QUEEN MARIE of Rumania is the Eva Tanguay of Europe. She has personality and pep; and she doesn’t care. Moreover, there is about her the allurement of piquant stories, the challenging air of adventure and romance. The stories of the queen’s exploits are almost unbelievable. And almost anything is believable of the Balkans! But because she is a queen, and such a queen, she rides unquestioned through the streets of Bucharest.
“Drives” is the proper word, for Marie is one of the best women chauffeurs in Europe. Seated at the wheel of her own sport car, she winds in and out through the narrow crowded streets of her capital city. With her head held high, she is all that a modern queen should be. At the corners—and there are many of them—she signals according to the accepted rules of the road, extending her graceful arm as if she were under the eye of a Fifth Avenue traffic policeman. And though the populace steps a little more lively than usual to give her the right of way, she always drives—in the city, at least—“like a lady.” In the open country she steps on the pedal and drives like the devil!
On more ceremonious occasions, the beautiful Marie, far more beautiful than her photographs, appears in one of a fleet of four American-made limousines. Bucharest gossip, which is kept pretty busy by the queen, is of the opinion that these four closed cars entered the royal garage through the good offices of a distinguished foreign visitor who fell under her spell. Marie, being a canny queen and the daughter of the Duke of Edinburgh, is said to have had the khaki cars painted black, and the insignia of a well-known relief organization supplanted by the Rumanian coat of arms, without questioning too closely where the cars came from or who had paid for them. Anyhow, she rides about in them, one of the princesses on the seat beside her, and two handsome young officers in British-style uniforms facing her on the folding seats, a very stimulating sight for eyes too used to ox-carts drawn by incredibly muddy oxen.
Marie is forty-seven, but is still, in a large, queenly way, a very beautiful woman. For twenty-nine years in Rumania she has lived a life of wearing activity, making love, writing plays, composing operas, doing “movies,” marrying off daughters, and running the country. But all this strenuosity has had little effect on her blond English beauty. When she enters a room, everybody rises, not to the queen, but to the woman. Her erect figure, somewhat too ample in these days for perfect beauty, looks extraordinarily youthful. Her fine head—held a bit high as women do when they recognize the possibility of a double chin—moves as she talks in energetic little gestures of approval or disapproval. She sees some one across the heads of a crowd, and gives a quick, almost jerky, nod of recognition. She is electric—the same electric personality that has for years alternately illumined and shocked the courts of Europe.
Architecturally, Marie is a cross between Margaret Anglin and Mary Garden. Temperamentally, she leans toward the latter. She would have made a great tragédienne, a great opera queen, a greater vaudevillian; but, fortunately for Rumanian dignity, her ambitions are most literary. She has, like her predecessor, Carmen Sylva, obtained a considerable reputation as a writer. Much of her work, it is true, has been done in collaboration with other authors, not a few American journalists having returned to America with volumes “written in collaboration with the queen of Rumania.” In Bucharest it is explained that she has a system: the visitor writes his book or play, leaving a gap, a short chapter or scene, outlined but not absolutely written; and the queen looks over these rough notes, and dictates from them to a stenographer. Under this system her participation in the work may be only a few lines or pages, but she is none the less a collaborator. Moreover, the publication of the manuscript is good press-agency work. It gets Rumania known; and it does not hurt the queen.
There would be little reason to credit these gossipy stories of the queen’s disingenuousness if she had not shown signs of the same quality in public matters of great importance. There were, for instance, many obstacles to overcome in the matter of the recent marriages of her son and daughter to the children of the king of Greece. King Constantine was still under suspicion of pro-Germanism and was distinctly out of favor in Paris and London. The Rumanian premier was anxious to do nothing to offend the Governments of those centers. In these days few monarchs venture to oppose their foreign ministers but, Marie ignored Jonescu’s protests and married her children off as she jolly well pleased. There was, from the American point of view, nothing in this action that could not be admired. But the premier was not the chief opponent of the matches. The national church of Rumania and the national church of Greece were violently against the alliance and violently against each other. Here were adversaries that could not be ignored and overridden. They must be outwitted.
Out of the intense rivalry between the two national churches had grown a ruling that the members of one could not marry into families under the ægis of the other. But Marie managed it. With the disputed point unsettled, so far as the churchmen were concerned, the crooked main street of Bucharest, the Cale Victoreii, which had been ankle-deep in slush all winter, was hurriedly cleaned and sanded. Crown Prince George and Princess Helen journeyed from Athens in such state as southeastern Europe could provide at a time when most of its rolling-stock was windowless, heartless, and unupholstered. And then, by having the two marriages performed at precisely the same time, by a sort of double sleight of hand, representatives of each family achieved membership in the church of the other in time to qualify under the rule. It was like the legal jugglery by which Standard Oil became a score of separate companies and still remained Standard Oil. It was sophistry, but it worked.
However, you cannot judge so complex a person as the queen by any one instance of disingenuousness. Just as you have her carefully catalogued and filed away as an individual of Machiavellian cunning, she does some utterly feminine and human thing. On the eve of this same Greek alliance, for which she had so carefully schemed, Marie indulged in a family-in-law quarrel with Queen Sophia, the pro-German mother of her prospective children-in-law, and nearly upset the whole cart of orange-blossoms. She went so far as to make a brief but colorful trip to Paris to procure immediate presentation at the opera of a ballet written by herself, and said to be a satire on Queen Sophia. The incident created a tremendous amount of comment, which was not lessened when the enraged Sophia, sister of the ex-kaiser, telegraphed from Athens forbidding the Greek ambassador at Paris to attend the performance. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the Greek alliance was concluded, at the time and in the manner that Marie decreed.
Aside from her own vagaries, however, Marie had many obstacles to overcome—obstacles which would have blocked the way of a less gallant campaigner. The first is congenital bankruptcy, a condition which she shares with the whole Rumanian nation. There are plenty of resources in Rumania, but they are not being exploited for Rumania’s benefit. Graft, on a scale that would make a San Francisco politician livid with envy, flourishes everywhere, but neither Marie nor her ministers have found a way to get any of it. Stifled by these conditions, some of the queen’s best impulses come to naught. On one occasion during the war, the queen, who is an exceedingly generous person, gave to a relief organization all the timber from many thousands of acres of her domain, to be sold for the benefit of the poor and starving. It was a queenly gift. All the relief organization had to do was cut the wood and ship it to Bucharest. This it did, but when the cars reached the capital more than half of them were empty. The station masters along the way, in accordance with the accepted Rumanian custom, had collected tribute at every cross-roads through which the trains passed, the tribute in this instance being their winter’s supply of wood. The result of this particular operation was that the relief organization not only realized no profit for the poor but was out of pocket itself. Beset by such conditions, commercial prosperity cannot exist; and without commercial prosperity, it is difficult even for a great personality like Marie to forward the fortunes of a nation.
From her ministers, too, Marie receives more opposition than support. The financial corruption of the nation is exceeded only by its political corruption. There is just about as much chance of an honest election in Bucharest as there was in New York in Boss Tweed’s day. We have already heard the story told of one of Rumania’s former premiers: how he continued in office for several years by the ingenious scheme of printing the ballots giving the names of his supporters on white tickets, and circulating among the peasantry the interesting news that failure to vote white incurred not only the wrath of the Government at Bucharest but the active persecution of the local tax collector. It is with such chicanery that Marie has had to contend, and over which she has repeatedly triumphed—single-handed.
Yes, there is a king in Rumania. His name is Ferdinand. He is the husband of Queen Marie. But you can live in Bucharest for months at a time without being aware of his existence. In fact, until his recent delayed coronation, when people noticed there was some one standing up with the stately Marie, few people outside the Rumanian court knew that the Mother of the Balkans did not rule alone. And even now they can’t be sure of it!
Just as King George of England was unfortunate in choosing so popular a father and making things worse by having such a popular son, Ferdinand of Rumania is unfortunate in having such a popular wife. No one can look at Marie, the woman Charlemagne, who keeps alive the traditions of great queens and empresses, without thinking what a really unimportant person, comparatively, King Ferdinand is. A more impartial view, which is impossible in the presence of the queen, is that Ferdinand belongs to the modern, compact style of royalty, whereas Marie is descended from the kings that ruled in Gulliver's day. Englishmen should shudder to think what would have become of their hard-working king if he, instead of his rival, Ferdinand, had been the successful suitor for the hand of the Duke of Edinburgh’s second daughter!
Ferdinand is no more of a Rumanian than his queen. He is a prince of the house of Hohenzollern. His Uncle Carl, afterward King Carol I of Rumania, was out of luck among his relatives in Prussia. There didn’t happen to be any German throne on which he could sit. So, when the new country of Rumania, formerly a Turkish province, couldn’t find a Rumanian that any other Rumanian would trust, and began looking around for a stranger that nobody was “on to,” it forthwith picked on Carl. Bismarck almost had to force him to take the job; but, once on it, he did it, and did it so well that he left to his nephew, Ferdinand, a very respectable little kingdom.
Then came the war, and the question which confronted every minor league nation: which way to jump? Bulgaria guessed that the Germans would win. Rumania was luckier. And now Rumania owns a lot of Bulgaria and the territory of a few other poor guessers, and is the biggest and strongest nation in the Balkans. Thanks to Marie’s personal prestige and her success as a royal match-maker, King Ferdinand sits on a throne which is potentially one of the strongest in all Europe.
His might be a big rôle in the drama of the next decade; but it probably won’t. If Marie lives, she will continue to play a star part. Ferdinand will be, at best, an understudy. If she does not live, there is every prospect that his jealous sons-in-law will swoop down on him, close the show, and put on something of their own. That’s the way they do things in the Balkans; to-day a marriage, to-morrow a funeral.
No one is more convinced of his unfortunate position than Ferdinand himself. He appears only at important public functions, and on occasions celebrating some event in which he is especially interested. He was, for instance, the first man to greet the aviator making the first successful commercial trip from Paris to Bucharest. But his chief consolations—other than the privilege of looking at his beautiful wife—must lie in the realization that he is the only Hohenzollern who sits upon a throne. The actual “king business” may safely be left to his overshadowing wife.
For not all of the queen’s victories have been won in the fields of literature and romance. There are many sides to Marie. She is Sappho. Perhaps she is Thais. Almost certainly she is Mary Garden. But, beyond all, she is the queen, the greatest monarch and the cleverest diplomat in Europe. While doddering old men, worn out by a war they never understood, are rattling around in the shoes of Disraeli and Gladstone and Mazarin and Richelieu, playing gingerly with that strange, ineffective thing, the new diplomacy, Marie of Rumania, by her woman’s wit, is marrying an empire.
The day of government by marriage is said to be past. And perhaps it is in Western Europe. But the countries of southeastern Europe are not yet enjoying the same day as their sister nations in the West. They are just now approaching, perhaps in Marie’s lifetime they will have reached, the condition which made possible the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a polyglot collection of fifty-five million souls, united for more than a hundred years solely by the bonds of the Hapsburg marriages. It took the greatest war in history to burst those bonds. It may be that the Rumanian marriages will be just as durable.
Anyhow, Marie thinks so; and since the spring of 1921 life with her has been just one trousseau after another. First there were the weddings that tied Rumania and Greece in double bow knots. Then there was the ceremony last spring that united the pindling Alexander of Jugoslavia to the vigorous Princess Marie. Next—and as soon as war wounds heal and the beautiful fourteen-year-old Ileana puts up her hair—there is Boris of Bulgaria waiting to join the royal household.
The most important thing to remember, in estimating the character and achievements of this extraordinary woman, is that she has won her victories alone. Her husband is admittedly of little importance in shaping the policies of the nation. Her ministry is of even less significance. Without its aid, and often over its narrow opposition, Marie keeps her course. She alone, among the monarchs of Europe, personally directs the foreign policy of her government. Perhaps, at the moment, she is the only monarch in Europe who officially affects to any marked degree the governing policies of nations. The Rumanian queen is unique.
As a woman, as an outstanding figure in the royal world, even more than as an acute and powerful ruler, this transplanted Englishwoman has achieved great triumphs. She could have married George the Fifth and become the queen of her native England; but she preferred to seek excitement and adventure in the Balkans. And she found it. In the vivid, flashing life of the Near East, her radiant personality has found abundant and appropriate expression. She is a familiar figure in most of the capitals of Europe; and is threatening to descend upon America ostensibly to lecture or do a “movie,” but actually to obtain financial backing for her imperial enterprises. A fascinating woman, Marie!
As a queen, she is the most picturesque, perhaps the most powerful woman in the world. Her own country, at the time of her accession to its throne, was one of the smallest and least known of the Balkan nations. By keeping it steadfastly on the side of the Allies when her Bulgarian neighbor was lining up with the enemy, Marie strengthened her position both morally and materially. And by a series of brilliant marriages, she has laid the foundation for a vast Balkan Empire—larger than France, as large as England. A great queen, Marie!
And it is just possible that she may be a major factor in establishing and maintaining the peace of the world. For she has achieved what many statesmen have tried for but none have ever approached, a basis of Balkan unity. She has brought, and is about to bring through her Bulgarian alliance, forty-one million people under her distaff. Forty millions—as many people as there were in the United States at the time of the Civil War, almost as many as there are in Great Britain now, more than there are in France—Marie of Rumania, a serio-comic figure in the world of literature and romance, may yet emerge a dominant factor in world affairs.
CHILDHOOD in Rumania is but a brief span. No one knows when the queen may pop into the nursery and say, “Give me Number Four: I want to marry her this afternoon to the President of the United States.” Elizabeth and Carol have already gone in the Greek market, Marie in the Serbian. Nicholas is waiting for his mother to decide which nation she next wishes to acquire. And Ileana, the prettiest princess in Europe, is promised to Bulgaria’s long-faced king. The Rumanian children stand a very good chance of a seat near somebody's throne.
But the game of Balkan imperialism is a dangerous one. Marie does well to have several substitute thrones in readiness in case her own is carried off the field. She might even have a third eleven under blankets in case the entire first and second squads are annihilated. And I would not put it beyond her; if the present group of children is not sufficient to marry all the available princes in the Near East, Marie is just the woman to raise another family. There are no limits to the resourcefulness of the queen of Rumania. Her successor may be the most powerful prince in Europe. In fact, if this Englishwoman lives long enough to carry out her plans, and she is an exceedingly vigorous woman, her princelings have a prime chance of glory.
A less clever and more doting mother would have bid for Edward of England or Leopold of Belgium. But Marie, who is for ever saying, “Of course, you know I am an Englishwoman,” already held Great Britain by ties of relationship and gratitude. Hadn’t she kept Rumania on the allied side? And what could Belgium do for Rumania—Belgium that had shown how little she could do for herself? Besides, Marie was not looking for upstanding sons-in-law who might grow to be powers in her own land. She was not marrying individuals. She was marrying countries. So she turned to the neighboring kingdoms of Greece and Jugoslavia and Bulgaria and their weak and tottering kings. She snapped her manicured fingers in the face of this new-fangled self-determination. She set herself to achieve the Balkan Empire.
The Balkan states, which have been the scene of many a bloody revolution, are the mountainous countries lying to the south of Russia and Hungary, and to the east of what we usually think of as Europe. Most of these principalities were originally parts of Turkey. They are, therefore, without any settled traditions as to forms of government or royal dynasties. As each in turn secured its independence from Ottoman rule, there arose the problem of choosing a king, and in every case but one the problem was solved by importing a foreign nobleman acceptable to the western powers and the czar—a man who had had no chance to make enemies in his adopted country. The Serbians alone tried choosing a king from their own people, with the result that the Serbian throne is the bloodiest in the region. These are pretty sick countries; and professional nurses get better results than members of the family. So Marie of England and Rumania figured that she would be more universally accepted in Serbia than Alexander the Serbian, and would run as good a chance of popularity in Bulgaria and in Greece as Boris, the German Italian, and Constantine, the Dane with a German wife.
Greece was especially attractive to this new adventurer in the empire business. Its great statesman, Venizelos, the only Greek capable of matching wit or strength with a woman like Marie, had overplayed a good hand so badly that his failure may be called the greatest failure of the peace.
I was very close to the operations of the Greek commission in Paris during the peace conference, and was able to observe at short range and through the microscopic glasses of that critical period how this remarkable Cretan dominated the policies and inmost thoughts of the Grecian nation. In world prestige, he shared with Masaryk the peak of small-nation leadership. In 1919, his name would have been on any list of the half-dozen greatest statesmen of the war. And yet, to-day, even in the anti-royalist mood of present-day Greece, we find the best known of modern Greeks a wanderer on the face of the globe.
Venizelos had everything except the ability to hold what he had. His personality shines through a face of strong features and many planes—a moving-picture face capable of expressing every emotion which his oratorical eloquence wished to communicate to his hearers. His brain reposes in one of those bulging, bare heads, the skin tightly drawn to hold the massive intellect within decent bounds. He looks the great man, the strong man; and for a while he was.
From the beginning Venizelos had been for the Allies; his king, Constantine, for the Germans. The latter’s partizanism was understandable; he had married the kaiser’s sister, Sophia, and was a North German Dane himself. But Venizelos was neither French nor British; nor was he married to Lloyd George or Clémenceau. His partizanship was open to analysis, perhaps suspicion. So long as he swapped Greek friendliness for Near East aggrandizement, the people stuck to him and banished Constantine. But after the trading season was over, and Venizelos tried to rule by virtue of alien soldiers and battleships, the people turned from him and recalled Constantine. And his friends in London and Paris, seeing him on the way out, gave him the final shove. As I write, the principles for which he fought are triumphing in the streets of Athens; but the greatest of the Greeks is not marching at the head of the column.
It may be that Venizelos underrated his adversary, the wily Constantine. Just because he happened to be a minor-league monarch, reigning over a sprawling collection of islands and peninsulas inhabited by fewer people than come under the sway of Mayor Hylan in New York, is no reason why he should be set down as a minor-league personality. Constantine was always a better mixer than Venizelos, despite the latter’s leadership of the popular party, and he lost no chance to pose as the champion of Hellenism as opposed to Venizelos’s larger views of European policy. Moreover, he was a good waiter!
“The institution of monarchy is about exploded,” said the late king at the height of Venizelos’s power, “but in my case, I guess it will last until I die.”
It didn’t—at least, in his case—but Tino lived to return to Athens over the dead body of Venizelos’s hopes, and to amaze the world by sticking his reburnished crown above the waters of the Ægean—and inviting the Turk to take a shot at it. Constantine has gone—but his son still reigns in Greece. And that son is married to the oldest daughter of the far-sighted Rumanian queen!
Many people who never heard of Rumania know all about Greece and its world dominion. It is a good name to hang on the front of the store. And who knows? Marie may have been wise enough to see that poor old Constantine, who admitted that “the institution of monarchy is about exploded,” might be glad to take himself and his wife to a mote congenial land, and leave his kingship to his son-in-law, the Rumanian prince, or, as he did, to his son, the husband of the Rumanian princess. In either case, Marie was reasonably sure of the Greek succession. And it is not impossible that she or her successor may yet emerge as the head of a great Greek state, extending as it did of old from the Adriatic to the Black Sea.
You may laugh, as Lloyd George and Poincare did laugh at this dream of an Englishwoman in far-off Bucharest. But, “of course, you know,” she is an Englishwoman; and you may depend on it, she is already planning to spend her summers in Athens and her winters in Constantinople!
As to Jugoslavia, there were not many bidders for poor little Alexander Kara Georgevitch, who looks like an East Side medical student, and has less chance than such a person would have—without the aid of some powerful personality like Marie’s—of perching at all comfortably on the Serbian throne. None of his predecessors in office have ever done so. Two were murdered—one of them rather messily—one died an exile, and the other, Alexander’s father, old King Peter, died a prisoner in a “Sanatorium” for the feebleminded. But all these chaps had easy and safe berths compared with the one that has fallen to Alexander. For a lot of peace conferees who had never been east of Versailles decided to self- determine him by adding to his already fidgety subjects all the peoples that no one else would take—some six million dissatisfied Croats, Slovenes, Bosnians, Montenegrins, Herzegovinians, and what not. It is easy to see that little, scowling Alexander will come to depend more and more on his stalwart mother-in-law, and that his heterogeneous peoples, eleven millions in all, because they are not supposed to accept her leadership, will forthwith welcome and follow it.
Alexander will not be inconsolable. He loves his Paris as well as most of these small-time royalties, and he is not without friends in the Capital of Joy. He has a brother living at the Continental Hotel, who, unlike the cautious Alexander, did not have the sense to confine his little escapades to Paris. The people liked him, especially the army, but the Serbian Volsteads were against him, and he was forced to renounce his rights to the throne. Perhaps it will not be long now before the queen gives Alexander his passports and lets him spend the rest of his life—as he almost spent his wedding-day—limping in the wake of his more vigorous brother down the long, steep trail from the jazz palaces of Montmartre.
And if you were a king in Jugoslavia you would not blame him. At the beginning of the war Serbia was a tiny shepherd kingdom about the size of Brooklyn. Belgrade, the capital, where the match was lighted that kindled the World War, is still one of the old hilltop cities that date from the time when a man who built his house upon a mountain was considered safe and wise. The so-called palace was a roomy but dingy square stucco house. With enlargements in the kingdom have come enlargements in the palace. Another house, repeating all the unpleasant features of the first, has been built a few hundred feet away, and connected with the first by a U-shaped structure, behind which are new stables and garages commensurate with the dignity of the new kingdom.
But there have been no enlargements or modern improvements in the town itself. The king looks out from his windows on the principal street. A sturdy Serb strides past with his legs tied up in thongs, driving a pig by a string attached to the hind leg of the animal; two wide-hipped women in soft moccasins patter along, one carrying a brace of turkeys bound together and slung over her shoulders, the other holding a suckling pig by the hind feet; a couple of Turks in red fezzes squat unconcernedly by the palace gate and roll dice on the sidewalk stones. A colt, in from the country, becomes frightened at the sight of one of the few automobiles in the town, and races through the city over sidewalks and across public squares, its mother whinnying helplessly in the shafts of a farm cart. Occasionally the royal band sallies forth or a company of Serbian soldiers in American army uniforms, with the U. S. buttons still on them, tramp through the dust. The near-by government buildings are filled with clerks who feel as dressed up in hobnailed shoes as Bill Hart would in dancing-pumps. And all they can see when they look out of the window are the sights already mentioned, and the king. At night the national opera takes place in a rebuilt riding-school. The one cabaret is so primitive that the miners of Skagway, Alaska, would refuse to patronize it. It is a quiet life. Nevertheless, Alexander Kara Georgevitch was unceremoniously dragged back to it to do the bidding of the all-powerful Rumanian queen, and eleven million more souls were brought under the sway of the Mother of the Balkans. Marie was one step nearer to her Eastern Empire.
Bulgaria, to the south of Rumania, has fewer people than Jugoslavia, only five million as against eleven, but it has a more personable king. Boris, a long-faced boy who is really twenty-eight but doesn’t look it, is not a Bulgarian. His father, Ferdinand, was German and his mother Italian. Ferdinand was a sinister character, worshipping devils and acting like them. Boris is more like his gentler mother. As a business man in a live place like Kansas City, he would never make a ripple. But he is an excellent dancer, with a figure not unlike Vernon Castle’s. Indeed, when he was in practice, in the good old Paris days before the war, he might have earned a very good living as a professional. But in Bulgaria now the only people who dance are the foreigners, mostly allied officials resting from their labors on the reparations commission. And Boris, poor lad, is forbidden by the constitution, now that he is king, from going to Paris or anywhere else outside of the Bulgarian boundaries.
The real ruler of the country is a huge peasant, one Stamboulisky, who opposed Bulgaria’s entrance into the World War. His attitude toward Boris is that of a rugged father toward a fragile son. When the boy’s own father was stealing away into exile, Boris suggested to Stamboulisky that he, Boris, should go with the ex-king.
“If you try to leave the country,” said the burly farmer to his king, “I will arrest you.” Visitors to Sophia are sometimes amazed at the casual way in which Stamboulisky handles his monarch. “Have you seen the king, yet?” he said to an American visitor. On receiving a negative reply, he said, “Wait a few minutes and you will.” In a few minutes the king came in entirely without ceremony and began countersigning the laws and decrees pushed across the desk at him by the giant premier. Now and then Stamboulisky used the king as an interpreter, for Boris speaks several languages and the premier one. At the end of the interview, when the visitor asked the young man if he did not find kinging in Bulgaria a bit monotonous, he replied wistfully:
“Oh, I’ve lived here a long time, and I’m used to it. I don’t mind.”
At present Boris lives with his sisters in his gloomy palace in Sophia, a bare structure much like a very large and very old New England farmhouse surrounded by a high wall. Until recently he lived there all alone, with four military aides, alternating daily to prevent conspiracies. All he does is sign papers, scratch in his garden, ride a little, and study. It is safe to say that he will welcome the introduction of the joyous Princess Ileana into this humdrum existence. If she is anything like her mother, she will begin housecleaning the very first day!
But it is with Stamboulisky that Marie must deal. It is this rough, unimpressionable farmer premier who must turn over to her the keys of Boris’s palace and with them the key that opens the door to Constantinople and the Far East. Will he do it? He will, for no one better than Stamboulisky realizes that Bulgaria, stripped of her army by the peace treaty, and surrounded by Rumania and the countries to which the farsighted Marie has married her offspring, is no longer the Bulgaria of the intriguing Ferdinand. Boris must marry or die. But Marie is not one to leave anything to fate and the pressure of circumstances. She keeps her powder dry! So she invited the huge Bulgarian to visit her in Bucharest; and presently Stamboulisky, who until recently wore his farmer boots and sheepskin coat to his office, found himself at a ceremonial dinner surrounded by the three princesses, Elizabeth, Marie, and Ileana.
Now, when it comes to giving ceremonial dinners, Marie is the Oscar of the Balkans. On this occasion she was especially careful about her wines, avoiding the native variety, against which her burly guest might be expected to be armed, and substituting the more ingratiating beverages that come from the valleys of the Rhine and Moselle. The dining-hall was massed with huge palms in great bronze vases, each vase glowing with brilliant oriental coloring. Brass mosque lamps shed a soft light over the company. The heavy perfume of rose and narcissus, the languorous strains of Rumanian folk-songs, the splendor of gold and silver plate—all these things were calculated to make the farmer, Stamboulisky, look with favor on Rumania’s royal daughters.
“Which,” he asked, pointing a stubby, work-roughened finger at each of them, “which of these is free?” And on being told that the child Ileana was still available, he remarked in typical, blunt, Stamboulisky fashion, “She’ll do for my king.”
So it is safe to say that the triumph of the royal match-maker is in sight. In three, perhaps two years—for they marry them young when it is necessary to achieve empire—Marie of Rumania will be in fact, if not in name, queen of the Balkans.