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

I have dealt with the subject of Rasputin before touching on that of the War, but his name is also connected with the War, as he is supposed to have been a German spy, and to have encouraged the alleged pro-German leanings of the Empress. Although I shall always adhere to my original belief that Rasputin was an unconscious agent of the Revolutionaries, I cannot deny that he was against the War, and always desirous of peace, but this attitude was due to his own wishes and convictions. I asked Rasputin in 1915 when he thought the war would be over. "Not yet... Don't expect the war to be over yet," he answered and in 1916, when I returned from Reval, I asked the Empress the same question. "Not yet, Lili, not yet," she said. Both these replies might serve to show how little was the political influence either of the Empress or of Rasputin. As an individual, doubtless the Empress desired peace: as a Russian, she could not possibly have desired the victory of Germany.

There was great excitement in 1914 throughout Russia; everyone hoped that England would come in, especially in naval circles, who were well aware of the weakness of the Russian fleet.

The excitement increased when Russia became the ally of France. The Imperial band played the hymns of the Allies daily; there was no question of pro-Germanism at Court - Russia, as befitting her great traditions, was fighting the good fight!

My husband was ordered to escort the Imperial Family to sea on the "Standart," and I knew that I must therefore spend my birthday without him. One evening, when we were sitting in the Park making plans for a belated celebration, my husband was accosted by one of the heads of his Department. "Dehn..." said he... " go at once to the Commander of the Port you're wanted." Upon his return my husband was very excited.

"Lili," he cried, "I have received orders to join Admiral Essen's fleet. I must leave almost immediately." It was, indeed, "almost immediately," for at 3 a.m. my husband bade me good-bye.

The Empress sent me a note directly she knew that Charles had left. "I hope everything will be all right," she wrote. Poor Lili, don't despair."

I tried not to despair, and, like most wives at this time, I kept a smiling face, although I was perilously near tears. Every day the Military Council was in consultation with the Emperor, and, on the evening before the declaration of war, I knew that mobilization had been decided upon.

The Emperor firmly believed that Russia was amply supplied with munitions. He had been assured on this point by the Grand Duke Nicholas and General Soukhomlinoff. Soukhomlinoff knew that the ammunition of the Russian army was insufficient, but he still continued to reassure the Emperor and the Allies. The Grand Duke Nicholas, who was far from blameless ...instigated a Special Commission under the presidency of the Grand Duke Serge, with the declared object of providing the army with the requisite munitions. But three months passed, and nothing was done. Even when certain supplies of munitions arrived at the Front, these were useless, as they would not fit the guns and musketry which required them! The Emperor was most unjustly blamed for these calamities-but he was guiltless-the real offenders were the Grand Duke Nicholas, General Soukhomlinoff and their agents.

On the day following my husband's departure the Empress sent me a message asking me to go with her to the church usually attended by the Lancers (the Empress's Own). The service was very impressive; I stood behind the Empress, who was praying ardently, and, at the conclusion, she turned to me: "Don't look sad, Lili," she whispered. "This war had to be."

Whenever the regiments of which the Empress was colonel left for the front, she saw the officers and soldiers, and blessed them and spoke to them. A great deal has been said and written about the Empress's unpopularity with the soldiers. I have hardly heard a good word on her behalf, and yet I know how devotedly she was loved by many of the officers and men. It will be my privilege to show how, during the Revolution, she received many touching evidences of their affection, and I am determined not to allow the Sisyphus weight of calumny to deter me from telling what I know of the truth.

After the declaration of hostilities the Empress at once instituted her own hospitals, and both she and her daughters went in for a medical course to qualify as Sisters of Charity. Princess Gedroits, herself a professor of surgery, instructed them, and the Imperial Family gave up most of their time to lectures and demonstrations.

Directly they had passed the necessary examinations, the Empress and "the four sisters Romanoff" started nursing, spending hours with the wounded and almost invariably being present at operations.

Society at once began to criticise this procedure. It argued that it was not the duty of an Empress of Russia to become a nurse. It failed to remember that at this time the illustrated papers were full of pictures of various crowned heads who were doing precisely the same thing for which they condemned the Empress ! But she wore her rue with a difference. What was praiseworthy in others constituted a sin in her case. Without being accused of bitterness, I think I may be allowed to say that it makes me sad when I realise the persistent animosity displayed towards the Empress by all classes, from the prince to the peasant ... " the evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones." In the case of the Empress, the good she undoubtedly did during her life was not only interred with her but it was never recognised during her life. Her innocent fault consisted (to quote the words of an English writer) in not being able to understand "that in the eyes of her subjects she must shine and be ornamental, but not useful in the trivial acceptance of the word." Perhaps the Empress erred in her conception of the mentality of the Russian peasant. As an impartial critic, I fear this was the case. When she wore the Red Cross, the sign of a universal Brotherhood of Pity, the average soldier only saw in the Red Cross an emblem of her lost dignity as Empress of Russia. He was shocked and embarrassed when she attended to his wounds and performed almost menial duties. His idea of an Empress was never as a woman, but only as an imposing and resplendent Sovereign.

The pro-German tendencies of the Empress were mentioned after our reverse at Brest, when the Emperor assumed command. Everyone was suspicious of her, and, when she spoke English at the hospitals to her daughters and her ladies-in-waiting, the soldiers declared she was speaking German, and this report once started was magnified exceedingly.

The actual dawn of Revolution occurred before the death of Rasputin, but during the war it was openly stated that the end of Tsardom was at hand. All our defeats were attributed to the pro-German influence of the Empress, who was spitefully alluded to as "The Colonel" in certain salons.

Protopopoff, the Minister of the Interior, was always reporting plots against the life of the Empress. One, it was said, had been disclosed in an intercepted letter from a Society woman to a friend in Moscow. The writer lamented that the murder of the Empress had not been a "fait accompli," and declared that, failing murder, the next best remedy was incarceration in a madhouse. Princess Vasiltchikoff sent a letter to the Empress, in the name of the women of Russia, telling her that all classes were against her, and daring her to mix further in Russian affairs.

It has been said that the Empress was equally furious at the contents of the letter, and the fact that it was written on paper torn off a letter-pad! But it was not the question of the breach of etiquette which writing to the Sovereign on a letter-pad implied, it was the horrible accusations, the virulent animosity of the missive which at first angered the Empress, and afterwards grieved her. She cried bitterly when she told me. "Of what am I accused?" she said. "Gregory is dead. Surely people might leave me alone!"

Princess Vasiltchikoff's letter gave rise to much excitement; her portrait was in all the newspapers, and public opinion was divided for and against her.

Another letter was sent to the Empress, this time anonymously, but it was equally reprehensible, and this letter and the preceding one caused the greatest indignation in the hospitals, as the officers who knew the Empress as she really was were very angry, Life in general was excessively difficult and painful, so much so that, when my husband arrived from Mourmansk, and asked Count Kapnist how things were going, the Count replied: "You'll soon see for yourself, and you'll be horrified. We have gone back to the days of Paul I. Ruin lies ahead of us."

The Empress saw a good many people at this time. Every Thursday there were musical evenings, where I met various friends-officers in the Artillery, the Emperor's A.D.C., Linavitch, Count Rabindar and his wife (who was a faulty likeness of the Empress), the officers of the "Standart," Prince Dolgouroki (who was afterwards murdered), Madame Voeikoff, the wife of the Commandant du Palais, Colonel Grotten, and many others.

A Roumanian orchestra, under the direction of the famous Goulesko, played on these Thursdays, and the Empress derived great pleasure in listening to the really exquisite music. A huge fire was always burning in the salon ; the Empress sat near it, and a little seat immediately behind her was arranged for my exclusive use. If I happened to arrive - after the Empress was seated, she always indicated the vacant place with a gesture and a sweet smile.

One evening, about a fortnight before the Revolution, when I was sitting in my usual place, listening to the Roumanian orchestra,. I noticed that the Empress seemed unusually sad. So I ventured to bend forward and whisper, anxiously, "Oh, Madame, why are you so sad to-night ? " The Empress turned and looked at me ... "Why am I sad, Lili?... I can't really say, but the music depresses me... I think my heart is broken." The same evening, Anna childishly observed:

"We all seem out of sorts. What fun it would be to have some champagne." The Empress was angry at the suggestion. "No..." she said, "the Emperor hates wine, he can't bear women to drink wine-but what matter his likes or his dislikes, when people will have it that he's a drunkard himself?" The Empress was in very indifferent health; mental worry had increased her heart trouble, but she endeavoured never to let her health interfere with her public duties. At an official reception following the departure of the Guards, the Empress told me that she hardly knew how to endure the strain. "Veronal is keeping me up. I'm literally saturated with it," she said.

When my husband came home on a few days' leave, the Emperor sent for him, and. listened attentively to all that he had to say, questioning him very closely on certain subjects. We had never thought of or mentioned the subject of his preferment; he had now spent two strenuous years in the mine-fields, and the Emperor noticed how ill he looked.

"Dehn must have a rest," remarked His Majesty. "I shall give him a post near my person."

But this kindly thought never matured. My husband was sent for by the Minister of the Marine, and left for England at twenty-four hours' notice, in company with General Meller-Zakomelsky, taking with them decorations destined by the Emperor for certain English officers. The news of the Revolution was not known by them or in England when they arrived, so an elaborate official reception was given them. Almost immediately afterwards the news was public property and it was impossible to use the Emperor's decorations. I often wonder what became of them.

Before leaving for England, my husband asked me to join him there. I could not promise. I loved him very dearly, but I felt that my duty lay with the Empress.

"No, Charles," I said, "I cannot promise anything at present, but, if things become better, come."

When he had gone, I felt utterly unhappy, but I did not regret any sacrifice I was called upon to make for the Imperial Family. I loved them all far too much.

At this time the Emperor had every intention of remaining with his family, but, one morning, after having received General Gourko in audience, he suddenly announced:

"I'm going to G.H.Q. to-morrow."

The Empress was surprised.

"Cannot you possibly stay with us ?" she enquired. "No," said the Emperor, "I must go."

Almost immediately after the Emperor's departure, the Tsarevitch fell ill with measles, and I used to spend every evening with the Empress, who was naturally much worried over her son's illness. In these days, our intimacy had increased so much that my time was mostly devoted to the Empress, and I saw few of my friends and relations. But my aunt, the Countess KotzebuePilar, was a great Society leader, and I heard all, that transpired in her salon. One evening before dinner my aunt (who was always furious at the rumours current about the Empress) 'phoned me to come to her house at once. I found her in an excessively agitated condition...

"It's awful what people are saying, Lili," she cried... And I must tell you - you must warn the Empress."

In somewhat calmer tones my aunt continued:

"Yesterday I was at the Kotzebues'... Many officers were present, and it was openly asserted that His Majesty will never return from G.H.Q. What are you going to do? You are constantly in the society of the Empress-you cannot allow her to remain in ignorance of these reports."

"She will not believe them," I said.

"Nevertheless," said my aunt, "it is your duty to warn her."

I returned to the Palace feeling very unhappy. I hardly knew what to do for the best. At last, after a struggle, I decided to tell the Empress. As I had anticipated, she made light of the story.

"It's all nonsense, Lili, I can't believe such a thing - it's nothing but malicious gossip. However, as you seem so apprehensive, send for Grotten (the Commandant du Palais) and tell him."

"Don't pay any attention to such a canard," cried Grotten angrily, when he heard my story. "It's a lie which stamps itself as the worst kind of lie."

"Well, General," I retorted, now thoroughly vexed with myself for having apparently made a mountain out of a molehill, "if God ordains my aunt's report to be a lie, so much the better."

"Don't be cross... . I'll most certainly get in touch with G.H.Q.," said Grotten reassuringly. THREE DAYS AFTER CAME THE REVOLUTION.

And now the funeral knell of Russia began to sound, at first muffled, but always insistently. Disorders broke out in Petrograd. The strikes began on February 21st (Old Style), and crowds clamoured for bread, of which the supplies had suddenly stopped. No one could understand this, as Protopopoff's last words to the Emperor were: "There is plenty of flour, I'll pledge my word that we have enough flour to last us for a month, and after that fresh supplies will be coming in." The bread shortage was in reality due to the action of the Duma - it was an organised arrangement!!

Each day matters grew worse. Fighting took place in the streets, drunkards indulged in indescribable orgies, the police were murdered much in the same manner as they have been in Ireland. It was bitterly cold-snow lay in deep drifts, and Petrograd was in the iron grip of a black frost.

Protopopoff, the Minister of the Interior, was always ultra-optimistic - I never liked or trusted him; he did not seem the man to handle any great crisis. He was appreciated by the Duma until his deplorable interview in Stockholm, when he discussed the war in a very indiscreet manner; but, when the Emperor appointed Protopopoff Minister of the Interior, he was universally hated, and everyone blamed the Emperor for appointing a man so singularly devoid of merit. Protopopoff promised everything, without considering whether his promises were possible. It was the same with his statements: he disliked telling unpleasant truths, so he took refuge in pleasant evasions. He was the man who continually told the Imperial Family that nothing could possibly happen. "Trust in me," said Protopopoff, striking an attitude. And, whenever someone meekly remarked that the working classes were undoubtedly restive, Protopopoff struck another attitude which implied, "Did I fancy I heard you say 'restive'?" and, aloud, in pained but hearty tones: "What? Are you actually troubling yourself about a little unrest? We'll soon crush them - Labour cannot stand up against Me."

It may be asked: Why did the Imperial Family, and especially the Empress, place so much reliance in M. Protopopoff's statements, as, since the Empress knew all that was written concerning her, she, at least, could have possessed no illusions? The answer is simple : The Empress knew that she was unpopular, but she never would believe that this unpopularity lay with the people-she attributed the scandals and calumnies to classhatred, and to that craving for sensation without which a certain section of the Press would be unable to exist. When, made bold by my ever growing apprehensions, I ventured to tell the Empress that in these days the "people" were not paragons of fidelity, she bade me remember the afternoon, not long distant, when we drove out to a little "Lett" village near Peterhof. I did remember. The automobile had stopped near the church, and, the moment the Empress alighted, she was surrounded by a crowd of peasants, who knelt before her, and, with tears in their eyes, prayed aloud for her happiness. After this the Empress was offered bread and salt, and it was with great difficulty that a passage was cleared to her waiting automobile. This incident occurred two years before the Revolution. "And yet you tell me, Lili, that these people wish me ill!"

"Madame, many things have happened during the last two years."

"Nothing has happened, Lili, to touch the real heart of Russia."

I do not profess to have any knowledge of politics, and I never wished to meddle in them, so it is impossible for me to attempt to discuss the so-called political influence of the Empress. We hardly ever spoke of politics, but I can truthfully state that I never once heard her utter one sentiment that might be described as even faintly pro-German. Her letters written after her arrest, which are reproduced for the first time, ought to plead for her more strongly than any words of mine. When the Empress wrote to me, neither she nor I had any idea that part of her correspondence would be read by the English public. The letters might never have reached me: they were smuggled out of the Palace and sent from Tobolsk in circumstances of much difficulty and danger. But they breathe sincerity of purpose in every line: they were written when the shadow of death was falling on the Imperial Family... There is no trace of the hysterical, intriguing woman in any of them. The letter which contains the passage relating to the fleet will perhaps serve to vindicate the memory of the Empress more than anything else, at least so far as her alleged pro-Germanism is affected. Even now, justice, blind, but nevertheless allseeing, has decreed that Germany should acknowledge having laid the mines which destroyed the "Hampshire": Germany, brought to book, would not have scrupled to lay the guilt to the charge of the Empress, especially since she cannot defend herself. But Germany has not availed herself of the universal detestation which surrounds the name of Alexandra Feodorovna: so she has, at least, been spared one degradation.

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