I made her wear her stage costume, those exotic brassieres and corsets
and headgears. I called her my princess. She laughed.
« Don’t you find my breasts too small ? » she asked.
« Is that why you always take the bra off only at the end, hiding what you think is imperction ? »
« No. I think you are the most beautiful women in the world, at least the most beautiful I have and ever
will hold in my arms. »
She was touched and drew me close ; i undid her brassiere, pressed her body against mine. She
undid my army shirt.
The world was so beautiful then, and so much kinder.
We parted on friendly terms. I would love to have her as my wife but that would not be possible. My
career would be ruined by marrying a courtesan. In any case, I was just one of her men, and only a
If I am one of the more cynic type, i might have rejoiced to find our changed positions, the table
turned against her. But I cannot bear doing that. I lover her, still, may be now more than ever. And I
know I am the only thing that stands between her and the firing squad. To ensure she would not recall
me, I deliberately feigned to have the habit of biting my own nails during the interrogation, a habit I
never possessed. She found it annoying and would never connect me with that young lieutenant she
had called her apple-boy. All the better.
« Captain Bouchardon ! »
I pulled myself back from the reverie.
The door of the colonel had been flung open and I was summoned in.
Albert-Ernest Somprou was never someone I like to face. Conservative, cold and heartless, he had
sent many debatable men to face firing squads and I shuddered upon learning he was to be the
presiding officer at the tribunal.
I saluted and placed the file with feigned respect on his table.
« Well, Captain Bouchardon, have you found out the things we wish to know ? »He did not even raise
his head when speaking but carried on signing documents. I fought the idea that they were death
« On the contrary, Sir. I believe she was not what we think she is. I can find no evidence whatsover
that she works for the Huns. »
This time, he looked up.
« What are you saying ? Captain, let me remind you that this harlot Margaretha Geertruuda Zelle, who
called herself Mata Hari had provided information to the enemy, selling our plan of attack and that, led
to 50,000 men being slaughtered in the attack ! 50,000 men, Captain ! All of them your countrymen,
your comrades, brothers ! And you have the guts to walk in to tell me that she is innocent ? » His
voice had risen to a thundering, intending intimdation.
But I was not to be intimidated.
« Sir, after questionning her over and over again, I cannot find a shred of evidence that she was
indeed the Agent H 21 the Huns mentioned. Besides, with due respect, I suspect they know we have
broken their code months ago. Why should they keep on using it to uncover an agent of theirs ? It is
insanity ! »
« Captain ! Don’t you dare speak to me this way ! It is not for you to judge military intelligence and
whether the enemy knows we have broken their code or not ! she is responsible for the deaths of
those 50,000 men out there ! People are screaming for her head ! «
Suddenly I understood. It was not that the army was convinced of her guilt. The top brass just needed
a scapegoat to put the blame of needlessly sacrificing whole divisions of our young men by sending
them over the top in a fiasco !
She was condemned even before she could walk into that courtroom.
I made one more effort to rescue her from her fate.
« Sir, at least give her benefit of the doubt. Lock her up and keep her there until we win the war. Do
not put the blood of an innocent young woman on your hands. »
He was unmoved. « Captain, I can see that you are no longer qualfied to act as persecutor. You are
relieved of your duty and I will assign someone to take your place. Dismissed ! »
« I... »
« I said : dismissed ! » He roared.
I swear that I would have shot him if I had my side-arm with me then.
As it was, I made a customary salute, turned and cursed him and his mates to hell !
The trial was a sham.
They alloted her Edouard Clunet as her defence counsel. He was over seventy years old and though
still sharp legally, was never expertised in this kind of trial. It was later that I learned the old man was
also once her lover.
My role was replaced by Lieutenant Andre Mornet, who lusted after her blood.
They found her guilty, as expected. The sentence : death by firing squad.
There was nothing I could do to save her. But I still had connections. After serving so many years in
legal practise, there were clients in high places who could pull strings. I could not save her, but I
could at least make her end easier.
I visited her cell again, this time much cleaner than before, partly because I had instructed the nuns in
charge to make it so, and also they were more considerate, now that she was a dead woman walking.
« I am sorry to bring you the bad news. » I almost choked at the words.
She was surprisingly calm, as if this had long been expected. She rose from her simple bed and
« Thank you for all you have done for me. I know I can count on you, at least trying your best. You are
always my apple-boy. » She whispered into my ear.
My face must have gone white, not of fear, but shame. So, she had recognized me all along.
I tried to speak but she hushed me.
« Let us dance. »she whispered.
There was some far away music coming probably from the warden’s office. It was a slow waltz.
We danced. Her body clung to mine as she rested her head on my heaving chest. I tried to choke back
the tears but could not. Her shoulder was soon damp.
« I did not know it was you until sometime into our questioning sessions. But one time, you came
close to me and I recognised you. » she kept on murmuring in a low voice.
« How ? All these years... »
« Your body smells different, don’t you know ? You have the fragant of an apple in it. And a woman
never forgets that. »
« I am so sorry. » I could no longer control the sobbing.
« Do not be. I know how to die when the time comes. Let us dance. »
And the music went on. And I wished it would never stop.
She was executed on 15 October 1917. It was a beautiful late autumn morning.
I was allowed to go to her cell to escort her on her last journey.
« What should I wear ? » she mused.
I simply stood there like a lame duck.
She picked up a white blouse, low cut enough to show her cleft and a good part of her breasts. Even
till the end, she wanted to remain enticing.
It was accompanied by a long black skirt.
I walked her to the execution ground.
Twelve Zouares had lined up, rifles ready.
« Thank you, Pierre. Good bye. I will die bravely. I promise you. »She managed to say this with a smile.
I had to wipe my eyes clear of the flooding tears.
The non-commission officer guided her to the assigned spot. He offered to blind-fold her, but she
declined. Out of respect for her courage, he did not bind her wrists behind her back.
« Do you have anything to say before you die ? » he asked.
« I may be a harlot. But a traitor, never. »
I knew she wasn’t. How could she be, this angel ? And she was Dutch, not even French !
« Ready ! »
The Zouares clock their weapons.
My heart was racing so fast. I fixed my eyes at her, hoping to steady her courage.
But it was not really necessary.
She blew a kiss, seemingly towards her executioners, but both she and I knew it was intended to be
« Aim ! »
« Fire ! »
The volley thundered through the morning air.
I watched tiny red flowers sprouted out of her chest, dying the white blouse crimson. A shot had
found its mark above the rim of the garment and dented a blood hole in her left breast. « Don’t you
find my breasts too small ? » she had once asked.. »
« They are perfect » I had reassured her.
Slowly, inertly , she settled to her knees, her head held high and there was no expression of fear or
even pain on her face. For the fraction of a second it seemed she tottered there, on her knees,
gazing directly at those who had taken her life. Then she fll backward, bending at the waist, with her
legs doubled up beneath her.
I noticed a slight heaving of her spoiled chest. She was still alive, though only barely.
The non-commissioned officer walked up to where she lay, pulled out his revolver and shot her at the
They dragged her body unceremonously away, but the ankles, as if she was a slaughtered cow. I
should have protested, but someone I lost all motivation to act, to move, to live. It was just her body
anyway. She was no longer in it.
I applied for transfer back to the front soon after that. It was immediately approved. No doubt
someone wanted me killed in action to be rid of the trouble. A dead soldier-lawyer speaks naught. But
I survived. And the following year, the War was won.
What a pity ! If she had held on for just a few more months, she might be acquitted. Who would have
the heart, or reason, to shoot a woman after victory ?
I left the army and went into private practice, quite successfully. But I knew I had lost the one case
that mattered most in my life. And on that October morning, my life had ended with the ring of firing
What is left for me is only endurance : old age, regret and the memory of a woman who is the love of
Comment from: Hitomi
Date: March 19, 2012
I had tried writing up a story about Mata Hari over three times in the past and tore
up every one of them. Somehow, they did not look right and I knew her fleeting
spirit was evading me. So much had been written about her, made into movie etc
that made it difficult, if not impossible, to dig deeper to display something new.
Then, it struck me.
To write about Mata Hari, I have to stop being Mata Hari but to see her from a third
person's eyes, a critical pair of eyes. And what better pair could there be than her
persecutor, and not just any persecutor who would be hostile, determined to end
her life, but a sympathetic one who was secretly trying to rescue her from the
Hence, this story came out.
I hope you like it.
I had been deliberating whether to post this one or one of my other stories"The
Arena". Finally, I chose this one. May be "The Arena" can come up next as it is a
futuristic kind of story and may be a bit too close to the previous one posted, "The
A million thanks to Othello for taking his time and effort to post this and finding the
right picture to go along. Mata Hari is seductive and beautiful in it. I think she will
Comment from: Nastassja
Date: March 24, 2012
You know, other than the fact that the name "Mata Hari" has become synonymous
with "female spy", I really didn't know a thing about her real life. Your research for
this is so meticulous, Hitomi, I felt as if I was reading a beautifully dramatic
documentary of her story. Fascinating woman!
Her ending was very moving -- you always succeeding in wringing emotion from
me, Hitomi. When your brave women meet their ends, I never fail to have a tear in
And I like the photo of her too...shows me all the more how precise your research
is, Hitomi, with her comment that she thought her breasts were too small...and yet
she is mesmerizing, both in her photograph, and the picture-in-words you created
Thank you for another amazing tale.
Comment from: Hitomi
Date: March 27, 2012
Before I wrote this story, my knowledge of Mata Hari was not much different from
yours. But as I read more about her, I got a deeper understanding of the woman
who had been turned into a pop figure and a kind of sex symbol.
The real tragedy was not that she was shot (though that, by itself, was sad enough)
but that justice was never done to her name, and probably never will.
Now working on a new story which I hope can be finished during Easter and can
come out after "The Arena".
Wishing you all a most pleasant weekend and Happy Easter.