Memories of Russia: 1916 - 1919 by Princess Paley

Chapter II

Grand Duke Paul and the Tsar

During our stay at Mohileff the Grand Duke Dimitri, who was on duty with the Emperor, often came to lunch and. dine with us. Very well informed about war matters and what was in progress at the headquarters of the General Staff, endowed with remarkable intelligence and with the faculty of grasping facts and drawing from them the necessary conclusion, this young man of twenty-five was a mature man and a shrewd observer. He also recognised the imminent danger which the country was running, and he had conversations on the subject more than once with the Emperor . and with his own father. I remember that one day at Mohileff, at tea time, he said to me:

"Ah, mamotchka (a tender diminutive of mama), if only you knew what is going to happen!"

It was in vain that I pressed him to continue. he would say no more. Three weeks later we were in for it!

We returned to Tsarskoe on November 25th (old style), and we had scarcely got into our beautiful and cherished dwelling than a great joy-alas, the last i-was accorded to the Grand Duke. He was made a Knight of St. George, with a superb and detailed record of services - a record which paid him the greatest honour. What has always astonished me is the circumstance that the Emperor, who had seen him forty-eight hours before, did not announce this news to him. This distinction was the dream of every military man in Russia.The Grand Duke did not forget the promise made to the Grand Duke Alexander. A family gathering took place at the Grand Duke Andre's palace on the Quai' Anglais. It was there decided that the Grand Duke, as doyen of the family, and as a favourite with their Majesties, should take on himself the. difficult duty of speaking in the name of all. I observed that the Grand Duke was extremely anxious. He realised fully what an arduous and ungrateful task he was entrusted with and also how little chance there was of succeeding. Nevertheless, as soon as the Imperial family returned to Tsarskoe on December 3rd/16th, he asked for an audience, and he was received at tea-time that same day.
I awaited his return, my heart palpitating with emotion, for two whole hours. At last, towards seven o'clock, he arrived, pale and dejected looking, his hands moist.

"I haven't a dry stitch on me!" he said. " And I have talked so much I've no voice left! "

In truth, he spoke in a very low tone. In spite of my eagerness to know about things, I urged him to take a rest and to leave his account of his interview until later. It was not until after dinner, at which my daughters and their governess were present, that the Grand Duke told Vladimir and me what had been said at the palace. They had barely finished tea when the Grand Duke began to set forth to the Emperor the sombre picture of the situation at the moment; he spoke of the German propaganda, which was becoming every day bolder and more insolent, and of its demoralising effects upon the army, in the very centre of which, at every instant, arrests were being made of leaders and sowers of disorder - sometimes these being officers. He described all the effervescence now noticeable in the social worlds of Petrograd and Moscow, where people were becoming more outspoken and more bitter in their criticisms. He spoke of the discontent of the people, who for months past had had to stand in queues to get bread-the price of which had increased threefold. Finally he came to the most delicate point, the point hardest to put into words, all the harder in that the Grand Duke, true patriot as he was, wished only for the welfare of Russia and was, in the present instance, sacrificing his traditional feelings and personal convictions. He said that. a family gathering had been held at which he had been charged respectfully to request his Majesty to grant a Constitution "while there was yet time."

This would be the proof that the Sovereign was anticipating the desire of his people."A splendid opportunity is now at hand!" the Grand Duke went on, becoming more and more animated. "In three days, on December 6th, we have the Feast of St. Nicholas. Announce on that day that the Constitution is granted, and you will see with what enthusiasm, with what love your faithful people will acclaim you!"

The Emperor remained pensive. Then, shaking off the ashes of his cigarette wearily, and while the Empress shook her head, he uttered the words:

"What you ask is impossible. my coronation I took my oath to Power (Ja prisiagal Samoderjavion). this oath intact to my son."

Seeing that he had failed on this head, and that any new effort would be in vain, the Grand Duke touched on another subject: "Well, if you cannot give the Constitution, give at least a 'Ministry of Confidence' (Ministerstvo doveria), because, I repeat to you again, Protopopoff and Sturmer are odious to all."

Taking his courage in both hands, the Grand Duke now proceeded to explain that the nomination of these two Ministers was the more criticised in that it was known to be due to Rasputin. Then the Grand Duke told the Emperor and Empress of all the evil influence that was attributed to the staretz. The Emperor became silent and went on smoking, without uttering a word. It was the Empress now who spoke. She spoke at length and with emotion, putting her hand frequently to her heart, from which she was suffering. In her eyes Rasputin was merely a victim of the calumny and envy of those who wished to be in his place. He was the friend who prayed to God for them (the Imperial couple) and for their children. As for sacrificing the Ministers with whom they were satisfied in order to please certain individuals, it was not to be thought of! '. . . In short, the Grand Duke had failed all along the line, for an absolute refusal was given to everything he had asked. I wished keenly that no more conversations of the kind would take place, for I feared their effect on the nerves and delicate health of the Grand Duke.

On December 6th, the name-day of the Emperor, the Grand Duke was received at the Palace just as though no cloud had passed, as though no conversation had taken place. That sad and memorable December 6th/19th, when so many hopes were disappointed for the report had been current that the Emperor would make a declaration to the Duma announcing, if not the Constitution, at least a " Ministry of Confidence."There was nothing of the kind, and on December 7th/20th the Emperor and the Grand Duke returned to Headquarters.

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