I am going to write of Gregory Rasputin as I knew him. My personal acquaintance with him lasted from 1910 to 1916, but I know that I might as well attempt to cleanse the Augean stables single-handed, as to be believed if I say one word in his defence. As a man, and as an infamous figure in history, he matters little to me, and, knowing the popular prejudice against him, I hesitated to mention his name in these pages. But I was urged to do so; it was represented to me that my silence might be equivalent to an acknowledgment, not only of his guilt, but also of that of the Empress. This last consideration decided me to forgo my resolution, and to write a faithful record of the man who was supposed to play such an important role during the last few years of the Russian Empire. If I say that I never saw the evil side ofGregory Rasputin I shall be called a liar or a fool - perhaps, more chivalrously, the latter. It is, however, the truth when I say that we neversaw the evil side of him. May I, therefore, plead for a hearing on the grounds that some men possess dual natures, and that they adapt theseto the company in which they find themselves? I have heard of men who at home have led most moral lives, leading elsewhere existences before which an up-to-date French novel is as naught.
Yet they never betrayed themselves to their nearest and dearest. Their friends were likewise deceived. Perhaps this dark side was never discovered, and they died and were buried as undefiled Christians. But even if something unforeseen had disclosed the man's secret orchard, his inner life, and his frailities, their existence even then would most probably have been disbelieved by those who had known him intimately for years.
A person tells you that your dearest friend is a liar and a sensualist. Do you believe him? Rarely, I think, if you are worthy to call yourself a friend. You advise the traducer to make himself or herself scarce, and, if you allow your mind to become poisoned by slow dropping venom, you place yourself at once on a level with the slanderer.
The Empress refused to believe ill of Rasputin because she had never seen the evil side of him, and also because both she and the Emperor had extended the hand of friendship to him. There was no question of affection in her continual refusal to disown him, no phase of the passing passions which distinguished Catherine the Great, and which were so kindly tolerated by her subjects. The Empress inherited much of her illustrious grandmother's tenacity of purpose, and she refused to be dictated to. In this, she was the woman of character who resembled Queen Victoria. I do not wish to compare Rasputin with John Brown - they are as the poles apart - but what I wish to point out in connection with both of these persons, is that Queen Victoria and the Empress called John Brown and Gregory Rasputin their friends, and neither family disapproval nor public censure was a sufficient reason in their eyes to merit the sacrifice of a friend. There the similarity ends.
Gregory Rasputin arrived in Petrograd from Siberia on a pilgrimage, walking the entire way with irons on his body in order to make his progress more painful and difficult. If a pilgrim were to arrive in London from Edinburgh in similar circumstances he would be taken before a magistrate, and most probably sent to a lunatic asylum; these things do not happen in England, but they were of daily occurrence in Russia. We were so accustomed to the miraculous that I do not think the average Russian would have manifested any surprise if he had been accosted in the street by the Angel Gabriel I
Rasputin had been introduced by certain people to Germogen, a priest and a friend of Elidor, who possessed great influence in the region of the Volga. Elidor's dominant idea was to found a particular sect of his own, but he failed to do so, and he was ultimately dismissed from authority. This, he attributed, rightly or wrongly, to Rasputin. Germogen was a firm believer in Rasputin's spiritual powers, and he was also much interested in his arduous pilgrimage. In fact, so greatly was he impressed that he decided to introduce the It staretz " to the Grand Duchess Peter, formerly Princess Meliza of Montenegro, and to her sister the Grand Duchess Anastasia, the wife of the Grand Duke Nicholas. Both these Princesses were addicted to mysticism; I may describe them as "soulful." Rasputin impressed them equally as much as he had impressed Germogen, and they talked everywhere about their wonderful discovery."
At this time the two Grand Duchesses were on very friendly terms with the Empress, and it is not to be wondered that, little by little, her curiosity was aroused, and at last she and the Emperor expressed a wish to see Rasputin.
The "staretz" was in due course presented to Their Majesties. Once again I repeat that such things could only happen in Russia, and it is therefore impossible to judge the Rasputin affair from an English standpoint. This uncouth peasant who came into the presence of Their Majesties barefooted, wearing the clumsy irons of penance, was in nowise impressed by his surroundingshe spoke freely to the Emperor, who was struck, like many others, by Rasputin's sincerity. The interview was not productive of any notable result, so far as Rasputin was concerned; it was merely an interesting incident, and when I first knew the Empress she never mentioned the name of Rasputin.
In my opinion, and I speak in all sincerity, I believe that Rasputin was the unconscious tool of the Revolution. If John of Cronstadt had lived in 1910 to 1916, he would have been called another Rasputin. It was necessary for the Revolutionaries to find someone whose name they could couple with that of the Empress-a name whose connection with the Imperial Family would destroy their prestige with the higher classes, as well as nullifying the veneration of the peasant class. A member of the Duma once heckled one of the Revolutionary party on the question of Rasputin:
"Why," said he, don't you kill Rasputin if you are so against him?"
He received this surprising but wholly truthful reply:
"Kill Rasputin! Why, we should like him to live for ever! He represents our salvation!"
Rasputin's position was many-sided. One section of Society looked upon him as a "cult," and I have no doubt that there was a certain pathological interest in this. Another group formed a mystical conception of him as a "teacher," and a more material clique courted him, hoping thereby to gain influence with the Empress. The shame lies not so much with Rasputin as with those who "exploited " him.
At one time Rasputin was the guest of a well-known general, but, when this gentleman discovered that there was nothing to be gained by his hospitality, he quickly dropped his one-time acquaintance, and Rasputin took up his quarters in a small flat where he was supported by voluntary contributions. It was a humble abode, the 91 staretz " lived on the meanest food, and it was only during the last year of his life that he received presents of wine.
Anna Virouboff met Rasputin for the first time when she had just made up her mind to leave her husband. As I have said, her marriage with Lieutenant Virouboff had turned out disastrously, and their relations terminated in a most distressing manner. It so happened that once, when Anna was entertaining the Empress and General Orloff, Lieutenant Virouboff arrived unexpectedly from sea, and, as the police did not recognise him, he was refused admittance to his own house. There was a terrible scene between him and his wife after the Empress left, and Anna was beaten unmercifully. Anna then refused to live with him any longer, and returned to her parents. This affair created a great scandal, and, in order to console Anna, the "Montenegrin" Grand Duchesses took her to see Rasputin.
I cannot say whether or no this was a mistake. I am inclined to think that it was a well-meant error, as Anna Virouboff was a super-sensitive, rather neurotic person, easily impressed by an effective mise en scene. And this mise en scene was amply provided for her. The heart-broken and insulted young wife was received at the Palace of the Grand Duchess Anastasia with immense ceremony, and what took place is best described as an emotional prayer meeting.
Suddenly a door opened and Gregory Rasputin made his appearance. He walked into the midst of the overwrought worshippers, untouched by their exaltation. He radiated peace, and he personified the Strong Man beloved as an ideal by the majority of women. To Anna, the shattered and the disillusioned, Rasputin typified the calm that comes after a great storm; he prayed with her, he consoled her, she felt that she could confide in him. She was utterly oblivious of the social gulf which separated them. Rasputin was something to lean on, and Anna always leant on somebody; this weak, lovable, credulous creature was unable to stand alone. And in this way their intimacy began. I am sure that Anna was never in love with the man (although she was always in love with someone), but his chief influence over her was that of the priest,
I believe that at this time the Empress saw Rasputin occasionally, but he was chiefly to be found in the company of the two Grand Duchesses who had "discovered" him, and who now reported that Rasputin was undoubtedly a "seer." This annoyed the Emperor, and, the next time he saw Rasputin, he asked him to tell him how he At saw " true.
"Your Majesty, I know nothing of clairvoyancy," said Rasputin.
"Then why have the Grand Duchesses asserted that you possess clairvoyant gifts?" replied the Emperor, crossly; and, when the Empress put the same question to Rasputin, she received the same reply
The real reason for this report will never be known. It was in all probability political, but, after Rasputin had disowned clairvoyancy, the two Grand Duchesses disowned their protege and sided with Germogen against him. The commencement of endless intrigues dates from this period, as Elidor and Germogen were afraid that Rasputin would become more important than themselves.
I must now deal with Rasputin's alleged influence over the Empress. There is no doubt that her subconscious belief in his spiritual powers was confirmed by the long arm of coincidence. The Tsarevitch fell ill, the attack was severe and his parents were frantic. If any mother with an only son reads these pages, she will admit that the word "frantic" best describes the feelings of a mother at such a crisis. The Empress was literally beside herself; it was then that someone suggested that Rasputin should be sent for. When he arrived he bade the despairing parents hope. He prayed by the bedside of the Tsarevitch, and it seemed that directly he did so the child began to get better. There is not the slightest truth in the film and "novel" versions of the incident; coincidence, and coincidence alone, was responsible for the Tsarevitch's recovery at the moment of Rasputin's impassioned prayers.
I met Rasputin just before the Germogen scandals. My husband had gone to Copenhagen to escort the Empress Marie thither on the "Polar Star," and he was anxious for me to join him. To do this would have entailed leaving Titi with my mother, and I was reluctant to do so, although naturally desirous of acceding to my husband's wishes. Thus I was in somewhat of a dilemma. Anna noticed I was worried and unhappy.
"Look here, Lili, there's someone who can help you," she said. "Who ?" I asked. "Gregory Rasputin," she answered.
I was not anxious to meet Rasputin-I did not possess the boundless belief in him which characterised Anna, but I agreed, to humour her, and she took me to Rasputin's eyrie (I say eyrie, since his flat was high up under the roof), and then left me.
I waited for some time alone in a little study until a man came in so noiselessly that I was almost unaware of his presence. It was Rasputin ! Our eyes met, and I was instantly struck by his uncanny appearance. At a first glance, he appeared to be a typical peasant from the frozen North, but his eyes held mine, those shining steel-like eyes which seemed to read one's inmost thoughts. His face was pale and thin, his hair long, and his beard a lighter chestnut. Rasputin was not tall, but he gave one the impression of being so; he was dressed as a Russian peasant, and wore the high boots, loose shirt and long, black coat of the moujik. He came forward and took my hand. "Ah... I see. Thou art worried." (He "tutoyed" everybody). "Well - nothing in life is worth worrying over - 'tout passe' - you understand - that's the best outlook." He became serious.
"It is necessary to have Faith. God alone is thy help. Thou art torn between thy husband and thy child. Which of them is the weaker? Thou think'st that thy child is the more helpless. This is not so. A child can do nothing in his weakness - a man can do much."
Rasputin advised me to go to Copenhagen, but I did not go. I left Petrograd next day for the country - perhaps out of bravado! But the impression which Rasputin had produced on me was very vivid. I was at once attracted, repelled, disquieted and reassured; nevertheless, his eyes were productive of a feeling of terror and repugnance, and I made no answer when the Empress greeted me with the words: "So, Lili, you've seen our friend? He'll always help you."
My second meeting with Rasputin took place in the winter. Titi was seriously ill, it was thought that diphtheric conditions would set in, and the poor little boy lay tossing from side to side in delirium. Anna, who made constant enquiries, at last 'phoned. "Lili," she said, "my advice is ask Gregory to come and pray." I hesitated. I knew my husband's distaste for anything touching the supernatural. But, when I saw how ill Titi was, I hesitated no longer. At any rate, no one could possibly condemn the prayers offered for a sick child. Rasputin promised to come at once, and he arrived in company with an old woman who was dressed as a nun. This quaint creature refused to enter the boy's bedroom, and sat on the stairs, praying.
"Don't wake Titi," I whispered, as we entered the nursery, for I was afraid that the sudden appearance of this strange peasant might frighten the child. Rasputin made no reply, but sat down by the bedside and looked long and intently at the sleeper. He then knelt and prayed. When he rose from his knees he bent over Titi.
"Don't wake him," I repeated.
"Silence - I must."
Rasputin placed a finger on either side of Titi's nose. The child instantly awoke, looked at the stranger unafraid, and addressed him by the playful name which Russian children give to old people. Rasputin talked to him, and Titi told him that his head ached "ever so badly."
"Never mind," said Rasputin, his steel eyes full of strange lights. Then, addressing me: "To-morrow thy child will be well. Let me know if this is not so. " And, bidding us farewell, he departed with his odd escort.
Directly Rasputin had gone the child fell asleep, and the next morning the threatened symptoms had disappeared, and his temperature was normal. In a few days, greatly to the doctor's amazement, he was quite well. After this, I could hardly dispute Rasputin's peculiar powers, and I always saw him whenever he came to the Palace, this, on an average, about once a month.
It is only fair to Rasputin to say that he derived no material benefits from these visits, in fact, he once complained to me that he was never even given his cab-fares!
Rasputin's influence over the Empress was purely mystical. She had always believed in the power of prayer - Rasputin strengthened her in this belief, and I am sure that her perplexed soul was soothed by his ministrations. There was absolutely no sensual attraction. It gives me intense pain to touch on this subject, but I must not shrink from what I consider to be my duty. I have heard the most dreadful stories of the Empresshow, in the spirit of sacrifice she gave herself, and those dear children to Rasputin, in order to prove that the sacrifice of the body was acceptable to God. Such a monstrous thing never happened. But when I have defended her, and said that Rasputin was a common man, unpleasing to look on, dirty in his habits and uncouth in every respect, I have been told that these defects matter nothing in certain types of sensualism. I have put forward the indisputable fact that the Empress was an intensely fastidious woman, that she possessed no "animal" propensities, that her morals were the ultra-strict morals of her grandmother. The answer to this has been that many fastidious and super-moral women have been guilty of incomprehensible lapses, solely by reason of their fastidious and moral qualities. If such examples exist, why should not the Empress have done likewise? I am confronted at every turn by these reports,and people say pityingly: "Well, of course, you loved the Empress." That is so . . . but I also knew the Empress. The Emperor's attitude in the Rasputin scandal ought alone to destroy these accusations, as the Empress never saw Rasputin without the knowledge and consent of her husband. Even assuming Nicholas II to be a weak man, entirely under the domination of his wife, he would certainly have been man enough, husband enough, and father enough, never to have countenanced any immoral relations between Rasputin and his family. The Emperor was primarily a Christian and a gentleman, but he was likewise a Romanoff and an Emperor. In these capacities he would have meted out the only possible punishment for such an offence. When he was told the "outside" scandals concerning Rasputin, he would not credit them. And why not? Simply because they were so bad; had they been less so, the Emperor might have listened. It is a great mistake for anyone to attempt to destroy any friendship by describing the person whose ruin is contemplated as being entirely worthless. The desired result is obtained far more easily by damning him or her with faint praise!
When various people reproached the Empress for being on terms of friendship with a common peasant, and for believing that he was endowed with the attributes of holiness, she replied that Our Lord did not choose well-born members of Jewish society for His followers. All His disciples except St. Luke were men of humble origin. I am inclined to think that she placed Rasputin on a level with St. John both were, in her opinion, mystics.
She was perfectly frank in her belief in Rasputin's powers of healing. The Empress was convinced that certain individuals possess this gift, and that Rasputin was one. When it was urged that the services of the most skilled physicians were at her disposal, she gave the invariable answer: "I believe in Rasputin." As for the stories that Rasputin and Anna Virouboff gave the Tsarevitch poisons and antidotes, I dismiss these with contempt - they belong solely to sensational fiction. Anna Virouboff would have been too frightened to give a kitten a dose of medicine, much less would she have tampered with the medicines given to the Tsarevitch.
The first grave scandal which assailed the Empress in connection with Rasputin was the discovery and publication of a letter written by her, in which she made use of the expression: "je veux reposer mon ame aupres de vous." The enemies of Rasputin were fully aware that he was guilty of the fatal habit of keeping interesting letters, so Rasputin (always desirous of popularity) was invited to meet certain influential people, and, on his way to the rendezvous, he was attacked and robbed, and all the correspondence which he carried on him was stolen.
In due time the contents of the Empress's letter were published, and this did her tremendous harm. Even the Duma took the worst view of the much quoted sentence, "je veux reposer mon ame aupres de vous." But that expression was not used at all in the physical meaning. The Empress merely wished to tell her friend that her soul was desirous of spiritual consolation.
Since I have lived in England, I have constantly met women who pin their faith in certain spiritual and physical advisers. Most Catholics have a special confessor to whom they invariably repair, just as most people have one particular doctor in whom they trustmost representatives of any denomination have their especial following. It is solely a question of one individual meeting the requirements of another.
The Emperor was very much troubled over the attacks which were made on the Empress. But both he and the Empress possessed a mistaken sense of their responsibilities in connection with Rasputin, and this mistaken sense of responsibility was to prove the ultimate destruction of both Rasputin and themselves. The Imperial couple resolutely refused to throw him over. In this decision the Emperor was as one with the Empress; perhaps they "humanly" declined to admit the right of anyone to dictate to them... but, be that as it may, Rasputin's position remained undisturbed.
It is well known that Rasputin condemned hostilities, but it is not equally well known that he tried to stop the declaration of war. Nevertheless, when mobilization began, he wired to Anna, saying: "The war must be stopped - war must not be declared; it will be the end of all things." No notice whatever was taken of this telegram, for the excellent reason that Rasputin's political influence was nil; he had, in fact, no influence in material matters, although many have thought otherwise.
General Beletsky once asked Rasputin to speak to the Emperor and suggest his name as Governor-General of Finland, Rasputin promised to do so, and mentioned the matter to the Emperor, in the presence of the Empress. The Emperor listened, but made no comment. General Beletsky was never appointed.
It seems impossible to obtain a logical hearing on behalf of either the Empress or Rasputin. All kinds of reports have been circulated in connection with the latter's excesses and debaucheries. There may have been some truth that Rasputin's private life was not all that it should have been, but I assert most solemnly that we never saw the slightest trace of impropriety in word, manner or behaviour when he was with us at Tsarkoe Selo.
Prince Orloff, the head of the Chancellerie Militaire, never made any pretence of liking or even tolerating the Empress. He experienced a sort of nervous repugnance to meeting her, and it was common knowledge that he took quantities of valerian in order to steady his nerves, whenever it was necessary for him to see her. The Empress, was aware of this. "I saw Prince Orloff to-day," she said to me, he was reeking of valerian. Poor man, what an effort it must cost him to speak to me."
The Prince exercised no discretion whatever in his statements about the Empress and Rasputin; he seemed impelled to disparage her - his hatred amounted almost to a phobia - and at last the Emperor lost patience with him and sent him to the Caucasus.
Princess Olga Orloff was received shortly afterwards by the Empress. The Empress was very fond of Olga, but it was a very unpleasant interview, as the Princess tried to explain that her husband had been grossly maligned. The Empress described the interview to me:
"I've had a dreadful time, Lili," she said, "Olga Orloff has just been. I'm very, very sorry for her, she's in a terrible state. When I rose, she began to speak most wildly, and to insist that her husband was devoted to me and to our interests. I knew that, if I were to sit down, I should burst into tears; so I kept standing. It was an awful moment."
Rasputin always had a presentiment of a violent death. He often remarked, with an air of profound conviction: "Whilst I'm alive all will be well, but, after my death, rivers of blood will flow. Nothing, however, will happen to 'Father' and 'Mother' " - this was his way of alluding to the Emperor and Empress. About this time an old woman, a disciple of Elidor's, came to see Rasputin one night, wearing a white dress plentifully trimmed with scarlet ribbons. Rasputin reproved her for this display.
"How awful of you to wear these red ribbons," he said.
"Ali," replied the old woman. "I know why I wear red."
"And she knew full well," said Rasputin, gloomily, when describing the incident 'to me. " Red is the colour of blood - and blood will soon be as plentiful as her scarlet ribbons."
Everyone who loved the Imperial Family was horrified at the ever increasing scandals ; the. wildest reports, mostly lies, with a substratum of truth were current, and Rasputin was even said to have been sinning in Petrograd when he was actually in Siberia. It was impossible to persuade the Empress that popular feeling was against her. True, she heard what was said, and she occasionally read what was imputed to her, but she paid no attention to gossip or to mendacious paragraphs. She was obsessed by her religion, and she sent me and Anna Virouboff on a pilgrimage to Tobolsk in the summer of 1916. A new saint had been recently canonized at Tobolsk, and the Empress had made a vow to go thither herself, or to send a substitute. Anna asked me to consent, as she was afraid to travel alone, and, as the Empress begged me to go, I could do no less than prove my devotion to her wishes.
When I arrived at Petrograd I discovered that Rasputin was to travel with us. I could not help thinking that, in view of popular feeling, it was most ill-advised to advertise the expedition, but I dared not suggest this. We left Petrograd in the greatest publicity... A special saloon carriage was attached to the train... it was, a progress of publicity, wires were sent in advance all along the line to announce our advent, and crowds thronged the stations to catch a glimpse of us.
At last, late in the evening, we arrived at Tumen, and from thence we took the steamer to Tobolsk. Little did I dream that, in a year's time, the Imperial Family were to make the same pilgrimage - of which the whole journey was to prove indeed a Via Dolorosa! They, too, were to see the black and swiftly flowing river, and the wild Tartar villages on its banks, and, like myself, they were to see the city on the mountain, with its churches and houses sharply silhouetted against the fast darkening sky.
We were received at Tobolsk by the Governor, the chief officials, and the Church dignitary, Varnava, and we were afterwards taken to our quarters in the Governor's house, where I slept in the little room which the Emperor, a year later, used as his study.
The next day we visited the saint's grave, and attended a very impressive service in the Cathedral. Rasputin stayed with the priest, but, unfortunately, he quarrelled with Varnava, so matters became somewhat strained, and I was not sorry when our two days' visit came to an end.
On the way back to Tumen, Rasputin made a point of us stopping at his village and seeing his wife. I was rather intrigued at this, as I had always wondered how and where he lived, and I felt quite interested when I saw the dark grey, carved wooden house which was the home of Rasputin. The village consisted of a group of small wooden houses built on two floors. Rasputin's house was, perhaps, a little larger than the others, and he said that he hoped one day Their Majesties would visit him.
"But it's too far," I said-aghast at the proposal.
Rasputin was angry. "They must," he declared, and, a few minutes afterwards, he added the prophetic words: "Willing or unwilling they will come to Tobolsk, and they will see my village before they die."
We remained one day at Rasputin's house. His wife was a charming, sensible woman, and the peasants were a fine type-honest, simple folk, who cultivated the fields belonging to Rasputin, and accepted no payment for so doing-working absolutely in the spirit of holiness.
Rasputin had three children - the two girls were being educated in Petrograd, but the boy was quite a peasant. Everyone was friendly, but most of the villagers were strongly against Rasputin's returning to Petrograd.
As we had decided to go on to Ekaterinburg, and from thence to the Convent of Verchoutouria, I thought it would be a good idea to persuade Rasputin to remain with his people. This he refused to do ; I told Anna that there must be no more gossip, and that she must persuade Rasputin to leave us. She promised to do so, but at the last moment he went with us to Ekaterinburg.
I shall never forget my first impression of this fatal town. Directly we got out of the train, I felt a sense of calamity - we were all affected; Rasputin was ill at ease, Anna perceptibly nervous, and I was heartily glad when we reached the Convent of Verchoutouria, which is situated on the left bank of the river Toura. We stayed a night in the guest house attached to the Convent, and then Rasputin asked us to go into the woods with him and visit a hermit who was locally supposed to be a very holy man.
This pilgrimage must appear entirely foolish in the eyes of English readers. I try and put myself in their place, and imagine what the English public would think if the " Daily Mail " announced that Queen Mary had sent two of her friends on such an expedition.
"This couldn't happen - Queen Mary is far too sensible," you will say.
No doubt Queen Mary is far too sensible... such a thing could never happen in England, and I am only relating it in order to prove that, once again, it is impossible to judge Russia from an English standpoint.
The hermit lived in the heart of the forest and his hermitage might easily have been taken for a poultry farm. He was surrounded by fowls of all sizes and descriptions. Perhaps he considered fowls akin to holiness; he gave quantities of eggs to the Convent, but we supped frugally off cold water and black bread. The hermit had no use for beds, so we slept miserably on the hard, unyielding floor of dried mud, and I must confess that I was glad when we returned to Verchoutouria and we were able to sleep and bath in comfort.
Rasputin decided to take leave of us at Verchoutouria, so we went on alone to Perm, where our saloon carriage was coupled to another train. Crowds came to stare at Anna, and some of their comments made me feel very uneasy. There was much dissatisfaction, and, when our saloon was uncoupled, it was done so forcibly that the carriage was almost derailed, and I was thrown from one end to the other. But we returned to Petrograd safely, there to be welcomed and thanked by the Empress.
"After all, Lili," said Anna, now prostrate with nerves and a heart attack, "we must believe that God likes us to endure."
I do not know whether this remark was reminiscent of the hermitage, or of the saloon carriage, but I was able honestly to thank God that I was once more within a civilized area.
Rasputin did not stay long in his village; he returned to Petrograd, and the brazen voice of scandal was again heard. One day, in 1916, when I was at Reval, the Empress telegraphed asking me to come and see her.
I obeyed, and found her alone, looking sad, and obviously much troubled in her mind. She did not, at first, touch on the subject nearest her heart; then, all at once, she told me how hard she thought it of people to speak against her so bitterly.
"I know all, Lili," she said. "Why does Gregory stop in Petrograd ? The Emperor doesn't wish it. I don't. And yet we can't possibly discard him - he's done no wrong. Oh, why won't he see his folly ? "
"I'll do all in my power, Madame, to make him do so," I replied. My heart overflowed with love for the Empress, she seemed so utterly broken, so tragically sad.
"I've already reproached Anna for not helping me in the, matter," continued the Empress, arid she gave me her permission to go at once to the house in Gorohovaya Street where Rasputin lived. I went with Anna.
We did not find Rasputin alone. It was tea time and he was surrounded by a little crowd of admirers. Next to him sat his ame damnee, Akilina Laptinsky, the secret agent, under whose skilful tutelage Rasputin unconsciously played the well-planned game of the Revolutionaries. Akilina posed as a Sister of Charity, and many people believed in her; she possessed great influence with Rasputin, and in his unguarded moments he made many deplorable confidences in Akilina, who used
Akilina nursed Anna at Tsarkoe Selo when she was ill with the measles, but on the second day of the Revolution she sent me a note, asking me to come over to the left wing of the Palace. She then informed me that Anna was delirious...
"However, I can't do much for her. Will you tell Her Majesty that I must go into town for a day. I want to see Gregory's family."
I promised to deliver the message, but we never saw Akilina again. A fortnight later we were told that she was living in the family of one of the most prominent Revolutionaries.
Another "Sister," Voskoboinikova, equally associated with Rasputin, was head matron of Anna's hospital. She was, likewise, a great friend of M. Protopopoff, the Minister of the Interior, who used to spend hours in her company. Voskoboinikova possessed a certain fascination, but she was very inquisitive, and we equally disliked each other. Following the example of Akilina, she left Tsarkoe on the second day of the Revolution, but, the night before relinquishing her position at the hospital, she gave a dinner to the convalescent soldiers, when wine flowed freely and all sorts of seditious speeches were made. The soldiers were told to look to Petrograd for freedom, and that revolvers and bullets were fine things. Truly women had their uses during the Revolution!
But to return to Rasputin. The feeling against him daily assumed larger proportions. Elidor once sent a woman to kill him, and the Father was badly wounded in the stomach, but it is untrue to say that Anna Virouboff nursed him during the illness which ensued, She never attempted to do so.
Prince Felix Yousopoff, whose name will always be connected with the tragedy of Rasputin, first met him at the house of Mine Golovina, a sister-in-law of the Grand Duke Paul. The demoiselle Golovina greatly admired Felix Yousopoff, in fact her "flamme " for him was well known. Some considerable time elapsed between the first meeting of Prince Felix and Rasputin: I spent the next two years chiefly in Reval, but I used to pay a fortnightly visit to the Empress, and, after my husband was sent to England, I went to Petrograd, where I saw the Empress daily. I was very surprised when she told me that Felix Yousopoff was a constant visitor at Rasputin's house; in fact I was so incredulous that I asked Rasputin whether this was true.
"Yes - it's quite true," he answered, "I have a great affection for Prince Yousopoff, I never call him anything else but 'Little One.'"
Mary Golovina, to whom also I expressed my astonishment, said that Prince Yousopoff declared that Rasputin's prayers benefited him: so there was nothing more to be said.
On December 16th, when I was at Tsarkoe Selo, I told the Empress that I wanted to see Rasputin on the morrow, but just before starting for his house - about five o'clock on the afternoon of December 17th - I was rung up from Tsarkoe Selo - the Empress wished to speak to me. Her voice seemed agitated.
"Lili," she said, "don't go to Father Gregory's to-day. Something strange has happened. He disappeared last night-nothing has been heard of him, but I'm sure it will be all right. Will you come to the Palace at once?"
Thoroughly startled by this disturbing news, I lost no time in taking the train to Tsarkoe Selo, An Imperial carriage was waiting for me, and I soon found myself at the Palace.
The Empress was in her mauve boudoir; once again I felt the premonition of coming disaster, but I endeavoured to disregard it. Never did the "cabinet mauve" look so homelike. The air was sweet with the fragrance of many flowers and the clean odour of burning wood; the Empress was lying down, the Grand Duchesses sat near her, and Anna Virouboff was sitting on a. footstool close to the couch. The Empress was very pale - her blue eyes were full of trouble, the young girls were silent, and Anna had evidently been weeping. I heard all there was to tell me; Gregory had disappeared, but I believe the Empress never imagined for one moment that he was dead. She discountenanced any sinister conjectures ; she soothed the ever weeping Anna, and then she told me what she wished me to do.
"You will sleep in Anna's house to-night," she said. " I want you to see people for me tomorrow-I am advised that it will be better for me not to do so."
I told the Empress that I was only too happy to be of service to her, and, after dinner, I went to Anna's house, which I was astonished to find in the occupation of the Secret Police!
The pretty little dining-room was full of police agents, who received me most courteously, explaining that their presence was accounted for by the fact that a plot to kill the Empress and Anna Virouboff had just been discovered. This was not reassuring, but I decided not to be nervous, and , bidding good night to the officers of justice, I went into Anna's bedroom.
The familiar room looked strangely unfamiliar - terror lurked in the shadows, and death seemed in the air. I am not by nature superstitious, but I must confess that I felt so when an ikon suddenly fell down with a crash, carrying a portrait of Rasputin with it in its fall. I hastily undressed and got into bed - I could not sleep; I lay awake for hours, and when, towards dawn, I dropped off in an uneasy slumber, I was suddenly aroused by what seemed a great noise outside. I heard in the distance the tread of countless feet, the sound of many voices; a mighty multitude was marching towards Tsarkoe Selo - and the dreadful thought flashed across my mind that perhaps there had been a rising at Petrograd. I jumped out of bed, threw on a wrapper, and rushed to the dining-room. There all was quiet; the police officers were sleeping on the floor. My entrance awakened them.
"Why, madame, what's the matter?" they enquired.
"Cannot you hear for yourselves?" I said, impatiently, "the noise - the crowd. I'm sure something dreadful has happened at Petrograd."
"We have heard nothing."
"Oh, but I assure you it's correct."
The police opened the shutters, then the windows... outside all was still with the intense stillness of a winter's night. The officers made no comment, and closed the windows.
"Madame has perhaps been dreaming," said one, sympathetically. "She has had much to try her nerves."
But I knew differently. I had certainly experienced much to try my nerves, but what I heard was neither a nightmare nor a delusion. When I re-entered the sombre bedroom, with its fallen ikon and its fallen saint, I shuddered, for, although I knew it not, the veil had been lifted, and I had heard the fast approaching footsteps of Revolution and murder.
I was an early arrival at the Palace, but the Empress was already up and she greeted me most affectionately. She told me that M. Protopopoff had strongly urged her to receive no one : there was evidence of a plot to murder her, and, for the first time, she seemed to feel some misgivings concerning the fate of Rasputin. She manifested no anxiety about her own danger; she was utterly serene and fearless : I was so struck by this that I could not help saying:
"Oh, Madame, you don't seem afraid to die. I always dread death - I'm a horrible coward." The Empress looked at me in astonishment.
"Surely, Lili, you are not really afraid to die?"
"Yes, Madame, I am."
I cannot understand anyone being afraid to die," she said, quietly. "I have always looked upon Death as such a friend, such a rest. You mustn't be afraid to die, Lili."
I passed an anxious and exciting morning. I was besieged with visitors for Anna, and people who desired to see the Empress. I think my position gave rise to a great deal of jealousy in the Palace, as at this time the Empress made me the sole medium of her wishes and no official etiquette was observed.
Nothing was heard of Rasputin, but all kinds of disturbing rumours were current. A certain person paid twenty-two visits to Tsarkoe Selo in one day, hopeful to see the Empress, but, acting on the advice of Protopopoff, she absolutely declined to receive him.
Two days later, Rasputin's body was discovered under the ice in the Neva. It was taken to a hospital close by, where an autopsy was performed. Rasputin had been wounded in the face and side, and there was a bullet wound in his back. His expression was peaceful, and the stiff fingers of one hand were raised in a gesture of benediction; it was impossible to arrange the hand in a natural position! The autopsy proved without a doubt that Rasputin was alive when he was thrown into the Neva!
The news of the murder caused the greatest consternation at the Palace-Anna Virouboff was prostrated with grief, and the Imperial Family were deeply concerned. The reports that the Empress gave way to violent hysterics are incorrect. It would be untrue to say that she was not inexpressibly shocked and grieved, but she displayed no untoward emotion. The Emperor was troubled, but his feelings arose more from the significance of Rasputin's death than from the actual death of the man: he realised, that this murder was the first definite blow against the hitherto absolute power of the Tsar!
Akilina Laptinsky came to the Palace immediately after the autopsy had been performed: she wished, so she said, to discuss the question of Rasputin's burial. She was received by the Empress; Anna and I were also present. The "Sister" first asked the Empress if she did not wish to see the corpse.
"Certainly not," replied the Empress - in a tone which admitted of no argument.
"But there is the question of the burial," said Akilina. "Gregory always wished to be buried at Tsarkoe Selo." "Impossible... impossible..." cried the Empress. "The body had better be taken to Siberia and buried in the Father's' village."
Akilina wept... She declared that Rasputin's spirit would never rest were he to be buried so far away from the Palace. The Empress hesitated... I could see she was thinking that it would be equally as unfriendly to discard the dead as to discard the living. Anna, however, settled the question by proposing that Rasputin should be interred in the centre aisle of the new church adjoining her hospital for convalescents. The church and the hospital were being built on Anna's own property... There could be no question of any scandal touching the Imperial Family... This proceeding would only enable people to cast another stone at Anna's already shattered reputation.
"An... I care little for the opinion of the world," whimpered Anna, looking more than ever like a hurt baby.
So it was settled that Rasputin should be buried in Anna's church, and, as I attended the burial, I may say with absolute conviction that mine is a true account of the proceedings. I have been told, and I have read various wholly inaccurate reports - the most prevalent being that Rasputin was buried secretly at dead of night in the Park at Tsarkoe Selo. Nothing of the kind. Rasputin's burial took place at 8 o'clock on the morning of December 22nd. The Empress asked me, on the preceding evening, to meet the Imperial Family by the graveside, and I promised to do so.
It was a glorious morning, the sky was a deep blue, the sun was shining, and the hard snow sparkled like masses of diamonds ; everything spoke of peace, and I could hardly believe that I was about to witness the closing scene of one of the greatest scandals and tragedies in history. My carriage stopped on the road some distance from the Observatory, and I was directed to walk across a frozen field towards the unfinished church. Planks had been placed on the snow to serve as a footpath, and when I arrived at the church I noticed that a police motor-van was drawn up near the open grave. After waiting several moments, I heard the sound of sleigh-bells, and Anna Virouboff came slowly across the field. Almost immediately afterwards, a closed automobile stopped, and the Imperial Family joined us. They were dressed in mourning, and the Empress carried some white flowers ; she was very pale but quite composed, although I saw her tears fall when the oak coffin was taken out of the police van. The coffin was perfectly plain. It bore no inscription, and only a cross outside it testified to the faith of the departed.
The ceremony proceeded - the burial service was read by the chaplain to the hospital, and, after the Emperor and Empress had thrown earth on the coffin, the Empress distributed her flowers between the Grand Duchesses and ourselves, and we scattered them on the coffin.
When the last solemn words had been uttered, the Imperial Family left the church. Anna and I followed them... Anna got into her sledge, I into my carriage. it was barely nine o'clock.
I looked back at the snowy fields, the bare walls of the unfinished church, and I thought of the murdered man who was sleeping there. I felt an immense pity for his fate, but, above all, I felt an immense pity and love for those who had believed in him and befriended him in defiance of the world, and on whose innocent shoulders the burden of his f follies was destined to rest.
I have not attempted to introduce any picturesque imagery in my description of Rasputin's burial. I have stated the facts exactly as they occurred, and it now devolves upon me to contradict one of the most unjust accusations which have been made against the Empress in connection with the burial of Rasputin.
Several writers have asserted that, when Rasputin's remains were dug up after the Revolution, a holy image bearing the signatures of the Empress and the Grand Duchesses was discovered resting under the cheek of the dead man. The Empress has been credited with placing this image there herself, but this is not the case. The image (that of the Miraculous Virgin of Pskov) was one of several which the Empress brought back from Pskov when she and her daughters visited her hospital. The Empress purchased these images much in the same manner that visitors to Lourdes purchase souvenirs of Our Lady of Lourdes. The Imperial Family wrote their names and the date in pencil on the base of all these souvenirs, which were given to various friends. Rasputin received one, and, when his body was placed in the coffin, Akilina, with some sinister motive, insisted upon the image being placed under his cheek, and she was, doubtless, responsible for the story that this was done by order of the Empress.
After Rasputin's death his son and daughters came to Tsarkoe Selo and were received by the Empress. They related how, on the night of the murder, their father had received a message from Prince Yousopoff, asking him to come and see him. It appeared that Rasputin's daughters had some vague presentiment of ill, and, begged their father to remain at home. He, however, insisted upon going to the "little one," and the finding of one of the goloshes which he wore on account of the deep snow was partly the means of discovering that foul play had taken place.
The family begged the Empress to avenge their father's death. She replied:
"I can promise you nothing. All rests with justice; we cannot possibly interfere in any way for or against that which has taken place."
These were her actual words, and they must surely discredit the story that Prince, Yousopoff and the Grand Duke Dmitry were victims of the vindictive spirit of the Empress.
Rasputin, as I knew him, was, I repeat, not the villain of the novel and the films. In my eyes he was an uneducated man with a mission ; he spoke an almost incomprehensible Siberian dialect, he could hardly read, he wrote like a child of four, and his manners were unspeakable. But he possessed both hypnotic and spiritual forces he believed in himself and he made others do so. I am not ignorant of what has been said concerning his abnormal animalism, his satyr-like sensualities, the nameless orgies in which young women and young girls gave themselves as willing victims to his lust. An English saying states that there is "no smoke without fire" - this may, perhaps, apply to Rasputin's sensual side, but never to the alleged extent. One woman in twenty may lose her sense of fitness and seek to mate with a man in an inferior station of life, but it is not an everyday occurrence, The reports about his dress and his extravagance are also very much exaggerated. Rasputin lived, and died, a poor man. He usually wore the dress of a peasant, and his wonderful jewelled cross only exists in the brains of novelists and journalists. Rasputin at first wore a simple copper cross, later he wore one of gold which he afterwards sent to the Emperor at the Stavka. This gift in Russia is usually unwelcome, as it signifies that you present with it the sorrows and sufferings synonymous with the Cross. The Emperor thought that Rasputin's cross was unlucky, so he gave it back to me, and asked me to give it to Anna. But Anna stubbornly refused to accept it, and I was at my wits' end to know what to do. I could not tell the Emperor that Anna would have none of Rasputin's cross-so I mislaid it, and I do not know what became of it. But I only saw the moral side of this apparently immoral man, and I was not alone in my conception of Rasputin's character. I know for a fact that many women of my world who had " affairs" and many demi-mondaines were not dragged further into the mire by Rasputin, forincredible as it may appear - his influence in such cases was often for the best.
I remember that I once met Rasputin when I was walking on the Morskaya with a brother officer of Captain Dehn's. He eyed me severely and, when I returned home, I found a message telling me to come and see him. Partly out of curiosity I obeyed, and, when I saw Rasputin, he demanded an explanation. "Of what?" I asked.
"Oh - thou know'st well enough. Art thou going to follow the example of these frivolous Society women? Why art thou not walking with thy husband?"
He repeatedly said to women who sought his advice:
"If you mean to do wrong, first come and tell me."
So I can do no more than speak of Rasplitin as I found him. If I had been a Rasputiniere, or the victim of an abnormal passion, I shouldnot be living happily with my husband, and Captain Dehn would never have countenanced any association with Rasputin if the latter had been guilty of immoralities at Tsarkoe Selo. His duty as a husband would have been greater than his devotion to the Imperial Family.
I cannot entirely defend the Empress's attitude. I love her, I reverence her memory, but I think she was, in many ways, perhaps, mistaken in her outlook. She argued, very rightly, that, even if she belonged to Russia, her soul belonged to God, and she had a perfect right to worship Him exactly in what manner most appealed to her. I have mentioned her views as to position being no ban where the instruments of God were concerned. In a worldly sense this was impossible, especially in Russia, where humility appealed neither to the peasant nor to the higher classes. The religious "communism" of the Empress outraged their sense of fitness . . . the peasants could not understand one of their own class being on intimate terms with the Sovereigns . . . the higher classes were bitterly contemptuous.
Knowing the strong religious convictions of the Empress and the inborn characteristics of both classes, the Revolutionaries found in Rasputin a fitting agent of Imperial destruction.
The Greek Church is the most mediaeval of religions... it is quite harmless, so to speak, when modern conditions are not introduced into its practice; but modernity, ever a fatal element in religion, is especially fatal to the Greek Church. The Empress would not understand this... her faith taught her to credit the existence of holy men, hermits, and seers-so, when Rasputin appeared in the character of one of these, she was not surprised, and she accepted the actuality of his heaven-sent mission, as the teachings of her Church bade her.
As I have stated, coincidence was largely responsible for the belief of the Empress in Rasputin's gift of healing. His prayers coincided with the recovery of the Tsarevitch - that child of many prayers. In her love for her son the Empress was pluis mere que mere. I am likewise assured that there was no theatrical clap-trap in Rasputin's association with Anna Virouboff. Had Anna possessed the brains of Akilina, I might not be so positivebut Anna was no intrigante; in the face of possible denunciation as a Russian Sapphira, I repeat my estimate of Anna Virouboff, i.e., childish, harmless, weak.
If the Empress were guilty of any glaring weakness, it was, paradoxically, that of stubbornness. She did not allow any interference in what she considered her own province. Her grandmother and the Prince Albert had tolerated none; her distant connection, Princess Clementine of Coburg, was ultra-obstinate; another of her connections, Ferdinand of Bulgaria, has also manifested the Coburg peculiarity. It is an interesting psychological study: in some of the family this trait is manifest in their undeviating pursuit of worldly ambition, in others it is apparent in their views of morality and domesticity. In the case of the Empress, morality, domesticity and religion were subjects in which she brooked no contradiction.
Had the Emperor been less religious, he might have (from a worldly point of view) influenced his wife to have seen less of Rasputin. But he made no attempt to interfere with her on religious questions, remembering perhaps how wholly she had relinquished the faith of her fathers to embrace his own. The Empress has been accused of contributing to the downfall of Russia through her association with Rasputin. The finger of scorn and hatred has pointed at her, and an almost universal voice has cried, "Thou art the Woman." But history, if not always just, is at least generous, and it may be that Alexandra Feodorovna will one day be given the benefit of the doubt, and allowed to appeal against the sentence which has been passed on her. For many years prior to her advent as Empress of Russia, the movement for Freedom had been slowly but surely spreading over the entire country, and the creation of the Duma strengthened public opinion. But certain RevoIutionaries- themselves as evil as their prototypes in the French Revolutiondid not scorn to employ base agents in order to attain their base ends. These men used Rasputin - with what result is now apparent. But have the murders of Rasputin and the Empress cleansed Russia and enabled it to be rechristened Utopia?
The ashes of Rasputin are scattered to the four winds, the blood of the innocent cries aloud to Heaven for vengeance; but Russia - drunken with carnage, liberated from her ancient yoke, and delivered of her rulers - has as yet only produced Robespierres.