Memories of Russia: 1916 - 1919 by Princess Paley

Chapter XXXIV

My Daughters and I are Evicted from our Cottage Home

The months of September aud October, 1918, were nothing but a long and bloody series of assassinations. The Grand Duke told me that every evening they took away from the prison some ten persons, sometimes more, to shoot them and thus to come into possession of their scanty goods and chattels. Superhuman patience and courage were needed to bear this existence of torment, this suspense, this fear of hearing one's own name called out for execution. Men had grown suspicious of their intimate friends. Friends of twenty years' standing would go off secretly without warning one, without saying good-bye. The least noise made people start. Of an evening the sound of an automobile stopping outside your door froze your blood, for it heralded a nocturnal search, a robbery. During the day you saw wagons moving through the streets piled high with things thrown into them anyhow, pieces of furniture, lamps, handsomely bound books, everything the Bolshevists (whose insolence now knew no limits) took possession of with their revolvers pointed at their victims. As a measure of precaution, and by the advice of trustworthy friends, some time before the nationalisation of the palace, I had deposited at the Austrian Embassy, which was under the protection of Denmark (as I have said), everything I still possessed in the way of jewels and old plate and my most precious treasure, the six hundred letters which the Graud Duke had written to me in the course of twenty-five years. All our documents, all our passports and birth certificates, everything we possessed of any value whatever, had been deposited in this place which seemed so safe. On the day of the Revolution in Germany and Austria, the Austro-German prisoners living in Petrograd became Bolshevists within twenty-four hours. They hoisted the Red flag while M. de Scavenius lowered the Danish flag. He had time, meanwhile, to carry off to his own house, the Danish Legation, No. II the Millionaia, some cases of my jewels, but later he left for Copenhagen, and everything was pillaged by the Soviets. One of the most notorious thieves, a well-known politician to-day, took possession of all our riches on the pretext of using them to pay the wages of the Austre-Boche prisoners. This person is now a representative of the Soviets in one of the European Courts.

At the end of October, in icy-cold rain and with the snow melting, I went out to Tsarskoe to see my girls, who had been more and more forsaken by me, all my attention having been concentrated on the Grand Duke. On reaching the cottage, I learnt that Mme. Lounatcharsky, accompanied by Boris Snessarenko and by another man whose name escapes me (she is very fond of young people), had been to visit the Graud Duke Boris's house. This visit boded nothing good. Next day I received a telephone message from Snessarenko telling me that Mme. Lounatcharsky was leaving the Alexander Palace to install herself "in the small house" which had belonged to the ex-Grand Duke Boris," and that I was given five days to clear out of the place with my trunks. What was to be done? Where were we to go? Where were the children to be placed? I sought fruitlessly all over Tsarskoe for a flat well-heated and with good light. In the case of two of those which might have suited, the proprietors, frightened by the massacres, did not dare to take us under their roof. After reflecting on all the possible combinations, I decided to take Irene and Nathalie into town and to install them in Marianne's drawing-room, setting up two beds in it. Thus we united all our miseries and I was able to have my daughters near me while continuing to occupy myself with the Grand Duke. This decision became the more necessary in that Miss White and Jacqueline vvere both to be sent back to their own countries, by the arrangements made by their consular representatives, for there were no longer any Ambassadors or Consuls. This parting desolated Irene and Nathalie, who were deeply attached to their governess and to their nurse whom they had had since their birth. I parted sadly also with our faithful man-servant and his wife, and kept on only our laundress who henceforth would attend to my girls. We had, however, some other things which we had to try to take with us into town. Tel€~pneff, having attained his ends and installed himself in our palace, was now obsequious and amiable once more. He came to see me at the cottage and said:

" You know you have not the right to take away a single trunk, a single bag, without the permission of the Tche-Ka of Detskoe-Selo." (I could not bear that unpleasant change in the name.) "I advise you to address yourself to Comrade Severny."

I then - oh, how wearily - asked for an interview with this Severny, whose name must certainly be a pseudonym. (Severny means "the North.")

The latter sent me word that he would receive me next morning at ten o'clock. The Tche-Ka had been transferred from the palace of the Grand Duchess Vladimir to one of the houses in Schirokalo Street, near the station. At ten o'clock I was there. I waited until half-past eleven; Comrade Severny, having supped late the night before, was not yet up. At last, at a quarter to twelve, he appeared, apologised for having kept me waiting, and asked me to come into his office. Dressed like a military man, wearing high boots and a cap, he was like almost all the Bolshevist leaders, of a marked Jewish type. However, he was less antipathetic than the others. I explained the reason of my visit, namely that I wanted permission to take away my trunks from the Graud Duke Boris's cottage to Petrograd on a wagon. He hesitated a little, then took a sheet of paper and wrote:

"The citizenness Paley and her two daughters, Irene Pavlovna and Nathalie Pavlovna, not having been accused of acting against the Soviets, have permission to take from the town of Detskoe-Selo to Petrograd the things belonging to them."

I thanked him; he was the first humane Bolshevist whom I had met during this existence, of misery. He spoke with tenderness of my husband, and asked me if I hoped soon to secure his liberation. Knowing that Severny was a friend of the sanguinary Zinovieff, I at once entreated him to come to my help.

He bent his head sadly.

I also asked him whether our Emperor had really been assassinated in July. We were in October, and nobody knew anything for certain.

"Alas! yes," he said; "and it is very unfortunate for the Government of the Soviets. History will not forgive it. Moscow does not realise that. They hope down there that Bolshevism will be everywhere and that all the Sovereigns will meet with the same fate."

"But the Empress, the Tsarevitch, the young Grand Duchesses? I beg of you tell me what you know about them."

He shrugged his shoulders.

"I cannot teli you anything defiuite. I hope, however, that they are all in a convent in Siberia. Only Nicholas II has been killed." ..

And my son - do you know auythiug of him? Is it true, can I really hope, that he is saved? "

"Ah!" he said. "How well I can understand your maternal anguish! I also have a mother who is far away and torments herself about me. Alas! I know nothing about your son - the reports are so contradictory."

He looked at me with eyes fuli of pity. I was so little prepared to fiud iu this Tche-Ka of Tsarskoe a human being, almost a good man, that I had ceased to look for auything of the kind. When leaving him, I said:

"In spite of the proclamations upon the walls about hand-shaking being prohibited, I would like to shake your hand."

He seized mine and kissed it with effusion. I returned to the cottage with my document, and three days later my little girls came in by train to stay at "Sister Marianne's," while a wagon load of, trunks and boxes, conducted by a guardian of the Grand Duke's house, made its way into town by the road from Tsarskoe-Selo to Petrograd.

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