Memories of the Russian Court

It is with a prayerful heart and memories deep and reverent that I begin to write the story of my long and intimate friendship with Alexandra Feodorovna, wife of Nicholas II, Empress of Russia, and of the tragedy of the Revolution, which brought on her and hers such undeserved misery, and on our unhappy country such a black night of oblivion.
But first I feel that I should explain briefly who I am, for though my name has appeared rather prominently in most of the published accounts of the Revolution, few of the writers have taken the trouble to sift facts from fiction even in the comparatively unimportant matter of my genealogy. I have seen it stated that I was born in Germany, and that my marriage to a Russian officer was arranged to conceal my nationality. I have also read that I was a peasant woman brought from my native Siberia to further the ambitions of Rasputine. The truth is that I am unable to produce an ancestor who was not born Russian. My father, Alexander Sergievitch Tanieff, during most of his life, was a functionary of the Russian Court, Secretary of State, and Director of the Private Chancellerie of the Emperor, an office held
 before him by his father and his grandfather. My mother was a daughter of General Tolstoy, aide-de-camp of Alexander II. One of my immediate ancestors was Field Marshal Koutousoff, famous in the Napoleonic Wars. Another, on my mother’s side, was Count Kontaisoff, an intimate friend of the eccentric Tsar Paul, son of the great Catherine.
Notwithstanding my family’s hereditary connection with the Court our own family life was simple and quiet. My father, aside from his official duties, had no interests apart from his home and his music, for he was a composer and a pianist of more than national fame. My earliest memories are of home evenings, my brother Serge and my sister Alya (Alexandra) studying their lessons under the shaded lamp, my dear mother sitting near with her needlework, and my father at the piano working out one of his compositions, striking the keys softly and noting down his harmonies. I thank God for that happy childhood which gave me strength of soul to bear the sorrows and sufferings of after years.
Six months in every year we spent in the country near Moscow on an estate which had been in the family for nearly two hundred years. For neighbors we had the Princes Galatzine and the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess Serge, the last named being the older sister of the Empress. I hardly remember when I did not know and love the Grand Duchess Elizabeth, as she was familiarly called. As small children she petted and spoiled us all, often inviting us to tea, the feast ending in a grand frolic in which we were allowed to search the rooms for toys which she had
 ingeniously hidden. It was at one of these children’s teas that I first saw the Empress Alexandra. Quite unexpectedly the Tsarina was announced and the beautiful Grand Duchess Elizabeth, leaving her small guests, ran eagerly to greet her. The time was near the beginning of the reign of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna, and the Tsarina was at the very height of her youthful beauty. My childish impression of her was of a tall, slender, graceful woman, lovely beyond description, with a wealth of golden hair and eyes like stars, the very picture of what an Empress should be.
For my father the young Empress soon conceived a warm liking and confidence and she named him as vice president of the committee of Assistance par le Travail. During this time we lived in winter in the Michailovsky Palace in Petrograd, and in summer in a small villa in Peterhof on the Baltic Sea. From conversations between my mother and father I learned a great deal of the life of the Imperial Family. The Empress impressed my father both by her excessive shyness and by her unusual intelligence. She was above all a motherly woman and often combined baby-tending with serious business affairs. With the little Grand Duchess Olga in her arms she discussed all kinds of business with my father, and while with one hand rocking the cradle where lay the baby Tatiana she signed letters and papers of consequence. Sometimes while thus engaged there would come a clear, musical whistle, like a bird call. It was the Emperor’s special summons to his wife, and at the first sound her cheek would turn to rose, and, regard
less of everything, she would fly to answer it. That birdlike whistle of the Emperor I became very familiar with in later years, calling the children, signaling to me. It had a curious, appealing, resistless quality, peculiar to himself.
Perhaps it was a common love of music which first drew the Empress and our family into a bond of friendship. All of us children received a thorough musical education. From childhood we were taken regularly to concerts and the opera, and our home, especially on Wednesday evenings, was a rendezvous for all the musicians and composers of the capital. The great Tschaikovsky was a friend of my father, and I remember many others of note who were frequent guests at tea or dinner.
Apart from music we received an education rather more practical than was the average at that time. In the Russia of my childhood a girl of good family was supposed to acquire a few pretty accomplishments and nothing much besides. Accomplishments I and my sister were given, but besides music and painting, for which my sister had considerable talent, we were well grounded in academic studies, and we finished by taking examinations leading to teachers’ diplomas. I may say also that even in our drawing-room accomplishments we were obliged to be thorough, and when my father ventured to show some of our work to the Empress she expressed warm approval. “Most Russian girls,” she said, “seem to have nothing in their heads but officers.”
The Empress, coming from a small German Court where everyone at least tried to occupy themselves
 usefully, found the idle and listless atmosphere of Russia little to her taste. In her first enthusiasm of power she thought to change things a little for the better. One of her early projects was a society of handwork composed of ladies of the Court and society circles, each one of whom should make with her own hands three garments a year to be given to the poor. The society, I am sorry to say, did not long flourish. The idea was too foreign to the soil. Nevertheless the Empress persisted in creating throughout Russia industrial centers, maisons de travail, where the unemployed, both men and women, and especially unfortunate women who, through errors of conduct, lost their positions, could find work.
Life at Court was by no means serious. In fact it was at that time very gay. At seventeen I was presented, first to the Empress Dowager who lived in a palace in Peterhof known as the Cottage. Extremely shy at first, I soon accustomed myself to the many brilliant Court functions to which my mother chaperoned my sister and myself. We danced that first winter, I remember, at no less than twenty-two balls besides attending many receptions, teas, and dinners. Perhaps it was partly the fatigue of all this social dissipation which made so serious the illness with which in the ensuing summer I was stricken. Typhus, that scourge of Russia, struck down at the same time my brother Serge and myself. My brother’s illness ran a normal course and he made a rapid recovery, but for three months I lay at death’s door. After the fever succeeded many complications, inflammation of the lungs and kidneys, and an affection of the brain
 whereby I lost both speech and hearing. In the midst of my suffering I had a vivid dream in which the saintly Father John of Kronstadt appeared to me and told me to have courage and that all would finally be well.
This Father John of Kronstadt, whom all true Russians reverence as a saint, I remembered as having thrice been at our house in my early childhood. The gentle majesty of his presence, the beauty of his benign countenance had so deeply impressed me that now, in my desperate illness, it seemed to me that he, more than the skilled physicians and the devoted sisters who attended me, had power of help and healing. In some way I managed to convey to my parents that I wanted Father John, and they immediately telegraphed begging him to come. It was some days before the message reached him, as he was away from home on a mission, but as soon as he received word of our need he hastened to Peterhof. As in a vision I sensed his coming long before he reached the house, and when he came I greeted him without astonishment with a feeble movement of my hand. Father John knelt down beside my bed, praying quietly, a corner of his long stole laid over my burning head. At length he rose, took a glass of holy water, and to the consternation of the nurses sprinkled it freely over me and bade me sleep. Almost instantly I fell into a deep sleep, and when I awoke next day I was so much better that all could see that I was on the road to recovery.
In September of that year I went with my mother first to Baden and afterwards to Naples. We lived in the same hotel with the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess Serge who were very much amused to see me
in a wig, my long illness having rendered me temporarily almost bald. After a quiet but happy season in southern Italy I returned to Russia quite restored to health. The winter of 1903 I remember as a round of gaieties and dissipations. In January of that year I received from the Empress the diamond-studded chiffre of maid of honor, which meant that, following my marriage, I would have permanent entry to all Court functions. Not immediately but very soon afterwards I was called to duty to the person of the Empress, and there began then that close and intimate friendship which I know lasted with her always and which will remain with me as long as God permits me to live.
I would that I could paint a picture of the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna as I knew her before the first shadow of doom and disaster fell upon unhappy Russia. No photograph ever did her justice because it could reproduce neither her lovely color nor her graceful movements. Tall she was, and delicately, beautifully shaped, with exquisitely white neck and shoulders. Her abundant hair, red gold, was so long that she could easily sit upon it when it was unbound. Her complexion was clear and as rosy as a little child’s. The Empress had large eyes, deep gray and very lustrous. It was only in later life that sorrow and anxiety gave her eyes the melancholy with which they are usually associated. In youth they wore an expression of constant merriment which explained her family nickname of “Sunny,” a name by the way nearly always used by the Emperor. I began almost from the first day of our association to love and ad
mire her, as I have loved her ever since and always shall.
The winter of 1903 was very brilliant, the season culminating in a famous ball in costumes of Tsar Alexis Michailovitch, who reigned in the seventeenth century. The ball was given first in the Hermitage, the great art gallery adjoining the Winter Palace, but so immense was its success that it had to be twice repeated, once in the Salle de Concert of the palace and again in the large ballroom of the Schermetieff Palace. My sister and I were two of twenty young girls selected to dance with twenty youthful cavaliers in an ancient Russian dance which required almost as much rehearsal as a ballet. The rehearsals were quite important society events, all the mothers attending, and the Empress often looking on as interested as any of us.

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