AT THE QUEEN'S TABLE
I HAVE just returned from the Royal Castle at Sinaia, the summer palace of the King of Rumania, where I have had the honour of lunching with their Majesties, King Ferdinand and Queen Marie, and of meeting the beautiful young Princess Ileana.
The palace is a home-like building of three or four stories, with roofs as sharp as a knife blade and white walls inlaid in patterns of varnished yellow pine. It has gables and spires and other Rumanian architectural conceits. It is in the midst of a wooded park covering hundreds of acres, and is reached by a twisting driveway up the mountain from Sinaia, the summer capital here in the heart of the Transylvanian Alps. The castle looks as if it were a part of the hills that tower over it. The entrance is under a carved porte-cochère and the front doors open into a great hall leading into a square salon from which stairs of polished oak wind their way to the floors above. Portraits of the royal family hang on the walls. Books in a half-dozen different languages cover the tables.
After I had talked for a time with the High Court Chamberlain, Doctor Misu, for many years Minister from Rumania to the Court of St. James's, the Queen tripped down the stairs with a long-haired black spaniel at her heels. When Doctor Misu introduced me she gave my hand a cordial grasp and we chatted awhile before the King appeared.
In the heart of the Transylvanian Alps is Sinaia, summer capital of Rumania and chief resort of southeastern Europe. Society follows the King and Queen here in each season and match-making and politics are carried together.
The most beautiful queen in Europe has made Rumania the leader among the Balkan states. When at her summer palace she usually wears the embroidered peasant costume, with jewels worth a small fortune.
Her Majesty was dressed in the Rumanian costume and looked strikingly handsome. Monarchs can never conceal their birth dates, which appear in the statistical annuals and in other books. Therefore, I know that Queen Marie is just about forty-eight, but she does not look it. She has a clear, fair complexion, beautiful blonde hair, and eyes as blue as the skies over the mountains that look down on her palace. Her hands are small and soft, but her grip is firm, and she greets her guests with delightful cordiality.
From a photograph in my mind's eye let me give you a pen picture of Her Majesty in the costume of her country. Her head was covered with a long white veil thrown back from her high and rather broad forehead and hanging down over her shoulders almost to her knees. The veil was bound on with a fillet of soft green silk about two inches wide, which came midway down the forehead, and was fastened there with a magnificent pearl. Her gown was of white Rumanian linen embroidered with a sort of filigree work of red silk and gold thread in the artistic patterns for which the peasants of Transylvania are famous. The full sleeves came to the wrist and were adorned with embroidery in patterns two inches square. About her waist and extending almost to the bottom of her gown was a rich red overskirt of a velvety silk so made that one could hardly tell whether it was composed of strings or plaited. The hem of the gown was covered with gold embroidery and just touched her shoes of white kid. About her waist was a wide belt with carved silver buckles as big as the palm of my hand, which she told me came from Dalmatia.
For a luncheon the Queen does not, of course, dress as for her great evening functions. Nevertheless, she wore jewels worth the ransom of a half-dozen kings. From each of her little ears hung a pearl as big as a hickory nut, and about her neck was a great string of pearls, each of which would, I venture, pay the salary of a justice of the United States Supreme Court for several years. On her right wrist was a bracelet of diamonds and above it a tiny platinum watch fastened on with a ribbon of black silk. Her fingers sparkled with rings, one of which was set with a huge diamond and a pigeon-blood ruby so big that the two stones covered the finger from the knuckle to the second joint.
Queen Marie's jewels are famous. She has a large collection, some of which came from her family in Russia and probably date back to her great-grandfather, Czar Alexander I. Perhaps she has some, too, from her grand-mother, Queen Victoria. King Ferdinand has been lavish in his presents and she has bought pearls and diamonds since she came to the throne. She wears her jewels so that they do not look ostentatious, and to-day they seemed quite in harmony with the Sunday costume of her peasant subjects.
Her Majesty is tall and stately and talks, walks, and acts the queen. Nevertheless, the woman—and she is a most womanly woman—shows in all she says and does and she has the faculty of putting one perfectly at ease. She is frank in her conversation and before and during the luncheon she spoke without reserve about herself, the war, and the future of her country. She is a woman of great breadth of intellect. She knows the world well and central Europe as you know the palm of your hand. Now she talked about Russia, now about Germany and Poland, and again about Albania, Dalmatia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia. She mentioned the last two countries in connection with her children, two of whom are married into the royal family of Greece, and one of whom is the wife of Alexander, King of Yugoslavia.
I remember her telling a story about her reply to some-one who referred to her as a "Business Queen." It was just after she had married one of her daughters to the Crown Prince of Greece, and the King of Greece had sent his daughter to Rumania to marry her son, Carol, the Crown Prince of Rumania. She said:
"I object to the title of 'Business Queen.' I am not in business and my life is a simple one. Indeed the only business that can be charged against me just now is that of meddling in our foreign commerce. I have been ex-porting a daughter to Athens and importing a Greek daughter to marry my son."
There is no doubt, however, that Her Majesty has a shrewd mind. She has a brilliant imagination and one of her visions is a great future for Rumania. She wants to see the country progress economically and every foreign capitalist who comes to Bucharest or Sinaia is shown Rumania's immense resources and possibilities through the Queen's rose-coloured glasses.
She may object to the expression, but it seems to me that in the best sense of the word Queen Marie is one of the most businesslike of rulers. She would sacrifice herself at any time for her country and she has again and again proved herself the "great mother" of her subjects by striving always after things that will better their condition. The story of her work during the war is a part of Rumanian history. She went out to the field and worked with the wounded. She organized hospitals, and no Red Cross nurse put in more hours of good hard labour. At the same time she brought her common sense and practical suggestions to the aid of the administration and raised money in every possible way.
Queen Marie has a contempt, I imagine, for the monarch who is only a figurehead in the government of his people. She has a forceful personality and is ambitious to rank with such women as Queen Elizabeth, Maria Theresa, and Catherine the Great of Russia. Her charming daughter, the Princess Ileana, seems to have the same bent. Once, when there was talk of Poland's being ruled by a king, the future monarch was suggested as a possible husband for the Princess Ileana. When asked what she thought of the idea, she replied:
"I don't know that I would object. Poland is practically a new country and the queen there would have plenty to do. I think I might like it."
And this reminds me of the story I heard in Bucharest of how Her Majesty declined the opportunity of becoming the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, and Empress of India. I t was when she was sweet sixteen—she must have been very beautiful then—and had only the title of Princess Mary. She is, you know, the daughter of the Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Victoria's second son, and is consequently first cousin of King George V of England. She and George were playmates and friends. George was the second son of Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, and as his older brother, the Duke of Clarence, was living, he was not the lineal heir to the throne. At the Isle of Wight, Prince George asked the Princess Mary to be his wife. She refused him, and later on he married the present Queen. Then, his brother having died, he fell heir to the British throne. Had Princess Mary accepted, Rumania would lack what is now one of her most valuable assets.
I shall not describe our meal in detail. It was formally served by men in the blue uniforms with silver buttons of the palace livery. The room where we lunched was, I judge, about fifty feet long and twenty feet wide and the dining table ran from one end almost to the other. It was covered with a cloth of damask, and there were no flowers except sweet peas of a delicate pink which were strewn over the cloth here and there.
Lunch began with appetizers in the way of salads of tomatoes and cucumbers, sardines, and bird-shot caviar, a teaspoonful of which was served in the hard white of the half of a boiled egg. The black caviar looked most attractive against the white background of the egg. After the hors d'oeuvres we had fish from the Danube, roast veal, vegetables, a lettuce salad, a dessert of pink ice, and small cups of smoking hot Turkish coffee as black as ink, as thick as molasses, and almost as sweet.
There were sixteen at the table, the King and the Queen sitting on opposite sides in the centre, with the guests on their right and left. I was second from King Ferdinand, and within six feet of Queen Marie who was almost directly across the table from me. Her Majesty talked throughout the meal, which lasted for more than an hour, eating heartily the while.
After we had finished, a silver alcohol lamp, of a beautiful ancient Roman design, was placed before the Queen. She took a cigarette and lighted it from the flame, raising the lamp to the level of her nose as she did so. She smoked vigorously, and it seemed to me that she liked it. Some-times she talked with the cigarette in her mouth. The lamp was next passed to the King, after which it went around the table.
There was no stiffness whatever in the conduct of the luncheon. The Queen's black spaniel trotted about under the table, and for some reason picked me out as his friend. He came up and rested his head on my knees, and I surreptitiously fed him bits of bread while the Queen chatted.
Her Majesty might be called the Queen of the Fairies. She is that to the children of Rumania, and to the multitude of other children who delight in the fairy stories she writes, some of which have been filmed. During luncheon the question of authorship came up and Queen Marie spoke of her pleasure in creative work. She has written a number of magazine articles and not a few books, re-minding me of Carmen Sylva, the literary Queen whom she succeeded.
Queen Marie tells me she delights in writing for children. She says their imaginations are much more vivid than those of the grown-ups, and that they appreciate every shade of thought. She has published many stories for children, and upon my telling her that I would like to show one of these to the boys and girls of America she said that she would give me a copy of "The Story of Naughty Kildeen," one of her books that came out in France some years ago.
While we were discussing this book, the Princess Ileana came into the room and was presented to us. The Princess is as straight as an arrow, graceful, and most intelligent. She speaks English fluently and has, I doubt not, a half-dozen languages on the tip of her tongue. She was dressed in a richly embroidered peasant costume, and had a bright silk handkerchief bound round her head. Her mother sent her to get a copy of "Naughty Kildeen" and bring it to me.
In all this I have not said much of King Ferdinand, for I was especially interested in the Queen and at such times kings do not count. His Majesty came into the reception hall shortly after Queen Marie, and shook hands with his guests. He was dressed in the uniform of a Rumanian general, wearing an olive-drab suit with a Sam Browne belt. He wore tan boots that reached to his knees and had silver spurs at the heels. His breast was plastered with decorations.
King Ferdinand is well-built and of medium height, and looks somewhat like a club man of studious temperament. He is shy rather than ostentatious. His voice is low, his manner decidedly pleasing, and his conversation at table showed genuine devotion to his people and their country.
As the summer capital of Rumania Sinaia has a gay social life centering about the King and Queen. It is the playground of the rich. Situated in a valley of the Transylvanian Alps, as high as the tops of the Alleghanies, with great wooded hills rising a half mile or so above it, this is one of the beauty spots of the world. Indeed, it might be called the Simla of Rumania, or better, perhaps, of southeastern Europe.
Here one may see dandified young men in soft flannels playing tennis with beautiful young women in lavishly embroidered blouses, with bright-coloured silks tied around their heads. Near by are other women down on their knees weeding the lawn of a park, or tossing bricks to masons putting up a new building. There are indeed two sides of life at Sinaia.
Let us walk through the park. It is surrounded by big hotels of dead white, with sharply ridged roofs of red tiles. Behind, climbing the hills and extending up the mountains, are white villas, far more picturesque than the chateaus in the Swiss Alps. Near a pool filled with goldfish a band in military uniforms of delicate blue, black leather boots, and broad green hats turned up at the side with feathers, is playing such music as one hears only near the Danube. Sitting on the benches or strolling about are wealthy women in gorgeous gowns, and peasant women in homespun with their heads tied up as if they had toothache. There are dandies dressed to the nines; officers in gay uniforms, decorated with gold braid; Rumanian flappers, adipose dames in rich clothing, and fat old men ogling the young women. Truly, the Rumanian girls are among the fair ones of the world; their forms are as graceful and voluptuous as that of the goddess of love.
Among the amusements at Sinaia are mountain climbing, tennis, riding horseback over the bridle paths, motoring, and driving. In the evening one strolls about through the parks and listens to the bands until time for dinner, which always begins about nine and lasts more than an hour. After that, there is dancing, to say nothing of gambling at the Casino.
The Casino is a great, white, two-story building, with a large salon where the pleasure seekers drink tea and dance in the afternoon, and drink other things and dance in the evening. After the dance and before it, and in fact throughout most of the day, there is gambling. The gambling room ad joins the dance-hall, and both are connected with my hotel by a long underground tunnel.
When I entered the Casino last night I found a half-dozen tables devoted to a card game known as chemin de fer, or railroad. Each was surrounded by men and women with piles of green and red chips before them, and there was a croupier sitting in the centre of one side holding a paddle of black wood as long as my arm and twice as wide as the palm of my hand. The paddle was almost as thin as an ivory paper cutter and as flexible as a sword from Damascus. With it the croupier scooped up the money or chips and tossed them from player to player, dropping down the winnings of the house beside him. I could tell from the expressions of the fat old Rumanian dames watching the cards with their bulbous eyes whether they were winning or losing. Some of the younger men and women also were decidedly nervous, and I venture many a good Rumanian acre is lost at this place. Before leaving I was approached by a dark-eyed young woman who invited me to learn the game, and told me how much some Americans had made at the tables. But it was after ten and far past my bedtime, and I refused to join in.
Sinaia is within a short distance of the Transylvanian border, and during my stay I have motored over the pass crossed by the military highway between the two countries. Transylvania, as you know, is a province that formerly belonged to Hungary but after the World War it was given over to Rumania. It is about half as large as the state of Pennsylvania, and has more than five hundred thousand Magyars, something like two hundred thousand Germans, and perhaps two million Rumanians, with a sprinkling of Ruthenians, Slovaks, and Jews thrown in for good measure.
Travel through these mountains is delightful. We wound our way through valley after valley, frowned on by gigantic peaks, here covered with woods almost to their tops, there showing rocks that look like castles and forts. On the Rumanian slopes the peasant houses are more picturesque than those on the Transylvanian side. The Rumanian houses are always whitewashed and often the whitewash is decorated in the brightest blue. Frequently stripes run down the sides or around the windows, and patterns of blue may be splattered here and there over the walls. This, I understand, is to keep away the Evil Eye.
Many of the houses are roofed with red tiles, others with corrugated iron. They are often trimmed with carving and fretwork, and nearly every one has a porch. If there is an attic or second story, it is reached by out-side stairs. The houses are usually small, the average having but three rooms. The family all sleeps in one room, the women and girls on a bench, the men on the floor or the stove. The cooking is generally done out of doors or on a rude stone inside. In the yard of each house is a bake-oven, and sometimes a straw shack and a shed or two as well.
In other sections of Rumania, the village homes have fenced yards in front of them. In Transylvania the houses are often crowded together close to the street as in Germany. The stables are at the back. The houses are of brick and stucco, and are unattractive.
I wish you could see these peasants on Sunday, when they appear in their richly embroidered dresses. A village woman then wears one or two overdresses gorgeously embroidered in patterns of red, yellow, or blue. Her belt is embroidered in gold thread and even her commonest overskirt has a broad woven band of gold, silk, or wool thread, to which are hung long streamers of red or some other colour. The headdresses vary according to the region. Sometimes they are high caps and sometimes only handkerchiefs wrapped round the head. The women are fond of necklaces of silver and gold coins and they delight in bright belts.
The embroidered garments are so pretty that they are eagerly bought by tourists, and many blouses and gowns are made for sale in the cities. In Sinaia one can get a beautiful blouse almost covered with embroidery for five dollars, and a gown almost any girl would be glad to wear at a party for ten or fifteen.
One can trace in the lovely dark eyes and hair of the Rumanian girls the Roman descent of which the people are so proud. After the gay season at Bucharest the young men and maidens flock to Sinaia, with its mineral springs and baths and its fine hotels.
In the big salon of the Casino there is dancing in the afternoon and evenings, and in the gambling room adjoining play goes on most of the time. High stakes are the rule.
Under the trees of Sinaia's outdoor restaurants gather the upper classes of Rumania. They wear the latest fashions of Paris and spend lavishly, for many own huge farms and are enormously rich.