Sunday, July 26, 2015

Shdows In A Timeless Myth Presents True Tales of an American Woman During the German Invasion of Prussia

Experiences of an American Woman During the German Invasion
Told by Madame Laura de Gozdawa Turczynowicz
This is the story of an American woman, the wife of a Polish noble, who was caught in her home by the floodtide of the German invasion of the ancient kingdom of Poland. It is a straightforward narrative, terribly real, of her experiences in the heart of the eastern war-zone, of her struggle with the extreme conditions, of her Red Cross work, of her fight for the lives of her children and herself against the dread Typhus, and at last, of her release and journey through Germany and Holland to this country; and it is offered to the public as typical of the experiences of hundreds of other cultured Polish women. How truly she was in line of the German advance may be appreciated from the fact that iron-handed von Hindenberg for some days made his headquarters under her roof. A few of her hundreds of interesting experiences are told below by permission of her publishers, G. P. Putnam's Sons: Copyright 1916.

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 neighborhood. 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 gray misery. How well I remember, and with what astonishment I think upon all that was before war was declared.

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 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 colored 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!

About nine o'clock a peasant came to tell me the Germans were coming! Some one had seen them. I made the four soldiers eat, and gave them food and cigarettes to carry with them. They were ill men. After a mutual blessing they went back to await their fate.

Suddenly hearing an uproar, I saw some of the bad elements of the town looting, searching for food, knocking each other down, screaming—a horrid sight! The Jews who were always so meek, had now more self-assertion, strutting about, stretching up until they looked inches taller. It was hard work to tear myself away from the balcony. I, too, seemed unable to control myself, running from the balcony to the child and from the child to the balcony.

At eleven the streets again grew quiet, the time was near, and I saw the first pikel-haube come around the corner, rifle cocked—on the lookout for snipers!


The first one was soon followed by his comrades. Then an officer, who rounded the corner, coming to a stop directly before our windows. An old Jewess stepped out and saying, "Guten Tag," handed him a packet of papers, and gave various directions with much gesticulation. A spy at our very door! A woman I had seen many times! Busy with Wladek I saw no more for a while when a cry from the two other children made me rush to the window. They were coming into our court. The soldiers! And in a moment rushed into the room where we were, in spite of the signs tacked up on all doors "Tyfus." Seeing me in the Red Cross uniform they held back a moment. One bolder than his comrades laughed, saying, "She is trying to deceive us," and came toward me with a threatening gesture. Then with all my fear, God gave me strength to defy them. In German, which fortunately I speak very well, I asked what they wanted.

"Food and quarters."

"You cannot stop here. There is typhus."

"Show us the ill ones."

Opening the door to my own bedroom where the child lay, talking, moving the little hands incessantly, I saw that the nurse from the excess of fright had crawled under the bed. The soldier yanked her out, saying he would not hurt her, chucked her under the chin, and called her a "pretty animal!" Poor Stephinia, she could hardly stand! I, in my anxiety, pushed the soldier from the room, to find the others already making themselves at home.

"You cannot stop here. Go away! I am not afraid of you; I am an American. If you do any harm to us the world shall hear of it!"

They had been drinking, and the very fact that I defied them made an impression.

"Go out on the road. I will send food to you."

They went. One of them, giving me a look of sympathy, said:

"You have my sympathy, Madame."

That gave me courage, and shutting the door I went back to my boy. Always the same; I should not have left his side for an instant.


The town by now was in an uproar, every one seemed screaming together. As I looked from the window, my hand touched the prayer-book lying on the table.

"Lord, give me a word, a promise, to keep me steadfast and sane!" The book opened at the 55th Psalm—"As for me I will call upon God, and the Lord shall save me." Even in the stress of the moment reading to the end of the chapter—"Cast thy burden on the Lord." A conviction came to me then that God would keep us all safe!

Soon I had to wake to the fact that the house was being looted. Jacob, his wife, and daughter ran into the room. The soldiers had been knocking them about, taking all the food they could lay their hands upon. It was pandemonium let loose! An under-officer came to make a levy on my food for the army going through to Augustowo. He, with his men, looked into every hole and corner, but did not think to look inside the couches, which were full of things! To see your provisions carried off by the enemy is not a pleasant sensation. I asked the under-officer if it were possible the town was to be looted and burned.

"Looted—yes—to revenge East Prussia! Burned, not yet,—not unless we go!"

These first men had a black cover drawn over their caps and afterwards I heard they were from the artillery. Always the worst! Just at this time there was a great tramping of horses right in the rooms under us—where the hospital had been arranged—a thundering knock on the door, and a captain with his staff walked in. A tremendously big man, he seemed to fill the place!

"Guten Tag."

"Guten Tag, meine Schwester—Hier habe ich quartier."

"Are you not afraid of typhus?"

"Nonsense—we are all inocculated. Is there really typhus?"

"Have you a doctor, Captain? Let him decide!"

A very fat boy just from the university was presented to me; so young, twenty-three and inexperienced, to have such a responsibility. Examining Wladek he decided it was dysentery, and tore down my notices!

As there was no appeal, I tried to be amiable. The Herr Kapitain was not so bad; he cleared the house out, and at least only orderlies came through; but for us was left only the bedroom. Children, servants, all packed together with the typhus patient. The captain was courteous enough, but said I would have to feed staff and men. That day seemed endless. With every moment came fresh troops, and I was glad the Herr Kapitain was in my apartments. At least there would be no looting. The rest of the house was full to overflowing with soldiers. Naturally they blamed the horrible disorder there on to the Russians. A telephone was soon in operation, and we were headquarters. All sorts of wires there were, and a rod sticking out of the roof. We were forbidden to go near that part of the house.
Every few minutes some one came to ask me to help them; the poor people, they thought I could make the soldiers give up pig or horse or chickens. At six the captain told me he wished supper in half an hour. The cook seemed on the verge of losing her reason with some one continually making a raid on the kitchen, but she managed to get ready by seven. There were eight officers at the table—and they demanded wine.

"I have no wine."

"The old Jewess told us you brought home two bottles of wine when the Russians left."

"That was given me for my children."

"The children have no typhus, the doctor says, so they do not need wine—bring it to us."
So I gave up my precious bottles. The forage-wagons of the Germans had not come; they had no food with them and no wines, but the town fed them to the last mouthful. They turned in at half-past ten, leaving an atmosphere you could cut. It was so thick with tobacco smoke! Once more I could be without interruption with my children, for I had to serve the officers, pour their tea, etc.; it seemed as if one could not live through another such day. My boy was unconscious,—talking—talking—talking—all night long—no rest for me!...


The night wore away. The child grew terribly weak about four o'clock, and it seemed as if he were going and were held only by sheer force of my desire. If he could only sleep! Stas slept restlessly. Little Wanda was sorry for her mother, constantly waking to ask why Mammy did not lie down.

When six o'clock came the Captain thundered in, demanding breakfast, and hoping I had slept well.
Arousing those poor people lying about on the floor, I freshened my own costume, trying to look as formal as possible. There was no bread. The Captain, informed of this, brought a loaf. They finished my butter, and drank an enormous amount of coffee. As I served them the cook came to tell me a lot of people were waiting, begging me to intercede for them. An old man rushed in after her, threw himself on the floor, kissing my hands and knees, weepingly telling how the soldiers had held him, had taken his two young daughters, had looted the hut, even to his money buried in the earth of the floor. They had then gone, taking the girls with them. The poor father crawled around the table, kissing the officers' hands. They laughed uproariously when one gave him a push which sent him sprawling over the floor.

The Captain, seeing my look of disgust (I learned to conceal my feelings better afterwards), asked me, "Whatever was the trouble—why he howled so!"

After I told him what had happened the Captain looked black and silent for a moment; then said he could do nothing. The girls now belonged to the soldiers, and I even saw he was sorry. One of the others, however, laughed, saying the father was foolish to have stopped about when he was not wanted. That was my introduction to Prussian Schrecklichkeit.

The other people waiting had mostly been turned out of doors while the soldiers slept in their beds, or were asking help to get back a pig or a horse, or else they were injured. I told them to go away and be glad they had their lives, that just now there was no help, but I would do all that lay in my power.
We heard the sound of battle all that day over Augustowo way. It seemed already like a friend, our only connection with the world. Another day of miserable anxiety, the boy always worse, and the trouble of providing food for all those men. I knew that a friendly seeming attitude on my part was our salvation. The Captain under all his gruffness had a kind heart, but even in that short time I had learned what the German system means. Their idea is so to frighten people that all semblance of humanity is stamped out! Every time something awful happened they said there was East Prussia to pay for.

It was about dinner-time ... the officers were just about to sit down when my cook rushed in crying out that two soldiers came into the kitchen—while one held her (I am sure he bore the marks of her nails!) the other ran off with a ham and the potatoes ready for the table.

The officers were furious, and went out to find the culprits. They were found, and a part of the ham and potatoes also. Both got a terrible lashing, enough to take all the manhood out of them.

When this was told me as their supper was served, I asked why the men had been punished. They all had license to do as they pleased. Many dinners had been taken from the stoves that day in Suwalki. "But not where die Herrn Offiziere are!" There was the whole story. We did not exist—therefore no one could be punished for what they might do to harm us!

During that supper, it seemed as if all the officers in Suwalki came to say good-evening. I would hardly get one samovar emptied and go to the children than they would ask for another, at the same time expressing sorrow for my trouble, and saying the officers wished to meet the American lady,—and I dared not refuse! It was possible to avoid giving my hand in greeting because of the sick child. How miserable to be so torn asunder! To be kept there with those men when my baby needed me every minute, but what was there to do? C'est la Guerre, as all the Germans remarked in exceedingly bad French. One of the officers who came was evidently a very great personage. They paid him such deferential respect. He looked just like an Englishman. I told him so and he said his mother was an English woman—seemingly taking great pleasure in my remark, going on, however, to say the stain could only be washed from his blood by the shedding of much English blood! I shivered to hear the awful things he said; about having fought since the beginning of the war on the west front where he had many to his account; how, when the affair with the Russians was settled, and a peace made, he was going to England to call on his cousins, with not less than a hundred lives to the credit of his good sabre! It made me ill to hear him talk. In their power, one loses the vision of freedom or right; they filled the horizon; it is very difficult not to lose courage and hope. I did ask if there were no one else to take into consideration.


"Just God!"

"God stands on the side of the German weapons!"


That night was worse than the first, the forage-wagons had come! The drinking began. After I had served many samovars of tea, if you could call it so, half a cup of rum and a little tea, in and out, in and out from the children to the table, the officer whose mother's blood he wished to wash away, had sufficient decency to say I was tired and should be left undisturbedly with the children. That second night was as the first, only Stas also began to rave, talking in that curious dragging, almost lilting, tone,—one who has heard does not forget that dread sign!

Going from one little bed to the other, placing compresses, wetting the lips so cruelly dry, changing the sheets,—while in the next room those men caroused! It was only God's mercy kept me sane. Afraid to put on a dressing-gown, I remained as I was.

About five o'clock there was a great rushing about. Fresh troops were ordered to Augustowo. Many from our house were leaving. The staff remained, but my acquaintance of the night before was off. He came at that hour to wish me good-bye, showing me the picture of his wife and little daughter, telling me how "brilliantly" the child was going through the teething process! A gallant figure he was, mounted on a beautiful horse, as I looked out of the window, thinking sadly what those new troops meant.

That morning a Jew came to tell me he had some bread. By paying him well he gave me quite a quantity. Our supplies were getting low. The officers' mess had come, which served them with meat—but there was still much for me to provide, and it was only the third day!

The house was much quieter that morning, so that the sound of the little voices carried into the sitting-room. Every once in awhile Stas would shriek horribly, frightening me even more; but as a rule, during the day, they lay, constantly moving hands and head, talking incessantly, not recognizing me, and not sleeping. I should have given them milk, but there was none,—the only thing I had was tea or coffee—both rapidly disappearing.

The weather was very bad, snowing, the icy kind, which hurts one's face; it seemed to fit in with the other misery.

The officers were gay at dinner. They told me that day about the amiable project to surround Great Britain with submarines, that no atom of food might reach her shores. How in a few days the blockade was to begin, every ship was to be torpedoed! England through starvation was to be brought to her knees, the Germans were to be the lords of the universe, etc., etc. What a picture was drawn for me! Hard to keep one's balance and think the other side would also have a word to say in such a matter, not sitting idly by while the Germans put the world into their idea of order!

Shortly after dinner they all went away, leaving only the orderlies, to watch things. The two belonging to the Captain were very unpleasant. I could not bear them about, especially Max. Fritz was brutal and stupid—Max was cruel and not stupid! About my usual work, and trying to amuse Wanda girl, we all suddenly stopped still, breathless at sounds from the street! Wanda cried out:
"Oh, Mammy, our soldiers have come back—I hear their voices."


Yes, they had come back,—but how! The street was full of them, thousands, driven along like dogs, taunted, beaten, if they fell down, kicked until they either got up or lay forever still; hungry, exhausted by the long retreat and the terrible battle. I could have screamed aloud at what was enacted before my eyes, but there was my poor little girlie to quiet; she cried so bitterly. I told her she should carry bread to the Russians. My cook brought the bread cut up in chunks. I told her to go down to the mounting block with Wanda, thinking surely a little delicate child would be respected, and the surest means of getting the bread into the prisoners' hands. It seemed to me if I could not help some of those men I should go mad.

Leaving the nurse with my sons, I went to the balcony, seeing many familiar faces in the company of misery. When Wanda and the cook reached the block, there was a wild rush for the bread; trembling hands reached out, only to be beaten down. One German took a piece from my little girl's hands, broke off little bits, throwing them into the air to see those starving men snatch at them and then hunt in the mud. Finally one Christian among them gave the cook assistance; the bread was getting to the men, only we had so little.

Then something so terrible happened that while I live it can never be blotted from my memory. Wanda—my little tender, sensitive child, had a chunk of bread in her hand, in the act of reaching it to a prisoner, when Max, the Captain's orderly came up. Taking the bread from her hand he threw it in the mud, stamping on it! The poor hungry prisoner with a whimpering cry, stooped down, wildly searching, when Max raised his foot, and kicked him violently in the mouth! Wanda screamed: "Don't hurt Wanda's soldier!" The blood spurted all over her!

Rushing downstairs I gathered my poor little girlie into my arms, her whole little body quivering with sobs, and faced the brute, which had done the deed.

"What religion are you, Max?"

"Roman Catholic."

"Then I hope the Mother of God will not pray for you when you die, for you have offended one of God's little ones."

The soldier with bleeding mouth was lying on the side of the road; my cook tried to help him, but was roughly driven away.

Carrying Wanda upstairs, trying to still her; heartbroken myself, what could I tell the little creature? Suddenly she asked:

"Mammy—why does God sleep?"

"God is not asleep, darling——"

"Then Wanda don't love God when He lets the soldiers be hurt and kicked!"

"God sees all and loves all—but the bad man gets into the hearts of some of His children——"

Difficult it was to do anything when I came back into that room where my little sons lay raving, not to just sit down and nurse my girlie, six years old, to have seen such sights! While attending the boys, another scream from Wanda took me to the window. No wonder she screamed! The captured guns were being brought into the town with the Russians hitched to them, driven with blows through the icy slush of the streets, while the horses were led along beside them! Wanda cried so hysterically, that she had to have bromide; the child was ill. Surely there was nothing worse to come?

The Captain, hearing the sounds and wanting his supper, came into the room.

"Go away, Captain, if you are a man, and leave me alone with my babies."

"What is the trouble? Is the little girl ill also?"

"Have you seen what is happening with the Russian soldiers, taken prisoners?"

"Yes, I have seen."

I told him what his orderly, Max, had done. He slowly, gravely answered:

"Yes, that is bad."

"Where are all those prisoners?"

"In the churches."

Then he said, "Do not show so much sympathy—it will only do you harm and help no one. A great man will be quartered here to-morrow. Do not let him see you like this; some day when the children are well you will wish to get away from here."

"But the Russians will have retaken Suwalki long before that day, and my husband will be here."

"Never, and never, not while there is a German soldier! Now, be brave and smile, and I will help you as lays in my power."

But that evening I was not "begged" (?) to serve tea! What a night it was. My boys were so ill, and I could not pray that God save them for me. I dare not! God knows, I had come to a stone wall. It was not even possible to feel that somewhere my husband was alive. We were cut off from the living.
(Madame Turczynowicz, in her tales, "When the Prussians Came to Poland," vividly describes "The Aeroplane Visits," "The Flight to Warsaw," "Off to Galicia," "Back to Suwalki," and how she secured her release and freedom, which finally brought her to America.)

Compiled From Sources In The Public Domain.

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Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Shadows in a Timeless Myth Presents True Tales From An American Woman During WWI

 "A Little Journal of Small Things"

Told by Helen Mackay, an American Author


The dépot d'éclopés is just beyond the town, on the Roman road. The building was once the Convent of the Poor Claires. When the Sisters were sent away it was used as Communal Schools. There is a great plane tree outside the door in the yellow wall, and a bench in the shade. There is room for seven éclopés to sit crowded together on the bench. They bring out some chairs also.

All day long, and every day, as many of the éclopés as can get about, and do not mind that the road see them, and can find space in the shade of the plane tree, sit there, and look up and down the sunshine and the dust.

Some of them have one leg, and some of them have one arm. There is one of them who is packed into a short box on wheels. He sits up straight in the box, and he can run it about with his hands on the wheels. There is another in such a little cart, but that one has to lie on his back, and cannot manage the wheels himself. There is one who lies on a long stretcher, that they fix on two hurdles. There are two who are blind. The two blind men sit, and stare and stare....

I often go and stay with the éclopés at the gate, they like to have anybody come. It was a long time before I dared go in at the gate.

Inside the gate there is a courtyard that was once the nuns' garden, with their well in the middle of it and their fruit trees trained along the walls. And there, there move about all day, or keep to the shadow, of first the east wall, then the west, those of the éclopés whom the road must not see.
Some of them look up at you when you come in. But most of them turn away from you.

The two blind men at the gate who stare and stare, they cannot see the golden town or the golden mountains. They cannot see the compassion and the kindness that there is for them in the faces of all those who look upon them.

But these men in the courtyard, however will they learn to bear, down all their lives, the looks that there will be for them in the most kind, compassionate faces?

There are not ever enough chairs under the plane tree. There are more éclopés than there are chairs. How they laugh! They think it very droll to see a man who has only his left leg and a man who has only his right leg sharing a chair.

The men who have no legs say that that is not nearly so bad as having no arms. They say that the men with no arms are ashamed to be seen, like the men wounded in the face. They say that the men with no arms will never come out even to the gate.

They never will let you stand. It is a dreadful thing to do, to take one of their chairs. But they like to talk to a stranger.

All of them, except the man whose spine has been hurt, love to talk.

The man whose spine has been hurt lies all day, the days he can be brought out, on a stretcher, never stirring. He never speaks except to say one thing. He is very young. He looks as if he were made of wax.

He keeps saying, "How long the days are at this season!"

He will ask, over and over again, "What time is it?" and say, "Only eleven o'clock?" Or, "Only three o'clock?"

And then always, "How long the days are at this season!"

They are taking out for a walk those of the éclopés who are fit for it. There must be nearly a hundred of them. In every possible sort of patched, discolored uniform, here they come hopping and hobbling along. They have more crutches and canes than feet among the lot of them.

One of the men who has no legs goes so fast on his wooden stump and his crutches that everybody stops to look, and all the éclopés laugh, and the people stopping to look, laugh, and he laughs more than any of them.

If things are tragic enough, they are funny. I have come to know that, with the éclopés at the gate. And inside the gate, with those of the éclopés who keep back against the walls, I have come to know that the only safety of life is death.


The vine was red on the white old soft wall. It was very beautiful. There were masses of purple asters under the red vine, against the wall. There was a bowl of purple asters on the table between the carafes of red and white wine.

We had an omelet and bread and butter and raspberries, and water, very beautiful in the thick greenish glasses.

Under the yellow boughs of the lime tree we could see the misty valley and the mountains.
The table had a red-and-white cloth.

The little old thin brown woman who served us wanted to talk all the time with us. She wanted to talk about the omelet; she had made it and was very proud of it. She wanted to talk about the war and to talk about her son.

She said that there had been some horrible, strange mistake and that people thought that he was dead. She had had a paper from the Ministry of War telling her he was dead. It was very strange. She had had a letter also from the Aumonier, telling her he was dead. But, of course, she knew.
She said he would come home, and be so sorry she had had such dreadful news, and so glad that she had not believed it.

They would laugh together. He had beautiful white teeth, she said, and his eyes screwed tight up when he laughed.

She told us how she and he would laugh together.


They telephoned from the cantine that the baby of the girl Alice was dead at the hospital, and that the funeral was to be from there that afternoon at three o'clock, and that Alice wanted me to come.
Mademoiselle Renée, the économe, who telephoned, said it was the apache girl with the ear-rings.
I don't know why she wanted me to come to the funeral of her baby. Of the nearly three hundred women who came twice every day to the cantine, she had never been especially my friend. Her baby had been a sick little thing, and I had been touched by her wild love of it. It had no father, she told me. We never ask questions at the cantine, but she had been pleased to tell me that. She had said she was glad, because, so, it was all her own. She had rocked it as she held it wrapped in the folds of her red shawl, and shaken her long bright ear-rings, laughing down at it, over her bowl of soup. And now it is dead.

Claire came to me. We had just time, if we took a taxi, to get to the hospital, stopping on the way for some flowers. It was raining more or less, and very dark.

At the hospital they sent us round to the back, to a sort of shed opening on a street that was being built up, or had been torn down, I don't know which, desolate in the rain.

In the room of the shed there were two families in black, two mothers with dingy crape veils, and two dead babies in unpainted pine boxes that were open.

The baby in the box on the right was quite big, the size of the most expensive doll one could get for a rich little girl at Christmas. There was a quite fine white tin wreath on the floor, tilted up against the pine box. The family of the bigger baby was quite numerous, half a dozen women, an old man, and several children. They all had shoes, and several of the women had umbrellas, and one of them had a hat.

In the smaller box was the baby of Alice, very, very small and pinched and blue, even more small and pinched and blue than when she used to bring it to the cantine. The family of Alice consisted of a small boy with bare feet and no hat, a small girl with a queer colored skirt and felt slippers and a bit of black crape over her red hair, and a boy of perhaps seventeen, also in felt slippers, with his coat collar turned up and a muffler round his chin and his cap dragged down over his eyes. Alice had a hat and a crape veil and a black coat and skirt, and down-trodden, shapeless shoes much too big for her.
There was a small bunch of violets in the pine box with the baby.

We put our roses down on the floor at the foot of the box.

Both babies had on the little white slips that the hospital gives.

The family of the bigger baby, and the brother and sister of Alice, stared at us.

The mother of the bigger baby stood leaning against the wall, her head against the whitewash, her two hands over her eyes. She was making a queer little noise through her teeth. She kept it up all the time we were in the shed, a sort of hissing. She never once uncovered her eyes.

Alice was standing close, close beside her baby in the pine box, just looking down at it. She never took her eyes from it. She is a tall, straight girl, but she was bent over, as if she were feeble and old. Her veil was pushed back from her face. It had been wet, and the black had run over her face. But it must have been the rain, for she was not crying at all. All the time in the shed she never moved or cried at all.

Her little brother and sister stood back as if they were afraid of her.

Claire and I waited near the door of the shed.

For a long time we waited like that.

Then two croquemorts came, in their shining black clothes. One of them had a sort of hammer in his hand.

They went to the box of the bigger baby, and one of them picked up the cover of the box and put it on, and the other began to drive the nails in.

When he drove the first nail in, the woman with her eyes covered so she could not see him, heard, and knew what it was, and began to shriek. With her hands over her eyes she stood against the wall and shrieked.

The croquemort drove in all the nails, and the woman kept on shrieking.

Then the other croquemort put the tin wreath on the lid of the box, and then both of them came over to our baby.

Alice had been just looking and looking at her baby. When the men came, and one of them took up the lid of the box from the floor, and the other stood with his hammer, she gathered herself up as if she would spring upon the men who would take her little dead thing from her and put it away for ever. I thought she would fight over it, quite mad. The little brother and sister stood away from her, shivering.

But what she did was to stoop and take up our roses from where they lay on the floor, and put them into the pine box with the baby. She put them all in about the baby, covering it with them. She hid it away under roses and then stood close, close to it, while the croquemort drove the nails in, all the nails, one by one.

Then one of the croquemorts took up the box of the bigger baby and carried it out of the shed and put it, with the tin wreath on the top of it, into a hearse that there was waiting on the left of the door. And the other croquemort took up the box of Alice's baby and carried it out, and put it into a hearse that was waiting on the right of the door.

The family of the bigger baby followed away, after the hearse and one of the croquemorts, toward the depths of the city, two of the women leading the baby's mother, who still kept her hands over her eyes, but was not shrieking any more, only sobbing. I know no more of them after that.


Alice went out of the door alone, and turned to the right, after the hearse in which was her dead child.
Our croquemort would have gone ahead of her, but she would not let him pass. She would not have him between her and her baby. She kept close, close to the hearse, almost touching it, all the way.
The croquemort walked behind her, and the brothers and sister walked behind him, and Claire and I at the end of it.

We went through a tangle of poor streets, narrow and crowded. People drew back out of our way; some of them crossed themselves, and all of them were silent for an instant as the apache baby passed.

We went through wide, forlorn streets of coal yards and warehouses and factories. The carters and laborers in those streets stopped to look at us and made the sign of the Cross, for the baby passing.
We went over the canal bridge and the railroad bridges, and along desolate streets of the outskirts, all in the rain.

We went by barracks, where many blue coats, going about their duties, or standing idly about, drew up to salute the baby in its poor little unpainted rough box.

At the fortifications many blue coats were digging trenches, and they all looked up and stopped their work to salute the baby.

Twice we met groups of the blue coats marching along the muddy empty roads, and both times the officer halted his men to salute the apache baby going by.

The bigger brother walked like a true apache, slouching and slinking along, shoulders hunched up, head sunk down, face hidden between his muffler and the peak of his cap. The smaller brother and the sister slouched too. But Alice walked quite straight, her head up, close, close to her child.
So we came to the cemetery, in at the gates, and along a street of little marble houses, to a field where there were only wooden and black iron crosses, and to a hole that was dug in the red, wet earth.
There was a man waiting for us by the hole. He helped the croquemort to take the box out of the hearse and put it in the hole.

Alice stood close, close to the edge, looking down into the grave.

The rest of us stood together behind her.

The croquemort gave her a little spade, and told her what to do with it.

Then she stooped down and dug up a spadeful of earth and threw it into the hole where they had put the box.

Each of us went in turn to give earth to earth. And then it was over.

Alice stood close, close to the edge of the hole, and looked and looked down into it.

The croquemort said something to Alice, but she did not move. He then spoke to the bigger brother, who shuffled up to Alice and tugged at her sleeve.

But still she did not move.

The smaller brother began to cry.

Then the sister went to Alice and pulled at her other sleeve.

"Take her away," the croquemort said to me.

I said, "Dear, we must go."

Without looking at me, she said, "I—I stay here." She stood close, close to the hole and looked at the little pine box, and said again, quite quietly, "I stay here."

I said, "You cannot stay," stupidly, as if we were discussing any ordinary coming or going.
Her little sister, pulling at her skirt, said, "Say then, ask thou the lady to let thee go to supper at the cantine."

"The cantine is for those who have babies," Alice answered. Then she looked at me for the first time, her great wild eyes, in her face that was stained and streaked where the black from the wet crape had run.

 Compiled From Sources In The Public Domain.

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Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Sunday, July 5, 2015





Much has been told of the Battle of Little Big Horn and the men and women that died there; but this from a historical perspective is the story of the women that stayed behind, as told by the wife of General George Armstrong Custer. 




Our women’s hearts fell when the fiat went forth that there was to be a summer campaign, with probably actual fighting with Indians.

Sitting Bull refused to make a treaty with the Government, and would not come in to live on a reservation. Besides his constant attacks on the white settlers, driving back even the most adventurous, he was incessantly invading and stealing from the land assigned to the peaceable Crows. They appealed for help to the Government that had promised to shield them.

The preparations for the expedition were completed before my husband returned from the East, whither he had been ordered. The troops had been sent out of barracks into a camp that was established a short distance down the valley. As soon as the general returned we left home and went into camp.

The morning for the start came only too soon. My husband was to take Sister Margaret and me out for the first day’s march, so I rode beside him out of camp. The column that followed seemed unending. The grass was not then suitable for grazing, and as the route of travel was through a barren country, immense quantities of forage had to be transported. The wagons themselves seemed to stretch out interminably. There were pack-mules, the ponies already laden, and cavalry, artillery, and infantry followed, the cavalry being in advance of all. The number of men, citizens, employés, Indian scouts, and soldiers was about twelve hundred. There were nearly seventeen hundred animals in all.

As we rode at the head of the column, we were the first to enter the confines of the garrison. About the Indian quarters, which we were obliged to pass, stood the squaws, the old men, and the children singing, or rather moaning, a minor tune that has been uttered on the going out of Indian warriors since time immemorial. Some of the squaws crouched on the ground, too burdened with their trouble to hold up their heads; others restrained the restless children who, discerning their fathers, sought to follow them.

The Indian scouts themselves beat their drums and kept up their peculiar monotonous tune, which is weird and melancholy beyond description. Their war-song is misnamed when called music. It is more of a lament or a dirge than an inspiration to activity. This intoning they kept up for miles along the road. After we had passed the Indian quarters we came near Laundress Row, and there my heart entirely failed me. The wives and children of the soldiers lined the road. Mothers, with streaming eyes, held their little ones out at arm’s-length for one last look at the departing father. The toddlers among the children, unnoticed by their elders, had made a mimic column of their own. With their handkerchiefs tied to sticks in lieu of flags, and beating old tin pans for drums, they strode lustily back and forth in imitation of the advancing soldiers. They were fortunately too young to realize why the mothers wailed out their farewells.

Unfettered by conventional restrictions, and indifferent to the opinion of others, the grief of these women was audible, and was accompanied by desponding gestures, dictated by their bursting hearts and expressions of their abandoned grief.

It was a relief to escape from them and enter the garrison, and yet, when our band struck up “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” the most despairing hour seemed to have come. All the sad-faced wives of the officers who had forced themselves to their doors to try and wave a courageous farewell, and smile bravely to keep the ones they loved from knowing the anguish of their breaking hearts, gave up the struggle at the sound of the music. The first notes made them disappear to fight out alone their trouble, and seek to place their hands in that of their Heavenly Father, who, at such supreme hours, was their never-failing solace.

From the hour of breaking camp, before the sun was up, a mist had enveloped everything. Soon the bright sun began to penetrate this veil and dispel the haze, and a scene of wonder and beauty appeared. The cavalry and infantry in the order named, the scouts, pack-mules, and artillery, and behind all the long line of white-covered wagons, made a column altogether some two miles in length. As the sun broke through the mist a mirage appeared, which took up about half of the line of cavalry, and thenceforth for a little distance it marched, equally plain to the sight on the earth and in the sky.

The future of the heroic band, whose days were even then numbered, seemed to be revealed, and already there seemed a premonition in the supernatural translation as their forms were reflected from the opaque mist of the early dawn.

The sun, mounting higher and higher as we advanced, took every little bit of burnished steel on the arms and equipments along the line of horsemen, and turned them into glittering flashes of radiating light. The yellow, indicative of cavalry, outlined the accoutrements, the trappings of the saddle, and sometimes a narrow thread of that effective tint followed the outlines even up to the head-stall of the bridle. At every bend of the road, as the column wound its way round and round the low hills, my husband glanced back to admire his men, and could not refrain from constantly calling my attention to their grand appearance.

The soldiers, inured to many years of hardship, were the perfection of physical manhood. Their brawny limbs and lithe, well-poised bodies gave proof of the training their out-door life had given. Their resolute faces, brave and confident, inspired one with a feeling that they were going out aware of the momentous hours awaiting them, but inwardly assured of their capability to meet them.

The general could scarcely restrain his recurring joy at being again with his regiment, from which he had feared he might be separated by being detained on other duty. His buoyant spirits at the prospect of the activity and field-life that he so loved made him like a boy. He had made every plan to have me join him later on, when they should have reached the Yellowstone.

The steamers with supplies would be obliged to leave our post and follow the Missouri up to the mouth of the Yellowstone, and from thence on to the point on that river where the regiment was to make its first halt to renew the rations and forage. He was sanguine that but a few weeks would elapse before we would be reunited, and used this argument to animate me with courage to meet our separation.

As usual we rode a little in advance and selected camp, and watched the approach of the regiment with real pride. They were so accustomed to the march the line hardly diverged from the trail. There was a unity of movement about them that made the column at a distance seem like a broad dark ribbon stretched smoothly over the plains.

We made our camp the first night on a small river a few miles beyond the post. There the paymaster made his disbursements, in order that the debts of the soldiers might be liquidated with the sutler.
In the morning the farewell was said, and the paymaster took sister and me back to the post.

With my husband’s departure my last happy days in garrison were ended, as a premonition of disaster that I had never known before weighed me down. I could not shake off the baleful influence of depressing thoughts. This presentiment and suspense, such as I had never known, made me selfish, and I shut into my heart the most uncontrollable anxiety, and could lighten no one else’s burden. The occupations of other summers could not even give temporary interest.

We heard constantly at the Fort of the disaffection of the young Indians of the reservation, and of their joining the hostiles. We knew, for we had seen for ourselves, how admirably they were equipped. We even saw on a steamer touching at our landing its freight of Springfield rifles piled up on the decks en route for the Indians up the river. There was unquestionable proof that they came into the trading-posts far above us and bought them, while our own brave 7th Cavalry troopers were sent out with only the short-range carbines that grew foul after the second firing.

While we waited in untold suspense for some hopeful news, the garrison was suddenly thrown into a state of excitement by important despatches that were sent from Division Head-quarters in the East. We women knew that eventful news had come, and could hardly restrain our curiosity, for it was of vital import to us. Indian scouts were fitted out at the Fort with the greatest despatch, and given instructions to make the utmost speed they could in reaching the expedition on the Yellowstone. After their departure, when there was no longer any need for secrecy, we were told that the expedition which had started from the Department of the Platte, and encountered the hostile Indians on the head-waters of the Rosebud, had been compelled to retreat.

All those victorious Indians had gone to join Sitting Bull, and it was to warn our regiment that this news was sent to our post, which was the extreme telegraphic communication in the North-west, and the orders given to transmit the information, that precautions might be taken against encountering so large a number of the enemy. The news of the failure of the campaign in the other department was a death-knell to our hopes. We felt that we had nothing to expect but that our troops would be overwhelmed with numbers, for it seemed to us an impossibility, as it really proved to be, that our Indian scouts should cross that vast extent of country in time to make the warning of use.

The first steamer that returned from the Yellowstone brought letters from my husband, with the permission, for which I had longed unutterably, to join him by the next boat. The Indians had fired into the steamer when it had passed under the high bluffs in the gorges of the river. I counted the hours until the second steamer was ready. They were obliged, after loading, to cover the pilot-house and other vulnerable portions of the upper deck with sheet-iron to repel attacks. Then sand-bags were placed around the guards as protection, and other precautions taken for the safety of those on board. All these delays and preparations made me inexpressibly impatient, and it seemed as if the time would never come for the steamer to depart.

Meanwhile our own post was constantly surrounded by hostiles, and the outer pickets were continually subjected to attacks. It was no unusual sound to hear the long-roll calling out the infantry before dawn to defend the garrison. We saw the faces of the officers blanch, brave as they were, when the savages grew so bold as to make a daytime sortie upon our outer guards.

A picture of one day of our life in those disconsolate times is fixed indelibly in my memory.

On Sunday afternoon, the 25th of June, our little group of saddened women, borne down with one common weight of anxiety, sought solace in gathering together in our house. We tried to find some slight surcease from trouble in the old hymns: some of them dated back to our childhood’s days, when our mothers rocked us to sleep to their soothing strains. I remember the grief with which one fair young wife threw herself on the carpet and pillowed her head in the lap of a tender friend.

Another sat dejected at the piano, and struck soft chords that melted into the notes of the voices. All were absorbed in the same thoughts, and their eyes were filled with far-away visions and longings. Indescribable yearning for the absent, and untold terror for their safety, engrossed each heart. The words of the hymn,

“E’en though a cross it be,
Nearer, my God, to Thee,”

came forth with almost a sob from every throat.

At that very hour the fears that our tortured minds had portrayed in imagination were realities, and the souls of those we thought upon were ascending to meet their Maker.

On the 5th of July—for it took that time for the news to come—the sun rose on a beautiful world, but with its earliest beams came the first knell of disaster. A steamer came down the river bearing the wounded from the battle of the Little Big Horn, of Sunday, June 25th. This battle wrecked the lives of twenty-six women at Fort Lincoln, and orphaned children of officers and soldiers joined their cry to that of their bereaved mothers.From that time the life went out of the hearts of the “women who weep,” and God asked them to walk on alone and in the shadow.

Compiled From Sources In The Public Domain.

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Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915