Our captivity at Tsarskoie-Selo did not seem likely to last long, and there was talk about our imminent transfer to England. Yet the days passed and our departure was always being postponed. The fact was that the Provisional Government was obliged to deal with the advanced wing and gradually felt that its authority was slipping away from it. Yet we were only a few hours by railway from the Finnish frontier, and the necessity of passing through Petrograd was the only serious obstacle.
At eleven o'clock on the morning of the 22nd the Czar arrived, accompanied by Prince Dolgorouky, the Marshal of the Court. He went straight up to the children's room, where the Czarina was waiting for him.
After luncheon he went into the room of Alexis Nicolaievitch, where I was, and greeted me with his usual unaffected kindness. But I could tell by his pale, worn face that he too had suffered terribly during his absence.
Yet, despite the circumstances, the Czar's return was a day of rejoicing to his family. The Czarina and Marie Nicolaievna, as well as the other children, when they had been told what had occurred, had been a prey to such dreadful doubts and fears on his account ! It was a great comfort to be all together in such times of trial. It seemed as if it made their troubles less unbearable, and as if their boundless love for each other was a dynamic force which enabled them to face any degree of suffering.
In spite of the self-control which was habitual with the Czar, he was unable to conceal his immense distress, though his soon recovered in the bosom of his family. He spent most of the day with them, and otherwise read or went for walks with Prince Dolgorouky. At first he had been forbidden to go into the park, and was only allowed the enjoyment of a small garden contiguous to the palace. It was still under snow. A cordon of sentries was posted round it. Yet the Czar accepted all these restraints with extraordinary serenity and moral grandeur. No word of reproach ever passed his lips. The fact was that his whole being was dominated by one passion, which was more powerful even than the bonds between himself and his family—love of country. We felt he was ready to forgive anything to those who were inflicting such humiliations upon him so long as they were capable of saving Russia.
You know, Aleksei Nikolaevich, your father no longer wants to be the Emperor.
At half-past ten on the morning of the 2ist Her Majesty summoned me and told me that General Korniloff had been sent by the Provisional Government to inform her that the Czar and herself were under arrest and that all those who did not wish to be kept in close confinement must leave the palace before four o’clock. I replied that I had decided to stay with them.
“The Czar is coming back to-morrow. Alexis must be told everything. Will you do it? I am going to tell the girls myself.”
It was easy to see how she suffered when she thought of the grief of the Grand-Duchesses on hearing that their father had abdicated. They were ill, and the news might make them worse. I went to Alexis Nicolaievitch and told him that the Czar would be returning from Mohileff next morning and would never go back there again.
“Your father does not want to be Commander-in-Chief any more.”
He was greatly moved at this, as he was very fond of going to G.H.Q. After a moment or two I added:
“You know your father does not want to be Czar any more, Alexis Nicolaievitch.”
He looked at me in astonishment, trying to read in my face what had happened.
“He is very tired and has had a lot of trouble lately.”
“Oh yes! Mother told me they stopped his train when he wanted to come here. But won’t papa be Czar again afterwards?”
I then told him that the Czar had abdicated in favour of the Grand Duke Michael, who had also renounced the throne.
“But who’s going to be Czar, then?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps nobody now...”
Not a word about himself. Not a single allusion to his rights as the Heir. He was very red and agitated. There was a silence, and then he said:
“But if there isn’t a Czar, who’s going to govern Russia?”
I explained that a Provisional Government had been formed and that it would govern the state until the Constituent Assembly met, when his uncle Michael would perhaps mount the throne. Once again I was struck by the modesty of the boy.
The revolution had been exclusively the work of the Petrograd population, the majority of which would not have hesitated to rally round the new ruler if the Provisional Government and the Duma had set the example. The army, which was still a well-disciplined body, represented a serious force. As for the great bulk of the nation, it had not the slightest idea that anything had passed.
This last chance of averting the catastrophe was lost through thirst for power and fear of the Extremists. The day after the Czar's abdication the Grand-Duke Michael, acting on the advice of all save two of the members of the Provisional Government, renounced the throne in turn and resigned to a constituent assembly the task of deciding what the future form of government should be.
The irreparable step had been taken. The removal of the Czar had left in the minds of the masses a gaping void it was impossible for them to fill.
Towards the end of the afternoon the news of the Czar's abdication reached the palace. The Czarina refused to believe it, asserting it was a canard. But soon afterwards the Grand Duke Paul arrived to confirm it. She still refused to believe it, and it was only after hearing all the details he gave her that Her Majesty yielded to the evidence.
The Czarina's despair almost defied imagination, but her great courage did not desert her. Her face was terrible to see, but, with a strength of will which was almost superhuman, she had forced herself to come to the children's rooms as usual.
Late at night we heard that the Grand Duke Michael had renounced the throne, and that the fate of Russia was to be settled by the Constituent Assembly.
On the 11th the situation suddenly became very critical and the most alarming news arrived without warning. The mob made its way into the centre of the town, and the troops, who had been called in the previous evening, were offering but slight resistance. See more
I heard also that an Imperial ukase had ordered the sittings of the Duma to be suspended, but that, in view of the grave events in progress, the Assembly had disregarded the decree for its prorogation and decided to form an executive committee charged with the duty of restoring order.
The fighting was renewed with greater violence the next morning, and the insurgents managed to secure possession of the arsenal. Towards the evening I was told on the telephone from Petrograd that reserve elements of several regiments of the Guard — e.g., the Paul, Preobrajensky, and other regiments —had made common cause with them. This piece of news absolutely appalled the Czarina. She had been extremely anxious since the previous evening, and realised that the peril was imminent.
She had spent these two days between the rooms of the Grand-Duchesses and that of Alexis Nicolalevitch, who had taken a turn for the worse, but she always did her utmost to conceal her torturing anxiety from the invalids.
On March loth we learned that trouble had broken out in Petrograd and that bloody collisions had taken place between police and demonstrators. The fact was that for several days the shortage of food had produced feelings of bitter discontent in the poorer quarters of the city. There had been processions, and mobs had appeared in the streets demanding bread.
I realised that Her Majesty had a good deal on her mind, for, contrary to her usual habit, she spoke freely about political events, and told me that Protopopoff had accused the Socialists of conducting an active propaganda among railway employees with a view to preventing the provisioning of the city, and thus precipitating a revolution.
It was only after long hesitation that the Czar, in his anxiety, had decided on March 8th, 1917, to leave Tsarskoiie-Selo and go to G.H.Q.
His departure was a great blow to the Czarina, for to the fears aroused in her breast by the political situation had been added her anxiety about Alexis Nicolaievitch. The Czarevitch had been in bed with measles for several days, and his condition had been aggravated by various complications. To crown everything, three of the Grand-Duchesses had also been taken ill, and there was no one but Marie Nicolaievna to help the mother.
Everyone hacked at the central pillar of the tottering political edifice, and no one thought of attempting to shore it up while still there was time. Everything was done to accelerate the revolution; nothing to avert its consequences. It was forgotten that Russia did not consist merely of fifteen to twenty million human beings ripe for parliamentary government, but that it had one hundred and twenty to one hundred and thirty million peasants, most of them rude and uneducated, to whom the Czar was still the Lord's Anointed, he whom God had chosen to direct the destinies of Great Russia. Accustomed from his earliest youth to hear the priest invoke the name of the Czar in the offertory, one of the most solemn moments in the Orthodox liturgy, the moujik in his mystical exaltation was bound to attribute to him a character semidivine.
After his return from G.H.Q. the Czar had remained at Tsarskoie-Selo for the months of January and February. He felt that the political situation was more and more strained, but he had not yet lost all hope. The country was suffering: it was tired of the war and anxiously longing for peace. The opposition was growing from day to day, and the storm was threatening, but in spite of everything Nicholas II. hoped that patriotic feeling would carry the day against the pessimism which the trials and worries of the moment made general, and that no one would risk compromising the results of a war which had cost the nation so much by rash and imprudent action. His faith in his army was also unshaken. He knew that the material sent from France and England was arriving satisfactorily and would improve the conditions under which it had to fight. He had the greatest hopes of the new formations which had been created in the course of the winter. He was certain that his army would be ready in the spring to join in that great offensive of the Allies which would deal Germany her death-blow and thus save Russia: a few weeks more and victory would be his.