THE LONG ARM OF MOSCOW
One day towards the middle of April Nastinka Hendrikoff told me on her return from lunch at the Governor's house that the Tsarevich had fallen dangerously ill. He had burst a blood-vessel, which had brought on a sudden and violent attack of internal haemorrhage. Later in the day I met the doctor coming up the stairs. He looked very gloomy and said that the boy was seriously ill. His kidneys were affected by the haemorrhage, and in that God- forsaken town none of the remedies he needed could be got. "I fear he will not pull through," he said, shaking his head, his eyes full of anxiety. He had been the Tsarevich's doctor for many years and, like us all, dearly loved the gifted and charming boy. The Tsarevich was exceptionally attractive, warm-hearted and clever. To his parents he meant everything in the world. It was horrible to think of their feelings should he be taken from them. The Empress spent all her days and most of her nights in the sick-room. The fever rose high and nothing could alleviate the little patient's intolerable suffering. We all shared the poor mother's alternate fears and hopes. For nearly a fortnight the doctors had the gravest apprehensions.
All this time the situation in the town was daily growing worse. Bands of Bolshevik soldiery, both from Ekaterinburg and Omsk, had arrived in close succession at the end of March. The rival bands vied with each other in conducting domiciliary visits. Rich citizens were arrested and imprisoned. A cordon of soldiery was drawn round Tobolsk in order to prevent anyone leaving or entering the town unnoticed. It was said that both the Ekaterinburg and the Omsk men had the ultimate object of getting the Imperial Family into their hands, but the guard, who drew special pay for this job, said they would murder all the prisoners themselves rather than give them up.
We were never able even to hint to our friends how desperate we thought the situation was growing. If we had been looked upon with suspicion before, everything we wrote now was supposed to mean something else that was never intended.
Now, too, Moscow remembered the prisoners at Tobolsk. A wire came from the Central Soviet ordering the arrest of the "citizens Tatistcheff, Dolgoroukoff, and Hendrikoff." (Up to now the myth of our being voluntary prisoners had been maintained.) Neither Mademoiselle Schneider's name nor mine was mentioned. Perhaps Countess Hendrikoff had been in some way confused with her dead father, who had been also at Court, for her name was turned into that of a man and the order for arrest was made to include her. This was never elucidated, but, lucidly, instead of being taken to prison, all three and Mademoiselle Schneider were lodged in the house with the Imperial Family, on the plea that all were now also State prisoners. The house was overcrowded by this time, for there had not been a single spare room before. The newcomers had to be packed into very close quarters, the servants being moved to make room for them. The guard outside was doubled, and the servants were thoroughly searched whenever they went out or in. Great difficulties were made when the kitchen supplies were delivered to the cook. A brief note in Russian, sent daily to the Commandant in an open envelope, was all the news I now received.
The climax came on April 22 with the arrival of a special emissary from the Moscow Soviet, a man called Yakovieff. He was accompanied by a squadron of horse and took up his quarters at the Korniloff house. Colonel Kobylinski was told by Yakovieff that both he and his men would now be replaced by the new arrivals. The envoy from Moscow called a meeting of the soldiers' Soviet, lauded the men sky- high for their services, and forestalled all objections they might have raised by promising them the payment in full of the money due to them, which owing to a lack of currency had been delayed for some time. Yakovieff demanded to see the Emperor. He said nothing to anyone about his real mission, but from the papers he showed the Commandant he appeared to have been given the widest powers by Moscow. Seeing the Tsarevich so ill seemed to disturb him, and he conferred with Moscow by telegraph after he had been at the Governor's house. After this he went again to the Emperor and told him during the interview that he had come to take him away. Yakovieff's original orders had been to remove the whole family from Tobolsk, but on account of the boy's state of health he was to take the Emperor alone. Where he was taking him, and why, was a mystery. The Emperor's first impulse was to refuse to leave. Yakovieff replied to this, that in such a case he would have to use force; so the Emperor had to submit to the Soviet's orders.
When the Empress heard the disastrous news she went through hours of acute self-torture, wavering between her desire to accompany her husband and her longing to remain with her boy who was still dangerously ill. He was the apple of her eye and she never left him even in the slightest illness. This day was, I believe, the most agonising she ever went through, but finally she made up her mind to accompany the Emperor and leave her boy in her elder daughter's care.
Yakovieff gave orders for the preparations to be carried out as quietly as possible. Only hand luggage was to be taken on the journey, which he fixed for that very night. He hinted to the Commandant that the ultimate destination might possibly be Moscow, and the fear of a trial of the Emperor, like that of the ill-fated Louis XVI in the French Revolution, was in everyone's mind.
The Grand Duchess Marie, the third daughter and physically the strongest of the four, was deputed by the girls themselves to accompany their parents. Prince Dolgoroukoff, Dr. Botkine, a valet and a maid also went with them. Just before daybreak the travellers got into springless carts and were driven off at top speed in the direction of Tyumen. A mounted guard closed round them.
A couple of days later came the first notes from the Empress describing an awful journey. The thaw had set in and the roads were in a shocking state. The rivers, on which the ice was about to break up, had to be crossed on foot. Then after several days' silence the anxious children had a telegram from Ekaterinburg. It seemed that the whole party had been stopped there. The Imperial Family had been taken to a house which had been hastily converted into a prison, and were kept under the strictest arrest. At least it was Known where they were, but the Grand Duchesses could do nothing but wait patiently till the Tsarevich recovered, for it had been settled that when it was possible to move him the rest of the party were to join the Emperor and Empress.
Just after Yakovieff's arrival the Tobolsk town Soviet turned their attention to me. This took the form of a domiciliary visit, the first I had had since I went to my lodgings. At 3 A.M. I was awakened by a loud knocking. I jumped out of bed, and on opening the door was faced by a band of armed soldiers. I had read the placards posted up in the street, in which the population was warned always to ask to be shown the search warrants, as there were many Red guardsmen going about requisitioning things for their own use without the Soviet's saction. I asked the man who seemed the leader if there were not some mistake, and if he really had an order to search my rooms. With an ironical grin he produced a document in which I read that a domiciliary visit was ordered to take place at the citizeness Buxhoeveden's rooms.
"Should anything suspicious be found, the aforesaid citizeness should be immediately arrested and taken to gaol under armed escort." This sounded hopeful. Anything might displease these men, and naturally I had many harmless possessions to which they might take a dislike. For instance, I had many photographs of the Imperial family, and a photograph of even some distant relation of the Emperor's was always considered in itself a very counter-revolutionary symptom.
I ushered them into my bedroom, asking to be allowed to put on my dressing-gown as I had on my night-dress only. "None of that," they said, and ordered me to stand aside and hand my keys to them. Shivering, I sat down on a table in the centre of the room, and after a few minutes one of the men took pity on me and handed me my dressing-gown and slippers, after having shaken them about to assure himself that there was nothing hidden in them. They made me brush my hair for the same reason.
Here Miss Mather, in curling-papers and wrapped in the inevitable tartan, appeared on the scene, but she was told to stand near the door and not to speak to me. The operations proceeded in dead silence. The men, who were Letts, worked very systematically, and, as was usual in those cases, opened every box and even little tubes of medicine, and looked through every paper I had. Now and again, when they read some of my letters, one or other would ask me a question, noting down my answer in his pocket-book. For two hours they worked, only whispering to each other from time to time. They were very thorough, investigating every nook and corner, looking into the stoves and ventilators, slipping their penknives between the boards, feeling every cushion and chair.
I had no political documents of any kind; still, knowing with what disfavour we were looked on, I felt none too hopeful of the results. However, even the photographs passed and my explanation was accepted, that as I had always lived with the Imperial Family it was natural that I should have their pictures. The time seemed endlessly long till the head man, after a brief consultation with his acolytes, turned to me and announced that as no compromising documents had been found by him I was free! They went, and the relief of their departure can be imagined, particularly as I discovered, on seeing them to the door, that not only was the corridor full of armed men, but that all exits were locked and the whole house surrounded by a guard.
After having discussed our visitors. Miss Mather and I thought some refreshment would be pleasant. Though it was only about 6 A.M., we decided to celebrate the occasion by drawing on our last reserves and brewing a cup of precious coffee that we had been carefully keeping for cases of illness. We sat down to partake of the festive beverage, which smelled perfectly delicious. Miss Mather had produced some lumps of sugar and biscuits which she had secretly treasured, when suddenly we heard a most terrible knocking. We looked at each other - were our visitors back, and had they reconsidered their decision? I opened the door and in lurched another band of Red guardsmen. This lot were much more untidy than the first, and carried a large supply of all kinds of murderous weapons about their persons.
"We have come to search the things of the celebrated Dunsiria," the leader said. At first I did not grasp his meaning, but then it flashed across my mind that this might have some connection with Miss Mather's Christian name. "Do you mean Miss Annie Dunsire Mather?" I said. "She is here, but she is a British subject and is under the protection of her Embassy." "Embassy or no Embassy," he answered with an oath, "we want her. She corresponds with capitalists in England."
Miss Mather had never corresponded with anyone except with her old sister in Aberdeen, to whom, poor lady, that epithet could in no way be applied. Her letters by themselves were extremely short, but, solicitous of Miss Mather's spiritual welfare, she often enclosed long pages, carefully copied by hand by an old friend from a book of sermons that had always seemed to me of a most depressing persuasion. Though these officials had no written warrant whatever, Miss Mather broke into the conversation, saying that as she had nothing to hide they might as well assure themselves of the truth of her words and examine her belongings. This some of the men proceeded to do, while the others sat down, drank all our precious coffee and ate everything we had on the table in the course of a few minutes!
The party were probably as zealous as the first lot, but laboured under the difficulty of being all illiterate. Of course they did not understand a single word of English. They remedied this by ordering me to translate out of the first "seditious foreign book" they hit upon. This happened to be the Book of Common Prayer, and I gave with great gusto the translation of the Baptism of Infants, at which page they had opened it. They said they were satisfied. The chief aim of their visit seemed to be to discover hidden firearms. After having looked through everything one of the men, holding a pistol in most uncomfortable proximity to my head, asked me to disclose our "secret store of machine-guns"! My astonishment at the question evidently corroborated my words when I swore that we did not possess any of these articles and that neither of us could even handle a revolver! After a thorough search nothing reprehensible was found, but before departing one of the men went up close to Miss Mather and stared hard at her. He remarked that he had heard of "Great Britishers" but had never seen a specimen.
"I hope you like it," said Miss Mather.
"Too old a bird," he ungallantly responded, "and the colour is not what I supposed it to be." Only later, pondering over his remark, I realised that Great Britain had suggested India to his mind, and that a Britisher was supposed to be dusky! This idea was a counterpart of the assumption of the Aberdonian butcher who, on hearing that Miss Mather had been in Russia, inquired of her if the people in those parts were not black.
This search party insisted on taking Miss Mather's passport to the local Soviet, and as there was no British consul nearer than the one at Ekaterinburg there was no authority to which she could apply to intercede for her. This brought me into touch with Yakovieff, whose full powers raised him above the Soviet, and to him I appealed. It also gave me the welcome opportunity of asking the one undisputed authority for permission, at last, to join the Empress. I obtained an audience with great difficulty, his assistants wanting to turn me away, but I managed to beard the great man himself on the stairs of the Korniloff house, and was lucky enough to obtain a hearing. Yakovieff was a middle-sized, dark, clean-shaven man, wearing the ordinary dress of a blue-jacket, but both his manner and speech showed him to be of higher rank. It was said that he had been a political exile abroad in pre-revolutionary days. His manner was curt and decided. He told me to follow him to his room, formerly Countess Hendrikoff's. I discovered that it had acquired a Spartan bareness. There remained only a bed, two chairs, and a table on which lay a huge map of the Government of Tobolsk, on which I noted several lines drawn in red pencil. I never thought, at the moment, that these indicated the routes by which he was to take the Emperor away. I explained Miss Mather's difficulties, and he promised to give the order to have her documents returned (which was done immediately). He questioned me closely as to the why and wherefore of my arrival at Tobolsk, and I succeeded in proving to him that I had no political aims whatever, and that it would be much simpler and easier for those in charge to have me under the same roof as the others. He listened attentively, and after a few moments of silence abruptly said that he saw no reason why I should not join them, and told me that on the next morning I might come with my luggage.
Unfortunately, on that very night Yakovieff took the Emperor and Empress away! I never saw them again; but he kept his word, and had given orders that I should accompany their children when they left in their turn.
The three weeks between the parents' and children's departure inaugurated a real prison regime for the young people. The soldiers of the guard, who had replaced the Rifles, looked upon their prisoners with the greatest distrust. The new Commandant, a former stoker, Khokhriakoff by name, was controlled by his assistant Rodionoff, who daily introduced new rules and made himself particularly odious. The Grand Duchesses were closely watched; they had to submit to a daily roll-call; they were ordered to leave their bedroom doors wide open at night; every one of their requests was refused.
I realised how severe their guard had become when, on the Emperor's birthday, I passed their house on returning from church. I did this on all family anniversaries, to wave them a greeting from the street, and they were always at the window waiting for me. This time I saw no one anywhere and was beginning to fear that the Grand Duchesses also had been taken unexpectedly away, when, suddenly, at the last window I saw three heads showing over the window-sill. They nodded hastily and disappeared from view. The poor girls had been forbidden by Rodionoff to be seen at the windows. Not wishing to disappoint me, they had knelt before the window for some time and when they had caught sight of me they had bobbed up for a moment, but had not dared to stand and show themselves for fear the sentry opposite should catch sight of them and report to his chiefs.
There could be no joking with these men. Just about that time a poor schoolboy had tried to climb the wooden paling to catch a glimpse of the Emperor's children. Of course he could not fail to be seen, was caught and put into prison, whence he was removed to Ekaterinburg, and, as I heard later, was shot.
In the town one arrest followed another. The population was terrorised, while many people were greatly indignant at the rumours about the treatment accorded to the Emperor and Empress on their journey.
Soon the arrest of the Archbishop Hermogene roused the indignation of the whole town. This aged prelate was known for his independence of spirit. In the times of the Monarchy he had fallen into disfavour and been deprived of his see of Saratoff for openly criticising the authorities in his sermons. The Kerensky Government had appointed him to the see of Tobolsk shortly before the Emperor had been sent there. The archbishop had forgotten past rancours and had shown kindness to the Imperial Family, and, after their churchgoing was forbidden, he authorised them to have a private chapel put up in one of their rooms and sent a priest for the services, but had never seen them himself. The archbishop had had several misunderstandings with the Soviet people about church matters, on which he maintained he was the sole judge within the precincts of his bishopric. The ostensible cause of his arrest was a religious procession organised during Holy Week, in the course of which services of intercession for Russia in her troubles were held before all the churches in Tobolsk.
How well I remember that Palm Sunday! I stood at my window and watched the procession passing - processions were very infrequent, as the Bolsheviks did not allow them. It was a lovely sunny day, very warm for the season. Surrounded by clergy of every degree, the venerable old man in his glittering gold vestments stood, his snow-white locks covered with the jewelled archbishop's mitre and his beard blown aoout by the breeze. The jewels on the numerous ikons carried by the clergy sparkled in the sun. The sweet voices of the singers filled the air. When the Te Deum was finished the archbishop made the sign of the cross with the crucifix he carried in his hand. I shall never forget his face, not beautiful in feature, but full of human kindness. He seemed to catch the eye of every separate member of his flock when he gave them his blessing. The procession moved on. Not a single Bolshevik took part in it, but at some of the street corners soldiers were posted.
No incident occurred till the clergy returned to the archbishop's palace. Then a band of soldiers came and arrested Archbishop Hermogene on the plea that he had held "a public meeting" without lawful authorisation. He was led away to the soldiers' barracks, still clad in his vestments. His arrest lasted only a couple of days, as all the clergy and the townspeople petitioned the Soviet on his behalf, and the merchants offered bail. His liberty, however, was to be of short duration. A few days later "the Commission for the fight against the Counter-Revolution" issued a second order for his arrest on the accusation of his being party to "a plot."
The utter want of foundation for this was proved by the results of the domiciliary visit that was made in his apartments. No compromising papers were found. Not only was the archbishop's palace gone over minutely by the search party, but also his private chapel was visited as well as the cathedral close by. The men behaved shockingly during this search. They walked about the church smoking, with their caps on their heads, replaced the tapers in the chandeliers before the ikons by cigarette stumps, and handled the altar and the Reserved Sacrament itself most irreverently. Their behaviour was so outrageous that the Soviet had to publish a kind of explanation in order to pacify the population. The archbishop was away at the time, but on hearing of the warrant against him he immediately came to give himself up, confident of being found innocent of the charges raised against him.
On that very same night he was taken to Ekaterinburg under a strong escort. Without any reverence for his age and office the Bolsheviks shaved off his beard and cut his long hair [Buxhoeveden's footnote: Long hair and beard are obligatory among the Orthodox clergy in Russia.] and obliged him to don plain clothes in order to prevent his being recognised during the journey. He was treated with the utmost harshness, and at Ekaterinburg he was put into gaol and was daily made to dig trenches with other political prisoners. Strangely enough one of these was Prince Lvoff, former head of the first Government after the overthrow of the Empire. The Tobolsk diocese sent a petition, covered with thousands of signatures, demanding their archbishop's release. The Revolutionary Tribunal could not find any plausible grounds for condemning him, and in the face of the indignation that the affair aroused the Soviet decided that it would be wiser to acquit him.
The archbishop was sent back to Tobolsk in charge of a detachment of sailors. On their way, between Tyumen and Tobolsk, the men heard of some reverses to their armies and they vented their rage on their hapless prisoner. They held a brief meeting and decided that he should die then and there as a reprisal for the death of their comrades. They bound the venerable prelate to the paddles of the boat, which still slowly revolved. He was not drowned immediately. The gruesome sight was too much for some of the men and they tied a weight to the mangled body, and only then the waters of the Tobol closed over the old archbishop and ended his sufferings.
After Tyumen was taken by the Czechs the body was recovered and Archbishop Hermogene's remains were carried to Tobolsk. The thousands of people who flocked to attend the funeral showed how deep was the impression made by this wanton murder.
A special thank you to firstname.lastname@example.org for scanning the text for this online edition.
Contact Bob Atchison for comments on this site.
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
Return to the Alexander Palace Time Machine