KING CAROL preferred receiving his guests at Sinaia, the great love of his life. But there were, of course, occasions when he could not avoid receiving at Bukharest, especially when a sovereign came to see him, or a crown prince, when it was considered de rigueur that he should first pass through the capital, where the citizens were eager to show their appreciation by preparing a big reception.
By far the most important guest we ever received was the Emperor of Austria, dear old Franz Joseph. The Czar's visit was much later—in 1914. I was very young in those days and still regarded such events as pleasurable excitements.
King Carol had a feeling of affectionate respect for the old Emperor, who was a true friend to Rumania's king, even when his politics weighed rather heavily upon the striving little country, which showed rather uncomfortable signs of living, thriving and spreading.
The Emperor Franz Joseph came on the sixteenth of September, 1896, and his advent in our midst was looked upon as an occasion for great rejoicing and demonstrations of sympathy, and my husband and I were also called upon to do our share.
At this same date my father also expressed a wish to come and see me for the first time, and my joy was great, but uncle was not quite sure if it suited him to have any other royal guest at the same time as the Emperor, and persuaded me to write as tactfully as possible to my parent saying that, as we were expecting this very official visit, would not papa, perhaps, prefer coming a little later. But, luckily, papa did not take the hint and answered that, on the contrary, he would be only too delighted to meet the dear old Emperor again, whom he had not seen for many a year; so uncle had to include the Duke of Coburg in his festive program.
Papa, of course, lived in our house, and I remember having sent him the queer petition to bring his cook with him. Papa declared that he had often been asked to bring a friend, a gun or a fishing rod, but this was the first time he had ever been invited with his cook.
Trouble With the Palace Cooks
THE reason for this unconventional demand was that our very young household was in continual difficulties with its cooks. They never seemed to remain the year round, and I was quite at a loss, my house being a very big one and rather unwieldy to manage, with the not very efficient aid I received from those in authority. General Robescu, the head of our household—otherwise an amiable gentleman—was quite unequal to settling kitchen difficulties.
It had become proverbial in the family that we could never keep a cook, and mama continually teased me much on this subject; we even once had a bet together that if I managed to keep my cook beyond the New Year, she would give me a certain coveted Italian watercolor in her possession. I won my picture, but I cannot swear that the cook much outstayed the first of January.
Cooks of every kind and every nationality kept passing through our kitchen during the first years: A German who was deplorably inadequate; a Frenchman who thought himself a poet and hid little musical boxes in his puddings, and disliked General Robescu with Latin unrestraint; a Pole who suffered from chilblains; and a Czech who could not get on with his wife, and so on.
Other young households have, I believe, known the same sort of trouble, and we were not an exception, but I felt very humiliated at having to ask my father for the loan of his cook; but let me hastily add that the cook actually in my service now is soon going to celebrate his thirty years' jubilee, which proves that the culinary difficulties did not last forever.
A Luncheon for an Emperor
BUT as one of the features of uncle's program for the Austrian Emperor's entertainment was an official lunch we were to give at Cotroceni, it was of paramount importance to have a good cook, and the Coburg cook was quite a celebrity. I am glad to say that our lunch was a great success and papa rubbed his hands in silent glee.
It was the first and only time papa ever visited me in Rumania, and I was pathetically eager that he should feel at home in our house. In those days I was not a very competent housewife. I found local peculiarities hard to cope with, and a deplorable inability to scold my servants was not particularly conducive to order. In Rumania nothing is naturally tidy, there is little routine; and being accustomed to Occidental precision, I did not realize what a continual effort it would mean to hold my own when dealing with the many quite unexpected and perplexing Eastern negligences.
With the years papa had become very silent; sometimes, in fact, he could be quite glum, and he liked best to be left alone to his own devices and desires. He had his own habits, and these we had been taught rigorously to respect. No one could be more charming than papa on the days when he was gay and sociable, but what he liked best was to read his newspapers by the hour, seated ensconced behind them, a glass of beer at hand, from which he, from time to time, would slowly drink.
At that period we had only two children, Carol and Elisabetha. We were very proud of them and they shared every hour of our day. Lisabetha, then about three years old, like her grandfather, was very silent; she seldom expressed her feelings or desires, but her movements were deliberate and precise. Her face was very round, her features small, regular, absurdly classical, her gaze direct and piercing, sometimes almost fierce; she kept her very small mouth tightly shut. In fact, a queer little morsel of humanity, but very attractive in her own small way.
This wee little girl took a strange fancy to her taciturn grandfather; he was "canny" to her, words were unnecessary; she felt comfortable in his company.
I can still see her, dressed in a funny little Rumanian costume with an orange handkerchief tied peasantwise around her face, which made it look still chubbier, quietly stalking after him, dragging an absurd little straw chair about with her, closely observing the movements of the elderly, silent gentleman who had so suddenly come into her life, to see where he would settle down. When papa had selected the seat and the corner which suited him and had buried himself behind his paper, Lisabetha would place her chair close beside him and remain there, absolutely mute, but quite contented, as though at last having found the companion who suited her best. From time to time papa would peep at her over his paper, but he understood that nothing was expected of him, so these two queer associates exchanged never a word. But the moment papa moved, Lisabetha, straw chair and all, moved with him, ready to take up her position beside him, no matter where he settled down. Lisabetha seldom showed strong preferences for anyone, so these small maneuvers were really amusing to watch.
All the energy and good will of court, town and country were called upon to receive the old Emperor worthily. It meant much to King Carol that this venerated sovereign should be honored in every way; it suited his politics as well as his sympathies, and with King Carol these two—affection and politics—went always closely hand in hand. Young and ignorant though I was, I distinctly felt that uncle considered this a great day for himself and his country.
Nando was very eager that I should honorably do my share ; he was always a little anxious on official occasions, afraid that I should not be sufficiently impressed or that I might be too offhand. It is true that I never could learn very ceremonious or conventional manners; I was too much a child of nature and had never lived in centers of severe etiquette, so my training in these arts was scanty and insufficient, but I was naturally amiable when not too shy. I had a kindly feeling toward all men, and, after all, youth and a pretty face are natural allies. Aunt Elizabeth was, on the contrary, a past master in the art of receiving. Her social talents were exceptional and her conversation charming, interesting, though occasionally a little high-flown and over-poetical for very terre-à-terre people. But I learned much from her, though in those days her excessive amiability made me feel sometimes a little uncomfortable. I would not always play up, for the young are always afraid of being absurd, and I came of a family little accustomed to show or express their feelings.
Riding in the Big Parade
I CANNOT remember all the details of that imperial visit; it is so long ago and there is no one left to talk it over with; they are all gone. But I remember the big parade where I proudly rode beside uncle and the Emperor, and papa was also with us in a blue German hussar uniform.
The royal visit was considered a great success and also beneficial to the good feeling between the two countries, which was essential, as very close neighbors are generally not overfond of each other.
Kaiser Wilhelm never paid a visit to King Carol; all through his life uncle expected this politeness of the one whom he considered the head of the family, although the Sigmaringen Hohenzollerns were the older line. My husband regretted this deeply, for he would have much liked to see the Emperor of Germany follow the Austrian Emperor's example, but he hoped in vain.
My father prolonged his visit after the Emperor's departure; he liked Sinaia and was contented in our little house and graciously accepted our small daughter's silent attentions, flattered and amused at the child's evident sympathy for him.
Long ago, in aunty's youth, she had had a feeling for my father. Obedient to his very royal mother's wishes, papa had, as quite a young man, undertaken a tournée through the courts of Europe, so as to review the eligible princesses carefully drawn up on a list by Queen Victoria. This list brought him also to Neuwied to see young Elizabeth, noted for her charm and exceptional intelligence.
Romance Under the Beeches
ELIZABETH OF WIED was schwärmerisch, high- flown, poetical; brought up amongst artists and intellectuals, she loved music, literature, philosophy—was, in fact, an enthusiast and somewhat of a bluestocking, but a poetical bluestocking, full of ideals. Papa was good-looking, his eyes were exceedingly blue, and when the young princess and her mother discovered that he played the violin, he was taken out into their beloved beech woods and had to play to them there under the trees.
It was amusing to hear the way each described their remembrance of this sylvan concert. To aunty it had remained an outstanding event, a marvelous experience, the recollection of which was cherished all the days of her life.
"It was my one little romance," she told me.
To papa, alas, it had been one of the chief reasons why he had struck Elizabeth of Wied off his mother's list. To the shy young Englishman this poetical episode had been an excruciatingly painful experience.
Aunty confessed to me what my father had meant to her—a dream that did not come true. I tried to prepare her for the change she would find in her ideal after so many years; but she was sentimentally excited at the thought of seeing him again, and still kept in her heart a vision of a blue-eyed youth with a violin under his chin. Well, of course, it was a disillusionment.
First of all, papa had never been what she had imagined—no, not even then, in his early youth, for "things are not as they seem"—the violin had never been an essential, but only an appendage. It was not young Alfred's every-day habit to play under the trees of the forest; even on that memorable occasion he had done it grudgingly and only to comply with the ecstatic ladies' desire, but this vision of the good- looking young prince with the violin pressed to his cheek was to them the real man, such as their poetical fantasy desired him to be. And today he was very much the old gentleman with the ingrained habits of one who saw life as it was and not through particularly rosy spectacles; at that, he was of the earth, earthy, and had scanty patience with what he termed "sentimental nonsense."
In spite of all this, aunty still clung to the idea that papa loved music above all things. She could not help seeing that he had become a rather taciturn old gentleman, not in the least given to high-flown rhapsodies, but nothing is more tenacious than an old dream. In spite of the most evident reality, Carmen Sylva, the Poet Queen, wanted to awake in this elderly prince, whose illusions had been shed one by one along the road of life, some echo of that far-off day spent under the great beech trees of the Neuwied forest.
Unfortunately, papa's advent came during the period when aunty thought to have discovered a musical genius in a man of doubtful talent. This gentleman has been before mentioned—the old boy who imagined he could sing equally tenor, bass or barytone.
This mistaken enthusiasm was the reason why a second picnic was organized, aunty desiring that her protégé should display his talents in a wild and romantic setting. So we once more set forth under aunty's command, being led through a forest to a wild place amongst rocks, and here, grouped about more or less uncomfortably upon hard stones, we were given a concert I am not going to try to describe.
To make things worse, aunty, who lived not in a world of realities, liked to assemble many people around her—the more the better, no matter how miscellaneous or how indiscriminately shuffled together—old and young, rich and poor, of different classes, of different nationalities, the blasés as well as the artless, the sophisticated as well as those poor of spirit—all these had to follow her lead, for Carmen Sylva needed an audience.
So papa found himself one of a heterogeneous company which meant nothing to him and which he passed in review with none too neighborly feelings. He did not particularly relish being dragged up steep mountain paths, nor did he find either pleasure or repose on his rocky seat.
I was feeling nervous, knowing that my father was somewhat short of temper, nor was he particularly patient or long suffering; when displeased, it was not his way to bury his feelings under a mask of amiability. So I watched him anxiously, knowing that his nerves were going to be severely tried.
I had two young English girl friends with me, and we exchanged apprehensive glances; we saw the humorous side of the situation, we were accustomed to aunty's eccentricities, but we realized that papa's British conventionality was going to receive somewhat of a shock.
And a shock, indeed, it did receive. The singer appeared suddenly from behind a rock and striking a heroic attitude considered in keeping with the mountain background, gave vent to a series of extraordinary sounds which aunty listened to with clasped hands.
Ferdinand of Bulgaria
I sat as close to papa as I dared, with the feeling that I could ward off disaster. When displeased, he had a way of sticking out his underlip in a sort of pout, which we always considered a danger signal, and it meant that we had to tread carefully. Once he turned to me and said:
"This is outrageous! Am I to be made a fool of?"
"No, no, papa, but just wait a little and I shall invent some excuse to get off."
And get off we did, at least before the storm burst, but the ordeal had been terrible.
My knees were actually shaking when I got up, but I cannot remember what plausible excuse I found for carrying papa off, leaving to her concert aunty and all those who had followed in her wake.
Papa kept snorting his indignation all the way home, angry with each stone his toes met on the steep descent.
"Is that what you call singing here in Rumania?"
"No, no, papa, but aunty, you know—"
"No, I don't know, and don't want to. I had the feeling of being in a lunatic asylum!"
"No, no, but aunty, you see—"
"No, I don't see, and don't want to see. It was preposterous!"
And thus all the way home.
Later, when papa had left, aunty one day said to me with a sigh:
"Darling, I did not find a trace in him of the young man who was my dream. Such a pity. Nothing at all, not even his love for music."
And that moment, sadly feeling the difference of being or not being a poet, I gently tried to explain:
"You see, aunty, not many people at sixty are just as they were at twenty-one."
"I have not changed much," said aunty. And this indeed was true.
Undeniably, one of uncle's and aunty's most interesting and entertaining guests was Ferdinand of Bulgaria. He came more than once—as prince, with his first wife, mother of his children, and later, as king, with his second wife, Eleonora, but he also came alone, and I must confess that his appearance in our midst was always welcome to me, because he was so extraordinarily amusing.
A Lover of Intrigue
Both Uncle Carol and Uncle Ferdinand were considered clever politicians and diplomats, which they undeniably were, but their schools were very different. There was not much love lost between these two sovereigns, but their politeness towards each other was irreproachable and admirable; a grand display of perfect manners. For the looker-on, it was as good as a play to see them together, because greater contrasts it would have been difficult to find.
Der Onkel was earnest, somewhat pompous, took himself and his work tremendously seriously, and certainly his methods were as upright and devoid of double-dealing as is compatible with the professions of reigning and diplomacy, but uncle was entirely devoid of a sense of humor, nor did he understand the art of small talk and elegant conversation. Uncle was, in fact, somewhat of a pedant.
Imagine as contrast Ferdinand of Coburg, world renowned for his intelligence and love of intrigue, which he professed like a fine art. The French blood running in his veins made of him an incomparable causeur; his repartee was sparkling; his irony light, intangible, and always to the point. Sharp witted, all-observing, with a superfine sense of humor, he often indulged in the delicate luxury of laughing at himself, of making fun of his looks, his idiosyncrasies, his tastes, his likes and dislikes. All this, furnished subjects for endless witty conversation and allowed him to use his sarcasm to his heart's content.
Ferdinand was also an artist to his fingertips, art was bread and water to him, and as botanist and biologist, his equal was difficult to find, even in the scientific world; his love for flowers, plants and animals was deep-rooted and convincing. There may have been less comfortable sides to Uncle Ferdinand's nature, but a more pleasant, stimulating and erudite companion, when he set out to charm his audience, cannot be imagined.
To anyone with a sense of humor, to see the two kings together was really exceedingly entertaining. Uncle always took himself seriously at all hours of the day, at all seasons of the year and in every company. Life was to him a long chain of important events; nor did he ever ease this attitude of heavy earnestness; whilst Bulgaria's monarch was a great actor.
Il aimait s'écouter and saw himself in the parts it, in turn, pleased him to interpret, be it that of a wily, ceremonious politician, the easily offended ruler whose every susceptibility must be respected, or that of the debonair, polite, sarcastic homme du monde, super-refined, all smiles and amiability, or even that of the somber, almost tragic tyrant of a mysterious country always in ebullition. His talk would then be of danger, plague, treason and sudden death; his voice would become dramatic, his accents thrilling, and he managed to evoke sinister pictures full of dark possibilities. But never for a moment during these recitations would he quite lose that expression of half-amused irony—in fact, he had almost a wink in that small sly all- seeing eye of his, meant for those clever enough to share with him the fun he was having by thus incorporating these different exciting personalities.
Physically these two monarchs were also interesting contrasts. Uncle was ascetic, sparse, with no pretense to elegance, blue-blooded, but for all that a self-made man, proud of his achievements, with just a touch of naïveté about him, because he took himself so hopelessly au sérieux. Uncle was. a soldier and somewhat of a Spartan, or better said, there was something of the monk about King Carol. But Bulgaria's ruler was tall, his figure somewhat ponderous, a sybarite, fond of discussing his health, posing for the valetudinarian averse to physical effort, caring for his ease and comfort, exceedingly soigné as to dress and general elegance, grand seigneur to the point of decadence, sarcastic about himself and others, always having the laugh on his side. His watchful eyes were set rather closely together over a nose no doubt very aristocratic, but certainly of exaggerated proportions.
A Passion for Gems
An ardent lover of beauty, Uncle Ferdinand was well aware that his nose was too prominent a feature, so he was forever mentioning this unfortunate appendage, which he called "die Dulderin"—the sufferer—and once, showing me a group photograph of which he formed the center, he said to me in his somewhat nasal voice: "Avec ces tout petits yeux et ce nez comme une trompe, ne suis-je pas tout à fait comme un éléphant? Mais, ma chère nièce, j'ai aussi toute la sagacité de ce si vénérable quadrupède." And then he could laugh a little in the way of poor Aunt Philippa, his eyes completely disappearing, drawing in the air in a quite special way through that offending nose.
Ferdinand of Bulgaria had a strange passion for precious stones; he would fondle them as though their touch gave him almost physical ecstasy. Considering me a worthy audience, he would bring out his different little stories for my benefit, knowing that I appreciated his subtleties, and thus he once drew a picture of himself which I have never forgotten, a picture where he is seated all by himself in a dimly lighted chamber, draped in a long black-velvet dressing gown, fingering his priceless gems.
Uncle Ferdinand had beautifully kept, very white hands and wore his nails overlong, and looking at those pale fingers, ever afterward it seemed to me that I saw the many-colored gems slipping through them one by one.
In everyday life these pale fingers were covered with beautiful rings; his gestures were slow, had about them something of a priest officiating in church.
I loved talking to him about flowers and animals; it was like turning over the pages of a superbly written book; he had traveled through many countries and could tell me with the minutest details where the rarest flowers grew, describing the soil in which they thrived, their habits, color, perfume, and his language was so descriptive that picture upon picture passed before my eyes.
King Ferdinand had the disconcerting talent of being able to keep up two conversations at a time. He often indulged in this whilst talking with King Carol, whose wit was less chameleonlike. His serious pompous discourse was for the king, his amusing asides for the younger generation, but these were so smoothly woven into his speech that, before uncle could notice any byplay, he was back again in the middle of his political dissertation, as though there had never been any deviation from the central subject.
Once, at a big dinner at Bukharest, I was sitting on his left. It was just after he had declared himself king, and he was on his way back from Russia. He had been officially received with every honor, for Uncle Ferdinand was a great stickler as to etiquette; outwardly he was on his best behavior, exceedingly ceremonious, covered with decorations, honey dripping from his lips. Speeches befitting the occasion were pronounced on both sides. He had just sat down again after having delivered himself of his most amiable discourse, glasses had been raised, healths drunk; then, leaning over toward me, his wee eyes sparkling with mischief, he whispered into my ear: "Et, très chère nièce, il faut savoir qu'au fond nous nous détestons!" But I was given to understand that, having Coburg blood in my veins, I was not included in this detestation.
The Two Wives of the King
Such was King Ferdinand of Bulgaria, seen by a niece who, herself not lacking in humor, was occasionally allowed a peep behind the scenes; it can be well imagined that I thoroughly enjoyed his occasional appearance in our midst.
I am afraid, however, that this uniquely entertaining gentleman was not the most comfortable of husbands. Both his wives stood in great awe of him and would never have dared oppose his will in the smallest degree. Poor delicate Maria Louise was a frail, small woman with a long, rather melancholy Greco face, wearing the many magnificent jewels with which her husband had overwhelmed her as though they were a burden beyond her strength. Her large, washed-out blue eyes had a resigned pathetic expression; she was what she looked—a sad woman with not enough health to endure all that was expected of her. She bore her exigent master four children and then she died, and death was probably her release.
A born Bourbon Parma, she was very aristocratic and intensely Catholic, so that any derogation from this faith was, to her, mortal sin; yet she had to bear the grief of seeing her eldest son rechristened in the Orthodox church after having first been baptized a Catholic. She never got over this blow, so she allowed the first serious illness which came to her to carry her off from this world of pain and deception.
Eleanora of Reuss, the king's second wife, was quite another type. She was a Protestant and a much more vigorous and independent woman, who, during the Russo-Japanese War, had gone out as nurse to the wounded. She knew life and had faced it squarely; she had an altruistic spirit, was practical, energetic, and almost middle- aged when she became the second Queen of Bulgaria, but to say that she was happy would, I think, be an exaggeration.
The Crown Prince Comes
She served her people with generous abnegation, was a wonderful sister of charity during the Balkan and, later, the World War, but she died before peace was concluded.
Eleanora was some relation of aunty, and once she came to Sinaia without her overpowering husband, and on this occasion we were able to appreciate her sense of fun and good humor; she enjoyed our family circle and brought with her two of the most beautiful Skye terriers I have ever seen. When I think of Aunt Eleanora I always see her with those two superb canine friends.
The Crown Prince of Germany's visit to Bukharest in the spring of 1909 was a gayer business; it, so to say, sounded another key; it was less ponderous, more colorful and quite in keeping with the early-flowered season.
Tall and exceedingly slim, although not handsome, in his white cuirassier uniform, polished top-boots and shining, eagle-crowned helmet, William was a goodly sight, and as he was out for gaining hearts, he was at once exceedingly popular. When on his best behavior, his manners were perfect, and he had a charming way with the king, full of deference and attention, so that the old gentleman was much pleased with him, though he was always somewhat disconcerted by youth.
Young William had, however, a weakness, and this was his overgreat appreciation of pretty ladies, which kept his uniformed guardians in a constant state of anxiety. This anxiety was passed on to uncle, and joining forces, the Crown Prince's every velleity toward freedom and arranging things pleasantly for himself was ingeniously frustrated by the elders.
To the great displeasure of the generals of his suite, he managed to get out of a visit he was to pay to Constantza, in the hope of spending that day with me and my young lady friends. This pleasant little plan was, however, brought to naught by those in authority, annoyed at his refusal to inspect our seaport, where an eager colony of Germans had been awaiting his coming with feverish excitement. Therefore, instead of being allowed to enjoy himself in the company most congenial to him, he was marshaled about from one dull institution to another, and instead of drinking tea at Cotroceni, as he had hoped to do, he finally had to take it with aunty, who talked to him about his grand and great-grandfather, declaring that she was in intimate communion with Emperor Frederick's spirit.
Certain concessions were, however, made both to William's tastes and youth, and he was allowed to be amused, not perhaps as he would have liked, but strictly within the limits of court etiquette.
A huge garden party was arranged at Buftea, the country seat of the Stirbeys; dances in national costumes were danced on the grass, and as there were young ladies galore, the bright young prince was able to use his charm to his heart's content, both offering and receiving homage in a manner which betrayed perfect routine.
The garden party was a perfect success, the weather was beautiful, there were many flowers, the trees were in earliest leaf. The old king and queen graced the festivity with their presence. All in white, aunty beamed down upon this debonair offspring of the Hohenzollerns with grandmotherly indulgence, offering him, between the dances, no end of excellent advice, which he accepted with the gay good grace habitual to him when speaking to a lady, no matter what her age.
Uncle circled about amongst the guests, young and old, being amiable with that relentless thoroughness inherent to his sense of duty, whilst I found my private amusement in watching the silent competition between the young Bukharest beauties, who, one and all, had set out to capture the volatile heart of this charming prince, famous for his never-failing interest in the weaker sex.
My children were the central interest of my life. Those of our race are passionate mothers, and we cannot conceive of a world without children. All our work, efforts and ambition tend toward building them up according to our ideals of making them happy and preparing for them a fine future.
Bringing Up Children
My nursery was the center of my life, and as only my two eldest children were born in close succession and there were longer pauses between the other four, I was able to prolong it indefinitely.
I always preferred the nursery to the schoolroom, which was already a step away from the Golden Age, the beginning of toil and trouble, and I was not by nature a pedagogue—I was, in fact, inclined to be too lenient always, as I hated the feeling of any sort of tyranny or coercion, and had an insurmountable aversion to scolding. I hated being scolded, and still more did I hate having to scold. This had been a great hindrance to me all through life, especially as I instinctively realized that this aversion was, in fact, weakness—an inability to be disagreeable even to those who thoroughly deserved being rebuked.
But, alas, a too small dose of severity is as little conducive to good educational results as the contrary. But the extreme urge for liberty which was the fundamental trait of my character made me incapable of coercing others, even when severity would not only have been absolutely justified but even necessary. I confess that many of the failures, even the disasters, of my life can be brought back to this fundamental inability to scold or reprove.
With the coming of our fourth child and second son, Nicholas, we left our first Sinaia home, the Foişor—a delightful little house styled Chalet Suisse, tucked in amongst huge fir trees, right up against the forest.
Carol, the eldest of our children, was plump, merry and docile as a small boy. Being the first, he was of course spoilt by high and low, and all the good things of this world were cast at his feet. He was the long-hoped-for heir and, therefore, the great favorite.
He grew up steady, rather stolid, easy to manage, and had from the beginning an urge toward information. He learned to read with astonishing rapidity. In his early years he was all sunshine and good humor, later he became just a little pedantic; his sisters would declare, "Carol likes tiresome things." The truth was that, already as a quite small boy, he was unusually interested in all things pertaining to rules, laws, proscriptions and interdictions; he liked to inquire into the inner working of things; this came, probably, from being a great deal with uncle, whose specialty was to instruct. In Carol he found a fertile ground, as the boy also shared his father's and grand-uncle's passion for soldiering. He loved all things military and cared immensely for uniforms, regulations and every minutest detail of discipline and command.
At the age of three or four he would march with a tiny sword at the head of the soldiers when the guard was changing, solemnly certain that he was in command, or he would stand in the middle of the band, beside the bandmaster, a little stick in hand, imitating with the utmost earnestness that important gentleman's every gesture.
Carol was adored by the officers and their men, and no end of wee uniforms were offered him by the different regiments. In these he would proudly strut about giving orders to imaginary troops, admirably imitating the voice used by those in command, sharply separating his sentences and rolling his r's.
But this overmilitary little fellow was a trial to his sisters; the tyrant slumbered within him, and as his games were modeled upon state institutions and military restrictions, he naturally hampered their fun.
He would, for instance, set up a customhouse in the middle of the corridor where his sisters were tearing about with their toy horses and carts; he would insist upon taxes being paid, thereby curtailing their liberty and causing endless scenes of revolt and indignation.
Little Men and Women
It is interesting to watch children at their games; nothing is more character revealing, and the qualities or faults lying dormant in each small being are almost uncannily brought to light.
Carol was all order and precision, with an underlying impulse to rule, subdue, restrict. Elisabetha, although strangely silent, was full of ardor, fantasy and imagination. She was fond of being alone; as a small child, she could be very wild; then her eyes would glow, but she seldom expressed herself in words; her hands were small and strong as steel.
Exceedingly handsome even as a baby, her features were unexpectedly classical, although her face was as round as a cherub's. Her look was straight, almost defiant, beneath well- marked eyebrows. Carol's desire to subjugate her aroused furious, though almost dumb, resentment.
Mignon was all smiles and passivity; she was pleased with everything; she would docilely join in with the others' games, but without ever any desire to lead or dominate. Her nature was based upon sweetness and patience, not unmixed with indolence; she seemed born to be the souffre-douleur of all the others. She never complained or felt aggrieved, and there was an almost sleepy and instinctively indulgent look in her long-shaped blue eyes. Her beautifully strong, fair hair grew low on her forehead. This hair was a continual temptation to Nicky; he could not keep his fingers out of it, and I remember once, when I was pitying Mignon for having caught her hair in the door handle, how she placidly answered, "Oh, it does not matter. Nicky hurts me much more when he tugs my hair out." And, alas, Nicky was very often tugging at his sister's hair.
There was almost a peasant's endurance about Mignon. One could have well imagined her in a cottage, the mainstay of the family, lighting the fire, milking the cows, fetching water at the well, or carrying too-heavy babies about, sweeping the floors, setting the dishes on the table. Mignon was instinctively a helpful and domestic child.
The Birth of Ileana
Having been born at a period when I had been very unhappy, I loved her with the love a lion mother might have for her cub. Mignon was, so to say, the child of my flesh. I could almost feel with my own body when Mignon had an ache or a pain.
If Mignon was the child of my flesh, Ileana was certainly the child of my soul. She came only in the year 1909, and I was no more young; life had already to a certain degree disciplined me. I was a more conscious personality, my character had ripened, I had learned self-control and how to look life and circumstances squarely in the face. My shoulders were thrown back and I was ready to take my own responsibilities.
Her birth was a great joy to me and I was glad she was a girl. Even at the hour of her birth her eyes were enormous and dark blue. I remember how I lay on my back, the struggle over, the new little world wanderer pressed to my heart, listening to the royal salute—twenty-one guns for a princess. Had it been a son, there would have been one hundred and one. Perhaps some would be disappointed that it was not a boy, but I was not, and those guns were like the voice of my people rejoicing with me over the birth of this fifth child. Later there could still be a boy.
Today I no more resented being told that my children belonged to the country; today it was my pride that it should be so. I had gone a long way since October, 1893, when my first child was born; then I was seventeen, today I was thirty-three, and had learned something of patience and abnegation, and had understood the necessity of constant effort toward a central goal, had understood also that serving was the real object of life. We all have to learn to serve; some of us do not learn it easily. I was amongst these, but today I was beginning to understand and, with this understanding, uncle's personality became more comprehensible, more sympathetic. He was not infallible—he, too, could err—but he was wise in most things; above all, he was earnest and entirely convinced. He loved Rumania, and although occasionally unnecessarily ponderous, he had a straight line of action from which he never deviated.
Ileana, from her earliest infancy, had an earnestness about her which the other four did not possess. Her large dark-blue eyes looked at you with deep inquiry, and the child seemed to understand your every emotion with almost uncanny lucidity.
Ileana was naturally well behaved. Ileana, as is so seldom the case, was born with the law within her; it was never necessary to teach Ileana the difference between right and wrong; Ileana knew. But this did not make of her a prig. She was a gay, happy child, full of life and high spirits, and when Mircea appeared early in the year 1913, Ileana loved him with motherly ardor, and Mircea adored Ileana more than anyone on this earth—more than his mother, more than his nurse.
Thus we were a very happy family before the war came to tear so many things up by the roots.
I have already related elsewhere that it was one of King Carol's theories that he—not we—was to choose those who were to educate and bring up our children. Later in life I understood many of uncle's views and what seemed to us unnecessary tyrannies, but even today, with the judgment of my ripe years, I consider that here he made a grievous mistake. It gave rise to endless trouble in the household and the final result was anything but satisfactory.
This, however, is one of those inner griefs that it is unnecessary to enlarge upon; but much misfortune might have been avoided, and much was brought into our lives, with far-reaching consequences which, in a way, changed the face of history for us.
I can only say that we were not allowed to bring up our two eldest children, and with this order of things elements and influences were brought into the household which were disastrous in more ways than one.
But, nevertheless, I have many- happy memories of our family life; some stand out quite particularly—visions of the past, drenched with sunshine, gay with the sound of children's voices and the pattering of small feet.
Before the birth of my last and sixth child, Mircea, I was not in my usual good health, and during the autumn visit to my mother in 1912 I had even to submit to being looked after, a fact which filled me with astonished resentment. In January, 1913, Mircea was born, but I did not recover as rapidly as usual, being confined to my bed for three weary months by a painful phlebitis. Ill health seemed to me a personal insult—something that could happen to others, but not to myself. Outwardly I submitted with patience, but inwardly I was unresigned to the indignity of the sick bed.
Rumors of War
Because of this unfortunate mishap, I could not enjoy my last-born as I had enjoyed all the other children, being prostrate on my back, but it was a great comfort to me that Carol, who adored babies, would carry his little brother up and down my room as long as I wished, so that I could at least look at my baby, to whom my whole heart went out. I always particularly adored my babies when they were tiny and helpless; they seemed to possess every drop of my blood.
Uncle came as often as he could escape from his work. He would generally appear toward evening and, sitting beside my bed, he would tell me all about his political difficulties. It was strange how confidential he had become, all distance seemed to be effaced between us, and today his conversation did not bore me as in former days. This was during the first Balkan War. I was possessed with a desperate anxiety that we should be forced into war whilst I was tied to my bed. The thought that our soldiers might go off to fight whilst I was invalided was torture to me. But our family doctor, a caustic hard-tongued little man, very devoted, but very bitter of speech, so as to impress upon me the necessity of keeping absolutely still, had pronounced some rather terrible words. "Remember," he said, "you have a pistol in your leg, and if you make the slightest movement you can shoot it off into your heart." So I kept still.
Working in the Hospitals
When Rumania finally did enter the second war, it was too late to join in with the fighting, as the Serbs and Greeks had already been victorious without her aid. Nevertheless, our troops crossed into Bulgaria at several places on rapidly constructed pontoon bridges.
My husband had command of the troops and Carol went with him. General Averescu, one of uncle's most trusted generals, was chief of staff.
On July twelfth our cavalry was standing close before Sofia, but uncle, out of a feeling of delicacy toward King Ferdinand, would not allow our troops to march into the Bulgarian capital. Wise in all things, King Carol knew that certain humiliations should be avoided, because of the spirit of never- ending resentment they engender. This was, of course, a great disappointment to men and officers; I remember hearing both sides of the question, the military as well as the political.
It resulted in no battles, but whilst on enemy's ground our troops encountered as deadly a foe as cannons—cholera.
I was brought into sudden contact with this terrible scourge when I went to visit the troops and the Red Cross hospitals scattered along the Danube. I cannot help looking upon this as a turning point in my life. It was my first initiation into suffering on a larger scale; a thing never before known, heard of, no doubt, but as something far away, with which I should never have anything to do. And here it was, rising huge before me to throb through my whole being as a messenger sent to awaken within me sleeping forces of which I had never been aware. I went from place to place, visiting the sick, and my horror grew as I began to investigate the conditions in which these hospitals and barracks were being run. I had long talks with Elise Bratianu and her right-hand, Mademoiselle Slivici and Elise told me I could help a great deal if I went seriously to work.
Disobeying an order that no woman might go over the Danube, I paid a flying visit to the Bulgarian side, crossing almost secretly on one of the boat bridges erected by our troops. There, in a forlorn village, I saw sights which made my blood run cold.
There was one thing I entirely lacked—physical fear. My splendid health lent me nerves of steel. Looking about me, I felt that what was wanted was a leader, an encourager, one high enough placed to have authority, and who, by remaining calm and steady, could become a rallying point for those who were beginning to lose their heads.
I met Dr. Jean Cantacuzène and his assistant, Dr. Slatineanu, who were on a tour of inspection. They were much horrified by the difficulties they encountered. I had a long talk with them, and they, too, told me I could help enormously if I called upon all my energies. Being crown princess, they declared, people would listen to me and be ready to follow my lead.
So I hurried to Sinaia to talk with uncle, pleading my cause so urgently that I won from him permission to take over the cholera camp of Zimnicea, one of the principal points where our troops were to recross the Danube on their way home.
Carol, who had been with his father, asked permission to come and help me, and he became my right-hand, carrying out all my instructions and showing great personal energy and initiative. He was a good and steady worker and liked being my keeper.
It was astounding what we were able to do in a short time. My appeal to the different authorities and also to many personal friends brought me in rich provisions, so my hands were always full and I could appear everywhere as a dispenser of those extras unobtainable in military camps.
It would lead me too far were I to give a full description of those two weeks spent amongst our troops on that bare and dreadful field of suffering. The work was hard, the sights heart-rending, but difficulties only multiplied our courage and energy.
At first the doctors in charge of the camp met me with a certain skepticism; they were inclined to think I should be a hindrance rather than a help. It is true that I knew nothing about sickness, but I did not pretend that I had come as a nurse; but what I could be was a leader, an upholder, one to whom everybody could turn for help.
Soon doctors, orderlies, soldiers, officers and sisters of charity became my most ardent adherents. I was never tired or discouraged. I would allow no difficulty to beat me; the harder the work, the more strength did I find, and in a few days I had become the pivot around which everything revolved.
After this tremendous experience amongst our soldiers in the Zimnicea cholera camp, I was never quite the same again.
The Rough Road to Reality
Reality had come to me in a way I should never more forget, and having learned what it was to serve, in the broader sense of the word, it changed my conception of things and roused in me the desire to be of real national utility.
I had now six children and I had the feeling that this essential part of my duty was at an end. I had not disappointed Rumania in its expectations; the royal family was copiously established—three sons and three daughters. Now other work lay before me and I looked into the future with wider interests than solely those of my own household.
I know, by much that I was later given to read about myself, that I have been considered an ambitious intriguing woman, with vast plans and a desire to play a predominant part, even in world politics. I read these descriptions of myself with astonishment, because they certainly do not correspond with truth. I was, on the contrary, almost reprehensibly indifferent to politics, even to those of my country, having, because of uncle's complete absorption in them, a horror even of the word "politics."
Everything in me had developed slowly and I had never felt the slightest desire to play a part, but I always had a great desire to be loved, to be popular with my people. This seemed easy to me because, being always well disposed toward others, I could not believe I should not be given unlimited credit.
My chief urge was toward independence and a mighty desire to live my life as agreeably as possible, but in my own way.
My life, however, was never really agreeable or free. It was at times happy, often interesting, but it was a difficult life, full of accumulated restrictions, and had meant, from the first day of my arrival in Rumania, a continual steering through a thousand traps and pitfalls amongst people eternally on the lookout to find me at fault and to discover complicated reasons behind my every action. What I did and left undone was continually criticized, and no one admitted that a woman of my exuberant temperament could be completely harmless or uncomplicated.
The Power of a Legend
My absolute frankness and disconcerting simplicity could not be accepted as genuine; it would have been too easy an explanation of my character; something had to be sought for behind my eternal good humor and overtrustful attitude toward life and human beings.
So a legend of relentless ambition was woven around me, and my honest face was rendered unrecognizable to myself by the mask I was supposed to wear. People somehow preferred to see me thus.
I have often pondered over this perverting of truth, and finally came to the conclusion that, being so absolutely sure of my own good faith and excellent intentions, I never took any trouble to explain myself, nor was I careful enough of outward appearances or what I said.
I let my good humor run away with me, and when the spirit of fun came over me, caution was always cast to the wind.
But in 1913 things had definitely changed and my work in the cholera camp had suddenly brought me before my people in another light.
Besides having now broader acquaintances, more interesting people had come into my life; I was better informed than I used to be, and certain newer influences around uncle had made him understand that I could become useful if I were handled in a tactful way.
It was essential not to try and break my will, but gradually to develop my natural intelligence by setting before me what I could become for my country if I could learn to take myself and my duties more seriously.
So King Carol, now no more influenced by Cousin Charley, who, tired of Rumania, had found another hunting ground, began to look upon me as one who one day might intelligently help to carry on his work. He spoke to me about Rumania, about her troubles, hopes and ambitions, no more as a schoolmaster to a pupil but as to a coworker able to understand; and there were others also, besides King Carol, who thought it worth while to prepare me for the years that were to come.
Editor's Note—This is the seventh of a new series of articles by Queen Marie of Rumania. The eighth and last will appear in two weeks.