THE NEW ORDER
The main contingent of the White Army arrived in the course of the next day, and quite a respectable force was quartered in Tyumen. The Cossacks, in hot pursuit of their enemy, left the very day after their entry into the town. They were eager to capture some of the Bolshevik chiefs, but of course these had long ago prudently got out of harm's way. Ekaterinburg, being an important railway centre, was now the Czechs' goal. The Bolsheviks had concentrated their forces around this town, and their opponents encountered stubborn resistance. Before it at last fell every large railway station on the line had to be separately taken.
At Tyumen the newly appointed Cossack commander of the town confirmed the Town Council in its rights and reinstated those of the Kerensky functionaries who were still on the spot. All nationalised house property was returned to its owners by the new administration. Nothing could describe the state of utter ruin and neglect into which a few months of Bolshevik occupation could reduce a house. It seemed as if the men who were quartered in it had wantonly splintered the doors, cracked the floors, and broken the windows, without ever thinking of repairing the damage they had done. Orders were given to return all property for which their present possessors could not legally account, but not many things that had been taken were found again. Most of the property that had been stolen (or requisitioned) had been taken away by the Bolsheviks in their flight. This was particularly the case with horses and conveyances. During the first days after the change of regime hardly a horse was seen in the streets.
The law courts were very busy; thieves and murderers had spent a pleasant and profitable time for several months and now had to render account. Some of the new institutions the Bolsheviks had introduced remained, however. Trade unions and workmen's exchanges were maintained as they had proved their utility, but except for this everything settled back into the former groove.
I do not think the sight of the very first boat that ever sailed the Toura can have caused a greater flutter of excitement than did the arrival of the first steamer from Omsk. During the months of Bolshevik rule there had been no movement whatever on the river, except for the rafts of wood that the Tartars steered down it, directing their progress by the aid of long poles. The way these rafts were unloaded was very ingenious, and I used to sit and watch by the hour. Each huge tree trunk had a noose of rope tied round it, by means of which it was fastened to a horse's collar. Small Tartar urchins, in the scantiest of clothing, rode the horses barebacked into the water close to the rafts, and then when the logs had been secured rushed their steeds up the bank at a furious pace. Leaving their load on the shore, they immediately rode down again to fetch a second log, and so on. It seemed to be a favourite pastime, for rows of amateurs stood waiting for their turn. That kind of bathing combined with horsemanship was continued till autumn, and must have been the cause of many colds.
Ekaterinburg was taken by the White forces on July 23. Nothing was said about the Imperial amily's fate in the brief announcement of the event that we read in the telegrams, for real newspapers had actually appeared again. Monsieur Gilliard and Mr. Gibbes availed themselves of the first military train that was run down the line to go to Ekaterinburg. I had to remain behind, as women were not allowed to travel by these trains. Gilliard returned in a few days' time (Mr. Gibbes remained at Ekaterinburg). He brought bad news. He had found no trace whatever of either the Imperial Family or our colleagues. All had disappeared. There were rumours that the Emperor had been murdered. Notwithstanding all his efforts, he could get no reliable iformation as to what had really happened. Monsieur Gilliard heard some details of the Imperial Family's detention at Ekaterinburg (as I also did later) from the Emperor's valet, Tchemodouroff. The man had been saved by having fallen ill and being taken from the lpatieff house to the prison infirmary. From him we learned of the terrible hardships that the Emperor and Empress had to bear during the six weeks that elapsed from the arrival of the Emperor's children at Ekaterinburg to the fatal i6th of July, the date of their disappearance. Yet, said Tchemodouroff, they bore it all with the same courage and dignity that they had shown through their imprisonment, being only concerned for the people about them. They were at the absolute mercy of their gaolers, who spared them no humiliation they could devise. They had only three rooms at their disposal. The Tsarevich slept in his parents' bedroom, all the Grand Duchesses being together in the second room, while in the third, the dining-sitting room. Dr. Botkine spent the night. All the doors were removed from their hinges to enable the guards to look into the rooms whenever they wished. The presence of the coarse, noisy soldiery in such close proximity - they occupied the rooms adjoining those of the Emperor and his family - was a great trial to the ladies. The family suffered from actual want; food was scarce and bad, was brought at irregular hours, and sometimes forgotten altogether.
Dr. Botkine stood up manfully for his patients, but his requests were generally ignored. It was prison regime, but that of a prison where there were many gaolers, each one of whom gave his own rendering of the rules set up by their drunken Kornmissar. While Tchemodouroff was still in the lpatieff house two of the servants, Nagorny and the footman Sednev, were taken away. They had not been able to watch with equanimity the Kommissar's rude treatment of the Tsarevich. Their faces betrayed their feelings and they paid for this with their lives.
At the last only the footman Troup, a maid, and the cook were allowed to remain with the prisoners, besides the doctor. The cook was cook in name only, as the food was brought by the soldiers as and when it pleased the Kommissar.
It was hard to keep any illusions after hearing Tchemodouroff's poignant recital, but though the faces I had seen at Ekaterinburg had inspired me with the direst forebodings, still I tried to cling to the hope that it was impossible that anyone could have been so brutal as to murder in cold blood a sick woman, young girls, and an ailing boy.
Countess Hendrikoff and Mademoiselle Schneider had, it appeared, been dragged away in the Bolsheviks' wake to Perm. A little later we heard that Prince Dolgoroukoff and General Tatistcheff had been shot at the beginning of July, and shortly afterwards came the news of the murder of the Grand Dukes and of the saintly Grand Duchess Serge, the Empress's sister - the head of a religious community - at Alopaievsk, near Ekaterinburg, on July 18. This was one of the last crimes of the Bolsheviks before their retreat.
The servants all left for Tobolsk, where many of their families lived, but Gilliard, Mademoiselle Tegleva, and I resolved to stay on at Tyumen, where we knew some people and where we might more easily hear news than in another town, strange to us. We were no longer beyond the pale and so were able to get work. Gilliard, naturally, gave French lessons. I taught English and so did Miss Mather, whom I had fetched back from Tobolsk as soon as communication was re-established. Notwithstanding the change of regime, life was still difficult. Everything had been so much upset that it took some time for normal conditions to become re-established. Though all kinds of wares began to appear on the market, things were still very expensive and imported goods came only in small quantities, as the Trans-Siberian was still partly in the Bolsheviks' hands higher up the line. Regular communication with Vladivostock was resumed only in November. We were now able to afford an extra room, to which my two companions moved, while Miss Mather shared mine. We could now also indulge in the luxury of domestic help to scrub the floors and cook us a decent meal. I suppose we became the fashion, for pupils poured in, and Gilliard and I spent the best part of each day in teaching children and grown-up people. English was greatly in request, as it is the commercial language both of Japan and China, with which countries Siberia has much trade. Our pupils brought us into contact with several very kindly and intellectual families, some of them local people, and others who had come from Russia during the famine exodus of 1918. One now saw decently dressed people walking in the streets again, as there was no longer danger of appearing undemocratic if one was not ragged. Even dressmakers opened their doors, and the feminine element became fashionable if perhaps in fashions a little behind the times. All the shops opened in turn, and trains were run towards Omsk. When the first postman walked down the street it was such an event that he was followed by a retinue of small boys. Everyone seemed to breathe freely again now that the atmosphere of perpetual oppression and fear had gone.
The new Government had the best of chances, for at first the spirit of criticism, that bane of us Russians, seemed dormant. Its measures met with approval at the outset. Unfortunately, for various reasons, many political mistakes were made as time went on, and the Siberian Government was permanently hampered by not having a homogeneous army strong enough to defend it, and by being unable to supply its army with munitions in sufficient quantities. The Bolsheviks, on the other hand, had the whole of Russia's munition factories at their back. Very soon after the White Army's arrival we saw new recruits being drilled in the streets. Both they and their officers were mere boys. The Government, a little nervous at proclaiming an immediate mobilisation during harvest time, had at first called only for volunteers. The enthusiasm was so strong in all classes that a large number of young men flocked to the recruiting offices. The contingent thus raised was not sufficient and some weeks later older classes were mobilised by conscription. This passed off quietly and without the protest that had been feared from these war-weary men.
Only people who have seen the state in which Siberia then was can realise how difficult was the task of those who had to build up an army powerful enough to re-conquer not only the Ural but the whole of Russia, for this was the ultimate hope of the White commanders. To inculcate discipline into men who had become used to living in a state of chaos; to train them sufficiently to make real soldiers of them; lastly, to provide them with firearms and warm clothes (there were no cloth mills in Siberia) for a winter campaign, was not an easy undertaking. Only those who have withessed that gigantic labour and know the many difficulties to be coped with, can render due justice to the men who tried to upbuild bit by bit both the army and the Government. If they failed it is only fair to say that they tried to the utmost, and that the odds against them were enormous. The sergeants drilling the recruits were old soldiers who had joined up. Many of these were to prove a great danger to the young army, for no one ever could know exactly what these men's antecedents had really been. They all pretended to have abominated the Bolsheviks, but very often they had really been Red guardsmen or, at the best, opportunists who changed about from one side to another according to which seemed most profitable. Many of them were simply Bolshevik spies. During the Bolshevik rule I was once able to judge the mentality of these men for myself. I accidentally met a soldier of the Tobolsk guard who had not belonged to the Bolshevik party when I knew him. He talked to me in a friendly manner - we were both strangers in the place - and in the course of conversation he informed me that he had joined a Bolshevik detachment which was being sent to recapture Tobolsk. "It was absolutely necessary for me to join up," he said, "for when I left Tobolsk my box remained there and my samovar too! Such a good one it was - real nickel! It could contain a pail of water! I couldn't go back to fetch it as I could not cross the fighting line between Tobolsk and Tyumen, so I was obliged to join the Bolsheviks to get my belongings back." His valour was not rewarded, for his unit never reached Tobolsk. I have reason to believe that he subsequently joined the White Army, assuring them that he had never been near the Bolsheviks - and had then resumed possession of his samovar! There were many such cases at that time.
All kinds of people belonging to different political parties now passed through Tyumen, some of whom had lain in hiding for several months. A few days after the taking of the town I withessed the triumphal reception by the Town Council of Mrs. Brechko-Brechkovskaia, "the Grandmother of the Revolution," a corpulent, red-faced old lady who wore a white handkerchief, peasant fashion, over her head. She left by the Omsk steamer and smilingly acknowledged bunches of flowers and listened to welcoming speeches. It seemed to me rather incongruous that a woman who had spent the best part of her life in prison for having taken an active part in the revolutionary movement should have been so much hunted by the Bolsheviks that she had had to hide for safety in all kinds of remote places.
In September I met Prince Lvoff, the first President of the Provisional Government of 1917. After his release from prison in Ekaterinburg he had remained in hiding in the neighbourhood, fearing to be arrested again. It was Prince Lvoff who confirmed the news of the Emperor's murder. "That it should have come to this!" he said, with tears in his eyes. "It is terrible, unbelievable. Who would have thought that the revolution would have ended like this?" I was unnerved and could not help saying what I thought. "And who should be blamed?" I cried. "Not those ignorant fanatics, civil offenders most of them, who were the Emperor's gaolers. How could people like you, for instance, you who profess to be a monarchist, who, as President of the Moscow Semstvo for many years, ought to have known what was going on in the country - how could you, after the March revolution, knowing the ever-increasing danger, not have taken immediate steps for the safety of the Emperor and his family? You were in power then. You bear a great share of the responsibility for all this."
"You are hard," he murmured, "but you are upset, I understand. It is terrible," he repeated, "terrible." I never saw him again, but it was Prince Lvoff who later sent me a Perm newspaper in which was a list of hostages who had been executed. In this I read the names of poor Nastinka Hendrikoff and Mademoiselle Schneider. These two perfectly harmless women were shot without any trial whatever - Mademoiselle Schneider was sixty-five! About the Empress and her children Lvoff knew nothing, but shook his head ominously when speaking of their possible fate. In this newspaper I found, besides the names of Hendrikoff and Schneider, the name of Alexei Wolkoff, the Empress's old page (servant), in the list of those who had been executed. The names of the other victims were unknown to us.
We thought sadly of poor Wolkoff, who had been with the Empress for so many years and who had proved himself both faithful and courageous during the long months in Tobolsk. At Ekaterinburg he had not been admitted to the lpatieff house and had instead been taken to prison.
One day, several weeks after my conversation with Lvoff, my hostess knocked at my door and told me that an old beggar wanted to see me. I went out into the half-dark hall, and literally felt my knees giving way as, in the dim light, I saw distinctly outlined against the wall the figure of Wolkoff, pale and thin, with a long, flowing white beard, silently gazing at me. I pressed my hands to my forehead. Was it a ghost or was I losing my senses? I suppose I must have recoiled and that my face showed my feelings, for as leant back against the wall, unable to move a step, I heard a voice - unmistakably Wolkoff's - saying "Good heavens. Baroness, but it is I, Wolkoff! Do you not know me again?"
"But, Wolkoff, how did you escape?" I said. "Is it all a lie? I myself read your name among those executed on August 22. Is it possible that the Countess and Mademoiselle Schneider are alive?"
He crossed himself. "They have bidden you live long," he said (the old Russian formula for announcing a death). "I have escaped...."
He then told me a story that was almost incredible. When the batch of prisoners were all ordered to leave their cells and follow the guard he had anticipated danger, not believing that they were only to be transferred to another prison as the poor victims were told. When the prisoners reached the outskirts of a little wood lying near the suburbs of Perm, the soldiers ordered them to stop. Wolkoff availed himself of that moment to bolt. He ran across a field toward the woods; shots were fired at him, but missed him. Turning his head, he saw the other prisoners, among them my colleagues, being shot down. He ran on. The guards tried to pursue him, but they were not numerous and were probably busy dividing the small belongings of their victims among themselves. By crouching behind bushes and hiding in the thickets Wolkoff managed to evade the soldiers. He had neither money nor maps. His goal was Tobolsk, where his wife was, and which he vaguely knew to be north of Perm. He walked for weeks, begging for his daily bread, sleeping in the open, losing his direction and being put right by the people he met when these appeared friendly. No wonder the spruce and dapper, clean-shaven, pink-cheeked man, whose sixty odd years had rested lightly on his shoulders, was now a gaunt and pale shadow, his long white beard contributing not a little to his changed appearance. He still wore his blue frock-coat, but that was all that remained to him of the palace servant. His boots were torn, and he had neither hat nor coat. All his worldly possessions were gone. He had, of course, not a penny. We welcomed him warmly, made arrangements for him to hire a conveyance to take him to Tobolsk, and gave him winter clothing for the journey. His escape was quite miraculous.
Of course our thoughts turned to the other victims, but neither of the ladies, if they had followed Wolkoff's example and tried to run away, could have withstood the hardships he met with in his wanderings. He spoke of the ladies with tears in his eyes: of their fortitude, of Countess Hendrikoff's noble reply to the Bolsheviks when they asked her what she would do if she were set free - "Serve my Empress till my dying day." It rent our hearts to think that none of us had been able to do anything to help them. We were so thoroughly cut off from our colleagues that we did not even know that they were dragged from one prison to another. Till the last we had hoped we should join them some day.... Now the tutors and myself were the only survivors of the Household at Tobolsk.
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
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