While the dramatic events I have described in the preceding chapters were in progress at Pskov and Mohilev the Tsarina and her children, who had remained behind at the Alexander Palace, were passing through days of the most poignant anguish.
Right; Nicholas at Headquarters.
As we have seen, it was only after long hesitation that the Tsar, in his anxiety, had decided on March 8th, 1917, to leave Tsarskoe-Selo and go to G.H.Q.
His departure was a great blow to the Tsarina, for to the fears aroused in her breast by the political situation had been added her anxiety about Aleksey Nicolaievich. The Tsarevich had been in bed with measles for several days, and his condition had been aggravated by various complications. To crown everything, three of the Grand-Duchesses had also been taken ill, and there was no one but Marie Nicolaievna, to help the mother.
On March 10th we learned that trouble had broken out in Petrograd and that bloody collisions had taken place between police and demonstrators.
The fact was that for several days the shortage of food had Produced feelings of bitter discontent in the poorer quarters of the city. There had been processions, and mobs had appeared in the streets demanding bread.
I realize that Her Majesty had a good deal on her mind, for, contrary to her usual habit, she spoke freely about political events, and told me that Protopopov had accused the Socialists of conducting an active propaganda among railway employees with a view to preventing the provisioning of the city, and thus precipitating a revolution.
On the 11th the situation suddenly became very critical and the most alarming news arrived without warning. The mob made its way into the centre of the town, and the troops, who had been called in the previous evening, were offering but slight resistance.
I heard also that an Imperial ukase had ordered the sittings of the Duma to be suspended, but that, in view of the grave events in progress, the Assembly had disregarded the decree for its prorogation and decided to form an executive committee charged with the duty of restoring order.
The fighting was renewed with greater violence the next morning, and the insurgents managed to secure possession of the arsenal. Towards the evening I was told on the telephone from Petrograd that reserve elements of several regiments of the Guard - e.g., the Pavlovsky, Preobrajensky, and other regiments - had made common cause with them. This piece of news absolutely appalled the Tsarina. She had been extremely anxious since the previous evening, and realize that the peril was imminent.
She had spent these two days between the rooms of the Grand-Duchesses and that of Aleksey Nicolaievich, who had taken a turn for' the worse, but she always did her utmost to conceal her torturing anxiety from the invalids.
At half-past ten on the morning of the 13th the Tsarina beckoned me to step into an adjoining room just as I was entering the Tsarevich's bedroom. She told me that the capital was actually in the hands of the revolutionaries and that the Duma had just set up a Provisional Government with Rodzianko at its head.
"The Duma has shown itself equal to the occasion," she said. "I think it has realize the danger which is threatening the country, but I'm afraid it is too late. A Revolutionary Socialist Committee has been formed which will not recognize the authority of the Provisional Government. I have just received a telegram from the Tsar saying he will be here at six in the morning, but he wants us to leave Tsarskoe-Selo for Gatchina (Another Imperial residence, twelve miles south-west of Petrograd), or else go to meet him. Please make all arrangements for Aleksey's departure."
The necessary orders were given. Her Majesty was a prey to terrible doubt and hesitation. She informed Rodzianko of the serious condition of the Tsarevich and the Grand-Duchesses, but he replied: "When a house is burning the invalids are the first to be taken out."
At four o'clock Dr. Derevenko came back from the hospital and told us that the whole network of railways round Petrograd was already in the hands of the revolutionaries, so that we could not leave, and it was highly improbable that the Tsar would be able to reach us.
About nine in the evening Baroness Buxhoeveden entered room. She had just heard that the garrison of Tsarskoe had mutinied and that there was firing in the streets. She was going to tell the Tsarina, who was with the Grand-Duchesses. As a matter of fact, she came into the corridor at that moment and the Baroness told her how things stood. We went to the windows. We saw General Reissin, who had taken up position outside the palace at the head of two companies of the composite regiment. I also saw some marines of the bodyguard and cossacks of the escort. The park gates had been occupied in special strength, the men being drawn up in four ranks, ready to fire.
At that moment we heard on the telephone that the rebels were coming in our direction and had just killed a sentry less than five hundred yards from the palace. The sound of firing came steadily nearer and a fight seemed inevitable. The Tsarina was horror struck at the idea that blood might be shed under her very eyes; she went out with Marie Nicolaievna and exhorted the men to keep cool. She begged them to parley with the rebels. It was a terrible moment, and our hearts almost stopped beating with suspense. A single mistake and there would have been a hand-to-hand fight followed by bloodshed. However, the officers stepped in and a parley began. The rebels were impressed by the words of their old leaders and the resolute attitude of the troops which remained faithful.
The excitement gradually subsided and a neutral zone was fixed between the two camps.
Thus was the night passed, and in the morning formal orders from the Provisional Government arrived which put an end to the dreadful situation.
In the afternoon Her Majesty sent for the Grand Duke Paul and asked him if he knew where the Tsar was. The Grand Duke did not know. When the Tsarina questioned him about the situation he replied that in his opinion the grant of a constitution at once could alone avert the peril. The Tsarina shared that view, but could do nothing, as she had been unable to communicate with the Tsar since the previous evening.
The day of the 15th passed in an oppressive suspense. At 3:30 a.m. next morning Dr. Botkin was called to the telephone by a member of the Provisional Government, who asked him for news of Aleksey Nicolaievich. (We heard subsequently that a report of his death had been circulating in the city.)
The Tsarina's ordeal was continued the next day. It was three days since she had had any news of the Tsar and her forced inaction made her anguish all the more poignant.
|GILLIARD NOTE: No one can have any idea of what the Tsarina suffered during these days when she was despairing at her son's bedside and had no news of the Tsar. She reached the extreme limits of human resistance in this last trial, in which originated that wonderful and radiant serenity which was to sustain her and her family to the day of their death.|
Towards the end of the afternoon the news of the Tsar's abdication reached the palace. The Tsarina refused to believe it, asserting it was a canard. But soon afterwards the Grand Duke Paul arrived to confirm it. She still refused to believe it, and it was only after hearing all the details he gave her that Her Majesty yielded to the evidence. The Tsar had abdicated at Pskov the previous evening in favour of his brother, the Grand Duke Michael.
The Tsarina's despair almost defied imagination, but her great courage did not desert her. I saw her in Aleksey Nicolaievich's room that same evening. Her face was terrible to see, but, with a strength of will which was almost superhuman, she had forced herself to come to the children's rooms as usual so that the young invalids, who knew nothing of what had happened since the Tsar had left for G.H.Q., should suspect nothing.
Late at night we heard that the Grand Duke Michael had renounced the throne, and that the fate of Russia was to be settled by the Constituent Assembly.
Next morning I found the Tsarina in Aleksey Nicolaievich's room. She was calm, but very pale. She looked very much thinner and ever so much older in the last few days.
In the afternoon Her Majesty received a telegram from the Tsar in which he tried to calm her fears, and told her that he was at Mohilev pending the imminent arrival of the Dowager Empress.
Three days passed. At half-past ten on the morning of the 21st Her Majesty summoned me and told me that General Kornilov had been sent by the Provisional Government to inform her that the Tsar and herself were under arrest and that all those who did not wish to be kept in close confinement must leave the palace before four o'clock. I replied that I had decided to stay with them.
"The Tsar is coming back tomorrow. Aleksey must be told everything. Will you do it? I am going to tell the girls myself."
It was easy to see how she suffered when she thought of the grief of the Grand-Duchesses on hewing that their father had abdicated. They were ill, and the news might make them worse.
I went to Aleksey Nicolaievich and told him that the Tsar would be returning from Mohilev next morning and would never go back there again.
"Your father does not want to be Commander-in-Chief any more."
He was greatly moved at this, as he was very fond of going to G.H.Q.
After a moment or two I added:
"You know your father does not want to be Tsar any more, Aleksey Nicolaievich."
He looked at me in astonishment, trying to read in my face what had happened.
"He is very tired and has had a lot of trouble lately."
"Oh yes! Mother told me they stopped his train when he wanted to come here. But won't papa be Tsar again afterwards ?"
I then told him that the Tsar had abdicated in favour of the Grand Duke Michael, who had also renounced the throne.
"But who's going to be Tsar, then?"
"I don't know. Perhaps nobody now."
Not a word about himself. Not a single allusion to his rights as the Heir. He was very red and agitated.
There was a silence, and then he said:
"But if there isn't a Tsar, who's going to govern Russia?"
I explained that a Provisional Government had been formed and that it would govern the state until the Constituent Assembly met, when his uncle Michael would perhaps mount the throne.
Once again I was struck by the modesty of the boy.
At four o'clock the doors of the palace were closed. We were prisoners! The composite regiment had been relieved by a regiment from the garrison of Tsarskoe-Selo, and the Soldiers on sentry duty were there not to protect us, but to keep guard over us.
At eleven o'clock on the morning of the 22nd the Tsar arrived, accompanied by Prince Dolgorouky, the Marshal of the Court. He went straight up to the children's room, where the Tsarina was waiting for him.
After luncheon he went into the room of Aleksey Nicolaievich, where I was, and greeted me with his usual unaffected kindness. But I could tell by his pale, worn face that he too had suffered terribly during his absence.
Yet, despite the circumstances, the Tsar's return was a day of rejoicing to his family. The Tsarina and Marie Nicolaievna, as well as the other children, when they had been told what had occurred, had been a prey to such dreadful doubts and fears on his account ! It was a great comfort to be all together in such times of trial. It seemed as if it made their troubles less unbearable, and as if their boundless love for each other was a dynamic force which enabled them to face any degree of suffering.
In spite of the self-control which was habitual with the Tsar, he was unable to conceal his immense distress, though his soon recovered in the bosom of his family. He spent most of the day with them, and otherwise read or went for walks with Prince Dolgorouky. At first he had been forbidden to go into the park, and was only allowed the enjoyment of a small garden contiguous to the palace. It was still under snow. A cordon of sentries was posted round it.
Yet the Tsar accepted all these restraints with extraordinary serenity and moral grandeur. No word of reproach ever passed his lips. The fact was that his whole being was dominated by one passion, which was more powerful even than the bonds between himself and his family - love of country. We felt he was ready to forgive anything to those who were inflicting such humiliations upon him so long as they were capable of saving Russia.
The Tsarina spent almost all her time on a chaise longue in the Grand-Duchesses' room, or else with Aleksey Nicolaievich. Her anxieties and the emotional strain had exhausted her physically, but since the Tsar's return she had found great moral relief, and lived closely with her own thoughts, speaking little and finally yielding to that urgent need for rest which had long assailed her. She was glad she need struggle no longer and that she could wholly devote herself to those she loved so tenderly.
She was now anxious about Marie Nicolaievna only. The latter had been taken ill much later than her sisters, and her condition was aggravated by a severe attack of pneumonia of a virulent kind. Her constitution was excellent, but she had all she could do to survive. She was also the victim of her own devotion. This girl of seventeen ha spent herself without reflection during the revolution. She had been her mother's greatest comfort and stand-by. During the night of March 13th she had been rash enough to go out with her mother to speak to the soldiers, thus exposing herself to the cold, even though she realize that her illness was beginning. Fortunately the other children were better, and already on the road to convalescence.
Our captivity at Tsarskoe-Selo did not seem likely to last long, and there was talk about our imminent transfer to England. Yet the days passed and our departure was always being postponed. The fact was that the Provisional Government was obliged to deal with the advanced wing and gradually felt that its authority was slipping away from it. Yet we were only a few hours by railway from the Finnish frontier, and the necessity of passing through Petrograd was the only serious obstacle.
It would thus appear that if the authorities had acted resolutely and secretly it would not have been difficult to get the Imperial family to one of the Finnish ports and thus to some foreign country. But they were afraid of responsibilities, and no one dare compromise himself, once more Fate was on guard!
Next Chapter: XVIII. Five Months Captivity at Tsarskoe
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