LATER pictures of Russia are clearer, and yet they are so hazy as to be enveloped in a glamour so great that, in looking back, it all appears dreamlike, almost unreal, and I have to make an effort to realize that I was actually there and lived it all, not merely imagined it.
Tsarskoe, Peterhof, Krasnoe, St. Petersburg—that was the setting, but the pictures I see are detached, merge one into the other, pass before my mind in little bits. Dates, circumstances, the whys and wherefores are all vague—entirely vague.
The family was a large one. My mother had five brothers living: Alexander, Vladimir, Alexis, Serge and Paul. Her eldest brother, Nicolas, had died at Nice as quite a young man—of consumption, I have been told. Four brothers were already married in the days I am speaking of. In addition, there were no end of other uncles, aunts and cousins—so many of them, in fact, that I never quite made out who they all were, especially as they were of several generations ; two or three great-uncles and aunts being still alive.
Some were of lesser importance—uncles, aunts and cousins several times removed, descendants of side lines—but for all big occasions, for feast days, for parades and church ceremonies, the family would flock together and there would be huge family meetings, a regular review of uncles, aunts and cousins near or far-removed, as numerous as trees in a wood.
This was most interesting, but also very confusing, as we came almost as strangers into this great family gathering, and everybody exclaimed about how much we had grown, and so on.
Nothing could have been a greater contrast than the English and Russian uncles and aunts. I must confess that in my childhood the Russian uncles were surrounded by a much greater glamour. Our admiration for them was not unmixed, however, with dread; they were so formidably tall, big and splendid, and besides, they were inveterate teases.
The English uncles were absent-minded, they looked through you; the Russian relations never looked through you—in fact, they were, if anything, too aware of your existence and teased you mercilessly; always, on all occasions, public or otherwise, they teased you.
The Lighter Side of an Emperor
IT WOULD carry me too far to begin to describe them all, but some of their faces are still so vivid, so full of interest for me, at least, that I must draw some of their portraits, make them live once more as I saw them.
There was Uncle Sasha, Emperor Alexander III, a giant of a man, broad, powerful, good-natured, kindly, less terrible than some of the uncles, in spite of his crown and of his over-life-size. He had a chestnut beard and kindly blue eyes, his way with us children was jovial and encouraging, and I remember him particularly in connection with some special fun he had imagined would amuse both the young and grown-ups.
In the garden stood a mast on which his sons learned how to climb and handle ropes and sails, still an essential part of ships in those days. To guard against bad falls, a net had been stretched beneath this mast.
Uncle Sasha loved a good laugh, so he had come upon the absurdly delightful idea of taking his guests out after lunch to this net and making them run and jump about on it. I can remember no game that ever made us laugh as much as this one, and the fun reached its climax when giant Uncle Sasha, whose weight was formidable, climbed onto the net himself. This was the superlative moment of excitement that we children always waited for with a delight not unmixed with fear. Uncle Sasha would pursue us over this net, and when he had cornered you he would jump up and down, and his weight made you bounce like a ball. Higher and higher you bounced, as though you had no weight at all, and you had hardly come down to your feet before there you were, up in the air again, up and down, up and down, shrieking and laughing, terrified and enchanted; a game for the gods.
That was Uncle Sasha as we saw him; I leave it to history to make whatever other portrait it chooses.
Aunt Minnie, his wife, was Queen Alexandra's sister. Without having her beauty, she had Aunt Alix's charm. She was deliciously amiable and much loved, but she does not play a great part in my memories, though she is the only one of that huge family circle still alive as I write these lines. She was a devoted mother and wife, and truly the center of her world, both at home and as empress.
In those days there were five cousins, Nicky, Georgie, Xenia, Misha and Olga, who was quite small. Nicky we always loved and admired; although, being older, he was rather beyond our reach in those days.
Already, at that early age, he had that gentle charm and that kind, caressing look in his eyes which was his all through life till the day of his tragic death. Kindly and peace-loving, he did not seem cut out for a fate so horrible.
My Russian Cousins
GEORGIE, like my mother's eldest brother, died of consumption as quite a young man—somewhere in the Caucasus, I believe. Xenia was a dear chum, being a year older than I was. The other two, Misha and Olga, were younger than we.
But it was with the other cousins that we were more intimate—the children of Uncle Vladimir and Aunt Miechen.
Uncle Vladimir was my mother's second brother. He was the dark-haired one of the family, exceedingly good-looking, but a little less tall than his brothers. Aunt Miechen, his wife, was born Princess of Mecklenburg; although not a regular beauty, she was one of the most fascinating women that ever crossed my path.
There was, I believe, a certain rivalry between Aunt Miechen and Aunt Minnie, and less friendship and good understanding than was politely played up to during those big family gatherings I so vividly remember.
Here there were four cousins—three boys, Kirill, Boris and Andre, and one daughter, Ellen. They were the most beautiful children imaginable and our friendship outlasted our youth. Much later in life, sister Ducky married Kirill.
Uncle Alexis, mama's third brother, was the bachelor of the family. He was of the type of the Vikings, and would also have made a perfect Lohengrin as Wagner would have dreamed of him. Fair beard, blue eyes, enormous, a superb specimen of humanity, he was, besides, a sailor, and had a true sailor's love for all the good things of life and of beautiful women in particular.
There was an aunt several times removed who was his "adored" for many years, although she was not free. Zina was her name, and she was terribly fascinating. Her eyes were enormous, her jewels beautiful, her skin creamy white, her lips cherry red, and dark circles made her wonderful Oriental eyes still more dangerously languorous.
There was a photograph in papa's room of Zina in Russian court dress with a cacoshnic on her head. I was irresistibly attracted by this picture of lovely Aunt Zina of the mysterious eyes, and I could never make up my mind if it was her eyes or her stupendous jewels that fascinated me most.
SHE, too, belonged to Russia's splendid, was a characteristic product of the world she lived in. Aunt Zina, who was a sister of the celebrated General Skobelev, and married to a Leuchtenberg, was never considered quite one of the imperial family. She would have made her fortune on the screen as a vamp, but her good nature entirely belied her vamplike appearance.
It was the sailor uncle who paid me my first compliment, and I assure you I have never forgotten it.
It was at Peterhof, and we children came rushing over the lawn to where mama was standing in the sunshine with Uncle Alexis. I was leading the onrush, and as we came, Uncle Alexis exclaimed: "Ah! voici la jolie petite!" I was "la jolie petite," and from then onward I never forgot this!
But the couple who fascinated me most were Uncle Serge and Aunt Ella. They were newly married in those days, and her beauty and sweetness was a thing of dreams.
Uncle Serge was the brother nearest in age to my mother. She had been brought up with him and Uncle Paul together. In contrast to the three eldest, who, although hugely tall, were broad and thickset, this uncle was as tall and slim as the proverbial fir tree. He was by far the most frightening of all the uncles, but, for all that, was our chosen favorite. The extreme adorableness of his wife had, perhaps, something to do with it, but, anyhow, Uncle Serge meant a great deal to us.
His name in history will, I fear, remain as that of a fanatic and reactionary, his death was violent and fearful, but I have nothing to do with Grand Duke Serge, governor of Moscow, who was blown up by Nihilists; the Uncle Serge I have to do with was severe, kept you in awe, but he loved children, although he was not destined to have any of his own. He scolded us and never let an offense pass unnoticed, but whenever he was able, he came to see us in our bath—a concession that, for some reason, all children try to obtain from their elders—or to tuck us up in our beds and to kiss us good night.
Uncle Serge wore a close-cropped, fair beard; his lips were thin and closed in a firm line that was almost cruel. Especially in the long, dark-green tunic, baggy trousers, high boots and small white astrakhan cap of his full-dress uniform, he was a magnificent, though somewhat forbidding, figure. As abrupt of movement as he was short of speech, he had a particular way of holding his hands in front of him, the fingers of one hand clasping the wrist of the other, making a chain bracelet he wore continually jingle against his cuff. His eyes were steely-gray and his pupils could narrow like those of a cat, till they became mere pin points, and then there was something almost menacing about him. But, oh, how handsome he was; so inconceivably upright, with such a magnificent figure; though, no doubt, there was in his face something of the fanatic that he was at heart.
But when I looked up at him with the confident, adoring eyes of a little girl who knew naught of the hard, cruel and unkind things of this world, his steely eyes would soften for a moment; though, perhaps, his look never became really warm or reassuring.
I must admit that even at his sweetest moments there was nothing soft nor particularly encouraging about Uncle Serge; there was a tyrant within him, ready at any moment to burst forth; there was something intolerant, unbending, about him; instinctively, one felt that his teeth were clenched.
Beauty and the Bear
DRY, nervous, short of speech, impatient, he had none of the rather careless good humor of his three elder brothers; he was, in fact, completely another type. But for all that, we loved him, felt irresistibly attracted to him, hard though he could be.
Few, perhaps, cherish his memory, but I do.
In contrast to her severe lord and master—and in this case these terms may be taken literally—Aunt, or Cousin, Ella was all sweetness and feminine charm.
By birth, though a good many years our senior, she was our first cousin, being the daughter of my father's second sister, the late Grand Duchess Alice of Hesse. By marriage she became our aunt, and as we were much younger, at an age when a few years make a difference, we generally gave her her dignity of aunt.
Uncle Serge was often abrupt and severe with her, as he was with everyone, but he adored her beauty. Being very young and innocent when she married him, he had something of the schoolmaster attitude toward her, and I can still see the adorable blush that would suffuse her cheeks when he reproved her, and he did this often, no matter where or before whom.
"Mais, Serge—" she would then exclaim, and the expression of her face was like that of a schoolgirl detected in some fault. Only to remember her still makes my heart melt within me.
She, too, had wonderful jewels; and Uncle Serge, who worshiped her in spite of his scoldings, would invent all sorts of reasons and occasions for giving her magnificent presents; she had, besides, a special talent for wearing her clothes, in a way quite her own. Of course everything suited her, for she was tall, slim and incredibly graceful, and no blush rose could have competed with her complexion.
There was also something of a lily about her; her purity was absolute, one could never take one's eyes off her; and when parting from her in the evening, one longed for the hour when one would behold her again next day.
The Russian court dress was exceedingly picturesque, and was donned for all bigger occasions. It consisted of amply cut velvet robes over a tablier of white satin; the shape, with its train and wide, long-hanging sleeves, had something medieval about it. These robes were heavily embroidered in silver or gold, and were of every color of the rainbow; the richest of all were of cloth of gold or silver.
When Every Woman Wore a Crown
A halo-shaped cacoshnic with a veil hanging from beneath it inevitably accompanied this costume, so that every woman appeared to have been crowned. This unity of attire made all Russian court gatherings uniquely picturesque, saturating them with color and brilliance unlike anything else; veritable pictures out of the Thousand and One Nights. Byzantine in splendor, with all the mysterious gorgeousness of the East. In those days the processional entry of the Russian imperial family into festive hall or saint-haunted church was a picture never to be forgotten.
Family gatherings, parades, banquets, church ceremonies—these are the pictures of festive Russia that, when I look back, flicker before my astonished child's eye.
Great fields with troops standing in endless rows, flags flying, music, trumpets, and the Czar riding slowly down the front. He says some magic word to each regiment as he passes and, as response, a thousand' thousand voices mount toward the heavens with a shout of joy.
Behind him come innumerable grand dukes, generals, military followers. Uniforms of every color, and especially conspicuous the bright-red, caftanlike coats, silver braiding and enormous fur caps of the Cossacks of the Guard; a wonderful regiment mounted on small, disheveled, wild-looking horses whose heads are held curiously high by their riders, seated on their saddles as if on thrones. They are certainly by far the most picturesque of all the troops, and have about them an air of the steppes. There is something fierce and at the same time curiously gentlemanly about them, well in keeping with legends of waste lands and rocky mountains at the end of the world.
Closely following the Emperor and his suite comes the Empress in an open carriage drawn by four horses à la Daumont. All in white, she smiles graciously in response to her share of the cheers. A grand duchess or an honored guest sits beside her. I have seen two empresses in succession driving thus down the front.
The sun shines golden on the resplendent array; it lights up in my memory a picture of might and splendor, of pomp and power, that has forever passed away.
And if I close my eyes I can hear the deep and heart-stirring strains of the Russian anthem swelling toward heaven like a prodigious hymn. Of all national anthems, the Russian was the most solemn, the most impressive, the most compelling; it made you catch your breath, stirred you to the very foundations of your being; some deep emotion thrilled through you from head to foot.
And here I am in church, a wee bit of a child, staring with wide-open eyes at the fantastic gorgeousness of the sanctuary in which the imperial family has come to petition or to render thanks unto God.
Among My Russian Relatives
Gold everywhere, hundreds of lighted tapers, and before me the mysterious threshold over which a woman's foot dare not tread, the Holy of Holies shut off by a rood screen of gold, shielding from my uninitiated gaze mysteries in which I have no share. I am full of reverence, but feel small, of no consequence, almost an intruder; all the others are at home here, but I am a little stranger, one to whom none of this is familiar. And as though to spread a veil before my eyes, clouds of incense float between me and all I see.
Furtively I peep around me. What are the others feeling? Those who belong here, those to whom all this fantastic splendor is nothing new? Shyly my eyes search every face. Was there ever a nobler, more imposing company, men more huge, women more beautiful and more gorgeously attired, and where in the whole wide world could one see such jewels?
In the places of honor stand Uncle Sasha and Aunt Minnie—in those days Emperor and Empress. Her golden robe is all covered with silver embroidery, and she is crowned with a tiara of sapphires so large that they resemble enormous eyes; cascades of pearls and diamonds hang round her throat down to her waist. She is the only one amongst the royal ladies whose gown is barred by the blue Order of St. Andrew, whilst all the grand duchesses wear the red ribbon of St. Catherine.
There are also many more aunts and cousins, some old, some young, also some little girls and boys of my age; but their faces are less clear than those of their elders.
And what an array of uniforms! How tall are all my uncles and cousins! I am almost afraid to look up at them, but how superbly handsome some of them are. There are, it must also be confessed, one or two really ugly old uncles amongst them, but they are outnumbered by the others, are but shadows heightening their brilliance. My eyes drop them immediately to take possession once again of those who fascinate me like so many figures in an incredible dream.
How intent they all are, how full of worship, how reverent. God for them is a reality; however crowned their heads may be, they bow them humbly before a Presence recognized as greater than theirs.
The curtains are drawn back from before the altar doors; priests, old and young, file down the steps. Dark, fair or gray, their hair is long and extraordinarily glossy, as are also their beards. They are as gorgeous as the rest of the picture; their vestments are of gold and silver, superbly woven with ancient designs; the jeweled crosses on their breasts flash like living lights, and their faces strangely resemble the icons before which they bend—St. Nicholas, St. Andrew, St. John.
The church is full of the fumes of incense, and I am getting a little giddy; unaccustomed to stand so long, my feet begin to ache. I catch mama's eye; she smiles at me encouragingly, but puts a finger to her lips. "Patience," she seems to say. Little Protestant that I am, I must not disgrace her; then, turning again towards the priests, as one enraptured by some great revelation, fervently she makes the sign of the cross.
Mama is at home here; mama belongs to them; her soul is theirs; mama is part of Russia—mama.
Moving to Malta
I shall return to Russia again later—but today, so as to proceed with a certain amount of order, and according to the years, I must move on to Malta, the paradise of our childhood.
We embarked for Malta from Marseilles in October. Grandmama Queen had lent us for the voyage her yacht, H. M. S. Osborne, a beautiful boat, but not particularly steady in a heavy sea, and we had rough weather all the time—a three or four days' crossing, if I remember rightly—but what I remember distinctly is that nearly everybody was very sick.
Mama, although she disliked the sea, was an excellent sailor. In those days I was sometimes very sick, but never prostrate; there were hours between the outbursts when I was perfectly well and happy. Ducky, my inseparable comrade, was, on the contrary, a hopeless sailor, whilst little Sandra was chirpy enough.
I do not remember much about sister Beatrice in those days, for she was the baby and had a department all her own. To her three sisters, though she is now a mother of three big boys, she is Baby even today, and it is thus that we still call her.
I remember as though it were yesterday our arrival at Malta. It is one of those pictures impressed upon my mind for all time—a wonderful picture, unforgettable, to be cherished to the end of my days.
It was at the hour of sunset that we steamed into the beautiful old fortified harbor of Valetta. A gorgeous pageant spread before our eyes. As background, the mighty battlements partly hewn out of the rock itself, and at their feet the whole Mediterranean fleet in festive array. In those days ships still had masts, which added to their beauty of line, and on those masts, one above the other, stood the bluejackets in long lines, cheering for all they were worth. All the bunting was out, and, as the Osborne advanced slowly down the double row of battleships, each separate band struck up God Save the Queen.
Life at San Antonio
Sky and sea a glory of color, the earth all aglow, music, flags, cheering and, when anchorage was reached, papa waiting for us—papa at the height of his career, at the height also of his good looks. Papa with his deeply tanned face in which his eyes shone extraordinarily, fascinatingly blue. A sailor in every sense of the word, a sailor, an Englishman, a prince!
On the quay, surrounded by his military household, flanked by a red-coated guard of honor, stood old Sir Lintorn Simmons, governor of Malta, viceroy of the island, sovereign in Her Majesty's stead.
Old Sir Lintorn was the typical Englishman dear to foreign imagination; red-faced, portly, with white whiskers, strapped into a tight scarlet uniform, crowned with cocked hat and white feathers, a cheerful, hearty gentleman with an optimistic outlook upon life.
It was quite dark by the time we reached San Antonio, the governor's summer palace, which had been given over to us during our stay.
San Antonio, beloved house!
My father and mother were very popular at Malta, and San Antonio became the center of hospitality.
Many guests went in and out of our house, and we received a giant share of their attention. We made innumerable friends, mostly among the naval officers; the fleet was, so to say, at our disposal, and we were continually visiting one ship or another, H. M. S. Alexandra, papa's flagship, being our great favorite, her midshipmen becoming our particular chums. But it was our rides and riding parties especially that played the biggest part in our lives. 1 Mama knew how to be severe and there was no pardon for certain misdeeds, but she also knew how to give us splendid liberty for harmless amusements.
She had resigned herself to what she called "our insane passion" for riding, and each of us was allowed a horse.
Horses were all-important in Malta, for this was, of course, long, long before the days of motoring, and nearly ' everybody in Malta possessed a horse. There was polo and racing and innumerable riding picnics to far parts of the island.
The horse peculiar to Malta was the Barbary Arab. Spirited, blue-blooded i little creatures, you often saw real beauties harnessed to the simplest cart. The characteristic Maltese vehicle is a small, flat, two-wheeled carriage, with a mattress or carpet spread over it and no seats; the wheels are very high and the driver either sits or lies on this mattress, unless he is seated on the shafts when his cart is full. They drive at a great pace and take enormous pride in their horses and even in their harness.
The more civilized carriages were four-wheeled and four-seated, and shaded by a white, fringed awning which shook backwards over your head according to the bumps of the road. These are drawn by a pair, whilst the gocart is a one-horse vehicle.
The large carts, which are also two-wheeled, are painted bright scarlet, with gay patterns all over them, and are exceedingly picturesque and colorful.
Enormous mules are harnessed to these; the Maltese mules are the largest I have ever seen anywhere and are placid, patient, unemotional creatures, whilst the horses are small and fiery.
Mama gave one of these Barbary Arabs to both of us elder sisters, whilst Sandra remained sole possessor of trustworthy Tommy, who exactly suited her size and temperament.
The first horses found for us were not a success, for they were tricky or unreliable or had other defects. One was a gray called Gordon, who had a nasty way of trying to crush your legs against the high stone walls that border every Maltese road. There is no road in Malta that is not bordered by walls.
We were, of course, in ecstasies over each horse brought to us, but after having had a few failures, Robert, the coachman, found an adorable, high-spirited chestnut which became my own special mount. His mane and tail were cream-colored, he had a wicked eye, and his legs, though spindlelike, were hard as iron. He could be something of a beast, being a stallion, but I loved him with a jealous passion and called him Ruby.
Life at Malta was marvelous, but Malta with Ruby en plus became paradise. Ruby was the culminating enchantment of that blessed isle.
Boots and Saddles
Ducky, after having first possessed a gray called Stuart and a lovely, but unsound, golden chestnut called Scout, was given a handsome bay which she christened Fearless. Ruby and Fearless became the center of our lives, and our love for them was ecstasy to ourselves, but often an irritation to those who considered our passion exaggerated. It was difficult to keep us out of the stables and we were often found elbow deep in bran squash, helping the stable people mix this delicious mess 'or our favorites. The groom who accompanied us on all our adventures had the cheerful name of Hobbs, which was entirely in keeping with his round, rosy face. Hobbs was always smiling, he never discouraged us and was never indignant at our pranks.
Our ideas about riding were anything but civilized. We were entirely fearless and our chief pace was full gallop, quite regardless of the ground. The only soft ground in Malta was the race course called the Massa, where we went almost daily except Saturdays, which were picnic days.
These wiry little Arabs had legs of steel, and I never remember Ruby having had anything the matter with him except once, when I rode him through a pool of lime, entirely unconscious of the hellish qualities of that deliciously white mud.
We were wild girls, but entirely harmless; our amusements were most innocent, and mama was wise in that she let us—within certain limits, of course—enjoy ourselves as we would. There was a glorious and blessed freedom about that Malta life, a freedom which had to do with the sunshine and the general good humor of the people, young and happy, and who had no Hintergedanken.
But one can never remain quite undisturbed, even in paradise, and soon a voice was raised in protest against the too great freedom our mother allowed us. How could we be permitted to ride alone on the race course in the company of a dozen young men? This voice was that of an elder lady of the family, one who, alas, "saw through a glass darkly," and who, not being harmless herself, was unable to recognize harmlessness in others, nor did she care what heartburn she caused.
Mama disagreed with her point of view, but her voice was too loud to be ignored and mama felt obliged henceforth to send her daughters out in the company of their governess. This was a dreary arrangement for both parties. Mademoiselle could not ride—that, at least, was a mercy—and the Massa was both shadeless and hot. Nevertheless, she had to inflict her unwelcome company upon us, bumping backwards and forwards after us to the Massa in a local carriage, and installing herself as best she could under a red cotton parasol somewhere, whence she could oversee our movements, if not the expression of our faces or our conversation.
I cannot say that these interested her overmuch; hunched up under her scarlet protection, which, we declared, made our horses shy, she would soon be deeply absorbed in her book, becoming oblivious to all else. We only regretted that she sat too far away for us to be able to splash the offending parasol as we galloped past. But it was against the lady from England that we most greatly raged, against that voice so jarringly raised in our Garden of Eden.
As may have been observed, our lessons did not weigh heavily in the plan of our lives, though there were certain hours of study which, according to us, disagreeably interrupted our freedom.
The first year it was Mademoiselle who was the schoolroom Cerberus, who had to see to this less pleasant side of life. She herself gave us lessons, but the second year, owing to ill health and a want of loyalty towards our mother, she was replaced by a German lady, much younger and of good family, seemingly very charming, but who later played a none too happy part in our lives. She, alas, became too great a favorite with mama, who, in this case, unfortunately misplaced her trust.
But there was a glorious interregnum when the old authority was at an end and the new one was not yet installed, and this was a period of bliss which Ducky and I arranged entirely to our convenience.
One delightful figure of those schoolroom days must be mentioned: Our music mistress, Miss Butler, who came three times a week to give us lessons.
Miss Butler, though of English origin, as her name proves, had with the years almost become a Maltese, and her dress was in accordance with a very southern conception of elegance. Bright colors and plumes played a great part in her attire. She was portly and indulgent, and her very much bebustled Sunday best was a mustard-tinted plush with pink ostrich feathers; and as there was a good deal of her, this attire was startling, to say the least.
Miss Butler was too indulgent and too fond of us to be an efficient instructor to a trio of unruly children not overblessed with musical aptitude. Like a dear old lady called Mrs. Duget who came to Birkhall in Scotland to give us music lessons, I think her efforts were crowned with no particularly artistic results, but we kept in touch with both till we were all three married and mothers of a family.
Our Music Mistress
Dear old Miss Butler! She was a real friend, even if she did not make a Paderewski or a Rubinstein out of any of us.
Ducky and I, as two able-minded elders, entirely overruled sister Sandra, who was seldom allowed a say in any matter, and we so arranged our studies that she was installed at her music during the hours when we two particularly desired to be free. Happy-go-lucky days when the Malta sunshine made all mankind indulgent and we were able, during a blessed interregnum, to arrange our lessons to suit our desires.
Lady Mary was my mother's dearest friend and remained so to the end of her life, being one of the few who outlived mama. She was an Irishwoman of the Butler family, and had all the wit and vivacity of her race, also something of their instinctive antagonism to all things too truly British. Without being a beauty, she was full of charm, very clever, a delightful companion, amusing, gay, well read, and forever on the go, although her health was poor. Men were attracted by her, and she had always an adorer or two sighing at her heels; they were generally the men we children did not care about—the intellectuals, les beaux parleurs, les grands mondains—those who had a touch of cynicism in their make-up. She dressed in an original way, harmoniously in keeping with her marquise type. Her short gray hair was her outstanding originality. Mama of ten used her as lady in waiting, though she never officially occupied that position.
Mademoiselle did not like Lady Mary, declaring that she had a too great influence over our mother, and not a good one at that. She loathed her success, her affectations, her originalities, and these were always expounded to us in the schoolroom in a way which was not at all in keeping with the Christian principles she endeavored to instill into us. She had, in fact, an ugly way of poisoning our minds against mama's great friend, making her appear in our eyes as a grasping woman sponging upon our mother's bounties and misusing her kindness. I am certain that this was a most unfair appreciation of the vivacious, entertaining lady, but Mademoiselle managed to sow a seed of mistrust in our hearts.
Lady Mary had a worthy but dull and rather deaf husband who was generally left at home, and three sweet little daughters; Mab, Elsie and Ena—one for each of us sisters, and almost exactly our age.
Saturday was the picnic day, and great riding parties were organized to some distant corner of the island; St. Paul's Bay, Verdala, the Inquisitor's Palace and to other places the names of which I have, alas, forgotten. Mama would follow in a carriage with one or another of her friends.
The start for these picnics was exciting to a degree, and full of clatter and noise. Our horses were fresh, prancing, ready to be off, difficult to hold. We, in our fearlessness, which amounted to unconsciousness of any cause for fear, enjoyed their pranks, which would have horrified old Lumley and all orthodox riders, and our first gallop, which was always down the walled-in avenue by the courtyard, was a most unruly proceeding. We were more like a troop of swooping Red Indians than civilized little girls. Our horses, being stallions, were all too ready with their teeth, and would often get a good grip of each other's tails, and thus, one behind the other, we would dash down that hard avenue, shrieking with laughter, our naval friends pounding after us whilst our horses were doing their best to buck us off. Our friends had horses as unruly as ours, although most of them rode with more science and decorum. We never realized that ours was a rather wild way of riding. We just let our spirits get the better of us, our companions encouraging our foolhardiness, but, luckily, there is a god who looks after the innocent.
The Horse Marines of Malta
Amongst our group of very young naval friends there was a certain Lieutenant Allenby, a round-faced youth, all smiles, good humor and recklessness. Though his years counted more than ours, he was not a day older than we as to tastes and habits; there was plenty of health in him, but little wisdom. When Allenby was one of the party, it was sure to be a day of adventure, frolic and merrymaking, a day, also, of anxiety for the elders. He was allowed in small doses only, because our association was not de tout repos.
We called Allenby, Full Moon, because of the excessive roundness of his cheerful countenance.
Among our special friends there was also Colin Keppel, Cecil Colville, Anson, Streatfield, Eric Back, Rumboldt and David Beatty—the last four at that time midshipmen on the Alexandra. Beatty was my special friend and was already in those days a splendid rider and good polo player. He has said since that I brought him luck.
Colin Keppel was our father's flag lieutenant. He was as wax in our hands, but was considered a safe comipanion and we were mostly intrusted to his care. He was as faithful as a dog, and we entirely approved of him. Colville was always full of fun, but a little supercilious. The most serious and steady was Anson—too serious, in fact, so that he was dubbed "Old Anson," with a touch of pity in the epithet. The rides with Old Anson were just the opposite of those taken in Allenby's company and were considered somewhat in the light of correction.
But the greatest of all our friends—so to say, our hero—was Maurice Bourke, at that time commander of our father's yacht, H. M. S. Surprise. How we loved him! He had every quality needed to make him the ideal of three little girls with high spirits and a desire for hero worship.
A broad-minded, warm-hearted, genial gentleman was Maurice Bourke, with a humorous way of seeing the good in his neighbor and of excusing the bad. Generous, amusing, he allowed each man his due, and knew how to plead for a culprit; besides, who could resist that crooked, white-toothed smile of his?
For us, Captain Bourke had extraordinary prestige, he was able to arouse in us complete and undiscussed allegiance. I, for one, to quote a poet's undying words, loved him "with the passion put to use in my old griefs and with my childhood's faith."
We would have gone through fire and water for him. He could make us listen, obey and submit as no one else. His word was magic. All revolts could be appeased by Captain Bourke; he could make us yield to any rule and accept even those things we most violently opposed.
I remember a tragi-comic scene when Captain Bourke was sent to us because we had revolted against our skirts being lengthened. We smelt danger, a trap! We did not want to grow up, life was too exquisite as it was, we feared any change, anything that might curtail our glorious liberty and independence. We had a subconscious knowledge that there could be no going back. Lengthening skirts was a sign of certain restrictions to our wild ways, it had something to do with the clipping of wings and the putting on of chains, and we were prepared to oppose this innovation with all the strength of our wills, which could become steel when rebellion rose within us.
Mama, who was at her wits' end, sent our beloved captain to bring us to reason. This was indeed a wily move; no deputy could have been better chosen. I cannot remember what argument Maurice Bourke used, or in what way he beguiled us to submission, but he did carry the day, and from then onwards we wore our dresses the few inches longer considered in keeping with the growth of our limbs.
Each time there was rebellion in the air, Maurice Bourke was the one deputed to talk reason to us, and such was our love for him that he could obtain from us the most difficult concessions.
Whenever he was away, Captain Bourke would write long and amusing letters, which we faithfully answered, and in this way a very regular correspondence was kept up—a correspondence which did not cease till his death many years later, but much too early for those who loved him.
H. M. S. Surprise was the yacht at the disposal of the commander in chief. My mother often followed the cruises my father made with his fleet. Thus she saw many interesting places. I have chosen a letter in which she describes a visit to Montenegro. She was an excellent letter writer, and I am sure that this picture of those regions which have now changed hands will be interesting to anyone who reads it. All this, as can be seen by the date on the letter, was a very long time ago.
"My Darlings: Here we are in Montenegro, and this curious country is so unlike anything else that I think myself in a dream. But I must tell you what we did after Zara. The night before we left that place, we had a ball at the governor's. I did not dance, as I knew nobody, but had to talk to some ladies who only spoke Italian. We left after an endless supper and next day started very early for Spalato and separated from the squadron, which came on straight to Cattaro. We had the idea of stopping at another pretty place before Spalato, called Trau, and spent the night at anchor there. We saw a very interesting and fine old church there and a most curious small town. In the evening came a frightful thunderstorm, to which we are getting quite accustomed, though they make a terrific row.
"Now Mrs. Monson reads to Captain Bourke and myself when we have free time, and he sticks in all the things in the scrap book of our cruises. It is getting quite interesting and Captain Bourke does it beautifully. Photographs, menus, invitations, newspapers, sketches, all goes in, and our kind captain is so pleased to have this occupation in his free hours. He is a wonderfully practical and kind man, thinks of everything and makes our life very comfortable and pleasant. At Spalato we saw the most interesting remains of Diocletian's palace, into the middle of which is built the town. The cathedral is an ancient Roman temple.
"In the afternoon we went to see the remains of the old town of Salona which are just being excavated, but it began to pour with rain and before we got home we were almost drenched. When we had to cross from the shore to the ship, there was such a downpour that we could hardly distinguish the Surprise and got on board at last all dripping. The weather being so bad, we decided to start only next morning. It was blowing hard then, but as we had to travel the whole time between the islands, we did not feel it and anchored again at night in a small bay, to arrive at Cattaro next morning and not in the dark. I got up before six, to be ready before we began to toss about, and we had a few nasty hours before we got in to the wonderful Bay of Cattaro. It is exactly like a big lake surrounded by immense mountains. We took an hour and a half before we reached the end of it where the small town of Cattaro is situated. We found there the whole squadron. Next day, Saturday, we went to a picnic given by the officers of the Alexandra on the shore, in a small bay. It was great fun; they had all sorts of games, races, jumping through the water, and got all very hot and dirty. Some even played various instruments and were like a lot of children.
"Yesterday morning we started from Cattaro at eight and had a magnificent drive of six hours over the mountains. You never saw such a splendid view and such a magnificent road. George went with us, and we had, besides, Mrs. Monson, Captain Bourke and Mr. Keppel. Unfortunately, we got into a mist and could not see the marvelous view from the very top. At the Montenegro frontier the Prince met us, and we were very pleased to see him, as he is a very old friend and such an amiable man. He had prepared a luncheon in a small house belonging to him and we were very hungry after the long drive. The Prince himself and every man in the country wears the beautiful national dress. They are such handsome men, even the common peasants, and so very friendly and respectful.
"But curious enough it seems to us hardly ever to meet a woman in the streets. They are very modest and stay at home, but the men walk about, and in the evening dance a very curious war dance, much wilder than the Scotch reel. They sing to it some wild song which sounds so curious in the stillness of the night. Before we reached the town of Cettinie we were met by the Prince's eldest son, a very pretty boy aged sixteen, very tall and dark, with most excellent manners and such a bright, clever look. He was on horseback at the head of a cavalry escort, mounted on very small, strong ponies. . . .
"On the Tuesday we went on an expedition to the lake of Scutary, and it was lovely scenery. We first went by road, then down a river in a small steamer and into the lake, with grand mountain scenery. The Prince is building a small house on a peninsula, and we had to land on the rocks and go up steep hill, which I did not like much in the heat, but the good people pull one up with such energy that one has to get on without stopping. We had Lunch out-of-doors. On the way back, the Prince killed a very poisonous make that was going to get up on its tail. We returned to Cattaro yesterday for luncheon with the Prince and his son, and they visited most of the ships; then papa gave a big dinner on the Alexandra and they left this morning.
"I was so pleased to
get news twice from you here. I hope Sandra has been to the dentist,
as she ought soon to take off her plate. Arrange a nice birthday for
Alfred. But how sad to be far away on mine! I send you all many
The Loss of H. M. S. Victoria
In his uniquely humorous way, Captain Bourke would also paint his future portrait as that of an old red-faced admiral with thick, curly white hair and jovial smile. He never lived to become an admiral, alas, and the latter part of his career was darkened by a terrible naval disaster, the loss of H. M. S. Victoria.
Well do I remember receiving the news of that disaster, a few months after my marriage, whilst I was struggling amidst the difficulties of adjustment in a foreign country. My mother telegraphed the loss of the Victoria, but that Maurice Bourke, thank God, was amongst the saved. The shock was terrible, but I remember my tears of gratitude because nothing had happened to "Captain dear," as we called our great friend.
There was also another great friend in those Malta days of innocence, and that was Cousin George. Cousin George, though ten years older than I, was also very young in those days and not a bit too grand and grown up to be happy in our company.
I do not think he was even called the Duke of York then, but simply Prince George. He was also in H. M. S. Alexandra, under my father's command. Both my parents were very fond of him, and there was always a room ready for him at San Antonio when he was not on service.
Cousin George was a beloved chum. He, too, was able to keep the unruly trio in order. He called us "the dear three," but I proudly remember that in the case of Cousin George I was a decided favorite; there was no doubt about that whatever. What fun we had with George; what delightful, harmless fun! He used to drive us in a high, two-wheeled dogcart; the horse he drove was called Cockey, a steady brown cob. One of us sat beside him and the other two at the back. Those at the back were generally kneeling on the seat and chattering for all they were worth with the two in front.
There were also glorious rides with Cousin George, who had a horse called Real Jam, a beautiful, glossy bay:
In Malta, everybody was interested in his neighbor's horse; they so belonged to the life there that they were like part of the family. Real Jam was a perfect creature and was taken back to Sandringham by his master when the Malta days came to a close.
Whenever he could, Cousin George joined our Saturday picnics, and he was fond of declaring that "the dear three" were much better behaved and less unruly when he was leader of the wild horde.
It was certainly Allenby, or Full Moon, who was the most irrepressible. The days when he was one of the party were days of high jinks.
I have found old letters from George expressing a hope "that Allenby has been behaving himself"; George preferred being first in command on the days when rowdy Allenby was not one of the party.
But neither Cousin George nor boisterous Allenby was at a certain picnic to which a sadly humiliating remembrance is attached.
A Teatime Revolution
We had ridden to some far-off part of the island, and there mama, Lady Mary and her daughters had joined us by carriage for tea. It was a beautiful sunny day and we were a cheerful party, mama very proud of a new bay she had discovered on the farther side of the island. Mama loved voyages of discovery. The last bit of the road down to the seashore was steep and we were all on foot, as it had been considered risky to follow such a precipitous path on horseback. On the way up again, mama proposed that Lady Mary, who was delicate and easily tired, should, so as not to fatigue herself, ride up the steepest part of the climb on Tommy's back.
Tommy was a sturdy little beast and well up to the weight of one as frail as Lady Mary, but Mademoiselle's insinuations against mama's friend had made their mark and lay festering in our minds. Mama's quite innocent proposal suddenly made our resentment against her burst into flame. Our horses were sacred to us; we were idiotically jealous about them and no one was ever allowed to get on to them except ourselves or the groom; so we noisily proclaimed that "poor" Tommy could not possibly carry a grown-up person on his back.
Mama, ashamed of her ungracious little girls, swept our objections aside and quite rightly insisted upon the very much perturbed Lady Mary getting on to Tommy's back, which she finally did. A disgraceful scene followed. Entirely carried away by our rage, whilst climbing the hill behind mama, Tommy and his burden, we vituperated against Lady Mary to her daughters, who were walking beside us, and goodness knows what unforgivable things we said to our three little friends about their mother. All Mademoiselle's unfounded accusations against Lady Mary came, all unconsciously, from our lips.
When the top of the hill was reached, Lady Mary got off and Tommy was given over again to his rightful mistress, and we all three remounted.
Mama, to mark her pained disapproval of her offending children, drove off without a word and without even casting a look behind her. This was as fuel to the flame of our wrath. In floods of tears, like three God-forsaken little savages, giving rein to our horses, we dashed full gallop after the carriage, roaring with rage and sticking our tongues out as far as they would go, whilst we hurled at Lady Mary's head all the ugly epithets of which our somewhat limited vocabulary could boast.
No doubt there was also a comic side to this most reprehensible scene. It must have been a fine sight to see three ill-behaved little Amazons tearing full tilt along the high road behind that well-turned-out, sedate-looking pony cart in which sat two ladies who could only save their dignity by pretending to ignore that they were being pursued by a trio of weeping little furies with their tongues stuck out.
Many years later we found an old letter addressed to our brother in which Ducky had made a sketch of this scene.
There may be, at certain moments in life, a bitter satisfaction in letting your temper get the better of you, in reveling in your wrath, but the "afterwards " is all sorrow and mortification. Restored to your senses, you see how pitiful and futile was your outburst, and the exultation of your fury gives place to shame and humiliation.
All this and more was experienced when we reached home about half an hour after mama. Lady Mary had retired to her own apartment to repair her shattered nerves, but on the threshold of her room stood mama, like the angel with the flaming sword.
Oh, terrible moment of retribution when, with hanging heads, red noses and swollen eyes, we stood facing her righteous indignation. As can well be imagined, she did not spare us. She said we were to ask God to forgive us, because she could not, that she was ashamed of having to call us her children, and other equally hard things that penetrated to the very marrow of our bones.
Punishment to Fit the Crime
We all three finally collapsed on some small stairs leading from mama's boudoir to her dressing room, a dark little corner where our humiliation was hidden in shadow. There we lay, three little heaps of misery, faces turned towards the dusty carpet, which was quite in keeping with our abasement, crushed by the enormity of our sin, overcome by mama's bitter reproof, feeling that we deserved every word of her upbraiding.
But words were not sufficient chastisement. Our outraged parent hit upon a really effective punishment. Our beloved horses were banished for a whole long week from the royal stables, and to our public shame were conducted to the Ditch, which was the name of the big stables where all our naval friends kept their horses. It was called the Ditch because it was built in the large moat encircling Valetta.
This was a cruelly well chosen penalty, as it was a way of letting all our riding companions know that we were in disgrace.
Cousin George was very kind on this occasion. He was truly sorry for "the dear three"; though, of course, he could not approve of what we had done. But even today I can feel what a delicious relief it was to lay my humiliated head upon his shoulder and to weep my heart out, my face hidden in the mass of my "yellow" hair. I believe that Cousin George's handkerchief was also very welcome on this occasion, because does one ever at such tragic moments find one's own?
"Poor dear little Missy," said Cousin George. "Poor dear little Missy," and Missy learned at that hour how very sweet the big, grown-up cousin could be!
Editor's Note—This is the fourth of a series of articles by Marie, Queen of Rumania. The next will appear in an early issue.