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

After our usual visit to the children (March 7th) the Empress and I went into the red drawing room, where a fierce fire was burning in the huge grate, and we recommenced our work of destruction.

A large oaken coffer had been placed on the table; this coffer contained all the letters written to the Empress by the Emperor during her engagement and married life. I dared not look at her as she sat gazing at the letters which meant so much. I think she reread some of them, for at intervals I heard stifled sobs, and those sighs which have their origin in the heart's bitterness. Many of the letters had been written before she was a wife and a mother. They were the love-letters of a man who had loved her wholly and devotedly, who still loved her with the affection of that bygone Springtime. Little dreamt either the lover or the beloved that these letters were afterwards destined to be wet with tears.

The Empress rose from her chair, and, still weeping, laid her love-letters one by one on the heart of the fire. The writing glowed for an instant, as if desirous of burning itself into her very soul, then it faded, and the paper became a little heap of white ash.

Alas for Youth! Alas for Love!

When the Empress had destroyed her correspondence, she handed me her diaries to burn. Some of the earlier volumes were gay little books bound in white satin; others were bound in leather. She smiled bravely as I took them, and an immense disgust seized me when I thought that the country of my birth was responsible for her misery and the injustice meted out to her. "I can't bear Russia," I cried. "I hate it."

"Don't dare say such things, Lili," said the Empress. "You hurt me... If you love me, don't ever say you hate Russia. The people are not to blame; they don't understand what they are doing."

A coloured post-card of South Russia fell out of one of the diaries. I picked it up. It was a pretty picture of young girls standing in a flowerstarred meadow... and it brought Revovka back to me. "That's home," I murmured. But the Empress heard my words.

"What did you say? Repeat it, Lili. You said, 'That's home.' Now you must never say you hate Russia."

At this time, I am proud to say, the Empress relied on me as woman to woman. To her, I was always "Lili," or "My brave girl." I was her friend in trouble. The fact that I possessed no official position mattered nothing to her; every moment I was writing letters, taking messages, and seeing people on her behalf. I obeyed her absolutely, and her gentle influence gave me fresh strength to hope and to endure.

The burning of the diaries extended over Wednesday and Thursday... but on Thursday one of the Empress's dressers came to the red drawing-room and begged us to discontinue. "Your Majesty," said she, "the sweepers are searching for the half-charred pieces of paper, some of which have been carried up the chimney. I beg of you to cease... These men are talking among themselves... They are utterly disloyal." But our task was completed - at any rate we had checkmated the curiosity of the Revolutionaries!

At 7 o'clock the Empress asked me to telephone again to the Winter Palace. As on the previous occasion, Prince Retief answered me.

"How are things with you?" I enquired.

"The mob is even now at the gates of the Palace," he replied with absolute unconcern. "I beg you, Madame, to present my assurances of fidelity and devotion to the Empress... I may not be able to do so again... Ah!... I thought as much. Madame, it distresses me to appear discourteous, but I fear I am about to be killed... The doors of this room are being forced!" His voice ceased - there was a terrible crash... I could bear no more, and the receiver slipped from my nerveless hands.

We remained in the mauve boudoir until quite late, but, just as we were about to go to bed, Volkoff entered in a state of painful agitation. He managed to tell us that M. Goutchkoff had arrived, and insisted upon seeing the Empress. It was then 11 o'clock.

"But, at this hour - it's impossible," said the Empress. "Your Majesty, he insists," stammered Volkoff. The Empress turned to me - terror and pathos in her eyes. "He has come to arrest me, Lili," she exclaimed. "Telephone to the Grand Duke Paul, and ask him to come at once." Regaining her composure, the Empress rearranged the Red Cross head-dress which she had taken off, and stood waiting in silence for the Grand Duke. Neither Marie nor myself dared speak. At length, after what seemed an interminable agony of suspense, the Grand Duke entered, and the Empress told him in a few words about her ominous summons. The next moment, loud voices in the corridor, and the banging of a door, announced Goutchkoff's arrival in the adjoining room.

Goutchkoff, the Minister of War during the Revolution, was an openly avowed personal enemy of the Emperor, whom he had never forgiven for not having accepted him at his own valuation as the uncrowned king of Moscow. He had compelled the Emperor to abdicate through revenge; spiteful curiosity now urged him to gloat over the sufferings of a defenceless woman! He was a hideous creature, who wore big spectacles with yellow glasses, which partially disguised the fact that he was unable to look anyone straight in the face.

Marie and I clung desperately to the Empress; we were certain that all was now finished. She kissed us both tenderly, and passed out with the Grand Duke Paul, an infinitely tragic figure, recalling to my mind a vision of Marie Antoinette, whose troubles possessed so many similarities with those of the Empress. Volkoff, that loyal servant, true to the traditions of Imperial regime, informed us that Goutchkoff had brought two A.D.C.'s with him, and that one of these men had accosted him with the words: "Ha, ha! Here we are. You didn't expect us to-night, eh? But. we are masters of the Palace now!"

Marie and I sat side by side on the sofa, the young girl shook with fear, but her terror was not for herself - Marie, like all the children, thought only of her beloved mother.

In this crisis of their fortunes, the Imperial Family manifested no sorrow at the loss of their rank and prestige. The only anxiety shown by them was the fear of parting one from the other. Theirs might have been the words inscribed upon the wall of a certain old prison in Italy: "Better death than life without you." And, if the report of their death be true, they most mercifully never knew the pain of separation.

At last footsteps sounded in the corridor - the door of the boudoir opened - and, to our unspeakable relief, we saw the Empress!

Marie ran towards her mother, half crying, and half laughing, and the Empress quickly reassured us.

"I am not to be arrested this time," she said. "But, oh! the humiliation of the interview! Goutchkoff was impossible - I could not give him my hand. He told me that he merely wanted to see how I was supporting my trials, and whether or no I was frightened." Her pale cheeks were rose-flushed, her eyes sparkled - at this moment the Empress was terrible in her anger. But she soon regained her calm dignity, and we bade her good night, thankful that she was spared to us.

Wednesday, March 8th, is a day momentous in the annals of new-born Russia, inasmuch as it witnessed the arrest of a woman and five sick children, and of those adherents who knew the meaning of the words Friendship and Duty.

In the morning Count Benckendorff came to inform us that the Emperor would arrive at Tsarkoe on the 9th, and that the Revolutionary authorities had decided to arrest everyone in the Palace by noon, The Count asked the Empress to give him a list of those of her suite who would be willing to remain, and the Empress at once addressed me: "Lili... do you understand what this order means? After it is enforced, nobody will be allowed to leave the Palace, all news from outside will be stopped. What do you wish to do? Think of Titi... Can you bear to be without tidings of him?"

I did not hesitate. "My greatest wish is to remain with you, Madame," I replied.

"I knew it!" exclaimed the Empress. "But... it will, I fear, be a terrible experience for you."

"Don't worry on my account, Madame," I answered. "We will share the danger together."

At noon, General Korniloff made his appearance at the Palace with the order for the arrest of the Imperial Family. The Empress received him wearing her Red Cross uniform, and she was genuinely pleased to see him, since she laboured under the mistaken idea that he was well disposed towards herself and the family. She was entirely mistaken, as Korniloff, thinking that the Empress disliked him, never lost an opportunity of spreading the most malicious reports concerning her.

Korniloff told the Empress that the Palace troops were to be replaced with those of the Revolution; there was no use for the Mixed Guard and the Cossack Convoy; the Palace was now thronged with Revolutionaries, who were walking about everywhere. When the officers of the Mixed Guard bade farewell to the Empress, many of them broke down and sobbed. She afterwards told me that it was also for her a most painful moment. The officers asked the Empress for a handkerchief, as a souvenir of her and the Grand Duchesses This they proposed to tear in pieces, and divide between them and later, to their great joy, we sent them some "initial" handkerchiefs.

It was a day of good-byes; many officers came in from Petrograd to bid farewell to the Imperial Family; the Tanieffs left, as the Empress had insisted upon them returning to the Palace of the Grand Duke Michael, where they might reasonably hope to be in safety.

At last the Empress decided to tell the Grand Duchesses about the abdication... she could not bear this painful task to devolve upon her husband. She therefore made her way to their apartments, and was with them alone for a long time. Anastasie seemed to sense what had happened... and after her mother had left them she looked at me, and said, very quietly, "Mamma has told us everything, Lili; but, as Papa is coming, nothing else matters. However, you have known what was going on . . how could you keep it from us? Why, you're usually so nervous how is it you are so calm?"

I kissed her, and said that I owed all my fortitude to her mother. She had set such an example of courage that it was impossible for me not to follow it.

When the Empress broke the news to the Tsarevitch, the following conversation took place:

"Shall I never go to G.H.Q. again with Papa?" asked the child,

"No, my darling - never again," replied his mother.

"Shan't I see my regiments and my soldiers?" he said anxiously.

"No... I fear not."

"Oh dear! And the yacht, and all my friends on board - shall we never go yachting any more?" He was almost on the verge of tears.

"No... we shall never see the 'Standart.'... It doesn't belong to us now,"

The Empress and I took tea together, and she told me how glad she felt that the Garde Equipage had left their colours in the Palace. "I should be so sorry to think that the colours were in the possession of the Duma," she remarked. At that moment we heard the sound of voices, and a noise of singing and shouting. The Empress sprang off the couch on which she was lying, and rushed across to the window. "Oh, Madame, don't look, I implore you," I said, fearing the worst. But she did not hear me. Then I saw her grow pale, and she fell back half fainting on the couch. The sailors were leaving the Palace with the colours!

The Grand Duchess Marie was seized with measles late that evening. Like her sister, Anastasie, she dreaded being ill. "Oh, I did so want to be up when Papa comes," she kept on repeating, until high fever set in, and she lost consciousness... her last comprehensible words being, "Lili, cant you sleep with Mamma to-night?"

"Yes, darling," I told her. "I won't leave Mamma alone - I'll be somewhere near her, even if I have to sleep in the bath."

I went to the Empress. "Madame," I said, "will you permit me to remain near you tonight?"

"No, Lili, certainly not. If anything should happen, why should you be obliged to witness a tragedy?" she replied.

I returned to Olga and Tatiana, who, like Marie, were very anxious about their mother. "Lili, you must not leave Mamma alone. One of us has always slept with her (From the time that the Emperor left for the Front, one of the Grand Duchesses always slept with the Empress) she's not strong. Promise, promise us that you won't leave her alone;" and, when the Empress came to pay her last visit to the sick-room, the Grand Duchesses reiterated their request.

The Empress at first demurred but, when she realised how much the Grand Duchesses dreaded her being left alone, she consented.

"Well, Lili," she said reluctantly, "you see that the children must have their own way. But I will not allow anyone to think I am frightened. Undress upstairs, and, when my maids have left me, slip down the private staircase, bring your sheets and blankets, and you can make up a bed on the couch in my boudoir."

It was a bright moonlight night. Outside, the snow lay like a pall on the frost-bound Park. The cold was intense. The silence of the great Palace was occasionally broken by snatches of drunken songs and the coarse laughter of the soldiers. The intermittent firing of guns was audible. It was a night of beauty, defiled by the base passions of men.

I went quietly downstairs to the mauve boudoir. The Empress was waiting for me, and as she stood there I thought how girlish she looked. Her long hair fell in a heavy plait down her back, and she wore a loose silk dressing-gown over her night clothes. She was very pale, very ethereal, but unutterably pathetic.

As I stumbled into the boudoir with my draperies of sheets and blankets she smiled - a little affectionate, mocking smile, which deepened as she watched me trying to arrange my bed on the couch. She came forward, still smiling. "Oh, Lili... you Russian ladies don't know how to be useful. When I was a girl, my grandmother, Queen Victoria, showed me how to make a bed. I'll teach you." And she deftly arranged the bedding, saying, as she did so: "Take care not to lie on this broken spring. I always had an idea something was amiss with this couch."

The bed-making "A la mode de Windsor" was soon finished, and the Empress kissed me affectionately and bade me good night. "I'll leave my bedroom door open," she said; "then you won't feel lonely -"

Sleep for me was impossible. I lay on the mauve couch - her couch - unable to realise that this strange happening was a part of ordinary life. Surely I must be dreaming; surely I should suddenly awake in my own bed at Petrograd, and find that the Revolution and its attendant horrors were only a nightmare! But the sound of coughing in the Empress's bedroom told me that, alas it was no dream... She was moving about, unable, like myself, to sleep. The light above the sacred ikon made a luminous pathway between the bedroom and the boudoir, and presently the Empress came back to me, carrying an eiderdown. "It's bitterly cold," she said. "I want you to be comfortable, Lili, so I've brought you another quilt." She tucked the quilt well round my shoulders, regardless of my protestations, and again bade me good night.

The mauve boudoir was flooded with moonlight, which fell directly on the portrait of the Empress's mother, and on the picture of the Annunciation. Both seemed alive... The sad eyes of the dead woman watched the gradually unfolding tragedy of her daughter's life, whilst the radiant Virgin, overcome with divine condecension, welcomed the angel who hailed her as blessed among women.

Masses of lilac were arranged in front of the tall windows. It was customary for a fresh supply of lilac for the mauve boudoir to be sent daily to Tsarkoe Selo from the south of France, owing to the troublous times, no flowers had reached the Palace for a couple of days. just before dawn, the dying lilac seemed to expire a last breath of perfume... the boudoir was suddenly redolent of the perfume of Spring. . . tears filled my eyes. The poignant sweetness hurt me - winter was around us, and within our hearts. Should we ever know the joys of blue skies, and the glory of a world new-born?

All was silent, save for the footsteps of the "Red" sentry as he passed and repassed up and down the corridor. At first the Revolutionaries had celebrated their sojourn in a Palace by singing seditious and obscene songs, but little by little these had ceased... the soldiers slept. My mind reverted constantly to the sick girls and to their brother, who, happily, unlike them, did not share their apprehensions. What a contrast this night presented to the quiet, happy nights of long ago, I confess it was difficult to see the hand of God in this - to me unnecessary suffering, and to accept all in the spirit of humility which the Empress manifested.

At seven o'clock the Empress told me I had better return to the red drawing-room, so I gathered my bedclothes together and slipped unperceived and unheard up the staircase. (The remaining members of the suite occupied apartments in the fourth wing of the Palace. The Empress who was afraid of infection for others, only saw them occasionally. I was quite alone with her and the children)

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