Russians don’t like to preen or to put on airs, even on the subject of their own nation. A Russian loves his country profoundly and knows its worth, but keeps it to himself. A Frenchman will boast about having been at the front and will tell you of his heroic feats, his sufferings and his injuries. He will do all this because he thinks he has done something extraordinary. The Russian may tell you has been at the front if there is some reason do so, but for him this is an absolutely ordinary fact. He won’t think for a minute of bragging about it.
The foreign delegates have hardly left Petrograd before the horizon of the Neva is darkening anew.
The Imperial Duma is to resume its labours on Tuesday next, the 27th February, and the fact is causing excitement in industrial quarters. To-day, various agitators have been visiting the Putilov works, the Baltic Yards and the Viborg quarter, preaching a general strike as a protest against the government, food-shortage and war. See more
The agitation has been lively enough to induce General Kharbalov, Military Governor of the capital, to issue a notice prohibiting public meetings and informing the civil population that "all resistance to authority will be immediately put down by force of arms."
This evening I gave a dinner to the Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna and her son, the Grand Duke Boris. My other guests were Sazonov, Shebeko, the former ambassador to Vienna, Princess Marie Troubetzkoï, Princess Bielosselsky Prince and Princess Michael Gortchakov, Princess Stanilas Radziwill, M. and Madame Polovtsov, Count and Countess Alexander Shuvalov, Count and Countess Joseph Potocki, Princess Gagarin, M. Poklevski, Madame Vera Narishkin, Count Adam Zamoïjski, Benckendorff, General Knorring and my staff.
The Grand Duchess was at the head of my table. I was on her left and Sazonov on her right. The Grand Duke sat opposite her; on his right was the Vicomtesse du Halgouët, wife of my secretary who acts as hostess, and on his left Princess Marie Troubetzkoï.
During dinner, my conversation with the Grand Duchess was purely small-talk and her conversation with Sazonov was of the same character.
But when we returned to the drawing-room, she asked me to sit by her, and we talked more freely. With an air of the deepest dejection she told me that she is leaving the day after to-morrow for Kislovotsk, on the northern slopes of the Caucasus:
"I badly need sun and a rest, " she said. "The emotions of recent times have worn me out. I'm leaving with my heart heavy with apprehension. What will have happened by the time I see you again? Things can't go on like this!"
"So affairs are not improving?"
"No. How could they? The Empress has the Emperor entirely under her thumb her only adviser is Protopopov who consults the ghost of Rasputin every night! I can't tell you how downhearted I feel. Everything seems black, wherever I look. I'm expecting the most dire catastrophes. And yet God can't mean Russia to perish!"
"God only helps those who help themselves; I have never heard of Him preventing a suicide. And what the Emperor is now doing is simply suicide, suicide for himself, his dynasty and his people."
"But what can we do?"
"Fight on. The recent intervention by the Grand Dukes has failed: we must try again, but on broader grounds and, permit me to add, in a more serious and prudent, and less censorious spirit. Both the Right and Left sections of the Council of Empire and the Duma contain elements well qualified to organize resistance to the abuses of autocracy. I believe that Protopopov, Dobrovolsky and all the rest of the Empress's camarilla would soon crumble into dust if all the reasonable and patriotic men in these two assemblies made common cause for the sake of national salvation and undertook to show the Emperor, firmly and logically, but with due moderation, that he is leading Russia straight to disaster; if the imperial family combined to speak with one voice while carefully avoiding the slightest suspicion of intrigue or conspiracy, and if you thus succeeded in creating in the upper strata of the State an all-embracing concentration on national revival. But there is no time to lose! The danger is pressing; every hour counts. If salvation does not come from above, there will be revolution from below. And that will mean catastrophe!"
Her only answer was a despairing sigh. Then she remembered her royal duties, in the performance of which she has no superior, and asked some of the ladies to come and talk to her ...
With his three sons a russian who lives ordinarily just ten hours by rail from Petrograd is now en route to that capital. To get there he was obliged by the German captors of Vilna to go by way of America. He estimates that the ordinary ten-hour journey will cost him $2,000. And that is just another instance of the old saying that the longest way round is the shortest way through.
Milyukov has issued an open letter to the workers of Petrograd. A day previously, a “decree” was issued by General Khabalov, the Petrograd city governor. Strangely enough, the two documents were not greatly dissimilar. In some places, the two used similar arguments (“For the sake of the motherland”). And both the leader of the opposition and the city governor called on the workers to remain calm.
Today is my birthday. But I’m keeping it to myself. Why should I remind myself and others once again of the impending end …
I finally got an invitation from Alix for breakfast in Tsarskoe Selo. Those breakfasts! It seems half a year of my life has been lost at breakfast in Tsarskoye Selo!
Alix was in bed and promised to see me as soon as I was done eating. There were eight of us at the table: Nicky, myself, the Heir, the Emperor’s four daughters and an aide-de-camp. They were all in good spirits and completely ignorant of political events. See more
We drank coffee in the violet parlor. Nicky went into the adjoining bedroom to inform Alix of my arrival. I briskly went in. Alix was lying in bed in a white lace peignoir. Her beautiful face was serious, and it didn’t suggest anything good. I realized that she suffered from the attacks. This upset me. After all, I was there to help, not harm. I also didn’t like how Nicky looked as he sat on the wide bed. In my letter to Alix, I stressed the words: "I want to see you completely alone so we can talk face to face." It was uncomfortably difficult to rebuke her for dragging her husband into the abyss in front of him.
I kissed her hand, and her lips barely touched my cheek. It was the coldest greeting she’s ever given me since the first day we met in 1893. I took a chair, pulled it close to the bed and sat opposite the wall covered with countless icons illuminated by blue and red lamps.
I started by pointing to an icon and I said that I will speak bluntly to Alix. I briefly described the general political situation, and stressed the fact that the revolutionary propaganda has penetrated into the very heart of the population and that they accepted all the slander and gossip as truth.
She sharply interrupted me:
— It’s not true! The people are still loyal to the Tsar. (She turned to Nicky). – Only the traitors in the Duma and in Petrograd society are my and his enemies.
I agreed that she was half right.
— There is nothing more dangerous than half-truths, Alix, — I said looking her straight in the face. — The nation is faithful to the Tsar, but the nation resents the influence Rasputin had. Nobody knows better than me how much you love Nicky, but I still have to admit that your intervention in state affairs brings harm to Nicky’s prestige and to autocracy as a popular idea. Alix, I have been your true friend for twenty-four years. I still am your loyal friend, and as such I want you to understand that all classes of people in Russia are hostile to your policy. You have a wonderful family. Why don’t you focus your worries on that and give your soul peace and harmony? Leave the affairs of the state to your husband!
She became incensed and looked at Nicky. He said nothing and continued to smoke.
I continued. I explained that, no matter how much I was an enemy of the parliamentary form of government in Russia, I was convinced that at this dangerous moment if the Emperor formed a government acceptable to the State Duma, then this action would reduce Nicky’s responsibility and make things easier for him
— For God's sake, Alix, don’t let your infuriation at the State Duma prevail over common sense. A radical change in policy would alleviate the people's anger. Don’t let that anger explode.
She smiled with contempt.
— Everything you say is ridiculous! Nicky is the Autocrat! How can he share what is his divine right with anyone?
— You're wrong, Alix. Your husband stopped being Autocrat on October 17, 1905. Then was the time to think about his “divine right.” Now –alas — it’s too late! Perhaps after two months there won’t be anything left to reminds us of the autocrats, who have sat on the throne of our ancestors.
She muttered something and then suddenly raised her voice. I followed her example. It seemed to me that I needed to change my manner of speaking.
— Don’t forget, Alix, I was quiet for thirty months. — I shouted in a terrible rage — I didn’t say a word for thirty months about what was going on in our government, or, more correctly, your government. I see that you’re willing to die with your husband, but don’t forget about us! Do we all have to suffer because of your blind foolhardiness? You have no right to drag your relatives into the abyss.
— I refuse to continue this debate, — she said coldly. — You exaggerate the danger. You will see that I’m right after you calm down.
I got up, kissed her hand, and I didn’t receive the usual kiss in response, and left.
I’ve come down with an ear ache. Polyakov looked at it and said my middle ear is inflamed. I had breakfast with Papa. Mama is in bed.
Boy scouts’ honor guard in Great Britain