Written by Anna AlexandrovnaVyrubova in 1923
Through the winter and spring of 1918 I continued to receive letters and parcels, mostly contraband, from my friends in Siberia. I wish I dared to tell how and through whom these precious messages reached me, for it all belongs in the story of Revolutionary Russia. It illustrates the truth, often demonstrated, that tyranny and oppression can never kill the spirit of freedom in human beings. There are always a minority of people who hold their lives cheap by comparison with liberty, and in such people lives deathlessly the inspiration of fidelity to those they love, no matter how relentlessly the loved ones are persecuted. Poor as I was, poor as was the small group of friends who worked with me to communicate with the Imperial Family, we managed to get to them the necessities they lacked. Dangerous and difficult as travel was in those days, every traveler being almost certain to be searched several times along the way, there were three, two officers and a young girl, who at the risk of imprisonment and death by the most unspeakable tortures, calmly and fearlessly acted as emmissaries back and forth between St. Petersburg and remote Tobolsk. They had friends along the way, of course, but how they managed, through months of constant peril, to carry on their work is one of those mysteries which, to my mind, are not wholly earthly.
On January 9, 1918, 1 received the following Christmas letter from the Empress:
Thank you, darling, for all your letters which were a great joy to me and to us all. On Christmas Eve I received the letter and the perfume, then more scent by little - I regret not having seen her. Did you receive the parcels sent through the several friends, flour, coffee, tea, and lapscha (a kind of macaroni)? The letters and the snapshots sent through , did you get them? I am worried as I hear that all parcels containing food are opened. I begin today to number my letters, and you must keep account of them. Your cards, the small silver dish, and Lili's tiny silver bell I have not yet been able to receive.
On the 16th of January the Empress wrote me a letter in Old Slavonic style to congratulate me on my name day. In this she addresses me as "Sister Seraphine." I should explain that my hospital in Tsarskoe Selo bore the name of that saint, because it was on her day that I suffered the terrible railway accident which left me lamed for life, but which gave me, in damages, the funds for founding the hospital.
We all congratulate you on your name day. May God bless, comfort, strengthen you, and give you joy. Believe, dear, that God will yet save our beloved country. He will not be unforgiving. Think of the Old Testament and the sufferings of the Children of Israel for their sins. And now it is we who have forgotten God, and that is why they' cannot bring any happiness. How I prayed on the 6th that God would send the spirit of good judgment and the fear of the Lord. Everyone apparently have lost their heads. The reign of terror is not yet over, and it is the sufferings of the innocent which nearly kills us. What do people live on now that everything is taken from them, their homes, their incomes, their money? We must have sinned terribly for our Father in Heaven to punish so frightfully. But I firmly and unfalteringly believe that in the end He will save us. The strange thing about the Russian character is that it can so suddenly change to evil, cruelty, and unreason, and can as suddenly change back again. This is in fact simply want of character. Russians are in reality big, ignorant children. However it is well known that during long wars all bad passions flame up. What is happening is awful, the murders, the persecutions, the imprisonments, but all of it must be suffered if we are to be cleansed, new born.
Forgive me, darling, that I write to you so sadly. I often wear your jackets, the blue, and the mauve, as it is fearfully cold in the house. Outside the frosts are not often severe, and sometimes I go out and even sit on the balcony. The children are just recovering from scarletina, except Anastasia, who did not catch it. The elder ones began the new year by being in bed, Marie, of course, having a temperature of 39-5. Their hair is growing well. Lessons have begun again. Yesterday I gave three. Today I am free, and am therefore writing. On the 2nd of January I thought of you and sent a candle to be set before the Holy Seraphim. I have asked that prayers may be said in the cathedral where the relics lie, for all our dear ones. You remember the old pilgrim who came to Tsarskoe Selo. Fancy that he has been here. He wandered in with his big staff, and sent me a prosvera, (holy bread).
I have begun your books. The style is quite different from the others. I have got myself some good books, too, but have not much time for reading. I embroider, knit, draw, and give lessons, but my eyes are getting weaker so that I can no longer work without glasses. You will see me quite an old woman! Did you know that the marine officer Nicholas Demenkov has appendicitis? He is in Odessa. One of our wounded, Oroborjarsky, was operated on there a month ago. He is so sad and homesick, so far away. I correspond with his mother, a gentle, good, and really Christian soul. Lili Dehn went to see her.
I trust you received the painted cards that I put in the parcel of provisions. Not all were successful. If you receive My letters just write, thanks for No. 1, etc. My three maids and Isa are still not allowed to come to us, and they are very much distressed, just sitting idle. But is of better use on the outside. Little one, where are your brother Serge and his wife? I know nothing of them. Your poor sister Alya, I hope she is not too sad; she has friends, but her hus. band, has he not become too sad away from her? How are the sweet children? Miss Ida is with her still, I hope. Did you know that sister Grekova is to be married soon to Baron Taube? How glad I am that you have seen A. P. Did he not seem strange out of uniform, and what did he say about his brother? Ah, all is past, and will never return. We must begin a new life and forget self. I must finish, my dear little soul. Christ be with you. Greetings to all. I kiss your mother. I congratulate you again. I want quickly to finish the small painting, and get it to you. I fear you are again passing through fearful days. Reports filter through of murders of officers
Dearly Beloved Sister Seraphine:
On the same day Grand Duchess Olga wrote a brief note:
From a full heart I wish you well on your name day! God send you many blessings, good health, fortitude, meekness, strength to bear all punishments and sorrows sent by God, and gladness of soul. May the sun lighten the path you tread through life, warm all by your love, and let your light shine forth these sad, gloomy days. Do not despair, suffering sister. God will hear your prayers, all in good time. Also we pray for thee, sister chosen of the Lord. We have thee in fond remembrance. Your little corner is far away from us. All who love thee in this place send greetings. Do not misjudge the bad writing of thy sister. She is illiterate, an ailing lay sister. I am learning the writing of prayers, but weakness of sight prevents my striving. I read the works of Bishop Gr. Nissky, but he writes too much of the creation of the world. From our sister Zinaida I have received news, so much good will in every word, breathing peace of the soul.
The family known to thee are in good health, the children have suffered from the usual ills of the young, but are now restored to health. The youngest ill, but in good spirits however, and without suffering. The Lord has blessed the weather, beautiful and soft. Thy sister walks out and enjoys the sun, but when there is more frost she hides in her cell, takes a stocking, puts on her spectacles, and knits. Sister Sophia 2 not long since arrived, has not been granted admittance, those in authority having refused it. She has found hospitality at the priest's with her old woman. The other sisters are all in different places. Dearly loved sister, art thou not weary reading this letter? All the others have gone to dinner. I remain on guard by the sick Anastasia. In the cells next ours is sister Catherina' giving a lesson. We are embroidering for church, Sisters Tatiana and Maria with great zeal. Our father Nicholas gathers us around him in the evenings, and reads to us while we pass the time with needlework. With his meekness and good health he does not disdain to saw and chop wood for our needs, cleans the roads, too, with the children. Our mother Alexandra greets thee, sister, and sends her motherly blessings and hopes, sister, that thou livest in the Spirit of Christ. Life is hard but the spirit is strong. Dear sister Seraphine, may God keep thee. I beg for your prayers. Christ be with thee.
The Sinful sister FEODORA.
22 of January.
So unexpectedly I received the letter of the 1st and the card of the 10th. I hasten to reply. Tenderly we thank through you Karochinsky. Really it is touching that even now we are not forgotten. God grant that his estates should be spared. God bless him. I am sending you some food but I do not know if it will ever reach you. Often we think of you. I wrote to you on the 16th through the hospital, on the 17th a card by Mr. Gibbs, and on the 9th two letters by -. There! I have dropped my favorite pen and broken it. How provoking! It is fearfully cold, 29 degrees, 7 in the bathroom, and blowing in from everywhere. Such a wind, but they are all out. We hope to see the officer Tamarov if only from a distance. So glad you received everything. I hope you wear the gray shawl, and that it smells of vervaine, a well-remembered scent. Kind Zinoschka found it in Odessa, and sent it to me.
I am so surprised you have made the acquaintance of Gorky. He was awful formerly. Disgusting and immoral books and plays he wrote. Can it be the same man? How he fought against father and Russia when he lived in Italy. Be careful, my love. I am so glad you can go to church. To us it is forbidden, so service is at home, and a new priest serves. How glad I am that all is well with Serge. With Tina it will be difficult, but God will help her. It is true what they say about Marie Rebinder's husband? She wrote me, through Isa, that they are still in St. Petersburg, and that they threatened to kill him. It is difficult to understand people now. Sometimes they are with the Bolshevists outwardly, but in their hearts they are against them.
The cross we hung over the children's beds during their illness but during church service it lies on the table. Bishop Gerogene serves special prayers daily for father and mother he is quite on their side, which is strange. I must hurry as one waits to take this letter. I am sending you a prayer I wrote on a piece of birch bark we cut. I can't draw much as my eyes are so bad, also my fingers are quite stiff from cold. Such a wind, and it blows so in the rooms. I am sending you a little image of the Holy Virgin. Thanks for the lovely prayer. I wear often the jackets you gave me. I send you all my soul-prayers and love. I believe firmly so I am quite calm. We are all your own and kiss you tenderly.
Dearest, we were so glad to hear from you. How cold it is these days, and what a strong wind. We have just come back from a walk. On our window it is written - "Anna darling - " I wonder who wrote it. God bless you, dear. Be well.
Two other notes from Olga followed in February and just before Easter:
Give my love to all who remember me.
Darling, with all my loving heart I am with you these hard days for you. God help and comfort you, my darling. On Mamma's table stands the mauve bottle you sent her and which reminds us so much of you. There is much sun, but great frosts also and winds, and very cold in the rooms, especially in our comer room, where we live as before. All are well, and we walk much in the yard. There are many churches around here, so we are always hearing bells ringing. God bless you, darling. How sad your brother and sister are not with you.
The other children also wrote me at this time. Grand Duchess Tatiana wrote two short but characteristic notes, the first one on my name day, January 12. In all these letters it will be seen how confidently the family looked forward to a future of freedom and happiness. This constant optimism in the midst of ever-increasing surveillance and cruelty is my excuse for including notes of slight general interest.
Your own OLGA.
We all congratulate you tenderly with the coming Easter, and wish you to spend it as peacefully as anyone can now. I always think of you when they sing during mass the prayer we used to sing together on the yacht. I kiss you.
Tatiana wrote first:
"You remember the cozy evenings by the fireside? How nice it was. Did you again see Groten and Linevitch? (the faithful aides-de-camp). Well, good-bye, my darling Annia. God bless you. Good-bye-till when?
My beloved darling. How happy we are to get news from you. I hope you got my letters. I think often of you and pray God to keep you from all harm and help you. I am glad you know the Eristovs now. We get such good letters from Zina, she writes so well. There are many sadnesses. in these days. God be with you. It is very cold. Papa wears his Cossack uniform and we remember how much you liked it. I kiss you tenderly, and love you, and congratulate you on your dear name day.
From the Grand Duchess Marie Nicholaevna:
Good morning, my darling! What a long time since I have written to you, and how glad I was to get your little letter. It is very sad we don't see each other, but God will arrange for us to meet, and what joy it will be then. We live in the house where you have been. Do you remember the rooms? They are quite comfortable when a little arranged. We walk out twice every day. Some of the people here are kind. Every day I remember you, and love you very much. Mr. Gibbs gave us photographs he made of you - it was so nice to have them. Your perfumes remind us so much of you. I wish you every blessing from God, and kiss you tenderly. Don't be sad. Love to all yours.
Alexei wrote that same month of January, 1918:
Your loving MARIE.
My darling beloved, how are you? We are all well, walk much in the yard, and have a little hill down which we can slide. There is much frost these days so Mama sits at home. You will probably get this in February, so I congratulate you on your name day. God help you in future and bless you. We always remember and speak of you. May God guard all your ways. Don't be sad, dear. All will be well, and we shall be together again. I kiss you tenderly.
My darling Anya. We are so glad to have news from you, and to hear that you got all our things. Today there are 29 degrees of frost, a strong wind, and sunshine. We walked, and I went on skiis, in the yard. Yesterday I acted with Tatiana and Gilik a French piece. We are now preparing another piece. We have a few good soldiers with whom I play games in their rooms. Kolia Derevenko comes to me on holidays. Nagorny, the sailor, sleeps with me. As servants we have Volkov, Sednov, Troup, and Chemodurov. It is time to go to lunch. I kiss and embrace you. God bless you. ALEXEI.
The remaining letters from the Empress, dating from the end of January to the last days of April, 1918, are uncomplaining, yet are full of suffering and the prescience of tragic events to come. I do not believe that the Empress ever lost faith in the ultimate happiness of her beloved family, but her keen mind fully comprehended the terrible march of events in the torn Empire, and she knew that trials and still greater trials had to be faced by the Emperor and herself. Her courage in the face of this certain conviction is beyond any praise of mine.
On the 23rd of January she wrote:
My precious child: There is a possibility of writing to you now as - leaves here on the 26th. I only hope no one robs him on the way. He takes you two pounds of macaroni, three pounds of rice, and a little ham. It is so well does not live with us. I have knitted stockings, and have knitted you a pair. They are men's size but they will do under valenki and when it is cold in the rooms. Here we have 29 degrees of frost, and 6 in the big room. It is blowing terribly. I was keenly touched by the money you sent, but do not send any more as for the present we have all we need. There have been days when we did not know what to do. I wonder what you are living on. The little money you had I put in the box with your jewels. (My fingers are so stiff I can hardly hold my pen.) I am glad your rooms are so comfortable and so light, but it must be difficult for you to climb the long staircase. How are your poor back and legs?
Old friends continued to be very dear to the exiled Empress, and she kept up her interest in all their affairs. Of my sister-in-law who had her first child while her husband was fighting on the Rumanian front the Empress wrote:
I know nothing about Lili Dehn, and from my two sisters and my brother I have heard nothing for a year. Only one letter from my sister Elizabeth (Grand Duchess Elizabeth) last summer. Olga Alexandrovna writes long letters to the children all about her boy whom she adores and nurses herself. The grandmamma I think is getting very old, and is very sad.
Tudles has four in her room. They say that Marie P. lives well in Kisslovodsk, both her sons are with her and she receives all the beau monde from St. Petersburg. Merika lives there also and is expecting a baby. Marianna Ratkova has bought a house there, and receives on Thursdays. Mr. Gibbs asks often about you, also Tudles, and my big Niuta Demidova. The little doggy lies on my knees and warms them. It is mortally cold, but in St. Petersburg there is probably worse darkness, hunger, and cold. God help you all to bear it patiently. The worse here the better in yonder world.
It hurts to think how much bloodshed will have to be before better days come. . . . Darling, I send you all my love, and am so sad I can send you little else. I embroider for the church when my eyes allow me, otherwise I knit, but soon I shall have no more wool. We can't get any here-too dear, and very bad. I have had a letter from Shoura Petrovskaia, who is taking care of her brother's children. She sews boots and sells them. In October the children got a letter from their old nurse in England-the first one from there. What rot they publish about Tatiana in the newspapers! Do you see your new friend and saviour often? How is he? Love to your kind parents. I would love to write you certain things of interest, but just now there are many things one can't put in a letter. The little one has put on a sweater, and the girls wear valenki in their rooms. I know how sad you would feel. . . .
The kind servant Sednov has just brought me a cup of cocoa to warm me up. How do you pray with the rosary, and what prayers do you say on every tenth? I generally say Our Father and to the Holy Virgin, but should one say the same prayer to the end? I looked for it in the books but did not get any information. I long so to go to church but they allow us that only on great holidays (feasts). So we hope to go on the 2nd of February, and on the 3rd I shall order prayers at the relics for you. How is poor old Sukhomlinov? Where is Sacha? I suppose one may completely trust the little officer you sent. I asked him to make the acquaintance of the priest who served us before, a most devoted and energetic man, a real fighting priest-more than spiritual per. haps-yet with a charming face, and a constantly sweet smile, very thin, long gray beard, and clever eyes. His feeling for us is known all over the country now by the good ones, therefore they took him away from us, but perhaps better so, as he can do more now. The Bishop is quite for father and mother, and so is the Patriarch in Moscow, and it seems most of the clergy. Only you must be careful what sort of people come to you. I am so anxious about your seeing Gorky. Be prudent, and don't have any serious conversations with him. People will try to get around you as before. I don't mean real friends, honest-meaning people, but others who for personal reasons will use you as their shield. Then you will have the brutes after you again.
I am racking my brains what to send you, as one can get nothing here at all. Our Christmas presents were all the work of our own hands, and now I must give my eyes a rest. . . . How pleased I was that Princess Eristov has spoken so kindly of us. Give her and also her son our love. Where does he serve now? The people here are very friendly lots of Kirghise. When I sit in the window they bow to me, if the soldiers are not looking.
What dreadful news about the robbing of the sacristy in the Winter Palace. There were so many precious relics and many of our own ikons. They say it has been the same in the church of Gatchina. Did you know that the portraits of my parents and of father have been utterly destroyed? Also my Russian Court dresses and all the others as well? But the destruction of the churches is the worst of all. They say it was the soldiers from the hospital in the Winter Palace who did it. . . . We hear that the soldiers in Smolny have seized all available food, and are quite indifferent to the prospect of the people starving. Why was money sent to us rather than having been given to the poor? True, there were for us some very difficult times when we could not pay any bills, and when for four months the servants had to go without any wages. The soldiers here were not paid, so they simply took our money to keep them quiet. All this is petty, but it makes great trouble for the commandant. The Hofmarshall Chancelerie is still in existence, but when they abolish it I really don't know what we shall do. Well, God will help, and we still have what we need.
I think often of Livadia and what may be happening there. They say that many former political prisoners are stationed there. Where is our dear yacht, the Standart I am afraid to inquire about it. My God! How I suffered when I heard that you were imprisoned on the Polar Star. I cannot think of the yacht. It hurts too much.
It is said that our Kommissar is about to be removed, and we are so rejoiced. His assistant will leave with him. They are both terrible men, Siberian convicts formerly. The Kommissar was in prison for fifteen years. The soldiers have decided to send them away, but thank God they have left us our commandant. The soldiers manage absolutely everything here.
I am lying down, as it is six o'clock. There is a fire burning but it barely warms the room. Soon the little one will be coming in for a lesson. I am teaching the children the Divine Service. May God help me to teach it to them so that it will remain with them through their whole lives, and develop their souls. It is a big responsibility.... It is such a blessing to live all together, and be so near to one another. Still you must know what I have to endure, having no news from my brother, nor any idea of what lies in the future. My poor brother also knows nothing of us. If I thought my own little old home and the family would have to suffer what we have-it is awful! Then it might begin also in England. However you remember that our Friend said that no harm would come to my old home .7 I try to suppress all these thoughts that my soul may not be overwhelmed with despair. I trust all my dear ones to the Holy Virgin. May she shield them from all evil. I still have much to thank God for; you are well, and I can write to you; I am not separated from our own darlings. Thank God we are still in Russia (this is the chief thing), and we are near the relics of the Metropolitan John, and we have peace. Good-bye, my little daughter.
How much better it would have been if Tina could have gone to Odessa to have her baby, not far from Serge, and where kind Zinotchka could have looked after her and arranged everything. But now that the Rumanians have taken Kichiniev Serge has probably left, and they are together again. Sharing hardships will cause their love to increase and strengthen. How is Alyas's (my sister) health ? Was it Mariana's former husband, Derfelden, who was killed in the south? Her mother and family live in Boris's house.
"Peace and yet the Germans continue to advance farther and farther in," wrote the Empress on March 13 (Russian). "When will it all finish? When God allows. How I love my country, with all its faults. It grows dearer and dearer to me, and I thank God daily that He allowed us to remain here and did not send us farther away. Believe in the people, darling. The nation is strong, and young, and as soft as wax. just now it is in bad hands, and darkness and anarchy reigns. But the King of Glory will come and will save, strengthen, and give wisdom to the people who are now deceived."
I sometimes see Isa in the street (i.e. from the window).
The sister of mercy Tatiana Andrievna is now in St. Petersburg taking care of her sister. Later she will return to Moscow. She seems rather nervous. Give our greetings to our confessor, father Afanasi, father Alexander, and my poor old Zio. I don't know anything about my second servant Kondratiev. What has become of our chauffeurs and the coachman Konkov ? Is old General Schwedov still alive?
Holy Virgin, keep my daughter from all danger, bless and console her!
5th of February, 1918
My own darling little one, How terribly sad I am for you about the death of your dear father, and that I could not be with you to help and console you in your great sorrow. You know that I am with you in my prayers. May Christ and the Holy Virgin comfort you, and wipe the tears from your eyes. May God receive his soul in peace. Tomorrow morning I will ask Anushka to go and order service for him for forty days near the relics. Alas we can pray only at home. In him we both lost a true friend of many years. Father and the children suffer with you, tenderly kiss you, and know all that your sensitive heart feels.
As your telegram went by post I don't know what day God took him to himself. Is it possible it was the same day you wrote to me? I am so glad you saw him daily, but how did it happen, your poor father? For himself one must thank God so many hardships to live through-no home, and everything so bad. I remember how it was foretold to us (by Rasputin) that he would die when Serge married. And you two women are all alone now. I wonder if your brother-in-law was there to help you, or your kind uncle. I shall try to write to his address a long letter, and also to your mother. Tell her I kiss her tenderly, and how much we have always loved her and honored your father. He was a rare man. . . . Don't cry. He is happy now, rests and prays for you at the Throne of God.
I am glad that you received my two letters. Now you will get two more. What your little messenger will tell you about your dear ones is for yourself alone. What horrors go on at Yalta and Massandra - My God! Where is the salvation for us all and for the poor officers? All the churches being ruined -nothing held sacred any more-it will finish in some terrible earthquake, or something like it as the chastisement of God. May He have mercy on our beloved country. How I pray for Russia. . . .
They say that the Japanese are in Tomsk and keep good order there. I hope you got our little parcel. As we have no sugar I shall send you a little honey which you can eat during Lent. We live still by the old style, but probably shall have to change. Only I don't know how it will be then with Lent and all the services (festivals and fasts). The people may be very angry if two weeks are thrown out. That is why it was never done before. . . .
The sun shines and even warms us in the day times. I feel that God will not forsake but will save us, though all is so dark and tears are flowing everywhere. . . . My little one, don't suffer too much. All this had to be. Only My God, how sorry I am for the innocent ones killed everywhere. I can't write any more. Ask your mother to forgive the mistakes I shall make in writing to her in Russian, and that I cannot express myself as warmly as I would like to. Good-bye, my darling. I am sending you letters from father and the children.
2nd of March, 1918.
Darling child: Thanks for all from father, mother and the children. How you spoil us all by your dear letters and gifts. I was very anxious going so long without news from you, especially as rumors came that you were gone. Alas, I can't write you as I could wish for fear that this may fall into other hands. We ha~~e not yet received all that you have scat (contraband). It comes to us little by little. Dear child, do be careful of the people who come to see you. The way is so slippery, and it is so easy to f all. Sometimes a road is cleared through the snow on which one's true friends are to walk-and then the road becomes still more slippery!
We are all right, and I am now a real mistress of a household, going over accounts with M. Gilliard. New work and very practical. The weather is sunny - they are even sun burned, and even when the frost comes back it is warmer in the sun. I have sat twice on the balcony and sometimes sit in the yard. My heart has been much better, but for a week I have had great pains in it again. I worry so much. My God! How Russia suffers. You know that I love it even more than you do, miserable country, demolished from within, and by the Germans from without. Since the Revolution they have conquered a great deal of it without even a battle. . . . If they created order now in Russia how dreadful would be the country's debasement-to have to be grateful to the enemy. They must never dare to attempt any conversations with father or mother.
We hope to go to Communion next week, if they allow us to go to church. We have not been since the 6th of January. I shall pray to the rosary you have written. Kiss your poor mother. I am glad you took some of your things from the hospital. Best love to poor G. Sukhomlinov. What terrible times you are all living through. On the whole we are better off than you. . . . Soon spring is coming to rejoice our hearts. The way of the cross first then joy and gladness. It will soon be a year since we parted, but what is time? Life here is nothing - eternity is everything, and what we are doing is preparing our souls for the Kingdom of Heaven. Thus nothing, after all, is terrible, and if they do take everything from us they cannot take our souls. . . . Have patience, and these days of suffering will end, we shall forget all the anguish and thank God, God help those who see only the bad, and don't try to understand that all this will pass. It cannot be otherwise. I cannot write all that fills my soul, but you, my little martyr, understand it better than I. You are farther on than I. . . . We live here on earth but we are already half gone to the next world. We see with different eyes, and that makes it often difficult to associate with people who call themselves, and really are religious. . . . My greatest sin is my irritability. The endless stupidity of my maid, for instance - she can't help being stupid, she is so often untruthful, or else she begins to sermonize like a preacher and then I burst-you know how hot-tempered I am. It is not difficult to bear great trials, but these little buzzing mosquitoes are so trying. I want to be a better woman, and I try. For long periods I am really patient, and then breaks out again my bad temper. We are to have a new confessor, the second in these seven months. I beg your forgiveness, too, darling. Day after tomorrow is the Sunday before Lent when one asks forgiveness for all one's faults. Forgive the past, and pray for me. Yesterday we had prayers for the dead, and we did not forget your father. A few days ago was the twenty - sixth anniversary of my father's death. I long to warm and to comfort others-but alas, I do not feel drawn to those around me here. I am cold towards them, and this, too, is wrong of me.
The cowardly yielding of the Bolshevist government to the triumphant Germans was a source of constant suffering to the Empress. In subsequent letters written me that spring she speaks almost indifferently of the cold and privations suffered in the house in Tobolsk, but she becomes passionate when she writes of the German invasion.
What a nightmare it is that it is Germans who are saving Russia (from Communism) and are restoring order. What could be more humiliating for us? With one hand the Germans give, and with the other they take away. Already they have seized an enormous territory. God help and save this unhappy country. Probably He wills us to endure all these insults, but that we must take them from the Germans almost kills me. During a war one can understand these things happening, but not during a revolution. Now Batourn has been taken-our country is disintegrating into bits. I cannot think calmly about it. Such hideous pain in heart and soul. Yet I am sure God will not leave it like this. He will send wisdom and save Russia I am sure.
It will always be to me an immense gratification that in the midst of her great pain and sorrow for Russia's piteous plight our small group of friends in St. Petersburg, and those brave souls who dared to risk their lives as message bearers, were able to get to the forlorn family in desolate Siberia at least the necessities of life of which a cruel and inefficient government deprived them. The Empress who all her life had but to command what she wanted for herself and her children was grateful, pathetically grateful, for the simple garments, the cheap little luxuries, even the materials for needlework we were able to convey to them. She thanks me almost effusively for the jackets and sweaters we sent her and the girls in their cold rooms. The wool was so soft and nice, but the linen, she feared, was almost too fine. This was early in March, but spring was already creeping across the steppes.
The weather is so fine that I have been sitting out on the balcony writing music for the Lenten prayers, as we have no printed notes. We had to sing this morning without any preparation, but it went-well, not too badly. God helped. After service we tried to sing some new prayers with the new deacon, and I hope it will go better tonight.
On Wednesday, Friday and Saturday mornings we were allowed to go to the eight o'clock morning service in church imagine the joy and comfort! The other days we five women will sing during the home service. It reminds me of Livadia and Oreanda. This week we shall spend the evenings alone with the children, as we want to read together. I know of nothing new. My heart is troubled but my soul remains tranquil as I feel God always near. Yet what are they deciding on in Moscow? God help us.
For some reason the Empress seemed to feel that the Lenten season of 1918 was destined to end in an Easter resurrection of the torn and distracted country. At least so her letters indicate. In a mood of fitful kindness and mercy the Bolshevist soldiers in authority in Tobolsk allowed their captives to go rather often to church and to Communion during this season, and the Empress was very happy in consequence. Her letters were full of prayers for the country, in which the whole family joined, and they appeared to look forward to Easter as the day when God would give some token that the sins of the Russian people, for which they were suffering, were forgiven. Yet never once did she speak of regaining power or the throne. All that was over and forgotten. Neither the Emperor nor the Empress ever indicated in any syllable that they expected to be returned to their former eminence. In fact they never spoke of what might actually happen to the Russian Empire, but they believed that God would hold it together and restore its people to wisdom and strength. For themselves they seemed to look forward to nothing better than an obscure existence with other Russian people. How uncomplainingly they accepted the hard terms of their lives, how grateful they were for the love of distant friends whom they might never see again, is shown in all the last letters I received from the Empress during March, 1918. After receiving one of our parcels of clothing she wrote me:
We are endlessly touched by all your love and thoughtfulness. Thank everybody for us, please, but really it is too bad to spoil us so, for you are among so many difficulties and we have not many privations, I assure you. We have enough to eat, and in many respects are rich compared with you. The children put on yesterday your lovely blouses. The hats also are very useful, as we have none of this sort. The pink jacket is far too pretty for an old woman like me, but the hat is all right for my gray hair. What a lot of things! The books I have already begun to read, and for all the rest such tender thanks. He was so pleased by the military suit, vest, and trousers you sent him, and all the lovely things. From whom came the ancient image? I love it.
This letter, written near the end of March, 1918, was the last I ever received written by her Majesty's own hand. A little later in the spring of that year she and the Emperor were hurriedly removed to Ekaterinburg - the last place from which the world has received tidings of them. The children and most of the suite were left behind in Tobolsk, the poor little Alexei still ill and suffering, and cruelly deprived of the solace of his mother's love and devotion. In May I received a brief letter from Grand Duchess Olga who with difficulty managed to get me news of her parents and the family.
Our last gifts to you, including the Easter eggs, will get off today. I can't get much here except a little flour. just now we are completely shut off from the south, but we did get, a short time ago, letters from Odessa. What they have gone through there is quite terrible. Lili is alone in the country with her grandmother and our godchild, surrounded by the enemy. The big Princess Bariatinsky and Mme. Tolstoy were in prison in Yalta, the former merely because she took the part of the Tartars. Babia Apraxina with her mother and children live upstairs in their house, the lower floor being occupied by soldiers. Grand Duchess Xenia with her husband, children, and mother are living in Diilburg. Olga Alexandrovna (the Emperor's sister) lives in Harax in a small house because if she had remained in Ai Todor she would have had to pay for the house. What the Germans are doing! Keeping order in the towns but taking everything. All the wheat is in their hands, and it is said that they take seed-corn, coal, former Russian soldiers-everything. The Germans are now in Bierki and in Kharkov, Poltava Government. Batoum is in the hands of the Turks.
Sunbeam (Alexei) has been ill in bed for the past week. I don't know whether coughing brought on the attack, or whether he picked up something heavy, but he had an awful internal hemorrhage and suffered fearfully. He is better now, but sleeps badly and the pains, though less severe, have not entirely ceased. He is frightfully thin and yellow, reminding me of Spala. Do you remember? But yesterday he began to eat a little, and Dr. Derevenko, is satisfied with his progress. The child has to lie on his back without moving, and he gets so tired. I sit all day beside him, holding his aching legs, and I have grown almost as thin as he. It is certain now that we shall celebrate Easter at home because it will be better for him if we have a service together. I try to hope that this attack will pass more quickly than usual. It must, since all Winter he was so well.
I have not been outside the house for a week. I am no longer permitted to sit on the balcony, and I avoid going downstairs. I am sorry that your heart is bad again, but I can understand it. Be sure and let me know well in advance if you move again. Everyone, we hear, has been sent away from Tsarskoe. Poor Tsarskoe, who will take care of the rooms now? What do they mean when they speak of an "etat de siege" there? . .
Darling "Sister Seraphine":
I want to talk to you again, knowing how anxious you will be for Sunbeam. The blood recedes quickly - that is why today he again had very severe pains. Yesterday for the first time he smiled and talked with us, even played cards, and slept two hours during the day. He is frightfully thin, with enormous eyes, just as at Spala. He likes to be read to, eats little - no appetite at all in fact. I am with him the whole day, Tatiana or Mr. Gilliard relieving me at intervals. Mr. Gilliard reads to him tirelessly, or warms his legs with the Fohn apparatus. Today it is snowing again but the snow melts rapidly, and it is very muddy. I have not been out for a week and a half, as I am so tired that I don't dare to risk the stairs. So I sit with Alexei. . . . A great number of new troops have come from everywhere. A new Kommissar has arrived from Moscow, a man named Yakovlev, and today we shall have to make his acquaintance. It gets very hot in this town in Summer, is frightfully dusty, and at times very humid. We are begging to be transferred for the hot months to some convent. I know that you too are longing for fresh air, and I trust that by God's mercy it may become possible for us all.
They are always hinting to us that we shall have to travel either very far away, or to the center (of Siberia), but we hope that this will not happen, as it would be dreadful at this season. How nice it would be if your brother could settle himself in Odessa. We are quite cut off from the south, never hear from anybody. The little officer will tell you - he saw me apart from the others. I am so afraid that false rumors will reach your ears - people lie so frantically. Probably the little one's illness was reported as something different, as an excuse for our not being moved. Oh well, all is God's will. The deeper you look the more you understand that this is so. All sorrows are sent us to free us from our sins or as a test of our faith, an example to others. It requires good food to make plants grow strong and beautiful, and the gardener walking through his garden wants to be pleased with his flowers. If they do not grow properly he takes his pruning knife and cuts, waiting for the sunshine to coax them into growth again. I should like to be a painter, and make a picture of this beautiful garden and all that grows in it. I remember English gardens, and at Livadia you saw an illustrated book I had of them, so you will understand.
Just now eleven men have passed on horseback, good faces, mere boys - this I have not seen the like of for a long time. They are the guard of the new Kommissar. Sometimes we see men with the most awful faces. I would not include them in my garden picture. The only place for them would be outside where the merciful sunshine could reach them and make them clean from all the dirt and evil with which they are covered.
God bless you, darling child. Our prayers and blessings surround you. I was so pleased with the little mauve Easter egg, and all the rest. But I wish I could send you back the money I know you need for yourself. May the Holy Virgin guard you from all danger. Kiss your dear mother for me. Greetings to your old servant, the doctors, and Fathers John and Dosifei. I have seen the new Kommissar, and he really hasn't a bad face. Today is Sasha's (Count Voronzev, aide-de-camp) birthday.
Darling child, we thank you for all your gifts, the little eggs, the cards, and the chocolate for the little one. Thank your mother for the books. Father was delighted with the cigarettes, which he found so good, and also with the sweets. Snow has fallen again, although the sunshine is bright. The little one's leg is gradually getting better, he suffers less, and had a really good sleep last night. Today we are expecting to be searched very agreeable! I don't know how it will be later about sending letters. I only hope it will be possible, and I pray for help. The atmosphere around us is fairly electrified. We feel that a storm is approaching, but we know that God is merciful, and will care for us. Things are growing very anguishing. Today we shall have a small service at home, for which we are thankful, but it is hard, nevertheless, not to be allowed to go to church. You understand how that is, my little martyr.
I shall not send this, as ordinarily, through -, as she too is going to be searched. It was so nice of you to send her a dress. I add my thanks to hers. Today is the twenty-fourth anniversary of our engagement. How sad it is to remember that we had to burn all our letters, yours too, and others as dear." But what was to be done? One must not attach one's soul to earthly things, but words written by beloved hands penetrate the very heart, become a part of life itself.
I wish I had something sweet to send you, but I haven't anything. Why did you not keep that chocolate for yourself ? You need it more than the children do. We are allowed one and a half pounds of sugar every month, but more is always given us by kind-hearted people here. I never touch sugar during Lent, but that does not seem to be a deprivation now. I was so sorry to hear that my poor lancer Ossorgine had been killed, and so many others besides. What a lot of misery and useless sacrifice! But they are all happier now in the other world. Though we know that the storm is coming nearer and nearer, our souls are at peace. Whatever happens will be through God's will. Thank God, at least, the little one is better.
May I send the money back to you? I am sure you will need it if you have to move again. God guard you. I bless and kiss you, and carry you always in my heart. Keep well and brave. Greetings to all from your ever loving, A.
Darling, I take the first opportunity to write you the latest news we have had from ours in Ekaterinburg. They wrote on the 23rd of April that the journey over the rough roads was terrible, but that in spite of great weariness they are well. They live in three rooms and eat the same food as the soldiers. The little one is better but is still in bed. As soon as he is well enough to be moved we shall join them. We have had letters from Zina but none from Lili. Have Alya and your brother written? The weather has become milder, the ice is out of the river Irtysh, but nothing is green yet. Darling, you must know how dreadful it all is. We kiss and embrace you. God bless YOU.
After this short letter from Olga came a card from Ekaterinburg written by one of the Empress's maids at her dictation. It contained a few loving words, and the news that they were recovering from the fatigue of their terrible journey. They were living in two rooms-probably, although this is not stated, under great privations. She hoped, but could not tell yet, that our correspondence could be continued. It never was. I had a card a little later from Mr. Gibbs saying that he and M. Gilliard had brought the children from Tobolsk to Ekaterinburg and that the family was again united. The card was written from the train where he and M. Gilliard were living, not having been allowed to join the family in their stockaded house. Mr. Gibbs had an intuition that both of these devoted tutors were soon to be sent out of the country and such proved to be the case. This was my last news of my Empress and of my Sovereigns, best of all earthly friends.
In July short paragraphs appeared in the Bolshevist newspapers saying that by order of the Soviet at Ekaterinburg the Emperor had been shot but that the Empress and the children had been removed to a place of safety. The announcement horrified me, yet left me without any exact conviction of its truth. Soviet newspapers published what they were ordered to publish without any regard whatever to facts. Thus when a little later it was announced that the whole family had been murdered-executed, as they phrased it - imagine "executing" five perfectly innocent children! I could not make myself believe it. Yet little by little the public began to believe it, and it is certain that Nicholas II and his family have disappeared behind one of the world's greatest and most tragic mysteries. With them disappeared all of the suite and the servants who were permitted to accompany them to the house in Ekaterinburg. My reason tells me that it is probable that they were all foully murdered, that they are dead and beyond the sorrows of this life forever. But reason is not always amenable. There are many of us in Russia and in exile who, knowing the vastness of the enormous empire, the remoteness of its communications with the outside world, know well the possibilities of imprisonment in monasteries, in mines, in deep forests from which no news can penetrate. We hope. That is all I can say. It is said, although I have no firsthand information on the subject, that the Empress Dowager has never believed that either of her sons was killed. The Soviet newspapers published accounts of the "execution" of Grand Duke Mikhail, and strong evidence has been presented that he was murdered in Siberia with others of the family, including the Grand Duchess Elizabeth. These same news papers, however, officially stated that Grand Duke Mikhail had been assisted to escape by English officers.
The most fantastic contradictions concerning all these alleged murders have from time to time cropped up. When I was in prison in the autumn of 1919 a fellow prisoner of the Chekha, the wife of an aide-de-camp of Grand Duke Mikhail, told me positively that she had received a letter from the Emperor's brother, safe and well in England.
Perhaps the strangest incident of the kind happened to me when I was hiding from the Chekha after my last imprisonment and my narrow escape from a Kronstadt firing squad. A woman unknown to me approached me and calling me by my name, which of course I did not acknowledge, showed me a photograph of a woman in nun's robes standing between two men, priests or monks. "This," she said mysteriously and in a whisper, "is one you know well. She sent it to you by my hands and asks you to write her a message that you are well, and also to give your address that she may write you a letter."
I looked long at the photograph - a poor print and I could not deny to myself that there was something of a likeness in the face, and especially in the long, delicate hands. But the Empress had always been slender, and after her ill health became almost emaciated. This woman was stout. I might, had I had the slightest assurance of safety, have taken the risk of writing my name and address for this stranger. But no one in Russia takes such risks. The net of the Chekha is too far flung.
I have one word more to say about these letters of the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. I have translated them as faithfully and as literally as possible, leaving out absolutely nothing except a few messages of affection and some religious expressions which seem to me too intimate to make public, and which might appear exaggerated to western readers. I have included letters which may be thought trivial in subject, but I have done it purposely because I yearned to present the Empress as she was, simple, self-sacrificing, a devoted wife, mother, and friend, an intense patriot, deeply and consistently religious. She had her human faults and failings, as she freely admits. Some of these traits can be described, as the French express it, as "the faults of her quality." Thus her great love for her husband, which never ceased to be romantic and youthful, caused her at times cruel heart pangs. Because this has nothing to do with her life or her story I should not allude to the one cloud that ever came between us-jealousy. I should leave that painful, fleeting episode alone, knowing that she would wish it forgotten, except that in certain letters which have been published she herself has spoken of it so bitterly that were I to omit mention of it entirely I might be accused of suppressing facts.
I have, I think, spoken frankly of the preference of the Emperor for my society at times, in long walks, in tennis, in conversation. In the early part of 1914 the Empress was ill, very low-spirited, and full of morbid reflections. She was much alone, as the Emperor was occupied many hours every day, arid the children were busy with their lessons. In the Emperor's leisure moments he developed a more than ordinary desire for my companionship, perhaps only because I was an entirely healthy, normal woman, heart and soul devoted to the family, and one from whom it was never necessary to keep anything secret. We were much together in those days, and before either of us realized it the Empress became mortally jealous and suspicious of every movement of her husband and of myself. In letters written during this period, especially from the Crimea during the spring of 1914, the Empress said some very unkind and cruel things of me, or at least I should consider them cruel if they had not been rooted in illness, and in physical and mental misery. Of course the Court knew of the estrangement between us, and I regret to say that there were many who delighted in it and did what they could to make it permanent. My only real friends were Count Fredericks, Minister of the Court, and his two daughters, who stood by me loyally and kept me in courage.
That this illusion of jealousy was entirely dissipated, that the Empress finally realized that my love and devotion for her precluded any possibility of the things she feared, her letters to me from Siberia amply demonstrate. Our friendship became more deeply cemented than before, and nothing but death can ever sever the bond between us.
Other letters written by the Empress to her husband between 1914 and 1916 have within this past year found publication by a Russian firm in Berlin. Some of them have been reproduced in the London Times, and I have no doubt that they will also be published in America. These letters reveal the character of the Empress exactly as I knew her. It is balm to my bruised heart to read in the London Times that what. ever has been said of her betrayal, or attempted betrayal of Russia during the war, must be abandoned as a legend without the least foundation. So must also be discarded accusations against her of any but spiritual relations with Rasputin. That she believed in him as a man sent of God is true, but that his influence on her, and through her on the Emperor's policies, had any political importance I must steadfastly deny. Both the Empress and Rasputin liked Protopopov and trusted him. But that had nothing to do with his ministerial tenure. The Empress, and I think also Rasputin, disliked and distrusted Grand Duke Nicholas. But that had nothing to do with his dernission. In these affairs the Emperor made his own decisions, as I have stated. The strongest proof of what I have written will be found in the letters of the Empress, those she wrote to the Emperor, to her relations in Germany and England, and those included in this volume. Nothing contradictory, nothing inconsistent has ever been discovered, despite the efforts of the Empress's bitter enemies, the Provisional Govern ment and the Bolshevists. Before all the world, before the historians of the future, Alexandra Feodorovna, Empress of Russia, stands absolved.
Next chapter: XXIII
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