THE SHADOW OF COMING EVENTS
During all this time Tatistcheff and Dolgoroukoff were sorely troubled about what was happening outside our little world of Tobolsk and about the prospects in the future.
To make up for the lack of news in the papers the most contradictory and alarming reports were circulated in the town, and reached the inhabitants of the Korniloff house through chance conversations overheard by the doctors or by us among the soldiers. An anti-Bolshevik rising in Eastern Siberia was rumoured, and the Amur Cossacks were said to have rebelled against the Soviets. Later the Czechs were reported to be giving trouble to the Soviets, even before they really formed an army against them. At the same time news began to come from Tyumen that some Bolshevik sailors had arrived with orders to requisition all the gold and silver still owned by the population and that people were being arrested in numbers.
One day in the middle of March I was asked by Tatistcheff to join him and Dolgoroukoff in the former's room, as they were anxious to talk over with me the various inferences they had drawn from the changing situation. It was the only room which had thick walls, and so the only one in which we could talk freely. The cubicles, one of which I still used when I came to the Korniloff house for the day, of course offered no privacy. The bane of our lives was the feeling of being spied upon. There seemed always to be a soldier loafing about on some pretext or other, to see about the heating or to inquire if the Commandant were there. The charwomen, who had been supplied at the men's recommendation, were certainly all their agents.
Tatistcheff was tall and spare and eagle-nosed; his hair and beard were grey, and his kind blue eyes sparkled with humour, while his bearing always revealed the old cavalry officer. He wore the plain clothes that he had put on after the Emperor's abdication. Now he sat back in his chair, so much perturbed in mind that he had not even lit his customary cigarette. Dolgoroukoff was much younger-looking, fair, with an impassive face which hid great depth of feeling. He paced up and down the room while he discussed the future with his colleague. Dolgoroukoff still wore his khaki-coloured uniform, but it had no longer any signs denoting General's rank. Both the Emperor and Prince Dolgoroukoff always wore uniform, as they had no plain clothes with them in Siberia.
Tatistcheff was much concerned by all he had heard. "The soldiers are getting more and more out of hand," he said. "They were fairly reasonable when we came here. Now they are being replaced by new men sent from Tsarskoe. They are getting wilder every day. You can hear them from Nastinka's room shouting in their guardroom. Every day there is trouble - first the shoulder straps" (the soldiers compelled the officers to remove all their badges of rank), "then came the rows about churchgoing, then the unpleasanthess about the walks,... small daily vexations, heralding greater trouble. They are in deadly fear of appearing too humane... for Moscow's taste.
"The worst of it is we are absolutely unable to do anything to get Their Majesties out of this awful situation. We can only be helped from outside. We dare not communicate with anyone for fear of plots being suspected and thus causing more harm.
"I can only hope that some loyal people in Petrograd may know the danger the Emperor is in and that some International Red Cross Society may take steps to rescue the family."
"Do you think the Emperor and Empress themselves realise their danger?" asked Dolgoroukoff. "They must realise it," said Tatistcheff. "But they do not allow themselves to dwell on it. Also they hear even fewer rumours than we do. But, after all, who knows what may happen? We really know nothing for certain, and the Bolshevik rule is milder in Tobolsk than it is anywhere else. We must just try to keep our mental balance. After all, the Governments of foreign countries cannot look on in silence."
I remember this conversation well. Unfortunately, all foreign Governments were then so much occupied with their own affairs that all of them lost the opportune moment when the more important ones could, each in turn, have saved the Emperor and his family.
For us to try to organise some plan of escape for them was clearly impossible. There were too many in the Imperial Family for them to go undetected together, and they would not have agreed to part and try to leave separately, which would have been their only chance. The climatic conditions of Tobolsk, the distance from any railway, the telegraph that could at once have warned the authorities hours ahead - all were against it. While navigation was open, perhaps some energetic men from outside could have made a successful attempt at a rescue. After October 1917, two months after the Imperial Family arrived at Tobolsk, I believe, it was already too late. Only some powerful organisation with ample funds at its disposal could have done so, and this did not exist. The Emperor and Empress themselves thought that their wisest policy was to remain passive. They were averse from the idea of leaving Russia and believed that if circumstances became really menacing, their friends would find a means of helping them. They did not know how absolutely powerless all of these were!
The whole family stood the climate remarkably well, even the Empress, who was always delicate. They had their own doctors, and an oculist or dentist was only occasionally called in to attend to them. Before Christmas, their own dentist. Dr. Kostrisky,had voluntarily come from Russia at great risk to himself to treat them. After he left a local practitioner was called in to attend to the Emperor's teeth. This was a young Jewess, whom I came also to patronise. Mrs. X was proud of being, as she said, one of a family of eight "politicals." All of these had been in prison for the murder of Government officials and other acts of violence, as she boasted to me. She was conscientious, and did not vent her political enmity on the Emperor or any of us while we were her patients.
In her consulting-room it was easy to feel the spirit of the times. It was full of German prisoners of war, now free, and though there were few officers among them, I must say that they were the most polite of the mixed crowd, mostly soldiers, who were awaiting their turn. Funnily enough, the ultimate ambition of every man was to have all his teeth, sound and otherwise, picked out with gold! It looked "civilised and elegant"! In order to show the equality of mankind, the patients were not allowed to exhibit their mouths in private to Mrs. X. Two victims were attended to simultaneously, sitting side by side. When my turn came I was often invited to lend a hand and hold a writhing man's head, while Mrs. X toiled away with gusto. When she had me safely in the chair, she enjoyed herself by spouting endless socialistic harangues at me - regular meeting stuff, with the result that sometimes she got so much excited that she stamped about, with forceps in one hand and cotton-wool in the other, denouncing bourgeois life! My answers were inaudible as my mouth was gagged with cotton-wool. I found in time that this woman had a softer, more feminine side. Considering that as I came from Petrograd I must know something of the fashion, she left me one day with my mouth well opened by a horrible metal arrangement, to exhibit an elaborate coat and skirt which a prisoner of war had made for her. "He was a cutter at one of the great Paris couturiers," she told me, "and I do wish you would look how the back fits, for you must be a judge of such things!" So when the gag was out I had to inspect and comment!!
On looking back I am grateful for her ministrations. She did her work well, though she had to use methylated spirit as a disinfectant, nothing more orthodox being available!
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Other books on Russian History from the Alexander Palace Association:
The Life and Tragedy of Alexandra Feodorovna by Sophie Buxhoeveden | Memories of the Russian Court by Anna Vyrubova | Thirteen Years at the Russian Court by Pierre Gilliard | Last Days at Tsarskoe Selo by Paul Beckendorff | St. Petersburg - Imperial City | Charles Cameron - Imperial Architect by Georges Loukomski | Tsarskoe Selo in 1910
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