THERE was a pilgrimage we were to make before going to Sigmaringen for the wedding. I call it a pilgrimage because it is a picture which has remained detached from all others, unique, arresting, a picture out of a strange world, in an atmosphere quite different from any we had ever been accustomed to—a visit to Neuwied to see Carmen Sylva, Queen of Rumania—at that time an invalid and therefore unable to be present at our wedding.
A few words are necessary to explain why Carmen Sylva was in her mother's house and not in Rumania.
There had been trouble at the Rumanian court, and Queen Elizabeth had played a prominent part in the little drama. I must touch upon it here, as it is an explanation of much which was to follow later.
Ferdinand had been declared heir apparent to the throne of Rumania because his uncle had no son. King Carol and Queen Elizabeth had had one little daughter, Maria, who died at the age of four, and since then no other child had been born to them. King Carol had accepted this fatality with the philosophy of one who, on all occasions, is completely master of his passions and emotions. But not so the poet queen. The death of her child and the eternally frustrated hope of further maternity had crushed her life and so continually preyed on her mind that, when the cruel hour came for adopting as crown prince one who was not born her son, it found her entirely unresigned.
It was old Ioan Bratianu, father of the Ioan Bratianu of my times, who had persuaded King Carol that the succession to the throne must be assured. Queen Elizabeth never forgot this, and to the end of her days nursed a resentment against the man who had brought about this painful decision, a resentment which she carried over to the second generation and which never allowed her whole-heartedly to appreciate Bratianu the second.
Torn away from the simple joys of Potsdam, where, surrounded by comrades of his own standing, life had been entirely congenial to him, Ferdinand found himself suddenly condemned to an existence of semiseclusion. Friendless, companionless, almost an exile in a foreign country, under the guidance of an uncle whose first and last interest was politics and who, for state reasons, was ready to sacrifice not only his own desires and happiness but also those of any member of his family associated with him, the young prince was indeed a lonely man.
The Romantic Carmen Sylva
HAVING been severely brought up to serve and obey, he was both submissive and dutiful, but he was human; and his aunt, although resenting the place he occupied, was sorry for him. She understood his homesick loneliness in surroundings so different from those he had been accustomed to, yoked to an arduous task which at present did not really interest him, and of which he could not yet comprehend the beauty and glory. But Carmen Sylva was a poet and saw everything through the prisms of her romantic imagination. She was ardent, warmhearted, of impetuous temperament, but certainly not discerning; seeing all things en beau, she had no Perspicacity, and therefore, all through a somewhat stormy and tragic life, fell an easy prey to those who abused her generous credulity for their selfish ends.
Being childless, she was fond of surrounding herself with a flock of young girls who, fired by her inspired language, sat at her feet adoring every word she spoke. She liked to imagine herself one of those chatelaines of old who, at certain hours of the day, assembled around them all the women of their households to spin, sew and embroider. But she was also the soul of poetry, the Muse, the inspirer. To her, the world was a great stage and she was the central figure of all scenes enacted upon it; a tragic figure, but full of benevolence and comprehension of the sufferings of humanity.
Carmen Sylva was indeed a compelling personality. At an early age her hair had turned gray, almost white; her intensely blue eyes had a penetrating look. She laughed often, for her teeth were white and magnificent, but her laugh was in striking contrast with the tragedy of her eyes. Without ever having been considered a beauty, there was a rare fascination about her and it was almost impossible not to fall under her spell—anyhow at first. To the young she was a sort of legend come down upon earth. Her voice was extraordinarily melodious, and when she set out to charm, she seldom failed. She did not inspire passion but admiration, and that something tragic about her made all men feel that they would like to lighten the burden she was carrying, even when they did not quite understand what the burden was. Character is Destiny. Carmen Sylva's character drove her towards self-sacrifice and tragedy. She saw all things as tragedies and therefore dramatized even the simplest events of everyday life.
No two human beings could have been greater contrasts than Carmen Sylva, the inspired poetess, and King Carol, her lord and master—that forbidding man with an iron sense of duty and no sense of humor, and for whom existed neither caprice nor relaxation in any form.
And into this unusual household came, as third, Ferdinand—the diffident, unassuming little lieutenant from Potsdam, almost a boy in ways as well as mentality, though he, too, was imbued with all the German sense of duty and hierarchy; soft, kindly, inclined to be sentimental, of affectionate disposition, but distrusting his own capacities. A man easily overruled and ready to admit the superiority of others, but withal proud and easily hurt.
Hardly had he arrived before he was, of course, systematically taken in hand by his uncle, so as to be trained for the heavy duties expected of him. Now it was all work and no play. The stern sovereign, knowing no relaxation for himself, did not admit it either for others. He seemed to consider it quite natural that his young heir should have the same enthusiasm for sacrificing himself as he himself had, nor was he able to take into consideration the difference between their respective ages; he did not pause to consider that the part of follower is not so interesting or absorbing as that of leader. King Carol was at the helm; his nephew was merely an obedient looker-on, obliged to do his share without what I would call "getting any of the fun out of it." So Carmen Sylva became a refuge. Carmen Sylva and the many young ladies sitting at her feet.
The obvious came to pass. Ferdinand fell in love with one of these. He fell in love with the favorite; the chosen one of the lonely queen's heart; the one in whom she imagined her child's spirit lived again.
Cupid's Friend at Court
CARMEN SYLVA knew that King Carol would admit of no marriage for his nephew with one not of his caste. Besides, the Rumanians wished their royal family to be exclusive; they were not to mix with those of the land. The dynasty was to stand apart, aloof, out of the reach of commoners; they were to seek their wives or husbands beyond the frontiers, amongst those of their own rank. This had been specially stipulated when King Carol accepted the throne. But although Carmen Sylva knew this, her poetical temperament could not resist this romantic development. Besides, had not Ferdinand just selected her favorite? Hélène was a remarkable girl, and her intelligence was far above that of the average royal princess. Hélène was dark-eyed, hot-blooded, impulsive; she would be a glorious mate for the pale, unassuming prince; she would lead and inspire him, fill him with life, spirit, ambition; they would have healthy children; God would smile upon them. Thus, in her heart of hearts, argued the poet queen.
A few weeks—or was it months?—of courtship, of somewhat anxious happiness, for Ferdinand's conscience was not at peace. "Der Onkel" was in the background, a grim figure which represented Fate. But Carmen Sylva lived in an atmosphere of palpitating romance. She idealized the lovers, she threw them together, encouraged, stimulated, helped, glorified them; caring little for the morrow, she lived entirely for the excitement of the moment, hoping that some lucky event would solve a situation which certainly bristled with danger; but in spite of her optimism, the crash came.
Absorbed by state affairs, the king had noticed nothing of what was going on beneath his very eyes. Such an unimportant thing as love-making did not come within the sphere of his thoughts. The queen and he had separate departments: hers was charity, poetry, literature, social duties; they met seldom during the day except at meals. So when all of a sudden one morning his nephew appeared before him to declare his intention of marrying Mlle. Hélène Vacarescu, a tempest was raised indeed—a cold tempest, an icy blast, freezing to its very roots Ferdinand's poor little attempt at romance.
A Queen in Banishment
I KNOW none of the details; this sad story was kept as much as possible from my ears, and rightly, for in those days I should certainly have taken it tragically. So I only heard scraps of rumor here and there, piecing them together as best I could, afraid to ask for fear of being hurt. Much, much later I understood and—smiled; and it was I, in fact, who, two years before my husband's death, brought the old friends of yore together again. A whole lifetime lay between. But then the drama was very real. Public opinion made a huge outcry against the queen, who had dared tamper with the country's desires. According to the general opinion she was responsible for what had happened, and so great was the feeling against her that the king felt obliged to let her go to her mother at Neuwied; besides, she took the unlucky story so much to heart that her health entirely broke down over it and for two years she was condemned to bed and bath chair.
Ferdinand then had the choice of throne or Hélène Vacarescu put before him, but in such wise that he could but choose the throne. Brought up to traditions of discipline and accustomed to bow before authority, he chose what was chosen for him, not without pain or inner revolt; but his sense of duty was deep-grained and stronger than anything else, and this sense of duty lasted him heroically through a life of many abnegations. He was sent traveling; he visited Holland, Belgium; he went to Sigmaringen, Potsdam, Berlin, Cassel. And at Cassel, Fate was waiting for him. But I did not know that he was supposed to be traveling about with a broken heart.
But now I must conjure up that strange picture of Segenhaus near Neuwied, home of the dowager Princess of Wied, where, far from resigned to her fate, the sorely hit queen was spending two years of quasi banishment.
Ducky and I had only been told that she was a temporary invalid who could, therefore, not come to the wedding at Sigmaringen; this was the only explanation given us. It was mama who took us these.
The snow had come early that year, and it was in a sledge that we drove up to a queer little house in the woods ; quite a fitting way to drive up to a house so different from any we had ever seen, and inhabited by people curiously unlike those we were accustomed to.
In fact, this little episode stands by itself, a strange experience in an unknown world, in an unaccustomed atmosphere.
With a jingling of gay bells, our sledge drew up at the front door. On the threshold stood a very old lady in a black gown and with a white veil on her head. But she was very unlike other old ladies. Her forehead was hugely high, rounded and polished like a globe—a mighty forehead from under which a pair of deep-set eyes with heavy, weary lids looked out upon you as though from a long way off. So deep and so sunken were the eye sockets that they uncomfortably resembled those of a skull. A startling apparition, but all abeam with welcoming smiles. No less startling was the company standing behind her; women of all ages, but not one of them was quite normal. It was as though she had assembled under her roof all the proverbial deaf, lame, blind, dumb and poor of spirit. The old lady stood amongst them as a sort of kindly magician of whom all expected miracles. But it can easily be imagined that we, simple, everyday sort of people, felt somewhat disconcerted.
The only man in this congregation of women was an old gentleman with side whiskers, bleared eyes and cynical mouth, rather a sinister-looking old fellow, or at least so he appeared to us, but he strangely completed the weird picture.
A Pitiful Royal Retinue
THE lame, the dumb, the blind, were presented to us in turn. Most of them were poor relations; the old lady decidedly seemed to have a predilection for collecting the abnormal. Later we learned that she was supposed to have the faculty of a healer and that her house was always invaded by the sick and suffering. She was kind-hearted and proverbially benevolent. In later years Queen Elizabeth related to me many strange things about her mother. She was highly psychical and at certain periods of her life had trances when her spirit seemed to separate from her body; she would fall into a sort of extase, and during these trances her body became weightless and she could float above the ground. When in this state, it has been said that she could even walk over the backs of the chairs or float down the stairs. How much truth there is in this I cannot say. That the strange lady had abnormal faculties there is no doubt; but being outside the enchanted ring of those who are able to live between two worlds, I feel unworthy of trying to give any explanation.
On the day when we were her guests, the old lady revealed none of her mysterious faculties; she was simply a woman full of sighs; a careworn mother anxious for her sick daughter, an amiable hostess whose conversation was both interesting and picturesque.
With many kindly exclamations of hospitality, we were ushered into a goodly sized hall lined with simple pine wood. The principal feature of this hall was some panels painted with extraordinarily large and unsubstantial flowers which were in violent contrast with their sober setting. Immediately the old princess explained that these panels had been painted by her daughter. We looked about us, somewhat overcome by the strangeness of our surroundings, a mute question on all our lips: Where was her daughter?
Finally mama made amiable inquiries about the queen's health. The weary-eyed mother threw up her hands.
"Ach, Elizabeth. Ach!" It seemed that Elizabeth was a great anxiety to her. Each day her mood changed. It was all very difficult; we were to know that for many months past Elizabeth was lamed, or anyhow imagined she was lamed. She would neither walk nor stand. She painted all day in her bed; she was a restless worker. Sometimes she was wheeled about in a chair. She loved the woods, but for all that it was difficult ever to get her to leave the house. But she was ready to receive us; her mother had been anxious what attitude she would adopt, but to her relief Elizabeth had made no protest about our coming—but one could never tell. Yes, it was all very difficult; she was not easy to manage. "Ach, my Elizabeth is very fantastic; she was always thus, even as a child. Always "himmelhoch jauchsend oder zum Tode betrübt," the real poet temperament, inclined to be tragic always, but now, alas, there has been enough to be tragic about. "Ach! Ach!"
A Strange Audience Chamber
Probably mama understood what the eccentric old lady was talking about; to Ducky and me, however, it might have been Chinese. Suddenly, turning to me, she said: "But she will not be able to resist you, my dear; you are like the blossoms of spring." This was somewhat startling, but everything in this house was startling—the old princess, the grand flowers painted on the walls, and hovering in the background that strange horde of Biblical invalids. Then there was also that mysterious queen who could not or would not stand or walk. Where was she?
"Shall we have the pleasure of seeing your daughter? " Mama was on her best behavior—we knew it by her voice—but her eyes were roving all over the place; she was taking everything in. There was no one like mama for enjoying strange experiences.
"Ach, Gott, yes! She is prepared; she will receive you. She is painting in her bed—she is always painting. Sometimes it is poetry, only poetry, or then it's music; but now it is painting, and such large paintings, so difficult in bed. But Elizabeth likes difficulties. I hope I shall be able to persuade her to come to lunch in her wheeling chair. One of her strange fancies is that she can only eat cold dishes—tiny little dishes, of many different kinds, but nothing must be hot. "Ach, yes, Elizabeth"—and again up went the mother's hands in a gesture of perplexity.
Princess Marie of Wied spoke English fluently, but with a broad German intonation. Her voice seemed to come from afar, as did the look of her eyes out of those deep sockets so like a death's head.
Finally, after having tidied up a bit, we were led to another part of the house where the invalid queen had her apartment. It was a hushed procession, as though we were marching to church. Up wee stairs, then down a few steps; this was a new annexe to the old house, we were told, built according to Elizabeth's desires. "Elizabeth likes small rooms and queer little corners," explained the mother. At last we reached a door. The old lady opened it just a little and, in a voice which sounded both anxious and ingratiating, asked if we could come in. The answer must have been in the affirmative, because, without further parley, we were ushered into a queer little room, the principal part of which was occupied by a large, low bed which was lit from above by a skylight. Upon this bed, propped up by many very white and very soft pillows, lay the person we had come to see.
I would like to do complete justice to that first meeting with Carmen Sylva and to be able to describe exactly the impression she made upon me, for it was very deep and very stirring.
The mice-en-scène may have been intentional, certainly it was effective: The light pouring down from above upon that exiled, white-clad invalid propped up against those many snowy cushions, the sweet voice, the wide gestures of welcome and that smile over flashing white teeth, that smile which left the deep blue eyes to their tragedy. Later I knew how much Aunt Elizabeth studied her first effects; she has often staged them before me and expected me to play my rather grudging part in them. To her poetical temperament, acting came quite naturally. As mentioned before, to her the world was a vast stage; she saw all things as a series of scenes out of a drama in which she had the leading role ; and today, this receiving of one who was usurping the place of the girl she had chosen was drama indeed. Innocent though I was, I was the rival—the winning rival—and that wide gesture of welcome was on her part a gesture of heroic abnegation; she felt it as such and she meant to act it magnificently, which she did.
The Histrionic Queen
I was clasped in her arms, she called me "lieb Kindchen" and her eyes were full of pain; she passed her hands over my forehead, my hair, and there was something hungry in the way she gazed at me. Excruciatingly shy, but fascinated from the first moment, I submitted somewhat sheepishly to this unexpected outburst of emotion. I was keenly aware of mama and Ducky's presence in the room, for nothing is more embarrassing for the young than to have as silent audience those who are critics and intimates of their everyday life. Mama was averse to anything resembling a scene, très femme du monde; she was austerely sober at those moments when others become effusive. On this occasion she tried to lighten an atmosphere she considered too romantic with polite and intelligent conversation; but Carmen Sylva had no intention of being decoyed from the part she meant to play. There was, so to say, a silent passage of arms and one could not help feeling how from the very first there was an almost instinctive antagonism between these women, both so strong but of such opposite types—an antagonism which did not lessen on better acquaintance. Like flint against steel, it seemed to draw sparks on the very first contact. Their attitude toward life, their Lebensauffassung, their tastes, habits, way of expressing themselves, were fundamentally different. Nor did the poet queen make things better when, after having looked at me with that tragically intense gaze of hers, she declared that I had a great resemblance to a classically well-known work of art called the Liner Mädchenkopf, a celebrated tinted-wax bust of a sad-looking maiden, of which she had a copy in her room. Somehow my mother resented her daughter being compared to anything so pathetic, but Aunt Elizabeth looked wise and stuck to her opinion. There was something electric in the atmosphere and it certainly emanated from that broad, low bed under the skylight.
Taking Liberties With Botany
Suspended above her, so that she could reach it comfortably from her reclining position, was a large, black, glazed board upon which the invalid was painting the same kind of unsubstantial, giant flowers as those in the hall downstairs. I was somewhat of a flower painter myself, and these flowers the queen's paintbrush was indulging in upset my every conception of art and botany. Nothing within me agreed with those flowers nor with their hard, overshiny, black background. It was a painful shock not to be able to admire whole-heartedly the work of her hand. She was so fascinating, so charming; the things she said were so sweet, so touching; her voice was music; everything was in keeping with the poetical atmosphere emanating from her, except her painting and her pince-nez, which was a too prosaic ornament for so inspired a face.
Evidently this first meeting with the bride that the queen had not chosen for her nephew went off better than her mother had dared to hope, for Elizabeth, to the old princess' intense relief, deigned to appear for lunch. All swathed in soft white cashmere, and looking down upon us from the elevated chair a servant had wheeled up to the table, she was indeed a fascinating picture. She was like some sort of high priestess expounding strange creeds too confusing for the ordinary mind, and this hushed, snow-clad house, hidden away in the woods, was a fitting shrine for one who had retired into solitude awhile to forget the injustice of a world too vulgar to understand her rarer essence. And everything seemed to have been specially combined so as to set off that one central figure; everything was in the picture: the anxious, sunken-eyed mother, that weird company of maimed relations expecting miracles, and—like a sinister guardian of this houseful of women—that old gentleman with the secretive, unprepossessing face.
During that memorable meal I could not take my eyes off the queen's face. I had entirely fallen under her spell; she was a romantic personage, and I loved romance.
Before we left I was asked to come alone to her room. She spoke to me about Rumania, about the duties that would await me there. She told me about Nando and about how she had tried to make him happy, but did not mention the drama which had for a while separated their ways. Her voice was music, but her language often too high-flown for my immature mind; I did not always understand what she was talking about; there was nothing positive I could grasp; it was just music, poetry; her words sang in my brain. A curtain was being lifted, giving me a glimpse into a world unknown to me, where all things had other names, other meanings; an unreal world which only existed whilst she was talking, and which dissolved like mist when I left her bedside. But she was wonderful, herself a poem, a white apparition, born to be adored.
I can still remember a sledge drive, the woods hushed beneath their thick coating of snow. The strange old princess drove with us, and the white fur cap she wore gave her the appearance of one who had strayed from the Middle Ages into our modern world. She talked a lot and at moments her language had a slight echo of her daughter's poetical eloquence, but most of what she had to say was solid common sense, and mama enjoyed her company. She was, it seems, on excellent terms with King Carol and in almost daily communication with him, for he looked upon her as a trustworthy and tactful guardian of the person who had so grievously perturbed the order of his court. There were many sighs, but the old lady gave us to understand that she was equal to her difficult duties.
The object of our drive was a visit to Prince Wilhelm of Wied, Queen Elizabeth's brother. He and his family inhabited a large white house on the top of a hill—a large, low building, standing out against a background of magnificent beech woods, and with a beautiful view over the Rhine Valley.
The Poet Queen's Brother
The Prince of Wied was an almost startling replica of his sister, but less dramatic. Unlike the poet queen, he assumed a jovial attitude toward life, but one in which, curiously enough, one could also divine a certain degree of pose. He seemed to laugh more than he was amused. Like his sister, he had magnificent teeth, a high forehead under masses of gray-white hair, and the same pince-nez pinched his rather fleshy nose. Even the gestures of his finely shaped hands were the same. There was even the same affectation about the way he laid them before him whilst talking, as though himself fascinated by their shapeliness. I cannot say that I liked him. His joviality seemed partly assumed. But there was nothing of pose about his very ugly but exceedingly refined wife; a born Princess of Orange who had brought a large fortune and magnificent jewels into the somewhat impoverished but very ancient and blue-blooded family of the Wieds. This lady met with my mother's unstinted approval; she was très grande dame without the slightest touch of eccentricity. They had two daughters and three sons, but I cannot remember how many of them we met during that first visit. The house was sympathetic, old-fashioned and full of family pictures.
Queen Elizabeth loved her brother. Only once, many years later, did I see them together, and I must confess that the combined type was rather overwhelming; something within me was instinctively hostile. I could not help feeling that they were playing up to each other and that their laugh, in spite of an enviable show of white teeth, did not ring quite true. All through life I have had a curious faculty of sensing the undercurrent of other people's emotions, even when they were playing a quite different part to the gallery. This is sometimes very isolating. But in these early days I am describing, though I felt when there was insincerity, I could not yet reason it out. Sister Ducky, the most veridical soul I have ever met, has also this faculty.
At last the day came for leaving the old home and we started all together, a large party.
Roughing it to Sigmaringen
Mama had her own ideas about traveling, which were principally based upon an abnormal but virulent horror of saloon carriages. She declared that they shook more than any other sort of carriage and, therefore, she could not bear them. So every offer of more luxurious transport was always firmly refused and we were all bundled into first-class carriages. These, in those early days, were wanting in the most elementary comforts, not to say necessities. Both Coburg and Sigmaringen were on small side lines, the rolling stock was old and rickety, and none of the coupés was conneeted with corridors. So, once in your compartment, you were cut off from your fellow travelers; it was, therefore, most important not to let yourself be boxed up with the wrong companions.
Though the distance was not really great, the connections were bad and made the journey painfully lengthy, spreading over nearly a whole night and day.
I have a most disagreeable remembrance of that acutely uncomfortable journey in bitterly cold weather, for the winter was an exceptionally severe one. Ducky and I shared a compartment which had only one seat that was not even a bed, so that we slept in turns on the hard, cold and none-too clean floor. We did not take this tragically—we were hardened, out-of-door girls—but we did resent the washing next morning, the icy water, the want of space, and that gritty feeling of the carpetless floor, especially as we were to arrive in gala, and wanted to look our best. But two things were good: we were still together, and the frost during the night had painted marvelous designs on the windowpanes, lovely large thistle branches of exquisite shape. This was a feast for the eye, but did not make us feel any the warmer.
Luckily, just before reaching Sigmaringen, there had to be a change of trains, and this time mama could not refuse the royal carriage sent to meet us. This made it possible to give a few finishing touches to our get-up in front of a real looking-glass, and we were also given some warm water in which to wash off the last smuts of that comfortless journey.
I have no clear remembrance of our arrival nor of the following days. I was the center of all attention, and yet I had the strange sensation that in a way I was outside all the events which were taking place. "Je les subissais," as the French would express it; they went on in spite of my feelings and emotions.
The King of Rumania had arrived with many followers, members of his household, members of his government, generals, officials; a confused mass of faces passed before my bewildered gaze; I felt small, awkward and lost.
All my future subjects spoke beautifully fluent French. A few knew a little German, but not one of them could talk English. I began regretting that we had been so refractory about learning French; I now found myself at a cruel disadvantage, and the answers I gave all these amiable old gentlemen—for they were nearly all old—were sadly halting; besides, all the amiable things they said to me embarrassed me greatly. I was quite unaccustomed to the fluency of Latin compliments.
There was a Conservative government in at that time, under old Lascar Catargiu, a quiet old gentleman, full of steady common sense, slow of speech, with measured movements. He looked rather like Clémenceau, if you can imagine a tame Clémenceau with no "tiger" about him. There were also Alexandre and Jacques Lahovari, George—Nabab—Cantacuzène, Peter Carp, Generals Florescu and Manu. There may also have been others, but I do not remember them. In those days they were all like masks to me, and not very pretty masks at that, though one and all were amiable, smiling and full of welcoming words. They seemed to take a fancy to the fair little maiden who was to be imported into their country, though somewhat abashed, I think, to discover that she was quite such a child.
The only really good-looking one amongst them was General Florescu, who had a fine head and wore a pointed beard and huge mustaches in the Second Empire style. Peter Carp had a curiously shaped head, an eagle nose, and an eyeglass which accentuated his humorous, not to say satirical, expression. He attracted me; he was less pompous than most of them, and I somehow divined human feelings and understanding behind his irony.
Friend in Need
But the one who, because of that strange law of attraction—or is it affinity?—immediately became my friend was General Vladescu, head of the king's military household. Vladescu was the real old soldier; martial appearance, good figure, a conquering white mustache, the ends standing far away from his face; besides, he was gloriously good-humored and cheerful. He immediately seemed to comprehend that in fact I was but a child who was being torn out of a happy family circle. He guessed my feelings and mentality; so, instead of losing time with idle compliments, he set about making my sisters and me laugh heartily whenever he spoke to us. In no man's eye have I ever seen a merrier twinkle. Many a sad hour of my later life did Vladescu cheer; he divined my loneliness in a far, strange land and would often clear the heaviest atmosphere with his cheerful jokes. This friendship, which sprang into being at the first contact, lasted till the day of his death many years later.
Joan Kalinderu was, of course, amongst the most prominent of the king's followers. His attitude at Sigmaringen was much the same as it had been at Windsor. There was a look of sly and yet solemn understanding about him; he always seemed all blown out with secret knowledge, to be the ambulating depository of kingly confidences. His every gesture was a proclamation of the exceptional favor in which he was held. He liked to simulate extreme modesty, but it was modesty a la Kalinderu which had little of the proverbial violet about it. No green leaves hid Joan Kalinderu in spite of his modesty, he was very conspicuous indeed.
Royal Wedding Guests
Besides this goodly company of gentlemen, King Carol had brought with him two Rumanian ladies—Madame Marie Cantacuzène and Madame Marie Grecianu. The latter was a sweet-faced elderly widow, chosen to be my lady in waiting. Madame Cantacuzène was also a widow, but much older, and was considered one 'of the principal pillars of Bukharest society; she was an extremely pleasant and cultivated lady, mother of many married daughters and an only son, already a distinguished scientist and one of Pasteur's favorite pupils. Besides, she was mother-in-law of two eminent politicians, Dumitru Sturdza and Peter Carp, who has already been mentioned. Sturdza was as passionate a Liberal as Carp was a Conservative, and it was only the smiling intelligence of this charming old lady that made family reunions possible; for in Rumania, as I was to learn to my discomfiture, political passions ran high.
In later years, Marie Cantacuzène became one of my staunchest allies, but at that first meeting I was shy and tongue-tied, responding but lamely to her amiable advances. I felt more drawn to Madame Grecianu, whose face was gentler and very attractive. Both ladies had motherly feelings toward me, understanding better than I did then what a lost and lonely little creature I should be in a foreign land.
Royal guests from several countries had also arrived, and there were continual gala processions to the station to receive each in turn. Grandmama Queen, not being able to come herself, had sent the Duke of Connaught, or Uncle Arthur, as we called him. The Czar had deputed Grand Duke Alexis, mama's good-looking, fair-bearded sailor brother—the bachelor brother, gayest of the gay. The Countess of Flanders, with her son Albert, now King of the Belgians, represented that country. She was the only living sister of King Carol and Fürst Leopold, and sister-in-law to King Leopold II of Belgium; and Albert was, therefore, Nando's first cousin. He was extremely amusing and witty, and we immediately became firm friends. The Countess of Flanders had a characteristically Hohenzollern profile. As to face, she much resembled our dear Onkelchen; she had the same kindly drawl in her voice; as to character, however, she was much more energetic and intransigeant. There was something manly and decided about her. Though handsome, she entirely lacked feminine charm and her clothes smacked of the masculine. Jewels and evening dress seemed out of place on her. Squarely built and forcible, she inspired you with a feeling of confidence; but one sensed that there was nothing pliable or yielding about Aunt Marie Flanders.
There was great affinity of character between her and King Carol, and she was his great ally. He consulted her and listened to her opinion. Her children stood in awe of her, and her tremendous admiration for the kingly brother represented a summum of boredom in their lives under which they writhed. Albert was not long in imparting this fact to us; indeed, his jokes about "the great man of the family" were more witty than polite; Albert was full of slow fun and did much to cheer the somewhat solemn wedding atmosphere.
The Kaiser had desired to grace in person this important family festivity, and the most official procession to the station was to meet the lord of the land, who came, according to custom, accompanied by an embarrassingly numerous suite composed of embarrassingly huge gentlemen in blazing uniforms. All things pertaining to the Kaiser were large, loud and showy. He liked to assume the attitudes of a tyrant or despot; he never forgot or let you forget that he was first. His followers were enormous and many of them extremely handsome. William changed his uniform several times a day, as a smart woman changes her gown. A never-ending scale of colors led finally up to the full dress of the magnificent cuirassiers of the guard: snow-white, with huge gauntlet gloves, high shining boots and Lohengrinlike, eagle-crowned helmet. This was the ne plus ultra, and I have seen men look indeed like conquering heroes in this garb, even if the Kaiser himself never entirely reached this ideal. One of those who did was Max Fürstenberg, a close friend of William's who, when young and attired in this uniform, was a goodly sight.
The Arrogant Emperor
My father, like his brother—later Edward VII—had no great affection for his nephew. None of our uncles could stand his overbearing manner; he was forever offending them or putting their backs up. Even his joviality had a touch of insolence about it. It was only those who belonged to his inner circle, or who were catering for his good graces, who really bore with his ways. When in a good humor the Kaiser could be charming, but beneath his boisterous spirits lurked something of the bully, always ready to break through. Thus he was continually embarrassing his own relations, and even—what was much more unfortunate—offending royalties from foreign countries. My mother was one of the few who really got on with him. He interested her, and her own masterfulness kept him at bay. Her all-seeing eye noted the expression on every face, and she was ever ready to step in when there was storm in the air. In this she was magnificently seconded by Fürst Leopold. Peace-loving, amiable, loyal and unselfish, no one could be anything but polite in his presence. He had time for everyone and everything; the attentions he paid the Kaiser did not prevent his being aux petits soins for every other guest beneath his roof, even for the most humble and most uninteresting.
For this solemn occasion we had been given official apartments in the castle, whilst Nando lived in his parents' house—it not being considered correct for bride and bridegroom to live under one roof before the wedding. Receptions at the station, festive meals, the receiving of deputations, and innumerable people coming to congratulate kept us busy and helped us over those last emotional hours before the wedding.
Thinking back, all is confusion in my mind, but I see the different rooms, the different faces, and certain groups which used to form themselves. For some reason, King Carol and my brother Alfred took a great fancy to each other. Alfred was of an inquiring mind and not at all shy with older people, and he was, besides, naturally amiable and communicative. Uncle Carol loved talking about his country and his work; perhaps his family had already listened too of ten to his tales; to Alfred they were new and full of interest, so he and the king would sit on a sofa, heads close together, talking and talking—the older man delighted at the young fellow's keen interest in those things which were all important to the royal pioneer; my brother's face upturned, eager, full of life.
In another corner Albert was making my sisters and me laugh at his witty sayings, which both shocked and amused Nando, who would never have dared to be so funny at the expense of his betters.
I see dear old Grandmama Josephine, the center of a group that was trying to make her hear what they were saying, her sweet face all smiles, her hands with the too-long-fingered gloves thrown up occasionally as a sign that she had understood. I see my mother-in-law stiff, pale and suffering, having made the great effort of putting on an evening gown and many jewels. I see papa, rather glum, Uncle Arthur with his fine figure and aquiline profile, very amiable, very elegant and rather absent-minded. I see Uncle Alexis, conventionally polite, supercilious and slightly ironical, as though he were above all this fuss and noise, but amused withal, and trying to tune his thundering Russian voice to the diapason of his surroundings. I see the Kaiser perorating in his brightest uniform. I see mama, capable, amiable, watchful, nothing escaping her eye; and flitting here and there, the trait d'union between all these different groups—Fürst Leopold, the peace maker, the charmer, the man who never thought of himself.
My Wedding Day
I took a quite childish pleasure in my new dresses and beautiful jewels. Mama had been extraordinarily prodigal, giving many of her own magnificent Russian gems. These have all now been annexed by the Bolsheviks. It was difficult to realize that they were all mine. It was rather the same feeling that we had had in those far-off days when playing with old Hutchins, when I liked to imagine I was the Queen of Spain. Several times a day I could put on a new dress, but often when particularly smart I felt excruciatingly shy and ridiculously self-conscious, like a child dressed up. I was considered pretty, but looking through old photographs of the time I cannot quite understand why I had this reputation; besides, at that time we were wearing those fashions of gigot sleeves and stiff bell skirts which today appear so absurd to eyes accustomed to easier apparel. Occasionally I felt nothing but a negligible accessory to my voluminous sleeves, in which I almost entirely disappeared. I may have been smart, but I was certainly not chic. I do not think mama considered it quite proper or bon ton for a princess to be chic.
And then the morning came when I awoke to the sound of bells—festive bells—bells for my own wedding.
We had to submit to a threefold marriage, civil, Catholic and Protestant. The ceremonies took place in the morning and ended with a huge wedding breakfast. I remember it all as though it were a dream—a very far-off dream in which I played a dream part.
My wedding dress was of lusterless, heavy white silk, with puffed sleeves, of course, and bell skirt spreading out into a train. I had a dislike of lace veils, so in spite of all the old family lace I wore tulle, kept in place by a diamond tiara inside which a small wreath of orange blossoms lay curled as in a nest. I was a thin, flat little maiden with very fair hair, frizzled Queen Alexandra-wise on the forehead; my features were immature, my eyes blue; there was not much dignity about me. I looked as absurdly young as I was, and I felt as if I were playing at being grown up. I cannot say that I was very much enchanted with my own appearance. I had more romantic ideas about how a bride ought to look, but mama absolutely disagreed with these; so I was decked out according to her taste and wore my rather overpowering finery as best I could.
The Catholic marriage was the chief ceremony and took place in the church adjoining the castle, which was reached through long and intricate passages—Sigmaringen being a real old fortress, with all a fortress' peculiarities. The service was long and solemn, with good singing and many priests. Our two prie-dieu were well to the fore and most of the service was listened to, kneeling. I liked the somewhat monotonous Latin chants; they enveloped me in a sort of protective trance which calmed fear and allowed hope to filter into my anxiously throbbing heart.
The English church ceremony took place in one of the big drawing-rooms. We were married by a naval chaplain, and to me it was very sweet that it should be someone belonging to the navy who joined our hands.
I have no remembrance of the wedding breakfast and hardly any of our send-off.
This was not to be a final good-by, nor was it a driving off from home, so certain cruel emotions were spared me.
It had been decided that we should spend a few "honey days" at a little Jagdschloss not far from Sigmaringen, a royal summer residence surrounded by woods. My family remained at Sigmaringen, where certain festivities were to continue; amongst others, on the third day there was to be a big ball at which we were to appear.
Krauchenwies was a dear little old house, more picturesque than comfortable, but quite a romantic setting for a honeymoon. But it was winter, we were shy and still strangers to each other, and there was absolutely nothing to do. Nando was not a man of high spirits, nor was he imaginative, so he was quite at a loss how to entertain so childishly young a wife. He was terribly, almost cruelly in love. In my immature way I tried to respond to his passion, but I hungered and thirsted for something more; besides, I cruelly missed mama and Ducky, and felt lost and forsaken. I must confess that those winter days, buried away in that far-off little castle, were terribly long. There was an empty feeling about it all; I still seemed to be waiting for something that did not come.
Once, with a gay jingling of sleigh bells, mama and my sisters invaded our solitude. That sound of bells was too cheerful, it made my heart ache, it belonged too much to the old home. I confess that I wept. Mama scolded me lovingly and said I should get accustomed to being a wife; she encouraged me with brave words, but I noticed a suspicious brightness in her eyes, very much like unshed tears. Mama hated all weakness; she was a Spartan and expected the same attitude from her children; so not for the world would she have encouraged me to enlarge upon my feelings of distress.
I have no remembrance of the big ball given in our honor—no remembrance of anything more, in fact, but of a few last days we spent at Coburg before the final cruel departure, the breaking away from all that had been. Mama tried to make those last days as cheerful and happy as possible; she encouraged skating parties on the Rosenau lake, which were followed by amusing charades in the big hall of the Rosenau Schloss. All my friends clustered round me, made much of us, spoiled us in a thousand small ways; there was laughter, music, dancing, but a farewell feeling was in the air and tears beneath every smile.
One little scene I vividly remember. It was the last evening. On the following day we were to leave; I was not feeling well, was suffering from the effects of too many emotions, probably, and that sick feeling of departure. Anyhow, mama, who generally never admitted that anybody could be ill, had encouraged me to go to bed early. I was living in the guest's room, no more having my place in the night nursery; my little camp bed had been removed from the row of three. It had been packed up, as I insisted on carrying it away with me—that funny little camp bed from Russia, which could be rolled up and easily taken from place to place.
The guest's apartment consisted of three rooms—a salon, a wee dressing room and bedroom combined, in which I slept, and a larger bedroom beyond, which was my husband's. Mama, anxious about me, had come to kiss me good night, as she had done when we were children. We both tried to be brave; I knew that mama disapproved of outbursts of sentiment, or "scenes" as she termed them, so I swallowed down every cry of fear and grief that welled up within me at the thought of tomorrow's farewell. I did give her an extra hug, though, but no word was spoken—that would have been beyond my strength.
Mother and Daughter
I was supposed, like a good little girl, to fall off to sleep immediately, but with such perturbed feelings this, of course, did not happen and I heard mama whispering with Nando in the next room. She was probably making a few last suggestions, giving him a little advice on how to treat his over-innocent, overchildish wife who was being torn out of all she was accustomed to and sent so far, far away. The conversation was not meant for me, nor did I try to listen; but finally moving towards my door, which was ajar, I heard mama say: "I must just have a last look at her"; and there, peeping round the edge of the door, was her dear face, and tears were actually running down her cheeks. Seeing I was awake, she managed a brave smile and we nodded to each other; I longed to throw my arms round her, to nestle my face against her damp cheeks and have a good cry, but Spartan training made all such effusion impossible. Perhaps it would have done her as much good as it would have done me; but I did not dare, so we simply smiled at each other and, of course, I was not supposed to have seen the tears.
But for months and months afterwards, devoured by loneliness and homesickness in that far land, the vision of mama's brave face, all wet with tears, peeping round the corner of the door, came back again and again, filling me with intolerable pain and Sehnsucht, so that often I had to smother my mouth in my pillow not to call out with grief and longing.
But mama was no longer there; her dear round face, all shiny with tears, could no more bravely smile at me; she had been relinquished with all that belonged to the old home.
No agonized heartbeats can make time stand still. The hour of parting came; it had to be faced. I was not, however, going quite alone, without any belonging to the days of my childhood. Mama had decided that I should be accompanied by Lady Mouson, one of her ladies in waiting, and by a certain Colonel Howard, an officer in the Black Watch whom we had known at Devonport, a charming, intelligent man in whom papa had great confidence, although we children had never had much to do with him.
Breaking Home Ties
Lady Mouson was no longer young. Mother of three grown-up daughters and one grown-up son, she was an exceedingly cultivated woman who lived a great deal abroad. Her special love was Italy; she spoke fluent Italian, as well as several other languages; her English was always spiced with foreign words. For this official and none-too-easy mission I think Lady Mouson was an excellent choice.
The moment when our train finally steamed out of the Coburg station was one of almost unbearable grief. It was as though my very heartstrings were being torn asunder. A feeling of intense despair came over me, and it was only the ingrained habit of repressing our emotions which gave me courage not to cry out in my pain. There they all stood on the station platform—papa, mama, Alfred, Ducky, Sandra, Baby Bee, surrounded by friends and old servants in their state liveries, hat in hand. But they were growing smaller and smaller; I could still just see their hands waving, but could hardly recognize their faces any more. I leaned far out of the window; it was freezingly cold, the ground was covered with snow. . . . Now I could not even see their hands waving; everything was a blur. As a last vision, the Feste Coburg, standing all cold against a cold sky; everything was cold, it was winter; mama—Ducky, my inseparable companion, my faithful chum—winter, snow, cold; everything was cold; even the old fortress stood shivering against the wintry sky.
Was that a sound of bells—sleigh bells? Were they the bells of those driving back to the old home from which I had flown?... Jingle, jingle, how I loved the sound of sleigh bells.... Or was it only the sound of the train wheels crunching on the frozen snow?
A hand on my shoulder; I turned round—Nando.
Nando had a kind heart; there were tears in his eyes also. In a way, Nando understood. Had he not also left his home for a far land not yet his own?
Editor's Note—This is the eighth and last article in a series by Marie, Queen of Rumania. The second series, dealing with her life in Rumania, will begin in a few weeks.