“Olga, the eldest, was most like her father. Shy and subdued, she had long chestnut-blonde hair and blue eyes set in a wide Russian face. She impressed people be her kindness, her innocence and the depth of her private feelings. Olga had a good mind and was quick to grasp ideas. Talking to someone she knew well, she spoke rapidly and with frankness and wit. She read widely, both fiction and poetry, often borrowing books from her mother’s tables before the Empress had read them. ‘You must wait, Mama, until I find out whether this book is a proper one for you to read,’ she parried when Alexandra spotted her reading a missing book.
Reading Les Miserables in French under the guidance of her Swiss tutor, Pierre Gilliard, Olga almost brought the tutor to calamity, Gillard had instructed his pupil to underline all the French words she did not recognize. Arriving at the word spoken at Waterloo when the commander of Napoleon’s Guard was asked to surrender, Olga dutifully underlined ‘Merde!’ That night at dinner, not having seen Gilliard, she asked her father what it meant. The following day, walking in the park, Nicholas said to the tutor, ‘You are teaching my daughter a curious vocabulary, Monsieur.’ Gilliard was overcome with confusion and embarrassment. ‘Don’t worry,’ said Nicholas, breaking into a smile, ‘I quite understand what happened.’
Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie