Memories of Russia: 1916 - 1919 by Princess Paley

Chapter X

Imperial prisoners at Tsarskoe

All the Emperor's ministers, as well as Mme. Wirouboff who had only just recovered from an attack of measles, were shut up in the fortress of Saints Peter and Paul, in the darkest and dampest dungeons of the Troubetzkoy bastion. They were subjected to the severest regime - that allotted to prisoners condemned to death. Old Sturmer, as the result of ill-usage, fell so ill that he was transported hurriedly to the clinic of Dr. Guersoni, where he was not only deprived of all medical attention, but was martyrised by his jailers, the soldiers, who laughed at his dreadful sufferings, and beat him and refused him a glass of water. . .. When they could see he was dying, they refused his wife access to his room despite his tears and entreaties. All this was done in the name of liberty and justice!

Miliukoff, Minister of Foreign Affairs at the beginning of the Revolution, became very speedily unpopular and had to yield his post to the Minister of Finance, the juvenile Terestchenko, otherwise known as Willy Ferrero, or l'Enfant Prodige. But during the brief period of his ministry Miliukoff had time to perform one very evil action.

The King of England, anxious about his cousin, the Emperor, and about his family, telegraphed to the Sovereigns through the medium of Sir George Buchanan, to leave as soon as possible for England, where the family would find a safe and tranquil refuge. He even added. that the German Emperor had plighted his word that the ship carrying the Imperial Family should not be attacked by submarines with his sanction. In his journal, Les Demieres Nouvelles, in the summer of 1921, Miliukoff has admitted that Sir George Buchanan, on receipt of this telegram, consulted him and he advised Sir George not to pass the telegram on to him for whom it was intended. Sir George acted so at his request" and out of regard for the Provisional Government."

The life of the august prisoners was monotonous, mournful, devoid of all joy. The restrictions were rigorous. The Provisional Government granted them credits, characterised by the utmost parsi. mony. All their letters were opened, the use of the telephone was denied them. Boorish, and frequently drunken, sentries were posted everywhere. The sole distraction of the Emperor was to break up the ice on a little canal which runs along the barrier of the Imperial Park.

One day, at the end of March, I went up towards this barrier where the sight of the Emperor in company with Prince Dolgoroukoff and the jailer attached to the Tsaritza, Derevenko, had attracted a great number of interested lookers-on, men and women, soldiers especially. My heart beating, I joined this crowd and put my burning cheeks up against the bars of the barrier. The remarks of the soldiers, made out loud, set me shivering:

"Well, well, Nicolouchka (Little Nicholas), so you are breaking the ice now, are you? Perhaps you've drunk enongh of our blood? If you break ice to-day, little father, what will you be doing tomorrow? The war makes a bit of difference for you, doesn't it? And in summer, when there's no more ice-what'll you do then, Goloubchik nach (our darling)? Perhaps you'll throw a little sand on the walks with a little shovel? "

There was something satanic in their laughter. The Emperor was too near to miss a single one of their words. He stopped working and took a long, sad look at them. Suddenly they all became silent. At that moment, turning his eyes in my direction, the Emperor perceived me and his mournful gaze fixed itself on me. I crossed my two hands as though for a prayer and made a supreme effort to transmit to him my feeling of devotion. . . I was saying to him that I would give my life to save him. . . . I read in his dear eyes a misery so deep, a hopeless resignation so great, that big tears-alas! to be followed later by so many more, hot and bitter stifled me. . . .

Our life at Tsarskoe had changed indeed. Every day brought some new trouble. Now it was the newspapers attacking the Grand Dukes and printing false and absurd announcements; now it was the Provisional Government sequestrating the income which was derived from the Appanages created by the Emperor Paul I for the needs of the Grand Dukes. It was a big revenue that was thus lost.

As for the journalists, they had recourse to all kinds of dodges in order to penetrate into the few palaces which were still inhabited; for the others had been invaded and most of them pillaged, like that of the Generalissimo, Grand Duke Nicholas, that of the Grand Duke Andre, and others. Some interviews with Grand Dukes appeared in the papers. All of them must have been inaccurate, for the Grand Dukes seemed to acclaim the Revolution. We had given very strict orders not to admit any journalist, and nevertheless we were caught like the others. One day a footman brought the Grand Duke a visiting-card, saying that an officer just arrived from Pskov, asked to see us, having grave news to communicate on behalf of the Grand Duchess Marie, the Grand Duke's daughter. The name on the card told us nothing, but we were far from suspecting that all this was a lie. As soon as we saw the individual we knew we had been caught in a trap! A young man of pronounced Semitic type, with curly black hair worn too long, dressed up in a uniform. which he had never worn before, came forward, with a writing-pad and a pencil in his hand. The Grand Duke got angry, turned his back on him and went out. I remained a moment with him, without asking him to sit down, and assured him that we had nothing to say, except that we
were profoundly miserable. I got rid of him as quickly as I could, and next day there was a four-column interview in which the Grand Duke expressed himself with regard to the Sovereign in revolting terms. My poor husband was beyond himself with indignation. He dispatched protests to all the newspapers but they refused to insert them. The Novoe-Uremya alone, although revolutionary also at this moment, while altering the text considerably, left in it this sentence; "Could I, the son of Emperor Alexander II, the Liberator Tsar, express myself in such terms regarding my Sovereign?" I make this acknowledgment to the journalist, Michel Roumanoff, who came to see us and who inserted this refutation.

The Grand Duchess Marie came and shared our sad existence, as the staff under her in her hospital at Pskov, while recognising her goodness and the care and thought she showed for the work, asked her to go, as they could not, they said, "have a Grand Duchess at the head of the hospital." It was now that she began to feel her liking for Prince Serge Pontiatine, which resulted in their marriage on September 6th/19th of the same year.

My dear son Vladimir, being no longer on active service, occupied his leisure writing verses in Russian and French, and even in English! He gave some time also to music and drawing. He was the life of this house of ours, in which, despite our trials, we were still happy because we were not yet separated, . . . "

To this period -- April, 1917 -- belongs an episode which would have seemed to us rather comical than otherwise if we had had any heart for fun.

The Grand Duke had in 1915 deposited his Will in the Emperor's private study, a Will signed by the Sovereign and counter-signed by the Minister of the Court. Wishing to effect some modifications in it, the Grand Duke addressed himself to rvL Basile Maklakoff, whom he knew a little, begging him to take this document from the place where it lay. Maklakoff was very amiable over the matter, and asked Kerensky for the Will. The latter placed it in a second envelope, upon which he wrote; " To Aide-de-Camp General Paul Romanoff." It was a piece of rudeness and bad manners and devoid of all logic, for even if Kerensky did happen to have the handling of the Grand Duke's Will, to whom was the Grand Duke "Aide-de-Camp General"? After admiring this specimen of logic, what were my husband's astonishment and indignation when he discovered that someone had taken. the liberty to break the seals of wax which secured the Will and to make himself acquainted with its contents! Was I not warranted in what I said about the reign of blackguardism being in full swing?

Kerensky, the Minister of Justice, had become War Minister and was giving himself the airs of a little Napoleon. He had adopted a fancy uniform and was absolutely grotesque in the way in which he aped le petit Caporal. The whole flower of the flock of convicts condemned for thefts and murders and all the political outlaws were flooding into our unfortunate capital. Savinkoff, the Kolontae, Tchernoff, Lenin, the babouchka Brechko-Breschkovskaya (that mad old woman), Bronstein-Trotzky, hastened to come thither and were received, with the honours due . . to their crimes, in railway stations decked with red flags. The Germans knew so well that these gentry would complete the ruin of Russia that they sent Lenin at their own expense in a railway compartment which was encased in lead like an asphyxiating gas. This new arrival installed himself in the house of the dancer Kchessinskaya, from which he harangued the crowds month after month, promising them the land and houses and riches of others and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. He had two mottoes; the one was "Peace to the Cottage, War to the Palaces!"; and the second, a shorter one: "Rob what has been robbed!" The populace drank down his words like a delicious, lingering poison, and from day to day this man in the pay of Germany gained ground while the feeble Provisional Government lost it.

Kerensky was making long visits to the front, where his salivary eloquence did not have the effect of making the soldiers advance-they preferred to emerge from the trenches and fraternise with the Germans. They did nothing but repeat: "No annexations, no levies." Absolutely ignorant of what that meant, the soldiers imagined the war was over and they did not disguise their dissatisfaction at not being able to return to their homes. At last, on June 18th, Broussiloff, the ex-Aide-de-Camp to the Emperor, now the assiduous servant of the Provisional Government and of the Soviets, made a final effort to attack which brought about the disaster and the disgrace of Tarnopol and of Kalontsch.

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