Memories of Russia: 1916 - 1919 by Princess Paley

Chapter XXXV

The Grand Duke is Transferred to Prison Hospital. A Proposal for His Escape: His Reply

Meanwhile some devoted friends, military men, were continuing to try and find some way of getting the Grand Duke out of prison. I learnt that a famous German Rerolutionary (the Emperor William's bete noire) had arrived in Petrograd and was all~ powerful with the Bolshevists. His name was Karl Mohr; he was staying at the Hotel Astoria, which had been requisitioned for the needs of the Soviet (the Soviets had need of everything), and I tried to find him. I missed him twice. At last I heard he was at Tsarskoe staying with a family of friends, and I set out to find him. I chanced to meet at the door of the house the friends with whom he was staying; I told them who I was and explained in a few words the purpose of my visit. They kindly let me in, and some moments later the famous Revolutionary made his appearance. . . . I could hardly believe my eyes. A gentleman already well on in years, with white hair and "v'hite beard trimmed carefully " to a point, his skin smooth, his eyes smiling, his attire beyond reproach; a big gold chain went across his waistcoat, and a big signet-ring with a coat-of-arms on it shone upon his finger. He was a baron who had become a Socialist and had adopted the pseudonym of Karl Mohr. He listened to me with attention and sympathy, and promised me his help. He advised me to see Dr. Antouovsky, who was at the head of the penitential hospitals, but evidently the decision had to come from the Tche- Ka of Petrograd, whose very name made me shiver.

Dr. Obnissky, for his part, used all his professional influence. After several weeks had been spent in the taking of various steps, it was decided ou November 23rd/December 6th that the Grand Duke should be trausferred to the prison hospital of the Island of Golodal. To get there it was necessary to cross the Neva and the whole of Vassili-Ostroff, passing in front of the cemetery of Smalensk in which so many of those dear to us sleep their last sleep.. I secured Commissary Treulieb's permission for the two little daughters to go and embrace their father on November 22nd/ December 5th, Nathalie's name-day. It was on that day that my poor little ones saw the Grand Duke for the last time.

Armand de Saint-Sauveur, who now went out in his automobile only with a Danish flag, having had his car requisitioned repeatedly, offered me to transport the Grand Duke and his scanty prison baggage to the hospital of the Island of Godolai; I accepted gratefully and announced to Treulieb that I should have an automobile for this drive across the city. At eleven o'clock, after many formalities, \ve issued forth from the prison. The Commissary accompanied me downstairs and had the Grand Duke's two suitcases lifted into the automobile as well as the camp bedstead which I had succeeded in having put up for him instead of the horrible prison bedstead. Treulieb made a Red Guard with a gun get up beside the chauffeur.

Throughout the drive - alone at last - we spoke open-heartedly, always hoping that the worst was over, that we were on the way to liberation, and that soon we should be out of our inferno and find ourselves once again in France, with Vladimir. On arriving at the hospital, I saw that no one was expecting us. I went in search of the Director, a quite young officer who, it seemed, was expecting us only the next day. While we were all moving about and the luggage was being carried in, the Red Guard who accompanied us said:

"I would like to say a word to Your Highness."

This method of address made me prick up my ears.

"I wanted to ask you why we have come here when we had so good an opportunity for taking flight."

"Where to ? " I asked.

"Anywhere-to Finland. I would have gone with you."

"You should have spoken sooner," I said. "Now it is too late. The Commissary having put you with your gun beside the chauffeur, it would have been risky to suggest anything of this kind to you en route."

I put an end to the idle discussion, feeling conviuced that this hospital was only a step forward in the direction of better days.

The Grand Duke was given a bright little room, painted in white Ripolin, with a china stove and parqueted floor. It was perfect after the dark, damp, cold cell of the other prison. With the help of a good nurse on the hospital staff we set up his bed; I put clean clothes on it aud I arranged a little writing-table for him on which I placed my photograph and that of the children. I remained with him until three o'clock and then returned to Marianne's, grateful to God for this change, grateful to Saint-Sauveur for his automobile, and almost happy, for I was beginning to hope again and to live.

I returned next day, bringing my husband's luuch. As I had to go half the way on foot, half by tram, standing up, I realised how great the distance was. I had to carry my baskets from the tramway terminus to the hospital, and they were so heavy that the straps cut my hands until they bled.

My husband (it was not one of our days for seeing each other) sent me back the plates, etc. of the day before and wrote me a line, asking for certain things which he needed. He added that he was not allowed to receive Dr. Obnissky nor to walk out as he did every day in the courtyard of the prison. I asked the young officer who was Director the reason of this. He replied that a special permission was required for it, and he added that he would advise me to obtain for myself a new permit, as that which Ouritzky had given for the other prison was not available for this one, but that uutiI I could obtain it he would let me in. "I am not a Communist, you know," he added in a low voice.

On returning, extremely tired and feeling frozen - the cold was very great at the close of this November - I looked forward to resting a little. I heard knocking at the door and the lauudress, who was now installed with the children at Marianne's, came running to me, frightened.

"Madame la Princesse," she exclaimed. "Two Red Guards insist on speaking with you."

I got up, cursing whoever had sent the Soviets and their Red Guards upon this earth, but the moment I set eyes on those who had come I felt convinced that they were friends and only Red Guards outwardly. However, I might be mistaken, so composing my face to look impassive and severe, I asked them the reason of their visit. One of the young men came forward and said:

"Princess, you have assuredly no reason to believe us if we tell you that we are respectable men, ready, both of us, to give our lives for the Grand Duke. All we can say in our own favour is that my comrade is of the Ecole de droit and that I am of the Corps des Pages. My name is A- and my comrade's name is Nitte. You can verify our words by telephoning to my comrade's mother, who lives at -- " (he gave the address). "We beg you to put your trust in us. This evening my comrade wili be on duty at the .. . hospital with a platoon of the Okhrana-Goroda Petrograda Regiment (formerly the Semenovsky). N at being quite sure of all his men, he will confine himself to entering the room of Monseigneur the Grand Duke, and informing him of the plan agreed upon. They will make the necessary arrangements for the day when I shall be on duty at the hospital with my men, for whom I answer. It is I who will enable the Grand Duke to escape. Everything will be provided for in advance. An automobile will be ready, waiting for him a few yards from the hospital. The Finnish frontier will be opeu from miduight until three o'clock that night. A passport in the name of an Armenian who is of the same tall and slender figure as Monseigneur will be prepared. The Grand Duke will nuly have to quit his cell, led by me, who will be in command of the guard that uight. No luggage, of course. What a pity it is that you could not have prepared the Grand Duke for this plan. If his mind is not prepared for it and if he refuses, all is lost for us, whose only hope he is. . . . You realise, of course, Princess, that the Bolshevists will never allow a Grand Duke of such importance to get awayone so beloved by the troops, so venerated by all those who have come near him! "

We talked for a long time. I trembled for the life of my husband, who might be in danger. I was nervous about everything - spies, some unforeseen trifle, then his refusal, his fear of trusting thus in men unknown. Of course, knowing that at the head of this patriotic organisation was our faithful Peter Dournovo, seconded by Captain Nevedomsky, Lieutenant Wielandt, Captain HerscheIman, etc., I was sure that my husband could give them his hand in all confidence.

Next day, one of our days for meeting, the Grand Duke said to me:

"You can't imagine the fright I had at midnight last night, I had finished reading and was getting ready to go to bed when someone knocked at the door. A moment later I saw a Red Guard, with his five-pointed star on his breast, come in and stop at the door. I thought he came to take me to the Tche-Ka and that my last hour had arrived. However, seeing that he did not advance and that he was detaching the ignoble Bolshevist emblem from his breast, I recovered confidence and asked him what he wanted.

"Monseigneur,' he said to me in very pure French,  the Princess has been notified. I beg of you in the name of all that is dear to you, do not oppose or refuse us. My comrade A-who went with me yesterday to see the Princess laid our plan before her."

And young Nitte told the Grand Duke what his comrade and he had revealed to me the day before. The Grand Duke reflected a moment.

"A mad desire for liberty took hold of me," he went on; "a longing to see you, you and the children, free from the atrocious conditions in which I have lived now nearly four months. Then suddenly I thought of my three cousins still in the Schapalnaia. If I escaped, the Bolshevists' vengeance would come down heavily on them. They will be shot, I said to myself, and all my life I shall have this remorse on my conscience. No, no, I shall wait until all four of us are liberated! "

And the Graud Duke, after warmly thanking young Nitte, begged him, him and his comrade, to make no arrangements for his flight.

After an infinity of trouble, I succeeded in getting ou to Mme. Yakovlieva, the head of the Tche-Ka, on the telephone. She refused to receive me, but sent me permission to see my husband twice a week. I made good use of it. I arrived on each occasion at one o'clock and, thanks to the kindness of the Director, remained until six. As for Dr. Obnissky, it was impossible to get him a permit. Walks were prohibited, a great loss to the Grand Duke, but I opened the window and with his hat and coat on he walked, or rather tramped, up and down in his room. I brought my work or else mended his linen, and we both of us found life still endurable. Thus we came to the first days of December.

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