It was the fifth of August. Warsaw the
brilliant, Warsaw the Beautiful, the best beloved of her adoring people, had
fallen. Torn by bombs, wrecked by great shells, devastated by hordes of alien
invaders, she lay in ruins.
Her people, despairing, seemed for the
greater part to have vanished in the two days since the fatal third of August
when the city was taken.
Many of the wealthiest of her citizens had
taken refuge in the lower part of the city, leaving their magnificent palaces
and residences situated in the newer part to the flood of invading soldiers,
who went with unerring directness to the parts containing the greatest comfort
Warsaw is built in the midst of a beautiful
plain mostly on the left bank of the river Vistula. All the main part of the
city lies close to the river, and the streets are so twisted and crooked that
it is almost impossible to picture them. They wriggle here and there like
snakes of streets. The houses, of course, are very old, and with their heavy
barred doors and solid shutters, look very strange and inhospitable.
People, in a way, become like their
surroundings. Here in these twisted, narrow streets are to be found the narrow,
twisted souls of the worst element in Poland; but the worst of them love their
country as perhaps no other people do. To the last man and to the frailest
woman, they are loyal to Poland. For them, it is Poland first, last and always.
In these low and twisted streets, the
devastation was greatest and the people had scurried like rats to cover. A
week before they had swarmed the streets and crowded the buildings. Now by
some miracle they had gone, utterly disappeared. The houses were deserted, the
streets empty. The destruction had been greatest in these crowded places, but
many of the beautiful public buildings and state departments in the new part
were also in ruins, as well as a number of matchless palaces.
The people from the upper part of the city
who had taken refuge in the holes along the river front, were for the most
part a strange appearing lot. Some of them carried great bundles which they
guarded with jealous care. Others, empty handed, sat and shivered through the
summer night-chills that blew from the river. Scores of little children clung
to their mother's hands, or wandered trembling and screaming from group to
group, seeking their own people.
There was a general gathering of types.
Nobles mixed with the poorest, meanest and most criminal classes, and mingled
with their common sorrow. For the most part a dumbness, a silence prevailed.
The shock of the national disaster had bereft the people of their powers of
Since 1770, Poland had been torn and racked
by foes on every hand. Prussia, Austria and Russia envied her wealth, courage,
and her fertile plains. Little by little her enemies had pressed across her
shrinking borders, wet with the blood of her patriot sons. Little by little
she had lost her cherished land until the day of doom August third, 1915.
Sitting, hiding in their desolated city, the
people of Poland knew that theirs was a country no longer on the map. Russia,
Austria and Prussia at least had met. There was no longer any Poland. For
generations there had been no Polish language; it was forbidden by her
oppressors. Now the country itself was swallowed up. No longer on the changing
map of the world had she any place.
But in the hearts of her people Poland lives.
With the most perfect loyalty and love in the world, they say, "We are
Poland. We live and die for her."
A gray haze hung over Warsaw. The streets,
after the roar of great guns, the bursting of shells, and the cries of
thousands of people rushing blindly to safety, seemed silent and deserted. The
hated enemy held the town, and the people of Warsaw, most hapless city of all
history, cowered beneath the iron hand of the enemy.
As is usual in the fearful lull after such a
victory, the town was filled with dangers of the most horrible sort. Murder,
crime of every kind, lawlessness in every guise, stalked through the streets
or lurked down the narrow, dark and twisted alleys. The unfortunate citizens
who had not retreated in time hid, when they could, in all sorts of strange
places. They gathered in trembling, whispering groups, into garrets and
cellars; even the vaults in the catacombs, the old burial place of the dead,
were opened by desperate fugitives, and became hiding places for the living.
The soldiers were in possession of all the
uninjured residences in the more modern portion of the city, where they
reveled in the comforts of modern baths, lights and heat. But the lower part
of the city, lying along the left bank of the river Vistula, was filled with a
strange mixture of terrified people. In all the throngs, huddled in streets
and alleys, storehouses and ware-rooms, there was perhaps no stranger group
than the one gathered in a dark corner of a great building where machinery of
some sort had been manufactured.
This had, strangely enough, escaped
destruction and stood unharmed in a street where everything bore the scars of
shells or bombs.
The engines were stopped; the great wheels
motionless; the broad belts sagged hopelessly. Even the machinery seemed to
feel the terrible blow and mourned the fallen city.
The persons huddled in the shadow of a vast
wheel, however, gave little heed to their strange surroundings. They seemed
crushed by a frightful grief more personal even than the taking of Warsaw
would cause in the most loyal heart.
In the center of the group a boy of fourteen
or fifteen years stood talking excitedly. He was tall, dark as an Italian, and
dressed with the greatest richness. Two rings set with great jewels flashed on
his hand and while he spoke, he tapped his polished boot with a small cane in
the end of which was set a huge, sparkling red stone. He spoke with great
rapidity, in the pure Russian of the Court, and addressed himself to an
elderly man who sat drooping in an attitude of hopeless sorrow.
Near them sat a plainly dressed woman who
buried her stained face in her apron, and wept the hard sobs of those who can
scarcely weep more. A young girl clung to her, silent but with beautiful dark
eyes wild with terror and loss. On the floor lay a wounded soldier, bearing in
perfect silence the frightful pain of a shattered shoulder. His only bandage
was a piece of cloth wound tightly around his coat, but not a groan escaped
his pale lips. At the window, gazing down into the wrecked street, stood a
tall boy of perhaps fifteen years. His face was bloodless; his strong mouth
was set in a straight line; the hand resting on the window sill was clenched
until the knuckles shone white through the tanned skin. Desperation, horror,
and grief struggled equally in his face. His left arm encircled a boy nearly
his own size. He, like the woman, sobbed brokenly, and the taller boy patted
him as he listened to the rapid words of the boy who was talking.
Suddenly the elderly man spoke.
"You must pardon me, Ivanovich," he
said in a trembling voice. "I do not seen to comprehend. Will you kindly
repeat your account?"
A flash of anger passed over the face of the
young nobleman; then he spoke courteously.
"Certainly, Professor! It was thus. You
remember, don't you, that I came to your house as usual, five days ago, for my
lessons in English? And you know the sudden bombardment, so close to the city,
was so terrible that you would not let me go home? Good! Then you understand
all, up to this morning. You know we had watched all night with the doors
barricaded, and we decided it was too unsafe to remain longer in the direct
path of those brutal soldiers. So we prepared to come here, to one of my
father's buildings where there is a chute and an underground storeroom where
we could be safe.
"You send me for this cloak and when I
returned, what did I find in the room where I had left everyone of the
household gathered ready for the flight? The room was empty. I had been
upstairs perhaps ten minutes because I could not find my cloak, and there was
the room empty. Sir, I was furious at you for leaving me. I am in your charge;
I am a Prince; yet you left me -- "
The tall boy turned from the window and spoke.
"Never mind that, Ivan," he said.
"Just cut that all out and hustle to the part you haven't told."
Although he spoke English, while Ivan told his story in Russian, the boys
understood each other perfectly for with a frown and quick glance, the boy
Ivan nodded and continued.
"I stood for a while and listened but
heard nothing. Then I went through the other rooms on the floor, and all were
empty. I decided to get to the warehouse alone if I could, and crept to the
door. I drew back hastily. A horrible old woman squatted on the step. She was
watching over two great sacks full, no doubt, of valuables stolen from your
house and others. As I looked, two men came up. Criminals, they looked, and I
scarcely breathed. Presently they went away, the men throwing the sacks over
their shoulders, and the woman dragging a jeweled Icon in her hand.
"I heard footsteps behind me, and there
you were coming down the stairs. You had that package in your hands, and you
said, 'Just think, I nearly forgot my book, Ivan; my great book on the history
of Warsaw, now so nearly finished.'
"You asked where the others were, and
you said they had thought it wise to go in two parties. You said they had told
you to be very careful of something; you couldn't very well remember just what,
but it made you remember your book in your and you hurried to save it. So we
hurried out, and managed to escape the soldiers, and get here and then
everyone cried out, 'Where are the children?'"
"When I went to get my book," said
the Professor, with a groan, "they were sitting quiet as mice by the
stove, holding each other's hands. How could they have gone off?"
The woman looked up. "They could not
go," she said. "I myself slid the great latch on the door; they
could not lift it. I have seen Elinor try to do so. The little stranger was
much too small. The Germans have them, I am sure of it." She bowed her
head with fresh sobs.
"There were no Germans about," said
Ivan. "No soldiers of any sort; no one at all save the three of whom I
spoke and they certainly did not take them away."
"Certainly not!" said Professor
Morris, frowning. "They must have gone out and wandered off while I was
after my book, although I distinctly told Elinor not to stir from her seat. I
have always endeavored to teach my children absolute obedience. I am surprised
at Elinor. She understood. She is six years of age, and she said, "Yes,
father." This is a terrible thing; but they will be found. I will report
at once to the military authorities. I am convinced that they are safe.
Someone will take them in just as we took in the strange child whom we found
at the door. That child, as you know, is a noble, yet she was lost. These are
war times. People are glad to return lost children. They do not want them. Now
if I had forgotten my book, it might have been burned; three years of effort
in this city wasted and lost forever! I will hide the manuscript in the
underground room you told of, Ivan, then we will go to the proper authorities,
and get the children."
"Bah!" said the soldier with the
broken shoulder suddenly. "Go where thou wilt these days there is no
authority save the authority of brute might. Will that help thee?"
"We must find them," said the
Professor brokenly. The seriousness of the affair was beginning to dawn on him.
"It will certainly be simple. We will advertise."
The girl at his side smiled. "Advertise?"
she said. "Why, father, there are no papers left to advertise in."
"Ivan," said the tall boy at the
window, "did you hear what the three people at the door were talking
about? What did they say? The people you said looked like thieves."
"Yes, they talked," said Ivan,
"but it did not seem to mean much. I didn't get much from it anyway."
"Try to think what they said," said
the boy. He passed a hand carefully across the bright fairness of his hair
where a dark red streak stained it. "Can't you remember anything they
Ivan stood thinking, the jeweled cane still
tapping his boot. "Yes," he said, "when the men came up, they
said, 'What have you?' The woman laughed -- evilly, and said, 'All the wine we
can drink, and all the bread we can eat, and all the fire we burn for years
"The man who had spoken said 'Jewels,'
and rubbed his hands. 'That is indeed good! Jewels fit for a king!"
"The woman said, "Jewels now, thou
fool! Where can one sell jewels these days when one cannot cross the border,
and when the world cracks? No one wants jewels!"
"'Then what?' said the man.
"'Oh, stupid!' said the woman. 'Pick up
my sacks carefully and be off."
"Then the other man who had already
picked up the larger sack, laughed. 'Better than rubies," he said. 'You
are always wise, my woman!"
"And then the other man picked up the
other sack and he laughed too, and the woman held hand to them and whined,
'Please give me some money for these poor little refugees are starving!'
"At that they all roared, and hurried
Ivan paused. "That was all they
said," he added. "It doesn't help, does it?"
The girl Evelyn leaned forward. "Say it
again, Ivan," she said excitedly. "Say just what the woman
Ivan, repeated the words.
Evelyn whispered them after him. Then a wild
cry broke from her lips. She turned to her father who sat holding the package
containing the fatal manuscript. She seized his arm and shook him. So great
was her emotion that she could not say the words she wanted.
"Father, father, don't you see it
now!" she cried. "Oh, oh, father! Oh, what shall we do? Oh, my
darling little sister!" she gasped, and the tall boy ran forward and
seized her hands.
"Control yourself, Evelyn," he
cried. "I never saw you act like this. Tell me what it is."
She looked at him quite speechless. The agony
of all that she had witnessed, the terror of the past week, the fright of
losing her precious little sister scarcely more than a baby, the blindness of
her father, all had combined to send her into state scarcely better than
insanity. With a desperate effort to control, herself, she looked into her
"You see, don't you, Warren?" she
begged. "You can't seem to be able say it.
Say you see it too, Warren!"
Then as if she had found some way of giving
him her message of doom, she drooped against brother's strong shoulder and
fainted quietly away. Warren laid her down, and the governess rushed to her.
"Is she dead?" asked Warren.
"Certainly not," said the woman;
"she has fainted."
"What did she try to tell you?"
cried Ivan. "Was it something I said?"
"Yes, you told her," said Warren,
"and she read it right. I know she is right."
"Well, well, what is it?" demanded
the Professor. "This is fearfully upsetting, fearfully upsetting!"
Warren bent tenderly above his sister. She
was regaining consciousness.
"It is about as bad as it can be,"
he said hesitatingly. "The remark about refugees told the whole thing.
Our little sister was in one of those sacks, gagged or unconscious. They have
been stolen to be used and brought up as beggars."
A deep silence followed. The governess
covered her eyes. The wounded soldier slowly shook his head. Professor Morris,
Ivan and jack stood with bulging eyes staring at Warren, trying to make
themselves understand his speech. Ivan, who knew more of the ways of the half
barbaric people of Poland and Russia, nodded his head understandingly. Jack
stood with open mouth. The Professor rumpled his hair, though deeply, and
"Now what would they do that for!"
he asked sarcastically. "That sort of thing is not done nowadays."
"Not in the best families," said
Warren coldly. "But it is done, I'll bet."
"Oh, yes, it's done," said Ivan,
"all the time. I know my father talked a lot about it just before the
commencement of the war. He was going to try to stamp out a lot of that sort
of thing, especially what affected the women and children. Yes, it is done,
"Not now," said the Professor
stubbornly. "There was recorded a case of that sort in 1793, and even
later in the early sixties. Later, there are no records at all bearing on the
subject. And if no records, surely there are no instances requiring the
attention of thinking people.
"It would be most natural to record any
instance of the sort, however small and trifling. In my researches I would
have run across the facts. There is no mention of it whatever."
"I know it happens anyhow," said
Ivan, sticking to his point.
"Ivan, you forget that I am in a
position to know," said the Professor. "My researches have led me,
thanks to the presentations of your father and many others, into secret
records never before opened to outsiders of any race. I regret the stand you
take with me. I am unused to contradiction."
"Pardon me," said Ivan wearily. He
looked at Warren. In the minds of both boys there was a feeling that the
mystery was solved. There was no longer any need to discuss it. A little
search around the house would show if the children were there; after that it
meant that Evelyn was right.
"Well, Ivan's right," said Warren
doggedly. "It doesn't matter what you have found in your researches,
father; you have had those dry old records to prove everything to you. I have
heard the people tell stories that would make your hair curl. They not only
steal children, but sometimes they cripple them, just as they did hundreds of
years ago in England. Why do you suppose boys like Ivan here are watched every
second? Sometimes they take them for revenge, but when they are gone, they are
gone. You can't go out with a wad of bills and stick it under the park fence,
and go back and find your child on the front stoop like you can at home."