MAMA had brought all her family with her to Sigmaringen—Alfred and all four sisters, even Baby Bee, then about eight years old, who immediately became a great favorite, as she was always a most amusing and clever child.
There is so much to relate about this time, so many events, so many impressions, that it is difficult to choose what to put down and what to leave out. I shall try to remember what impressed me most, so as to give a true picture of my sixteen-year-old mentality.
My future father and mother in law did not inhabit the old castle but a house in the lower part of the town which, on the back side, looked out upon a large garden and park, a house which had been theirs when their parents inhabited the old Schloss. Now it was the turn of the younger generation to take up their abode in their grandparents' quarters; this is generally the way with royal families; a sort of chasse-croisé, skipping one generation.
Both the old Schloss and the Fürstenbau, as my parents-in-law's house was called, were full of beautiful things. Fürst Carl Anton, the grandfather, had not only been an able statesman but also a great lover of art, and it was thanks to his energy and knowledge that the Sigmaringen castle possessed an exceedingly interesting little museum with a valuable collection of old pictures, sculptures, missals, glass, majolica and metal work. His sons, brought up in the love of antiquities, continued to enrich this magnificent collection. And on her side, the Infanta Antonia had inherited some beautiful old Spanish and Portuguese objects from her father—furniture, china, glass, ancient statuettes and some magnificent old silver. She had great taste and had set up her treasures to their best advantage; I would wander about amongst them enjoying their mellowed perfection, though it was many years before I really understood their value or knew how to distinguish their style and periods.
The Character of Fiirstin Antonia
MY MOTHER-IN-LAW was an interesting, if not altogether a lovable, personality. She was profoundly artistic, an excellent painter, and deeply learned on certain subjects, such as botany, biology and natural history. But in other ways she had remained very narrow and her religion cramped instead of widening her heart, mind and sympathies. She was one of those people who knew no forgiveness of sinners unless it was imposed upon her in the confessional. She was a curious mixture of dignity and childish futility, vain, self-centered, small in her judgment of others; she had no wider sympathies. Life, with its broader human understanding, lay outside her field of comprehension. She lived in a small circle of rules, prejudices and conventions which she considered perfection. It was her love of beauty in general and of flowers in particular that made her congenial to me. But I never dared touch upon general subjects; human conflicts she was unable to grasp; she lived so protected, so out of the world, hedged in by her church, nursing her delicate health, everybody serving her, caring for her, spoiling her, that she was more like an old and very exigent child than a woman who had lived a real woman's life, with its temptations, conflicts, doubts, joys, passions and pain.
This I learned little by little as the years went by, for our natures were made to clash, but at that first meeting she was merely an unexpectedly impressive, middle-aged lady who showered upon me every kindness and attention. I really think she liked me then, but there was also something else in this; I was to be shown off as favorite so as to spite Mädi, her eldest daughter-in-law. Of course, then I had no idea of this or I would have been less flattered by her manifestations of affection; but little by little I was to learn that Fürstin Antonia was a woman who could hate and resent in a way little in keeping with her religious principles, and the unfortunate Mädi was one of those who had known how to awaken her most lasting dislike.
Mädi, or Maria Theresa, born Princess Trani, was of the race of the Bavarian Wittelsbachs, and had some of their eccentricity; though exceedingly blue-blooded and occasionally even fascinating, there was something a bit odd and not quite to be reckoned with about Mädi. Life threw us little together; she showed me neither affection nor dislike. If I had known that I was being used to emphasize the disfavor in which she was held, I should have done everything to make friends, for my whole soul would have revolted against being unfairly played off against her.
Ever so many years later, in the only heart-to-heart talk we ever had together, she confessed to me that she had imagined that I had been conscious of the way I was being used to humiliate her. This was a horrible revelation to me; and by the pain I felt, I think she was convinced that I had been utterly unaware of my mother-in-law's tactics. But the harm had been done.
LATER I myself went through the process of being fallen favorite, when Fürstin Antoinette raised Josephine, her third daughter-in-law, to that short-lived position. How long she occupied it I cannot say, for there was no fourth son to get married and in later years I went more seldom to Sigmaringen—anyhow never for long periods—besides, I had other, deeper troubles to face. Somehow, Mädi could not fit in with the Hohenzollern family; she seemed actually to take pleasure in shocking them whenever she could. To all outward appearances her husband was patient and long-suffering; but they drifted apart, as their characters were fundamentally different. Mädi, without being good-looking, had what the French call "beaucoup de race." She was exceedingly thin, with pale blue eyes and a pathetic voice. Her health was not robust and she was quite an invalid, wheeled about in a chair, before she died at the age of forty-two. In those days she hardly ever came to Sigmaringen, and the saddest of all was that she saw very little of her children, to whom she was mother in name more than in fact, which made them rather sad and lonely little creatures. Mädi's one great love was her mother, Countess Trani, sister of the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, of the Queen of Naples and of the Duchess of Alençon. Countess Trani had the same wonderful figure as the Empress, tall, upright and incredibly slim; she was, however, much less beautiful. She, too, was a lover of solitude, somewhat of a hermit, living far away from her kind, proud, original, aristocratic, but difficult to get on with—a specialty her daughter had inherited.
Poor Madi, she was a pathetic figure that but seldom crossed my path. We lived too far apart.
The country around Sigmaringen is varied and attractive, and the rocky valley of the Danube is even very beautiful.
The afternoon of our arrival we were all taken for a lovely drive through this valley, a drive which ended with tea at a delicious little place belonging to the family called Inzighoven. This had formerly been a convent, I think. There was an old house no more in use, a church and several lovely gardens, one of which was inclosed by high walls against which apples, pears, peaches and apricots had been trained. There were also masses of flowers, and I reveled in this garden.
How well I remember that tea party. Fürstin Antoinette, who never drove with other people, had arrived first by a short cut and received us at a large round table almost breaking beneath its spread of tempting food. The Sigmaringen teas and breakfasts were regular feasts. I have never tasted better toast and Galettes, Knüppel, Käse and Zwiebelkuchen, besides no end of different kinds of rusks, biscuits, Lebkuchen and Prätzeln, than at Sigmaringen. My mother-in-law being, because of her poor health, a capricious eater, every sort of good thing was set before her so as to tempt her appetite. Nothing loath, we fell to and ate with the healthy relish of our age. I can still see Sister Baby stuffing for all she was worth and Alfred trying one excellent cake after another, whilst mama was being amiable with the elder members of the family. And over this happy scene the spring sun shone in all its glory.
I was learning to call my bridegroom Nando, for it was thus he was known in the family. He was emotionally enchanted to show me his old home, with all his favorite haunts. Besides, he was shyly delighted to present his bride to all those, high and low, who belonged in any way to the household; old family servants and retainers, functionaries, ladies in waiting, former governesses and tutors. But although his heart expanded with joy, all the same I detected a certain underlying sadness—the sadness of one who was already a little bit of a guest in Elternhaus; for had he not been expatriated so as to create a new home in a far-off country in which he was only just learning to live ?
I felt this through everything—a certain anxiety with just a touch of dread. He was beginning to tell me about Rumania, but he had not the gift of expression. All he related was a bit halting, evoked no real pictures; and though I did not understand it then, he spoke of it always somewhat as a schoolboy on a holiday would speak of school.
The Shadow of "Der Onkel"
THERE was a sound of chains about it somewhere. Here at Sigmaringen he felt free, loved, his heart expanded, he breathed freely. What was it that he was trying to make me understand about that far-off country? Was he less free there? Was it not a beautiful, wonderful country, a country of poetry and romance? But always that note of anxiety when he talked about it which stirred something in me I could not understand; it was rather like a sound of warning. Was it difficult to live in a far country?
And as an echo coming back again and again, "der Onkel"—he seemed to sign each picture, to be at the end of each road, at the core of each plan. Was it perhaps "der Onkel" who inspired this sort of dread?
And in a few days "der Onkel" would be coming; coming all the long way from Rumania to look at Nando's bride. And Nando clung to me as one who sees a shadow advancing which might darken in some way his newly found happiness.
"Der Onkel!" What would he be like? What would he think of me?
The most sunshiny fool's paradise cannot persuade time to stand still. A few blissful days of pleasurable enjoyment amidst people set upon making you feel happy and at home, and then the dreaded morning dawned; "der Onkel" was arriving today.
High and low donned their best attire, mama had carefully told us what to put on, and she came herself to see that each detail was carried out as she desired. We felt that even she was just a little excited and nervous. But she tried to cheer us up and give us courage with brave words.
The little town was all astir with distant sounds of music, the pattering of hurrying feet along the pavement, little snatches of conversation; and looking out of the window, I saw for the first time the Rumanian flag—blue, yellow and red, more cheerful than beautiful, but there it fluttered as though proud of its uprightness; three colors that were to play such a tremendous part in my life.
But the terrible moment could not be put off; we had all gathered together at the station. Nando, in his Rumanian chasseur's uniform, very nervous, very loving. I can still feel the touch of his long fingers on my arm; an anxious touch. Nando had his mother's beautiful hands, but like hers they had something a little groping about them. We looked at each other, he tried to give me a smile of encouragement, but I read again that curious dread in his eyes. And then the train puffed in.
"Der Onkel" was there! The first impression was slightly disillusioning. I had seen several pictures of King Carol; his dark, impressive, rather austere face, aquiline nose, black beard, penetrating eyes had for some reason made me imagine him tall and imposing, but this was an entirely wrong picture. King Carol was short of stature and at first sight not at all impressive except for his self-assured, decided and, at the same time, dignified attitude, and his roaming, all-seeing, rather small and often bloodshot blue eyes. King Carol could see everything without turning his head, like an eagle. One might say that his eyes flickered and snapped.
But this I did not observe at first; he simply seemed to me rather a short man with somewhat incurved knees, his feet, in thick-soled boots, exceedingly firmly planted on the ground. Unlike his almost nervously amiable brother, the Fürst, who seemed forever eager to propitiate the world and all men therein, he was almost exaggeratedly calm and self-contained. His movements were slow and deliberate, with a sort of conscious majesty which had become his usual attitude, the movements of a man who, having himself completely under control, can also control and master others. But for all that, the first sight of "der Onkel" did not at all come up to my young expectations. He looked severe, but in no wise imposing. In fact, he was a disappointment.
He embraced me with much cordiality, and was exceedingly amiable with my mother, but there was none of his brother's warm effusion about him; he was above all a self-contained, masterful man, full of his own dignity and aware of his importance; a self-made man, in fact.
Curiously enough, I have entirely forgotten whom the king had in his suite on that first visit. I suppose there were too many impressions pressing in upon me, more emotions than my young heart could contain. My bridegroom and I were too much wrapped up in ourselves; we were discovering each other. Nando could not bear me out of his sight; after rather hard and lonely times he had found his happiness, and he clung to it in a way that deeply touched me. He was hungry for affection, for something all to himself. He always wanted to be alone with me and suffered because of the many others who claimed their share. I was ready to give him all I could, but half of me was hankering after Ducky, the companion of my whole life, and this new love was pulling me in another direction. I felt something of a traitor towards my sister, and this was tearing me in two. All through life that curious sensation has followed me—that feeling of being torn to pieces by the too many who wanted my affection.
A Young Girl's Dream
I BELIEVE mama had many discussions with uncle and my father-in-law about our wedding and all the different arrangements, contracts, plans, and so on, with which no one worried me. I was, in fact, magnificently unconscious that there were any difficulties and problems. I was much too young, a child not out of her teens, unsuspicious and credulous, ready to take each man at his face value and believing that all dreams could come true.
Rumania was a land of romance, a land of promise, a land of high mountains, deep valleys and ocean-wide plains,' a land of song and poetry, of dark-eyed peasants in picturesque costumes, a far-off land near the rising sun.
And Nando and I were two loving companions advancing towards perfect bliss, towards plenitude and fulfillment, beneath the kindly, indulgent smiles of those who were going to make our road easy for us and our life all joy. Thus the dream.
We would sit together hand in hand in any corner where we could be alone, and the love I read in Nando's eyes meant nothing to me but a promise of perfect happiness; I was moved by no anxiety, and my extreme immaturity did not even make me wish to inquire more deeply into the real meaning of marriage. And whilst I was thus living in a world of the most complete unreality, our elders were solving difficult problems and preparing our future with the deliberation of those whose eyes are no more veiled by illusions.
The religious question was difficult, as the Pope would not agree that our children, if we were to be blessed with any, should be christened in the orthodox faith. Nando's marriage with a Protestant was already straining relations with Rome, so the greatest tact was necessary, and goodness only knows what deputies were being sent to propitiate the pontiff of pontiffs.
And things were further complicated because Grandmama Queen wished me to be married in St. George's Chapel, Windsor, according to tradition, all her English grandchildren having been married there; but as there was to be both a Protestant and a Catholic marriage, neither church would admit that its ceremony should be the second, so the idea of a Windsor marriage had to be given up, much to my disappointment. Being a British-born princess, I would have liked to marry in the land of my birth under dear old Queen Victoria's wing; it would have been a happy send-off. Added to all these difficulties there was still another—the state of old Duke Ernest's court made it impossible for the marriage to be celebrated at Coburg; so finally, after several months' debate, it was settled that the ceremony should take place at Sigmaringen—a solution I personally did not really care about.
Being only sixteen at the time of my engagement, it was found necessary to prolong it till I was seventeen, which would be in October; so the marriage was fixed for January tenth, which would give time for everybody to look about and prepare for the great event. I was well content with this arrangement and in no hurry to throw myself headlong into the unknown.
During our stay at Sigmaringen, it was arranged that we should come together with the Emperor William at the Burg Hohenzollern, Stamschloss of both branches of the family. The Kaiser desired to manifest his good will toward this elder but no longer reigning line of the same house, and besides, it was a pleasant way of meeting the King of Rumania without too great formality.
The Castle of the Hohenzollerns
The Hohenzollern lies in lonely majesty on a hill rising quite suddenly and unexpectedly out of the flat lands of Swabia. First built round about the years 1061-1095, it has but few vestiges left of the original stronghold, and it has been rather floridly restored with much false Gothic; but the position is magnificent and, seen from below, its many pointed towers rise proudly above the woods which clothe the cone-shaped hill which it crowns. From above, the view is superb; in proud majesty the fortress looks down upon the plain beneath, remembering, perhaps, the days when it gloriously abused its feudal rights.
Both branches of the Hohenzollerns have equal right to this castle, erected by their mutual forbears, and this was an excellent occasion for manifesting their reciprocal good will, more especially as our engagement had taken place beneath the Kaiser's imperial roof. First Leopold was always eager to prove that loyalty towards the reigning house of Prussia which his father had so unselfishly promoted. But King Carol was less effusive, and his feelings for his young kinsman were never very warm and sometimes even wanting in cordiality.
I do not remember much about our somewhat overpowering cousin on that occasion; fiancés are not very observant, they have eyes only for each other. One small incident, however, I shall never forget, as it was characteristic of much which was to follow.
As on that other occasion of our betrothal at Potsdam, speeches were made, but this time less officially; for if I remember rightly, we were only a family party. The Kaiser proposed the King of Rumania's health; the Fürst, I think, proposed my mother's; we were, of course, seated side by side, Nando pleasurably elated, as he, too, had loyal feelings towards the Kaiser, and was amongst those who never ran him down, even when it became quite the right thing to do. "Der Onkel" superbly aware of his importance in the balance of our destinies, then turned towards us and, raising his glass, looked at his nephew and with a smile full of meaning said: "Let me drink to your honey day." (Honigtag.)
All Duty and No Weakness
"Honey day!" I saw Nando turn pale; he politely raised his glass in answer, but his hand was trembling and from that moment he lost all his gayety, became silent, abstracted and looked thoroughly miserable. As soon as we got up from table, he drew me into a corner and with troubled eyes and quivering nostrils he asked me: "Did you hear?"
"He said a Honigtag."
"Well, why not? He seemed very kind and full of good will."
"Why not? Don't you understand what he means? He means that instead of a honeymoon, he will only allow us a honey day! That's just how he is; he does not care or understand other people's feelings. With uncle it is all work and no play, year in year out, all through the seasons. He never cared about a honeymoon for himself; he is not made like other people; he is all duty and no weakness, and expects everybody to be the same. It's always like that; everything has to be sacrificed. He has no feeling nor understanding for the wants and desires of the young. When it is a question of state, he is absolutely pitiless!"
There were actually tears in Nando's eyes. Unable to understand this outbreak of despair, I did my poor best to console him, but he kept repeating: "He means it, you'll see. Uncle's jokes are always bitter earnest." But just then I could not understand the real suffering which lay beneath the poor young man's words.
Later I understood.
Another difficult moment was approaching—the visit to England, to present ourselves before papa, before grandmama.
All the time I had a sad little feeling underlying my new-found happiness— the feeling that papa would be disappointed and, perhaps, others as well. My betrothed was a complete stranger, and therefore quite foreign to that life that was once mine, a stranger to all the beloved Malta atmosphere—to all, in fact, from which I had sprung. I felt a little bit of a traitor, somehow, so that all Nando's loving ardor and mama's smiles and reassurances could not make me feel entirely happy.
The moments in life when one has to take absolute decisions have something grim about them. It means clenching your teeth and setting your face towards that which you have chosen, for better or worse, with no looking back or side alleviations; but there are certain heartstrings that ache, for all one's courage. So it was with me; I had cast in my lot with a stranger, I was setting out upon an unknown sea, burning my boats behind me, quitting the old harbor for a new one of which I knew nothing, and that, at the age of seventeen.
There was heartache in it, intolerable heartache, especially as my English family was, and still is, terribly exclusive and only grudgingly opens its doors to strangers, unless it can absorb them quite.
I knew that in a way my choice set me outside the fortress in which, until now, I had had my place. But it had to be faced—loyally, courageously faced—but how cruelly difficult it is to be loyal all round.
This I felt to the point of torture, and it was a torture I could not share with the one who was carrying me off; he could not have understood it, and if he had, it would have darkened his joy. So I hid my inner desolation as best I could, bracing myself for each new meeting; papa, grandmama, all the uncles, aunts and cousins; with George in particular—George, most cherished chum of the beloved Malta days, and all the naval friends who I imagined would look upon me as one betraying her original loyalties. Yes, I suffered, but none except Ducky, perhaps, knew to what an extent; but the die had been cast, there was nothing for it but to go straight ahead.
To London to Visit the Queen
Papa said very little, though his face was rather glum. He busily set about making all practical arrangements, a great alleviation at times when the heart is sore. He avoided talking to me in private, and, childlike, I was relieved at this attitude. But the old home was no longer quite the old home.
We had arrived in London ahead of the King of Rumania, who was to have his own reception. If I remember rightly, it was at Windsor that we were all to meet. But in those days I had nothing to do with the planning and settling of things; I just did what I was told and seldom discussed or protested or asked for the why or wherefore. I had the feeling of being part of a whole organization which was sweeping me forward according to a plan not of my own making, nor under my control. I accepted the decisions made for me as I accepted the ruling forces that stood behind me then. I was a trustful, unthinking, though not unfeeling, little innocent, with entirely erroneous ideas about life. But this explains why I only remember clearly those events or episodes in which I was personally concerned; they stand out as separate pictures, while the rest has faded away.
Here are a few pictures.
I am standing with my shy bridegroom and other members of the family in the beautiful, broad, curving Windsor corridor so full of beautiful pictures and statues which we delighted in and where grandmama liked to receive her guests before meals. Tap, tap; one could hear the sound of grandmama's stick before she came round the corner, and also the rustle of her stiff silk gown; tap, tap. And there she was, wee and smiling and rather shy, with teeth small like those of a mouse, and a deliciously modulated voice when she addressed the young German prince in his native tongue. I see her looking up at him and asking him about his parents: "Die ich so lieb habe," and telling him that she always has a picture of his mother in her own private room. "Sie war so wunderschön." And the young man shyly bows and his eyelids quiver and he is terribly on his best behavior; and being naturally sympathetic, especially when anybody is going through an ordeal, I understand all his feelings and am shy with him, hot and cold in turns.
Then it is evening, I have my best dress on; again we are in the corridor waiting for the queen. Other guests have arrived at the castle, amongst others Cousin George. I believe Uncle Bertie was there also, but I only remember Cousin George.
A Sweetly Comic Picture
It is the first time we meet since I have decided for the new harbor; since I have burned my boats behind me. My heart is beating; all these meetings with beloved old friends are difficult, and I have always that sick feeling at heart that I am in some ways betraying all the things I had loved.
"Well, Missy?" Cousin George is very kind and very sweet, and I have a lump in my throat. We avoid speaking of the dear Malta days, for I could not have stood it just then—not at that moment when I had set my face towards a far, far land.
But here is a sweetly comic picture, not meant to be comic, but comic for all that.
Queen Victoria had at that period a great favorite, an Indian, whom everyone called the Munchi. Grandmama had a great predilection for Indians and all things pertaining to India. Was she not Empress of India? Besides, she said that Indians were quite perfect servants, so quick, so noiseless, with soft, deft movements. With a shy little smile she explained: "They are so clever when they help me out of my chair, or into a carriage; they never pinch me!" And which of us does not know how uncomfortable too eager, helping hands can be, and how often have we not been pinched by those imagining themselves most dexterous?
The Munchi was a sort of Indian secretary to the queen and gave her Indian lessons. Some have declared that his royal mistress treated him with more consideration than his caste entitled him to; of this I am no judge, but the fact remains that the Munchi had an envied position—a house, a wife, Indian servants and the permission to slaughter animals according to the rites prescribed by his religion. This privilege much complicated the queen's journeys when she moved with the Munchi in her train, and it can easily be imagined what a superlative annoyance it was to those members of her household who did not appreciate him.
I personally recollect the difficulties raised by this right of the Munchi's to slaughter his food within his own courts, on an occasion when the queen transported herself to Darmstadt to visit her grandchildren of Hesse—children of her second daughter, Princess Alice, who had died when her children were quite young—and that a habitation had to be found within the boundaries of which the Munchi could observe the rituals imposed upon him by his faith.
The Munchi, having heard that a foreign prince had come to ask for the hand of one of the Empress of India's granddaughters, forthwith expressed the desire to make the acquaintance of the honored stranger, and these are the scenes following upon the favorite's request.
"My dear Missy, the Munchi would like to make Ferdinand's acquaintance."
"Certainly, grandmama. When and where do you desire them to meet?"
"In my room, dear child," and, as usual, grandmama shrugged her shoulders, smiled her shy little smile and indicated the hour when I was to appear with my bridegroom in her private apartments.
Punctually, according to the great little old lady's desire, my bridegroom and I appeared in Her Majesty's inner sanctuary. She was sitting at her writing table; as usual, the air was sweet with that scent of orange flowers peculiar to her rooms. And there indeed, upon an easel stands the lovely portrait of Nando's mother, Antoinette, painted at the period of her greatest beauty. Winterhalter had posed her in profile, doing every honor to her faultlessly classical features, to her sloping shoulders and to the slight pout of the lower lip; a superb beauty indeed, with her hair drawn away from her low forehead and arranged in a chignon of curls at the back like certain Greek statues. I gazed at it, but did not know in those days how to appreciate that severe type of beauty, preferring the loveliness of Aunt Alix or Cousin Ella. It was because of Antoinette's connection with the Coburg family that grand-mama possessed this wonderful portrait of her. Graciously the queen pointed to the portrait, showed her wee teeth in a very captivating smile and said: "Wunderschön."
An Oriental Ordeal
"Wunderschön," repeated my timid bridegroom, and the conversation was at an end. A click of a door handle and there on the threshold stood the Munchi, an Indian idol all clothed in gold, with a white turban on his head, for he had donned festive apparel for the occasion. He did not step into the room, but remained framed in the doorway. Putting his hand to his heart, lips and forehead, he saluted us Eastern-wise and then froze into immobility.
In those days I possessed no social ease, I was simply a silly little girl, at home in a garden, on horseback or in a circle of friends, but I had no idea of how to aid shy people; grandmama and Nando were hopelessly shy, and the Munchi, of course, was an Oriental; he manifested no sort of emotion at all, simply waiting in Eastern dignity for those things that were to come to pass. But nothing came to pass. Nando had no idea what was expected of him and so simply stared at the enigmatic apparition, standing in dumb, golden glory in the doorway, whilst grand-mama kept hunching up her shoulders and smiling as though her smiles could make something happen. Finally, I believe, it was I who courageously went up to the Munchi and shook hands with him, Nando following my lead, after which grandmama, feeling that she had satisfied the favorite's whim by allowing him a glimpse of the royal bridegroom, was only too glad to pronounce the ceremony at an end and to be relieved of the presence of the tongue-tied fiancés, who themselves were only too pleased to escape.
It remains an everlasting regret to me that I never knew Grandmama Queen more intimately. Having flown from beneath her wings almost as a child, and later being kept very much secluded in the country of my adoption, I had little occasion for knowing her when I had grown to an age of greater consciousness. But talking of grandmama's atmosphere, I am tempted to insert here two scenes which belong to a later date.
A Tête-à-Tête With Victoria
The first, though, leads us back to Osborne, grandmama's summer residence.
I was then about twenty, but had already two children, and grandmama had lent me one of her small cottages so that my little ones could spend a season near the sea which had been the delight of my childhood.
I will not here mention the extraordinary happiness it was to be back again in Osborne; that can only be understood if one has known exportation.
Here, following her usual clocklike habits, grandmama took her afternoon drive every day and was always accompanied by a member of the family, if available, or otherwise by a lady in waiting. On the memorable occasion I am about to relate, I was the chosen one and it was to be a tête-à-tête drive. I believe that some to whom the pleasure of these drives was too repeatedly offered came to dread them, as they were always long and often chilly, but for me they had the charm of rarity and were therefore quite an event.
Well do I remember this drive. I felt elated with the elation of one out on a voyage of discovery, but I was also shy and not a little nervous. I had become almost a stranger to grandmama; besides, was she not censor and critic of all our lives, carefully following up the careers of all her daughters and granddaughters scattered through the different countries of Europe? I knew that searching questions would be put. Grandmama would certainly try to learn all about me, and it had, therefore, been planned that we should be alone together during this drive.
I think that this was the sole occasion when grandmama and I had a really intimate talk. At first our conversation was somewhat halting, for we were both shy and I was too tremendously on my good behavior and dared not treat the royal little old lady as though she were a real flesh-and-blood grandmother. In fact, I kept wondering how much she could understand of youthful or even everyday human emotions. Were not all her woman's perceptions smothered beneath her too great royalty?
Gradually, however, our mutual reserve began to melt and I found myself answering her questions with animation; besides, she had a sweet way of laughing at unexpected moments, a silvery, really amused little laugh, and this laugh bridged some of the distance between us. She asked me about the country I had gone to, about the climate, the people, their habits, their politics. She asked about uncle and aunt, much interested in Carmen Sylva, the poet queen, who had once visited her at Balmoral, and of whom she had kept an affectionate remembrance. She asked, of course, about my husband, hoping that I was a good and obedient wife; she was even interested in the servants. Grandmama was always exceedingly full of thoughtfulness for her servants; it was a really royal tradition, which she expected to find also in other royal houses. Had she not often been served by three generations of the one and same family? And then, turning towards me, she suddenly sprang this question upon me:'' Did they give you chloroform when your children were born?"
Oh, dear, why did she ask me this? Was she one of those people who disapproved of a woman's hour of travail being eased, thanks to the inventions of modern science? Did she believe in the curse of Eve, and that through the ages women must submit to it without protest, according to the ancient word, no matter how the world advanced? Or, like Carmen Sylva, did she consider that bringing a child into the world was a moment of such poetical rapture that nothing must be allowed to alloy the ecstasy of its pain?
A Dear Little Old Lady
I felt the blood rush to my cheeks, felt my throat become dry. Courage! Confess that you had been given a whiff of chloroform, that mama and the English doctor had insisted upon this, although the Rumanian doctors were as much against it as their poet queen. In quite a small voice I therefore confessed that although I had not actually been put to sleep, towards the end the edge of my suffering had been taken from me by that blessed anæsthetic.
And now for the scolding, for the sermon, for the expression of the royal lady's scorn; for Queen Victoria, no doubt, was a Spartan and would whole-heartedly despise me for my cowardliness. But what was my astonishment when I heard a sweet, crystalline peal of laughter, and grandmama, with that almost apologetic shrug of her shoulders, declared: "Quite right, my dear. I was only given chloroform with my ninth and last baby. It had, alas, not been discovered before, and I assure you, my child, I deeply deplore the fact that I had to bring eight children into the world without its precious aid."
I heaved a sigh of relief! She was human, dear little old lady! She terrified everybody, spread an atmosphere of awe around her, but for all that, she was human—delightfully human. She did not expect you to be a hero every day of your life. Shut away in her regal abodes, surrounded by subjects who always lowered their voices when they addressed her, hedged' in by honors, by the ceremonious respect of those who served her as well as by her own desire of aloofness, there was, all the same, beneath that outward pomp and unapproachableness a real human understanding of everyday pain, fear or joy.
Perhaps she occasionally yearned for a more personal touch with people and things—with life, perhaps.
And this is the second little incident I also want to relate before returning to where I left off my tale, because this also brings her humanly near; it took place a few years later than that Osborne drive.
Towards the end of her life Queen Victoria, who for endless decades, because of her widowhood, had shut herself away from all worldly amusements; began to take a great interest in theatrical art—opera, drama or comedy.
As she never condescended to go to a theater, the good idea was conceived of organizing private representations in one of the big Windsor halls. In this way, without leaving her own abode, Her Majesty could nevertheless enjoy the very best stage performances, which gave great pleasure to the performers as well as to the royal recluse.
So unspoiled was dear grandmama in all things concerning amusements that her joy and interest in these performances were almost childlike. Of all the audience in the stately hall, no one was more pleasurably excited than the great little old lady.
Carmen at Windsor
During one of my rare visits to England after my marriage, I witnessed one of these performances. Being the guest of honor that evening, I had been placed on the queen's right, grandmama throned upon a low armchair, her stiff silken gown spread out all about her, her two hands resting upon the jeweled handle of her stick. She was in full evening dress, with uncovered shoulders and many diamonds, which glittered and sparkled whenever she moved. So low did she sit that, when answering her questions, I had to lean far down towards her. Shy and self-conscious as I was in those early days, this made me cruelly uncomfortable, especially as I felt the many criticizing eyes of different members of family heavily upon me. I had be-almost a stranger to them; they on their guard and were watching closely; I was being weighed for what I was worth. What had I become since I had gone to live amongst foreigners? I was also almost painfully conscious of the exquisite perfection of grandmama's sober but magnificent court and of the guests assembled for the occasion. A more dignified, yea, almost terrifyingly irreproachable company could not be imagined. I had left England before I was really "out," and the court to which I had gone, although severe to the point of austerity, had none of this glittering ceremony and magnificence; so I was nervous, never before having been as a grown-up within these ancestral halls, nor as a guest of any importance. Now I was crown princess of a foreign country and had to play up to the part under the severe criticism of those I had forsaken, and very keenly was I made to feel that I was now outside the fortress.
The curtain went up. The representation happened to be Carmen, an opera quite familiar to me, but which the queen was witnessing for the first time. We were sitting very near the stage and I noticed that grandmama was not only following the music with keen interest but also the plot of the play. Somewhat bewildered by the passionate story, she kept asking me questions, which were not easy to answer, owing to the loudness of the music and the unequal heights of our chairs.
Grandmama was evidently enjoying it. She shrugged her shoulders from time to time and there was a half smile on her lips.
The first act over, she turned to me for fuller explanations about the story. With a very young woman's diffidence, I tried to impart to my grandparent my knowledge of Carmen's rather wild tale. Grandmama's shy little smile broadened—this was the sort of story that did not often reach her ears. She kept nodding her head to what her granddaughter was explaining, but all the while the granddaughter was uncomfortably conscious of those many pairs of eyes boring into her innocent back. Grandmama was certainly enjoying the evening more than I was; it was not altogether comfortable coming back to the old home as an official guest.
The curtain went up for the second act. Carmen, with her smuggler associates, was becoming wilder and wilder. I no longer remember who was singing the part, but her acting was as good as her voice, so that she was indeed fascinating to watch. The irresistible Toreador made his entry, which gave Carmen the occasion to exert her wiles, which were followed by her passionate display of temper when poor Don Jose hears the trumpet call of duty and tries for the last time to save his soldier's honor. It was all very realistic; most of us in the room had seen it before, but to grandmama it was an exciting revelation.
Leaning towards me, her eyes full of dawning comprehension, she nevertheless presses me for further explanations which, with flaming cheeks, I give as best I can. Grandmama raises her fan to her face; she is delightfully, pleasurably scandalized, but she understands; leaning towards me, her fan still over her mouth, she whispers: "But then, oh, my dear child, I am afraid she's really not very nice!"
Dear old grandmama! No, Carmen was certainly not very nice, her morals were abominable, not at all in keeping with your irreproachable court, but all the same, how you enjoyed the excitement of being so deliciously shocked!
But now back again to my Windsor of 1892.
King Carol at Windsor
The chief event was the arrival of the King of Rumania, who was duly received with every honor and given the Order of the Garter. Unfortunately, I have no memory of grand-mama and uncle together. I wish I had been more interested in what was going on, but I can but repeat that I was merely a foolish little girl in those days and both Nando and I had but one idea—to get out of all official ceremonies as much as we could, so as to have quiet hours together. But occasionally the nephew talked out of school, and it was thus confided to me that "der Onkel," accustomed to a uniform, was much put out at having to wear knee breeches for the Windsor dinner. Plain clothes in general were unfamiliar to him, and this special form of dress in particular so much perturbed him that he had declared to his heir that he absolutely must wear woolen stockings under his silk hose, or he would catch cold! Of course we youngsters were hugely amused at this, and when uncle appeared, correctly attired, with the Garter round his knee, we kept gazing at his legs to see if the woolen stockings were noticeable.
Another great amusement was old Ioan Kalinderu in this formal get-up, Ioan Kalinderu was head of the Rumanian crown domains and first dignitary of King Carol's court, a gentleman in whom the king had the greatest confidence and who was destined to play a large part in our young lives. He served for love instead of money, and was therefore treated with great regard by his king. As Kalinderu was fond of royal honors, uncle nearly always managed to have him in his suite on important occasions. Worthy and admirable though he undoubtedly was, Ioan Kalinderu was a figure the caricaturist's pencil could never resist. Small, rotund, with a close-cropped beard and a nose of pronounced Semitic proportions, he had a sly twinkle in an eye which was almost too intelligent, Ioan Kalinderu was faithful, devoted and hard-working, but he was also extremely aware of his virtues, and this gave him an important, self-satisfied air which was a chronic temptation to cartoonists. Nando's feelings towards him at that period were a queer mixture of grateful affection and nervous respect; for Kalinderu possessed what is termed "the king's ear."
Kalinderu in knee breeches was a quaint figure indeed, and it must be confessed he looked very, small in this feudal setting; but he was one of those people who felt at home wherever he was. He, so to say, carried his importance everywhere with him, which made him feel at home even at Windsor, and it was indeed amusing to watch the self-satisfied little gentleman, taking everything in, weighing, appraising, estimating men and objects with that small, watchful, almost cunning eye of his.
A Rumanian Sight-Seer
It was a great hour in Ioan Kalinderu's life when he was presented to the legendary old lady who was Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, and Empress of India. Although I have lost every mental picture of uncle and grandmama together, I do still see the head of the crown domains of Rumania, bending down to kiss her Royal and Imperial Majesty's hand. Even at that impressive moment, loan Kalinderu's eye still roamed as though looking round the corner for fear of missing anything.
A greater contrast than Kalinderu and the Queen of England's tall, thin and sometimes dry, but uniformly irreproachably turned-out, gentlemen in waiting cannot be conceived, but Kalinderu held his own; no solemn grandeur could shake his self-complacency, and when he screwed his eyeglass into his eye to examine the many centuries-old treasures of Windsor, it was with the superior air of a connoisseur, of one who knows all about precious collections; for was not he, Ioan Kalinderu, creating a museum which, after his death, would be left to the nation, so that his name should pass down to posterity? No one could take him in.
Thus was loan Kalinderu.
After the Windsor visit, the King of Rumania remained a few days in London, where he had not been since his extreme youth, and his time was employed in interviewing important people and in visiting useful and interesting institutions such as the Bank of England, the Mint, the London Docks, and so on, and he earnestly pressed his nephew to do the same. But his nephew was in love with his bride and would not hear of the Docks, nor the Mint, nor the Bank of England. This conflict much amused my mother, and she kept teasing my bridegroom, putting searching questions to him about what really were his interests. I can still see the expression of her eyes as she did this; she was not quite certain if she sympathized with the hard old statesman or with the unwilling nephew. She abhorred idleness, but then the young man was in love with her own daughter and that was a point in his favor, although an interest in his bride and in the Bank of England need not necessarily clash. "He never was in love himself," the young man declared, "so he does not understand. I am here to be happy, not to be dragged about looking at state institutions." And of course I considered it quite natural to be preferred to the Mint or the London Docks!
Finally the King of Rumania, having absorbed important knowledge to his heart's content and seen interesting people, departed to his far country, where his obedient nephew would soon be obliged to rejoin him, whilst we all went off to Devonport, where my father still had his naval command.
Everything was now saturated with that sad feeling of leave-taking, each friend became more precious, each place more dear because they were being relinquished.
Rumania was little known in those days, and strange and comic questions were put me; some even thought that, Turkish-wise, I should have to wear a veil over my face! I knew that I should not have to do this, but I myself had a very hazy vision of Rumania and could give anxious friends little information about what awaited me in the new home.
King Carol had brought the bride and her sisters some lovely Rumanian-peasant costumes; they were the only tangible thing we had from that country in the Near East. They were marvelously embroidered with gold and silk, and we often donned this picturesque garb for the benefit of those eager to grasp where I was really going; but I do not know that these beautiful dresses helped to give them a more precise picture of the map of Europe.
With the eagerness of one whose days are numbered, I threw myself into all the joys of yore, swimming, rowing, boating, and those wild romps with our three friends in General Harrison's garden, perhaps not entirely in keeping with a bride's dignity.
Smiles Lined With Tears
Wedding presents came pouring in and everybody united to spoil me in every way and to make me feel how much they regretted my going; there were even timid admirers who gave me to understand that their hearts were slightly broken, and all this kept me in a state of emotional excitement in which smiles were lined with tears.
As far as I remember, the autumn of that last year at home was divided up between visits to the Rosenau, Coburg and Sigmaringen, but only certain scenes stand put clearly.
As soon as Nando could escape from military and other duties in Rumania, he hurried back to his bride, and the last months of our engagement were spent in getting somewhat better acquainted with each other. But looking back, I realize that on my side all my feelings, ideas and visions were based upon an entirely erroneous conception of life. I was happy in a slightly-troubled way. I was strangely incurious. I did not fear the future; I was too much a born optimist and idealist to fear anything, but it was all so hazy and I was so absolutely excluded from all important discussions. My mother, according to our present conception of things, .was almost absurdly anxious that I should understand nothing about the realities of life. I was to be led, utterly innocent, up to the altar, and in this she succeeded marvelously. Looking back, I cannot conceive how it was done. But there were occasional moments when it suddenly came to me that Nando and I had not, perhaps, exactly the same tastes about everything, nor had we been educated in entirely the same way. In my simple acceptation of things, I somehow imagined that everybody was brought up with the same tastes, the same convictions, the same habits and manners, and that mama's attitude towards life, religion, education and all the rest, was the prototype universally followed up by all royal families. It was, therefore, somewhat of a shock when occasionally my bridegroom and I did not understand everything absolutely in the same way.
My sister Ducky once pronounced a very true word: "To be entirely happy in marriage, the same things must be important to both." A simple word, but a tremendous truth lies at the bottom of it.
The Clash of Codes
All through life I have remembered this word of hers, pronounced when she was quite a young woman. Well, even in those early days of courting, all things were not always equally important to us. We children had been brought up to a certain English feeling about sport and its predominant importance, and about fair play in particular. There was something healthy, but also a little primitive and what the French would term "simpliste," in our outlook. All physical perfections and efforts meant a great deal to us, and we were keen on never being beaten at any game and in never giving in to being tired or discouraged or unable to do as well as others. Our ambitions were, perhaps, somewhat simple, but it went to the making of entirely healthy and upright beings. Physical effort was natural to us, nor did the weather's inclemencies ever keep us at home. "On bravail tons les temps." We were hardened little savages, and riding was our chief delight. Horses played an over-large part in our lives, and I could not conceive of anyone preferring to drive home in a carriage rather than stick to the saddle because a thunderstorm had overtaken you whilst riding. According to our code, you never forsook your horse, no matter how unkind and disagreeable the weather. Not so, Nando. Why should he get wet on horseback instead of sitting snugly under a hood, hand in hand with his bride, if such a thing as a carriage were available? I was very fond of holding his hand, but a horse was a horse and rain ought not to beat you; that was not playing the game, that was not the real sporting attitude towards life to which we had been accustomed.
I describe this trivial incident because it was characteristic of the way we had been brought up, was characteristic also of how the same things were not equally important to us both. Certain fundamental laws, or shall we call them "canons," were drilled into us from our English nursery upwards, and life never extirpated them, no matter where, how and with whom we lived. Today, having passed my half century, my conceptions are still much the same; they are a fundamental part of my being; all my attitude towards life is based upon them. Of course I have learned much since then, but the ground I stand on was made firm by those simple and, to us, undiscussible statutes—the things that were important.
Of politics we knew nothing, nor had we any idea that social questions existed. We were royal little girls whom everybody loved, and who had certain undisputable rights in a world which was peaceful and exceedingly good to live in. Mama had watched over us like an anxious shepherd, harm had never come our way, we had never looked reality in the face—in fact, we lived entirely in a glorious, happy, healthy fool's paradise.
We were not brought up to be prudes, but a certain part of life simply did not exist for us. A risquè book never reached our hands; we blushed when it was mentioned that someone was to have a baby; the classics were only allowed in small and well-weeded doses; as for the Bible, although we were well up in both Testaments, all more revealing episodes had been carefully circumscribed. All this had combined to make of us healthy, happy, carefree, confident, credulous girls, entirely unsophisticated, entirely harmless, but also entirely unarmed against the onslaughts of life. However cruel this may have been in many ways, I consider all the same that that fundamental conception of honor, duty and fair play upon which our education was based has, all through life, been a shield and stay to me, something which kept me straight through the storms, difficulties, temptations and arduous duties of a long existence. There was a clean beauty in our outlook that the enlightened girls of today can never know, some high ideal that no cruel reality could ever entirely uproot. I did not try to bring up my children this way; climate, environment, example, our times also, made it impossible, but certain glorious illusions that we had have therefore forever remained unknown to them. Their Garden of Eden was never quite so sunny and free of the serpent as ours.
I remember another little moment of—I had best, perhaps, call it anxiety mixed with pained surprise.
Heartache Amidst Happiness
We were at the Rosenau, sitting round a table under the shade of the maple tree where mama liked to have tea. Charly had come for her annual visit—Charly the irresistible, superlatively well-groomed, charming, enticing, intelligent. My eyes devoured her; she made my crude youth feel awkward, almost boorish. No wonder Nando liked listening to her; I, in such company, had nothing to say. Nando belonged to the grown-ups, whilst I, for all my new dignity of a bride, was in reality only an uninteresting, ignorant schoolgirl that any cultivated, well-dressed woman could put in the shade.
Charly, with her ravishingly modulated voice, was holding forth in that wise way of hers whilst two pale-gray streams of sweet-smelling cigarette smoke came continually pouring from her small, beautifully shaped nose. How well I can still see her; and looking back upon this scene of about thirty-six years ago, I can almost feel again that cruel little ache that seemed to tighten my heart strings. How charming she was, how fascinating; I, too, was under her spell, my eyes could not leave her face. Dr. X was also present, each of them had something funny or interesting to say, and they had all forgotten me—even Nando had forgotten me. I was only a stupid, ignorant, badly dressed little girl.
It did not end there, however. At a certain moment my person became suddenly the central object of their attention; they were in high spirits and needed, I suppose, a victim for their jokes. They began asking me questions I could not answer. I became shy, idiotic, more stupid than I really was, and it was somehow Charly and Nando who led the onslaught. They were being funny with German jokes—Potsdam, Berlin jokes. I was quite out of it; I felt and looked a fool, and Nando allowed Charly to make me feel a fool.
The poor man was merely being gay, no doubt—gay in the way of Potsdam and Berlin—the sphere in which they were both most at home, but which was instinctively abhorrent to me. All of a sudden I felt lonely, cast out; something cold ran through my veins— something like a horrible little warning that I did not really belong to them, that something in me was fundamentally hostile to those jokes, to that way of being funny and amused—to that Potsdam way. Some racial antagonism had been awakened at that hour, and all through life I have hated those truly Prussian jokes. There was something in them that hurt me, and through many years of my later life they and Charly pursued me—Charly who was no more the adored Charly of my childhood, Charly and her German jokes.
But I must hurry on or I shall never come to the day of my marriage.
A Real Daughter of Eve
Mama gave me a wonderful trousseau, a real princess' trousseau in keeping with that time of prosperity and abundance. There were also innumerable wedding presents, some magnificent, some beautiful, some humble and touching; this was all very exciting and pleasurable. I was a real daughter of Eve and loved clothes, furs and precious gems, but I was astonished at the masses of dresses, cloaks, hats, handkerchiefs, stockings, shoes and fine linen that I was supposed to need. All these manifold treasures were put out in a large room and I, with my sisters and many friends, used to walk about amongst them, awed by their magnitude. Getting married was certainly a stirring event.
But the greatest emotion I had before leaving my old home for the wedding at Sigmaringen was a talk with my father.
Papa very seldom became confidential; he was a very quiet man, talked little, and occasionally was even somewhat taciturn. In fact, we were never entirely in touch with him, but one of the last days he called me into his room. There, to my dismay, taking me into his arms, he burst into tears, confiding to me that he could not bear to see me, his eldest and dearly loved daughter, go to such a far and unknown country; that he had cherished another dream for me, one which would have very differently shaped my future. He could not bear parting from me, I must not forget that I was a British-born princess and a sailor's daughter. He mentioned the dowry he and mama were giving me and a few other things I cannot remember. I was deeply moved, cruelly shaken by this quite unexpected outburst from one who, generally, was so undemonstrative and who seemed to look on from afar at our lives. Quite upset, I finally fled to my own chamber and wept.
Editor's Note—This is the seventh of a series of articles by Marie, Queen of Rumania. The next will appear in an early issue.