IT WERE impossible to relate all my life, year by year; ten volumes would not suffice for all I remember of pain and joy, for life is a slow proceeding, and many events go to the building up of a soul, of a character.
Looking back, the seasons of my youth pass before me like pictures strung together, some full of hope and glamour, some dark with those stormy despairs peculiar to the young.
The central figure of our world was King Carol, that strong, quiet man, a master indeed, dominating all those dependent upon him; a man who planned and foresaw, who, having overcome his passions and crushed every personal desire, expected the same of others; a man who had forgotten that he had ever been young and who, therefore, had but scant understanding for those who, mere human beings, wanted to live and be glad.
I remember once how, after one of our conflicts—there were many, alas!—I had written him a letter full of revolt, begging him to remember that if my youth were stolen from me, nothing and no one could ever give me back the best years of my life. His answer had been short and to the point: "Only the frivolous consider youth the best years of life."
A Monarch of All He Surveyed
SUCH was der Onkel, and although in later years we became firm friends, even associates, from the very first, because of my character and education, we were destined to clash. My outward appearance was that of a tame little maiden with blue eyes and fair hair, but strong blood ran in my veins and I possessed a great instinct of self-preservation. Subconsciously I knew that I could not exist as a slave, that if I allowed my will to be broken, I should never live to be any real good to the country which had become my destiny. From the very first, it had to be give and take. For years we had to submit to what uncle considered just demands upon our obedience, but which, to us, appeared to be tyranny; we had lo tremble before his iron will. Power was in his hands; we could but submit. Nevertheless, within possible limits I remained unconquered and cut through my own way, in spite of every defense and restriction.
Of course, I made no end of mistakes, often behaved foolishly and exaggerated my troubles. All beginners of life set out with the idea that happiness is their special right, the chief if not the only aim of existence, and they want to reach it in their own way; anyone or anything opposing this rush toward that luminous goal becomes the enemy, the one to be overcome.
Uncle and I were fond of each other, but for all that, we were opponents. His one object was to fit me into his scheme of things according to his conception of order and justice, while mine was to remain a free agent, to be my own master, to develop on my own lines, a being with thoughts of her own, a life of her own.
I immensely admire German thoroughness; the mass result of German education is useful, but the spirit of absolute obedience crushing every individuality I, personally, could never submit to. I was too bubbling full of life and imagination to follow a narrow, dull, uninspiring track so close behind the old king that his shadow blotted out the sun. I was ready to learn, but I also wanted to understand, to bold up my head and face life; I felt that I should never be able to give my best if treated as a prisoner, if my every movement and impulse were controlled, criticized and cut down to shape.
Having been intensely happy in my old home, I wanted to bring some of that happiness into the new one. Every element for happiness was there—a young, loving husband, a beautiful and interesting country, ready to take the young princess up into its heart, wide scope, every worldly advantage, and a large horizon spreading out before us. And yet, all this was to be cramped, blighted, darkened by that curious faculty uncle had of magnifying the importance of every act, every word, every meeting or parting, of every innovation. We were entirely hemmed in, controlled, overruled. We were never allowed to choose those who were to serve us, nor, even in later years, was it permitted that we should select those who were to bring up our children. There was fuss and endless discussion even over the most humble gymnastic master, and it seemed such a weighty affair to find a German who could give German lessons to our son that for years be was not taught to speak his father's language. We were never consulted, or if we were, only pro forma, and such pressure was laid upon us that we could but agree to the choice already made beforehand. With a strange want of understanding, we were thus more than once obliged to accept in our household people entirely antagonistic to us, with whom it was a torment to live and who carried within them the seed of future disaster.
Carmen Sylva's Return
THESE people were entirely beholden to uncle and played in our household the part of informers, not to use a stronger expression; a household in which such species are rampant cannot, to put it mildly, be a comfortable household. Often I was unaware of the part these people were playing and trusted them, treated them as though they were loyal; was outspoken, unguarded, guileless, as it was quite beyond my simple conceptions that there could be people, seemingly pleasant, who betrayed you behind your back. One is not prepared for Iagos in one's own life. Little by little, however, I discovered that all sorts of humans lived under the sun, and the discovery was distinctly unpleasant, but it did not shatter my belief in humanity. One faithful man outweighs a dozen traitors, and I have met with lifelong fidelities, and toward these I look back with immense gratitude, whilst the others, they are best forgotten
The birth of our second child, Elisabetha, came to pass before Carol was a year old, and it was round about this date that Queen Carmen Sylva returned to live amongst us, and our daughter was given her name.
Carmen Sylva was also destined to play a great part in my life.
Well do I remember her arrival at Sinaia and how, after a great reception at the station, we all flocked' to the monastery church for a solemn Te Deum. The queen had not forgotten that she had been exiled for two years; Carmen Sylva never forgot. I remember with what a superbly royal gesture she mounted the steps of her high chair, the queen's chair, opposite the king's. She was once more taking possession of it. She did this with tragic dignity; no one could ignore the tragedy of it, nor the tragedy which looked out from her deep-set eyes as she gazed down upon all those who had crowded to meet her and to bid her welcome home. What may have been her thoughts? How many of those, all smiles today, had kept faith whilst she was far away? Popularity is a treacherous thing, and the love of a people for its sovereigns is swayed by many winds; few resist howling with the wolves.
I could not keep my eyes off the queen; she fascinated me as she had fascinated me the first time we had met. She was so entirely different from anyone else; romance clung to her, though today she was no more a white-clad invalid, painting strange flowers in her bed, surrounded by a weird company of poor relations who had come to the lonely forest dwelling to be healed. Today she stood upright and was very much alive; her movements were swift, energetic, with something uncompromising, almost defiant about them. Her attire was entirely unbecoming, for Carmen Sylva was without taste, but a strange force emanated from her, some hypnotism not easy to define.
The Restless Queen
MY YOUNG eyes watched her anxiously; she had come to add a fourth to the strange trio we had been for more than a year and a half, and she was certainly no negligible quantity. Did her coming bode good or ill? Would she be a mother to me? Would she help me along my way? I was as ready as ever to adore, to admire; the fascination still held, but there was something quite uncompromising about her tread which made my heart beat uncomfortably. All through the years I knew her she had the habit of pacing her chamber like some great captive creature in a cage. If I can so express it, her tread was unresigned; there was a quality of revolt about it. Up and down, up and down, with a movement which swept you along with her; irresistibly, if you would or not, you found yourself pacing beside her, listening to the many things she had to say whilst she held you under the charm of her golden voice. Ever was I more charmed by her voice than by the things she said, but her step had in it a restlessness almost as expressive as her voice—there was no peace in it, and no repose.
Though she sang of forest, mountain, sea and river, she very seldom left the house, considering it to be waste of time; and this was no doubt partly the reason why she so continually paced her chamber with that restless tread.
Certainly, with the advent of Carmen Sylva my life became fuller and more exciting. Her personality was as great as King Carol's; they were direct opposites, ice and fire, but their manners were perfect, and they were grand associates for the one and same cause.
Although she was so impulsive, so forceful, uncle was very much the master. He admired his poet wife, was proud of her, but was disinclined to allow her imagination full sway, fearing it might lead her and him into difficulties, which it occasionally did, in spite of all his watchful authority.
"Aunty," as we called her, needed an audience; she had so much to say and said it so beautifully that she naturally wanted people about her who would listen and admire; she was, therefore, continually surrounded by an ecstatic circle of ladies, hanging on her every word, and these were supplemented by artists, poets, musicians. Many interesting people came to Aunty, but there were also those who were merely insipid echoes, forming a chorus; these were irritating and occasionally gave to her salon a touch of the absurd.
Mama had intended to be with me also for my second child's birth; but Elisabetha was in a hurry and appeared on October 11, 1804 (old style), before mama had time to arrive, so it was Aunt Elisabeth and a Rumanian doctor who were with me during my trial. Later, Doctor Cantacuzène and I became staunch friends, but in those days he was a stranger to me and I looked at him with eyes filled with fear. At this period my life appeared to be a series of perplexing and uncomfortable events. I had no real identity; people seemed to dispose of me according to their will, and Nature laid incomprehensible traps. There were too many mysteries and secrets; nor dared I delve too deeply down into what was going on, for fear of discovering unbearable facts.
Aunty, overcome by the poignant memories of her own maternity and of her many frustrated hopes, was much agitated and moved by this family event, and kept exhorting me to realize that this was the most wonderful, glorious, blissful hour of my life. Torn to pieces by excruciating pain, I could in no wise rise to the height of her enthusiasm and wept with longing for my mother, who only appeared on the scene a few days later. Her dear face and sober ways were like a safe haven after having been tossed on alien seas. I clung to her, needing the security of her quiet masterfulness, which brought everything back to the normal. Though both mama and Aunty had been brought up in an epoch when politeness was the supreme idol of the well-born, although they were both deeply educated and cultivated, they represented , so to say, two schools—the realistic and the romantic. They had vastly different conceptions of life, and although they ability never departed from their attitude of extreme amiability towards each other, I do not think they had much in common.
Aunty had the habit of discoursing unrestrainedly upon every subject, her poetic mind gilded every topic, she set herself no boundaries of speech; her public wa-s a matter of indifference to her; everything could be said to anyone, at any hour, in any place. She could be very amusing, and yet she lacked humor, which my mother possessed in the highest degree. Looking back upon all this, I realize how entertaining it must have been to listen to them, but in those days I was not yet ripe enough to be able to follow the humor of the situation, though I instinctively felt a certain hostility beneath their polite conversation. Besides, mama never forgot that a young mother needed rest, but Aunty, who considered herself at home in my house, resented being reminded of the fact, which made the air somewhat electric; those two personalities together were too large for a sick room.
Every day at a certain hour uncle came to see me as I lay with my new treasure clasped in my arms. He showed me great kindness and was much interested in his great-niece, who was an adorable, wise-eyed, solemn-faced baby, but his topics of conversation were heavy, and I have kept a certain memory of fatigue when looking back upon that second confinement. Everybody was being kind, attentive, but there was a want of ease and quiet about it all which strained my nerves; I felt different currents circling around me, and being in bed put me at a disadvantage. I was, so to say, at the mercy of those who thought they had a right to mix up in my very young and newly established household. A great assistance to me during this time was my sister Sandra, then sixteen, but of a helpful, practical turn of mind. She kept watch for me and dearly loved our little Carol, playing a mother's part to him whilst I was laid up. All through life I have had a horror of those periods when I was set aside by sickness or confinement; when I had to give up, let others rule my house, dispose for me; it nearly always ended in some sort of trouble. Being marvelously strong, I was seldom laid up, but when it did happen to me, I could not help looking upon it as a humiliation, a downfall; you were delivered over into the-hands of others, were at their mercy. Invalids are never told the truth; once in a sick bed you are beyond the pale, you are humored, others rule for you, think for you; you are vanquished. I always hated being dependent, and that horizontal position, contrasting with the man vertically standing on his feet bending over you, was a defeat in itself, a lessening of your personality, an admitted inferiority, I never liked giving my will over into other hands, never knowing where this surrender would end.
If I had lived in an older-established country, I should have felt this less acutely, but in a new country one's every faculty is always needed all the time. Things do not run smoothly of themselves. It is continual effort only which keeps the ball rolling.
The quiet weeks I had hoped for with mama after my confinement were, alas, to be denied me, as she had suddenly to leave for the Crimea, where her brother, Emperor Alexander III—Uncle Sasha—lay dying in his palace of Lyvadia. An imperial yacht came to fetch her at Constantza. It was hard to see her go, but she had the consolation of finding her brother still alive. He died a few days later.
Sister Sandra Intervenes
Luckily, I was much attached to my Russian nurse, Gunst, who had been with me during Carol's birth. She was clever and amusing, besides being a first-rate nurse.
My sister Sandra remained with me, which meant much to me, as I was tired and my nerves were somewhat on edge; the return of Queen Elisabeth had been a stirring event at a moment when I was not best fitted to endure the strain of violent emotions. Besides, Aunty had her own rather queer ideas about nurses and children, and considered that I needed teaching and leading; she had also to win back her lost authority, and all these different excitements were not conducive to repose.
I remember an amusing scene when sister Sandra stood up manfully, facing uncle, declaring that I needed a holiday and that he must give me permission to go to Coburg for Christmas, where my father was now reigning duke. Uncle protested, saying that, as Aunty had just returned, this would make people talk; they would imagine that we did not get on well together; it was essential that we should appear, both of us, at Bukharest; there could be no parting just now. I dared not plead for myself, but Sandra had the courage of the innocent and spoke out all she felt: "But it is just a rest from all of you that she needs," she exclaimed, "or her nerves will go to pieces!" Uncle's feelings can well be imagined, but I think he realized that "truth cometh from the lips of children and fools," so he finally gave way, but on condition that I went first to Bukharest when the court moved from Sinaia and that the children should remain with them whilst we were abroad.
Our whole youth was torn and tortured by cruel debates each time we wanted to move or travel, and the children were the chief apple of contention. Uncle and aunt wished us to understand that the children were national property; they also wished to bring them up according to their ideals and to surround them with people chosen by themselves. This, of course, gave endless trouble, as we parents naturally claimed our rights. All this is ancient history, but the despair of it remains as an echo of something that the heart cannot forget. It was very difficult to stand.
But in spite of uncle's iron rule, there were occasions when he had to let us go abroad, such as to assist at marriages, funerals, coronations, and so on. No valid excuse could be found to prevent these outings, which came to our secluded lives as a window suddenly opened in an airless room.
Both Ducky and Sandra followed my example; they, too, married at the early age of seventeen.
Ducky had become exceedingly handsome; she was tall, dark, with rather tragic gray eyes, and her character was firm and ripe for her age.
Grandmama Queen, for sentimental reasons, ardently desired that she should marry our first cousin, the young Grand Duke of Hesse, son of her second daughter, Alice, who had died when he was a boy. Now his father was also dead and it was old Queen Victoria who mothered these grandchildren. The young grand duke was a pleasant, clever young man and a desirable parti.
According to worldly appreciations, this was a match which promised every hope of happiness. Our mother, always against marriages between first cousins, would have liked to oppose it, but in this case she was overruled by strong family feeling.
Wedding Bells at Coburg
A tremendous gathering of important royalties came together for this occasion, including the Empress Frederick, the Kaiser, the Czarevitch—later Nicholas II—and many other members of the Russian, English and German royal families, presided over by Grandmama Queen in person, who shed her sober glory over the festivities.
This was, of course, one of the occasions when King Carol had to allow us to go abroad.
It was during this family gathering at Coburg, on the twentieth of April, 1894, that Nicky, the future Czar, became engaged to the Grand Duke of Hesse's youngest sister, Alice, who later took the name of Alexandra when passing over to the Orthodox church.
I saw very little of my beloved companion. Ducky, during these days of feverish excitement, nor had we much time to talk, but it was with a pang that we both realized that our ways were parting more and more.
In spite of grandmama's blessing and of the brilliant auspices under which this marriage took place, it was not destined to be a happy one and was dissolved by mutual consent in 1901.
Two years later, Sandra married Prince Ernest of Hohenlohe Langenburg, and that same year, 1896, in the spring, we went to Moscow for the coronation of Nicholas and Alexandra. The stupendous magnificence of these festivities is worth recording, and I shall try, therefore, to describe them as I saw I hem with the eyes of a very young woman of twenty, to whom it seemed, after the sober abnegation of King Carol's court, like suddenly stepping from the dark into dazzling sunshine.
The glamour of those coronation festivities is not easy to describe, and there seems more than a lifetime between then and today, when the glory of the Czars is a thing of the past and the tragedy of Red Russia a ghastly reality and a danger to the whole of the civilized world. It is difficult to conceive that those three glittering weeks spent in Moscow were not a dream or visions imagined by a lover of fairy tales. Yet they were real enough, and I lived them with all the ardor of my twenty years, and their enchantment was all the greater because of the exceeding austerity of my three first years in Rumania.
The doors of life seemed suddenly opened and all good things to pour over me like a golden stream. I was young and was considered pretty, and had come back to those of my kind; to those who could laugh, rejoice and be glad. That was how it all seemed to the little captive, to the one who had had to learn too many lessons all at once.
I was standing on a shining threshold looking out upon a stupendous pageant of which my uninitiated eyes saw only the glory.
I was not a very important part of the whole display, but I was given loving welcome; here I was not only on tolerance but made much of, spoilt, admired; all good things were spread out before me; my hands seemed suddenly full of sunshine, it was ecstasy to be alive. My suppressed youth was taking its revenge.
Down there in the new country, I was in harness; I was merely a little wheel in a watch which was keeping uncle's time, but a little wheel which had to do its part relentlessly, and no one tried to surround that part with any glamour or to make it seem worth while; it was all work and no play. I was, with a vengeance, the stranger in a strange land. Everything I did seemed always to be wrong and no one understood that when one was young and life ran like fire through one's veins, one wanted to be gay sometimes, to laugh, be foolish with companions of one's own age, to use one's own faculties, to be a separate entity, someone with a mind of one's own, with one's own thoughts, one's own habits, tastes, ideals, desires.
At uncle's court everything was denied you, enjoyment was looked upon as frivolity, every word you said was an impudence, your life was not your own, nor your house, nor your servants—not even your children! Everything was subservient to uncle and his politics, his ministers and, more especially, to a terrible old lady of his court whose tongue was like a two-edged sword and who looked upon me as an upstart dangerous to the old order of things.
It were more poetical to say that I was the rising sun, but in those days of subjection I in no wise saw myself in such a glorious light.
And now suddenly the contrast of the Moscow coronation I I felt like a bird spreading its wings toward springtime after a long, heavy winter.
This was the mood I was in; the right mood in which to enjoy what was being offered to us.
Before leaving for this important ceremony, uncle had selected with particular care those who were to accompany us; they were mostly officers, but the king had added to our suite a certain old Col. Georges Rosnovanu, who was well known for his Russian sympathies. He had built a Russian church in his Moldavian village, loved the Czar and everything pertaining to Russia, so uncle had kindly thought of giving this enthusiastic old soul the glorious joy of seeing the coronation. Uncle had these sudden inspirations of kindness which helped to make him the big man which he undeniably was. Being an officer of the reserve, old Rosnovanu had had a beautiful calaras uniform made for himself—dark blue with red braiding, and when in full uniform, white trousers—and into this garb of his youth he, not without difficulty, compressed his portly proportions. He had a high color, a fleshy nose and wore long white whiskers, and whenever he met one of the grand dukes he insisted upon giving him what he called "le baiser slav"—the Slav kiss—which consisted of first a kiss on the right shoulder, then one on the left, the third again on the right. This he did each time with convincing ardor, to the great amusement of my uncles.
The Imperial Russian Court had put a house at our disposal, carriages, servants, military guard and every luxury characteristic of Russian lavishness. Several gentlemen had been attached to us, and last, but not least, as in a real fairy story, I had a young page to hold my train, to carry my cloak, to stand behind my chair during the great banquets, gala representations or parades. He was a military cadet, would be an officer next year. He was young and fair, and we were exactly the same age. He was called Cherkessow, and, also, as in a fairy story, quite rightly fell in love with the princess he was serving.
A Page From the Past
For many years Cherkessow used to write to me, and I would answer or send him my latest photograph. Before going to the Russo-Japanese War he wrote me a last letter, sending me back all I had ever given him, in case he should not return. He did not return; and the other day, looking through old papers, I found the touching little packet, tied with neat ribbons, which was all that remained of Cherkessow, my fair young page.
For Nando this was also a unique holiday. He, too, was young enough to revel in the enchantment of these wonderful festivities, but he could never give himself up as whole-heartedly to the joy of living as I could. He was ten years older, had been too much repressed, too severely trained, was too careful, too diffident, too shy. It was not without a certain anxiety that he watched the intensity of my delight; he knew the world better than I did, had fewer illusions and less belief in the absolute good faith of his neighbor. More than once Rumania had had to suffer from Russia's ruthless might, and this kept Nando on his guard. Besides, this was my family, not his; he did not feel as at home as I did, nor was it exactly easy to hold one's own with all my uncles and cousins. There were so many of them; they were so enormous, so sure of themselves, so wealthy and powerful; real autocrats, not particularly careful about other people's feelings; besides, as before mentioned, my Russian relations were merciless teasers; their voices dominated everybody and everything, as did their huge size—a mighty breed, in fact!
The younger generation were of less-imposing stature; they no longer incorporated the real type of the autocrat; there was a disparity between their physique and their power. They seemed less well cut out for their part.
This was particularly evident in the Czar, who was small, almost frail-looking. His eyes were kind, had a caressing expression; there was something gentle about him, and his voice was low-pitched and soft. Although perfectly dignified, he was somewhat dwarfed by the giants of his father's and grandfather's generation. But in these days his family was absolutely loyal to him; they looked up to him as the supreme head, before whom all bowed down without questioning, in spite of his youth. He was imbued with mystic power: He was the Czar. This no one forgot. He was. young, had married a beautiful princess as young as he was, and life stood open before him; many empty pages upon which he could write history.
Moscow, the City of Kings
The first ceremony we witnessed was the Czar's solemn entry into Moscow. The young imperial couple had made a retreat of several days in a monastery beyond the walls of the city, so as to prepare themselves in all humility for the coming sacrament.
On the day she became empress, Alice of Hesse, having been given the name of Alexandra, went over from the Protestant to the Orthodox faith and reverently submitted to its every dictate. How far convinced she was in those days it is difficult to say, but in later years, as we know, she became a fanatical daughter of the Russian church.
What a wonderful sight it was, that solemn entry into Moscow, into that legendary city where from earliest times the Czars were crowned! We guests who took no active part in this particular ceremony looked on from several balconies overhanging the principal street, through which the procession passed.
Here comes the Czar, well to the fore, on a tall white horse. He is not clad in gorgeous apparel, but in the simple dark-green uniform all are accustomed to see him wear, on his head the round tight-fitting astrakhan cap, characteristic of the Russian army. His breast is barred by the light blue ribbon of the order of St. André; on the dark cloth a few diamond stars flash in the sunshine. There is nothing magnificent about his attire, nor is there anything particularly imposing in his bearing, but he sits his horse with the ease of a good rider. He is small, but, as before mentioned, his eyes are kind and there is a gentle, almost wistful smile on his lips. In his bearing there is the quiet dignity of one deeply conscious of all he represents at this solemn hour, deeply conscious, also, of the heavy duties he is taking upon himself. All our eyes follow him; he is young, he is loved, and life lies open before him like an unwritten book.
Two golden coaches follow him at a small distance, magnificent vehicles, such as children picture to themselves in fairy stories, white horses, glittering trappings, pages, followers. In the first sits his mother, in the second his wife.
On the top of the Dowager Empress' closed carriage shines a crown, a sign that she has already stood as a crowned woman before her people, that earthly power is already hers. On her head she wears an almost fantastically gorgeous tiara; her neck is one mass of glittering jewels, her gown and her mantle are of shining gold. Still very popular, still a. good-looking woman, she bows to the right, to the left with that charm peculiar to her family.
The Coronation of the Last Czar
The second coach is not crowned and the woman who sits within, though sumptuously attired, has no crown on her head, for only after the Sacrament does she enter into her rights; it is the empress mother who today still has precedence, and with it all crowned rights.
Much more handsome than her mother-in-law ever was, she sits magnificently upright, but she does not smile and her expression is one of almost painful earnestness. There is a tightness about her lips which, is disconcerting in one so young. There is no happiness in the large, steady eyes, none of youth's buoyancy in her attitude, none of the sweetness and confidence one expects in a young bride. It is as though she were holding Fate off at arm's length; a-s though darkly guessing that life might be a. foe, she must set out to meet it sword in hand. She is fully aware of the solemnity of the moment, of all she represents, but it seems to awaken dread in her rather than joy.
The golden coach passes, heads are uncovered before the uncrowned brow; she bows very low in response to the homage offered her. She is young, beautiful, dignified, but no smile softens her lips, she looks into no man's eyes, but straight before her, as though keeping her gaze fixed upon some inner vision—and yet for her, also, life stands open like an unwritten book.
All through the many ceremonies, the young empress never relaxed this severely aloof attitude, which was in part, no doubt, timidity. Nothing ever seemed to give her pleasure; she seldom smiled; and when she did, it was grudgingly, as though making a concession. This, of course, damped every impulse toward her. In spite of her beauty, no warmth emanated from her; in her presence enthusiasm wilted. Serious, earnest-minded, with a high sense of duty and a desire toward all| that is good and right, she was, nevertheless, not of those who win; she was too distrustful, too much on the defensive; she was no warming flame. Life, like all else, needs to be loved; those who cannot love life are vanquished from the very start.
How well I can still see Alexandra standing in all her glory, side by side with the emperor in the golden cathedral in which they were to be crowned. The very atmosphere seemed golden; a golden light enveloped the glittering assembly, come to render homage to these youngest amongst the sovereigns of Europe; golden also were Alexandra's robes. All eyes were fixed upon her. A beautiful woman is always a source of interest, and how much more so when she stands, crowned before all eyes, a figure apart, raised above her sisters, anointed, imbued with a glamour few ever achieve. And Alexandra was beautiful; she was also tall and dignified, actually dwarfing the emperor standing beside her. The heavy vestments he wore seemed to overwhelm him—the prodigious crown of his ancestors to be too heavy for his head; instinctively one remembered the giant stature of those gone before him; his face was pale, but there was the light of the mystic in his eyes. But his young wife stood steadily upright; her crown did not appear to crush her, and the golden flow of her mantle cascading from her shoulders made her appear even taller than she was. Her face was flushed, her lips compressed; even at this supreme hour no joy seemed to uplift her, not even pride; aloof, enigmatic, she was all dignity, but she shed about her no warmth. It was almost a relief to tear one's gaze from her to let it rest upon the emperor, whose caressing eyes and gentle expression made every man feel his friend.
An impressive ceremony, in a gorgeous setting, the air a-throb with chant's so solemnly beautiful that they were almost unearthly. They rose and swelled, filling the church with such mighty waves of harmony that one's heart felt like bursting; but when the strain became next to unbearable, the volume of sound would gradually decrease, almost dying away into a whisper, and a great peace which was a strange blending of joy and pain would flood the soul, and one was as though released. Through a fragrant haze of incense, mysterious rituals were taking place; it was more like a dream than reality. With slow movements grandly vested priests moved hither and thither, hands raised in gestures of prayer or benediction. Their robes were in tone with those of the saints who, with heavily haloed faces, looked down from their walls upon the great of this world. Wherever the eye rested, gold, nothing but gold, with here and there the flash of a precious stone, red, blue or green.
All faces were dim in this atmosphere of solemn expectation; they had taken on something of the immaterialness of the frescoed saints.
Alone the figures of the emperor and empress stood out with symbolic significance, two shining apparitions imbued for an hour with transient glory. And the thousand tapers reflected in the glittering iconostas were like stars in God's heaven.
Long Live the King!
The church ceremony over, the newly crowned couple in solemn procession ascended the broad steps of an outward stairway leading to a terrace overlooking the cathedral square. Up, up, over the gorgeous carpet flowing like a scarlet river down toward them; up, up, the dazzling company of their royal guests in their wake; up, up, ever up, as though ascending toward the skies; and having reached the top they turned to face the multitude, which had been allowed into the square so as to look upon the newly anointed. Side by side they stood, two diamond crowned figures at the zenith of their glory, deities almost, and with the movement of a wave rolling in to shore, the people fell to their knees before them, calling God's blessing down upon their crowned heads. A grand sight, a moment of tense, almost supernatural emotion; and this was in Moscow in springtime, the air full of the perfume of lilacs and of the songs of birds. And the sun pouring down upon the scene was as golden as the imperial coronation robes.
Moscow! Ancient city of the Czars, today the city of Lenin and Trotsky, of Czerzhinsky and Stalin. Today the golden cathedrals are forsaken, and on the great square before the Kremlin stands a weird monument in which are exposed the remains of one who in his turn has become something of a deity, In a glass-covered coffin he lies, in a, red-draped chamber, so that all men can look upon his sinister countenance. That face is no pleasant sight, but the people who have been told he was a savior, a deliverer, continue to pass before his embalmed body, expectant, patient, deluded; pass and pass, little caring: that the carpet which flowed beneath the great repudiator's feet had been a river of blood instead of the scarlet cloth the Czar had once trod. And who cares today that the adored idols of yesterday, with their five innocent children, are now a charred heap of bones in far Siberia? But even those charred bones were granted no rest.
On the jeweled walls of the now-silent Coronation Cathedral the frescoed saints with their heavily haloed heads are gradually paling. Chants ring no more through the vaults, no incense mounts toward the golden cupolas, but peering down on this emptiness, the saints seem to be straining their ears, listening:, waiting—for what? Are they not also ghosts of the past? What matter if their gaunt figures fade quite away? What do they still represent? Who needs them today? What is the good of listening? For what are they waiting? What could they hear now but ribald song, curses, whispered denunciations and the smothered sound of weeping? For in this land of new freedom man has no right even to his tears.
But unwilling to admit that they have been taken in, the Old and the New World, in incomprehensible blindness, still try to cling to the forlorn illusion of a new message come from the East.
But having been witness of that coronation day, I can still see before me the vision of that sun-flooded terrace, with those crowned figures standing like two deities, facing their people, and their people, believing in their glory, sinking down before them on their knees.
It would be impossible to enumerate all the festivities which took place during those three weeks in May; there were parades, processions, balls, banquets and occasional family meetings, but these were rare, as most of the ceremonies were official.
Scenes From the Arabian Nights
An interesting sight was the solemn reception of the many deputations come from the four corners of the vast empire.
Decked in gorgeous apparel, surrounded by the imperial family and their royal guests, the Czar and his wife received the homage of many quaintly garbed envoys from the north, south, east and west of their mighty realm. Slit-eyed Tartars, mysterious looking Chinese, slim-waisted Circassians, Lapps, Finns, and many picturesque personages strangely reminiscent of the Thousand and One Nights, and all these differently complexioned deputies brought gifts to lay at the feet of the young sovereigns. Dusky sables, snow-white ermines, gold and precious stones, rare cashmeres, costly carpets and richly rippling brocades, many colored, of rare texture and exquisite design, shimmering veils and glittering embroideries, gift bearers in endless file, resembling the classical procession of the Biblical Three Kings from the East. Then, in turn, came deputies of the army and navy, of the church, the nobles, the peasants, and finally an endless stream of ladies in Russian court dresses, which gave such .special color and picturesqueness to all Russian court ceremonies.
These were fatiguing ordeals for the emperor and empress, and I can still see how Alix's never-very-happy face became more and more pathetic as the hours lengthened and the stream of congratulations never seemed to come to an end.
Playing Fairy Princess
I was at an age when everything enchanted me, and dress in itself was a great pleasure. I thoroughly enjoyed decking myself out in all my line clothes, specially made for the occasion. I had dresses in every color of the rainbow, and although today they would appear absurd to us, at that time they were supremely chic and chosen with great care. But the attire in which I reaped my greatest success was a gown and court mantle Queen Carmen Sylva had given me. The poet queen, inspired by my extreme youth, by my fair hair and blue eyes, had declared that she must make of me a real fairy princess. So she ordered a dress and court train which were entirely embroidered with trailing branches of wild roses, the background covered with a thousand falling petals; even the veil which I wore beneath a circular crown of diamonds was strewn with rose petals. This dress, worked in one of our Rumanian schools, was certainly very becoming, and I was immensely elated by the effect it made, and it can well be imagined that so many roses on a royal mantle could not leave my fair young page quite indifferent. Each day of service became more precious and the final hour of parting was heartrending!
People used to say to me: "We like to see you pass; you look so happy, and always seem to be thoroughly enjoying yourself." This was exactly true; I was enjoying myself with all my heart—in fact, the joy of it all—the glamour, the beauty, the atmosphere of constant admiration which surrounded me—had slightly gone to my head. My suppressed youth and spirits were responding almost dangerously to all this spoiling and adulation. Russians catch fire easily and Slav tongues are soft. Besides, it was my first revelation of that power which is woman's power, and the discovery was pleasant. This was indeed an inebriating contrast to the life I led at Uncle Carol's court, and the perfume of the incense burned before me was decidedly sweet. I was too young to know that "all is not gold that glitters." As yet, I had learned no philosophy; to me, all outward appearances were real and all declarations true.
One cruel event, though, marked with scarlet streak these sumptuous days in Moscow. A huge popular feast had been planned upon the field of Khodinsky, just beyond the town, where village folk in great numbers were to be fed and clothed. Souvenirs with the Czar's portrait were to be given to each, so as to carry his effigy into the farthest parts of the realm.
The newly crowned couple, accompanied by their many royal guests, were to go in great pomp to look on at the distribution of these gifts to thousands and thousands of peasants from every part of the great empire.
By some fault of organization a frightful crush took place, the multitude all rushing; at the same moment toward one point. Thousands of men, women and children lost their lives on this day which was to have been a day of rejoicing and good cheer. It became instead a bloody disaster as sinister as a battlefield. This mournful event very naturally cast a shadow over all the ceremonies and festivities which were still to follow.
Alexandra, always inclined to melancholy, was of course cruelly impressed by this tragic happening, and voices were heard whispering; that it was a bad omen for the reign that had just begun.
The Dance That Was a Dirge
That night there was a ball at the French Embassy. I remember that the poor empress did all in her power to try and have it put off, begged to be allowed to abstain from any festivity that night, but in vain. France was Russia's chief ally; she must not be offended. Tremendous preparations had been made for the monarchs' reception; they would have to go. Such is the life of crowned heads. They must crush their natural impulses, control their emotions; nor is it ever permitted to them to weep their own tears. No doubt many that night considered the empress heartless because she went to a ball on the evening of the great disaster, yet God alone knows how much rather she would have stayed at home to pray for the dead.
Grand Duke Serge, then governor of Moscow, was held by many to be responsible for this fearful misfortune, and beautiful Aunt Ella's despair was pitiful to see; but the festivities had to go on. One embassy after the other gave brilliant receptions, the great powers vying with one another in pomp and splendor. But though magnificently arranged, nothing was more dismal than that ball at the French Embassy; everybody felt that it ought to have been put off.
For all official processions the royal guests were paired off in couples according to precedence. It was Victor Emmanuel, then Crown Prince of Italy, who fell to my share. We were not particularly well matched, as I wag a good bit taller than he was. He was conventionally polite, without being specially amiable or attentive. Abrupt of speech, he spoke in short, hacked sentences, his lower jaw jutting out somewhat pugnaciously. We had not overmuch to say to each other, but I was interested in a dawning romance between him and his future Virile, Princess Helen of Montenegro, who made special friends with me because of my cavalier. On all occasions she would seek my company, pretending to be jealous of me. I soon understood the meaning of this innocent little subterfuge and that I was not the real attraction. Helen was a tall, handsome girl with superb eyes and pleasant ways; .she was both vivacious and amusing, and not at all shy. Her old father, the Prince of Montenegro, was also amongst the guests, most conspicuous in his picturesque dress. Politically he played a very special part and was treated with marked civility. I have no clear remembrance of how, at that time, young Victor Emmanuel met the advances of the vivacious princess. I liked her very much; there was something fresh and spontaneous about her; she had, so to say, retained a whiff of the breezes of her mountain home.
Ducky, in those days Grand Duchess of Hesse, belonged to the inner circle, her husband being brother of the Czarina and of beautiful Aunt Ella, in whoso house they lived. Our chief object, however, was to come together as much as possible: to share things still heightened our pleasure in life. Ducky and I were striking contrasts, I so fair and she so dark and somewhat somber and melancholy, whilst I was gay and always amused. Being both of us gloriously young, we had a large following of admirers. Our cousin, Boris Vladimirovitch, became one of my great friends. About two years my junior, he was still quite a boy and his fervent homage was dear to me. Gay or sulky by turns, he had an attractive, rather husky voice, kind eyes and a humorous smile, which crinkled his forehead into unexpected lines. Not exactly handsome, he had, nevertheless, great charm, and a slight lisp added a certain quaintness to his speech, I used to imitate his lisp, which never offended him. Our friendship lasted many years. Later, when he became oversophisticated, a man disillusioned by too easy pleasures and success, he would occasionally declare with a deep sigh that I had been the first love of his life. The sigh was the genuine sigh of one who too rich and too spoiled, had in a short time traveled far from the first clean ideals of his early youth. ''But you, Missy dear," he declared, with his gentle lisp, "have always remained a lovely dream, and I thank you for having remained a dream I never destroyed." Dear Boris; born with ideals he was too lazy to stick to, he remained ever unsatisfied. Later he went astray; he was always seeking for a happiness he never quite found; but we were real friends and the remembrance of him stands amongst the emotions it is good to look back upon. We none of us in those early days knew anything of life; it lay so dazzling before us; it looked so fresh, so easy, so happy, so clean.
The Captains and the Kings Depart
As through a mist of tears, I see all those many faces who shared our joy and fun; they all pass before me. I murmur to myself half-forgotten names and they awake in me an echo of the old thrill of emotion. One's heart beat so easily in those days! Most of them were officers, brilliant, dashing, sentimental, daring, full of Russian, ardor mixed with that almost intolerable melancholy so characteristic of the Slav, a melancholy which tore at your heartstrings and disturbed your peace. How many of those gay cavaliers are still of this world, I wonder? How many have escaped the horror of war and Russia's downfall? Gadon, Efimovitch, Schlitter, Zedler. Junkowaki, Grahe Etter, Belaief, Hartory, and so many more whose bright eyes and enthusiastic homage made our joy more sparkling, more intense.
"Vorbei!" as also our youth and that mad irresponsible gayety is a thing of the past, dead with a time which has been wiped off the face of the earth. But the memory remains like a dwindling light shining at the far end of a long passage, a light from which we are retreating farther and farther into shadow. Youth, the glad season of life—youth, the breezy call of incense-breathing morn.
To recover from the fatigues of the coronation festivities, Uncle Serge had invited the young crowned couple to come for a few weeks' rest to his country place, Ilinsky, near Moscow, the same place where, poor young Alix, Uncle Paul's wife, had died a few years previously. A gay company followed in their train.
The more official guests had departed; only the closer members of the family remained, and an inner circle of friends. But Ilinsky being too small to house so many, those who could not find room there were invited by Prince and Princess Yussupoff to Archangelski, their palatial country residence near by. Nando and I were amongst these. Archangelski was a small Versailles without the Occidental varnish; it was overflowing with riches, but there was a touch of Oriental neglect about its splendor.
Lavish hospitality and good cheer; a Rumanian gypsy band, horses to ride, boats on the river, carriages of every size and shape, dancing, picnics, moonlight suppers and endless parties de plaisir, visiting other country houses in the neighborhood; and at all hours of the day and night the wild, wailing, laughing, sobbing, gipsy melodies accompanying our every move; ravishing music vastly adding to the emotional excitement of those somewhat irresponsible days.
Fun at Archangelski
Our hostess was still young and an exceedingly attractive woman. Her gray eyes were luminously clear and intense, her smile enchanting; her hair, smoothly drawn back, left her forehead bare, which was unusual in those days of fringes and frizzled coiffures. An attractive woman, full of kindness, eager to spread joy around her. Her husband was somewhat heavy, but he too, was kind and his hospitality knew no limit. The Zumarokow Yussupoff belonged to the richest families of Russia.
Nando and I were continually driving over to Ilinsky, followed by a troop of the Archangelski guests. Amusement followed amusement; it was a period of buoyant, almost mad gayety, a giddy whirl of enjoyment, few of us except Nando ever pausing to think. Nando was somewhat appalled by the pace we were going and kept remembering how little uncle would approve of this sort of life. I am sorry to say, for the time being I had absolutely shaken off King Carol's shadow and did not wish to remember that all this glorious folly was transient and would soon have, to come to an end.
Amongst the guests at Archangelski was a certain Prince Wittgenstein, officer in the Cossacks of the Imperial Guard. This young man was one of the gayest of the gay. Although not specially good-looking, he had a magnificent figure, with a waist as slim as a woman's. The long Cossack caftan suited him to perfection. When not on service, the officers had permission to wear this caftan in whatever color they preferred. Young Wittgenstein affected a dull, dark plum, which seemed to have been chosen with special cunning; being a color which both attracted and satisfied the eye. His heelless, high, soft, leather boots gave a feline quality to his tread. To complete the picture, we may add a tall fur cap set at a rakish angle, a gorgeous dagger stuck into his silver belt, and he stands before us a figure worthy of Elinor Glyn's most dashing romances, a personage well suited to sow disquiet in feminine hearts.
I never had much to do with young Wittgenstein, but being a keen rider, he appreciated my horsemanship. He discovered that, when in the saddle, nothing could daunt me; that on horseback I was fearless and inclined to recklessness; in this we saw eye to eye.
Wittgenstein was the possessor of a wild, unkempt, fierce-looking Cossack horse. Dark brown, with flowing tail and mane, he had iron sinews and an anxious eye. Untrained and fidgety, he was reputed to be a difficult mount, and was, in fact, exactly the sort of horse which you would expect young Wittgenstein to ride. Inevitably, the hoped-for moment came when he proposed that I should try this exciting animal, which, he declared, could beat at a trot any other horse at full gallop. Nando protested, endeavoring to put in a veto, to use his authority; but in vain.
I was just then, alas, not inclined to docility, and the thought of riding this wild horse was my supremest ambition.
That ride remains one of the most glorious memories of my youth; there was a thrill about it which I have never been able to forget. The moment I was on his back, that untamed horse and I understood each other absolutely and I was ready to accept any wager. I was given a few hundred yards' start, and then off flew all the other riders in wild pursuit. What a race that was! A glorious morning, the sky full of the song of larks, the dew still on the ground. Straight as an arrow ran my horse, steady as a torpedo on its course. The pace we went brought tears to my eyes, but never once did that astonishing animal break from a trot to a gallop.
Having reached the point set as our goal, I remember turning my horse to face the onrush of my pursuers, who came pounding up the small hillock on which I stood awaiting them. Cheers and exclamations! I had won my bet, and bending down I threw my arms round my horse's neck and kissed him in exultant gratitude. Oh, how I longed to carry off that priceless trotter, to take him back with me to Rumania! But this supreme joy was not granted me.
Mama in the Rôle of Censor
As can well be imagined, mama, who was at Ilinsky, looked on at our amusements with a certain disapproval. She continued to be chief censor of our lives; her eye was all-seeing, her word law, and her dissatisfaction, when expressed, was never lightly set aside.
During the coronation festivities she had kept Ducky and me in severe order, often thoroughly disapproving of our clothes. Her withering criticism of the way we wore our veils under diadems, which she considered too picturesque and not orthodox enough, still makes my cheeks burn. She declared we wanted to look like Elizabeth in Tannhäuser, and in this, perhaps, she was not far wrong, as the style of clothing of that luckless lady was certainly amongst our ideals. But mama declared our tendency toward picturesqueness affectation, and when we knew she would be present, we had to refrain from too much artistic imagination. A quite unexpected ally was, however, found in the oldest grand duchess of the family. Aunt Sari, mama's aunt, widow of Grand Duke Constantine, one of Alexander II's brothers. A great élégante in her day, she still took pleasure in dress, knew what was becoming and appreciated our efforts to beautify our attire. Hearing mama scold us, she exclaimed: "Let the children look as nice as they can! I like to see the young have ideas of their own, and your daughters seem to have taste!" Aunt Sari certainly had taste. In the coronation church she stood out, an unforgettable figure; exceedingly tall and still astonishingly upright for her age, her hair was snow-white; clothed from head to foot in silver, she wore a sparkling diadem like frosted sun rays on her cacoshnic. Having a too great wealth of pearls to wear them all round her neck, she had fixed half a, dozen ropes at her waist with an enormous diamond pin; they hung down along her gown in a milky cascade. She was so pale and shining white that she seemed to be covered with hoarfrost. Though she was near upon seventy, or even older, I remember her more vividly than anyone else, excepting, of course, the empress and beloved Aunt Ella.
The End of the Dream
Brother Alfred was also at Ilinsky, and one day, swimming in the river, he saved me at a moment when I thought I was going to drown. Unaccustomed to swim in a stream, I had not counted with the current, which suddenly began to swirl me away. Alfred gave me a helping hand at a critical moment.
Uncle Serge was an excellent host. He wanted everybody to have a good time, but, like mama, he was severe and critical, whilst Uncle Paul was our great defender when mama accused us of frivolity. "Laisse-les, c'est si bon de les voir s'amuser. Sait-on ce qui leur réserve la fie; on n'esl jeune qu'une fois," and I remember going up and kissing him. Dear Uncle Paul, he had such a pleasant voice, and he was never unkind to anyone, and what a beautiful figure he had. The two brothers, Serge and Paul, were devoted to each other, but they were a great contrast—the one severe almost to fierceness; the other gentle, easy-going and forgiving. I dearly loved both.
At last the cruel hour for parting sounded; somewhat relieved, I believe, Nando tore me away from these too-congenial surroundings. My leave-taking was tearful. I well realized that this was an episode that could never be lived over again. Good-by to Ducky, to mama, to all my admirers, to beautiful Aunt Ella, to uncles and cousins, and to the beloved Cossack horse.
We were given an imperial train, and very slowly we traveled through vast Russia down to Odessa, where a Rumanian ship fetched us. Here we parted with those who had been attached to us during all of our stay. It was the end of the dream.
Editor's Note—This is the third of the second series of articles by Marie, Queen of Rumania. The rest will appear in an early issue.