Memories Of The Russian Court

Dark Days

The prison had changed, and except for an occasional riot or a fight between two drinking soldiers, it was almost peaceful. For now there was a man attached to the fortress, a man so brave and kind, and above all so commanding that terrors fled before him - Dr. Ivan Manouchine. The gratitude and respect with which I write his name cannot be expressed in words. It was on the 23rd of April, the name day of the Empress, ever a day of memories to me, that this good man came into the house of pain where lay the prisoners of the Provisional Government. A few weeks before this the soldiers, gradually recovering from their first revolutionary blood lust, had begun to revolt against the needless brutality of the prison doctor, Serebrianikoff, and had finally sent in to the all powerful Kerensky a request for his demission. In those days Kerensky, whose ambition to be at the head of the government was maturing, made a special point of granting soldiers' petitions, and he really consented to replace Serebrianikov with a physician of reputation. From the point of view of the Duma Dr. Manouchine was entirely a safe man to be appointed. He was a republican in politics, and he conformed to the popular superstition of "dark forces" surrounding the court. But what the Duma did nut know about Dr. Manouchine was that he had a heart of gold and a mind that was ruled not by any political party but by principles of right and justice.

When the new prison doctor first came into my cell, accompanied by the retiring man looking frightened and ill at ease, I was lying on my cot in a mood of unusual rebellion. In a quiet, professional voice he asked me how I felt, and when he examined my poor chest and saw it black and blue and swollen from the clumsy cupping it had received, he frowned with displeasure. He gave some quick directions for my relief and in a gentle tone assured me that he intended to visit the bastion every day. It was the first time in many long weeks that I had been spoken to by the type of man we call a gentleman, and after the door closed behind him something in my frozen heart seemed to melt like icicles in the sun. Almost with the faith of childhood I fell on my knees and prayed, and after that I lay down and slept for several hours.

Every day soon after the booming of the noonday gun he came and every one among us stood up as close as possible to the cell doors, waiting to catch the first sound of his voice as he came down the corridor. At every door he stopped and asked the health of the prisoner. To him they were not prisoners but patients, and he treated them with all the skill and, above all, the courtesy he would have accorded the richest and most powerful of his patients. He examined our food and pronounced it entirely unsuited to our needs. He did not stop there, but in the end succeeded in greatly improving the ration and supplementing it for the sick with milk and eggs. How he did it in the Russia of those days I cannot imagine. I only know that Dr. Manouchine had a will of steel, and against that will and the staunch uprightness of his character malice and fanaticism broke like waves against a rock. Little by little Dr. Manouchine instituted other reforms. The prisoners now received at least a part of the money furnished by their friends outside, and once a week the non-commissioned officer Diki went through the prison answering requests for such necessities as soap, tooth powder, and paper on which petitions to the Governor of the fortress might be written. Often when a prisoner lacked money to pay for these things the doctor supplied it out of his own pocket.

Meanwhile my examinations under the stern but just commissioner Rudnev were going on. Weary under the long and apparently pointless inquisition, I asked Dr. Manouchine one day how much longer he thought they intended to torment me. His reply was grave. "Not long, I think. But before it is over you may have to undergo a still more trying ordeal." A few day later he came to my cell alone; that is, he resolutely closed the door between us and his usual escort of soldiers, and told me in his kindest manner that the Special Commission of Inquiry had almost concluded that the charges against me were without foundation. One more proof, however, was necessary, a physician's sworn statement that the hideous accusations of vice made by enemies of the Emperor and Empress and their closest friends were false. Would 1, for my own sake, for the sake of the Imperial Family, submit to a medical examination? Without at all knowing what was implied I gave an instant but rather frightened consent to any examination he thought necessary. . . . It was a terrible ordeal for a woman to live through. Most of the questions asked me were of a nature which appalled me, and yet were beyond my understanding. I cannot here repeat even the least of them. I can only say that they opened up to me an abyss of wickedness and sin which I had not dreamed existed in the human soul. . . . At the end of an hour - or many hours of trial, I lay on my bed, hands clasped over my eyes, spent, exhausted, utterly incapable of speech. Up to the very end Dr. Manouchine's manner had been that of a physician, but now that it was over it was a friend beyond anything human and sympathetic who laid his hand on my quivering shoulder and said: "This clears you absolutely. They will take my word for it."

Towards the end of May, a hot and wearying sea. son, the fortress was visited by the head of the Provisional Government's Commission of Inquiry, a pom. pous man, yet in his cautious way, rather kindly. Pausing before my cell, he told me that no crime had been fastened upon me and that I might hope soon to be transferred to a better place. Hope gave me new life momentarily, but as the days dragged on my hope gave way to bitter unbelief. My health always since my arrest indifferent, now began to decline and I could see that the doctor was seriously concerned for me. He came to the prison only four times a week now, and what ages seemed to elapse between his visits. All I had left of courage his voice and ministrations gave me.

One hot June day I was aroused from my sick lethargy by the tramping of heavy boots on the stones of the corridor. The heavy cell door swung open and I saw a crowd of strange men, several of whom unceremoniously invaded my cell and began an examination of my poor effects. Frightened, I watched them as they disdainfully picked up and threw aside the few rags a prisoner is allowed, but my fears were allayed when I saw in the background the tall figure of the doctor. "Do not be afraid, Anna Alexandrovna," he said. "This is only a committee of revision of prisoners." Later I heard him say to the committee: "This woman may have only a few days to live. If you are willing you may take on yourselves the responsibility of her death. As a physician I refuse to do so."

The next day he whispered to me that he was confident that I would be taken away, but that my release might be delayed a little because of renewed riots among the prison guards. He did not know where I was to be taken, and I feared it would be the Women's Prison, which the Woman had told me was almost as bad as the Troubetskoy Bastion. But soon I was relieved of that nightmare, for the doctor came again bringing me the good news that I should probably be taken to the House of Detention in a pleasant neighborhood on the other side of the river. In groups the friendly soldiers came to say good-bye and to assure me that even should the mutinous guards oppose my going they would see to it that I got safely way. Days went by, sleepless nights, and still no order of release arrived. I became almost hysterical with suspense. I gave way to dreadful fits of weeping until even the doctor grew stern and bade me control myself. I felt like a mouse under the teasing claws of a cat, and control was difficult even after I learned that the doctor had persuaded some members of the central committee of the St. Petersburg Soviet to visit the fortress and to reason with the mutinous guards.

Almost the last day of June, at six in the evening, I was standing barefooted and half dressed against the cool, wet wall of my cell thinking of my mother who the day before, had visited me. Her face was brighter than usual and she had said to me: "The next time we meet it may be in better circumstances." At the moment my door opened and the hated Chkoni appeared. "Well," he said, with his usual sneer, "did you have h sterics after seeing your mother?" "Certainly not," I replied coldly. "No?" he commented, I thought you might because tomorrow or the next day they may take you away." I fell against the wall too overcome to speak, too blind to see the hands of the guard pressing my limp hand in congratulation. Tomorrow or next day I The words repeated themselves in my brain countless times. But I was not even to wait until to-morrow, though Chkoni evidently wished me to think so. I heard the voice of the younger and less familiar wardress: "Dress yourself quickly. The doctor is bringing a deputation from the Soviet." I had nothing to put on except my ragged shoes and a torn gray woolen jacket, but these I rapidly seized while the wardress picked up and made a bundle of my small belongings. On the opposite wall I heard brave Mme. Soukhomlinova rapping out a farewell message to which I responded as well as I could. Then the deputation arrived, and the doctor. There was some confused talk. . . . I cannot remember a word. . . . I felt myself picked up and carried down the winding corridors. The great door of the bastion rolled open and we passed out into the cool, delicious evening air. There was a motor car into which I was lifted, another car into which the doctor climbed, there were soldiers, some friendly, some seemingly determined that the cars should not leave the courtyard. I remember very little until we drove out of the gates and over the Troizky Bridge. The wind, the brilliant twilight, the sight of water and the blue sky, blinded me so that I had to cover my face with both hands.

Within a short time the cars stopped at the Detention House in the Furshkatskaya Ulitza, and I was, carried into the office of the commissioner. He was an officer, rather short in stature, but dignified and efficient. Offering me his hand, he asked me if I would be seated while he made out the necessary papers. I had time to see that the House of Detention promised to be quite different from a prison. Indeed the soldiers of this house would not even permit the entrance of the fortress guards who had come with me. As if he divined that I was too weak to walk upstairs the commissioner gave orders that I was to be carried. It was into a large, light, clean room that they took me, and at my exclamation of joy at sight of windows the soldiers laughed heartily., But the doctor silenced them. "Go," he said, "see that her parents are telephoned, and send a woman to bathe and dress her. " His own arms lifted me from the chair on which I half sat, half lay. On a bed softer and cooler than even existed in my memory he laid me, said good night and gently left the room.

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