Monday, March 29, 2010

Something new about Rasputin

Sasha told me. I always thought Father Grigory was fairly harmless, that he is a very spiritual man and gives mother and father comfort about Alexei. But Sasha says he has influence. If he does not approve a minister, mother gets father to fire him. I can't believe this. But I believe Sasha, so I don't know what to think.

Worse than that, I overheard Count Witte talking to father about Rasputin. Father wanted to go and lead the armies himself in the war, but he has been persuaded against it. The people, Count Witte said, are suspicious of Mama, especially because of her ties to Father Grigory. He mentioned cartoons.

"Are you certain you want to see them?" Sasha asked me when we met in the gardens at the Alexander Palace.

"Of course, or I wouldn't ask."

Sometimes he makes me cross, assuming I can't take anything just because I am still young. But I really wanted to know.

"These are only two. Others are worse."

I stared at those cartoons for a long time. They made Father Grigory look like a demon, and Mama and Papa like puppets. Not just Mama and Papa, but ministers in the government.

"Is there any truth about these?" I asked.

Sasha shrugged. "It doesn't matter, really. What people believe is what matters."

I couldn't accept that. Surely only the truth was important! What did it matter what anyone believed?

Sasha wouldn't let me keep the cartoons. I wanted to show my sisters, but he thought it would be hard for me to explain how I got them. Instead, I'll just have to describe them, and we'll talk it all over, and decide together what to think.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


It has happened as Sasha said it would. We are now at war with Germany. Mama's brother, the grand duke of Hesse, is against us, but we side with England. Sasha tried to explain the reasons to me.

"Did Germany invade Russia or England?" I asked him.

"No, but they didn't have to."

"Why not?"

"Because first of all, Russia, England and France are allies, and Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy are allies." He waited. I knew he was trying to confuse me, to prove that I couldn't understand.

"So that means of one of either of the three does something to the other camp, the two allies must join in."

He looked a little surprised that I could comprehend that much, but he tried to hide it. But I've come to know his expressions. "True, but none of those countries' territory has been invaded."

Irritating! Why won't he just tell me? "So the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand—that is the cause?"

"Now why would a Serbian killing the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne cause Russia and Germany to declare war on each other?" I could see the smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. The freckles nearby always twitched, so he couldn't fool me.

"Because," I said, knowing that now he would really be shocked at how much I knew, what I'd been able to pick up by listening in when nobody noticed me, "Serbia and Russia are allies."

He clapped, slowly, in a manner I found disrespectful in the extreme. "That doesn't explain England and France."

"You asked only about Russia!" I stamped my foot. "Why can't you just tell me what you know? This isn't like the day you showed me the poor camp. I can't very well go to the front, or sit at the councils where the generals decide what to do."

"No." He looked down at the grass and picked a wild daisy, which he handed to me. "Friends? I'm not trying to be mean. I just want you to understand."

I took the daisy. I didn't want to admit that the whole thing was still very obscure to me.

"Germany invaded Belgium. Belgium is neutral. We are pledged—as are France and England—to protect the neutrality of Belgium. Germany knew that this would provoke us and we would have to act."

"Now what did Belgium have to do with any of this in the first place?" My irritation was giving way to complete exasperation.

"It's the final piece of the puzzle. France mobilized to protect itself. England had to enter the war when Belgium's neutrality was compromised. Germany entered Belgium to attack France. So you see, it's like a game of dominoes. Only one piece need be unbalanced to make the whole structure of Europe fall to pieces." Sasha flicked his fingers at an imaginary domino castle.

I understood after that, but it all seemed so very far away and unreal. No battles had yet been fought, but everywhere the cry of war resounded.

"And what about you, Sasha?" I couldn't ask him directly if he would go and fight.

He smiled a closed-lipped half-smile. "I shall do as I am ordered, whatever that is."

I fought to resist the urge to throw my arms around his neck and beg him to leave the guards so he would be safe. But I couldn't have said it, or done such a thing. We said our goodbyes. I didn't see him again for several months.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My new friend

Yes, I can truly say that I have a friend, and no one but me (and he, of course) knows about him! I've been able to see Sasha only a few times during this Jubilee year. He is a funny sort sometimes. He teases me terribly, but not in a mean way. I tease him back just as much.

Still, sometimes he can make me cross, when he treats me too much like a child and thinks I don't know anything about life. I dared him to show me what he was talking about. He said the poor people were unhappy, that my Papa had not done enough to help them, and that everyone wants their own government, not just to be ruled by Papa. I can't believe it. How could they not want a tsar like Papa?

Sasha took me to see some very poor people and it upset me a great deal. I wish I could do something, but I don't know what more. We help with hospitals and churches, and we give money to the poor. He says the problem is bigger than that.

When I ask Tatiana, she tells me to go away and play, as if that's all I'm capable of doing. But I'm nearly 14 now—well, 13 and a half—and I can see things as well as the others. I can see that a war is coming and that Mama and Papa don't want to talk about it.

Sasha will, though. The next time I see him, I shall make sure he tells me everything he knows.

Sometimes it's very difficult being the youngest daughter.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Once the young man looked up I had to say something. Silly me! I asked him what he was doing there. Perhaps he thought I was a ghost, because of my white dress.

I found out his name is Sasha, and he's in the composites. He's young, so not really a fully-fledged guard. We talked for a while. What a feeling! Talking to someone my parents and brother and sisters didn't know. I felt wicked—and free. But what am I saying? I was in the safety of the Peterhof gardens. Hardly very dangerous!

We said goodbye after only a short time. He says he'll come back so I can talk to him again. Will he? Will I dare see him? I don't know. We're so busy. But we'll be in Peterhof for a few weeks, so perhaps I'll have the chance.

This is very exciting for me!
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x       x     x
 x            x
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Saturday, February 27, 2010

More about my mystery

I stood for a long time watching the young guard playing the balalaika. He didn't see me. I don't often have that opportunity for anyone outside my family, because wherever we go people are looking out for us, lining up to see us, or making sure we're all right and have everything we need. When we enter a room—even me—everyone looks up, stands, and curtsies or bows. It's a novel feeling to see someone else so close by and not have him turn all his attention to me.

I thought I might just steal away without letting him know I was there, but something about him made me want to get to know him. Why was he there? How did he dare enter the tsar's garden alone, and to play the balalaika at that! He was either very brave or very foolish. And his face—it is handsome, but young. On the edge of being a man, but there is sorrow in it too.

So, I slowly crept forward. I didn't want him to see me too soon. The closer I got, the more I liked the way he looked. I tried to be very quiet, but the toe of my shoe caught a stone. He looked up. His eyes were so blue! The moment was over. I was no longer seeing him without him seeing me. But it wasn't the end. I decided right then to make sure.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Something incredible has happened

I've been so busy with the Jubilee that I've hardly had a minute to think. I decided to run away for a little while and disappear in the garden at Peterhof—probably the only place I can do that, since the gardens are so big and full of little nooks and corners. It was just before lesson time, and I knew I wouldn't get away with it for long, but I was just tired of all the parties and visits to hospitals and schools. I know I should count myself lucky, but it just gets to be too much sometimes.

Anyway, I found a place alone: no gardeners, no guards that I could see (the Okhrana, our secret police, watch everything we do—very annoying!) and I just sat down by myself on the grass.

Then I heard a balalaika being played, very prettily, an old Russian song that I love. Some of the servants play, but none would dare to do it in the garden, so I thought perhaps it was someone just outside the gate.

I went to explore, but the wind kept tricking my ear and I'd think I'd found it and then the sound would come from somewhere else.

Finally, I turned a corner that led into the deepest, farthest part of the garden, and I saw the person playing the balalaika. He was young. And handsome! and a member of the guards.

I don't have time to write more, but I promise I will soon!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Olga has changed

I know I've talked about my sisters before, but it seems as if lately they are becoming almost strangers. As if wearing long skirts and putting their hair up has made them into different people. Mashka and I try to get them to play or get into mischief, but instead they sit by themselves, whispering.

I suppose it started with all this business about Prince Carol of Rumania. Mama really hoped that Olga would like him so that they could be married. Frankly, I thought he was very handsome and I couldn't understand why Olga treated him as if he was a fly on her sleeve. I suspected that she was in love with someone else, but afraid to tell Mama. What she said at the time was that she didn't want to marry a foreign prince, because she would have to leave Russia.

Now she looks far away sometimes, almost sad. I don't know what she has to be sad about. Perhaps she knows things we don't. Papa talks to her more than the rest of us. Sometimes she is even allowed to go and sit with him in his study. Papa spends a lot of time there. He has books, a billiard table, and places to sit. I've only been in it a few times. Alexei goes there.

But really, I think Olga can see the future sometimes, she looks so much as if she is elsewhere. When I ask her what she's thinking, she just smiles. Then I see her love for me and I just want to hold onto her forever, even if I don't understand her.