AFTER we left Malta we went to Coburg to live. The life there had its own special charm; it was simple and easy, though lessons in these years played a big part and we had some earnest masters who took us more or less severely in hand, trying to put some wisdom into us. We had many friends and the people in general were kindly and very delighted to come to or be associated with the court, which played a preponderant part and was the center around which all desires and ambitions gravitated. Our house in town was called Palais Edinburg, a cozy, spacious house of indifferent architecture, looking out upon the grand Platz, or square, and facing the Ehrenburg, which was the big, official residence of the reigning Duke, but where he never resided.
The Schlossplatz was the central attraction of the town. Here on Sundays the band played and church parade was held, the burghers strutting about in their best clothes, the chief swells being the officers of the local infantry battalion, who paraded about in their best uniforms, mingling and yet not mingling with the crowd. Imbued with the importance of their cloth, they were a sect apart, had special privileges and received the consideration of high and low, ourselves not excluded.
All the children of Coburg used to assemble upon the Schlossplatz for their games, and I can still hear the sound of their voices reverberating against the walls of Palais Edinburg, of the Ehrenburg, of the Hoftheater, of the Corps de Garde and of the great stone riding-school, which were the chief buildings fronting the huge square. These children's voices were the characteristic sound of the Coburg Schlossplatz and would penetrate through our open windows to the farthest corner of our rooms, the accompaniment of our hours of study and also of our hours of rest. Joyful, noisy and persistent, it seemed inherent to the square.
Though the town house was cozy enough, it was Rosenau, our country castle, which was the real love of our hearts. It was an unpretentious little Schloss lying on a hill, comfortably false Gothic in style—a square building plastered ocher yellow, with a high roof and two pointed, crenelated facades. A naive tower was stuck on, on the garden side, in which was a broad, winding stair, the only stairs of the house.
WHEN our parents took over Schloss Rosenau, it was full of incredibly old furniture, more or less Empire and Georgian, attractive, but delightfully unpractical; and still more incredible old pictures, mostly of the florid romantic school, decorated its walls. We loved these pictures; they were full of poetry, their subjects were intricate and puzzling, and mostly remained mysterious, having never been explained.
There was a glorious loft under the Rosenau's immense roof, which was an endless source of delight. It was high, shadow filled and thrillingly haunted by bats. During the daytime these spooky creatures dangled in neat rows from the rafters like loathsome black flowers with withered petals that some philter-brewing witch had hung up to dry, for uses of her own, best not inquired into.
When, during some wild games with our friends, we invaded these closed regions, these ghoul-like growths, slowly unfolding, would take life and fly about in noiseless agitation, their moist, cold wings uncomfortably near to our faces. This black horde gave just the last touch of the uncanny to our voyages of discovery, adding their vampirelike ubiquity to the already eerie atmosphere of the loft.
Little by little, mama civilized the Rosenau. She put in baths and made the rooms cozy and comfortable, without spoiling its Old World atmosphere. She hung up many of her Malta pictures, but she would never allow electric light, considering it out of keeping with the quaint old place.
The inner architecture of Rosenau was naïve and artless. Two long corridors ran down the middle of its two stories and all the rooms opened out into this passage, which had door windows and small balconies at each end. On the ground floor there was a white stucco-marble Saal, or hall, rather floridly Gothic, and vaulted, but not wanting in dignity. This large room opened out onto a graveled space bordered by a fieldlike bed of unpretentious, old-fashioned but sweet-smelling roses, in which we daily scratched our legs and hands and tore our clothes.
The Sleeping Beauty's Tower
MAMA, to our great delight, allowed us to take possession of the small room at the top of the round tower. This was quite a Märchen room, just the sort of chamber in which the Sleeping Beauty must have pricked her finger on the witch's spindle. This room was on a level with the loft and had three deep window embrasures of which Ducky, Sandra and I each took one, arranging it with love and care as though each nook had been a separate little room. All three of us had the home instinct to the highest degree, and we loved arranging rooms. From earliest times I remember having had some wee corner which I arranged as my very own; and if I could not have a corner to myself, then it had, at least, to be a table.
This love of feeling at home in whatever place I may be has stayed with me all through life, and no matter where I am—hotel, train, ship, or guest in a strange house—I always make my own corner, indifferent how wee or simple it may be. I do not need precious things for this—an old piece of stuff, an earthenware jar, a handful of flowers, the absurdest little curio picked up—anything will do as long as color, shape and line please my eye. This instinct for arranging rooms or corners is one that has given me some of my greatest interest and pleasure in life. It is an irresistible instinct—or shall I call it urge—toward beauty. I must have something about me that satisfies my eye; quite indifferent to whether it is precious or not, I can make delightfully pleasing arrangements with the simplest means.
The Rosenau belongs to the lost loves of my life. It is one of the places to which my heart yearns back. There was an atmosphere of homely simplicity about it which was unique, that peaceful exquisiteness inherent in old houses. The Rosenau had all the old German, ingenious simplicity; it was quite the sort of Landschloss described in German novels.
Mama had laid down straw mats instead of carpets, which gave a special odor to the whole house which, whenever I smell it anywhere else, brings the Rosenau vividly back to me. That odor of straw matting and a certain sound of splashing water from the fountain on the front terrace are special characteristics of the old place.
Holding my breath, it seems to me that I can still hear that splashing fountain. . . . The blinds are drawn down because it is hot outside. Everything is still, rather somnolent, but beyond there is that water always splashing, and also the sound of the old gardener raking the paths between the formal little flower beds grouped around the fountain. That old fellow who seemed to be eternally raking the already-too-tidy little paths.
And behind one of those closed doors sits mama in her fresh and fragrant boudoir, with the Malta pictures hung on her walls and all about her the many souvenirs brought from there. We can still live some of the Eastwell-Malta traditions over again here.
A Lady of the Old Order
AND mama's rooms were so full of flowers, for it is from mama that we all inherited that great love of flowers. She had planted great fields of sweet peas and carnations in the big kitchen garden below the Schloss, a little way off. Mama was not a gardener, but a lover of flowers—of simple flowers; she did not care for complicated innovations; she liked them fragrant and old-fashioned. I cannot imagine her without her scissors and some sort of flowers in her hands. She was incredibly active; an early riser, she was always out and about the place before anybody else. She adored having meals outside, and our breakfast, tea and supper beneath the big apple tree near the lawn were characteristic of the Rosenau life; and we also lunched outside when the weather was not too hot.
Mama was always the central figure; she liked to have her hours of solitude, as she was a voracious reader, but her eye was on all things. She did not personally take part in many of the amusements and activities, having in a way aged before her time.. She had let herself grow stout and never went in for athletics of any kind; but she was the animater, the heart of the whole thing. She hated idleness, and loved to see those around her continually on the go, rejoicing over other people's pleasure. Though tyrannical, she was an excellent hostess. Her personality was dominant and she was never out of humor; her wit keen and quick, no one better than she could preside at a dinner table and make conversation flow. She was deliciously amusing, but she would tolerate no nonsense, and hated all affectations. She rather intimidated the young by her caustic remarks and sharp questions. Her eyes were penetratingly keen—you felt that nothing escaped them—and her humor alone saved her from being uncomfortably severe.
Outwardly placid, she was, nevertheless, of an anxious disposition; she took things to heart and worried over them, thereby also often worrying others; generous and almost masculinely intelligent, she had great tact and a heart of gold, but she could not always leave well alone.
She hated all things bad, wrong or ugly, and her desire towards perfection could occasionally make her intolerant, even unfair. She had no indulgence for the foibles of humanity. Herself deeply religious, she was righteously indignant against those who were lax in their beliefs and careless about church matters; it was best not to start religious discussions at her table, for you always got the worst of it! Clinging to the principles, habits and manners of her youth, she was completely out of sympathy with all modern ideas; if it had been in her power, she would have ordered the clock to stand still, and would have repudiated every innovation, even those that furthered her own comforts. I never met anyone who stuck so pugnaciously to her old habits and convictions as mama; she was ready to defy the whole advancing world.
In later years this attitude isolated her much from the rest of her kind. Being at war against modernism, as years advanced she became more and more of a recluse and remained intrenched in her own fortress, where she could live as she would.
In fact, mama was a chip of the old block, a type now no longer to be found. Autocratic, conservative, hardened against sickness and pain, proud, courageous, uncomplaining, one who held fast to her old ideas and ideals, abhorring progress if it meant change, abhorring sports if they meant bad manners, abhorring emancipation if it meant license, abhorring free thinking if it meant ignoring religious principles.
Kind, liberal and tolerant with her servants, knowing the family history of each, she would joke and be almost familiar with them, without, however, allowing them to overstep an inch of that distance which separated the castes from each other. Imperial and at the same time democratic, she loved simplicity. Her cupboards full of Russian sables, silks and satins, real lace, marvelous linen, she preferred wearing homespuns, thick linen and worthless pelts, because those treasures shut away amongst camphor and lavender were part of the put-away Russian splendor, a thing that had no place in her chosen life. No one was better judge or connoisseur of antique furniture, old silver and china, of which she possessed no end; but she would amuse herself buying modern imitations for everyday use. One had sometimes the curious feeling that she was taking a sort of revenge upon former glories and sumptuousness, crushing them underfoot, making a clean sweep of what belonged irretrievably to the past; if with relief or regret, it was difficult to guess.
Mama's Contradictory Personality
A CURIOUS mixture of tyranny and extraordinary kindness, she could undo at a blow years of patience and tolerance by a sudden hard and often unjustified rebuke, which, one felt, a quite small effort of self-control on her part could have avoided. There was, I think, something of that mysterious Russian irresponsibility in her nature, an elemental exasperation against all things and even against herself, which other nationalities in vain try to understand. There was a fundamental impatience beneath all her virtues, some urge to overthrow, to destroy with open eyes, even what she most appreciated, needed or loved—an impatience quite inexplicable except to those who knew the very basis of her nature, disciplined to the verge of torture by those who brought her up. It was a kind of rending asunder of bonds that were irksome, although, even to herself, she had never admitted that they were.
Mama, more than any other being I have ever known, would cut off her nose to spite her face.
I must now describe someone else, and on setting out to paint his portrait I feel almost as though I were delving down into the delicious license of the fairy story or legend writer, who can model his monsters according to unrestricted imagination.
The personage I am about to describe is Duke Ernest of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, our great-uncle, and brother of the Prince Consort of England, whose smug little Duchy our father, by family arrangement, was to inherit.
The figure of Queen Victoria's beloved consort, our grandfather, is well known to most of the world, especially since Lytton Strachey's interesting summing up of his character, of his good looks, his intelligence, his patience in a situation which needed almost superhuman tact, of the love his wife had for him and of how she mourned for him to the last day of her life. But his elder brother, though he, too, was a man of vast intelligence and played a rather important political part in Germany round about the 70's, is little known beyond the German frontiers.
Ernest, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, was a type of sovereign that has quite disappeared from our modern world. If ever his kind reappears, it will be amongst nouveaux riches or financial potentates, but not amongst princes, I trow. He was even in those easier days a curio not often met with, and it is just as well that he should be rare of his kind.
Uncle Ernest was a tyrant, ruthless and indifferent to the feelings of others; he might almost, had I been writing a fairy tale, have been an ogre, if you can stretch your imagination to conceive an ogre buttoned up into a correct, if old-fashioned, frock coat; for it was always in a frock coat that he appeared twice a year to pay our mother his official visit.
Try and picture to yourself an elderly man, over life-size, heavy, ponderous, but at the same time an old beau, squeezed into a frock coat too tight for his bulk and uncomfortably pinched in at the waist. A sallow face marred by liver spots, a lean, waxed mustache curving down over the corners of his mouth, the ends turning up again. The jaw of a bulldog, the lower teeth protruding far beyond the upper, and with a pair of bloodshot eyes alive with uncanny, almost brutal intelligence.
A formidable old gentleman, ceremonious, emphatic and deliberately jovial, admirably counterfeiting a sort of burly geniality. He would appear, top hat in hand, with lemon-colored gloves squeezed into its rim and a rosebud in his buttonhole. This rosebud was never missing. We children, who were always sent for to assist our mother on these festive occasions, had been trained to bring forward the most solid chair in the room, as his abnormal weight would have been detrimental to any lighter form of furniture.
Uncle Ernest Comes to Call
He would sit down, after having laid his top hat on a table, his knees widely apart, snort, look about him with a roving eye, accepting our timid politeness with loud but absent-minded expressions of approval, chucking us, to our dismay, under the chin, and inevitably exclaiming: "Ach, die herrlichen, die lieben, die süssen Kinder!"
These periodical invasions of mama's drawing-room by the local potentate were looked forward to with a certain fearful enjoyment in which both dread and excitement had their place.
The truth about Uncle Ernest was not known to me in those days, when all risqué conversation was strictly kept from our ears, and to us he was simply a rather terrible, but amiable, bulldoglike uncle, who inspired us with both fear and enjoyment; but later all his peculiarities. were related to me, and they are worth recounting.
For state reasons he had married a certain Princess Alexandrina of Baden, sister of the then-reigning Grand Duke. She was a mild lady, perfectly virtuous, perfectly colorless, and resembling her sister-in-law, Queen Victoria, only by her unlimited and, in her case, inexplicable adoration of her lord and master.
He treated her with abominable, insulting indifference, and was known all over Germany for his never-ending and often none too dignified amorous adventures.
Because of these peculiarities, his court was hardly respectable. It was composed of adventurers who were useful in all sorts of ways perhaps best not too closely inquired into. These rather doubtful gentlemen were married to second-rate actresses of compromised reputation and all sorts of semicultured, semirespectable persons of nondescript types. Occasionally there were a few intellectuals and artists of real talent, for Duke Ernest was a man of great learning; but these better elements diminished more and more as he advanced in age.
Because of this state of affairs, my parents avoided any court festivities, and there were, I believe, uncomfortable wrangles about this; but all that was so much before my time that only rumors of it reached me long after old uncle's days had passed.
The Ogre of Castle Callenberg
Once a year, however, the old tyrant gave a family dinner at his Castle Callenberg, a residence somewhat after the style of the Rosenau, but more pretentious and palatial. The Callenberg was also situated on a hill and has been mentioned once before in connection with a cake. The Callenberg cake, however, never appeared on Duke Ernest's table.
For some reason, we children were always invited to these yearly repasts. I believe our innocent presence kept the dissolute old gentleman within bounds. Before starting out we were well coached as to our behavior and severely enjoined not to have laughing fits, or to give way to any signs of discourteous hilarity, however amused we might be.
Uncle Ernest, owing to his bulk, would sit throned far above all his guests, a terrible figure we could not keep our eyes off. Whatever his real feelings may have been, he played to perfection the genial host and would look, with a "haw-haw," round the table like an ogre counting the morsels he would later gobble up, but that he had set out to charm first. Also on these memorable occasions we were loudly proclaimed "süsse, herrliche Kinder," whereupon we would stuff our handkerchiefs into our mouths to keep from guffawing.
I believe that his conversation could be most colored and interesting, if not always strictly proper, but we were too young then to enjoy it.
Poor, humble old Aunt Alexandrina sat opposite the tyrant, mutely nodding approval to each word the terrible one spoke.
Dear old Aunt Alexandrina! I remember her as a drooping, sad-looking old lady in shabby black, a large cameo brooch with the effigy of her husband holding together a cashmere shawl over a flat and stayless body. A weak, grisly beard covered her chin, and two kindly bleared eyes protruded above a depressed-looking nose, hopelessly pear-shaped. She had a nervous way of blinking continually, which added to the distressed look which was her chief characteristic. A sad old figure, whose one and only love was the terrible old gentleman who treated her as no one else would dare treat a servant.
She, too, is a type our modern times have done away with—the saddest, most depressed form of the dutiful wife, of man's plaything, servant maid, victim.
Even in her early youth she must have been wanting in beauty; but defeated, boneless, cast-away husk that she was, she, too, had a day she loved to remember, a memory that had remained like a shining light. This we discovered when visiting the humble apartment she occupied right up under the roof of the Callenberg, into which one seldom penetrated. For some unknown reason, in their early wedded days the ducal couple had made together an excursion into the desert, a rare undertaking for those times. Dear old aunt possessed a faded photograph which she cherished beyond all her belongings. She showed it to us that day. The fingers that held the old picture trembled and the always lachrymose eyes shed real tears of emotion when she took it from its sheltered corner and laid it between our hands.
There she stood in a becrinolined riding dress with corresponding hat, all droops and feathers, and with the classical, thin little whip in her hand. Beside her the beloved despot, he, too, rigged out according to early Victorian conceptions of sports clothes. Arrogant, domineering, sure of himself even in that photograph, he was gazing over her head whilst she gazed up into his face with the eyes of an adoring spaniel.
Yes, there she was in the desert, a quite young wife; she had the picture still, pathetic memento of an illusion that, at the moment when she lived it, was to her, at least, real enough. She, too, had had her day, that day which she had lived, romantically, under the ardent African sun—desert, tent, palm trees; nothing was missing, not even the illusion of love.
Romance and Reality
And in her cold old age, relegated to a stuffy little room under the roof because it cost little to heat, she would still sit before it, remembering. A whiff from the rose of the Garden of Eden came to her still. She, too, had once been young and had dreamed a dream out in the desert at the side of the man who today was a dissolute old reprobate; but whom—oh, miracle of the human heart—she still loved.
Duke Ernest was a mighty hunter—even if not "before the Lord"—of wine, women and song, and, we may add, stags, roebucks and chamois. A great part of his revenue was used to keep up enormous shooting areas, and he had beautifully situated shooting boxes in the four corners of his picturesque little realm. He was surrounded by a horde of game keepers and officials of different degrees and with different titles in keeping with their green cloth, for in Germany all Jäger are clothed in green.
The old tyrant's last ladylove was a sister of one of these green-frocked gentlemen, who, for that reason, was in high favor. I only mention this so as to be able to add a last touch to the picture of Aunt Alexandrina's conjugal devotion.
When the despot died at a ripe old age, his excesses having in no wise shortened his days; "serenely full"—the epicure would say: "Fate cannot harm me; I have dined today"—his broken-hearted widow took this young woman under her protection and went as far as to declare the little villa her terrible lord had used for his revels with this and other ladies must neither be touched nor inhabited by others, "because it was there that her beloved Ernest had lived such happy hours."
Greater charity shall be found in no woman.
Life at Coburg and at the Rosenau was much less agreeable when mama was absent, which she often was in those days, either in Russia or in England, generally taking Sister Baby with her, and we then fell irrevocably under the sway of Fräulein and Doctor X, Alfred's tutor.
Fräulein was nice-looking and "a pleasant-spoken lady," as the steward's room would have expressed it, so the inevitable happened. Doctor X fell in love with her and they became engaged.
Love has different effects upon different people. In this case it had the effect of making the two enamored ones see perfection in each other, but none in their pupils. Besides, it was considered expedient for us to learn some of the unpleasanter sides of life. This belonged to their system of education. According to them, we had, up to the present, had far too easy a time of it.
We had been brought up to the luxuries and comforts of a well-organized and wealthy English home; now we were severely taken in hand to learn that life was not always nor everywhere so easy and agreeable. We were to get accustomed to German manners, ideas, tastes. Reforms were to be introduced, and Fräulein set about to upset all that we had hitherto loved and counted upon.
For some reason, although a lover of fine clothes and elegance herself, she persuaded mama that it would be good for us to learn to wear ugly clothes and harsh linen instead of the fine underclothing we had been accustomed to ever since our supremely refined English nursery days. So nightgowns as well as underwear were suddenly changed into others of coarse calico that irritated our sensitive and pampered skins. Besides, she quickly spotted that we all, and I in particular, were keenly attracted by lovely colors, pretty stuffs and becoming dresses; so it was considered necessary to extirpate this tendency toward self-indulgence by making us wear humiliatingly ugly gowns, hats and cloaks, badly shaped shoes—in fact, anything that could "uglify" us in any way.
This was acute torture, and we resented these innovations with an exasperated but silent indignation that the lady in question, we were sure, divined and gloated over.
She had a way of showing us up to our mother in our most unattractive light. Girls of that age are anyhow at their worst, and parents have to be patient with them; but Fräulein found means of ridiculing and humiliating us before mama in a thousand small ways. She also encouraged and stimulated any petty jealousies amongst us, and it was our only real love and sympathy for one another which kept us, loyal friends and companions.
But all this belongs now to past history and I am not going to rake it up and if I have mentioned it at all, it only because it did much to disturb, if not actually to sadden, the last three years of my life at home.
Alas, we were growing up; there was no denying it! Our dresses were getting longer and longer, and there was no "Captain dear" to soften any shocks with the authorities. We were now in less loving hands that were only too glad to show us up; there was no longer that atmosphere of love and good understanding in the house. Power over us had been given over to those who magnified our faults and minimized our virtues; and the further we advanced along this prickly, not to say, thorny, road—which, I suppose, would be an exaggeration—the more did Malta, when we looked back upon its delights, appear like the Garden of Eden, out of which we had been driven forever. Fräulein, in spite of our revolt, still held sway over our wardrobe, and it was still considered good for our morals to clothe us as unbecomingly as possible, with true German want of taste.
Fräulein, the moment she spotted which was the pattern of stuff we most disliked, would choose it for us with a sort of evil delight. Thus do I remember a certain loathsome green, yellow-streaked check which was inflicted upon us. I always abhorred checks, and this one was the most offensive imaginable. If Fräulein meant to humiliate us she had certainly succeeded, for this abominable attire was indeed a mortification of the flesh; besides, the stuff, being good and strong, never wore out. Revolt filled our hearts each time we had to appear in these dresses; and what was worse, she used to warn our mother that we were incensed over the indignity of our costume and mama would make remarks upon it, asking us if we were not pleased with "those charming dresses," which was adding insult to injury.
The Footlights of Coburg
We were allowed to go to the theater twice a week—on Thursdays, I think, and Sundays, because there, unlike England, Sunday was the great day for theatergoing. This we loved.
The Coburg theater was a self-righteous little institute, full of its own importance and, of course, called das Hoftheater, as all things in those days centered round the court and the court gave it a large yearly subsidy. The public, however, was exacting and wished to see every sort of performance, so there was not only grand opera and operettas but also comedies, tragedies and classical pieces. Luckily, there was no prejudice against the theater for children; it was, quite rightly, considered educational. Of course, all risqué and not absolutely proper pieces were severely excluded from our program, but we were initiated into Schiller, Goethe, Shakespeare, Wagner, Bizet, Rossini, Mozart, Verdi, Meyerbeer, Donizetti and what not else, because no opera was too ambitious for the Coburg stage. We were still at the age when we preferred opera, tragedy and classics rather than comedy, but mama loved Lustspiele and could laugh heartily.
Terrible old Uncle Ernest was much addicted to the theater in every form, and when in town was always to be seen in his small box quite near the stage, when his phenomenal bulk rose almost threateningly from a chair specially constructed to accept and bear his abnormal weight. We would look over toward him from where we sat, rather as one would peep at the cage of the most formidable animal in a menagerie. In the long entr'acte, we would be taken over to say good evening to him and would generally find him smoking a strong and very black cigar. Here, too, he would receive us with the usual exclamations of loud good will, and we would stare fascinated at this unusual specimen of humanity to which we could never get quite accustomed.
We heard whisperings about his interest in such and such a lady of the stage, but in those days that sort of talk went in at one ear and out at the other; it meant nothing to us. We, too, had our favorite actors and actresses, so why should not the terrible old duke also have his preferences?
The decorations of the Coburg stage were quite celebrated because of a remarkable local artist called Brückner, who also had the honor of painting the scenery for Parsifal—in those days uniquely represented at Bayreuth.
The operatic and classical pieces were remarkably staged at Coburg because of this artist, but the Lustspiele and modern Schauspiele were less successful in this respect, the actresses being too poor to dress well; nor was the German taste very good in the staging and arrangements of pieces taking place dans le grand monde.
Later, when we were married, it was our joy occasionally to send some of our smart dresses to the actresses who had to play elegant parts.
Also in this German household of ours, certain servants played a special part. There was Wiener, our nursery and schoolroom footman; and old Matilda, the housemaid; Rose, our brother's servant; Schaub, the Stallmeister; and Meister, the Rosenau castellan.
Wiener outlasted nearly everybody and finally became Sister Baby's factotum. He looked after her with a mixture of a nurse's care and paternal indulgence, but like a parent he could also occasionally scold her; he admired, adored and humored her and was respectful and familiar all in one.
In the days of our childhood he was continually at war with Matilda the housemaid, as their two authorities often clashed, and their love for us made them jealous of each other. Matilda was called "old Matilda," even when she was young.
Rose was indeed well named. His face was one broad, pink-and-white bloom. He was hugely tall and heavy and possessed the biggest hands and feet ever seen; his countenance was like a smiling full moon. He began as Alfred's valet and looked after him as though he were a baby, humoring his every fad when, at eighteen, he became a lieutenant and, like all members of that species, was immensely particular about the height of his collars, the length of his sword, the fit of his trousers, the cut of his tunic. Rose smiled at all this, but obeyed orders without flinching. He was, finally, a wonderful nurse when Alfred's health broke down, and it was Rose's enormous hands that laid him at last in his coffin at the too early age of twenty-four.
Staub, the head of the stables, was an imposing noncommissioned officer of martial appearance. He was a man of opposition, and the only way of obtaining anything from him was to present our request the wrong way round.
But of all those in our service, Meister, the Rosenau castellan, was the most unique. He was, in fact, a great "original"—even a bit crazy, I think. He was forever inventing something or discovering things, having a clever way of unearthing antiquities in the most unexpected places; each time we came to the Rosenau he had some new find to show us. Mama, much amused by Meister's absurdity, encouraged his grotesque eccentricities. Meister believed that he had a beautiful voice, and would delight us by standing in the middle of the lawn, singing Verdi's most passionate arias, especially that of the Troubadour, his great favorite, which would be accompanied by expressive gestures he considered in keeping with the words.
I can still hear and see him, and mama laughing to her heart's content, outside in the sunshine before the house. This was all long, long ago, and belongs to days when life seemed easy—was easy, in fact; for us, at any rate.
Meister had been patron and promoter of certain little huts we built ourselves amongst the trees just below the Schloss. Hidden away from the road, these little buildings were our great delight.
It was Ducky and I, the inseparable chums, who built this first hut in the Rosenau thickets, and it was actually made out of a cupboard. It was the imaginative Meister who helped us to plan it and carry it out. It was also Meister who secured the cupboard. It was roomy, worm-eaten and somewhat decrepit, but the aria singer beautified it with a gable and actually fixed up a bell with a horseshoe hanging from its rope for good luck.
Waiting for the Fairy Prince
It must be confessed that when it was finished we never quite knew what to do in our hut; the chief joy had been its creation. We finally came to the conclusion that we were waiting—But waiting for what? For Fate? Life perhaps? Or Love? Probably! Only we did not know this; but there was a sort of unrest in us, a feeling of expectation, as though we must open wide our door to some marvelous guest, to someone who would count in our lives, and the vision of many a hero passed before our minds. I do not know if Ducky's visions were the same as mine; for, although such fast friends, in character we were very different, and we were curiously wordless as to questions of sentiment.
We were painfully shy before any display of feeling. In this we were truly British—the more we felt, the less we showed; of deeper sentiment, I mean, of things pertaining to heart, soul or faith. Minor emotions like anger, impatience, amusement, joyful excitement were given way to without restraint. We were not unexpressive children, and mama encouraged us to communicate our impressions, to express our thoughts, our desires, opinions, likes and dislikes; but she herself was more than sober in all her manifestations of deeper feeling; almost too reticent, in fact; denying herself any spontaneous demonstration either of love, joy or grief.
This has been an asset, but also a hindrance in life. In moments of panic and consternation, it stood me in good stead, kept me cool-headed, enabled me to become a leader, an adviser when others were losing their heads; but it made me suffer at times when I longed to show my sympathy, love or affection—because then I become inarticulate, outwardly stiff and disappointingly undemonstrative; I become almost wordless at moments of great emotion.
Later on, living in a Latin country, I learned to shed some of that outward stiffness, which was quite misunderstood and often taken for pride, sometimes even for heartlessness, and which seemed in many ways so out of keeping with my otherwise impulsive, unguarded attitude toward life.
I was born confident, with a ready belief in others. I am naturally impulsive and unsuspicious. I easily express in words what I feel and never try to be sly, clever or circumspect with others; I have no defense against the deceitful; it never comes naturally to me to believe that anyone wants to cheat me or take me in. Almost dangerously outspoken myself, I cannot imagine that others can deliberately set about being treacherous and insincere. On the whole, I have got through life none too badly, in spite of my ingrained rashness; there were, no doubt, occasions when others made their profit out of it, but for all that, I feel like proclaiming loudly that, in the long run, "honesty is the best policy," and thereby I stand.
Sister Sandra, who had a truly touching way of always imitating her elders, very naturally also desired to possess a hut, and permission was given to her to have a little house built for herself just below ours.
This second construction was less primitive—became, in fact, a wee cottage with a thatched roof and real brick walls, and had room for several bits of furniture, which were mostly designed and carried out by Sandra's closest friend, Gretchen Gazert.
Gretchen Comes to Stay
This leads me to the subject of friends. Being a large family, we were, on the whole, self-sufficient and there was no absolute need for close friendships. But Ducky and I, the inseparables, were inclined to leave Sandra, who was two years younger, rather out in the cold; so, Sister Baby being too small, she very naturally wanted someone with whom to share her possessions. This was the reason for Gretchen Gazert's entry into our lives; and Gretchen, having once entered them, came to stay.
How well I remember Gretchen's first appearance. She was the purest specimen of the Germanic type, flaxen, blue-eyed, plump, rosy, sweet-tempered, modest, just a little shy. She was accompanied by a pet lamb beautifully washed and combed and smartened up with pink ribbons.
Gretchen very quickly became indispensable in our circle and has remained so all through the long years. Gretchen is the born friend and helper; unselfish, discreet, modest, self-sacrificing, faithful, devoted, and a hard worker such as is seldom met with.
Life has buffeted her, the war has ruined and made of her a widow, fate has tried her in every way, but Gretchen has remained staunch, unbeatable in her desire to serve, to help, to love, to give.
Ducky and I, although inseparables, did not entirely escape that period in life when girls give way to certain Schwärmerei, when a certain amount of incense is bound to be burned. Sisters may love each other, but their love is never blind, nor particularly flattering, nor does it wear a bandage over its eyes. Therefore, for a time we each had a bosom friend who supplied all the adoration with which our healthier love for each other never provided us. These were innocent little infidelities, little side plays which but strengthened our loyalty toward each other.
Friendships at that critical age are certainly not easy to direct or control. It needs a light hand for those at the wheel, and I do not think that Fräulein was a very efficient steersman, for she cared for herself too much and for us not enough. This, however, may be an unfair criticism, for having had daughters of my own, I know how difficult is the friendship question.
Alfred and His Friends
Another difficulty was, of course, our brother's friends; this particular sort of complication is, I think, inevitable in the life of every girl who has a brother. Inevitably certain preferences arose, a certain pairing off, certain passing infatuations, innocent enough, but which, nevertheless, had to be kept watch over. We were growing up, and our hearts were expanding together with the lengthening of our limbs—expanding in such a way that they felt empty unless at least partly filled by some sentimental interest—so it was quite naturally Alfred's associates who supplied that interest, not because they were in any way particularly handsome, intelligent or wonderful, but because they, too, were young and awakening to the wonders of life.
I was the first to leave the old home, and fate carried me off to the farthest end of Europe, so that, in my case, separation was complete; my sisters may have followed up their different careers, but I was unable to do so. I cannot even say which are still of this earth.
Alfred never went to school; he followed the same studies as his comrades, with the same masters, but at home. I think it was a pity he was never sent to school. Many hopes were placed in him and much care was expended upon his education, which had been minutely planned and carried out; but I have, nevertheless, the feeling that many a mistake was made.
Alfred was a sensitive boy; he had a heart of gold, but he had an overbig idea of his own importance and was easily led astray. School would have given him his level, taught him the measure of his strength against others, and made him see reality in a different way.
As I was married at seventeen, and my brother was but a year older than I, I really knew him very little; and when he was grown up he had almost entirely passed out of my life, though he did come twice to visit me in my new home. He died at the early age of twenty-four, round about the date of my parents' silver wedding, which made it most tragic. My memories of Alfred are of a stripling, eager, blundering, a little swaggering, always getting into trouble, always being scolded. He was gay but easily offended, had keen intelligence but a want of balance. Looking back, I often confuse the generations and sometimes blend the figure of my brother with that of my oldest son, so that it has sometimes even happened to me suddenly to call Carol "Alfred," though that was a name I had not used for twenty-five years. Both were the supreme hope or their family, and both brought grief to their parents' hearts; one squandered his health, finally sinking into an untimely grave, the other—
We four sisters loved our brother, helped to fight his battles for him and furiously resented any slight put upon him. He treated us with that offhandedness characteristic of elder brothers, but he was proud of us when we were grown up.
Somehow I always felt the pathos of Alfred, and felt instinctively that he needed defending; he was always getting into trouble, and people did not help him in the right way because they had not the patience to understand him. Ducky and I felt this—subconsciously we knew it—but we were too young in those days, too inexperienced, too foolish, too preoccupied with our own joys and troubles to be any actual help.
I must here mention a peculiarity in my character. All through life I have had a potent faculty for pity which has been the undercurrent of all my actions, the explanation of that blending of strength and weakness which are like dual personalities at war in my being. Latent, but insistent, pity lies at the very root of my ego.
The Tragedy of Alfred
I always saw the pathetic side of the ridiculous or of the angry, the tragic side of the sinner, the sad side of the wicked, and I always sensed the hopeless mistakes made by humans when judging one another. They never seemed to go to the heart of things, to understand the real inner reason why; they kept hovering above truth, their verities and explanations were skin deep; it was as though they were afraid of the trouble and complication real understanding would impose. They raised formulas, intrenched themselves behind truisms which gave them a moral basis from which they felt they need not move, and which was a protection against the too-violent winds of deeper, sterner reality—God's reality.
Far be it from me to pretend that I had all this clearly in my mind in those young days, that my thoughts could grasp it, my brain understand it; but subconsciously at the roots of my heart lay that deep pity which was really conscience and which gave me no peace when there was suffering or injustice of any kind.
Not that pity always made me absolutely just; no, not just with a rod of iron! Pity has more than once led me astray, has made me err on the side of weakness, tempting me to be clement at moments when severity would have saved much future trouble and misunderstanding.
As a child, this enormous pity for all things lay like an oppression on my otherwise gay and carefree heart, and this pity grew and grew and is still growing, and today it is such a weight that my two hands are not strong enough to lift it. "If I look hard enough at anything in this world, it brings tears into my eyes"; the words are not mine, but they exactly express what I feel. There are tears beneath everything, and if humanity would understand that there is so much more suffering than real wickedness in the world, they would be kinder to one another, more helpful, less impatient, less indifferent, less critical. But we have no time. We hurry, hurry, press forward and do not delve down deeply enough to realize the cause or source whence all the harm, the sadness, the strife come.
I, too, hurry. Life makes me hurry, humanity makes me rush along with it; I try to go more slowly, to pause, to listen, understand, explain, but the great wheel is turning and I shall never be able to get to the end of my thoughts, nor be able to say all that I have to say.
Forgive me this digression. I am coming back again to my story.
As before mentioned, Alfred was always getting into trouble; people were too impatient with him, and mama, hoping to find perfection, was often disappointed in her son. Mama had a supreme horror of the shady side of life and in every way tried to ignore it; and when, for all that, it approached her through any member of her own circle, her grief and indignation were extreme. She was never able to talk with Alfred; she thought that severity and religious principles must keep him straight; he found no mercy when he sinned, so he lost confidence in those who might have helped him, and later, when liberated from Doctor X and home rule, became secretive, led a double life and made a mess of things. But I had very little to do with that sadder period of his life; he was still an innocent, jolly, though somewhat touchy, boy whilst I was at home, and we were very happy together. Alfred, though not at all good looking, had charm and knew how to speak to old and young, high and low; there were the makings of a real prince in him, but fate decreed it otherwise. Although I have many good memories of those years, it was not an entirely happy period. A certain unrest was amongst us, the unrest of young birds feeling their wings grow. We did not know that it was this, but Life was already knocking at the door, looking in at the window; the Fate of each was approaching with inexorable tread.
This unrest also came from the fact that we had several households—one at Coburg, one at Clarence House, London, and one at Devonport, where my father had been given some naval command. Our mother, therefore, had to divide her time among these three, whilst we, most of the year, were obliged to be at Coburg because of our studies.
One charming element had been brought into the house in the person of Fräulein von Passavant, the second governess. She was a delightful young girl and a great refuge when Fräulein made things difficult. Sophie von Passavant remained in my mother's household to the end of her days, becoming later on her lady in waiting, and because of her kind, friendly ways was loved by everyone. She died during the war, a few years before my mother.
Winter Sports at Coburg
I have not yet mentioned one of the great joys of the Coburg life—the skating. The winters could be very cold and there were often several weeks of hard frost. Mama never skated herself, but she thoroughly enjoyed arranging parties on the Rosenau lake, which was large and curving, and the ice was kept beautifully smooth. We had the greatest fun on this lake; wild games of hockey, of follow-my-leader, and innumerable other games, all of them exciting, with that small touch of danger about them which added to their charm. As culminating joy, mama had erected a montagne Russe, a sort of iced water-chute on which, according to the courage of each, you dashed down either on sledges or Skates. I was never a very good skater, but I was quite able to negotiate this iced sweep on my skates. The principal thing was to lean well forward, so as not to lose your balance. It was a glorious feeling to fly down that steep incline, finishing with a wide, sweeping curve out onto the lake.
The crowning excitement was when mama organized an Eisfest—that is to say, an evening festivity on the lake—with Chinese lanterns, music and so-called Glühwein—hot, red, cinnamon-spiced wine—to drink.
Our friends of the Eisfest days were grown up, the officers of the local battalion having replaced Alfred's schoolboy friends. In those days the uniform had a tremendous prestige in Germany, from which we were not immune, and of course each sister had her chosen favorite amongst the officers.
I remember one little ball which mama gave for us in a funny little old Schloss opposite our own house. For once I was allowed a white dress! As finishing touch, I had stuck a red rose in my sash, and the black-eyed lieutenant stole that rose; and this, according to our code, was romance indeed, and a very daring act!
What Happened to a Heart
Speaking about balls and dances, I have one amusing little episode to relate. This was in the pre-lieutenant times, and the little party in question was given at the end of the dancing-lesson season as a sort of demonstration of how much the patient little dancing-master martyr had been able to teach us. Cotillions were much en vogue in those days and were the supreme excitement of the evening. Of course each did her best to pair off with her chosen favorite, but with the eyes of authority severely on the lookout our innocent combinations did not always succeed. Failure represented much heartache and not a few tears shed in secret. Little souvenirs were given at the end of the ball—flowers and also keepsakes of the most modest kind—but when these humble objects were offered by "him," they forthwith became exceedingly precious.
On the occasion I am speaking about, the cavaliers offered their partners large gingerbread hearts hung with gay ribbons. The heart I was given that evening was entirely satisfactory; it had a pink-and-white face and was hung by a ribbon exactly the right shade, and above all it was offered to me by the right boy. When I went to bed that night I hung it above my head on my little camp bed, which stood in a row with my sisters'; each bed exactly the same shape and size, lined up in a cheerful and airy room which we still called the night nursery.
Many a night did I sleep peacefully beneath the shadow of this pink-and white gingerbread heart. But one night I was awakened by something wee and light running over my sheet close up against my face. This was decidedly unpleasant and I lay quite still, holding my breath, half scared but also in hopes of discovering what it was; then I heard "crunch, crunch"— a gnawing sound. I moved. A frightened scurry of tiny feet; then silence.
Suddenly I understood. Mice! Mice were at my heart. My precious gingerbread keepsake, sentimentally attached to the head of my bed. Pink ribbons and all, it had finally to be removed; I could not endure those nightly visits; besides, the heart was rapidly diminishing. Soon nothing would be left of it, for such is life. Tout passe!
My mother had a theory that princesses must marry young. "When they are over twenty," she would declare, "they begin to think too much and to have too many ideas of their own which complicate matters. Besides, an unmarried princess has no position at all. Princesses must marry." And when mama said "must," she meant it.
I am not going to enumerate our admirers or suitors. Anyhow, mama's theories gave her no difficulties; in those days there seemed to be no end of young princes looking for wives, and I believe mama had only to pick and choose. But we knew nothing about this as our clever parent knew her daughters well enough to surround whatever plan she had with sufficient romance to make it attractive, for we were at a sentimental age and none of us would have accepted with open eyes a so-called mariage de raison.
At an early age we were, therefore, taken about—at a too-early age, I think, because our appearance on the scene disturbed the plans of other royal mothers who disapproved of daughters being brought out so soon. Besides, we were in no hurry to grow up and did not at all like being thrust into the company of older cousins who resented our untimely intrusion into the world when, according to them—and quite rightly—we should still have been in the schoolroom. But the young princes seemed to be of another opinion, and before I was sixteen more than one gave me to understand that I was entirely to his taste.
Into the Marriage Market
No names need be mentioned, but as this is the story of my life it must be told that there came a period when my heart was touched by two suitors of the same name but belonging to far different corners of Europe, and I knew many a pang because each, in his own way, let me feel that it was in my power to make him either happy or miserable—for they, too, were young. I did not want to make anyone miserable, but the heart is such a troublesome organ and at that early age anything definite seemed so far off. Besides, one could not make up one's mind all by oneself.
I am aware that this way of looking at things does not fit into the ideas of today, when young people have taken so much into their own hands, when they are almost wiser and certainly more advanced than their parents, and when their knowledge of facts is complete.
We were brought up in a fool's paradise, carefully guarded from reality; our world was delusion, and our mother was horrified if anyone dared to lift for us, were it but an inch, "this painted veil that those who live call life." Yet Life was knocking at the door. Ever more insistent was its knock, and with it came that unrest, chief characteristic of awakening youth. But if marriage was in our thoughts, it was only as a distant goal; all roads finally pointed that way, but it was a long, long way off. So when we were brought together with princes who, according to our mother's ideas, were acceptable, we were quite at our ease, enjoying their company and their attention without worrying our heads much about their intentions. The sentimental visions they evoked were vague and unprecise. But the song of love is both sweet and torturing, and I remember looks and allusions as well as whispered words that might have meant more than they actually said and which I hugged to my soul, repeating them over and over again; they made my heart flutter, for all was romance in those days, mystery and discovery—but strange as it may seem to the girls of today, none of my flirtations ever went as far as a kiss. This, perhaps, was because I was so young.
So many voices seemed pressing in upon one, so many eyes had messages, and one never doubted the truth or importance of any word of love.
Sister Ducky was more austere, more unbending than I was. She was always the monitor; the one who would tolerate no nonsense, who admonished or cautioned. Her advice or reproof was listened to, and there was a steel-like rectitude about her which commanded respect. I remember an exceedingly funny little episode in which Ducky stands out clearly in her mentor's attitude.
Our Rosenau gardener had a nephew. The nephew had large, languorous brown eyes; being painfully shy, there was something awkward, even ungainly about his movements, but he was decidedly good-looking, though his excessive timidity made him seem sulky. Wordless and constrained, he had, nevertheless, through the mysterious telepathy of youth, made me understand that in spite of his being nothing but the gardener's nephew and I a blond little princess, his heart was aching with love for me. It must have been his eyes which made me understand this, for it was certainly not his tongue. Ducky, forever on the alert, had discovered this little byplay and was half sympathetic and half contemptuous, but the boy's exceeding timidity had something touching about it—in addition to which, he was so perfectly harmless.
Finally I confessed to this critical sister that I wanted to give some little keepsake to the languorous-eyed youth; for Eve-like, his evident admiration had not left me unmoved. Ducky was gracious, and putting our heads together it was finally decided that, as I was apt with my paint brush, I should paint him something. But what? Ah, a good idea. Easter being near, I must paint him something for Easter; it would make the gift more plausible. After much reflection we decided that I should paint on an ostrich's egg. I happened to possess just such an object, globular, thick and polished like ivory, mellow of tint, smooth to the touch; and on this pleasant surface, with much care and love, I painted little bouquets of mauve pansies. How well I can still see those mauve pansies! The egg being round and slippery it was difficult to hold, and I had the greatest trouble not to smudge my flowers whilst painting. To complete this artistic treasure, two holes had, with excruciating anxiety, been bored at the top and at the bottom of the egg, so as to be able to pass a ribbon through it from which it could be suspended. The ribbon was mauve, matching the flowers. Ducky took as much interest as I did in the creation of this Easter offering, and finally a propitious day was fixed upon which the gift was to be offered.
A Pastoral Interlude
Although in the same class with Alfred's friends, being the gardener's nephew, he was not—for these were predemocratic days—amongst those invited to our parties, and could only be encountered in the large Rosenau kitchen garden on high days and holidays when he visited his Uncle Terks, the royal head gardener. Terks was tall, dark and taciturn; he grew wonderful flowers, but it was not his smile which made them bloom. Terks never smiled. We were rather in awe of Terks, as, probably, was also his nephew, and both parties divined that Terks would have no sympathy with his nephew's sentimentalities.
Ducky, well aware that two is company and three is none, decided not to preside over the actual offering of the precious Easter egg, but to walk about amongst the flowers, close enough at hand to be able to interrupt the tête-à-tête when she considered it had lasted sufficiently, for neither she nor I was quite comfortable about this interview over which the Herr Obergärtner Tern's frown hung like a threat.
The young man accepted my gift with the shame-faced timidity which was to be expected of him; his eyes indeed were eloquent, but his attitude sheepish and even tinged with resentfulness. For all that, his hands received the frail offering with that special tenderness characteristic of the strong and artless. Few words were exchanged, but I felt a certain elation in the silent scene; then, full of dignity, Ducky sailed down upon us through the flowers like a black swan out to protect her brood.
But there is an epilogue to this simple little story. Not very long after this sentimental episode I returned home, after a short absence, engaged to a prince from a foreign country. From that day onwards, the gardener's nephew no more saluted me, and when he met me he would turn his head another way so as not to have to take off his hat.
I wonder how long he kept the Easter egg.
Editor's Note—This is the fifth of a series of articles by Marie, Queen of Rumania. The next will appear in an early issue.