A CASTLE OF DREAMS
In Gipsy Camp and Royal Palace - Wanderings in Rumania
E. O. Hoppé
Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1924
A CASTLE OF DREAMS
AT 10 a.m. I left the palace in the company of the Queen and a great friend of hers, Lady X, the widow of a general. There was a drive of four hours through gorgeous scenery. This area is terra incognita as far as English visitors are concerned, and yet if its beauties were known it would become a Nirvana for those tired of conventional travel and seeking an abode of rest and change. There are to this day many untrodden paths to be discovered in these deep virginal forests.
The road was ideal for motoring, partly in the valley and partly on the heights, but always over an admirable road. In the little hamlets on the route were many houses in ruins, mute memorial of the fierce fighting which took place in these regions.
Near Darste-Sacelo, I noticed a large country house which was quite English in style. It was built by Maria Theresa. These Hungarian houses look quite different from the Rumanian and Saxon houses Many of the wealthy Magyars had large hunting boxes in these parts. In one or two garrison towns which we traversed, the Royal salute was given by the sounding of bugles and the beating of drums.
The Queen is always devising plans for the welfare of her people, and thinking over new schemes for their cultural improvement. She spoke enthusiastically about the development of home industries among the peasants. It is not surprising that she is beloved by her people, and I witnessed many proofs of their affection and regard for her on the journey. We stopped several times on the way, and she conversed freely with the peasants, on one occasion begging for a beautiful rose which grew in a cottager's little garden. The people along the route cheered her lustily, and she acknowledged their warm greeting by waving her hand.
When we reached Bran a slight mist was slowly rising and creeping up a steep hill, on the top of which was perched, like a swallow's nest, the most unreal and fantastic fairy castle which the wit of man could devise. It looked like a page of "Hans Andersen," a beautiful tale come true. This was Bran Castle, the Queen's own special refuge; when she comes here she leaves every care of State behind her.
A delicious English garden lies at its base, heavy with the scent of tall Madonna lilies, their snowy heads nodding, stocks and mignonette, wallflowers and forget-me-nots.
The Queen stood in a blaze of colour, a radiant figure in flowing veil of softest shades, and the castle above seemed to be hanging in the clouds. That was a picture which has impressed itself indelibly on my mind. I christened her palace the Castle of Happiness, and she smiled assent.
The path to the castle, which seems to rise out of the mountain, and be of it, is very steep. The palace's turrets and ramparts were almost buried in a mass of green. During the last 800 years, many alterations and additions have been made to it, but it shows still the lines of its original structure. It was one of the seven strongholds which the Knights of the Teutonic Order, a brotherhood similar to the Knights Templars, raised in the thirteenth century to guard the Pass of Toros across the Carpathians.
The Queen took us all over the castle, up narrow staircases, through unexpected passages, and across overhanging balconies into rooms of all shapes and sizes, where medieval thoroughness and modern, fragile, beautiful things were foils to one another. In almost every room there were books, and one was a remark-able library breathing of poetry and the fine arts, not to mention travel and reminiscences. Queen Marie is an eager reader, and has a wide knowledge of modern literature. In every room also were flowers in pro-fusion. The Madonna lilies predominated, and these were displayed in huge ewers of beautiful brass, or ancient vessels of carved stone. Delicious blossoms and roses, too, floated on the surface of glorious earthenware bowls. The Queen's love for flowers renders her the more dear to the peasants, who worship flowers themselves.
In a round tower high up above where the ravens have their nests, there was the quaintest little room where you had to stoop low entering. From its mullioned windows you saw nothing but clouds and mountains and woods in shades from lightest emerald to deepest blue-black—the sort of room where the spirit of romance still lingers. This chamber the Queen had arranged, with understanding and love, for her youngest daughter, the Princess Ileana. I admired the beautifully patterned tiles of some of the old ovens, big comfortable-looking things; and the Queen told me an amusing incident in connexion with them. Time had put them out of action, and a potter, famed for his skill, was called in to carry out the necessary repairs. He arrived one fine morning in a stately carriage, accompanied by his wife and daughter, who made themselves at home in the Queen's apartments, where the daughter satisfied her musical and literary instincts playing on Her Majesty's piano and perusing her books.
When other rooms were suggested for the potter and his womenkind, the worthy man declined the offer with becoming modesty, declaring that "they felt quite happy where they were."
Prince Nicholas and Princess Irene arrived for lunch. There was also M. Lehmann, the very accomplished architect of Bran and Pelişor Castles. Queen Marie outlined the plot of a new novel she was engaged on just then, and which has since been published in England.
Her method of conveying the story showed that she was a constructor of romance to the manner born; she then talked with bright-eyed interest of gardens, and thereafter of "Cabbages and Kings." Queen Marie said: "It is not enough to wear a crown. Rulers, great or small, should have some occupation in the world beyond the duties of their rank, and, indeed, unless they develop for themselves hobbies, interests, achievements, they may have a very melancholy life.
"I am glad to say that my son-in-law, the King of Serbia, at my suggestion, has laid out an orchard in English fashion, and is building a bungalow himself which will be covered with crimson roses. Think, he will be the first King to eat there on a white marble table covered with them! I do not know whether he will carve the table, but, at any rate, he will plant the rose bushes."
As a daughter of the late Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Marie of Rumania is, of course, a niece of the late King Edward VII. She has naturally much love for every-thing English, and in her family circle that is the language most talked.
On the other hand, she is entirely devoted to Rumania, and nearly always wears the becoming national dress, with a coronet of diamonds and pearls which hold a veil flowing in soft folds. Round her neck, too, there are ropes of exquisite pearls. She is a modern fairy queen, with all the high gifts of a very vital and capable woman. She has a perfectly radiant personality, which has a magnetic effect on all within her reach. Her graciousness is winsome and appealing, but she is not all mere sweetness. She is packed full of energy, and has a very strong mental vigour. As an artist she has much poetic perception, and is an adept at interior decorations, in terms of Byzantine and the old Rumanian style mixed. She has done a very great deal in the encouragement of national literature, art and music, and possesses considerable powers of initiative, as was shown during the period of the Great War, when she organized the Rumanian Nursing Service, and herself gave untiring devotion and tender personal service to the wounded and dying. In conversation she has the esprit du moment, and has a flashing riposte in repartee. In everything she does a strong and sweet nature is expressed, and she has an extraordinary power of attraction. Her manners are just those which royalties should have always and ever: she puts every one, from artist to peasant, at ease, and makes them her intimates without losing her noble dignity. As a mother she is adorable, and the Royal children idolize her.
Moral courage is a great quality of hers; and she abounds in energy, unceasing and untiring. Her constant work at the hospitals during the war will never be forgotten in Rumania. Like all fearless spirits, she is unconventional, and will throw over a Court custom where an act of courtesy is entailed. In England it is difficult for commoners to get introduced to Royalty, unless they have some special claim. An Englishwoman, a great admirer of Queen Marie's, was stopping at the Palace Hotel at Sinaia, and expressed to one of the attaches at the British Legation a keen desire to be presented to Her Majesty and have a talk with her. Shortly afterwards the Queen happened to be at the hotel, and, meeting her unknown admirer, walked over to her, shook her warmly by the hand, and talked to her vivaciously for quite a long time. The incident is a little one, but it serves to show that starch is not a considerable ingredient at the Rumanian Court.
Her Majesty is never so happy as when doing practical service for her people. She distributed personally all the gifts King Carol I left in his will to the poor.
On the way we overtook a hay wagon, and on the top of its load was perched a tiny peasant girl, who laughingly threw flowers into the Royal car, some of which fell on the Queen's lap. Her Majesty blew a laughing kiss to the little maiden.
Several times these little scenes of spontaneous courtesy occurred. Two girls coming from the fields with bunches of wild-flowers offered them to Her Majesty with pretty gestures. "Thank you, thank you, my dear girls," said the Queen; "I hope you will both get good and handsome husbands."
At a village farther on the Queen purchased several loaves of a kind of honey-bread from one of the stalls. The usual crowd assembled. An old woman asked: "Is this the Empress?" The Queen heard her, and beckoned her forward.
"I am Queen Marie, mother," she said, "and I want you to take a loaf from me."
I have often talked to the peasants of their Queen, and they all spoke of her with admiration. She must indeed be happy in the knowledge that she has won the hearts and voices of her people.
As the evening drew on, a golden glamour spread over the land, and soon the glories of sunset were like a tremendous palette steeped in a splendid blaze of light. A vivid shaft of light touched the Queen's face, and its dying flicker trembled in her hair.