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Six Years at the Russian Court - by Margaret Eager



WE went to the Crimea on leaving Spala. We arrived at Alma just at bedtime, and I was disappointed not to see anything of that famous battle ground. On waking in the morning I was delighted to find we were still in the station, so I had a good look at it from the windows. We started about eight o' clock and were soon going through most beautiful country. High mountains clothed with trees, most beautiful in their autumn colouring; I never saw such foliage. Shortly afterwards we came to Inkermann. Here is a wonderful monastery hewn in the side of a great cliff. Nature made most of the caves which are used as rooms, but the monks themselves did much excavation. The windows and doors are manufactured and the monastery is well furnished and contains a very beautiful church.

Shortly after leaving Inkermann we arrived in Sevastopol. The Russians pronounce it Sevastdpol, with the accent on the third syllable. Here the yacht was awaiting us and we went on board. I am particularly fond of yachting as long as we are at anchor, but when we begin to move, it is quite a different story.

Sevastopol would appear quite impregnable, situated as it is on high barren cliffs rising straight out of the water; one wonders how the allied armies ever effected a landing. I was looking at it, thinking of these things, when Baron M., who is the general of a Cossack regiment, asked me of what I was thinking. I told him, and with a twinkle in his eyes he told me the following yarn: "You see," said he, "the poor Russians were very hungry and the cook prepared a particularly nice dinner. They all ran off when they heard the dinner bell, and the English calmly walked in, and when the Russians returned the English were waiting for their dinner inside the town. It was a great shock to the Russians." I thanked him politely for his addition to my knowledge of history, and he told me he would always be very happy to supplement my education, but that if what I heard from him was different from what I had heard, I could believe whichever I liked.

We only stayed one day at Sevastopol that time, and proceeded by sea to Yalta. The Black Sea is usually very rough and this time was no exception. The journey from Sevastopol to Yalta is about fourteen hours long; we had sailed in the night, so we arrived early next day. It was a great relief to be once more on terra firma.

Yalta is a pretty little town with a large holiday population; out of season there are very few people. The shops are shut and the owners of them start to the Caucasus or to the more' remote parts of Russia, and buy or sell there. Many of the shopkeepers are Jews; some are Armenians. One shop I knew was kept by a little Armenian woman and her husband. She had been rescued by some. missionaries and placed in an English mission school, where she learnt to speak English. She adored Mr. Gladstone and quite believed that he was inspired. She had a nice little shop with all manner of Eastern articles, Caucasian silver and pretty things suitable for presents. Some of these fancy trifles are very reasonable in price whilst others are more expensive than in London. Silver is, however, cheap and very quaint.

Livadia, as the Emperor's estate is called, is half-way up a mountain, and is surrounded by vast vineyards sloping down to the sea. The grapes are delicious. The Black Sea, like the Baltic, is tideless. At Livadia is a stony beach where the children played every morning. They would get on their paddling drawers and shoes, and go wading in the sun-warmed water, and gather pebbles. On one occasion I was taking them home when we met a young officer from the Standart. He asked them what they had in their hands and the children showed the little bits of green stones they had picked up, and gravely asked him to keep them if he would like to. He took a little stone from each child and when I afterwards saw them they were mounted in gold and attached to his watch chain. He said he would not part with them for any earthly consideration, the children having found them themselves, and offered them to him. Indeed, it was very amusing to see the way in which people regarded these little maidens. On one occasion we were getting into the carriage at Peterhoff when an officer came running over to say goodmorning. The little Grand Duchesses, who were friendly creatures, began to talk to him, and one of them took a little wooden toy from her pocket and asked him if he would like it. He was much pleased and afterwards turned to me and said he was in trouble, and seeing the children coming out, thought that if he could reach the carriage in time to bow to the children he would find a way out of his troubles. "And see," said he, "not only did I bow to them but I kissed their hands and received a little toy from one of them. I shall keep that toy as long as I live." When next I met him he told me the omen had been verified, and he had found a way out of his trouble.

There was a tall young German officer in the Guards, and he used to ask the Grand Duchess Olga for a doll; a little tiny one that he could keep in his pocket and play with while he was on guard would give him much pleasure, so he declared. Poor little Olga Nicolaivna did not know if he was joking or in earnest. I told her I was sure the doll would give him much pleasure, and that it should be a very small one. She presently brought me a couple of very tiny dolls dressed as boys, one minus a foot, the other without an arm. I said I thought it would be better to give unbroken dolls, and she replied, "Yes, but these are boys and he is a man, I am afraid he would not like a little girl dollie." I then told her to ask him when she saw him.

Next morning the doll was put into her pocket and in the course of our walk we met Captain S., who immediately began to reproach her for having forgotten how lonely he was and what company a little doll would be to him. She plunged her hand into her pocket and produced the doll, holding it behind her back. "Which would you rather have," she said seriously, "a boy or a girl doll?" He answered, quite seriously, "A little girl doll would be like you, and I should love it very much, but a boy would be very companionable." She was quite delighted and gave him the doll, saying, "I am glad, I was so afraid you would not like the girL" He put the doll away most carefully.

Shortly afterwards the young officer went for his holidays. When he returned, the first day he saw the little Grand Duchess he began as formerly to beg for a doll. She said reproachfully, "Is it possible you have already broken the nice little doll I gave you?" With great tact he explained that the little doll was lonely all by itself, and wanted a companion, and that it did not matter if it was broken; so another dollie was carried about for several days till she met him again and gave it to him.

The sun-warmed sea looked very tempting, and I thought I should like to bathe in it, but I had no bathing-dress. I accordingly sent one of the under-nurses to Yalta to get one, either a ready-made costume or stuff to make one. When she returned she said the only thing she could find was a Russian peasant's red cotton shirt, and she supposed I would not like that. I was quite of the same opinion, but asked if she had been able to get serge or galatea of which I could make a costume. She told me she had gone into a shop where they sold stuffs and asked for something to make a bathingdress. The woman asked her if it was for herself, and she replied that it was for another person. The shopkeeper turned scornfully upon her and said: "Bathingdress, indeed! French fashions! Tell her to go and bathe in her skin as her grandmother did before her."

At Massandra, half-way up a mountain at the other side of Yalta, is a delightful rose garden. The roses look like two walls, one at each side of the path. At the back are reve d' ors, trained on espaliers; they attain a height of seven or eight feet. In front of them are dwarf specimens in all colours and shades, down to tiny pink and white trees not more than a foot in height. All the ground at the foot of those rose trees is carpeted with violets. In the background stand cypresses like grave sentries. I got to love the cypress, while it is green, but no tree looks half so ghostly, when it is dead. There are many tropical plants and trees in this lovely garden. Deodars from the Himalayas, monkey-puzzles as large as forest trees, great mangolias, and many others of which I did not know the names. Higher up the mountain is a second rose garden. Here the roses are trained to grow along wires stretched horizontally about a foot from the ground. The effect is as of sheets of flowers. There is a great bed of La France roses, another of yellow roses in all shades, and still another of mixed red, pink and white roses. These beds were each at least one hundred feet long by perhaps seventy wide. This garden is also enclosed by stately cypresses looking like sentries mounting guard.

At Aloupka, on the Livadia side of Yalta, is a beautiful residence. There is an avenue of mangolias stretching for about a mile, a lovely sight when the trees are covered with white blossoms, the perfume of which is delicious.

The entrance to the house is very imposing, great flights of white marble steps with beautifully sculptured lions on each landing. The property round this fine house has fallen into terrible decay. I never saw anything like the neglected state of the fields. Nothing one could see but weeds and stone though all around are well cultivated fields and tobacco farms, paying very well.

It seems the proprietor of Aloupka is still a minor; he inherited when he was a baby. His mother and trustees sold the farms to the peasants, who certainly have neglected their holdings. The young proprietor lives abroad and I am told is unable to speak even a word of Russian.

Both the inside of the house and gardens are in habitable order. I have been told that the boy possesses a great estate in the Black Earth district, so when he is grown he may return to Russia and make acquaintance with his own people.

The next property to Livadia is Orianda. It formerly belonged to the Grand Duke Constantine, but the Emperor recently bought it. Unfortunately the house was burned down seven years ago and has never been rebuilt. I expect it will be prepared for the Ozarovitch when he is grown up. Little except the foundations remain.

There is a little church on the property the belfry of which is a great oak tree. Here the bells are suspended from the boughs, a platform has been erected with a flight of steps leading up to it. The great bell is only rung in cases of fire.

The grounds of Orianda are very pretty and we frequently took tea there. There are shallow basins in the grounds with goldfish. When we returned to the Crimea two years after, the goldfish had disappeared. I asked what had become of them. The man said, "Alas! we wanted to clean out their little lakes, so with great care we captured the goldfish and put them into the large pond in which the swans live, but we could not find them again." "No," said I, "of course not, the swans ate them." He held up his hands and exclaimed in horror: "Oh no, Miss, those swans are particularly tame; his Majesty takes great notice of them; they would never eat anything that belonged to the Emperor."

Beyond Orlanda is Ai Toder, or St. Theodore's, the residence of the Grand Duke Alexander who is married to the Emperor's sister, the Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovina. They have five sons and a daughter, all pretty and interesting children. Ai Toder is a very nice place, and they spend a great deal of time in the Crimea.

In walking through Yalta one hears so many different tongues, and sees so many nationalities that I was reminded of the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem.

Here you meet a Turkish family, the women all closely veiled with the exception of one eye with which they closely scrutinise you. It makes you uncomfortable to see the one eye gazing at you and not to see anything in return. Again you will meet Tartars-lively looking people, tall, and generally slight and athletic looking. They would need to be athletic, as they generally perch their villages on the top of an almost inaccessible' cliff. They all dye their hair a vivid red, and the married women blacken their teeth and paint the palms of their hands. They say the Tartar houses are most beautifully clean.

The unmarried Tartar women only dye the hair, they wear on their heads a little round velvet cap with a veil hanging behind. This veil is of a sort of canvas, and is embroidered with gold and silver.

There are many Greeks who seem to do nothing but sleep in the Sull. They manage to live, however, and are, I believe, very shrewd in business. They seem contented with things in general though they are both ragged and dirty. Armenians, Greeks, fullblooded Russians, all in native costumes, make up a very pretty scene.

In Odessa and the Crimea the Karaites are principally found. These are a race of Tartars who embraced Judaism. They are a small tribe, only about ten thousand in all Russia. They are very good citizens, quite the best among the alien races in Russia. Their Judaism is of the Old Testament, and they entirely reject the Talmud, but to Western minds their ideas are peculiar and very wrong. Their women are taught no religion and can only hope to be saved through the intervention of their husbands; consequently their girls are married very young.

They are physically superior to the Jews, but they do not seem to increase rapidly. I met a Karaite family; well educated, nicely mannered people they were, some of them very handsome. They speak, even in their own houses, Russian, not the Tartar language, and are considered in every respect, except religion, as Russians.

It was while we were in the Crimea that the Emperor had typhoid fever. It was raging all round us at the time. At Ai Toder there were sixteen or seventeen cases. It was very bad in various Tartar villages higher up the mountains.

Those five weeks while he was lying ill were a very anxious time for the household, and great were the rejoicings when he recovered.

A little friend of the children, Paul, was ill at the same time with pneumonia. The doctors said recovery was doubtful. The Empress told me to call round there with the children in the carriage, and take poor little Paul a few roses and anything likely to tempt his appetite. Accordingly we got a few roses, packed a basket with delicacies, and went to inquire. The whole household was in despair; they had had a visit from a specialist that day, and his verdict had been unfavourable. We saw the children's English governess and she gave me a very sad account of poor little Paul. She took up the roses and basket, and told him the Imperial children had brought them to him, and were down in the garden waiting to know how he was. Paul sent his thanks to the children, and then said, "Send Daria to, me." The little sister was accordingly sent for and came into the room in a very subdued and meek manner to receive Paul's parting charges. "Daria," said the supposed dying child, "you see the Imperial children think a great deal more of me than they do of you; when you had a cold they did not even send to inquire by telephone. They have come themselves, and have brought me all these good things. I am going to eat them and get well." Comforted with this thought he fell asleep and eventually did get well.

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