Our honeymoon: Paris - Egypt - Easter festivities in Jerusalem - Our journey across Italy - Our stay in London.
We stayed in Paris at the Hotel du Rhin, where I had booked the rooms I usually occupied, as I wanted Irina to see them. The day after our arrival, we were awakened at nine o'clock by the Grand Duchess Anastasia Mikhailovna who turned up followed by three grooms carrying her wedding present: twelve wastepaper baskets!
Irina had brought all her jewelry with her, as she wanted to have it reset; we had long discussions with Chaumet, the jeweler who was to modernize it.
We did not care to stay long in Paris as we knew too many people there, so as soon as we had done our shopping we left for Egypt; but as all our movements were reported in the papers we never had much peace. In Cairo, the Russian Consul insisted on following us like a shadow and reading us sentimental poems of his own composition of which he was extremely proud.
One evening, as we wandered through the narrow streets of the old quarter, we came to a small square and there we saw a magnificent Arab, dressed in gorgeous robes and wearing a profusion of necklaces, rings and bracelets, reclining on velvet cushions on the steps of a house and sipping his coffee... A continuous stream of women and children passed before him and threw coins into a bag which lay on the ground beside him. From the houses nearby, heavily painted women sitting cross-legged behind their latticed windows displayed their somewhat faded charms As we left this questionable quarter we met our consul, who was horrified to find us in such a disreputable neighborhood.
He told us that the Arab who had aroused our curiosity owed his affluence to the peculiar interest taken in him by a certain person of very high rank. Thus, he had become the owner of several streets full of brothels, from which he derived an enormous income.
From Cairo we went on to Luxor. The modern town is built on the site of ancient Thebes which was buried, in the course of centuries, under alluvial deposits from the Nile Nothing, alas, remains of the old city except a number of temples erected by successive dynasties of Pharaohs, which have been brought to light by excavations. It is said that the ancient Egyptians lived in mud or adobe homes, and that their more elaborate handiwork was reserved exclusively for tombs and temples, the symbols of life to come. The Valley of Kings is an immense, irregularly shaped circus in the desert on the left bank of the Nile. The tombs are a series of galleries and rooms hollowed out of the rock, decorated with paintings which have remained amazingly fresh.
Although the splendors of Upper Egypt were most interesting, I suffered so much from the heat that I refused to go any further. On our return to Cairo I had an attack of jaundice and was obliged to remain in bed for the rest of our stay. From Cairo we left for Jerusalem, where we wanted to spend Holy Week and Easter Day. We were sorry to leave Egypt, for we had fallen under its spell.
When we arrived at Jaffa, we found the chief of the local police waiting for us: an incredibly fat man, covered with decorations. He offered to take us to a house where we could rest for a few hours before taking the train to Jerusalem. He showed us into a carriage drawn by a couple of fine Arab horses, while be himself sat on the box beside the coachman. When Punch saw his enormous bottom jutting out from the box, the temptation was too great. The wretched police officer was stoic, but I had the greatest trouble in making my dog let go.
When we reached the house, our guide, still rather shaky from Punch's onslaught, showed us into a room sparsely furnished with a few chairs and a sofa, where he left us.
We were just settling down to have a good rest, when the door opened and in came the Governor of Jaffa, escorted by our guide and an imposing retinue, and they stayed and stayed and stayed... We were saved by our Chief of Police, who warned us that it was time to leave for the station.
The Russian Consul joined our train before we arrived in Jerusalem, so as to warn my wife of the reception in store for her there. When she saw the number of officials waiting for us on the platform, Irina refused to leave the train and I had practically to force her to get down. After much shaking of hands, we were taken straight to the Orthodox cathedral. More than 5,000 Russian pilgrims lined the road leading to it, and cheered the Emperor's niece. They had come from all parts of Russia to spend Holy Week in Jerusalem..
The Greek Patriarch, Damian, and his clergy, were waiting for us in the cathedral. When we arrived he rose and gave us his blessing. After a Te Deum had been sung, we entered our carriage again and drove to the hotel of the Russian Mission, where a suite of rooms had been reserved for us.
The next day we were received in private audience by the Patriarch. We found the audience long and rather tiresome. Irina and I sat on either side of the primate, while the clergy lined the walls. Coffee, sweetmeats and champagne were served. But as the Patriarch knew only a few words of Russian and the others spoke not a word of either French or English, conversation languished, in spite of the interpreter. The Patriarch was, as a matter of fact, a man of great distinction, and during our stay in Jerusalem we had several opportunities of meeting him in less formal circumstances. On his first visit to us, Punch made a dash for him, and the venerable old gentleman very nearly shared the fate of the Chief of Police.
We visited all the holy places in Jerusalem in great detail; within the walls and in the outskirts of the city, every stone seemed alive with memories of Jesus Christ. During a walk which we took outside the town, we passed some poor wretches dressed in rags, begging by the roadside. Their faces and bodies were covered with sores and scabs. Their limbs were rotting away and their eyes hung out of their sockets; the women were carrying children who looked quite healthy. When we went up to them to give them alms, we were sickened by their overpowering stench. Later we discovered that they were lepers.
During Holy Week, we went to several services in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher. On Holy Saturday, as Irina was not feeling well, I went alone.. I had a seat in the gallery where I could follow the unusual ceremony being celebrated that day in the chapel of the Holy Sepulcher. The day before, the civil authorities had put seals on the door of this chapel, which is in the center of the Basilica. The faithful believe that the thirty-three candles held by the Patriarchs are lighted by a flame which comes down from Heaven on Holy Saturday. In order that the faithful may be sure that the Greek and Armenian Patriarchs have neither matches nor lighters concealed on their persons, and that no trickery is possible, these high ecclesiastical dignitaries are searched by Mohammedan soldiers before they enter the church, where the pilgrims await them each holding a bunch of thirty-three tiny candles. The Patriarchs approach the Holy Sepulcher, open the door after breaking the seals, and enter the sanctuary. A second later, lighted candles can be seen through the small windows on either side of the chapel. Then follows a rush of the faithful, pressing forward to light their own tapers from the miraculous flame. During the scuffle, priests hustle the Patriarchs out, to protect them from the crowd's fanatical enthusiasm. It was an amazing sight: lighted by thousands of glittering tapers, the whole church was like an ocean of flame. The congregation behaved like maniacs, tearing off their clothes, burning their bodies with lighted candles to such a point that the smell of roasting flesh became unbearable. It was a scene of mob hysteria; I felt far indeed from the tomb of Christ.
On Easter evening, after the solemn Resurrection Mass, all the Russian pilgrims in Jerusalem were invited to the Mission for the traditional supper. They came bearing small lanterns, lit from the holy flame in Christ's tomb, which they were going to carry reverently back to Russia. On the long tables set in the garden, all these muticolored glass lanterns illuminating the night made an enchanting spectacle. Before the pilgrims' departure, they were again our guests in the Mission garden. Surrounded by so great a number of our compatriots, we had the feeling that we were back in Russia.
A few days later the pilgrims, who had heard that we were to attend a service at the Orthodox cathedral, determined to be present. The result was a terrible stampede; the doors bad to be closed, but they managed to break down one of them and invaded the church. We barely had time to escape through a side exit.
Shortly before we left Jerusalem, during one of our last drives a young Abyssinian Negro in a white tunic ran up to us and threw an envelope into our barouche. It was a petition asking us to take him into our service. He came to the Mission that evening for our answer. I liked his looks and engaged him on the spot, to Irina's great displeasure as well as that of our European servants. He was called Tesphe and had fled to Jerusalem from Abyssinia where he had committed some crime or other. He was practically a savage, but a very intelligent one; he learned Russian very quickly and was completely devoted to us. However, I must admit that he very soon began to make difficulties for us. We had left Palestine for Italy. At Naples I had to put up with a good deal of protest from the manager of the hotel when Tesphe made trouble with the maids. He thoroughly upset two elderly Englishwomen who complained of never being able to use the lavatory. Tesphe had established himself in it and was engrossed in the supreme pleasure of pulling the chain to hear the water run. For a long time it was impossible to make him sleep in a bed.. He insisted on lying on the floor in the ball, outside our door.
Our car was waiting for us at Naples; accompanied by Tesphe and Punch, we took a short trip through Italy. We had sent our servants to Rome to await us there, and Irina herself was obliged to admit that on this occasion Tesphe proved to be an excellent lady's maid.
After spending a few days in Rome, we left for Florence where I knew a good many people. I saw little of them, for I wanted to be alone with Irina in a city which we both loved more than any other.
The evening before we left, I saw a familiar figure standing before the Loggia dei Lanzi. It was that of the Italian prince of whom I had seen a good deal in London when my two lovely cousins were staying with me and whom we used to call "Bambino." I introduced him to Irina and we asked him to dinner. I found him very much changed; he had lost his high spirits and youthful gaiety. He came back the next day to see us off and said that he would meet us soon in Paris and London. A few weeks later, we heard that he had committed suicide. He wrote me a farewell letter which touched me deeply.
When we passed through Paris, old Chaumet brought us Irina's jewels, which he had reset during our absence. He had not wasted his time: the five sets he had designed in diamonds, pearls, rubies, emeralds and sapphires seemed each more beautiful than the other. They were much admired in London, but no jewels were needed to add to Irina's beauty.
I had kept my bachelor's flat in London, and it was there that we stayed. I was delighted to be, so to speak, at home, and to meet all my English friends again. No sooner had we arrived than we were caught in a whirl of social obligations which left us little time for anything else. My family-in-law were also in London, as well as the Dowager Empress, who was staying with her sister Queen Alexandra at Marlborough House, where we often went to see them.
One morning we were wakened by the sound of voices in argument in the hall. Slipping on a dressing gown, I went to see what was happening. I found Queen Alexandra and the Empress trying to persuade Tesphe to let them in. The Empress had run short of words and gone on to deeds, and was threatening him with her umbrella. After apologizing for my attire, I explained that Tesphe never disobeyed an order, and that as we had gone to bed very late we had given him strict orders not to admit anyone.
It was in the midst of the gaieties of the London season that we learned of the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria.
Soon after, we had a letter from my parents asking us to join them at Kissingen, where my father was taking a cure.
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