"When didst thou see the Virgin?" asked the Grand Duke.
"Three days ago."
"Now that's odd," he replied. "I, too, saw her, but it was only two days ago, and she said to me: 'Gregory is coming to see thee. He will advise peace. Don't listen to him, but expel him like the scoundrel he is. If he goes on troubling and intriguing have him thrashed.'"
The monk went livid.
"And further," continued Nicholas Nicholaievitch, "if you remain here, you infernal charlatan and blackmailer, that is what I shall do. So you can return to Alexandra Feodorovna and tell her what I say. My soldiers are fighting for Russia, and they will continue to do so, however many visions you may have—and however much German gold you may grab with your filthy paws. Get out!"
Rasputin stood speechless for a moment. Then, with an imprecation upon his lips, he turned and retired.
Three days later we were back in Petrograd, but the monk, who never forgot, at once set about plotting the Grand Duke's retirement.
One morning, among the monk's correspondence, I found a letter for Rasputin, which had been brought by hand from the Ministry of War, marked "Strictly private." On opening it, I read the following, which bore as signature the initials of Soukhomlinoff:
"In a further reference to the suspicions against Colonel Svetchine, inquiries made fully confirm your view. The political police who made domiciliary visits to his house in Petrograd and his apartments in Vilna found nothing of importance. In Vilna, however, it has been discovered that, immediately prior to the war, he had established friendly relations with Elise Isembourg, who was an agent of Germany and a friend of Miassoyedeff. At my instructions we have allowed the Colonel leave, and he returned to Vilna to meet the woman, who had, at our orders, written to him. She, acting upon our instructions, offered him a sum of money to betray certain plans of the defences of Grodno, agents of secret police being concealed during the interview. At first he stoutly refused, but next day he met her again and succumbed to the temptation, so at the present moment he is preparing the information she seeks."
I read this over to the monk, who at once rubbed his hands together in satisfaction.
"Ah! all goes well, my dear Feodor!" he exclaimed. "That woman will be sorry she denounced me, I assure you."
I could discern the motive of the conspiracy, but as yet had no idea of its true depth.
It was not until a week later, when one night the Minister of War called upon the monk, and in my presence they discussed the Svetchine affair.
"You did well, General," declared Rasputin, with an evil smile. "What has really happened in Vilna?"
"Well, the woman Isembourg, though she was a spy of Germany, is now on our side in the contra-espionage service," was his reply. "From the first she assured me that the colonel was extremely honest and patriotic. Though before the war she had several times tried to induce him to give her military information, yet he always declined and endeavoured to avoid her."
"Well, that difficulty can be overcome, surely?" asked the monk.
General Soukhomlinoff, a traitor himself, laughed lightly as he replied:
"Of course. There were other means. Elise, three days ago, handed over to me a typewritten document revealing the secrets of the defences of Grodno, which she reported had been given to her by Colonel Svetchine in return for a promise of ten thousand roubles when she could obtain the money from a secret source in Petrograd."
"Then he is a traitor!" exclaimed the monk eagerly.
The general winked, and replied: "Elise Isembourg declares that he is, and that he gave her the document."
"He, of course, denies it?"
"He knows nothing as yet," said His Excellency. "I have issued orders for his arrest to-day, and have given instructions for the court martial to be held here, in Petrograd."
The evil monk laughed gleefully.
"Ah! I see," he remarked. "And probably the colonel has never yet seen this typewritten document?"
"Probably," replied the Minister of War, with a mysterious smile. "There have been such cases. I have fixed the court martial for next Thursday, and I assure you it will be difficult for the colonel to prove his innocence!"
From that conversation I gathered the diabolical nature of Rasputin's plot against a perfectly innocent man, as revenge for his wife's insults.
Next day we were called to the palace, for the Empress was sorely worried over the health of the Tsarevitch, and she implored the holy Father to pray for him, little dreaming that the ever-recurring attacks were due to the subtle poison administered in secret by her most trusted favourite, Madame Vyrubova. For several days we remained at the palace, while Rasputin performed one of his "miracles," namely, the restoration of the lad to his normal condition.
What if the Empress had known that the "miracles" in which she so fervently believed were merely performed by the administration of certain antidotes to the poison already given!
While at the palace on that occasion I witnessed some strange doings at a spiritualistic seance to which Bossant, the notorious French medium, had been commanded. The Emperor, Empress and their intimates were present, including Rasputin and myself, and when the circle was formed and the seance in full swing the Tsar consulted the spirit of his dead father as to how he should act in the conduct of the war against Germany.
The reply, of course, arranged by the Empress and her friends, was something as follows:
"Thou hast done well, my son, and thou art worthy the throne of the Romanoffs. Continue to defend our beloved land. Trust in the counsels of those about thee, of thy wife, of thy Ministers, especially Stuermer, Protopopoff and Soukhomlinoff, as well as the advice which the holy Father is ever giving thee. All have been sent to thee as good and faithful guides. My blessing is upon thee, O my son!"
Such was the "message" so cleverly given to the credulous monarch by the traitors and intriguers about him. And alas! he believed truly and absolutely, ignorant of the fact that some thousands of roubles had gone into the medium's pocket as price of his connivance.
On returning to Petrograd late on Thursday night I found among the monk's correspondence a letter from Madame Svetchine, a long, regretful letter, in which she expressed the greatest sorrow for the words she had uttered at the assembly of the sister-disciples, and begged to be forgiven. Further, she announced her intention of calling upon the Father "upon a serious and urgent matter."
I told him this, whereat he growled:
"Ah! the woman is coming to her senses. Yes. If she comes I will see her. She is pretty, Feodor—pretty—yes, very pretty."
I drew a long breath. The unfortunate woman knew, no doubt, the serious charge against her husband, but never dreamed that Rasputin was the cause of that false accusation.
Just before I ascended to my room to retire—the hour being about one o'clock in the morning—the telephone bell rang, and I answered it.
One of the officials at the War Office was, I found, at the other end.
"His Excellency the Minister has an urgent message to transmit to the Father," said the voice.
"Very well," I said, stating who I was.
"Then listen, please. The message he has written reads: 'Colonel Ivan Svetchine has been tried by court martial, which sat until half an hour ago. He has been condemned on a charge of dealing with the enemy and revealing military secrets to Germany, and ordered to be executed for treason. The execution is fixed to take place in the Peter and Paul Fortress at dawn on Saturday.'"
I replaced the telephone receiver with a heavy heart. Yet another innocent man was to die as victim of Rasputin's overweening vanity and evil influence in every quarter.
When I entered and told the monk, who was already in bed in a half-drunken state, he merely turned over and continued snoring.
On Friday night, when, as usual, we had returned from Tsarskoe-Selo in one of the Imperial motor-cars, I was told that a lady was waiting to see the Starets, but she would give no name. She was persistent that she must see him, and had already waited nearly three hours.
When I entered the waiting-room, a small chamber at the end of a corridor, I found it to be the wife of the condemned man. She was dressed in dead black, her beautiful face tear-stained and deathly pale.
"Ah! Monsieur Rajevski!" she cried, rushing towards me. "You know me—Madame Svetchine—eh?"
"Yes, madame," I said. "I remember you."
"You will let me see him—won't you?" she cried in great distress, as she gripped my hand nervously. "He has, I hope, forgiven me; surely he——"
"I gave him your letter," I said.
"Yes—and what did he say?" she gasped in eagerness.
"Well, the truth is that he said nothing," I replied, adding: "He was much occupied with other things."
"Ah! I must see him!" cried the frantic woman. "I was wrong to speak as I did. The Father is the great power in Russia. I must throw myself upon his mercy."
I promised to take her to him, and left her to inform Rasputin of the arrival of his expected visitor.
With an evil glint in those terrible eyes of his, he rubbed his hands together.
"Good, Feodor!" he said, striding across the room. "I will see the woman. Oh, yes, if she wishes to see me I will not deny her that pleasure," he added with biting sarcasm. Truly, he was weird and horrible in the hour of his triumph.
A few moments later I ushered the pale, wan woman in black into his presence.
"Holy Father!" she cried wildly, "forgive me—say that you forgive the unconsidered words of a weak and unworthy woman."
"Forgive—why?" he asked, standing erect and fingering his bejewelled cross. "I do not understand why I am honoured by this visit, madame."
"Ah! Of course you do not know. Pardon, I have forgotten to explain. My husband——" And she broke into tears. "My dear husband——"
"Well, what of your husband?" asked Rasputin. "He is at the front. Has he been wounded—or——"
"No, no—not that!" she cried. "They have made a false charge against him. Some woman named Isembourg, whom he knew in Vilna before the war, has made an allegation against him of traitorous dealings with the enemy. She has given over to the Ministry of War some documents containing the plans of the defences of Grodno, which she declares he has sold to her! But it is lies—all lies. I know it!"
"Really, this is quite a romantic story, madame," said Rasputin, quite unmoved. "Why should this woman make such charges?"
"How can I tell? Ah! but you do not know the worst!" she went on. "The court martial actually accepted this woman's statements—statements that were lies—all of them! My husband is devoted to me, and I love him—ah, so dearly! He is all in all to me. And——"
"But the woman—Isembourg, I believe you say—she is a friend of his, eh?" interrupted the monk, his hands crossed over his breast in that pious attitude he always assumed when listening.
"She says she was his friend before the war—before we married, indeed. Perhaps she was," answered the condemned man's wife. "But she is undoubtedly an agent-provocateuse of police set to tempt men to their downfall."
"Of that I have no knowledge," was Rasputin's cold reply.
"But you will help me, holy Father! Do—for the sake of a man who is innocent—for the sake—the sake of his unborn child! Ah! you will show mercy, won't you?" she begged.
"I do not follow you," was the monk's reply, in pretence of ignorance.
In a frenzy of despair the wretched wife flung herself upon her knees before the scoundrel, and cried:
"My husband! There is yet time to save him! He—he is to be shot—to-morrow—as soon as it is light! You—and you alone—can induce the Emperor to order a revision of the sentence or a new trial. You will—you are all-powerful and divine!"
"Pardon, madame, that is not your true estimate of Gregory Rasputin," he said, with biting sarcasm. "Only a short time ago I was a charlatan and a fraud! No; your opinion cannot have altered in so short a time."
"But you—if you are sent by God to Russia—will never allow an innocent man to be murdered in this fashion—condemned upon the word of a notorious woman."
"The affair does not concern me, I assure you," he laughed. "If your husband has been condemned to death he must have had a fair and impartial trial by his brother officers. I am not a military man, and know nothing of such matters. If he has been found to be a traitor," added the unholy spy of Germany, "then the sentence is just."
"But he is no traitor. He is as patriotic as you are yourself, Father! He has ever been so," cried the despairing woman.
"I have no means of knowing that," he replied in a hard voice, gazing at her with those strange, wide-open eyes, and endeavouring to put that spell upon her that few women could resist. "Nevertheless, I will forgive you, and, further, I will exercise my influence to save your husband's life if you will consent to enter the circle of our holy disciples."
The desperate young woman held her breath for a few seconds, staring at him wildly as upon her knees she still knelt, clutching the "saint's" dirty hands.
"No," she replied. "That I will never do."
Rasputin saw that his plot had failed. Here at least was one woman over whom he was powerless, one who regarded him as a fraud. In an instant he flew into a sudden rage.
"Enough!" he cried, throwing her off. "You refuse to accept my condition—therefore your husband shall die!"
The wretched woman, her countenance pale as death, tried to speak. Her lips moved, but no sound came from them. Next moment, by dint of supreme effort, she struggled to her feet and rose stiffly. Then, a moment later, her hands clenched and despair in her splendid eyes, she turned and staggered out.
Four hours later Colonel Svetchine boldly faced a firing-party in the yard of the fortress. There was a word of command, and next second the gallant soldier fell forward on his face—dead.
THE true story of the tragic death of a Russian civil servant named Ivan Naglovski, and of the mysterious explosion which destroyed the great munition works at Okhta and killed over four hundred and fifty persons and injured seven hundred, has never been told.
There have been sinister whisperings in Russia, but I am here able to unfold the amazing truth for the first time.
I had accompanied Rasputin to the Verkhotursky Monastery at Perm; the house in the Gorokhovaya was closed, its wooden shutters were fastened, and the Empress was desolate without her "holy Father." Stuermer, the Prime Minister, was with the Emperor, daily plotting and striving for the betrayal of our nation to the Germans, and "Satan in a silk hat"—as one of the Grand Dukes had nicknamed the Minister of the Interior, Protopopoff—had gone on a mission to London, ostensibly in Russian interests, but really as a spy of Germany. The latter was, of course, not known at the time, for the British Government sent him on a tour of munition and other centres, showed him what they were preparing, and feted him in London as the representative of their ally. We now know that, on his return to Petrograd, he at once became violently anti-British, and made a full report of all he knew to the Wilhelmstrasse!
The purpose of the monk's pilgrimage to Perm was to form a branch of his believers in that city. He had left Petrograd dressed as a pilgrim, with hair-shirt and staff complete, and as such he posed to everybody. The world, however, did not know that the rooms allotted to him in the monastery by the rascally bishop, whom he had himself appointed, were the acme of luxury, and that in them he held drunken orgies every night.
After we had been there three weeks an Imperial courier brought him a letter from Peterhof. It was night, and the monk was in an advanced state of intoxication with his companions, three other mock-pious rascals like himself.
When I handed him the letter he glanced at the Imperial cipher on the envelope, and, grinning, exclaimed:
"It is from the Empress. Read out what the woman says."
I hesitated, suggesting that it would be better if I read it to him in private.
"Bah!" he laughed. "There is nothing private in it. Read it, Feodor."
So, thus ordered, I obeyed. The letter was written in Russian, but with mistakes in grammar and orthography, for the Empress had never learned to write Russian correctly. These are the words I read for the delectation of the dissolute quartette:
"HOLY FATHER,—Why have you not written? Why this long dead silence when my poor heart is hourly yearning for news of you and for your words of comfort?
"I am, alas! weak, but I love you, for you are all in all to me. Oh! if I could but hold your dear hand and lay my head upon your shoulder! Ah! can I ever forget that feeling of perfect peace and blank forgetfulness that I experience when you are near me.
"Now that you have gone, life is only one grey sea of despair. There was a Court last night, but I did not attend. Instead Anna [Madame Vyrubova] and I read your sweet letters together, and we kissed your picture.
"As I have so often told you, dear Father, I want to be a good daughter of Christ. But oh! it is so difficult. Help me, dear Father. Pray for me. Pray always for Alexis [the Tsarevitch]. Come back to us at once. Nikki [the Tsar] says we cannot endure life without you, for there are so many pitfalls before us. For myself, I am longing for your return—longing—always longing! Without our weekly meetings all is gloom——"
Here I broke off. What followed ought, I saw, not to be read aloud to that trio, who might at any moment turn to be enemies of the Starets.
"Yes," he said, smiling in gratification. "The woman evidently misses me. It places a woman in her proper position to discard her for a while," he added with a drunken laugh. "What else does she say?"
"Only that they are due to go to Yalta, but that Her Majesty awaits your return," I replied.
"Then let her wait. I am very comfortable here. Perm is pleasant as a change."
I knew well that he was enjoying himself hugely and had already formed a great circle of hysterical women who believed in his divinity and practised the rites of his disgraceful "religion."
The final words of that amazing letter, which in itself showed the terms upon which Alexandra Feodorovna was with the convicted horse-stealer from Pokrovsky, were as follows:
"Here, O dear Father, we have only the everlasting toll of war! Germany is winning—as she will surely win. She must. You will see to that! But we must all of us maintain a brave face towards our Russian public. In you alone I have faith. May God bring you back to us very soon. Alexis is asking for you daily. We are due to go to Yalta, but shall not move before we meet here. I embrace you, and so do Nikki and Anna.—Your devoted daughter, ALIX."
The unkempt quartette, treating the Empress's expressions of affection as a huge joke, filled their glasses with champagne and drank heavily again, while Rasputin began to regale his "saintly" companions with stories of the intimate life of the pro-German Empress.
Truly, it was a gay, dissolute life that the verminous rascal was leading at the Verkhotursky Monastery, and many were the women over whom he exercised his weird, uncanny fascination.
"Believe in me and you will receive God's blessing," was his constant blasphemous declaration to every woman whose looks were even passable. "Doubt me and you will be damned."
By Russia's millions in the provinces he was looked upon as the holy man sent by God to the Tsar. Did not the "saint" eat at the Emperor's table, and did he not prompt His Majesty in fighting the Germans? None ever dreamed that the unkempt miracle-worker, whose fascination for women was so astounding, was the secret ambassador of the Assassin of Potsdam.
Two of those companions of his nightly drinking bouts at Perm were named Rouchine and Yepantchine, brawny fellows whose evil life was almost as notorious as Rasputin's. Rouchine had been a conjurer before he adopted a "holy" life, and by reason of his knowledge of magic and illusions he frequently assisted the Starets in performing those "miracles" that so astounded the mujiks who witnessed them with open mouths.
Whenever things grew a little dull, or Rasputin believed that his divinity was being doubted, he would calmly announce:
"I have had a vision. Last night the Holy Virgin appeared unto me and declared that I must again perform a miracle so that the world should be made aware that God, through me, is protecting our dear nation Russia."
Instantly the news would spread from mouth to mouth—Rasputin's name being forbidden to be mentioned in the newspapers—that the Starets was about to perform a miracle, and thousands would assemble in some open place, where one of Rouchine's conjuring tricks would be performed.
By this time so deeply had Rasputin corrupted the Russian Church in its centres of power and administration that half the highest ecclesiastical dignitaries were of his creation, his fellow-thief in Pokrovsky having been appointed to a bishopric.
Very naturally, Rasputin had made many enemies. His overbearing vanity, his relentlessness in dealing with any who stood in his path, and the exposure of his use of agents-provocateurs in securing the conviction and imprisonment of anyone who displeased him, had aroused against him a fierce hatred in certain quarters both in Petrograd and Moscow. Many of those who had sworn to be avenged were wronged husbands and fathers, a number of whom it had been my duty to endeavour to pacify even at personal risk to myself as the rascal's secretary.
It was while at Perm that Rasputin received news that a man named Ivan Naglovski had been in Pokrovsky busily inquiring into his past, and interviewing his sister-disciples who were living there. Further, it was reported that he had been in communication with the monk Helidor, a man named Golenkovski, whose young wife was a "disciple" in Petrograd, and with Marie Novitski, who was preaching loudly against the erotic doctrine of the new "religion."
It was plain that Ivan Naglovski was a secret enemy.
Acting upon the monk's instructions I returned to Petrograd, and at the headquarters of the Secret Police made application that Naglovski's movements should be watched. Three days later I was assured that a small league of patriotic men and women had been formed, with Naglovski at their head, determined to unveil and unmask the traitorous rascal who was my employer.
I was compelled to return to Perm and inform Rasputin of the result of my investigations. Before doing so I went, at Rasputin's instructions by telegraph, to Peterhof and was admitted by Madame Vyrubova to the Empress's presence.
The handsome woman was resting in a gorgeous negligee gown prior to dressing for dinner, but she was quickly eager and interested when I explained that I had come from the monk and was returning to Perm at midnight.
"When will the Holy Father's pilgrimage end?" she inquired with a sigh. "He has been away weeks, and never replies to my letters."
"His time is no doubt fully occupied with constant devotion," remarked Anna Vyrubova in excuse.
"The Father is much occupied, Your Majesty," I said.
"Tell him for me that I am daily longing for his return," she said. "But wait. I will write to him and you shall convey the letter," at which order I bowed.
"The Father is much troubled and perturbed," I remarked.
"About what?" asked Her Majesty.
"He has enemies. Some men and women have leagued themselves with the object of doing him harm."
"Harm!" she echoed. "What harm can come to him when, being sent to us by God, he is immune from any harm that can befall us who are merely human? I do not understand."
Her words were in themselves sufficient to reveal how completely and implicitly the Empress of Russia believed in the pretended divinity of the blasphemous ex-convict.
"All I know, Your Majesty, is that the holy Father is unduly perturbed."
"Ah! surely he can have no apprehension?" she said. "Tell him from me that as Christ had enemies so, of course, he has. But his enemies cannot do him injury." Then rising and going across to a beautiful buhl escritoire, she added: "I will write to him. I sent him another letter by messenger only yesterday—eight letters, and not a line of response!"
For ten minutes or so, while the Empress sat writing, I chatted with Madame Vyrubova, and gave to her news of the monk.
"Tell him to return as quickly as possible," the woman said in a low, confidential voice. "If there really is a plot on foot against him he is safer in Petrograd than in Perm. Besides, being on the spot, he will be able to combat his enemies with a swift and relentless hand."
As Her Majesty was writing the telephone rang. Next moment it was plain that she was speaking with the Emperor, who was away at the headquarters of the army in Poland.
Having listened to something he told her, she said:
"The holy Father's secretary is here with me. The Father still remains at Perm. I am writing him urgently asking him to return to us. I wish you also to send a messenger to him to induce him to come back to Petrograd. You will be back here next Friday, and is it not wise to hold another seance next day, eh?"
Then she listened eagerly.
"Ah!" she exclaimed. "I am glad you agree with me, Nikki. Yes, let us try and get the Father back by Saturday at latest. Good-bye."
And having rung off, she calmly finished the letter and secured it with the well-known big seal of black wax.
"Remember," she said as she gave it to me, "the Father must be here next Saturday for the seance, which the Emperor will attend. He wishes again to consult the spirit of his father Alexander. Urge the Father to return at once."
I promised to do her bidding, and, retiring, at once left the palace, and at midnight was on my way back to the far-off town on the Kama.
On the evening of the following day I drove up to the monastery and there found Rasputin at dinner with the ex-conjurer Rouchine. When I entered the cosy little room in which the pair were seated, Rasputin had removed his long robe and was seated in his shirt-sleeves like the peasant he was. I handed him the letter from the German-born Empress, whereupon he said:
"Oh! read it to me, Feodor. The woman's handwriting is always a puzzle to me."
I knew how illiterate he was and the reason of his excuse.
I tore open the envelope and quickly scanned the scribbled lines.
"No," I replied, "not now, Gregory; later."
"But I insist!" cried the Starets fiercely.
"And I refuse!" was my determined reply. "I have reasons."
Those last three words were not lost upon him, for Grichka was nothing if not the very acme of shrewdness. Not an adventurer or escroc in Europe could compare with him in elusiveness.
"Well, Feodor, if you have reasons, then I know that they are sound ones," he said. Then, turning to the "holy" conjurer, he grinned and said: "Feodor is a most excellent secretary. So discreet—too discreet, I often think."
"One cannot be too discreet in the present international crisis," I remarked. "Enemy eyes and ears are open everywhere. One can never be too careful. Russia is full of the spies of Germany."
"Quite true, Feodor—quite true!" exclaimed Rasputin, smiling within himself. "Don't you agree, friend Rouchine?"
"Entirely," replied his accomplice, who, though he was well paid to assist in working "miracles" before the peasants, never dreamed that the Starets, who handed him money with such lavish hand, was the chief agent of Germany in Russia.
Indeed, Rouchine's only son had been killed in the advance on Warsaw, hence he held the Hun in abhorrence, and I am certain that had he known Rasputin was the Kaiser's personal agent matters would have gone very differently, and in all probability the enemy plots so cleverly connived at by Alexandra Feodorovna would have been exposed in those early days of the war.
The Russian nation even to-day still reveres its Tsar. They know that he was weak but meant well, and he was Russian at heart and intent upon stemming the Teutonic tide which flowed across his border. But for "the German," Alexandra Feodorovna, not one in all our Russian millions has a word except an execration or a curse, and as accursed by Russia, as is all her breed, she will go down in history for the detestation of generations of those who will live between the Baltic and the Pacific.
Rasputin grew indignant because I crushed the woman's letter into my pocket without reading it aloud, but I knew well how to treat him, therefore I began to explain all that I had learnt from the Secret Police concerning the activities of Ivan Naglovski.
Both men listened with rapt attention.
"Then the fellow really intends evil?" asked the monk, as he laid down a chicken-bone, for he always ate with his fingers.
"I fear he does," was my reply. "But Her Majesty wonders why you should trouble. She says that you, being sent as Russia's saviour, are immune from bodily harm."
"Ah! but remember when that young fellow shot at you and grazed two of your fingers at Minsk," remarked the conjurer with a grin.
"Yes, quite so. I don't like this fellow Naglovski and his friends. I will see Kurloff."
Now, Kurloff was another treacherous bureaucrat, a creature of Rasputin's, who sat in Protopopoff's Ministry of the Interior, and who later on collected the gangs of the "Black Hundred," those hired assassins whom he clothed in police uniforms and had instructed in machine-gun practice—those renegades who played such a sinister part in the first Revolution.
I then gave the monk the urgent message from the Empress.
"Very well," he replied, "I will be back by Saturday; not because I obey the woman, but became I must see Kurloff, and I must take active steps against this Ivan Naglovski and his accursed friends."
Half-an-hour later, when alone in the bare little room allotted to me, I took out the Empress's letter to the Starets and re-read it. It was as follows:
"HOLY FATHER,—It is with deepest concern that from your trusted Feodor I hear of the plot against you. That you can be harmed I do not believe. You, sent by God as Russia's guide to the bright future of civilisation which Germany will bring to her, cannot be harmed by mere mortal. But if there are any who dare dispute your divine right, then, with our dear Stuermer, take at once drastic steps to crush them.
"We cannot afford to allow evil tongues to speak of us; neither can we afford the vulgar scandal that some would seek to create. If you, O Father, feel apprehensive, then act boldly in the knowledge that you have your devoted daughter ever at your side and ever ready and eager to place her power as Empress in your dear hands. Therefore strike your enemies swiftly and without fear. Lips prepared to utter scandal must be, at all costs, silenced.
"Our friend Protopopoff has returned from England and tells me that Lloyd George and his friends are exerting every effort to win the war. Those British are brave, but, oh! if they knew all that we know—eh? They are in ignorance, and will remain so until Germany conquers Russia and spreads the blessing of civilisation among the people.
"Nikki is returning. A seance is to be held on Saturday. You must be back in time. He is sending a messenger to you to urge you to return to us to give us comfort in these long dark days. Anna and the girls all kiss your dear hand.—Your devoted daughter, ALIX."
On the following day a middle-aged, fair-haired, rather well-dressed man, who gave the name of Nicholas Chevitch, from Okhta, a suburb of Petrograd, was brought to me by the monk who acted as janitor, and explained that he had private business with Rasputin.
I left him and, ascending to the monk's room, found him extremely anxious to meet his visitor.
"I will see him at once, Feodor. I have some secret business with him. Here is the key of a small locked box in your room. Open it and take out ten one-thousand rouble notes and bring them to me after you have brought in Chevitch."
This I did. Having admitted the visitor to Rasputin's presence, I opened the small iron box which the Starets always carried in his supposed "pilgrimages," and took out the money, leaving in it a sum of about twelve thousand roubles.
The ten thousand I carried to Rasputin, but as I opened the door I heard the fair-haired man say:
"All is prepared. The wire is laid across the river. We tested it five days ago and it works excellently."
"Good! Ah, here is my secretary Feodor!" the monk exclaimed. "He has the ten thousand roubles for you, and there will be a further ten thousand on the day your plan matures."
I wondered to what plan the Starets was referring. But being compelled to retire I remained in ignorance. The man Chevitch stayed with the monk for over an hour, and then left to return to the capital.
Later on I referred to the visit of the stranger, whereupon Rasputin laughed grimly, saying:
"You will hear some news in a day or two, my dear Feodor. Petrograd will be startled."
"Never mind," he replied. "Wait!"
We arrived back in Petrograd on the following Friday morning, but although the Empress sent a messenger to the Gorokhovaya urging the monk to go to Peterhof at once, as she desired to consult him, he disregarded her command and did not even vouchsafe a reply. Indeed, Rasputin treated the poor half-demented Empress with such scant courtesy that I often stood aghast.
"The woman is an idiot!" he would often exclaim to me petulantly when she was unusually persistent in her demands.
Next evening, however, we went to the palace, whither another French medium, a man named Fournier, had been summoned, having, of course, been administered palm-oil to the tune of some thousands of roubles to give a "message from the dead" in the terms required by the wire-pullers in Potsdam.
I was not present at the seance, but later that night, when Rasputin was sitting alone with me over a bottle of champagne which an "Araby" flunkey had brought him, he revealed that the "message" from the Tsar's dead father had been precise and much to the point.
"Nicholas, I speak unto thee," the spirit had said. "Though thou art brave and thine armies are brave, yet thine enemies will still encompass thee. Loss will follow upon loss. The great advance will soon become a retreat, and the hordes of William will dash forward and Poland will become German. Yet do not be afraid. Trust in the good counsel of thy wife Alexandra Feodorovna and in thy Father Rasputin, whom Heaven hath sent to thee. Believe no evil word of him, and let his enemies be swept from his path. Such is my message to thee, O my son!"
As Rasputin repeated those words with mock solemnity, he laughed grimly.
The pity of it was that Nicholas, Tsar of All the Russias, believed in those paid-for messages, uttered by those presented to him as mediums and able to call up the spirit of his lamented father.
"Poor idiot!" Rasputin remarked, first glancing to see that the door was closed. "He must have something to occupy his shallow brain. That is why the Empress arranges the sittings. But Feodor," he added, "I must see this enemy of mine, Ivan Naglovski. He is not a person to be disregarded, and it seems from what you told me he has a number of important friends. We will discuss the matter to-morrow."
He afterwards dismissed me with a wave of his dirty hand, and I retired to bed in a room at the farther end of the long softly carpeted corridor.
At noon next day we had news of a terrible disaster. Precisely at half-past eleven the city of Petrograd had been shaken to its foundations by a terrific explosion, followed by half a dozen others, which shattered windows and blew down signs and chimneys in all parts of the city. At first everyone stood aghast as explosion followed explosion. Then it transpired that the great munition works at Okhta, across the Neva, opposite the Smolny Monastery, had suddenly blown up, and that hundreds of workers had been killed and maimed and the whole of the newly-constructed plant wrecked beyond repair.
I was just entering Rasputin's room at the palace when a flunkey told me the news.
When a moment later I informed the Starets he smiled evilly, remarking:
"Ah! Then that further ten thousand roubles is due to Nicholas Chevitch. If he calls when we return to Petrograd this afternoon, you must pay him, Feodor. He has done his work well. Russia will be crippled for munitions for some time to come."
On our return to Petrograd we found the city in the greatest state of excitement. The succession of explosions had caused the people to suspect that the disaster was not due to an accident, as the authorities were fondly declaring, but the wilful act of the enemy. Rasputin heard the rumour and piously declared his sympathy with the poor victims.
Yet we had not been back at the Gorokhovaya an hour when the man Chevitch called, and at the monk's orders I handed him the balance of his blood-money.
That same evening Hardt, the secret messenger from Berlin, arrived, having travelled by way of Aboe, in Finland.
"I have a very urgent despatch for the Father," he said when he was ushered in to me, and he handed me a letter upon strong but flimsy paper, so that it could be the more easily concealed in transit.
At once I took him up to the monk, who was washing his hands in his bedroom.
"Ah, dear friend Hardt!" exclaimed the Starets, greeting him warmly. "And you are straight from Berlin! Well, how goes it, eh?"
"Excellently well," was the reply of the messenger from the Secret Service Department in the Koeniggraetzerstrasse. "Germany relies upon you to assist us, as we know you are doing. Count von Wedell has sent you a letter, which I have handed to your friend Feodor."
"Read it, Feodor," said the monk. "There are no secrets in it that may be hidden from our dear friend Hardt."
He spoke the truth. Hardt was the confidential messenger who passed between the Emperor William and Alexandra Feodorovna, and nowadays he was travelling to and fro to Germany always, notwithstanding that Russia was at war with her neighbour.
At Rasputin's bidding I tore open the letter, but found it to be written in cipher.
Therefore I sat down at the little desk and at once commenced to decode it. It was in the German spy-cipher, the same used all over the world by German secret agents—the most simple yet at the same time the most marvellous and complicated code that the world has ever known.
The keys to the code were in twelve sentences that one committed to memory. Hence no code-book need ever be carried. The cipher message, in its introduction, told its recipient the number of the sentences being used—a most ingenious mode of correspondence.
With the paper before me I discovered that in sentence number eight I would find the key. The sentence in question, a proverb something like "Faint heart never won fair lady," I wrote down, and then at once began to decipher the cryptic message from Berlin.
And I read out the following:
"MEMORANDUM NO. 43,286.
"From No. 70 to the Holy Father.
"If the blowing up of the Okhta Munition Works is successful, endeavour to get your friend C. [Chevitch] to do similar work at the new explosive factory at Olonetz, where a sub-inspector named Lemeneff is one of our friends. Tell this to C. and let them get into touch with each other.
"We approve of C.'s suggestion to destroy the battleship Cheliabinsk, and it is suggested that this be carried out at the same price paid for Okhta.
"From what we are informed you are in some danger from a man named Naglovski, who has shown himself far too curious concerning you of late. Steps should be taken against him.—Greetings, W."
The initial, I knew, stood for von Wedell, one of the directors at the Koeniggraetzerstrasse.
Rasputin heard me through, and, taking the cipher message, applied a match to it, after which Hardt, having swallowed a glass of vodka, left us.
But the monk, as a result of that message, was at once aroused to evil activity, and by means of a clever ruse invited Ivan Naglovski to dinner next day. He accepted, hoping, of course, to discover more concerning the monk, and quite unconscious that Rasputin knew of his hostile intentions. To dinner there were invited the Prime Minister, Boris Stuermer, and a sycophant of his named Sikstel. Stuermer was in uniform and Sikstel in civilian attire. Naglovski, I found, was a youngish man, who, when I introduced him, appeared highly honoured to meet at Rasputin's table the Prime Minister of Russia, while the monk went out of his way to ingratiate himself with his enemy. Naglovski and his friends had been preparing a plot either to expose or assassinate the monk, hence the head of the conspiracy was congratulating himself that the plot was unsuspected by anybody.
The dinner passed off quite merrily until, of a sudden, Stuermer, addressing his fellow-guest, said:
"News has been conveyed to the holy Father that you and your friends have formed a plot against him. Is that true?"
Naglovski started and turned pale. For a moment he was taken entirely off his guard.
"Ah!" went on Stuermer in his deep, thick voice, Rasputin having risen to go to the sideboard, "I see it is true. Now, what can you gain by endeavouring to belittle the efforts of our dear Father for the salvation of Russia? Think. Are you patriots? No. Well," he went on, "the reason the Father has invited you here to-night is to come to terms with you. For a list of your friends—a secret list that will be afterwards destroyed—the Starets will pay you twenty thousand roubles, and, further, I will give you a diplomatic appointment in one of the embassies abroad—wherever you desire."
"What!" cried the young man. "You ask me to betray my friends to that blasphemous rascal!" and he pointed his finger at Rasputin, who moved aside. "Never! I refuse! And, further, I tell you," he shouted, rising as he spoke, "I intend to expose the mock-saint and his conjuring tricks; the criminal miracle-worker who, according to secret information I have just received, was the actual instigator of the terrible disaster at Okhta. This is what my friends, when I reveal to them the truth, will expose."
As Ivan Naglovski uttered his biting condemnation Rasputin had crept up behind him, and drawing his revolver suddenly cried in a loud voice:
"Enough! You don't leave this house alive. Gregory Rasputin knows how to crush his enemies, never fear. All your friends will share your fate. Take that!"
And he fired, the bullet striking the unfortunate man in the back, where it entered a vital spot.
Two hours later the body of Ivan Naglovski was discovered on some waste ground out at Kushelevka, on the other side of the city. Though the Director of Secret Police guessed what had occurred, he pretended that it was a complete and unfathomable mystery—and a mystery it has ever remained until this present exposure.
POISON PLOTS THAT FAILED
BY the spring of 1916 Rasputin, though constantly revealing himself as a blasphemous blackguard, had become the greatest power in Russia.
His name was whispered by the awe-stricken people. All Russia, from the Empress down to the most illiterate mujik, accepted him as divine and swallowed any lie he might utter.
The weekly meetings of the "sister-disciples" were becoming more popular than ever in Petrograd society, and there were many converts to the new "religion."
One evening a reunion for recruiting purposes was held by the old Baroness Guerbel at her big house in the Potemkinskaya. The yellow-toothed, loud-speaking old lady had been persistent in her appeals to Rasputin to hold one of his meetings at her house, and he had, with ill-grace, acceded. On fully a dozen occasions the baroness, who was a close friend of old Countess Ignatieff, had interviewed me and endeavoured to enlist my services on her behalf. At last the monk had said to me:
"Well, Feodor, if the old hag is so very persistent, I suppose I had better spend an evening at her house and inspect her lady friends."
Thus it had been arranged, the "saint" little dreaming of the outcome of that fateful reunion.
It seems that Baroness Guerbel had arranged it because she wished to introduce to Rasputin a certain Madame Yatchevski—the wife of an officer who was very rich—who saw that, by Rasputin's influence, she could aspire to a position at Court.
Olga Yatchevski proved to be a pretty, fair-haired little woman of girlish figure and sweet expression, and from the moment of their introduction the unkempt monk, after crossing himself and uttering a benediction, became greatly interested in her, the result being that she became an "aspirant," and her initiation into the secrets of the cult was arranged to take place on the following Wednesday.
The meeting ended, the dozen or so neurotic women, all of them of the highest society in the capital, each bent and kissed the unwashed hand of Russia's "saviour," as was their habit, and when they had gone the monk sat down and drank half a bottle of brandy served to him by his ugly old hostess.
Next night I happened to be out at the theatre when Rasputin, who was alone, emerged to walk round to a professional blackmailer named Ivan Scheseleff, who lived in the Rozhsky Prospekt. Suddenly he was set upon by three Cossacks—afterwards found to have been men hired by Madame Yatchevski's husband—who, hustling the "saint" into a narrow side street, gagged him, stripped him of the silk blouse embroidered by the Tsaritza's own hands, his wide velvet breeches, and his beautiful boots of patent leather.
Then they drew a knout and administered to the rascal a sound drubbing, afterwards binding him with rope and shutting him up in a neighbouring stableyard, attired only in his underwear!
His clothes they packed up in a cardboard box and delivered to Yatchevski, who, having sealed it, sent it by special messenger to Tsarskoe-Selo, where it was delivered into the Empress's own hands.
Alexandra Feodorovna, on having it opened and discovering the insult to her "holy Father," waxed furious. Meanwhile, Rasputin had been discovered, and was at home foaming at the mouth at the indignity. He, "the saviour of Russia," had been thrashed and degraded!
At two o'clock that morning he took a car to the palace, and I accompanied him. He had an interview with Her Majesty, who was attired in a rich dressing-gown of pale-blue silk, and the pair resolved upon a rigid inquiry regarding the affair.
"It is monstrous that you, our dear Father, should have such enemies about you! We will crush them!" she declared angrily. "I will see Nikki about it in the morning. To send me your clothes is a personal insult to myself. It is abominable! These people shall suffer!"
That night we remained at the palace, and next morning Protopopoff was called from Petrograd and informed by the Empress of what had occurred. Later the Minister came to the room wherein I was writing at the monk's dictation, and promised that the whole of the machinery of the Secret Police should be set in motion to discover the perpetrators of the outrage.
Rasputin knew that many of the husbands of his devotees were enraged against him; therefore he could not, at the moment, suggest any particular person who had plotted the affair, and probably the police would have failed to obtain any information had not Captain Yatchevski himself boasted in the Officers' Club of how he had had the Tsaritza's pet "saint" stripped and thrashed.
In Petrograd the very walls had ears; therefore within three hours the "saint" knew the identity of the instigator of the outrage, and gave his name to the Empress.
"We will make an example of him," she said. "Otherwise it may be repeated. I leave it to you, dear Father, to take what reprisals you wish. In any course you adopt you will have the full authority of both Nikki and myself."
For nearly a week Rasputin was undecided as to how he should wreak vengeance upon the unfortunate Yatchevski, whose wife had by this time become one of the monk's most devoted "sisters."
On two or three occasions he went to the Minister of War and chatted with the traitor, General Soukhomlinoff.
Once he remarked to me, after a meeting of the "disciples" at our house in the Gorokhovaya:
"That captain shall pay—and pay dearly—for his insult! Think!—only think of it, Feodor—of sending my clothes to Her Majesty! What must she have thought! To me it seems that she doubts whether I can take care of myself. And am I not inspired, divine!—sent as the saviour of Russia, and immune from the attacks of mankind!"
His subtle mujik mind clearly saw the bad impression which must be produced upon the woman who was so completely beneath the thraldom of his hypnotic eyes. If he could be beaten as a charlatan, then such action of his enemies must naturally create a doubt in her mind. Hence he was scheming to exhibit his power.
The worst feature of the position was that from the Officers' Club the incident had leaked out all over Petrograd, until it had become common talk in the cafes. The story of Grichka sitting upon a dung-heap was on the lips of everybody, while a well-known member of the Duma remarked:
"A pity he was not buried in it, never to see the light of day again!"
Yatchevski was, of course, unconscious of the knowledge held by the monk. He was at the Ministry of War, head of one of its many departments, a loyal patriotic Russian, who, like our millions, believed that Soukhomlinoff was "out to win." He was ignorant of the irresistible power which the dirty "saint" could wield.
One day, to Captain Yatchevski's delight, he found himself raised in rank and appointed military commandant of the town of Kaluga, south of Moscow, with permission to take his wife to reside there. Naturally he was gratified to receive so influential an appointment. Though possessed of much money, he had hitherto not progressed very far in his official career, and this favour shown him by the Tsar, who had made the appointment, pleased him immensely.
His wife, of course, felt otherwise. She would be separated from her gay friends, the "sisters" of the monk's "religion." Besides, she saw that by entering Rasputin's cult there was a prospect of becoming on terms of personal friendship with the Empress.
Anyhow, a week later Olga Yatchevski, having bidden farewell to the monk, was forced to depart with her husband to the important town of Kaluga, and for a fortnight I heard nothing.
One morning, however, the monk received a certain General Nicholas Ganetski, of the Imperial General Staff, when, without much preamble, the officer remarked:
"The warning you gave us concerning Yatchevski has proved quite true. He has been in communication with a German agent in Riga named Kloess."
"Ah! I was quite certain of it, General," remarked the "holy" man, with a sinister grin. "I discovered it quite by accident. Well, what have you done?"
"He and his wife are both under preventive arrest, pending an Imperial order. The papers we seized are conclusive. Among them was the enemy spy code. The whole case is quite clear, and there can be no defence."
"Then there will be a court-martial?"
"Of course. I have ordered it to be held on the seventeenth, in Moscow."
"They are both clever agents of Germany," the monk remarked. "Be careful that they do not slip through your fingers."
"No fear of that, Father," replied the general. "Possession of the German code is in itself sufficient to secure them conviction and sentence."
The latter was indeed pronounced ten days later. The little fair-haired woman, who was so devoted to Rasputin, and who frantically appealed to him in vain to save her, was sentenced to imprisonment for life at Yakutsk, in Eastern Siberia, while her husband, condemned for treason, was next day shot in a barrack square behind the Kremlin in Moscow.
Truly, Gregory the Monk swept with drastic and relentless hand any enemy who crossed his path.
It was about a week after I heard of the execution of the Governor of Kaluga that I happened to be at Tsarskoe-Selo again with my evil-faced master, being busy writing in the luxurious little room allotted to him.
Madame Vyrubova had been with us, discussing the condition of health of the heir to the throne, when, after she had left, there entered quite unexpectedly the Emperor himself.
"Gregory," he said, standing by the window, attired in the rather faded navy serge suit he sometimes wore when busy in his private cabinet, "I have been told to-day that the Holy Synod are once again agitating against you. From what Stuermer has said an hour ago it appears that the Church has become jealous of your friendship with my wife and myself. I really cannot understand this. Why should it be so? As our divine guide in the war against our relentless enemies, we look to you to lead us along the path of victory. Alexandra Feodorovna has been telling me to-day some strange tales of subtle intrigue, and how the Church is uniting to endeavour to destroy your popularity with the people and your position here at our Court."
"Thou hast it in thy power to judge me by my works," was the monk's grave reply, crossing himself piously and repeating a benediction beneath his breath. "Gregory is but the servant of the Almighty God, sent unto thee to guide and direct thee and thy nation against those who seek to destroy and dismember the Empire. Cannot I have the names of those of the Church who are seeking my downfall? Surely it is but just to myself if thou wouldst furnish them to me? Personally, I entertain no hope."
"No hope!" cried the Tsar, starting. "What do you mean, Father? Explain."
"No hope of victory for Russia, surrounded as she is on all sides by those who are conspiring to do thee evil. Against thee the Church is ever plotting. As Starets—I know!"
"And the Procurator?"
"He is thy friend."
"And the Bishop Teofan? Surely he is not a traitor?"
"No. For years I have known him. Trust Teofan, but make an end of the ecclesiastical camarilla which is against thee."
"How can I? I do not know them?" was the Emperor's reply.
"I tell thee plainly that if matters are allowed to proceed, the Church, suborned by German gold as it is, will contrive to defeat our arms. Hence it behoves thee to act—and act immediately!"
The Tsar, his hands in the pockets of his jacket, stood silent.
"Because by divine grace I possess the power of healing, thy Church is jealous of me," Rasputin went on. "The Holy Synod is seeking my overthrow! Always have I acted for the benefit of mankind. But the Russian Church seeks to drive me forth. Therefore, I must bow to the inevitable—and I will depart!"
"Ah, no, Gregory! We cannot spare you, our dear Father," declared the Emperor. "This ecclesiastical interference we will tolerate no longer. You must help me. I give carte blanche to you to dismiss those of the Church who are disloyal and your enemies and mine, and replace them by those who are our friends, and in whom I can place my trust."
"In the sweeping clean of the Church thou wilt find many surprises," replied the monk, elated at the success of his clever reasoning.
"No doubt. I know that the Empress and myself are surrounded by enemies. Plots are everywhere. Is not Protopopoff continuous in his declaration that the Church is against me? I know it—alas! too well. And I leave its reformation entirely to you, dear Father."
Reformation! Within twelve hours Rasputin, who dictated to me over fifty letters, and had, in the name of the Emperor, dismissed most of the higher Church dignitaries in various parts of Russia, the new Procurator of the Holy Synod having been appointed by him only a few weeks before.
Bishop Teofan, who had commenced life as a gardener, who had been convicted as a criminal by the court of Tobolsk, and whose sister was a "disciple" at Pokrovsky, held a long conference with the "saint" lasting well into the night. Truly, they were the most precious pair of unholy scoundrels in all Europe, both being in the immediate entourage of Their Majesties, and both pretending to lead "holy" lives, though they were gloriously drunk each evening.
Nevertheless, within forty-eight hours of Rasputin's conversation with the Tsar, the Church of Russia had been swept clean of all its loyal adherents, and in their places—even in the bishoprics of Kazan, Tver and Odessa—were appointed alcoholic rascals of the same calibre as Rasputin himself.
Is it, then, any wonder that Holy Russia has fallen?
Indeed, the new bishop of Kazan was, three days after his appointment, found one night riotously drunk in one of the principal streets in the city, and, as he was wearing ordinary clothes, was arrested by the police, who did not recognise him, so that the precious prelate spent the night in a cell! Such was our dear Russia in the midst of her valiant struggle against the Hun!
My dissolute master, possessed as he was of superhuman cunning, held the Empire in the hollow of his hand. He could make or break the most powerful statesman within a single day. In that small fireproof safe of his, concealed beneath the floor of the wine-cellar at the Gorokhovaya—that safe in which were preserved so many amorous letters from neurotic women whom the monk intended later on to blackmail—was also much documentary evidence of the "saint's" vile plots, correspondence which, later on, fell into the hands of the revolutionary party, who revealed only a portion of it after Rasputin's tragic end.
Possessed of inordinate greed, the monk had a mania for amassing wealth, yet what really became of his money was to me always a mystery. Though he would have a balance of a million or so roubles at his bank to-day, yet the day after to-morrow his pass-book showed payments of mysterious sums, which would deplete his funds until often he had perhaps but a single thousand roubles.
Into what channel went all that money which he received for bribery, for creating appointments, and for suggesting that young men of good family should be given sinecures, I was never able to discover.
Personally, I believe he paid certain persons whose wives were "disciples" hush-money. But his power was such that I could never see why he should do so. Yet the mujik mind always works in a mysterious way.
The true facts concerning the desperate conspiracy against Generals Brusiloff and Korniloff have never been told, though several French writers have attempted to reveal them, and the revolutionists themselves have endeavoured to delve into the mystery. As secretary to the Starets, I am able to disclose the actual and most amazing truth.
It will be remembered by my readers that General Brusiloff, early in June, 1916, had his four armies well in hand, and made a superhuman effort to defeat the Central Powers between the Pripet and the Roumanian frontier. He was a fearless and brilliant tactician, and within two months had succeeded in capturing 7,757 officers and 350,845 men, with 805 guns—and remember that this was in face of all the obstacles that the Minister of War, who was working with Rasputin as Germany's friend, had placed in his way.
Brusiloff had done splendidly. No Russian general has eclipsed him in this war. He performed miracles of strategy, and Berlin had very naturally become genuinely alarmed. All their negotiations with Stuermer, Protopopoff, Rasputin and others of the "Black Force" had apparently been of no avail. They had staked millions of roubles, but without much result. Our armies were advancing, and the combined German and Austrian forces were daily being entrapped into the marshes or forced back.
Even Rasputin realised the seriousness of the position, and more than once referred to it.
Early one morning, before I was up, Hardt, the secret messenger from Berlin, arrived.
After greeting me, he informed me that he had an urgent secret despatch for the Father—to be delivered only into his own hands. Therefore I at once conducted the travel-worn messenger to Rasputin's bedroom, where he delivered a crumpled letter from the belt which he wore next his skin.
"Read it to me, Feodor," said the "saint," sitting up in bed and rubbing his eyes after a drunken sleep.
Opening it, I found it to be in a code in what was known as "Sentence number seven"—words which, truth to tell, spelt an ancient Russian proverb, which translated into English means: "Actions befit men; words befit women."
Taking a pencil, I sat down, and after ten minutes or so, during which time the monk chatted with Hardt, I succeeded in deciphering the message, which ran as follows:
"T. F. 6,823—88.
"Memorandum from 'No. 70.' Secret and Private.
"Further to the memorandum F. G. 2,734—22, it is deemed of greatest and most immediate importance that the Pripet offensive should at once cease. You will recollect that in your reply you made a promise that the offensive was to be turned into a defeat within fourteen days. But this has not been done, and a certain Personage [the Kaiser] is greatly dissatisfied.
"The advance must not continue, and we send you further secret instructions, herewith enclosed. Lose no time in carrying them out.
"We hope you have not overlooked the instructions contained in F. G. 2,734—22, especially regarding the destruction of the munition factories at Vologda and Bologoye. It is a pity you have allowed K. [Kartzoff, who blew up the explosive works at Viborg, where four hundred lives were lost] to be shot. He was extremely useful. The woman Raevesky, who was his assistant, was not in love with him, as you reported. She would have assisted him further if allowed her liberty. We wonder you were not more correctly informed. Payment of 500,000 roubles will be made to your bank on the 18th from Melnitzzki and Company of Nijni Novgorod. S."
Enclosed was a sheet of pale yellow paper, upon which had been typed in Russian the following:
"Secret Instructions.—(1) You are to double the promised payment to Nicholas Meder and Irene Feischer for the blowing up of the works at Vologda and Bologoye, on condition that the affair is carried out within fourteen days of the receipt of this. If not, arrange with your friend P. [Protopopoff] to have both arrested with incriminating papers upon them. They may become dangerous to us unless implicated.
"(2) As you have failed to carry out the plans against Generals Brusiloff and Korniloff, then you must adopt other means against both generals, and thus ensure a lull upon the frontier. We note that the attempt made by Brusiloff's body-servant, Ivan Sawvitch, has unfortunately failed.
"The bearer of this will hand you a small packet. It contains two tubes of white powder. Peter Tchernine, who has succeeded Sawvitch as the general's servant, is to be trusted. You will send the tube marked No. 1 to him in secret at General Headquarters, with orders to mix the contents with the powdered sugar which the general is in the habit of taking with stewed fruit. The slightest trace of the powder will result in death from a cause which it will be impossible for the doctors to identify.
"(3) A young dancer at the Bouffes named Nada Tsourikoff, living in the Garnovskaya, will call upon you for the tube marked No. 2. She is a close friend of General Korniloff, and is about to join him at headquarters at our orders. She has already her instructions as to the use of the tube. The two deaths will be entirely different, therefore doctors will never suspect.
"At all hazards the offensive must be ended. Greetings. "S."
After I had read the instructions Hardt produced a box of Swedish safety matches, which he emptied upon the table, and among them we saw two tiny tubes of glass hermetically sealed, one containing a white chalk-like powder and numbered "1," while the other was half filled with pale green powder and marked "2." These he handed to the monk, saying:
"I will use your telephone, if I may? I have to ask the young woman Nada Tsourikoff to call here to see you."
The monk having granted permission, Hardt, passing into the study, was soon speaking with the popular young dancer of the Bouffes.
"You will call here at noon, eh?" he asked, to which she gave a response in the affirmative.
Punctually at twelve I was informed that a young lady, who refused her name, desired to have an urgent interview with the Starets, and on going to the waiting-room, wherein so many of the fair sex sat daily in patience for the Father to receive them, I found a tall, willowy, dark-haired and exceedingly handsome girl, who, after inquiring if I were Feodor Rajevski, told me that her name was Tsourikoff and that she had been sent to see the Father.
Without delay I introduced her to the "holy" man, who stood with his hands crossed over his breast in his most pious attitude.
"My daughter, you have, I believe, been sent to me by our mutual friend," he said. "You wish for something? Here it is," and he produced a small oblong cardboard box such as jewellers use for men's scarf-pins. Opening it, he showed her the tiny tube reposing in pink cotton wool. "It is a little present for somebody, eh?" he asked with a sinister laugh.
"Perhaps," replied the girl as she took it and placed it carefully in the black silk vanity-bag she was carrying.
"You have already received instructions through another channel?" inquired Rasputin.
"I have, O Father," was her reply.
"Then be extremely careful of it. Let not a grain of it touch you," he said. "I am ordered to tell you that."
She promised to exercise the greatest care.
"And when you have fulfilled your mission come to me again," he said, fixing her with his sinister, hypnotic eyes, beneath the cold intense gaze of which I saw that she was trembling. "Remember that!—perform what is expected of you fearlessly, but with complete discretion, and instantly on your return to Petrograd call here and report to me."
The girl promised, and then, kissing the dirty paw which the monk held out to her, she withdrew.
"Good-looking—extremely good-looking, Feodor," the monk remarked as soon as she had gone. "She might be very useful to me in the near future." Then after a pause he added: "Ring up His Excellency the Minister of War and ask where Brusiloff is at the present moment."
I did so, and after a short wait found myself talking to General Soukhomlinoff, who told me that the Russian commander was that day at headquarters at Minsk.
When I told the monk, he said: "You must go there at once, Feodor, and carry the little tube to the Cossack Peter Tchernine, who is now Brusiloff's body-servant."
"I!" I gasped, startled at the suggestion that I should be chosen to convey death to our gallant commander.
"Yes. And pray why not? Someone whom I can trust must act as messenger. And I trust you above all men, Feodor."
For a moment I hesitated.
Then I thanked him for his expression of confidence, but he at once noticed the reluctance which I had endeavoured to conceal.
"Surely, Feodor, you are not hesitating to perform this service for the Fatherland? Think of all the sacrifices we are making to bring the benefit of German civilisation into Russia," added the pious scoundrel.
"I will go—certainly I will go," I said. "But I cannot leave to-day. I shall require papers from the Ministry ere I can travel."
"His Excellency the General will order them to be furnished to you," he said. "I will see to it at once."
And five minutes later he went out to seek the Minister.
I was horrified at my position, compelled as I was to convey the means of death to the hands of the German spy Tchernine, who had been placed as servant to the Russian commander. I saw that I must leave Petrograd for Minsk that night; therefore I set about preparing for my adventurous journey. Indeed, shortly before midnight I left the Gorokhovaya with the box of Swedish matches in my inner pocket.
The journey from Petrograd due south to Polotzk, where I had to change, proved an interminable one and occupied nearly two days, so congested was the line by military traffic and ambulance trains. At last on arrival there I joined a troop-train with reinforcements going to Minsk, where I duly alighted, to discover that General Brusiloff's headquarters were out at a village called Gorodok, about five miles distant, in the direction of Vilna. The evening was bitterly cold, and as I drove along I became filled with ineffable disgust of Rasputin and the disgraceful camarilla who were slowly but surely hurling the nation to its doom.
Had I refused to undertake that devilish mission, the monk would have instantly suspected me of double dealing, and sooner or later I should have met with an untimely end, as, alas! so many others had done. So completely had he placed me beneath his thumb that I was compelled to act as he dictated, in order to save my own life, for, as I have already explained, the "holy" man held the lives of those who displeased him very cheaply.
At headquarters, which proved to be a veritable hive of military activity, I posed to a sergeant as Tchernine's brother, and begged that I might see him. It was nearly dark as I stood with the man, who had roughly demanded my business there.
"I fear you will not be able to see him," he replied. "The Emperor has just arrived on a visit to headquarters, and he is with the general, and your brother is in attendance upon them."
Tchernine, a spy of Germany, was actually in attendance upon the Emperor, and hence could listen to the conversation between His Majesty and the army commander!
"But I have come all the way from Petrograd," I whined. "I have a message to give my brother from his wife, whom I fear is dying."
This moved the honest sergeant, who, calling one of his men, told him to go to Tchernine and tell him he was wanted immediately.
"Only for a few moments," I said. "I will not keep him from his duty more than two or three minutes—just to give him the message."
I waited alone in a small, bare hut for nearly half an hour, when the man returned with Brusiloff's servant.
"Ah, dear brother Peter!" I cried, rushing forward and embracing him ere he could express astonishment. "So I have found you at last—at last!"
As I expected, the man who had accompanied him, not wishing to be present at the meeting, turned and left us alone.
The instant he had gone I pressed the box of matches into his hand, whispering:
"Take this. It has been sent to you from our friends in Berlin. Inside is a tube of white powder, which you will mix with the powdered sugar which General Brusiloff takes with fruit. It is highly dangerous, so be very careful how you handle it. Death will occur quickly, but the doctors will never discover the reason. It has already been used with effect by our friends among the Allies."
"I understand," was the spy's grim reply. "Tell our friends that I will put it into the sugar to-night, and both His Majesty and the general shall have some. How fortunate, eh?" he grinned.
I held my breath. It had never crossed my mind that Nicholas was to dine with the general.
"No," I said. "Keep it till to-morrow, so that the general has it alone. It is intended for him. Those are the instructions."
"I shall not," was his reply as he placed the box in his pocket. "If one has it, so shall the other. The German advance will be made all the more easy by the removal of both of them. I——"
Footsteps sounded outside, and the sergeant appeared an instant later; hence we were compelled to separate after exchanging farewells as good brothers would.
Back to Minsk I drove rapidly, and two hours later was in an ambulance train on my way to Petrograd, full of wonder as to what was happening at Gorodok.
Peter Tchernine, spy of Germany, had no doubt mixed the contents of that tiny tube with the powdered sugar served to the general and his Imperial guest.
Standing alone at the end of a long ambulance carriage, I leaned out of the window, breathing the fresh air of the open plain. We were running beside a lake, the water of which came up close to the rails. Here was my opportunity.
I took a tin matchbox from my pocket and flung it as far as I could into the water.
Then I returned to my seat, my heart lighter, for at last I had saved the life of our dear general, and also that of His Majesty, for, truth to tell, what I had given Peter Tchernine was only a little tube of French chalk made up to resemble that brought so secretly from Berlin.
On reporting to Rasputin next day, he rubbed his hands with delight. I, of course, did not tell him of the Emperor's peril.
Next day he, however, came to me in a state of high indignation.
"The fool Tchernine has blundered, just as Sawvitch did!" he cried. "Brusiloff still lives and is continuing the offensive. Did he not promise to use the tube?"
"He certainly did," I assured the monk. "He was filled with satisfaction that he would be able thus to help the Fatherland."
"In any case he has failed!" said the "holy" man. "Not only that, but the plot against Korniloff has also failed. What shall I reply to Berlin? What will they say?"
"Has the girl Nada Tsourikoff failed us, then?" I asked eagerly.
"Yes," he replied in a hard, deep tone. "The little fool apparently had no courage. It failed her at the last moment—or——"
"Or somebody knew the truth and threatened exposure."
"Because she was found dead yesterday morning at the Grand Hotel at Dvinsk, having broken the tube and taken some of its contents in her tea. A pity, too, Feodor, for she might have been so very useful." Then he added: "Bah! it is always the same with women, their courage fails them at the last moment! No. It is men—men like yourself, Feodor—that we want. The failure at Minsk is, however, very strange. We must inquire into Tchernine's actions and report fully to the Koeniggraetzerstrasse. Otherwise I shall once again be blamed. Surely I did my best—and so did you!"
RASPUTIN AND THE KAISER
THE secret visit of Rasputin to Berlin and his second audience with the Kaiser were stoutly denied at the time, but as I accompanied the "saint" upon his adventurous journey I am in a position to know the exact facts.
He, dressed as a Dutch pastor, and calling himself Pastor van Meuwen, and I, calling myself Koster, arrived at a small quiet hotel called the Westfaelischer-Hof, in the Neustadische-strasse, on the north of the Linden. We had travelled by way of Helsingfors, Stockholm, and Hamburg, Rasputin being bearer of letters from the Tsaritza to the Kaiser and Kaiserin, assuring them of her continued good wishes and her efforts to secure a German conquest.
Hardly had we been in the rather dismal hotel an hour when a waiter introduced into our private sitting-room, where I stood alone, a tall, dark, middle-aged man, who clicked his heels as he bowed elegantly before me.
Smiling, and without uttering a word, my visitor handed me half of a plain visiting-card that had been roughly torn across, after I had scribbled my signature across the back. From my cigarette-case I took the other half, and placing them together, ascertained that they fitted. The torn portion that the Baron von Hausen—for that was his name, I learnt—had handed to me had been conveyed to Berlin by Hardt a month before, in order that we might repose confidence in any person who called upon us and bore it as the credential of the Koeniggraetzerstrasse.
My visitor was a pleasant, shrewd-eyed man, well dressed and wearing a fine diamond in his black cravat, who, when he had seated himself at my invitation, glanced to see if the door was closed, and then exclaimed:
"Well, Herr Koster, I trust that the Father and yourself have had a comfortable journey."
"Quite," I replied. "But, of course, it is a very roundabout route."
"I expected you two days ago," said the baron, who at that moment rose at the entry of Rasputin and greeted him.
The appearance of the monk in Berlin was very different from the figure he presented in Petrograd. His hair and beard had been trimmed, he had washed, and in his clerical garb he looked a typical Dutch pastor.
I introduced the pair, whereupon the baron said:
"His Majesty the Emperor wishes you to come to Potsdam at four o'clock to-morrow afternoon. You are to meet the Chancellor."
To this the monk agreed, saying in his halting German:
"It is not the first time I have been received by His Majesty. I shall bring Feodor."
"As you wish. But I question if His Majesty will allow him to be present at the audience."
"In that case, Baron, tell His Majesty that I shall not come," remarked the "saint" bluntly. "His Majesty the Tsar permits the presence of my secretary, therefore why should your Emperor object? Give him that message," he said, adding: "I have little time to spare here in Berlin, and am returning to Petrograd almost at once."
The Baron von Hausen demurred, but Rasputin insisted on his message being given to the Kaiser.
Then, when our visitor had left, the monk helped himself to a stiff glass of brandy, and laughing said:
"The only way to treat these Germans is with dignity, Feodor. I want you to note all he says and translate the most important into Russian for me. Why does Bethmann-Hollweg want to be present, I wonder?"
"To advise the Kaiser, no doubt."
"About what? I will deal with His Majesty himself, and nobody else," he snapped.
Even while we were discussing the situation another caller came, a German, also dressed as a pastor, who gave the name of Schwass. In a moment Rasputin, recognising him, locked the door and, turning quickly, asked in Russian:
"Well, how do things go? You are not suspected?"
"Not in the least," was the reply of the man, who had been an agent of the Russian Secret Police, and who was now a spy living in Berlin under a clerical guise.
"You have a letter for me, I believe, Father, from the Minister Protopopoff, have you not?" he asked.
I unlocked the small attache case and from among a number of other letters which we had brought from Russia was one in a plain envelope addressed to the Pastor Wilhelm Schwass.
The spy tore it open, read it through carefully three times, and then placed it in the fire and watched until it was consumed. What the instructions were we knew not. They were evidently unwelcome, for the man's face went grey, and scarcely uttering another word he turned and left us.
After dinner, which we took together in our sitting-room, we went out for a walk in the Linden. Rasputin was eager to go to one or other of the variety entertainments, but I dissuaded him from such an action, he being in clerical attire.
"If you go you may arouse the curiosity of some stupid policeman, and inquiries might be made concerning us. No, while in Berlin it will be necessary for you to remain very quiet," I urged. "Remember, the baron and certain of his friends are watching us."
So we idled along to the Cafe Bauer, where we spent an hour watching the gay crowd, among whom were a number of convalescent officers with those in the capital on leave from Flanders. Berlin life seemed quite unchanged, and the war had not by any means checked the spirit of gaiety in its "night life." There had been a successful attack upon the British that day, and the "victory" over the hated English was upon everyone's lips.
For another hour we wandered, noting the merriment and confidence in conquest on every hand.
"Truly," declared Rasputin, "these Germans spread reports of their own distress for propaganda purposes. Ah, they are indeed a great people, with a great leader!"
I differed from him, for I have never had a liking for Germans. At heart Rasputin had, I knew, no great liking either. He admired them and assisted them because he was a born adventurer, and as the tool of the Kaiser was well paid for his services, while at the same time he had succeeded in placing himself in the position of autocrat over the Tsar himself.
After an expensive supper at a small place near the Rosenthal Thor, where two scantily-clad girls danced while the patrons ate, we retraced our steps to the Neustadische-strasse.
On re-entering the hotel the hall-porter gave me a message asking me to ring up Herr Weghinger at No. 2862, Potsdam.
This I did from our sitting-room, asking for Herr Weghinger.
"Yes," came the voice. "Are you Herr Koster?"
I replied in the affirmative, recognising the voice of Baron von Hausen, who said:
"Will you please tell your friend that I have arranged for your visit here, and that you will be welcomed. Be outside the French Embassy at three o'clock, when a yellow car will drive up. Enter it, and you will be brought here. I shall await you." And then he wished me good night.
The wire over which I had spoken was, I knew, one of the private ones to the Neues Palais at Potsdam.
Rasputin had again triumphed. When I told him he laughed coarsely, remarking:
"People are too apt to regard this Kaiser fellow as lord of the world. He will never work his will upon Gregory. Nicholas tried, and failed. Let William try, and he will discover that at least one man is his equal—and more!"
On the following day at three o'clock we both stood upon the kerb in the Pariser Platz, opposite the closed French Embassy, when suddenly from the Sommerstrasse a big yellow car approached us and drew up. The driver, who had evidently been given our descriptions, got down, saluted, and opened the door for us. Then a minute later we were on our way out of Berlin on the Potsdam road. The papers that day had reported that the Emperor was in Brussels, but such misleading statements are permissible in war.
When we had come down the hill to the Havel and passed over the Glienicke Bridge, we sped through the pleasant town of Potsdam, until at last we entered the great Sanssouci Park, driving past the fountains straight up the tree-lined Hauptweg till we pulled up before the private door of the palace, that used by the Imperial family.
The baron, in uniform and all smiles, was there to meet us, as he had promised.
"I had a difficulty with the Emperor," he whispered to me. "But as the Father insists, His Majesty has given way."
Rasputin overheard his words, and I saw upon his bearded lips a sinister smile.
Through rooms with painted ceilings we were conducted, through the Shell Salon—the walls of which were inlaid with shells, the friezes being of minerals and precious stones—across the Marble Room, and then along an endless, thickly carpeted corridor, which reminded me of one at Peterhof leading to the Empress's private apartments, until the baron saluted a sentry, passed him, and a little farther on knocked discreetly at a polished mahogany door, that of the Kaiser's private workroom.
A moment later we were ushered into a rather small room, plainly furnished, very much like an office. In a chair by the fire sat the grey-bearded Chancellor smoking a cigar, and standing with his back to the English grate was the Emperor William, looking grey and worn, dressed in a drab suit of tweeds.
"Ah, Gregory!" exclaimed His Majesty, who took no notice of my unimportant self, "I do not forget our last meeting. Well, you have done well—excellent work for our Fatherland!" And he introduced the monk to the Imperial Chancellor, who, I thought, greeted the charlatan somewhat contemptuously.
Now, Rasputin, wearing clothes to which he was unaccustomed, and devoid of his gold chain and jewelled cross, which he had so constantly fingered when he granted audiences to those who wished to bask in his smiles—which, of course, always meant great pecuniary advantage or official advancement—seemed at the first moment ill at ease.
"I have done the bidding of my Imperial sister," was his reply. "I have for thee letters from her, also letters for thy wife," and from the pocket of his clerical coat he drew four letters, rather crumpled.
The Emperor hastily scanned the two which Alexandra Feodorovna had addressed to himself, and I noticed a smile of satisfaction flit across his grey, mobile features.
Then, placing them upon his littered writing-table, he gave us seats, and around the fire we sat to talk.
Truly, that council of treachery was an historic one, and cost the lives of many innocent non-combatant women and children.