Then, turning upon Rasputin, he cried with a sneer:
"And you, the holy Father and our divine guide, have been powerless to save us! Where are your miraculous powers? Only in your own imagination, I am beginning to think."
These words led to a serious quarrel and bitter recriminations, for the Empress, to save herself, had dropped Stuermer, so that Protopopoff had become instantly the favourite at Court, and, indeed, dictator.
Two weeks went by, weeks of the tensest scenes in the contest between the democracy and the conspirators, of whom Rasputin and the Empress were the head. Protopopoff defied the new Premier, Alexander Trepov, a hide-bound bureaucrat, as well as the Duma, and it was then that the crisis was reached.
Each day we went regularly to Tsarskoe-Selo, and there another plot was quickly hatched. While the public were daily expecting the downfall of Protopopoff as a natural outcome of Stuermer's denunciation and degradation, they were one day suddenly staggered by the news that the retired Premier was about to be appointed Ambassador to a neutral country.
Everywhere I went I heard the most sinister dissatisfaction. The people knew what was meant, namely, that the Germanophile Stuermer was to negotiate a premature peace, and this within three weeks of his downfall! The whole Empire was agog at the news, yet Rasputin remained calm and silent, believing that his clever plot would be successful.
Certainly it might have been had not the Duma continued its concerted attack on the "dark forces," demanding a responsible Ministry. Even half of the Extreme Right, the most rabid monarchical faction in the Duma, joined the Opposition, a fact which, when told to the Empress, sent her again into hysterics.
I remember that day well. Hardt had arrived hot-foot from Berlin, and brought the monk a dispatch which, when deciphered, read as follows:
"MEMORANDUM FROM NO. 70. A.43,286. "November 8th, 1916.
"The attitude of the Duma is creating much alarm for your personal safety. As you have failed to suppress Miliukoff, endeavour at once to remove his chief supporter Purishkevitch. Inform A. [Anna Vyrubova] that Korniloff has revealed to P. her duplicity in the Zarudni affair, and P. has in his possession certain documents incriminating her. These should be secured at all hazards. [G. Zarudni, active in political law cases, and who was, after the Revolution, appointed Minister of Justice in the Kerensky Cabinet.] P. intends to make use of these in the Duma. It is suggested, therefore, that the woman X. [Xenie Kalatcheff] be again given the perfume, with instructions from yourself. If not, employ the girl Olga Bauer. She posed as a domestic servant in the Princess Tchekmareff affair, and was successful. Why not utilise her again?
"Inform Her Majesty that Stuermer must come back to power very shortly. But this is impossible while Miliukoff and Purishkevitch have the ear of the people. Not a second should be lost in suppressing them. We have heard with satisfaction of the removal of the woman Marya Ustryaloff and the man Paul Krizhitsky. Both knew too much, and, though they served us faithfully, were not further required. [When the sphere of usefulness of German secret agents ends they generally meet with untimely deaths.]
"Also inform Her Majesty that she and her daughters should exhibit a keener interest in the wounded in order to win back public favour. You, too, should perform another miracle.
"We hear with regret that, though the allegations made by Miliukoff were suppressed by the Censor, typewritten copies of the speech are being widely distributed everywhere. If you do not act with a firm hand, this will upset all our plans. The moment is critical, and all depends upon your own drastic actions.—Greeting, "S." [Steinhauer].
That same evening the bearded blackguard communicated to the Tsaritza and the elegant morphineuse Anna Vyrubova the contents of the secret dispatch.
Both Empress and lady-in-waiting, in their rich evening gowns, came to the fine apartments which were allotted to the monk in the palace, and as they were seated I read over the message.
"Yes," declared Her Majesty when I had finished; "I quite agree that the girl Olga Bauer should receive instructions. Order Protopopoff to make inquiry into the best means by which she can approach Purishkevitch. The fellow must be prevented from implicating our dear Anna in the Zarudni affair."
"Yes," said Madame Vyrubova in alarm; "it would ruin not only myself, but the Empress also."
"I will do thy bidding," Rasputin responded, standing with his hands behind his back, his great cross suspended from his neck scintillating beneath the light.
"The girl Bauer, posing as a domestic servant, managed to ingratiate herself with Prince Tchekmareff, and gave the perfume to her mistress with success," remarked Anna. "And there was not the slightest suspicion. Xenie Kalatcheff failed, therefore I am not in favour of her being employed again."
"True, Olga is a girl of great daring, and her lover has long been in the German service," Rasputin remarked. "I will see her to-morrow." Then, turning to me, he said: "Feodor, write to her and ask her to call on me to-morrow evening at eight. Send the letter by special messenger."
This I did, and next evening the girl Bauer called. She was slim, very pretty, and dressed as she was, as a girl of the people, none would suspect her of having committed several secret murders at Rasputin's instructions.
"Olga," he said, when she was shown into his room, "really you are growing prettier each day! I envy Ivan Ivanovitch, for he has good taste."
"You flatter me, Father," said the girl, blushing.
"I speak the truth," declared the monk, twisting the end of his beard in his fingers and fixing his strange eyes upon hers. "But," he went on, "I asked you here because I want you to help our cause once again—with the perfume."
She grew serious in an instant.
"Who is obnoxious?" she asked quickly, in a hard voice.
"Purishkevitch," declared the monk. "The man has somewhere in his house certain incriminating papers regarding Madame Vyrubova. These, however, do not concern you. When the Deputy is dead I will have the police search the house at once, and the papers when found will be handed to me. You must repeat the role you played in Prince Tchekmareff's household."
With these words he rose and took from a drawer he unlocked a small bottle containing a piece of cotton-wool, saying:
"This wool has been soaked in the perfume and dried, so that it is more easily carried and less suspicious than in liquid form. Just place a little water on the wool and squeeze it out, when you have the perfume ready to hand."
The pretty girl took the little wide-mouthed bottle and held it against the light.
"The Deputy will be difficult to approach," she said. "He is not a fast-living man, like some with whom I have dealt."
"He will not be able to resist a pretty face like yours," Rasputin said confidently.
"Well," she said at last, "I will try, Father. Give me your blessing."
And she went upon her knees, while the erotic blackguard placed his dirty hands upon her head, and, raising his eyes to Heaven, pretended to place upon her his benediction.
Afterwards, before she left us, she told us that she knew that the Deputy had a young man-servant named Protzenko, and it would be her object to first attract his attention and become on intimate terms with him, by which means she would be enabled to visit the servants' quarters of Purishkevitch's house.
"Excellent—if you do not think that you could obtain a place there as servant."
"That would be difficult, for I happen to know that all the servants have been there for years, and that there is no vacancy."
"Well, Olga, act just as you like," the monk said. "Only remove him, and then telephone instantly to me, so that the police can search immediately."
Of the girl Bauer we heard nothing for a fortnight. Time after time I felt impelled to warn the doomed man, but I feared lest Rasputin should suspect me of treachery, the other plots having failed. One night, while at the palace, I was informed by a flunkey that someone wished to speak with the monk on the public telephone, therefore I went to the instrument.
The voice I heard was that of Olga Bauer, who, when she recognised me, said:
"Tell the Father that his wishes were carried out half an hour ago. You know what I mean—eh?"
"Yes," I replied. "I know—I will tell him at once." And then I rang off.
Returning to Rasputin's handsome room I repeated the message, whereupon he sprang up with eager delight, and ringing up Protopopoff at his house in Petrograd, told him to order an immediate police search of Purishkevitch's house, as had already been arranged.
After that I had some business with the Master of the Imperial Household in the opposite wing of the palace, and it was not till half-an-hour later that I re-entered the "saint's" room.
I found Rasputin foaming with rage and stamping up and down the room in fury.
"I told the Empress and Anna the good news, now to find that it is false!" he cried. "The police made a domiciliary visit only to be greeted by Purishkevitch himself. Think of it!"
"Then the fellow is not dead!" I gasped in amazement.
"No. He is still alive. His valet Protzenko died an hour ago. That fool of a girl has blundered!"
As he uttered these words the door opened and the Empress appeared, looking pale and desperate.
"Father," she said, "this is a very serious contretemps for us all. How do we not know that the girl Bauer purposely removed the valet in place of his master? The visit of the police will arouse the suspicion of our enemy, and he may trace the crime to his valet's female acquaintance. What then?"
"I had never thought of that!" replied the monk, halting erect before her. "She might, in that case, betray us! Truly thou hast spoken words of wisdom!"
"Yes. In the girl I discern a possible enemy—and in this crisis we should take no risks."
"I agree. I will take steps. If she has betrayed us, then she shall be tried for the murder of Princess Tchekmareff. Whatever allegations she makes against me will not be allowed to transpire at the trial."
"Or get Nikki to sign an order for her banishment to Siberia as an exile," suggested the scheming Empress.
"Ah! my daughter, thou art always wise. An excellent plan! I will first make inquiries, and then ask for the Emperor's signature."
Though matters had assumed the most serious aspect in those last days of November, Rasputin, bent upon revenge and full of chagrin at being unable to obtain possession of those incriminating letters of the high priestess of his disgraceful cult, Madame Vyrubova, was busy making inquiries, and among those he questioned was Ivan Ivanovitch, a bookbinder in Petrograd, who was Olga's lover, and who regarded the monk with considerable disfavour, a fact of which Rasputin was unaware.
The young man, in consequence of the nature of the questions put to him by the monk, guessed what was in his mind, and that same day told Olga that Rasputin disbelieved her story how the valet had drunk the glass of kuemmel that had been poured out for his master, and that, full of chagrin, he was plotting a revenge.
Of this we knew nothing till afterwards. But on the same night as Ivan Ivanovitch revealed the truth to her Olga called upon Rasputin, and I admitted her.
"I wish to see the Father," she said, in a deep, earnest voice.
"I will go and see if he will receive you," I answered, and I left her in the ante-room.
Rasputin ordered her to be shown in, whereupon, as soon as she crossed the threshold, she drew a revolver, and, dashing toward him, fired. The bullet missed, and she fired again, also without effect, before I could rush up and seize her. She struggled with me with a strength born of madness.
"What does this mean, woman?" asked the monk, standing with his arms folded, while I held her wrists, the weapon having fallen upon the polished floor during our wild struggle.
"It means that I intend to rid the world of a base blackguard and betrayer of women!" she said. "I have been in your toils and done your dirty work, and now, because I have failed, you intend to denounce me, and so close my lips. But they will never be closed. The evidence which Purishkevitch holds is complete. I have seen it. Protzenko discovered me tampering with his master's papers, so I first assured him it was out of curiosity, and then I gave him a little of the perfume."
We both stood aghast at learning the truth.
"It surprises you!" she shrieked, still in my grip. "But you may be more surprised when you know that I have become a friend and partisan of the Deputy, and that with Ivan I have united to hasten the downfall of you—the Black Monk of Petrograd!"
"Silence, woman!" thundered Rasputin, casting an evil glance at her. "Hold her, Feodor. I will lock the door!"
Then, picking up the revolver, he strode to the door, which he locked and took the key. Passing to the telephone, he was soon speaking with Protopopoff, whom he ordered to send police officers to conduct the girl Bauer to the fortress of Peter and Paul.
"And I also order you to arrest the girl's lover, Ivan Ivanovitch, as a dangerous political. You know his address," he said to the Minister.
"Now you can release her!" he added, turning to me. "And write at my dictation."
The girl stood staggered at hearing Rasputin's orders to the Minister of the Interior.
"No, no!" she shrieked. "Forgive me! forgive me, Father! I—I was mad—mad! Ivan urged me to do this—to kill you!"
"Write as I tell you, Feodor," Rasputin ordered.
Then, as I sat at the table, he dictated the following lines:
"It is by our order that the woman Olga Alexandrovna Bauer, native of Orel, shall be deported without trial to Yakutsk, in Eastern Siberia, and there sent to penal servitude for life. And further, that Ivan Ivanovitch shall be confined for life in the Fortress of Schluesselburg. Given at our Palace of Tsarskoe-Selo, December 1st, 1916."
"The Emperor will sign that to-morrow," he added.
The unfortunate girl, shrieking loudly, threw herself at the feet of the monk, imploring forgiveness.
"No, my pretty one!" he replied. "You would open your lips if I gave you the chance. But you will not have it. You are my enemy, and the enemies of Gregory Rasputin never prevail for long, for he takes good care of that!"
She had a fit of hysterics, but quickly came to consciousness again, only to find herself in the hands of six grey-coated police officers, who roughly bundled her out into the hall, shrieking and cursing the blasphemous blackguard who was the real ruler of the Empire.
An hour after the girl Bauer had been taken away a secret messenger from Berlin brought us another dispatch in cipher, which, when I decoded it, read:
"MEMORANDUM FROM NO. 70. 68,428. G.
"Instructions from the Emperor William are to the effect that Germany will deliver a peace offer to Russia on December 12th. Inform Her Majesty of this, and tell her to use all her influence with the Emperor and all the Ministers towards an acceptance.
"Instructions to our friend P. [Protopopoff] are to continue his destructive activities. He must muzzle the Press more closely, hold up all food, and continue provocative work in all quarters. It is only by producing extreme suffering that you can bring about an uprising for peace. Code now changed to No. 5.—Greetings, "S."
Duly the German offer of peace was made on December 12th, and Russia was tottering to her doom. The offer, engineered by the "black forces," gave opportunity to the Duma to express its pent-up feelings. Both Miliukoff and his friend who had so narrowly escaped the "perfume" declared publicly that the camarilla favoured the acceptance of the offer.
Of the truth of this I can myself vouch, for Alexandra Feodorovna had, since her holy Father had received the secret dispatch, spared no effort to induce the Emperor and the Cabinet to accept the olive branch.
Nicholas refused. Whatever may be said of him, I know personally that on many occasions he proved his loyalty to the Allies against the evil counsels of Stuermer and the others.
The nation, however, had to be pacified, so the Tsar called the newly-appointed Foreign Minister, Petrovsky, who represented the best type of bureaucrat, and instructed him how to act. In consequence, three days after the Teuton proposal was made, he announced Russia's rejection of a "premature peace." Immediately after the Foreign Minister's declaration, the Duma passed a resolution, which contained the following declaration:
"Having heard the statement by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Duma unanimously favours a categorical refusal by the Allied Governments to enter, under present conditions, into any peace negotiations whatever."
Truly, public opinion was becoming more than ever inflamed.
Yet "Satan in a silk hat," seated in the Ministry of the Interior, was working his evil machinations upon the nation to create the greatest possible suffering and unrest, as his taskmaster in Berlin had ordered. And in this he had an able assistant in the unwashed "saint," who a few days before, in collusion with his friend the ex-conjurer, had in a low quarter of Petrograd performed a trick which all believed to be a "miracle."
One of Protopopoff's schemes, which he successfully carried out, was that of sowing discontent among the masses by spreading mysterious leaflets calling for rebellion on the issue of peace. By this he attempted to disrupt the organic life of the country and of the army. With Rasputin he was plotting to create a clamour which would justify the Government in opening separate peace negotiations and throwing the Allies overboard.
Unfortunately for him, however, the unions of zemstvos and of towns remained patriotic. So he prohibited their meetings in order to cause demonstrations and riots.
To all pleas and the warnings of those who saw the handwriting on the wall the Emperor remained deaf.
One afternoon, while I was with Rasputin in his apartments at the palace, the Empress entered, flushed and excited.
"Father! I have had such a blow. What do you think has happened?" she gasped. "Nicholas [the Grand Duke] has just had the audacity to read before Nikki and myself a statement which was outrageous. I snatched it from his hand and tore it up! Oh! it is infamous that I should be thus treated!"
"What has happened?" asked the monk, in his slow, deliberate way. "Do not distress thyself, my sister." And he made the sign of the cross.
"He has declared that you, our dear Father, have become the ruler of Russia; that Protopopoff was appointed through you, and that about you is centred a clique of enemy spies and charlatans, and he actually urged Nikki to protect Olga and myself from you! When he had finished his statement, fearing that he had gone too far, Nicholas said, 'Now call your Cossacks and have me killed and buried in your garden.' Nikki merely smiled."
"He would hear nothing against thee, I hope," said Rasputin anxiously.
"Nothing. Nikki assured him that I had nothing to do with politics, and dismissed the allegations by declaring that he entirely disbelieved them."
"Excellent!" exclaimed the monk; but afterwards, when he sat in the room, he remained silent and thoughtful for a long time.
At last he exclaimed aloud to me:
"Miliukoff must be removed. While he lives we are all in danger. We must try another method."
Matters had now reached a most desperate crisis, for on the following day Vladimir Purishkevitch, who had opposed the Government so strenuously in spite of his monarchical affiliations, came to see the Tsar to warn him also of the evil forces about him. But His Majesty took no heed. Therefore, two days later, he delivered from the tribune of the Duma some terrible allegations against the camarilla.
Meanwhile Rasputin had been active, and, with Stuermer's aid, had got hold of a man named Dubrovin, the leader of "the Black Hundred" and a close associate of the "dark forces." This man had, in turn, induced a man named Prohozhi, a member of the organisation, to accept a sum of money in return for the assassination of Miliukoff by means of a bomb.
All was arranged for the night of December 20th, and Rasputin sat with the Empress eagerly awaiting news that the deed had been accomplished. Instead of that, however, Protopopoff rang up from his house in Petrograd to say that Prohozhi had, on reflection, hesitated to harm Miliukoff, and moreover had revealed to young Prince Felix Youssoupoff and several others the whole of the conspiracy!
When told of this the Empress fainted. She saw that all was now lost. Indeed, on the following day Miliukoff rose in the Duma and made a second and more powerful attack upon the camarilla, singling out Protopopoff as one of the worst offenders. Again he held in his hand his famous bundle of documents, evidence of the treachery of the "dark forces," and in a magnificent speech he defied the Government, and urged the people to judge matters for themselves in the light which those documents would cast upon events. In that latest denunciation of Rasputin and his friends there was a ring that resounded through Europe.
The Tsar had again left for the front, while the Empress, nervous and trembling, held Rasputin and Anna ever at her side. The precious trio which had wrecked Russia were now seriously perturbed at the ugly state of public opinion. A dark storm-cloud had arisen, but Rasputin, with his boldness and contempt for the people, assured the Empress that there was no cause for anxiety, and that all would be well.
The seances of the sister-disciples in Petrograd had been suspended, for the monk remained at the palace, and scarcely ever left it. Protopopoff came daily to consult with the Empress, with her mock-pious favourite and the treacherous pro-German Fredericks, for yet another fresh plot was being formed against those who were so antagonistic to the Government, a plot which was to be worked by unscrupulous agents-provocateurs, with the object of placing among their effects incriminating correspondence relating to a widespread conspiracy (which did not exist) to overthrow the monarchy and suppress the House of Romanoff. The idea, having originated in Rasputin's fertile brain, had been taken up with frantic haste, for each member of the "dark forces" had decided that "something must be done," and that the situation had become most perilous for them all.
In those snowy December days, the people at last realised that they were being tricked, and that the German-born Empress was striving, with her sycophants and with the "holy" rascal, for a separate peace. Secret meetings were being held everywhere in Petrograd, the police were making indiscriminate arrests, and Schluesselburg was already overflowing with its human victims whom Rasputin had indicated, for a hostile word from him meant imprisonment or death. He was, indeed, Tsar of All the Russias.
Such was the breathless state of things at Tsarskoe-Selo in the last days of December.
* * * * *
Then came the final dramatic coup.
Of its exact details I have no knowledge. I give—as I have given all through this narrative of fact—only what I know to be actual truth.
On December 29th, at eleven o'clock, I left the palace to take a message to Protopopoff, and to interview the much-travelled Hardt, who was coming to Petrograd from Stockholm with his usual fortnightly dispatch from Berlin. I returned to the Palace about eight o'clock in the evening, when I received a message through one of the silk-stockinged servants, whose duty it was to wait upon "his holiness," to the effect that the monk had gone suddenly to Petrograd upon urgent business, and would return on the morrow.
Naturally, I accepted the message, ate my dinner, read the paper, and after a chat with Madame Vyrubova, who lived in the adjoining apartments, I retired to bed.
Next day I returned to the Gorokhovaya, but the monk had not come back. Countess Ignatieff called upon him, but I had to express my ignorance as to his whereabouts. I told her that he might possibly have gone upon another pilgrimage.
Late that night I went back to the palace, where I found Madame Vyrubova much perturbed.
"It is strange, Feodor!" she exclaimed. "He never leaves Petrograd without first informing me."
I set her mind at rest by suggesting that, as affairs were so critical, he was probably with Stuermer and Protopopoff plotting further manoeuvres.
Next night, however, a thrill went through the Court, as well as through the Russian people, by the six-word announcement in the Exchange newspapers, which coldly said:
"Gregory Rasputin has ceased to exist."
I read the statement aghast. I saw Anna Vyrubova, who was beside herself with grief and anxiety, and for a moment I spoke with the distracted Empress. Then I left with all haste for the capital.
On arrival I learnt at the Ministry of the Interior that a policeman on night duty along the Moika Canal had heard shots and cries coming from a house belonging to the young Prince Felix Youssoupoff, who had married a cousin of the Tsar, and who was well known in London, where he passed each "season." In the house were the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovitch, ex-Minister of the Interior Kvostov, Deputy Purishkevitch, and others. When the policeman went to ask what had happened, he received no explanation.
A little later two motor-cars drove up to the door. In one of the cars a large bundle was placed. It was the body of Rasputin. Beside this bundle a man took his seat and ordered the chauffeur to drive to an island at the mouth of the Neva. Traces of blood were left in the garden. There were also marks of blood on the ice of the frozen Neva, where the car had stopped. Near these marks was a freshly made hole, and close to the hole lay a pair of blood-stained rubber shoes.
Alexandra Feodorovna, frantic and bewildered, informed the Emperor by telegraph, and by the time he had returned the monk's body had been recovered from the river. I was present at the Mass served by the Petrograd Metropolitan Pitirim, an evil-liver of Rasputin's creation, after which I went with the body, which was conveyed to Tsarskoe-Selo. There, at the burial, Protopopoff was one of the chief mourners, and he, together with General Voyeykoff, Fredericks, and the Emperor himself, carried the silver coffin containing the remains of one of the worst rascals in Christendom, while the Tsaritza, Anna, and the whole Court followed in deep mourning.
Such a scandal roused the ire of the people to fever heat, but it freed me of my hateful compact, and I cut myself adrift for ever from the fascinating Madame Vyrubova and her vicious circle.
* * * * *
Perhaps, in concluding this volume of strange and amazing reminiscences, which I have written with the sole purpose of revealing the truth to Europe, I cannot do better than summarise the career of Rasputin as Alexander Yablonovski, one of our ablest Russian critics, has done. He declared that the part of the Black Monk in history was an era in itself.
Practically the entire historic role of Rasputin consisted of the fact that he united all Russia in a general hatred for the dark, irresponsible forces.
The Imperial Duma, the Imperial Council, the united nobility, the social organisations, the Press—all were permeated by the same conviction, namely, that it was high time to remove from the Russian political arena the Government gamblers.
More than that, Rasputin became even a matter of concern to Europe. The foreign Press printed articles about him. The foreign ambassadors cabled long reports in code to their Governments in connection with him. But, of course, to Europe he was more of a sad anecdote than an historical fact. To Russia, on the other hand, he was not only a fact, he was an era.
Russia has experienced immeasurable humiliation on account of him. But this humiliation has fused the Empire into a single body, creating citizens out of human pulp.
Russians all their lives have fought the irresponsible bureaucracy. Her literature, Press, science, parties, all, according to their resources, plucked the roots of this rotten plant. But how big were the results of their half-century of labour?
And then a Siberian mujik appeared, and against his own will he cut the arteries of the dark force, he stamped it in the mud, spitting at the very principle, the very idea, of autocratic bureaucracy.
Rasputin was killed for the purpose of cleansing Russia of the dark forces. Yet, alas! his evil influence lived to bear fruit in Germany's favour even after the Revolution and the downfall of the Romanoffs.
No more sinister or astounding figure has ever appeared in all history, and the memory of no one is more bitterly hated in Russia than that of Gregory the ne'er-do-well, the erotic scoundrel and assassin, who held the fate of the Russian Empire within the hollow of his hand.
PRINTED BY CASSELL & COMPANY, LIMITED, LA BELLE SAUVAGE, LONDON, E.C.4
Obvious punctuation errors have been corrected.
Page 66, "off" changed to "of" Page 84, "camerilla" changed to "camarilla" Page 85, "Miliukof" changed to "Miliukoff" Page 89, "Geurassimof" changed to "Guerassimof" Page 105, "lght" changed to "light" Page 118, "Kirovchein" changed to "Krivochein" Page 134, "disicple" changed to "disciple" Page 149, "Vyruboya" changed to "Vyrubova" Page 221, "Purishkevich" changed to "Purishkevitch" Page 221, "denouncng" changed to "denouncing"