Chapter Two - In the House of Grand Duke Paul
During the Emperor's stay in Petersburg, I was assigned to be an interior guard posted in the Winter Palace, and, most especially during the balls, I was stationed in the Anitchkov Palace. There I found myself almost next to the Emperor's bedroom.
Alexander III, as I have already said, led a fairly regular life, but, in general, he slept little. He would go to his rooms near midnight and would work very hard there. Moreover, by nine in the morning he would have already received those who had come to make reports.
It was probably this service in the Guard which brought me to the attention of several members of the Imperial Family.
So, for example, one day I was on duty as a guard, after a ball at the Winter Palace, near to the apartment of Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich, who passed in front of us, saluted me and, then to my great astonishment, called me by name.
The following morning, Colonel Hesse invited me to go to his quarters and asked me to draw up a list of the military posts in the Winter Palace, and assign to each post a name. I do not know why, but I had the impression that Hesse was, by this assignment, testing me. I therefore applied myself most particularly to the task.
The next morning, under orders from Col Hesse, I went to his quarters at the first hour. I found him still in bed. After he examined my work most attentively, Hesse began to set about asking me questions about what my intentions were, as to what I was going to do, given that my term of military service was coming to its close. I responded that I wanted to go home, return to my village. Hesse replied that it would quite a shame to let me leave, most especially given my excellent service record. I responded back vaguely. Then, without anything further, Hesse said point blank that Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich had the intention of engaging me in his service and he asked that I immediately go to him.
I had nothing to do but obey him. Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich having first received me with exceptional cordiality, set himself to persuading me that I was much better off in his service and I would not regret anything if I accepted his position.
I yielded, little by little, to his arguments, and accepted his offer. This was in the autumn of 1886.
Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich kept his word which he had given me; my service with him was comfortable and pleasant. We were almost the same age, twenty-five, twenty-six years old. He did not yet have a particular residence and occupied an apartment in the Winter Palace and had only a limited staff, because he lived exclusively at the Emperor's expense.
Grand Duke Paul had a fairly even temperment. He had moments of liveliness and being on edge, but in general, he was of great benevolence, above all looking out for those people who were dependant on him in whatever way. He was never very talkative and kept a modest and confined life, principally for reasons of his health. During this time the doctors strongly believed that the symptoms of tuberculosis had manifested in the Grand Duke.
The intimate circle around the Grand Duke was restrained; he particularly enjoyed the friendship of Major Colonel of State Stepanov - later attached to the House of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich - and of the ex-governor, Admiral Arseniev, who occupied the post of Director of the Naval Corps of Cadets in the suite.
Those years of which I speak that figured most in the life of Grand Duke Paul was the era in which he asked for the hand in marriage of his future wife, Princess Alexandra Georgievna, daughter of King George of Greece and Queen Olga Constantinovna.
I remember that at the beginning of my service with him, Grand Duke Paul went, along with his brother Grand Duke Serge Alexandrovich and his wife Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, on his first trip to Athens. This event remains engraved in my memory because it was the reason for my first voyage abroad. I must say that I had started my service with Grand Duke Paul with the title of "Director of the Wardrobe of the Grand Duke". One day, I unexpectedly received a telegraphed order to leave urgently for Berlin and to take with me the Grand Duke's German uniform. My position given this occurance was less than enviable: I was totally without any knowledge of any foreign language, no experience at all with travel, and at every moment I risked committing some faux pas. However, thanks to God, all went well.
In Berlin, the Russian Ambassador (the Russian Ambassador no less!) Count Shuvalov, gave me an excellent welcome and put me into the care of one of his employees. In his company I got a good knowledge of Berlin and, some time later, I left to rejoin Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich - who had returned to Athens - some distance from Berlin. There, the two brothers, Paul Alexandrovich and Serge Alexandrovich, put their German uniforms back on and returned directly for the meeting with the German Emperor. I remember that the meeting lasted only for a short while. Several hours later, the Grand Dukes got back onto their train to return to Petersburg.
Up until his marriage, which had taken place during the summer of 1889, Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich lived in the Winter Palace, always keeping the same retiring lifestyle. At the beginning of Spring that year, the Grand Duke left for the second timne to go to Greece, to revisit his fiancée, Alexandra Georgievna. This time, I accompanied him.
When we left Petersburg, the sheets of ice were still in place. By and by, though, as we approached the Midi, the beautiful Spring came upon us and warmed things up more and more. All of this was, to me, a man of the North, something quite new. This voyage gave me a brilliant dream of light and color. After staying six weeks as guests of the court in Athens, we returned to Petersburg, followed by Princess Alexandra of Greece, where the marriage took place in June 1889.
The newlyweds were installed in their palace, on the Neva quay, behind the Church of the Annunciation, facing the Naval Corps.
Their family life flowed there; peacefully and serenely. A first child was born, Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna. The people most close and dear to him during this time were Grand Duke Serge Alexandrovich and his wife Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna. Unfortunately, this idyllic family would not last long. Grand Duke Serge Alexandrovich was named to be Governor General of Moscow. He practiced the greatest hospitality, in general, and above all his pleasure was great whenever he had his parents as guests. Grand Duke Paul and Grand Duchess Alexandra frequently saw them at their homes in Moscow and at Ilynskoe. At those times there would be balls in their honor, all very lively, and picnics and receptions without end. It was in Ilynskoe, Moscow Government, than an unexpected and fatal event took place for the Grand Ducal couple. The Grand Duchess, who was awaiting the birth of a second child, fainted one day during a ball, and was stricken with violent pains of premature childbirth. She was immediately taken to her apartments. This sad accident was the result of some imprudence on the part of the Grand Duchess the day before. At the estate at Ilynskoe, on the bank of the Moscow River, a dingy was permanently moored. The Grand Duchess took frequent walks there with her friends. She would not take the small path that led down to where the dingy was moored, but instead always jumped from a small ledge down directly into the dingy. That day, she did that again, despite her advanced pregnancy. This accident of which I speak and the resulting premature birth of the child - later the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich- were the result. Everything was done to save the Grand Duchess. The efforts of doctors, the ultimate in their science, were all in vain. Grand Duchess Alexandra Georgievna died after two days of terrible suffering. It is quite impossible for me to describe the despair of Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich.
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