Part One - Old Russia Alexander Palace Time Machine
Royalty Discussion Forum
Part Two - Revolution Chapter I

On Saturday, February 25th, 1917, the Empress told me that she wished me to come to Tsarkoe Selo on the following Monday, and I was (let me confess it) still in bed when the telephone rang at 10 a.m. I suppose my delay in answering must have amused the Empress, for her first words were: "I believe you have only just got out of bed, Lili. Listen, I want you to come to Tsarkoe by the 10.45 train. It's a lovely morning. We'll go for a run in the car, so I'll meet you at the station. You can see the girls and Anna, and return to Petrograd at 4 P.M. - I'm certain you won't catch the train, but anyhow I'll be at the station to meet it."

I dressed at express speed, and, snatching up my gloves, a few rings, and a bracelet, I ran into the street in search of a fiacre. I had quite forgotten that there was a strike, and no conveyances were available! At this moment I saw M. Sablin's carriage: I hailed him, and begged for a lift to the station. On the way I questioned him.

"What news, Monsieur...?"

"There's nothing fresh," he replied, "but everything is quite all right, although I must admit it is very strange about the bread shortage."

The train for Tsarkoe was just moving out of the station when I arrived on the platform, but I what she had better do, I promised to see the Empress at once, and, as the Grand Duchesses Anastasie and Marie had just come to fetch me, I returned to the private apartments with them.

The winter afternoon was fast drawing in, and I found the Empress alone in her boudoir. She could give me no message for Mme Pistolkors. "I don't know what to advise," she said, sadly. Then, turning to me, "What are you going to do, Lili? Titi is in Petrograd... had you not better return to him this evening?"

At the sight of the Empress, so tragically alone, so helpless in the midst of the signs and splendour of temporal power, I could hardly restrain my tears. Controlling myself with an effort, I tried to steady my voice:

"Permit me to remain with you, Madame," I entreated.

The Empress looked at me without speaking. Then she took me in her arms and held me close, and kissed me many times, saying as she did so:

"I cannot ask you to do this, Lili."

"But I must, Madame," I answered.

Please, please let me stay. I can't go back to Petrograd and leave you here."

The Empress told me that she had tried to 'phone the Emperor, and that she had been unable to do so. "But I have wired him, asking him to return immediately. He'll be here on Wednesday morning."

After this conversation we went to see the Grand Duchesses, and the Empress lay down on a couch in their bedroom. I sat beside her, and we conversed in low tones so as not to awaken the sleeping girls. The Empress was still unable to believe in the reports, and she expressed a wish to see the Grand Duke Paul. "How I wish he would come," she said. She then asked me to go over to Anna's apartments, and say that she felt too unwell to come herself.

Anna's room still looked like a "lever du Roi"; Allie had taken her departure, so Mme Tanieff told me, and had gone to the Palace of the Grand Duke Paul. I lost no time in delivering the Empress's message, and quickly returned to her. The evening wore on... News came that Petrograd was in a state of upheaval, and that crowds of mutineers were everywhere. The Empress begged me to 'phone Linavitch, the A.D.C. to the Emperor, and ask him to tell us what was happening. Linavitch was in command of a company of Horse Artillery at Pavlosk, two miles from Tsarkoe Selo, so it was not difficult to "get" him. "Tell Her Majesty," he said, "that I am here with my company, and that all will be well."

I spent the evening with the Empress in the mauve boudoir, and she told me how glad she was to have me near her. "I know the Grand Duchesses want you to be somewhere close to their room, so I've decided that the red drawing-room will be the best place for you to sleep. Come with me. Anastasie is waiting for us," she said.

(The apartments at Tsarkoe Selo reserved for guests and the suite were situated over the third and fourth entrances to the Palace. The red drawing-room was in the private apartments. - L. D.) The red drawing-room was a fine room; everything in it was upholstered in scarlet, and scarlet and white chintz covered the easy chairs. A bed had been arranged on one of the couches, and the two Grand Duchesses, with tender solicitude, had seen to the minor details themselves. Anastasie's nightgown lay outside the coverlet, Marie had put a lamp and an ikon on the table by the bed; and a snapshot of Titi, taken from their collection of photographs, had been hastily framed, and occupied a place next to the holy ikon. How dearly I loved them all... how glad I was that I was privileged to share their danger!

The Empress left me with Anastasie, as she wished to see Count Benckendorff, so Anastasie and I sat down comfortably on the red carpet, and amused ourselves with jigsaw puzzles until she returned.

The Empress came back from her interview with Count Benckendorff in a state of painful agitation, and, directly Anastasie had gone to bed, she told me that the reports were worse. "I don't want the girls to know anything until it is impossible to keep the truth from them" she said, "but people are drinking to excess, and there is indiscriminate shooting in the streets. Oh, Lili, what a blessing that we have here the most devoted troops... there is the Garde Equipage they are all our personal friends, and I place implicit faith in the tirailleurs of Tsarkoe."

I think that this thought comforted her she seemed happier when she bade me good night.

 

I woke early on Tuesday morning... Sleep had been almost impossible, but I had dropped into an uneasy slumber soon after dawn. I dressed at once, hoping to be ready for the Empress, but she was before me, and at halfpast eight she entered the red drawing-room. We went at once to the Grand Duchesses, and drank our cafe au lait in their room. The Empress told me that she had wired repeatedly to the Tsar, but had received no reply. Later in the morning she received Count Benckendorff and Colonel Grotten, who informed her that matters were becoming more alarming and that the Garde Equipage had better remain inside the Palace, as there was a report that the mob, supported by the Duma, was even now marching on Tsarkoe.

The Empress immediately consented; she was really delighted at the thought of having the Garde Equipage at the Palace, and the Grand Duchesses were frankly overjoyed. "It's just like being on the yacht again," they said. The Garde Equipage, which was now augmented by the Mixed Guard, and by sentinels taken from the Cossack Convoi, took up its quarters outside the Palace and in the vast souterrains. One part of the Palace was arranged as an ambulance station. We were very busy, but the Grand Duchesses made light of danger and showed none of our agitation. The Empress was always awaiting a reply to her telegrams. None came.

Tuesday was a day of general unrest. It seemed as if the weather were in sympathy with man's savage mood. The blue sky of Monday had vanished, an icy blizzard swept around the Palace, and a north wind drove the deep snow into still deeper drifts. In the afternoon, on my way back from seeing Anna, I encountered Baroness Ysa Buxhoevgen on one of the corridors. She was almost running and she seemed very much disturbed. "I must see the Empress," she said. It I've just come from Tsarkoe Selo (the town): everything is awfulthey say there is mutiny and dissatisfaction amongst the troops." Ysa's terror was general: panic seized the dwellers in the Palace, but none of the servants left us. Mlle Schneider's maids, it is true, fled, but they came back again the next day.

The Empress was very anxious to see the Grand Duke Paul, but I believe that at first there was some misunderstanding, as the Grand Duke thought that etiquette demanded that the Empress should ask him, and he declared that he would not come unless she did. I had received a hint of this, so, when next I saw the Empress, I suggested that perhaps the Grand Duke was waiting for her invitation... This had not occurred to the Empress; she told me to 'phone at once and ask the Grand Duke to come and see her after dinner.

I was placed, unwillingly, in a very awkward predicament. I had no official position at Court, but the Empress seemed to think that my duty was to act as her mouthpiece, and to assume an authority which I was far from desiring.

However, I 'phoned to the Palace of the Grand Duke, and, in the name of the Empress, I asked him to come to Tsarkoe Selo. His son answered the 'phone, and rather brusquely demanded to know who on all the earth was speaking.

"Lili Dehn," I said.

His "Oh!" was more eloquent than words!

During the afternoon the Empress called me into her boudoir. "Lili," she said, "they say that a hostile crowd Of 300,000 persons is marching on the Palace. We shall not be, we must not be afraid. Everything is in the hands of God. To-morrow the Emperor is sure to come... I know that, when he does, all will be well." She then asked me to 'phone to Petrograd, and get in touch with my aunt, Countess Pilar, and other friends. I 'phoned to several, but the news grew worse and worse. At last I 'phoned to my flat. The Emperor's A.D.C., Sablin, who lived in the same building, answered my ring. I begged him to take care of Titi, and, if it were possible, to join us at Tsarkoe, as the Imperial Family needed protection; but he replied that a ring of flames practically surrounded the building, which was well watched by hostile sailors. He managed, however, to bring Titi to the 'phone - and my heart ached when I heard my child's anxious voice:

"Mamma, when are you coming back?"

"Darling, I'll come very soon."

Oh, please come; it's so dreadful here."

I felt torn between love and duty, but I had long since decided where my duty lay.

I told the Empress what Sablin had reported; she listened in silence, and then, by some tremendous effort of will, she regained her usual composure. Her strength strengthened me. We had, indeed, every need for courage. The poor " children " were lying desperately ill... They looked almost like corpses... Anna was in high fever, the Palace was terror-stricken, and outside brooded the dread spectre of Revolution!

All at once the Empress was seized with an idea to talk to the soldiers. I begged to accompany her, in case of any unforeseen treachery, but she refused. "Why, Lili," she said, reproachfully, "they're all friends!" Marie and Anastasie went with her, and I watched them from a window. It was quite dark, and the great courtyard was illuminated with what appeared to be exceptionally powerful electric lights. The distant sound of guns was audible... the night was bitterly cold. From where I stood, I could see the Empress, wrapped in furs, walking from one man to another, utterly fearless of her safety. She was the calm, dignified Tsaritsa - the typical consort of the Tsar of all the Russias. Here was no hysterical religious maniac, no abandoned heroine of the novel! The Empress moved in this tragic mise en scene, protected by her own goodness; but, when the light fell on her fair, pale face, I trembled. I knew her weak heart, her delicacy of physique - suppose she were to faint?

When the Empress came back, she was apparently possessed by some inward exaltation. She was radiant; her trust in the "people" was complete, she was sustained by that, often, alas, broken reed of friendship. "They are our friends," she kept on repeating, "they are so devoted to us." She was, alas, presently to discover that the name of Judas is often synonymous with that of a friend.

One thing troubled her fleeting happiness.

"I havent seen a company in the basement... It is such a pity, but I didn't feel well enough. Perhaps I can manage it to-morrow."

After her visit to the soldiers, the Empress received Count and Countess Benckendorff, who asked to be permitted to remain at the Palace. Their request was gladly granted, and rooms were arranged for them.

The Grand Duke Paul arrived later in the evening. He was a tall, imposing man, who was considered to be very fascinating, and, what was more to his credit, excessively kind at heart. He had a long conversation with the Empress, and we could hear their agitated voices in the next room. The Empress told me afterwards that almost her first words had been:

"What of the Guards? "

And the Grand Duke had replied in tones of fatality:

"I can do nothing. Nearly all of them are at the Front."

When we went to bid the Grand Duchesses good night, I was distressed to find that the firing was distinctly to be heard from their room. Olga and Tatiana did not appear to notice it, but, when their mother had gone, Olga asked me what the noise signified. " Darling, I don't know - it's nothing. The hard frost makes everything sound much more," I said lightly.

"But are you sure, Lili?" persisted the Grand Duchess. "Even Mamma seems nervous, we're so worried about her heart; she's most certainly overtiring herself - do ask her to rest."

The Empress decided that Marie should sleep with her. "You, Lili, will sleep in the room with Anastasie, and have Marie's bed. Don't take off your corsets... one doesn't know what may happen. The Emperor arrives between 5 and 7 to-morrow morning, and we must be ready to meet him. Come to my room early, and then I'll tell you the train."

Neither the Grand Duchess nor I could sleep, and we lay awake in the darkness talking in low tones. Occasionally I was silent, but, when this was so, Anastasie never failed to ask "Lili, are you asleep?"

During the night we got up and looked out of the windows. A huge gun had been placed in the courtyard. "How astonished Papa will be!" whispered Anastasie. We stood for a few minutes watching the weird scene. It was so bitterly cold that the sentinels were dancing round the gun in order to keep warm. Their figures were sharply defined against the arc-lights - it seemed like some new Carmagnole; in the distance we heard shouts of drunken voices and occasional shots - and so the night passed.

At 5 a.m. on Wednesday morning we went downstairs to the Empress's bedroom. She was awake, and as she opened the door she whispered: "Hush... Marie is asleep: the train is late... Most probably the Emperor won't come until ten." The Empress was fully dressed, and she looked so sad that I could not help saying impulsively: "Oh, Madame, why is the train late?"

She smiled wanly, but did not reply. As we went back to our bedroom, Anastasie said in agitated tones: " Lili, the train is never late. Oh, if Papa would only come quickly... I'm beginning to feel ill. What shall I do if I get ill? I can't be useful to Mamma... Oh, Lili, say I'm not goint to be ill."

I tried to calm her, and I persuaded her to lie down on her bed and sleep; but the poor child was actually sickening for the measles. Anastasie was the sweetest-natured girl: she adored her mother, and delighted in running hither and thither on her errands. The Empress always alluded to Anastasie as "my legs!"

When the Empress joined me in Olga's room a little before nine, she still hoped for the 10 o' clock train. "Perhaps the blizzard detains him," she said. She lay down on the couch, and I sat on the floor beside her; we spoke in undertones; but her chief anxiety was concerning my want of sleep.

"Sit on a chair, Lili, and put your feet up on the couch," she said.

" No - no - Madame," I replied, "it is not to be thought of." But, at her request, I compromised matters by resting the tips of my shoes on the end of the couch.

Ten o'clock came, but we still heard nothing. It was the first of March, a month fatal to the Romanoffs - well might they " beware the Ides of March! " The Emperor Paul was suffocated on the first of March, and, thirty-six years previously, on this date, the Emperor's grandfather, Alexander II, was killed by a bomb. The March of 1917 is destined to be associated with the downfall of the dynasty.

We were living in a state of continual and unrelieved anxiety. Dr. Botkin and Dr. Direvenko were in constant attendance on the three Grand Duchesses, but the Tsarevitch was, fortunately, much better. Poor Anastasie could not reconcile herself to the idea of being ill: she cried and cried, and kept on repeating, "Please don't keep me in bed."

Service in the Palace was quite normal, but the water supply which worked the private lift used by the Empress had been cut off, and in consequence she was now obliged to walk upstairs. This sounds a trivial incident, but it entailed a great deal of suffering on the Empress, who was already overtired and overstrung. Her heart, always affected, now became much worse, owing to her having to go up and. down stairs so often but she insisted upon seeing her children, and she used to go up the staircase at times almost on the verge of fainting. I supported her - walking behind her and holding her underneath the arms.

We could not understand what had become of the Emperor: the Empress thought that the delay arose owing to the confusion on the railways, which were now in the hands of the Revolutionaries.

The dreary afternoon of March 1st was signalised by an unhappy occurrence. The Empress and I were standing at the window overlooking the courtyard, when we noticed that many of the soldiers had bound white handkerchiefs on their wrists. An enquiry as to the reason elicited the reply that the white handkerchiefs signified that upon the representation of a Member (who had come to Tsarkoe Selo) the troops had consented to act in unison with the Duma.

The Empress turned to me. "Well... so everything is in the hands of the Duma," she said, with a certain degree of bitterness. "Let us hope that it will bestir itself, and do something to remedy the disaffection."

She moved away from the window. I could see she was hurt and disappointed... but this was not destined to be the last of her many disillusions!

Count Appraxin, Secretary to the Empress, arrived later in the day: he had experienced the greatest difficulty in reaching Tsarkoe-and his news was not reassuring. We sat up late that evening-dinner had been a mere farce - our minds were too anxious and too preoccupied to think of food. The children were dangerously ill, the whereabouts of the Emperor were unknown, and the Revolution was at our gates. When at last I bade the Empress good night, she told me not to undress. "I'm not going to do so," she said, and her quiet tones were significant that she anticipated the worst!

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