Part One - Old Russia Alexander Palace Time Machine
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Part One - Old Russia Chapter II

My childhood and early girlhood were passed quietly at Revovka and the Crimea. But I loved Revovka, and, whenever I went to stay with my uncle at Livadia, I took with me a little earth from the place which, to me, represented home. The great event at Revovka was the visit of my uncle Horvat who came from Siberia to see my grandmother once a year. He was head of the Siberian railways, and occupied a political position which corresponded with that of a Viceroy of Ireland. He was a typical Horvat, tall, - with deep, kind eyes, and he was also a very clever man. On the night of his arrival I never went to bed, and I remember that we saw the dawn together; he did not reach Revovka until 3 a.m. It was touching to witness his meeting with my grandmother. They were entirely "en rapport," and he was my greatest friend as well as my much loved uncle.

I never went to school. My first tutor was a priest, but, as I hardly knew Russian (we always spoke French at home) and he knew no French, I made little progress; afterwards Miss Ripe, an English governess, took me in hand, but I think she looked upon us as very much behind the times. The old house was protected at night by a watchman, and I regarded his intermittent coughing and his heavy tread somewhat as a lullaby.

Whenever he went to the next town by boat, the watchman "called" my grandmother's maid in a very curious manner. He was an illiterate peasant, and time, as time, conveyed no meaning to him, so he would occasionally tap on the maid's window and tell her that such and such a star was in the sky. By this simple calculation she was enabled to judge how much longer it was permissible for her to remain in bed.

Winter was a delightful season at Revovka, and I always wanted to be decorative, and drive out in the antique sledges which were painted with trails of flowers, and magnificently gilded. The modern sledges, covered with carpet, and piled up with bear skins, were not nearly so pretty. English people always associate sledges with wolves, and imagine that a winter's drive in Russia is fraught with desperate danger. The wolf terror is fast becoming a legend; wolves are now only found in districts far from the haunts of men, although an old custom at Revovka ordained that lanterns were hung outside the stables at night to scare away the wolves! But I met a wolf unawares one evening when I was crossing the park. I had never seen one of our national animals face to face, so I thought that the big grey creature was a dog. I called it, and ran towards it, desirous of its better acquaintance, but it merely regarded me with furtive, unfriendly, green eyes, and then turned and trotted away in the opposite direction. When I reached the house, I described my encounter with the strange dog, but, greatly to my surprise, my story produced general excitement, and a search party set forth to look for the footprints in the snow. These proved to be typical wolf marks, exactly like the print of a thumb, but our visitor had, by this time, completely disappeared.

When I was a young girl the disaffection in Russia was already well on the way to Revolution. In 1905, when I was staying with one of my uncles in Livadia who had charge of the Emperor's estates at Yalta, we were not left long in ignorance as to the methods which were employed by the Revolutionary Agents. It is now well known that most of the seeds of Revolution were sown at Yalta, but it was dreadful to see the boats smothered in red flags and to hear the Marseillaise sung defiantly from the water, since my uncle had prohibited all political meetings on land. One day, it was discovered that the golden eagles which marked the boundaries of the Emperor's estate had been broken and overthrown, but this act of vandalism was always attributed to the Jews and the more hot-headed of the students. There was general excitement in the Crimea at this time, and a few of the Revolutionary printing presses were secretly set up at the Grand Duke Constantine's Castle of Orianda, which for some reason had fallen into decay. It had always been my ambition to visit the ruins of Orianda, so one day I persuaded my cousins to accompany me thither. It was a forbidden expedition, but we considered the possible results of our disobedience would be amply compensated for by the mysteries of the underground passages, which we at once began to explore. As we neared the end of one of these the sound of distant voices broke the stillness, and, terrified out of our wits, we did not know whether to beat a retreat or to dare all and discover whence the sound proceeded. Curiosity eventually conquered cowardice, and we crept cautiously along until the darkness was lit up by a glow of a large fire. Thinking that we had now reached the entrance to the infernal regions we turned and fled precipitately, and, risking punishment, described the whereabouts of Hell to my uncle. And Hell, in a way, it proved to be, as it was discovered that secret printing presses existed underground, and that most of the evil propaganda had emanated from Orianda.

Although the Jews instigated much of the prevalent sedition, the biter was occasionally bit, and in 1905 there was serious trouble. Many people assert that the actual Revolution began by beating the Jews, as some of the soldiers returning from the war became very unruly, and set about the Jews most unmercifully.

My mother, who had married as her second husband an officer in a regiment stationed near us, received news of the trouble just at the moment when we were starting to drive into town. But, she rather pooh-poohed the warning, until she saw for herself that the report was not exaggerated. We first encountered people fleeing through the fields, and, when at last we reached civilisation, we found the town in a state of confusion. Windows were broken, Jewish shops pillaged, and the leaders, regardless of the protesting Hebrews, seized their goods and distributed them broadcast to the mob, The black and white praying robes peculiar to the Jews were in special request, as pieces of these, worn next to the skin, were supposed to render the wearer immune from marsh fever.

Next day, when I was walking in the Park, I found myself close to the walled-in right of way which traversed it, and, to my surprise and horror, I heard the passers-by giving vent to most undreamt-of declarations. "It's the Jews now" said someone, uttering a curse, "but wait until the next time. We have our orders: soon it will be the turn of the landed proprietors!"

The speaker spoke the truth. Some days later fires and pillage broke out around my home, and, from the terrace at Revovka, we could see an ever widening circle of flame, and our peasants informed us that, most assuredly, Revovka would suffer next. But we escaped, although the house of Madame Tchebotaiff, a great landowner and Revolutionist, was one of the first to be destroyed. She was afterwards sent to Siberia, a rather ironical form of justice, I am inclined to think!

When all was calm, the Duma came into existence, in which representatives of every class met in Parliament for the first time. Troops were sent to punish the peasants, and many of them were flogged by the soldiers. Our peasants were not included amongst the offenders. The idea of whipping human beings was repellent to me, and, girl though I was, I felt that we, as a class, were responsible for the existence of many evils, and that it lay with us to try and remedy them. But whipping was applied to the guilty as the most effectual and the most easily understood antidote against rebellion: it is a barbarous punishment-in English eyes it must seem utterly so; but these whippings were as naught compared with the savagery and super-refinement of torture inflicted later by the whipped upon the whippers.

But my attention was soon to be diverted from rebellion and punishment. Shortly afterwards I went with my grandmother to Petrograd, where my marriage was arranged; in fact, I was already engaged when I was presented at Court. My fiance was Captain Charles Dehn, of Swedish descent, whose ancestors had come into the northern provinces at the time of the Crusades, and the members of whose family were mostly generals or officers in the service of the State. Captain Dehn had taken part in quelling the Boxer Rebellion, and at the siege of Pekin he was the first officer to scale the walls of the Forbidden City in defence of the embassies. For this service he received the Order of St. George (the Russian Victoria Cross), and the Order of the Legion of Honour was awarded him by the ambassadors of the various nations represented in Pekin.

On his arrival at Petrograd he was presented to the Emperor, who appointed him an officer on the "Standart," and an officer of the Mixed Guard, whose members were chosen from various regiments, and many of whom were honoured by the personal friendship of the Emperor.

Captain Dehn was a great favourite with the little Tsarevitch and the Grand Duchesses, and he used to play with them in their nurseries, his nickname with the children being "Pekin Dehn." Both the Emperor and the Empress manifested the greatest interest in his engagement, and the Empress intimated to my grandmother that she wished to make my personal acquaintance. My engagement was formally announced in 1907, but we waited in Petrograd for a month before we were received by the Empress. The Grand Duchess Anastasie was ill with diphtheria, and the Empress was nursing her at the Alexandria Palace, Peterhof, where, until all danger of infection had passed, she had isolated herself from the other members of the Imperial family.

How well I remember that first meeting with one whom I was to love so devotedly, and whose constant friendship has been one of my greatest joys. One summer morning in July, my grandmother and I arrived at the station at Peterhof, where my fiance and a Court carriage were awaiting us. I was literally trembling with terror, and I was too excited to even notice Charles!

We duly reached the Alexandria Palace, but, as the Empress was still nervous about infection, it had been arranged that my presentation should take place in the Winter Garden attached to the Palace. We were received at the Palace by the Mistress of the Household, Princess Golitzin, who was exactly like an old picture, and whose adherence to regime made everyone dread being guilty of the smallest lapse of etiquette. But she was very kind and gracious to us, and I felt somehow that my simple white gown from Bressac's, and my rose-trimmed hat had met with her approval. As we walked through the Park to the Winter Garden I noticed a lady in one of the avenues, who stopped and looked at me intently. She was "petite," with an innocent baby face, and great appealing eyes, and so childish-looking in fact that she seemed only fit for boarding school. This lady was Anna Virouboff whose name was later to become associated with that of Rasputin, and whose friendship with the Empress has given rise to so many unwarrantable statements and scandalous stories.

I returned her scrutiny with interest, and we passed on with the Princess to the Winter Garden, a lovely tropical place, full of flowers and palms. It was exactly like a Garden of Dreams, at least I thought so until I saw the prosaically comfortable garden chairs, and noticed some toys and a child's dolls'-house. Then I decided that this beautiful garden must be real!

At last, advancing slowly through the masses of greenery, came a tall and slender figure. It was the Empress! I looked at her, admiration in my heart and in my eyes. I had never imagined her half so fair. And I shall never forget her beauty as I saw her on that July morning, although the Empress of many sorrows remains with me more as a pathetic and holy memory.

The Empress was dressed entirely in white, with a thin white veil draped round her hat. Her complexion was delicately fair, but when she was excited her cheeks were suffused with a faint rose flush. Her hair was reddish gold, her eyes-those infinitely tragic eyes-were dark blue, and her figure was as supple as a willow wand. I remember that her pearls were magnificent, and that diamond ear-rings flashed coloured fires whenever she moved her head. She wore a simple little ring bearing the emblem of the Swastika, her favourite symbol, and one which has given rise to so many conjectures, and been quoted triumphantly as proof positive of her leanings towards the occult by those who are ignorant of what it really meant to her.

Directly Princess Golitzin had left us alone, the Empress extended her hand for my grandmother and me to kiss; then, with a sweet smile, and a world of kindness in her eyes, "Sit down," she said, and, turning to Captain Dehn: " When is the marriage to take place?" she enquired.

My nervousness had vanished. I was no longer afraid; in fact it was the Empress who seemed shy, but she was, I found later, always shy with strangers, a trait peculiar to her and to her cousin, the Princess Royal, Duchess of Fife. However, this excessive shyness was not accounted as shyness in Petrograd, it was called German superciliousness and as such it has even been described by some English writers.

The Empress talked to my grandmother for quite a long time, as she was anxious to hear the latest news of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth; she then chatted to my flance, and I noticed that she spoke Russian with a strong English accent. She afterwards addressed me as the blushing heroine of the morning, and she seemed quite pleased at the interest which I had displayed in the dolls'-house.

"Where are you going to spend your honeymoon?" she said, her blue eyes now mischievous. We told her. "Ah I... I do hope that I shall see you again very soon. I am quite alone, I cannot see my husband or my children, I shall be so glad when this tiresome quarantine is over, and we can be together again."

Our interview lasted well over half an hour. The Empress spoke French to my grandmother and me, she made no attempt to converse in German; then she rose to say good-bye, and we kissed hands. "I shall see you again very soon," she repeated. " Be sure you let me know when you return."

I went back to Petrograd almost beside myself with happiness. Mine was not the worldly pleasure of one who had been presented to an Empress. My happiness had its origin in another source. I felt instinctively that I had found a friend, someone I could love, and who, I dared hope, might love me! I was so tired out with my emotions that, on arriving home, I threw myself on my bed, regardless of my Bressac dress and my rosewreathed hat, and I slept the sleep of exhaustion until four in the afternoon. I was married two months later from my aunt's house in Livadia.

The Emperor received Captain Dehn before he left for the Crimea, blessed him, and gave him a beautiful ikon in a carved silver and gold frame. The Empress also presented him with an ikon, and, on our wedding day, we received a "wireless" from them, wishing us every happiness. This "wireless," so we heard afterwards, caused endless talk and many petty jealousies, as "wireless," then in its infancy, was only supposed to be used, for important official communications.

We went to the Caucasus for our honeymoon and stayed three weeks in the mountains among the vines. It was the season of Autumn, and he had cast his flaming many-coloured mantle over everything. The wildness and luxuriance of that mountain region entranced me. I insisted upon being told all the legends connected with the locality, and I believed, with the peasants, that it was possible to hear the hoofs of the Centaurs, as they thundered down the passes in the silence of night. Gagree was an ideal place for a honeymoon, and I was actually sorry to return to my beloved Revovka, although we received a right royal welcome from my grandmother and her tenants.

Revovka was fifteen miles from the nearest railway station, but the whole of the way to our estate was illuminated with blazing tar barrels, and at every turn of the road we were offered bread and salt. Needless to say, the drive was a little protracted, and the piece de resistance consisted in the two oxen which were presented to us at the journey's end.

My married life began under the most auspicious circumstances. Charles had promised me that he would always remain in the Emperor's Personal Guard, and I possessed a subconscious intuition that my future was to be closely connected with that of the Imperial family. This feeling did not arise from any worldly outlook, I never had any idea of the material benefits which might accrue to us through the Emperor's regard for my husband. My first meeting with the Empress had influenced me in an undreamt-of manner. Although I felt it was ridiculous to associate any idea of sorrow with that radiant vision of the Winter Garden, I had, nevertheless, a strong feeling of fatality in connection with her. Time was destined to prove that my presentiment was right.

Our first home was in the Anitchkoff Palace, the residence of the Dowager Empress Marie, where the Guards had their quarters, but afterwards we moved to Tsarkoe Selo. Our house was immediately opposite the Palace, and close to the barracks. The officers of the Personal Guard were most picturesque individuals, since each wore the uniform of the regiment from which he had been selected. There was no distinctive uniform; to be a member of the Guard was, in itself, an honour.

I used often to walk in the great Park of Tsarkoe Selo when my husband was on duty. The Palace dates from the time of Catherine the Great, and all the important receptions were held there. The Imperial family lived in the Alexander Palace, a white building in the style of the First Empire ; the Palace had four entrances, the first was exclusively used by Their Majesties, two others were used for receptions, and the fourth was the entrance by which the Suite went to and fro, The Palace was entirely surrounded by the Park, in which was some beautiful ornamental water, a Chinese pavilion, and a bridge which connected the smaller park with that of the more important Palace.

As a young married woman, blessed with many kind relations and friends, it was not long before I took my place in Petrograd society. In 1907, one year after the Japanese war, life was not gay as many families were still in mourning, so those who looked for Court gaieties were disappointed-none being forthcoming. The Empress felt that the war was of too recent a date to warrant much entertaining; she was entirely sincere in this conviction, but her attitude did not meet with general approval. It was argued by the anti-Tsaritsa clique that an Empress of Russia belonged to Society, and not to herself. Her duty was merely to pose as a magnificent figure-head on the barque of pleasure - the war was over, and the world of Society wanted its ceaseless round of empty pleasures once again. Petrograd Society was divided into many sets; each Grand Ducal Court had its own particular clique, and that of the Grand Duchess Marie, wife of the Grand Duke Vladimir, was perhaps specially joyous. The Grand Dukes, taken as a whole, led amusing lives; they were usually very handsome men - quite heroes of romance, many of them possessing a great admiration for the Imperial Ballet, in which they had various fair friends.

It was an expensive existence even in 1907, when Petrograd was supposed to be dull ! People went every Sunday to the Ballet, and on Saturdays to the Theatre Francais - this, a most fashionable rendezvous, where extremely decollete toilettes were compensated for by an abundance of jewels! After the play, it was customary to adjourn to the Restaurant Cuba, or to that of L'ours, where a wonderful Roumanian orchestra enlivened supper ; nobody thought of leaving the restaurants until three in the morning, and the officers usually remained until five ! Occasionally, when I returned home in the early hours, I contrasted the dawn at Revovka with that of Petrograd; the same pearl, rose and silver tints painted the sky, but the dawn in South Russia witnessed no flight of human butterflies whose wings had been singed in the flame of pleasure. I was young enough to enjoy life, but at times our restless gaiety seemed to hold a hidden menace.

English was the medium of conversation in Society at Petrograd; it was invariably spoken at Court, and, although once fashionable to have German nurses, the fashion in 1907 was to have only English ones, and many Russians who could not speak English spoke French with an English accent! The great shopping centre was "Druce's" where one met one's friends, and bought English soaps, perfumery and dresses. The "Druce habit" primarily emanated from Court where everything English was in special favour Jewish Society and that of the "haute finance" existed in Petrograd, but neither touched us.

The great enlivenments of the Season after the Japanese war were the Charity Bazaars. The Grand Duchess Marie always organised one in the Assemblee de la Noblesse, a huge building where an ultra-smart throng of Society leaders sold all kinds of pretty and expensive trifles. The Grand Duchess Marie (who was a German Princess) occupied the centre of the room, and sold at her own table. She was a tall, strikinglooking woman, but not so handsome as the Grand Duchess Cyril - at whose table I occasionally assisted. All the Grand Duchesses had tables, as was the case with the greater and lesser lights of Society. In fact the position of one's table was the index to one's position in Society. The bazaars were brilliant functions, the toilettes were wonderful, and it was quite the usual thing to change one's gown three times during the day. The air was heavy with perfume, flowers were lavishly displayed, and the tired vendors occasionally refreshed themselves with the best brands of champagne.

The Empress had her own table at the Assemblee de la Noblesse, and I sold at it once. She made quantities of things herself, instead of sending haphazard orders to Paris or London.

The homely intimacy of her nature was very evident in this habit, nothing at her table was useless; she was true to type, the type of Queen Victoria's descendants, the Empress shared Queen Mary of England's love for needlework, and, like her, crocheted many pretty "woolies" for bazaars.

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