Memories of Russia: 1916 - 1919 by Princess Paley

Chapter XLI

My Actress Benefactress, I Escape to Finland

I hed been six days with the actress, whose kindness and devoted attentions overpowered me. She had with her a friend. who remained for hours at my door in case I should ask for a glass of water or a little tea. During the night this friend, whose name was Tamara, washed my pocket handkerchiefs which were wet through with my tears, for ever since the service in the church I had not stopped weeping. On the morning of the seventh day, January 26th/February 8th, Armand de SaintSauveur rang me up on the telephone and said:

"My dear friend, I have just seen someone whom you must receive to-day at four o'clock. It is absolutely indispensable. You know that I never say anything lightly. Make an effort. Receive him. He will go to see you on my behalf."

At the hour fixed, there arrived a big young man wearing a \yoollen sweater and high boots of felt. I seemed to know his features. However, the shock I had experienced prevented me from remembering his name.

"I beg your pardon," I said to him, "who are you? "

"I am Count Pavlik Schouvaloff; I was garcon d'honneur to your daughter, Countess Zarnekau, at her marriage in October, 1917, and I have since visited you at Tsarskoe. The Comte de Saint~Sauveur begs you to listen to me with attention. I have just come from Stockholm. For some time past, alarming reports had been in circulation there, about the safety of the Grand Dukes. Baron Jalmar Linder,  knowing that my duties as an anti-Bolshevik organiser obliged me to keep moving about between Sweden, Finland and Russia, and knowing also how avaricious and greedy of money the Bolsheviks are, entrusted me with four million Swedish kronor with a view to my buying at this price, the freedom of the four Grand Dukes. Alas! I come too late. I go back to-morrow at five o'clock. Yau have nothing more to do here. Your daughters are in Finland. Saint-Sauveur insists that you should go and join them."

My poor little ones! How much thought I had given to them in my trouble, how I had dwelt in my mind on the horror of telling them the truth. I felt a great longing to see them again, to press them to my heart-those daughters of HIS. . . .

I thanked the young and sympathetic Count, and it was agreed that he should come to fetch me next day at six o'clock. We decided also, to have next morning at ten o'clock a funeral service in the convent of Troitza in memory of the Grand Duke; Marianne sent word to all the friends on the spot.

As I was leaving at six in the afternoon, I went with my niece, Golovine, to say farewell to my oId mother. This farewell, which was the last, was heart-breaking. My mother clung to me in her despair and would not let me go. I myself suffered too much, the wound in my heart was bleeding too abundantly and I could not find any words of consolation to say. I put my head on her shoulder as I used to do in my childhood's days and I kissed her dear wrinkled hands, bathing them with my tears. At last we had to separate. I see her still, quite small, quite bent, but her dark eyes still youthful and brilliant, taking my head between her two hands and then blessing me with a great Sign of the Cross.

As soon as I returned to the actress's, I sent Marianne and my niece back to the Fontanka rooms, to which I had not strength myself to go, to take away some linen and the photographs of my husband and my son as well as the letters which the Grand Duke had written me from the hospital. Count Schouvaloff had asked me to take as little luggage as possible. At half-past five, a Te Deum took place in the actress's drawingroom. My sister and her daughters, Marianne and her husband, Saint~Sauveur, Count Schouvaloff, Dr. Obnissky, the actress herself and her friend were present. Mlle. Ponomareff, who had fallen seriously ill, could not come. I said good-bye to everybody. Despite the cold, twenty-seven degrees below zero, Marianne went out in her dress without a hat to see me depart. We took our seats, Count Schouvaloff and I, in a sledge, with my bag on his knees, and the horse started off at a trot. The cold was terrible. We drove on for a long time. When we were crossing the Neva, I turned my gaze towards the fortress with its melancholy and tragic outline. All my happiness was buried within it, Not wrapped in a mantle of ermine lined with cloth of gold, and with no crown but the martyr's, my Well-Beloved lay there, in a common grave, with thieves and with assassins. Ah! I was paying dearly for the happiness of old!

Towards eight o'clock we reached the island, of which "the Point" was formerly the charming terminus for our springtime drives. The sledge stopped not far from the house which used to be that of the Yacht Club. We had to go a few yards on foot, The snow was so deep that we sank down into it as far as our knees, and our high boots of felt filled with it. We came to a little house; the young Count whistled in a peculiar way and the door opened at once. We entered into a dark, over-heated kitchen, and after the cold, keen air I was almost suffocated. I was taken into a room to one side and my companion introduced me to Mme. Andreevsky, the wife of an artillery officer who was on her way to rejoin her husband in Finland and who was to make the journey with us. After a few moments, a fierce-looking man, a smuggler, came in and handed Count Schouvaloff two Browning revolvers, which the latter put in the pockets of his overcoat. Then they placed the other lady and me in a small low sledge, seated on straw, with my bag at my feet. We had our backs to the horse. The smuggler, who was to drive the sledge, then sat down, back to back with Mme. Andreevsky, and I sat with my back leaning against Count Schouvaloff, The horse, the sledge and we, were all covered with white clothes - a precaution which I did not understand until later.

When we got on to the ice of the Gulf of Finland it was nearly nine o'clock in the evening. The. wind was whistling angrily, the cold had increased to thirty degrees below zero. Whirhwinds of snow eddied round us in a way to make one dizzy. Our guide welcomed this as a guarantee of our security. At the end of two hours, towards eleven o'clock, I felt I could stand no more. In spite of two pairs of woollen stockings and my high felt boots, my feet were frozen and benumbed. I begged them to stop and I got out of the sledge. I tried to go a few yards on foot and followed in the furrow made by the sledge. I advanced with great difficulty, the depth of the snow varied and I slipped at every step. The snow and wind cut my face in spite of the Orenburg shawl which was protecting me. At last I resumed my seat. Towards midnight we caught sight of the forts of Cronstadt which stood out in intense brilliancy owing to their arc-lights. Suddenly a flood of light blinded us. The sledge stood still, and for some seconds we were an immense block of ice, quite motionless in the glare. Then the searchlight swept on; we sank back into the shade, and I realised why we were covered by white cloths, When we had passed the fort named Totleben, Schouvaloff made the Sign of the Cross and said:

"All danger has now been removed. Do you know that the Bolshevists use these searchlights specially in order to catch fugitives like us, and then it is instant death? "

We journeyed on thus until four o'clock in the morning. When we reached the Finnish coast, at Terijoky, night was almost over. The horse, feeling that he was at the end of his journey, was going more happily. We pulled up in front of a house; Count Schouvaloff rang and the door was opened to us at once. He introduced to me his comrade Loukine, who was a naval officer and one of the heads of a great anti-Bolshevist organisation, His sympathetic~looking and charming wife came forward to greet us. She knew Mme. Andreevsky, but, turning towards me timidly, she asked:

" May I know to whom I have the honour- ? "

I gave my name, She lifted up her arms in astonishment and exclaimed:

"Mon Dieu! I did not understand! I was wondering whose were the eyes so full of sadness! The look of grief in them struck me. we have heard already of the horrible calamity, which is a subject of mourning for the whole of Russia!"

She showered attentions on me, gave me some very warm tea, and gave up her bed to me. I cannot say how touched I was by this young woman's kindness, I could not sleep, but the warmth and comfort of the bed was soothing to me. I was angry with myself for being thus soothed by a merely physical sensation. And this feeling has remained with me ever since: when I breathe in the scent of a flower, when I am conscious of the sun's rays warming me, "vhen I eat a delicious fruit, I say to myself that I have no right to enjoy it after such miseries.

Next day was a Sunday. The numerous Russians who were at Terijoky, having heard of my arrival, had prayers for the dead (Panihida) offered up in memory of the Grand Dukes. I went to the service with Mme. Loukine and her husband, and the spontaneous sympathy and compassion of those present went out to me and touched me to the heart, The Finnish Commandatur was as kind to me as it had been to my children. Instead of being subjected to a fortnight's quarantine, I left the same day for Viborg, where I arrived at the Hotel Andrea at nine o'clock in the evening.

The good Michael Wielandt, who had been in Finland for the previous five weeks with Peter Dournovo, welcomed me, and stopped the music while I was going through the hall on my way to my room. Peter Dournovo had gone off to Helsingfors and was to return next day. I closed my door and rcceived no one except Mr. Alexander Trepoff, the former Minister and President of the Council, whom the Grand Duke had held in high esteem, and his wife. Both were full of sympathy with me in my grief. I saw also Captain de Herschelman, who had taken my daughters to Finland, and who said to me:

"We have all sworn to avenge the death of the Grand Duke."

"Ah, my dear friend," I said, "what is the good of vengeance? Do you believe it can soothe for a moment my terrible sorrow? "

Next day, there was a second service in the church in memory of the Grand Dukes. The Archbishop of Finland officiated. There was a great crowd present at it. It was extremely painful for me to see so many people, in spite of all the sympathy they showed me. I had a yearning for solitude, and I was eager to get on and see my children.

Peter Dournovo, on his return from Helsingfors, came at once to see me. He was in a state of despair and rage, for he had felt a veneration and devotion towards the Grand Duke which made his grief all the more profound.

I took the train from Viborg to Imatra at four o'clock in the afternoon, accompanied by Michael Wielandt. Peter Dournovo had asked Mme. Kharina to prepare the children gradually for my visit. She had begun by telling them that it was reported their father was very ill and that their mother was perhaps coming to see them. . . .

"Oh!" they exclaimed. "If there's the least thing the matter with papa we mustn't count on a visit from mamma - she will never leave him while he's unwell."

Mme. Kharina gave up the idea of preparing their minds in any other way. She said to herself that she would leave things to the grace of God. Their mother, she felt, would know best how to deal tenderly with the dreadful wound that was to be given to these young hearts, so scantily equipped to meet such sufferings.

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