Memories of Russia: 1916 - 1919 by Princess Paley

Chapter IV

Christmas 1916 and After

The Empress made the Emperor decide to punish severely the men guilty of the assassination, but the one who was most guilty, Felix Youssoupoff, escaped by exiling himself into the country on one of his. estates, while the Grand Duke Dimitri received orders to start immediately for Persia, accompanied by an officer, the Emperor's aide-de-camp, Count Koutaissoff, by General Laiming, attached to his person, and by his valet. Down to the time of his departure, the Grand Duke Dimitri remained under arrest in his Petrograd palace, forbidden to receive any visitors or to go out himself. During the night of December 23rd/January 5th he left without even his father being able to embrace him and bid him adieu.

Great excitement prevailed within the Imperial Family and in the capital. The family decided to present a petition to the Emperor in which he was implored not to act severely towards the Grand Duke Dimitri and, in view of his' weak health, not to exile him to Persia. It was I who composed the text of this entreaty. The decree of exile seemed at that moment the height of cruelty, and God has wished that it should save Dimitri's valuable life, for those who remained in Russia perished by the hands of the Bolshevist monsters in 1918 and 1919!

This petition had been signed by Queen Olga of Greece, Dimitri's grandmother, by the Grand Duke Paul and all the members of the Imperial Family. The Emperor, after taking note of its contents, wrote on the margin: "No one has the right to kill, and I am astonished that the family should address itself to me with such requests. Signed: NICHOLAS." And he sent back the petition to the Grand Duke Paul. This historic document was in my residence at Tsarskoe Selo when the bandits got hold of it. I don't know what has become of it.

The Christmas holidays were at hand. In our house at Tsarskoe an immense tree laden with sweets and fruits and presents rose in the centre of the ball-room. There was to be a respite of some days for the work-room, and the tables and sewing-machines had disappeared. The Grand Duchess Marie, the daughter of the Grand Duke Paul by his first marriage, who, since her divorce from Prince William of Sweden, had been living in Russia, and who had a hospital at Pskow in which she worked with a zeal that was admirable, had arrived on December 22nd to say good-bye to her brother, whom she adores, and also to spend Christmas with us.

I can still see that beautiful Christmas-tree, the happy faces of the children, ecstatic over the heaps of presents, and the sad countenances, and eyes filled with tears, of the Grand Duchess Marie, of Vladimir, of my daughters, of Countess Olga Kreutz, and of Marianne de Derfelden. Thoughts of the Grand Duke Dimitri, who had left the day before, haunted their minds.

Towards half-past eleven in the evening the whole family - my mother, my sister, my nieces, my son Alexander - returned to town by train, and when I went to bed I had no presentiment of the news which I should hear on rising. It was barely eight in the morning of Christmas Day when my femme de chambre entered with a note from my daughter Marianne on which. was written "Urgent." It was to ten me that on the day of Dimitri's departure she had not been able to withstand the desire to say farewell to him for a last time, and that at one in the morning, that is to say, an hour before he should start, she had forced her way past the sentry and penetrated into the apartments of the young Grand Duke. She remained with him, led him back to the door of the house which he was leaving for ever and returned home. Twenty-four hours later, on returning from Tsarskoe, on December 24th, by order of the Minister of the Interior, Protopopoff, it was my daughter who was arrested after an extremely brutal examination of her correspondence. She wrote me by a person in whom she had confidence not to be anxious, as she was in need of nothing and would profit by these few days of rest to take care of her health. I immediately informed the Grand Duke and his daughter, and we decided, the Grand Duchess Marie and I, to go to Petrograd by automobile to see Marianne and remain with her. On arriving at Place du Theatre, No. 8, where my daughter was staying, we found ourselves confronted by two sentries, who let us pass after we had signed our names. We found the whole of Petrograd with Marianne! Ladies whom she scarcely knew had come to express their sympathy with her. Officers on leave came along in procession to kiss her hand. Noone could understand the reason of the severe measure which had been taken in regard to her, her only offence having been to want to shake the hand of a friend leaving for exile. My daughter received at least sixty visitors, come to see her as an expression of protest. I am sure that the orders given to allow people in were designed in order to secure the names of persons who, by the very fact of their coming, became suspects. Two days afterwards, at the instance of my eldest son and others, Protopopoff set her free, which proves that this useless arrest did not come from the Sovereigns, but from the personal initiative of the Minister.

And to think that such insignificant matters created the gulf between the Sovereigns and Society! . . . Everyone of us now would give the rest of his life to prevent all this from happening, and that the Emperor and Empress should be alive and reigning for the good of all, and that the red spectre which is strangling and suff oca ting Russia in her agony should be but a hideous, distant dream! . . .

After the departure of Dimitri, the relations of the Grand Duke with the Emperor and Empress became strained. He was no longer invited at tea-time, and the visits which he paid were connected exclusively with official matters. Their Majesties seemed to resent his having asked for clemency towards his son, and the Grand. Duke was hurt by the remark made on the margin of the petition.

Thus passed the month of January, but it may be said that things were getting worse every day. Even the newspapers, in spite of the censorship, caused one to have forebodings. The revolutionary propaganda in the regiments of the Reserves took on continually larger proportions. It was reported at Petrograd at the beginning of the Revolution that Lloyd George, on hearing of the fall of Tsarism in Russia, rubbed his hands together, saying: "One of England's war-aims has been attained!" A strange ally, Great Britain, and one of whom one ought always to have been mistrustful, for, in the history of Russia, the animosity of England traces a red line across three centuries. From the moment Russia wants to attain a free sea, England draws herself up in front of her. In the Baltic she closes the Danish ports against her. In the Black Sea she opposes her access to the Dardanelles. Russia seeks at San Stefano to obtain an outlet in the Mediterranean, and England so arranges that the Treaty of Berlin shall deprive her of this hope by inventing Roumelia. Finally, Russia turns her eyes towards the extreme East. She constructs the great Trans-Siberian railway, she creates Vladivostock and Port Arthur, and England foments the Russo-Japanese war, which is to be so disastrous for our unhappy country! And now! Is it not to Great Britain that we owe the continuation of the Russian agony? Great Britain supports wittingly an international Anti-Russian Government, known as the Government of the Soviets, so as not to allow the real Russia, the National Russia, to come to life again and raise itself up. The necessity of commercial relations is given as a pretext though Russian gold be stolen gold, and gold stained with blood, England takes it with satisfaction!

I am glad to do justice to M. Paleologue, French Ambassador to Russia; he has been loyal and faithful to the end. His position at this period was very delicate. He was getting from Paris the most definite orders to support in everything the policy of his English colleague, and yet he realised that this policy was contrary to the interests of France. I have known him for a long time, and ties of sincere friendship bound him to the Grand Duke and to me He was obliged to hold a middle course between his English colleague and his own personal convictions, and he endeavoured by every means in his power to manage things for the best. He used often to drive out in his automobile to Tsarskoe to dine with us, and it was at one of these dinners that Mme. Virouboff conveyed to him these words of the Emperor:

"Say to the Ambassador of France that this terrible war will have need of an expiatory victim and that it is I who will be that victim."

On February 4th, the anniversary of the death of the Grand Duke Vladimir, and also of the Grand Duke Serge, who' was assassinated at Moscow in 1905, at the instigation and under the direction of Savinkoff (that Savinkov who was so much feted in Paris by charming women and in the most exclusive circles - what a mistake!) on this anniversary, I say, we went to the fortress of Sts. Peter and Paul to assist at the funeral service in memory of the two Grand Dukes. After the ceremony we lunched with the Grand Duchess Vladimir, who left some days later for the Caucasus, whence she succeeded in making her escape on an Italian ship during the Bolshevist Revolution. After the lunch the Grand Duchess expressed her agreement with all the bitter complaints which were being uttered against the Sovereigns. She made allowances for the Emperor, but the Empress, with whom her relations had never been good, was full of faults in her eyes and she did not hesitate to say so. She also had signed the petition on behalf of Dimitri, and she regarded its rejection by the Emperor as a personal affront. . . . On every side one heard harsh and menacing voices, and now one can realise how difficult and painful it was for our Sovereigns to struggle against all these growing hostilities, based on a series of misunderstandings and on the ill-will of Russian society. A great Russian lady, Princess W--, permitted herself to write to the Empress a letter of unheard of insolence. I have seen this letter, scribbled in an untidy and hurried hand, on pages torn from a writing-pad. She said, among other things: "Take yourself off from us; you are, for us, a foreigner." It was quite natural that the Empress should feel mortally hurt - she who, throughout her reign and, above all during two wars had never ceased to lavish upon her people her thoughts and generosity, and who, after all, had been Empress of Russia for twenty-three years.

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