NICE enchanted us. We loved the sunny house, the garden, the flowers in full bloom all through the winter, the orange trees, the sea in the distance; we loved the illusion of freedom far from politics and daily restrictions. Little by little, Nando recovered his strength, and the joy of our two children to be able to be out all day long knew no bounds.
As my kind old lady-in-waiting, Madame Grecianu, was in poor health, a young Rumanian girl had also been attached to me and I had been allowed to take the Coburg family friend, Gretchen Gazert, with me, a concession mama had torn from uncle much against his will. But Gretchen was a great comfort to me; I instinctively felt that here there could be no betrayal; besides, she was a link with the past, a bit of home; she was a safeguard against the unknown; she was not in the pay of the great.
Little by little, our virtuous intentions of living quite by ourselves, far from the frivolities of Nice, were somewhat defeated by the arrival of other members of the family. These, accustomed to come to Nice to have a good time, had no understanding for uncle's point of view; they laughed us out of our goody-goody attitude and we were invited here and there, made several new acquaintances and were even occasionally seen at Monte Carlo. Oh, not at the roulette tables—have no fear—but in the theater, where the very best troupes from Paris used to come and play. But in the entr'actes we would wander through the casino, staring with astonished eyes at the curious amalgam of humanity which pressed around the tables. I even once won five hundred francs at rouge et noir, an old Italian gentleman having thrown a gold piece for me "for luck." This I was later reproached with a hundredfold, and it was cooked up into no end of a row.
Neither Nando nor I had ever had anything to do with le monde où l'on s'amuse; this was our first initiation. We were like country cousins come up to town. This, of course, much amused our more sophisticated companions, who tried to lead us into temptation; with small success, however, as Nando's principles were firmly stiffened by the thoughts of uncle.
An Adventure in Fashion Creation
ONE thing, though, I could not resist, and that was dress. In those days dress was much more ornate and elaborate than today, and my ideal was the dresses worn by the great actresses on the Parisian stage, such as Jane Hading, Bartet, Granier, Vanda de Bonza, Marcelle Linder, and others, and with these as models before me, I allowed my imagination full sway, quite unconscious that I made myself, occasionally, overconspicuous. I was very slim in those days, very fair and also very young; so, naturally, I did not pass unnoticed.
I would not have been a daughter of Eve if this had not given me a certain satisfaction. I felt all eyes following me, male as well as female, and it was not a disagreeable sensation. I remember with what care I combined a certain gown of flowing black crêpe de chine, the front of which was embroidered stolewise with gold and turquoises ; the sleeves were long, close-fitting, and ran down in points on the hands. This was worn with a small black tricorn hat. Becoming, no doubt, but somewhat showy, I suppose; and I innocently trailed this too-effective gown through the Monte Carlo halls, not quite without being noticed, as can well be imagined.
But I was not long allowed to enjoy my "un-protocolaire" success. A terrible figure had risen upon our world—no other than that of Alexandrine Tolstoy, mama's one-time governess, old countess, with all her chins, her caustic speech and her twitching fingers, old countess in the company of two elderly Russian aunts; they, too, somewhat under the sway of the weighty old pedagogue. I dutifully asked to pay my respects to my aunts and was invited to tea. I went without qualms, being very fond of all my Russian relations. I was, however, received somewhat as an erring sheep who needed to be brought back to the fold.
A Russian Curtain Lecture
ALEXANDRINE TOLSTOY sat in judgment over me, and my sins were brought before me, one by one. Foremost amongst these was the unfortunate black-and-golden dress, also a certain pair of red-leather shoes strapped Grecian wise up my ankles, which it pleased me to wear when walking through town. These red shoes, it seems, were a sure sign that I was hurrying toward perdition.
In those days even walking dresses were worn long and had to be held up in one hand; so you must not have visions of knee-short skirts and a generous display of calves—nothing of this. Nevertheless, the red shoes were shocking.
Much abashed, I sat there and tried to feel sorry for having thus transgressed against the rules of propriety. One of old countess' expressions remained in my mind, for it was the first time I had heard it. She was preaching about a princess being overdressed: "Ce n'est pas aux princesses de porter des robes de ce genre; on m'a décrit votre toilette en detail; vous etiez, du reste, me dit-on, très à votre avantage." Some of the sting was taken out of the scolding by some words of kindly comprehension said to me by one of the two aunts, Marussia of Baden, mother of the last imperial chancellor, who told me she understood that there was no guile in my imprudences, but that when young and pretty, one had to be particularly careful, as the world was very "médisant." I loved her for her kindness, and although we were never destined to meet again, ever afterward her memory was dear to me. I never forget a kind word; they are secret treasures I draw upon in dark days.
Later came the carnival when uncle and aunt of Connaught lured us out of the prefect's tribune, where we were pompously installed amongst the officials, quite in the way King Carol would have approved. But the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, under the cover of their dominos, threw confetti into our faces and hooted at us for being such prigs. As can be imagined, we not unwillingly descended from our seats of honor, and having been given masks and dominos, found ourselves suddenly the center of a gay group, whirled away into a crowd of laughing, jostling, dancing humanity.
There was also a battle of flowers, for which I turned my victoria into a bower of orange branches heavy with golden fruit. All dressed in white, I sat within its shade, accompanied by two of the young Festetics girls, May and Alix, distant cousins of my husband through their grandmother, who had been a princess of Baden. We were very fond of one another, and these two pretty girls looked upon me as a dispenser of joy, and the days passed in my company were termed "glorious days." Later, May married Prince Carl of Fürstenberg and life still brought us occasionally together, but I quite lost sight of Alix.
There was also Cousin Boris, my faithful admirer, and the yacht of the Mazzarinis and the Xantos and visits to Cannes, all this in a company that uncle would certainly have considered too gay, but being led on, step by step, by our relations, it was not always possible to stand aside merely as lookers-on. Accustomed to amuse themselves, they could not understand why, young as we were, all this was to be taboo for us. We even actually went to a bal masque, where everybody was to be dressed in white. Please do not imagine that we were masked or that we joined the crowd—oh, no! We sat in a box, but, nevertheless, I was costumed as Princess Lointaine, in a long clinging white dress, long white veil, and lilies over my ears, and had my own little success. But all our poor little frivolities were carefully noted by some of those particularly attached to our heels, and were then passed on to uncle to brood over to his heart's content.
Uncle, who had been a friend of Napoleon III, was very much on his guard in his attitude toward republican France, and it was rather against his will that he allowed us to go to Nice, for he always looked upon France as a country of dangerous frivolities; besides, he did not really admit republics, and for him a president was not on the same level as a king, whatever importance his country might have, and he greatly demurred as to whether he could allow my husband to pay a visit to Félix Faure, then the French president, who was visiting Nice. According to uncle, this was a concession he was not in sympathy with; the idea of a crown prince paying the first visit to a president went against the grain. Today this makes us smile, but I remember the weighty pourparlers there were at the time.
Finally it was agreed that the prince should pay the first visit, on condition that M. Faure should, the same day, come to pay his respects to me. M. Faure was a fine-looking old gentleman, tall, with a large white mustache; he had, in fact, almost the air of an aristocrat. Our conversation, however, was, I suppose, quite uninteresting—a conventional exchange of amiabilities. Nando was always very shy, and I, in those days, had no idea of politics, and I can imagine that I did not find much to say to the important old gentleman.
On our return, my husband, now quite recovered, took up his military duties again, and I was supposed to settle down and be a good and dutiful little princess, without any imagination, tamely acquiescent to the severe king's every behest. This, alas, was not entirely my ideal, and there followed still many a year of conflict, and even periods of danger when everything might have been wrecked. There was an astonishing want of comprehension on all sides, and many intrigues, and, alas, more than enough of those who went out of their way to do harm instead of good, to stir up strife instead of promoting peace.
One unforgivable mistake was made in these days which brought with it endless misery.
True to his habit of complicating even the smallest family matter, turning it into a state affair, uncle ponderously set about finding a governess for Carol, then about seven years old. Uncle's special method of cowing us was to do everything in the name of his government; whenever a disagreeable restriction or vexatious concession was to be imposed on our young and much tyrannized household, he would do so in the name of public opinion, and his consecutive ministers were used in turn as bugbears, so that during all my youth the expression "minister" was synonymous with "kill-joy"; they represented for me a special sect whose object was to suppress all good things, to interfere with our every liberty and make of life in general an intolerable nuisance instead of a pleasant journey through sunny places. Taken as single human beings, they seemed kindly enough—quite human; in fact, almost friends.
This selecting of a governess for our son was an occasion for uncle to use all his batteries. He began by declaring that never would Rumania accept a foreign pedagogue who had not already educated a king or a queen; that it was, therefore, quite impossible for my husband or for me to have any hand in the choice. He alone was capable of finding this unique treasure; that he had, in fact, already found her and that he expected us to agree with his choice—an Englishwoman who had brought up the Queen of Holland and who was a great friend of the Wied family.
Another Victory for Der Onkel
I IMMEDIATELY understood what this would mean: It would mean someone receiving orders from the big palace; the thought was intolerable; it was a threat against the peace of our poor little household.
I tried to make my husband see that if he assented, he would be introducing misfortune into our home. Instinctively, the prince agreed with me, but he was torn between his natural instinct and his desire to avoid strife by complying with his uncle's wishes. Unfortunately, when young, one is overemphatic, one uses exaggerated expressions, one is too stormy in one's likes and dislikes. We of our family were inclined to exaggeration of language, our adjectives were varied, profuse and incisive; so, instead of being convincing, the overdrastic expressions of my protest were looked upon as caprice, and although at heart with me, Nando finally allowed himself to be persuaded by those in power; he gave in, and the uncle's selection became one of our household, and, into the bargain, one who occupied an important position.
That day I had a good weep on old Green's ample bosom. I adored my children, and it was a fundamental mistake to force upon us one who took orders from those in higher power. This was indeed putting a finger between the bark and the tree.
I will not relate all the story of her two years' reign. It ended in Carol having typhoid fever in the autumn of the second year; he nearly died. I had been abroad with my mother, but I hurried back.
I remember a dreadful night when, seated on a low chair beside the boy's bed, the governess came in and asked if I realized the situation, meaning that the doctors had given the child up. I looked up sadly into her 'face and answered what many have answered before: "Whilst there is life there is hope," and I remember wondering how there could be such people on earth.
That night was the crisis. Carol did not die, but, like his father, he had a long and difficult convalescence.
In those dismal November days old Green was my only consolation, old Green and my little Elisabetha, a lovely, solemn-faced child who, even at that early age, had a strong sense of rectitude. I was also great friends with the Rumanian sister who nursed Carol, and whom, for some reason, we called Lisica, although it was not her name. Lisica liked fun and good living; she enjoyed the food in our house and was always smiling; she relieved the melancholy of the sick room.
I used to predict that this third child I was carrying would be a child of tears, because in those days there was not a night that I did not weep myself to sleep, but my previsions were wrong. When my little daughter was born in Gotha on January 9, 1900, she was from her first day a child of joy and sunshine, for these miracles do come to pass. Gay, smiling and astonishingly loving from her tenderest infancy, she was more than a consolation, she was a revelation, and I loved her with a love difficult to describe. I could not let her out of my sight; she was a message of peace and hope.
We christened her Marie after my mother and her mother before her, but we called her Mignon, and this name has stuck to her forever. To us all she is and always will be Mignon—only Mignon.
Mama had obtained permission for me to come to her for my confinement, and this is why Mignon was born in Gotha. This period of peace and love after all the turmoil, strife and sadness at home was like a rebirth, and the blessed and healthy kindness of my mother, her understanding and the courage with which she fought for me remain unforgettable to me for all the days of my life.
Our Life at Gotha
My stay at Gotha was prolonged right into the spring because an agreement had at last been come to that the governess should depart before I returned to Rumania; but as both uncle and aunty clung to their favorite, it took a long time before they could resign themselves to letting her go. During all these months I was separated from Carol, but Lisabetha was with me and she looked with grave astonishment at the new little sister who had come into her life.
We loved the great Gotha Schloss, a huge building in the shape of a square horseshoe, overlooking the town from a height, with an enormous inner courtyard. My parents inhabited only one floor of this castle, which they had delightfully arranged with fine old furniture and splendid carpets and rugs. There was a central Saal, or huge living room, and here we would all assemble to work, mostly at wood carving and wood burning, then so much the fashion, but we also painted and embroidered; it was a blissful, harmonious and busy family life. My youngest sister, Beatrice, was growing up. She was exceedingly intelligent and the most delightful and amusing companion; we were great friends. Also Ducky came from Darmstadt and Sandra from Langenburg. The Schloss had room for many, and there was also Gretchen Gazert, everybody's friend and chief amongst the workers; "Gretchen für alles," as we called her, patient, self-sacrificing, good-humored, a born helper and peacemaker; a lovable, gentle, fair young girl whose fate intermingled with ours all through life.
Yes, we loved the Gotha Schloss, but the year before, a great grief had come to us there; the death of our only brother, Alfred. We had all assembled for our parents' silver wedding, many guests had come—Uncle Alexis, Uncle Serge, beautiful Aunt Ella and others. Several festivities had to be given, but Alfred was ill, Alfred was unable to take part in anything. He lay, pale and emaciated, in one of the rooms on the lower floor, his young life wasting away. Soon after, he was taken to Meran, but we did not go with him. Whether my parents guessed he was so near his end I do not know, we sisters certainly did not, and his death soon afterward was a staggering blow. We were all so healthy, so strong, illness was an unknown thing in our family, and now Alfred was gone—Alfred our eldest, the only son, making the first gap in our ranks.
He had died all alone at Meran; only his French tutor and faithful Rose had been with him. It was unbearable to think that he had died all alone.
Never shall I forget the day his body was brought back to Gotha. We were with mama in her room, all of us dressed in deepest mourning, waiting for the funeral procession to enter the castle courtyard.
The New Governess
All of a sudden the church bells of Gotha began ringing and we heard the muffled tones of a funeral march, and mama, generally so sober of movement, so undemonstrative, sank to her knees, crossing herself many times and then burst into tears. Mama—mama who always hid away every emotion. It was an overwhelming sight—mama weeping for her first-born. We all of us went down upon our knees beside her, whilst the bells seemed to be ringing in our heads and our hearts.
It was in April, I think, that I had at last to tear myself away from Gotha and all those of the beloved family circle to join my husband and uncle and aunty at Abbazia, whither they had brought Carol in the company of a new governess; the old one had finally been relinquished, but not without endless and painful debates. Mama had won the day, but from then onward she and uncle were only on polite, but never more on really friendly, terms.
The new governess, a certain Miss Ffoliet, was of Irish origin; she was long, thin, rather shy, very ladylike and unpresuming. Exceedingly shortsighted, she had a somewhat vague and watery look and gave a very limp hand in greeting, but I liked her. Even now we had not been allowed to choose for ourselves, but this new addition to our household was acceptable to all. How the king had overcome the difficulty that Miss Ffoliet had never educated either a king or a queen, I cannot say, for we were allowed to make no inquiries; we merely had to accept the royal decrees.
Nando was anxious about how I would fit in with the new authority, but I was only too desirous of peace; I never cared for trouble and strife, nor was I ever the one to start a quarrel.
It would not be strictly adhering to truth if I gave you to understand that with the coming of Miss Ffoliet all strife and trouble came to an end; this would have been asking too much of a world run by human beings, but a certain peace and good will were reestablished and both sides learned gradually the secret of give and take.
Mignon was an adorable addition to our family; a sweeter, happier, fairer child cannot be imagined. I always compared her to those large, sweet-scented, pink peonies, mother-of-pearl colored, cool to the touch, and which impart an exquisite freshness to the atmosphere of a room. Mignon, in her way, was all this; her hair was flaxen and curly, her complexion that of a pale pink shell, she had the real cupid's-bow mouth and long-shaped, rather sleepy eyes, under well-marked eyebrows and long lashes, both of a much darker shade than her hair. Nothing ever disturbed Mignon's placid good humor; to me, she was pure joy. Lisabetha was much more classically beautiful, but was always a solemn, rather austerely silent child, unable to express her feelings; besides, Mignon had come as a ray of light into great darkness at an hour when I had lost faith in life. Mignon was one of those luminous bridges back to hope which are given to us occasionally, and Mignon unstintedly responded to my love.
These are in no way political reminiscences, but as King Carol was one of the politicians of his day and as, from the age of seventeen upward, the atmosphere I lived in was saturated with politics, I feel that the picture of my life would not be accurate if I did not give a few sketches of those with whom uncle worked, describing some of the ministers he used as dampers to our youth.
In Rumania, politics are bitter. They are pursued with Latin ardor, party feeling is intensely violent and, to Anglo-Saxon conceptions, the language used by one against the other in Parliament, in the press, as well as in general conversation, is, to say the least, somewhat bewildering.
The Chief of the Liberals
In uncle's time there were two definite parties, the Conservatives and the Liberals, though there was a tendency to a split amongst the Conservatives, a section of which called themselves Junimea. My husband had good friends amongst these.
At the time of our marriage, the Conservatives were in power under Lascar Catargiu, an earnest straightforward, level-headed old gentleman of Moldavian origin and with a Moldavian accent, whose calm deliberation was backed by quiet and unemotional common sense. His wife, a worthy elderly lady, had no beauty, but she was motherly, if not entertaining. This worthy couple, however, passed away in my early youth, so that it was not for long that our paths converged.
Dimitru Sturdza, chief of the Liberals, lasted much longer and played a greater part in my life. Dimitru Sturdza really was a conscientious objector. Dry, gray, passionate, he was a small, intense little man, a great sectarian and as quarrelsome as a terrier, but an exceedingly clever and worthy gentleman. A peculiarity which caricaturists joyfully seized upon was a perennial tear in one of his eyes; I have never seen him without this tear. It has even on occasions given me false hopes as to his capacity of feeling. I innocently imagined that this tear had something to do with the feeling of emotion evoked when I had to plead with him, but the tear, alas—although I cannot exactly call it a political tear—had nothing to do with emotion, but only with a too prolific lachrymal gland.
A real chief to his party, Dimitru Sturdza was both feared and respected, uncle had a high opinion of him, and his wife, who was a Cantacuzéne, eldest daughter of the pleasant old lady who had been present at my wedding, had by far the sharpest tongue in Rumania. She was the wit of the party. Her bons mots were sensational, but left little of the one on whom she sharpened her humor. She, too, was small and dry, and being generally in ill health, was deathly pale; she was usually more feared than liked; I do not think that I always found favor in her eyes.
The Easy-Going Conservatives
In general, we had a less good time when the Liberals were in power; they were more deadly in earnest, more unforgiving, more critical; with the Liberals at his elbow, King Carol became ein sehr unbequemer Herr. I must be forgiven for expressing myself occasionally in German when speaking of uncle; his education and conceptions were so characteristically German that this caustic language instinctively comes to my tongue when thinking of him. Sturdza had also studied in Germany, so the two men were of one mentality and a rather terrible force when banded together against you. I have occasionally been up against them, and the bruises received were pretty painful.
I cannot help feeling that the Conservatives were more easy-going. They were more often to be met in society than the Liberals; our contact with them was, so to say, less strictly professional; they admitted some play as well as work. Not so, the Liberals; with them, all was grim earnest at all seasons and at all hours of the day. It was for this reason, I suppose, that they gradually got the upper hand and wielded power more often and for longer periods than the Conservatives. In later years, when I was myself in harness, I mostly worked with the Liberals, but in my youth they certainly did not represent the easy side of life.
As is the way of the passing generation, today I regret the disappearance of those hard masters of yesterday; they were difficult to get on with, but there was iron in them. They knew only too well how to say "no," but when it was "yes," they stood by that "yes," and you felt that you had a solid background. Today we are in a state of transition, and are we not ever inclined to regret "good old times" which we did not always entirely enjoy whilst they were in force?
I do not in the least feel myself justified either in judging or in criticizing those who were the political leaders of my country; my appreciations could easily be considered too feminine, too biased; we all like to imagine that we are impartial, and yet, are we not, all of us, at times, inclined to judge with our feelings rather than with our heads? Men believe they are immune from this so-called feminine peculiarity, but I have often seen the contrary. But my description of our political men must be considered rather from the point of view of how they fitted or did not fit into my life than critically. In later war years, of course, I had to deal with them more closely, but not in my youth.
Many of those who have left a name in this country were in the ministry which received me on my first arrival in the country: Carp, Take Ionescu, Marghiloman, Alexandre and Jacques Lahovary, Menelas Germani and many others. Peter Carp, with his eyeglass screwed into one eye, I liked from the first. His sarcasm intimidated me, but I felt something human beneath his caustic attitude. I had the intuition that he liked and understood me. He appreciated my struggles, my desire to fight my way through and retain my personality in spite of obstacles. Once he said to me: "I have no anxiety about your future." Somewhat astonished, I asked why. "Because I have watched the way you have ever again overcome and got out of your difficulties." These words made me ponder. It was true; occasionally my difficulties had led me to the very edge of the precipice, but I had never quite fallen over the side.
I was, however, astonished that Peter Carp had followed up my various vicissitudes. I never imagined that these important gentlemen took anything but an official interest in me. This was, however, a mistake; many of them had, even then, an eye on me, weighing the pros and cons of my nature, interested, for the country's sake, in what might lie slumbering within this unruly little woman. I was too busy living to ponder over my importance from a national point of view. It was a very long time before I considered myself important, and this explains why I was painfully astonished at the way my life was continually interfered with. I did so long to be left in peace; this, however, was never granted me, neither then nor later.
Now to return to Dimitru Sturdza, that adamant gray little man, all will and tenacity. I have only two souvenirs of more personal contact, the one tragic, the other comic, but even the tragic, as will be seen, had its humorous side. Both are worth relating, being characteristic of the times.
With the Whip Hand
I had a good deal of trouble with my ladies-in-waiting, and this chiefly came from the fact that der Onkel, for educational reasons, made those who were attached to us understand that they were beholden to him, not to us, and whenever a difference arose between us and any of our people, uncle would, once and for all, out of principle, take their part against us. This gave them the whip hand, as they soon understood that in matters of conflict they would always be upheld. In those days it was bien vue to create difficulties, and this right to complain against us made a nightmare of our youth, as it left us entirely at the mercy of those who served us, but who could at any moment invent reasons for offense. The prince and I thus endured the bitterest hours of humiliation; we never got a fair hearing; from the beginning, every case was decided against us. We simply had to clench our teeth and stand it, but I was less inclined to passivity than my husband, so that, although profoundly peace-loving, all fighting seemed to fall to my share.
And so it came to pass that on a certain tenth of May—our national holiday—I quite inadvertently offended my lady-in-waiting. I was then expecting my fourth child and second son, Nicholas, and being unable to stand church ceremonies during those months, I was to appear only at the parade, where I would meet the rest of the family coming from the official Te Deum. So I had my own little procession in a grand carriage à la daumont with four horses. Mignon was then the Benjamin. She was about four years old and a child any mother could have been proud of; pink and white, with flaxen hair and long-shaped blue eyes shaded by dark lashes, she was indeed a prize baby; besides, she was adorably amiable. From earliest youth all my children were trained to take part in official ceremonies; it came to them quite naturally and we had taught them to enjoy them thoroughly instead of being shy. The tenth of May was an occasion to dress them in their best, and, I took a motherly pride in making them look as charming as possible. Always a favorite with the public, I also carefully chose my own gowns for these patriotic ceremonies; hat, cloak and parasol playing a great part in the whole scheme of color.
A Tempest in a Carriage
My lady had come to fetch me and was to follow behind us in a second carriage. I duly ensconced myself in my grand barouche, the springs of which were so soft that you nearly fell on your nose when you stepped up into it, seating beside me my beloved child, who looked like some marvelously grown flower in a show. The servants spread my finery around me and we were ready to start, when, looking up, I saw my lady standing all alone on the threshold, and spontaneously, out of the fullness of my heart, I asked if she would not prefer driving with us rather than alone in the second carriage, and offered her the seat opposite myself and the child. With some demur, she accepted and off we drove, the public giving us a great reception. I was so occupied answering all the ovations and at the same time happily engrossed by the child at my side that I had little leisure to observe my lady's face. I quite naturally imagined she was as pleased as I was; who could feel anything but pleased in such radiant sunshine, everybody glad to see us, and in one carriage with so adorable a child?
What was, therefore, my consternation on receiving, next morning, an exceedingly disagreeable note from King Carol, announcing to me that my lady-in-waiting had handed in her resignation under the plea that yesterday I had offended and humiliated her in public by seating her with her back to the horses instead of beside me, and that he, the king, considered her complaint entirely justified. What defense had I to make?
There have been hours in life when I have had the feeling that my brain was giving way under the pressure of too-overpowering injustice. This was one of them. Every drop of blood in my body revolted against this outrageous accusation, also at the thought that any human being could have had daily contact with me for several years and yet believe me capable of wanting to humiliate him or her publicly or on any other occasion. I might be hasty, overspontaneous, rash even, but to imagine that I, the warm-hearted, uncalculating woman, could in cold blood await an opportunity to mortify them in the eyes of all the world was too abominable. I got into such a state that all my household ran together in fear that Rumania's fourth hope should come to an untimely end.
My poor husband stood aghast; he, too, was overwhelmed with the injustice done to his wife, but from the first, beaten, hopeless, knowing too well that he was never given a hearing and that it would be no good trying to justify me, because we were condemned from the beginning, without any hope of being able to defend ourselves.
"Then I'll send for Dimitru Sturdza," I declared, amidst the flood of my tears.
"Why for Sturdza?"
"Because I am sick of it. Because he is Prime Minister and he belongs to the chief critics, but I am at the end of my tether and mean to have it out at last and to have my say."
Nando tried to protest, but in vain. I had to see Sturdza.
Anxious royal nurses and maids, fussing around me, had put me to bed. My eyes were ablaze, my temples throbbing, my cheeks burning red, fair hair in revolt. I lay amidst my pillows, an indignant, defiant, angry princess, very much Queen Victoria's granddaughter and daughter of Marie Alexandrovna, Grand Duchess of Russia. And to the bedside of this royal little hurricane came Dimitru Sturdza with his small shrinking body and perennial tear.
And I did, indeed, have my say.
All the pent-up indignation of many years of oppression flowed from my lips; I spoke in both French and German, changing from one language to another, as long as I could find words and expressions strong enough to convey all I had to say.
"Have none of you any mercy?" I cried. "Don't you understand that I am a transplanted tree, that my roots were torn out of my own ground? I am one against many, a stranger in a strange land, defenseless, dependent upon the mercy of a country to which I came in good faith. But I have been trapped. All that you wanted of me was that I should give royal children to the country. You do not in the least mind what my feelings are or my sorrows, my revolts, my loneliness, my struggles and the immense sadness of being eternally misunderstood."
Opening the Vials of Wrath
"You were proud to import a princess de bonne familie; you appreciated my face; you all like to have a ' pretty crown princess'; you were glad also that I was healthy and that my manifold relations sit upon the different thrones of Europe. But what did any of you care about the inner me, about my ideals, my hopes, about that great believing trust I put in you, about the timid girl who came from afar with the gift of her youth and good will? You judge me with your minds that are political clockworks, unfeeling, merciless, making no concessions for my youth. In the dryness of your hearts you voluntarily misjudge me, because it is too much trouble to try to understand me or to treat me as a human being.
"Like spiders, you sit watching if I will fall, and when I do, you rejoice, because you believe it gives you the right to redouble your severity, your subjugation, your desire to hold me in chains. You never pause to remember that I am a stranger amongst you who are all at home.
"Constantly, with bleeding heart, must I listen to the accusations raised against me, to the calumnies invented to blacken my reputation, and there is not one who raises a voice in my defense; they all howl with the wolves. I am supposed humbly to submit to all this injustice because of the honor you have done me by accepting me as wife of your future king.
"I know there are the differences of our races. I am an Anglo-Saxon; you are Latin. I am fundamentally a believer; I believe in good, in God, in justice, in love and pity. You are skeptics, cynics; you scoff at everything; you do not believe in a pure heart.
"You see the dark, ugly side of everything, whilst I see the light. I believe in ideals, in fidelity, in honor, in good intentions. I am not eternally on the lookout for the wolf in sheep's clothing whose every word is a lie. But even Latin and Anglo-Saxon could come to an understanding if there were no guile and treachery, no sneaky tortuous desire continually to ensnare me and put me in the wrong and to gain a complete and unfair mastery over me.
"I came to Rumania like a young and joyous warrior, ready to enter your ranks, to salute your colors, to march bravely in your lines, a song on my lips, glad of any adventure, any effort, daring, perhaps unconventional, but yours, heart and soul."
A Declaration of Independence
"But I am no match for your ruses, for your tricks and pitfalls, for your complicated artifices and chicanes; I am destined to be eternally beaten if your weapons are suspicion and deceit. But whose the shame? Mine or yours?
"But today this accusation of having willfully hurt my lady's feelings, of having sneakily awaited a public occasion to humiliate her, is so revolting, such a screaming injustice, that at last the worm turns, the prisoner will stand no more.
"My patience is at an end, so I have sent for you, the Prime Minister, to declare that I am dead sick of it, will endure no more. I have decided to leave the country if this sort of thing continues; I shall shake its dust off my heels, return to my mother, taking with me the unborn child, boy or girl, which was to have been my fourth gift to those whose only sport it has been to suspect, calumniate and willingly misunderstand me. I am no born slave; honors cannot buy me. I cannot and shall not submit to this sort of treatment, and I warn you that at this hour I am ready to tear everything asunder. I am indifferent to the outcry there will be, to the scandal. You can explain my desertion as you will; nothing matters to me any more; all is at an end between us. I have only one overpowering desire left and that is to be free, free, free!
"There, Mr. Sturdza! This is what I have to say to you. Today I am indifferent if I shock or hurt or horrify you, for there is not an inch of my soul that the nonbelievers and calumniators have not bruised and wounded. This is the truth, all of the truth, nothing but the truth, and may God stand by me in greater mercy than you have shown. Amen!"
I have only a hazy recollection of the defense poor little Sturdza put up. Anyhow, he tried to pacify me and spoke wise words in keeping with his honorable function. He tried to make me understand that in Rumania people were touchy, overcritical, that the dynasty was new and had to advance slowly, with precautions. Well aware of this, King Carol wisely knew that every act must first be strictly demurred at, for fear of taking a false step; this was no doubt arduous, but of paramount importance. I was young, unripe; I must therefore allow myself to be led and advised by those with deeper experience. People in this part of the world did not understand the liberty of my English ways; these gave rise to misinterpretations. I must take this into consideration.
It might be the custom at my grandmother's court to offer your lady a back seat; here it was looked upon as an affront, and my lady was, therefore, justified in her annoyance. He would, however, try to arrange things and explain that there had been no premeditation on my part. I must not imagine that every man's hand was against me. On the contrary, I was much loved and the people were proud of the beautiful children I was giving them, but I must learn to be more considerate, more careful, less rash. Life was not a game, but a serious business into which my betters had not only the right but also the duty to initiate me according to their wiser judgment and superior knowledge.
At that moment I think the tear actually rolled off the little man's cheek, and seizing hold of my hand, he implored me to put away all such sinful thoughts as desertion; this was unworthy of the brave soldier I professed to be, and, above all, I must calm myself for the sake of the young life within me.
By this time my eyes were red, my nose a burning misery, my hair disheveled, my strength spent. Nando came in almost timidly, anxious about what situation he would find. He patted me on my back with his beautifully shaped hand and promised that Mr. Sturdza would speak to uncle, that I must no more excite myself, nor weep, that I must rest, and so on.
So the storm abated. I blew my poor little nose, dried my swollen eyes, and lay there like a pricked balloon, entirely prostrate, but with a numb feeling of satisfaction at having relieved myself—in words at least—of the pent-up misery of many years of misunderstanding.
The Official Scolder
Nando was touchingly kind, and I can still feel the affectionate pressure of his long fingers on my shoulder. So gladly would he have helped, but having accepted his fate, what could he do? He had learned obedience, his patience was without end; I, in my turn, must resign myself to the inevitable. I listened with the weakness of the exhausted, and yet, faintly, the question was stirring in my brain: Would I ever really enter the ranks of the resigned?
My second personal experience with Dimitru Sturdza was of another kind, but had also to do with the conflicts and storms of my young life. Here Ioan Kalinderu reappears on the scene, Ioan Kalinderu, who, although I have not mentioned him since the day of my arrival, played a great and, I may say, steady part in our lives.
Kalinderu was uncle's classical deputy when we had to be admonished, when we needed a talking to; he was the instrument of uncle's stately régime, the authorized channel of his kingly displeasure. Whenever we were considered unsubmissive and uncle did not want to do the scolding himself, Kalinderu was deputed to go and reprimand us and lead us back to the ways of virtue. The Kalinderu days were bad days, because his appearance on the scene almost always meant that we had in some way transgressed and that it was going to be thoroughly rubbed into us in so many weighty words.
Nando dreaded the Kalinderu days even more than I did; by force of circumstance, he had been obliged to look upon these scoldings as serious and far-reaching, whilst, although I knew all that Kalinderu represented in uncle's mind, there was just that touch of the comic about the worthy gentleman which tickled my sense of humor and there was also this: Kalinderu was not quite immune to my youth and femininity. When my husband was scolded, it was indeed ein Staalsakt, but when the king's deputy passed from the prince's to the princess' chamber, there was another light in his eye, and in spite of his dignity, he became just a little bit of a "fine fellow," and that wee difference was the chink in his armor where I was concerned. In fact, he rather enjoyed this part of his mission.
My room was pretty, full of flowers, my chairs soft, I was young and my hair was golden; c'esl tout dire!
Kalinderu had his own way of pronouncing French; although his speech was rotund and fustian, his "es" was "ess," and this deprived his sermons of some of their dignity, because however impressed and downcast I might be, a smile flickered in my mind, even if I did not dare let it appear at the corner of my lips. Whenever my delinquencies had been more than usually reprehensible, he would begin with the sentence which had become classic: "Es-sque vous voulez devenir reine?" which always awoke in me the desire to reply: "This entirely depends upon more things than one." But I knew when and when not to give way to levity, and yielded to no untimely mirth in the great presence. But let me say this for Kalinderu: He was thoroughly and honestly devoted to his royal family; he was the convinced and obedient servant of his sovereign; but he was also kindly disposed toward those destined one day to take his master's place, and had a really grand-fatherly love for our children, especially for Lisabetha, whose beauty, even at an early age, made an impression upon him.
On this particular occasion that I am about to recount, Kalinderu appeared in a spirit of conciliation. He knew that at that period I was being more sinned against than sinning, but he guessed that storms were brewing and that the periodical necessity had arisen to divert into safe channels my growing dissatisfaction with life in general and my household in particular.
So along came Ioan Kalinderu, olive branch in hand, head cocked on one side, a sly look in his half-closed eye.
Heh! Heh!—and the worthy gentleman twirled the black cord of his eyeglass between his fingers. Was I not a little pale? Would not a little change do me good? But His Majesty the King—Kalinderu always rose from his seat, even if the seat were a soft armchair, when he pronounced this august name—did not consider it opportune that I should go abroad for the present, so he, Kalinderu, had come to propose that I should visit one of the crown domains under his charge. His Majesty—again Kalinderu rose from his seat—looked with favor upon this project, which he considered instrumental in giving both pleasure and education. Would I, therefore, accept an invitation for a two days' visit to Gherghita, near Ploesti? And so that I should also have instructive as well as stimulating company, His Majesty had proposed that Mr. Dimitru Sturdza, the Prime Minister, and Mr. Ioan Bratianu, Minister of Communications, should accompany me, as well as my lady-in-waiting.
Eager for any occasion to see, whenever I could, something of the country, I willingly accepted this eminently seemly proposal, although the company of the Prime Minister was not in those days considered conducive to amusement; but this was no question of amusement; at King Carol's court the word "amusement" was taboo. This was to be an instructive excursion, pleasant also, but strictly within the limits of the permissible; hence Dimitru Sturdza, Ioan Kalinderu and Ioan Bratianu were on the border line between the pleasant and the permitted, or perhaps partook a little of both.
So to Gherghita, near Ploesti, I was duly conducted in this learned and decorous company, and there, in a modest little house which had been embellished according to Kalinderu's taste, I spent two instructive days.
I thoroughly enjoyed this royally sanctioned, somewhat-comic holiday away from the daily round. Dimitru Sturdza was in full force during meals, when I was his attentive pupil, whilst Bratianu came to the fore in field and forest, following me even on horseback, for Ioan Kalinderu bred horses on his domains, and the best of these were put at my disposal during my stay. It must not, however, be imagined that Bratianu and I rode en-tête-à-tête. Oh, dear, no!
Kalinderu accompanied me everywhere and we were followed by a goodly army of mounted peasants and woodmen—quite a regal procession, in fact.
Bratianu to the Rescue
Only Ioan Bratianu, being, as our kind little Tantchen once expressed it, the only young man under forty her niece was allowed to meet, considered that enough was being done for my instruction and that he at least might add a more treble note to this puritanical holiday party; so, instead of overwhelming me with more knowledge, he occasionally lightened the ceremonious atmosphere with a witty and well-placed joke.
Burdened with the glory of his father, Ioan Bratianu was a personality even without his name, and what was more important to me then, Ioan Bratianu was an eminently agreeable companion and, let it be added, Bratianu II was a lady's man.
Tall, but even in his youth of somewhat heavy build, he had fine dark velvety eyes, but a rather too high voice. Pleasantly ironical, watchful to the pitch of slyness, nothing escaped Bratianu's observation. His movements were slow, lazy looking, and he was never particular about his clothes. In those days, kept carefully under by Sturdza, it was, nevertheless, clearly evident that Ioan Bratianu would certainly rise. Sensing in me the future, Bratianu never made the mistake of considering me a negligible quantity; I was given to understand from the beginning, that, for him at least, I existed in more ways than one.
A Prophecy That Came True
To say that I already liked him then would be saying too much, but he could not be ignored; he went out of his way to make himself pleasant; he was young, ambitious, far-seeing and from the first exceedingly well appreciated by King Carol.
My husband liked him, but his liking was tinged with a slight feeling of diffidence, as though unsure on what ground he was treading. There was something a little overpowering about Bratianu which awoke an uneasy sensation; his glove was of velvet, but one was not very sure what lay beneath.
Bratianu had a way with ladies; he liked women, but in a somewhat Oriental manner. He would use his charm to the utmost, but was very careful never to be the dupe.
It was our lot to work together later, when our time came. Our association has been much criticized, a thousand tales have been broadcast about it, many of them mere legends, but a mutual love for Rumania made us recognize in each other our capacity for work and active patriotism.
I do not wish, like Prince Bülow, whose reminiscences everyone is reading today, to quote all the things said to my advantage, but this prediction made about us at a time when I, at least, was still much reprimanded and of small importance, is not without interest, It was pronounced by a very intelligent financier, unofficial adviser of King Carol, whose audiences were given privately. This clever old gentleman declared: "There are two people who are destined to play a big part in the reign of King Ferdinand: Ioan Bratianu and our fair little princess."
Editor's Note—This is the sixth of a new series of articles by Marie, Queen of Rumania. The seventh will appear next week.