Memories of Russia: 1916 - 1919 by Princess Paley

Chapter XII

The Kerensky regime

One day at the end of April the French Ambassador asked to see us. The rumour of his approaching departure had been current, and this going of a friend saddened us much. It was to take farewell of us that he came. The situation had become painful for him. All that was happening round him revolted him profoundly. M. Paleologue told us that even Albert Thomas-that militant Socialist-on returning from the front, where he had seen nothing but desertion, disorder, insubordination, while at the base bad manners and uncleanliness prevailed, had exclaimed as he lay back on a sofa:

"All that is going on here is bewildering! "

"No, no," continued the Ambassador with heat. "Since that performance at the Theatre Marie, when they made me shake hands with Kirpitchnikoff, I have felt that my place was no longer here."

This Kirpitchnikoff was the first soldier who initiated the Revolution among the Foot Grenadiers who killed several unarmed officers. And it was this sorry specimen of a hero that the Provisional Government had dared to introduce to the Ambassador-to the Ambassador whom the Emperor Nicholas had clasped in his arms, saying:

"In you I embrace my dear and noble France."

M. Paleologue was replaced by M. Noulens, whom I had the pleasure of knowing only in 1921 in Paris, for at the time of which I speak we did not stir out of Tsarskoe.

Thus passed the months of May and June, 1917. One would have liked to find something to relate, but nothing happened apart from the incoherence of the regime of Kerensky, who inspired everyone with a feeling of profound contempt. He had appointed himself War Minister and Minister President. He exerted himself, went to the front, made speeches there, came back, made more speeches, set out again for Moscow and Sebastopol, whither a sailors' meeting called him, and presented the appearance of a squirrel in a cage. Boris Savinkoff occupied the post of assistant to the Minister of War until the Korniloff affair, when, breaking with the latter, he was appointed Governor of Petrograd.

During this time Lenin had not contented himself with speaking. He acted almost openly, and his disciples became every day more numerous. Kerensky, blinded by his imaginary glory, saw and heard nothing else. Denying himself no fantastic notion, he went so far as to install himself in the Winter Palace and to sleep in the bed of the Emperor Alexander III. This offensive proceeding created more enemies for him than he had already. Vladimir wrote on this topic a biting satire in verse, entitled "The Mirrors," in which he castigated Kerensky in stinging terms. Terestchenko, Minister of Foreign Affairs, received orders to expel my son from Petrograd. I do not know why this project, which would perhaps have saved his life, was not executed.

Many monarchists began to hope for the coming of Lenin and his Bolshevist following to power, if only to overthrow the odious Kerensky. They started out from the principle: Things must get worse before they can get better. At last, on July 4th/17th, the Bolshevists "tried their forces" in an attack on the Provisional Government, an attack which was not successful this time, for the masses, although perverted, were not ripe for Bolshevism.

The Soviets of the Deputies - soldiers and sailors before whom Kerensky trembled - sent back from the front the good army leaders, who, however, had recognised the Provisional Government. Too many indications showed that Kerensky was merely a loquacious puppet who kept moving because the Soviets kept pulling the strings. He imagined he had created a battalion of women, the majority of whom perished in October at the moment of the Bolshevists attaining to power while their creator was fleeing in the automobile of a secretary at the United States Embassy.

The town of Cronstadt, at the entrance to the port of Petrograd, where terrible crimes had been committed ever since the beginning of the Revolution, was the first to declare for the Soviets and to announce to the Provisional Government that it had become a "separate Republic." Thus when on July 4th the attempt of Lenin and Bronstein-Trotzky failed, it was to Cronstadt they went to take refuge among the dregs of the population who were concentrated there. Some days before, General Prince Polovtsoff, who felt it to be his duty to serve the Provisional Government and who was just then in command of the troops in Petrograd, proposed to Kerensky to arrest the two principal leaders, but Kerensky did not approve, and therefore it was he who was chiefly to blame for the establishment of Bolshevism in Russia.

At 4 o'clock in the morning of July 4th I heard a knocking at my door. I recognised the voice of my daughter Marianne de Derfelden, who begged me to open to her quickly. I drew aside one of the heavy curtains of my room, which was flooded at once with sunshine. I opened the door, and I saw my daughter in front of me as white as a winding-sheet, but looking prettier even than her wont.

"Mama," she cried, "dress quickly! The Grand Duke must, too, and Marie and Vladimir and the children and Mita " (Baron Benckendorff, an old friend who was passing the summer with us). "You must leave Tsarskoe at once. . . ."

Thus awakened, we were still rubbing our eyes, not understanding properly.

"Why, what is the matter? What brings you here at this hour in the morning? Why are those cars there making such a fearful noise? "

"Dress quickly, all of you, I beg of you," replied Marianne. "The Bolshevists are on their way to Tsarskoe. Having got reinforcements from Cronstadt and Peterhof, they want to begin their attack on Petrograd from here."

This reasoning did not seem to hold water, for if the Bolshevists were going from Petrograd to Tsarskoe, we should risk meeting them en route, and thus walking into the lion's jaws! But Marianne was so determined to carry us off,our young people were so delighted to make the move, despite the danger, that we had our own automobile round, and together with the two others which were waiting we started out like a caravan at the gallop. Whither was she taking us? We only learnt while en route. She counted on hiding us for a day or two in the house of a rich petrol merchant, M. M. He received us royally, but the Grand Duke and I were not altogether at our ease. Towards evening, therefore, seeing that despite some gun-shots and the defiling of some troops all was quiet, we insisted on returning to Tsarskoe, where, as it turned out, absolute peace had reigned.

The Bolshevist proceedings made us tremble for the life of the imprisoned Sovereigns. Everything was disorganised - the army had gone, honour had gone. The Revolutionaries had realised that if the army had remained intact, the Revolution sooner or later would come to an end. To save the Revolution they sacrificed the army. What remorse, what terrible feelings of guilt men's consciences have to bear! But the Russian Revolutionaries have no conscience!

The rumour of the departure of the Imperial Family for some unknown destination came to be confirmed more and more strongly. It was said that Kerensky had asked the Emperor who were the persons he wished to have in his suite for the journey in view. In addition to those immediately around him, Prince Basil Dolgoroukoff, Dr. Eugene Botkine, and the Empress's ladies-in-waiting, Countess Hendrikoff, Baroness de Buxhoevden, and the reader, Mlle. Schneider, the Emperor named General Elie Leonidovitch Tatischeff.

Kerensky then asked General Tatischeff to come and see him on an urgent matter. The General sent back word that he did not know M. Kerensky and did not wish to know him, and would not put himself out for him. Then Kerensky intimated to him that it was the Emperor's desire that he should accompany him into exile.

"Ah !" replied Tatischeff, "if it is a desire or a command of my Sovereign, I shall go to the ends of the earth. Be good enough to say to His Majesty that I am ready! "

Save for the Baroness de Buxhoevden who escaped death by a providential chance, all those whom I have named, as well as some faithful servants, perished with the Sovereigns at Ural. Their names, which the future children of Russia must be taught to remember, will stand out as symbols of fidelity in misfortune, and their glory will shine forth in its purest splendour when martyrised Russia shall arise again from its ashes.

Although I corresponded from time to time with the Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana, it was impossible for me to ask them any question about their departure. Indeed, they would not have known what to say in reply. One day, we learnt that the departure was fixed for July 30th/August 12th, the birthday of the Tsaritza. My husband sent a request to Kerensky for an inter.view with his Imperial nephew, but the contemptible individual did not even condescend to reply. The Emperor's brother, alone, the Grand Duke Michael, who lived at Gatchina, obtained a five minutes' interview in Kerensky's presence. Naturally, in the presence of such a third party the two brothers had nothing to say to each other. They embraced very affectionately for the last time and cut short the interview in order to conceal from each other the emotion which overcame them. In order to avoid the possibility of any demonstration, Kerensky carefully kept secret the hour of the departure of the Sovereigns. On the day after their departure for Tobolsk, we had dining with us the Count and Countess Benckendorff, who were free after having shared the captivity of their masters during five long months. They had been present, profoundly moved, at the departure. Here is the account they gave us of it, that evening after. We all wept as we listened to it

Kerensky had begun by persuading the Imperial Family that he was falling in with their wish to go to the Crimea - this man was untruth incarnate! Therefore, the astonishment of the Imperial Family was great when he advised them to take "furs, lots of furs, and winter foot-wear." It was only on the day fixed for their going that he announced to them that the Soviet of the Deputies-Soldiers and Workmen had decided that their residence would be at Tobolsk in Siberia! The consternation of the family was profound. They adored the Crimea, and hoped that the sun and the beautiful scenery would enable them, not to forget, but at least to bear with less unhappiness their dreadful trials. The departure for Siberia meant exile, and the base vengeance of mean and rancorous creatures who were sending them to the region where they themselves had been convicts. . .

The departure was fixed for one o'clock in the morning of the 1st of August. Kerensky came and went, ordering up the train, ordering it back, conducting himself in his usual incoherent fashion. The Emperor and his family, after having a Te Deum sung by the Court priest, and after kissing for the last time the ikon of the Blessed Virgin of Znamenie, brought specially from the church, sat down, fully attired, awaiting patiently the hour of the departure. The Sovereign, accustomed to command, submitted himself to the force of circumstances. They remained thus, ready to start, until six in the morning, harassed by fatigue and emotion. They were leaving the home in which they had lived since their marriage, in which their children had been born, in which they had been happy; they were separating from faithful servants, who had shed many tears while bidding them farewell. They were giving up all this past of happiness to go to an unknown country which seemed to them so distant, so cold, so sad. . . . Finally, at six in the morning, Kerensky announced that "all was ready." The Imperial Family got into the automobiles provided - cars of a common kind, the beautiful Imperial automobiles being in use by the Provisional Government people - and made the short journey from the Alexander Palace to the Imperial Pavilion between two rows of revolutionary soldiers. In his great goodness the Emperor, who no longer had much money, had fifty kopecks bestowed on each of them on his behalf, to make up for their having been disturbed during the night. And there were several hundreds of them. . .

On arrival at the station, the Sovereigns noticed that the train was not actually in it, but a long way up the line, almost out of sight. . . . Kerensky explained that this was a measure of precaution. . . . The poor Empress, with her heart trouble, had to walk for at least ten minutes, her feet sinking in the sand, all along the embankment! When they reached their compartment, which was not the Imperial compartment, the distance between the ground and the foot-board was so great that the Empress could not get up on the first step! They had not even thought of providing a folding-ladder to enable her to get up! The poor woman, after many attempts, succeeded in pulling herself up, and, exhausted by the effort, fell with all her weight on the floor of the compartment. . .

That was the last and heart-breaking vision which Count and Countess Benckendorff retained of these dear martyrs. They had gone into an exile which was to be a veritable Calvary, and which was to end in the most appalling of deaths.

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