"Exactly. And we must suppress Burtsef afterwards."
Paris, Lausanne, Geneva, Zurich and Nice swarmed with Russian secret agents, who, at orders from Azef and Rasputin, kept constant vigil upon the doings of everyone. The directors of the foreign service of our political police were Ratchkovsky in Paris, and Rataef in London. The latter posed as a Russian journalist, and usually spent his afternoons over cups of coffee in the cosmopolitan Cafe Royal in Regent Street.
All this I knew, and much more. I knew that Ivan Manuiloff, who was now secretary to Stuermer, had begun his lucrative career as the agent and catspaw of Ratchkovsky in Paris. But he intrigued against his chief, and was then transferred to Rome. Of that man and his dastardly doings I will tell more later. Suffice it to say that the Emperor so deeply believed in him that one day he gave him a gold cigarette-case with his initials in diamonds "as a mark of his esteem"!
Having listened attentively to the conversation between the two scoundrels, I at last came to the conclusion that they were conspiring against some mysterious person named Krivochein.
After the pair had consumed a bottle of champagne, Azef rose and, shaking his friend's dirty paw, said:
"I hope to have everything arranged when we meet. I would not yet mention the matter to the Empress."
"Of course I shall not," remarked Rasputin, with that crafty grin of his. "She would only worry over it—and just now she is greatly troubled over the Tsarevitch. He has had another attack."
The monk did not mention the fact that the cause of the attack was one of Badmayev's secret drugs which Anna Vyrubova had dissolved in his milk!
After Azef had left, Rasputin flung himself into his easy chair, and as he lit a cigarette remarked to me:
"Ah, Feodor! What a man! There is nothing he is unable to accomplish."
"He is very daring," I remarked.
"No, it is not daring—it is deep cunning. He has the police at his back; I have Alexandra Feodorovna—so we win always. But," he added, with a snarl, "we have enemies, and those must be dealt with—dealt with drastically. I hear they are setting about more scandals in Petrograd concerning me. Have you heard them?" he asked.
"Gossip is rife on every hand, and all sorts of wild stories are being circulated," I said.
"Bah! Let the fools say what they will of Gregory Rasputin," he laughed. "It only makes him the more popular. It is time, however, that I performed some more miracles among the poor," he added reflectively. "Let us arrange some, Feodor. Do not forget it."
The miracles were arranged a fortnight later. With the assistance of a clever German conjurer named Brockhaus, from Riga, who with others helped the mock saint on the occasions when he imposed upon the credulity of the mujiks, he pretended to "heal" a child of lameness, while a female assistant of Brockhaus, having posed as a blind peasant, was restored to sight.
The miracles took place out at Ligovo, a village outside Petrograd, and like wildfire the news was spread that the Holy Father had again taken compassion upon the people. Hundreds of men and women now flocked round him to kiss the edge of his ragged robe, and as he passed in the streets everyone crossed themselves. By such means did Rasputin retain the favour of the people and of the Empress herself.
One night he received a telegram in cipher, which he gave me to decode. It had been despatched from Paris and read:
"The appointment is at Savignyplatz, 17, Charlottenburg. Do not fail. Please inform A. [Alexandra Feodorovna] and obtain instructions.—EVNO."
At once Rasputin became active. He went to Peterhof, where the Court was at that moment, and carried out Azef's desire. He was with the Empress and Madame Vyrubova for a couple of hours ere he rejoined me, and we took the evening train back to the capital.
That night he called upon Stuermer, who had with him his sycophant and ex-policeman Manuiloff, and they held counsel together. Then, next afternoon, we both left Petrograd for Berlin.
We had no difficulty in discovering the house in the Savignyplatz. It was a good-sized one on the corner of the Kantstrasse, and the old woman who opened the door at once ushered us into a pretty drawing-room, where we were greeted by a rather tall, dark-haired and refined young lady, who welcomed us in Russian, and whose name Rasputin had told me was Mademoiselle Paula Kereicha.
"You must be very tired after your long journey, Father," she said, bowing her head and crossing herself as the monk mumbled a blessing upon her.
"No; travelling is very easy between Petrograd and Berlin," he replied affably; and then he introduced me.
I could see that somehow she resented my intrusion there. She glanced at Rasputin inquiringly.
"Oh, no," laughed the monk. "I quite understand, mademoiselle; you need have no fear." Then lowering his voice to a whisper, he said: "I know full well that living here as secret agent of the Okhrana you have to exercise every caution."
Paula Kereicha—who I afterwards found was a second-rate variety actress who sometimes took engagements in order to blind people to her own calling, that of police-spy—smiled and admitted that she had to be very careful.
"It is not the Germans that I fear," she said. "They know me well at the Wilhelmstrasse, and I am never interfered with. Indeed, they assist me when necessary. No. It is the Terrorists who would do me harm if they could. There is a dangerous group here—as you know."
"I know well," said the monk; "only last week Tchapline and Vilieff were given Stolypin's necktie owing to your denunciations. They came to Russia from Berlin, and were arrested immediately they set foot across the frontier."
"No," she protested. "Azef was here. It was he who put papers into their baggage, and then telegraphed to the police at Wirballen. Neither of the men was dangerous as far as I could see, but our friend Evno believed them to be; hence he deemed them better out of the way."
I could see that the young woman had some scruples regarding the dirty work for which she received money from the Ministry of the Interior in Petrograd. And surely hers was a highly dangerous profession.
Apparently it was not desired that Rasputin's arrival in Berlin should be known, for we were shown to our rooms by the stout old Russian woman, and I heard the handsome Paula speaking on the telephone in a guarded manner.
"And you will call at half-past nine to-night, eh?" I heard her ask, and presently she rang off.
We ate our dinner together, the monk being very gracious towards his mysterious hostess; and almost punctually at half-past nine the door of the drawing-room opened, and there entered a rather shabbily dressed man, whom I at once recognised as Count von Wedel, the inseparable companion of the Kaiser, and titular head of the German Secret Service. With him was no less a person than the German Foreign Minister, Kiderlen-Waechter. Our visitors were the two Men Behind the Throne of Imperial Germany. Standing with them was that man of kaleidoscopic make-up, the great Azef himself.
That meeting was indeed a dramatic one. Rasputin, taking bribes on every side from officials in Russia who desired advancement, and from the Germans to betray Russia into the hands of the Wilhelmstrasse, sat that evening in the elegant little room listening to the conversation, with all the craft and cunning of the Russian mujik. He made but few remarks, but sat with his hands upon his knees, his deep-set, fiery eyes glancing everywhere about him, his big bejewelled cross scintillating beneath the electric light of the pretty Paula's elegant, tastily furnished little room.
Von Wedel, though dressed so shabbily, was the chief spokesman. Kiderlen-Waechter, who had so cleverly pulled the strings of Germany's diplomacy in the Near East, and had now been recalled to Berlin and placed at the helm of the Fatherland's double-dealing with the Powers, spoke little. He seemed to be learning much of the Kaiser's duplicity.
"The Emperor William, I can tell you frankly, Father, is displeased," von Wedel said to Rasputin reprovingly. "Only by an ace has the whole of our arrangements with your Empress, and with yourself as our agent, been suppressed from Downing Street. And that by steps taken by our friend here, Monsieur Azef. But we are not yet safe. I tell you quite frankly that though you are a good servant of ours, yet your habit of taking intoxicants is dangerous. You boast too much! If you are to succeed you must assume an attitude of extreme humility combined with poverty. Be a second St. Francis of Assisi," added the Count, with humour. "You can act any part. Imitate a real saint."
"It surely is not through a fault of mine that any secret has leaked out," the monk protested.
"But it is," the Count declared severely. "I am here to-night at the Emperor's orders to tell you from him that, though he appreciates all your efforts on his behalf, he disapproves of your drunkenness and your boastful tongue."
"I am not boastful!" the monk declared. "Have you brought me here to Berlin to reprimand me? If so, I will return at once."
And he rose arrogantly from his chair, and crossed his hands over his breast piously in that attitude he assumed when unusually angry.
Von Wedel saw that he was going too far.
"It is not a matter of reproof, but of precaution," he said quickly. "Happily the truth has been suppressed, though a certain agent of Downing Street—a man known by the nickname of 'Mac'—very nearly ascertained the whole facts. Fortunately for us all he did not. But his suspicions are aroused, together with those of Krivochein."
"Cannot this man Mac—an Englishman, I suppose—be suppressed?" asked Rasputin. "If he is in Russia I can crush him as a fly upon the window-pane."
"Ah! but he is not in Russia," replied the Count. "He is a very elusive person, and one who tricks us every time. 'Mac the Spy,' as they call him at Whitehall, is the first secret agent in Europe—next, of course, to our dear Steinhauer."
"I disagree," interrupted the Foreign Secretary. "The man Mac is marvellous. He was in Constantinople and in Bucharest recently, and he learned secrets of our Embassy and Legation which I believed to be sacred. He even got hold of our diplomatic telegraph code a week after it had been changed. No, the English Mac is the most astute secret agent in Europe, depend upon it!"
Paula Kereicha sat listening to the conversation, but without making any remark. I noticed that Azef seemed very uneasy at her presence, and presently sent her from the room to ask for a telephone call. The instant she had gone he exclaimed in a low voice:
"It is a pity to have spoken before Paula! She knows too much. One day, when it suits her, she may reveal something unpleasant concerning us."
"But you made the appointment here, at her house!" Kiderlen-Waechter protested.
"Of course, because it is the safest meeting-place, but I did not know that matters were to be freely discussed before her."
"Then you do not trust the woman?" remarked Rasputin. "You are like myself, I never trust women," and he grinned. "Shall we drop our conversation when she returns?"
Azef reflected for a few moments.
"No," he said. "She knows most of the details of the affair. There is no reason why she should not know the rest. Besides, I may require her to assist me."
In the discussion which ensued I gathered that Rasputin and Azef had resolved, with the connivance and at the instigation of the German Foreign Office, to assassinate a certain well-known British member of Parliament who had been in Russia and had learned, through the British secret agent Mac, the betrayal of Russia into the hands of the Wilhelmstrasse. It was believed that this Englishman—whom Rasputin had nicknamed "Krivochein," so that in correspondence his identity should not be revealed—would place certain facts before the British Government to the detriment of the plans of the pro-German party in Russia.
Of the actual identity of the unfortunate member of Parliament whom Azef and Rasputin had marked down as their victim I could not learn. No doubt Paula knew who "Krivochein" was. And it was certain also that both von Wedel and the German Foreign Secretary were privy to the plot.
Apparently the Empress had been informed of the danger, and knew of the steps the conspirators were taking. Indeed, Rasputin declared:
"Alexandra Feodorovna is very anxious as to the future. She has had a violent quarrel with Nicholas regarding his refusal to dismiss Sheglovitof."
"He must be dismissed," declared von Wedel. "The Emperor William insists upon it. Each hour he remains in office he becomes more dangerous."
"I am already engineering disagreements in the Duma," the monk replied. "If he does not fall by them, then he will go naturally, for he is not a puppet hypnotised by the wishes of Tsarskoe-Selo, as are so many of our Ministers. The Tsar, who so quickly takes offence nowadays, prefers flunkeys to Ministers whose personality is too marked. Besides, we have the Woman [the Empress] ever on our side. No, Sheglovitof's hour has come."
The meeting lasted nearly three hours, until at last Azef and the two German officials left, and Rasputin went to his room, where he consumed half a bottle of brandy. Meanwhile I sat chatting with Mademoiselle Paula until it was time to retire.
Next day, in consequence of a telephone message, I left with Rasputin for Paris, where we put up at the Grand Hotel, being visited on the day following our arrival by Azef, who, dressed differently, I would certainly have passed in the street unrecognised. The two scoundrels retired to Rasputin's room, where they remained for half an hour, and then we all three went forth into the sunshine of the boulevard.
"It is about his time to pass," the notorious spy remarked to the monk, who, by the way, wore an ordinary suit of tweeds and a soft felt hat. "Let us sit here—at the Grand Cafe."
In consequence we took seats at one of the little tables on the terrasse and ordered "bocks."
Presently, as we watched the stream of passers-by, Azef raised the newspaper he had been pretending to read, so concealing his face, and whispered:
"Here he is! That is our friend Krivochein!"
I looked and saw a well-dressed, quiet-looking English gentleman passing along with his wife, who had apparently been shopping. Little did he dream that the eyes of the two most evil men in Europe were upon him.
"He leaves to-night on his return to London," remarked Azef, when five minutes later we rose and returned to the hotel.
That same afternoon Rasputin, who declared that he had a bad headache, sent me to an English chemist's in the Avenue de l'Opera for a bottle of tabloids of aspirin. I was rather surprised, for he never took drugs. When I gave him the little bottle he drew out the plug of cotton-wool and extracted a tabloid, which he put upon his dressing-table, afterwards replacing the wool.
About six o'clock a lady was announced, and when she was shown up to our sitting-room I found to my surprise that it was Paula Kereicha.
Rasputin was out with Azef, so Paula declared that she would wait till their return.
"I am staying at the Hotel Chatham, and have to go to London to-morrow," she told me. "Krivochein has left the Chatham with his wife, and I am to follow."
"The Father and Azef have gone round to the Chatham," I said. "They are evidently hoping to find you there."
"Ah! Then I will return and see if they are there," she said, and, rising, she left.
I did not see her again. She went to London next day, according to Azef's instructions, and as a French governess took a room in that quiet hotel near Victoria Station—the room wherein she was afterwards found dead.
At the time I had no knowledge of the tragedy, but later on I learned from Rasputin's own lips, while in one of his drunken, boastful moods, how he had introduced into the bottle of aspirin a single tabloid of one of Badmayev's secret poisons, made up to resemble exactly the other tabloids. With Azef he had gone to the Hotel Chatham on purpose to extract from her dressing-case her own bottle of aspirin—which she had purchased on the previous day from the same chemist in the Avenue de l'Opera—and replace it by the one containing the fatal dose.
The latter she had swallowed in ignorance because of a headache, death ensuing in a few seconds, and the post-mortem revealed nothing.
"Ah! my dear Feodor, that girl knew far too much! Besides, we discovered that, though she had been sent by our friend Azef to assist two of our friends to bring 'Krivochein's' career to a sudden end, she had actually warned him, so that he has succeeded in escaping to America to avoid us!"
SCANDAL AND BLACKMAIL
AS the power of the monk Rasputin increased, so also my own social position became advanced, until as the "saint's" confidential secretary, and therefore as one who had his ear, I became on friendly terms with half the nobility of Petrograd.
The pious fraud declared to true believers, "If you do not heed me, then God will abandon you."
Leading as he was, freely and openly, a life of shameless debauchery, wholesale blackmail and political intrigue, it is marvellous how his power became so unlimited. To those who disbelieved in his doctrine or in his divinity, he simply smiled evilly, and said: "If you fail to do my bidding you will be punished by my friends."
Such warning was sufficient. Everyone knew that Rasputin's power was already, in 1912, greater than that of the Tsar Nicholas himself. Day after day ambitious men called at the house in the Gorokhovaya, to which we had now moved, all of them anxious for ministerial and clerical appointments, which he obtained for them at prices fixed by himself. The highest in the land bowed before the rascal, while any man who dared to belittle him, or attempt to thwart his evil designs, was at once removed from office. Through Madame Vyrubova, who received her share of the spoils and acted upon the Empress, Rasputin reigned as Tsar, the Emperor doing little but sign his name to documents placed before him.
Thus Russia was compelled to witness a regular procession of officials whom the "man of God" appointed, in accordance with value received. Even Goremykin was compelled to bow before the mystic humbug. Rasputin for five years caused to be appointed or dismissed all the bishops, and woe betide any person who attempted to interfere with his power.
The Archbishop Theophanus, full of remorse at having lent a helping hand to the scoundrel, tried to overthrow him by publicly denouncing his evil practices, while the Bishop Hermogenes, who knew of the monk's past, attempted to reveal it. In an instant the vengeance of Rasputin fell upon them, Theophanus being sent to Tadriz, and Hermogenes confined to a monastery. Helidor was hunted by the police and sought asylum abroad; while a man named Grinevitch, who had also known Rasputin long ago at Pokrovsky, was invited to dinner by the monk one night, and next morning was found dead in his bed; while another was arrested by the police on a false charge of conspiracy, and sent to prison for ten years, though perfectly innocent.
Rasputin's overbearing insolence knew no bounds. Now that he was the power behind the Throne, he compelled all to bow to him, the educated as well as the peasantry. On entering a house, whether that of prince or peasant, he would invariably kiss the young and pretty women, while he would turn his back upon and refuse even to speak with those who were older.
Our new house was larger and more luxurious than the old one. But it also had the false telephone in the study, which was supposed by the "saint's" dupes to be a private wire to the palace of Tsarskoe-Selo! The house had been furnished entirely at the expense of the Empress, with valuable Eastern carpets, fine furniture, tasteful hangings of silk, beautiful pictures, autographed portraits of their Majesties, and, of course, ikons of all sorts and sizes to impress the pious.
An example of the rogue's impudence occurred on Easter Day in 1912. We were breakfasting with Madame Vyrubova's sister at her house just off the Nevski. With us was Boris Stuermer and two minor officials of the Court, and we were awaiting the coming of the Tsaritza's favourite lady in waiting.
At last she arrived from Tsarskoe-Selo bearing a parcel for Grichka, which she gave him merrily, saying:
"The Empress has made this for you with her own hands. She spent part of last night in finishing it for you, so that you should have it as an Easter present."
The "saint" cut the string and withdrew a blue silk coat of the kind he was in the habit of wearing, in the Russian style, over loose trousers and high boots of patent leather.
"Alix wishes you to wear it to-day," Madame Vyrubova went on, "after you have taken Holy Communion."
Rasputin, with a disappointed look, cast it and its paper upon the floor, and said:
"Now let us have breakfast," and promptly began to eat with his fingers, as he always did, in order to show his contempt for the more refined manners of those about him.
A few weeks after this incident there occurred the Ganskau affair, which was a most disgraceful transaction, and which was very carefully hushed up. Though there were many rumours in Petrograd concerning it, I am able to place the whole of the astounding facts on record here for the first time.
Rasputin, tiring of his lascivious pleasures, also became bored by those who called in order to enlist his influence in their cause for monetary consideration. Hence he surrounded himself with a trio of expert swindlers. They consisted of a certain adventurous prince named Gorianoff, a man named Striaptchef—who had been his companion in his early horse-stealing days in his native Pokrovsky—and a notorious woman named Sabler. These precious persons constituted a sort of bodyguard, and they first interviewed any petitioner, fixed the amount of the gift proposed to the "holy man" for the exercise of his influence, and carried out the "deal."
If a wealthy man desired a Government appointment; if an under-secretary desired a portfolio; if a wife desired her husband's advancement or his appointment to an office at Court; if a father desired a lucrative job for his profligate son; or if a rich man, who was being watched by the police because of some crime he had committed, wished to escape scot-free, then they interviewed the elegant Prince Gorianoff at his house in the Zacharievskaya. This individual, whom the police of Europe know as a Continental swindler, would quickly gauge the petitioner's means, and screw from him every rouble possible before putting the matter before the caster out of devils.
One day, as I sat alone at lunch with Rasputin, the prince called, and sitting down at the table unceremoniously declared:
"I have done a very good stroke of business this morning, my dear Gregory. You have probably heard of Ganskau of Tver."
"The great banker, eh?"
"The same. He is one of the wealthiest men in Russia. He wants something, and he can afford to pay, though he seems very close-fisted at present."
"What does he want?" growled the monk.
The scoundrel who bore the title of prince made a grimace, and said:
"He wants to put a suggestion before you. He refuses to tell me what it is—except that it is very urgent and brooks no delay. I told him that he would have to pay five thousand roubles if he desired to have an interview—and he has paid it. Here is the money!" And he drew from his pocket a bundle of banknotes.
"But, my dear Peter," exclaimed the pious fraud, "I have no time to barter with these people. I cannot see him."
"Take my advice, Gregory, and listen to what he has to say," replied the adventurer, who had lived all his life on his wits in London, Paris and Rome—and had lived well too. "If I am not mistaken he will tell you a strange thing, and if you get it down in writing—in writing, remember—that letter will be worth a very large sum of money in the near future. As I have said—he wants something urgently—and he must be made to pay."
"Very well," Rasputin replied grudgingly. "I will see him—at four o'clock this afternoon. Feodor," he added, turning to me, "make a note that I see this banker man."
At four o'clock punctually a fine car drew up, and a stout, overdressed, full-bearded man alighted and was shown into the room where I awaited him with the prince.
"Ah!" cried the latter, welcoming him warmly. "You had my message over the telephone. I have, after great difficulty, induced the holy Father to consent to see you. He is due at Tsarskoe-Selo, but he has just telephoned to the Empress that he is delayed. And the delay is in order to hear you."
"I am sure I am most grateful, Prince," declared the banker, who seemed very pale and much agitated. His wealth was proverbial in Russia, and even in banking circles in Paris and London. His brother was one of the secretaries of the Russian Embassy in Paris.
With due ceremony, after the banker had removed his light overcoat, I conducted him into the monk's presence.
As Ganskau bowed towards the mysterious influence behind the Imperial Throne, I saw the quick, inquisitive hawk's glance which Rasputin gave him. Then I turned and, closing the door, left the pair together, and returned to where the prince was waiting. Gorianoff was a clever and unscrupulous scoundrel of exquisite manners and most plausible tongue. It was for that reason that the holy Father employed him.
As he leaned back in a padded arm-chair, smoking lazily while he awaited his victim's reappearance, he laughed merrily and whispered to me that the rich man from Tver would, "if properly handled," prove a gold mine.
"Mind, Feodor—be careful to impress upon the Father to obtain something incriminating from the banker in writing. He is hard pressed, I know, and in order to save himself he will commit any folly."
"Men who are pushed into a corner seldom pause to think," I remarked.
"If the police are upon them, as I know they are in this case, then no time is afforded for reflection."
By the prince's manner I knew that he felt confident of making big profits. The great Ganskau, the Rothschild of Russia, desired Gregory's aid, and Gregory would assist him—at a price. While we were talking Madame Vyrubova rang on the telephone to inquire if Rasputin had left for Tsarskoe-Selo.
I replied in the negative, whereupon she said: "Tell him not to come to-night. The Emperor has quarrelled with Alix, and it will be best for him to be absent. The boy [meaning the little Tsarevitch] will be taken ill in the night, and then he can come to-morrow and heal him."
I understood. The woman Vyrubova, so trusted by the Tsaritza, was about to administer another dose of that baneful drug to the poor invalid boy—a drug which would produce partial paralysis, combined with symptoms which puzzled every physician called to see him.
It was not until nearly half an hour later that Rasputin opened the door of his room, and, crossing himself piously, laid his hands upon his breast and dismissed his petitioner.
"Your desire shall be granted," he said in final farewell. "But you must write me the reason you desire my assistance. I always insist upon that in every case."
"But—well, it is not nice to confess," declared the desperate man, pausing on the threshold of the room.
"Probably not. But you do confess to me, and surely you can trust me, a servant of Heaven, with your secret? If not, please do not rely upon Gregory Rasputin," he added proudly.
For a second the victim hesitated. Then he said in a low, hard voice: "I will do as you wish—well knowing that you will keep the truth a secret."
Rasputin, his hands still crossed upon his breast, bowed stiffly, and the banker, recognising us standing at the end of the passage, walked towards us.
As soon as he had left the house, Rasputin called us, and throwing himself into a chair became unduly hilarious.
"Really, Peter, you are extremely clever!" he declared. "Where you find these people I do not know. You said you had done a good stroke of business, but I did not believe you. Yet now I see that the banker's millions of roubles are entirely at our disposal. We must be diplomatic—that is all!"
"Why does he require your influence?" inquired the prince.
"In order to extricate himself from a very dangerous position. At any moment he may be arrested for murder!"
"For murder!" Gorianoff echoed. "Is he guilty of murder?"
"Yes. He has confessed the truth to me as a father confessor. Now he has promised to put his confession down in black and white."
In an instant I saw the trend of Rasputin's evil thoughts. By the written confession he would, through his princely friend, be able to extort money without limit.
"Of what is he in fear?" asked the prince eagerly.
"Of arrest for the murder of a young French girl, Elise Allain, who had been singing at the Bouffes in Moscow," Rasputin replied. "He has just told me how he committed the crime three months ago, in order to rid himself of her, and escaped to Brussels believing that the police would never be able to establish his guilt. On his return to Tver three days ago, however, he found that the police had been making active inquiries, having discovered in one of the dead girl's trunks that had been left at the station cloak-room in Warsaw, certain letters from him. Indeed, he has received a visit from the Chief of Police at Tver, who closely questioned him."
"Ah! Then he may be arrested at any moment—eh?"
"That is what he anticipates," said the monk. "He has gone to his hotel to write his confession, and will return here in an hour with a banker's draft for one hundred thousand roubles."
"Did I not say that I had been doing some good business, Gregory?" asked his friend.
"Yes—and it will prove better business later—you will see."
At Rasputin's orders I went round to Malinovsky, Assistant Director of Police, who at the monk's request telephoned to Tver to inquire what suspicions there were against the banker Ganskau. When Malinovsky returned to where I was sitting, he told me that the reply of the Chief of Police of Tver was to the effect that there was no doubt that Ganskau was guilty of a very brutal murder, committed in most mysterious circumstances. The banker's wife, with whom he lived on very disagreeable terms, had discovered a letter from the girl Elise, and duly handed it to the police out of revenge. This led them to find the box at Warsaw wherein were other letters, one of which forbade her to come to Russia, and threatening her with violence if she disobeyed.
I returned at once to the Gorokhovaya, where the monk and the prince sat with a bottle of champagne between them, and gave them the message.
A quarter of an hour later the banker returned excitedly, and was ushered in to Rasputin, who saw him alone. They remained together for about ten minutes, and then the victim departed.
At once the monk came to us, waving in one hand Ganskau's confession of guilt, and in the other a draft on the Azov Bank for one hundred thousand roubles.
"I suppose we had better pretend to do something—eh, Peter?" asked the monk, with an evil grin.
"Of course," was the reply.
Then I sat down, and at the "holy man's" dictation wrote to the Minister of the Interior as follows:
"There is a charge of murder against Nicholas Ganskau, banker, of Tver. I wish to see all documents concerning the crime. Orders must be given not to arrest the assassin for one month, and that due notice be given me before any action is taken."
To this the monk scrawled his illiterate signature.
From that moment the unfortunate banker was irretrievably in Rasputin's hands, and I saw much of his dealings with him. Pretending to leave everything with his friend Prince Gorianoff, he refused to see the guilty man again. In the meantime the prince, whom I accompanied as the monk's secretary, went to Tver three weeks after the first transaction, and we saw the victim in secret. Gorianoff told him that, although the monk had been able to prevent his arrest, the police were not satisfied, and pressure was being placed upon them by one of his enemies in high places.
This, of course, greatly alarmed him.
"All is unfortunately due to your wife!" the prince remarked. "It is a pity you have not made peace with her. It was she who took one of the girl's letters to the police."
The banker started up as though electrified.
"My wife!" he gasped. "Is it her doing?"
"Most certainly," was the prince's cool reply. "Feodor knows it. He had it from the Chief of Police of this city himself."
I confirmed my companion's statement, while the banker, terror and despair written upon his pale features, stood staring like one who saw death before him.
"My wife left me a fortnight ago!" he stammered. "That is why. She expected me to be arrested. What can I do? How can you help me? Who is this enemy in a high position who is determined upon my arrest?"
"The holy Father alone knows; I do not," declared the prince very seriously. "It is somebody at Court—somebody who is a friend of his and who let the fact drop in the course of conversation. I regret it, but I may as well tell you that your arrest is imminent."
"But what can I do to avoid the scandal?" cried the murderer in despair.
"Well—the only way is to propitiate your unknown enemy," replied the prince insinuatingly.
"I gave the Father a hundred thousand roubles," he remarked.
"True; and the Father used his influence so that the inquiries were dropped. He had no knowledge of the fact that you had such a bitter and relentless enemy in the higher Court circle."
"Nor had I. I wonder who it can be—except, perhaps, Boyadko, with whom I once had some financial dealings over which we quarrelled."
As a matter of fact, the unknown enemy only existed in Rasputin's fertile imagination.
"Well, as I have said, the Father may find means of propitiating him—if the payment is a liberal one," said Gorianoff. "I suggest that you return with us to Petrograd at once, and I will endeavour to accomplish something."
Eagerly he acted upon the adventurer's advice. During the journey the banker was nervous lest at any moment the police might lay hands upon him. At each station the sight of a grey uniform caused him to hold his breath. Thus to work upon his nerves was part of the prince's game, for he well knew that the more terrified Ganskau became, the greater amount of money he would be prepared to pay.
Back in Petrograd he begged of Rasputin to receive him, and the monk, after two refusals on the plea that he was too busy, at last consented ungraciously.
The result of that interview was that Nicholas Ganskau disgorged a further hundred thousand roubles for the bribing of an enemy who did not exist!
After the banker had left, Rasputin, full of satisfaction as he held the draft for the amount in his dirty paw, dictated to me another letter addressed to the Minister of the Interior, which read:
"His Majesty the Emperor, having full knowledge of the charge of murder made against Nicholas Ganskau of Tver, orders that the inquiries concerning the case be abandoned and that the person suspected be not further molested."
This was duly signed by the monk and delivered by me at the Ministry an hour later.
Such orders Rasputin frequently gave in the name of His Majesty, who, even if he knew of them, never questioned them.
This, however, did not end the affair, for twelve months afterwards Ganskau, who, scot-free, had taken up his residence in the Avenue Villiers, in Paris, where he was leading a very gay life, received an unexpected visit from Prince Gorianoff, who, making pretence that he had severed his friendship with Rasputin, hinted that as the monk held in his possession the written confession of his crime, it might be worth while to obtain and destroy it.
This suggestion Ganskau at once welcomed, thanking the prince for his kindly intervention.
Then the latter made a remark which in itself showed how expert a blackmailer he was.
"You see, as the girl Elise was a French subject, if the French police ever get hold of the truth it would go very badly with you," he declared.
The banker's face went pale as death.
"I never thought of that!" he gasped. "Yes, I must get that confession at all hazards," he cried.
"I am prepared to assist you," said the scoundrel coolly. "Of course to obtain it from such a man as Rasputin presents many difficulties. He will never part with it willingly."
"Then how shall we get it?"
"It must be stolen."
The banker remained silent for a few moments.
"You see," went on the prince, "one can never tell into whose hands may fall that collection of confessions which the Father has extracted from those who are guilty."
"And you think you can obtain it for me?" asked the banker.
"I am still friendly with many of Rasputin's friends. It is merely a matter of payment—another hundred thousand roubles, and surely it is worth it."
The banker, seeing himself in great danger should either Rasputin or his visitor turn against him, at length consented, and before Gorianoff left he had in his pocket a draft upon the Credit Lyonnais for the sum mentioned. The assassin had at first made it a condition that the confession should be handed to him before he paid, but the prince pointed out that the money was required for bribery, and would have to be paid before the confession could be extracted from Rasputin's safe.
Needless to say, the banker never received back his written confession of his crime, and so constant was the strain of his guilty conscience and his hourly dread of arrest and capital punishment, that a year later he shot himself at an hotel in Plymouth.
Another illustration of the monk's greed and unscrupulousness was the Violle affair.
Monsieur Felix Violle, a Frenchman who had become a naturalised Russian, and who carried on business as a wholesale furrier in the Nevski in Petrograd, had a very pretty young wife. One day, at one of the weekly reunions of the sister-disciples, this young woman was brought by Madame Vyrubova's sister, she having expressed her desire to enter Rasputin's cult. There were present on that occasion about thirty other women, mostly young and good-looking, and nearly all of the highest society in Petrograd. The youngest present was about seventeen, the daughter of a certain countess who was one of Rasputin's most attached devotees.
After Madame Violle had been initiated into the secrets of the erotic sect, the whole party sat down to tea, when a photograph was taken by one of the ladies, which showed Madame Violle seated by the "holy Father."
Rasputin, from that day, took a great deal of interest in the furrier's wife. He introduced her to Anna Vyrubova, who presented her to the Empress. Hence, from being a tradesman's wife, Olga Violle, within a fortnight, had entered the vicious Court circle which revolved around Alexandra Feodorovna, and which was rapidly conspiring to betray Russia into the hands of the Germans.
Madame Violle told her husband nothing of her social advancement. The furrier was in a large way of business, a man of means who liked to see his wife well dressed; therefore she was able to cut an elegant figure at Court. She accounted for her absences from home by the fact that she frequently visited a married sister living about twenty miles outside Petrograd.
Under the evil hypnotic influence of Rasputin, the smart little woman, who often called at the house and whom I sometimes met at the palace, was quickly transformed from a steady tradesman's wife into a giddy, pleasure-loving and intriguing degenerate, perhaps even more vicious than the rest. Indeed, it was this very fact which caused the Empress to look upon her with favour. Thus she soon had the run of the private apartments, and became upon friendly terms with both Stuermer and Fredericks.
This went on for some months, and even at the Imperial Court, where nobody was over-squeamish, the conduct of little Madame Violle—who came from nowhere and whose past was quite obscure except to Rasputin, Madame Vyrubova, her sister and myself—was looked upon somewhat askance.
Violle, who was most devoted to his extremely pretty wife, one day had a sudden shock. By some means a copy of the photograph of the sister-disciples went astray in the post. A photographer obtained possession of it and promptly made some picture post-cards, which were quickly upon the market, much to Rasputin's chagrin. Somebody, recognising Madame Violle in the picture, sent one anonymously to her husband. The result was a terrible domestic scene.
Madame Olga came to Rasputin in great distress, and in my presence, falling upon her knees before him, in tears, kissed his unwashed hands and begged him to advise her.
"Your precious husband has made a fool of himself," the monk remarked grimly. "Let him take warning lest Gregory Rasputin lift his hand against him. Return home, and tell him that from me."
That was all the advice he would give her. He was full of anger that the woman who had taken the picture should have been so negligent as to allow a copy to fall into the hands of others. Always elusive, he hated to be photographed, as he feared that it might constitute evidence against him.
The pretty woman, still much agitated, went out, and took train to Tsarskoe-Selo, where she had audience of Her Majesty, who, in turn, urged her to defy her husband.
Meanwhile the latter was going about Petrograd in a state of fury at discovering that his wife was one of the monk's followers. But he was not the first furious husband who had had cause to hate the hypnotic peasant. The man Striaptchef and the woman Sabler, who constituted Rasputin's bodyguard, assisted by Prince Gorianoff, quickly heard of the furrier's anger and told the monk. Therefore it was not with any degree of surprise that, when a ring came at the door late that same night, I found myself face to face with the wronged husband.
"I wish to see the Father," he said quite coolly.
"I regret that he is out," was my prompt reply.
"You lie!" he shouted. "He is at home. This house has been watched ever since six o'clock, when he returned. I will see him, and you dare not stop me."
Then, ere I was aware of it, he seized me by the throat, hurled me back into the entrance-hall, and before I could prevent him marched straight to Rasputin's room.
I dashed after him, hearing the monk's shouts for assistance, and on entering found the "holy man" lying on the floor and the infuriated Violle lashing him with a short whip he carried. The scene was a dramatic one. The scoundrel was shrieking with pain, and in endeavouring to avoid the blows succeeded in rising, but as he did so the furrier administered another sound whack, which sent the Empress's pet "saint" skipping across the room howling.
"You dog of a mock monk!" cried the furrier. "Take that!—and that!—and that!"
So beside himself with anger was he that I believe he would have beaten Rasputin to death had not Striaptchef dashed in, and together we succeeded in dragging the angry man off and turning him out of the house.
As soon as the "saint" had recovered from the fracas, he gave vent to a volley of fearful oaths, cursing the pretty woman who had been the cause of the assault.
"She shall be kicked out. I will see that she goes to the palace no more," he declared. "If a woman cannot manage her husband then she is dangerous. And Olga Violle has proved herself to be dangerous. I will see that Alix dismisses her to-morrow. And all on account of that thrice-accursed picture-making. To think that I—the Saviour of Russia, sent to these people by the Almighty—should be whipped like a dog!"
He strode up and down foaming with fury.
"The skin-dealer shall suffer!" he cried. "I'll make him pay dearly for this!"
Then, turning to me, he ordered me to go at once to Manuiloff, Stuermer's secretary, adding: "Bring him to me. Tell him that it is a matter of greatest urgency."
I had great difficulty in finding the man he had indicated, and who was one of Russia's "dark forces." He was not at his house, but by bribing the doorkeeper I learned that he would be found in a very questionable gambling-house in the vicinity. There I discovered him and drove him to the Gorokhovaya.
"Listen," the monk said as I ushered him in. "There is a furrier in the Nevski named Violle. Both he and his wife are dangerous revolutionists and must be arrested at once. You understand—eh?"
Manuiloff, the catspaw of both Stuermer and Rasputin, and who was well paid to do any dirty work allotted to him, did not quite understand.
"You denounce him—eh?" he asked. "There are reasons, of course."
"Of course there are reasons, you fool, or I should not bring you here at this hour to tell you of the conspiracy against the Throne. I make the allegation; you must furnish the proofs. Do you now understand?" asked the "saint."
"Ah, I see! You want some documents introduced into the furrier's house incriminating both him and his wife?"
"Exactly. And at once. They must both be arrested before noon to-morrow," Rasputin said. "I shall leave all the details to you, well knowing that they will be in good hands, my dear Manuiloff," laughed Rasputin grimly. "One thing is important. There must be no loophole for either of them to escape. The Empress wills it so. Both must be sent to Schluesselburg. Tell His Excellency so from me. We want no trial or attempt at scandal. The pair are dangerous—dangerous to us. Now do you understand?"
Manuiloff, who had forged incriminating documents many times, and who had a dozen underlings who assisted him in these nefarious deeds, understood perfectly. He was paid to act as his two chiefs directed, and dozens of innocent persons were rotting in prison at that moment because they had fallen beneath Rasputin's displeasure.
So it was that by noon next day both Violle and his pretty wife—who had only the day before been a close friend of the Tsaritza—were on their way to Schluesselburg as dangerous to the State.
Truly, the monk had neither scruples nor honesty, neither compunction nor pity; for the woman who was his favourite he had turned upon and sent to that grim island fortress, where in one of those terrible oubliettes below the level of the lake her death took place eight months later.
RASPUTIN THE ACTUAL TSAR
THE tragi-comedy of Tsarskoe-Selo was being played with increasing vigour just prior to the war. Berlin, through Rasputin, piped the tune to which the Imperial Court was dancing—the Dance of Death!
One night, after Rasputin had dined with Madame Vyrubova and myself, General Soukhomlinoff, Minister of War, entered, swaggering in the uniform of the Grodno Hussars.
This man, who, as I write, is in a convict prison as a traitor, had only a week before assured the Emperor that the army was ready "to the last button" for a possible war, and the troops devoted to him. I happen to know how many thousand roubles passed into his banking account from the Deutsche Bank in Berlin as price of that lie!
Poor weak Nicholas! On the day following, Protopopoff, the wily schemer and spy of Germany, who was admitted to all the secrets of the Allies, went to the Emperor and echoed what Rasputin had declared to His Majesty, namely, that God was with Russia and that the Holy Spirit approved of the righteous work accomplished under the guidance of Stuermer and Soukhomlinoff. Truly the camarilla were supporting each other, and I, an onlooker, stood amazed and astounded. All four were half-mad with wild dreams of the prosperity which war would bring to them, for the bribes promised by Berlin were heavy, and Hardt and other secret messengers were constantly passing between the two capitals bearing confidential orders from the Wilhelmstrasse, of which the War Minister's assurance to the Tsar had been one.
But Soukhomlinoff, whose wife was declared to be the most chic and extravagant woman in all Petrograd, strode up and down the room that night in a fury of rage.
"Gregory!" he cried. "An untoward incident has happened. Your enemy Vorontsof Dachkof has been at work against you this afternoon."
"Curse him! How?" growled the monk, for the Lieutenant-General of the Caucasus had been a personal friend of Alexander III.
"I was at audience with Nicholas after luncheon, and the count was there. After he had presented his report he became familiar, and said: 'Now I must talk to thee. Dost thou know that, with thy Rasputin fellows, thou art going to thy doom, that thou art gambling away thy throne and the life of thy child?'"
"What?" gasped the monk, starting up. "Did he openly say that?"
"Then the count shall be disgraced!" declared Rasputin. "He has long been my enemy; but I will suffer this no longer."
"Well, when the count spoke, Nicholas huddled himself up on a settee and sobbed. 'Oh! why did God confide to me this heavy task!'"
"The fool!" laughed Rasputin. "To-morrow he shall see me playing with the Tsarevitch in the Park, and Nicholas shall be with us."
And indeed Rasputin carried out his plan, and the count saw them together.
The monk was not blind to the fact that he was surrounded by enemies, all of whom were jealous of his power and sought his downfall. By bribery, blackmail, and the unscrupulous use of the secret police, which was under Protopopoff as Minister of the Interior, the camarilla were waxing fat, and woe betide any who dared utter a warning to the Emperor.
Monsieur Gutchkoff had denounced, before the Duma, the scandal of the sexually-perverted peasant's presence at Court and prophesied the direct disaster. Kokovtsov had loyally warned his master of the effect upon the country which the low intrigues of his courtiers was producing. Then, when Goremykin urged the Tsar to prorogue the Duma, General Polivanof had the courage to sign an address to His Majesty urging him not to do so, as it would be a highly dangerous measure. Rodzianko, too, regardless of consequences, took to Tsarskoe-Selo a full report of the accusations made in the Duma, and urged His Majesty to put an end to the outrageous scandals.
The monk had noted all this, and had already marked down all his enemies for destruction. He well knew what aversion the Tsar had to anyone who spoke what was unwelcome. Weak and vacillating, His Majesty hated to be told the plain truth, and for that reason he was so constantly kept in the dark. Even his loyal Ministers knew that by being outspoken they would be seeking dismissal. Indeed, with Rasputin's clever intriguing, Kokovtsov, Sazonov, Krivochein and Polivanof all paid for their sincerity by the loss of their offices and the displeasure of their Imperial master. Again, it was the monk who had contrived to dismiss Monsieur Trepof, for I actually wrote out the order, which Nicholas signed, dismissing him! And, in addition, Rodzianko, whom the Emperor nicknamed "the Archdeacon" because of his deep, impressive voice, lost the sympathy of his sovereign because he had prophesied evil.
And now yet another enemy had arisen in the person of Count Vorontsof Dachkof.
"The count shall pay for this, and dearly!" repeated Rasputin, as he sat with his brows knit, stroking his unkempt beard.
"At least he can be dismissed, just as you sent into disgrace Prince Orlof, the fidus Achates of the Emperor," remarked Anna Vyrubova, who was handsomely dressed and wearing some fine diamonds.
Rasputin gave vent to an evil laugh.
"And Witte also," he said. Then, with his unbounded egotism he rose, and added: "Yes, Anna, I am Tsar, though Nicholas bears the title!"
Only on the previous night the Tsar, accompanied by Soukhomlinoff and Rasputin, had dined at the mess of the officers of the Guard, and all three, His Majesty included, had become highly hilarious, and later on hopelessly drunk.
"True!" exclaimed the Minister of War, who had so misled Russia and the Tsar into a belief that all was prepared for hostilities against Germany. "You are the most powerful person in the land to-day, Gregory. That is why you must not only suppress Vorontsof Dachkof, but also Yakowleff—who is his friend, remember."
"Ah, Yakowleff! I had quite forgotten, General! How foolish of me!" cried the monk. "The concession for the gambling casino at Otchakov has been granted to him, but we must have it. It will be a second Monte Carlo, and a mine of wealth for us."
"I quite agree, my dear Gregory. And it lies entirely with you whether we stand in Yakowleff's place or not," exclaimed the woman who was the evil genius of the Tsaritza.
The fact was that a rich financier, Ivan Yakowleff, who had offices in Petrograd and in London, for certain personal services rendered to the Tsar—the buying off of an unwelcome female entanglement, it is said—had been granted a concession to establish public gaming-rooms at Otchakov, on the Black Sea, not far from Odessa. The financier, who was elderly, had recently married a young and rather pretty wife, and being a friend of Count Vorontsof Dachkof, was in the happiest circumstances, well knowing that a huge fortune awaited him.
"At the moment Yakowleff is in London, I hear, forming a syndicate to take over the concession," the general remarked.
Rasputin smiled evilly, and after a pause said:
"Anybody who puts money into the venture will never see that money again. I will take care of that."
"Good!" laughed His Excellency the Minister, flicking some dust from the sleeve of his uniform. "We must have that concession for ourselves. But ought not we to know what is in progress in London—eh? Shall we get Protopopoff to send instructions to his agents in England?"
"No. Something might leak out. I do not trust the Okhrana in London," replied the wary woman, Vyrubova. "Have you forgotten the Meadows affair, and how they betrayed me and very nearly caused a scandal by their bungling? No, if we are to watch Yakowleff, let us do it ourselves. Why should you not go, Feodor?" she suggested, suddenly turning to me.
"I? To London!" I exclaimed, in no way averse to the journey, for I had been in England on three occasions previously.
"Yes," said Rasputin. "You shall go. Start to-morrow. Telegraph to Madame Huguet. She will help you, for she is not suspected, and all believe her to be French. Besides, she is pretty, and therefore useful."
"As a decoy, you mean?" I exclaimed.
"Of what other use is a woman?" laughed the scoundrel, whose unscrupulousness where the fair sex were concerned was notorious. He rose, and, unlocking a drawer, took out a book in which were registered many addresses of those who were in his pay, and hence under his thraldom.
I searched the pages eagerly and found the address, together with notes of certain payments. Madame, I saw, lived in a flat in Harrington Gardens, South Kensington.
There and then I received instructions to leave next day by the through express to Ostend, seek the lady, and then watch the movements of the Russian, who was busily forming the syndicate for the new Monte Carlo.
"If we are to strike against him we cannot know too much of his doings. Besides, when we do strike we must not blunder—eh, General?" laughed the monk, after which he opened a bottle of champagne, of which we all drank.
A week later I was in London, and one afternoon called upon Madame Huguet, who was expecting me. She was a vivacious, dark-haired young Frenchwoman, who had been one of the Father's sister-disciples in Petrograd, and whom he had sent to London upon some secret mission, the purpose of which was not quite clear to me. She had lived for some years in London before, and was well known in certain go-ahead circles of society. Seated in her cosy, well furnished drawing-room, with its silken curtains and bright chintzes in the English style, I told her exactly what Rasputin and Anna had instructed me to say.
"The Father wishes you to lose no time in becoming acquainted with the financier Yakowleff," I said. "He has offices in Old Broad Street, and he lives in Fitzjohn's Avenue, Hampstead, when in London."
"He is there now," she said. "I saw something about him in the papers three days ago—something concerning a concession for a gaming casino."
"Oh!" I cried. "Then it is in the papers—eh?"
She obtained the copy of the newspaper, and I saw it was announced that an "Establishment" was about to be constructed at Otchakov, which was to be a formidable rival to Monte Carlo, and that Monsieur Yakowleff, of Petrograd, was the originator of the scheme.
Fortunately Yakowleff did not know me by sight; therefore, while Madame Huguet set to work to scrape acquaintance with him, I spent my days watching his movements when he came to his City office, and noting his constant and busy peregrinations to and fro. Certainly his scheme was attracting around him many influential and wealthy men, to whom the prospect of huge profits proved alluring.
He was short, stout, rather Hebrew in appearance, unscrupulous no doubt, or he would not have stooped to do such dirty work as he did for Nicholas; nevertheless, he seemed highly popular in financial circles. He had left his wife in Petrograd; therefore the life he was leading was, I found, a pretty gay one. Each day he lunched at the best restaurants with his business friends, and discussed the great Otchakov scheme, and each night he took one of his lady friends out to dinner, the theatre, and the Savoy, Ritz or Carlton afterwards.
Within ten days of my arrival in London I found that his guest at dinner at the Ritz one night was the sprightly young Frenchwoman, Julie Huguet!
Next day she called me by telephone to Harrington Gardens, and said:
"I discovered a good deal last night. The syndicate is already formed. One hundred thousand pounds has been subscribed, and next week Yakowleff is leaving for Paris, and thence back to Petrograd."
Within half an hour I had telegraphed the news to Box 296, Poste Restante, Petrograd, which was the one used by Rasputin.
In reply I received from the monk a message which read:
"Obtain names of subscribers."
This I succeeded in doing after some considerable trouble, and they were the names of some of the shrewdest speculators in the City, none of them over-scrupulous, no doubt. To Rasputin I wired that I had the list, and asked for instructions, to which I received the reply:
"Excellent! Return without delay.—GREGORY."
On my way back, during those many hours in the Nord Express between Ostend and Petrograd, I reviewed the whole affair, and saw the sinister working of the monk's mind. That Count Vorontsof Dachkof was in danger I knew full well. The monk never allowed any person to express open enmity without retaliating quietly and patiently, but with a crushing blow.
I wondered what was being planned between the Ministers of War and Interior. No doubt the Empress had been informed of what the count had told the Emperor, and she would at once conspire with the holy Father to cast him into social oblivion—or worse!
That the cupidity of Rasputin knew no bounds I was well aware. He intended to obtain that most lucrative gambling concession for himself, for Russians are born gamblers, especially the better classes, and the establishment of a casino on the Black Sea, with French hotels and restaurants, pretty villas, and an opera house in imitation of Monte Carlo, would in summer attract those thousands of rich Russians who in winter went to the Riviera to gamble.
It was a chance which Rasputin would never allow to slip. Of that I was quite certain.
The evening I returned to Petrograd the monk had left me a message to go to Tsarskoe-Selo; therefore I took my green pass, which admitted me past the many guards of the innermost holy-of-holies, the Imperial apartments, where I knew I should find the real ruler of Russia.
He had been spending the evening with the Empress, her daughter Olga, and Anna, and when I sent word to him he joined me in a small ante-room, and, closing the door, eagerly questioned me.
"When does Yakowleff return from Paris?" he asked when I had read over to him the list of those adventurous London financiers who had put their money into the Otchakov scheme.
"Next Thursday he leaves," I said. "Madame has gone to Paris on pretence of shopping, but in reality to keep watch. 'Axanda, Poste Restante, Avenue de l'Opera,' will find her. She arranged it with me before we parted."
"Then this money-bag has really formed an influential syndicate in London to exploit our country—eh?" asked the monk grimly. "I have been speaking to the Empress about it, and she declares that the whole circumstance of Nicholas granting a concession, and for such service, is scandalous."
Scandalous! Surely Alexandra Feodorovna knew that her own actions had caused her name to be execrated through the length and breadth of Russia. Helidor and the "Blessed Mitia" had both attempted to reveal what they knew. Helidor and Mitia had many powerful friends, so they were severely left alone by the police; yet others who but opened their mouths and criticised had been sent to prison without trial, while those who had gained undue knowledge and might transmit it to England or America were sent to those dreaded oubliettes of Schluesselburg—worse even than the Bastille, and not one has ever returned across the lake alive.
Rasputin was at that moment occupied by two matters—first, the fierce antagonism of Vorontsof Dachkof; and secondly, his avariciousness concerning the concession for gambling at that pretty little town east of Odessa.
So wide was the monk's influence that, hearing at that moment that the King of the Hellenes had granted to another British syndicate a concession to open public gaming-tables in Corfu, Rasputin had already been to Stuermer, the President of the Council, and contrived to have diplomatic pressure brought through Prince Demidoff, Russian Minister at Athens, to bear upon the King to cancel the concession as opposed to public morals! This view Rasputin contrived to have supported by the Wilhelmstrasse, because the Kaiser had his spring palace in the vicinity, and, with his mock piety, he discountenanced any Temple of Fortune. The result was that the Corfu casino was prohibited.
Thus the Otchakov scheme was the only one in Europe. San Sebastian was declared by the monk to be only on a par with Ostend, and Otchakov was to be the great rival of Monte Carlo, with more varied and added attractions.
In that room, while he was hearing me through, Protopopoff, who had been making a report to the Emperor, joined us, and listened to what I had to say.
"I was looking at Yakowleff's dossier to-day, as you wished," remarked the Minister to the monk. "He seems a very honest, clean-living man for a financier. There are no suspicions of disloyalty, or even of anything."
"Then they must be made," declared Rasputin. "I intend to hold that concession. He would never have had it had it not been for Dachkof. But the latter is already out of favour. The Emperor has promised me to dismiss him to-morrow. His Majesty prefers cheerful people, not men who are pessimists," he laughed.
Indeed, next day the count, who was one of the most loyal and devoted servants of the Romanoffs, and who had risked everything in an attempt to open the Emperor's eyes, was actually dismissed. Such was the power of Rasputin.
But the plot against Yakowleff to dispossess him of the concession for Otchakov was a much more deeply-laid and evil one. The financier had returned to Petrograd, flushed with his success with his moneyed friends in London. Already news had gone round that a wonderful casino was to be built to eclipse Monte Carlo, and he had given an interview to the Novoye Vremya concerning it.
One afternoon, while in the handsome room set apart for Rasputin's use at Tsarskoe-Selo, I was sitting writing at his dictation, when there suddenly entered the Emperor, who had just come in from one of his frequent solitary walks in the park.
His Majesty flung himself wearily in a chair, and began to discuss a diplomatic matter concerning Austria, and to ask the Father's advice, for he now scarcely ever acted upon his own initiative.
Rasputin reflected for a few moments as he stood gazing out of the window, and then, having given his opinion as to the proper course to pursue, he added:
"There is another matter which should have thy attention—a matter which is being hidden very carefully from thee."
"And pray what is that, Father?" inquired the Emperor.
"It is the secret and traitorous dealings which one Yakowleff is having with British agents with a view to betraying Russia into the hands of the English," declared the sinister monk.
"I do not follow."
"To this man Yakowleff thou gavest the concession for improvements at Otchakov. On pretence of obtaining financial assistance he has been to London, and there, according to what my friends tell me, has been in consultation with certain British agents, whose intention it is to obtain our military and naval secrets."
"Then you denounce Yakowleff as a traitor—eh?" snapped the Emperor.
"I certainly do. If thou doubtest me, order Protopopoff to make a police search at his house in the Vosnesensky. Something will certainly be found there," he said, with insidious cunning, well knowing that Protopopoff's agents-provocateurs had already taken steps to secure the financier's undoing.
"I have here the names of two Englishwomen who are in the British Secret Service, and who were recently in Petrograd with Yakowleff." And he produced a piece of paper upon which he had scrawled the two names in his illiterate calligraphy. "The women are back in London, but he was with them a fortnight ago."
"Are you quite certain of all this?" asked Nicholas dubiously. "I always believed Yakowleff to be my friend. Indeed, he has already shown his loyalty to me."
"And in return thou gavest him the valuable concession for Otchakov," growled the monk.
"If you assure me, Father, that what you have said is the truth, and not mere hearsay, I will call Protopopoff, and he shall make full inquiry."
"It is a pity that the Otchakov scheme should be given into the hands of thy enemy," the monk declared, and thus the matter dropped.
In Petrograd late that night, after the usual evening assembly of the sister-disciples, when all the women had departed and I was again alone with the monk, Protopopoff arrived, and said jubilantly:
"Your words to Nicholas have borne fruit regarding Yakowleff. The Emperor spoke to me on the telephone, and, acting on his instructions, I ordered a police search, when some documents in cipher were found in a drawer in his writing-table."
"And you arrested him?"
"No. He seems to have somehow got wind of what was in progress, for he left Petrograd yesterday for Helsingfors, and has escaped!"
"Escaped!" shrieked Rasputin, springing to his feet in dismay.
"Yes. Gone back to London, I believe."
The monk knit his brows and stood stroking his unkempt beard. He was thinking out some further devilish plot.
"Feodor," he said at last, turning to me, "write down what I say."
I crossed to the table, and when I was ready he dictated the following:
"In consequence of his traitorous dealings with emissaries of a foreign Power, I, Nicholas, refuse to grant Ivan Yakowleff his application for a concession for improvements at Otchakov, and hereby grant the privilege unreservedly to Alexander Klouieff, of 48 Kurlandskaya, Petrograd. Further, I order the arrest of Ivan Yakowleff and the confiscation of all his property."
Alexander Klouieff! The fellow was an ex-agent of secret police, a man ready to do any dirty work, even murder, for Rasputin, if paid for it—a low-bred criminal of the worst possible type! So the concession was to be given to him, and he, of course, would in due course, in exchange for payment, hand it over to the monk, who would share the huge profits with his friends.
"Nicholas shall sign that to-morrow," Rasputin remarked with confidence. "As soon as he has done so I will see that copies be sent to each of the men in London who have subscribed, and they will no doubt prosecute Yakowleff for fraud. In any case, he is ruined and cast out, so he no longer stands in our path."
"Excellent!" said Protopopoff. "Does Klouieff know?"
"Of course not. I shall pay him something for the use of his name before he knows exactly what has transpired," was the crafty reply of the "blessed Gregory"—as so many termed him.
Two days later I went as usual to the palace with my master, and he took me with him along to the Emperor's room, in case any writing was to be done. The monk's first words were of the escape of Yakowleff.
"The traitor has gone back to his English pay-masters!" said the Starets. "I have written here the order for his arrest and the confiscation of his property."
And he placed before the Emperor the document I had written. To Rasputin's dismay, however, His Majesty seemed disinclined to append his signature. To me, Nicholas, who was wearing an old grey tweed suit, seemed very doubtful regarding the whole transaction.
"Who is this person Alexander Klouieff?" he demanded. "I must know something more of him."
"He is a man of considerable wealth—upright, honourable, and devoted to thee," Rasputin assured him. "Canst thou not place thy trust in those I recommend? If not, I say no more."
"Of course, Father; but the concession was granted—while this order makes it appear that it was only applied for."
"Surely it is not wise that thou shouldst be known to have granted favour unto a traitor?" was the monk's clever reply.
Still Nicholas hesitated, at which Rasputin grew furious, declaring that he had no time to waste in idle discussion.
Dropping the familiar form of speech he was in the habit of using to the Emperor, he stood erect and said:
"You know the message which your dead father gave you at the seance last night! If you refuse to sign this decree, then I will abandon Russia to-day and leave you, the Empress and the lad to your fate. Remember, I am God's messenger and your divine guide!"
The Tsar stood terror-stricken and in fear lest the real ruler of Russia should once again depart from Petrograd and refuse to return. Further refusal to sign was useless; therefore he bit his lip in chagrin and appended his signature to the document, which not only deprived the unfortunate Yakowleff of his concession, but also denounced him as a traitor and a swindler.
The result was that not only did Rasputin obtain possession of the concession for Otchakov, but he sold it a month later for a huge sum to a syndicate of bankers in Vienna, who still hold it. The monk, after paying a dole to the ex-agent of police, divided up the spoils with Protopopoff, Stuermer and Soukhomlinoff, and, in addition, he bought a very valuable diamond necklace for Anna Vyrubova.
As for poor Yakowleff, he was, as Rasputin had plotted, prosecuted in London for fraud, and sentenced at the Old Bailey to a term of imprisonment.
As the months went on, in the first half of 1914, I noticed that the acquaintanceship between Rasputin and his well-paid chemist-friend, Badmayev, became closer. Badmayev held the formula of the poisonous concoction which at intervals Anna Vyrubova secretly introduced into the food of the Tsarevitch, causing the poor lad those mysterious illnesses which were puzzling the physicians of Europe.
That some fresh plot of a diabolical nature was in progress I felt confident, but of its actual motive I could ascertain nothing. Yet it turned out to be a conspiracy—no doubt inspired and suggested by Potsdam—of a peculiarly devilish character.
It was on that fateful day that the "Germanisation" of Russia became complete. Thanks to the traitorous assurances of Soukhomlinoff, Minister of War, Russia, alas! found herself suddenly plunged into hostilities. Petrograd, of course, went wild with excitement. Our loyal Russians, who believed in official declarations and in their Tsar, were ready to fly at the Teutons, little dreaming that already, before a single shot was fired, Germany held all the honours of the game, and had the Russian bear shackled hand and foot.
At four o'clock in the afternoon Rasputin called me, and handing me an envelope which seemed to contain some small object—a lady's silver powder-puff case I afterwards knew it to be—said:
"Feodor, I want you to go to the booking-office of the Finnish station at the departure of the train for Helsingfors at five-thirty. There you will meet a fair-haired young man who knows you by sight. He will say the word 'Anak,' and when he does, hand him this in secret. He will quite understand."
This order I carried out. I had not been at the crowded station five minutes when a young man, carrying a small handbag, elbowed his way through the excited crowd and uttered in an undertone the word "Anak." I greeted him, and surreptitiously handed him the little packet, for which he thanked me and disappeared on to the platform.
My curiosity being aroused I waited until after the departure of the train, when I watched the mysterious young man return from the platform, hurry out of the station, and jump into a droshky and drive off.
When I returned and reported my meeting with the young man, Rasputin seemed much gratified, and even telephoned to Stuermer, who was at that moment at the palace, having been called to the War Council which the Emperor—who had again consulted his dead father's spirit at a further seance on the previous night—was now holding.
It appeared that a dinner had a week before been arranged by Prince Galitzine, to which the Grand Dukes Nicholas Nicholaievitch, Constantin Constantinovitch, and Michael Alexandrovitch, together with Generals Arapoff, Daniloff, Brusiloff, and Rennenkampf, had been invited. At first it was proposed to cancel the engagement owing to the critical position of affairs, but on the suggestion of the Grand Duke Nicholas it was not abandoned, for, as he pointed out, it would bring together the loyal leaders of the army on the eve of great events, and that, after dinner, views might be exchanged in confidence for the national benefit.
Now earlier that same day Rasputin had given me a note to deliver to the Grand Duke Michael, whom I had failed to find, but was told that he was to dine at Prince Galitzine's. So about half-past six o'clock I took it to the prince's house, when, to my surprise, as I passed into the great hall I saw the same fair-haired young man to whom I had delivered that envelope in secret an hour before. He was one of the prince's servants, but he had not seen me!
A sudden suspicion seized me. I asked to see the prince, and when shown up to his room I delivered the note for the Grand Duke.
Then, having seen that the door was closed, I asked permission to say something in strictest confidence, and told him of the mysterious envelope I had delivered to his servant.
He heard me through, gave me his hand in promise that he would not betray my confidence, thanked me, and dismissed me.
Next day the prince called me to him in secret, and told me that in the possession of the young man was found a lady's silver powder-puff box filled with what looked and smelt like toilet-powder. This, on being examined, was discovered to be a most subtle and dangerous poison—one evidently prepared by that diabolical poisoner, Badmayev.
The young man had been forced by his master to swallow some, and had died in great agony. Thus it was proved that Rasputin and the camarilla had, on the very night of the outbreak of war, plotted to sweep off at one blow our most famous Russian generals, and leave our country practically without any military leaders of experience and at the mercy of the Huns!
The vile plot would no doubt have succeeded, and the deaths put down to ptomaine poisoning, as so many have been, had I not so fortunately recognised the young valet as he crossed the hall of Prince Galitzine's house.
Thus it will be seen that Rasputin and his friends hesitated at nothing in their frantic endeavours to gain their own sordid ends and to secure victory for Germany.
THE TRAGEDY OF MADAME SVETCHINE
"SISTER! thou who hast chosen to become the bride of Heaven, listen unto me, and repeat these words after me!" exclaimed the monk Rasputin, holding over the kneeling countess the big bejewelled cross which the Empress had given him, and in which were set some of the finest jewels of the Romanoffs.
"I will, O Father," replied Paula Yakimovitch, a pretty young woman, whose husband was Governor of Yakutsk, far off in Siberia, and who had begged him to leave her in Petrograd.
"Then repeat these words," said the bearded saint, fixing his weird, hypnotic eyes upon her. "Thou art my holy Father—"
"Thou art my holy Father——" exclaimed the Governor's wife in obedience.
"To thee I bow, and to thee I acknowledge that thou art sent by Almighty God to save our holy Russia."
She repeated the words amid the silence of that afternoon assembly of the sister-disciples at the Starets' house, a gathering which included Madame Vyrubova and her sister, Madame Soukhomlinoff; Madame Katacheff, wife of the Governor-General of Finland; pretty little Madame Makotine, to whose salon everyone scrambled; and old Countess Chapadier, bedecked, as always, with diamonds.
"I hereby swear in my belief that God has sent to our Russia his divine saviour in the human form of Gregory Rasputin, and that the sin I commit in my belief is the sin which is easiest forgiven, and that by prayer and fasting my sins will be remitted, even as I am admitted to the sect of the righteous and holy."
These blasphemous words the young woman repeated after the unwashed saint, who, standing upon a sort of dais in the big upstairs salon, still held up the jewelled cross suspended from his neck in front of him.
"Salvation is in contriteness," the monk went on, for that was what the sly scoundrel had invented. "Contriteness can only come after we have sinned. Let us therefore sin, my sisters, in order to gain salvation! By sinning with me," he added, having reached the apogee of his influence, "salvation is all the more certain to come to you for this reason—that I am filled with the Holy Spirit!"
"God be thanked! God be thanked!" fell from the lips of those thirty or so bamboozled and hysterical women, who, seated on forms as school-children might sit, had assembled to assist at the admission of Countess Yakimovitch to the secret and disgraceful cult of the blasphemous charlatan.
The date was September the 7th, 1914.
Russia had been at war with Germany for a month, and the Press of the Allies was full of cheerful optimism regarding what one of your London journalists had called "the Russian steam-roller." We in holy Russia believed in "the mills of God," and the nation as a whole was confident that it could resist the Teuton invasion.
The neophyte, beneath the extraordinary hypnotism of the "saint," felt the dirty fingers upon her brow, as, in a strange jargon of religious phrases and open blasphemy, he pronounced a kind of benediction upon her, adjuring her carefully to preserve the secrets of the sect "from your own mother and father, sister, brother, husband and child." Then he added: "In me, Gregory Rasputin, you see the One sent by Heaven as the Healer and Deliverer of Russia from the hands of the oppressor. To me the Emperor, but an earthly king, hath delegated his imperial powers. I am the saviour of Russia. Believe in me and in my teachings and ye shall have life, health and prosperity—with the life beyond the grave. Disobey, and thou shalt be eternally damned, together with all thy family. I, Gregory Rasputin, who hath been sent to thee as saviour," he added, "take unto me as sister Paula Vladimirovna to be my disciple!"
"May God forbid!" cried a woman's voice from among those assembled. "Let us end this blasphemy!"
The effect was almost electrical. Rasputin started, and gazed at the rows of elegantly-dressed women, his disciples, and the few good-looking young women whom he had invited to be present.
"Yes," went on a young and pretty woman seated at the back of the little audience. "I repeat those words!"
Startled myself at the boldness of the young lady, I saw that she was dark, extremely good-looking, and refined. Rasputin had met her a week before at the salon of old Countess Lazareff, and she having expressed a desire to know more of the secret cult of which so many curious rumours were rife in Petrograd society, he had allowed Madame Trevetski, the wife of the ex-Commander-in-Chief in the Caucasus, to bring her that afternoon.
Now, it must be said that no lady was admitted to those weekly reunions of the sister-disciples unless she first had the full approval of the Starets. She must be good-looking and possessed of either wealth or influence, but in preference wealth. And it was certain that no woman was ever invited unless it was Rasputin's intention to admit her to the secrets of his "religion."
Yet here was open defiance! This lady, whose name was Madame Anastasia Svetchine, was the wife of Colonel Svetchine, who was on the Staff of the Etat-Major at Vilna, and who was already at the battle front. Before Rasputin had allowed her to be brought to his house it had fallen to my lot to make some inquiries concerning her, and I had found that she was of good family, that her husband was possessed of fair means, and that besides their house in Vilna they had a comfortable residence in the Kirotshnaya, in Petrograd. She moved in that rather gay, go-ahead set of which, prior to the war, the reckless Madame Soukhomlinoff was the centre, and she had recently become quite a notable figure in Petrograd society.
Rasputin, furious at her interruption, roared:
"Silence, woman! Go out of the room at once!"
But Madame Svetchine, springing to her feet, cried: "It is monstrous! Disgraceful! Blasphemous! It is true what Purichkevitch has said in the Duma—that you are the evil force in Russia! Though a woman, I will have none of your mock piety and disgraceful licentiousness!"
"Ah! I see, madame, that you are an enemy—eh?" he said in a slow, deliberate way. "And let me tell you, when Gregory Rasputin has an enemy, he does not rest until that enemy is swept from his path. If you defy me, you defy your God!"
"I defy you!" cried the woman shrilly, making a dramatic scene. "But I fear my God, and Him alone."
"Oh! be silent, I beg!" cried Countess Lazareff in French, wringing her hands, she having introduced her, while all were horrified that the holy Father should be thus openly denounced before his "sisters."
"What is that woman saying?" the monk shouted across to me, for he did not know French, and was suspicious that the words contained yet another insult until I translated them to him.
"I refuse to be silent!" declared the colonel's young wife. "I will describe to all whom I meet what has taken place here to-day—the mockery of it all. It is shameful how any woman in her senses, refined and educated, should fall beneath the fascination of such a brute!"
This was greeted with wild exclamations of surprise and indignation. Indeed, so furious became the "sisters" at such open insult that I was, at Rasputin's orders, compelled to conduct her out.
In the hall the young lady, who was certainly very pretty, became quite quiet again, and turning to me said:
"Monsieur Rajevski, I came here on purpose to denounce that infernal charlatan who is your employer. I am not without friends—and influential ones. I have spoken my mind fearlessly and openly. No doubt I have made an enemy of Grichka, but for that I care nothing, so long as I have exposed him."
Little did the unfortunate young lady know of Rasputin's low cunning and diabolical unscrupulousness when she had uttered those words. I made no reply, for I feared that she would live to regret having created that scene in the monk's holy-of-holies.
Late that evening, having been out, I returned to find the "saint" seated with the Minister Maklakoff, the man whom the newspaper Utro Rossy described as "The love-sick Panther." Both were in an advanced state of intoxication, and when I entered, Rasputin, in a thick voice, exclaimed:
"Ah! my dear Feodor, I have just been describing the scene to-day with that woman Anastasia Svetchine—the little spitfire! But a pretty woman, Feodor—very pretty woman, eh? It's a pity"—he sighed—"a great pity!"
"Why?" asked the long-moustached Minister, who had just come from an official reception, and was in his hussar uniform, with gold braid and many decorations. "Are you not better rid of her, my friend? Women of her sort are usually dangerous."
"I know she is dangerous," growled the holy Father, taking a deep gulp of champagne. "That is why I intend that she shall pay dearly for her defiance."
"Is she worth troubling about?" I queried. "You have so many affairs to attend to just now."
"Gregory Rasputin always attends to his enemies first, Feodor," he replied huskily.
The eyes of "The love-sick Panther" twinkled through his rimless pince-nez. Well he knew the bitter revenge which the Starets wreaked upon any who dared to challenge his divinity.
Maklakoff was at the time the Tsar's favourite Minister, and it was quite usual after a Cabinet Council for the Emperor to ask him and Soukhomlinoff to remain behind, as both were voted "really jolly fellows." Then Their Majesties would unite with the children and a few intimates, including the Father and Anna of course, and they would have a little fun. Maklakoff was famed for his power of mimicry. He could imitate the barking of dogs, and frequently announced his presence to the Imperial family by barking in the corridors of Tsarskoe-Selo, while his most famous imitation was that of a panther. And this of a Cabinet Minister in days of war!
"O Nicholas Alexievitch, do let us see you as a panther!" the Emperor would often say.
Then the Minister of State would coil himself up beneath a sofa and roar like a panther. Then, crawling slowly out on all fours, he would suddenly take a leap and land in an arm-chair or upon a sofa, greatly to the delight of the Imperial family, while the Grand Duchesses and the Tsarevitch would go wild with glee.
When, by the way, Maklakoff was dismissed in 1915, as a result of the anti-German riots in Moscow, the paper Utro Rossy was fined three thousand roubles for publishing an article headed "The Leap of the Love-sick Panther."
Maklakoff was a bosom friend of Rasputin, a dissolute evil-liver after the monk's own heart, and more than once had, in my presence, mentioned the names of certain good-looking women in various classes of society who might be invited to become disciples of the sadic Anti-Christ.
Within a week of the scene created by Madame Svetchine, Rasputin had already commenced to seek his revenge in a deep and cunning way. He had heard from several persons that Madame Anastasia was going about Petrograd openly denouncing him, and that she had been in communication with Monsieur Miliukoff of the Cadets, and also Count Bobrinski. For the time being Rasputin was devoting his days to the reorganisation of his "disciples." His traitorous interference in politics had already borne fruit in favour of Germany.
The events that were happening at that very moment mercilessly showed up the faults of our Russian administration, which was Germanic by origin in its traditions and its sentiments. Indeed, at that moment, when the enemy at the gates was knocking over the fortresses of Poland like ant-hills, intrigues for place and honour were rife everywhere, and Maklakoff was playing the "panther" to amuse the ladies of Tsarskoe-Selo!
Rasputin one day called to him one of his half-dozen sycophants of the secret police, whom the Minister Protopopoff had placed at his disposal for purposes of personal protection, but in reality to act as his spies and agents-provocateurs.
To this fellow, Depp by name, he had given instructions that the dossiers of both Colonel Svetchine and his wife should be brought to him. Next day they arrived, and for half an hour Depp sat reading over to him the various police reports from Vilna and those of Petrograd.
The monk, leaning back in his arm-chair, stroked his unkempt beard, his eyes fixed out of the window, brooding over his devilish scheme.
An hour later, after he had dispatched Depp to make certain inquiries in Petrograd concerning the doings of the colonel's young wife, he said to me:
"Feodor, I must see Soukhomlinoff to-night. Telephone to him at the Ministry. If he is not there, you will find him at the palace. If so, tell him to call here at once when he returns to Petrograd."
I found the Minister of War was at Tsarskoe-Selo, and spoke to him there, giving him Rasputin's message, and receiving a reply that he would be with us at ten o'clock that night.
I had to keep an appointment, at Rasputin's orders, with Protopopoff—to deliver a letter and receive a reply; therefore I was not present when His Excellency the General arrived. What the pair arranged I had no idea, for when I returned to the Gorokhovaya the general was just stepping into his big car with its brilliant headlights.
"Good night, Feodor!" he shouted to me merrily, for he was of a genial nature, and next moment the powerful car drove away.
Events marched rapidly during the next fortnight. I had gone with Rasputin to the General Headquarters of the Army at the Polish front, a journey which the intriguer had been sent upon by those at Court whose mouthpiece he was—to discuss a peace necessary for the Empire, he declared.
Truth to tell, I knew that three days before the secret messenger Hardt had arrived from Berlin by way of Sweden, bearing a dispatch with elaborate instructions to the Starets.
The Grand Duke Nicholas Nicholaievitch received us on the evening of our arrival at Headquarters, and, of course, the monk was full of one of those fantastic tales which succeeded so well with many, either the ignorant or credulous, or those to whose personal advantage it was to pretend to believe him.
The Grand Duke received the Starets politely but stiffly, for he well knew the power he wielded in the Empire, and that his will was law.
"Ah, Highness!" exclaimed the monk, "war is indeed a calamity. Alas! that Russia hath offended God by entering upon it. But thou, in thy wisdom, must put an end to it. The Holy Virgin appeared to me in a dream, and told me we must conclude peace. I come to inform thee of her will."