Memories of Russia: 1916 - 1919 by Princess Paley

Chapter XV

Imprisoned in Petrograd

After a marvellous summer, the autumn continued to be mild and bright and clear. We now very seldom went outside the garden where I used to amuse myself sweeping away the dead leaves. I succeeded in this way, by means of a great physical fatigue, in calming my nerves. When the evening came, my dear husband used to read to us in the salon rose in which I had got together all the things which I loved. The calm of our life was interrupted for a moment by the marriage of Marianne on October I7th/30th, 1917, to Count Nicholas Zarnekau. The ceremony took place in the church of Znamenie; then the guests came to us. The young couple left for Kiev, whence they returned at the end of three months in the face of the greatest difficulties. I went into town only to see my mother, my sisters and my nieces. The journey by train had become. a torture. Soldiers out on the loose sprawled about in the first-class carriages and insulted the ladies who wished to sit down. The carriage windows were broken and the seat-coverings torn away. The suppression of a great number of carriages, in view of the shortage of fuel, obliged passengers to stand, all packed close together.

The Izvostchiks (carriages on hire) in town were tremendously expensive. There was no longer a sergent-de-ville (Gorodovoi) to maintain order. I did not dare go in our automobile any more lest it should be requistioned in the street. One lived in fear, uncertainty, insecurity. . .. In Petrograd the Maximalist Party was growing and there were many symptoms to point to its strength. The Bolshevist agents were everywhere. At the railway station and at all the street corners, there were men haranguing loiterers and not fearing to excite them against the Provisional Government, which they criticised on a thousand heads. I must admit that my hatred of the Provisional Government, personified for me in Savinkoff and Kerensky, prompted me to lend a somewhat willing ear to these dangerous utterances. To be brief, during the last days of October the report spread that the Bolshevists had grouped their forces, that they had massacred in Petrograd the Cadet Corps and the battalion of women, that they had put in prison the Ministers of the Provisional Government and that only Kerensky had escaped to Gatschina and Savinkoff to Pskov, It was reported that Terestchenko, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who had been arrested and taken to the fortress of Saints Peter and Paul, had met there Stcheglovitoff, Minister of Justice under the Tsar.

The latter said to Terestchenko:

"Hallo, you here! Michael Ivanovitch! It was really not worth while presenting five million roubles to the Revoh;ttion to come here! If you had told me you wanted to come here, I'd have sent you here for nothing! "

On October 29th/November 11th, great animation prevailed at Tsarskoe. Some regiments of Cossacks had come there and they were distributing leaflets exhorting the population to keep calm and appealing to it to support the Government. Mounted messengers galloped furiously down the road which goes along by the railings outside our palace. Towards the evening the dull sound of a cannonade could be heard which stopped at daybreak. On the morning of October 30th/November 12th, in beautiful sunshiny weather, the cannonade became much more intense and was nearer at hand than on the evening before, Suddenly, towards midday, all the bells of the churches of Tsarskoe began to peal simultaneously. The noise of the cannon mixed with the sounds of the bells made one think of the struggle between good and evil. . . . Alas! it was the evil that won! The bells became silent but the cannonade became stronger and stronger. I was in the garden with my little girls and we saw Vladimir appear at an open window of the first floor.

"Look, mama," he called out to me. "Look at that golden cross above the Cathedral of St. Catherine! How it is shining! The sun has kept all its rays for it. The cannon may roar but it is the Cross which sooner or later will be on top."

How beautiful he was, my son, at that moment, while he was uttering these words! , .. I saw him under the sway of a divine inspiration. Alas! Our Saviour was preparing him thus for the cross. . . .

Suddenly a tremendous detonation resoundedover our heads. The windows of the house clattered. \Ve curved our backs instinctively, as though to avoid the blow. The Grand Duke's steward, an artillery-man, Colonel Petrokow, said to me:

"Princess, this isn't sensible. You might be killed at any moment. However, there can no longer be any doubt that the Bolshevists have won. I have just had word sent me that the Cossacks have retired and that Kerensky, who was here this morning, has fled like a coward in an automobile. . .. The Bolshevists must be masters of Tsarskoe at this moment."

The cannonade was diminishing, and at six o'clock it had ceased. At nine in the evening Colonel Petrokow came to tell us that the Bolshevists were at Tsarskoe and that they had invaded the palace of the Grand Duchess Vladimir, opposite ours. It was a nerve-racking night. I woke with a start at the slightest sound, but they left us in peace.

Next day, October 31st/November 13th, towards four o'clock in the afternoon, I was in the garden with my son Alexander, who had come to see us on the 29th and who had not been able to go off again. Suddenly we saw a detachment of soldiers, sailors and red guards (armed workers), led by a soldier, advancing with regular step towards our house. A feeling of mad anguish took possession of me, I ran towards my husband, who was taking tea in the large dining-room, and simultaneously two footmen, pale and frightenedlooking, came in from the side of the office:

"Your Imperial Highness, the Bolshevists are there - they have come to make a perquisition and to look for arms."

The Grand Duke remained calm. He ordered the leader of the band to be shown in.

"What do you want?" the Grand Duke inquired.

"I have orders to make a perquisition and to take all arms which we shall find."

"Very well, proceed," said the Grand Duke, who recognised the uselessness of a struggle.

I looked at the man. Of medium height, thin, with black curly hair, hooked nose, a short beard cut to a point, his eyes small, his face very pale. He was a Jew of the most pronounced type. His name was Gueorguenberguer.He called one of his men and gave orders for the perquisition to begin. Fourteen sailors and soldiers rummaged about everywhere.

The Grand Duke had a superb collection of sabres and of swords of all kinds and periods. The most beautiful specimens from Toledo were to be seen by the side of sabres which had belonged to the cuirassiers of the time of the Great Catherine, bearing engraved images of the Blessed Virgin. Everything was thrown pell-mell, anyhow, into a big trunk. They took four or five ordnance revolvers and some Brownings of all calibres. After a brief visit to my boudoir they went to Vladimir's quarters, where they also took all the arms they saw. Whcn the soldiers wanted to take his own war sabre, from the handle of which hung a beautiful sword-knot, Vladimir said to them:

"Comrades, this sabre and sword-knot was given to me for bravery in the war. Leave it to me!"

The soldiers gave it back to him without a word and withdrew. Vladimir was enchanted because they had forgotten to look in the drawer of his table de nuit, in which a Browning was to be seen side by side with his New Testament. The searchers went everywhere. When they came to the room of the children's nurse, our dear Burgundian, Jacqueline Theurean, they pointed to a coloured engraving on the wall representing the Emperor Nicholas II, and to another, a portrait of Marshal Joffre. They tore down the one of the Emperor and wanted to do the same with that of Joffre, but they met with' a stout resistance. Jacqueline wouldn't have it and remonstrated vehemently in her broken Russian. "Me French, you Russians," she said to them. "You leave me my French General and clear out!" The soldiers thought she called them" hooligans," which has the same meaning in Russian as in English, and at first they were inclined to be angry, but suddenly they began to laugh and continued their search elsewhere.

The wine-cellar was of them. Gueorguenberguer accompanied his men into it and having satisfied himself that there were no arms concealed there, he made them go out one by one; on each of them he found a hidden bottle, which he made them put back in its place. I myself followed them everywhere and I was astonished at this discipline, coming after the lack of order among Kerensky's troops. When the search was over, Gueorguenberguer turned to the Grand Duke and said:

"And now I am going to ask you to order your automobile and to make ready to follow me; I have orders to take you to Smolny in Petrograd, where the Soviet is sitting." And he produced a document. I thought I was going to be ill. The Grand Duke, very pale, got up to go and dress. I accompanied him. He changed his General's uniform for civilian clothes. His valet packed his suit-case. I returned to Gueorguenberguer and asked him if I might accompany my husband. He said he had orders to take him alone. On hearing this, Alexander ~ in his English uniform, jumped on Vladimir's bicycle and hastened to the Soviet to ask permission to accompany the Grand Duke. He found the Soviet installed in the house which had belonged to Prince Pontiatine, Administrator of the Palaces. My son said that he was English, but that he spoke Russian, and wanted to know for what reason they were carrying the Grand Duke off to Smolny and if he might accompany him. They promised him that no harm would come to "Paul Romanoff," that he would be taken to Petrograd, but/that the English officer might go with him. Evidently his uniform had imposed upon them. My son returned home at once and was in time to get into the automobile, which was just about to start with the Grand Duke, three sailors and his new jailer.

The car had not long disappeared, and we had not yet got over our stupor, when our head-cook, pale and trembling, rushed into the dining-room:

"Madame la Princesse ! " he cried. "Rush to the Soviet at once-speak to them, implore them! I have just heard on good authority that Monseigneur is going to be transferred this very night to Cronstadt. And there you know the tortures they put officers to! It is martyrdom, perhaps death! "

"Come with me," I said to him, in the depths of despair.

My whole body was in a tremble, my heart palpitated, but this was no moment to think of myself. I threw a cloak over my shoulder and had the second car sent round. I jumped into it with our chef, who had put on his overcoat, and a cap instead of the white linen toque. While we were driving the short distance Tschekaline (that was the chef's name) kept making suggestions to me and giving me advice. . .. On reaching the Soviet I witnessed a scene of extraordinary animation. A number of soldiers, perspiring and covered with dust and mud up to the chin, were coming and going. A stern order stopped me at the door.

"I have an appointment with Comrade Rochall," I said coolly, following my chef's counsel.

This name produced a magical effect. I entered. A second sentry barred the way to me.

"No one passes here! " he cried.

"Comrade Rochall expects me !"

And once again I passed freely. I entered the former drawing-room of Princess Pontiatine. What a contrast! Instead of the beautiful marble, the pictures, the carpets of yore, a repulsive dirtiness everywhere, bare walls, a table of white wood, three broken chairs. Two men were. standing up and looking at me with curious, interested eyes. One of them, a sailor, small, stocky, with a big moustache - I learnt afterwards that it was the famous Dibenko, famous for his cruelty, the" husband" of the" Kolontai" -the other, small also, quite young, with a moustache which had only begun to sprout, a youth of the purest Semitic type.

"I want to speak with Comrade Rochall," I said.

"I am he, what do you want?" the young man asked. His companion withdrew, no longer interested.

"Comrade Rochall," I said. "They have taken off my husband, Paul Alexandrovitch, who is not guilty of any crime. They told me they were taking him to Petrograd, to Smolny, and I learn that they have taken him, by your orders, to Cronstadt. I entreat you to change your decision."

"Then you are the Princess Paley, Comrade Paley -- it is interesting to see you at close quarters,"

"Comrade," I said to him, "I entreat I " you. . . .

Doubtless I put my whole anguished soul into these words.

" But what do you fear? I have sent him to Cronstadt because I am there myself and I have given very strict orders that your husband should be well treated."

Seeing that there was something human in this quite young man who spoke in soft, murmuring tones, I have felt I had won the game. I spoke so much and so well that, at the end of a few moments, he said to me:

"I have no telephone here write on. What can I do ? "

"Come to us," I said to him. "You will have the telephone, ink and paper, and something to eat for I am sure you are hungry."

He admitted that this was so - that he had not had a minute to eat. The chef had the car brought round. Rochall called his Comrade B--,-, with whom I had many communications afterwards, and behold me on my way home with a chef and two. Bolshevist leaders! . .. What would I not have done to liberate my beloved Grand Duke!

On arrival, Comrade Rochall hastened to telephone to Smolny requesting that citizen Paul Alexandrovitch be kept until next day and not sent to Cronstadt, and that he would later give his reasons for this change. Meanwhile the footman had brought a tray with some cold meat, some hors d' oeuvre, and some wine. The two and no paper to young men did justice to the repast. Vladimir had come in. Relieved as to the lot of his father, he talked lightly, while maintaining his dignity, with these young men of his own age.

"Say, Prince Paley," Rochall asked him, not without a touch of irony, "if you were offered the throne of Russia, would you accept it ? "

"I have never contemplated such a possibility," my son replied.

"But all the same? " the other persisted.

"Well, I should refuse."

"Why?" ,

"Because I have taken an oath of fidelity to the Emperor Nicholas II, and we have no perjurers in our family."

They remained a long time talking with us. Towards seven o'clock our unlooked-for guests left us. I never again saw Rochall, who was killed on the Rumanian front. When he left us he promised us everything-that is to say, the restitution of the arms which had been carried off, complete safety, and, above all, a "permit" for me and Vladimir so that on the morrow we might go into town and embrace our dear prisoner.

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