the Prussians Came to Poland
The Experiences of an American Woman
during the German Invasion
Laura de Gozdawa Turczynowicz
GROSSET & DUNLAP
Fig. 1. Facsimile of the German Passport Issued to the Author
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
Fig. 2. The Author and her Children in America after their Escape from Poland.
Wanda Jolanda, Stanislaw Piotr, Wladislaw Pawel.
WHEN THEY SHALL HAVE
I HAVE written our story because so many people have asked me to. Also, in the hope of helping Poland. She is worthy of help, martyred, devastated, trodden under the Prussian boot as she is!
The wife of a gallant Pole now serving humanity with the Russian Army as inspector-in-chief of the Sanitary Engineers, and the mother of two sons, to say nothing of a dear little daughter, I have the cause of Poland at heart! Much pressure has been brought to bear upon me, that I should advocate the sending of food into Poland. I cannot, in the light of my own experiences do so. Under the existing circumstances I know it would riot be the Poles who would eat the bread sent them!
After the war is over, those still alive, the fittest who survive, will need quick and generous help from America---seeds to plant their fields, implements to use in cultivating them. Before the war my husband worked so hard to help the peasants; to educate them, to teach them how to get the most out of their bits of land. How often I have driven with him away off to some tiny village, where the people would be gathered in the school, to hear how to plant their fields, their good kind faces weather-beaten, and showing the difficulty of their struggle with nature!
In Suwalki there was a Polish club, an agricultural society, with a fine building, where agricultural machines might be rented, or people helped in buying. Noble and peasant could borrow money to improve their land. How painful it was to see those machines dragged off to East Prussia, knowing the effort it had cost to get them!
Poland was in a wonderful state of evolution just before the war broke out. Surely it is only hindered, not stopped!
Fig. 3. Madame Laura de Gozdawa Turczynowicz (née
From a photograph by Newman, New York
As a New York girl, I am afraid I knew very little about agriculture, but from the frequent journeys with my husband, and hearing his lectures as a Professor of the old Polish University in Cracow, I learned a little, and to love the peasants, as he did. It was a different life I stepped into after my marriage. I had left America like so many girls, to study and sing in Europe, but, after three years, work and play, married a Polish nobleman, and have never regretted it, for until the war separated us, not only by miles, but armies, I was happy as few women are. However, we have suffered---there must be an end! I have not looked Death in the eyes so often without learning to be patient, and wait.
LAURA DE GOZDAWA TURCZYNOWICZ.
NEW YORK, 1916.
|HOW THE WAR CAME TO US IN POLAND|
|THE FIRST DAYS|
|THE FIRST PATIENTS|
|AN AEROPLANE VISITS US---AND A CRIPPLED LAZARETTE|
|WE ARRIVE IN RUSSIA|
|I SEE MY HOME ONCE MORE|
|THE SURROUNDING COUNTRY|
|OFF TO GALICIA|
|BACK TO SUWALKI|
|THE GERMANS OCCUPY SUWALKI|
|THE CHILDREN RECOVER|
|THE CONDITIONS AMONG THE MILITARY PRISONERS|
|THE CAPTAIN RETURNS|
|THE LIVES OF THE TOWNSPEOPLE|
|THE SALE OF ALCOHOL IS ONCE MORE PERMITTED|
|IN TROUBLE THROUGH THE CHILDREN|
|A NEW PETITION|
|A NEW FRIEND|
|IN THE RUSSIAN HOSPITAL|
|THE PRUSSIAN TREATMENT OF THEIR OWN|
|AFTER THE FALL OF WARSAW|
HOW THE WAR CAME TO US IN POLAND
VERY near the, borderline between Russia. and Germany lies Suwalki. It was a delightful, old-fashioned spot full of homes, and with many estates in the neighbourhood. As one says in Polish, there were there very many of the "intelligence," meaning the noble class. People who were proud of the heirlooms, the old and valuable furniture, the beautiful pictures and books contained in their homes.
Into this old-world peace, came war, and of the homes and people, there is left only destruction and hopeless grey misery. How well I remember, and with what astonishment I think upon all that was before war was declared.
Is it possible that there in Poland peace once was? That one's home was one's own,---that no strange men came to peer into all one's belongings, and take what they could manage to carry away, destroying the rest? That, once upon a time, the people might smile? Say what they would, go out or stay at home as it pleased them to do? That there was no hunger,---that they might go into a shop and buy food for their little children with no possibility of refusal or being told that the goods so invitingly displayed were only for the military? That there should have been light and heat and medicine for the sick, and comfort for the dying? Was there such a time when the people dared to breathe and, with wonderful Slavic gaiety, throw off the troubles, which now seem nothing, and be happy? With eyes and heart full of war visions, it seems to me there never was a time when any one smiled in all that unhappy, martyred land.
Fig. 4. A Corner in the Home Gardens
For that summer of 1914, we had settled ourselves, after a short sojourn in Suwalki, following a winter in Nice, in a most delightful spot---a brand new villa on the edge of the great Augustowo Lakes in the heart of the wonderful forest. A more beautiful spot than it was would be hard to imagine. We were all tremendously happy, healthy, and free. The children were often all day long in the forest with their governess. There was a pony carriage for their especial use and a horse much addicted to sugar and possessed of very quiet nerves. In the wonderful white June nights, when the sun took a very short rest, the birds must really have been tired, they sang so the night long! We often went out on the waters in the middle of the night to be ready to greet the sun after his short retirement. All was peace and beauty! This quiet life, full of simple pleasure, lasted through the month of July, and on the second day of August we were expecting a large house party. My husband was not in the country with us, but in Suwalki for a few days, and I wondered why he did not come on the evening of the first of August. We waited dinner, and were sure he would be there, as he is a man who never disappoints. However, I waited in vain and felt the events of the future casting their shadows before them. Despite my later experiences with bitter unhappiness I must say I was terribly unhappy that night. After being most wakeful, I fell, towards morning, into a very sound sleep, only to be awakened about four o'clock by a violent rapping on my window. I sprang up quickly in order to still the noise before the children should be aroused, thinking something was needed by the servant going into the town to the market. There I was confronted by Fate in the form of my husband's man, Jan, white and solemn-faced.
"My lady, there is war," and he handed me a card from my husband.
"War is declared. Come immediately with the children. Let the servants pack up what you wish to bring and come on later in the day."
To read this in the beauty of that summer morning and feel one's world crumble about one! Bidding the man wait, I hurriedly wrapped myself up and stole out of the house to arouse our people. The servants slept in quarters a little removed from the house, and I was forced to rap and call loudly before they could be aroused. Then they came,---first the cook---a noted person afterwards and the maids. They were sleepy and still engaged in completing their very simple toilets.
"The master has sent for us. We must go immediately to Suwalki. There is war with the Germans."
When I told them this, they stared at me, and as one, like a chorus, threw their aprons over their heads and began to howl, just as a dog keens and whimpers in the night when he is frightened, the most horrible sound one could imagine, and which almost made me lose my scarcely retained self-possession. I was forced to threaten them with all sorts of punishment before they could be made to stop that blood-curdling noise! Then, saying that they were to prepare breakfast, so that we could leave the minute the children were ready, I went over the hill towards the forester's. I can never forget that walk in the early stillness, through those woods and fields, which were so soon to be literally wet with blood! I remember, just as we reached the crest of the hill, turning to ask a question of Jan---just to hear my own voice, the future began to look so very black. I found poor Jan was gallantly striving to keep the tears back. When the poor fellow had pulled himself together enough to speak, he told me that he was called, and must be back and ready to march a. twelve o'clock. The mobilization had begun! The poor boy was sure he was going to his death, and said he "would never again be seen by his lady!" but he was, for, as Fate would have it, two months afterwards I closed his eyes in the hospital. Shot to pieces almost, death was a merciful relief!
We reached the house of the forester, Majewski, and here also had great difficulty in making them hear us. Finally the forester, his wife, and children tumbled out, with eyes full of sleep, and of course dressing themselves on the way! When I told the forester what the master had written, he said:
"Oh, the master is over-anxious! There is no war! Let my lady permit me to go to Suwalki to see what the trouble is, and let my lady rest quietly here! If there were war, my three strong sons and good horses would be called out!"
After telling him to do as he was bid, instead of advancing ideas of his own, I left him under orders to bring his horses and wagon, and to get some of the adjoining peasants and their wagons also. Almost running on my way back I was greeted from a distance by an uproar! My children were crying from the discomfort of being awakened so early, and had raised their voices in protest at the general state of disorder.
These three were Wanda, six years, and Stanislaw and Wladislaw, twin boys, five years! I think they were also protesting that no one was paying the slightest attention to them, and that was a state of affairs to which they were not used!
I found the dining-room in a most curious state. The things which were absolutely necessary to serve breakfast were being already packed, necessitating the unpacking. My governess, Panna Jadwiga, was the only help I had, trying valiantly to help me quell the miniature riot! When we had given the children something to eat, and were quite ready, I found there was a strike! The servants refused to remain behind without me, wishing to let everything go and get to the town. They might as well have done so for of all the silver, rugs, and furniture, there is no vestige remaining! However, not yet understanding what war means, I stopped and struggled with them until things were fairly well packed. I was obliged to drive them for they were quit mad with fear of what would befall them---stumbling over each other as if blind, and constantly looking over their shoulders to see if a German were not ready to seize them! At eleven I gave up and said the children could not be kept about any longer, and I was so sorry for my husband waiting all this time; feeling also the need of hearing his voice. So, stowing the children away in their own carriage, which they were using for the last time, their governess, to say nothing of Dash, the white Spitz dog, and myself, who had also to be the coachman, we started, leaving the peasants still weeping and wrangling, to follow or stop as they would.
I found even the quiet nerves of the horse had been affected!---perhaps because no one had thought to give him sugar, and he was a pampered animal. Whatever the cause, he shied continuously the whole way through the forest. I was so nervous every sound made me jump. Very soon we came across many sad groups. Women escorting their men to the mobilization centres. . . . Misery had already come to dwell in Poland! The men had at least some excitement, but oh---be sorry for the women---the poor left-at-home women, with the drudgery and the grey anxiety,---and the waiting---waiting---always waiting.
We met many loads of people already hurrying to the town. In fact, our dog Dash had a brisk exchange of hostilities with a pig tied on behind one load of household goods, surmounted by the family. I know Dash returned in a filthy state, expressing a lively satisfaction with the encounter.
After leaving the woods, we were overtaken by a terrific storm right in the middle of the open fields surrounding Suwalki. Panna Jadwiga took all three children in her arms, and we covered them as best we could. The umbrella was on hand, but in such a storm of little avail. The summer air had changed into a wintry one, the sleet blinding both me and the poor horse. In the few minutes it lasted the road was transformed into a torrent, and if the road were remarkable at the best of times, what was it after such a deluge? Horse and driver clung bravely together, and finally were able to open their eyes. A few minutes after, in the midst of sunshine, but oozing water from every stitch of clothing, from hair and hat, we drove through the town. At any other time such a dramatic entry would have aroused much comment,---but when war has been declared, it takes more than a few wet people to make other people stare.
After arriving at our home, our man Jacob took the horse, and it was the last time we saw him. The faithful creature---I have always regretted not giving him one parting lump of sugar.
My husband was in a very nervous state, not knowing why he had been disobeyed. The master's word is law in Poland. But, knowing the peasants, he understood the impossibility of doing anything else, and leaving the children sitting up in bed drinking hot milk, we started for the hotel to see if we could not get something to eat, neither of us having tasted food that day. We found every place crowded. No one wanted to stay home,---the Demon of Unrest had entered every breast. Such was our first day of the war!
THE FIRST DAYS
THE first few days after war was declared were full of interesting events. The most notable was the wonderful change of popular feeling. Before the war there were many misunderstandings, to put it mildly! The two peoples, Russians and Poles, divided by every sentiment, tradition, and by religion (the Poles are Roman Catholic, the Russians Greek Catholic), are so nearly related that, like members of a family, when a quarrel arises between them they become the bitterest of enemies! All these differences were put aside, and a real brotherhood sprang into existence. How astonishing and how delightful it was to see them united, all expressing the same sentiment! To me it came as a great surprise---being born in America, and a Slav by marriage. Such a revolution to take place in one day-surely only the Slavic people could accomplish it! All were glad, and felt good would come to Poland.
The third day we were much occupied organizing the Polish Red Cross for those two governments, Suwalki and Lomza. My husband was President, and his position was not an enviable one. The difficulties of getting Polish people to work together are almost insurmountable, owing perhaps to their unfortunate national history. However, we finally got our committee together, and made steps towards getting a hospital open. I remember one thing especially. Towards evening the disturbing rumour circulated that there was to be no war! The maddest excitement prevailed. Not only the upper classes, but the peasants stood about discussing it---fearing they should be disappointed. I also know the suggestion was seriously discussed of sending an expression of devotion and fealty to Petrograd! It was understood that the delay had been caused by uncertainty as to the intentions of England. If his Imperial Majesty, the Czar, received no message from that comer of his domain, expressing the hope that even if England did not go to war, Russia would, the reason was that the rumour proved unfounded. War had come.
The first sound of marching troops came Sunday, one week after the first news. About four o'clock in the morning we were awakened by the marching of men---great masses of men on the move. Of course the whole town was alive in no time. The soldiers were tired and hungry from their long journey afoot,----most of them had come from Minsk and were hungry. Food and comforts were simply showered upon them by the townspeople, rich and poor. It was a relief to have something to do. We invited the officers as they came along to breakfast, and had a cauldron of soup and heaps of bread in the courtyard for the soldiers. So great was the fervour of helping that every few steps along the roadside someone stood handing things out. I remember one soldier wanted a drink of water, and two small boys in their zeal to get there first got into a fight, in which their families also joined. That day there was still laughter along with the tears. We entertained the sappers that night because they only went on the next day to East Prussia. The captain was a Pole, a friend of my husband's. After this first break for the front, men were simply poured into East Prussia. The wagons made one great roar-night and day.
In the town were also various changes. With few exceptions all the Russian families decided to go to Russia. Trains were set aside for this purpose, and at the stations many sad and many very amusing things occurred. It was sad for these people to leave their homes and all their belongings, to see their husbands and sons marching off to war, not even to have the comfort of stopping there a little nearer to them. Many ladies started out with two or three soldiers carrying their pet possessions---even some pieces of furniture, samovars---dogs of course were many. All had to be left at the station, and happy the woman who found a seat for herself in those awful trains packed with people as sardines are packed in a tin. One officer's wife told me afterwards that for a day and a half she did not sit down, and finally, from fatigue, slept standing! Ah, yes! War is neither a comfortable nor a pleasant experience.
I think it was about a week after the first news when the Ukase of the Czar was published---that all spirits were to be destroyed, and the use of alcohol forbidden. What excitement prevailed over this announcement in a country where at dinner one must reckon at least one bottle of wodka for each guest! Such strong stuff was it that the only time I ever tried it I thought my last moment had come! The day before the official destruction was to take place we went to get alcohol for the hospital---both the pure, and the coloured for burning in lamps, etc. There were tremendous crowds about, all struggling to get a last bottle to drink, already drunken---without shame, and horrid! I thought then what a wonderful thing the Czar had done for humanity. How brave it was deliberately to destroy a tremendous source of income in order to help his people! We were forced to have police protection to bring the bottles home. Such bottles! Each one holding twelve quarts!
The next day we saw the destruction of the "Monopol." The chief of police ordered all spirits carried to the top of a hill in the outskirts of Suwalki---then with much ceremony the bottles were smashed, letting the fiery stuff flow in streams! What cries there were from the people---the peasants threw themselves down on the ground, lapped the wodka with their tongues, and when they could swallow no more they rolled over and over in it! After a while my husband thought it better to leave; even in an automobile there was little safety among such mad creatures. We were very glad when "King Alcohol" had been vanquished, and we shuddered to think what would have been if such an orgy had taken place without police to quell it!
That same evening, a friend of ours was called to the colours. He was glad to go,---the more so that his wife was a German! He gave me letters for his wife should he not return. I remember his eyes, full of premonitions, yet glowing with a desire to meet the time-old enemy of the Poles! He never returned; if taken a prisoner, it is all over long ago. We sent the letters to his wife who was with friends in the depths of Russia.
How the different people we knew and were near to come before my eyes. All, all gone. All those homes swept away,---out of existence, but " God lives "! It cannot be all in vain, the bloodshed and sorrow!
THE FIRST PATIENTS
OUR hospital was quickly arranged. We had accommodations at a pinch for two hundred and fifty. There was a wonderful and generous response from the people---linen, bedding, beds, food all poured in. These were curious days. Life was full of excitement. It was as if we expected something to happen, and we waited---everyone nervous, excited, keyed up! My hands were more than full. Knowing how to sew, and not knowing any other lady who did, I was forced to take charge of the work rooms until the linen closet was ready for use. There had been absolutely no preparation of any description! We had to begin from the first. Except for the constant stream of forage wagons, and occasional regiments, life began to be rather quiet,---to take on a certain routine. We constantly increased our supplies. The possibility of foodstuffs getting dear and scarce was, of course, to be taken into consideration; but no one dreamed of such a thing as the enemy getting them. Our army had pushed on so valiantly.
Time dragged in those days of preparation. One always thought and wondered what would come next. It was like walking in the dark and expecting to fall into the sea. But one night about twelve o'clock, the first loads of wounded came to Suwalki. The nights are always cold there, and sounds carry startlingly. We heard the cars stop,---motor trucks packed full of groaning, coughing humanity! They had been transported a long distance, and were on the verge of exhaustion. In such numbers were they we were forced to have food cooked in our own kitchens to help out. The next day we had over five hundred in our hospital! The base hospitals were filled, and then emptied into hospitals like ours.
In the next few days, the Russian Red Cross came also, and even they ran out of things I know my workshop was put into use making shirts, etc., for them. It was a delight to do such work; and what a pleasure it was when the director gave me fifty roubles to pay the sewing women, who were in need. We had a fund started to aid the women. Those who could sew were already employed. The real work came at this time. One wished to comfort all those poor fellows. How sad we felt that we had not enough beds to go around. Still there was plenty of good clean straw.
In the hospitals the floors were full. One had to step carefully; I began to get acquainted with the Russian soldiers. What splendid fellows they are---such a childlike simplicity of nature, such bravery and devotion . They always seemed to understand my remarkable Russian; I had just begun to learn to speak it.
One room in the hospital we gave over to Germans who had been taken prisoners. They were treated with the greatest consideration, and had just the same fare as the others. I remember one day walking through the ward speaking to the different ones. A young boy asked me when the Russians would begin to torture him! I asked where he got such an idea, and he replied that they had been told in Germany what would happen if they ever got caught---that they had been preparing for the worst ever since taken---that they thought we were feeding them up to make them suffer more! When it was explained to them how everyone was full of the best and kindest intentions, the faces brightened and one or two who had refused to speak began to ask questions, and feel that life was not quite ended for them.
Suwalki grew very busy as the days went by---wounded coming and going---being transported after a few days' care in our hospitals first to Wilno, and then on to Moscow.
AN AEROPLANE VISITS US----AND A CRIPPLED LAZARETTE
ONE afternoon my husband and I, after some hard work in the hospital, were drinking tea in a cukiernia---when an aeroplane bombarded the town! Ah! That is the time each seeks what is nearest to his heart! There was a wild fusillade of bullets---even the men in the town taking a shot---firing madly; but the aeroplane got off---free---after dropping a number of bombs and doing astonishingly little damage. One bomb struck the Boys' Trade School---fatally injuring the little four-year-old son of the caretaker.
On the 28th day of August---my birthday---a Russian Sister came to me to see if we could help their hospital---a field lazarette, with about one hundred and fifty beds. They had been turned back from the front and could not get supplies. There were three doctors, four nurses, and various orderlies---quartered in one of the barracks---with almost seven hundred wounded! Of course the staff were exhausted, and no supplies! What could four nurses do with such a mass of humanity? I went there with some of my people to see what could be done to help out. The memory of that place will always remain, for there, for the first time, I came face to face with awful suffering. At the very door one heard the low murmur of misery; one room after another packed with men, who could not be helped. There were no medicines---no disinfectants---no linen. In one corner were some prisoners. The sister (nurse) on duty asked me to go to them because I spoke German. One poor fellow, turning restlessly from side to side---calling ceaselessly for water---was quieted when I spoke to him, asking what he wanted. He begged for a drink, and that I should write to his wife, as he felt death upon him. While I was doing what was possible to help him, the poor fellow began to talk. He told me that he had been a bookkeeper, that he was twenty-six years old, and had a wife and children, a little house of his own, had never harmed any one in his life, took no interest in anything outside of his work and family, until with three hours' notice he was ordered to join his regiment, and leave it all.
"The great lords have quarrelled and we must pay for it with our blood, our wives, and children." This man was transported that same day, and died on the way to the station.
So hopeless it was trying to help until there was something to help with, that I drove back to the city to see different people, and in a short time had gathered more than a thousand roubles with which to replenish the lazarette---bandages, cotton-wool, sublimate, plaster, asperine, iodine, etc., and a great share of our spiritus. It was pitiful to see how the sisters rejoiced to get the things!
In my own hospital there was great dissatisfaction because so much was given to someone else. I had a battle royal over the linen I insisted on giving, but my husband was on my side and we gave all that was absolutely necessary to the lazarette, and afterwards regretted that it was not more, for the Germans got all that linen and our supplies! I remember the gentlemen still played cards then---and to my fund for the lazarette went all the money won.
In that lazarette for the first and only time I had to give up and go away for a moment to keep from fainting---for on a cot I saw what appeared to be a ball of cotton and bandages---with three black holes, just as if a child had drawn mouth and nose and eyes---and the flies! . . . It was a shock to hear a voice with a cultured accent coming from such an object---a Polish voice begging whoever it was not to go away, but to give him water; his hands were burned to a crisp, he could not move, and the flies! . . . The odour from the gangrene was so awful that I was overpowered for a time---but, afterwards, sent my maid home for netting, as much as she could find; and then helped the sister in charge to rebandage and veil that remnant of a man. He had been near a bursting shell---and lain four days in the field after he was wounded. He asked if his eyes were burned away.
"Yes---quite gone." If he would live or die? "Die."
"God has not forgotten me---but please, then, let me drink---drink."
AFTER this lazarette had been helped out for a few days, they again received supplies, and could work on; but those patients were moved and no more came----not more than a dozen or two. No one knew what was the trouble as the days went on. Rumours there were, of course. How curious those war rumours are---one hears the most absurd things---some always give them credence.
We heard once that Königsberg was taken, that the army was pushing on to Berlin,---we all hoped so! Once, when I was at the station with the wounded, a regiment of Cossacks arrived---coming from the far corner of Russia---wild, fierce-looking men, with one object in life. I noticed that an officer who spoke to the men laughed very heartily and I asked him what had happened.
"The Cossacks wish to know if it is already Berlin, and if they may let loose!"
As the days went by a curious tension made itself felt; one started to do something, and did not finish. The hospitals were quite empty, occasionally bands of prisoners were marched through, forage wagons went continually. One day a lot of prize pigs from Kaiser Wilhelm's estate near the border were driven into our town---some of the soldiers occasionally brought back loot in the wagons they drove; that was forbidden, however, and the Chief of Police, who had turned into a real friend of the townspeople, took away and locked up all such stolen goods.
Aeroplanes with bombs and literature dropping from them were daily events---what promises made to army and people---promises of autonomy almost identical with those made by Russia to the Poles, which the people had taken in good faith.
When an aeroplane came everyone ran for shelter, but there was not the excitement of the first instance---we had grown used to them!
On the 8th of September, we noticed laden forage wagons leaving Suwalki, and another line of laden wagons returning to Suwalki. Also, the Red Cross was ordered to pack up; but there was absolutely no news from the front.
On the 9th, my husband went to Warsaw, most unwillingly, for the meeting of the Polish Red Cross Central Committee. We felt the moment to be a dangerous one to leave me alone with the children, but it was absolutely necessary for him to go for two days. Having been born in America we felt that if need be, I could take care of myself and the children.
All that 10th day of September there was unrest. Aeroplanes, forage-wagons going and returning! I went into the cellars and attics to conceal stores, etc. In the attic I was frightened by the echoes---like thousands of feet tramping---tramping---until the maids began to cross themselves and say the place was haunted. Perhaps it was!
That night, beside my babies' bedsides I prayed as I had never prayed before; dear little ones---they were only interested in all the happenings! About nine o'clock, the streets were filled with a mob of people fleeing from the outlying villages---men, women, children, dogs, cows, pigs, horses, and carts all mixed up in one grand mélange---and we heard the snap, snap of rifle shots. A Russian officer whom I knew came to ask that all our lights be extinguished---even that in the night nursery. He said no one knew what it was---whether the Germans had broken through or if the Cossacks were hunting down an officer, who was reported as basely betraying his men---a German of course---as many of the officers then were! This Russian officer had known my husband was in Warsaw, and he took us under his especial protection.
Stanislaw de Gozdawa Turczynowicz,
The Husband of the Author
Our house, a great, big old place overlooked the road to East Prussia. The way was almost clear from the windows at the back of the house. It was such an endless sort of a place---I felt so lonesome wandering about that night---not lonesome because I was alone---oh no! everybody in the house seemed to move whenever I did, except the children---but, I did want my husband! It was so awful to hear all those noises and not go to see what they were about; such a pandemonium of sound---and no moon to help things out! When I once looked out of the window at the back of the house (the Poles called it a palace!) innumerable lights were flashing about the fields and shots and cries. Finally growing so nervous with the sounds, the uncertainty, and also hearing people about me say their prayers as if they expected to die the next moment, I lighted a candle and stole about the rooms looking at them---saying goodbye to the old order of things! I also felt it was time to take, from its hiding place in the bottom of a small upright piano in my boudoir, the money my husband had left. For some reason the darkness, the secrecy, made me feel just like a thief and I jumped up, scattering gold pieces all over the floor, when my good cook came with a black-coffee tray. She had not forgotten me in the midst of all her fear.
The money was a problem to hide---five thousand roubles---gold, silver, and bills. By the time it was all concealed about me I felt rather unbalanced---five hundred roubles in five and ten rouble pieces, gold, and three hundred in small silver pieces is a weight! So many bills are also inconvenient, but---how much worse to have no money---and how many there were in this predicament.
MORNING, the 11th of September, dawned at last---and the streets so empty as if no one lived! Except, of course, forage-wagons! But they were part of the street like lamp posts! The mob had flown farther.
About six o'clock the wounded began to pour into the town---never have I seen worse cases--hands and arms gone---blinded---all the sad story of war. By eleven o'clock we had one hundred and twenty-seven wounded and numbers of those who had also lost a hand or arm. Bad news also came-our army was in retreat, but still no orders to evacuate! I talked with the commander of the city---with several men in authority. They decided I should leave that night,---and my word was given---though against my will, because my husband was to come the next day, and I had the feeling that the Germans would not dare come in his absence. But I did try to send a telegram, only to find the wires cut! The little city, full of life, and homes, and wounded---cut off from the world! Hurrying home I found my children playing quietly with their governess, Panna Jadwiga---the sewing-women working---at least making a pretence of it. It was so lonesome! I took the children to the dining-room to lunch with me. How pretty it looked, the curious old room with steps leading down to its great windows, the soft colours of the rugs, the table with its fine napery and pretty silver and glass. We sat down, and I was just telling Panna Jadwiga about the great number of new patients in our hospital, when a fusillade of rifle-shots sounded as if in the very room, followed by the boom, boom of cannon! We sat speechless a second, my little girl began to cry, the serving-man let a tray with soup fall on the floor, crash!---but no one paid any attention. I only told him to get a carriage for me, that in fifteen minutes we must be out of the house; the cook was told to pack some food, Panna Jadwiga was to take the children in her care, a nurse maid was to pack necessaries, and I wished to get some valuables together; my money I already carried, a little case of jewels was there to my hand, but it seemed as if all the poor of Suwalki came crying to me, as if I could help them! The poor things! I gave them each a three rouble bill, having a large packet stuck in my blouse; money had absolutely no value at that moment; trying to collect my thoughts, their screaming and the ever increasing sound of battle making it difficult.
I paid no attention to what was scrambled together, except that on my bed laid a number of pale-coloured silk stockings, pink, blue, green, violet-ready for packing---and my sewing bag. I picked up those articles and hung on to them as if they were priceless treasures, waving the stockings about like a flag---and no one was astonished! The man Jacob came to say he could not get anything but two peasants' wagons. Off we started leaving a trail of our most valued possessions behind us.
Oh, what a street! The forage-wagons now all going one way, bringing their loads back, each having four soldiers with cocked guns! Wagons full of people. My acquaintances standing up screaming, paying no attention one to the other, one solid mass of disorder---primeval man and woman put to flight by an inexorable force---all conventions dropped as if they never existed---leaving all behind them, taking useless things but forgetting a change of linen. I remember seeing one old woman with a feather bed on her head, dragging a samovar by the handle, bumpety bump, over the cobblestones. A crowd of people were waiting for me to come out, begging me not to leave, to let them come with me.
Just at that time came the order to evacuate the town. I had sent word I would help them with the wounded at the station, but now I had to care for my children. Then, after Jacob had kissed the cross, promising to care for our property as well as he could, we all climbed into those wagons---a difficult business,---the top, a sort of a rack to carry hay or straw, spreading out in a most uncomfortable fashion.
I gave just one glance back at our dear old happy home---a look to see if we were taking anything---seeing the second wagon packed with luggage---mostly the servants'---and Dash barking wildly on top. I had my three children, their governess, two maids, the cook of my family, and a young girl, Miss Gabryella, who was all alone. She also had her maid. We were just starting, when a priest, the family friend, came rushing up. We looked at each other without a greeting, and I asked, "Right or wrong?" He threw up his hands. "As God lives---I do not know!---but---go---" Lifting his hand in the sign of blessing he told the men to drive on---into that vortex of humanity-people running---laden like horses---getting tired of the weight,---dropping it---but going on! Half-way along a man, an acquaintance of ours, laid violent hands on the peasant who drove the luggage wagon, turned him about, and went off with dog and all. This from a most polished gentleman in times of peace!
FINALLY, fighting our way through, we got to the station. I found we also had some luggage---we had been sitting upon it. The cook had brought an enormous bag of what the Poles call toast---slices of bread toasted on both sides, a ham, still hot, with little rivers of gravy trickling from it, some sardines, some sugar, and lemons.
The wagon was immediately taken from us, and we started out to find the Red Cross train, picking up on the way a lady with her two sons, one of whom was just recovering from a severe illness and was hardly able to move.
It is a memory---the coming to a station where no one knew if the trains could go or not. We walked or rather stumbled along, the children talking excitedly about going in a train with the soldiers, the servants dragging through the dust and over the tracks what luggage our friend had not run off with! Finally, I came across the director of the lazarette we had helped---"cast your bread upon the waters," and he helped us---saying he was happy to pay a little of the debt the lazarette owed me.
We found our train---a cattle train, with evidences of its former occupants! There were already a few wounded, but we managed, with the aid of an old coat and a pail of water, to make one car more habitable. The work also made the maids stop the awful noise they had kept up continually. Presently the wounded came---many of them not bandaged-and thirty-two of the especially bad cases, were allotted to my car. One, who had lost his hand, had no covering on the raw stump. He had just been prepared for the doctor when all were turned out of the hospital. These poor fellows took my mind off my own troubles---the worst news they had was that the Germans had captured the railroad to Warsaw! A picture of my husband being caught flashed through my mind!
I found, of course, that I had no cotton or bandages---but I was able to get a small supply of such things from the Director. It was a pitiful picture which my little children saw---the poor man, who had lost his hand suffering agonies from the contact of the air with the raw flesh. How it hurt, and how patient the man was---the big tears just rolling down his cheeks! I couldn't' keep the children away-there was no place to send them. It was sweet to see how they tried to comfort the big soldier,---little Wanda drying his eyes, the boys holding his hand. It was a help to the man---if a sad one---he had children of his own somewhere. After doing what I could to bring a tiny bit of comfort into the circumstances, I wished to go to the other cars, but found that the doctors and nurses had arrived, and that it was not necessary,---besides we were forbidden to leave the car. Three more people attached themselves to me, and we made room for them.
At five o'clock---always the same---the confusion increasing as the firing grew nearer. The train was ready for instant flight, steam up, and all aboard, but we waited in hopes the enemy would be driven off. The confusion was so great that it seemed a miracle when an orderly brought a portion of condensed milk to each of the wounded, but just then no one wished for food! As time went on, the fear died down a bit, and dissatisfaction grew. Three of the people left to find more convenient quarters---my cook went into hysterics,---Miss Gabryella cried, thinking it would be better at home. Everyone seemed to feel that I was the one responsible for all the discomfort. After listening some time to their complaints, I asked two soldiers slightly wounded to help me get out of the car, bag and baggage. The wounded raised their voices in protest, "Little Sister, do not leave us, " but I went; making all of our party leave the car. Then, on the ground, I asked them what it was they wished to do, "Go or stay?"
"Let us go, let us go---the train will start without us."
And upon my again asking them if they knew quite well what they were about, and were willing to do as I should decide, they cried, "Yes, yes." So, telling them that must be the last of all complaints and indecision, that I had nerves, and greater responsibilities than they had, we climbed back into the car, and the rest of the journey's discomforts were received in silence.
The hours dragged by---it grew dark; always the sound of battle grew nearer. I gave the children, for the first time, ham---and that hard toast---suffering to see them, realizing they had no place to sleep, and that I was without a home!
The delicacy of those soldiers! They were in pain---wounded and weak, but they helped by every thought and look. They gave up their coats, and begged to hold the children, who would have nothing to do with the servants---they wanted the soldiers! If a battle raged around us, in that car with its strange assortment of human beings there was love and harmony. After awhile the children wanted the soldiers to sing. They began one of those weird minor melodies, singing, softly, softly. I could not bear it. The flood gates opened. The singing was rudely enough interrupted by the sounds of shots much nearer to us. The Germans had stolen a march and got around to the other side!
The main body of troops were about five miles the opposite side of Suwalki, just beyond our home. That was an anxious moment. We were warned by the officer in charge to be perfectly quiet---that the train was at last to go---running the gauntlet.
At the very last moment two freshly wounded men were shoved into our car---both bleeding, and one, a young Cossack, unconscious.
The car began to move-stealing through the night---one benefit from the danger---every person had to be quiet. In a few minutes we were right where the shots were flying; some of them struck our car! The bullets sang but they could not reach us---we were watched over. On through those bullets we went, and when the danger was past, I saw it was half-past eleven. We had been a little more than half an hour on the road. All danger was not over, but at least the bullets did not whizz about our ears. The babies were asleep, with the soldiers' arms about them---it made my heart ache to see those men---their tenderness and touching anxiety to do something.
Now it was safe to light a candle to attend the newly wounded. The Cossack was very bad---shot through the hip---and then no chance of getting the doctor until we reached Vilno. Fortunately, he was still unconscious, but had a certain blue look that made me fear there was no real help for him. It was such a frightful wound, that all the cotton and bandages I had were hardly enough to staunch it---but the blood stopped flowing.
The other man---a tremendous, black-bearded creature, was wounded in the breast, and his clothing was absolutely torn to rags. A gaping wound with no shot in it---but---! There remained only a small piece of gauze and a little cotton. In a flash of inspiration I knew why I had hung on to those silk stockings of mine, and the sewing bag. Those stockings made a very passable bandage, and a cheerful looking one when finished. Fancy sewing a bandage from your own stockings by the light of a candle held by a soldier, himself wounded---in a cattle car---speeding through the night, not knowing what would happen the next moment!
It grew very cold. The worst cases suffered exceedingly from the jolting of the train. At another time, the fact that the poor young Cossack did not regain consciousness would have filled me with anxiety, but now I was glad of it---at least the movement of the train made his suffering no worse.
The man with the gay bandages slept almost as soon as his wound was dressed. The others slept or at least were quiet. When I dampened the dressing on the stump of arm, I found that from the contact with the air, dust, etc., and in spite of iodine, the man began to grow feverish, and to murmur incessantly. There was no help for him---nothing I could do. One of the soldiers begged me to sit down and rest, and there they had made a bed for me of their coats right by the door; the corners were all occupied. Finally, to please them, I laid down saying, "Now I lay me down to sleep, " even as the children had done. Watching the little things sleep in the soldiers' arms I too fell asleep from sheer exhaustion.
Awakening with a start, every bone aching from fatigue and the hardness of my bed, I found it was after five o'clock. The children still slept but the soldiers said "Good-morning" softly, and that the "Little Sister" must think she was quite alone. Could men be more thoughtful?
I arranged my hair as best I could---one of the soldiers had a small looking-glass,---and poured water over my hands. Then I climbed over to see my Cossack. He "slept"---and needed no care of mine. It was only necessary to cover his face---such a boyish blond face-how good he suffered no more. There are worse things than death. All the others were fairly well---only the one with the hand was delirious. He needed quick help---there would have to be another amputation---no help for him until Vilno. The others were hungry, but too polite to tell me so.
The children woke up---gay as larks. The train stopped for a few minutes, and those who could walk got out; I bought a bag of apples. When we were once more under way, I began to carve ham, and gave out toast. Everyone ate as if it were quite a normal thing to live so,---with a dead man lying at your elbow! Ham, toast, and apples were soon finished---but then nothing to drink.
The children had to be amused---even though they were quiet when we told them the Cossack was asleep---with little stories for them. Eight o'clock came and we stopped at Olita. Taking two soldiers and our water bucket (it had been used to water the horses) I went to the restaurant. Everyone there wished to know all the news---consternation! Many people were on their way to Suwalki from Warsaw.
The proprietor asked what we needed.
"Tea and bread."
He emptied two samovars into the bucket, made it sweet, put lemons in, and had his people carry this ambrosia out to the train, while the soldiers carried rolls---just as many as he had---a great quantity --enough for our party-and would take no money for it!
"The lady helps---may not I? We shall need help ourselves perhaps---God will remember."
Astonishing it was how those things disappeared; then the time dragged as we travelled through that lovely September morning, everything seeming so quiet after our experiences. It was like a dream---one was dulled.
We reached Vilno at one o'clock.
VILNO station was quiet and orderly, only the soldiers, being shipped to other points, and the many Red Cross trains, spoke of war-times.
We were the first refugees and were instantly surrounded by people anxious to know what had happened. Ladies carrying tea, sandwiches, etc., to the wounded, wanted to help with the children, but of course it was not necessary. Besides---what in a child's eyes is a mere woman in comparison with a soldier? I made my report to the doctor of the night and the Cossack's death. This responsibility removed, I was free to do for my babies. They were happy enough---the centre of an admiring crowd. It was very difficult to say good-bye to the men who had shown such consideration during that eventful train ride. They kissed my hands---I wished them God speed from my heart, and the first stage of our journey was over.
We started on to find a doroszka (cab). A lady of the Red Cross helpers had told me which hotel would be best for us. I was giving a coin to a soldier for carrying some pieces of our luggage, when another one almost knocked him down, crying: "Good-for-nothing! To take money from the Sister who has brought our comrades to Vilno!"
After a drive through that dear old romantic town, we came to the hotel---the best there. It might have been improved upon, but, after a night in a cattle train, it was delightful. Hot every place, we could not get comfortable nor adjust our ideas. I secured two bedrooms and a sitting-room. There was one bath for the entire hotel! We washed and had dinner. The children were restless and cross, continually asking where the soldiers were. Immediately after eating something, I started back to the station with Miss Gabryella. We were so tired, so hot. The people on the streets looked careless and happy, dressed in fresh, cool clothing. I grew quite resentful for awhile, the clothes of the ladies seemed to be the last straw. I wondered what was happening to mine. It really appeared to me a crime for people to go about as if nothing were the matter, when all my gods had fallen and were being trampled in the dust. I remember that state of mind during the drive. back to the station, never having felt that way before, nor after. I was so worried as to be almost hysterical and felt if no news came from my husband I should surely not be able to endure the strain. Of course the danger was past, therefore I had nothing to keep me up to the mark.
At the station were crowds of Suwalki people. One man of our acquaintance had brought with him only his walking stick! Another man had become separated from his young son, fourteen, and daughter, sixteen, on the station in Suwalki,---the train suddenly starting while they were fetching something,---and the poor father was on the verge of losing his reason, telling everybody over and over the story of his loss.
Well, my jewels of price, my babies, were safe!
I sent a long telegram to Warsaw, telling, as plainly as was permitted, what had happened, and decided to return to the children, but not before lending, or rather giving, money to a number of people.
The station was like a club; Suwalki had taken possession of it. The money I had carried seemed as if it were not my own, but given to help others.
Oh, the wretchedness of that first day! Such a lot of people came for help that my money melted like snow in the sunshine. I took just as many as could be packed in our rooms, keeping only one room for the children. The servants slept in the laundry, one of them talking so loudly as to disturb everyone. It was necessary to call from the window, A good girl says her prayers and goes to bed! forgetting the poor thing had no bed!
'What a sight met my eyes when I glanced into the rooms where my "guests" were. Tired out, sad, and troubled, even in sleep, they lay about on the floor, on chairs put together, or twisted up on the little settees, all people of consequence before life had been turned upside down.
The next day dragged wearily along, everybody waiting, living only to hear better news. The city was rapidly filling with refugees. In one place, an old convent, they were given a roof to sleep under, and hot tea. Townspeople were already carrying bread.
A beautiful spot in Vilno was an out-of-door church. An archway is built over one of the principle streets, a much revered picture of the Madonna and child was unveiled, and there were never ceasing services. A sight it is to see all---coachmen, workmen, servants, and the gentle class, all mixed up, praying in the street, kneeling right down on the pavements. The refugees thronged this spot, and if one wished to find some one from Suwalki that was the place to look. There one could also hear the most blood-curdling tales. Suwalki must have been burned up fifty times the first day.
Evening came at last, bringing even more people to get under cover; those who had driven or walked to Vilno. Our hotel had people lying about in the corridors. The children were showing the effects of all they had been through, and were nervous, restless, and difficult to manage.
We had just settled down for the night when a messenger from my husband came. How glad I was to see that dear handwriting which told me of his distress over the news, and also that he was sure I should do the right thing---that the messenger, a friend, would do all necessary to get us out of the hotel and into our own house. I had quite forgotten that we had a house there! In an apartment of it was the office of my husband's Warsaw engineering firm. Early the next morning we started out to find the place. How good it was to feel that at least one roof belonged to us in that town. The engineers and manager had all been called to serve in the army, leaving only a curious old serving-man who looked upon us with suspicion. We found the manager's room had couches, and was very comfortable, and a great room was equipped with drawing-tables which made quite ideal beds when one had slept on the floor a night or two. There was a large reception-room---and, oh! joy, a kitchen-though a tiny one---with a samovar! We hired some more things, and found a private family who would serve us with meals.
By night we were once more living with a semblance of order. I was to go to meet my husband at the station at twelve o'clock. It had grown very cold and was raining. The station was packed full of people, who had no place else to go. The train was four hours late, but finally did arrive---and---one refugee in Vilno was happy.
The next day my husband and I went about seeing various people---but always together---we were afraid of losing each other.
Thursday---five days and a half after our arrival, we decided to leave for Warsaw, and turn the apartment over to one of our friends from Suwalki who was almost without means. Our Committee was in Warsaw, and it seemed we could do more good there. In Warsaw, we had a properly furnished house where we often stayed. Once more a hurried packing up. With us we took our governess, nurse-maid, and cook. When at the station waiting for the train, which was very late, we saw a number of Japanese officers drinking tea. All trains were overfilled, but some force was driving us farther, so we went. We barely managed to get seats. I regretted not having worn my uniform---having on the only costume in my possession.
Oh! what an endless journey it was. Everything was out of order,---but at last Warsaw!
WARSAW looked curiously unfamiliar, even our own house---a large modem building with one apartment kept always ready for our occupancy. Ah! That was a pleasure to come into our own home with actual comforts and feel we might get things together once more, just a week from our forlorn arrival in Vilno, when I did not know where my husband was.
We bought supplies immediately, and as there were two servants in the apartment, soon had quite a household again. Such a dragging in of all sorts of supplies!
Sunday we went to the little English chapel; there were a few people there. It was wonderfully sweet to hear the familiar hymns. The chaplain and his wife were old acquaintances of mine---she and their children were in England.
Monday we bought supplies. I hunted up a former nurse, who had married; finding her alone with her old mother-in-law to support, her husband having been called to service. Poor thing, in such circumstances, expecting a child---she was much changed from our pretty Cracow peasant girl in her bright costume. Her savings had disappeared, and poor Marysia was not even assured from want.
That night we went to a theatrical performance---what---I have forgotten. Most things seem photographed on my mind, but only the circumstance remains in this instance.
Tuesday my husband got a letter from his father and mother begging him to come to Lublin, the family home. Of course he had to go, but I could not leave the children. That day, full of rumours and uncertainty, is also a memory, which will always remain.
Fig. 6. Baby Wanda and her Polish Nurses in Cracow Costume
Wednesday, too, Wednesday night about eleven my husband returned to us. He had but greeted his parents, spent two short hours with the dear old people, and, filled with disquietude over the rumours flying about, had returned to us. Well that he did, for the next morning before day had fully dawned the Zeppelins visited us! Warsaw was bombarded!
Such explosions---and the return shots---people screaming---the town was alive in a moment and the exodus began. Our servants came rushing in demanding to go farther away. We still thought it was not necessary, especially as there was a committee meeting called for that day, but about noon there was some more bombarding---the Zeppelins doing greater damage. A hospital was struck and people were killed in the streets.
That afternoon, the chaplain from the English chapel called to bid us good-bye. He was off to Moscow. All were going. He offered to get us seats in the special train which was leaving. We declined, thinking it was not necessary, but toward night the news grew worse. The army of the enemy was approaching Warsaw. A battle was inevitable. Troops and artillery wagons filled the streets of the city.
Thursday night we did not go to bed because we went to see relatives and could not get back until the early morning hours, when we immediately made plans to get away from Warsaw on Saturday morning.
On Friday, we were again favoured with the Zeppelins. That death dropping from the heavens---like rain on the just and the unjust--- is one of the few things I could not get used to. It always left me weak and trembling and hugging my babies, hoping that if death came to us we should all go together. That day we turned over the new supplies to our poor Marysia, telling her to fetch her mother-in-law and live in our apartment. Poor soul---what has happened to her by now?
A visit to the station revealed an awful state of affairs. People mad with fear, camping about in the hopes of securing a place on the train. The poor little children crying from hunger---women with newly-born infants---all struggling to get something---they knew not what. Food was scarce in Warsaw and at the station there was not an atom. Where the buffet had been, was crushed full of humanity---or what had been humanity before fear had taken possession of it.
We could do nothing to help. Our own desire was also to get away-away from the fear---where we might rest.
We managed to work our way to the ticket office, only to find the tickets would not be sold until seven in the morning! No amount of persuasion helped. I took my place there at the ticket office so we should at least be first in the morning, while my husband went back to the apartment to tell our governess, Panna Jadwiga, to have all ready when we came in the morning.
In those four hours of waiting (until two o'clock Saturday morning) for my husband to return, what things I saw---what essence of misery! We had a red-capped porter, but he told us some one must be with him. My husband brought a little food, but how could one eat with those starving creatures about? My husband and the man took turns standing at the window. Once a crowd pushing to get in the station hurt an enceinte woman. Through the fright and pressure she gave birth to her child---a little lifeless mite. We managed to get her through to where the Red Cross train was leaving. They took her on, with her dead baby wrapped in her petticoat---to go where? To do what when she got there? The pitiful circumstance raised hardly a ripple on that crowd. People at such times take everything as a matter of course.
At six, I went to fetch the children, not even conscious of being tired. They were just eating breakfast, under protest. How I dreaded taking them into that human vortex, but I had to be glad we could get away, and, in a few minutes, I had completed our arrangements, saying goodbye to that homelike apartment.
Once more we were on the road, bag and baggage, off for Vitebsk, where we had no house of our own to walk into. All in Warsaw seemed going in one direction, to the Petrogradski station, one of those spots which is a long distance from every place.
On the bridge over the Vistula, we were kept waiting some time by passing troops and forage-wagons, and the sound of them brought back Suwalki forcibly to mind. Eventually we reached our destination. We started to literally break our way through to the gate where my husband was waiting, Panna Jadwiga, the cook, and the maid, each carrying a child in her arms, with two men laden with luggage following. We. had to climb over many who had finally succumbed to the rigours of the night. The crowd was apathetic. Our train was possible only for people who could pay first-class fares and place cards besides. When we got near the gates the pressure began and the children cried until they were carried shoulder high. At last the gates were opened, and we got to our places without further discomfort, only we were alone with the children, the servants being in the second car. just one week before we had arrived in Warsaw from Vilno---and now already on our way farther. How much had happened in that short week!
I began to feel like the Wandering Jew; and Jews there were in that train, the first I ever saw travel on a Saturday in Poland.
WE ARRIVE IN RUSSIA
I REMEMBER when we were nearing Brest Litowsk, the great fortress, how secure we felt---and how we spoke of the word she would speak to the enemy.
The city lay in the bright afternoon sunshine, as we passed through, quiet and sure of herself, not knowing even then that traitors were planning to blow up her great magazines of supplies, thus robbing thousands upon thousands of men of ammunition and sending them defenceless to meet the enemy!
In the morning, September 26th, we arrived in Vitebsk. It was very frosty, almost like winter. My husband liked the town very much, and had friends there, many owning estates in the neighbourhood. He had done his army service in Vitebsk, and was telling me tales of his experiences as a junior officer. We began to smile once more and the burden lightened. Even when we discovered all the hotels to be crowded with refugees, we did not lose courage.
In one hotel we found a big room with one tiny bed. All beds had been taken for the new hospitals, but, as the proprietors remarked, there was lots of room on the floor! Afterwards he gave us a tiny room for my husband, and then we were quite delighted. The mattress made a bed for the children on the floor. I lay upon the spring, Panna Jadwiga dropped down beside the children, and the two servants curled up anywhere; and all were glad to be there.
The next day, we searched for some sort of a dwelling, and found a wretched place, unsanitary as possible, under a hill beside a barracks, but we knew by that time that it was lucky to find even the worst of places. We agreed to take it, but there was still a two days' wait even then before it was ours.
That same night my husband was notified that Suwalki had been cleared of the Germans, and that he was to return. Again I must stay with the children, and could not go with my husband. On Tuesday afternoon, he---with a lot of officials---left on what proved an eventful journey. How I wanted to go, too.
It was a whole ten days before my husband returned, as from the dead, bringing us much news---and two trunks full of clothes! My clothes were fairly untouched. Also some silver had been recovered.
He had found our place in an awful state, it having been used as officers' quarters. However, they had left in too much of a hurry to carry off much. Our people had lived through terrible things, but only a few of them lost their lives. All the linen, the instruments, and everything removable had been taken from our hospital. After the battles near Suwalki, as the foe was driven back to East Prussia, there were said to be seven or eight thousand wounded!
My husband had been given a post in Lemberg as chief or inspector of the Sanitary Engineers, and had just two days to spare with his little family. How hard it was to let him go, but no children were allowed in occupied territory.
I SEE MY HOME ONCE MORE
ON the 22nd day of October I was allowed to go to Suwalki, having a lot of instruments which had been bought and paid for in Warsaw while our hospital was still in existence. There was need for these in Suwalki, and I was longing to get into hospital work once more. I had been helping only at odd times, mostly in the sanitary trains. There being need for haste I did not travel with the slow-going empty Red Cross trains. The children were in excellent hands and it was quite possible for me to leave for a week or more.
In Vitebsk, the station was full of men entraining for the front, now the army was well into Prussia. Almost as soon as our train started something interesting happened. A Russian lady in my coupé, seeing I wore a Red Cross uniform, began to tell me something about a wounded Cossack---so much I understood even with my little knowledge of Russian. When I told her I was an American we began to speak in the language neither of us liked---German---but it was our only mutual tongue! She told me a young Cossack, discharged from the hospital, was standing in the corridor---weeping---surely something in that to shock one! We went together to him---finally getting his story. What I did not understand she translated for me. He was young, boyish---had been wounded and his right arm had been amputated, but what seemed to cause him the most pain was that he could never ride again. He had been dismissed from the hospital in Vitebsk and had been told to go to Dwinsk. At the station, the quartermaster was to pay him-but he had gone to the station at twelve noon the day before, and at this time it was almost five in the afternoon! The quartermaster had not come, and our Cossack, weak though he was, had told no one his difficulties, and had waited all night in the station. Finally, the station-master told him to wait no longer, but to go on to Dwinsk, where he would draw his pay, and, when he understood the circumstances, gave him a rouble; but the train left immediately and the poor fellow had had no time to get anything to eat. He seemed to feel bitter over what was really no one's fault. He should have told his troubles before they grew so great, but he was so very hungry and weak. We took him into our coupé and he demolished our combined lunches. I had a thermos bottle of hot tea. When he had eaten and was not quite so unhappy he said it "was always so with the Cossacks---as long as they were fit---at the front of the battle----but a wounded Cossack was no good to any one." I had a flask of cognac and asked if he wanted some. After he had drained off the tiny screwtop full which I had a right to give him as medicine, he wiped his mustache, twisting it gallantly, saying, "Now I am a man, and will weep no more."
Those tears, Slavonic tears, are not a sign of weakness, but of overwhelming temperament. Let no one judge the European from the American or English standpoint; different countries, different customs, not that they all cry---but if so, it does not follow that man is less of a man for doing so. There, for instance, the men kiss each other, carefully kissing the air in the direction of the ear, as a rule. How curious it is to see such a thing here. But they think we are cold and unfeeling.
My journey to Vilno was quiet enough and there I had to wait some hours for a train to Suwalki; long enough to see our apartment and a lot of people who were our fellow refugees. As yet they had not been encouraged to return. The train left at six in the evening, and what a curious mixture it carried. All sorts and conditions of men, soldiers, civilians, Jews going after trade, etc. All went well enough until we reached Olita, the spot where the man had given tea and fresh bread for the people in my charge; here they also had known trouble and the town seemed very desolate. It was an uncomfortable place to be dumped out at one o'clock in the morning. We had travelled so slowly; and here there was not a sign of a train.
There were a lot of Cossacks waiting to be sent on with their horses. Their Captain was very kind when my companion, a doctor's wife, explained I was carrying instruments to the hospital in Suwalki. He routed out the station-master saying there had to be a train---the Cossacks were tired of waiting---and we were to be given a place. A train was made up, and, as if by magic, a lot of wretched-looking Jews put in an appearance; the station-master was forced to sell tickets. For two stations he asked us to be in a caboose sort of an affair until they got hold of a proper carriage ---at Olita there were none---those poor Jews came also. One started to make a fire---it was cold; the fuel being free, he was not sparing of it, and the car almost caught fire from the red-hot stove. Of course, the poor Jew was thrown out bodily, and the stove after him at the next station. There we got into a comfortable carriage with only the officers; but it was unheated and cold. Instead of reaching Suwalki soon, we waited hours, and then crawled along awhile and waited again. So on through the day and evening, and still ordinarily an hour away from Suwalki. But already we had seen evidence of war,---crosses standing out against the sky---marking where the slain lay.
The whole night we waited, until stiff with the cold, but at half-past six we really got in. The destroyed railroad had just been hastily rebuilt. Even at our snail's pace we sometimes rocked like a ship in a high sea.
Curious it was, that return! The old station was changed, but still packed with people. Many were leaving Suwalki; those who had been there during the German occupation. One thing was noticeable---those who had been dark, were grown white. Vehicles there were of course none! Insisting on starting afoot, dark as it was we plunged out into the gloom on a road so rough we appreciated the difficulties the train had met with.
There were many things to seize our attention; ruined houses, broken-down fences. Everything where it did not belong. Troops on the march, who made instant way for us, advising eagerly how to avoid pitfalls. Gathering around us interestedly, officers and men, with no fear of drunken amiabilities.
It was getting less dark when we reached the neighbourhood of our former home, but, lacking the courage to go there without a little rest and preparation, I went first with the doctor's wife to her home. Her husband was camping in what had been their very charming house. The cook had the real "war" expression stamped on her face, much the same look must have those who have gone through an earthquake. A heroine she was, however, for when the officers left, without saying "good-bye," they set the house on fire, one dumping the contents of the lamp into the middle of his bed, and setting a match to it; but she, hiding in a wardrobe for fear of being taken along, saw this charming way of repaying hospitality, and extinguished the blaze. Her hands were terribly scarred, but her attitude of mind to be envied. The house was almost uninhabitable; but we did get some coffee.
At half-past eight I started for our house. Jacob, the man servant, knew I was coming only a half-hour before I reached there, so I saw things as they were. Alas! My beautiful home was ruined. Knee-deep it was with things strewn about the floor,---every drawer, every closet emptied out! Papers, books, the very clothes my husband had brought to Vitebsk had lain in the accumulated dirt.
I walked through the drawing-rooms, ---trying my best not to breathe until I could get my head out of a window, but when I came to the library I gave up. It was so hideously befouled;---the books were torn to pieces,---that I gazed in astonishment. That men could have done such a degenerate thing! We had had such a valuable collection of old books, manuscripts, seals, engravings, an extensive English library, some beautiful specimens of Polish peasants' art in carving and weaving,---and all had been thrown down in that hideous filth! My husband had told me there was no use talking of what the house looked like ---that I had better go! I understood! He thought it would make me a better Pole to see how they were used by the army which came to set them free; and teach our boys accordingly. After those two awful rooms, which had been the apple of my eye, Jacob asked me to come to see the dining-room and pantries. Heavens! Could a worse picture of wanton desolation exist? China, glass, linen, trodden upon; used and thrown down. But, the pantries exceeded all else in fiendish, degenerate ingenuity,----for the rows upon rows of jam pots, marmalade, preserves, and honey glasses had been emptied of their contents, filled with filth and returned to the shelves.
It was like an inferno that house; not as if men had occupied it---a pig sty is no comparison! Jacob told me there were a lot of officers and about forty soldiers. They had also quartered soldiers in the hospital on the first floor.
Poor old house! It seemed human and asking for relief. I wondered what more they could have done had the occupation been longer.
After going through with my inspection to the bitter end, I ordered Jacob with the help of his wife and daughter to clean it up, make it ready for occupancy.
After all the horrible things, Jacob had one pleasure in store for me. He had taken my flag down from the boudoir walls, and laid it under a heavy wardrobe. This at least had not been insulted!
Leaving Jacob to his unpleasant work, I went to the Chief of Police who was bringing order out of chaos in the town, telling him what was missing. As far as I could judge it was my husband's furs, travelling rugs, our food supplies, wines, all linen, most of the silver, much jewelry.
I had taken with me only what I had in my case.
All those things were gone. The rest could much of it be cleaned.
Having done my duty, I started out to see the town. Everywhere the same story as in my own home. Could men have done this thing,---I could hardly believe my own eyes when I saw the Russian church! Impossible to write---a pit of filth unspeakable,---the altar desecrated---the icons! It flashed across my mind the verdict in the New Testament: "Be not deceived. God is not mocked, for what a man soweth that shall he also reap." How often I have had that verse in mind since that day. Sooner or later the army which desecrated God's house, and the homes of the people will pay the reckoning!
The Cossacks, wild with fury over what the Germans had done, started on a journey of vengeance into East Prussia. All the men I ever spoke to had the same desire,---vengeance for desecration! But not in the same way. A Slav would never use German methods; they would burn, destroy; more innocent people would suffer for the sins of others! The first time the Russians were in East Prussia they had not wrought destruction.
I went to the hospital, where, after giving up the instruments I had brought, I found one of the priests---a friend. In the Catholic Church there had been no destruction. Packed with townspeople who were afraid to go home, the priest had kept services going, continually. This priest suggested that I go into the country to pick up children left alone in the fields---the Germans having taken all able-bodied peasants, men and women.
In a light wagon the doctor's wife and I left Suwalki on the road which led to our villa. We were to be met by a Red Cross automobile at a point near a village.
THE SURROUNDING COUNTRY
ON all sides of Suwalki had been the battlefield. There were great holes torn in the earth, trenches dug, and men buried. On one hillock we passed, where the rain had washed off the slight covering of earth, we saw boots sticking out! The man driving us said ten thousand were buried there---that I cannot vouch for---but it seemed as if it might be true. Wherever we went there were graves---big graves hastily made---even now men were working to pile earth on the insufficiently buried. When we got to the forest we did not see so many, but the road was torn by artillery wagons,---trees were broken off at the roots. We had to walk now, a fearsome thing in the haunted forest. At one spot we came upon our forester. He was working, but recognizing who it was, he threw down his tools with the greeting,
"Oh! my lady, we thought you were all dead, because the dog is here."
Our little dog Dash, taken by force along with the wagon by our acquaintance, during the evacuation of Suwalki, had been lost in the forest beyond Sejny, through the fleeing people, marching armies, and battlefields she had sought us. Coming at last to our villa, the forester had taken her to his cottage, and had fed and cared for her. It was like something from the other life, when that wiggling mass of happiness saw us.
The forester told me our villa had been burned down by the Germans; that all their food had been taken, their potatoes dug up, etc.
We went farther on our way, and soon came nearer the recent battlefields, and found children wandering about, left alone---the parents driven into East Prussia; one child of four carried a baby of six months. They had eaten earth in the extremity of their hunger. How many days had they wandered?
Our quest lasted over two days, finding always poor little waifs who had no roof to cover them. Every hut was burned down; gruesome work it was. Many times we saw dead men. I wondered why we struggled so to save our lives when so many had gone down. Going through the forest at dusk, we heard a child's cry, but could not locate the sound. In our search a wounded horse plunging through the underbrush came upon us. He passed so near I could have touched him. Frightened, I clung to a tree for dear life. How glad we were to find the automobile waiting for us, and to know the children sent back had arrived. We gathered over eighty---starving, literally starving to death. In Suwalki they were put into a school building. My governess was to take charge.
That same night a sanitary train was leaving for Vitebsk with a tremendous load of wounded, work enough. On that journey, almost three days, the little dog Dash helped pass the time for the wounded officers. I went into the operating car at eight in the morning, leaving for meals only, staying until nine at night; it was trying work. The effort of standing is in itself much, but the sight of so much suffering, the tug at the heart strings; and one never gets through! We stopped several hours at Vilno to work in the large room for that purpose at the station. Every one was exhausted, and we could not crowd the men into the operating car. At the station, twenty at a time could be attended to. Most of the men had toothache aside from their wounds, and all coughed. It seemed a rule in that climate, at least, that all wounded suffer from the lungs in some form or other,---inflammation was the usual thing! We used to paint the aching teeth with iodine, putting absorbent cotton in them. The idea that something was being done for them helped, I imagine, more than anything actually done.
Arriving in Vitebsk without any startling adventures, I was welcomed hilariously by the children who had not expected to see Dash.
Again a time of comparative quiet. Each day was like a week. The time moved so slowly. No letters from my husband,---only when some one brought them to me. A telegram I had each day, so misspelled there was little sense in it, and small satisfaction.
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