Memories of Russia: 1916 - 1919 by Princess Paley

Chapter III

Assassination of Rasputin, the Suspected Complicity of Dmitri

The Grand Duke gone, I went back with new ardour to my labours in the workroom. Some officers' wives, ladies living at Tsarskoe or even in Petrograd, had grouped themselves round me. Our conversations at teatime were concerned with the events of the day, and the internal politics of the country often came under discussion. It was reported that Protopopoff was suffering from a particular disease and was sometimes the subject of attacks of real madness. Formerly Leader of the Left, he had made a complete volle-face, having found it more advantageous to side with the Government. He was despised and hated by all. He was suspected of having been at Stockholm to concoct with M. de Lucius and the German bankers the preliminaries of a separate peace. And public opinion at this moment - in absolute accord with that of the Sovereigns - was in favour of war a outrance. As Protopopoff owed his rapid advancement to Rasputin, the conviction that the latter was an agent in the pay of Germany did but increase. This conviction it was that led to the drama of the Youssoupoff palace on the night of December 16th/29th - the drama which I shall now narrate as I knew of it at the time and which I regard as the beginning of the Revolution. I have already intimated that the effervescence of the social world was very great. The names of Rasputin, of Sturmer, the President of the Council, of Protopopoff, Minister of the Interior, of General Voilekow, first in command at the Palace, and of Mme. Wirouboff, the intimate friend of the Empress, were uttered only with a gnashing of teeth. Some people pitied the Sovereigns for having such evil counsellors around. them, others held them responsible for having by them persons unworthy of their confidence. God knows how sincere the Emperor and Empress were in their desire to see their people happy! How wholeheartedly they both threw themselves into the visiting of hospitals and into all other efforts possible to assuage misery! I have seen the Empress at work in her hospital, surrounded by her four daughters. No one was kinder or more completely forgetful of self. She assisted at the most painful operations, helped to dress the most repellent wounds. Not one of all those whom she had tended and helped to save came to her support! Not one was ready to shed for her the blood which she, with her own hands, had stopped from flowing! On the evening of December 17th/30th, a Saturday, there was a concert at the Town Hall of Tsarskoe. The Grand Duke had been at Mohileff since December 7th/20th, and Vladimir, suffering from a sore throat, had not been able to accompany him thither. Feeling better that evening, he asked to go to the concert with me. Towards eight in the evening, the telephone bell rang and some seconds later Vladimir rushed into my dressing-room: "The old staretz is dead!" he cried out; "they have just telephoned to tell me! Now we shall be able to breathe more freely! No details are known as yet. In any case, he has been gone from his house for twenty-four hours; perhaps we shall learn something at the concert." I shall never forget that evening. No one listened either to the orchestra or to the individual performers. The news had spread like wild-fire. During the interval I noticed that people were looking more particularly towards us, but I was too much in the dark to understand the reason. At last Jacques Ratkoff-Rojnoff came up to me and, alluding evidently to the question of the moment, said:

"It seems that the authors of the deed belong to the highest aristocracy. Felix Youssoupoff is being named, also Pourichkevitch, and. . . a Grand Duke! . . ."

My heart stood still. I knew that a friendship of long standing existed between the Grand Duke Dimitri and Prince Youssoupoff, who had married the beautiful Princess Irene of Russia, Dimitri's cousin. "Mon Dieu! If only it murmured. Vladimir came back with the same details, and by the end of the evening the name of the Grand Duke Dimitri was in every mouth.

We returned home towards half-past twelve; the footman who was up waiting told me that Princess Victor Kotschonbey had telephoned from Petrograd and begged me to call her up at no matter what hour. As soon as I had got on to the Princess over the wire, she asked:

"Where is your son Vladimir? "

"Here, with me ! " I replied, astonished. .

"God be thanked!" she exclaimed. "The report has got about that it was he who killed Rasputin, and that he had been arrested. And I was trembling for you. Good night! Sleep in peace!"

Evidently the rumour had mixed up the half-brothers.

Next day Dr. Waravka, who was attending to Vladimir, came to see us and told laughingly how, having been asked the question whether "Vladimir was under arrest," he had answered:

"Yes, by my orders, as he has bad throat trouble and has not been out of his room for a week! "

On this day, a Sunday, the whole of Russia and the whole world knew that Rasputin had disappeared. His family, anxious at not seeing him come home, and knowing that he had been carried off by Prince Youssoupoff, informed the police. On the other hand shots which had been fired from the MOlka palace, and which had been heard by passers-by and by a sergent de ville, turned suspicions in their direction. The Empress, a prey to terrible emotion, had issued the severest orders to the effect that Rasputin's body must be found at all costs. All Rasputin's female admirers were in a state of indescribable fury. I telephoned repeatedly to Dimitri and, without telling him that his own name had been mentioned, I informed him of what was being reported. My husband was due home next day, Monday. At eleven o'clock I was at Tsarskoe station in my automobile to welcome him and take him home. As soon as we were alone in the car he said:

"What is all this about the reports of the assassination of Rasputin? Who was it killed him? At Mohileff a Count Stenbock was mentioned."

Noting my troubled air and he took my hand and went on:

"Come, what is the matter? is it? Speak!"

Scarcely venturing to breathe, I stammered out: "They say it was Felix Youssoupoff' and Pourichkevitch and-and Dimitri! "

The Grand Duke grew so pale that I was afraid. he was going to be ill.

"It isn't possible!" he cried. "I must get back into the train and go and see Dimitri - I must speak with him. He will tell everything to me, his father."

I had all the difficulty in the world to persuade him to have a rest, to change his clothes and to speak with the Grand Duke Dimitri over the telephone, or to make him come to Tsarskoe. As soon as he got to the house, he called up his son and told him to come and see him at once. Dimitri replied that, by orders of the Empress; General NIaximovitch had placed him under arrest in his own palace, and he begged his father to go to St. Petersburg to see him.

Just at. this moment I heard from another source that Rasputin's body had been found in the Neva, on one of the islands near the Elaguine bridge, and I communicated this news to Dimitri, who seemed excited over it. Never, I truly believe, was the telephone so active as on that day! (In Paris it would have been. out of the question, for nowhere in the world is telephonic communication so difficult to secure as there!)

It was decided that the Grand Duke and I should go next day to lunch with Dimitri, but that his father should go on ahead of me so as to have a talk tete a tete with him.

Sentries were posted at the door, but they allowed the Grand Duke to enter, as well as myself an hour later. The Grand Duke's first words to Dimitri were:

"I know that you are bound by a promise and I shall ask you no questions. Tell me only that it was not you who killed him!"

"Papa," Dimitri answered, "I swear to you, on my mother's grave, that I have no blood on my hands."

The Grand Duke breathed more freely, for his heart had been weighed down. Dimitri was moved to tears by his father's nobility in taking his word for it without further questioning.

I arrived at half-past twelve, as had been arranged, and during lunch there was no allusion whatever to the drama. We were all grave, however, and subdued.

I suppose the whole world still recalls the details of this horrible affair, and I want to say as little as possible about it. Young Prince Felix Youssoupoff had been to look for Rasputin and had invited him to a supper party at which the Grand Duke Dimitri, Pourichkevitch, the latter's doctor and an officer named Soukhotine were present. A violent poison had been put into the port and into some little pates. But as this poison did not act, the other guests went upstairs to the floor above and Rasputin remained alone with Youssoupoff... Rasputin was killed by shots from a revolver, his body was carried off in an automobile and thrown into the Neva near the Elaguine bridge. Such an act would be beyond explanation, above all if one is familiar with the laws of hospitality so generally practised and so sacred in Russia, but in this particular case we must look only at the height of the aim in view: the saving of the Sovereigns in their own despite.

Returned to Tsarskoe, of course we could talk of nothing else. My husband confided to me that without questioning. his son as to names and details regarding the act itself, he had asked him what imperative reason had dictated his participation in it. Dimitri admitted to him that the principal aim was to open the Emperor's eyes to the real state of affairs.

"I had hoped," he said, "that the fact of my name being mixed up in this affair would free the Emperor from the difficult task of removing Rasputin from the Court; the Emperor himself did not believe in the divine influence of Rasputin either on his son or on political events; but he realised that to get rid of him would be to create a conflict between the Empress and himself. I had hoped that, freed from Rasputin's influence, the Emperor would range himself on the side' of those who saw in the staretz the original cause of many evils, such as the appointment of incapable Ministers, the influence of occult forces at Court, etc."

My husband now told me of an impression which had just struck him and which coincided with the notions of his son. As I have said above, the Grand Duke had left Mohileff on the Sunday. He had started at about seven o'clock. At about five o'clock that day, he had taken tea with the Emperor and had been struck-without knowing the cause-by the look of serenity and the expression. of happiness on the Emperor's face. The Emperor had been gay and goodhumoured to a degree he had not been for a long time past. It is evident that the Empress was keeping him informed, hour by hour, regarding the tragic event, that he knew all, down to the suspicions which were attaching themselves to Youssoupoff and Dimitri. The Emperor did not breathe a word on the subject to the Grand Duke Paul who, later, explained to himself this smiling attitude of the Sovereign by ascribing it to the inner joy he felt at being at last freed from the presence of Rasputin. Loving his wife too much to go against her wishes, the Emperor was glad that the fates had delivered him from the nightmare which had been weighing on him so heavily.

As soon as Rasputin's body had been found, the Empress gave orders for it to be brought to the Tschesmenskaya Bogadelna, at the fifth verst on the way from Petrograd to Tsarskoe, where the body was embalmed and placed in a chapelle ardente. Mme. Wirouboff and other women admirers of Rasputin conducted a funeral service in front of the coffin. The Empress came with her daughters and remained a long time praying and weeping. She placed on Rasputin's breast a little ikon, on the reverse of which each of them had signed her name: Alexandra, Olga, Tatiana, Marie, Anastasia and Anna (Mme. Wirouboff)*...

Three days later, at three in the morning, in the Park of Tsarskoe, near the Arsenal and not far from the Alexandrovskaia Station, took place the burial of Rasputin. The Emperor, the Minister Protopopoff, General Voiekoff, and an officer named Maltzoff, bore the coffin to the grave. The Empress gave way to desperate grief. Thus ended the drama which so many people regarded as a deliverance for the country, and which was only the prelude to the most appalling of tragedies... Later, after the Revolution, when Rasputin's body was disinterred, an American collector bought this ikon at a very high price. It is curious to note that this strange and mystic creature, Rasputin, passed through the four elements-water, earth, fire and wind.

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