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Six Years at the Russian Court - by Margaret Eager



IN the autumn of that year we went abroad. Starting from Peterhoff, we went in the small yacht, the Alexandra, to Kronstadt, where we got on board the Standard. Father John, of Kronstadt, came on board to bless the Emperor and Empress and the children; he also blessed me. Father John has a most interesting personality; he is a kind of latter-day saint. He has written a book called" My Life in Christ," which is rather like" The Imitation of Christ." He has worked many cures, especially in paralysis, epilepsy, and other diseases of the nerves. He knows his own limitations, however, and if called upon to cure such diseases as scarlatina, diphtheria, etc., says, "The disease must run its course; I can only pray for the patient." He was once called in to see a little child who was very ill with pneumonia. He brought with him some holy water, of which a little was spilt on the floor. A sister of the little sufferer was called and obliged to go on her knees, and with her tongue lick up the spilt drops. In this case Father John said he could only pray. The child eventually did recover. Some people, especially doctors, say that he is a natural hypnotist; others, that he. is a faith healer. In either case, he certainly has great power over nerve diseases, and these are often the most difficult to cure. I once suggested to the Empress that he was probably simply a natural hypnotist, who had practised his powers; however, she was not pleased with the suggestion. Both she and the Emperor look upon these occult sciences with grave suspicion. The Empress says if there is anything in them at all, it is the work of the devil, and is the witchcraft spoken of in the Bible.

A doctor told me the following story: Princess B., a girl of fourteen years, the daughter of wealthy parents, was staying in the Crimea when she was suddenly struck with paralysis. He was called: but could do nothing. Doctors were brought from St. Petersburg, Berlin, and Paris, and many treatments were adopted without success, and all hope of a cure was abandoned. It suddenly struck my friend that a hypnotic suggestion might possibly be of service, so he went to urge this new idea upon them. To his surprise he found they had gone to Kronstadt, taking their daughter with them. Two days after he was invited to go to see his former patient, and was delighted to find her able to walk about. This was more than fifteen years ago, and the cure has proved permanent. She is now a married woman with little children. The doctor in question is a Lutheran, and he says that Father John's power is only hypnotic. I incline to the belief that he works by faith, as did the Apostles of old. Many people are afraid of Father John, and there are many curious stories of him. It is said that he has no sympathy, no feeling, for anyone outside of the Greek Church. He is not always beneficent, as the following story will show. A young man fell into bad health, and his doctor pronounced his illness heart disease, which was incurable. He came a long distance to see Father John, who told him frankly that he must die. He said he would give him a little present which he was to open on a certain date. "On the same morning," he continued, "you will receive by post from me a small present." Father John left the room and returned with a parcel, which he handed to him with strict injunctions to lay it on one side until the stipulated date. Then he prayed with the poor sufferer and sent him away. On the morning of the appointed day the young man opened the parcel, and found it contained a shroud. He was much shocked, and was still holding the ghastly present in his hand, when the promised posted parcel was handed to him. He opened it eagerly, and found inside corpse candles -- as the lights which burn round a dead body in Russia are called. The unfortunate young man dropped dead. This was surely a cruel abuse of his powers, whatever they may be. I never saw Father John again.

We started from Kronstadt in the beautiful yacht Standard. It is as large as an ocean liner, and carries a crew of five hundred men. We were followed by an escort the -- Polar Star. It was in this yacht the Emperor made his voyage round the world when he was Czarovitch.

Orders had been given that in case of fog, which is very common in the Baltic, both vessels should steam at half speed. A fog came on, and the Standard reduced speed, but the Polar Star did not. She quickly overtook us and was within a few inches of our stern before she was perceived. There was a great commotion on board both vessels, and each was quickly turned a little out of her course. The Polar Star passed us so closely that we could have shaken hands with those on her decks. The rest of our voyage was accomplished without incident.

On landing at Copenhagen we were met by the old King of Denmark, the then Princess of Wales, Princess Victoria, the King of Greece, and many other royalties, and drove to Bernstorff Castle, a short distance from Copenhagen. I t is a very small residence and was most uncomfortably crowded. There is a tiny park and a rose garden which the late queen had planted.

Princess Victoria took great delight in her small cousins, and they, on their part, manifested much affection for "Auntie Toria," as they always called her. Indeed, the three little girlies were objects of adoration to all the family. The Princess of Wales slept in the room adjoining mine.

Copenhagen manufactures really beautiful china. Each piece is painted by artists, and no two pieces are exactly alike. For the most part it is white and blue, and one wonders at the variety of designs which can be executed in these colours. I saw no poverty in Copenhagen, nor, indeed, any great show of riches. The people, so far as I could judge, are well educated and many of them, even amongst the servants, spoke Danish, and either English or German. They do not seem to be ashamed or afraid of work, and they are very good agriculturists and gardeners.

We spent about sixteen days in Denmark, then went on to Kiel to visit the Empress's sister, Princess Henry of Kiel. She had at this time two children. Kiel is a rather dirty, very busy little town, with a thriving port; there are, however, nice shops. If you ask a Kiel person what you can buy as a souvenir, he will always suggest smoked and cured fish. The smoking and drying form quite an extensive trade, and some hundreds of persons are employed in a factory. The fish is greatly prized all over Germany.

We stayed two days in Kiel, and then went by train to Darmstadt, or rather Wolfsgarten. On the way I noticed fields of the saffron crocuses, and I am told that saffron-growing forms quite an extensive commerce in the south of Germany. We were met at the station at Wolfsgarten by the Grand Duke and Duchess of Hesse and their little daughter, the Princess Ella, and the Duchess's sister, the Crown Princess of Roumania, a very beautiful woman. Little Princess Ella was then four years old, a sweet and pretty child, with wide grey-blue eyes and a profusion of dark hair. She was like her mother, not only in face, but also in manner. She was very much interested in her cousins, and had herself put some of her toys in their room for them, and they were soon great friends. She very much wished she had a sister of her own, and begged hard that the Grand Duchess Tatiana might be adopted as her little sister. She said we would not miss her so much as we would Olga or the baby. That prospect falling through, she made inquiries about the baby, and came to the conclusion that she and Miss W. could easily manage her. With anxious eyes she followed all the details of the baby's toilette till she thought she had mastered them. She then asked her aunt about giving it to her, and, of course, was refused. She then tried diplomacy, and kept constantly assuring us that it was a very ugly baby, and we would be much better and happier without that stupid little thing. At last she thought she had attained her object, and suggested that as the baby was so entirely horrible I should throw it away!

We spent about six or seven very happy weeks at Wolfsgarten, and had many simple pleasures, such as gipsy teas. We went twice to Darmstadt, took tea at the Palace, and went shopping with the children. Darmstadt is a well-built town, with clean open streets and nice shops. We took the children to a toy shop, and they were told that they might choose what they liked for themselves, and also for relations and friends at home. Olga looked at the things, and finally chose the very smallest she could find, and said, politely, "Thank you very much." Vainly the shop people showed her more attractive toys; she always replied: "No, thank you; I don't want to take it." I took her on one side and asked her why she would not buy the toys. I said that the people would be very sad if she would not take more, and that she could not leave the shop without buying more. So she said: "But the beautiful toys belong to some other little girls, I am sure; and think how sad they would be if they came home and found we had taken them while they were out." I explained to her, and she and Tatiana laid in a large stock.

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