Part 6: Western Europe, Section 9
Part 6: Western Europe, Section 9
' A WILD panic seized the court circles at St. Petersburg. Alexander III., who, notwithstanding his colossal stature and force, was not a very courageous man, refused to move to the Winter Palace, and retired to the palace of his grandfather, Paul I., at Gatchina. I know that old building, planned as a Vauban fortress, surrounded by moats and protected by watchtowers, from the tops of which secret staircases lead to the Emperor's study. I have seen the trap-doors in the study, for suddenly throwing an enemy on the sharp rocks in the water underneath, and the secret staircase leading to underground prisons and to an underground passage which opens on a lake. All the palaces of Paul I. had been built on a similar plan. In the meantime, an underground gallery, supplied with automatic electric appliances to protect it from being undermined by the revolutionists, was dug round the Anichkoff palace, in which Alexander III. resided when he was heir apparent.
' A secret league for the protection of the Czar was started. Officers of all grades were induced by triple salaries to join it, and to undertake voluntary spying in all classes of society. Comical scenes followed, of course. Two officers, without knowing that they both belonged to the league, would entice each other into a disloyal conversation, during a railway journey, and then proceed to arrest each other, only to discover at the last moment that their pains had been labor lost. This league still exists in a more official shape, under the name of Okhrána (Protection), and from time to time frightens the present Czar with all sorts of concocted "dangers," in order to maintain its existence.
' A still more secret organization, the Holy League, was formed at the same time, under the leadership of the brother of the Czar, Vladímir, for the purpose of opposing the revolutionists in different ways, one of which was to kill those of the refugees who were supposed to have been the leaders of the late conspiracies. I was of this number. The grand duke violently reproached the officers of the league for their cowardice, regretting that there were none among them who would undertake to kill such refugees; and an officer, who had been a page de chambre at the time I was in the corps of pages, was appointed by the league to carry out this particular work.
' The fact is that the refugees abroad did not interfere with the work of the Executive Committee at St. Petersburg. To pretend to direct conspiracies from Switzerland, while those who were at St. Petersburg acted under a permanent menace of death, would have been sheer nonsense; and as Stepniák and I wrote several times, none of us would have accepted the doubtful task of forming plans of action without being on the spot. But of course it suited the plans of the St. Petersburg police to maintain that they were powerless to protect the Czar because all plots were devised abroad, and their spies -- I know it well -- amply supplied them with the desired reports.
' Skóbeleff, the hero of the Turkish war, was also asked to join this league, but he blankly refused. It appears from Lóris Mélikoff's posthumous papers, part of which were published by a friend of his in London, that when Alexander III. came to the throne, and hesitated to convoke the Assembly of Notables, Skóbeleff even made an offer to Lóris Mélikoff and Count Ignátieff ("the lying Pasha," as the Constantinople diplomatists used to nickname him), to arrest Alexander III., and compel him to sign a constitutional manifesto; whereupon Ignátieff is said to have denounced the scheme to the Czar, and thus to have obtained his nomination as prime minister, in which capacity he resorted, with the advice of M. Andrieux, the ex-prefect of police at Paris, to various stratagems in order to paralyze the revolutionists.
' If the Russian Liberals had shown anything like a modest courage and some power of organized action, at that time, a National Assembly would have been convoked. From the same posthumous papers of Lóris Mélikoff it appears that Alexander III. was willing for a time to call one. He had made up his mind to do so, and had announced it to his brother. Old Wilhelm I. supported him in this intention. It was only when he saw that the Liberals undertook nothing, while the Katkóff party was busy in the opposite direction, -- M. Andrieux advising him to crush the nihilists, and indicating how it ought to be done (his letter to this effect is in the pamphlet referred to), --that Alexander III. finally resolved to declare that he would continue to be absolute ruler of the empire.
' I was expelled from Switzerland by order of the federal council a few months after the death of Alexander II. I did not take umbrage at this. Assailed by the monarchical powers on account of the asylum which Switzerland offered to refugees, and menaced by the Russian official press with a wholesale expulsion of all Swiss governesses and ladies' maids, who are numerous in Russia, the rulers of Switzerland, by banishing me, gave some sort of satisfaction to the Russian police. But I very much regret, for the sake of Switzerland itself, that that step was taken. It was a sanction given to the theory of "conspiracies concocted in Switzerland," and it was an acknowledgment of weakness, of which Italy and France took advantage at once. Two years later, when Jules Ferry proposed to Italy and Germany the partition of Switzerland, his argument must have been that the Swiss government itself had admitted that Switzerland was "a hotbed of international conspiracies." This first concession led to more arrogant demands, and has certainly placed Switzerland in a far less independent position than it might otherwise have occupied.
' The decree of expulsion was delivered to me immediately after I had returned from London, where I was present at an anarchist congress in July, 1881. After that congress I had stayed for a few weeks in England, writing the first articles on Russian affairs from our standpoint for the "Newcastle Chronicle." The English press, at that time, was an echo of the opinions of Madame Novikóff, --that is, of Katkóff and the Russian state police, --and I was most happy when Mr. Joseph Cowen agreed to give me the hospitality of his paper in order to state our point of view.
' I had just joined my wife in the high mountains where she was staying, near the abode of Elisée Reclus, when I was asked to leave Switzerland. We sent the little luggage we had to the next railway station and went on foot to Aigle, enjoying for the last time the sight of the mountains that we loved so much. We crossed the hills by taking short cuts over them, and laughed when we discovered that the short cuts led to long windings; and when we reached the bottom of the valley, we tramped along the dusty road. The comical incident which always comes in such cases was supplied by an English lady. A richly dressed dame, reclining by the side of a gentleman in a hired carriage, threw several tracts to the two poorly dressed tramps, as she passed them. I lifted the tracts from the dust. She was evidently one of those ladies who believe themselves to be Christians, and consider it their duty to distribute religious tracts among "dissolute foreigners." Thinking we were sure to overtake the lady at the rail-way station, I wrote on one of the pamphlets the well-known verse relative to the rich in the kingdom of God, and similarly appropriate quotations about the Pharisees being the worst enemies of Christianity. When we came to Aigle, the lady was taking refreshments in her carriage. She evidently preferred to continue the journey in this vehicle along the lovely valley, rather than to be shut up in a stuffy railway car. I returned her the pamphlets with politeness, saying, that I had added to them something that she might find useful for her own instruction. The lady did not know whether to fly at me, or to accept the lesson with Christian patience. Her eyes expressed both impulses in rapid succession.
' My wife was about to pass her examination for the degree of Bachelor of Science at the Geneva University, and we settled, therefore, in a tiny town of France, Thonon, situated on the Savoy coast of the Lake of Geneva, and stayed there a couple of months.
' As to the death sentence of the Holy League, a warning reached me from one of the highest quarters of Russia. Even the name of the lady who was sent from St. Petersburg to Geneva to be the head center of the conspiracy became known to me. So I simply communicated the fact and the names to the Geneva correspondent of the "Times," asking him to publish them if anything should happen, and I put a note to that effect in "Le Révolté." After that I did not trouble myself more about it. My wife did not take it so lightly, and the good peasant woman, Madame Sansaux, who gave us board and lodgings at Thonon, and who bad learned of the plot in a different way (through her sister, who was a nurse in the family of a Russian agent), bestowed the most touching care upon me. Her cottage was out of town, and whenever I went to town at night --sometimes to meet my wife at the railway station --she always found a pretext to have me accompanied by her husband with a lantern. "Wait only a moment, Monsieur Kropótkin," she would say; "my husband is going that way for purchases, and you know he always carries a lantern!" Or else she would send her brother to follow me a distance, without my noticing it.
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