For two months after the assassination of Rasputin the Emperor remained at Tsarskoe Selo, but he was by no means idle. In fact his whole heart and mind were occupied, not so much with the scandal that had reached its tragic climax in the Yussupov Palace, but with the War which at that moment seemed to favor Russian arms. According to our advices the food shortage in Germany and in Turkey had become acute, and the Emperor believed that a vigorous spring offensive might bring the War to a speedy dose. In his billiard room were spread out a large number of military maps which no one of the household, not even the Empress, was invited to inspect. The Emperor spent hours over these maps and his plan of a spring campaign, and when he left the billiard room he locked the door and put the key in his pocket. I had never seen him more completely the soldier, the commander in. chief of a great army. All this time, from December, 1916, to February, 1917, the Russian front was comparatively quiet, furious snowstorms preventing the advance either of our own or the enemy's forces. Alas! The storms interfered also with railroad transport and St. Petersburg and Moscow were beginning to feel the pinch of hunger, a fact that gave their Majesties constant concern.
Meanwhile the Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich persisted in his demand for an interview with the Empress, and as his letters to her failed of their object he began to write to the Grand Duchess Olga. The Empress, whose courage was great enough to enable her to ignore any possible danger to herself, decided to see the man and once for all let him have his say. In this decision the Emperor concurred, but he stipulated that he should be present in case the conversation should become unduly disagreeable. The Emperor's aide-de-camp for the day happened to be a spirited young officer, Lieutenant Linevitch, who after luncheon on the day set for the audience, lingered in the palace, apparently occupied in an amusing puzzle game with Tatiana. Afterwards Linevitch told me that so well did he know the extent of the Grand Ducal cabal, and especially the character of Alexander Mikhailovich, that he had remained on purpose and that his sword had been ready at any moment to rescue the Empress from insult or from attempted assassination. As we expected the Grand Duke had nothing new to say to the Empress, but merely reiterated in more than usually violent terms the demand for Protopopov's dismissal and for a constitutional form of government. The answer to these demands was as usual - everything necessary after the War, no fundamentally dangerous changes while the Germans remained on our soil. The Grand Duke, purple with anger, rushed out of the Empress's sitting room, but instead of leaving the palace, as he was expected to do, he entered the library, ordered pens and paper and began to write a letter to the Emperor's brother, Mikhail Alexandrovich. No sooner had he begun his epistle than he perceived standing respectfully in the room the aide-de-camp Linevitch, whom, after a more or less civil greeting, he tried to dismiss. "You may go now," he said, coldly polite, but the astute Linevitch replied with ceremony: "No, your Highness, I am on service today and as long as your Highness is here it is not permitted for me to leave." In a fury Alexander Mikhailovich got up and left the palace.
Men like Linevitch and many others, as faithful as ever to their Majesties, saw the threatening tempest more clearly than those within palace walls could possibly see it. The day after the visit of Alexander Mikhailovich I received a call from one of the finest of the Romanov connections, Duke Alexander of Leuchtenberg. Painfully agitated, the Duke told me that he wanted me to help him to induce the Emperor to take a remarkable, indeed an unprecedented step. At the time of his accession to the throne every member of the family, it is well known, must make a solemn vow of fealty to the Tsar, and the Duke of Leuchtenberg now begged me to persuade the Emperor, through the Empress, to exact from all the family a renewal of this vow. For the lives and safety of the Imperial Family the Duke believed this to be absolutely essential. "None of them are loyal, not one," he said earnestly. "And if the Emperor values the lives of his wife and children he must force the Grand Dukes and their families to declare themselves." Quite staggered, I replied that it was impossible for me to make such a proposition to their Majesties, but I added that the Duke himself, as a member of the family, might with entire propriety do so, and thus the matter was decided. Of the details of the conversation between the Emperor and his kinsman I know nothing, but I know that the conversation took place, because later the Emperor remarked in my hearing that "Sandro" Leuchtenberg, in the kindness of his heart, had made a great matter out of a trifle, and he added, "Of course I could not ask of my own family the thing he suggested."
As one more indication of the gathering storm there came to me at my hospital from Saratov an old man so feeble and so deaf that he had to bring with him a woman relative who through long familiarity was able to act as an interpreter in his conversations. This old man represented an organization known as the Union of the Russian People, a large group devoted to the Empire and to the persons of their Majesties. With intense emotion he told me that his organization had incontestable proofs of most treacherous propaganda which was being circulated by the Union of Zemstvos and Towns, under the personal direction of Gutchkov and Rodzianko. He had brought with him documentary proofs of his assertions and he implored me to help him lay his proofs before the Emperor. I communicated his message to the Emperor, but as he was that day importantly engaged he suggested that the Empress might receive him instead. This she consented to do, but after an hour's conversation she sent the old man away, touched by his devotion but unconvinced of the gravity of the situation as he presented it.
To relieve somewhat the dullness and gloom that had settled on the palace we organized in those early winter days of 1917 a series of chamber-music recitals, the performers being Rumanian musicians who had been playing very beautifully in the convalescent wards of the Tsarskoe Selo hospitals. At the request of the Empress I arranged for performances in my own apartments in the palace, inviting, with their Majesties' approval, the Duke of Leuchtenberg, Mme. Dehn, Count Fredericks, his daughters, my sister and her husband, and a few other intimate friends. The concerts were delightful, greatly cheering us all, including the somewhat lonely young Grand Duchesses and the much harassed Emperor. But something in the music, perhaps its wild and mournful tzigane numbers, moved the Empress to the depths of her sensitive soul. Her beautiful eyes became more than ever filled with melancholy and her heart seemed heavy with premonitions of disaster.
Partly because of her increased melancholy and partly moved by just anger against the propagandist press in which our innocent concerts were described as "palace orgies," the Emperor for the first time was awakened to consciousness that the safety of his family was indeed threatened. At least he became aware of the fact that despite the dangerous unrest of the times, Tsarskoe Selo and even St. Petersburg remained practically ungarrisoned. The capital was guarded by only a few regiments of reserves, while Tsarskoe Selo, the residence of the Imperial Family, had no regiments at all outside its peace-time quota of soldier and Cossack guards. At the command of the Emperor several additional regiments which had served for some time at the front were ordered to Tsarskoe for rest and recuperation, and, although naturally nothing of this was mentioned in the order, to augment if necessary the inadequate military force at hand. The first order was given for a strong detachment of naval guards, but after these men were actually entrained for Tsarskoe they were stopped by a counter order from General Gourko, who i n the illness of General Alexiev was in command at G. H. Q. This counter order being at once communicated to the Emperor, he exercised his supreme authority and the regiment once more started for Tsarskoe Selo. But the audacity of General Gourko had not yet reached its limit. When the military train reached the station at Tsarskoe it was met by a telegram from General Gourko to the officer in command, ordering the regiment back to the front. The bewildered officer for a few moments was at a loss what to do, but fortunately news of his dilemma was telephoned to the palace, and the regiment, under the peremptory command of the Emperor, left the train and went into garrison at Tsarskoe. The Emperor next commanded that one of his favorite regiments of Varsovie Lancers be sent to Tsarskoe, but instead General Gourko left headquarters for the palace, where a long interview between the Emperor and the commander took place. By arguments of which I have no knowledge the Emperor was persuaded that the Lancers could not, for the time being, be spared from their front-line position, and he recalled his order.
However, it was clear that the Emperor was at last awake to the appalling menace of disaffection which was closing in like black cloud banks on every hand. The war was going badly, as every student of the times must remember. Brusilov's brilliant offensive of the summer and autumn of 1916 had indeed made it plain that Russia was by no means out of the struggle, but although this famous drive had netted the Russians a gain of territory even larger than that which was yielded in the great Battle of the Somme, it had finally stopped leaving us with much lost territory still unredeemed. The Emperor knew this and it tormented his heart and soul. The intriguers knew it and resolved to use it as a weapon to get the Tsar away from his capital and from his family. It was on the 19th or 20th of February (Russian Calendar) that the Emperor's brother, Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich visited the palace and told the Emperor that it was his immediate duty to return to the Stavka because of grave threats of mutiny in the army. Very reluctantly the Emperor consented to go. Mutiny in the army was a serious enough matter and demanded the presence of the commander in chief. But other things were at the same time occurring to cause keen anxiety. The Empress had acquainted me with the nature of these disquieting events, but because of the international character of the most serious I dislike even now to put them in writing. However, I am here repeating only what was then told me and I have no firsthand information to offer in verification of their truth. Their Majesties had been informed and finally from a source which they believed to be absolutely reliable, that the center of intrigue against the throne was not in any secret garret of disaffected workingmen but in the British Embassy, where the Ambassador, Sir George Buchanan, was personally aiding the Grand Dukes to overthrow Nicholas II and to replace him by his cousin Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovich. Sir George Buchanan's main purpose, it was said, was not so much to further the ambitions of the Grand Dukes as it was to weaken Russia as a factor in the future peace conference. Unable fully to believe that an ambassador of one of the Allied Powers would dare to meddle maliciously in the internal affairs of the Empire, the Tsar had nevertheless decided to communicate his information in a personal letter to his cousin King George of England. The Empress, deeply indignant, advised a demand on King George for the Ambassador's recall, but the Emperor replied that he dared not, at such a critical time, make public his distrust of an Ally's representative. Whether or not the Emperor ever wrote his letter to King George I never knew, but that his anxiety and depression of spirits persisted I can well testify. On the evening of February 29, the day before the Emperor's departure, I gave a small dinner to some intimate friends among the officers of the Naval Guard, Mme. Dehn helping me in my duties as hostess. A note from the Empress summoned us all to spend the end of the evening in her sitting room, and as soon as I saw the Emperor I knew that he was seriously upset. During the tea hour he spoke little, and when I tried to catch his eye he turned his head aside. The Empress murmured in my ear that all his instincts warned him against leaving Tsarskoe Selo at that time, and as this coincided exactly with my own judgment I ventured to tell him, on saying good night, that I should hope to the last moment that he would not go away until the worst of the uncertainties in St. Petersburg were removed. At this he smiled, almost cheerfully, and said that I must not allow myself to be frightened by wild rumors and idle gossip. Go he must, but within ten days he expected to be able to return.
The next morning I went to the door and watched his motor car drive out of the palace grounds, the Empress and the children going with it as far as the station. As usual on such occasions, there was a display of flags, of guards standing at salute, and bells from the churches pealing their farewell. Everything appeared the same, yet in that hour the flags, the soldiers, the pealing bells were speeding the Tsar of all the Russias to his doom.
I felt ill that morning, ill physically as well as mentally, yet as in duty bound I went to my hospital, where a soldier in whose case I took a special interest was to undergo an operation which he dreaded and at which he had implored me to be present. While the anesthetic was being administered I stood beside the poor man holding his hand, but at the same time I realized that I was becoming feverish and that my headache was almost unbearably increasing. Returning to the palace, I lay down in my bedroom, after writing a line to the Empress excusing myself from tea. An hour later Tatiana came in, sympathetic as usual, but troubled because both Olga and Alexei were in bed with high temperatures and the doctors suspected that they might be coming down with measles. A week or two before some small cadets from the military school had spent the afternoon playing with Alexei, and one of these boys had a cough and such a flushed face that the Empress had called the attention of M. Gilliard to the child, fearing illness. The next day we heard that he was ill with measles, but because our minds were so troubled with many other things none of us thought much of the danger of contagion. As for me, even after Tatiana had told me that Olga and Alexei were suspected cases, it did not at once occur to me that I was going to be ill. Still my temperature went on rising and my headache was unrelieved. I lay in bed all the next day until the dinner hour when Mme. Dehn came in and I made a futile effort to get up and dress. Mme. Dehn made me lie down again, and looking me over carefully she said: "You look very badly to me. I think you will have to have the doctor." The next instant, so it seemed to me, the doctor was in the room and I heard him say: "Measles. A bad case." Then I drifted off. into sleep or unconsciousness.
That same day Tatiana fell ill, and now the Empress had four of us on her hands. Putting on her nurse's uniform, she spent all the succeeding days between her children's rooms and Mme. Half conscious, I felt gratefully her capable hands arranging my pillows, smoothing my burning forehead, and holding to my lips medicines and cooling drinks. Already, as I heard vaguely, Marie and Anastasia had begun to cough, but this news disturbed me only as a passing dream. I was conscious of the presence of my mother and father and of my younger sister, and still as in a kind of nightmare I understood that they and the Empress spoke in hurried whispers of riots and disorders in St. Petersburg. But of the first days of Revolution, the strikes in St. Petersburg and Moscow, the revolt of the mobs and the hesitancy of the half-disciplined reserves to restore order, I know nothing except what was afterwards related to me. I do know, however, that through it all the Empress of Russia was completely calm and courageous, and that when my sister, hurrying to the palace after witnessing the wild scenes in St. Petersburg, had cried out to the Empress that the end had come, her fears were quieted by brave and reassuring words.
It was the devoted old Grand Duke Paul, as the Empress afterwards told me, who brought her the first official tidings, and made her understand that most calamitous of all blunders, a political revolution in the midst of world war, had been accomplished. Even then she lost none of her marvelous courage. She did not call upon the Ministers or upon the Allied Ambassadors to protect her and her children. With dignity, unmoved she witnessed day by day the cowardly desertion of men who for years had lived at Court and who had enjoyed the faith and friendship of the Imperial Family. One by one they went, General Racine, Count Apraxin, officers and men of the bodyguard, servants the oldest and the most trusted, all with smooth excuses and apologies which translated meant only sauve qui peut.
One night came the noise of rioting and the sharp staccato of machine guns apparently approaching nearer and nearer the palace. It was about eleven o'clock and the Empress was sitting for a few minutes' rest on the edge of my bed. Gating up hastily and wrapping herself in a white shawl, she beckoned Marie, the last of the children on her feet, and went out of the palace into the icy air to face whatever threatened. The Naval Guard and the Konvoi Cossacks still remained on duty, although even then they were preparing to desert. It is altogether possible that they would have gone over to the rioters that night had it not been for the unexpected appearance of the Empress and her daughter. From one guard to another they passed, the stately woman and the courageous young girl, undaunted both in the face of deadly danger, speaking words of encouragement, and most of all of simple faith and confidence. This alone held the men at their posts during that dreadful night and prevented the rioters from attacking the palace. The next day the guards disappeared. The Naval Guards, led by Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovich, marched with red flags to the Duma and presented themselves to Rodzianko as joyful revolutionists. The very men who in the previous midnight had hailed the Empress with the traditional greeting, "Uravie Jelaim Vashie Imperatorskoe Velichesmo!" Health and long life to your Majesty ! So loud had been their greeting that the Empress, not wishing me to know that she had left the palace, sent a servant to tell me that the Guards were waiting to meet the Emperor.
There was now in or about the palace practically no one to defend the Imperial Family in case the mob decided to attack. Still the Empress remained calm, saying only that she hoped no blood would have to be shed in their defense. A telegram from the Emperor revealed that the crisis had become known to him, for he implored the Empress to join him with the children at headquarters. At the same hour came an astound. ing message to the Empress from Rodzianko, now head of the Provisional Government, notifying her that she and her whole family must vacate the palace at once. Her answer to both messages was that she could not leave because all five of the children were dangerously ill. Rodzianko's reply to this appeal of an anguished mother was: "When the house is on fire it is time for everything to be thrown out." Desperately the Empress consulted doctors and nurses. Could the children possibly be moved? Could Anna? What was to be done in case the Provisional Government proved altogether pitiless?
Into this soul-racking dilemma of the mother came to the wife of the Emperor the terrible news of his abdication. I could not be with her in that hour of woe, nor did I even see her until the following morning. It was my parents who broke the news to me, almost too ill and too cloudy of mind to comprehend it. Mme. Dehn, who was with the Empress on the evening when Grand Duke Paul arrived with the fatal tidings, has described the scene when the brokenhearted Empress left the Grand Duke and returned to her own room.
"Her face was distorted with agony, her eyes were full of tears. She tottered rather than walked, and I rushed forward and supported her until she reached the writing table between the windows. She leaned heavily against it, and taking my hands in hers she said brokenly: 'Abdique'
I could hardly believe my ears. I waited for her next words. They were scarcely audible. At last [still speaking in French, for Mme. Dehn spoke no English] 'Poor darling - alone there and suffering - My God! What he must have suffered!' "
In that hour of supreme agony there was not a word spoken of the loss of a throne. Alexandra Feodorovna's whole heart was with her husband, her sole fears that he might be in danger and that their boy might be taken from them. At once she began to send frantic telegrams to the Emperor begging him to come home as soon as possible. With the refinement of cruelty which marked the whole conduct of the Provisional Government in those days these telegrams were returned to the Empress marked in blue pencil: "Address of person mentioned unknown."
Not even this insolence nor all her fears broke the sublime courage of the Empress. When next morning she entered my sickroom and saw by my tear-drenched face that I knew what had happened her only visible ,emotion was a slight irritation that other lips than her own had brought me the news. "They should have known that I preferred to tell you myself," she said. It was only when gone her rounds of the palace and was alone in her own bedroom that she finally gave way to her grief. "Mama cried terribly," little Grand Duchess Marie told me. "I cried too, but not more than I could help, for poor Mama's sake." Never in my life, I am certain, shall I behold such proud fortitude as was shown all through those days of wreck and disaster by the Empress and her children. Not one single word of bitterness or resentment passed their lips. "You know, Anya," said the Empress gently, "all is finished for our Russia. But we must not blame the people or the soldiers for what has happened." Too well we knew on whose shoulders the burden of responsibility really rested.
By this time Olga and Alexei were decidedly better, but Tatiana and Anastasia were still very ill and Marie was in the first serious stage of the disease. The Empress in her hospital uniform moved tirelessly from one bed to another. Perceiving that from my floor of the palace practically every servant had fled, even my nurses and my once devoted Jouk having yielded to the general panic, she found people to move my bed upstairs to the old nursery of the Emperor. We were now almost alone in the palace. My father's resignation having been demanded and of course given, my parents were detained in St. Petersburg.
Days passed and still no word came from the Emperor. The Empress's endurance had almost reached its breaking point when there came to the palace a young woman, the wife of an obscure officer, who threw herself at the feet of the Empress and begged to be allowed the dangerous task of getting a letter through to the Emperor. Gratefully indeed did the Empress accept the offer, and within an hour the brave woman was on her way to Mogilov. How she managed to reach headquarters, how she passed the cordon of soldiers and finally succeeded in delivering to the captive Emperor his wife's letter we never knew, but all honor to this heroic woman, she did it.
The palace was now full of Revolutionary soldiers, quite drunk with their new liberty. Their heavy boots tramped through all the rooms and corridors, and groups of dirty, unshaven men were constantly pushing their way into the nurseries bawling out hoarsely: "Show us Alexei!" For it was the heir who most of all aroused the interest and curiosity of the mob. meanwhile, behind closed doors and anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Emperor, the Empress and her few faithful friends were at work forestalling the coming of Kerensky by burning and destroying letters and diaries, intimate personal records too precious to be allowed to fall into the ruthless hands of enemies.
Next chapter: XV
Website © Bob Atchison 1998, 1999 | Comments on the website | Search all Alexander Palace sites by Keywords | Website built by Pallasart Web Design.