Leonie Ida Philipovna Souiny-Seydlitz.

Russia of yesterday and to-morrow online

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He knew the history of his country ; he feared his
future, which was like the condemnation to cer-
tain death. It would not have been difficult to
crush the tiny buds of his modest ambition. Like
all weak natures, Nicholas needed a tremendous
amount of flattery ; he needed tenderness and ad-
miration. With his comrades of the regiment he
was often intoxicated, and in the sober moments
of his life he was extremely bored and melan-

He created his own little court of sycophants,
and he created the later influences, priests and
courtiers; and as a court is not imaginable with-
out womanly domination, the center of his life
was the ballet-dancer Kreschinskaja. The Kre-
schinskaja was not a simple dancer, but one of
the most clever and beautiful pupils selected from
the best of the imperial ballet school, and institu-
tion where the dancers, taken at a tender age, are
not only trained for dancing, but for accomplish-
ments built up on a firm educational founda-

The Kreschinskaja was an embodied flame,



with eyes like fire in her spirituahzed face. She
was a queen among the aspiring creatures in the
czarevitch's circle. She held Nicholas in her del-
icate fingers, and the day that she presented him
with her first son he promised to make her his
czarina. Why not? There was Peter the Great,
who married, despite his living wife, Eudoxia,
the Finnish laundress, and made her the czarina.
And the Kreschinskaja was far more than a peas-
ant girl. She could help Nicholas reign; she
could be the real intuitive force of his hfe. The
somewhat confused conception of his task as heir
to the throne seemed suddenly to take distinct
form in the czarevitch's mind; it would never be
a burden if the Kreschinskaja could aid him.
She was a child of the people, with the brain of
an empress.

JNIaria Feodorovna smiled contentedly on the
czarevitch's pseudo-court. She let her camarilla
nourish and support his idea of marrying the
dancer. Then, she was sure, his light as czar
would never burn, and Michael, who was sick
and good-natured, woula be only too glad to
leave the reins of the government in the hands of
his mother.



All the czarina's schemes developed rapidly.
Alexander's enormous body, underfed by the
heart, which was too weak to circulate the blood,
swelled and swelled. Day and night he sat in
his big arm-chair, tortured by suffocation and
worrying about Nicholas, who was so poor a

From Gatshina the czar was brought to his
Crimean castle at Yalta. Here the ministers
revealed to him the dangerous ideas of the czar-
evitch and the machinations of Maria Feodor-
ovna's camarilla. The czar had one of his
fits of temper, which, despite his desperate ill-
ness, were the terror of the court. He was still
the czar, though the dying czar. He summoned
Nicholas to Yalta, and forced on him the plan
to marry him to the sister of the Grand Duchess
Sergius, the Princess Ahx of Hesse.

It was an imperial order. Only by accepting
the czar's decree could the czarevitch alter his
father's resolution to send the Kreschinskaja to
Siberia and to kill her brood. The Kreschin-
skaja had to abdicate, but she was permitted to
retain her place in the imperial ballet. Later,
when the czarevitch was omnipotent, he gave a



fortune to the dancer, built a magnificent palace
for her, and bestowed titles on his sons.

In the white castle at Yalta began the drama
of the life of the czarevitch and the Princess Ahx
of Hesse.

The princess arrived in the Crimea, a sacrifice
to high diplomacy. The cool, white, slender
flower of a highly cultivated country, the young
girl with a sad expression in her eyes, was ter-
rified at being placed on the throne of Russia,
where the assassination of crowned heads was
still an every-day affair. She was presented to
the czarevitch, who made a pitiful impression in
his state of complete breakdown following his
separation from the Kreschinskaja. After they
had exchanged a few conventional words, they
were taken to the sick czar, who, heavily uplift-
ing his enormous stature, gave his blessing to
the couple kneeling before him.

At the head of the bed stood the czarina. The
girl victim raised her eyes, and met a look of
hatred. She nearly fainted, and was led away
by her sister, the Grand Duchess Sergius.

It was springtime. The czarevitch and the
princess walked in the solitude of the Crimean



garden, around the white castle, where the prepa-
rations for their wedding were hurried. The
two young people, drawn together by each
other's heart distresses, tried to find amid the en-
tanglement of unloiown dangers a tie that would
bind them to the duties which they owed to the
circumstance of being born on the heights. In
this icy atmosphere the throbbing heart has no
rights, and they had to surrender their youthful

The czar loved his new daughter, and the
young princess passed days with him, understand-
ing the anxieties of this dying colossus, who was
surrounded by the spider system of his wife and
who had no confidence in the capacities of Nicho-
las. With the czar's hands in hers she made a
silent vow to help the czarevitch uphold the bur-
den of a crown. They were married with the
dark wings of the death angel around them. The
Grand Duchess Sergius received her sister in her
arms after the lugubrious ceremonies, and took
off the virginal veil of the young bride. The
two sisters found themselves in tears, united un-
der the weight of their fates, and they accepted
their lots silently.



With the increasing weakness of the czar, the
camarilla again showed its gorgon head, and the
bride, unprotected by the apathy of her husband,
shuddered in fear. Alexander III expired.
The pomp of the funeral was over. The czarina
mother took up her residence at the Annitschkof
Palace, the residence of the widows of the czars.

The young czar took the oath of office. Cos-
tumed in the pomp of the imperial ermine, the
heavy crown on his head, he looked like a fright-
ened child who tries on his father's hat, his fa-
ther's coat. The hat shpped over the child's
face, and the frail body disappeared completely
in the coat. This impression remained. The
czar's physical appearance was unfortunate for
a sovereign. Little, thin, with a face that ex-
presses nothing openly, he always gave the idea
that his position must be a very embarrassing
one, and the expression of his eyes was almost
apologetic. He was not a man for publicity,
not a decoration. He was not a czar of all the
Russias. When he appeared, the people were
immediately attracted by the mighty bodies of
the Romanoff grand dukes, the towering, weighty
men behind him. Nobody looked into the czar's



face, nobody noticed the frozen smile, which con-
trasted pathetically with the sad eyes, and nobody
ever imagined that publicity meant for the czar
physical pain.

On the day of the coronation in Moscow thou-
sands were buried under the grandstand erected
for the people who watched the entry of the
czarina. Above the dominant ringing of the
Great Bell, which was answered by hundreds of
other bells, the czarina's ear was struck by the
death-screams of the people who had been wait-
ing for her at the arch of the Kreml ; and the six
horses harnessed to the imperial coach, after a
second of hesitation, sped over bloody bodies.
The czarina's heart shrank ; she grasped in a des-
perate pressure the hand of her husband, who,
deathly-pale, looked out on the fateful scene,
which augured ill for his reign. The czarina's
anxious questioning met furtive glances. No
one would tell her of the sinister omen that gave
tragic significance to the holy day of her corona-
tion as the Empress of all the Russias.

Moscow celebrated despite the mourning of
thousands of her inhabitants. The great ban-
quet-hall in the Kreml was a spectacle unforget-



able to all who were present. It formed the right
background for the canopy over the throne, for
the colorf ulness and brilliancy of the Russian na-
tional costumes and uniforms, and for the jeweled
and brocaded robes of the holy synod. The
Mayor of Moscow presented to the young
czarina, who sat white and erect on her throne,
the famous bouquet in the handle of which was
the button that, when pressed, flooded Moscow
with millions of electric lights. The czarina, who
was crowned Alexandra Feodorovna, was led
to the balcony, where she stood under the silent
glances of the masses waiting on the plaza. The
Kreml lights were first extinguished, and then the
czarina pressed the button of her bouquet, and
Moscow flamed in an illumination never before
seen. Mute and depressed, the people gazed at
the white figure who, with her first official step
into Russia, had brought death to them. The
young czarina returned white and trembling to
the banquet-hall. From all the German cities
the best artists had been assembled in Moscow for
a most wonderful concert under a conductor from
the home country of the former Princess Ahx.
She hid the tears of homesickness under her long



lashes. The melodies dear to her heart brought
back the memory of her happy maidenhood, and,
shivering in the warmth of the summer night, her
heart was contracted with bitter presentiments.
Then remembering her vow, she raised her head,
and when the irksome days of the coronation cer-
emonies were over, she resolved to live in strict
devotion to her new duties.

The young czar found himself a sovereign
without knowing the men of his father's reign,
trusting nobody, loving nobody, and even a
stranger and timid before his bride, who de-
veloped an unexpected energy and interest in
state affairs. In her veins was the blood of
w^omen who knew their duties, and she had de-
cided to be true to her traditions. The czar
looked up to his young wife, who spoke wisely
and with determination; but she did not speak
his language, the language of his people. She
was a foreigner, and Russia looked at her only as
the czarina who would perpetuate the imperial

The czarina devoted herself ferventlv to the
study of the language, so that she might come
nearer to the heart of the Russians and win her



husband's confidence. Her hope looked forward
to the child she was expecting. Her first-born
was a princess, and the poor czarina became timid
again before sinister fate. She saw herself and
the czar drifting apart under the influence of the
czarina-mother. She lived in the shy feeling that
the people met her with hostile superstition, and
she sought consolation in religion, in the new
faith of the Greek Church. Her second child,
so anxiously longed for, came. Again a lovely
little girl. The czarina-mother triumphed.
Hers might be the final victory, and her hopes of
seeing the Grand Duke Michael on the throne
grew. She kept the whole police system in her
hands, and the spirit of revolution then flowering
through Russia served her purpose. All that
was not plotted by the anarchists the cruel, fan-
tastic camarilla invented. The little freedoms of
the young sovereigns were under terrible espion-
age. For every theater party, for every enter-
tainment, they provided cleverly arranged and
dramatically discovered assassins. The young
czarina became a silent woman. She suffered
more and more from the misinterpretation of
everything she said and did, and even her


'-/i* V.



thought, her unspoken word, was a source of
eternal suspicion and persecution. Her young
joy of life was slowly tortured to death by the
ever- watching creatures of her mother-in-law.

From time to time the sovereigns longed for
pleasures congenial to their youth, and the court
marshal sent out invitations to court balls. In
the big ball-room of the Winter Palace, under the
soft, warm light of thousands of wax candles,
the waltzing couples appeared languishing and
exotic. The lights deepened the richness of the
brocades, and brought out the wonders of
resplendent diamonds and pearls on the Russian
national costumes.

The czarina was very lovely, with a timid and
yet proud carriage of her fine head and the roses
of youth blossoming on her cheeks. She liked to
dance, and the great court balls always surprised
her into the tense expectation of a young girl.

At one of the balls, in the midst of the sweep-
ing chords of the mazm-ka, the lights suddenly
fluttered as if moved by a mysterious draft; a
cold ah* blew through the room, and the ladies
shivered with fright. A subdued whispering ran
through the assembly, no one knowing anything,



but every one foreboding. Looking with livid
faces toward the place where the imperial couple
danced, the guests saw only that the czar, grasp-
ing the czarina's hand, left the ball-room as if in
flight. The music ended with a crash. The
next day the rumor filled the capital that the
ball-room in the Winter Palace was undermined,
and that a bomb was discovered just in time to
prevent the explosion that would have blown to
atoms all the guests, among them the imperial

The ball-room was closed. The camarilla
worked well. Terror crept through the palace,
crept through the doors into the private rooms
of the sovereigns, and in livid fright they fled
from the capital to bury themselves in the solitude
of Tsarsko-Sselo, nowhere sure that plots would
not be forged in their closest entourage. Rest-
lessness grew, a frightful restlessness, and they
had a home nowhere. Then the imperial duty
demanded that they travel through the country,
and on all of their tours accidents were arranged :
rails were loosened, and a number of persons lost
their lives; but the death of the imperial family
was frustrated in time. The Russian people



attributed all misfortune to the young czarina,
and the saying went around that wherever she
walked she would walk over blood. And wher-
ever she went, she met enmity, she who was not
yet taken into the lap of the Russian Church and
who was not blessed with the heir that the land
expected of her. With a tortured spirit the
czarina looked forward to her third child. Again
in the cradle lay a little girl, and the camarilla,
the great spider, had its web around the soul of
the young couple.

The czar faced the disappointment of his hope
for an heir. He gave away to the melancholy of
former years, to the discontent. He drank to
forget his imperial misery. The stories of the
victims of the Ochrana, of the tireless Trepof
hunting anarchists, of Plehve, of Siberian hor-
rors, of executions and torturing of young men
and women, all lost interest for the czar. What
was all this in comparison with the eternal fear
strangling his own throat? He signed death-
sentences mechanically every morning without
any knowledge of the cases. Behind the iron
gate of etiquette and fear lived the crowned
heads. From the hands of the court-torturers,



called chamberlains, ministers, or priests, they
received their servants, their teachers, their con-
fessors. Their sleep was interrupted to prevent
rest, to prevent f orgetf ulness ; their meals were
poisoned to simulate plots. The windows were
barred to the free and fresh air. They lived
anemically, trembling in the swampy air of
gossip, treason, and baseness. An impenetrable
wall was erected around the imperial prisoners,
and their souls were moved by the wires of a
hundred-years-old system of court mechanism.
They were moved to smile, to be graceful, to be
cruel. In their names all frightful crimes were
committed. The church revived the medieval
inquisition among the Jews, and the pogroms
were red-lined in the calendars of entertainment
of the czar.

And the people stood outside the gates, bitter-
ness in their hearts and curses on their lips for the
czarina, the foreigner who was not even able to
bring forth an heir to the throne. The jailers of
the imperial couple grew into an almighty power,
and the imperial leading actors of this tragedy
shrank to a legendary existence behind their
prison walls. Special automobiles incased in



coats of mail were built to take the czar from
Tsarsko-Sselo to the capital, if his presence was
necessary. The Winter Palace was deserted,
only a small wing being reserved for the members
of the imperial family, and that strongly guarded.
The open gardens were surrounded by a high
gate of wonderful ironwork, and behind the gate
the shrubberies grew dense and tall so that
nobody could ever catch a glimpse into those
enchanted gardens.

For a long time the people whispered that the
czar and the czarina had been assassinated by the
camarilla, and that only dummies were shown to
hide the black deed from avenging Europe.

In deepest seclusion the czarina gave birth to
her fourth daughter, — poor little girl I — and then
the book of interest for her existence seemed com-
pletely closed. She clung to the church. Mys-
ticism developed to the hothouse flower that
intoxicated the czarina's free mind. The church
decided that the power of the death-bringing
ochrana and its executioners had gone too far,
and feared for its own decreasing influence at the
court and among the people. Everything had
paled before the overwhelming terrors of the



police. There was no room for politics, for the
Government; there was only the police. Noth-
ing progressed. Science and art stagnated.
Like a forest uninhabited by birds, the land was
deserted by its poets. Normal joys were cast out
to give place to the terrible debauches of vice and

It was now that Pobiedonostsef, the sly high
officer of the holy synod, saved the influence of
the church. He loosened the chains around the
wrists of the imperial couple. They could move
again and travel without the death-clattering
horseman speeding ahead. The czarina could
play with her little daughters and could let them
grow in all possible freedom. Every year when
the Easter bells had sent their last peals through
the capital, when "Christ was risen," the imperial
family went to the Crimean castle, the Russian
Riviera. In the sunshine of this part of Russia,
in the gaiety of the South, the dark shadow of the
camarilla lost its horror; it seemed to disappear,
and the church dominated. First little liberties,
were permitted, and passed undisturbed. Then
excursions were ventured upon, informal motor
trips; again the court had among its members



the younger, gayer set. Under the blue sky and
the spring spell the czarina's heart warmed. She
became young again. With a longing for mysti-
cal wonders, she was ready for the sweetness of
a young girl's romance. Providence had pre-
pared for her this romance, which one day was to
end tragically because she, the heroine, was the
tragic Muse.

With anxious discretion the secrecy of this
romance was guarded by the czarina's friends,
so that it might not be revealed to the hawk-eyes
of the camarilla and the world. The court-
marshal. Baron Freederickoz, again took up the
long-interrupted program of court pleasures.
The Winter Palace was opened for one big ball,
and every one was struck by the charm and the
maidenly beauty of the czarina.

The czarina opened the ball with Count Orloff,
the tall, slender man with the noble face who was
one of the courtiers of the Crimean happy days ;
and when the count bowed deeply before his
empress, her face flushed, and her embarrass-
ment was noticed and discussed; but even evil
tongues did not dare to criticize the unfortunate



The morning came when the sound of all the
bells, followed by the twenty-one-gun salute,
announced to all Russia the birth of an heir.

The czarina became the subject of the coun-
try's blessings. The holy mother, the church,
had finally taken Alexandra Feodorovna into her
special care. A new, fresh hope warmed Russia.
Hymns were sung everywhere, the czar showed
himself to the people, and the holy synod con-
templated triumphantly the miracles of the

The baptism was celebrated with the greatest
pomp. The throng was permitted to gather
around the Kasan Cathedral to watch the pro-

The czarina-mother, Maria Feodorovna, had
to carry the child, the unwelcome grandson who
annihilated all her efforts and her ambitions for
her son Michael. She held the little bit of
potential manhood in her arms, breathing on the
babe wordless curses. Poor little boy so ardently
longed for, and then persecuted at his entrance
into the world!

The czarina trembled for her new happiness.
Her little treasure had to be watched, and even



then she was never sure which of all the nurses
or ladies in waiting, bought by the czarina-
mother, might betray her.

The camarilla never hesitated at assassination.
Positively true is the story that one morning when
the czarevitch was put into his bath, the czarina,
in a neighboring room, heard the child utter a
terrible scream, followed by helpless whining.
She rushed into the nursery, to find the boy
lying in his tub, with a blue face, and desperately
struggling to get out of this death-bringing
danger. The czarina snatched her son out of ice
water. The terrible mistake was attributed to
the nurse. Again the liberties of the imperial
couple were curtailed; again the terrors of anar-
chists and revolutionists convulsed the official
class. Political riots took place, cruelties were
committed. Free speech, spiritual freedom were
violently demanded, and apparently the camarilla
supported the revolution of the students. In
Moscow the reign of terror instituted by the
Grand Duke Sergius was avenged in blood. All
remember the terrible death of this autocrat, who
himself knouted the prisoners. The czarina saw
in the tragic lot of her sister her own picture.



She suffered terribly under real and imaginary
persecutions, and more and more plunged into the
mysticism of theosophy and the Greek Church.

From time to time the most abominable stories
of the imperial court trickled out to the people.
The diabolic influence of the camarilla was one
of the red-flamed horrors.

These external events served to push the ter-
roristic movements and the machinations of
the czarina-mother into the background. The
Russo-Japanese War broke out. The camarilla
sought another hunting-field. Much depended
on the outcome of this war, which could bring in
its failure the abdication of the czar if a fanatic
could not find the right moment to assassinate
him. Maria Feodorovna sent all her creatures to
the front, forgetting that the Russian always
prefers the sparrow in his hand to the dove on the
roof. Port Arthur's famous highwaymen lived
in opulence, and let the soldiers bleed to death in
the traps of the Japanese.

Before the Baltic fleet was sent out, the czar
arrived in Reval to give it his imperial blessing.
He stood embarrassed and too shy to make a
gesture, glancing only at the proud fleet which



was to win the victory that the armies could not
achieve. The mechanical words prepared by the
minister of the court came hesitatingly and stam-
meringly from his lips. The people were remote
from him, from his soul, and they looked apathe-
tically at him. Then the czarina, who accom-
panied him and who was never separated from
her little son, had the spontaneous inspiration to
lift the czarevitch in her arms, and, holding the
child, just one year old, high above the czar's
head in radiant maternal pride, showed the
smiling boy to the people. For the first time
they saw the czarina in flesh and blood, noble and
beautiful, not the former czarina, the cursed, pale,
curbed woman avoiding all contact, who, they had
been told, hated all Russians. And there she
stood the embodiment of the Madonna, with her
laughing boy in her arms. Cheers thundered
from men's lungs, echoing over the sea like a cry
of hope.

The czarina herself felt a new life running
through her veins, a new courage to take up the
struggle for her son's sake, for her own redemp-
tion from the dark powers that stretched out their

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Online LibraryLeonie Ida Philipovna Souiny-SeydlitzRussia of yesterday and to-morrow → online text (page 5 of 17)