Memories of Russia: 1916 - 1919 by Princess Paley

Chapter XXV

My Son's Last Days

In April 17th/30th there came a telegram from Vladimir to say that, by order from Moscow, they were all about to quit Viatka for Ekaterinburg where, in due course, they arrived on April 20th/May 3rd, the Friday of Holy Week. Princess John told me later that Vladimir was greatly depressed by this change.

"Our best time, that of Viatka, is finished," he declared. "It will be worse now every day."

They chaffed him over his dark views of things, but my son had inherited from me a gift for presentiment.

At Ekaterinburg they were installed in an hotel, the proprietors of which, good people named Atanamanoff, did their best to sweeten their existence. It was on April 17th/30th also that the unfortunate Sovereigns, accompanied by their third daughter, the Grand Duchess Marie, and her suite, were taken brutally to Tobolsk and installed in the Ipatieff house, that accursed house in which the whole family was massacred some months later.. Once located in Ekaterinburg, my son's letters resumed their regular course. He was extremely prudent in the letters which he confided to the post, but those which came by trustworthy means were splendid in their eloquence and in their precision of detail. I remember he described to us the Midnight Mass in the Cathedral of Ekaterinburg. All the young exiles were at the church holding lighted candles of red wax in their hands, and listening fervently to the beautiful Easter hymns so full of hope. "Christ is risen!" "In truth, He is risen!" and despite their trials, their young hearts revived and they began to hope and live again.

In another letter, not sent by post this one, Vladimir tells us that he goes wandering every day round the house in which the Emperor is shut up with his family. Great wooden planks sunk in the ground form a palisade to prevent the inquisitive, or the faithful, from seeing anything. Newspapers are fixed up against the windows of the first floor so that no one can look out. The food supplied to the august prisoners is, it seems, abominable. Vladimir expresses in warm and vehement terms the feelings of indignation, pity and loyal devotion which fill his entire soul. . . . If God ever permits these letters to be found, it will be a sacred duty to get them together and publish them so that the world may see one more proof of the ferocious cruelty of the bandits in power.

In June, 1921, three years after the assassination of my son, a pious hand sent me a copy of a Russian paper published in Berlin and entitled "The Two-Headed Eagle." The wife of one of Vladimir's comrades, Mme. Semtchevsky, who was at Ekaterinburg with her husband at this time, gives a description of a visit which our son paid to them. Here is a faithful translation of it:

"Next day we heard a knock at the hall door. A young man, tall, slender, dressed in a quiet grey suit, came quickly up the stairs and knocked at the door. It was Prince Vladimir Pavlovitch Paley, the son of the Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovitch, a young man of twenty-one and a poet of talent. He had become much thinner and paler since we had last seen him in Petrograd. Our meeting was joyous, we sat down; he was enchanted with the comfort of our modest room: 'It is a long time since I have been so comfortable and so much at my ease as in your home,' he said. pensively, 'and you know I sha1l never be so comfortable again. Every day they are treating us worse, and what obsesses me is that I can't be alone one moment to concentrate my ideas; I am obliged to write in the night when everyone is asleep for there are several of us in one room.'
"Then he began to talk of his parents. He regretted keenly not being in Petrograd with his father, the Grand Duke Paul. He spoke of the Grand Duke Dimitri and of the Grand Duchess Marie and rejoiced that they were in safety abroad. * Prince vladimir told us details .of the glorious death of young Prince Mestchcrsky at Kiewt; a Bolshevist band rushed on him, threw him to the ground, trampled on him and beat him, ye1ling; then they shot him. The last cry of the unfortunate young man was: 'Long live Russia! Long live the Emperor! '
"A calm submission, a kind of fatalism, shone in the handsome eyes of young Prince Paley. 'I suffer, I suffer terribly for our poor Russia,' he said. And his words were stamped with a profound and desolate sadness. "
At this moment arrived Baron Dellingshausen and his wife (she perished with her young child some months later in a railway catastrophe due to Bolshevist spite). Both had known the young Prince before. New joy, new questions, new reminiscences!
"I placed a lamp covered with a green shade on the table and prepared the tea. We drew together round this table, we who had been isolated in the midst of the impudence of the Bolshevik enemies, orphans away from our dear onesthe parents left in Petrograd. Like tra ve1lers thrown over board and struggling wlth all the strength left in them agamst the elements let loose, in the midst of furious waves, we glimpsed for a moment a bit of the immense and powerful ship whieh was being engulfed. A bit of mighty Russia. . . . Then it vanished, and around us al1 became darker and drearier. . .
"The Circle of the Green Lamp,' remarked the young Prince, smiling sweetly: 'This little circle, I shal1 not forget these few good moments, so rare in my present miserable life.' Then he began to recite his latest verses, written since his departure from Petrograd and which have never been published. . "It was an hour ful1 of emotion. Some elegant and tender sonnets, tinged with a sweet sadness, fol1owed memories of what had happened recently in Petrograd, sombre and anguishing memories; but it was the poems written in Viatka which above al1 were stamped with an inspire.tion that was magnificent. So profound a melancholy, so beautiful a were exhaled bv these verses that " our eyes became filled with tears: tears of regret and also of indiguation at the thought of this great talent perishing so unjustly, so fatally. Why, these poems asked, why these superhuman sufferings, why these moral tortures, this expectation at any moment of assassination at the corner of a street? . . . I remember the subject of his last poem - Viatka. A peaceful night but with a sinister silence about it, the prisoner cannot sleep. Memories of a distant past, a past thought of with love, invade his soul, while, beneath the window, a gaoler is on watch. A fierce enemy, this gaoler.
"Les proches, les aimes sont lugu brement loin Tandis que I' ennemi est lugubrement pres. . . .'
"Then he became silent and for some moments a complete silence reigned in the room; as if some great, light-giving being had come down among us and had removed for a time something sombre and inevitable like fate-like destiny.
"It was late in the night when we separated from our dear guest. With his death has not Russia lost one of her most glorious poets? Who knows? And involuntarily one conjures up before one's mind a plelade of our Russian scholars and writers and painters who have perished in Soviet Russia of hunger, of torture, and of disease.
"Prince Vladimir thanked us cordially for this happy evening."
You will come and see us often, won't you? ' my husband said to him.
" 'There's nothing I'd like better,' he replied, 'but I am afraid you would suffer for it. Igor Constantinovitch did not come vdth me this evening for fear of injuring you.'
"We shall expect you these days,' I added, 'and don't forget to bring your latest poems. We shal1 keep them careful1y for you until better days.'
"Alas! It was in vain that 'The Circle of the Green Lamp' waited on the day fixed by its youthful founder! He did not come and when my husband, becoming anxious, telephoned to the hotel, he heard these sinister words in answer: 'They have just taken them away to an unknown destination.'
"They took them away and this time for ever. They were afraid of their growing popularity and the people's sympathy for them. . . .
"They took them away and, after having tortured them,' hideously, inhumanely, they threw them down into a coalmine and covered them up with earth. . . . The Red Terror hovered more and more over the silent town. Requisitions, arrests, flights, executions. , . .
A day will come when the Russian people will see clearly into this terrible and dark affair. It will know how to punish the guilty, the spirits of evil who are killing our country, our great and holy Russia.
"I am sad, I suffer and my unhappiness sees no way out, I see before my eyes the pale and inspired countenance of the young Poet-Prince with that anguishing question 'Why? ' " And I think of the last line of his last poem:
" Les proches, les aimes sont lugubrement loin, Tandis que l'ennemi est lugubrement pres. . . .'

I have had to break off for some weeks in my sacred and painful task which I have set myself, the translation of the above having been too much for me, Oh, you poor mothers, who have lost your sons, fallen gloriously upon the fields of battle, you will understand me, you will pity me, you will weep with me !

And yet, as before dying I must illumine the radiant faces of the Grand Duke and my son, I must try to complete this sorrowful story.

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