Chapter Sixteen - In Tobolsk
The departure for Tobolsk was on 1/14 August, 1917. Kerenski came in from town in the morning, and advised that on that same night, at 11 o'clock, a train would be ready to transport the Imperial Family to Tobolsk, the place designated for them.
We made the necessary preparations. At ten o'clock that night Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich arrived at the Palace to say his goodbyes. Kerenski was required to be present, and apologized that his presence was required but that he would not listen to anything said. Everyone who was leaving, except for the Imperial Family, were already at the designated place of departure, which was in the middle of a field between Tsarskoe Selo and the Alexandrovskaia station, on the Varsava line. The train, though, did not appear at the designated time we had been told.
We spent the night out in the field waiting for the train. It did not arrive until six o'clock in the morning. Just at the moment the train arrived, two automobiles accompanied by guards on horseback came from the Palace. Kerenski came out with the Imperial Family. Everyone got on board the train. Kerenski was in the train car with the Emperor and his family, politely took his leave of everyone and wished them a good trip. He kissed the Empress's hand and said to the Emperor, while shaking his hand, "Good bye, Sire, I am taking to using the old title." The train moved off. The trip by the Northern railway to Tiumen lasted more than ten days, but passed without incident. It was only at Zvanka that a crowd of workers came up to the train and demanded to know who was on board. When informed, they left. An escort comprised of sharpshooters of the Guard accompanied us, as well as three other people: Makarov, adjunct commisar to the Minister of the Court, M. Verchenin, deputy of the Duma and Col Kobylinski. All three were perfect gentlemen.
At Tiumen, we transferred over on board the ship "Russ". The trip down the river went very well. While we passed the town of Pokrovskoe, Rasputin's birthplace, the Empress pointed out the town to me saying "Here is where Grigori Efimovich lived. He used to fish in this river and would bring us the fish in Tsarskoe Selo." The Empress had tears in her eyes.
The ship arrived in Tobolsk on August 6/19, after five o'clock in the afternoon. At that moment, all the bells in the churches in the town began to ring, and the ultra-revolutionary forces were very worried thinking that the carillon was saluting the arrival of the Imperial Family. The demanded an explanation from the Clergy. The answer proved to be simple. They were just ringing vespers, as the day of August 6/19 was a feast day.
We began to prepare to disembark and organize the move into the Governor's house. Makarov and Verchinin told me that it was necessary to first go see the Governor's house. After I inspected the house, I suggested we go back to organizing the move and to attend to the needed cleaning at the house in the meanwhile as it was very dirty. Makarov took my suggestion. Going back to the boat, I reported the result of my inspection to the Emperor and Empress. They accepted the need to stay on the boat, and waited there while we finished everything to put the house in order. We moved into the house on August 13/26. The Empress and Grand Duchess Tatiana went by carriage. The rest of us went on foot.
The Governor's house was spacious and very comfortable. The Imperial Family and servants, everyone, was well housed. The suite lived in the Kornilov house, directly across the street from the Governor's house. Tatitchev, Botkin, Dologoruki, Miss Schneider, Countess Hendrikova, and later Gibbs, the English teacher who arrived in Tobolsk after we did, all lived there. Gilliard lived in the Governor's house.
Until Pankratov arrived the stay in Tobolsk went well and captivity passed quietly. We had everything we needed as money for the upkeep of the Imperial Family arrived regularly. The Emperor and children took walks in the morning and afternoon in a corner of the lot behind the house which was fenced off from the street. The Emperor chopped wood, the children played. During the winter they threw snowballs. The children took their lessons at specific times. Given the lack of teachers, the Emperor, Empress, countess Hendrikova and Miss Schneider taught them. They only had Gilliard at first, then later Gibbs as well of the old teachers.
At first the people of the town brought the Imperial Family a lot of provisions. The entire time the Imperial Family was in Tobolsk the women of the Ivanovski Convent, located near town, brought food regularly. Until the November revolution we had plenty of everything, although we lived modestly. Dinner was of two courses, dessert was served only on feast days. We took tea at eight o'clock in the morning. Luncheon was at one. Tea and rolls were served at 5. Dinner was at eight. So, you see, life passed much as it had at Tsarskoe Selo.
Everything went well until Makarov was replaced by Pankratov. Makarov had been most attentive and friendly. Before he left he drew up a list of things which needed to be sent from the Palace at Tsarskoe Selo to Tobolsk. Many things were put on the list which the Imperial Family were used to, and it was something of a hardship to not have them. Everything requested from Tsarskoe Selo was sent: rugs, draperies, pictures.
During that time they had come up with a plan to move the Imperial Family to the Ivanovski Convent. The Emperor and Empress sent me to the Convent one day, to see the new house and to plan on assigning rooms. I had never visited the Convent before as it was several kilometers outside Tobolsk. When the nun coming from the Convent arrived to bring milk to the Imperial Family, I asked her to show me the way there. She agreed. When I arrived at the Convent, I told the Mother Superior that I was not familiar with Convent at all. She, on the other hand, knew everything happening with the Imperial Family, and knew a great many details about all of them, and even about me. Mother Superior had me come into her room, and I told her about what was going on with the Imperial Family. I told her the reason for my visit, and told her that they agreed with Col. Kobylinski's suggestion that they move into the new house being built in the Convent. Mother Superior was very happy at hearing this news and asked one of the nuns to show me the house. Mother Superior could not walk very well due to an illness, and so could not show me the house herself. I inspected the house, which I found to be very good and comfortable, albeit still without windows.
We all would have been able to settle down there, comfortably as well. The house had its own chapel. Mother Superior promised to make sure construction would be finished in just one week, but asked that she be told of the Imperial Family's final decision as soon as possible. Sadly, because of the arrival of Pankratov, this plan never came to be. I informed Mother Superior so that she would not be expecting us.
In addition to Pankratov and Nikolski being sent by the Provisional government, they also sent a sailor, but the sailor did not stay very long. With these new people, we felt very embarassed. Pankratov began to indoctrinate the soldiers with propoganda of the most extreme ideas. Up until then, the Emperor and children kept in direct contact with the soldiers, and did so often, even playing lotto and other games with them. Once Pankratov arrived, the soldiers grew more and more rude, with the exception of the sharpshooters who still wore the insignia of the Imperial Family, only they kept up a good attitude.
The Imperial Family went to church every Sunday and holiday, which required them to cross the street and the town garden. At the church they would always meet a group of people who cried and fell to their knees at seeing the Tsar and his family. During the service, from eight to nine o'clock, no one would be allowed into the church. One day during a Te Deum, the priest (Father Vassiliev) and deacon recited the prayer of "long years" to the Imperial Family. This caused a great stir. The priest and deacon were both questioned about the matter, and each blamed the other. The end result was that we were no longer allowed access to the church and the religious services had to be held in the Governor's house itself. The priest Vassliev and the deacon were taken away. After this incident with the priest, the Imperial couple considered that he was just a victim of his dedication to the Imperial Family and held him in the utmost confidence. As a result of this confidence, the priest began to spread rumors that he had set up an organisation to save the Imperial Family and help them escape. One one hand he inspired the utmost confidence in the Emperor and Empress and on the other he spread even more rumors in town about the "group that was going to rescue the Imperial Family." The Bolseviks, who knew the truth of it themselves, used the rumors to create an atmosphere of mistrust and paranoia around the Imperial Family. Eventually this was the reason and provacation for the eventual murder of the Imperial Family, and served as the justification for the assassinations in Ekaterinburg and Alpaievsk by their deceived and fanaticsized comrades. The truth was really much more simple. Father Alexei did not have any group behind him. He was merely close to Lt. Soloviev who had married Rasputin's daughter and who had, as a result of that marriage, managed to ingratiate himself into the ranks of the monarchists. The genuine motive they had was to extort money from the monarchists by creating an alleged "rescue" of the Their Majesties from Tobolsk. In reality, they had no plan to save them and never did rescue anyone. (Mme. Tatiana Melnik-Botkin in her "Memoirs" on pg 44 catagorically accused Soloviev and Father Vassiliev of losing valuable time and betraying the Imperial Family as there was then still time and many monarchists who truly did want to save and rescue the Imperial Family. Soloviev as "head" of this fictional group made all the monarchists come to him, officers and others, and defrauded them by making them wait on the hook for long months. Those who disobeyed him were betrayed to the Bolsheviks and paid for that disobedience with their lives in Siberia in 1918. -ed note by ES in original)
One day when the Empress returned from church, Pankratov came up to the Emperor and said: "Nicholas Alexandrovich, there is a school teacher here. Do you want her for the children?"
"Do you know her?" the Emperor asked.
"Kobilinski knows here better than I do."
"Then ask the Empress" replied the Tsar.
Pankratov was holding a cigarette in his hand while talking to the Emperor, and put it into his mouth when he went to the Empress. When he started to speak to her it fell out of his mouth. He seemed rather vague, and the Empress just said "fine, fine."
So the new school teacher, Claude Michailovna Bitner started to work with the children.
Along with the other personal effects Makarov had sent out from Tsarskoe Selo, some St. Raphael wine had come as it was prescribed by the doctors as necessary for the children. When Nikolski learned about the wine, at first he permitted the bottles in the house, then he had them reloaded onto a cart, taken down to the river and there smashed them all with an axe. (The Emperor wrote, in his diary, on that day, September 23, that this was all done out of stupid brutality. ed note by ES in original.)
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