When the Prussians Came to Poland - L. DeGozdawa


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 pretense 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 colors 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-colored 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!