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

Early on the morning of March 2nd the Empress came into the Grand Duchesses' bedroom. She was deathly pale - she seemed hardly alive. As I ran towards her I heard her agitated whisper: "Lili - the troops have deserted!"

I found no words with which to answer. I was stupefied. At last I managed to stammer:

"Why, Madame? In the name of God, why?"

"Their Commander-in-Chief, the Grand Duke Cyril, has sent for them." Then, unable to contain herself, the Empress said brokenly, "My sailors - my own sailors - I can't believe it."

But it was too true. The Garde Equipage had left the Palace at 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. - the "faithful friends," the "devoted subjects," were with us no longer. The officers of the Garde were received by the Empress in the mauve boudoir during the morning: I was present, and I heard from one of my husband's friends that the duty of taking the Garde to Petrograd had been carried out by a " temporary gentleman," Lieutenant Kouzmine. The officers were furious, especially their commandant, Miasocdoff-Ivanof, a big, burly sailor, whose kind eyes were full of tears... One and all begged to be allowed to remain with the Empress, who, almost overcome by emotion, thanked them, saying: "Yes - yes - I beg you to remain: this has been a terrible blow, what will the Emperor say when he hears about it! She then sent for General Resin, the Commander of the Mixed Guard, and instructed him to make room for the loyal officers in his regiment.

General Resin told me long afterwards that he was relieved when he knew that the cowardly Garde had actually left the Palace, as orders had been given for a detachment to go on one of the church towers which commanded a view of the courtyard, and if, by a certain time, the troops had not joined the Duma, to train two enormous field-guns on to the Palace!

There was still no news of the Emperor, although the Empress constantly telegraphed. It was reported that his train was returning to G.H.Q., and at the time many people thought that if it reached there the troops would have followed the Emperor. We 'phoned to the hospitals for news, and the Empress received a good many people. To all these she was her usual calm, dignified self. When I marvelled at her fortitude, she replied "Lili, I must not give way. I keep on saying, 'I must not' - it helps me."

In the late afternoon, Rita Hitrowo (one of the younger ladies-in-waiting, and a friend of the Grand Duchesses) arrived from Petrograd with the worst possible tidings, and, after the Empress had spoken to Rita, she received two officers of the Mixed Guard, who proposed to try and get a letter from her through to the Emperor: it was arranged that they should leave Tsarkoe the next evening. The Empress was always willing to hope. But the night passed, and still never a word came from the Emperor.

On March 3rd I took my cafe au lait with Marie, and we were joined by the Empress. It was a day of agony. The Grand Duchesses grew worse: their ears were badly inflamed, it seemed as if they might not recover. The Empress tried to snatch a little rest by occasionally lying on a couch: her feet had now become very painful, and her heart affection was, at times, alarming. Meals were silent and horrible affairs: I felt as though each morsel would choke me. But, as I had now grown desperate with anxiety, I conceived the notion of communicating with the Emperor by aeroplane. Might not his whereabouts be discovered in this way? The Empress welcomed the idea, and she sent for General Resin, and asked for an aeroplane to be despatched at once. He agreed, but even the weather was against us... A blizzard set in; the dark sky was blotted out with scudding snow, and the wind howled dismally round the Palace.

The Grand Duke Paul arrived about 7 o'clock in the evening. The Empress was engaged in writing letters for the officers to convey to the Emperor, but she received the Grand Duke without a moment's delay.

The interview took place in the red drawingroom. Marie and I were in the adjoining study, and from time to time we heard the loud voice of the Grand Duke and the agitated replies of the Empress. Marie began to get apprehensive.

"Why is he shouting at Mamma? she asked.

Don't you think I had better see what's the matter, Lili?

"No, no," I said, " we had better remain here quietly."

"You can remain, but I'll go to my room," she answered. "I can't bear to think Mamma is worried."

Hardly had the Grand Duchess left the study when the door opened and the Empress appeared. Her face was distorted with agony, her eyes were full of tears. She tottered rather than walked, and I rushed forward and supported her until she reached the writing-table between the windows. She leant heavily against it, and, taking my hands in hers, she said brokenly

"Abdique!"

I could not believe my ears. I waited for her next words. They were hardly audible. At last: "Le Pauvre... tout seul la bas... et passe... oh, mon Dieu, par quoi il a passe! El je ne puis pas etre pres de lui pour le consoler."

"Madame, tres chere Madame, il faut avoir du courage."

She paid no attention to me, and kept on repeating, " Mon Dieu, que c'est penible. . . Tout seul la bas! " I put my arms around her and we walked slowly up and down the long room. At last, fearing for her reason, I cried "Mais Madame-au mom de Dieu-il vit!!"

"Yes, Lili," she replied, as if new hope inspired her. " Yes, he lives."

" I entreat you, Madame, don't lose your courage, don't give way: think of your children and of the Emperor."

The Empress considered me with almost painful scrutiny.

"And you, Lili, what of you?

"Madame, I love you more than anything in this world." "I know it - I see it, Lili."

"Well, Madame, write to him. Think how pleased he will be." I drew the Empress towards the writing-table, and she sank on a chair... "Write, dear Madame, write," I repeated.

She obeyed almost like a child, murmuring, "Yes, Lili... how glad he'll be."

Feeling that I might venture to leave the Empress for a few minutes, I went in search of Dr. Botkin, who gave me a composing draught for her... But the Empress did not wish to take it, and it was only when I said: " For his sake, Madame," that she complied.

The sound of bitter weeping now attracted my attention. In one corner of the room crouched the Grand Duchess Marie. She was as pale as her mother. She knew all! At this moment Volkoff, that faithful servant, entered, and in trembling tones announced that dinner was served. The Empress rose and endeavoured to regain her composure... I followed her into the next room. She looked round. " Where is Marie?" she said. I went back to the red drawing-room. Marie was still crouching in the corner. She was so young, so helpless, so hurt, that I f elt I must comfort her as one comforts a child. I knelt beside her, her head rested on my shoulder. I kissed her tear-stained face.

"Darling," I said, " don't cry... You will make Mamma so unhappy. Think of her."

At the words, "Think of her," the Grand Duchess remembered the unswerving devotion of the children towards their parents. Every thing was always subservient to Mamma and Papa. "Ah... I'd forgotten, Lili. Yes, I must think of Mamma," she answered. Little by little her sobs ceased, her composure returned, and she went with me to her mother.

That night the Empress and I sat up very late: she had paid her usual visit to the Grand Duchesses, when she had tried outwardly to appear calm. But alone with me it was a different matter.

The Empress told me that the Emperor had abdicated in favour of the Tsarevitch. "Now he'll be taken from me," she cried. "The people are to assume the Regency. What shall I do?" She started at every footfall; she trembled at the mere sound of a voice... One idea obsessed her - someone might come at any moment to take away her son!

"But, Madame, nothing can be done until the Emperor returns."

"No, surely they will not dare; and he'll be with us very soon," she said. Then, with her usual unselfishness, the Empress insisted upon seeing Count Benckendorff. " I must console him and strengthen him. I can imagine his state of mind."

It was an affecting interview... I do not know what actually transpired, but, when the Empress returned, she was crying.

"Le pauvre vieux," she murmured, as if to herself. I did not allow the Empress to see how apprehensive I was, how utterly despairing. I did not share her optimism... The position was most precarious, and the desperate condition of the Grand Duchesses augmented the general unhappiness. Our only hope lay in the Emperor's return-at any rate, his presence would afford us some moral protection! That night Marie and I slept in the red drawing-room. We lay awake for hours talking about the new developments. But one thought consoled us. The Emperor was still alive!

When the Empress paid her usual visit to the Grand Duchesses, she told us that her first idea was to see all those in the Palace, and console them as much as possible. Countess Gendrinkoff, her devoted lady-in-waiting, who was away visiting a sick relative, returned to Tsarkoe directly she heard of the Emperor's abdication, and her meeting with the Empress was most touching. At first neither of them spoke; and then the Countess, usually a most self-contained individual, broke into bitter weeping.

It was a tragic morning. Towards noon the Empress sent for me. " Lili," she said, "the Duma is losing no time. M. Rodziansko (M. Rodziansko, the President of the Duma, was an aristocrat who had turned Revolutionary: he was always antagonistic to the Imperial Family.) has intimated that we must make our preparations for departure. He says we are to meet the Emperor somewhere en route. But we can't possibly go; how can we move the children? I've spoken to the doctors, and they say it would be fatal! I've told Rodziansko this, and he is returning later to acquaint me with the decision of the Duma."

Rodziansko and his colleagues returned at the time appointed. They were at once taken to the Empress.

"The decision of the Duma is unalterable," said Rodziansko, curtly.

"But my children-my daughters pleaded the Empress.

"When a house is on fire, it is best to leave it," answered Rodziansko, with a sardonic smile.

There was apparently nothing to be done. We were at the mercy of Tiberius, and we commenced our preparations for departure. The Empress asked me if I would like to accompany them. I begged to be permitted to do so. "I cannot leave you, Madame," I said.

We endeavoured to 'phone to certain friends, but it was impossible. At last the operator, in frightened tones, whispered, " I can't give you the number; the telephone is not in our hands. I beg you, don't talk-I'll ring you up directly it is safe."

In the course of the afternoon a servant informed us that an officer of one of the Tartar regiments begged the Empress to receive him. The Empress asked me to interview him, as she felt too ill to do so, and accordingly I went over to the fourth wing of the Palace, where the officer was waiting. As I traversed the long corridors, I heard the sound of, rough voices. I stopped, terrified, at the entrance of one of the salons - the Mixed Guards were just about to change the guard; but "changing the guard" was no longer the decorous proceeding of yester-year! When the fresh detachment entered the salon, they threw themselves literally into the arms of the other soldiers, shouting, "Newborn citizens of freedom, we congratulate you."

I passed the "new-born citizens of freedom," and I found Lieutenant Markoff, to whom I explained the reason of my "deputising." The poor boy had been wounded, he could scarcely stand; but his spirit was unconquerable. "Madame," he said, "I've fought my way through the mob in order to see the Empress, and assure her of my devotion. The assassins wanted to tear off my epaulettes with HER cypher. I told them that the Empress had given them to me, and that it was her right alone to deprive me of them. "I've arrived here at last... I entreat you to ask the Empress to allow me to remain somewhere near her... I don't care if I wash up the dirty plates. I'll do anythingonly let me stay!"

I promised Markoff to deliver his message, and on my way back I heard the soldiers laughing and singing. Sick at heart, and utterly disgusted at their behaviour, I reported it to the Empress. "Les malheureux," she said, " ce n'est pas leur faute, c'est la faute a ceux qui les trompent. "She granted poor young Markoff's request, and told me to see General Resin, and arrange for Markoff to be included in his detachment.

I suppose the first idea of most people in the position of the Empress, faced with hurried flight, would have been to save their jewels. But jewels were a secondary consideration with the Empress; her chief treasures were those of sentiment, and, as I watched her collecting her favourite books and photographs, I thought that in this instance, as in all others, she was more of the woman than the Empress. And the idea of leaving the scene of many of her happiest associations must have been heartrending to her. She had transformed the Palace into a home; here she had watched the beautiful growth of her four fair daughters and her adored son. And here she was destined to drink the uttermost dregs of the Cup of Sorrow.

Whilst she was gathering together her personal treasures, the Empress, recalled in imagination to Petrograd, by the sight of a photograph, asked me to telephone to Prince Ratief, the Commandant of the Winter Palace, and tell him that her thoughts were with them all. Fortunately I was enabled to do so; the Prince himself answered my call. "I thank Her Majesty from my heart. We are still alive, but crowds surround the Palace," he said.

After dinner, we went to see the Grand Duchesses, and then to the mauve boudoir - there was no news from the Emperor; all sorts of rumours were current, the most insistent being that he had returned to G.H.Q.

Sunday, the 5th of March, was for us another hopeless dawn. The Empress gave orders for a Te Deum to be sung, and the miraculous ikon from Znaminie (Znaminie is a little church adjacent to the Palace) brought to the Palace and taken to the sick-rooms. The procession bearing the ikon passed through the Palace; the Empress walked in it, and, as I looked at the lovely representation of the Virgin and Child, the expression of the eyes seemed the same which I had often seen in those of the Empress-a combination of Faith, Hope and Tragedy!

It was a strange sight to witness the solemn little procession as it traversed the almost deserted splendours of the Palace. Incense wafted wreaths of perfume towards Heaven, the solemn chant rose and fell, the gold and blues of the Virgin's draperies glowed when the ikon passed one of the windows, the sacred symbol of the Cross raised its head above the tumult of Revolution. It seemed to me as if this were some last appeal to God, Who, we are told, is a God of Love and Pity,

The Empress was anxious that the ikon should be taken to Anna's room, so the procession wended its way thither. There, as usual, were the fuss and overcrowding which seemed inseparable from Anna's attack of measles; doctors, nurses and sisters took up all the available space, so, whilst the Empress was praying by the bedside, I stood by the door. One of the doctors from Anna's hospital was near, and, recognising me, he whispered: "I say, Madame Dehn, I think I shall say good-bye to the Palace. Things are getting too hot for my comfort." But, if he expected an answer, he received none. I simply stared at him.

The Empress was still kneeling by Anna's bed, and Anna, now thoroughly hysterical and exaltee by reason of much incense and many prayers, was crying and kissing the Empress's folded hands. It is quite impossible for English readers to imagine such a scene, but these religious processions in the case of illness were of common occurrence with us.

I went back to see Anna later in the evening, and, when I entered the bedroom, I was surprised to see the matron of Anna's hospital, who was praying - a taper in her hand. Directly she saw me, her prayers took unto themselves wings; we had always disliked each other, so our conversation was short and to the point.

"What, are you still here?" she exclaimed, meaningly.

"Yes. . . I'm here," I replied, with equal emphasis.

Anna said nothing; she looked more childish than ever, and very ill at ease. The impression which I received was a bad one, and, when I related to the Empress what I had seen, she wrote to the doctor at the hospital, and asked him to send for the matron, as her presence was not required. Soon after this she resigned, and, like many others of her kind, she left Tsarkoe for an unknown destination.

On Monday, March 6th, all was in readiness for our departure. But one thing yet remained for us to do, and this was, in my eyes, of the utmost importance. During one of my restless nights, I suddenly remembered that the Empress had always kept a diary and that she possessed the diaries of her friend, Princess Orbelliani, which had been bequeathed to her by the Princess.

These contained most intimate accounts of various people, and events connected with the Court. I likewise remembered the Empress's sentimental habit of preserving correspondence with associations, and I dreaded the possibility of either letters or diaries falling into the hands of the Revolutionaries. I knew that the worst construction would be placed by the "Sons of Freedom" on anything unusual which these papers might contain. Even the Empress's habit of calling people by pet names might be construed as sensualism or treason!

I hardly dared suggest the wisdom of destroying this personal property, but my devotion triumphed over my nervousness. To my intense surprise, the Empress at once agreed to do as I proposed.

It may be argued that I was guilty of the worst Vandalism in persuading the Empress to destroy her diaries and correspondence. I may have been, in an historical and artistic sense but I was right on the score of friendship. We had already experienced the misconstruction which had been put on one sentence in a letter: What might not be the fate of the contents of the Imperial diaries if they fell into the hands of censorious and "pure-minded" Revolutionaries?

Princess Orbelliany's diaries were burned first. They consisted of nine leather-bound volumes, and we experienced much difficulty in destroying them. This auto-da-fe of sentiment took place in the red drawing-room, but we did not attempt to finish burning the diaries and correspondence in one day. It was at best a melancholy task, and we decided to spread it over a week-especially as the Grand Duchesses were very ill, and we had to be with them constantly. Olga was now suffering with inflammation in the head, and Anastasie made little or no progress.

After lunch, when the Empress and I were sitting in the mauve boudoir, we were startled by the sudden entrance of Volkoff. He was very agitated, his face was pale, he trembled in every limb. Without waiting to be addressed by the Empress, and utterly oblivious of etiquette, he cried: "The Emperor is on the 'phone!"

The Empress looked at Volkoff as if he had taken leave of his senses; then, as she realised the full import of his words, she jumped up with the alacrity of a girl of sixteen, and rushed out of the room.

I waited anxiously. I kept on praying that a little happiness might yet be hers... perhaps, for all we knew, the danger had passed.

When the Empress returned, her face was like an April day - all smiles and tears!

 

"Lili," she exclaimed, "imagine what were his first words... he said: 'I thought that I might have come back to you, but they keep me here. However, I'll be with you all very soon.' "The Emperor added that the Dowager Empress was coming from Kieff to be with him, and that he had only received the Empress's wires after the abdication. "The poor one!" said the Empress. "How much he has suffered 1 how pleased he'll be to see his mother!"

Thus the day which had begun so sadly ended happily... we went at once to tell the glad news to the Grand Duchesses and the Tsarevitch, who was much better, and greatly excited at the prospect of his father's return. M. Gilliard, a charming Swiss, who taught the children French, was with him, but Mr. Gibbs, his English tutor, was in Petrograd. I always remember Mr. Gibbs and his kindness to me. On one occasion upon going to Petrograd he put himself to great inconvenience to get news of Titi, and procure clothes for myself. Notwithstanding innumerable difficulties, he returned with reassuring tidings of Titi, and a clean nurse's uniform and lingerie for myself. (During this time the Empress and I wore nurses' uniforms. It has been erroneously stated that the Empress wore ordinary dress. This is not the case.)

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