In the spring of 1914 the Imperial family went to the Crimea, as in preceding years. We arrived at Livadia on April 13th, a bright, sunny day. In fact, we were almost dazzled by the sunshine, which bathed the high, steep cliffs, the little Tatar villages half buried in the bare sides of the mountains, and the staring white mosques which stood out sharply against presses in the cemeteries. The contrast with the landscapes we had just left was so striking that, although this new country was familiar, it seemed quite fairy-like and unreal in its wondrous beauty under this halo of sunshine.
These spring days in the Crimea were a delicious relief after the interminable St. Petersburg winter, and we looked forward to them months before they came.
On the excuse of settling in, we all took holiday the first few days, and used it to enjoy this marvel of nature to the full. Then regular lessons were resumed. My colleague, M. Petrov, accompanied us as before.
Aleksey Nicolaievich's health had improved in recent he had grown a good deal, and he looked so well that were all in high spirits.
On May 8th the Tsar, wishing to give his son a treat, decided that we should take advantage of a day which promised to be particularly sunny to pay a visit to the "Red Rock." We left in a car, the party comprising the Tsar, the Tsarevich, an officer from the Standard, and myself. The sailor Derevenko and the cossack on duty followed in another car. We gradually ascended the slopes of the Jaila mountains through beautiful forests of pine-trees, whose enormous trunks rose tall and majestic to the leafy dome above them. We soon reached the end of our journey - a huge rock sheer above the valley, and looking as if it had grown rusty in the course of ages.
The day was so fine that the Tsar decided to continue the drive. We descended the northern slopes of the Jaila mountains. There was still plenty of snow about, and Aleksey Nicolaievich had huge fun sliding on it. He ran round us, skipping about, rolling in the snow and picking himself up, only to fall again a few seconds later. It seemed as if his lively nature and joie de vivre had never been displayed to better advantage before. The Tsar watched his son's frolics with obvious pleasure. You could see how happy he was to realise that the boy had recovered the health and strength of which he had been deprived so long. Yet he was still haunted by the fear of accidents, and every now and then he intervened to moderate his transports, Although he never so much as referred to the disease to which the Heir was a victim, it caused him perpetual anxiety and concern.
The day drew to a close, and we were quite sorry to have to start back. The Tsar was in high spirits during the drive. We had an impression that this holiday devoted to his son had been a tremendous pleasure to him. For a few hours he had escaped from his Imperial duties and the attentions, exquisitely polite though they were, of those about him. Thanks to the fact that this little trip had been quite impromptu, he had even dodged the vigilant care of the palace police, a thing he felt was always about him (though this duty was performed in the discreetest possible manner), and hated thoroughly. For once, any rate, he had been able to live like an ordinary mortal. He seemed rested and relieved.
In ordinary times the Tsar did not see much of his children. His work and the demands of Court life prevented him from giving them as much time as he would have wished. He had handed over their bringing-up entirely to the Tsarina, and in the short time he spent with them in family intimacy he liked to enjoy their company without restraint and with a mind free all cares. At such times he wanted to be free of the rise burden of responsibility upon his shoulders. He wanted to be simply the father and forget that he was the Tsar. Nothing of any importance occurred to break the monotony our life during the following weeks.
About the end of May there were rumours at Court that the Grand-Duchess Olga Nicolaievna was about to be betrothed Prince Carol of Rumania. She was then eighteen and a The parents on both sides seemed in favour of the match, which was very desirable at that moment on political grounds also. I knew that M. Sazonov, the Minister for foreign Affairs, was doing his utmost to bring about the betrothal and that the final arrangements were to be made during a visit which the Russian Imperial family were to pay to in the immediate future.
One day at the beginning of June when I was alone with me a question with that confident and disingenuous frankness which was all her own and the legacy of the relations which had been established between us when she was quite a little girl:
"Tell me the truth, monsieur: do you know why we are going to Rumania? "
In some confusion I replied:
"I believe it's a courtesy visit. The Tsar is going to return the visit the King of Rumania paid him some time back."
"Oh, that's the official reason . . . but what's the real reason ? I know you are not supposed to know, but I'm sure everyone is talking about it and that you know it . . . ...
As I nodded in assent, she added:
"All right! But if I don't wish it, it won't happen. Papa has promised not to make me . . . and I don't want to leave Russia."
"But you could come back as often as you like."
"I should still be a foreigner in my own country. I'm a Russian, and mean to remain a Russian!"
On June 13th we embarked on the Imperial yacht Standard at Yalta, and the next morning we arrived at Constanza, the great Rumanian port on the Black Sea where the celebrations were to take place. On the quay a company of infantry with its colours and band received us with military honours, while a battery of artillery posted on the hill above the fort gave us the prescribed salute. All the ships in the harbour had their flags out.
Their Majesties were received by the old King Carol, Queen Elizabeth ("Carmen Sylva"), and the princes and princesses of the royal family. After the customary presentations we went to the Cathedral, where a Te Deum was celebrated by the Bishop of the Lower Danube. At one o'clock the members of the two families took luncheon together privately, while the suite were the guests of the President of the Council of Ministers. The royal luncheon was served in the pavilion which "Carmen Sylva" had had built at the pierhead. It was one of her favorite residences, and she spent a considerable part of every day there. She was fond of sitting for hours, "listening to the sea," on the terrace which seemed suspended between the sky and the waves, where the great sea-birds only could break in on her solitude.
Above; the Russian and Romanian Royal families during their visit.
In the afternoon Their Majesties gave an At Home on board the Standard and then attended a great review.
At eight o'clock in the evening we all assembled for the gala banquet, which was served in a beautiful room built for the purpose It was certainly charmingly decorated, with its ceiling and walls of white stucco sown with little electric lamps most tastefully disposed and its palms and plants and profusion well-arranged flowers. The whole thing was a blend of our and line which was highly pleasing to the eye.
The Tsar, with Queen Elizabeth on one side and Princess Marie on the other, was in the centre of a long table at which eighty-four guests were seated. The Tsarina sat opposite him, between King Carol and Prince Ferdinand. Olga Nicolaievna next to Prince Carol, and replied with her usual natural charm to his questions. The three other Grand-Duchesses, found it none too easy to conceal their boredom on such occasions, lost no chances of leaning towards me and indicating their sister with a sly wink.
Towards the end of the meal, which proceeded with the ceremonial, the King rose to give the Tsar a toast of welcome. He spoke in French, but with a strong German accent. The Tsar replied, also in French. He spoke pleasantly, in a musical, well-modulated voice. When dinner was over we went into another room, where Their Majesties went round talking to the guests, and those to whom this favour was not accorded lost no time in collecting in groups as affinity or mere chance dictated. But the evening was cut short, as the Standard had to leave Constanza the same day. An hour later the yacht put to sea and set sail for Odessa.
The next day I heard that the scheme for the marriage had been abandoned, or at any rate indefinitely postponed. Olga Nicolaievna had won (who could have foreseen that if the marriage had taken place she would have escaped the dreadful fate in store for her!).
On the morning of June 15th we arrived at Odessa. The Tsar reviewed the troops of the garrison, who were presented to him by General Ivanov, commanding this military area.
The next day we stopped for several hours at Kishinev in Bessarabia in order to be present at the unveiling of a monument to the memory of Alexander I, and on the 18th we returned to Tsarskoe-Selo. Two days later the Tsar was visited by the King of Saxony, who came to thank him for his appointment as honorary colonel of one of the regiments of his Guard. During the visit the troops paraded before the palace. It was the only ceremony which marked the King's short stay on June 23rd he bade farewell to the Imperial family.
|GILLIARD NOTE: A few weeks later the King of Saxony was the only prince in the German confederation - with the exception of the Grand-Duke of Hesse, the Tsarina's brother - who tried to prevent a rupture with Russia. He was averse to associating himself with any employment of force against a nation whose guest he had just been. Yet it did not prevent him from indulging in the most fiery speeches once war had been declared.|
Shortly afterwards we left for Peterhof, where we embarked on July 14th for a short cruise in the fjords of Finland. The Alexandria (A small steam-yacht with paddles. The draught of the Standard was too great to allow her to fetch us from Peterhof) took us from Peterhof to Kronstadt, where the Standard was waiting for us. As we were going on board the Tsarevich jumped at the wrong moment, and his ankle caught bottom of the ladder leading to the deck. At first I thought accident would have no ill effects, but towards evening the began to be in pain and his sufferings rapidly increased, Everything pointed to a serious crisis.
When I woke next morning we were in the heart of a Finnish fjord. It was an exquisite spot. The sea was deep emerald green flaked with white by the waves, and dotted with small islands of red granite crowned with pines whose trunks flashed in the sunshine. In the middle distance was the shore, with its fringe of yellow sand and its dark green forests which stretched away to the horizon.
I went down to Aleksey Nicolaievich's room. He had had a very bad night. The Tsarina and Dr. Botkin were with him, quite powerless to alleviate his terrible sufferings (This subcutaneous haemorrhage is particularly painful when it occurs in a joint)
The day passed sullenly and slowly, Since the previous evening I had noticed that the suite were a prey to unwonted excitement. I asked Colonel D- what the came was, and alarmed that there had been an attack on Rasputin and that life was in danger. He had gone to Siberia a fortnight before, and on his arrival at his own village, Pokrovskoye, had been stabbed in the stomach by a young women. The wound might be fatal. There was great excitement on board, whisper and mysterious confabulations which suddenly stopped never anyone suspected of being an adherent of Rasputin came near. Everyone else was inspired by a lively hope of being at last delivered from that baneful influence, but no one dare reveal his joy too openly. The villainous moujik seemed to have nine lives, and he might recover.
|GILLIARD NOTE: Rasputin was taken to the hospital at Tyumen and operated upon by a specialist sent from St. Petersburg. The operation was a wonderful success, and a week later the patient was out of danger. His recovery was considered miraculous. Neither fire not steel could avail against one who was obviously under the direct protection of the Almighty!|
On the 19th we returned to Peterhof, where the President of the French Republic was expected. our cruise was only interrupted, and we were to resume our voyage after he left. Aleksey Nicolaievich had taken a turn for the better in the last two days, but he was still unable to walk, and he had to be carried off the yacht.
In the afternoon of the next day the cruiser La France arrived in Kronstadt harbour with the French President on board. The Tsar was there to receive him. They returned to Peterhof together, and M. Poincar$#233; was taken to the apartments prepared for him in the palace. In the evening a gala banquet was given in his honour, and the Tsarina and the ladies-in-waiting were present.
For four days the President of the French Republic was the guest of Nicholas II, and many ceremonies marked his short visit. He made an excellent impression upon the Tsar, a fact which I was able to prove to my own satisfaction under the following circumstances.
M. Poincar$#233; had been invited to the Imperial luncheon table, where he was the sole guest. He was received without the slightest formality into the family circle at the little Alexandria Cottage.
When the meal was over the Tsarevich came and showed me, not without considerable pride, the ribbon of the Legion of Honour which the President of the Republic had just given him. We then went out into the park, and in a few minutes we were joined by the Tsar.
"Do you know, I've just been talking to M. Poincar$#233; about you?" he said in his usual affable manner. "He had spoken to Aleksey and asked me who had taught him French. He is a remarkable man, with a splendid intellect, and a brilliant talker. That's always useful; but what I like most is that there is nothing of the diplomat about him.' He is not reticent, but plain-spoken and frank, and wins one's confidence at once. If only we could do without diplomacy humanity would make immense strides."
|GILLIARD NOTE: The Tsar used to say that diplomacy is the art of making white appear black. Apropos, of this subject, he once quoted me Bismarck's definition of an ambassador. 'A man sent to another country to tell lies for the benefit of his own' and he added: "Thank heaven they're not all trained in his school; but diplomats have a gift for complicating the most simple questions."|
On July 23rd the President left Kronstadt for Stockholm, immediately after a dinner given in Their Majesties' honour on the La France.
The next day, to our utter amazement, we learned that Austria had presented an ultimatum to Serbia on the previous evening (Austria delayed the issue of the ultimatum until it was a practical impossibility for news of it to reach St. Petersburg before M. Poincar$#233; left). I met the Tsar in the park in the afternoon. He was preoccupied, but did not seem anxious.
On the 25th an Extraordinary Council was held at Krasnoe Selo in the Tsar's presence. It was decided to pursue a policy of dignified but firm conciliation. The Press was extremely angry at the step taken by Austria. The next few days the tone of the Press became increasingly violent. Austria was accused of desiring to annihilate Serbia.
Russia could not let the little Slav state be overwhelmed. She could not tolerate an Austro-Hungarian supremacy in the Balkans. The national honour was at stake.
Yet while tempers were rising and the diplomats were setting the machinery of all the chancelleries in motion, heartrending telegrams left Alexandria Cottage for distant Siberia, where Rasputin was slowly recovering from his wound in the hospital at Tyumen (In the winter of 1918, when I was at Tyumen, I saw copies of these very telegrams. Later on I found it impossible to get hold of the text again). They were nearly all of the same tenor: "We are horrified at the prospect of war. Do you think it is possible? Pray for us. Help us with your counsel."
Rasputin would reply that war must be avoided at any cost if the worst calamities were not to overtake the dynasty and the Empire.
This advice was consonant with the dearest wish of the Tsar, whose pacific intentions could not be doubted for a moment. We had only to see him during that terrible last week of July to realise what mental and moral torture he had passed through. But the moment had come when the ambition and perfidy of Germany were to steel him against his own last hesitation and sweep everything with them into the whirlpool.
In spite of all the offers of mediation and the fact that the Russian Government had suggested closing the incident by direct negotiations between St. Petersburg and Vienna, we learned on July 29th that general mobilization had been ordered in Austria. The next day we heard of the bombardment of Belgrade, and on the following day Russia replied with the mobilization of her whole army. In the evening of that day Count Pourtales, the German Ambassador at St. Petersburg, called to inform M. Sazonov that his Government would give Russia twelve hours in which to stop her mobilization, failing which Germany would mobilize in turn.
|GILLIARD NOTE: The German General Staff knew only too well that in view of the extreme complexity of the Russian mobilization (the immense size of the country, the poor railways, etc.), it could not be countermanded without such a disorganization of the services as would prevent it being resumed for three weeks. A start of three weeks for Germany meant certain victory.|
The twelve hours granted to Russia in the ultimatum expired at noon on Saturday, August 1st. Count Pourtales, however, did not appear at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs until the evening. He was shown in to Sazonov, and then formally handed him Germany's declaration of war on Russia. It was ten minutes past seven. The irreparable step had been taken.
Next Chapter: IX. First Days of the War - Journey to Moscow
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