Memories of Russia: 1916 - 1919 by Princess Paley

Chapter XI

Fruitless appeal to Kerensky

Throughout the month of April I continued to wander about round the Palace. The weather was beautiful and the august prisoners were frequently out of doors. I tried to catch glimpses of them, but they kept at a distance from the barrier, and I only heard the spiteful comments of the crowd. One evening at the end of April I saw a lot of people running towards the Town Hall; I followed them and asked a soldier who looked more kindly than the others:

"What is this gathering for? What are you doing here? "

"We have been called together," he replied, " because the fate of Nicholas Romanoff and his family is to be decided now. They want to send him to Siberia, and not leave him at Tsarskoe any longer,"

Greatly troubled, I hastened home to our house which was separated from the Town Hall only by a pond, and I told my family what I had just heard. My husband, as much moved as I myself, begged me not to get mixed up in crowds any more and not to torture my heart, as we were powerless to help. My own dear Grand Duke! Had he the presentiment that I would need all the strength of my heart later to bear a superhuman grief?At every meeting which was held one heard the Marseillaise. Not the beautiful Marseillaise which they sing in France and which led the French people to victory. It was a lugubrious chant, monotonous and mournful, as mournful as the Russian songs which give out a vague sadness - a quintessence of suffering. Not a single meeting (and there were many, for this first Revolution was made up mostly of sterile verbiage) passed without this Russified Marseillaise.

As I write, my memories arise before me as in a dismal kaleidoscope. One evening I was passing behind the great Palace near the Chinese bridge; I met a squad of sharp-shooters who were on their way to mount guard over the prisoners. A soldier of theirs who was passing called out: "One more night's drudgery for you, comrades? Cheer up! We shall soon be rid of these do-nothings!"

The spring-time was going its course, sweet and exquisite as are the Northern spring-times. The growth of the bright green leaves diffused in the air soft aromatic scents unknown in other lands. I have always adored those evenings, already so near to the" white nights," when it is still light until nine o'clock; but now my heart was weighed down. Every day took away with it some hope and at last I proposed to my husband that we should quit the country. At this periodend of April, 1917 - my eldest daughter, Countess (now Princess Serge Koudachoff) Kreutz, decided to leave for Sweden, with her son, then aged nine. She often came to see us at Tsarskoe, and, influenced by intelligent and perspicacious, friends, she begged us to leave. " The lives of the Grand Duke and Vladimir are in danger:' she said to me repeatedly. "I beg of you, Mama, make them leave-the Grand Duke will do whatever you want." Oh, my God! Why did not I listen to this dear child of mine? Why did I not insist and strive for our departure? We would not have been, I and my young daughters, sad and forlorn waifs and strays of humanity!

I must admit that I had no inclination to go. Nevertheless, and in order to decide the Grand Duke to go, I sought an interview with the all-powerful Kerensky. He replied - he was polite for once - by excusing himself for being unable to come to see me as he was too busy, but saying that he would receive me at the great Tsarskoe Palace. Feeling excited enough, I made my way into the rooms formerly occupied by the Minister of the Court, Count Frederics and his wife, to which I often went. A sort of aide-de-camp with long, greasy, glossy hair, wearing pince-nez, and with one inflamed cheek covered by a handkerchief of dubious cleanness, received me and showed me into the study. I waited five minutes. At last Kerensky appeared, and in a familiar and easy manner asked me to sit down. He was the type of Minister whom Robert de Flers and de Caillavet have portrayed so cleverly in Le Roi. I at once explained the purpose of my visit.

"I am come, Monsieur," I said, "to ask you to allow us to leave Russia, the Grand Duke Paul, our children and myself."

" To leave? " Kerensky asked in rough tones. " To go where? "

"To France, where we have a house and friends, where we can still be happy."


"No," he replied. "I cannot allow you to go to France. What would the Soldiers' and Workmen-Deputies' Soviets say if I allowed a Grand Duke- an ex-Grand Duke" (he corrected himself) -" of such standing to leave? You can go to the Caucasus, to Crimea, to Finland, but not to France."

"You have need of us, then?" I asked.

"Oh, as for me, I would let you go at once, but what would the Soviets say?"

I wanted to get up, but he kept me, and began a long diatribe against the autocratic regime when so many crimes and acts of injustice had, he alleged, been committed. . . . I had only one thought in my mind-to leave this unpleasant personage as quickly as possible and never see him again. . .

My eldest daughter went off, miserable at having to leave us; she also loved her country and her home, but she realised that to remain was becoming dangerous. I did not see her again until November, 1919, in Paris, two years and a half after the disasters which have crushed my heart and destroyed my life.
 
On May 29th I had asked our friend Mr. Michael Stahovitch to help me to hide at Helsingfors in Finland a case containing jewels and valuables. Being Governor-General of Finland after the Revolution he was able to render me this great service. He took me there in his special railway carriage, and I think with gratitude and emotion ofthe three days I spent as his guest in the Governor-General's Palace.

Michael Stahovitch had played an important role in the questions of the Zemstvos and at the Council of the Empire. An orator of talent, "Octobrist" of his party, he wanted more liberties and a responsible Ministry. This in itself placed him in the Opposition. As he often came to see us at Tsarskoe before the Revolution (and very often after it), the Empress said to me one day:

"You are a friend, and yet you see Stahovitch and Maklakoff " - Stahovitch had brought Maklakoff to dine with us in town.

"Madame," I replied, "you have no friend more devoted than I am. Stahovitch is not one of your enemies; but in order to be au courant with things one must see people, make new acquaintances, hear other bells chiming."

Stahovitch was, indeed, very much au courant with what was going on both at the front and at the base. We liked to hear him talk for he is a clear-minded man, a heart of gold and a great patriot.

In April, 1917, when the massacres in Finland ceased, Kerensky offered Stahovitch the post of Governor-General of Finland. Although this was to form part of the Provisional Government, among whose members he held in esteem only Prince Lvow (and in regard to which we could never agree), Stahovitch thought it was his duty to accept, and he remained there until intercourse with the Soviets of the region made the situation intolerable for him. He returned to Petrograd at the beginning of August, and, a little before Kerensky's fall, he was appointed Russian Ambassador in Spain, while his friend and ally Maklakoff was appointed Ambassador in Paris. The latter is still there, and apparently he occupies at the Embassy, if not the position, at least the habitation.

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