Servian Woman Loses Everything in War

Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram/February 9, 1915


Nellie Bly Describes Village in War Zone

Miss Nellie Bly continues her correspondence for the International News Service from the Austro-Hungarian frontier, as follows:

We drove on in the dark. A horse went lame, and after staggering along until covered with the foam of pain a wagon had to be abandoned. I had to take in the stranded three men.

We proceeded slowly. Often a voice would cry suddenly from the darkness, “Halt!” We obeyed promptly. One does not hesitate at the sound of that simple word. We stand quiet until some bridge guard examines all papers and is satisfied we are entitled to pass.

I lost, with the last glimmer of daylight, all interest. I only wanted to reach our destination, wherever it was. Every bone I own ached. Ten million pains tortured my leg. In addition I had a cramp in my neck at the base of my brain, caused by holding my head to one side all day. The iron brace directly above me was broken, and every jolt made it whack me on the side of the head. I got tired trying to dodge it.

Glad to Arrive

An excited “halt!”—a flashing of electric lamps—and our excited gendarme ran into the road to tell us we were found. We had lost the rest of our caravan, including the gendarme, when the one team went bad. So two wagons only now formed our group, the one having been left by the way, the five others having gone on without us.

Two men were introduced to me in the dark. Officers they were. By the ray of a pocket electric lamp they escorted me across the muddy street. They banged upon high iron gates, shouted furiously, and finally brought forth, grumbling, a fat, shapeless woman with a small shawl on her head.

Talking loudly and protestingly all the way, she led us through a paved court into a wide walled yard.

Another door was unlocked. By the electric lamp I saw two empty single beds. I mean there were two bedsteads with nothing on them. Board slats, that was all.

The officers talked so loudly and emphatically that the woman finally departed. She returned with a small oil lamp with a reflector.

The same mode of persuasion and she departed to return with a bag of straw, borne by herself and a little frail woman.

Then telling me in German they would call me at 6 a.m. and call for my baggage at 6:30, the officers bade me good-night and I was left alone with the two women.

I tried to be amiable. I opened a candy box and gave them some. They hesitated to eat, though they accepted.

Finally they both went away, indicating they would return. I began to unpack my food.

I opened a box of sardines, took out my toasted bread, crackers, cheese, pressed fruit and soldiers’ biscuit—I cannot eat preserved meats and salami, so I do not carry the stuff.

Then one woman rushed out and brought in a little shy girl of four or five. She kissed my hand with cold lips. I gave her candy and cakes. She kissed my hand again, thanked me in her language, but never a smile.

Finally my landlady sent the other woman and child away and sat down to watch me eat.

She began to talk. War was terrible. She did not know the fate of her husband. He had been taken as a “spion.” She had not heard since.

Everything she possessed was taken. Officers had taken her beds, her towels, her linens, her food. No one paid. She had nothing. No tea, nothing to eat. Nothing to sleep on. No wood. She once owned a great pile. Even it was taken.

Keeps Pistol Near

I washed my tea-pan, put everything away nicely, undressed, hung my clothes over a chair where I could find them easily, wrapped myself in Dr. MacDonald’s blanket and crawled into the fur-lined bag. I found I could not lock the doors. The keys worked from the outside but not from the inside.

How to lock myself within from without was a proposition too difficult for my tired brain to solve.

So I set a chair against the door and placed my revolver on the floor by my bed. I really wondered whether it might be quicker if I kept it in the bag with me. I thought I might shoot when I did not intend. A certain promise made me resolve it were better to take time to reach for it.

(Source: Library of Congress, Chronicling America,