Tsarskoe-Selo - The Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich - Rakitnoe.
We often stayed at Tsarskoe Selo and lived in the pavilion which my grandmother had copied from the one offered her by Nicholas I. It was a Louis XV house, white inside and out; in the center of the building was a large room with six doors which led to the drawing rooms, to the dining room and to the garden. All the furniture was of the same period as the house, painted white and covered with flowered cretonne; long curtains of the same material were lined with buttercup-yellow silk, and the light that glimmered through them seemed full of sunshine. In this house everything was bright and gay. A profusion of flowers and plants scented the air and gave the illusion of perpetual spring. On my return from Oxford, I turned the attics into bachelor chambers with a private entrance.
Every thing at Tsarskoe Selo recalled Catherine the Great: the Great Palace designed and built by Rastrelli, the beautiful arrangement of the reception rooms, the "Amber Room" (the Tsarina's private drawing room), the celebrated Cameron colonnade with its marble statues, the immense park with its pavilions and groves, lakes and fountains. One of the Great Catherine's happiest fancies, a charming red and gold Chinese theater, stood out against a background of pine trees.
The Imperial family did not live in the Great Palace, which was used only for official receptions. Nicholas II resided at the Alexander Palace which was built by Catherine the Great for her grandson Alexander I. In spite of its modest size, the Alexander Palace would not have lacked charm had it not been for the young Tsarina's unfortunate "improvements". She replaced most of the paintings, stucco ornaments and bas-reliefs by mahogany woodwork and cosy-corners in the worst possible taste. New furniture by Maple was sent from England, and the old furniture was banished to storerooms.
The fact that the Sovereign resided at Tsarskoe Selo meant that many other members of the Imperial family and of the aristocracy had homes there too. Picnics, suppers and receptions followed in quick succession, and time passed happily in the unsophisticated atmosphere of semi-country life.
During 1912 and 1913 I saw a great deal of the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, who had just joined the Horse Guards. The Emperor and Empress both loved him and looked upon him as a son; he lived at the Alexander Palace and went everywhere with the Tsar. He spent all his free time with me; I saw him almost every day and we took long walks and rides together.
Dmitri was extremely attractive: tall, elegant, well-bred, with deep thoughtful eyes, he recalled the portraits of his ancestors. He was all impulses and contradictions; he was both romantic and mystical, and his mind was far from shallow. At the same time, he was very gay and always ready for the wildest escapades. His charm won the hearts of all, but the weakness of his character made him dangerously easy to influence. As I was a few years his senior, I had a certain prestige in his eyes. He was to a certain extent familiar with my "scandalous" life and considered me interesting and a trifle mysterious. He trusted me and valued my opinion, and be not only confided his inner-most thoughts to me but used to tell me about everything that was happening around him. I thus beard about many grave and even sad events that too place in the Alexander Palace. The Tsar's preference for him aroused a good deal of jealousy and led to some intrigues. For a time, Dmitri's head was turned by success and he became terribly vain. As his senior, I had a good deal of influence over him and sometimes took advantage of this to express my opinion very bluntly. He bore me no grudge and continued to visit my little attic where we used to talk for hours in the friendliest way. Almost every night we took a car and drove to St. Petersburg to have a gay time at restaurants and night clubs and with the gypsies. We would invite artists and musicians to supper with us in a private room; the well-known ballerina Anna Pavlova was often our guest. These wonderful evenings slipped by like dreams and we never went home until dawn.
We were having supper in a restaurant one evening when an officer belonging to the Tsar's escort came up to me. He was youngish, very handsome, and wore the tunic of a Tcherkess cavalryman with a dagger stuck through his belt. "You probably do not remember me," be said after giving me his name, "but perhaps you can recall the circumstances of our last meeting, for they were somewhat peculiar. I rode on horseback into the dining room at Arkhangelskoye, and your father was so angry that he had me thrown out."
I remembered the occasion perfectly. I told him that I had been filled with admiration for him and had been furious at my father's attitude. He sat down at our table and spent part of the evening with us. He said very little but looked at me closely and finally exclaimed: "You are so like your mother!"
He seemed very much moved, abruptly rose and took his leave. The next day he rang meup at Tsarskoe Selo and asked whether be could come and see me. I told him that I lived with my parents and that in view of what had happened, his presence in their house would be embarrassing, to say the least. He then proposed that we should spend an evening together in St. Peters burg. I agreed, and on the appointed day we went to hear the gypsies sing. He was very silent at first but, toward the end of the evening, what with the champagne and the singing, he became quite talkative. He confided to me that his feeling for my mother remained unchanged, and that my likeness to her had been a great shock. He would have liked to see me again, but in spite of my real liking for him I made it clear that we would have to remain casual acquaintances and could never be friends. That was our last meeting.
My relations with Dmitri underwent a temporary eclipse. The Tsar and Tsarina, who were aware of the scandalous rumors about my mode of living, disapproved of our friendship, They ended by forbidding the Grand Duke to see me, and I myself became the object of the most unpleasant supervision. Inspectors of the secret police prowled around our house and followed me like a shadow when I went to St. Petersburg. But Dmitri soon got back his independence. He left the Alexander Palace, went to live in his own palace in St. Petersburg, and asked me to help him with the redecoration of his new home.
Dmitri's sister, the Grand Duchess Marie, bad married Prince William of Sweden. Later she divorced him to marry an officer in the Guards, Prince Poutiatin, whom she also divorced. I often saw Dmitri's half brother and his two half sisters, the children of his father, the Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich by his morganatic marriage to Madame Pistohlcors. They were near neighbors of ours in Tsarskoe Selo; the Grand Duke Paul's two daughters were talented amateur actresses. Their brother Vladimir was also extremely gifted. If he had not been brutally murdered in Siberia with several other members of the Imperial family, there is no doubt that he would have been one of the best poets of our time. Some of his works might be compared to those of Pushkin.
His beautiful and intelligent eldest sister Irene was very like her grandmother, the Empress Marie, wife of Tsar Alexander II. She married my brother-in-law, Prince Theodore, and had two children by him, Michael and Irene. Vladimir's younger sister, Natalie, was radiantly pretty and had all the charming grace of a playful kitten. She married the French couturier Lucien Lelong, and afterward an American, Mr. J. C. Wilson.
The Grand Duke and the Grand Duchess Vladimir spent their summers at Tsarskoe Selo. The Grand Duchess had the graceful bearing of a great lady of the Renaissance. She was born a Princess of MecklenburgSchwerin, and ranked immediately after the two Empresses. She was very able and intelligent and carried out all the duties of her position with perfect tact. She was always very kind to me, and was much entertained by accounts of my adventures. For a long time I was in love with her daughter the Grand Duchess Helen Vladimirovna, later Princess Nicholas of Greece, whose beauty fascinated me. She had the loveliest eyes imaginable, and everyone fell under their charm.
About three miles from Tsarskoe Selo was Pavlovsk, the seat of the Grand Duke Constantine Constantinovich. No unfortunate improvements had marred this eigbteenth-century masterpiece and it remained exactly as it had been when it belonged to Tsar Paul I. The Grand Duke was a most cultured man, a musician, a poet and an actor. Many people still remember his talented performance in one of his own dramas, The King of Judea. The Grand Duke and Grand Duchess and their eight children were all much attached to their beautiful home, and devoted much love and care to its upkeep.
Before going to the Crimea where we spent the autumn, we used to stop at Rakitnoe, in the district of Kursk. This was one of our largest estates. On it were a sugar plantation, numerous sawmills, a brick factory, a woolspinning mill and several stock farms. The overseer's house and its outbuildings stood in the center of the estate. Each section of farm life was under separate management: studs, kennels, sheepfolds, barnyards, etc. Many a horse from our stables won races on the St. Petersburg and Moscow tracks. Riding was my favorite sport, and for a time I was particularly interested in hunting. I liked to gallop through fields and woods with my borzois on a leash. The dogs often spotted game before I did, and gave such leaps and bounds that I had difficulty in keeping my seat. When hunting with these dogs, one end of the leash is tied to the rider's body; the other is slipped through the dogs' collars and held in the right hand. To free the dogs one releases this end, but if the borzois see their prey before the huntsman does he can easily be unseated unless he releases them in time.
My love for shooting did not last long. I once wounded a hare, and its piteous screams made me feel so guilty that from that day I gave it up.
Many of our friends joined us at Rakitnoe for the shooting. Our old familiar friend General Bernov always added a comic touch to the party. As he was short-sighted he often mistook cows for deer, or dogs for wolves. Once in my presence he killed a keeper's favorite cat which he had taken for a lynx. Seizing his victim by the tail, he threw it at my mother's feet with a theatrical gesture. He only realized his mistake when the keeper's wife arrived and threw herself weeping on the body of her pet. But when the general wounded a beater whom he had taken for some unknown species of game, my father took his gun away from him and would not allow him to shoot any more.
The Grand Duke Serge Alexandrovich and the Grand Duchess Elisabeth Feodorovna were among our most frequent guests and always came accompanied by their own gay and youthful entourage.
I adored the Grand Duchess but had little liking for the Grand Duke. His manners seemed strange to me and I hated the way he stared at me. He wore corsets, and when he was in his summer uniform the bones could be clearly seen through his white linen tunic. As a child, it always amused me to touch them, and this of course annoyed him intensely.
Some of our shoots were a long way off, and to reach them one had to travel through interminable steppes and forests. We used special carriages, big brakes called lineikis, which were drawn by four or even six horses, and held some twenty people. To provide a little variety, for the journeys were monotonous, I was made to sing. The Grand Duke's favorite was an Italian song, "Eyes Filled with Tears"; I was obliged to sing it several times a day and ended by loathing it.
We had lunch in tents and did not return home until the evening. After supper the grown-ups played cards, and my brother and I had to go to bed. But nothing would have induced me to close my eyes until the Grand Duchess had come to say good night to me. She blessed me and kissed me and I was filled with a wonderful peace and went quietly to sleep.
My memories of our visits to Rakitnoe are not very pleasant. When I lost interest in shooting I actually grew to loathe it, and finally I gave all my guns away and stopped going to Rakitnoe with my parents.
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