General exodus to the Crimea - Ai-Todor is searched - Irina has an interview with Kerensky - St. Petersburg during the Revolution - The Imperial family is taken to Siberia - My last visit to the Grand Duchess Elisabeth - Mysterious guardian angels Scenes from the Revolution in the Crimea - My family-in-law is imprisoned at Dulber-Zadoroiny - Deliverance in extremis - A short period of happiness - Rumors of the Imperial family's assassination - The prophecies of the nun from Yalta.
Life in St. Petersburg grew daily more depressing. Revolutionary ideas had spread to all classes, even to the well-to-do and to the people who bad always considered themselves conservatives. Rosanov, a Russian author who had escaped the general contagion and remained unbiased, describes in a play entitled The Revolution and the Intellectuals the predicament in which the liberals found themselves when faced with the triumph of the Soviets: "After witnessing an admirable performance of the Revolution with the keenest enjoyment, the intellectuals wanted to fetch their warm fur-lined overcoats and return to their fine comfortable homes; but the coats had been stolen and the houses burned.
In the spring of 1917, many people left St. Petersburg and sought refuge in the Crimea. The Grand Duchess Ksenia and her three eldest sons, my parents and Irina and I, followed the general exodus. The wave of revolution had not yet reached southern Russia, and the Crimea was comparatively safe.
My young brothers-in-law, who had remained at Ai-Todor, told us that when news of the Revolution reached the Crimea the inhabitants of the two neighboring villages came to congratulate them on the change of regime- singing the Marseillaise and waving red flags. M. Niquille, their Swiss tutor, took the children and their governesses out onto a balcony from which he harangued the crowd. His country, he said, had been a republic for three hundred years, everyone there was perfectly happy and he wished the same to the Russian people. Frenzied applause greeted this speech. Feeling extremely embarrassed, the poor boys did not know which way to look, but it all ended peaceably and the enthusiastic demonstrators went home singing the Marseillaise.
The Dowager Empress, accompanied by my father-in-law, her youngest daughter, the Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, and the latter's husband, Colonel Kulikovski, also arrived at AiTodor. After the Emperor was arrested, the Empress Marie, who wanted to be as near her son as possible, stubbornly refused to leave Kiev. Fortunately the Government ordered all members of the Imperial family then in Kiev to leave the town. The local Soviet having given their approval, preparations were made for leaving at once, but it was not an easy matter to persuade the Empress to go. Life in the Crimea was peaceful enough until May. But, as our stay there threatened to be a long one, I thought I ought to see what was happening to our house on the Moika and also to the hospital in our house in Liteinaia Street. I left for St. Petersburg with my brother-in-law Theodore, who insisted on coming with me. I brought back with me two Rembrandts, which were among the finest portraits in our picture gallery: "The Man in the Large Hat" and "The Woman with the Fan." Unframed and rolled up, the paintings were easy to carry.
Our journey back to the Crimea took place under most unpleasant conditions. A crowd of soldiers who had demobilized themselves, but kept their arms, filled the train. There were as many piled on the roofs of the coaches as inside them. In fact one coach collapsed under their weight. As they were all more or less intoxicated, several fell off during the journey. The farther south we went, the more crowded the train became, chiefly owing to the civilians who were seeking shelter in the Crimea. Eight of us, including an old woman and two children, were huddled together in what was once a compartment of a sleeping car.
We reached the Crimea at the same time as the all too famous Brechko-Brechkovskaia, nicknamed "the grandmother of the Russian Revolution," who came to the Crimea for a rest after her long imprisonment in Siberia. She traveled in the Imperial train, and Kerensky had placed the Palace of Livadia at her disposal. The city of Yalta, gay with red bunting, turned out to give this old termagant a rousing welcome. The most ridiculous stories went round about the Brechkovskaia. Popular report had it that she was the daughter of Napoleon I and a Muscovite shop assistant. On arriving at the station in Yalta, the crowds hailed her with cries of "Long live Napoleon!"
ABOVE: The Yussupov villa of Koreiz in the Crimea.
While we were in St. Petersburg, an alarming incident had disturbed the peaceful life of Ai-Todor.
One morning at dawn, my father-in-law was wakened by the barrel of a revolver being pressed against his forehead. A band of sailors, sent by the Sebastopol Soviet with a search warrant, had invaded the house. The Grand Duke was requested to hand over his keys and any arms he might possess. The Dowager Empress was forced to get up and allow her bed to be searched. Standing behind a screen and powerless to protest, she saw the leader of the gang make off with her papers and private correspondence; he had already taken all my father-in-law's papers. He even seized an old Bible which the Empress had had with her since the day she left Denmark to marry the Emperor Alexander III. The search lasted the whole morning. Nothing was found in the way of weapons excepting some twenty old Winchester rifles which came from a yacht my father-in-law used to own. In the afternoon the officer commanding the search party, an extremely disagreeable and arrogant man, informed the Grand Duke that he was obliged to arrest the Empress - "Marie Feodorovna," as he called her - as she had, according to him, insulted the Provisional Government. My father-in-law managed with great difficulty to calm him down. He reminded him that it was not customary to allow sailors to enter an old lady's room at five in the morning, and that it was natural for her to resent it.
ABOVE: Another view of Koreiz in the Crimea.
This individual was to rise to an important post in the Bolshevik government, but eventually came to a bad end and was shot.
That the Provisional Government had allowed Ai-Todor to be searched was a further proof of their weakness. Acting on trumped-up information about the anti-revolutionary activities of my father-in-law's family, the St. Petersburg Soviet had insisted on a search warrant being issued by the Crimean authorities.
On hearing of what had happened, Irina hastened to Ai-Todor, but was not allowed to enter. There were guards at every entrance and even on the little footpaths known only to those familiar with the estate. It was only when the search party had left that she was able to join her family.
From then on, the inmates of Ai-Todor were subjected to every kind of annoyance. A guard of some twenty soldiers and sailors, all of them rough and insolent, settled down on the estate. The commissar who accompanied them produced a set of regulations by which the prisoners had to abide. After a list of things they were not allowed to do, came the names of the people they were permitted to receive: Irina, myself, the boys' tutors, the doctor and certain tradesmen. From time to time, and without the shadow of a reason, they were forbidden to see anyone, even Irina; then, without further explanation, the ban was lifted.
On my return to the Crimea, when Irina told me what was happening, we agreed that she ought to see Kerensky and ask him to intervene. So we left for St. Petersburg once more, but it was a whole month before Irina could get an audience with the head of the Provisional Government. On reaching the Winter Palace she met a few old servants whose joy on seeing her again was very touching. She was shown into the Emperor Alexander II's study. Kerensky came in almost immediately; he was most polite and even a little embarrassed. He asked his visitor to sit down, and she immediately chose her great-grandfather's armchair, thereby obliging the head of the Government to take the seat reserved for visitors. As soon as he understood what had brought her, Kerensky tried to explain that it was no responsibility of his. But Irina paid no attention and continued her narrative without sparing him a single detail. In the end she had to be satisfied with his promise to do what he could, and left her ancestors' palace forever, after saying goodby to the staff for the last time.
In spite of what was happening and the general uneasiness, social gatherings were numerous in St. Petersburg. Even during the darkest days, young people must find an outlet for their high spirits. Small parties were given almost every night, either at the Moika or at the houses of friends who were still in town. We even spent an evening at Tsarskoe Selo with the Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich. After dinner his two daughters Irene and Natalie gave a charming performance of a French play written for them by their brother Vladimir. The Grand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovich paid us long visits, always thundering against everything and everybody.
Toward the end of our stay in St. Petersburg the Bolsheviks made their first attempt to seize power. Trucks filled with troops drove through the city, shooting off machine guns; soldiers crouching on the running boards shot at any unfortunate pedestrians who had failed to take cover. The streets were strewn with the dead and wounded; the capital was in a state of panic. This time, however, the insurrection petered out and comparative calm was restored for a time.
Shortly after this, we returned to the Crimea. During our absence an inquiry had been held at Ai-Todor, following a complaint lodged by my father-in-law about thefts committed by the search party in May. All the inmates of the house were questioned separately. When the Dowager Empress' turn came she was requested to sign her statement: "the ex-Empress Marie." She picked up a pen and signed: "the widow of Emperor Alexander III."
ABOVE: The younger generation of Romanovs imprisoned at Ai-Todor.
It was not till a month later that Kerensky's emissary arrived on the scene. He was scared of everybody and everything, and did nothing whatever to improve conditions.
In August we heard that the Tsar and his family had been taken to Tobolsk, in Siberia. Whether this measure had been forced upon the Government by the Bolsheviks or whether, as Kerensky stated, it was a first step toward action against them, it was impossible not to be extremely anxious about their fate. King George V had invited them to come to England, but this had met with the opposition of the British government in the person of Lloyd George. The King of Spain had also offered them hospitality, but the Emperor had refused, saying that no matter what happened neither he nor his family would ever leave Russia.
When autumn came, I decided to go to St. Petersburg again; I wanted to find a hiding place for our jewels and more valuable objets d'art. When I arrived I set to work at once with the help of the most trustworthy of our servants. I then went to the Anichkov Palace and took out of its frame, and rolled up, a large portrait of the Emperor Alexander III which the Empress Marie was particularly fond of and had asked me to bring back with me. Unfortunately I came too late to save her jewels; they had been taken to Moscow by order of the Provisional Government. When I had completed my task at the Moika, I went to Moscow with our faithful major-domo, Gregory Bujinski. I took all our diamonds with me as I wanted to conceal them separately. The hiding place I chose was a recess under one of the staircases. I have already told how, thanks to Gregory Bujinski's heroic devotion, this hiding place escaped the Bolshevists' investigations for a long time. Our jewels fell into their hands eight years later, when some workmen discovered them while repairing a step.
Before leaving Moscow I had a long talk with the Grand Duchess Elisabeth, whom I found full of courage. She had few illusions about the seriousness of the situation and was greatly alarmed over the fate of the Emperor and his family. After a short prayer in the chapel I took leave of the Grand Duchess, with a heavy foreboding that I should never see her again.
I left that same evening for St. Petersburg. The day after I arrived, the Provisional Government collapsed and the Bolshevik party, with Lenin and Trotsky at its head, assumed power. Indescribable confusion reigned in the capital; bands of soldiers and sailors broke into people's houses, pillaging and murdering. The town was in the hands of a frenzied, bloodthirsty populace, eager for destruction.
Those were days and nights of terror and anguish. One evening I witnessed a horrible scene from my window: a group of sailors had fallen on an old general; they were kicking him and had half-stunned him with the butts of their rifles. The wretched man dragged himself along the ground whimpering piteously. To my horror, I saw the blood streaming from two gaping holes in his swollen face, where his eyes had once been.
Many friends, and even strangers, took refuge at the Moika, thinking they would be safer there, It was quite a problem to house and feed them all. One day a detachment of soldiers came to occupy the house. I showed them over it, and tried to make them understand that it was more fitted to be a museum than a barracks. They went away without pressing their point, but obviously meaning to come back.
A few days later, on leaving my room I stumbled over the bodies of some soldiers sleeping, fully armed, on the marble floor. An officer came up to me and said that he had been ordered to guard my house. I did not like this at all; it meant that the Bolsheviks considered me a sympathizer, which was a compliment I did not appreciate in the least. I decided to leave immediately for the Crimea. That same evening a young officer whom I knew, and who commanded our district, came to see me with a stranger in civilian clothes. They told me I was to leave St. Petersburg at once, and suggested that I should accompany them to Kiev. They handed me some faked identity papers which they had brought for me, saying they would call for me and take me to the station.
As this fell in with my own plans, I thought it best to obey what seemed more like an order than a piece of advice. As a matter of fact, I felt quite excited by the adventure. What could their intentions be? I wondered what awaited me. As I got into the car with them, I noticed that a great red cross bad been painted on the front of our house.
The train was crammed; people, as usual, sat on the tops of the coaches, the windows of which were all broken and the blinds torn down. To my great surprise I was led to a private compartment, apparently reserved for us, which was then locked, and we spent a peaceful and comfortable night.
At Kiev, the hotels were full. The officer invited me to stay with him but I was not anxious to accept his hospitality. However, the only alternative was sleeping in the streets, so we got into a cab and drove off. I suddenly saw a friend of mine, Princess Gagarine, coming out of one of the houses.. She recognized me and waved to me. I stopped the cab and asked my companion to wait while I went to speak to her. She seemed surprised to see me. "What are you doing here?" she asked. "And how have you managed to find a room?"
"I wish I knew myself what I was doing here," I answered, "and I have got a room, but I am not very happy about it."
She then offered to put me up, and I eagerly accepted. The next day I heard that the telegraph was still working, so I set out for the post-office to send my family a wire; they had been without news of me for some time and must have been anxious. But this proved no easy matter. Conditions were as bad as in St. Petersburg. There was a lot of firing going on in the streets, and one ran the risk of being bit by a stray bullet. Occasionally sporadic outbursts of machine-gun fire swept the pavements. I got to the post-office as best I could, dodging around corners, hiding in doorways, and lying flat on my stomach each time the firing came nearer. My hostess was appalled to see me return with my clothes all torn, my face and hands covered with mud.
My friend the officer came to see me a few days later, and told me that his house had been destroyed by a bomb the night before. He owed his life to the fact that, quite by chance, he had not slept there.
One morning, glancing through the newspaper, I saw that the police were on the track of a well-known criminal. I suddenly realized that my fake papers were made out in his name. I immediately got in touch with the officer, who produced a second set of papers with the greatest of ease.
At the end of a week I told him that I had no intention of staying in Kiev indefinitely. I had nothing to do there, and meant to join my family in the Crimea; but, before that, I wanted to go back to St. Petersburg and pick up the valuables I had left there when I came away in a hurry. This did not seem to suit the officer at all. However, he promised to let me know when it would be possible for us to go; he seemed determined not, to part company with me. Two days later, he came back: "Be ready to leave tomorrow." He called for me the next day, accompanied by his mysterious acolyte.
At the station in St. Petersburg, I bought a newspaper and read: "Prince Youssoupoff has been arrested and imprisoned in the Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul."
I handed the paper to my companions.
"Are you sure of your servants?" asked the officer.
"In that case, go home and don't move until you hear from me.
Don't see a soul and don't answer the telephone. I hope to be able to get you off to the Crimea very soon.
I turned up my collar and set out for the Moika. When I arrived I found my servants in tears. They had read of my arrest in the papers and were overjoyed to see me. In spite of the advice I had been given, I did see a few trusted friends. A few days later, still accompanied by my guardian angels, I left for the Crimea. Again a compartment had been booked for us and everything went smoothly. My efforts to get an explanation from my mysterious companions were all in vain: they met all my questions with blank silence. They both got out at Baktchisarai and I have never seen them since. I found out later on that they were both Freemasons and were apparently acting on instructions issued by their Order. In any case, whatever their motives were, I feel I owe them a deep debt of gratitude.
Judging by the big Delaunay-Belleville car which met me at the station, flying a pennant with an enormous crown on it and our coat of arms on the doors, life in the Crimea was still comparatively normal. A few months previously, after a long struggle to maintain discipline, Admiral Koltchak, who was then commander-in-chief in the Black Sea, broke the Golden Sword he had been awarded for outstanding valor, threw the pieces into the sea and resigned his command. Then one day soon after my arrival, the Black Sea Fleet went over to the Bolsheviks. There followed a terrible massacre of naval officers in Sebastopol. Bands of sailors broke into houses, looting and murdering, raping women and children in front of their husbands and parents; torturing men to discover their valuables. I happened to see some of these sailors, pearl and diamond necklaces banging on their hairy chests, their arms and fingers loaded with bracelets and rings. Among them were youngsters of fifteen. Many were grotesquely powdered and made up. It was like a masquerade in hell. In Yalta, mutineers tied stones to the feet of their officers before shooting them, and then tossed their bodies into the sea. Later, a diver sent down to explore the bottom of the bay went out of his mind at the sight of these corpses standing upright in ghostly array and swaying in the current. We were never sure, on going to bed at night, of waking up alive in the morning. One afternoon a band of sailors came to Yalta to arrest my father. I told them that he was ill, and asked to be shown their warrant. Of course they did not have one, and I played for time by telling them to go and fetch one. After endless discussions, two of them reluctantly consented. As they had not returned several hours later, their companions grew tired of waiting, and left.
A few days later, another band of sailors came down from the hills behind Koreiz. They called themselves "naval cavalry." They were wellknown for their cruelty and were dreaded even by the Soviets. Armed to the teeth and mounted on stolen horses, they rode into our courtyard brandishing flags with the most promising slogans such as "Death to the bourgeois! Death to the anti-revolutionaries! Death to the landlords!" A terrified servant came to tell me that they were demanding food and wine. I went into the courtyard. Two of the sailors dismounted and came to meet me. They had degenerate and brutal faces; one wore a diamond bracelet, the other a brooch. Their uniforms were stained with blood. They said they wanted to speak to me in private, so I took them to my room after sending the rest of the band to the kitchen for refreshments. Irina's face was a study when she saw me come in with my two ruffians! I sent for some wine and we all four settled down to a cosy talk. Our visitors did not seem at all embarrassed, but stared at us with curiosity. Suddenly one of them asked me if I was really the man who had murdered Rasputin, and on receiving my reply they both drank to my health, declaring that that being the case neither my family nor I had anything to fear from them. They began recounting their heroic feats against the White Army. Then, catching sight of my guitar, they asked me to sing. I did so, feeling rather relieved to put a stop to their unsavory reminiscences. I sang several songs and they joined in the choruses; one bottle after another was emptied and our guests got more and more boisterous. My parents, whose room was above mine, wondered what all the noise was about. But all things come to an end, and the sailors finally went off after shaking hands with us again and again, and thanking us effusively for our hospitality. The whole band jumped into their saddles, waved farewell in the most friendly fashion, and brandishing their flags disappeared into the hills.
Kerensky's commissar at Ai-Todor had been dismissed and a new man appointed by the Soviets. My father-in-law, in his book, describes this arrival as follows:
We are feeling the effects of the new Revolution. Djordjuliani, our head jailer, has been replaced by a sailor called Zadorojny. I was introduced to him on his arrival, in the room occupied by our guards. He is an enormous, savage-looking brute, yet there is a certain kindliness about him withal. Most fortunately our first conversation was in private, and from the beginning he was extremely polite. I asked him where he had served. In the Air Force, he replied, adding that he had seen me several times at Sebastopol. We then talked about the general situation, and from what he said I gathered that he was on our side, although he frankly admitted that he had at first allowed himself to be drawn into the revolutionary movement... We parted the best of friends. It is a great comfort to know that we can depend on him. He treats us roughly before his comrades to disguise his real feelings.
Meanwhile a man by the name of Spiro appeared at Ai-Todor and assembled all its inmates for a roll call. The Dowager Empress refused to come down, merely showing herself for an instant at the top of the stairs.
Zadoroiny first came to Ai-Todor in December; in February he told my father-in-law that all the Romanovs residing in the Crimea were to be interned along with their suites at Dulber, an estate belonging to the Grand Duke Peter Nicholaievich. He explained that this was being done to ensure their safety. It appeared that the Yalta Soviet was insisting on their immediate execution, whereas the Sebastopol Soviet-from which Zadorojny took his orders-wanted to await Comrade Lenin's instructions, and feared that the Yalta Soviet might attempt to seize the prisoners by force. The reason why Dulber had been chosen was that it would eventually prove easier to defend than Ai-Todor, as it had high thick walls and was more like a fortress than a palace. Among those who were interned were: the Dowager Empress, my parents-in-law and their six sons; the Grand Duke Nicholas Nicholaievich, his wife and her two children from a first marriage; the Grand Duke Peter and the Grand Duchess Militza and their children, Princess Marina and Prince Roman. As for their youngest daughter, Princess Nadejda who was married to Prince Orlov, the Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, and my wife, who were all married morganatically, they were allowed to go free.
At Dulber, the prisoners were completely cut off from the rest of the world. The only person allowed to visit them was our daughter Irina, then two years old. Through her, we managed to communicate with them. Her nurse took her to the gates of the park and the child entered it alone, with our letters pinned inside her coat. The answers reached us in the same way. Our little messenger never let us down. The conditions in Dulber were none too good; things were very uncomfortable and food was very scarce. Kornilov, the chef, who later kept a famous restaurant in Paris, did the best he could with the little he had: mostly buckwheat and pea soup. Once, for a treat, the prisoners of Dulber had donkey for lunch and billy goat for dinner.
Knowing that her brothers were allowed out in the park, my wife invented a system by which we could communicate with them. We used to go for a walk with our dogs under the walls of the estate. Irina would call the dogs and instantly one of her brothers would appear on top of the wall. If he caught sight of a jailer, he would slip to the ground and we walked on looking as innocent as we could. Unfortunately our stratagem was found out before long.
I met Zadorojny one afternoon and we walked a little way together. After asking for news of his prisoners, I told him that there was something I wanted to speak to him about; he seemed surprised and a little embarrassed. Presumably he did not want his men to see him with me. So I asked him to come one evening to my house, where he could be sure of not meeting anyone he knew. To get into the house unobserved, all he had to do was to climb over the balcony of my room, which was on the ground floor. He came that evening and several times afterward. My wife was often present at our meetings. We spent hours trying to find some way of saving the Empress Marie and her family.
It became more and more evident that this fearsome-looking giant was sincerely devoted to us. He explained that he was fighting for time by exploiting the rivalry that existed between the two, soviets: that of Yalta which wanted to shoot the royal prisoners on the spot, and that of Sebastopol which, in agreement with Moscow, wanted them to be tried. I suggested his telling the Yalta Soviet that the Romanovs were shortly going to be transferred to Moscow for trial, and that if they were shot out of hand important state secrets, known only to them, would be lost. Zadorojny took my advice. He had managed to protect his prisoners until then, but the situation grew daily more difficult, as the Yalta Soviet suspected that he was trying to save them, and his own life was in danger. A few days later he came to our house in the middle of the night to tell me that he had received information from a reliable source that a large party of sailors was coming the next day to take the prisoners to Yalta and shoot them. He had decided to be away when they arrived, as he was sure of his men and knew that in his absence they would not allow anyone to enter the estate. He added that the young princes had already, for several nights, taken turns at mounting guard, and that arms were held in readiness for them in case of alarm, He also announced that there was going to be a general massacre in which no one would escape... The news was all the more unpleasant as we were incapable of defending ourselves, for all our arms had been confiscated.
Sure enough, the troop of sailors arrived next day from Yalta and tried to enter Dulber. As Zadorojny had foreseen, his men said that in the absence of the commissar, their orders were to admit no one. The walls were bristling with machine guns, and when they saw that the guards were prepared to use them the aggressors left, shouting insults and threats as they went.
We knew that after this unsuccessful venture, Yalta would take steps to end the matter once and for all. Foreseeing that a massive attack was imminent, Zadorojny went to Sebastopol himself to fetch reinforcements. He was expected back the same evening. But Yalta lay closer to Dulber than Sebastopol....
We spent the night on the roof of our house, from which we could see the towers of Dulber and keep an eye on the road by which both the reinforcements from Sebastopol and the bandits from Yalta would arrive. It was dawn when we saw the armored trucks from Sebastopol drive past. As nothing appeared from Yalta, we went to bed. We awoke to be told that the Germans had arrived. This was a solution of our difficulties that no one had foreseen.
It was then April and a few days before Easter. On March 8, the Soviet government had signed the peace of Brest-Litovsk, and the Germans had begun occupying certain parts of Russia. They liked to pose as liberators to an over-credulous population who were exhausted by trials and privations and only too happy to welcome them as such. It was, in fact, their arrival that saved the lives of the prisoners of Dulber. The general rejoicings over their sudden and unexpected release can well be imagined. The German officer wanted to hang Zadorojny and his men. He was thunderstruck when the Grand Dukes begged him not to dream of such a thing. On the contrary, they asked him to leave AiTodor under the protection of their late jailers. The German finally consented, on condition that he was relieved of all responsibility should anything go wrong. It was qhite clear that he was convinced that their prolonged detention bad driven the poor Grand Dukes mad.
A few days later, after touching farewells, the jailers and their prisoners parted. The younger ones cried and kissed the hands of their former captives!
In May, one of the Kaiser's aides-de-camp arrived in Yalta. He brought with him an offer from his Imperial master to proclaim Tsar of all the Russias any member of the Imperial family who would consent to countersign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. All the Romanovs present rejected the proposal with indignation. The Kaiser's envoy then asked my father-in-law to arrange a meeting with me. The Grand Duke refused, saying that no member of his family would ever turn traitor.
After their release, the prisoners remained for some time at Dulber; then the Empress went to live at Harax, an estate belonging to the Grand Duke George, one of my father-in-law's brothers, and the rest returned to their homes.
As time went by, things became more or less normal. The relief felt by the older generation was tinged with a certain uneasiness, but the young people gave themselves up to the joy and excitement of being alive and free. Life became a round of pleasures: picnics, tennis parties, outings of all kinds.
We found a new distraction in the founding of a weekly magazine. A friend of ours, Olga Vassiliev, a charming and intelligent girl, was editor. We used to meet at Koreiz every Sunday evening. After the latest news, Olga would read aloud the articles that each of her sixteen correspondents had written during the week on a subject left to their own choice. This was usually either some fabulous adventure, or an imaginary journey to some distant land, which was rather touching when one thinks how uncertain was the future of the youthful authors. The meetings began and ended with a hymn to the glory of the newspaper, which we sang in chorus. As the electric current was cut off at midnight, these evenings generally ended in candlelight.
The interest which our parents took in our magazine and the amusement they derived from it did not prevent their feeling a trifle uneasy, for they knew that, in such troubled times, the most innocent pastimes were dangerous.
Our periodical had a short life. It appeared only thirteen times; then all the members of the staff, one after the other, were laid low with Spanish flu. When, later on, we were obliged to fly for our lives and had to reduce our luggage to a minimum, the first thing that my wife packed was the gazette.
The Grand Duke Alexander had given his daughter a grove of pine trees, perched on a cliff above the sea, an enchanting spot. In 1915, we had built a little country house there; it was whitewashed inside and out, and had a green-tiled roof. As it was on a slope it was all lopsided, and its greatest charm lay in its complete lack of symmetry. A carpet of flowers stretched before the front door. A few steps led down from the entrance to a gallery overlooking the hall, which gave onto a terrace with a fountain in the center. Through another door one reached the swimming pool, which was surrounded by a pergola smothered in roses and wisteria, as was the house. As the cottage was all on different levels, it lent itself to a profusion of funny little staircases, unexpected corners, landings and balconies. The furniture was of oak with chintz cushions, and was somewhat like old English country furniture; there were rush mats on the floor instead of carpets. We were, alas, never able to live in the place, but during the comparatively happy days of the summer of 1918 we sometimes had picnics there. Food was scarce and the guests had to bring their own, but there was plenty of wine as everyone in the Crimea owned vineyards. There was also no lack of gaiety, for the young are ever ready to forget the trials of the day and look forward with eagerness to the future, however threatening it may be. It was the day before one of these picnics that we heard that the Tsar and his family had been assassinated. But there were so many wild rumors afloat at the time that nobody believed them any longer, and the party was not even canceled. The news was denied a few days later, and a letter was published purporting to have been written by the officer who had saved their lives. Soon, alas, it was no longer possible to doubt the terrible truth. But even then the Empress Marie refused to believe it, and to her dying day treasured the hope of seeing her son again.
The terrible events of the last few months sometimes made me wonder whether, as some people claimed, the death of Rasputin had not been the cause of the calamities which had overtaken our unfortunate country. When I think of those tragic days, I cannot imagine how I could have planned and committed a deed so contrary to my nature and principles. I was like a man in a dream, a dream that was a horrible nightmare. And to think I went home that night and slept like a child! I never had the slightest qualms of conscience; the thought of Rasputin never troubled my sleep. I had the feeling that it was someone else and not I who had done the deed, and I always spoke about it as if I had had no part in it.
The Grand Duchess Elisabeth had said that I was guided by a Force beyond my control. But was it a Force for Good or a Force for Evil?
There was an old nun of great saintliness who lived in Yalta and who was reputed to have the power of prophecy. She had been stricken by some mysterious complaint which had baffled all the doctors and left her half paralyzed, and bad not stirred from her bed for nine years. She had a deep-rooted horror of fresh air, and never allowed the window of her cell to be opened. And yet, the story went, it smelled deliciously of flowers.
I decided to go and see this woman who was the object of so much veneration, but without revealing my identity. As I entered her cell, she stretched out her arms: "You have come!" she cried.
"I've been expecting you. I dreamed of you as the savior of our country." I went up to her bed and she gave me her blessing, and, seizing my hand kissed it. I felt both moved and embarrassed as she looked at me with glowing eyes. I stayed with her for a long time, and I told her of my fears.
"Don't be unhappy," she said. "You are under the protection of God. Rasputin was a fiend whom you destroyed as St. George slew the dragon. Rasputin himself is grateful to you and protects you, for in killing him you prevented him from committing even greater sins.
"Russia must go through terrible trials to atone for her sins. Many years will pass before her resurrection. Few of the Romanovs will escape death, but you will survive. You will take an active part in the restoration of Russia. Remember that he who opened the door must be the one to close it."
When I left her I was in a very confused state of mind. The idea of being protected at the same time by God and by Rasputin was hard to grasp. And yet I must admit that several times in the course of my life the name of Rasputin has saved both myself and my family from great dangers.
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