My Moment with the Romanov
It is based on some historical facts and persons , but it is still fictitious anyways.
St. Petersburg 1916
The gigantic Neva river lay tortuously along the myriad of old buildings with various colors and sizes.Its murky surface reflected their distorted shadows to look like there was another city underneath.Above the dazzling wave of water stirred by the ship's engine ,I could see so clearly the Kunstkamera building facing the Tsar's Winter Palace.The wind of April was blowing and touching my face quite gently but still giving me the chills of cordial spring.
"A penny for your thoughts."
Maria Aslakhanov lovingly whispered in my ear as we were both loitering on the bridge.I did not reply but smiled.
"Are you thinking of the river in your hometown ?" asked she and looked at the same direction as me.
"Probably.The river in my hometown is quite small ,comparing with this, but Its banks are full of green orchard.The house of my parents is tucked away in them."
I grabbed her soft hand and pressed it against my cheek.Maria blushed , and its color looked so conspicuous because her skin was generally pale like a snow.Our bodies in thick overcoat were huddled to give each other warmth.I could feel her arm enfolding my waist, and she must have felt that too.
"Maybe next time you will take me over there with you." Her voice trembled a little, probably she was not sure about her fate.
I muttered ,"It is such a great distance from here ,but dear ,I can assure you that time will be arriving come what may."
The sound like an explosion suddenly sprung up.Its echo deceived us of its source.Probably it was far from here.The ensuing sound is the ruckus which we now could clearly feel that it was happening in our vicinity.The vociferous crowd of women were gradually marching towards us.The leader was an old woman bearing picture of Jesus on her chest.Behind her were the younger women with a housewife attire.Some of the makeshift and cursory placards on the hands of protesters could be read :
We want our bread!" or "Long live the people!"
The old woman had looked right past me and then shouted to Maria , before she and her comrades departed to the other side of the bridge.
"Devushka (young girl) , join us now or go home ! "
The second sound of explosion then startled me and Maria.But the crowd of women looked nonchalant ,and some roared with the sentence I couldn't understand.Maria said it was the blasphemy against the Tsar.It used to be dangerous to do so even last year as Lese Majeste.But now everybody could do it without being bothered by the secret police who probably personally agreed with this act.The order of Russian empire was slowly descending into anarchy.
Both of us cracked on walking to Maria's house which is not far from the bridge.
"We would not see each other within several days.If the university is open again ,promise me to rush to our rendez-vous at noon sharp on the first day !"
Maria said while panting.The steam covered a bit her rosy and beautiful lips.I kissed her passionately but said not aloud , because her father might have stood near the gate.
I said in a shaken voice ,"Of course, darling ,I am always craving your kiss, take good care of yourself and your family .......Paka (good bye)."
The campus of my university was almost empty and deserted like the ancient town assaulted by plague.Harking back to several days before would make you flinch with disbelief : the bustling street filled with the crowd of lively students rushing to class or canteen.Our chancellor was wary that the students were probably conspiring to stage the protests against the government.The old monarchist codger ,who was loathed by many students, ordered to close university for indefinite time (but Maria took it for granted that 3 or 4 days would be the most).However, it was beyond doubt the radical or the Marxist students would still manage to perform political instigation outside.
I walked to my dormitory, passing a couple of dogs who were sniffling the garbage bins which would certainly disappoint them because the food shortage was increasingly exacerbated , and no one dared to leave it as a waste.My room mate surprised me by laying and staring absent-mindedly on the upper floor of our bunk bed.The bespectacled guy always used to bury his face in the piles of book.
"There must have been a heavy snow today." I teased him.
Worawit pretended to laugh.
"Thitiwat , I suppose you are a jerk or something .Why do you still think that we will finally finish our studies? Look at the situation now! The old man has closed the university and everywhere is rife with protests."
"That's true." I agreed with him and said ,"But you are always looking at the silver lining , aren't you ? The government of the Tsar might get the pandemonium under control."
"No, the incompetent government belongs to the Tsarina and that obnoxious monk [Rasputin] for years, and everybody needs a change.The foolish and cuckolded emperor surmised that he was the warrior king who had commanded his troops to reach Berlin within one day.Today the war against Germany [World War 1] was acknowledged across the nation that it was absolutely disastrous.The herd of our Russian comrades were pitifully slaughtered ,even the brother of your sweetheart ,Maria ,don't you remember ?" he asked.
I remembered the very day Maria received the news of Victor's death last year.She cried her eyes out and sobbed for weeks.The explosions hours ago might have been caused by the grieving veterans to tell the Romanov family to stop this horrendous war or simply to overthrow them.
Someone knocked our door, and It was Mom Chao Sakchai Sunthornwan.We rose to salute him.He sat on Worawit's chair and picked the small poster from his desk.It was the caricature that Rasputin was viciously copulating with Tsarina Alexandra.
"I hope both of you will keep it hidden well." The only royal blood in Siamese student association of Russia grinned coyly.
"Why , Your Highness? This kind of poster has been distributed widely around St.Petersburg or perhaps Russia." Worawit protested.
"That is why I have exhausted myself by climbing the long stair to the third floor to personally invite both of you to the special meeting .Now please follow me to the hall." His Highness invited us.
To much of our amazement , there were half a dozen of the Siamese students sitting in the hall. They had studied around Russia ,especially in Moscow and St.Petersburg.Everyone received the royal scholarship from King Vajiravudh and expected to graduate soon.It was embarrassing that there was no new comer from Siam for years ,as no one trusted the political volatility of this empire.
Their jovial conversation was suddenly halted by the presence of Mom Chao Sakchai.Everybody stood up and bowed politely to him.Sakchai, who was studying in the second year of Master degree of engineering ,looked around the hall which was empty because the native students were back to their home or running amok on the streets.The stranded ones in this dormitory are only the foreigners like us ,including some Chinese , British and French who didn't know the Siamese language -some even didn't have the idea where Siam was.
"Thank you gentlemen for wasting your precious time joining this meeting - some even traveled from Moscow to Petrograd (new name of St.Petersburg since 1914).It is so important that I can not inform you via letter or telegraph."Sakchai grinned.
The hall fell completely silent ,and everyone was holding his breath.
He said in a little shaken voice, "Tsar Nicholas just came back from the western front this afternoon.His Majesty wants to have the peaceful days with his family for a week before going back to the battlefield."
Worawit mumbled to me ,"There is no use being in the battlefield or even coming back here either. Soon St.Petersburg would be thronged with soldiers of Central Powers.If I were him, abdication would be the best solution."
"But His Majesty told his secretary to tell me that he and his family really wanted to meet all of you." Sakchai proudly revealed.
Some of us loudly exclaimed with surprise.The silence was broken by the jubilant chatter as the upper echelon of Russia was at least reminded of us during such a hardship.Since we had been here for years , we didn't have a chance to get a glimpse of any member of royal family ,except the gate of Winter Palace.
Sakchai said loudly , "Evening on the day after tomorrow , he will be holding a little party for us.Please be best dressed as you can and reminisce about etiquette you have learned since your childhood.Before the party , we will be joined by our honorable fellow, Nikolai Pumsky."
The picture of thirty-something man with well- trimmed mustache entered my mind.I used to run into him last years and found him unexpectedly humble and friendly.Pum Sakorn was assigned by King Chulalongkorn to accompany Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanath to study in Royal Cadet School in St.Petersburg when they were young.This was a ruse of the king to make his son 'more energetic' in studying when he had the rival as a commoner.
The prince finished his study and returned to Bangkok with his Russian wife in 1903 (my friend often teased me that I was following in his footsteps). For some reasons , Pum disappointed the king by permanently staying in Russia.He changed his nationality to be Russian, and his name was turned to be Nikolai Pumsky.He had worked as a Major in Cavalry unit and had a close connection with Tsar Nicholas and his family.Probably Pumsky was the one who helped us to be granted an audience with the Tsar.
The meeting had been dragged on for half an hour, before the members held a little party by clinking the glass of Vodka.
I looked at Worawit."Now you can tell the Tsar by yourself everything you have told me."
We both laughed out loud.
This morning belonged to probably one of the most important days of our lives, as we were assembling to prepare ourselves for meeting with Romanov family many hours ahead.Our boisterous place was the deserted student club in order to be out of sight from Mom Chao Sakchai.The only person nearby was Konstantin ,the near deaf caretaker who had worked here for 30 years. But the Armenian seemed to have no care in the world .The real victim was a tabby named Feliks who had to endure our hocus-pocus.It was so hilarious for 6-7 young men to converse in unrestrained manner.It was because we believed no one could not understand our language ,especially the senile old man and the annoyed cat.
The contemplation of etiquette was briskly wrapped up, and our exuberant talks turned to our hometowns , love interest (of course, I was again the subject of their fascination) and then taboo subject in our country; politics. Narong from Moscow State University initiated the discussion by comparing Tsar Nicholas with King Vajiravudj .He dauntlessly attacked the king and concluded that absolute monarchy was now archaic.Many others agreed with him, but Lieutenant Komkrit ,who studied in Royal Cadet School, blamed the king's inner circle.He reminded us of the scholarship the king bestowed upon us and the very fact that before leaving for Russia, the king even kindly granted us an audience for farewell.
Worawit interjected ,"Everyone please be in the moment ! We don't even know yet whether we can accomplish our missions here."
Everybody were suddenly stupefied and the atmosphere became pretty tense.We peppered one another with the questions like : what would happen if ,several months ahead, Russia were defeated in the Great War ,or the throne of Tsar were toppled by the radical groups ? Could we survive this ,let alone our studies ?"
Tasanai ,the pensive friend ,who shared the same university as Worawit and mine, looked around."If the situation is visibly precarious ,our best choice is we should flee to some place far from the madding crowd and the frenzied cities.We would probably be fishing and trekking all day, waiting for everything to blow over before coming back.Otherwise , the years of our hard labor would be futile."
Some of us voiced the agreement.
But Worawit stared at Tasanai."I am afraid it is too risky , as the turmoil would probably spread around country.And we have no place to hide or escape from this country in time.Being a foreigner doesn't mean we are automatically carrying the bulletproof shield, if Russia is completely gone berserk.Perhaps our only choice is nothing but to go back to Siam."
Komkrit shook his head."I afraid it would not be that terrible.I still trust the guts of the generals around the Tsar that the army will still be in stalemate with the German, or at least they can conquer Austro-Hungarian.I used to read a military strategy book written by General Aleksei Brusilov.It was so brilliant.Furthermore ,Russia's alliance like Britain and France could effectively divert the force of the Central Powers."
Worawit then gave him the lengthy lecture.
"But I believe Russia will finally be occupied by the foreign troops.Apart from poor weapons , the morale of soldiers are extremely low.The military desertions are always en masse , and their superiors are often killed , because they had attempted to prevent these unpatriotic acts.I am in their shoes because their lives in the battlefront are so appalling.Their meals of each day are unbearably meager ,even though most of them used to be peasant.Suppose Russia avoids the defeat by successfully negotiating for the truce, it will still pay the price like a huge reparation , resulting in worsening economy.The woe of cost of living will certainly spur the mood of revolution followed by the uprising, and presumably the civil war.In my humble opinion , the empire is about to crumble within months or at most a year.
I happened to look outside the window and could see the beautiful sparrow with outstanding color perching on the tree brunch.It quickly flew to the sky which now looks so bright because the clouds were scattered by the cold wind.Then my daydream was dashed by a someone.
Kett ,3rd year of Economics of also Moscow State University,asked me with stammering voice,"What is an opinion of general Russian people on their ruling monarch ? Have you ever discussed this with your girl friend?"
I spent a minute recollecting."It is polarizing ,depending on generation.The old one still reveres the Tsar ,sneers at the Tsarina and feels hostile to Rasputin.The young one dislikes them all.The radical wants to put three of them in Guillotine - 4 princess and 1 little prince [the Tsar's children] are also included on the List."
Some chuckled nervously , and some went ashen.Although they didn't agree with the regime of the Tsar , they preferred the pacifistic method of political transformation.
Komkrit clamored as if he had tried to convince himself."That is impossible to happen! Because Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov [Lenin], the leader of Bolsheviks and the archenemy of the empire was still in exile in Switzerland."
Worawit looked exasperated."It is probably so. But don't underestimate the power of people's revolution , when they are facing the bloody cul-de-sac.And who knows Ulyyanov or his henchmen would probably return someday to instigate the mass with assistance from foreign country ? "
Narong loudly interrupted."I have the idea! This evening we will tell all about this to the Tsar himself and he might come to senses and avert the dystopian scene we are now conjuring up, ,at least in some degree. "
Komkrit laughed sincerely and slapped the head of his friend."Yes. Theoretically it is fabulous ,but we are just the foreigners from a tiny faraway empire.What would happen ,If the Tsar got angry about our obtrusion ? Will you dare to look in the eyes of Mom Chao Sakchai and Mr. Pumski ,because you did it without their consultations ?
Feliks was walking from the door and meowed so loud as if he had been protesting our rowdy talks.Worawit picked and embraced him in his arms and droned,
"It is a daredevil act ,Narong,don't you study the character of Nicholas ? He is superstitious and narcissistic; that is why he and his wife sacked all the able generals and ministers. It was simply because of the collisions of opinion like they tried to convince their majesties to sack Rasputin who had been godlike for them.
Worawit stopped for a while and went on in shaken voice.
"The Tsar ordered his troops without a second of afterthought to massacre his own subjects ,only because they were marching for handing him the petition.He let the guiltless Jews slaughtered only because they were Jews, and he hated them .A little warning from vermin like us can put ourselves in awkward situation. We might thus become the cause of the severely strained relations between 2 nations. "
Kett contradicted him."I am on Narong's side.Why would we worry about this damn relations when the millions of Russian lives ,including ours ,might be thrown into the abyss in anytime? We need someone here ,who knows how to speak without irritating the Tsar or his wife : some manner like casting a spell on them."
Komkrit called for voting .Majority of us want to follow Narong and Kett's way.
Worawit then relented."If the result becomes like this , perhaps it is the God's will.And I can do nothing but concur.By the way, I know someone who can fulfill our perilous task ; that is my roommate who is son-in-law in nearby future of Russia."
Everybody looked at me.
I cried out hastily ,"Worawit , you are the most erudite member of our group.This should be your duty to talk to the Tsar like I told you the other day."
Worawit laughed."Sorry, friend, I am too blunt and will certainly wreak havoc in the party with my flippancy and impulsivity.I wholeheartedly believe in your eloquence and ability to win over the persons like them."
The room was then burst with applause and hooray.
I felt the warm blood running around my face.Now I wanted to transform myself to be that sparrow and fly straight to Maria's house.I really did.
It is Mr.Pumski awaiting us at the gate of Winter palace.He nodded his head in greeting to Mom Chao Sakchai ,while all of us were gradually dismounting the horse-drawn carriages.Albeit the obscure surrounding during twilight ,we could feel that the Major was apparently delighted for a company of his compatriots.This was even though he had already changed his nationality and even a religion.Some of us ,especially Komkrit, had contacted him regularly ; maybe he considered him a mentor or a father figure with awe-inspiring military prestige.
Pumski smiled while proffering his hand to Sakchai."Your Highness, glad to see you again. I hope that my present to Prince Chula Chakrabongse has already arrived in Bangkok."
Sakchai beamed." Yes ,the young prince had me convey his message of gratitude to you. He is probably relishing your troop of tin soldiers right now.His father always thinks of you and hopes you will go back to visit Siam as you promised."
Pumski nodded again and moved around to shake hands with each of us ,telling us to be extremely cautious when going inside.Worawit enthusiastically used two of his hands to grab his."Sorry, sir for being a little late.We didn't expect to see such a large crowd of protesters on the way."
Only the Siamese soldier in Russian army suddenly looked discomforted."It is ordinary for Russia during such a protracted war to have the frequent unrest.The war has pitifully prevented the administration from dealing with the particular social and economic problems properly.I believe His Majesty will finally lead his empire out of this maelstrom."
Sakchai looked fiercely into Worawit's eyes to prevent him from more silly remarks or awkward questions.Pumski seemed to remember me.
"Young man , your question to Professor Pavsikakiy in his lecture last year was remarkable.The old man had been dumbfounded for minutes.I had never seen his reaction like that before , and I was certainly sure you had spoken Russian well. "
I laughed and said nothing but nodded.
The royal guards with solemn faces and steep rifles searched our bodies as following an extremely rigid rule.The large black gate perched with the two headed eagle as a symbol of the Romanovs then were opened ajar ,in the manner that it was ready to close in any minute.On the way with flickering light to palace and Alexander column, We could feel our bodies shaking with thrill not by the abrasive blowing wind around us.On the contrary , Sakchai and Pumski were joyously chatting about situation in Siam.We finally met one of the Tsar's secretaries who would lead us into the building illuminated by electricity.
"I remember reading about one of the most luxurious and costliest ball in this palace..."someone said.
I looked around and found Ronarit ,second year of History in Saint Petersburg State University ,talking quietly to Narong :
"Maybe a decade ago ,the emperor (he intentionally used it in Thai instead of Tsar) held it and required all royal participants to wear the vintage costumes adorned with priceless jewels.This might have showed that he and his family were really concerned about their subjects who were facing the pestering poverty and travails."
Komkrit shushed his friend when seeing Pumski was likely to pay attention to us.
The green and white Winter Palace was initially built during the reign of Peter the Great about two hundred years ago.Its architect was designed by the Swiss man who had adroitly applied the style of Baroque to evoke the sense of grandeur and exquisiteness.It henceforth became the symbol of Tsardom and its preponderant power over the myriad of vassal states.
We could feel the softness of the red carpet along the staircase made of white marble.Its destination was the desolate balcony occupied by only a valet who was looking starkly at us.Above our heads was the ceiling covered by the large painting of Greek deities cavorting in heaven ,sustained by the bas-relief of Apollo in various manners on the top of the perpendicular granite pillars.In the center of next opulent room were the gigantic chandeliers being hung radiating the light to the vaults full of flowers and goddess carvings.The walls were attached by the paintings the previous Tsars had bought from western Europe.They really wanted to show their royal relatives around Europe that they were the civilized monarchs of the great nation.They would be so furious to learn that they were still regarded as the backward empire with the lifestyle of barbarians who had dwelled in the wooden or clay huts and just learned how to make bonfire.
On the corridor , two beautiful girls in white dresses were turning around in reluctant manner.I could remember from photographs that they were Grand Duchess Maria and Grand Duchess Anastasia, daughters of the Tsar.They looked a little bewildered ; Maria turned to Anastasia.
"Tell mommy that Pumski and his Sayimi [misspelling of Siamese] friends are here."
Maria friendly but bashfully received our greeting.Before she would do anything , a nearly middle- aged woman darted to the corridor, and that was Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna with a casual dress in grey gown.She wiped her hand with apron around her waist and extended it to all of us except the secretary.Our eyes were fixing on her like she was casting a spell on us with her alluring smile.The youthfulness seemingly never escaped from her sparkling eyes.
"Dobryy vecher , really glad to see you again , Pumksi," she said with sheer delight and looked around.
"All of you are university students ,right ? "
Sakchai replied and we were quite fascinated to experience such a cordiality from the royal who had ruled the vastest empire in the world for her husband even for months.
Alexandra beamed."Please accept my apology that we are not ready to accept you as our today schedule is so busy.But I am pretty sure that the dinner is already on the table.I would be happy if you don't mind a dish of Borscht I and Olga have struggled to cook. Nicky is probably waiting for you right now."
She later told the secretary to lead us to the dining hall , as she and her daughters excused themselves for a moment.I glanced at Worawit who now was being perplexed by the person he had backbit all the time.He turned his head near me and whispered,
"I am not that surprised , it is all feminine charm offensive.She and her daughters used to treat the wounded soldiers before to make the public harbor no resentment against her family from the war her husband has ushered into.Please don't forget about all her blunders and vices."
"But I saw you blushing and firmly grabbing her hand,"I whisphered back.
" O ,shut up ,Thitiwat.It is sweltering here, and I feel like swooning !"Worwith yelled out but still tried to make it quiet.
The dinning hall staggered the visitors with its enormity and sumptuousness that bore resemble to a hall of the famous cathedrals in this city.Tsar Nicholas II or Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov was sitting there , in the center of the long table in horseshoe shape.Dozen of valets were standing still behind the shining bowls and plates on the table.Some of them glanced at us before looking straight ahead again.The Tsar seemed to busy himself with smoking pipe ,reading newspaper ,and listening to the gramophone nearby which was playing Piano Trio of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. He was the Russia's most famous musical composer in the era of the Tsar's father ,Tsar Alexander III.
The emperor lowered the newspaper ; his face looked obviously exhausted but still in good spirit.Then he exclaimed with glee to Pumski,
"Dobryy vecher ,moy brat (Good evening , my brother). It's been such a long time.Great pleasure to see you again."
Two men had embraced and kissed the cheeks of each other.I suddenly came to think that the person able to help the Tsar to come to his senses was only Pumksi.But how could we do anything ,when they shared the same world views cocooned from the real world ? They conversed amicably for a while ,and Pumski began to introduce all the students who bowed to the Tsar as politely as they could in their whole lives.The radiance of contentment from the Tsar's eyes aroused me the suspicion that he was being lonely and terribly needed some foreign companions.
The rest of his family members magnificently ambled into the hall with more formal dress in white and rosy.Alexei Nikolaevich Tsarevich (Crown Prince) of Russia ,on the wheel chair pushed by his favorite nanny,was leading them.His pale face had shown fascination without inhibition to see the dark-skinned guests from the mystic kingdom that was like a land in fairy tale.When the proper introduction between the royal hosts and the overexcited guests ended , the real dining began.But the food with such a finesse didn't engross us at all, when we exceedingly tried to pay heed to every word the Tsar and his family were uttering.
Sakchai talked to the Tsar in very diplomatic manner that he was conveying the message of good will from King Vajirvudh to Romanov family.He also apologized for the Siamese ambassador to Russia who actually had an office in Paris that he could not visit his majesty as the war was still raging in the eastern front.
Tsar Nicholas nodded and straightforwardly asked about Siam's standpoint in the Great War.Sakchai stuttered a little that Siam was completely neutral in this war. But the emperor could be reassured that 'when the time cames' ,Siam would certainly never make the Russian Empire disappointed [It was ironic that King Rama 6 declared the war against the Central Powers in 1917 ,after the overthrow of Romanov dynasty].The Tsar smiled haggardly and droned incessantly about good relations between the Russian empire and Siam like a history book.He talked about visiting the countries in Asia ,especially Siam, in 1891 ,when he was still the Tsarevich.The Tsar treasured his dear camaraderie with late King Chulalongkorn who had held the majestic and lavish ceremony of welcoming him in Bangkok.He could recall vividly the journey to see the ceremony of catching wild elephant in Ayutthaya ,including the indelibly impressive sojourn in Bang Pa-in Summer Palace.
"I still remember the delicate taste of cold coconut juice there.It was so superb," he murmured.
One of his daughter, Grand Duchess Tatiana ,who was probably several years younger than me, lamented by saying aloud,
"What a pity ! I was born too late to accompany daddy to journey to such an exotic empire [actually Siam was just a kingdom].Perhaps you will take me and your family to Siam again next week , Papa ! "
The hall was burst with laughter.Alexei and Anatasia agreed with their sister and noisily besought their father who said nothing but chortled ,while the Tsarina looked around to show her pleasure with such a relaxing atmosphere.
The second movement of Tchaikovsky's sweet and depressing Trio came to a halt.The Tsar looked to a valet to change record.The singing of soprano in Italian language along orchestra was beginning to linger and unravel its beautiful body around the hall.The Tsar stood up and walked towards the gramophone before turning himself around to us.
"Does anybody knows what the name of this aria is ? "
I remember replying him immediately :
"Yes , it is 'Voi che sapete' in 'The Marriage of Figaro' of Mozart ,sung by the young page named Cherubino."
The Tsar looked at me with astonishment.
"Unbelievable , young man .Do you listen to Mozart ?"
"Sire , many years ago , when I studied in Munich , the capital of Bavaria. I went to visit the old house of his childhood in Salzburg which was turned into a museum.Then I came across this aria as this opera had plausibly been played repeatedly all day, " I said in the calm voice.
The Tsar laughed wildly and suddenly became brooding.
"You are such a lucky guy.I really want to visit Mozart's house both in Salzburg and Vienna for such a long time ,but it is in the land of Austro-Hungary ,our now enemy."
The record turned to repeat the first sentences of aria, and the Tsar closed his eyes and translated fluently into Russian :
"You who know what love is,
Ladies, see if I have it in my heart.
I'll tell you what I'm feeling,
......I have a feeling, full of desire,
Which is by turns delightful and miserable ..."
And he swiftly laid his both hands on the shoulder of the Tsarina who was about to scoop up soup beside him.
"This was the song I had hummed along while being in the battlefield, because I was missing my dear wife so much," he said gently.
The Tsarina smiled heartily and rose up to kiss her husband.Many of us made the sound like "aw!" and applauded ,especially Komkrit did the loudest.Worawit looked at him with disdain and talked to me loudly, because the music was quite deafening.
"What a sycophant !"
I didn't really listen to him, as I was amazed to observe closely the person who had frequently been derided by his critics 'Nicholas the bloody'.How could the person ,who wouldn't hesitate to use his deadly force to quell the uprising by the people worshiping him as their father, be like this ?
And I suddenly became enlightened that because human being was so complex.His vented aggression depended on person and situation he was interplaying with.We were just the foreigners the Tsar considered the minimal threat ,even comparing with some of their untrustworthy royal relatives and socialites of St.Petersburg.They were the persons who had always aggravated him and his family with secret sneering and slander.We had a limitation in native language and sociability in this empire.Therefore, he presumed that we could easily be held sway by his performance that he was the decent and civilized ruler who had the perfect family , not the bloodthirsty tyrant who had been cuckolded by the vicious monk (but the Tsar must have been disheartened to hear how the seemingly innocuous students used to discuss about absolute monarchy and especially what Worawit had previously talked about him).
Or , maybe he just wanted more friends like I used to surmise.The overlord, wielding the influence over the lives of nearly two hundred million subjects, now must have felt that he had only six persons to trust; those were his wife and his five children.That's all.
The lavish banquet, which nobody was smitten about its food, had already been finished.We were waiting for a signal from the tsar for "dobray nochee" (Good night).But merely verbal hints or nodding would never be expressed as the Tsar walked to a grand piano in the corner of the hall with the eldest of his daughters,Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna.He sat down and began to nimbly play the melody I had never heard.Olga gathered her wits for seconds, before singing in a style that sounded like a song cycle by Beethoven or Schubert.Her voice was above mediocrity but arrogant .She then impressed us by adeptly conveying a feeling of reverie aroused by the song.
The song depicted the idyllic countryside (probably Siberia) in a winter where everything seemed to be petrified by the merciless white snow.Even the lake became frozen and reflected everything above like a dirty mirror.A little girl was trudging through the deep snow and bemoaning her father who was in battlefield .Afterwards, she comforted herself with the idea of family's self- sacrifice for the greatness of Mother Russia.Its tone and lyric were so ancient that it probably was a patriotic song during Napoleonic war that Russia was finally the conqueror in 1812.If it had been so , It would have been the Tsar's nostalgic feeling of the glorious victory of his great-grand father.That was Tsar Alexander I who had issued the scorched-earth policy before the Grande Armee of Napoleon Bonapart entered Moscow.
The song cycle had lasted for a quarter-hour.Amidst the applause, the Tsar and his daughter bowed to the audience like the professional musicians in concert.I noticed that Narong and Kett pretended to clap their hands ,but both of them barely touched each other.We were the group of hypocritical youths who disliked the Tsar but felt fascinated by their grandeurs and pretended to curry favors with them.
The party was unexpectedly drawn-out , when more dessert , wine and champagne were served.The hosts cajoled the visitors into more rambunctious chatter.I found someone lingering to sit by my side, and that was Tsarina Alexandra ! I could smell the fragrance of her perfume that was merely jasmine-like.But its enchantment penetrated my pitiful soul.
She looked extraordinarily elated and asked me quickly in German,
"You said you had studied in Munich.Can you speak German well?"
"Not really at the present moment ,Your Majesty ,my German is quite rusty, as I have no one to speak to for a long time.I know that you have strongly yearned for your native language," I replied and tried not to look into her eyes.
She looked brooding."Yes , even you are a foreigner , you still know that deep in my heart ,I am German ,although I am absolutely loyal to Russia.Plenty of Russians felt hostile towards me because I used to be a foreign princess like Marie Antoinette [wife of king Louis 16th of France].Nicky's father didn't approve of our marriage ,even if I was the niece of Queen Victoria.Now most of Russians are accusing me of collaborating with Germany during this darn war.
"People say many things ,Your Majesty.Just let yourself know what you really are up to,"
I said gently , but my thought naughtily harked back to the salacious poster on Worawit's table.However, it was just based on the rumors created by nemesis of Romanov family.
"Thank you , but I believe ,above me ,there is also God who knows every nook and cranny of me.He will guide me and my family to the light at the end of this horribly dark tunnel."She appeared to close her eyes.
In spite of being quite atheistic , I didn't want to argue with the person with such a strong conviction.I just nodded and looked at the Tsar who was relishing the lively chat with two of us : the extremely obsequious Komkrit who incessantly nodded to the Tsar and Ronarit who kept asking him about the costume ball a decade ago.
Worawit appeared interested in joining us, but he finally restrained himself and quietly observed the Tsarina from a distance.I smirked at him and he said nothing but shrugged .I knew my friend since childhood fell for the empress' charms.He also sneaked at Olga with affection.This was the horror from the clash between his so-called anti-monarchism and personal feeling.
I and the Tsarina had quite amiable conversation,but we had to cautiously lower our voice because of the language we were using.The Tsarina talked fondly about Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanath who lived in the Winter Palace during his study.When he married with a Russian woman, Ekaterina Desnitskaya , they received the blessing from the royal couple.The Tsarina felt amused to learn that when the prince and his family arrived in Bangkok , his father was furious thanks to the Siamese norm that marrying with foreigner was forbidden.King Chulalongkorn finally absolved his son when he fell head over heels for the cute half-blooded toddler who happened to be his grandson.Alexandra was also inquisitive about my life.She really wanted to know what my hometown,Chiang Mai ,looked like and whether the people in my neighborhood were using elephants as their pets.
I noticed that all princess, after the short conversation with my friends , they sat together quietly and looked at us.This was except Tsarevich Alexei who giggled uncontrollably at some Siamese jokes from Tasanai.He then walked unsteadily to his mother.His infirmity was perceptible from his pale face and thin skin with some faint traces of bruise on his neck.The future emperor sometimes writhed slightly to show his chronic pain.
I snatched something from my pocket.
"Little prince , I have a present for you."
The boy's eyes opened wide with titillation.He received the teak miniature from me and asked,
"Is this lion ?"
"Not quite ,Sire.it is Singha, an lion-like animal, in the legend of my local religion.It has been one of my companions during a long journey from Chiang Mai and now it is yours."I nodded.
"Thank you for your generosity.But I hope this toy wouldn't have anything sharp that it might hurt him." the Tsarina smiled but then looked worried.
"Why , Your Majesty ?"
The empress paused for a long time and almost whispered,
"......My son has barely stopped bleeding even when he is a bit wounded or bruised,"
Many years later that I knew that it was Hemophilia : inherited bleeding disorder in which the blood does not clot properly.It was like a curse upon the descendants of Queen Victoria of Great Britain ,and the Tsarina became the carrier to her son.The Romanov family tried to keep this as a secret from public until shortly before their falls.
The inebriated Tsar with a glass of champagne on his hand went to join us.He looked quite curious to see why his wife was so eagerly talking to the stranger.
"Sunshine ,I think it is time for our son to go to bed." He looked at her and then asked me haughtily ,
"What am I missing here ,Mozart boy ?"
"Nicky , I think Alexei deserves a little more time for socializing.Please don't drink too much because you will depart for the battlefield in several days," His wife argued.The Tsar laughed submissively and laid the glass on the tray held by a valet.
I tried in vain to suppress my quivering voice and took a deep breath after seeing Narong's gesture.
"Sire , I have something to talk to you."
He chuckled. "What ? Do you want to say ? Something like "Excuse me ,Mister ,actually I am a great fan of Beethoven" , that's it ? Perhaps you should listen to masterpieces of the Russian musical composers like Tchaikovsky ,Mussorgsky ,or Borodin.Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition is so marvelous!"
"Your Majesty, it is not about music.It is about you and Russia!" I made my voice more solemn.
The Tsar turned back to me.
I began to unexpectedly made a long plea.
"Please forgive me if you consider this as impertinent because I am a foreigner.I respect your deep insight into all situations in Russia nowadays.And I also am fully aware that the Tsarina could handle the administration of this empire (actually I was flattering both of them).But your permanent presence here will certainly help solve the insurmountable problems and boost the morale of the millions of your poor subjects who have repeatedly sent some signals to petition you ,though they might look harsh."
The Tsar was stupefied and looked at his wife.Behind her was Pumski whose expression was not different from his royal patron.
"Are you going to imply your criticism of my rulership ?" The Tsar's voice clearly showed his disgruntlement.
"No ,Nicky , the boy means well for Russia ,although he does not know much about anything here." The Tsarina quickly grabbed his arms.
I could feel my body profuse with sweat and find our group falling utterly silent.Mom Chao Sakchai was staring at me with fury.
All of a sudden , the Tsar miraculously smiled.
"Son,I admire your courage and sincerity.You may have assumed from your ignorance of Russian politics ,just like those bastards in Duma [Russian parliament which had grappled for power with the Tsar for a decade].So please believe in my intellect and stamina as I have been the ruler of this great empire since you were born......... thank you everyone for wasting your time joining this humble party."
Then he bade farewell in English :" Good night to you all...."
Worawit stepped closer and called the Tsar in the voice of indignation,
"Your Majesty ......"
Suddenly the large door of dining hall was forcefully yanked and closed in a coarse manner to draw attention from everyone ,and we could see a man standing there.
The exceptional late visitor was probably the tallest Russian I have ever witnessed.His sturdily built body was hidden with the neat suit of dark Orthodox monk.This dress seemed highly contrast with his unkempt beard which seemingly was in cahoots with his unfathomably baleful eyes. Whereas all Siamese students became more awkward , the Tsar's sleepy children exploded with cheerful sounds ,rushing to greet him.
Yes , that was Grigori Rasputin , the most notorious person in Russian empire or perhaps on earth.He embraced the cordial welcomes by the prince and princess and sent them the compassionate smile like a father at his offspring. Rasputin then used his large hand to touch the Tsarevich's forehead and chanted quietly.The boy obviously was easing off like he was experiencing a hypnosis. The monk whispered something to his ear and let the boy sit on wheelchair.
The Tsarina showed her unreserved glee and performed the act that looked like curtsy before him.She grabbed his arm.
"Father , you didn't inform us beforehand .Please accept my apology not to greet you at the door of palace."
Rasputin nodded his head to his royal patroness or actually his faithful slave.
"No , sire.This is me who should apologize for visiting you at such late hour."
The Tsar showed respect to the monk , but in less subservient manner than his wife.His voice sounded peculiarly stiff. I was not sure whether this was due to his lingering wrath on my insolence or he was secretly distraught over the Rasputin's presence.
" I am already allowing these gentlemen the departure.Do you have any worthy business , Father ?"
Father looked at us with the sinister radiance.
"I learned that Your Majesties had been hosting the guests from a faraway kingdom.It would be the enormous merit, if you just hold them up for an hour for genial conversation with me.I anticipated to be enlightened by these young gentlemen about the oriental science and religion."
The Tsar looked at Pumski and the latter looked at Sakchai.The royal descendant immediately replied without consultation to us.The not so quiet sighs of the students were probably observed by the Tsarina.She turned to the Tsar.
"Nicky,I will lead our children to bed.I hope you would cater to Father's desire by properly introducing him to every of our guest."
I could see the subtle vexation from the Tsar's eyes, but the loving husband like him didn't know how to agitate his wife.The Tsarina bade everyone farewell with her irresistible charms. I was the last and only guest she smiled at and said gently,
"Auf wiedersehen,I really hope to see you again."
Those gestures were indelible in my mind until my very last breath.
Without the women and the innocent boy , the hall became tense between the full grown men and the sex-crazed monk whom they enormously despised. The Tsar as a referee was now sobered up and lit up his pipe in a relaxing manner , but it was just a procrastination. Everyone was taking his own seat again and looking at the Tsar for overture.Rasputin took the seat of the Tsarina and did nothing but smirked.The same old secretary came to his majesty's rescue by telling him that there was an urgent call from the prime minister.The overlord of 200 millions spoke hastily to Pumski and smiled to all of us as a sign of farewell. This also implied that he was saved now.
The sound of ancient pendulum clock in the hall told us that it was 10 p.m. Sakchai had introduced all of us to Rasputin.He nodded politely ; that surprised us greatly.Sakchai forbade me with the sound of throat clearing to say anything stupid again, because Rasputin was de facto the most powerful man in Russia.
"Father , I hear that you have fornicated with a lot of women ,even they are already married, " Worawit asked bluntly ,and everybody was overwhelmed with bewilderment.
Rasputin smiled magnanimously.
"Yes , son.Those were the acts of consensus not rape.I am horny and adulterous just like everyone else in this sinful St.Petersburg or fucking Petro.... whatever."
"But you are a monk.You should be strict to your celibacy," Kett argued.
"Celibacy ? bullshit ! Do you think that is only way to salvation? Is abstaining from fucking the appeasement of your God ? To satisfy your earthy desire is the ultimate path to be close to the supreme being. It is not that stupid priests who even flog themselves to be reminded of the pain and suffering of Jesus," Rasputin said.
"Don't you think of the worthiness of family? "asked Narong.
"Family is a desperate place of shackling two free spirits : the absurd suppression of human instinct. No one is born for no one.We just keep desiring for anyone ceaselessly like the floating leaves on the river with strong current." He then laughed.
"What would you say if your wife had an affair ?" Worawit tried to keep Rasputin at bay.
Rasputin said bluntly ,"I had already told her if she wanted to fuck another man , that was good for her. Unfortunately, she is still loyal to me like a dog.She has watched me doing it with several of my female followers at the same time without complaint."
Pumski shrieked with disgust. Unfortunately , he was too strait-laced for this type of unsavory conversation .The Major just briskly walked out of the hall without saying anything.
Rasputin turned to ask us,
"Is the main religion of your kingdom Buddhism?"
Sakchai replied in the polite manner,
"Yes , my kingdom is quite small and peace-loving.Buddhism is the religion that teaches us the worthiness of life and tranquility of mind. We ,the Siamese,follow the path of Lord Buddha."
Worawit protested." No, your highness, not all Siamese are Buddhists. At least I and Thitiwat are irreligious and I don't believe the Buddhists in this country will understand anything about Buddhism.We just kill and fuck around like anyone else in the world."
Komkrit stood up with rage." You, the snobbish intellectual.You are so pessimistic and hate your own nation.You should not go back to your motherland for the rest of your life!"
Worawit retaliated. " Sorry , Mr. Lieutenant, I am not a great warrior like you who just ingratiate yourself with the powerful people. You are out of touch with reality !"
Sakchai stood up to stop the quarrel. I noticed that Rasputin sneered at us fighting each other , although it was just an accident.Many of us helped Sakchai to separate both Komkrit and Worawit who were rushing to confront each other.
Suddenly the monk laughed maniacally and pointed finger to Worawit." This guy's idea impressed me a lot. "
And he imitated his voice. " Yes ,we just kill and fuck around like anyone else in the world , ha ha ha. I used to read about your country and it was true.Your army had pillaged and massacred the people of your neighbors for numerous times."
Komkrit shook off the grip of Kett and shouted at Rasputin,"I used to read about you too , you the maniac monk.You were the criminal; you stole the horses and raped the women in your village.Then you are ensconced here to manipulate the royal family for your own power and greed."
Rasputin was still staggeringly calm.
"That is the true story.It is known every nook and corner in St.Petersburg, and it has been wantonly overexaggerated for long time.But in the present moment ,this is me who is truly reigning over this empire. Suppose I tell the Tsar and the Tsarina that some of you had committed lese majeste ,perhaps, all of you will be under arrest.But with their mercies and for the sake of relationship between 2 kingdoms ,you will be detained briefly before deported to your country."
Everyone was benumbed and fell back to his own seat like the falling trees.
Rasputin chortled to break the embarrassing silence and said in gentler voice,
"But I wouldn't do that. Literally I enjoy your company so much as contempt is the feeling that lays bare our true selves and I have received it from your straightforward manners not from the hypocrite socialites in this city."
I mustered up my courage and found my voice not quivering anymore.
"Father, I know no matter how much we will be trying to convince you to hand off Romanov family , it will certainly fail as if this empire were doomed to founder. I know you have travelled on foot for a long time.You even pilgrimaged to Jerusalem.I beg you to reminisce about your first glimpse of the sunrise when you woke up on the warm grass.Was it not beautiful ? Don't you remember the kiss of your wife to your first child ? Don't you remember the happy neigh of your favorite horse when he was near you ? God is not in the sexual orgy you were wallowing in ; he has shown his face through those."
Raputin was suddenly dumbfounded and started to fondle the little cross on his chest.The people in the hall were perplexed to see that reaction from the person who thought he was God himself.
Sakchai, who had nervously used the handkerchief to wipe off his sweats ,told Rasputin :
"Now it is time for us to leave ,Father .Thank you so much , and I am deeply sorry that some of my colleagues are too impertinent to talk to you like that .We shall disturb you no more."
Rasputin looked at us with something from his eyes that we couldn't comprehend.
"My prediction is right.That's why I declined the invitation from Prince Felix Yusupov to party in his house , just to come here.Thank to all of you and be blessed by God."
I then felt a little appreciation for this monk who actually had the profound wisdom which few Russians could ever imagine.Some of us ,including me and Worawit, nodded a little to him before leaving the hall ,led by the Tsar's secretary.
It was almost midnight now.Mr.Pumski was smoking and walking around the courtyard ,though it was very cold and blustery.We could feel a little snow flake on our hands.I looked at the building.Some of the rooms were completely dark to show that the owners were sleeping now.None could I foresee that it would take about many decades for me to have this same view again.
Before mounting the horse-drawn carriage, Sakchai and all of us shook Pumksi's hands to show our gratitude for such a wonderful (and lousy) night.I was the last one again to bid him farewell.He gripped my hands firmly and then whispered,
"Thank you , my dear friend, you are an incredible person to talk to the Tsar like that. I extremely envy your courage."