Volume III - CHAPTER V - DECEMBER 25, 1910-JANUARY 8, 1917
Monday, December 25, 1916.
As Pokrovski informed me on the sixteenth of this month, the Emperor has to-day issued a manifesto to his military and naval forces, telling them that Germany has made an offer of peace and once more expressing his determination to continue the war until full and final victory.
The time for peace, he says, has not yet come. The enemy has not yet been driven from the occupied territories. Russia has not yet performed the tasks this war has set her, by which I mean the possession of Constantinople and the Straits, as well as the restoration of a free Poland, composed of her three portions.
The peroration has a pathetic and personal ring which contrasts vividly with the colourless banality of documents of this kind .
We remain unshaken in our confidence in victory. God will bless our arms: He will cover them with everlasting glory and give us a peace worthy of your glorious deeds. Oh, my glorious troops, a peace such that generations to come will bless your sacred memory!
This noble and courageous language cannot fail to find an echo in the national conscience, and yet it leaves me with an uneasy feeling. The Emperor is too sensible to fail to realize that the Rumanian catastrophe has robbed him of any chance of winning Constantinople, and that his people have long since given up the Byzantine dream. Then why this high-sounding reference to a scheme, the futility of which none knows better than he? By speaking thus, has it been his intention to reply to the current of disaffection towards him which is on the increase among the most devoted servants of the dynasty? Or does he feel that he is lost, " abandoned of God," and has he therefore desired to summarize in a final proclamation or a kind of political will the noble motives, inspired by considerations of national dignity, which justify him in having exposed the Russian nation to the fiery trial of this war? The latter hypothesis appeals to me strongly.
The Rumanians have not yet brought the Austro-German thrust to a standstill they are continuing their retreat towards the Sereth.
Tuesday, December 26, 1916.
With a view to clearing the Russian General Staff of any responsibility f or the Rumanian disaster, General Gourko has just sent the following note to General Joffre
Rumania's entry into the field did not take place under the circumstances we should have deemed best from the point of view of the general plan of campaign. The Rumanians, ignoring the suggestions we considered most convenient for ourselves and most advantageous to them, persisted in forcing upon us a division of forces and programme of operations, and jealously reserving to themselves. the area which is the object of their national claims. Hence a bad distribution of the troops which has hampered all the subsequent course of events.
On the other hand, after a few weeks we were forced to recognize that the military value of our new ally did not come up either to our hopes or expectations. Her army's lack of training and feeble powers of resistance have upset all calculations.
As soon as it was possible to realize the situation, we decided to come to her help by sending her large forces, the number of which speaks eloquently enough for the importance we attached to it. But, apart from the time required for the precautions we had to take on the front from which they were drawn, their movement was delayed to an unprecedented extent by the inadequacy of the railway, an inadequacy which was aggravated by the difference of gauge.
On November 27, when, the position in western Wallachia became threatening, we offered the Rumanian General Staff to send to Bucharest part of the forces we had concentrated on the left flank of the ninth army, abandoning the latter's projected offensive. But the Rumanian General Staff, basing their argument on the impossibility of supplying the rolling-stock required, refused this direct support and asked us to order the offensive of the Ninth Army across the Carpathians in the direction Of Czik-Szereda.
From that moment the sudden collapse of the Rumanian army, when the enemy had crossed the Danube, gave us very little time. The Russian troops were not able to prevent the retreat and our generals, very much against the grain, have been compelled to give ground. The retreat had to continue until their forces were joined by other Russian troops sent to their aid. You may be certain that all steps will be taken to hasten the despatch of further reinforcements. Preparations are also being made to develop the rail ways so as to permit of powerful action, when adequate supplies are available. Once again I assure you that nothing will be left undone to set in motion everything which can repair the situation in Rumania.
Wednesday, December 27, 1916.
There is to be a conference of the Allies in Petrograd towards the end of January. The representatives of the French government will be Doumergue, senator, ex-Président du Conseil and formerly Minister for Foreign Affairs, and General de Castelnau.
In view of the instructions with which our delegates will be armed, I am giving Briand my own ideas on certain subjects. After confirming that the Emperor is still determined to continue the war, I have explained that, for all that, the firmness of his intentions is not a sufficient guarantee from our point of view.
In actual practice, the Emperor is continually at fault. Whether it is that he weakly yields to the importunities of his wife, or that he has neither the intelligence nor the strength of will to dominate his bureaucracy, the fact remains that he is always doing things, or allowing things to be done, which conflict with his policy.
So far as home affairs are concerned, he leaves public opinion to be led by ministers, such as M. Sturmer and M. Protopopov, who are notoriously compromised in Germany's favour, not to mention the fact that he allows a hot-bed of Teutonic intrigues to exist in his own palace. In the economic and industrial sphere, he signs everything put before him. And when an allied Government secures some promise from him which the authorities find inconvenient, it is easy game for them to get him to ratify a decision which indirectly cancels the promise.
From the military point of view, the Rumanian affair is typical. It is more than six months since the President of the Republic, King George and the ambassadors of France and England all told him that the drama opening on the banks of the Danube would be decisive, that it was to Russia's interest more than anyone else's to force her way to Sofia, as the conquest of Constantinople depended upon it, and so on. He promised everything he was asked, and his personal intervention stopped there!
His impotence, or neglect to secure the triumph of his views in the realm of action has done us enormous harm. While France is pulling all her weight in the Alliance, Russia puts forth only a half or a third of the effort of which she is capable. This situation is particularly serious because the critical phase of the war has perhaps begun and the question now is whether Russia will have time to recover all she has lost before the fate of the East is decided.
I am therefore anxious that during the deliberations of the approaching conference the delegate of the Government of the Republic shall endeavour to make the Imperial Government adopt a very definite and detailed programme which will so to speak arm the Emperor against his weaknesses of character and the insidious action of his bureaucracy.
As regards the diplomatic guarantees with which I think we ought to provide ourselves in dealing with Russia, you know my opinion: I will not discuss it now.
From the strategic point of view, the presence of General Gourko at the head of the General Staff permits us to hope that it will be possible to agree upon a very rigid and detailed plan.
The presence of M. Trepov at the head of the Council will also facilitate the conclusion of a detailed agreement on matters of manufacture, transport and supply.
Thursday, December 28, 1916.
I have been questioned several times about Buchanan's relations with the liberal parties, and actually asked in all seriousness if he is not secretly working for a revolution.
On each occasion I have protested with all my might. In the first place, in all our daily conversations, which have been as cordial and frank as anyone could wish, I have never caught a word or a hint, however slight, which has given me ground for thinking that he is in touch with the revolutionary leaders. In any case, all I know of his character would be enough to give the lie to the rôle attributed to him. We have been friends since 1907; we were colleagues at Sofia for four years and passed through the dangerous crisis of Bulgarian independence together; for the last three years we have been working side by side here: we have thus pretty well found each other out. I say that I do not know a more upright man, or a more perfect gentleman, than Sir George Buchanan. He is the soul of honour and loyalty; he would think it an utter disgrace to intrigue against a sovereign to whose court he is accredited.
Old Prince Viazemsky, to whom I have just been talking in this strain, protested with a challenging glance:
"But if his Government has ordered him to encourage our anarchists, he is obliged to do so!"
"If his Government ordered him to steal a fork the next time he dines with the Emperor, do you think he would obey?"
The charge now made against Buchanan by the reactionaries has an historical precedent. After the assassination of Paul I, it was alleged that the plot had been conceived and planned by the British Government. The legend soon gained acceptance; a few years later it was almost the official truth. It was actually embellished with certain details: the ambassador. Lord Whitworth, had personally organized the crime and bribed the participants through his mistress, the beautiful Olga Jerebtsov, a sister of one of the conspirators, Prince Plato Zubov. It was forgotten that Lord Whitworth had left Russia in April, 1800, i.e., eleven months before the tragedy.
Friday. December 29, 1916.
The Union of Zemstvos and the Union of Towns, whose next congress was recently forbidden, have secretly adopted a motion. Its most striking passage runs thus:
Our salvation lies in a deep sense of our responsibility to the country. When power becomes an obstacle in the road to victory, the whole land must shoulder the responsibility for the fate of Russia. The Government, which has become the tool of occult forces, is leading Russia to her ruin and shaking the imperial throne. We must create a government worthy of a great people at one of the gravest moments of its history. In the critical struggle upon which it has entered, may the Duma come up to what the country expects of it! There is not a day to lose!
Countess R - -, who has just spent three days in Moscow ordering clothes from the famous dressmaker, Lomanova, confirms what I have recently heard about the rage of the Muscovites against the imperial family:
"I dined in different circles each evening," she said. "Everywhere one hears the same indignant outcry. If the Emperor appeared on the Red Square to-day, he would be booed. The Empress would be torn to pieces. The kind, warm-hearted and pure-minded Grand Duchess Elizabeth dare not leave her convent now. The workmen accuse her of starving the people. There seems to be a stir of revolution among all classes."
Saturday, December 30, 1916.
About seven o'clock this evening an excellent informer, who is at my service, told me that Rasputin was murdered this morning during a supper at the Yussupov palace. The murderers are said to be young Prince Felix Yussupov, (who married a niece of the Tsar in 1914) the Grand Duke Dimitri, son of the Grand Duke Paul, and Purishkevitch, leader of the Extreme Right in the Duma. Two or three society women are supposed to have been present at supper. The news is still being kept a strict secret.
Before telegraphing to Paris, I tried to obtain some confirmation of what I have just heard.
I immediately went to see Countess K - -. She telephoned to Madame Golovin, a relation of hers and the great friend and protectoress of Rasputin. A weeping voice replied:
"Yes, the Father disappeared last night. No one knows what's become of him. It's a horrible disaster!"
The news was circulating in the Yacht Club by the evening. The Grand Duke Nicholas Michailovitch refused to credit it:
"We've had Rasputin's death announced too often before. Each time he has come back to life, and more powerful than ever!"
However, he telephoned to Trepov, the President of the Council, who replied:
"All I know is that Rasputin has disappeared; I presume he has been murdered. I can't tell you any more: It's the Chief of the Okhrana who has the matter in hand."
Sunday, December 31, 1916.
Rasputin's corpse has not yet been found. The Empress is stricken with grief. She has begged the Emperor, who is at Mohilev, to return to her at once.
It is confirmed that the murderers are Prince Felix Yussupov, the Grand Duke Dimitri and Purishkevitch. There was no lady present at supper. If so, how was Rasputin enticed to the Yussupov palace?
Judging by the little I know, it is the presence of Purishkevitch which gives the drama its real meaning and high political interest. The Grand Duke Dimitri is a young man about town of twenty-five, active, a fervent patriot and capable of courage in the hour of battle, but flighty and impulsive; it seems to me he plunged blindly into this adventure. Prince Felix Yussupov is twenty-nine and gifted with quick wits and æsthetic tastes; but his dilettantism is rather too prone to perverse imaginings and literary representations of vice and death, so I am afraid that he has regarded the murder of Rasputin mainly as a scenario worthy of his favourite author, Oscar Wilde. In any case his instincts., countenance and manner make. him much closer akin to the hero of Dorian Grey than to Brutus or Lorenzaccio.
On the other hand, Purishkevitch, who is over fifty, is a man of doctrine and action. He has made himself the champion of orthodox absolutism; he brings equal vehemence and skill to his advocacy of the theory of the "Tsar Autocrat, God's Emissary." In 1905 he was the president of the famous reactionary league, the Association of the Russian People, and he it was who inspired and directed the terrible pogroms against the Jews. His participation in the murder of Rasputin throws light on the whole attitude of the Extreme Right in the last few months; it means that the champions of autocracy, feeling themselves threatened by the Empress's madness, are determined to defend themselves in spite. of the Emperor; and if necessary against him.
I was at the Marie Theatre this evening, where Sleeping Beauty, Tchaïkovski's picturesque ballet, was given, with Smirnova as premiere danseuse.
Of course, the only topic of conversation was yesterday's drama, and as nothing definite is known, the Russian imagination was given free rein; Smirnova's leaps, pirouettes and "arabesques" were not more fantastic than the stories which passed from lip to lip.
During the first interval, Count Nani Mocenigo, Councillor of the Italian embassy, said to me:
"We're back in the days of the Borgias, Ambassador! Doesn't yesterday's supper remind you of the famous banquet of Sinigaglia?"
"The resemblance is but a remote one. There is not merely the difference of time; there's the difference - and a far more vital one - of civilization and character. So far as cunning and treachery are concerned, yesterday's crime is certainly not unworthy of the satanic Cæsar. But it isn't the bellissimo inganno, as the Valentinois called it. Magnificence in lust and villainy is not given to everyone."
Monday, January 1, 1917.
If I must judge solely by the constellations of the Russian sky, the new year is beginning under bad auspices. Everywhere I see anxiety and down-heartedness. No one takes any more interest in the war, no one believes in victory any longer; the public anticipates and is resigned to the most evil happenings.
This morning I was discussing with Pokrovski the draft reply to the American note on our war aims. We tried to find a formula on the subject of Poland; I pointed out that the complete restoration of the State of Poland, involving the recovery of Posen from Prussia, is of vital importance; we must therefore proclaim our intentions far and wide. Pokrovski agrees in principle, but hesitates to commit himself, for fear of giving the Allies a right to meddle in the affairs of Poland. I smilingly protested:
"You seem to be borrowing your arguments from Count Nesselrode, or Prince Gortchakov."
He smiled in turn, and replied:
"Give me a few days more to escape from such archaic influences."
Then he became serious once more, and in low tones re-read the draft we had been discussing. He added in a grave voice:
"How splendid all this is. But what a long way we are from it! Just look at the present situation!"
I consoled him to the best of my ability, telling him that our complete and final victory depends solely on our own endurance and energy.
Sighing deeply, he replied:
'"But just look what's going on here!"
On orders from the Empress, General Maximovitch, A.D.C., General of the Emperor, yesterday arrested the Grand Duke Dimitri, who is confined under police observation to his palace on the Nevsky Prospekt.
Tuesday, January 2, 1917.
Rasputin's corpse was discovered yesterday in the ice of the little Nevka, alongside Krestovsky Island and near the Bielosselsky palace.
Up to the last moment the Empress has been hoping that "God would spare her her comforter and only friend."
The police are not allowing any details of the drama to be published. Besides, the Okhrana is pursuing its enquiries in such secrecy that even this morning Trepov; the President of the Council, replied to the impatient questions of the Grand Duke Nicholas Michailovitch:
"Monseigneur, I swear to you that I have nothing whatever to do with what is going on, and know nothing of the enquiry."
There was great rejoicing among the public when it heard of the death of Rasputin the day before yesterday. People kissed each other in the streets and many went to burn candles in Our Lady of Kazan.
When it was known that the Grand Duke Dimitri was one of the assassins there was a crush to light candles before the ikons of Saint Dimitri.
The murder of Grigori is the sole topic of conversation among the unending queues of women who wait in the snow and wind at the doors of the butchers and grocers to secure their share of meat, tea, sugar, etc. They are saying that Rasputin was thrown into the Nevka alive, and approvingly quoting the proverb: Sabâkyé, sabâtchya smerte! "A dog's death for a dog!" They are also whispering that the Grand Duchess Tatiana, the Emperor's second daughter, witnessed the drama disguised as a lieutenant of the Chevaliers-Gardes, so that she could revenge herself on Rasputin who had tried to violate her. And carrying the vindictive ferocity of the moujik into the world of the Court, they add that to satiate her thirst for vengeance the dying Grigori was castrated before her eyes.
Another popular story is this: "Rasputin was still breathing when he was thrown under the ice of the Nevka. It is very important, for if so he will never become a saint." It is a fact that the Russian masses believe that the drowned can never be canonized.
Wednesday, January 3, 1917.
As soon as Rasputin's body was taken from the Nevka it was conveyed with much mystery to the Tchesma Veterans' Home, five kilometres from Petrograd on the Tsarskoe Selo road.
After Professor Kossorotov had made an examination of the body and noted the marks of the wounds, Sister Akulina, the young nun whom Rasputin knew in the old days at the nunnery of Okhtaï where he exorcised her, was brought into the room where the autopsy was performed. Armed with an order from the Empress she proceeded to lay out the body, assisted solely by a hospital orderly. No one else has been admitted to the presence of the dead man: his wife and daughters, and even his most fervent disciples, have pleaded in vain for permission to see him for the last time.
The pious Akulina, once possessed by the Evil One, spent half the night in washing the body, embalming its wounds, dressing it in new garments and laying it in the coffin. She ended up by placing a crucifix on the breast and putting a letter from the Empress into the dead man's hands. This is the wording of the letter, as reported to me by Madame T - -, who was the staretz's friend and also a great friend of Sister Akulina:
My dear martyr, give me thy blessing, that it may follow me always on the sad and dreary path I have yet to traverse here below. And remember us from on high in your holy prayers!
The next morning, which was yesterday, the Empress and Madame Virubova came to pray over the corpse of their friend, which they smothered with flowers, ikons and tears.
Many a time in my journeys to Tsarskoe Selo have I passed the Tchesma home, an old pleasure palace built by Catherine II, which can be seen from the road through the trees. At this time of the year, under a winter sky and lost in the immensity of the fog-bound, icy plain, the place is mournful and melancholy.
It was a very proper setting for yesterday's scene. Has the great dramatist of History conceived many episodes more pathetic than this baneful Tsarina and her pernicious companion, weeping over the swelling corpse of the lustful moujik whom they loved so madly and Russia will curse for centuries?
About midnight the coffin was conveyed to Tsarskoe Selo in charge of Madame Golovin and Colonel Loman, and then laid in a chapel of the imperial park.
Thursday, January 4, 1917.
I have been to see Kokovtsov in his neat and irreproachable flat on the Mokhovaïa.
Never before has the ex-President of the Council, whose pessimism has so often proved justified, given utterance to such gloomy forebodings in my presence. He is prophesying a palace drama or revolution in the very near future.
"It's a very long time since I last saw His Majesty," he said. " But I have a very close friend who sees the sovereigns frequently, and has been working with the Emperor during the last few days. The reports this friend gives me are deplorable. The Empress is outwardly calm but silent and absorbed. The Emperor has hollow cheeks, a parched throat and looks ill; he has spoken in terms of bitter reproach of the members of the Council of Empire who have taken the liberty of addressing remonstrances to him while still professing their attachment to autocracy. So he has made up his mind to change the president and vice-president of this high assembly, whose functions expire on the 14th January, but who are normally always retained in office. The Emperor's irritation with the Council of Empire is diligently fed by the Empress, who has been told that certain members of the Extreme Right are talking about having her repudiated and shut up in a nunnery. I'll tell you a secret. Trepov came to me see this morning to say that he doesn't wish to bear the responsibilities of office any longer and has offered the Emperor to resign the post of President of the Council. Now you'll understand that I have good cause to be anxious!"
"In short," I said, "it becomes increasingly clear that the present crisis is a conflict between the Emperor and the natural, official defenders of autocracy. If the Emperor does not give way, do you think we shall see a repetition of the tragedy of Paul I?
"I'm afraid so."
"But what line will the parties of the Left take?"
"The parties of the Left (I mean in the Duma) will probably be kept out of the drama; they knew that the course of events can only turn to their advantage and they will wait. But as regards the masses, it's a different story."
"Do you anticipate their appearance on the scene already?"
"I don't think that any political incident of the moment or even a palace drama would be enough to cause a popular rising. But there will be a rising the moment a military disaster or a famine occurs."
I then told Kokovtsov that I intend to ask an audience of the Emperor:
"Officially I can only discuss diplomatic and military affairs with him. But, if I feel he is becoming confidential, I shall try to draw him into the sphere of domestic politics."
"For heaven's sake, don't shrink from telling him everything!"
"If he consents to hear me, I shall stop at nothing. If he turns the conversation, I shall confine myself to telling him how anxious I am about what is going on, matters which I have no right to mention to him."
"Perhaps you're right. In the Emperor's present frame of mind, he can only be approached with great caution; but as I know he has a feeling of friendship for you I shouldn't be surprised if he lets himself go a bit before you."
Since the Grand Duke Dimitri has been under arrest in his palace on the Nevsky Prospekt, his friends are not without anxiety for his personal safety. On the strength of information, the source of which I do not know, they are afraid that Protopopov, the Minister of the Interior, has decided to have him murdered by one of the police officers appointed to guard him. The plot, planned by the Okhrana, would take the form of a feigned attempt at escape; the police officer would pretend that his life had been threatened by the Grand Duke and he had been obliged to defend himself with his arms.
To be ready for any eventuality, Trepov, the President of the Council, has sent an order to General Kabalov, the Governor of Petrograd, to post infantry at the grand-ducal palace. So for every policeman there is a sentry who keeps an eye on him.
Friday, January 5, 1917.
To throw public curiosity and surmise off the scent, the Okhrana is spreading a rumour that Rasputin's coffin has been conveyed to his native village of Pokrovskoïe, near Tobolsk, or to a monastery in the Urals.
As a matter of fact, the obsequies were celebrated with the greatest secrecy at Tsarskoe Selo last night.
The coffin was buried in a plot of ground which Madame Virubova and two Moscow merchants bought recently on the edge of the imperial park, near Alexandrovka, with a view to building a chapel and almshouse upon it. About a month ago Monsignor Pitirim came to give this piece of land his official blessing.
The only persons present at the interment were the Emperor, the Empress, the four young Grand Duchesses, Protopopov, Madame Virubova, Colonels Loman and Maltzev and the officiating priest, Father Vassiliev, archpriest of the Court.
The Empress has secured possession of the blood-stained blouse of the "martyr Grigori" and is preserving it piously as a relic, a palladium on which the fate of her dynasty hangs.
That same evening, an industrial magnate, Bogdanov, was giving a dinner at his house; the guests comprised a member of the imperial family, Prince Gabriel Constantinovitch, several officers (among them Count Kaprisit, A.D.C. to the Minister of War), Oserov, a member of the Council of Empire, and several representatives of high finance, including Putilov.
During the meal, which was very animated, the only topic of conversation was the situation at home. Helped by champagne, the company painted it in the blackest colours, with that riotous pessimism in which the Russian imagination delights.
In conversation with Prince Gabriel, Oserov and Putilov insisted that in their opinion the only way to save the reigning house and the monarchical system is to summon a meeting of all the members of the imperial family, the party leaders in the Council of Empire and the Duma, and representatives of the nobility and the army, to declare that the Emperor is weak, unequal to his task, and unfit to reign any longer, and to proclaim the accession of the Tsarevitch under the regency of one of the Grand Dukes.
So far from protesting, Prince Gabriel confined himself to putting forward certain practical objections, but promised to let his uncles and cousins know what he had just been told.
The evening ended with a toast "to an intelligent Tsar, conscious of his duties and worthy of his people!"
The Emperor has refused Trepov's resignation without a word of explanation.
In the course of the evening I have heard that there is great excitement and agitation in the family of the Romanovs.
Several Grand Dukes, among whom I am told are the three sons of the Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna, Cyril, Boris and Andrew, are talking of nothing less than saving tsarism by a change of sovereign. With the help of four regiments of the guard, whose loyalty is said to be already shaken, there would be a night march on Tsarskoe Selo; the monarchs would be seized, the Emperor shown the necessity of abdicating and the Empress shut up in a nunnery. Then the accession of the Tsarevitch Alexis would he proclaimed under the regency of the Grand Duke Nicholas Nicolaievitch.
The promoters of this scheme think that the Grand Duke Dimitri, by his share in the murder of Rasputin, is marked out by fate to direct the plot and win over the troops. His cousins, Cyril and Andrew Vladimirovitch., went to see him in his palace on the Nevsky Prospekt and begged and prayed him to "persevere relentlessly with his work of national salvation." After a long mental conflict, Dimitri Pavlovitch finally refused to "lay hands on the Emperor;" his last word was: "I will not break my oath of fealty."
The troops of the guard, with some of whom the organizers of the plot have already got into communication, are the Pavlovsky Regiment (barracks in the Champ de Mars), the Preobrajensky Regiment (barracks near the Winter Palace), the Ismailovsky Regiment (barracks off the Obvodny Canal), the Guard Cossacks (barracks behind St. Alexander Nevsky Monastery) and a squadron of the regiment of the Emperor's Hussars, who are in garrison at Tsarskoe Selo.
The Okhrana knew almost immediately what was going on in the barracks. Bieletzky has been instructed to open an enquiry conjointly with his present enquiry into the murder of Rasputin. His principal colleague is Colonel of Gendarmerie Nevdakov, head of the detective force to which the safety of the Emperor is entrusted; he recently succeeded General Spiridovitch.
Saturday, January 6, 1917.
The most contradictory and absurd versions of the murder of Rasputin are still circulating in every quarter. The mystery is all the greater because at the very first moment the famous Bieletzky, ex-Director of the Police Department and now a senator, was commissioned by the Empress to conduct the enquiry in Person. He set to work at once with General Globatchev, Chief of the Okhrana, and his Deputy-Chief, Colonel Kirpitchnikov. When insisting that all the powers of the Okhrana should be concentrated in Bieletzky's hands for the purpose of the enquiry, the Tsarina emphatically remarked: "He's the only man I trust; I shall only believe what I hear from him, and him alone... "
From two different sources, one of which is peculiarly private and personal, I have obtained a quantity of information which enables me to reconstruct the principal phases of the murder. I am assured that the details agree with the facts so far established by the police enquiry.
The drama took place in the night of December 29-30 at the palace of Prince Yussupov, No. 94, Moïka Quay.
Prior to that date, Felix Yussupov's relations with Rasputin had been purely casual and indefinite. To entice him to his residence he resorted to a not particularly pleasant device. On the 28th December he went to the staretz's house and said to him:
"My wife came back from the Crimea yesterday and is extremely anxious to meet you. She would like to see you quite privately and have a quiet talk with you. Won't you come and take tea to-morrow evening at our house? You must come rather late, about half-past eleven, as my mother-in-law is dining with us; but she will certainly have left by then."
The idea of making friends with Princess Irene, a very pretty woman, who is a daughter of the Grand Duke Alexander Michailovich and a niece of the Emperor, took Rasputin's fancy immediately, and he promised to come. But., contrary to Yussupov's statement, Princess Irene was still in the Crimea.
About eleven o'clock the next evening (December 29), all the conspirators met at the Yussupov palace, in one of the rooms on the first floor where supper was served. Prince Felix had with him the Grand Duke Dimitri. Purishkevitch, a member of the Duma, Captain Sukhotin and a Polish doctor, Stanislas de Lazovert, who is in charge of one of the great medical departments of the army. Whatever rumour may say, there was no orgy at the Yussupov palace that night; no ladies were present at the gathering, whether Princess R - -, or Madame D - -, or Countess P - -, or the dancer Karally.
At a quarter past eleven Prince Felix drove in his car to Rasputin's residence which is No. 68, Gorokhovaïa, about two kilometres from the Moïka.
Yussupov groped his way up Rasputin's staircase, for the lights of the house were out and the night was exceedingly dark. In this darkness he could not find his way. When on the point of ringing, he thought he had mistaken the door and even the right floor. Then he said to himself: "If I'm wrong, it means that fate is against me and Rasputin must live."
He rang. The door was opened by Rasputin in person; his faithful servant Dunia, followed him.
"I've come for you, Father, as we arranged," said Yussupov. "My car is at the door."
And in Russian fashion, with a great show of affection, he gave the staretz a resounding kiss on the mouth.
Rasputin, suspicious by nature, protested in a mocking tone:
"Heavens! What a kiss, boy! I hope it isn't the kiss of Judas ... Come, let's go! You go in front! Good-bye, Dunia!"
Ten minutes later, i.e. about midnight, they got out of the car at the palace on the Moïka.
Yussupov introduced his guest into a small room on the ground floor leading into the garden. The Grand Duke Dimitri, Purishkevitch, Captain Sukhotin and Dr. de Lazovert waited on the upper floor from which the sound of a gramophone playing dance music could be heard from time to time.
Yussupov said to Rasputin:
"My mother-in-law is still up there with a few young friends of ours, but they are all just about to go. My wife will then join us at once. Let's sit down!"
They seated themselves in large armchairs, and talked about occultism and spiritualism.
The staretz never required any invitation to discourse on such subjects to his heart's content. In any case, he was in great form that evening; his eyes sparkled and he seemed very pleased with himself. With a view to enlisting all the arts of seduction in his attack on young Princess Irene, he had put on his best clothes, his ceremonial get-up; he was wearing wide trousers of black velvet disappearing into new top boots, a white silk blouse with blue embroidery and a sash of black satin trimmed with gold braid, which was a present from the Tsarina.
Between the chairs in which Yussupov and his guest, were lounging a table had previously been placed; on it stood two plates of cream cakes, a bottle of Marsala and a tray with six glasses. The cakes nearest to Rasputin had been poisoned with cyanide of potassium, supplied by a doctor from Obukhov Hospital, who is a friend of Prince Felix. Each of the three glasses by the side of these cakes contained three decigrams of cyanide, dissolved in a few drops of water. Small though it may seem, this is a tremendous dose, four centigrammes alone being fatal.
Hardly had conversation begun before Yussupov casually filled a glass of each kind and took a cake from the plate nearest to him.
"Aren't you drinking, Father Grigori?" he asked the staretz.
"No, I'm not thirsty."
The conversation continued in lively tones on the practices of spiritualism, spell-binding and divination.
Once again Yussupov invited Rasputin to have something to eat and drink. Declined again.
As the clock was striking one, Grishka suddenly lost patience and cried out rudely:
"Why isn't your wife coming down! You know I'm not used to being kept waiting. No one ever takes the liberty of keeping me waiting - not even the Empress."
Knowing how swift to anger Rasputin is, Felix murmured soothingly:
"If Irene isn't here in a few minutes I'll fetch her."
"You'd better; I'm beginning to get very tired of this place."
In a casual tone, but with fear gripping at his throat, Yussupov tried to get the conversation going again. Suddenly the staretz emptied his glass. Smacking his lips, he said:
"Your marsala is lovely. I could drink lots of it!"
Yussupov mechanically filled the two other glasses which contained the rest of the cyanide but not the glass which Grishka held out to him.
Rasputin snatched one and tossed down the contents at one gulp. Yussupov expected to see his victim totter and collapse.
But poison does not always have any effect. Another glassful. Still no effect.
The murderer, who had hitherto displayed remarkable nerve and self-possession, began to feel very uncomfortable. On the excuse of going to fetch Princess Irene, he left the room and went upstairs to consult his accomplices.
The conference was a short one. Purishkevitch emphatically declared in favour of precipitating the crisis.
"If we don't," he said "the beast will escape us. And as he's at any rate half-poisoned, we shall reap the full consequences of the crime without any of the advantages."
"But I haven't a revolver," said Yussupov. "Take mine!" replied the Grand Duke Dimitri. Yussupov went back to the ground floor holding the Grand Duke's revolver in his left hand, behind his back.
"My wife is exceedingly sorry to have kept you waiting," he said; "her guests have only just left; she's following me."
But Rasputin could hardly hear what he was saying; he was striding up and down, puffing and blowing. The cyanide was working.
Still Yussupov hesitated to use his weapon. Suppose he missed! Being slight and effeminate, he was afraid to attack the burly moujik from in front; the latter could have knocked him out with one blow of his fist.
But there was no time to lose. At any moment Rasputin might discover that he had fallen into a trap, catch his enemy by the throat and escape over his prostrate body.
Recovering his self-possession, Yussupov walked casually to the far end of the room, stopped at a table on which various objets d'art were laid out, and said:
"As you're on your legs, come and have a look at this fine Italian Renaissance crucifix I bought recently."
"Show it me; you can't look too often at the image of Our Lord crucified."
The staretz walked up to the table.
" Here you are," said Yussupov. "Look at it. Isn't it beautiful!"
As Rasputin was bending over the sacred figure, Yussupov stood on his left and fired twice into his ribs, almost point blank.
Rasputin cried out "Oh!" and he fell in a heap on the floor.
Yussupov stooped down to the body, felt the pulse, examined the eye by raising the lid and could see no sign of life.
At the sound of the shots, the accomplices upstairs rushed down at once.
The Grand Duke Dimitri said:
"Now we must throw him in the water quick. I'll go and find my car."
His companions went back to the first floor to arrange how to move the body.
Twelve minutes later Yussupov returned to the room downstairs to have a look at his victim.
He shrank back in horror.
Rasputin had half risen, supporting himself on his hands. With a supreme effort he staggered to his feet, brought his heavy fist down on Yussupov's shoulder and tore off his epaulette, saying in a last whisper:
"You wretch! You'll be hung to-morrow! I'm going to tell the Empress everything!"
Yussupov shook him off with great difficulty, ran out of the room and went upstairs again. White to the lips and covered with blood, he called to his accomplices in a choking voice:
"He's still alive! He spoke to me!
Then he collapsed on a sofa in a dead faint. Purishkevitch seized him in his rough hands, shook him, lifted him, took away his revolver and dragged him with the other conspirators to the room on the ground floor.
The staretz was not there. He had had strength enough to open the door leading to the garden and was dragging himself over the snow.
Purishkevitch fired one bullet into his neck and another into his body, while Yussupov, now a yelling maniac, went to fetch a bronze candlestick and battered in his victim's skull with it.
It was a quarter past two in the morning. At the same moment, the Grand Duke Dimitri's car drew up at the little gate of the garden.
Assisted by a servant on whom they could rely, the conspirators wrapped Rasputin in his cloak and even put on his overshoes, so that nothing incriminating should be left in the palace. They lifted the body into the car, in which the Grand Duke Dimitri, Dr. de Lazovert and Captain Sukhotin quickly took their places. Then the car made for Krestovsky Island at full speed, Lazovert showing the way.
Captain Sukhotin had explored the banks on the previous evening. On a signal from him, the car stopped by a small bridge below which the swift current had produced a mass of ice-floes with holes between them. Not without difficulty, the three accomplices carried their heavy victim to the edge of a hole and threw it in the water. But the practical difficulties of the operation, the intense darkness of the night, the icy hiss of the wind, fear of discovery and anxiety to get it all over put their nerves on edge to such an extent that they did not notice that, in thrusting the corpse in by the feet, they knocked off one of the goloshes which remained on the ice. It was the discovery of this golosh which three days later showed the police where the body had been thrown in.
While this sinister task was in progress on Krestovsky island, something happened at the palace on the Moïka where Prince Felix and Purishkevitch had been left alone, and were occupied in feverishly obliterating all traces of the murder.
When Rasputin left his residence on the Gorokhovaïa, an agent of the Okhrana, Tikhomirov, whose function it was to watch over the safety of the staretz, had immediately posted himself so as to keep an eye on the Yussupov palace. Of the preliminaries of the drama he necessarily had no knowledge.
But if he could not hear the two revolver shots which wounded Rasputin, he heard those fired in the garden quite clearly. He began to feel uneasy and hastily went off to advise the police lieutenant at the nearest station. When they returned together, they saw a car leave the Yussupov palace and tear away at top speed towards the Blue Bridge.
The police lieutenant wanted to enter the palace, but the Prince's majordomo, who received him at the door, said:
"What has happened has nothing to do with you. His Imperial Highness the Grand Duke Dimitri will inform the proper authority to-morrow. You must go away!"
The lieutenant pushed his way in. In the vestibule he found Purishkevitch who said to him:
"We've just killed the man who was disgracing Russia."
"Where is the body?"
"You shall not know. We are sworn to absolute secrecy about what has happened."
The lieutenant returned post haste to his station on the Morskaïa and telephoned to Colonel Grigoriev, Chief of Police of the 2nd District. Barely half an hour had elapsed before General Balk, Prefect of Police, General Count Tatichev, Commander-in-Chief of the Gendarmerie, General Globatchev, head of the Okhrana, and Vassiliev, Director of the Police Department, arrived at the Yussupov palace.
Sunday, January 7, 1917.
Pokrovsky told me yesterday evening that the Emperor would receive me at 6 p.m. to-day; he added:
"I beg of you to talk to him frankly, without any reserve ... You can do us such a great service!"
"If only the Emperor will be good enough to listen to me, I'll tell him everything that's on my mind. But I know his present frame of mind and my task will not be easy."
"1 hope God will inspire you!"
"It is far more important that a certain person should give God a chance of inspiring me!"
Shortly before six I was taken into the palace of Tsarskoe Selo by Tieplov, the Master of the Ceremonies. who has accompanied me from Petrograd in the imperial train.
Prince Dolgorukov, Marshal of the Court, and the A.D.C. on duty received me at the door of the main drawing-room.
When we reached the library, which is next to the Emperor's study and the spot where the Ethiopian sentry keeps his motionless watch and ward, we chatted together for ten minutes or so. We talked about the war and the very long time it will still last; we again pledged our faith in final victory; we recognized the necessity of telling the world that we are more determined than ever to shatter the power of the Germanics, etc. But the strong words of those with whom I was speaking were contradicted by the gloomy and anxious expression of their faces and the unuttered counsel I could read in their eyes: "For God's sake, speak your mind to His Majesty!"
The Ethiopian opened the door.
The moment I entered, I was struck by the Emperor's tired look and his anxious and absorbed expression.
"I asked Your Majesty to receive me," I said, "because I have always received great encouragement from you and I need encouragement very badly to-day."
He answered in a dead, dull voice, which I had never heard before:
"I am still ruthlessly determined to continue the war until victory, decisive and complete victory. Of course you have read my recent prikaz to the army?"
"Yes, indeed, and I admire the spirit of confidence and unfailing energy which animates the document. But what a gap, what a gulf there is between this glowing declaration of your sovereign will and the facts as they are."
The Emperor looked at me, suspicion in his eye. I continued:
"In that prikaz you proclaim your inflexible determination to conquer Constantinople. But how will your armies get there? Are you not alarmed at what is happening in Rumania? If a halt is not called at once to the retreat of the Russian troops, will they not have to evacuate the whole of Moldavia before long and retire behind the Pruth, or even the Dniester? And in that case, do you not fear that Germany will organize a provisional government at Bucharest, raise another Hohenzollern to the throne and then make peace with a Rumania thus restored?"
"It is certainly a very alarming possibility, so I am doing everything possible to increase General Sakharov's army; but the transport and supply difficulties are colossal. Still, I hope that in ten days or so we shall be able to resume the offensive in Moldavia."
"Oh! In ten days! Then are the thirty-one infantry divisions and twelve cavalry divisions which General Sakharov demanded already on the spot
He replied evasively:
"I cannot say; I don't remember. But he already has many troops, very many ... And I shall send him many more, many more ... "
"I hope so."
The conversation feebly dragged on. I did not succeed in fixing either the Emperor's eyes or attention. We seemed to be a thousand miles from each other.
Then I resorted to the great argument I have always found so effective in opening the gates of his mind: I invoked the memory of his father, Alexander III, whose portrait hung above us as we talked:
"You have often told me, Sire, that at difficult moments you have appealed to your beloved father and never appealed in vain. May his noble spirit inspire you now! The situation is so serious!"
"Yes, my father's memory is a great help to me."
And with that vague remark he again let the conversation drop.
With a disconsolate sigh, I continued
"I see, Sire, that I shall leave this room far more anxious than when I came in. For the first time, I feel that Your Majesty's thoughts and mine are not in touch."
He protested affectionately:
"But I have every confidence in you! We have so many common memories, and I know I can count on your friendship!"
"It is because of that very friendship that you see me so sad and anxious; I have only told you the least part of my fears. There is one subject on which the ambassador of France has no right to speak to you; you can guess what it is. But I should be unworthy of the confidence you have always shown in me if I did not admit that all the symptoms which have struck me for several weeks, the horrible doubts I observe among the best minds, the anxiety I see written on the faces of your most loyal subjects, are making me very alarmed for the future of Russia."
"I know that there is great excitement in the Petrograd drawing-rooms."
Without giving me time to deal with these words, he asked me quite casually..
"What's become of our friend Ferdinand of Bulgaria?"
I replied in the coldest and most official tone:
"I have heard nothing of him for many months, Sire."
I lapsed into silence.
With his usual awkward timidity, the Emperor could find nothing to say. But he did not dismiss me; no doubt he did not want me to leave him with painful impressions. Gradually his features relaxed and his face lit up with a sad smile. I felt sorry for him and came to his rescue. On the table near which we were seated I noticed a dozen magnificently bound volumes with the monogram of Napoleon I:
"Your Majesty has paid the ambassador of France a delicate compliment by having these books by you to-day. Napoleon is a great master to consult at critical moments; no man ever gave Fate greater shocks."
"That's why I revere him so much." I kept back the reply: "Yes, but a very platonic reverence!" The Emperor rose and accompanied me to the door, holding my hand long and affectionately in his own.
While the imperial train was taking me back to Petrograd through a blinding snowstorm, I reviewed my memories of this audience. The Emperor's words, his silences and reticences, his grave, drawn features and furtive, distant gaze, the impenetrability of his thoughts and the thoroughly vague and enigmatical quality of his personality, confirm me in a notion which has been haunting me for months, the notion that Nicholas II feels himself overwhelmed and dominated by events, that he has lost all faith in his mission or his work, that he has so to speak abdicated inwardly and is now resigned to disaster and ready for the sacrificial altar. Thus his last prikaz to the army, with its proud claim to Poland and Constantinople, can only be what I thought it at the time, a kind of political will, a final announcement of the glorious vision he had imagined for Russia and which he now sees dissolving into thin air.
Monday, January 8, 1917.
By imperial order the Grand Duke Dimitri has been sent to Kasvin, in Persia, where he will be attached to the staff of one of the combatant armies. Prince Felix Yussupov has been banished to his estate in the Government of Kursk (South Russia). In the case of Purishkevitch, his prestige among the rural masses and his enormous influence with the reactionary party as one of the leaders of the "Black Bands " have made the Emperor reflect that it would be dangerous to strike at him; he has been left at liberty. But on the day after the murder he left for the front where the military police are keeping him under observation.
The idea of removing Rasputin seems to have been conceived in the brain of Felix Yussupov about the middle of November. He is said to have mentioned the matter then to one of the leaders of the "Cadet" party, the brilliant lawyer, Basil Maklakov; but at that stage he was thinking of having the staretz killed by hired assassins and not of doing the deed himself.
Apparently the lawyer dissuaded him from that course:
"The wretches who agreed to kill Rasputin for pay would promptly go and sell you to the Okhrana the moment they had your money in their pockets." In his perplexity Yussupov is supposed to have asked: "Couldn't reliable men be found? " To which Maklakov wittily replied:
"I don't know; I don't keep a murderers' agency!"
It was on the second December that Felix Yussupov made up his mind to act himself.
On that day he was present in a front box at the public sitting of the Duma. Purishkevitch had just mounted the tribune and was thundering out his terrible indictment of the "occult forces which are disgracing Russia." When the orator cried to the quivering assembly: "To your feet, you Ministers! Go to the Stavka, fall on your knees before the Tsar, and don't shrink from telling him that the nation is murmuring in its fury and that an obscure moujik shall govern Russia no longer!" Yussupov was shaken by uncontrollable emotion. Madame P - -, who was sitting by him, saw him all of a sudden turn pale and tremble.
The next day, December 3, he went to Purishkevitch.
After swearing him to secrecy, he told him that for some time he had been making friends with Rasputin with the idea of discovering what intrigues he was plotting at court, and that he had shrunk from no subterfuge to gain his confidence: he had been wonderfully successful, as he had learned from the staretz's own lips that the Tsarina's supporters were proposing that Nicholas II should be deposed and the Tsarevitch Alexis proclaimed emperor under the regency of his mother, and the first act of the new reign would be to offer peace to the Teutonic Empires.
Seeing Purishkevitch utterly overwhelmed by this revelation, Yussupov then revealed his scheme of killing Rasputin and added:
"I should like to be able to count on your help, Vladimir Mitophanovitch, to deliver Russia from the ghastly nightmare with which she is contending." Purishkevitch has a warm heart and great rapidity of decision, and he enthusiastically assented. Then and there they planned the scheme of the trap and fixed the date of December 29 for its execution.
The French, English and Italian delegates to the allied conference were to have left for Petrograd about this time, but Buchanan, Carlotti and I are advising our governments to postpone their departure. It is futile to expose them to the fatigue and risks of a voyage through the Arctic if they will only find an utterly helpless government here.