Written by Anna AlexandrovnaVyrubova in 1923
Paradoxical though it may appear, the last months of 1917 and the winter of 1918, spent in a hidden lodging in turbulent St. Petersburg, were more peaceful than any period I had known since the Revolution began. I knew that the city and the country were in the hands of fanatic Bolshevists and that under their ruthless theory of government no human life was at all secure. Food and fuel were scarce and dear, and there was no doubt that things were destined to grow worse long before they could, in any imaginable circumstances, grow better. The wreck of the army was complete, and while the war still waged in western Europe we, who had had so much to do with defiance of German militarism, were completely out of the final struggle. The peace of my soul was partly born of ignorance, I suppose, the ignorance of events shared by everyone not immediately in contact with the world catastrophe. I was free, I lived in a comfortable apartment, my dear father and mother came daily to see me, and two of my faithful old servants lived with me and were ready to protect me from all enemies.
Also, because the mind cannot fully realize the worst, I believed that the Russian chaos was a temporary manifestation. I thought I saw signs of a reaction in favor of the exiled Emperor. In this I was certainly encouraged by two of the oldest and most prominent Revolutionists known to the outside world, Bourtseff, a leader among the old Social Revolutionaries, and the novelist Gorky. It was in December, 1917, if I remember correctly, that I learned that Gorky was anxious to meet me, and as I preferred to keep my small corner of safety as free from visitors as possible, I made an appointment with the novelist in his own home, a modest apartment on the St. Petersburg side of the Neva, not far from the fortress. Gorky, whose gaunt feautures are familiar to all readers, is said to be a sufferer from tuberculosis, but as he has lived many years since the first rumors of this disease were circulated, there may be some reason to doubt his affliction. That he is a sick man none can doubt, for his high cheek bones seem almost to pierce his colorless skin and his darkly luminous eyes are deeply sunken in his head. For two hours of this first interview I sat in conversation with Gorky, strange creature, who at times seems to be heart and soul a Bolshevist and at other times openly expresses his loathing and disgust of their insane and destructive policies. To me Gorky was gentle and sympathetic, and what he said about the Emperor and Empress filled my heart with encouragement and hope. They were, he declared, the poor scapegoats of the Revolution, martyrs to the fanaticism of the time. He had examined with care the private apartments of the palace and he saw clearly that these unhappy ones were not even what are called aristocrats, but merely a bourgeois family devoted to each other and to their children, as well as to their ideals of righteous living. He expressed himself as bitterly disappointed in the Revolution and in the character of the Russian proletariat. Earnestly he advised me to live as quietly as possible, never reminding the Bolshevist authorities or any strangers of my existence. My duty, he told me, was to live and to devote myself to writing the true story of the lives of the Emperor and Empress. "You owe this to Russia!" he said, "for what you can write may help to bring peace between the Emperor and the people."
Twice afterwards I saw and talked with Gorky, showing him a few pages of my reminiscences. He urged me to go on writing, suppressing nothing of the truth, and he even offered to help me with my work. But writing in Russia was at that time too dangerous a trade to be followed with any degree of confidence, and it was not until I was safely beyond the frontiers that I dared begin writing freely and at length. I wish to say, however, that it was principally due to Gorky's encouragement and to the encouragement of an American literary friend, Rheta Childe Dorr, that I ventured to attempt authorship, or rather that I under. took to present to the world, as they really were, my Sovereigns and my best beloved friends. My casual acquaintanceship with Gorky was naturally seized upon by certain foreign journalists as evidence that I had gone over to the Bolsheviki, and much abuse and scorn were hurled against me. How little those writers knew of Gorky and his half-hearted support of the Lenin policies I He held an important office under the Communists, it is true, and his wife, a former actress, was in the commissariat of theatricals and entertainments. But no man in Bolshevist Russia has ever been permitted more freedom of thought and speech than Gorky. He has done things which would have brought almost any other man to torture and death. I know, for example, that he sheltered under his roof at least one of the Romanoffs, and that the man was finally assisted by him across the Finnish frontier. Gorky interested himself also in the fate of several of the Grand Dukes, Nicholas Mikhailovich, Paul and George, who were arrested and later shot to death in Peter and Paul. Gorky did everything in his power to save these men, in whom personally he had no interest whatever. He simply believed their murder to be unjustified, and it is said that he actually induced Lenin to sign an order for their release and deportation, but the order was signed too late, and the men were brutally executed.
At Christmas, 1917, I had a great happiness, nothing less than letters and a parcel of food from the exiles in Tobolsk. There were two parcels in fact, one containing flour, sugar, macaroni, and sausage, wonderful luxuries, and the other a pair of stockings knit by the Empress's own hands, a warm scarf, and some pretty Christmas cards illuminated in her well-remembered style. I made myself a tiny Christmas tree decorated with bits of tinsel and holly berries and hung with these precious tokens of affection and remembrance. Nor was this the only Christmas joy vouchsafed me after a year of sorrow and suffering. Under the escort of my good old servant Berchik I ventured to attend mass in the big church near the Nicholas station, a church built to commemorate the three hundredth anniversary of the Romanoff succession. After the service an old monk approached me and invited me to accompany him into the refectory of his monastery. I followed him, a little unwillingly, for one never knew what might happen. Entering I saw, to my astonishment, about two hundred factory women who almost filled the bare and lofty room. The old monk introduced me to the women, and to my bewilderment their leader came forward bowing, and holding in her outstretched hands a clean white towel on which reposed a silver ikon. It was an image of Our Lady of Unexpected Joy, and the kind woman told me that she and her fellow workers felt that after all that I had unjustly suffered in the fortress I ought to have from those who sympathized with me an expression of confidence and good-will. She added that were I again in trouble I might feel myself free to take refuge in the lodgings of any one of them. Overcome with emotion, I could utter only a few stammering words of thanks. I kissed the good woman heartily, and all who could approached and embraced me. Knowing that I longed for more tangible expressions of gratitude, the good old monk pressed into my hands a number of sacred pictures and these I gave away, as long as they lasted, to my new friends. No words can tell how deeply I felt the kindness of these working women who, out of their scanty wages, bought a silver ikon to give to a woman of whom they knew nothing except that she had, as they believed, been persecuted for others' sake. I needed the assurance that in the cruel world around me there were those who wished me well, for in the first months of the new year came one of the bitterest sorrows of my life, the death of my deeply loved and revered father. He died very suddenly, and without any pain, on January 25, 1918, leaving the world bereft of one of the kindest, most gifted, and sympathetic men of his generation in Russia. I have described my father as a musician and a composer, as well as a lifelong friend and functionary of the Imperial Family. His years of service as keeper of the privy purse might have made him a rich man, but so utterly honest was he that he accepted nothing except his moderate salary and he died leaving almost nothing, nothing but an unfading memory and the deep affection of my friends, including scores of poor students whose musical education and advancement he had furthered. At his funeral his own compositions were sung by volunteer choirs of his musician friends, and these followed his coffin in long procession the length of the Nevski Prospekt to the cemetery of the Alexandra Nevskaia Lavra, a monastic burial place where many of our greatest lie in everlasting repose. My mother came to live with me in my obscure lodgings, and together we faced our desolate future.
One thing alone lightened the darkness of those days. This was a correspondence daringly undertaken with my beloved friends in Siberia. Even now, and at this distance from Russia I cannot divulge the names of those brave and devoted ones who smuggled the letters and parcels to and from the house in Tobolsk, and got them to me and to the small group of faithful men and women in St. Petersburg. The two chiefly concerned, a man and a woman, of course lived in constant peril of discovery and death. Yet they gladly risked their lives that their Sovereigns might have the happiness of private communication with their friends. At this Lillie their Majesties were permitted to write and receive a few letters, but every line was read by their jailers, and their list of correspondents was rigidly censored. Even in the letters smuggled out from Tobolsk the utmost precautions had to be observed, and the reader can see with what veiled and discreet phrases the sentences are couched.
I give these letters exactly as they were written, suppressing only certain messages of affection too intimate to make public. Most of the letters were written by the Empress, but one at least came from the Emperor and a number are from the children. To me these letters are infinitely precious, not only as personal messages, but as proofs of the dauntless courage and deep religious faith of these martyrs of the Russian Revolution. Their patriotism and their love of country never faltered for a single moment, nor did they ever utter a complaint or a reproach against those who had so heartlessly betrayed them. It seems to me impossible that anyone, reading these letters, intended only for my own eyes, can continue to misjudge the lives and the characters of Nicholas II and the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. What they reveal is their secret selves, unknown except to those who knew them best and knowing them loved them as they deserved to be loved.
The first communication to reach me was a brief message from the Empress, dated October 14, 1917, a short time after the news of my liberation from the fortress reached her in Siberia.
My darling: We are thinking constantly of you and of all the suffering you have had to endure. God help you in the future. How are your weak heart and your poor legs? We hope to go to Communion as usual if we are to be allowed.
Lessons have begun again with Mr. Gibbs also. So glad, at last. We are all well. It is beautifully sunny. I sit behind this wall in the yard and work. Greetings to the doctors, the priest, and the nurses in your hospital. I kiss you and pray God to keep you.
A week later the Empress wrote me a long letter in which she ventures a few details of life in Tobolsk.
October 21, 1917.
Card from Alexei, November 24, 1917:
My darling: I was inexpressibly glad to get news of you, and I kiss you fondly for all your loving thoughts of me. There are no real barriers between souls who really understand each other, but still it is natural for hearts to crave expressions of love. I wrote to you on the 14th, and now will try to send this to the same address, but I don't know bow long you will remain. I wonder if you got my letter. I had hoped so much that you would see Zina and find comfort in her friendship. The expression in the eyes in the photograph which was brought me I has impressed me deeply, and I wept freely as I looked at it. Ah, God! Still He is merciful and will never forget His own. Great will be their reward in Heaven. The more we suffer here the fairer it will be on that other shore where so many dear ones await us. How are our Friend's ' dear children, how well does the boy learn, and where do they live?
Dear little Owl, I kiss you tenderly. You are in all our hearts. We pray for you and often talk of you. In God's hands lie all things. From this great distance it is a difficult thing to help and comfort a loved one who is suffering. We hope tomorrow to go to Holy Communion, but neither today nor yesterday were we allowed to go to church. We have had services at home, last night prayers for the dead, tonight confession and evening prayer. You are ever with us, a kindred soul. How many things I long to say and to ask of you. It is strange to be in this house and to sleep in the dark bedroom. I have heard nothing from Lili D. for some time. We are all well. I have been suffering from neuralgia in the head but now Dr. Kostritzky has come to treat me. We have spoken often of you.
They say that life in the Crimea is dreadful now. Still Olga A. is happy with her little Tichon whom she is nursing herself. They have no servants so she and N. A. look after everything. Dobiasgin, we hear, has died of cancer. The needlework you sent me was the only token we have received from any of our friends. Where is poor Catherine? We suffer so for all, and we pray for all of you. That is all we can do. The weather is bad these last few days, and I never venture out because my heart is not behaving very well. I get a great deal of consolation reading the Bible. I often read it to the children, and I am sure that you also read it. Write soon again. We all kiss and bless you. May God sustain and keep you. My heart is full, but words are feeble things.
The jacket warms and comforts me. I am surrounded by your dear presents, the blue dressing gown, red slippers, silver tray and spoon, the stick, etc. The ikon I wear. I do not remember the people you are living with now. Did you see the regimental priest from Peterhof? Ask the prayers of 0. Hovari for us. God be with you. Love to your parents. Madeleine and Anna are still in St. Petersburg.
I remember you often and am very sad. I remember your little house. We cut wood in the daytime for our baths. The days pass very quickly. Greetings to all.>
On the same day the Empress wrote me a short letter in English.
Yesterday I received your letter dated November 6, and I thank you for it from my heart. It was such a joy to bear from you and to think how merciful is God to have given you this compensation. Your life in town must be more than unpleasant, confined in stuffy rooms, steep stairs to climb, no lovely walks possible, horrors all around you. Poor child! You know that in heart and soul I am near you, sharing all your pain and sorrow and praying for you fervently. Every day I read in the book you gave me seven years ago, "Day by Day," and like it very much. There are lovely passages in it.
Up to this time, nearly the end of the year 1917, the Imperial Family in exile were treated with a certain degree of consideration. They had plenty of food and a limited freedom. In the next letter I received from the Empress, dated December 8, she speaks with gratitude of the fact that some of her favorite books were permitted to be retained by her, as a little later she overflows with gratitude to one of the Bolshevist Commissars who sent her a few familiar pictures and trinkets f rom the old home in Tsarskoe Selo. Little by little, however, privileges were taken from the family, and their status became that of criminal prisoners. I leave this to be shown in the letters which follow. On December 8, 1917, the Empress wrote me, in Russian, a letter which shows how poignantly she and the Emperor felt the desperate situation in Russia.
The weather is very changeable, frost, sunshine, then darkness and thawings. Desperately dull for those who enjoy long walks and are deprived of them. Lessons continue as usual. Mother and daughters work and knit a great deal, making Christmas presents. How time flies! In two weeks more it will be eight months since I saw you last. And you, my little one, so far away in loneliness and sorrow. But you know where to seek consolation and strength, and you know that God will never forsake you. His love is over all.
On the whole we are all well, since I do not count chills and colds. Alexei's knee and arm swell from time to time, but happily without any pain. My heart has not been behaving very well. I read much, and live in the past, which is so full of rich memories. I have full trust-in a brighter future. He will never forsake those who love and trust in His infinite mercy, and when we least expect it He will send help, and will save our unhappy country. Patience, faith and truth.
How did you like the two little colored cards? I have not heard from Lili Dehn for three months. It is hard to be cut off from all one's dear friends. I am so glad that your old servant and Nastia are with you, but where are the maids, Zina and Mainia? So Father Makari has left us. But he is really nearer than he was before.
Our thoughts will be very close together next month. You remember our last journey and what followed. After this anniversary it seems to me that God will show mercy. Kiss Praskovia and the children for me. The maid Liza and the girls have not come yet. All of us send tenderest love, blessings and kisses. God bless you, dearest friend. Keep a brave heart.
P. S. I should like to send you a little food, some macaroni for instance.
My darling: In thoughts and prayers we are always together. Still it is hard not to see each other. My heart is so full, there is so much I would like to know, so many thoughts I should like to share with you. But we hope the time will come when we shall see each other, and all the old friends who now are scattered in different parts of the world.
The next day the Empress wrote again.
I am sorry you have had a misunderstanding with one of your best friends. That should never happen. This is no time to judge one's friends, every one of us being on such an unnatural strain.
We here live far from everybody and life is quiet, but we read of all the horrors that are going on. But I shall not speak of them. You live in their very center, and that is enough for you to bear. Petty troubles surround us. The maids have been in Tobolsk four days and yet they are not allowed to come to our house, although it was promised that they should. How pitiful this everlasting suspicion and fear. I suppose it will be the same with Isa. Nobody is now allowed to approach us, but I hope they will soon see how stupid and brutal and unfair it is to keep them (the maids) waiting.
It is very cold - 24 degrees of frost. We shiver in the rooms, and there is always a strong draught from the windows. Your pretty jacket is so useful. We all have chilblains on our fingers. (You remember how you suffered from them in your cold little house?) I am writing this while resting before dinner. Little Jimmy lies near me while his mistress plays the piano. On the 6th Alexei, Marie, and Gilik (M. Gilliard) acted a little play for us. The others are committing to memory scenes from French plays. Excellent distraction, and good for the memory. The evenings we spend together. He reads aloud to us, and I embroider. I am very busy all day preparing Christmas presents; painting ribbons for book markers, and cards as of old. I also have lessons with the children, as the priest is no longer permitted to come. But I like these lessons very much. So many things come back to my mind. I am reading with pleasure the works of Archbishop Wissky. I did not have them formerly. Lately also I have read Tichon Zadonsky. In spite of everything I was able to bring some of my favorite books with me. Do you read the Bible I gave you? Do you know that there is now a much more complete edition? I have given one to the children, and I have managed to get a large one for myself. There are some beautiful passages in the Proverbs of Solomon. The Psalms also give me peace. Dear, we understand each other. I thank you for everything, and in memory I live over again our happy past.
One of our former wounded men, Pr. Eristoff, is in hospital again. I don't know the reason. If possible give hearty greetings to him from us all. Give sincere thanks and greetings to Madame S. and her husband. God bless and comfort him.
Where are Serge (Mme.Vyrubova's brother) and his wife? I received a touching letter from Zina. I know the past is all done with, but I thank God for all that we have received, and I live in the memory that cannot be taken from me. Still I worry often for my dearly loved, far distant, foolish little friend. I am glad that you have resumed your maiden name. Give greetings to Emma F., the English Red Cross nurse, and to your dear parents.
On the 6th we had service at home, not being allowed to go to church on account of some kind of a disturbance. I have not been out in the fresh air for four weeks. I can't go out in such bitter weather because of my heart. Nevertheless church draws me almost irresistibly.
I showed your photographs to Valia and Gilik. I did not want to show them to the ladies, your face is too dear and precious to me. Nastinka is too distant. She is very sweet, but she does not seem near to me. All my dear ones are far away. But I am surrounded by their photographs and giftsjackets, dressing gowns, slippers, silver dish, spoons, and ikons. How I would like to send you something, but I fear it would get lost. I kiss you tenderly, love, and bless you. We all kiss you. He was touched by your letter of congratulation. We pray for you, and we think of you, not always without tears. Yours.
This is the feast day of the Virgin of Unexpected joy. I always read the day's service, and I know that you, dear, do the same. It is the anniversary of our last journey together, to Saratov. Do you remember how lovely it was? The old holy woman is dead now, but I keep her ikon always near me. . . . Yesterday it was nine months since we were taken into captivity, and more than four months since we came here. Which of the English nurses was it who wrote to me? I am surprised to hear that Nini Voyeikoff and her family did not receive the ikons I sent them before leaving. Give kind regards to your faithful old servant and Nastia. This year I cannot give them anything for their Christmas tree. How sad. My dear, you are splendid. Christ be with you. Give my thanks to Fathers John and Dosifei for their remembrance., I am writing this morning in bed. Jimmy is sleeping nearly under my nose and interfering with my writing. Ortipo lies on my feet and keeps them warm.
During that December I had the happiness of receiving letters from the Emperor, Alexei, and the Grand Duchesses Tatiana, Olga, and Anastasia. The Emperor wrote acknowledging a note of mine written on his name day.
Fancy that the kind Kommissar Makarov sent me my pictures two months ago, St. Simeon Nesterovs, the little Annunciation from the bedroom, four small prints from my mauve room, five pastels of Kaulbach, four enlarged snapshots from Livadia; Tatania and me, Alexei as sentry, Alexander III, Nicholas I, and also a small carpet from my bedroom.
My wicker lounge chair too is standing in my bedroom now. Among the other cushions is the one filled with rose leaves given me by the Tartar women. It has been with me all the way. At the last moment of the night at Tsarskoe I took it with me, slept on it on the train and on the boat, and the lovely smell refreshed me. Have you had any news of Gaharn (Chief of the Karaim) ? Write to him and give him my regards. One of our former wounded, Sirobojarski, has visited him. Then! are 22 degrees of frost today, but bright sunshine. Do you remember the sister of mercy K. M. Bitner? She is giving the children lessons. What luck! The days fly. It is Saturday again, and we shall have evening service at nine. A comer of the drawing room has been arranged with our ikons and lamps. It is homelike - but not church. I got so used to going almost daily for three years to the church of Znamenia before going on to the hospitals at Tsarskoe.
I advise you to write to M. Gilliard. (Now I have refilled my fountain pen.) Would you like some macaroni and coffee? I hope soon to send you some. It is so difficult for me here to take the vegetables out of the soup without eating any of it.' It is easy for me to fast and to do without fresh air but I sleep badly. Yet I hardly feel any of the ills of the flesh. My heart is better, as I live such a quiet life, almost without exercise. I have been very thin but it is less noticeable now, although my are like sacks. I am quite gray too.
The spirits of the whole family are good. God is very near us, we feel His support, and are often amazed that we can endure events and separations which once might have killed us. Although we suffer horribly still there is peace in our souls. I suffer most for Russia, and I suffer for you too, but I know that ultimately all will be for the best. Only I don't understand anything any longer. Everyone seems to have gone mad. I think of you daily and love you dearly. You are splendid and I know how wonderfully you have grown. Do you remember lendid and I know how wonderfully you have grown. Do you remember the picture by Nesteroffs, Christ's Bride? Does the convent still attract you in spite of your new friend? God will direct everything. I want to believe that I shall see your buildings (my hospital) in the style of a convent. Where are the sisters of mercy Mary and Tatiana? What has become of Princess Chakoffskaia, and has she married her friend? Old Madame Orloff has written me that her grandson John was killed in the War, and that his fiancee killed herself from grief. Now they are buried beside his father.
My regards to my dear Lancers, to Jakoleff, Father John, and others. Pray for them all. I am sure that God will have mercy on our Russia. Has she not atoned for her awful sins?
My love, burn my letters. It is better. I have kept nothing of the dear past. We all kiss you tenderly and bless you. God is great and will not forsake those encircled by His love. Dear child, I shall be thinking of you especially during Christmas. I hope that we will meet again, but where and how is in His hands. We must leave it all to Him who knows all better than we.
Tobolsk, 10 December, 1917.
The children's letters were devoured because they gave so many details of the family in Tobolsk.
Thank you so much for your kind wishes on my name day. Our thoughts and prayers are always with you, poor suffering creature. Her Majesty reads to us all your lines. Horrid to think all you had to go through. We are all right here. It is quite quiet. Pity you are not with us. Kisses and blessings without end from your loving friend, N. Give my best love to your parents.
On December 9 Tatiana wrote:
My darling: I often think and pray for you, and we are always remembering and speaking of you. It is hard that we cannot see each other, but God will surely help us, and we will meet again in better times. We wear the frocks your kind friends sent us, and your little gifts are always with us, reminding us of you. We live quietly and peacefully. The days pass quickly. In the morning we have lessons, walk from eleven to twelve before the house in a place surrounded for us by a high board fence. We lunch together downstairs, sometimes Mamma and Alexei with us, but generally they lunch upstairs alone in Papa's study. In the afternoon we go out again for half an hour if it is not too cold. Tea upstairs, and then we read or write. Sometimes Papa reads aloud, and so goes by every day. On Saturdays we have evening service in the big hall at nine o'clock. Until that hour the priest has to serve in the church. On Sundays, when we are allowed, we go to a near-by church at eight o'clock in the morning. We go on foot through a garden, the soldiers who came here with us standing all around. They serve mass for us separately, and then have a mass for everybody. On holidays, alas, we have to have small service at home. We had to have home service on the 6th (St. Nicholas' day), and it was sad on such a big holiday not to be in church, but one can't have everything one wants, can one? I hope you at least can go to church. How are your heart and your poor legs? Do you see the doctor of your hospital? You remember how we used to tease you. Greetings to your old servants. Where are your brother and his wife? Have they got a baby? God bless you, my darling beloved. All our letters (permitted letters) go through the Kommissar. I am glad that the parents of Eristoff are kind to you. Him I remember well, but I never saw the parents. Isa has not come yet. Has she been to see you? I kiss you tenderly and love you.
From the Grand Duke Alexei, December 10, 1917:
My darling dear Annia, How happy I was to hear from you. Thank you for the letter and the things. I wrote to you yesterday. It is so strange to be staying in the house where you stayed. Remember that we are sending this parcel secretly, so don't mention it. It is the only time probably that we can do it. Yesterday's letter I sent through the Kommissar. I am always thinking of you, my darling. We speak much of you among ourselves and also to Gilik, Valia, Prince Dolgorouky, and Mr. Gibbs. I wear your bracelet and never take it off, the one you gave me on January 12, my name day. You remember that cozy evening by the fireside? How nice it was. Did you ever see Groten and Linevitch ? Well, good-bye, my darling Annia. I kiss you tenderly and love you.
My darling, I hope you got my postcard. Thank you very, very much for the little mushroom. Your perfumes remind us so much of you. Every day I pray God we shall live together again. God bless you.
From the Grand Duchess Olga on the same date:
My darling, what joy it was to see your dear handwriting, and all the little things. Thanks awfully for all. Your perfumes reminded us so of you, your cabin on board, etc. It was very sad. I remember you often, kiss and love you. We four live in the corner blue room, arranged all quite cozily. Opposite to us in the little room is Papa's dressing room and Alexei's, then comes his room with Nagori. The brown room is Papa's and Mamma's bedroom. Then the sitting room, big hall, and beyond Papa's study. When there are big frosts it is very cold, and draughts blow from all the windows. We were today in church. Well, I wish you a peaceful and sunny Christmas. God bless you, darling. I kiss you over and over again.
From the Grand Duchess Anastasia:
Ever your own Olga.
My darling and dear: Thank you tenderly for your little gift. It was so nice to have it, reminding me especially of you. We remember and speak of you often, and in our prayers we are always together. The little dog you gave is always with us and is very nice. We have arranged our rooms comfortably and all four live together. We often sit in the windows looking at the people passing, and this gives us distraction. . . . We have acted little plays for amusement. We walk in the garden behind high planks. . . God bless you.
From the Empress:
My own precious child: It seems strange writing in English after nine weary months. We are doing a risky thing sending this parcel, but we profit through - who is still on the outside. Only promise to burn all we write as it could do you endless harm if they discovered that you were still in contact with us. 'Therefore don't judge those who are afraid to visit you, just leave time for people to quiet down. You cannot imagine the joy of getting your sweet letters. I have read and reread them over and over to myself and to the others. We all share the anguish, and the misery, and the joy to know that you are free at last. I won't speak of what you have gone through. Forget it, with the old name you have thrown away. Now live again.
The increasing poverty and hardships which surrounded the exiles, to say nothing of the lonely desolation of their lives, could not be kept out of the Empress's letters, although she tried to write cheerfully. I could read, in the growing discursiveness of her contraband letters, the disturbed and abnormal condition of her usual keen and concise mind. On December 15, 1917, she wrote:
One has so much to say that one ends by saying nothing. I am unaccustomed to writing anything of consequence, just short letters or cards, nothing of consequence. Your perfume quite overcame us. It went the round of our tea table, and we all saw you quite clearly before us. I have no "white rose" to send you, and could only scent the shawl with vervaine. Thanks for your own mauve bottle, the lovely blue silk jacket, and the excellent pastilles. The children and Father were so touched with the things you sent, which we remember so well, and packed up at Tsarskoe. We have none of such things with us, so alas, we have nothing to send you. I hope you got the food through - and Mme. -. I have sent you at least five painted cards, always to be recognized by my signature. I have always to be imagining new things!
Yes, God is wonderful and has sent you (as always) in great sorrow, a new friend. I bless him for all that he has done for you, and I cannot refrain from sending him an image, as to all who are kind to you. Excuse this bad writing, but my pen is bad, and my fingers are stiff from cold. We had the blessing of going to church at eight o'clock this morning. They don't always allow us to go. The maids are not yet let in as they have no papers, so the odious commandant doesn't admit them. The soldiers think we already have too many people with us. Well, thanks to all this we can still write to you. Something good always comes out of everything.
Many things are very hard . . . our hearts are ready to burst at times. Happily there is nothing in this place that reminds us of you. This is better than it was at home where every corner was full of you. Ah, child, I am proud of you. Hard lessons, hard school, but you have passed your examinations so well. Thanks, child, for all you have said for us, for standing up for us, and for having borne all for our own and for Russia's sake. God alone can recompense you, for if He has let You see horrors He has permitted you to gaze a little into yonder world. Our souls are nearer now than before. I feel especially near you when I am reading the Bible. The children also are always finding texts suiting you. I am so contented with their souls. I hope God will bless my lessons with Baby. The ground is rich, but is the seed ripe enough? I do try my utmost, for all my life lies in this.
Dear, I carry you always with me. I never am separated from your ring, but at night I wear it on my bracelet as it is so loose on my finger. After we received our Friend's cross we got also this cross to bear. God knows it is painful being cut off from the lives of those dear to us, after being accustomed for years to share every thought. But my child has grown self-dependent with time, In your love we are always together. I wish we were so in fact, but God, knows best. One learns to forget personal desires. God is merciful and will never forsake His children who trust Him.
I do hope this letter and parcel will reach you safely, only you had better write and tell - that you get everything safely. Nobody here must dream that we evade them, otherwise it would injure the kind commandant and they might remove him.
I keep myself occupied ceaselessly. Lessons begin at nine (in bed). Up at noon for religious lessons with Tatiana, Marie, Anastasia, and Alexei. I have a German lesson three times a week with Tatiana and once with Marie, besides reading with Tatiana. Also I sew, embroider, and paint, with spectacles on because my eyes have become too weak to do without them. I read "good books" a great deal, love the Bible, and from time to time read novels. I am so sad because they are allowed no walks except before the house and behind a high fence. But at least they have fresh air, and we are grateful for anything. He is simply marvelous. Such meekness while all the time suffering intensely for the country. A real marvel. The others are all good and brave and uncomplaining, and Alexei is an angel. He and I dine a deux and generally lunch so, but sometimes downstairs with the others.
They don't allow the priest to come to us for lessons, and even during services officers, commandant and Kommissar, stand near by to prevent any conversation between us. Strangely enough Germogene is Bishop here, but at present he is in Moscow. We have had no news from my old home or from England. All are well, we hear, in the Crimea, but the Empress Dowager has grown old and very sad and tearful. As for me my heart is better as I lead such a quiet life. I feel utter trust and faith that all will be well, that this is the worst, and that soon the sun will be shining brightly. But oh, the victims, and the innocent blood yet to be shed! We fear that Baby's other little friend from Mogiloff who was at M. has been killed, as his name was included among cadets killed at Moscow. Oh, God, save Russia! That is the cry of one's soul, morning, noon and night. Only not that shameless peace.
I hope you got yesterday's letter through Mme. -'s son-in-law. How nice that you have him in charge of your affairs. Today my mind is full of Novgorod and the awful 17th. Russia must suffer for that murder too. Dear, I am glad you see me in your dreams. I have seen you only twice, vaguely, but some day we shall be together again. When? I do not ask. He alone knows. How can one ask more? We simply give thanks for every day safely ended. I hope nobody will ever see these letters, as the smallest thing makes them react upon us with severity. That is to say we get no church services outside or in. The suite and the maids may leave the house only if guarded by soldiers, so of course they avoid going. Some of the soldiers are kind, others horrid.
Forgive this mess, but I am in a hurry and the table is crowded with painting materials. So glad you liked my old blue book. I have not a line of yours-all the past is a dream. One keeps only tears and grateful memories. One by one all earthly things slip away, houses and possessions ruined, friends vanished. One lives from day to day. But God is in all, and nature never changes. I can see all around me churches (long to go to them), and hills, the lovely world. Volkov wheels me in my chair to church across the street from the public garden. Some of the people bow and bless us, but others don't dare. All our letters and parcels are examined, but this one today is contraband. Father and Alexei are sad to think they have nothing to send you, and I can only clasp my weary child in my arms and hold her there as of old. I feel old, oh, so old, but I am still the mother of this country, and I suffer its pains as my own child's pains, and I love it in spite of all its sins and horrors. No one can tear a child from its mother's heart, and neither can you tear away one's country, although Russia's black ingratitude to the Emperor breaks my heart. Not that it is the whole country, though. God have mercy and save Russia.
Little friend, Christmas without me-up in the sixth story! My beloved child, long ago I took you to hold in my heart and never to be separated. In my heart is love and forgiveness for everything, though at times I am not as patient as I ought to be. I get angry when people are dishonest, or when they unnecessarily hurt and offend those I love. Father, on the other hand, bears everything. He wrote to you of his own accord. I did not ask him. Please thank everybody who wrote to us in English. But the less they know we correspond the better, otherwise they may stop all letters.
Ever your own, A.
Dearest little one: Again I am writing to you, and you must thank - and reply carefully. My maids are not yet allowed to come to me, although they have been here eleven days. I don't know how it will come out. Isa (Baroness Buxhoevden, lady in waiting) is ill again. I hear that she will be allowed in when she arrives, as she has a permis, but I doubt it. I understand your wounded feelings when she did not 90 to see you, but does she know your address? She is timid, and her conscience in regard to you is not quite clear. She remembers perhaps my words to her last Autumn that there might come a time when she too would be taken from me and not allowed to return. She lives in the Gorochovaya. with a niece. Zizi Narishkina (a former lady in waiting) lives in the Sergievskja, 54.
I hope you will receive the things we sent for Christmas. Anna and Volkov helped me to send the parcels, the others I sent through -, so I make use of the opportunity to write to you. Be sure to write when you receive them. I make a note in my book whenever I write. I have drawn some postcards. Did you receive them? One of these days I shall send you some flour.
It is bright sunshine and everything glitters with hoar frost. There are such moonlight nights, it must be ideal on the hills. But my poor unfortunates can only pace up and down the narrow yard. How I long to take Communion. We took it last on October 22, but now it is so awkward, one has to ask permission before doing the least thing. I am reading Solomon and the writings of St. Seraph, every time finding something new. How glad I am that none of your things got lost, the albums I left with mine in the trunk. It is dreary without them, but still better so, for it would hurt to look at them and remember. Some thoughts one is obliged to drive away, they are too poignant, too fresh in one's memory. All things for us are in the past, and what the future holds I cannot guess, but God knows, and I have given everything into His keeping. Pray for us and for those we love, and especially for Russia when you are at the shrine of the "All-Hearing Virgin." I love her beautiful face. I have asked Chemoduroff to take out a prayer (slip of paper with names of you all) on Sunday.
Where is your poor old Grandmamma? I often think of her in her loneliness, and of your stories after you had been to see her. Who will wish you a happy Christmas on the telephone? Where is Serge and his wife? Where is Alexander Pavlovich? Did you know that Linevich had married, and Groten also, straight from the Fortress? Have you seen Mania Rebinder? This Summer they were still at Pavlovskoye, but since we left we have heard nothing of them. Where are Bishops Isidor and Melchisedek? Is it true that Protopopov has creeping paralysis? Poor old- man, I understand that he has not been able to write anything yet, his experiences being too near. Strange are our lives, are they not? One could write volumes.
Zinaida Tolstoya and her husband have been in Odessa for some time. They write frequently, dear people. Rita Hitrovo is staying with them, but she scarcely writes at all. They are expecting Lili Dehn soon, but I have heard nothing from her for four months. One of our wounded, Sedlov, is also in Odessa. Do you know anything of Malama?
Eristoff give you Tatiana's letter? Baida Apraxin and the whole family except the husband are in Yalta. He is in Moscow at the church conference. Professor Serge Petrovitch is also in Moscow. Petroff was, and Konrad is, in Tsarskoe. There too is Marie Rudiger Belaiev. Constadious, our old general, is dead. I try to give you news of all, though you probably know more than I do.
The children wear the brooches that Mme. Soukhomlinova sent them. Mine I hung over a frame. Do you ever see old Mme. Orlova? Her grandson John was killed, and her Alexei is far away. It is sad for the poor old woman.
I am knitting stockings for the small one (Alexei). He asked for a pair as all his are in holes. Mine are warm and thick like the ones I gave the wounded, do you remember? I make everything now. Father's trousers are torn and darned, the girls' under-linen in rags. Dreadful, is it not? I have grown quite gray. Anastasia, to her despair, is now very fat, as Marie was, round and fat to the waist, with short legs. I do hope she will grow. Olga and Tatiana are both thin, but their hair grows beautifully so that they can go without scarfs. Fancy that the papers say that Prince Volodia Troubetskoy has joined Kaledin with all his men. Splendid! I am sure that N. D. will take part also now that he is serving in Odessa. I find myself writing in English, I don't know why. Be sure to burn all these letters as at any time your house may be searched again.
Next chapter: XXII
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