The Grand Duchess Olga was the eldest of these four fair sisters. She was a most amiable girl, and people loved her from the moment they set eyes on her. As a child she was plain, at fifteen she was beautiful. She was slightly above middle height, with a fresh complexion, deep blue eyes, quantities of light chestnut hair, and pretty hands and feet. She took life seriously, and she was a clever girl with a sweet disposition. I think she possessed unusual strength of character, and at one time she was mentioned as a possible bride for the Crown Prince of Roumania. But the Grand Duchess did not like him, and, as the Crown Prince liked the Grand Duchess Marie better than her sister, nothing came of the project. The sisters loved each other, and united in a passionate adoration for the Tsarevitch, In a recent book published in England, the Grand Duchesses have been described as Cinderellas, who were entirely subservient in family life owing to the attention paid the Tsarevitch. This is untrue. It is a fact that the Empress ardently desired a son, and that the birth of four daughters in succession was a disappointment to her, but she loved her daughters, they were her inseparable companions, and their plain and rather strict upbringing had nothing whatever of the Cinderella element.
The Grand Duchess Tatiana was as charming as her sister Olga, but in a different way. She has been described as proud, but I never knew anyone less so. With her, as with her mother, shyness and reserve were accounted as pride, but, once you knew her and had gained her affection, this reserve disappeared, and the real Tatiana became apparent. She was a poetical creature, always yearning for the ideal, and dreaming of great friendships which might be hers. The Emperor loved her devotedly, they had much in common, and the sisters used to laugh, and say that, if a favour were required, “Tatiana must ask Papa to grant it.” She was very tall, and excessively thin, with a cameolike profile, deep blue eyes, and dark chestnut hair… a lovely Rose maiden, fragile and pure as a flower.
All the Grand Duchesses were innocent children in their souls. Nothing impure was ever allowed to come into their lives - the Empress was very strict over the books which they read, which were mostly by English authors. They had no idea of the ugly side of life, although, poor girls, they were destined to see the worst side of it and to come in contact with the - most debased passions of humanity! And yet it has been stated that the Empress, in her neurotic, religious exaltation, gave each of her daughters to Rasputin. Knowing her, knowing the Emperor, and knowing the daughters as I did, such an assertion savours of the monstrous; it has even been circulated that Mlle. Tutcheff objected to Rasputin being admitted to the Grand Duchesses’ bedchamber to give them his nightly blessing after they had retired to bed, and that, as her protest was disregarded, she sent in her resignation. Mlle. Tutcheff was never governess to the Grand Duchesses, and she never witnessed Rasputin’s nightly blessing, inasmuch as it never took place. The Emperor would never have permitted such a thing, even had the Empress wished it, and she certainly did not consider such a proceeding necessary for her daughters’ salvation. Mle. Tutcheff was the victim of her own spite and jealousy. She was not a very pleasant person, and, whenever the Imperial Family went to Livadia, she usually made herself very disagreeable, as she thoroughly disliked the Crimea. Continual grumbling wears away the patience of most people; the Empress was only human, and Mlle. Tutcheff was first given a holiday and then dismissed by the Grande Maitresse de la Cour.
Mlle. Tutcheff did not hesitate to spread all kinds of vindictive rumours to account for her dismissal. She was too small-minded to state the real facts, and, as l'affaire Rasputin was generally spoken about, she decided to vent her spite on the Empress through this medium. I again assert that there is no truth in the legend of Rasputin’s nightly blessing.
When I first knew the Grand Duchess Marie, she was quite a child, but during the Revolution she became very devoted to me, and I to her, and we spent most of our time togethershe was a wonderful girl, possessed of tremendous reserve force, and I never realised her unselfish nature until those dreadful days. She too was exceeding fair, dowered with the classic beauty of the Romanoffs; her eyes were dark blue, shaded by long lashes, and she had masses of dark brown hair. Marie was plump, and the Empress often teased her about this ; she was not so lively as her sisters, but she was much more decided in her outlook. The Grand Duchess Marie knew at once what she wanted, and why she wanted it.
Anastasie, the youngest Grand Duchess, might have been composed of quicksilver, instead of flesh and blood; she was most amusing, and she was a very clever mimic. She saw the humorous side of everything, and she was very fond of acting; indeed, Anastasie would have made an excellent comedy actress. She was always in mischief, a regular tom-boy, but she was not backward in her development, as M. Gilliard once stated. Anastasie was only sixteen at the time of the Revolution - no great age after all. She was pretty, but hers was more of a clever face, and her eyes were wells of intelligence.
All the sisters were utterly devoid of pride, and, when they nursed the wounded during the war, they were known as the Sisters Romanoff, and thus answered to the numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4.
The Grand Duchesses occupied two bedrooms; Olga and Tatiana shared one, Marie and Anastasie the other. These apartments were large and light, decorated and furnished in green and white. The sisters slept on camp beds - a custom dating back to the reign of Alexander I, who decreed that the daughters of the Emperor were not to sleep on more comfortable beds until they married. Ikons hung in the corners of the rooms, and there were pretty dressing-tables, and couches with embroidered cushions. The Grand Duchesses were fond of pictures and photographs - there were endless snapshots taken by themselves, those from their beloved Crimea being especially in evidence.