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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, regardless 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.