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Project 1917 is a series of events that took place a hundred years ago as described by those involved. It is composed only of diaries, letters, memoirs, newspapers and other documents

As I approached the Palace I became sensible of an eerie change, both in it and in its immediate surroundings. I stopped to consider in what the change consisted. Then knowledge dawned upon me. Tsarkoe was a dead place. Its windows were almost hidden by the straggling branches of the undipped trees, grass grew between the stones of its silent courtyard, and I instantly likened it to a famous Russian picture, “Le Chateau Oublie.” It was indeed a forgotten castle! See more

Weeks elapsed, and Kerensky seemed to have completely forgotten my existence. I led a quiet life, but my heart was torn with anxiety concerning my beloved friends. I received some letters from the Empress, and I wrote constantly to her, and to the Grand Duchesses. It was in connection with this correspondence that I was summoned to Tsarkoe Selo, by order of Commandant Kobilinsky. I was instructed to leave Petrograd secretly, and to wear my Red Cross uniform. It was early in July, and the trees were bravely apparelled in their young verdure. It was very different to that bleak March afternoon when the snow lay thickly on the ground, and the wind had stung my face with its icy breath. Outwardly, at all events, everything was peaceful, but tears filled my eyes at the recollection of past Julys… Surely God would not permit the innocent to suffer; surely Justice would awaken in the soul of misguided Russia, and all might yet be well.

Kobilinsky had taken up his quarters in the large building opposite the Palace, so I repaired thither. There were hardly any people visible, and I was directed to Kobilinsky ‘s private room. He was a dark, shortish, nervous man, wearing military uniform, and, as the Empress had written that he was kind to them, I was naturally anxious to make a good impression. This interview is of some importance as I am enabled to contradict a part of Kobilinsky’s deposition which appeared in a recent publication. In this deposition he queries the name of the writer of certain letters which came to Tsarkoe Selo, and attributes them to quite another person. The actual writer was myself, and the confusion respecting the signature arose from the fact that I had used a fanciful name composed of that of Titi and myself. There was not, and never has been, any ‘’Mysterious Personage” as Kobilinsky’s deposition leads one to suppose.

“Are you Madame Dehn?” asked Kobilinsky, eyeing me with some degree of curiosity.

“Yes, Commandant!”

“Are these from you?...” he continued, handing me a packet of letters.

“Most certainly. They are all in my handwriting,’’ I said.

“Then why on earth don’t you sign your full name when you write?” he queried testily.

“Because I’ve never been in the habit of doing so. ‘Tili’ is a fanciful name, a combination of ‘Lili’ and ‘Titi.’

“I don’t believe you,” he said bluntly. “It is the name of another lady.”

“Why don’t you make enquiries if you doubt my word?” I returned.

“You’ll easily find out that I’m telling the truth.”

“Well, well,” he grumbled. “I suppose I must believe you. But, see here, Madame, you’ve got to promise me something. You must agree to destroy all the letters which the Empress has sent you. If you don’t, I won’t allow you to write or to receive any more letters. I suppose,” he added, “that such a devoted friend as yourself has not come to-day without bringing some letters for the Family?”

I acknowledged that such was the case. Kobilinsky smiled, and took the letters. He then signified that the interview was over. Kobilinsky “passed” many letters to and from the Empress after this, but I was always haunted by the fear lest my precious correspondence might be stolen, or else forcibly destroyed. Fortune favoured me, and an opportunity occurred to send my letters and certain private papers to England under the safe conduct of General Poole. These papers were ultimately deposited in a safe in London belonging to Prince George Shrinsky- Shihmatoff.

After my interview with Kobilinsky I returned to Petrograd, where I spent some uneventful weeks. Poor Anna was right when she said that things were no better after the Revolution than they were before! Existence was a difficult problem: a period of starvation set in, and we, like others, became familiar with the pangs of hunger. It was impossible to procure nourishing food for Titi; so, almost at my wits' end, I applied for permission to remove him to South Russia.

This permission was most unexpectedly granted. Two weeks later Kerensky's Government fell, and for the moment I was forgotten ! We lived very quietly at Beletskovka, and I was always planning the best way of escape to rejoin my beloved friends.

It was one in the morning before I arrived home. I rang the bell, and after some delay the door was opened by my maid… who nearly fainted when she saw me...

I couldn’t speak. My thoughts were concentrated on Titi… I ran past her upstairs to his room... It was empty! What had happened — could he be dead? I hurried across the landing to my bedroom… A light was burning… Someone was in bed… Thank God, I recognised the beloved dark head of my boy — he was safe. I fell on my knees beside him.

With a little start, and a smile, which was like balm to my yearning heart, Titi awoke…

“Mother, mother…” He flung his arms around me. I covered his face with kisses. “Where have you come from?” he enquired.

“From prison.”

The child began to cry. I realized the tactlessness of my reply.

“If they ever take you away again I’ll go too,” he sobbed.

“But Where’s ‘Aunt Baby’? What has happened to her? And where is Papa? They say he’s been killed.”

“Darling, darling, I can tell you nothing about Papa.”

Hearing the sound of voices, my father now came into the room. He was greatly relieved to know that I was safe, as all sorts of stories were current respecting my fate and that of Anna Virouboff. But my one thought was for my child: he was much better, but the room struck cold, and I asked my father how it was that there was no fire. He shrugged his shoulders.

“Ma chere” he replied, “the answer is quite simple — we have no wood! The servants manage to steal a little to burn during the day, but at night c’est bien autre chose”

I undressed as quickly as possible, and got into bed. I held Titi close. I kissed him passionately. I trembled with mingled joy and fear!... No one should separate us.

I knew nothing as to our ultimate fate, but I had made up my mind, during these first hours of freedom, to escape as soon as possible to my estates in South Russia, and, if the Imperial Family were removed from Tsarkoe, to join them.

It was a strange home-coming. The whole house was disorganised. The servants were still devoted to my interests, but food and fuel were difficult to obtain. I spent the morning of the next day lying on a couch in my dressing-room. I was really ill; the long strain had told, and Nature was now exacting her toll in the shape of occasional heart attacks. See more

The long days passed in their monotonous progress. I no longer seemed to belong to the outside world. I heard nothing, nobody came near me — I was as one dead. But, if my days were monotonous, my nights were full of horror. When darkness fell, and the authorities relaxed their incessant watchfulness, the soldiers became brutish… when I say that I dared not fall asleep, some idea may be gathered of my dread! I had never met the eyes of lust until now… but it was impossible not to understand the glances of many of the soldiers. And I was not under any false illusions about the morality of freedom, it might surely be called the Freedom of Immorality! I thought of my husband far away in England, of my child lying ill within a short distance of my prison, and of that dear family for whose sakes I would gladly suffer untold misery. Memory opened her book, and I saw within its pages people and scenes which stirred many bitter-sweet recollections in my heart. Once again I walked under the linden trees at Revovka, and listened to the nightingales. I saw the forgotten grave with the wild rose weeping her petal-tears over la morte amoureuse; once again I stood in the Winter Garden waiting to see the Empress, sometimes I played with Titi and the Grand Duchesses and heard the Empress's kind voice. The pale face and hypnotic eyes of Rasputin recalled my pilgrimage… The church towers and houses of Tobolsk rose against the evening sky, the dark and sinister river flowed past me… Memory turned back more pages of her wonderful book, and I saw the Tsarkoe Selo of yesterday, the sick children, their fragile mother, and the Emperor, to whom Destiny had proved so cruel.

I endeavoured to preserve a calm mental outlook, it was useless... I wondered whether escape might be possible, but my room was situated on the fourth floor, I dared not risk the descent from the window. One idea obsessed me. I must see Kerensky, and this idea grew more intense when I heard that I was shortly to be removed to another prison.

“They are making enquiries about you,” said the A.D.C.

“Well, I want you to do something, and inform the Minister Kerensky that I would like to see him.”

The A.D.C. was evidently startled by my request.

“Hm… I’ll do my best, but—” his gesture was significant of the hopelessness of such a request. Upon his return, the A.D.C. said tersely:

“I’ve seen about your affair, but Kerensky sleeps; he has just dined.”

“Will you ask him to see me when he awakes?”

“Yes…” Again the significant gesture.

I waited impatiently. I felt that this interview with Kerensky would prove the critical point in my present desperate situation. I paced up and down the room, and my nervous agitation aroused the pity of one of the soldiers, who remarked kindly:

“Poor young lady! You do seem worried!”

Three hours passed… They seemed like centuries, and then the A.D.C. entered.

“The Minister will receive you,” he said.

I hastily arranged my sadly crumpled Red Cross uniform, and two soldiers with fixed bayonets stationed themselves on either side of me. The A.D.C. led the way down endless stairs and lengthy corridors. At last we halted before a half-open door, and, as I stood there, I smelt the delicate fragrance of roses. Surely no roses grew in this terrible prison soil? But the perfume was unmistakable, and I was not left long to wonder from whence it proceeded. I was ushered into a large, well-furnished reception room, formerly occupied by some Minister under the Empire, and on a table stood an enormous basket of blood-red roses. On another table was a basket of scarlet carnations, the warm air was heavy with the mingled odours of roses and clove pinks. So the Ministers of the Revolution were able to indulge their taste for roses in March, whilst the Sons of Freedom clamoured in the snow for bread!

The door at the extreme end of the room was ajar; presently it opened, and Kerensky came in. He glanced at me, walked to the writing-table, where he seated himself, and indicated a place for me.

Kerensky: “Well, what do you want. You asked to see me?”

Myself: “I want to ask you why I am under arrest. I have never meddled in politics, they are the last things that interest me. I can’t regard myself as a political prisoner.”

Kerensky (taking a roll of paper off the desk, and perusing it):”’Listen… Firstly, you are accused of staying voluntarily with Their Majesties when you had no official position at Court. Can you deny this?”

Myself: “Certainly not, I have no wish to do so. I stayed with Their Majesties, as I could not possibly desert them at such a moment. I love the Imperial Family as individuals. Surely this cannot constitute a crime in your eyes.”

Kerensky: “Well... let it pass… What is this close friendship between you and the Empress?”

Myself: “I am honoured with the friendship of the Empress. She knows my husband, she has been so good to us that we cannot be devoted enough to her.”

Kerensky (impatiently): “Enough of the Empress. What do you want?”

Myself: “What I ask is not freedom, but imprisonment in my own house. My child is ill. I want to be with him.”

Kerensky (laughing satirically): “You didn’t consider your child when you left him alone in Petrograd in order to remain with your beloved Empress.”

Myself (angrily): “I know best why I left him. You call yourself a patriot... I suppose you put the love of your country before family ties? I love the Imperial Family, they come before my family ties. You’ve taken me away from them—I haven’t gone willingly. Why deprive me of my child?”

Kerensky (with sinister emphasis): “Listen, Madame Dehn, you know too much. You have been constantly with the Empress since the beginning of the Revolution. You can, if you choose, throw quite another light on certain happenings which we have represented in a different aspect. You’re dangerous.”

A long silence.

Kerensky: “Can you explain why all orders from the Empress passed through you? You had no official position… it’s a most suspicious occurrence.”

Myself: “We were practically isolated in the private apartments through fear of contagion. Besides, what orders could the Empress give without their being known to you?”

Kerensky: “The servants are witnesses that all orders came through you. Enquiries will reveal the truth... if you are honest… well and good. If not… that’s another matter.”

I looked at him. Kerensky seemed absolutely implacable, but I decided to make one last appeal. He apparently loved flowers; this proved that, as his senses could be appealed to, why not his heart?

If you had a child of your own, you’d understand my feelings,” I said.

Kerensky surveyed me with that now familiar appraising scrutiny.

“I don’t think much of you as a mother,” he replied, smiling coldly, “but — how old is your child?”

“He is seven.”

“Well, Madame, it so happens that I have a child, and he, too, is seven. I can decide nothing, but I am now going to a Council at which Prince Lvoff will be present. He must decide.”

I looked him straight in the eyes. This time he met my gaze fully and squarely.

“I’m perfectly certain that you can do anything you like, without consulting anyone,” I said.

This tribute to his vanity appealed at once to Kerensky. With most men vanity is the most powerful factor. Wound a man’s vanity and he will never forgive you; pander to it, and he is your friend for life. Kerensky was no exception : I had discovered the heel of this Russian Achilles.

“You are quite right. Of course I can do what I like. Go back to your room—I’ll send you my answer later in the evening.”

He pressed an electric bell on his table. The A.D.C. entered.

“Has Madame Dehn a bed in her room?” asked Kerensky. “If not, see that one is placed there.”

“Oh, I don’t want a bed,” I interrupted. “Please let me go to my child.”

“I’ve already told you,” said Kerensky, “that I’ll let you know later. But… if I allow you to go home, you must give me your written promise not to act in any way against us.”

The A.D.C. made a sign to the soldiers, Kerensky took no further notice of me, and I was hurried out of the warm flower-scented apartment into the icy corridor.

Black despair overcame me when I regained my room. Kerensky had been non-committal ; but I had hopes that my allusion to him as omnipotent might have some favourable effect ; so I sat in the corner nearest the door, straining my ears to catch the sound of approaching footsteps. See more

I spent the morning with the Empress, and I lunched with Anna, in the apparently forlorn hope of dissuading her from attempting to see Marie. After luncheon we discussed the burning question of Kotzebue’s disappearance. Suddenly we were startled by hearing a noise in the corridor…  Anna instantly rang the bell. A servant answered it.

“Who is outside?” demanded Anna.

“I don’t know” replied the man, who was evidently much disturbed; “the soldiers are here.” At this moment a skorohod entered, and handed me a tiny folded note. I opened it… Written in pencil, in the Empress’s handwriting, were these ominous words:

“Kerensky passe par toutes nos chambres, pas avoir peur—Dieu est Ia, Vous embrasse toutes les deux!”

Heavy footsteps sounded in the corridor. I had barely time to slip the precious note inside my bodice when the door was flung open, and a man, followed by two others, came in. I stood up at once and looked at our visitor—it was Kerensky himself! I saw a slight man with a pale face, thin lips, shifty eyes, seen under lowered lids, and a nondescript nose. Kerensky gave one the impression of being mal soigne... He was not tall, but slight in figure, and his head drooped in a curious manner: he wore the blue jacket of an ordinary workman. Kerensky slowly considered us.

“Are you Madame Anna Virouboff?” he said, addressing Anna.

“Yes,” replied Anna, faintly.

“Well, put on your clothes immediately and be ready to follow me.” Anna made no answer.

“Why the devil are you in bed?” he demanded, staring at Anna’s invalid deshahillee.

“Because I’m ill,” whimpered Anna, looking more childish than ever.

“Well”... said Kerensky, turning to an officer, “perhaps we had better not move her. I’ll have a chat with the doctors. In the meantime, isolate Madame Virouboff. Place sentinels before the door—she’s to hold no communication with anyone. Nobody is to come into this bedroom or to leave it until I give the order.”

He went out of the room, followed by the officers. Anna and I looked at each other, speechless with dismay. My first collected thought was for the Empress. I would not be separated from her.

“I must try and see Their Majesties,” I said wildly.

“Yes, Lili, do. For God’s sake see them,” sobbed Anna. I opened the bedroom door very softly: the sentinels had not yet arrived. I caught a glimpse of Kerensky entering the room occupied by the doctors; then, impelled by some desperate courage, I ran down the corridors, and arrived breathless in the Grand Duchesses’ apartments. I found the Empress with Olga. I told her, in a few words, what had happened. Then distant footsteps warned us of Kerensky’s approach.

“Run… Lili— hide in Marie’s room—it’s dark there,” whispered the Empress.

I had barely time to crouch down behind a screen in Marie’s room when Kerensky came in. He took no notice of the sick girl, but went in search of the Empress, who, with the Emperor, had now gone into the schoolroom. From where I was hiding I could hear Kerensky shouting. In a few moments the Empress entered; she was trembling visibly… The Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana (now convalescent) rushed forward.

“Mamma, Mamma, what is the matter?”

“Kerensky has insisted upon my leaving him alone with the Emperor,” answered the Empress… “They’ll most probably arrest me.”

The two girls clung to their mother, and slowly made their way back to Marie. I had now emerged from behind the screen, and I went into the schoolroom, where I determined to remain until I saw the Emperor. After what seemed a very long time the Emperor came out— alone.

“Your Majesty,” I cried, “tell me, I implore you, if there is anything dreadful in store for Her Majesty?”

The Emperor was painfully nervous.

“No, no, Lili, and if Kerensky had uttered one word against Her Majesty, you would have heard me strike the table—thus—’ ’and he struck the writing table with his fist. “But I hear they’ve arrested Anna. Poor unfortunate woman, what will become of her?”

At the sound of her husband’s voice the Empress came out of Marie’s bedroom. The Emperor told her that Kerensky had arrested Anna because he suspected that she was implicated in political plots.

“If it’s true, it’s an awful thing,” said Kerensky, “but I suppose everything will now be disclosed.”

Their Majesties then related the particulars of their interview with Kerensky.

“His first words,” said the Empress, were,

“I am Kerensky. You probably know my name.”

We made no answer.

“But you must have heard of me?” he persisted.  Still no reply. “Well,” said Kerensky, “I’m sure I don’t know why we are standing. Let’s sit down— it’s far more comfortable!”

“He seated himself,” continued the Empress. “The Emperor and I slowly followed his example, and, finding that I still declined to speak, Kerensky insisted upon being left alone with the Emperor.”

Shortly afterwards, to our great relief, we were informed that Kerensky had left the Palace and gone to the Town Hall. The new commandant. Colonel Korovichenko, was then presented to the Empress, who begged him to allow her to say good-bye to Anna. Korovichenko consented, and the Empress went, unaccompanied, to Anna’s room. She sat very silent when she returned: she felt the parting keenly, as both the friends knew that, in all probability, it might be for ever! The Emperor, the Grand Duchesses and myself now took up our position in “Orchie’s room,’’ from which the windows commanded a view of the entrance to Anna’s apartments. I was sitting by the Empress near the window… All at once she took my hand, and said in a voice choked with emotion:

“At least, God will allow you to remain, and…”  Her sentence remained unfinished… At this moment someone knocked at the door; it was Count Benckendorff, who had hurried along to tell the Empress that he still hoped better things for Anna.

This was only a temporary respite. A little later we heard the sound of an automobile in the courtyard. I looked down, and saw two automobiles drawn up in front of the Imperial entrance to the Palace. Another knock ! This time it was a servant who announced:

“The new Commandant wishes to speak to Madame Dehn.”

I went out; Korovitchenko, a fair-haired, common-looking man with a hard mouth, was standing at the end of the corridor.

“Madame Dehn?” he enquired brusquely.

“Yes... I am Madame Dehn.”

“ Well… get ready. Take as little as possible with you; you are going with Kerensky to Petrograd.”

I nearly fainted, but I managed to run back to “Orchie’s room.” In a few hurried words I acquainted the Empress with Korovitchenko’s orders… I could not look at any of them. I tried to be calm, but at the sound of Tatiana’s uncontrollable sobbing I broke down and wept in the arms of the Empress.

“Eh bien… ” she said, releasing me gently from her embrace, “il n’y rien de faire.”

“Is Madame Dehn ready?” shouted someone outside.

The Empress called Zanoty (one of her dressers) and told her to put some things together in a suitcase. She did not speak to me — or I to her — our hearts were too full. It was like some terrible nightmare. At length I managed to go into Anastasie’s room… She was in bed. I kissed her many times, and told her that I would never forsake them. Poor Marie lay asleep in her darkened room... I kissed her flushed cheek, blessed her, and went out quietly. There was no time to say good-bye to the Tsarevitch. Zanoty had packed my suit-case, and the Empress now sent her to fetch a sacred medal, which she hung round my neck, blessing me as she did so. At the last moment Tatiana ran out of the room, and returned with a Httle leather case containing portraits of the Emperor and the Empress, which had stood on her especial tabic ever since she was a tiny child.

“Lili ...” she cried, “if Kerensky is going to take you away from us, you shall at least have Papa and Mamma to console you.”