'THE CESAREVITCH: HIS PRECARIOUS HEALTH'
The children were objects of Their Majesties' special solicitude. My duties left me little time for observation of the heir to the throne and the Grand Duchesses. They grew up almost without my noticing it. The maids of honour were not authorized to take any part in their education. (Princess Orbeliani and the Mistress of the Robes were exceptions to this rule.) Thus few intimate details about the children's life could become generally known.
At first the Cesarevitch was a bright and lively boy. His terrible malady (haemophilia) only showed itself later. I well remember the way he used to put in his appearance at table, when dessert was being served, as a baby of three or four years. He would go to his parents and chatter a little to them, and then make the round of the guests, talking to them without the least sign of timidity. He used to slip under the table and catch hold of the ladies' shoes; if they started he would be greatly amused. Once he pulled off the slipper of one of the maids of honour and carried it away as a trophy to his father, who told him to put it back. He plunged under the table. Suddenly the maid of honour screamed. Before putting the slipper on her foot the Cesarevitch had put into it an enormous strawberry. The cold wet mush made the young lady jump out of her chair.
The child was scolded and sent back to his room, and for a considerable time he was forbidden to appear at the dinner-table, much to his grief.
Even after the first signs of his malady showed themselves, the Cesarevitch kept his high spirits; but if one watched him closely one could see his face cloud over; sometimes it would lose all its brightness and become sickly and lifeless.
Repeated efforts were made to find a boy of his own age who could be a playmate for the Cesarevitch. At first sailors' sons were tried; then the children and nephews of Derevenko, the Cesarevitch's attendant (diadka in Russian - 'little uncle' - that is to say, guardian and confidant and nurse for the boy). In the end the attempt was abandoned.
M. Gilliard, the Cesarevitch's tutor, an incomparable teacher and a man of the highest intelligence, often told me that the boy's education presented enormous difficulties. Scarcely had a course of study begun when the Cesarevitch would fall ill; the effusions of blood brought him terrible suffering; he spent whole nights groaning and begging for help that no one could give him. His malady exhausted him and set his nerves on edge; and in that state the little sufferer came back to his lessons, with everything to begin afresh.
Could this poor little unfortunate be blamed if he proved wanting in diligence and concentration?
THE TOBOGGANS OF SOLID SILVER
Two incidents that I recall show how simple and rudimentary were the amusements of the Grand Duchesses as young children, how easily they were pleased.
The first occurred while the Imperial train had stopped in the neighbourhood of Roshkovo, in Moscow county. The Tsar was inspecting the troops of the region, and his train stopped in the open country for five days.
There were long hours with nothing to do, and one day Grand Duchess Olga, the Tsar's sister, invented a new sort of sport for her nieces. The train was standing at the top of a high embankment, and advantage was taken of the slope to enable them to toboggan - in the middle of August! It would have been difficult to find sledges, but that was not allowed to stand in the way of the sport. Silver salvers were fetched from the pantry. Each of the children had her own salver; they slid down and then climbed up again with the salvers on their backs.
The children were so delighted that it was decided to go on with the tobogganing after dinner, in the presence of Their Majesties. One of the military attaches asked me, with some apprehension, whether the guests would have to engage in the new sport. I hastened to reassure him.
One of the maids of honour set off first, to act as judge at the finishing point. General Strukov, A.D.C., announced to the children that he was going to be the first to get to the bottom. When the signal was given to start he made one jump in his gala uniform, with the ribbon of Alexander Nevsky over his shoulder, his diamondstudded sword of honour (he had taken Adrianople in the 1877 campaign) in his hand; he precipitated himself down the twenty feet of the embankment, and sank up to his knees in the slipping sand. How did he manage to come unscathed out of that risky adventure?
THE LIVE SABLE
The second incident is that of the live sable which was brought straight from the depths of Siberia.
One day I had an urgent report for the Tsar to draw up, and had given orders that I would not see any one. Suddenly my senior and confidential messenger came into my office.
'What is it? Is there any need for me to be disturbed?'
'I venture to mention to Your Excellency that an old peasant and his wife have just arrived straight from Siberia. They have brought a live sable as a present for His Majesty. The man insisted that I should announce him to Your Excellency. He says he has not the means to pay for a night's lodging.'
'And you took pity on him?'
'I cannot deny it.'
'Bring him in.'
A very attractive old man came in, a woman accompanying him. He said: 'I am a hunter. One day I caught a sable alive. I have succeeded in taming it, with my wife's help. We decided to make a present of it to the Little Father Tsar. It is a wonderful sable. We got together all the money we had, and here we are.'
He produced his sable, and it jumped at once on to my desk and began sniffing at the dockets of papers concerning Court appointments. The old man gave a peculiar whistle, and the sable jumped into his arms and took refuge behind the lapel of his caftan (a sort of long frock-coat), leaving only the tip of its snout visible.
'How did you get to St. Petersburg?'
'The money we had lasted us as far as Moscow. We were just getting ready to do the rest of the journey on foot when a gentleman-may the Lord preserve him! -gave us the money for a fresh ticket. We arrived this morning and set off at once for the Winter Palace. The officer on guard sent us on to you. We haven't a kopek left: but we should like to see the Little Father Tsar!'
I decided that a live sable would delight the Grand Duchesses; they were quite children then. I gave the old man a little money and left him in charge of my messenger.
I took care, of course, to find out from the old man whom he could name in Siberia that had knowledge of him.
'Before leaving,' he said, 'I went to see the governor of the province; he told me he couldn't prevent me from going, but that I had no chance at all of being received by the Tsar. He also refused to give me a letter or write anything for me.'
I had a telegram sent to the governor, to make sure that the old man was not a revolutionary. Next day I had an entirely reassuring reply. I telephoned to Princess Orbeliani and told her about the sable. An hour later a message came from the Princess telling me to send the old man and woman and their sable to the palace - 'as quickly as possible, for the children are wild with impatience'.
I sent the messenger with the couple, telling him to bring them back as soon as the audience was over. It was a very long one. The two old people remained over an hour with the children, in the presence of the Empress herself.
'We meant to bring the sable back with us,' the old man told me, and to take it back when a proper cage had been got ready for it. But the children would not part from it. Finally the Tsarina gave the order for the animal to be left with them. I said I absolutely must see the Tsar; I could not go back to Siberia without seeing the Tsar. They told me they would let me know..'
He added, thoughtfully:
'What I'm afraid of is that my sable may make too much of an upset in the Palace. It is not used to apartments like that.'
Next day I received instructions to send the two two peasants to the Palace at 6 p.m. They came back about eight; the sable was once more under the lapel of the old man's caftan.
'It's as I said, he told me. 'The sable couldn't behave properly. And as soon as I got there it made one leap to me.'
'Little Father Tsar,' he went on, dwelling on the words, 'Little Father Tsar came in. We threw ourselves at his feet. The sable looked at him as if it understood that it was the Tsar himself We went into the children's room. The Tsar told me to let the sable go, and the children began to play with it; when I'm there, you see, it doesn't get wild. Then the Tsar told us to sit down on chairs. He began to ask me questions-what made me think of coming to see him and how I managed to get to the Empress.'
The peasant continued, with more and more animation:
'He asked me what things are like in Siberia, how we go hunting... Then the Tsarina said it was time for dinner. Little Father Tsar asked me what had to be done for the sable. When I had explained he told me to send it to the Hunters' Village of Gatchino. But I said:
"Little Father Tsar, that won't do. All the hunters will be wanting to sell the skin of my sable. They will kill it and say the animal had an accident. I know them, those hunters. They have no pity for a live animal."
'The Tsar said:
"I would have chosen a hunter I could trust. But perhaps after all you are right. Take it back with you to Siberia. Look after it as long as it lives. That is an order you have received from me. Go to Mossolov and tell him to give you a good present. But mind, don't forget to look well after the sable; it's my sable now. God be with you!"
Next day, before Freedericksz had begun his report, the Tsar told him of the two hours he had had with the old Siberian hunter.
The old man was given a watch with the Imperial eagle; the old woman received a brooch; they were paid on a generous scale for the sable and given the money for their return journey.
The Grand Duchesses were inconsolable.
'There was no help for it,' they said. 'Papa had made up his mind.'
THEY HAD NO GOVERNESSES
The children were given a fairly comprehensive education; but it was so organized as not to bring them into the company of too many persons, whether teachers or fellow-pupils. At the time when I commenced my service at Court, the Grand Duchesses had no teacher. There were nurses to be seen in their apartments, but that was all. When the nurses had gone the children were virtually without supervision, except, of course, that of their mother. The Empress, however, remained almost always in an arm-chair, motionless, and never spoke to her daughters in the presence of a third party.
To save them from acquiring their mother's timidity, the Grand Duchesses had had lunch with their parents from a very early age; Marie Nicolayevna had done so since she was six. As young girls they were wellbehaved at table, although they were under no supervision-their mother was often absent from lunch, and the maids of honour let the four children alone., as they had received no special instruction to teach them good manners. I must add that after meals, when they mixed with the grown-ups, the princesses did not always behave in the way that one might fairly have expected of the daughters of the Tsar.
Ultimately a teacher was found for them, though she was not officially given that description. Her name was Catherine Adolfovna Schneider. She was a niece of Dr. Hirsch, the Court surgeon, and had been engaged as Russian teacher by Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna after her marriage with Grand Duke Serge. Subsequently she passed into the service of the Empress.
Slender, fragile, self-effacing, this young lady was active everywhere, and ready for any sacrifice. (She was shot by the Bolsheviks somewhere in Siberia.) She adored the Empress and the children. Her capacity for work was astonishing. She taught Alexandra Feodorovna Russian, and was at the same time her private secretary; she did all the shopping for Her Majesty; she accompanied the children whenever they went out. She was infinitely sweettempered and good-hearted. One sole shortcoming she had: the children paid not the slightest attention to anything she said.
The time came when Freedericksz, feeling that there were objections to a young girl being constantly in Their Majesties' presence without having any officially recognized function, created for her the titular position of Reader to the Court.
It was she who gave the Grand Duchesses their first lessons; at this time she was their schoolmistress for all subjects. A little later there was a division of labour; Fraulein Schneider took the children in German (the four sisters all detested the language and refused to learn it); the Empress taught them English; M. Gilliard, the tutor to the Cesarevitch, gave them lessons in French; M. Petrov, a Russian schoolmaster, was in charge of Russian literature and all remaining subjects.
I was always told that if the Grand Duchesses had been at a public school they would all have been among the top ten in their various classes.
THEY HAD NO GIRL FRIENDS
I shall tell elsewhere how the one and only attempt to give the Grand Duchesses a governess properly so-called came to an end. Mlle Tuytcheva remained only a short time at Court.
The four girls grew up surrounded by a large number of servants, but, in spite of their mother's supervision, they were left a great deal to themselves. Not one of them ever had a real girl friend of her own age.
The seven children of Grand Duchess Xenia were the only ones who came to see the Grand Duchesses without ceremony; they would come for tennis and tea - but they were never sent all at one time. The children of the Grand Dukes George and Constantine, aged ten, twelve, and twenty, were never present at these intimate meetings. Countess Emma, the daughter of Count Freedericksz, and a few of the officers of the yacht Standard, were the only persons not related to the Romanovs who joined the Tsar's daughters at play now and then.
To the best of my belief, there was one solitary ball organized for the two eldest of the Grand Duchesses, at Livadia in 1911 or 1912. The Marshal of the Court had been put in charge of the arrangements for this ball, and the officers of the Standard had been invited to come to the dancing, together with some other lieutenants from the Crimean cavalry division. The children long regarded this ball as one of the greatest events in their lives.
Every year a lottery was organized; the Empress and her daughters sold tickets.
In normal times there was a cinema performance every Saturday. The covered riding-school at Livadia had been appropriated for the performances, which were one of the main subjects of conversation for the whole of the week that followed.
The choice of films was a troublesome business. The Empress had settled the programme, once for all, as follows: first, as news film, the record taken during the week by the Court photographer, Jaguelsky, of the firm of Hahn; then an instructional film or a series of attractive views; finally, something amusing for the children. How many times I had to send for Mme Naryshkin, Mistress of the Robes, to view the film! She was solely responsible for deciding what was suitable or not suitable for the children. She was a pitiless censor; again and again the brightest spots in a film would be condemned as indecorous, and Jaguelsky's scissors got to work at once on them.
One day there was a real disaster. I was very busy, and told Jaguelsky not to trouble to show me the news film. 'You are not a beginner, and I don't suppose you could go wrong with nothing to show but Tuesday's review before Her Majesty!'
Jaguelsky confirmed that the film had nothing in it but the review. At the performance we saw the Emperor's arrival; then Count Mussin-Pushkin, A.D.C., the General Commanding the troops in the Odessa region, passed in front of the Sovereign, saluted with his sword, and stood on his right like a statue. Everything was in perfect order.
Then came the catastrophe.
The film went on. It should be explained that at every thirty or forty yards there were soldiers holding little flags; as the troops defiled before the Tsar they had to 'feel' on the right with their shoulders for the imaginary line formed by the 'markers' with the flags, so as to ensure good formation.
The soldiers began to get more and more out of line with the markers. Mussin-Pushkin stood impeccably at attention; but he made a sign with his left arm for the markers' line to be kept better. The soldiers were unable to obey the mute order. The Count's face grew fierce. Finally he clenched his fist and shook it at them, apparently about to tell them in the plainest language what he thought of them.
The children began to laugh. The Emperor bit his lips to keep from laughing too. I was in despair, but could not help smiling; it really was a funny spectacle.
After the performance Their Majesties made not the slightest allusion to what they had seen. I tried to get away as quickly as possible. But I felt my arm seized, and none too gently. It was Count Mussin-Pushkin himself
'My dear chap,' he said, 'what is the meaning of it? What could induce your photographer, how could he dare to show a General in Command of a whole region-like that? And before Their Majesties! I never heard of such a thing!
'Besides, I tell you he is lying! D'you get me? He has some grudge and is lying. I never, never threatened with my fist.
'I take it my word is good enough, and that this damned photographer will be placed under arrest for a week at least.
'To show me in an attitude that I never struck! It's unbelievable!'
The offending section of the film was cut out at once.
THEIR LIFE WAS MONOTONOUS
So the children grew up, living simply, in a tolerable but monotonous existence. They seemed entirely satisfied with their life; it hardly occurred to them that they might agitate for other distractions.
Olga, in 1912, was already seventeen, but she still had the ways of a 'flapper'. She was a blonde; with a face typically Russian in its curve, and a charming complexion and teeth that made her very pretty. Fraulein Schneider said she was 'as good as an angel'.
Tatiana was taller, more slender, and of more distinction; she was the best-looking of all the sisters. She was very reserved and quiet, and difficult to govern.
Marie was distinguished by her muscular strength; she was bright, energetic, and determined to get her own way. She was the least studious of the sisters.
Anastasia, the youngest, had the liveliest intelligence of all four; whoever was sitting next to her had to be prepared for some unexpected question at any moment.
As they grew up, the Grand Duchesses grew more reserved; at first it had been plain that they had never been under supervision.
During the war they passed their examinations as nursing sisters, and worked with their mother in the Palace hospital. They showed a great deal of selfsacrifice and absolute devotion. In that they were but following in their mother's footsteps. The Empress easily acquired an excellent knowledge of everything connected with the organization of hospitals, hospital trains) and sanatoria. In this field she showed herself thoroughly equal to her responsibilities, which at times were very exacting; she was successful in the choice of her immediate collaborators, and gave evidence of exceptional energy.