'MY PERSONAL BUSINESS'
Alexandra Feodorovna never understood how the affairs of her family could interest the whole country. 'It is my personal business', she would say again and again during the Tsar's illness; 'I wish people would not meddle in my affairs.' She took up the same attitude each time the sick Cesarevitch had a relapse.
That attitude was to have important political consequences.
The Tsar was staying at Livadia when he fell rather seriously ill with typhoid fever. Before typhoid had been definitely diagnosed, Freedericksz asked the Empress, through one of her maids of honour, for an, audience. The Empress came down into the garden, and when she learned that the Minister wanted to see the Tsar she categorically refused to let him. He had to explain at length that under the fundamental laws of the Empire the personal intercourse between the Sovereign and the Government could not be interrupted for a moment. If the Tsar was unable to receive his Ministers a regency would have to be set up at once.
The Empress indignantly rejected this last suggestion, but promised that she would let Freedericksz - but no one else - see the patient on the following morning. Freedericksz went away thoroughly embarrassed and in doubt what to do. He asked the Court surgeon, Dr. Hirsch, to convey to the Tsar at his next consultation the message that Freedericksz felt it important that he should be admitted every day without exception to the Sovereign's sick-room, even if only for a few moments. In that way the letter of the law could be considered to have been observed.
This was done. The Tsar's view of a regency was sought by an indirect reference to the question Freedericksz asked whether he would not wish his brother Michael to be asked to come to see him. The Tsar sided with his wife:
'No, no! Mischa will get everything into a mess: he is so easily imposed on.'
In the end it was decided that Freedericksz should have a daily audience, and that all reports sent in by the other Ministers should be submitted to the Tsar through him.
It was not easy, indeed it proved impossible, to carry this out.
The Empress guarded the sick-room like a veritable Cerberus. She did not even admit people for whom the Tsar had sent. As for Freedericksz, most of his visits were reduced to a few minutes behind a screen, out of sight of the Tsar, and with no possibility of speaking a word to him. The consequence was an accumuulation of urgent business.
It was at this stage that the Empress began to make a practice of giving 'orders' concerning affairs of state. Until then she had only had to do with her maids of honour and the female staff in attendance on the children. Suddenly, at a day's notice, we saw her take the affairs of the State into her hands.
At that time the Empress had three maids of honour, Princess E. Obolenskaya, Princess S. Orbeliani, and Mlle A. Olenina - manifestly an insufficient number. She summoned back from Rome Princess Marie Victorovna Bariatinskaya, a former maid of honour with whom she had broken off all communications for some three years past. This lady, who had a great deal of energy and plenty of common sense, at once established herself as a sort of Chief of Staff to the Empress. She discussed with me and with Ministers the problems that the Empress wanted to settle, and 'prepared' solutions that would be satisfactory to her mistress. We saw at once that Her Majesty's 'orders' were going beyond the petty instructions to be given to 'Cutlet Colonels' (as the junior officers in subordinate posts at the Court, responsible only for matters coming within the very limited range of the affairs of the palace, were nicknamed), and were infringing the provinces of all the Ministers. The consequence was that Freedericksz found himself at times in a very delicate situation, especially as the maids of honour, in passing on the Empress's 'orders' to his subordinates, frequently asked them to 'keep these orders secret - don't tell the Minister of the Court'.
We began to realize the Empress's inadequacy to the task that she had determined to undertake.
THE GERMAN PRINCESS
She was a princess from a petty German principality, and she remained true to type throughout her life. An excellent mother, an economical housewife, 'houseproud', she had never developed the qualities that go to make a true Empress. She had not even succeeded in becoming Russian at heart or in sympathy. Right up to her tragic end she never brought herself to converse in Russian; she used that language, as is well known, only when talking to servants and to the Orthodox clergy. This was all the stranger since her own sister, the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, grew completely, radically 'Russified' in a very short time. Elizabeth filled all who knew her with deep love and admiration. The Empress never attempted to follow her sister's example.
'I recall an incident that occurred during one of Their Majesties' visits to the Crimea. The Empress was expecting a baby. On leaving St. Petersburg she had told the Minister of the Court that she did not want to have an receptions on the journey or any watching crowds in the towns they passed through. Freedericksz informed the Minister of the Interior of this.
In spite of all the precautions of the police, as we came to one little station we saw a crowd of people in their Sunday best. At the sight of them the Empress at once had all the blinds of her car drawn.
The provincial governor was on the station platform, and urged that His Majesty should come for A moment to the window; he felt it would be a 'blunder' to make his police send away a crowd that had waited a good part of the night simply in order to catch a fleeting glimpse of their sovereign. The people there, he urged, were all filled with a feeling of veneration for their Emperor, and it was impossible to have them hustled by gendarmes.
Freedericksz went into Their Majesties' compartment and conveyed to them the governor's very reasonable representations. The Tsar made a move towards the window, but the Empress said to him at once that he had no right to encourage even indirectly 'those who were not carrying out his orders.' Freedericksz felt it necessary once more to press the matter. The Tsar gave way, and went to one of the windows. The enthusiasm of the crowd was indescribable. But the Empress would not move her curtain an inch. The children pressed their faces against the slits on either side between curtain and window frame. They too had received a strict injunction not to let themselves be seen.
Marie Feodorovna, the Dowager Empress, learned, I do not know through what channel, of Freedericksz's happy intervention. Her comment was:
'If she was not there Nicky would be twice as popular. She is a regular German. She thinks the Imperial family should be "above that sort of thing.." What does she mean? Above winning the people's affection? There's no need to go in for what I should call vulgar ways of seeking popularity. Nicky himself has all that is required for popular adoration; all he needs to do is to show himself to those who want to see him. How many times I have tried to make it plain to her. She won't understand; perhaps she hasn't it in her to understand. And yet, how often she complains of the public indifference towards her.'
Freedericksz himself told me at length of this conversation, immediately after an audience which Marie Feodorovna had granted him.
THE CARRIAGE PROBLEM
That was not the only occasion on which the narrowness of the Empress's outlook - a narrowness instilled into her in the petty court of Hesse and on the Rhine - was productive of difficulties.
During the visit to Compiegne Alexandra Feodorovna made terrible difficulties over the famous question of carriages.
Etiquette required that the Tsar should ride with President Loubet in the first carriage. The Empress would follow in a second carriage with the Mistress of the Robes, Mme Naryshkin, by her side.
All went well until the Tsar had to go on horseback for the manoeuvres. The existing rules of procedure require that the President of the Republic shall not appear to the troops otherwise than in a carriage. It was thus impossible for him to follow the Tsar's example. He must appear in a carriage but in what carriage?
'Why, of course,' M. Crozier, Chef du Protocole, explained to us, 'in the Empress's carriage, by her side.'
The Empress would not hear of it. The Tsar of all the Russias on horseback, to all appearance 'escorting' the President! It was impossible. The President must ride in a separate carriage from hers, although that would look as if he were in the Tsar's suite.
In the end we found a solution at Compiegne which avoided wounding French susceptibilities. We had to resort to a subterfuge. This message was sent to M. Crozier:
'The Tsar will start in President Loubet's carriage. On arrival at the manoeuvres, he will leave the carriage and mount his horse. Would it be possible at that stage to bring up the second carriage, the Empress's, and to arrange for Mme Naryshkin to get out of the carriage so that the President could take the place left vacant by the Mistress of the Robes?'
'President Loubet,' our Masters of Ceremonies hinted, 'will not think of subjecting an old lady, one of the highest dignitaries of the Court, to such an affront.'
The French, gallant as always, gave way to our arguments, and President Loubet remained in his carnage.
For the ceremonial review the discussions had to begin all over again. Up to the last moment the French insisted that the President must accompany the Empress in her carriage. But she held out, and left in a carriage in which Mme Naryshkin had taken her place beside her. President Loubet had to rest content with a second carriage, in which he was joined by M. WaldeckRousseau, the Prime Minister.
Next year, when President Loubet returned the visit of the Russian sovereigns, the same difficulties came up again. There could be no reason why the head of an allied and friendly State should not be found room in the Empress's carriage.
This time the Empress employed another stratagem. The Tsar would go on horseback; the President would be in the Empress's carriage. But the carriage would be transformed into a sort of family charabanc: there would be two seats at the back, for the Empress and the President, and two in front, facing the horses, in which the Dowager Empress and Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna would ride.
This vehicle was constructed.
But now protests came from Marie Feodorovna. The state coaches had no coachman, being conducted by postilions; consequently the front part, in which the Dowager Empress was to sit, looked like a coachman's seat -a box seat, indeed; for, to add to her disgust, it was raised up.
But the young Empress had the final say. The whole ceremony was carried through in the way she wanted.
THE ALMANACH DE GOTHA CENSORED
The Empress had her own peculiar notion of the omnipotence of the Tsars of Russia. I recall the incident of the Almanach de Gotha. Her Majesty imagined that in my capacity of head of the Court censorship I was in a position to impose her will on a work of reference published abroad.
One day, on the way back from Tsarskoe Selo, Freedericksz told me that the Empress had been extremely annoyed by a headline in the Almanach. She wanted this annual to be forbidden to use the following description in the chapter devoted to Russia:
The Almanach must be made to delete the first two names, on pain of being excluded from Russian territory.
I had had plenty of trouble over this already. Regularly every year the editorial office of the Almanach sent me proofs of the pages dealing with Russia. Regularly every year I entered the names of the newly appointed dignitaries, and cut out the words 'Holstein-Gottorp'. And regularly every year the editorial staff, with equal care, made every change I had indicated except this last one: they retained the words 'Holstein-Gottorp'. In the end I wrote to them, and received the reply that in their view the name of the dynasty could not be modified, since it depended on the historic fact that the Emperor Paul was the son of the Duke of Holstein-Gottorp.
To ban this annual, so well known throughout the world, would, it seemed to me, be ridiculous, and I begged Freedericksz to submit a report from me to the Tsar, so that he could rescind the Empress's order. Freedericksz preferred to submit my report to the Empress herself. She sent for me at once.
'Are you really unable to get these two words cut out?'
'I have already written,' I replied, 'to the editor, and have been met with a refusal.'
'But suppose I authorized you to say that it is my wish that these two words should be suppressed?'
'We should run the risk of being given quotations from the historic documents which exist to prove that the dynasty should bear the name Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov. They might also send a troublesome article to the Press.'
'Then there is nothing left,' she concluded, 'but to prohibit the entry of the book into Russia.'
'That, Madam, is even more impracticable. There would be a world-wide scandal. The story would go round everywhere that the most legitimist of all books, the aristocratic almanach par excellence, had been banned by the Russian censorship! The two words in dispute would at once be discovered, and irreparable harm would be done. As things are, the Russian public has not the least interest in this question of the dynastic title. If the decree banning the Almanach goes out, the one subject of conversation in every diplomat's drawing-room will be this particularly delicate problem.'
Finally I suggested that Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna, nee Princess of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, might find a way of making the editor-in-chief of the calendar listen to reason.
The Empress cut the audience short, and never returned to the subject of the two offending words.
Alexandra Feodorovna was habitually economical down to the smallest details. I recall the incident of the allowance proposed for Mme Vyrubova.
Mme Vyrubova was in an exceptional situation at the Empress's Court. She had not, strictly speaking, any official function, and did not seek any. Every day the Empress sent for her to the Palace; the two spent hours together at music, or talking and working at their embroidery. The Empress openly called her her 'personal friend'. It was Mme Vyrubova who was Rasputin's principal advocate with the Empress, and Alexandra Feodorovna felt that some of the authority which the Staretz exercised over her descended even to the devotee of so extraordinary a man.
Freedericksz knew that the Taneyev family, to which Mme Vyrubova belonged by birth, was none too well off. Her daily visits to the Palace, and the dressing and preparation for the many journeys she made with the Empress, whom she accompanied almost everywhere, could not but be a heavy drain on her private resources.
One day, therefore, Freedericksz suggested to the Empress that a position at Court should be created for Mme Vyrubova, and asked for authority to make her a sufficient allowance to enable her to hold her own among the very rich people who made up the society at Court.
The Empress showed little interest in the idea of creating a new post:
'Am I not entitled to choose my friends where I like?'
In regard to the allowance she made, no objection. Freedericksz asked what figure should be fixed. Alexandra Feodorovna replied that the amount was to be 2,000 roubles, equivalent to 200 pounds per annum! Freedericksz pointed out the inadequacy of the allowance, but the Empress held to her decision.
She was economical even in providing for her own children. The Emperor's private office had received instructions to buy three pearls for each of the Tsar's daughters each time she had a birthday, so that they might have fine necklaces when they grew up. Prince Obolensky, the head of the private office, suggested again and again that it would be better to buy four duly assorted necklaces and to give one of them to of the four children on her birthday; odd pearls would never make satisfactory necklaces and would cost more in the end. But the Empress insisted that the necklaces would cost too much. Obolensky, however, consulted Freedericksz, and with his approval bought the four necklaces.
Still more symptomatic was an incident that occurred at the time of the state visit of King Edward to Reval in 1908.
The number of decorations awarded on this occasion was relatively small. All the important personalities in the Tsar's suite had received presents instead of decorations, presents which the King had made a point of giving personally.
We had to follow the same procedure. Soon after the arrival of the Victoria and Albert I had got into touch with Ponsonby (now Lord Ponsonby), who was one of our guest's principal aides-de-camp. We agreed to go together to choose gifts suitable to the situation and the tastes of each of the intended recipients.
Ponsonby showed the most perfect tact; it had been a delicate task, but we felt that we had got through it with credit.
I sought an audience of the Tsar in order to deliver the gifts to him, and suggested that he should hand them personally to the various officials of King Edward's Court. But at this stage the Empress said she wanted to see the gifts we had chosen.
She said at once, to my dismay, that she was going to change the destination of certain cigarette-cases. All my arrangements were in danger of being thrown into confusion.
'Besides,' the Empress said to me, crushingly, 'these presents are all much too expensive. Another time, please let me see them beforehand!'
The only thing I could do was to pull out of my pocket the massive gold cigarette-case which the King of England had just presented to me. It was covered with black enamel, and had the royal monogram in diamonds. This case was of greater value than any of the objects at that moment in the Tsar's hands. The Empress herself had to admit it. I took advantage of her momentary confusion to get the Tsar to proceed to the distribution.
SHE WAS NEVER POPULAR
Alexandra Feodorovna had never succeeded in winning popularity in the country of her adoption. A whole series of unlucky events had completed the work of her morbid timidity in preventing it.
She was only seventeen when she came for the first time to St. Petersburg, to see her elder sister, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna. She met the heir to the throne, who was later to become her husband. Nicholas Alexandrovitch was then twenty-one, and the young princess made such an impression on him that people at once began talking of a love match.
Nicholas told his father before the princess left that he wanted to marry her; but Alexander III would not hear of an engagement. He considered that Nicholas was too young to marry. As for the Empress Marie Feodorovna, she showed a strong dislike of the idea of 'a German girl'. Bismarck's annexation of Schleswig-Holstein in 1864 had, of course, brought a deep estrangement between Copenhagen and Berlin.
In a Court everybody knows everybody else's business. 'Society' in St. Petersburg was impregnated with the nationalist ideas of which the Tsar himself was full; and the occasion was seized for an exhibition of the Teutophobia so fashionable at the time. The princess from Hesse was treated with undisguised contempt; industriously mocked at behind her back, and made the subject of stories busily invented and as busily passed round.
Alix Victoria Helen Louise Beatrice of Hesse-Darmstadt was old enough already to realize what was going on on all sides, and strongly resented it.
Her marriage in 1894 took place in painful and tragic circumstances, which made an unfortunate impression on the mass of the Russian people. Alexander III had fallen seriously ill. Grand Duke Michael Nicolayevitch, the oldest member of
the Imperial family, had gone to see the Tsar and had broken to him the news of the dangerous nature of his malady (acute nephritis), and of the urgent need, in consequence, for Nicholas Alexandrovitch to take a wife as soon as possible. The Tsar gave his consent. The Grand Duke learned from the Cesarevitch that he would never marry any other princess than the one he had loved since 1889. The necessary formalities took a good deal of time, and it was not until four weeks after his father's death that Nicholas II went through the religious ceremony of his marriage.
Shoulders were shrugged all over Russia.
Next spring, in Moscow, at the popular merrymaking organized on May 18th in honour of the coronation, there was a disaster which gave everybody in Russia, where everybody was superstitious, occasion for predicting that Alexandra Feodorovna would be dogged by misfortune.
There were to be great celebrations in the open air at Hodynka, near Moscow. The news that everybody was to receive a gift with the monogram of the young Imperial couple spread like wildfire. The police forces were insufficient to control the crowd; the barriers were broken down by the thousands of men, women, and children who had settled on the field of Hodynka since the evening before. Hundreds were trampled to death, and many unfortunates were pinned and suffocated, unable to escape from the pressure of the human torrent around them.
'Ill omen!' 'She is bringing us bad luck!' Such was the impression produced by Princess Alix of Hesse on the Russian masses.
As Empress, Alexandra Feodorovna failed equally to gain the allegiance of Court circles and of St. Petersburg society.
She was excessively timid; and she had no liking for society talk and no aptitude for that delicate art. She thus earned a reputation for hauteur.
Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna, aunt of Nicholas II, set out to 'nurse' her, to guide her through the social labyrinth of petty rivalries and jealousies; she met with repeated rebuffs, the more violent since the Empress sought to conceal her timidity beneath a surface show of assurance and energy and strength of will, The Empress found herself faced in consequence with the hostility not only of the Court of the Empress Dowager, which was gradually outshone as the Court of the young Empress grew in importance, but of the still more important Court, from the social point of view, of the Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna.
Aged and very respectable ladies ventured into the presence of Alexandra Feodorovna, full of good intentions, and ventured to offer a little sensible advice: they received sharp and stinging answers. They went away mumbling words that they had not dared to speak aloud; one is always full of bright ideas of what one might have said. What the old ladies did say subsequently, in the bitterness of their outraged dignity and amour-propre, drifted back in due course to the Court, garbled, taken out of its context, and deliberately accentuated in its malice. There followed open breaches; Alexandra Feodorovna found herself almost without a friend; and thereafter the personal humiliations suffered by the Empress were hailed as so many triumphs for 'society'.
"AS FOR MY HOSPITALS"
A characteristic incident remains vivid in my memory. The war was going on and on, more and more murderously. The Tsar had invited Freedericksz, who was very ill, to go for a rest to the Crimea. I went with him, for there were fears that his state might become critical. Almost immediately after we reached the Crimea we received a telegram saying that the Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna was coming on a visit. The question arose how to arrange for the Tsar's aunt during her stay.
There could be no question of putting her up in the Palace; Freedericksz knew that the idea would be thoroughly disagreeable to the Empress. Apart from that, the Palace was undergoing its annual renovation. We decided that it would be possible to fit up for the use of the Grand Duchess a set of rooms in the house occupied by the Imperial suite. We telegraphed to the Marshal of the Court, Count Benckendorff, to send us cooks, servants, and utensils. He replied that there was not time to do what we wanted.
Freedericksz showed utter astonishment at this cool reply; Count Benckendorff had always been equal to any task imposed on him. I realized at once that the telegram had been sent off with the Empress's knowledge, perhaps by her direct order.
I increased the number of workmen at the Palace, to make it more plainly uninhabitable; I had bits of scaffolding put up everywhere. Freedericksz lent me his own chef; we borrowed a sufficiency of silver from my sister-in-law, Countess Nirod; the necessary motorcars were lent by the Transport Department. I had the quarters of the Imperial suite decorated with flower-boxes.. When the Grand Duchess arrived she expressed her delight with the arrangements made for her.
Next day we visited the hospitals at Yalta and within the precincts of Livadia, a domain which the Tsar had presented to his wife; then we went on to Gourzouf, a spot visited by all who came to the Crimea.
As we got into the cars the Grand Duchess, to my astonishment, asked her maid of honour, Mlle Oliv, to go in the second car, and made a sign to me to sit by her side, a thing quite against the rules of Court etiquette.
We had scarcely passed through the gates of Livadia when she took a telegram out of her bag and passed it to me with a hand that trembled. The telegram was in English:
'Am astonished that you should be at Livadia without having asked the lady of the house. As for my hospitals, I know that they are in good order.
'What impertinence!' she said to me, flushed with anger. 'Anyhow, here is the answer I am sending.'
I read an endless message. Heavens! there was no mincing of words in it.
'I hope your Highness has not yet sent off this telegram?
'No,' she answered, 'I wanted to see what you think.'
We discussed the draft, word by word, throughout the journey. I heaved a great sigh of relief when at last the Grand Duchess said to me:
'You are right -I will leave it unanswered. It would be beneath my dignity, at my age, to take any notice of a piece of tactlessness on the part of a woman, and a princess at that, who had to come to me to learn how to behave in society-' And so on, until the moment of our arrival at Gourzouf.
THE EMPRESS'S FRIENDS
Apart from the problem of Rasputin, little happened to disturb the Empress's peace. She was completely satisfied with her family life. It would have been impossible for her to find food for jealousy; her husband devoted every free moment to her.
Any time when the Tsar was not there was taken up with the care of her children-to whom she was was the tenderest of mothers-or spent in conversation with her maids of honour. There was deep affection between the Empress and Princess Orbeliani, an intelligent, graceful, elegant woman with a caustic wit.
But the time came when Princess Orbeliani was struck down by the malady which brought her, after terrible sufferings, to her grave. One day at Spala, while we were waiting for Their Majesties to come to dinner, she fell to the ground for no apparent reason. Hirsch, the Court surgeon, told me that that was a very serious sign, the first symptom of creeping paralysis, which was hereditary in her mother's family.
The Princess was aware of the fate that awaited her; she faced it with great courage. One day, when talking to me, she pointed to four sorts of crutches standing in one of the corners of her room.
'So many years for this simple one,' she said, 'so many months for the next, more complicated one, and so on. My mother passed through it all, and I know exactly what I have to expect.'
The progress of the malady was very rapid. That did not prevent the Princess from accompanying Her Majesty wherever she went-on train journeys, to Livadia, to Spala, on board the yacht. The Empress went to see her every day, and told her the latest news. Her Majesty had to conceal from the Princess any new friendship that she formed. If ever the Princess suspected that the Empress had been unmindful of their long intimacy she made terrible scenes in her jealousy, with never-ending tears and reproaches. She lay helpless for eight years on her bed of suffering before death released her.
As the Princess's condition grew worse it became easier for the Empress to enjoy the society of her friend Madame Vyrubova. This admirer of Rasputin had discovered another sensitive chord in the enigmatic heart of the Empress through posing as a 'poor little orphan adrift in the world' and in need of petting and care, 'Vyrubova' tactics lay in alternating scenes of jealousy with despairing appeals for protection to one whom she looked upon as a second mother or as her big sister. The part was congenial to the Empress, who was always ready to act as guide and counsellor, if only to one of the ladies of her Court.
There remain to be mentioned the maids of honour less intimately associated with the Empress (Princess Obolenskaya, Mlle Olenina, Countess Hendrikov), the principal Lady in Waiting to the Empress, Madame Geringer, and Fraulein Schneider, whose official title was Reader to the Court; unofficially she was in charge of the children, That exhausts the list of those who gravitated around the Empress.
I do not know of a single case of an invitation being sent by the Empress to any person outside the restricted circle of the Court and her immediate entourage. Even the Grand Duchesses only made rare visits to her, either on various anniversaries which had become regular occasions for celebration, or on actual invitation to tea or lunch. No artist, no writer, no man of learning, even of world renown, was ever Admitted to the Tsarina's intimate circle. She felt that the fewer people she saw, the better!
When her husband went to G.H. Q. and she took upon herself the direction of affairs of state, the Empress proceeded by trial and error on her own initiative; instead of following steadily and intelligently along the lines indicated by her husband, she tried to co-ordinate her own ideas with those of 'our friend' (Rasputin) and made it impossible for those Ministers who took their office seriously to get anything done.
There was a short period of close friendship with the two Montenegrin princesses, Militza and Anastasia (Stana). Sometimes the Empress would go to Dulber (the domain of Grand Duke Peter Nicolayevitch, the husband of Princess Militza), and pass long hours there; sometimes the Montenegrin ladies would come and shut themselves up with the Empress in her apartments in Livadia.
This friendship, suddenly formed and abruptly broken off, was always an enigma to me. Their bringing-up had given the two Montenegrin ladies nothing in common with the descendant of a long line of German and British sovereigns. The two princesses were exceedingly dark, almost black, and were in striking contrast to one who admitted only one superior - the foremost lady of her epoch, Queen Victoria.
It has always been said that the friendship was based on the common interest of all three in spiritualism. Both at Dulber and at Strelna, the Grand Duke's winter residence, near St. Petersburg, there were table turnings and consultations of spirits; dead Tsars answered the call of the mediums. The Emperor himself was said to have taken part in the seances, which were carried on by two foreign occultists named Papus and Philippe. This seems to have been the first manifestation of this tendency to a morbid mysticism, which later on enabled Rasputin to gain a footing at Court.
Papus was soon expelled, on an order from the Tsar himself. Philippe lasted longer, but he too was got rid of in the end. A Paris detective, M. Ratchkovsky, was instructed to undertake an elaborate investigation of Philippe's antecedents; his report was so enlightening that Philippe was told to clear out. Immediately after Philippe's disappearance from the scene Ratchkovsky himself was relieved of his post - why? Nobody knows.
In any case, in this first crisis of occultism the Tsar had the energy to intervene effectually. What a pity that he did not do the same with regard to the man who took up on his own account the 'occult' methods
of Papus, and forged for himself an unparalleled influence, seasoning the Papus dish with a sauce made up of elements of the mujik, the mystic, the sectary, and probably the blasphemer.
I will add only a few words concerning the people whom I found Rasputin had attracted to his side when I came back from Jassy for a short stay at Petrograd in 1917It would be too painful to dwell on what I witnessed at the time. I was concerned to discover who these persons were, in order to establish the influences that had inspired the latest appointments. 'Which of the ladies has influence with the Empress?' I asked.
Some said 'Munia' Golovina, niece of Princess Paley. Others indicated Princess Guedroytz, the head hysician of Her Majesty's hospital, an entirely masculine woman. Others said to me in a tone of surprise:
'Why, don't you know Mlle So-and-so, the head sister? She dictates to the Empress who is to have every important post.'
I asked a friend who lived at Tsarskoe Selo. He knew all these people, without being 'one of them'. He told me that these ladies were sisters of charity, of good family, and were trying to make a show of possessing great influence but probably had less than they imagined.
It was an utter nightmare. I only felt safe once more when I took train again to Jassy.
Alexandra Feodorovna was deeply and sincerely devout. She gained in her early youth a knowledge and love of the Orthodox service) with its wealth of symbolic ceremonial. As soon as she became engaged to our heirapparent she was prepared for conversion to the faith of her adoption.
Sincere in all that she did, she protested vehemently against that part of the ritual of conversion to the Orthodox religion in which the neophyte had to make a theatrical renunciation of the errors of her past religion. The ritual included the act, instituted in the Middle Ages, of 'spitting thrice on the ground' in evidence of contempt for the religion formerly professed. Our clergy were asked to suppress this painful ceremony in the case of the young German princess.
On many occasions I was able to watch the Empress during the long services of the Orthodox Church, in which the congregation stands from beginning to end. She stood erect and motionless-'like a taper', as a peasant who had seen her said. Her face was completely transfigured, and it was plain that for her the prayers were no mere formality.
Father Alexander, who became her confessor and personal chaplain, read aloud a series of prayers which, under the Orthodox rubric, priests are required to read sotto voce before the altar. Her Majesty was fond of the service as Father Alexander conducted it, and never grew weary.
Later, when she had become weak through illness, she had a private chapel installed, from which the whole of the service in the church at Livadia could be heard. It was only with reluctance that in the end she had a small sofa placed in the chapel, so that she could lie down if she grew too tired.
At Tsarskoe Selo the Empress preferred the sombre transept of the Feodor Cathedral, which had been built in accordance with her personal indications.
Rasputin's 'preaching' fell on a soil long prepared and eager to assimilate every mystical revelation.
The Empress's activities fell into two very different categories. When she was concerned with affairs of state she submitted herself to an occult and disastrous influence, and dissipated her energies in sterile efforts.
But when she was occupied with matters within her competence she showed herself a very efficient organizer. She showed her capacity in the installation of hospital trains, convalescent homes, and hospitals. In such matters she knew how to gather round her persons of ability and energy.
It is right that her success in that field should be acknowledged. Fate dealt hardly with this woman.
The story of the heroic courage shown by the Empress in captivity is beyond the scope of this work.