The Kaiser began by chaffing Rasputin as to his disguise, saying with a laugh:
"Really, you might pass unsuspected anywhere, Father! The baron has been telling me that you are at this moment the very reverend Pastor van Meuwen, from Utrecht. My police have no knowledge that you are Russian and an enemy. But there, you are clever, and your services to me are worthy far greater reward than you have yet received. Now tell me," he added, "how is Stuermer? I sometimes wonder whether he is acting straight or crooked. Only the other day he telegraphed to Downing Street that you Russians would never agree to a separate peace to isolate Britain. This is most annoying."
"Thou art misled, as is all the world," replied the monk with a meaning smile. "That telegram was sent to London only after many conferences, in which Alexandra Feodorovna took part with Nicholas, Stuermer, Fredericks, and Protopopoff. The British Press was growing dubious as to our determination in winning the war, hence Stuermer's assurance to bamboozle the world was highly necessary."
"That relieves us of much anxiety," remarked Bethmann-Hollweg, chewing the end of his cigar. "We were beginning to fear that Stuermer might be leaning towards England."
Rasputin made a gesture in the negative.
"Stuermer is ever a good friend of the Fatherland," was his slow reply, his eyes fixed upon the Emperor.
"There must be famine in Russia," declared the Kaiser impatiently. "Your friend Protopopoff has not yet created it, as he promised when he saw me. Famine will bring Russia quickly to her knees, as it will eventually bring Britain. Our U-boats are doing marvels. Happily we warned the British, therefore we are contravening no convention."
"Soon our friends in London who have sworn never to sheathe the sword until we are wiped from the face of the earth will begin to squeal," remarked the Imperial Chancellor with a laugh. "And especially if we can carry out Professor Hoheisel's plan and create a pestilence. It must be tried in Russia first, and then in England," Bethmann-Hollweg went on. "The bacteria of anthrax, glanders, and bubonic plague must be sown in various parts of Russia, Gregory. Before you leave Berlin the plan will be explained to you."
"The plan by which we sought to propagate cholera by sending infected fruit to various charitable institutions broke down because the delivery of the fruit was delayed, and it arrived at its destination in an uneatable condition," replied Rasputin. "No one would touch it, hence all our plans were upset."
"The distribution of presents to charitable institutions must be repeated," declared the Chancellor, to which the Emperor agreed. "To-morrow you will be told our wishes in that direction," the Chancellor went on.
"Yes," exclaimed the Emperor, "this military offensive must stop, and at once, if we are successfully to invade England. As soon as Russia makes peace our hands will be free to strike a staggering blow at John Bull. Not till then."
"As soon as we bring Russia to her senses then we shall begin to twist the tail of the British lion," said the Chancellor. "All our plans are complete. As soon as there is quiet on the Russian front we can, within forty-eight hours, if we wish, put six army corps into East Anglia between the Tyne and the Blackwater," he added boastfully.
"Hindenburg will lead them into London one day, never fear," declared the Emperor in the most earnest confidence.
I sat in silence, listening to this strange talk of what was to happen to England when Russia was crushed.
"The charges against Soukhomlinoff ought never to have been made," the Emperor went on, addressing the monk. "I understood from your report to Steinhauer that you were arranging that the Tsar should hush up the inquiry?"
"The Emperor gave orders to that effect, in consequence of the advice of the Empress, but the charges were so very grave that Stuermer urged him to cancel his orders lest the public should suspect him of any intention of suppressing a scandal."
It was true that the charges against the Minister of War were astounding. A high official in the Ministry, named Kartzoff, had betrayed his chief, whereupon Colonel Tugen Baranovsky, late Chief of the Mobilisation Department of the Russian General Staff, had declared that the mobilisation plans drafted by the general were full of wilful errors, while rifles, machine-guns, and field and heavy guns were all lacking. Allegations had been made by General Petrovsky, later Chief of the Fortifications Department, to the effect that the general had only twice visited the artillery administration during the whole time he held his portfolio as Minister, while Colonel Balvinkine, one of the heads of the Artillery Administration, had asserted that Soukhomlinoff had insisted upon important contracts for machine-guns being given to the Rickerts factory at a cost of two thousand roubles each, while the Toula factory could turn out excellent machine-guns at nine hundred roubles.
Such were the charges whispered loudly from end to end of Russia.
"It would be best for that fellow Kartzoff to disappear," declared the Kaiser. "His mouth should be closed, as he may become an awkward witness. Tell Protopopoff from me that it would be judicious to send him to some unknown destination, and that I shall expect to hear early news that he is missing."
"I will carry out thine order," said Rasputin gravely. "I agree with thee that Kartzoff is highly dangerous. Besides, he is a friend of my worst enemy, Purishkevitch, the member of the Duma who has been agitating against the events at the front."
Rasputin, by the way, did not fail to give Protopopoff the Kaiser's message, and three days after our return to Petrograd Kartzoff was enticed away from there by means of a forged telegram, a week later his body being found in a wood near Kislovodsk, in the North Caucasus, while two other witnesses against the Minister of War were arrested, and died later in the island fortress of Schluesselburg.
The Kaiser seemed unusually cordial towards the monk, much more so than on the occasion when they met in Silesia. The Chancellor seemed to be watching the "holy" man, taking note of his every gesture and every remark.
The Kaiser agreed entirely with his Chancellor's views, and was insistent upon the creation of a pestilence in Russia.
"Cholera or plague could work more for our ends in Russia in a month than we can effect by military force in a whole year," he declared as he lit a cigarette, afterwards tossing the match carelessly into the fire. "What are the views of Alexandra Feodorovna?"
"The same as thine own," the monk replied. "Unfortunately all our efforts failed. A man named Tsourikoff by some means obtained knowledge of what was intended. Her Majesty heard of it, hence I had him removed two days later. He was met by a certain dancer, and had supper with her at Pivato's, in the Morskaya. An hour after they parted Tsourikoff died mysteriously."
"The dancer was a friend of yours, eh? Perhaps a sister-disciple?" remarked the Emperor with a meaning grin.
"Thou hast guessed aright," answered the monk. "But after that we did not dare to carry the infection further."
"It must be done. I have some ideas. The baron will explain them to you to-morrow, and I shall expect you to carry them out," said the great War Lord. "In Russia there must be revolt and disease, in England invasion, and in France—well, we know how we shall conquer both France and Italy," he added, smiling mysteriously.
He spoke as one who believed that he held the destinies of Europe in the hollow of his hand.
"Middle Europe will conquer the world, of that I have no doubt. All is in God's hands," agreed the "saint" in bad German, crossing himself with a mock piety which seemed to amuse both the Emperor and his Chancellor.
"Listen to-morrow to Hoheisel's scheme, which I have approved," said the Emperor, passing to his visitor another cigarette from the heavy golden box. "The professor will call on you with the baron and explain. Act boldly, dear friend Gregory, for recollect that you have behind you the whole resources of Prussia and the good will of myself."
The monk, who had only on the previous day declared that he would subject the Kaiser to his influence, had fallen so completely beneath the thrall of the German Emperor's curious hypnotism that he sat ready and eager to do his bidding.
"The letters you have brought to me from Tsarskoe-Selo are satisfactory so far as they go, but there is still much to be done," said the Kaiser. "Tell the Empress that I will reply to her by courier, but that she is to continue her efforts, and that you both have my full and complete support. The prosecution of Soukhomlinoff must be at once suppressed, and those hostile statements in the Duma from time to time directed against us must be made a penal offence punishable by deportation. Kartzoff must go, and Purishkevitch, who is so constantly speaking in the Duma against yourself and others, should be suppressed without delay. Perhaps he will come to a sudden end!" suggested the Emperor. "At least we can hope so."
Next day at noon the baron brought to us a short, stout, yellow-haired man in gold spectacles, the famous German bacteriologist, Professor Hoheisel, of the Friedrichshain Hospital.
With the door locked, we all four sat down while the deep-voiced scientist unfolded his plan for the devastating of certain populous areas in Russia by the dissemination of a newly discovered and highly infectious disease.
"The disease was discovered a year ago by Gerhold, at the Alt-Moabit, and is closely allied to bubonic plague. It is more highly infectious than anthrax or smallpox, and inevitably proves fatal," the professor said, seated at the head of the small table. "Curiously enough, infants seem to be immune up to six years of age. Now, my proposal, to which both the Emperor and the Chancellor have agreed, is that the cultures which I have prepared, and of which a large quantity is already in Stockholm ready to be utilised, should be introduced into a consignment of meat extract and tinned beef which has come from South America, and which is being held back by a certain firm in Stockholm friendly to ourselves."
"How do you propose to infect it?" asked the monk, the devilish plot appealing at once to his cunning and unscrupulous mind.
"By puncturing the tins and introducing the culture by means of a hypodermic syringe, and closing up the hole with a spot of solder. The bottles will be treated by puncturing the corks with the needle and closing the hole with melted resin."
"I might say," added the baron, "that the cargo has been purchased by our friends, Messrs. Juel and Ehrensvard, who are awaiting instructions before re-shipping it. When the meat is prepared it will be your work, Father, to see that it is distributed in the two cities in which we want to experiment, namely, Nijni-Novgorod and Vologda."
"They are doomed cities, eh?" I remarked.
"We intend them to be so," the professor said. "When once the disease is released it will spread everywhere, and no precautions can be taken because, up to the present, it is known to only half-a-dozen of us in Berlin, and we have no knowledge how to treat it successfully."
Rasputin was silent.
"It will certainly be far more dangerous than cholera or plague—dangerous to ourselves, I mean," he remarked.
"Of course the epidemic must not be allowed to break out in Petrograd or in any of the army centres—at least, not at present. We must first watch the effect in Vologda and Nijni."
"Well," said the monk, "what do you wish me to do?"
"You are returning by way of Stockholm," replied the baron. "His Majesty wishes the professor to accompany you, and in the warehouse of the firm I have named you will see the canned goods and bottles. The professor will show you that the tins have been repainted and are labelled with the mark of a well-known firm, so that there can be no suspicion of them. Only the paint is a much brighter blue than that usually employed. The reason of this is that they can easily be identified by any in the secret, and prevented from being opened in any area save those two towns I have named."
"When do you leave?" asked the deep-voiced demon in human form.
"On Friday next. I have still a number of persons to see."
"Then I shall be ready to travel with you, Father," declared the professor; and then, after taking some brandy and soda-water, the conference ended.
The devilish ingenuity of the whole scheme appalled me. The sowing of cholera germs by means of infected fruit had happily failed, but now Germany intended to strike a blow at the civil population of Russia upon a scale more gigantic than I had ever imagined.
Next day, a man who gave the name of Emil Doellen brought Rasputin a letter, which I opened.
It was, I found, a code message which had been received at the great German wireless station at Nauen, having been dispatched from Petrograd, ostensibly to the warship Petropavlovsk in the Baltic, as Rasputin had arranged before he left Russia.
When I decoded it, I found it to be from the Minister Protopopoff, containing certain further instructions, as well as a message from the Tsaritza—which necessitated the monk having a second audience with the Kaiser.
In reply—while the secret messenger Doellen retired for an hour—I sat down and wrote, at the monk's dictation, a long dispatch, in which he made brief allusion as to the proposed dissemination of disease, and stating his intention to remain some days in Stockholm.
"All is well," he dictated. "The Emperor William sends his best greetings and acknowledgments of your dispatch of the 3rd inst. It has been found necessary to recall the troops who have been held ready at Hamburg and Bremen for the invasion of Britain. The German General Staff have, after due consideration, decided that an invasion before Russia is crushed might meet with disaster, hence they are turning their attention to submarine and aerial attacks upon Britain in order to crush her. I have learnt from a conversation with the Kaiser that London is to be destroyed by a succession of fleets of super-aeroplanes launching newly devised explosive and poison-gas bombs of a terribly destructive character. Urge S. [Stuermer] to disclaim at once all knowledge of the Rickert contracts. The action taken against General S. is again ordered to be dropped. See the Emperor and persuade him. Blessings upon you. "GREGORY."
Then I proceeded to put it into the special code which Rasputin and Protopopoff alone used, and when Doellen called it was ready for transmission from Nauen back to the Russian battleship, to which I had addressed it, to be "picked up" by the wireless station in Petrograd.
The "holy Father" greatly enjoyed himself in a quiet way in Berlin. Indeed, he purchased a ready-made suit of clothes, and, attired in them, he went out on two occasions and did not return till dawn, and then half intoxicated. On the second occasion the baron called and remonstrated with him, pointing out that he was running great risk.
"We have been watching you in order to avoid any unwelcome inquiries by the police. But if you continue we can accept no further responsibility," he said. "You see, you pose as Dutch without being able to speak a word of the language!"
After that Rasputin became more discreet, but I was nevertheless glad when one night we met Professor Hoheisel at the station and left for Hamburg, duly arriving at Stockholm two days later, where we lost no time in visiting the premises of Juel and Ehrensvard.
Indeed, Mr. Juel, the head of the Hun firm which was doing a large export business between Sweden and Germany, called upon us at the Grand Hotel within an hour of our arrival, and together we all went to a narrow street off the Fjellgatan, not far from the Saltsjoebanans station, where we found a great warehouse filled to overflowing with tins of corned beef and cases containing bottles of beef extract, which had come from America, destined for Germany, but which had been held up to be diverted to Russia after being treated with disease germs.
We were shown stacks upon stacks of tins of one pound, two pounds and six pounds of beef, all bearing a well-known label, but all painted a peculiar blue for identification purposes. In the store we were met by four German laboratory assistants of the fat professor, ready to commence work upon the tins.
"I will show you what we shall do," said Hoheisel. "The manipulation of the tins is quite easy."
He conducted us to a small room on the top floor, which I at once saw was fitted as a laboratory, and which contained microscopes, incubators, stands of test-tubes, and all the other apparatus appertaining to the bacteriologist.
One of his assistants had carried up four small tins of beef, with a couple of bottles of beef extract. These he placed on the table, and as we stood around he took a small bradawl, and having punctured the tin at the large end close to the rim, he took from one of the incubators a test-tube full of a cloudy brown liquid gelatine. Then filling a hypodermic syringe—upon which was an extra long needle—he thrust it into the contents of the tin and injected the virus into the meat.
Afterwards, with a small soldering-iron he closed the puncture.
"That tin, infected as it is, is sufficient to cause an epidemic which might result in thousands of deaths," declared the Hun professor proudly.
His assistant then took a bottle of beef extract, which in Russia is popular with all classes in preparing their cabbage soup, and refilling the syringe, plunged the needle through the cork, afterwards placing a spot of melted resin upon the puncture.
"You see how simple it is!" laughed the professor, addressing the "saint." "All that now remains is for a firm in Petrograd to buy the consignment and arrange for it to be sold to wholesale dealers in Vologda and Nijni. This we expect you to arrange."
"I certainly will," replied Rasputin promptly. "Truly, the idea is a most ingenious one—a disease which is as yet unknown!"
We remained in Stockholm for four days longer. The professor and his assistants were working strenuously, we knew, preparing death for the population of those two Russian towns.
One afternoon, after he had lunched with us at the hotel, he said:
"If our experiment is successful, then we mean to repeat it from South America to England. It is therefore most important that news of the epidemic does not reach the ears of the Allies. You will point out that to the Minister Protopopoff. When the plague breaks out the censorship must be of the strictest."
Rasputin nodded. He quite understood. He hated the British just as heartily as did the Tsaritza.
A week later we were back at Tsarskoe-Selo, and the monk—who pretended to have been on a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Tver—made to the Empress a full report of his journey to Potsdam. He also told her of the diabolical plot to sweep off the population of Vologda and Nijni as an experiment, in order to see how Hun "science" could win the war.
Protopopoff came to Rasputin's house half-a-dozen times within the next three days, and it was arranged that a firm of importers, Illine and Stroukoff, of Petrograd, should handle the consignment of preserved meat. Both partners in the firm were in the pay of the Ministry of the Interior, hence it was not difficult to arrange that the whole cargo should be sent to Vologda and Nijni to relieve there the growing shortage of meat.
I strove to combat the clever plot, but was, alas! unable to do so. Every precaution was taken against possible failure. The cargo arrived, and was at once sent on by rail to its destination, payment being made for it through ordinary channels, and nobody suspecting. Food was welcomed indeed in Russia in those days of 1916.
In the stress of exciting events that followed I forgot the affair for several weeks. One night, however, Rasputin, on returning from Peterhof, where the Court was at that moment, received Protopopoff, and the pair sat down to drink together.
Suddenly His Excellency exclaimed, with a laugh:
"Your mission to Berlin has borne fruit, my dear Gregory! For the past four days I have been receiving terrible reports from Vologda, and worse from Nijni-Novgorod. The inhabitants have been seized by a mysterious and terribly fatal disease. A medical commission left Petrograd yesterday to study it."
"Let them study it!" laughed Rasputin. "They will discover no mode of treatment."
"Both towns are rapidly becoming decimated. There have been over thirty thousand deaths, and the mortality is daily increasing."
"As I expected," remarked the monk. "The professor knows what he is doing. Later on we shall be sending the infection into England and cause our John Bull friends a surprise."
"But the position is terribly serious," said His Excellency.
"No doubt. Berlin is watching the result. One day they may deem it wise to infect our army. But that must be left to their discretion."
Truly the result of that devilish plot was most awful. In the three months that followed—though not a word leaked out to the Allies, so careful were Protopopoff and the camarilla to suppress all the facts—more than half the population of the two cities died from a disease which to this day is a complete mystery, and its bacilli known only to German bacteriologists.
THE "PERFUME OF DEATH"
"I AM much grieved to hear of the disaster at Obukhov. The accident to Colonel Zinovief is most deplorable. Please place a wreath upon his grave from me. Pray always for us. "ALIX."
This was the text of a telegram addressed to Rasputin from the Empress, which I opened when it was placed in my hands. It had been sent from Bakhtchisaray, the Oriental town in the Crimea, where Alexandra Feodorovna had gone to visit the military hospitals, it being necessary for her to pose before Russia as sympathetic to the wounded.
The disaster to which she referred had taken place at the great steel works at Obukhov, the outrage having been committed by two German secret agents named Lachkarioff and Filimonoff, who had visited Rasputin and from whose hand they had received German money. Nearly five hundred lives had been lost, as the foundry had been in close proximity to an explosives factory, where Colonel Zinovief, the director, had been blown to atoms.
It was late at night, and the monk, who was in a state of semi-intoxication, on hearing of the wish of Her Majesty, remarked:
"Ah! a clever woman, Feodor—very clever. She never misses an opportunity to show her sympathy with the people. Oh! yes—order the wreath to-morrow from Solovioff in the Nevski—a fine large one." Then laughing, he added: "The people, when they see it, will never suspect that Alexandra Feodorovna knew of the pending disaster eight days ago. But," he added suddenly, after a pause, "is it not time, Feodor, that I saw another vision?"
I laughed. I knew how, during the week that had elapsed since our return from the secret visit to Potsdam, he was constantly holding reunions of his sister-disciples, many fresh "converts" being admitted to the new religion.
Both Lachkarioff and Filimonoff, authors of the terrible disaster at Obukhov, had been furnished with passports by Protopopoff, and were already well on their way to Sweden, but the catastrophe was the signal for a terrible period of unrest throughout Russia, and in the fortnight that followed, rumours, purposely started by German agents and the secret police under Protopopoff, assumed most alarming proportions.
All was the creation of Rasputin's evil brain. With the Emperor and Empress absent in the South, he had, with the connivance of "No. 70, Berlin," determined to undermine the moral of the whole nation by disseminating false reports and arranging for disaster after disaster.
In the "saint's" study in the Gorokhovaya there was arranged the terrible railway "accident" which occurred near Smolensk, in which a crowded troop train collided with an ambulance train, the wreckage being run into by a second troop train, all three trains eventually taking fire and burning. The exact loss of life will never be known.
Another outrage was the destruction of the big railway bridge over the River Tvertza, not far from Kava, thus blocking the Petrograd-Moscow line, while a train conveying high explosives made in England a few days later blew up while passing the station of Odozerskaja, completely wrecking the line between Archangel and Petrograd and killing nearly three hundred people.
Each of these outrages was arranged in my presence, and I was compelled to assist in counting the money which was afterwards given by the monk to their perpetrators as price of their perfidy.
"We must create unrest," Rasputin declared one night to His Excellency the Minister Protopopoff, as the precious pair sat together. "We must prepare Russia for disaster."
Hence it was that they arranged for a series of most alarming false rumours to be circulated throughout the length and breadth of the Empire.
Indeed, on the day following, I heard in a bank where I had business that all Moscow was involved in a great revolution, that the Moscow police were on strike, and that the troops had refused to fire upon the populace. Everyone stood aghast at the news. But the truth was that the telegraphs and telephones between Moscow and Petrograd had been wilfully cut in three places by agents of Protopopoff, and while those alarming rumours were current in Petrograd, similar rumours were rife in Moscow that revolution had broken out in the capital.
Rasputin and his friends in the course of a few days created a veritable whirlwind of false reports, hoping by that means to shatter or stifle all manifestations of patriotic feeling, and prepare Russia for a separate peace.
Meanwhile he had contrived, as the Kaiser ordered, to prevent the offensive being resumed in Poland; and yet so cleverly did he effect all this that General Brusiloff, who was at the south-west front, actually gave an interview to a British journalist, declaring that the war was already won, "though it was merely speculation to estimate how much longer will be required before the enemy are convinced that the cause for the sake of which they have drenched Europe in blood is irretrievably lost."
The cold white light of later events has indeed revealed the black hearts of Rasputin and his friends, for while all this was in progress Stuermer, though so active in the betrayal of his country, boldly made a speech deploring the fact that anyone credited the sinister rumours which his fellow-conspirators had started, and to save his face he warned the working-classes to remain patient and prosecute the war with vigour.
I recollect well the day he had made that speech—the day on which the Labour group of the Central War Industrial Committee issued its declaration. There was a reunion of the sister-disciples, at which three new members were admitted to the cult, all society women under thirty, and all good-looking. Their names were Baroness Terenine, whose husband had been Governor of Yaroslav; Countess Chidlovski, one of the acknowledged society beauties of Petrograd, who had of late had an "affair" with an Italian tenor named Baccelli; and Anna, the pretty young daughter of a woman named Friede, who was also a "disciple."
There was a large attendance, and Rasputin exhibited more than the usual mock piety. In his jumbled jargon, which he called a sermon—that mixture of quotations from the "Lives of Saints" mingled with horrible obscenities—he had referred to the terrible rumours.
"These, I fear, my dear sisters, are, alas! too true," he declared. "Being in the position of knowing much, I beg of you all to pray ceaselessly, and let these three who to-day join our holy circle take upon themselves the duty of obtaining fresh converts, and thus ensure to themselves the blessing of him who stands here before you—the saviour of Russia."
Then he paused, and all the kneeling women crossed themselves, piously murmuring, as was part of the creed:
"God's will be done! God's will be done! Truly, our Father Gregory is holy! Truly, the sacrifice which each and all of us make is made to God!"
The three newly-admitted aspirants, dressed in very flimsy black in the mode which the monk imposed upon them, knelt before the Father and kissed his hands, while from his lips fell those awful blasphemies, which, amazing as it was, hypnotised, neurotic society women believed to be the truth.
Afterwards Rasputin gave them all tea and cake, he being personally waited upon by the three neophytes. Then, half-an-hour after the last one had departed—for the three had remained behind with him for further private instruction and conversation, as was usual—the Prime Minister Stuermer was announced.
"I have made the speech you suggested," he declared to the monk as he sank into a chair. "Phew! what a smell of perfume, my dear Gregory!" he laughed. "Your sister-disciples have left it behind them. Open the window, Feodor," he exclaimed, turning to me. "Let us have some fresh air."
The monk then explained that while Stuermer had made that public declaration he had told the women that the situation was grave, well knowing that they, in turn, would tell their husbands, and the rumours would quickly be propagated.
"I have had another reassuring telegram from Downing Street," Stuermer remarked, with a grin. "I dare not publish it, otherwise it would upset our friends in Berlin."
"As I have told you, the Kaiser forbids the publication of any of our reassurances from France or England—especially from the English, whom he hates so deeply. What, I wonder, will be the fate of the English when he is able to send an army of invasion across the North Sea?"
"If he is ever able. I doubt it," remarked the traitorous Premier of Russia.
"He certainly intends doing so," said Rasputin. "And when he does I should be sorry to be in Britain. They will treat the civilians worse than they did the Belgians."
"Yes; he intended being in Paris two years ago," replied the goat-bearded debauche in uniform.
"It is time I saw another vision," said the monk presently. "I shall see one to-night most probably—one concerning our defeat."
"Do," urged Stuermer. "You have not had a vision for quite a long time. It impresses all classes, and we can make so much use of it when dealing with Nicholas. He believes as thoroughly in your visions as in the spirit-voice of the dead Alexander."
Next day the whole world of Petrograd was startled.
To Grichka the Blessed Virgin had once again revealed herself, just as she had done years ago to the peasant girl at Lourdes.
The Procurator of the Holy Synod called to see him at noon to inquire of him personally, and ascertain what he had seen. Rasputin, with his hands crossed over his breast, turned his dark eyes heavenward, and said:
"It is true that last night, just after midnight, as I was praying in my room, Our Lady appeared unto me in a cloud of shining light. She was clothed in bright blue, and in her hands she bore a bunch of lilies. Behind her I saw a picture of a great battlefield, where our soldiers were retreating in disorder, being shot down in hundreds by the machine-guns of the enemy—and worse—and worse!" And the charlatan hid his face in his hands as though to shut out the horror of the recollection.
"What else?" asked the head of the Russian Church. "Tell me, O Father."
"It is too terrible—the public must not know——" he gasped, as though in fear. "I saw our Emperor killed on the field of battle; he was struck in the head by a piece of shell from one of the German long-range guns, and half his face was blown away. Ugh!" And he shuddered. "The sight of it was terrible. My blood ran cold. Nicholas, our Emperor, dead! I saw Brusiloff, too, lying shot, with a dozen other generals. Then the scene changed, and I saw the burial of the Emperor with all pomp, and his widow Alexandra Feodorovna following the coffin."
"Then Our Lady opened her lips, and I heard her voice," went on the "holy" liar. "She spake to me slowly and solemnly, saying: 'O Gregory, what thou hast witnessed is decreed to take place within forty days from to-day! These scenes will be enacted upon Russian soil—and worse. The people of Petrograd, Moscow and Warsaw will be put to the sword by the enemy, who have right and justice upon their side. Russia has fallen away from God, and is now accursed.' I shrieked at those fateful words. But she repeated them, adding: 'Thou, O Gregory, canst still save Russia if thou wilt raise thy voice in warning. Peace must be effected. Let those who are in alliance with Russia fight on if they will, but let Russia remain holy for the sake of its innocent people and its great Imperial house. Warn His Majesty at once, warn his Ministers, to cut themselves adrift from those nations which are seeking to profit by their alliance with Russia. Compel them to make peace with the Emperor William. If this is not concluded within forty days, then God's wrath will fall upon this land. Thou art sent by God as His apostle, therefore take heed and take instant action!' And a second later she had faded out, and there was nothing but darkness."
I could see how greatly our visitor was impressed.
"The Emperor should surely know," he said, astounded.
"Yes, but we must not alarm the public too greatly," Rasputin replied.
"Already it is on everyone's lips," exclaimed the other. "The wildest stories are afloat concerning the Blessed Virgin's appearance to you. We certainly must have peace with Germany. That is what everyone is saying, except members of the Duma and the war party."
Thus, by pretending to have seen a vision at an hour when, truth to tell, he had been snoring in a drunken sleep, half Russia grew alarmed, including the Emperor and Empress, who both hurried back to Tsarskoe-Selo, where Rasputin repeated with much embellishment what he had told the Procurator of the Holy Synod.
Just at the moment Rasputin was engaged upon a piece of outrageous blackmailing, which I think ought to be recorded against him.
The facts were briefly as follow. The German agent Lachkarioff, who with his accomplice had blown up the Obukhov steel works and was now safe in Sweden, had, while in Petrograd, made the acquaintance of a certain Madame Doukhovski, the young wife of the President of the Superior Tribunal at Kharkof. She was a giddy little woman, and the monk had plotted with old Countess Ignatieff to entice her to join the cult, but she had always refused. Lachkarioff was a good-looking, well-dressed man, who posed as a commercial magnate of Riga, and she, I suppose, fell beneath his charm. At any rate, for a long time the pair were inseparable.
One day the German agent, who was an exceedingly wily person, came to Rasputin and told him that he had induced the young lady of Kharkof to reveal to him certain secrets concerning the dealings of Soukhomlinoff and the supply of machine-guns for the Army—facts which had been presented in strictest confidence by one of the War Minister's enemies to the President of the Kharkof tribunal.
Rasputin smiled in triumph when he heard the exact details which Madame Doukhovski had divulged.
"Sit down yonder, my friend, and put that into writing, and sign it," said the monk, indicating the table by the window.
"You will not punish her for her indiscretion, I hope," remarked the man, who was at the moment plotting that series of terrible disasters.
"Not in the least," Rasputin assured him. "Your friend is my friend. But when such statements are made I like to have them on record. If Soukhomlinoff comes up for trial—which I very much doubt—then the memorandum may be of use to prove what silly and baseless gossip has been in circulation."
In consequence of this assurance, Lachkarioff wrote down what had been told him by the judge's wife, a document which the "saint" preserved with much care—until the Obukhov catastrophe had taken place and its author was out of Russia. Then he wrote to Madame Doukhovski and asked her to call upon him upon an urgent matter concerning her husband.
In surprise, and perhaps a little anxious, she kept the appointment one afternoon, and I ushered her into the monk's room.
He rose, and, addressing her roughly, said:
"So you have obeyed me, woman! And it is best for you that you have done so. Hitherto you have held me in contempt and refused all invitations to visit me. Why?"
"Because I am not a believer," was her open, straightforward answer.
"Then you will believe me ere I have done," he declared, with an evil grin, stroking his ragged beard, and fixing his eyes upon her.
"You insult me," she cried angrily. "Why should you speak to me like this?"
"Because you have been an associate of Felix Lachkarioff—a traitor and a spy," he declared in that deep, hard voice of his. "Oh! you cannot deny it. Your husband has no knowledge that you were an intimate friend of the man who has fled from Russia after causing that frightful disaster at Obukhov. Is not that so?"
The handsome, dark-haired woman whom the spy had so grossly betrayed turned pale, and sat utterly staggered that her secret was out. She had never dreamed that the handsome, polite man who had one day been presented to her in the lounge of the Hotel d'Europe was a German agent, that he was engaged in committing outrages on behalf of the enemy, or that he was friendly with the monk.
"Your husband does not know that spy? Answer me?" demanded Rasputin roughly.
"I have told my husband nothing," was her faltering reply.
"That is not surprising, Madame," laughed the "saint," leaning back in the chair where he had seated himself, "especially when you have told that spy certain secrets of our Government, which you obtained by examining the dossiers which have been passing through your husband's hands."
"What do you mean?" she cried, starting up in indignation.
"Ah, no," he said; "it is useless to pretend ignorance, Madame. Read this!"
And he handed her a copy of what the German agent had written, saying: "I have the original, which I am passing to the authorities, so that they may take what action they deem best against you as a traitor and against your husband for negligence!"
The unfortunate woman, when she scanned the statement, went pale to the lips, fully realising the extreme seriousness of the nature of her offence, now that her admirer was known to be a spy of Germany.
"But you won't do that?" she gasped. "Think, Father, what it would mean both to my husband and myself! Think!" she cried hoarsely.
"You have revealed the contents of certain highly confidential documents to the Germans," the monk said. "You do not deny it. You, Madame Doukhovski, are a traitor to Russia, and evidence of your treachery is contained in that confession of a German spy whom you assisted and whom you——"
"I looked at the dossiers on my husband's table because Monsieur Lachkarioff asked me to do so," she declared. "He told me he was a friend of Soukhomlinoff, and that he was doing all he could to assist in clearing him of the charges levelled against him. I believed him, alas!—I was foolish enough to believe that he spoke the truth. And now he has betrayed me!"
"I suppose you were infatuated by the man," laughed the monk scornfully. "If you were so weak, then you must pay the penalty."
"And that is—what?" she asked breathlessly, and pale as death.
"Exposure," replied the charlatan who was the head of the traitorous camarilla around the throne. "Our dear land is in serious peril to-day, therefore those who attempt to betray her should be held up as examples to others."
"But you will not—you'll not let anyone know of my indiscretion!" she begged.
"That certainly is my intention," was his hard reply. "This statement was made to me by your lover, and it is but right that it should be investigated, so that we may know the extent of the harm that you have done."
The frantic, despairing woman, bursting into tears, threw herself at the feet of the "miracle worker," begging hard for mercy.
"Think!" she cried. "Think what it will mean to my husband and myself. He will probably be placed under arrest and lose his post, while I—I would rather die than face such exposure."
"Ah! my dear Madame," said Rasputin tauntingly. "Life is very sweet, you know."
"But you must not do this!" she shrieked loudly. "Promise me, Father, that you will not! Promise me—do!"
Rasputin drew his hand roughly from her, for she had seized it as she implored him to show her mercy.
"There may be some extenuating circumstances in your case—but I doubt it," he said.
"There are!" she declared. "I grew to love the man. I was blind, mad, infatuated—but now I hate him! Would that I could kill the man who wrought such disaster in our land! Would that I could kill him with my own hand!"
Rasputin drew a long breath. The wish she expressed had suddenly aroused within his inventive brain a means of executing a sharp and bitter revenge.
"Perhaps one day, ere long, you may be afforded opportunity," he said in a changed voice. "If so, I will call you here again and explain what I mean."
"Ah! Then I may hope for your pity and indulgence, eh?" she cried quickly, but still in deep anxiety.
Yet Rasputin would not commit himself, for he was playing a very deep and intricate game.
When the erring woman had gone the monk filled his glass with brandy, some of that choice old cognac which the Empress sent him regularly, and turning to me, said:
"Feodor, the man Doukhovski is wealthy, I understand. Protopopoff has been making inquiry, and finds that he is owner of a large estate near Ryazhsk, and that from an uncle quite recently he inherited nearly a million roubles. He only retains his office because he does not regard it as patriotic to retire while the war is in progress. What will he think of his wife's betrayal when he knows of it?"
"But you will not inform him," I exclaimed.
"Not if Madame is reasonable. She is wealthy in her own right," replied the monk. "If women err they must be compelled to pay the price," he went on in a hard voice. "Felix Lachkarioff evidently deceived her very cleverly. But there—he is one of the most expert agents that the Koeniggraetzerstrasse possesses, and is so essentially a ladies' man."
After a pause Rasputin, lighting a cigarette, laughed lightly to himself, and said:
"The report furnished to me yesterday shows that Madame was one of the Plechkoffs of Lublin, and her balance at the Azov Bank is a very considerable one. The price of my silence is the money she has there. And I shall obtain it, Feodor—you will see," he added with confidence.
So ruthlessly did he treat the unfortunate woman that, by dint of threats to place the original of that statement of Lachkarioff before the Minister Protopopoff, he had before a week had passed every rouble she possessed.
I was present on the night when she came to him to make the offer, the negotiations having been opened and carried on by a man named Zouieff, one of the several professional blackmailers whom Rasputin employed from time to time under the guise of "lawyers." She was beside herself in terror and despair, and carried with her a cheque-book.
The interview was a strikingly dramatic one. She penitent, submissive, and full of hatred of the spy under whose influence she had fallen; the monk cold, brutal, and unforgiving.
"Yes," he said at last, when she offered him a monetary consideration in exchange for his silence. "But I am not content with a few paltry roubles. I am collecting for my new monastery at Kertch, and what you give will atone to God for your crime."
Within ten minutes she had written out a cheque for the whole of her private fortune, while at the monk's dictation I wrote out a declaration that his allegations were false, a document which he signed and handed to her, together with Lachkarioff's original statement.
Even then Rasputin's cunning was not at its limit.
Lachkarioff's usefulness to Germany in Russia was at an end. He was in Gothenburg, and being a close friend of an English journalist there, it was feared lest he should allow himself to be interviewed, and reveal something of the truth concerning the subterranean working of Germany in Petrograd.
"The man's lips ought to be closed," Steinhauer had written to Rasputin only a week before. "Can you suggest any way? While he lives he will be a menace to us all. Filimonoff is safe in an asylum in Copenhagen, though I believe he is perfectly sane. Only it is best that no risk should be run."
Here were means ready to hand to close the mouth of Felix Lachkarioff, for the woman whom he had betrayed was furiously vengeful.
"You said the other day that you would be ready to strike a blow at that enemy of Russia who has so grossly misled you," Rasputin said to her in a deep, earnest voice, as she sat in his room. "Would not such a course be deeply patriotic? Why not, as expiation of your sin, travel to Gothenburg and avenge those hundreds of poor people who were his victims at Obukhov? I can give into your hand the means," he added, looking her straight in the face.
"What means?" she asked.
He crossed to his writing-table, and, unlocking a drawer with a key upon his chain, he took out a tiny bottle of extremely expensive Parisian perfume, a pale-green liquid, which he handed to her.
"It looks like scent," he remarked, with a grin, "but it contains something else—something so potent that a single drop introduced into food or drink will produce death within an hour, the symptoms being exactly those of heart disease. That is what deaths resulting from it are always declared to be. So there is no risk. Meet him, be friendly, dine with him for the sake of old days in Petrograd, and before you leave him he will be doomed," added Rasputin, in a low whisper. "He surely deserves it after deceiving you as he has done!"
"He certainly does," she declared fiercely, unable to overlook how he had betrayed her. "And I will do it!" she added, taking up the little bottle. "Russia shall be avenged."
"Excellent, my dear sister. You will indeed be rewarded," declared Rasputin, crossing himself. "When you return to Petrograd, give me back that precious little bottle of perfume, which I call the Perfume of Death."
That the woman did not fail to carry out her promise was certain, for within a fortnight we heard in a secret dispatch that Hardt brought us from Berlin that the agent Lachkarioff had died suddenly from heart disease after dining with a Russian lady friend at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm.
Truly, the grip in which Germany held Russia and its Government was an iron one, and death most assuredly came to those whom Berlin feared, or who were in any way obnoxious to the German war party.
Ten days later a small packet was left at the house, addressed to the monk. When I opened it I found the little Parisian perfume bottle.
One morning, a week later, I went with Rasputin to the Ministry of the Interior, where we were ushered into the small, elegant private room of "Satan-in-a-silk-hat" Protopopoff, who greeted us cordially. But as soon as the door was closed, and he had invited us to be seated, he rose, turned the key, and, facing us, gravely said:
"Gregory, I fear something serious is about to happen. Late last night I received an urgent visit from the Under-director of Secret Police of Moscow, who had come post-haste to tell me that there has been a secret meeting between Miliukoff and the Grand Dukes Serge and Dmitri in that city, and it has been decided that at the reopening of the Duma Miliukoff will rise and publicly expose us."
"What?" shrieked the monk, starting. "Is that what is intended?" he asked breathlessly.
"Yes. He apparently knows the authors of the outrage at Obukhov and our association with them. It is believed that he actually holds documentary evidence of the money which we passed through the Volga-Kama Bank, in Tula."
"But this must be prevented at all hazards," declared Rasputin. "We cannot allow him to denounce us. Not that anybody will believe him. But it is not policy at this moment. Public opinion is highly inflamed."
"I agree. Of course, nobody will believe him. Yet he is dangerous, and if he denounces us in the Duma it will come as a bombshell. I called upon Anna Vyrubova early this morning, and she has gone to the palace," said Protopopoff.
Rasputin remained silent, his hand stroking his ragged beard, a habit of his when working out some scheme more devilish than others.
"Miliukoff will be supported by Purishkevitch, without a doubt," His Excellency the Minister went on. "Both are equally dangerous."
The "saint" grunted and knit his brows, for he saw himself in a very perilous position. In three days' time the Duma would re-open, and Miliukoff would probably bring forth certain documentary evidence of the treachery of Stuermer, Fredericks, Soukhomlinoff, Anna Vyrubova, and a dozen others who formed the camarilla which was working for Russia's downfall.
"The Duma must be prevented from opening," Rasputin declared at last. "The Emperor must rescind the order and further postpone it."
"The Duma has been prohibited from meeting for over five months. It can, I agree, wait still further. His Majesty must find some excuse, or——"
"I know what is passing in your mind, friend," interrupted the monk. "Yes, I will urge Nicholas further to prohibit it, and thus give us time to suppress our enemies."
"Action must be taken at once," said the Minister. "I had a telephone message from the secret police in Moscow to say that Miliukoff left for Petrograd at nine o'clock this morning. The Grand Dukes have gone south."
Two hours later, on our return to the Gorokhovaya, an Imperial courier arrived in hot haste from Tsarskoe-Selo with a sealed note for the monk, enclosed in two envelopes.
These I tore open, and, signing the outer envelope as assurance of safe receipt, handed it to the courier, who left. Afterwards I read the message to Rasputin, it being as follows:
"HOLY FATHER,—Anna has just told me of Miliukoff's intention in the Duma. The Emperor must further adjourn its re-assembling. I have telegraphed to him urging him to do this. If not, let us adopt Noyo's suggestion to pay the agents J. and B. ten thousand roubles to remove him. I would willingly pay a hundred thousand roubles to close his mouth for ever. This must be done. Suggest it to P. [Protopopoff]. Surely the same means could be used as with T. and L. and the end be quite natural and peaceful! You could supply the means as before. But I urge on you not to delay a moment. All depends upon Miliukoff's removal. If he reveals to the Duma what he knows, then everything must be lost. I kiss your dear hands. With Olga I ask your blessing.—Your dutiful daughter, "A."
It was thus evident that the Empress knew of what Rasputin gleefully called "The Perfume of Death." Ah! in how many cases, I wonder, was it used by the mock "saint" to stifle the truth and to sweep his enemies of both sexes from his path? Such a letter as this I have here given seems utterly incredible in this twentieth century, yet those who knew underground Russia immediately before the downfall of the Romanoffs will express no surprise.
At once we went to Tsarskoe-Selo with all haste, and Rasputin had a long conference in private with the Empress and Anna, the outcome of which was that Alexandra Feodorovna dispatched an urgent message in cipher to the Tsar, who was still absent at South-West Headquarters.
We remained at the palace all that day. At six o'clock Anna Vyrubova entered the room, where I sat writing some letters, and inquired for the monk.
"He was here a quarter of an hour ago," I replied.
"Then find him at once and give him this. It is most urgent," said the high-priestess of the cult of the "sister-disciples," handing me a sealed envelope.
Ten minutes later I found Rasputin walking alone on the terrace, impatient and thoughtful, and opened the envelope. Within was a message in Their Majesties' private cipher, which had been deciphered by the Empress's own hand, and which read:
"Tell our dear Father [Rasputin] that to postpone the Duma would, I fear, create an unfavourable impression, and I judge impossible. Protopopoff has asked my authority to arrest Miliukoff upon some technical charge, but I do not consider such a course good policy. I agree that to-day's situation is grave, and agree also that at the last moment some means should be taken to prevent him from speaking. "NIKKI."
The monk at once flew to the Empress's side, where Stuermer was being received in audience. Again the situation was eagerly discussed. That night, when we returned to Petrograd, although it was nearly midnight, Protopopoff was summoned by telephone, and when the pair met I learnt what had been arranged at the Palace.
The Empress's wishes were to be carried out. The patriot Miliukoff was to be "removed."
MATTERS were now growing daily more desperate in Russia. Suspense, unrest, and suspicion were rife everywhere, while the deluded people were kept quiet by promises of a great offensive in the near future.
The Minister Protopopoff, wearing his gorgeous uniform, his breast covered with decorations—the man whom Great Britain regarded as so extremely friendly—had just paid a visit to the British Embassy, and on his way home called upon Rasputin.
"It is just as we heard from Moscow," he said to the monk anxiously. "Miliukoff intends to denounce you at the opening of the Duma. He has been in communication with both the French and British Embassies, and as far as I can learn both are in entire agreement with him."
"Then I must save myself," Rasputin declared, stroking his matted beard thoughtfully.
"The British never dream that I have been assisting you in your schemes with Alexandra Feodorovna. That is why they are so friendly with me at the Embassy. Indeed, only yesterday the French Ambassador handed me the latest report upon the output of munitions in France, and the details of their long-range gun. These I copied, and Hardt has left with them for Berlin."
"Truly, we have fooled the Allies exquisitely," laughed the Black Monk. "But if I am denounced, you also will be discovered as my associate, as well as Stuermer, Fredericks, and our other friends."
"That is why the Empress urges you to resort to the 'perfume,'" said the much-decorated traitor.
"Yes, but how?" asked Rasputin. "There is no time."
"There is sufficient."
"What do you suggest?" asked the monk.
"You know little Xenie, who married the Councillor of State, Kalatcheff, last year? She is one of your 'sisters,' is she not?"
The "saint" nodded.
"Well, according to a secret report made to me, she has conceived a violent hatred of Miliukoff, who was once a friend of her husband, and who still admires her. Miliukoff visits her home sometimes, and one day quite recently while in her salon he denounced you. She has been going about declaring him to be your bitterest enemy. If so, could she not invite him to take tea with her—and then?"
"An excellent idea!" cried Rasputin. "Xenie Kalatcheff warned me against Miliukoff some time ago, I recollect. I will see her and sound her upon the subject." Then, turning to me, he asked me to inquire over the telephone if Madame Kalatcheff was at home.
Five minutes later I informed the monk that the lady was at home, and was ready to speak with him if he wished.
At once Rasputin went to the instrument, and, after greeting her gaily, asked if she could possibly come round to see him "on a very urgent affair," to which she at once acceded.
"I had better not see her, so I shall get off," said His Excellency. "Be careful how you treat her. Recollect, her mind may have been poisoned against you by Miliukoff. These members of the Duma are often very clever and cunning."
"Leave the matter in my hands," said the "saint," with a grin. "I will soon ascertain her exact attitude, and act accordingly. First, we must remove Miliukoff, and next Purishkevitch—who is equally our enemy."
About twenty minutes later I ushered into the monk's presence a pretty, handsomely-dressed woman of about twenty-eight, who often attended our reunions, and who was one of the best-known society women in Petrograd.
I was about to turn and leave when Rasputin said:
"You can remain, Feodor. The matter upon which I have to speak with our sister here concerns you as well as myself."
Then, when the wife of the Councillor of State was seated, Rasputin carefully approached the subject of Miliukoff.
"It has been whispered to me that he is my bitter enemy, and that he is about to speak against me in the Duma," he said. "I believe your husband and he are friendly. Do you happen to know if there is any truth in this rumour?"
"Yes, Father, I do," was madame's instant reply. "I warned you of him three weeks ago, but you did not heed. I also told Anna Vyrubova, but her reply was that you, being divine, would be perfectly able to take care of yourself."
"So I am. But it is against God's holy law that human tongues should utter lies against me," he said, cleverly impressing upon her the fact that if Miliukoff were suppressed it would be no crime, but an act of duty.
"To me, in my own house, he has declared his intention of denouncing you—and also our dear Anna and the Empress."
The monk was silent. While she was seated he stood before her with folded arms, looking straight at her. Suddenly, fixing her with those remarkable eyes of his, he asked in a deep, hard voice:
"Xenie, will you permit this man to besmirch the name of him whom God hath sent to you?"
"I don't understand!" she cried, surprised at his attitude. "How can I prevent it?"
"It lies in your hands," declared the mock saint. "You are his friend—and also mine. He visits your house—what more easy—than——"
"Than you should invite him to take tea with you to-morrow—to discuss myself. He knows that you are a 'disciple,' I suppose?"
"Yes, he has somehow learnt it—but my husband is in ignorance, and he has promised not to reveal the truth to him."
"If he knows of our friendship he might tell your husband. He is unprincipled, and probably will do so. That is why I suggest you should ask him to tea."
As he spoke he crossed to the writing-table, and, opening a drawer with the key upon his chain, he took out the tiny bottle of exquisite Parisian perfume.
"What is that you have there?" she asked, with curiosity, noticing the little bottle. "Scent?"
"Yes," he said, with a mysterious grin. "It is, my dear sister, the Perfume of Death."
"The Perfume of Death?" she echoed. "I don't understand!"
"Then I will tell you, Xenie," he replied, his great hypnotic eyes again fixed upon her. "I do not use perfume myself, but others sometimes, on rare occasions, use this. It is unsuspicious, and can be left upon a lady's dressing-table. A drop used upon a handkerchief emits a most delicate odour, like jasmine, but a single drop in a cup of tea means death. For two hours the doomed person feels no effect. But suddenly he or she becomes faint, and succumbs to heart disease."
"Ah, I see!" she gasped, half-starting from her chair, her face ashen grey. "I—I realise what you intend, Father! I—I——"
And she sank back again in her chair, breathless and aghast, without concluding her sentence.
"No!" she shrieked suddenly. "No; I could not be a poisoner—a murderess! Anything but that!"
"Not for the sake of the one sent by God as saviour of our dear Russia?" he asked reproachfully, in a low, intense tone. "That man Miliukoff is God's enemy—and ours. In your hand lies the means of removing him in secret, without the least suspicion."
And slowly the crafty, insinuating criminal took her inert hand, and pressed the little bottle into its soft palm.
"One drop placed upon the lemon which he takes in his tea will be sufficient," he whispered. "Only be extremely careful of it yourself, and return the bottle to me afterwards. It is best in my safe keeping."
"No! I can't!" cried the wretched woman over whom Rasputin had now once again cast his inexplicable spell.
"But you shall, Xenie! I, your holy Father, command you to render this assistance to your land. None shall ever know. Feodor, who knows all my innermost secrets, will remain dumb. The world cannot suspect, because no toxicologist has ever discovered the existence of the perfume, nor are they able to discern that death has not resulted from heart disease."
"But I should be a murderess!" gasped the unhappy woman beneath that fateful thraldom.
"No. You will be fulfilling a duty—a sin imposed upon you in order that, by committing it, you shall purify yourself for a holy life in future," he said, referring to one of the principles of his erotic "religion."
She began to waver, and instantly I saw that Rasputin had won—as he won always with women—and that the patriot Miliukoff had been sentenced to death.
"Go!" he commanded at last. "Go, and do my bidding. Return to-morrow night, and tell me of your—success!"
Then he bowed out the reluctant but fascinated young woman, who in her silver chain-bag carried the small bottle of perfume.
That night Rasputin, after drinking half a bottle of brandy, retired to bed, declaring that women were only created to be the servants of men. Then I sat down, and taking a sheet of plain and very common writing-paper, I typed upon it a warning to the man who, at the Empress's suggestion, was to be so ruthlessly "removed." The words I typed were:
"You will be invited to tea to-morrow by Xenie Kalatcheff. Do not accept. There is a plot to cause your death. This warning is from—A Friend."
I typed an envelope with Monsieur Miliukoff's address, and then, slipping to the door quietly, I stole out and dropped it in the letter-box at the corner of the Kazanskaya.
That I had saved the deputy's life I knew next afternoon when Madame Kalatcheff sent round a hurried note to Rasputin, explaining that, though she had invited him to her house, he had rather curtly refused the invitation.
At this the monk telephoned her to come round, and once again she sat in his room explaining that she had sent Miliukoff a note urging him to see her at four o'clock, as she wished to make some revelations concerning the monk that might be useful to him when speaking in the Duma. The reply, which she produced, was certainly couched in most indignant terms.
"Can he suspect, do you think, Feodor?" he asked, turning to me.
"How can he?" I asked. "Perhaps, knowing madame to be a 'disciple,' he doubts the genuineness of her promised disclosures."
"Perhaps so," Xenie said. "But what can I do if he suspects me? Nothing that I can see."
The pair sat anxiously discussing the situation for the next half-hour, until at last the State Councillor's wife, handing back the little bottle of perfume to the monk, rose and left.
I was secretly much gratified that I had been able to save the Deputy's life, yet Rasputin continued to discuss other plans with me, repeating:
"The fellow must die. Alexandra Feodorovna has willed it. While he lives he will always be a constant menace. He must die! He shall die!"
Our national hymn, "Boje Tzaria khrani" ("God save the Tsar"), was being sung at the moment in the streets, because news of a victory in Poland had just been given out to the public.
Already the foundation stone of the revolution had been laid, and M. Miliukoff, with purely patriotic motives, had assisted in cementing it. The Senatorial revision which was ordained to inquire into General Soukhomlinoff's treachery had, owing to Miliukoff's activity, ordered a search at the amorous old fellow's private abode early in the spring, with the result that he found himself incarcerated in the fortress of Peter and Paul. When the general was arrested, madame his wife—an adventuress named Gaskevitch, who had commenced life as a typist in a solicitor's office, and who was many years his junior—had a terrible attack of hysteria, for things had taken for her a most unexpected turn. The woman had been implicated in intrigue and treachery ever since. After copying some secret papers for a man in Kiev, she had blackmailed him, obtained a big sum of money, and then married a man named Boulovitch, a prosperous landed proprietor. By thus entering the higher circle of society in Kiev, she got to know General Soukhomlinoff, its Governor-General, who connived with her to obtain a divorce from Boulovitch, so that she subsequently married the bald-headed old Don Juan a few months after his appointment as War Minister.
Madame and Rasputin were ever hand-in-glove. From the moment the general was arrested she had worked with singular energy and adroitness to retrieve her husband's fallen fortune, and in doing so she assisted to lay the beginning of the first Revolution. She enlisted the sympathy of Rasputin, Anna Vyrubova and the Empress, all of whom were gravely apprehensive as to what might come out at the general's trial. She even threw herself at the feet of Alexandra Feodorovna, imploring her to intercede with the Emperor so as to save her calumniated and injured husband. And at last she succeeded.
The inquiries were suspended, the newspapers were silent regarding the scandal, and suddenly it became known that, "owing to the general's mental state," it had been decided, on the advice of a board of well-known medical specialists, to liberate him!
This astounding news passed from mouth to mouth, and Miliukoff, the patriotic fire-brand, declared everywhere that it was Rasputin's work. The news produced the most sinister impression upon the people, especially on those connected with the Army. The man who had been the primary cause of Russia's reverses was to escape punishment! It was, indeed, this insensate act of folly on the part of the Tsar which had undermined the people's trust in their Emperor, and gave Rasputin's enemies—and more especially Miliukoff—opportunity for his bitter denunciation.
On the afternoon of the day before the opening of the Duma, Rasputin received another letter from the Empress, in cipher, as follows:
"DEAR FATHER,—Nikki still refuses to postpone the Duma, though I have done all I can to induce him to do so. Come to us at once and try to force him to our views. Not a moment should be lost. I have just heard that Miliukoff is still active, so conclude that what you told me has failed.
"P. [Protopopoff] has told me an hour ago that Skoropadski [a German agent living in Petrograd as a jeweller in the Nevski] has betrayed us all, and has placed some most incriminating documents in the hands of Miliukoff, who has, in turn, shown them to Purishkevitch. They will be produced in the Duma to-morrow. The police traced Skoropadski to Riga, but they have failed to arrest him, and he has, alas! escaped to Sweden.
"Holy Father, do not delay a moment in coming to your daughter to comfort her in this her blackest hour! Miliukoff must be prevented from denouncing you. I cannot conceive how your arrangement with Madame Kalatcheff has failed. The perfume has never failed before. Alix is constantly asking for you, and Olga kisses your dear hand. Seek the Emperor at once before coming to me, or he may suspect us to be in collusion. I have quarrelled with him, because by his obstinacy he will ruin us all. How I wish that Miliukoff would be stricken down! Do not delay. Come!—Your devoted daughter, "A."
Well I knew that the German-born Empress was sitting alone in the palace breathlessly anxious as to what disclosures were forthcoming. She was not blind to her increasing unpopularity and to the unkind things said openly of her. Somebody had just started a rumour that there was a secret wireless plant at the palace, by which she could communicate direct with Potsdam. Indeed, so many people believed this that, after the Tsar's abdication, every nook, corner and garret of Tsarskoe-Selo was searched, but without success. Stuermer, Fredericks, Protopopoff, the poison-monger Badmayev, Anna Vyrubova, and half-a-dozen others, who formed the dark and sinister forces that were rapidly hurling Russia to her doom, were that day as anxious and terrified as the Empress herself. Well they knew that if Miliukoff, armed with those incriminating documents—the exact nature of which they knew not—spoke the truth in the Legislature, then a storm of indignation would sweep over them in such a manner that they could never withstand it.
Rasputin, thus summoned, went at once to the palace, and I accompanied him. He proceeded straight to the Emperor's private room, while I waited in a room adjoining.
I heard their voices raised. The Emperor's was raised in protest; that of the monk in angry threats.
"If thou wilt not postpone the Duma, then the peril will be upon thine own head!" I heard Rasputin shout. "Why allow these revolutionary deputies to criticise thy policy and undermine thy popularity with the nation? It is folly! Such policy is suicidal, and if thou wilt persist I shall withdraw and return to my home, well knowing that to-morrow the day of Russia's doom will dawn."
"The people are clamouring for the reopening of the Duma," replied the Emperor weakly. "I can do nothing else but submit."
"I have had a vision," declared the monk. "Last night there was revealed unto me the dire result of thy folly. I saw thee, the victim of thy nation's anger, dethroned, degraded and imprisoned."
But even that lie failed to induce the Tsar to alter his decision, and naturally so, for he was afraid of the dark cloud which he saw rising, and which he believed to be due to the long adjournment of the Duma. Hence he was afraid to take the monk's advice.
Again I heard both men's voices raised in hot argument.
"I am Emperor!" cried the Tsar at last, angrily, in a high, shrill tone, "and I refuse to be thus dictated to!"
Next second there was a loud crash of glass, and I heard Rasputin shout:
"Thou refuseth to listen to good counsel! As I have smashed that bowl, so will the people, I tell thee, rise and smash the House of Romanoff!"
With those words he turned, and a moment later rejoined me, his face flushed with anger, and his knotted fingers clenched.
He went straight to the Empress and told her of his failure to move Nicholas from his decision.
"But surely this man Miliukoff must be prevented from speaking!" cried the unhappy woman, who saw all her deep-laid schemes crumbling rapidly away, and herself branded as a traitress. "Father, you must work yet another miracle. He must be seized by a sudden illness—an accident must happen to him, or—or something!"
Rasputin shook his head dubiously, declaring that there was no time to arrange a second attempt.
"Have you put it to Protopopoff?" she asked. "He might suggest some means, now that the woman Kalatcheff has failed us. If not—he will speak—and we are lost! Think, Father, what it all means! There is already public unrest created by the rumours that we have unfortunately spread of pending disaster, and if they are followed by such charges supported by documents, then revolution is inevitable!"
I saw that the Tsaritza, now that every means to secure Miliukoff's silence had failed, was terrified lest she be exhibited in her own true traitorous colours.
Back we went to Petrograd, where we called at Protopopoff's house, and where still another attempt against Miliukoff's life was plotted.
By telephone an ex-agent of Secret Police named Stefanovitch, who had done much work as an agent-provocateur for the camarilla, was called, and a price was at once arranged for the murder of the Deputy.
He was to be shot at and killed outside the Tauris Palace, just before two o'clock, as he was entering the Duma. He would probably be walking round to the Chamber from his house with his bosom friend M. Purishkevitch.
"You will surely know somebody to whom the affair can be entrusted, Ivan," said the Minister of the Interior. "If arrested, he will be allowed ample opportunity to escape. Naturally he would not come up for trial. I would see to that. So you can give him my personal assurance."
"I should suggest a woman," said the man Stefanovitch. "I know one who would not hesitate to act as we wish. Her name is Marie Grozdoff, a Polish Jewess. I can trust her. She has done something similar for us before."
"And the price?"
"The price will be all right," replied the provocating agent, with a business-like air.
"Then we entrust the affair to you, Ivan," said His Excellency. "You will receive for yourself ten thousand roubles if Miliukoff dies."
And the man went forth to find the woman, who, for money, would not hesitate to commit murder.
That night proved a sleepless one for us all. I tried to warn Miliukoff again by sending him an anonymous letter, which I posted in secret after the monk had retired. But my great fear was lest the letter would not reach his hand in time. Probably it would not be delivered till the midday post—and if so, he would not see it till after the opening of the Duma!
Next morning passed anxiously. Protopopoff had told us over the telephone that Stefanovitch had seen the woman Grozdoff, and that all was arranged.
I went early to the Duma, and sat among the crowd in the public gallery, while Rasputin remained at home, and the Empress at the palace, with Anna near the telephone, she having arranged for brief reports of the proceedings to be telephoned to her at intervals of a quarter of an hour each during the sitting.
M. Michael Rodzianko, the President, gravely took his seat on the stroke of two, and the House was crowded. The diplomatic boxes were filled to overflowing, the British, French, Italian and United States Ambassadors, together with the Ministers of most of the neutral countries, being present.
The usual prayer was offered, but neither M. Miliukoff nor M. Purishkevitch was in his place!
Had the attempt been successful? I held my breath and wondered. I had been listening for a shot, but heard nothing.
Suddenly my heart gave a bound. A pleasant-looking, grey-haired man, in gold-rimmed spectacles, and carrying a big bundle of papers, had entered by the back way, and was walking to his seat. It was M. Miliukoff! He had had my anonymous letter, and had come in by the back way, being followed by his bearded, bald-headed friend. Once again had I been able to warn him of danger.
The Government was now dancing upon a volcano.
The sitting opened, the President Rodzianko made a speech in which he criticised severely the policy of the Stuermer Government, and everyone realised the seriousness of the situation now that the President of the Duma came out against the Prime Minister.
"The Government must learn from us what the country needs," said Rodzianko fiercely. "The Government must not follow a path different from the people. With the confidence of the nation it must head the social forces in the march toward victory over the enemy, along the path that harmonises with the aspirations of the people. There is no other path to be followed."
Then the President went on to declare that, though there was no discord among the Allies, yet there was no trick that the enemy would not play with the treacherous object of wrecking their alliance. "Russia will not betray her friends," he declared, "and I say she, with contempt, refuses any consideration of a separate peace."
The speech was greeted with thunderous outbursts of applause, while Stuermer, who was present, rose and left after its conclusion.
Then, when the applause and cheering of the Ambassadors of the Allies had died down; Paul Miliukoff, the brilliant leader of the Constitutional Democrats, rose gravely and began to speak.
That speech, which the camarilla had vainly striven strenuously to suppress, proved historic, and was mainly the cause of Stuermer's overthrow. Boldly and relentlessly he showed his hearers the favour with which the Teutons regarded Stuermer and the consternation caused in the Allied camp by his activities. Reading extracts from German and Austrian newspapers, he brought out the fact that the Central Powers regarded Stuermer as a member "of those circles which look on the war against Germany without particular enthusiasm"; that Stuermer's appointment to the Foreign Ministry was greeted in the Teutonic countries as the beginning of a new era in Russian politics, while the dismissal of Sazonov produced in the Entente countries an effect "such as would have been produced by a pogrom."
The crowning sensation, however, was what he revealed concerning Stuermer's connection with the blackmailing operations of his private secretary, Manasevitch-Manuiloff, who, a few weeks before, had been arrested on a charge of bribery. The secretary told the directors of a Petrograd bank that proceedings were being instituted against them by the Ministry of the Interior for alleged trading with the enemy, and offered to suppress the affair "through influential friends" for a large consideration.
The representatives of the bank had special reasons to get even with the "dark forces," and especially Protopopoff, since the retired Minister of the Interior, A. N. Khvostov, was a brother of the bank's president. Khvostov owed his dismissal to a plot to kill Rasputin, which was investigated by Manuiloff. The directors of the bank, therefore, accepted the fellow's offer, handing him over a large sum of money in marked notes.
Later Manuiloff was arrested by the military authorities with the bribe in his possession. His release, however, followed soon, and the name of Manuiloff was on everybody's lips. Miliukoff, in his speech, said, regarding Manuiloff's liberation:
"Why was this gentleman arrested? That has been known long ago, and I shall be saying nothing new if I tell you what you already know, namely, that he was arrested for extorting bribes, and that he was liberated because—that is also no secret—he told the examining magistrates that he shared the bribes with the President of the Council of Ministers."
Thus was Boris Stuermer denounced as a traitor and blackmailer!
But worse was to follow. M. Miliukoff vehemently condemned the Empress for her support of the plan, originated in Germany, of a speedy and separate peace, regardless of circumstances, conditions, or national honour. He quoted further passages from German newspapers, in which "die Friedens-partei der jungen Tzarin" (the Peace Party of the young Tsaritza) was freely discussed. He was very outspoken in referring to the "dark forces" which surrounded the Throne and had lately assumed such overwhelming dimensions, and he openly declared "that man, the monk Gregory Rasputin, the ex-horse-stealer and pet saint of Alexandra Feodorovna, is, gentlemen, nothing more than an erotic charlatan, who is the catspaw of the Kaiser!"
The effect of this was electrical. The House sat staggered.
"Yes, gentlemen," he went on, striking the bundle of papers which lay upon the desk before him, "I have here documentary evidence of the traitorous actions of this camarilla, who are attempting to lead Russia to her doom—papers which shall be revealed to you all in due course. It is said that the Prime Minister has already left the Chamber to make a personal report to His Majesty of the President's speech. All I trust is that the words I have just uttered will also reach the Emperor's ears, and that he will trouble himself to examine the irrefutable evidence of Rasputin's diabolical work at the Palace and in the Ministries, and the crafty machinations of the 'black forces' in our midst."
The Manuiloff disclosures were sufficiently dramatic, but this outspoken exposure of Rasputin, the more bitter, perhaps, because of my warnings of the two attempts to assassinate him, caused the House to gasp.
The very name of Rasputin had only been breathed in whispers, and his cult was referred to vaguely as something mysterious connected with the occult. But in that speech, to which I sat and listened, Miliukoff hit straight from the shoulder, and called a spade a spade. One of his phrases was, "Russia can never win so long as this convicted criminal and seducer of women is allowed to work his amazing power upon the rulers of the Empire. Remove him!" he went on. "Let him be placed safely within the walls of Peter and Paul, together with his 'sisters,' and with all his brother-traitors, and then there will be no more suggestion of a separate peace. Remove his evil influence!" shouted the fine orator, his voice ringing through the Chamber. "I say, remove him from the Imperial circle, or Russia is doomed!"
I left the Duma by that long stone staircase with a feeling that at last the power behind the Throne, nay, the very Throne itself, was broken.
I sped to Rasputin's house, and with pretended regret related all that had occurred.
Hearing it, he sprang to the telephone, declaring in a hoarse voice: "The Censor must prohibit every word of it from publication. I will demand this of Nicholas!"
And a few moments later he was speaking with the Emperor, urging that an order to the Censor be immediately issued—a suggestion that was at once carried out.
Meanwhile a dramatic scene was being enacted in the Empress's boudoir, for that day proved the beginning of the end of the holy Father's career, as well as that of Alexandra Feodorovna, Empress of Russia.
THE TRAITOR DENOUNCED
THE Empress, on hearing what had happened in the Duma, had a fit of hysterics. Nicholas was present while the Court physician administered restoratives. Then, without a word, he turned, and, leaving his wife in the care of the traitress Anna Vyrubova, he left for General Headquarters.
When Rasputin was informed by telephone of the Emperor's departure he became furious.
"He fears to meet Stuermer!" he cried to me. "He is leaving him in the lurch."
And this he did, for the next day the fate of Russia trembled in the balance, while the Black Monk went about to the Ministers in frantic haste, hoping and plotting to turn public opinion again in his favour. The charlatan, who could work miracles, and was the Heaven-sent saviour of Russia, had been exposed as a mere impostor. Stuermer's position had also become desperate under the concerted attacks of the Duma. A meeting of the Cabinet was held, at which the monk was present. Stuermer, with Protopopoff's support, proposed to dissolve the Duma. Some members opposed the suggestion, whereupon Stuermer resolved to execute it upon his own initiative.
In Rasputin's room, and in my presence, he drew up a document to that effect, but to make it law it required the Tsar's consent, and Nicholas was far away. It was Stuermer or the Duma.
Alexandra Feodorovna and Rasputin were both working with Stuermer to dissolve the people's representatives, and again prevent them from reassembling.
As Rasputin put it to me clearly that night:
"Feodor, this is a great crisis. The Duma and Stuermer are incompatible. The victory of the latter will mean revolution. The triumph of the Duma will indicate the winning of the battle by the democracy. To achieve his purpose, Stuermer needs an audience with the Tsar, and he must have it. Alexandra Feodorovna seems to be failing us, for Nicholas has hidden himself, hoping that the storm will blow over."
Stuermer strained every effort to obtain audience with the Emperor, but he was elusive, and for days no one knew where he was. An audience would mean the dissolution of the Duma, and this Nicholas feared would bring revolution.
As is well known, by a record published by an American journalist, there suddenly appeared in the Duma the Ministers of War and Marine, General Shuvaiev and Admiral Grigorovitch. They announced that they had a statement to make. The representatives of the people held their breath in suspense. The War Minister mounted the tribune, and paid a tribute to the people's efforts in the cause of national defence, requesting the Duma's and the country's future co-operation in the work of equipping the army. The Minister of Marine reiterated General Shuvaiev's demand for co-operation between the Government and the Duma. The latter, perhaps, never witnessed such a scene as that which followed the two Ministers' speeches. There was a great ovation, after which Miliukoff rose and said:
"The War and Marine Ministers have declared themselves on the side of the Duma and the people. We, on our part, have said that the Duma is with the army and the people."
This sealed the fate of Boris Stuermer. The people had achieved their first victory over the "dark forces," and Stuermer, driven out, came one night to us, and, pacing the room, tore his beard and cursed both the Emperor and Empress.