THAT was a long journey. Away from home, away from all that had been; away, away through a wintry world to an unknown land, to a life unknown. Frost and snow, and at heart an intolerable ache that would not become less. My husband, happy to have me at last all to himself, kept me jealously away from any of our followers. I was his now and no one was to break in upon our solitude.
The King of Rumania had sent us his private carriage; it was heated well, and we were very comfortable, but it was a long journey and the days, too, seemed long. I should have liked to see Lady Mouson, to call her in occasionally and talk to her of home, of those left behind, but Nando would not have it. I also had a vague impulse to talk to the woman who had been attached to me as lady in waiting, Madame Grecianu. She had a motherly face, her voice was gentle; she would, perhaps, have been able to reassure me a little, give me advice, something about what would be expected of me "down there"; for it was thus that I designated the country I was going to—"down there"—and the term was as hazy as the conceptions I had about it.
Nando was too much in love to explain things to me; his attitude of the moment was to let well alone; trouble would come soon enough. He was never very good at explaining; he was always somewhat vague in his expressions. Later I often wondered if he saw things in pictures as I did. It is impossible to get inside another's brain, and there are some who have not the faculty of putting things clearly before you; they cannot find the words which make things concrete.
I had the feeling that I needed an anchor somewhere, something stable and absolute upon which I could lean, even if it was only a precise picture—something my mind could lay hold of. Perhaps Madame Grecianu could have given me this, but Nando, since the Vacarescu tragedy, had lost his faith in people; he had become painfully suspicious and was on the defensive even against those who were attached to us. This attitude on the part of my young husband did much to make our early years difficult and painful; he trusted no one and felt that isolation was my only safety.
Besides Colonel Coanda, the A. D. C., the king had named a certain General Robescu as head of ourhousehold. King Carol's household was almost entirely military, and this is a tradition we have kept up. When I became queen many years later, instead of having a gentleman-in-waiting, I had an A. D. C.
General Robescu, unlike most Rumanians, was a fair man with blue eyes. He hid a kind heart under a supercilious air. This was the gentleman who had not been able to win my father's confidence. Although he showed no special talent as organizer of our household, he, nevertheless, served us faithfully for many years and was still with us when my husband came to the throne. But there was something ironical and offhand about him which made him a somewhat disconcerting personage to a young woman of my age and education. He seemed to take nothing seriously and was inclined to scoff at my perplexities, never giving me the feeling that I could really lean upon his advice, simply because he would not admit my difficulties. He might have been fatherly, but just missed being so. He had a truly Latin turn of mind to which, in those days, I was in no wise accustomed, and was uncomfortably inclined to be ironical about one's dearest beliefs. He made one's most-cherished principles appear comic or worthless. Often he was really witty, but it was a form of wit to which my Anglo-Saxon nature was instinctively hostile. "There are many men who feel a kind of twisted pride in cynicism," said Theodore Roosevelt, and such a man was General Robescu.
Our journey was to be interrupted by an official visit at Vienna, where we were to pay our respects to the old emperor. King Carol held Franz Joseph in high esteem and was also personally much attached to him. At that time Austria was still a center of great power and political machinations. King Carol kept in close touch with the Ballplatz, and his own policy was strongly influenced by Vienna's different humors. We were to feel this all through our youth. Uncle, above all, was a politician; politics were his ruling passion, I can even say the only real passion of his life, and politicians in those days took themselves immensely seriously. To him, the great game of politics was a game of such huge, overpowering importance that all things were sacrificed to it, as we soon learned, to our cost. Being a zealot in what concerned his convictions, he was, therefore, also a past master in the art of making himself obeyed even by the most recalcitrant.
Now that the glories of that proud, imperial, "most Catholic" court, with all its pomp and magnificence, its archaic etiquette and restrictions, have passed away, as through all ages all earthly vanities pass away, I regret that I remember so little of that visit to Vienna.
I was at that uncomfortable age of shyness and self-consciousness when all interest centers round one's own person, when one's eye sees nothing but the very evident and one's ear hears next to nothing, simply because one does not understand.
I HAVE a very hazy remembrance of the old emperor, slim, smart, a perfect figure, though a little bent from the shoulders, carrying his head rather low; very polite, but not animated or talkative; and a less-hazy one of the beautiful Archduchess Maria Theresa, wife of the emperor's eldest brother, who helped to do the honors of the state banquet; the empress being, as in later years was mostly the case, absent from the capital. There must have been many other members of the imperial family, but I remember none of them except tall, stately, gazelle-eyed Maria Theresa and Archduke Otto, brother of Franz Ferdinand, who was assassinated at Sarajevo. Otto was the father of the young Emperor Karl whom revolution dethroned after the World War, Franz Ferdinand's children not being considered erbfähig. Being at all times a lover of beauty, I remember these two merely because of their good looks. In a family of tall but heavy-featured men, Otto stood out, a handsome exception.
The table was one mass of beautiful flowers and superb gold plate; we ate off exquisite, rare old china; there was excellent music and a great deal of light. I cannot remember what the dining hall was like, but I do very painfully remember a huge black grease spot on my delicate pink dress; I was indeed more conscious of this black spot on my dress than of anything else that evening, including the emperor himself. It was getting out of the imperial carriage that my dress was spotted, and both Lady Mouson and Madame Grecianu spent their evening in bemoaning this fact, so that the odium of that unfortunate stain should not fall upon my carefully chosen trousseau.
Curiously enough, although King Carol was so partial to Vienna, this was the one and only visit we were ever allowed to pay to that court. As will be seen later, der Onkel was exceedingly averse to our traveling about; curiously enough, he set no value on the personal touch. His successor was to marry well; Rumania's ambition was that their future queen should be closely connected with all the ruling royal houses of Europe. Our marriage had, therefore, been considered exceedingly advantageous, but as far as I was concerned, no profit was made of these advantages, because through the long years whilst we submitted to King Carol's rule, I was very rarely allowed to go anywhere or to keep personally in touch with my crowned relatives. It was, in fact, each time a painful tussle to obtain the smallest permission to go anywhere except to visit our own parents. Whenever we tried to break through this rule, there was what I can only rightly describe as a "hell of a row," though I would not have dared use such an expression in the great man's presence. Besides, he did not understand English.
But I must hurry on, though I am at times inclined to pause, as though taking breath, knowing the ordeals that lie before me; in thought I live them all over again, one by one.
The crucial hour was approaching. We had reached Predeal, then the frontier between Rumania and Hungary. Flags, guard of honor, music, crowds, cheers. Officials in top hats made speeches, whilst the military band continued to play the national anthem, drowning their voices. Hundreds of peasants had come from neighboring villages with their school children; the din was tremendous, the many faces made me giddy. Nando and I stood at the window looking down upon these eager, noisy manifestations, which were repeated at each station along the way. It was bitterly cold and the peasants, men and women, were muffled in greatcoats embroidered in many colors, the women had veils or colored handkerchiefs on their heads; they fascinated me; I had eyes only for these quaintly clad people, so different from anything I had ever seen. All the world over, a bride is a person of great interest, so thousands of eager faces stared up at me, thousands of shining eyes consumed me; I was horribly shy and very awkward about accepting these overloud, hearty, but confusing manifestations of joyous welcome. I was absurdly self-conscious, had no ease of manner or savoir-faire. Nando helped me as best he could, he was more at home, but he was not fond of official receptions.
A Head Full of Illusions and Dreams
LOOKING back upon myself as I was then, is as looking back upon a rather shadowy, very timid and exceedingly silly younger sister in whom I find none of myself today. Slim, with fair, unnecessarily frizzled hair, the blue eyes of a confiding child, awkward, unassertive, seeking a stable point in others, as I found none in myself; credulous, impulsive, unprepared for troubles and difficulties, I must have looked exactly what I was, an innocent little fool with a head stuffed full of illusions and dreams.
From over the years I feel like stretching out a helping hand to that fair wraith of myself. From my knowledge of today, reaped through many years' struggles, I should like to call out a word of warning; I am almost horrified when I remember how confident, how unprepared I was. Having kindly feelings toward all men, my belief in others was unlimited; no mistrust lived in my soul, there was no guile in me. And there I was, setting out on a thorny road, full of pitfalls, and no one there to say "Look out," no one to explain that life was a bitter reality, not a dream, that good intentions pave the way to hell, that confidence in others and a glorious optimism that all is well in the best of worlds is a fine thing, but not always safe. But each man must work out his own salvation; it is only by living that we learn to live. Another's experience seldom helps us; step by step we must fight our own battles, solve our own difficulties, scramble out of the holes and traps into which we fall. My mother's experience could not be mine, nor mine my children's. We are one and all solitary wanderers, in spite of the love we meet along the way.
"We shall be arriving in half an hour; you had better dress." Nando's hand was on my shoulder; it trembled slightly; he felt the ordeal I was to go through. He bent down and kissed me, but he made no recommendations; recommendations would have been no good; I could not even have heard them because of the overloud beating of my heart.
So I dressed. I put on the fine clothes mama had so lovingly chosen for her daughter's entry into her new capital. A willow-green velvet dress, over which I was to wear a long mantle of violet velvet shot with gold and lined with white fox which had such a large white collar that my head all but disappeared in it, and, to crown all, a wee golden toque studded with 'amethysts, but so ridiculously small that it lay almost buried in my fair, frizzled fringe, which my maids had specially curled for the occasion.
Two maids had been attached to me, an English one and a German. The German was new to me and had been carefully selected as an elderly, trustworthy person who could be helpful to such a very young wife. Although short and plump, she was called Louise Lang—Long. This worthy person was almost painfully tidy and much inclined to slow pomposity. Her hair was severely drawn back from her forehead, she enunciated her words with precise correctness and nothing could shake her out of her consummate perfection. Being an ardent Roman Catholic, church played a preponderant part in her irreproachable life; so great a part, indeed, that when, two years later, we took up our residence in a palace just beyond the limits of the town, she shortly afterward left me, as she could not, because of the distance, go to daily mass. Louise Lang curiously resembled a robin, as she was very round in front and had bright eyes that looked out over a nose comparable only to a neat and rounded beak. Being self-righteous, this prominent nose was carried high, although there was nothing vainglorious about little Louise Lang.
Dressing a Princess' Part
LOUISE ANDREWS—for they lacked originality and had the same Christian name—was quite another type. Thin, pale, her eyes were deep-set, her mouth firm, her appearance austere. If not quite so painfully tidy as her German colleague, she was just as irreproachable, and, what was a rare occurrence, it was the Englishwoman who spoke German instead of the other way round, which is more usually the case. The two Louises did not live long enough together to become bitter enemies. If I describe them so minutely, it is because maids are destined to play a rather large part in a lonely royal lady's life.
Now that I was ready, I felt as though dressed up for the sacrifice. Mama had said: "Clothes play a great part all over the world, and more especially in southern countries; so never forget to dress carefully for festive occasions; it belongs to a princess' duties."
I stood there in the glory of my new attire, thinking over her words. She had also said this: "You are going to an Orthodox country, respect its church and its ceremonies, kiss the cross and the Bible when the priest holds them out to you, and when you see others crossing themselves, do you the same." And I followed her advice, although at first, each time I did so I nearly died of timidity; believing, with some reason, that all eyes were fixed upon me.
Oh, all those eyes eternally upon you! That is indeed one of the biggest trials I had to learn to bear. Thousands of eyes everywhere, and no one to assure me that they were kindly, approving eyes, eyes which understood my extreme youth and were ready to forgive many a blunder. But this easy way of seeing things did not enter into the plan of my instructors. Those whose duty it was to initiate me into my new life had only one end in view; I was to be taught the meaning of duty with a big D, and it would have been imprudent to allow me to imagine that others could be more indulgent. No half measures for King Carol; his creed was, with a vengeance, "all work and no play."
Owing to the tremendous snowdrifts, our train arrived several hours late. Whole regiments had been ordered out to clear the line, but even those several hours late were not late enough for me; such was my terror of the ordeal before me that I kept sending prayers up to God that the train should never reach its goal. My fingers became quite clammy, so desperately did I cling to Nando's hand. He was exceedingly loving, but not very reassuring, as he, too, was anxious—I could see it, although I did not know him very well then. Later I always knew, by a certain paleness about the nostrils of his supremely aristocratic nose, when Nando was nervous. We tried to smile at each other, but they were rather poor little smiles, and I felt tears dangerously near.
Our engine began to utter a series of long-drawn-out shrieks, as though agonizingly glad to reach home; from afar came a sound of music; our train was slowly puffing into the station. Courage! Nothing now could stop the hour fixed by Fate for my first encounter with those that were to become my people. The wheels groaned, the music became louder; now the troops, lined up on the edge of the platform, began cheering. Timidly peeping out of the window, I liked the soldiers' faces; stalwart, swarthy little men with dark, intelligent eyes and very white teeth. They wore dark gray coats and had queer-shaped hats with long cocks' plumes hanging far down on one side, rather in the style of the Italian Bersaglieri.
The Chasseurs of Major Nando
"THOSE are my chasseurs," explained Nando; "the first battalion, of which I am major. I was promoted major when we married."
So those were Nando's chasseurs; the possessive pronoun had something reassuring about it, gave you a family feeling. Strangely enough, although everything else was at first alien in my new home, from the very beginning I had a consoling feeling about the army. I never felt a stranger amongst our soldiers; I seemed immediately accepted by then without conditions and without distrust. Was it perhaps a prognostication of the future, of those glorious but terrible times which we were destined to endure together?
The train had stopped.
The music and the cheering had risen to a deafening din. It was especially the soldiers who made the most noise. How they cheered! Their mouths were wide open, showing rows of strong white teeth, and how their eyes flashed! All through my life I have heard them cheer thus, even in that terrible winter of 1916-1917 when they were but tragic ghosts of their former selves, ragged, starved scarecrows, poor remnants of once-proud regiments, with tattered uniforms and on their feet bandages instead of boots. But even then they cheered, bravely marching past, dragging their frozen, tired feet through the snow. Yes, even then they cheered, and their eyes, which had seen death in every form, which had contemplated every horror of war and retreat, stared into mine, and there was still confidence in that look they sent me—a sort of dumb trust which suffering and defeat could not uproot.
Nando sprang out first and was warmly greeted by uncle, who stood well to the fore, heading the rows of officials crowding behind him. He stretched up his arms to help me down and then clasped me to his heart. He was trembling; he, too, was full of emotion. This was a great day, a day of success and achievement, but there was also pain in it; for uncle, also, had known sacrifice, he, too, had buried more than one dream.
According to correct precedence, the officials were presented to me. Everybody was there: The prime minister, Lascar Catargiu, with all the members of the cabinet, several of whom had been at our wedding; the mayor of the capital—who was then Triandafil, if I rightly remember—the rector of the university, the high officials of the parliament, representatives of the law, of the army, of the church, the chief of the police; and their wives had mostly come with them, each one having donned a beautiful new toilette for the occasion, for Rumanian ladies are exceedingly smart. The music continued to play, the soldiers to cheer. The din was tremendous. The mayor pushed forward, offering the traditional bread and salt; he made a welcoming speech which no one could hear because of the noise. Finally the ladies worked their way through the crowd of men and absolutely buried me under showers of heavy bouquets which I simply could not hold. My precious dress was trodden on by a hundred eager feet. I was crushed and tossed hither and thither as a cork on a tumultuous sea, for Rumanian receptions are warm, but not orderly, and the one who is being received has a pretty hard struggle to keep afloat.
I was much impressed by the Rumanian type of beauty. Those dark, Oriental-looking women fascinated me. There was especially a certain Madame Rasti, wife of the prefect of police, whom I could not take my eyes off. There was something odalisque-like in her olive complexion and heavy, slumbrous eyes. All clad in blood-red, sable-trimmed velvet, she was indeed of striking appearance, the like of which I had never seen, except, perhaps, in Aunt Zina, of childhood's memory.
A Rumanian Welcome
One of the faces I remembered from Sigmaringen was Peter Carp, who screwed in his eyeglass to have a good look at me; his expression was ironical, but not unkind. Somehow I liked his face. There was also my special friend General Vladescu; we greeted each other like old acquaintances, and there was also, of course, Ioan Kalinderu, well to the fore, and on whose rotund person the grand cordon of the Star of Rumania seemed to assume special importance. Somehow, no other decoration looked as red or honorable as his. But it was all very confusing, very frightening, though perhaps a little less terrible than I had imagined; and this was because everybody looked so pleased and so welcoming that they really made me feel as though this was a great day of rejoicing for them all.
The next move was to the metropolitan church for a Te Deum. In Rumania all official festivities begin by a Te Deum in church.
We took our places in a wonderful silver-and-blue coach drawn by four huge, coal-black Russian stallions with enormously long tails and manes. Uncle sat beside me, and Nando opposite. Mama never having permitted a shut carriage, even when it was bitterly cold, I was rather shocked that we should be shut in behind glass windows; I thought the people might feel slighted. All mama's convictions and principles had been so strong that she had, so to say, inoculated them into my blood. It took years before I could become free of them, and some—as, for instance, her feeling about open air, exercise and punctuality—are as strong in me today as they were then. There was an incisive force about mama which set her stamp upon us for all time.
In spite of the bitter cold, the streets were crowded; all the troops had been turned out and we were given a warm reception. Full of curiosity, I gazed out of my glass casket upon this new world, these new people who were to be mine.
My impressions were confused; I hardly knew what I felt. I tried to how as graciously as possible, but bowing is an art which has to be learned little by little; in those days I was stiff as a puppet, and, as in all things, this was caused by my insufferable, youthful self-consciousness. The moment one becomes more interested in other people than in oneself, shyness disappears. Ease of manner is not vanity but victory over oneself.
A Stranger in a Strange Land
The Te Deum was very impressive. I loved the dark, mellow-tinted church with its ancient frescoes, its fine, old, silver candlesticks and lamps. In those days I was no connoisseur of old icons and Byzantine art, but from the first I felt their beauty and atmosphere, they spoke strongly to the artist within me; but the priests' voices were very poor in comparison with those I have heard in Russia and in mama's little chapels; besides, they had, alas, a way of singing through their noses to which no really musical ear could agree. The chants which, in Russia, were so compelling and uplifting had no grandeur here—in fact, they marred the otherwise really beautiful service. Remembering mama's injunctions, I followed the lead, though somewhat sheepishly, when the true believers crossed themselves, but it made me feel a bit of a fraud. It was only very much later in life that I realized that there are politenesses of the heart which are not a comedy or weak concessions, but an understanding of right values and of those small things important to each man in his own sphere.
Here also I bore the brunt of a thousand eyes, looking through me, appraising, criticizing; eyes full of curiosity, pity, interest or dawning sympathy, each man according to the depth or shallowness of his own heart and soul. But I suffered; I felt small, foolish, insignificant and exceeding lonely amidst the multitude. A slow procession back through the streets, more troops, more crowds, more cheering, and looking up, I saw the Union Jack and the Rumanian colors, floating side by side from every house. The beloved old flag! Tears came into my eyes. That flag meant home! At that time the blue, yellow and red meant nothing to me; not yet did they touch my heart. And all of a sudden, there in that royal glass case, rolling through unknown streets with two almost unknown men seated beside me, I was invaded by a feeling of utmost desolation. Crowds cheering, music, noise, welcome, rejoicing, and although the central figure around which all this fuss was being made, in reality I was but a poor, forlorn, little stranger in a strange land.
Finally we arrived at the palace, which was not a very imposing building, squat, low and of no distinctive style. With a clatter of hoofs we drove up to one of the front doors to the inevitable sound of music and cheering. With great ceremony, the king conducted me up the grand staircase, a fine marble construction, imposing and monumental, branching off on both sides at the first landing to a pillared hall above. Uncle's emotion was evident, and I can still hear the click of his sword on the marble of the steps as we mounted.
White-clad schoolgirls were lined up on both sides, singing songs of welcome while they threw flowers before us; it was a very pretty sight.
Officers, high officials, court dignitaries, servants in gala liveries, and uncle at my side, sober, steady, but deeply moved, for all his outward calm, and close on our heels Nando, pale, anxious, nervously eager to get rid of all these people so as to be at last alone with his bride.
The apartment prepared for us was to the right of the grand stairs; the doors were thrown open and uncle led me into my new home. My new home!
A feeling of utter despair came over me at the sight of the rooms that had been prepared for us, and that, into the bargain, had, I believe, been newly done up in our honor. I am not going to weary my readers with a detailed description of that apartment; let it simply be said that it was German mauvais goût at its worst, when it sets out to be heavy and cruel; Altdeutsch and bad rococo! From my point of view, they were a disaster. My disappointment and disillusion actually amounted to physical pain; I felt my already heavy heart sink lower and lower, till I wondered if it would ever end sinking. Rich, dark, pompous, unhomelike, inhospitable rooms, all windows, doors and fixtures, and nowhere a cozy corner, nowhere a fireplace, nowhere any flowers, nowhere a comfortable chair!
In My New Home
Uncle embraced me once more, expressed his hope that this was an auspicious day, the beginning of much happiness in my new home, and then he left us.
My new home.
I sank down into a seat—a hard Altdeutsch seat.
Nando came over to me, took me into his arms.
"You are tired?"
"Yes, a little."
"Those hateful official ceremonies?"
"Yes, they were rather long."
"You must have a rest now; there will be a big dinner this evening."
"Yes, a big dinner."
And there were many big dinners, one after another, and many ceremonies, and much rejoicing, and many faces, all of them friendly, welcoming, but all of them new. Nowhere a stable point, nothing to hang on to except Nando, but here in Rumania Nando was crown prince, uncle's nephew, a man of duty, trained to do uncle's bidding, trained to see with uncle's eyes, almost to use uncle's words.
Duty—it was all duty, from the early morning when we got up, to the evening when we went to bed. Duty, duty, and it was winter and my rooms were Altdeutsch and rococo. And both uncle and Nando said I must have no friends: no friends, because here in this new country it was dangerous to have friends; politics, jealousies, intrigues.
Yes, they told me many things, there were many words, they talked politics, they had long military discussions, they smoked strong cigars, and all they said was Chinese to me. And outside there was snow and frost, and no one seemed to understand anything about flowers here; there was a single camellia plant in my room with one waxy red-and-white flower on it—only one—and that soon fell off, and the other buds did not open—poor hard little buds !
That was behind the scenes; but I am an optimist, and I hate people who wail, so I am going to show you the outside of it, what it looked like to others who had no entry to the Altdeutsch and rococo rooms, all doors, windows and fixtures.
From Silver to Salt
Beyond those doors I was being greatly feasted. Every day there was some official function, all in my honor—dinners, balls, huge official receptions and deputations from all the four corners of the country, who presented gorgeously decorated addresses and often brought some gift: Rumanian embroideries, carpets, carved or painted chests, books and icons and other objects representative of national industries. The ladies of the Liberal Party, not then in power, brought me an artistically chased golden casket with a goodly sum of money with which I was to found some useful charity. The party in power offered us a large silver table center with symbolic figures of very fine workmanship. But mostly the gifts were of a humbler kind.
Every degree of state dignitary and functionary passed before us, representatives of every nationality, every creed, every craft, every profession, every cloth. Civilians, soldiers, priests and even monks, also a deputation of Russian coachmen to present a silver platter with the traditional bread and salt.
It was interesting, but it was also very tiring, and for some unknown reason I was not feeling well. I imagined it had something to do with the change of climate, the different food, perhaps. But generally I had been absolutely immune to changes, and had I not the advantage of a Russian digestion? Was there, perhaps, some inexplicable change going on within me? Anyhow, I was feeling different from my usual self; depressed, no vitality, no sense of humor and a huge disgust for every sort of smell; it was quite distressing!
My trousseau dresses were brought out, one after the other. I did my best to look as well and smart as possible, so as to do honor to my husband. The two Louises made joint efforts to smarten up my coiffure; they curled and waved my poor hair with more good will than dexterity—sometimes, in fact, they made rather a sight of me. This I felt without being able to canalize their excellent intentions, myself being quite green in the art of dress. Besides, I was looking pinched, there were dark circles round my eyes, I had not my usual face, my cheeks were pale, I was getting thin and, strangest of all, my nose seemed to be growing longer! This was particularly noticeable in the first photographs taken of me as a married woman. I had a favorite velvet evening dress, a creation of Laferrière, then en vogue in Paris. I disliked myself in many of my dresses, but I imagined that this particular gown was really becoming; it was a curious old plum color with a delicious bloom on it, and was made up with old lace which gave it the look of a costume of the Vandyke period. The tint of the velvet looked well with the turquoises papa had given me. I was always fond of color harmonies, and the greeny blue of the pale stones together with the old plum pleased my eye. Everything was still dormant in me—taste as well as intelligence. I was groping, and there were only occasional little flashes of light.
So I had myself photographed in this gown so as to send it home, and in this picture I noticed that my snubby little nose had lengthened. Was it because my cheeks were less chubby, or what? All this was very disturbing and there was no one to discuss it with. Lady Mouson was still here, but I saw little of her; she was caught up in a whirl of mondaine gayeties; besides, I was most jealously guarded by Nando and uncle, and allowed to see almost no one except those received officially in crowds. Even my lady in waiting, Madame Grecianu, was only allowed to come to me when strictly on business. I was to be kept away from every outside influence. Ever since that trouble with poor Aunt Elizabeth and Hélène Vacarescu, uncle and nephew were filled with watchful mistrust, and this made me almost a prisoner. Uncle had laid down strict laws, by which my husband religiously abode, as they just then entirely fitted in with his desires. But of course this was not exactly conducive to a cheerful life.
A Thirty-two-fold Wedding
Looking back upon it, I cannot help being astounded at their want of knowledge of psychology when it came to treating a very young and lonely woman. I was like a tightly shut bud. They seemed afraid of its opening and hemmed me in with laws, defenses and restrictions, as though they could oblige their flower to bloom according to their own desires and at their appointed time.
Once when asked what I compared myself to, I answered: "To a tree which has grown through a stone wall." Already in those very early days my poor little roots were pressing against the wall.
Amongst the many and mostly dull ceremonies I was being submitted to, there was one which was exceedingly picturesque and gave me real pleasure. Nando and I were to be sponsors at the marriage of thirty-two peasant couples, chosen from the thirty-two Rumanian districts. According to the Greek Orthodox rites, there are sponsors for marriages as well as for baptisms. This colorful thirty-two-fold wedding was celebrated at the metropolitan church, and was indeed a pretty sight, owing to the bright peasant dresses and the many lighted tapers against the dim, frescoed background of the old church. It was a picture my eyes took possession of with deep pleasure. Once happily joined together, the thirty-two couples, seated in their own rustic carts, drawn by magnificent gray oxen with huge, gilded horns, passed in a grand procession before the palace windows, an attractive sight indeed, in which I discovered some of the romance I had thought to find in this far land. From the very first I was strongly attracted to the peasants, to those brave and patient tillers of the soil; so that rural pageant stands out as a pleasant memory. Less to my liking were the enormous receptions of all the Bukharest ladies gathered together for presentation. They were lined up in two rows all along the length of the large gold-and-white ballroom. Uncle gave me his arm, and as we passed down that formidable front, he presented each lady; their name was legion and they were of every age and of every degree; enough to make the stoutest spirit quail. As two are company and three are none, Nando had to trot behind us, rather an embarrassing proceeding, but luckily for him, there were familiar faces amongst that alarming army of women.
My heart would sink as the doors were thrown open to reveal those endless rows, waiting to be smiled upon. I was distressingly stiff, awkward and tongue-tied, and at a terrible disadvantage because of my insufficient French.
Out of this sea of faces two women stand out as a blessed relief, merely because they had the courage to address me first instead of, according to protocol, waiting for me to begin the conversation. One was Madame Cesianu—later Marquise Belloy—a stout, cheerful lady, irrepressibly good-humored and talkative. The other was Hélène Perticari, wife of one of uncle's A. D. C.'s, a lovely woman with naturally wavy auburn hair and large round eyes placed far apart under perfectly arched brows; a woman somewhat the type of Lily Brayton, whose beauty I so much admired later on the English stage. The spark of sympathy kindled at that early hour grew to a steady flame as years advanced, and today these ladies are cherished friends.
The Meeting of East and West
I continued to be impressed by the type of Rumanian beauty; that olive skin, those dark eyes and raven hair were most attractive, but, in my opinion, the women were much better looking than the men. The more Oriental the type the more I admired it, and I shall always remember Madame Simu, seated in her box during the gala performance, so alluringly exotic with a cascade of red roses falling from her shoulders. A slim, blond, nondescript little creature, all in white and turquoise, with a trimming of innocent pale pink rosebuds, I gazed down upon her, full of admiration, and she looked up at me, wondering perhaps at the excessive fairness of my hair and complexion; it was indeed the meeting of East and West.
The performance itself—A Midsummer Night's Dream—did not impress me much; I understood no Rumanian, and although great care had been expended, the Rumanian theater was still in its infancy. Since then I have seen remarkable progress in this line.
In its turn, all the feminine world of Bukharest was, of course, exceedingly interested in this little English princess who had come to live in its midst, and more than one motherly heart was, I believe, moved when they saw how ridiculously young and immature I was.
Those with whom, owing to their official position, I most often came together were the ladies of the actual government, for in Rumania the ministers have a predominant position and are conspicuous guests on every official occasion.
The ladies of the Conservative government were headed by sober old Madame Lascar Catargui, a good old body, but hardly of the decorative sort. There were also Madame Jacques and Madame Alexandre Lahovari, sisters-in-law; the first mentioned, small and exceedingly black, with a large mouth and many teeth, and who always looked at you through her lorgnette, the other tall, stately, with natural—or unnatural—fair hair—in those days I could not distinguish the difference. Madame Symka, as Society called her, was the great wit of the actual government, in opposition to Madame Sturdza, the sharpened tongue of the Liberal Party. These two ladies had much to say of each other, but their remarks were more amusing than charitable. Of the two, Madame Symka was certainly the more attractive. Later we became firm friends, but at first I was frightened of her; she was so astoundingly self-assured, so terrifically French, so embarrassingly intelligent, and she was so much more painted than I was accustomed to. In fact, she awed me and made me feel small; there was a chasm between Madame Symka Lahovari and the somewhat prejudiced old home atmosphere to which I had been accustomed.
A Lonely Princess
There was also Madame Peter Carp—daughter of dear old Marie Cantacuzène who had been present at our marriage—a severely simple lady of the motherly, good-housewife type, but very cultured and well read, as were all Marie Cantacuzène's daughters. Her attire was old-fashioned, her evening dresses bared her shoulders as in the crinoline period; she also made solemn curtsies which were quite in keeping with her whole demeanor. Then there was Madame Take Ionescu, a tall Englishwoman with short hair, a passionate rider, side by side with whom I have had many a good gallop, and there was Madame Marghiloman—born Stirbey, later Madame Ioan Bratianu—to whom I felt greatly drawn. She was much the youngest of them all, and, although somewhat forbidding, when she laughed had a delicious way of crinkling up her nose. There was something entirely upright about Elsie Marghiloman which attracted me, but there was also a certain prickliness about her which made approach difficult. Although much kindness was shown me, I felt very lost, and Nando's painful anxiety to prevent any friendship was, of course, little conducive to any more genial contact.
It was, in fact, many years before I was allowed to know anyone more intimately. This made life exceedingly lonely and was one of the reasons why I took a long time in becoming a really good Rumanian.
Second to the government the corps diplomatique played a great part in uncle's order of existence. Berlin and Vienna were well to the fore; France was dealt with politely; Russia, though always distrusted, was treated with minutest care and civility, but it was politeness due rather to apprehension than to affection. England in those early days had no closer contact with Rumania. The two countries had few interests in common. Prince Bulow was German minister at Bukharest, and Gudehowski was the Austrian. Later both these gentlemen made big careers. Old Fonton, the Russian, was a pleasant, animated little man, very thin, with excitable gestures, snow-white whiskers, and eyes which seemed to pop out of his head. I remember how uncle kept comparing him favorably to Hitrovo, his predecessor. There was no British minister at that moment, but Sir Charles Hardinge was chargé d'affaires. His wife was charming and both were very good-looking.
King Carol was as well versed in foreign as in home politics. In fact, everything was politics; they were his very raison d'être. He carefully weighed all that he did and said, always calculating the consequences; thereby, according to my negligible judgment, infinitely complicating life and creating difficulties out of things which might have been quite simple if taken more simply. It is not for me to judge my betters, but I suffered many years under his none-too-light sway; it was a good school; today I know how to be grateful for it; but for all that, it meant much bitterness, saddening our youth and sometimes driving us to the verge of desperation or revolt.
It was especially my husband who suffered; he was never a rebel, for a certain glorious joy can be found in being a rebel. I, for one, have known this joy, but Nando was brought up to obey. Never was there a more loyal crown prince. He listened to his uncle in all things, blindly following his lead, submitting to his every demand, never revolting and always eager to propitiate any differences which arose between the tyrannical old gentleman and myself. It was a thankless rôle to play, as he often found himself between hammer and anvil. He did not always agree with his uncle's views, often feeling irritated, sometimes even humiliated by his overruling manner, but he remained pliant, acquiescent and patient to a degree which I admired, although it often made my blood boil.
The Thorny Path to a Crown
Our youth is a long tale of abnegation. Outwardly happy and seemingly surrounded by affection and good will, it was, nevertheless, often a weary and thorny path, on which, day by day, something had to be given up, some desire crushed, some dream buried, some impulse trodden upon. It was one ceaseless renunciation and surrendering of will, a continual looking on and seeing others possess, enjoy and do those things which were denied to us. Yes, it was a hard school. I do not regret. I believe that all things have a meaning, even the hardest; every humiliating surrender, every bitter tear, all go for the building up of something, even if we do not see it at the time. But I cannot say that I enjoyed it—I hated it, in fact, with every fiber of my healthy being. I loathed this relentless form of education, which was a continual struggle for domination and crushing of will. I admit that it taught me many a lesson; it strengthened my muscles, taught me to be unselfish, and gave me a strong foundation for those later years when I had to shoulder my own responsibilities.
Once, after my husband had come to the throne and we were looking back upon our youth, I expressed the opinion that I had been given a healthy training. "For you, perhaps," said Nando. "You were a rebel; you could even find pleasure in a good fight. I was born obedient, battle was not my style; you had always high spirits, the joy of life was strong in you, so you have not been crushed. You thrived upon opposition, but I feel that in me some spring was broken; it was not necessary to be so severe with me. I had been brought up to a strong sense of duty, whilst you ——" Here he paused.
He smiled: "Whilst you were not brought up at all; you simply grew."
He had said a true word. I had not been brought up at all; I simply grew. I was a child of nature. I had nothing to throw off, no one had chained my will; so I was able to grow through a stone wall.
The moment had come for Lady Monson and for Colonel Howard to leave. They had been lavishly entertained and most hospitably received everywhere, but their time was up, and having given me over to my new family and country, their mission was at an end. The last link with the past was to be broken.
A Talk With Lady Mouson
How well I remember my last interview with Lady Mouson. I can smile today when looking back upon it, but at the time it was tragic enough. She found me seated in the disastrous rococo room—my so-called boudoir. I had been making fruitless efforts to try and make it look homelike, but had given up in despair; no cozy corner could be wrung from its false, inhospitable elegance. I had collapsed amidst the half-unpacked treasures from home, my wedding presents lay strewn about on tables, chairs and floor; it was like an inglorious battlefield. I had been vanquished in the struggle. Everything was out of place in this heavily pretentious setting; my dearest possessions took on a forlorn and reproachful aspect; they were as homesick as I was. I certainly must have looked a poor forsaken little human being.
Lady Monson, always voluble, hurried toward me with many exclamations; her attitude was one of humorous commiseration.
"My dear child! You do not look very cheerful, and all your pretty things on the floor! Are you feeling seedy? You're so pale."
"Yes, I'm not feeling well. I can't understand what's the matter with me. I feel giddy, everything makes me sick, food disgusts me; and I, who never felt the difference of climate, cannot get accustomed to this one. Everything makes me feel sick—smells, noises, faces, even colors. I'm altogether changed. I don't recognize my own self!"
"Oh, but, my dear, this is an excellent sign. How delighted everybody will be!"
"Delighted? Why? Because I'm feeling sick and miserable?" I was aghast and stared at her, horrified, wondering if she was crazy.
"But, my dear, you surely know what it means when a young wife begins feeling sick?"
"What should it mean?" More and more perplexed, I felt humiliatingly near tears.
"You don't mean to say no one ever told you?" It was Lady Mouson's turn to be aghast.
"Told me what?" My eyes were filling with fear. "Told me what?" So the good lady sat down beside me amidst the depressed flotsam brought from home and tried to explain to me, tried to make me understand what was happening and why Nando, uncle and, with them, the whole country would be so glad.
Curiously enough, I took it tragically. I felt somehow as though I had been trapped. So this is what they wanted me for; they wanted me to give them an heir! But I had only just left home, mama, Ducky. I was feeling so ill, so lonely; there was no one to go to and no one to talk to; there were no flowers and no one seemed to care about fresh air and outside exercise, and everything brought from home looked so out of place here in these awful rooms where there were no corners one could sit in. It was no good even trying to arrange them, nothing was any good. And all the morning Nando had military duties, and at lunch he and uncle talked about things I could not understand, and then they smoked cigars and went on talking, even when lunch and dinner were over, and cigar smoke made me more sick than anything else, and they were such huge cigars, you never could hope that they would come to an end. And in the afternoon, when I wanted to drive out, Nando says there is no place to drive to, and he says I must have no friends, that we cannot have any friends in this country, and uncle says—
Yes, it all came bubbling out, and, when put into words, suddenly revealed to me all the despair that had been slowly accumulating; and finally, bursting into tears, I laid my head on the shoulder of the good lady, who patted me in a motherly, though somewhat patronizing, way, for she was feeling wise, and hugely but sadly superior to this foolish child to whom no one had explained anything. It was distressing enough, no doubt, but it was life, and life had its hard sides, but I must not make a tragedy out of small miseries. All beginnings were difficult, and, after all, I ought to be proud of satisfying my new country's ambitions. Think of the joy if it were a boy. Lady Mouson spoke wisely, but she also spoke as one looking back upon life, as one already out of touch with the distress of the young. The long road which lay behind her had made of her a philosopher. She knew that all things, even griefs and pains, were transient. To her, my pain looked small, unreal, rather pathetic and just a little absurd, which it probably was. But for me, who had all my life before me, with its daily, bitter, little discoveries, it was real enough, and huge and terrifying, and, above all, I was lonely and homesick; a poor, uprooted, little simpleton with a fair head stuffed full of dreams.
This was not at all a romantic country. It was all prohibition, interdiction and politics. And uncle—
That was always the refrain, the end of every sentence. "And uncle" — "Der Onkel," the incomprehensible shadow which already at Sigmaringen had darkened Nando's joy.
"Der Onkel." But it was no good trying to explain; even Lady Monson, who had come from home, could not understand.
Editor's Note—This is the first of a new series of articles by Marie, Queen of Rumania. The next will appear in an early issue.