When the Prussians Came to Poland - L. DeGozdawa

Journeying Farther

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 center 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 a while, 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.

[Illustration] from Prussians Came to Poland by L. DeGozdawa


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 someone 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!