War in Eastern Europe
John Reed


The immense station at Lemberg - or Lvov in Polish - was choked with troops running and calling, with soldiers asleep on the filthy floor, with stupefied refugees wandering vaguely about. No one questioned or stopped us, though Lemberg was one of the forbidden places. We drove through the ancient and royal Polish city, between the gloomy walls of great stone buildings like Roman and Florentine palaces - once the seats of the world's proudest nobility. In little squares among the mediaeval twisted streets were Gothic churches of the great period - high, thin roofs, spires of delicate stone tracery, and rich rose-windows. Immense modern German buildings bulked across the noble sky-line, and there were the brilliant shops, restaurants and cafés, wide green squares of a big city. Shabby Jewish quarters encroached on the smart streets, littered with filth and populous with noisy Hebrews, but here their houses and shops were wider, they laughed more, walked more like free people than in the other places we had been. Soldiers - always soldiers - shuffling Jews, and quick, gesticulating Poles - the ugliest race in the world - thronged the sidewalks. Everywhere were wounded men in every stage of convalescence. Whole streets of houses had been turned into temporary hospitals. Never in any country during the war have I seen such vast numbers of wounded as behind the Russian front. The Hotel Imperial was an old palace. Our room measured twenty-five feet by thirty, fourteen feet high, and the outside walls were nine feet thick. We breakfasted, lost in the wastes of this vast apartment; and then, because our pass read, 'The bearers must report immediately to the Chancellory of the governor-general of Galicia,' we took our way to the ancient palace of the Polish kings, where the local Russian bureaucracy was functioning with all its clumsy ineffectualness.

A surging crowd of refugees and civilians of all sorts beat about the clerk's desk in the anteroom. Finally he took our pass, read it attentively two or three times, turned it upside down, and handed it back with a shrug of the shoulders. He paid no further attention to us. So we forced our way past several sentries into an inner office, where an officer sat writing at a desk. He looked at the pass and smiled sweetly.

'Ya nisnayo,' said he. 'I know nothing about it.'

We asked for some one who could speak French or German, and he went to find one. Three-quarters of an hour later he returned with an oldish captain who spoke some German. We explained that General Lichisky had ordered us to report to the Chancellory, and that we wanted to go the front.

T will show you. This way.' He mentioned us down a passage. We walked on for some time, and suddenly looking around, missed him. We never saw him again.

Immediately ahead was a door marked 'Staff of the Governor-General,' which we entered, telling the orderly that we wanted to speak to some one who understood French or German. A genial colonel promptly appeared, shaking hands and introducing himself: 'Piotr Stefanovitch Verchovsky, á votre service.' We told our tale.

'Please wait a few minutes, gentlemen,' said he, 'and I will arrange your affair.'

He took our pass and disappeared. Four hours later an orderly came into the room and handed me the pass, shrugging his shoulders.

'Where is Colonel Verchovsky?' we demanded.

'Ne poniemayo!' he muttered. 'I don't understand!'

I went to the door and sent the orderly to find the colonel; and in a few minutes he appeared, polite as ever, but greatly surprised to see us still there.

'Your pass distinctly says that you must report to the Chancellory,' he explained, 'but I have tried in vain to find the proper department. The truth is that we are in great confusion here on account of this morning's news. I advise you to go to Prince Bobrinski's personal headquarters, and ask to speak with his aide-de-camp, Prince Troubetskoi....But don't say I sent you.'

There were four sets of suspicious sentries to pass on our way to the governor's. We sent in our cards, and were immediately ushered into a room full of smartly dressed officers smoking, laughing and talking, and reading newspapers. One dashing boy in a hussar uniform, surrounded by a gay circle, was telling in French a story about himself and a Polish countess whom he had met at Nice.... A gentle-faced, bearded pope of the Russian church, in a long, black-silk soutane, with a huge silver crucifix dangling from a silver neck-chain, paced up and down arm in arm with a bull-necked colonel covered with decorations....Nothing seemed farther from this easy, pleasant-mannered company than war.

A great handsome youth with shining teeth under a heavy mustache came forward, holding out his hand.

'I'm Troubetskoi,' said he in English. 'How on earth did you manage to get here? It is impossible for correspondents to enter Lemberg!'

We produced quantities of passes signed by generals and their chiefs of staff.

'Americans!' he sighed, biting his lips to repress a grin. 'Americans! What's the use of regulations when Americans are about? I don't understand how you found out I was here, or why you came to me.'

We murmured something about having met Troubetskoi the sculptor, in New York.

'Ah yes,' said he. 'That is the international one. He does not speak Russian, I believe....But now you are here, what can I do for you?'

'We want to go to the front.' Here he shook his head doubtfully. 'At least we thought the governor-general might let us visit Przsemysl -'

T'm sure he would,' grinned the prince, 'but for the regrettable news of this morning. The Austrians entered Przsemysl at eight o'clock!'

We had not dreamed that it would fall so soon. 'Do you think they will get to Lemberg?'

'Very probably,' he answered in an uninterested tone. 'Neither are now of any strategic value. We are rectifying our line.' Then changing the subject, he said that he would see the governor-general himself and ask what could be done for us. Would we come in the morning?

The pope, who had been listening, now asked in very good English, what part of America we were from.

'I have been in America for sixteen years,' he said, smiling. 'For eight years I was priest of the Greek church in Yonkers, New York. I came back for the war to help all I could.... Now I only wait for peace to go back yonder.'

As we emerged on the street, a column of gigantic soldiers, four deep, rounded the corner with their tin buckets swinging, tramping to their kitchens for dinner. Just in front of the palace the front rank burst into song, and with a roar the following ranks joined in:

'I remember when I was a young girl,
During the army manoevres
To my village came a young officer
With soldiers, and he said to me,
'Give me some water to drink.'
When he finished drinking, he stooped from his horse
And kissed me.
Long stood I looking after him as he went away,
And all night I could not sleep -
All night he was in my dreams....
Many years after, when I was a widow
And had married off my four daughters,
To my village came an old general;
And he was broken and wounded with many wounds.
He groaned. When I looked at him my heart beat fast -
It was the same young officer, I could not mistake him:
Brave as ever - the same voice,
Brave as ever - the same eyes,
But many white hairs in his mustache.
And so, as many years ago, this night I cannot sleep,
And all night in my dreams I see him....'
Now through all the streets poured rivers of soldiers singing. We could see their hats flowing along the end of the avenue, over the top of a little rise. Grand choruses met, clashing like cross-seas in the echoing hollows between tall buildings - the city hummed with deep melody. This was the inexhaustible strength of Russia, the powerful blood of her veins spilled carelessly from her bottomless fountains of manhood, wasted, lavished. The paradox of a beaten army which gathers strength, a retreating host whose very withdrawal is fatal to the conquerors.

Our Russian money was running low, so in the morning we went out to change our English gold. But no one wanted English gold. Everybody asked the same question, in a low voice, peering around to see that no soldiers were within hearing: 'Have you any Austrian money?' For already it was rumoured in the city that the Austrians were coming again.

We kept our appointment with Troubetskoi, who led us through the ancient throne-room of the palace to the office of the governor-general's assistant, a pleasant-mannered officer whose coat blazed with decorations.

'Prince Troubetskoi and I have really done our best for you,' he said with a friendly smile. 'But the governor regrets that he cannot give you permission to visit the front. For that you must apply to the military authorities - he is simply a civil official, you know.... However, I haven't a doubt that they will allow you to go. And in that case, return here and we shall be most happy to take care of you.'

We asked where the permission was to be had.

'There are two ways. Either you may proceed to Petrograd, and arrange matters with his Highness the Grand Duke Nicolai Nicolaievitch through your ambassadors, or go to Cholm in Poland, which is the headquarters of General Ivanov, commander-in-chief of the southwestern front. Both Prince Troubetskoi and I think you will be more successful if you make application to General Ivanov, and his Excellency the governor-general is of the same opinion. I will give you passes which will carry you to Cholm.'

At midnight we left the hotel to catch the train for Cholm, and there being no cabs in sight, an officer bound for the station called out in French that he would be happy if we would share his. His oval, half-Semitic face might have been copied from an Assyrian wall-painting - he said he was a Georgian from the Caucasus.

'The Georgian regiments have been ordered here from the Turkish front, because of their heroic conduct. The Grand Duke has done right; we Georgians are by far the bravest soldiers in the army,' said he.

'Will the Austrians take Lemberg?' asked Robinson.

'Oh yes,' he answered complacently: 'We expect them every day now. But it doesn't matter, you know. Next winter we'll come back - or the winter after.'

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