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Elizabeth: Grand Duchess of Russia Paperback – 25 Aug 1999
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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Chapters 15-16: The Kremlin was now felt to be the only secure place in Moscow for the imperial family. One night, not long after Christmas, Elizabeth and Serge and their nephew and niece Dmitri and Marie furtively entered a carriage and sped by a roundabout route to the Kremlin. No one spoke as they drove, curtains drawn, an escort following behind, through the silent snowy streets. When they arrived, the Nicholas Palace was damp and chilly from long disuse; dust sheets covered the furniture. Tea was made, and the family slept in improvised beds under piles of blankets.
For the next few days, Elizabeth rarely left the Kremlin, and only her closest friends came to visit her. Serge, however, showed a complete indifference to danger. He despised the revolutionaries, and thought it beneath him to take precautions for his safety. Despite Elizabeth's fears, he went alone to his office each afternoon to sort out his papers and prepare for his successor. His coach, with its grand ducal crest and green lamps, was easily recognised. Serge may have noticed a cab driver wearing a heavy fur coat with a red silk belt. Kalyayev, disguised as a prosperous coachman, was following his movements to decide on the place and time for his assassination. Savinkov learnt from the newspapers that Serge would attend a war benefit performance at the opera House on February 15, 1905. He decided that Kalyayev would throw a bomb at Serge on his way to the theatre. A storm gathered throughout the afternoon of the 15th. By the evening the wind was whipping the walls of the Kremlin and driving flurries of snow into its corners. At eight Serge, Elizabeth, Dmitri and Marie entered Serge's roomy, old-fashioned carriage and sat down on its silk cushions. They drove out through the Nicholas Gate into Red Square, and turned left to pass down the slope between the looming bulk of the Historical Museum and the Kremlin wall into the square beyond. The moon shone to reveal the area deserted, apart from a few peasants wandering to the Kremlin. Savinkov was waiting in the Alexander Gardens on the left; Kalyayev, the bomb in his hand, was standing in the shadow of a building to the right. He decided that if Elizabeth was with Serge, she would have to die. Kalyayev recognised the coach and the driver, Rudinkin, Whispering, "The time has come," he ran forward and raised his arm above his head. At that moment he caught sight of Dmitri and Marie. The thought of murdering a pair of innocent children made him hesitate. Rudinkin cried out and whipped up the horses, and the four of them arrived safely at the theatre. They knew nothing of Kalyayev's attempt and enjoyed the spectacle of Chaliapin at the height of powers, amid a sea of jewels and uniforms. Savinkov and Kalyayev hastily conferred, and decided to kill Serge if he left the theater alone. All four of the family returned together, and once more Serge's life was saved. On February 17, two days later, at three in the afternoon, the setting sun lit up the gilded cupolas of the Kremlin in a brilliant orange haze. The muffled sounds from the city outside did little to disturb the peaceful atmosphere. As Kalyayev, dressed as a peasant, strolled beside the Nicholas Gate, the family rose from lunch. Serge kissed Elizabeth and the children goodbye. He was in a cheerful mood; Emperor Nicholas had sent him a gold-leafed miniature portrait of Emperor Alexander III. Elizabeth prepared to visit her Red Cross workshop nearby; her sleigh was waiting outside the palace. All morning she had felt a vague sense of unease; she had just dissuaded Serge from making a dangerous trip to St. Petersburg. The children left for their lessons. Serge entered his carriage, and Rudinkin whipped up the horses and drove away. A thunderous explosion shook the palace windows. The idea of some dire accident flashed through Elizabeth's mind. "It's Serge," she cried. From her window, she could see people running towards the Nicholas Gate. She threw a cloak over her shoulders and called Mlle Hlne. They ran, hatless, to the sleigh and drove at full speed around the corner of the square. The driver forced a path through the gathering crowd. Directly in front the gateway stood Kalyayev. As two policemen dragged him away he shouted: "Down with the damned Tsar! Down with the accursed government!" Beside him, a hand, a severed leg, and an arm still clinging to its shoulder were the only remains of Serge amid the bloody morass of snow. Elizabeth never lost her calm for a moment. Her one thought, she later told her sister, was, "Hurry, hurry, Serge so hated mess and blood." She brushed aside two peasant women who tried to prevent her from alighting from the sleigh. Deathly pale, she gave directions in an unbroken voice. A sleigh was hastily summoned, and Rudinkin's badly mauled body was driven away to the hospital. Seeing that many among the gaping crown still wore their hats, she ordered them to bare their heads. On her knees, her dress now covered with blood, she helped to gather up the unrecognisable fragments of her husband's corpse. These were laid on an army stretcher brought from her workshop. The small pile was covered with a soldier's overcoat. Elizabeth clutched very tightly in her hand the medals Serge had worn on a string around his neck. At a quarter past three, a detachment of soldiers roped off the site of the murder and formed a guard of honour. They bore the stretcher on their shoulders past the stunned and motionless crowd to the Monastery of the Miracle by Nicholas Palace. In the church the litter was placed beside the altar steps. At one end a single boot protruded, and a pool of blood slowly formed beneath the body. A bell in the monastery tower began a solemn knell. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I was much irritated by the indifferent grammar and 'typos' with which the book is littered.
Having said so many negative things about the book I do wish to thank the author for having at least written about her. It was long overdue. However, just as Michael Sullivan's book on Victoria Melita - another granddaughter of Queen Victoria - adds much to the earlier Van Kiste biography I fear we must wait for a further biography on the elusive Elizabeth to satisfy us. We must however thank Mr Mager for whetting the appetite.
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