Memories of Russia: 1916 - 1919 by Princess Paley

Chapter XXXVIII

My Agonized Search for My Husband

In spite of the terrible cold that day, I could not stop my tears, which froze immediately on my cheeks and made me suffer dreadfully. Nothing mattered to me now: cold, hunger. illness, misery - I could bear anything if only the aim of my life, the Grand Duke's safety, could be attained. For long years past I had grown used to living for, and through, him. Now, the more they tormented him, the more they inflicted humiliations and sufferings on him, on him who had never done anything but good, the dearer and more sacred he became to me. . . .

In spite or all the steps I took, it was impossible for me to obtain a new permit. The Yakovlieva, whom I had never seen, had been deposed, and a man named Skorodoumoff had been appointed head of the Tche-Ka. Repugnant though it was to me to go and see Gorky, who became more and more cold towards me, I went back to him again to beg him to accelerate the Grand Duke's liberation. I suppose he also was to have his share of the million which I consented to let them have for setting my husband free. Gorky said to me that he would go to Moscow towards the 10th or 12th of January (old style) in order to intercede with Lenin for the four Grand Dukes. My husband's cousins had sent petitions to him and he advised me to draw one up also, and he asked me if I knew anyone in the Moscow Soviet. I remembered Bonch-Brouevitch, whom I had seen two or three times on the occasion of the first arrest at Smolny, in November, 1917. It was decided that my letter should be addressed to the latter, and I wrote, I may say, \vith my whole soul tormented by so many troubles and so much misery.

While continuing to carry my baskets to the Island of Golodai, I returned to the Gorochovaia hoping that by dint of entreaties I would obtain a permit. One day in December, I was shown into a room on the ground floor looking out on the Alexander Garden. A small, dark man, of ferocious aspect, was seated at a writing-table. His name was Vassilieff. When I told him who I was and why I came, he looked at me, enraged.

"So you imagine because you are the wife of a Romanoff that an exception is to be made for you? Visits to the prisons are suppressed; the other women are managing to get on without them; do like the rest."

"But my husband is very ill and in pain, he has need of my care. . . ."

"If he is ill," he said ferociously, "he must be shot."

I could listen to no more. I turned my back on him and went out hurriedly, amazed that the earth could contain such monsters. At the hospital the severity had become terrible. When I took my husband his food I tried to get sight of him at least through the window. I cursed my shortness of sight, which prevented me from seeing well. Several times the soldiers drove me away from where I stood, threatening me with the butt-ends of their guns. One charitable soul, however, a chambermaid, sometimes brought me letters from the Grand Duke. These letters were written with a pencil-that was all he had now. . He put into them all his tenderness and his hope, also his great moral lassitude. Sometimes a nurse of the hospital, who was a yonng girl of very good family (whose name I cannot give, not knowing whether she has escaped from Russia), would bring me a few tender words from him.

The New Year, 1919, had come to replace the terrible year which had passed by. We continued, in spite of everything, to have hopes, without basis or reason for them, just from the instinctive need of clinging on to anything that helped one to live. I spent my evenings either in the sweet and gentle atmosphere of Mlle. Ponomareff's home, where Koni held us under the spell of his conversation, or in my own rooms with Armand de Saint-Sauveur. As it was only seven degrees above zero in my sitting-room, we both wore our furs, and Saint-Sauveur built up a good fire, near which we sat. We talked of France and of all those we had left there. We were at the period when President Wilson, in his madness, had proposed a conference with the Bolshevists on the Island of Prinkipo. We who knew what the Soviets were, could not understand how such an aberration could have taken shape in a man's mind, Still worse things have been done since then in London and at Genoa.

On Tuesday, January 15th/28th, towards midday, I reached the hospital with my baskets. The Grand Duke sent me back the dishes of the day before and wrote me a note in which he complained of headache. Some days before, they had taken a way his room from him and placed him with a Colonel K , who was very attentive indeed to him. While I was reading this note I saw an automobile arrive and a soldier get out of it. I paid no attention and continued on my way back to town. Later, I learnt that this automobile. had come to fetch my beloved Grand Duke and to take him to the Gorochovala - Iater to put him to death.

That same day, before dinner, I received a word from the young nurse:

"They have just taken him to the Gorochovaia with his things. Perhaps it is to set him free. Find out at once."

In the evening, after dinner, I hastened to Gorky's. He was at Moscow and they were expecting his return on the morning of Thursday, January 17th/30th. All this seemed to me to augur well.

On Wednesday, January 16th/29th, although it was not one of my days for taking food to my husband. I went out to the Island of Golodai in the hope of seeing one of the ferocious Commissaries and learning my husband's fate. One of them gave me a very bad reception:

"How do you venture to come here out of the time fixed? " he exclaimed. "And in any case you need not come back any more - your husband is no longer here."

I pretended to know nothing.

"He is no longer here! Where is he then? "

"I have no accounts to render to you. And now, Citizeness Paley, if I have any advice to give you, it is -get out of this! If not --"

I saw that I should achieve nothing this time, and I assured myself that at least the Grand Duke had his food with him for the day, but his headache tormented me; I assured myself that next day, Thursday, I shonld bring the food to Gorochovala, that Gorky would arrive at midday. . . The most beautiful, most rose-coloured dreams beguiled me. Already I had begun to think how I should install him in the two fine, big rooms in which I was living.

It was with these ideas in my mind that I went down to dinner with Mlle. Ponomareff and Koni on Wednesday evening, January 16th/29th. The memory of that evening has since remained fixed in my mind mournfully as though engraved upon it. My old friend, Constantine Hartong, played the piano marvellously, but instead of calming me the music upset my nerves that evening, I went up to my own rooms towards eleven o'clock, and putting my fur coat round me I fell asleep at once. Suddenly, at three in the morning, I woke up with a start. I distinctly heard a voice saying to me:

"I am killed" (in Russian, oubit).

Panting for breath, I looked about for matches - the electric light was working no longer. My hands trembled so that I could not succeed in striking the matches against the box. At last a feeble light shot up. There was no one, All was calm and tranquil round me. "Mon Dieu, !" I thought to myself. "What a state my nerves must be in that I should hear voices! I must lie down again and go to sleep," At five o'clock, and then again at seven, I heard the same voice and the same word, oubit, and in spite of that, not for an instant did I believe that mv beloved husband was in question.

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