Memories of Russia: 1916 - 1919 by Princess Paley

Chapter XXIX

Grand Duke a Prisoner

We remained alone until six o'clock. The day promised to be a beautiful one. \Ve went into the garden in which formerly there had been so many splendid fetes and charming dinner-parties. Everything \vas neglected and in disorder. The benches were broken, the flight of steps down into it was falling into decay. Foul weeds were growing along the paths. An air of desolation and sadness pervaded. Ill-dressed, dirty-looking sentries were posted everywhere. We re-entered the ante-room, and I sought to speak with the man who had conducted us thither. A Red Guard who was passing, with a gun on his shoulder and a teapot in his hand, said he would take my message. P- appeared at once.

"You see," I said to him, " I am free, am I not? Well, I don't know how long you are going to keep us here, but my husband is hungry, so I propose to return home and bring him back some breakfast."

He acquiesced and gave me a permit.

I hastened as quickly as my legs could carry me to the small house, where I found everyone up and about. The girls threw themselves weeping into my arms. I said what I could to console them, adding that their father was hungry aud that I had come to get some breakfast ready for him and that I should remain with him as long as I was allowed to do so and would let them have news of him as soon as possible. Two thermos flasks were soon filled with cafe au lait, the coffee beiug lent by the Grand Duke's valet, together with some biscuits which he had also succeeded in hiding. The bandits had gone off at five o'clock after drinking all the stolen wine. Our footman, the one whom the girls called le barbu, who was still with us but who was beginning to deteriorate, wanted to come with me and carry the provisions. I could not rest until I saw my dear husband taking his breakfast. At nine o'clock an automobile which had been requisitioned came round. The chief of the nocturnal band, completely drunk, ordered us to get up into it. Then he disappeared into the house, and we waited threequarters of an hour for him in front of the steps.

The chauffeur, turning to the Grand Duke, said:

"They are going to take you to Petrograd, to the Tche-Ka. On the way, hit this drunken beast over the head and I shall carry you off."

"And then? .. asked the Grand Duke, who was on his guard against agents provocateurs.

"Then," was the reply, " I shall carry you off so far that it will be a devil of a long time before they find you again."

This man, absolutely unknown to us, was perhaps sincere, but it may have been only a snare of the sort in which the Bolshevists specialised. And then there were the children left alone. The Grand Duke had for these reasons cut short the conversation. At last the drunken fellow returned; he sat down by the chauffeur, holding in his hand a big packet containing all our letters and some papers which he had seized. As soon as we started he fell asleep, and his inebriated body swayed about, to and fro. Nothing would have been easier than to throw him out, but after that? It seemed to me that the Grand Duke was wise not to listen to the chauffeur's talk. I reflected that, after he had been heard at the Tche-Ka they would give him back his freedom, as they had nothing to reproach him with; I hoped that we should return to Tsarskoe that very day; I had been absolutely sincere in persuading the little daughters that this would be so.

hroughout the drive we sat with our hands clasped, and I listened attentively to everything , my husband recommended me to do. We talked in French, so that the brute who was swaying from side to side in front of us should not understand anything. The Grand Duke asked me to write to the King of Sweden, Gustav IV; as the Bolshevists had at Stockholm a convenient opening for all that they had stolen, they were very mindful of all injunctions which came to them from there. General Brandstrom, the Swedish Minister at Petrograd, was kind enough to undertake the delivery of this letter, aud I kuow that it reached its destination. But it was of his two little daughters that the Grand Duke spoke most, and with infinite tenderness. They were his chief preoccupation, the object of his greatest anxiety.

"If I disappear," he said" promise me that you aud Vladimir" (and Vladimir!) .. will live only for them! I know, my beloved, how hard life will be for you without me, to whom you have devoted yourself so fully, so completely; but promise me to live for the children until God shall reunite us."

I entreated him with tears to banish from his mind all such dismal thoughts.

"I need all my own presence of mind, all my courage," I said to him. "Don't deprive me of it by talking of such things. You know that you and the children constitute my whole life. . . ."

We arrived at the Gorochovaia, No.2, towards eleven o'clock. They made me go up first to the third floor, where some kind of judge, a working lock-maker, first questioned the Grand Duke. Then we were taken into another room, where a somewhat less brutal.lookillg man proceeded with the interrogatory:

"Will you be good enough to teli me why and for what purpose, these torments are being inflicted on us ? " I asked him.

He coughed into the hollow of his haud and said:

"You are aware, Madame, that this is a feverish disquieting time. Weare in fear for our own skins."

Disturbed at being forced to reply to us, he had us taken down to the second floor and into a large apartment, which was formerly a ballroom and disappeared immediately. I looked round me: all along the walls, on the benches and on the chairs, people of every description were seated. There were many peasants and soldiers with big bags, arrested in the act of buying or selling articles of food, which had been strictly prohibited by the Communist Government. There were also some officers, one of whom, an acquaintance, rose and saluted us with a look of astonishment. Some very elegantly-dressed women were to be seen there also, looking pale and troubled. Fatigue and anxiety were to be seen on all these faces. At a table covered with a red cloth, a Jew, with dark curly hair, sat writing. I was seated alongside my husband, and we wondered how long we should be kept in this close atmosphere. Other persons under arrest arrived after us, each of them led in by two Red Guards. Then there came in some men with bags, which they emptied out ou to the table. I opened wide my eyes! Jewels, gold cigarette-cases, plate, miniatures encircled with diamonds, silver candlesticks and candelabra, dish-covers - all was emptied out upon the red cloth. One felt as though one were in the cave of brigands, returned from a rich and fruitful pillage. The Jew had ceased writing; he took up all the objects in turn, felt their weight in his hands, and put them aside. The objects made of gold he placed, one by one, in a little weighing machine. The entire operation-this taking stock of the results of the night's robberies-occupied a good half-hour.

Then at last a door opened and a man, fairhaired, this one, with a face ravaged by smallpox, came in, accompanied by two Red Guards.

"The citizen Paul Romanoff! " he called out.

The Grand Duke stood up.

"Take your things and follow me ! "

I took my bag and wanted to go with him.

"Where are you going? " the man asked.

"I want to go with my husband wherever you are taking him."

"What's all this about? Be good enough to hand over your bag and go away from here! "

"But my husband is hungry," I said. "It is half-past one and he has not had his luuch."

"All right," he said in a gentler voice.

"I shall give you a permit. Go and get him something to eat and bring it to him here. As to your remaining with him, I can't allow that. It is impossible."

He signed a piece of paper and slipped it into my hand. I saw two soldiers with drawn swords take up their position to either side of my husband. I embraced him lovingly, and he said to me in a low voice:

"Go, my darling, and be brave! "

Then he vanished and the door closed behind him... . I went down the two flights of stairs and, on finding myself in the street, I had a momentary sensation of giddiness. The emotions of that appalling night, my insomnia, the hunger and the fatigue, and my bag which seemed to me so useless and heavy. . .. I felt inclined to sit down on the gronnd and cry. Not a fiacre to be seen anywhere, I dragged myself painfully the length of the Alexander Gardens, across the Winter Palace square, as far as Millionaia, No. 29, to Countess Nierotti's flat, in which Marianne had been living for some time. She and her husband rushed forward to greet me, they had heard over the telephone from my young daughters about our troubles. Marianne, in her thoughtful way, had everything prepared for the Grand Duke's lunch. I left my bag there and, taking the provisions, I went back immediately to the Tche-ka. Marianne wanted to do this in my place, but the permit having been made out in the name of "Citizeness Paley" I was afraid she might be arrested on arrival.

I reached the second floor without hindrance and happened immediately on the fair-complexioned man.

"Here is my husband's lunch," I said. "Will you take it to him? "

"That is not my business," he replied. "But I see you are so troubled that I will do it for you. I'll give you a permit for bringing his food to-morrow. "

"How for to-morrow?" I exclaimed, frightened. "Are you going to keep him to-morrow? But that is impossible! What has he done? "

He hesitated a moment.

"I advise you," he murmured in a low voice, "to ask for an interview with Comrade Ouritzky. He alone " (and he emphasised the word "alone") " can answer you."

"But how am I to obtain this interview? " I asked.

"He was so hard with me in March at the time of my son's departure."

He remained silent a moment.

"Wait for me here," he said. "I shall take your husband his lunch and I shall ask Comrade Ouritzky if he will be good enough to receive you."

"All right, and as you are so good, obtain also a permit for Dr. Obnissky, as my husband is ill and in great pain."

Twenty minutes at least elapsed. It was past three o'clock. I was hungry, and a great lassitude came over me. At last he returned with the two permits and announced that Comrade Ouritzky would receive us next day, the Doctor and me, at one o'clock.

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