Rumania's Soldier Queen
By WILLIAM T. ELLIS
THE following article was written in the early summer of 1917, while the author was in Rumania. The events that have occurred in that unhappy country since then must be well known to all Americans. Under threat of complete annihilation, Rumania was compelled to make a peace containing such shameful and brutal conditions as surrender of territory as seldom in history has one nation imposed upon another. The two recent parallel cases that come to mind are Austria's ultimatum to Serbia in July, 1914, and Turkey's murderous treatment of the Armenian peoples. Betrayed by the Stürmer faction in, Russia, her one-time ally, a condition which makes Rumania almost entirely surrounded by enemies, the Allies being unable, owing to her geographical situation, to get supplies and soldiers to her, she was forced to capitulate in the face of danger of inevitable famine and threatened destruction. A paragraph from a letter addressed by the Queen of Rumania to the American people will explain why this valiant nation is no longer able to fight on the side of the Allies for the cause of liberty and democracy.
In these days when the whole world is aflame, when those who struggle for an ideal see such terrible and inexplicable things, I, the queen of a stricken country, raise my voice, and I make an appeal to those who are always ready to aid where disasters and sorrows have penetrated. Here in Rumania there are disasters and suffering without end. Death in all forms has stricken the country; the sword, flame, invasion, famine, and sickness. Our land has been taken away from us, our hope destroyed, our cities and villages devastated.
In the spring of this year the American State Department received the following message to be transmitted:
Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.
From Jassy: "Eighteenth. For Department 58, March 18, 1918, 1 P. M. At the request of Queen of Roumania please transmit to Doctor Dinsmore T. Ellis, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania: 'Fate has hit us cruelly, a dreadful and inacceptable peace is forced upon us. Being without defense, we are strangulated and no one can come to our aid. This may be the last time that I shall be able to communicate freely with you. I want you to know that I count upon you as a friend who will not give up the work he promised to do for me and my country even if a long deadly silence is imposed upon me. Marie, Queen of Roumania.'
The American people cannot fail to appreciate the causes that led Rumania to her present situation. When a general peace comes, her great efforts and sacrifices will not be forgotten, and this unhappy country will once more take her just place among the free nations of the world.—THE EDITOR.
WHEN one has breakfasted lunched and dined and motored and gone through regal functions with a queen, and has spent quiet hours in conversation concerning—literally, except for the sealing-wax—
it is a bit difficult to make a beginning of the story for American readers. For her Majesty Marie, Queen of Rumania, is a story-book queen, so variously gifted and so altogether regal in her charm that one who writes of her must fear the accusation of flattery. Even a few minutes in her presence enable one to understand why all Rumanians, and the foreigners who have met her, glow in praise of the simplicity, naturalness, warm-heartedness, and talent of this queen who is kinswoman to many other queens and kings, and who has lived all her life in the purple. The womanliness of the queen and the queenliness of the woman have made her the idol of a kingdom.
Since Bukharest, with two thirds of Rumania, is in the hands of the enemy, the court has moved to the quaint old city of Jassy, near the Russian border, a cruelly congested community, sheltering four or five persons where one lived before; a city the stores of which are empty, so that nothing from boots to bonnets, from beef to bonbons, may be purchased; a city gone gray with the dominant hue of soldier uniforms; a city that is a real military post, since it is the seat of the general staff and within a few hours of the trenches. Arriving at Jassy at one o'clock in the morning, I was received the evening of the same day for a forty-minute interview just prior to her Majesty's visit of a week to the front, where, at her request, I later followed her.
At the outer gate of the palace stood two private soldiers in their simple bluegray uniforms, men who might have come straight from the trenches. Within the grounds were the palace guards, with their shining spiked helmets. At the entrance itself liveried servants took one's coat and hat, while another showed the way up the stairway into what in peace times doubtless would be called the ball-room.
Here came the first surprise. The room was cluttered up with boxes and bales and piles of goods. "Moving," was the instinctive surmise. Had I stumbled upon preparations for the further flight that hangs like a black cloud over all Rumania? In person, over in Russia, I had inspected the palace that had been prepared provisionally for her Majesty in just such a contingency. A second glance at the apartment was reassuring. It was not moving day in the palace. All the apparent disorder was due simply to the fact that the ball-room has been transformed into a workshop for the making of garments and hospital supplies for soldiers and orphans. Yonder sewing-machines were for the use of royalty and of the ladies in waiting. The heaps of cloth were to be converted into sheets and blankets and hospital garments. Boxes of thick, coarse woolen caps and socks and gloves of a sort seldom seen in palaces had right of way over the grand piano. Interest in the soldiers is no mere sentiment here. Throughout our conversation the queen's fingers were busily knitting on a heavy, brown cap.
While I was observing the ball-room, with its queer commingling of state and industry, a functionary swung open the wide doors to the left and announced, "Her Majesty, the Queen!" Inside the door stood a soft-spoken lady in gray, greeting me as informally as if I were dropping in upon a neighbor; so that the kissing of her hand seemed less a court usage than the natural following of the prevalent custom of the people. Later, after I had come to know her Majesty better, and had seen that hand kissed by all sorts and conditions of people, from sticky-mouthed peasant children to generals in brave array, I ventured to suggest that if all the kisses that have been placed upon it were one kiss, what a noise there would be! Leading the way to a corner of the large room adorned like an Oriental divan, her Majesty seated herself amid the pillows, and while she talked it was possible to appraise her appearance.
Why is it that gray, not purple, is in the minds of many persons associated with queenliness? It seemed natural that the queen should be dressed all in gray, a rather loose gown of soft crape and of the plainest design, while her hat, crowded well upon her head, was a gray toque, with a band of gray flowers around it. She wore a string of pearls, earrings each of a single large pearl, while another pearl to match was on her finger. The gray singularly set off the soft creaminess of face and throat and harmonized with her blue-gray eyes.
For the Queen of Rumania is a woman of remarkable beauty, gifted alike in feature and texture of skin, the whole played upon by the glow of a charming graciousness of manner and spirit. No picture is adequate to portray the unique quality of her loveliness. When she speaks, it is not only with her lips, but also with the swift play of her countenance, the flash of her eyes, the motions of her head and body, and the gestures of her hands. One's thought turned instinctively to the delight that Queen Victoria would have had in the beautiful blossoming of this one of her granddaughters. Queen Marie is the mother of a son of twenty-three years, but she is only forty-two years old, having been married at seventeen.
Three sides of her Majesty's nature were shown that first evening: the literary woman, keenly interested in the craft of writing and in the public to whom it ministers; the queen, with a regal part to play in her nation's most tragic hour, and with the spirit of one who said, "My people," in a tone of tenderness and responsibility; and the mother, with a good-night kiss for her son and a passionate interest in her children. While we talked, the fourteen-year-old Prince Nicholas appeared in his Boy Scout uniform to bid his mother good night and farewell. A fine upstanding youngster, avowedly eager to go to America, as other Boy Scouts of Rumania hope to do, for the duration of the war, he was in his mother's arms for a loving embrace as they separated for a week. Later in the evening I was presented to Princess Elizabeth, the artist and eldest daughter, who is also at the head of a war-work for children. Subsequently I met his Majesty, the Crown Prince Carol, and Princesses Marie and Ileana.
I had already secured from the queen her Majesty's book, "Rumania through Her Queen's Eyes: The Heart of a Nation at War," through a friend, Mr. A. C. Hart, the head of the soldier service and European war prisoners' work of the International Young Men's Christian Association; therefore it was natural that we should talk of her literary work and of the plight of her people, who, magnificently at bay before the enemy on the west, are pressed upon by Russia's disorganization on the east.* For want of accessibility and transport, the nation faces the possibility of actual starvation within two months. The daring initiative and efficiency and resourcefulness of the Rumanian troops, which have won the admiration of all military experts, are not more noble than the smiling courage of this undismayed queen, who will not talk of betrayals and disloyalties and all the sore besetments that make Rumania's present fate tragic, but who perceives vast spiritual gains to a people purged of dross and playing a difficult part with heroic spirit.
"Somehow I had the feeling before ever America entered the war and before you had sent these fine commissions that America would be Rumania's great support. All the Americans I have known have led me to form that opinion of your country—that it is a nation eager to help the smaller nations. Now, shut off from our· western European allies, America is our only hope." That quotation gives the key to her Majesty's oft-expressed attitude toward the great republic overseas.
My second meeting with her Majesty came a few days later, when I had gone to the front, stopping first at the Regina Maria Hospital, a practical building of many wards, with hundreds of wounded soldiers. This is only one of four field hospitals and three movable hospitals bearing her Majesty's name and under her direct oversight. Hundreds of motorambulances are scurrying around near the front, which, alas! means all of Rumania not at present occupied by the enemy,—and each bears the coronet and initial M, which mark them as the queen's own enterprise. To my embarrassment, before I had left the automobile, and travel-stained as I was, word came that the Queen was visiting the wards and desired me to join her straightway. In the uniform of·a nursing sister, and wearing the whiteenameled Cross of :Marie by an orange ribbon about her neck, her Majesty was going up and down the long lines of cots, giving with her hand a remembrance to each patient, and often speaking at some length to individual men. She had her special favorites and old acquaintances among the very ill or the very young, and with these she would converse freely, stroking their heads or cheeks the while. Some men asked for crosses or icons, and these came from the capacious pocket of her apron. Commonly, the gift was a package of cigarettes and a selection of psalms and prayers, or a postcard portrait of herself. Special cases got white bread or biscuits and jam, carried in a basket by an attendant, and sometimes cut with the Scandinavian sheath-knife that dangled from her Majesty's belt. With the queen was one of her favorites, of whom she spoke fondly several times, a venerable Sister of Mercy, an Italian Roman Catholic, although the queen herself is a Protestant, and her children are being brought up, as required by the law of the land, in the Rumanian Orthodox Church, while her husband is a Catholic. Her own sincerely religious nature expresses itself in her writings. In addition there were present on the tour of the wards two nurses, the wife of a French officer, and the invaluable A. D. C., Colonel Ballif. Also there accompanied us the queen's two favorite dogs, whose acquaintance I had made at the palace in Jassy, when we had shared the queen's hospitality at evening tea, one a superb Russian wolf-hound, and the other a pampered black spaniel. To the very last man in the hospital we visited, each one received personal attention, a heavier morning's work than most women know.
From the hospital, with scarcely time for ablutions, we proceeded to the quaint little chalet of the queen for luncheon. It is a tiny dwelling, nothing more than a cottage, but attractively finished in unpainted wood, and with the note of simplicity prevalent in all the decorations, which were chiefly flowers and leaves and winter berries. The building is perched on a knoll amid the hills, with glorious autumn views such as the queen and Princess Elizabeth love. We had an additional touch to the interest of out of doors that day, for we three stood on the veranda and admired the beauty of the bursting shrapnel with which the Rumanians greeted a tiny wasp of a German aeroplane, high up in the air, that was visiting us. "The beast," the princess called it, and it must be confessed that there was real disappointment that it escaped unscathed. The queen and princess have bitter memories of Bukharest days, when the Germans repeatedly bombarded the civilian population, slaying as many as three hundred persons in a single day, chiefly women and children, of course. For hours we were honored by this attention from the enemy, and Colonel Ballif was greatly concerned when, later, her majesty insisted laughingly upon beginning our long motor ride while the shrapnel was exploding directly above us. At the luncheon-table that day,—a simple meal of three or four courses, served by two men servants—there were eight of us. A cabinet minister sat on the queen's right, with the American on her left. In the evening, at dinner, the American had the seat of honor on the right of her Majesty, between her and the Princess Elizabeth. The next morning the princess presided at the breakfast-table, her Majesty breakfasting in bed.
There was no time for a siesta in that day's royal program, for straightway after luncheon, and after some amateur photography by the princess and the American visitor, her Majesty donned a gray traveling-dress, retaining, however, the nurse's head-dress, and we were off together in her motor to visit a village and its orphans, and also to see some Transylvanian troops who had got away from Austria and followed their hearts to the Rumanian colors. The reunion of the Rumanians of Transylvania with the land of their own people is the dearest political dream and desire of Rumania. Colonel Ballif shared the front seat of the motor, and her Majesty and the American were in the tonneau, with the pet spaniel tucked in between us. Talk ranged freely on that long afternoon's ride: at least my watch said it was long, for it lasted for five hours over many subjects, from the three cousins of her Majesty, King George, Emperor William, and the deposed czar, together with related royalty and nobility; the life of boys in America, food supplies for the army and for the civil population of Rumania; the drift of modern social life; the effect of the war upon the character of the nation; religion's new hold upon battle-taught nations; reminiscences of Carmen Sylva and old King Carol; books and writers and the queen's own literary activities; the beauties of an autumn day in the mountains; and the characteristics of Rumanian peasant life—all the topics that one would expect to hear a cultivated, alert modern woman talk about. The queen spoke ever with vivacity and the deft touch of such a trained conversationist as a monarch must be. Withal, one had no feeling that this was a queen talking, so entirely lacking was all formality and self-consciousness. Her Majesty is as naive as only a simple and sincere spirit can be, and she herself has consciously held fast to her English directness and candor despite the rather trying days in King Carol's court, when the old monarch tried to compress her into a German mold.
Queenliest of the royal qualities revealed that day were the quiet, matterof-course cheerfulness and courage of her Majesty. Her task is to set an example of serenity and optimism to a nation in sore straits. Defeat, disaster, and death have smitten little Rumania. More than a quarter of a million of men have been lost in battle. A hundred thousand persons perished last winter in the epidemics of typhus and other diseases. Three quarters of the country, including the capital, is now in the hands of the Germans, who are sowing no one knows what sort of seeds of Prussianism among the people. Rumania's remaining food supply has been taken by the Russians. She is completely shut off from all her allies except sorely disorganized Russia. All munitions and clothes and food must come in over the one mismanaged Russian railway. If ever a ruler had cause for bitterness and railing it is the Queen of Rumania; yet her Majesty does not complain or lose her cheerfulness or show any traces of discouragement. Instead, she moves freely among the people, everywhere radiating courage and steadfastness. That is her task as queen, and royally she fulfils it. She does not preach optimism; she simply exemplifies it. Thus from a purely strategic point of view, it has come to pass that this one woman has been worth a whole army corps to Rumania.
That, however, is a digression from our motor-ride to a distant village—one does not name places in war-times—where a food station for orphans was to be opened. As the machine passed an aerodrome, two aeroplanes took flight and flew above us, like guardian angels, until our destination was reached, where they hovered over the queen and the multitude in great circles until the function was over, that no German machine might come near. Her Majesty expressed interest in the identity of the pilots, for she knows all the Rumanian airmen personally. Before arriving at the scene of festivities, the motor halted that another, carrying the gifts for the children, might arrive. As we waited, a sunny-faced urchin came up, bearing a few pathetic flowers to the queen, whom he had recognized. He was bursting with pride over the fact that he had met her once before, and told her so, with glowing face. Her kindly chat with the boy encouraged other youngsters to appear from unseen places,—one dirty little Gipsy without a shred of clothing upon him!—and each received a handful of candies.
Entering the village of our destination, we found garlands and green wreaths and inscriptions of welcome stretched across the streets, all rather primitive, but showing the touch of loving, loyal devotion. The whole community was en fête, and the commonest symbol of this was the hanging of all the gay-colored carpets and rugs in the place out on the fences and bushes to brighten the scene. The people themselves had all massed·in the center square, but before we reached them we came to a double line of soldiers perhaps a quarter of a mile long. Her Majesty alighted, throwing off her furs, and, attended by a staff of officers, walked in front of the troops, inspecting them, and bowing and smiling in response to their military salutes and shouts. First came the Russians, who cheered as they saluted, but with somewhat a note of uncertainty in their voices. Then the Transylvanians and other Rumanians, all in the steel helmets of the trenches, voiced the heavy "Hoo-raw! Hoo-raw!" that is like a salvo of artillery.
At the village square the wife of the commanding general presented a wreath of flowers; the mayor of the city bore a tray of bread and salt, of which her Majesty partook; and the village priest, in full vestments, made an address of welcome, and presented the Bible and the crucifix for the queen to kiss. Then she proceeded, to the music of songs of welcome by the village children, to a designated place for the formal review of the troops, stopping for a moment to receive another bunch of flowers from a scared youngster, who had to be prompted at almost every sentence by the schoolteacher behind him, and whose gestures were those of Mrs. Jarley's waxworks. Quite different was the self-possession with which a pretty, blue-eyed lass of ten or twelve made her presentation of flowers at a later stage in the proceedings. The child never will know how greatly the queen admired her eyes.
For twenty or thirty minutes her Majesty stood alone, reviewing the soldiers, who are close to the trenches; and all the while our guardian aeroplanes circled closely above the square. It was entirely a military spectacle, except that the pampered royal spaniel entered into an acrimonious discussion with a village dog about the latter's right to a share in the proceedings. After the military review, her Majesty publicly received the officers of the various regiments and, significantly, a deputation of private soldiers from the Russian troops. I wonder if she enjoyed the embarrassment of the men, who kissed her hand in all sorts of clumsy fashions, as much as did the American? Next came the distribution of candies to the children and of bundles of clothing to the orphans, each bundle marked with a name. The new quarters wherein the orphans are to have their meals were visited, and crosses were given the children. At a formal tea for officers and dignitaries which followed, the queen gave an autographed photograph of herself, signed on the spot, to each guest. A new bath for the troops, up among the village wells, the great sweeps of which, rising and falling, gave them the appearance of a flock of giant herons, had to be inspected, and the first meal of the orphans honored by the presence of her Majesty.
It was dusk when we again entered the automobile, and in all reason her Majesty should have been too tired to talk or listen. Not she, though. Her spirits were not dimmed in the slightest by the strenuous day; and when in the darkness we were halted in a village by tire trouble, the resourceful Colonel Ballif reported that the place was celebrated for its bread, and a chunk was brought forthwith, and divided with me and eaten on the spot, with jest over sharing a crust with a queen. Pickles, too, it appeared, the village produced, and they were good pickles, I can testify. Upon the queen's declaring that the bread was better than that served at her own table, a loaf was forthcoming, and we had it for dinner, which was served at eight o'clock, half an hour after our arrival.
Conversation at that meal was entirely in English, most of those present understanding that tongue. It touched lightly upon many subjects, the one seriously discussed theme being American writers and books in general. Her Majesty grew enthusiastic over Mark Twain's "Joan of Arc," and spoke with special appreciation also of Bret Harte and O. Henry. She had questions to ask about who is who in American literature, her acquaintance with our contemporary writers being only fragmentary. There was the inevitable discussion of Wells. Kipling is a warm favorite with both the queen and the princess; I have never met an admirer of Kipling who talked with more intelligence and intimacy of his works than her Majesty. While she talked, I observed. Not until this meal had I seen the queen with uncovered head. Her wealth of shimmering chestnut hair is sufficient coronet. She wore an evening gown of creamy white and a braided necklace of small pearls, pendent from which was a large diamond cross, the stones being of rather unusual size, the gift of her mother at marriage. At a subsequent luncheon in the palace at Jassy I noted that while all the guests ate from silver plates, the members of the royal family drank from embossed golden goblets, set with jewels.
At this luncheon in the palace the talk ran largely to hospitals and supplies. Each of the ladies had spent the morning at her hospital, and the burden of the wounded was heavy on their spirits. How, in a country largely denuded of cattle, to get milk for soldiers whose jaws have been shot away, and who cannot eat solid food, was one of the acute problems. There was much balancing of the claims of the tubercular patients over against those of these wounded; for both cannot be supplied with the precious milk, since the babies, too, must have some share. Condensed milk is almost impossible to secure. The sympathies of the queen, who is naturally the arbiter, are sorely torn. As she said at the table, the government officials naturally put first the military needs; but to the queen, who must have a mother heart for the entire people, the claims of the hungry, and especially of the wounded and the sick, make the strongest appeal. Because of the lack of food, and especially of milk, many of the men who are healed of their wounds fall prey to tuberculosis, which is rapidly increasing in Rumania.
Her Majesty is greatly interested in her own literary work. She talks of her writings freely, and in a detached sort of fashion, with the naiveté that is possible only to royalty or to an unspoiled child of nature. Disclaiming all pretensions to professional literary ability, which, however, she really possesses to a marked degree, she writes, as she said with an animated gesture, "from the gush of my heart." Morning, before arising, is her time for literary work, and she has produced fairy-tales and nature studies and interpretations of Rumania. Before she discovered her gift with the pen, the queen, like her daughter after her, expressed her love of nature with the brush. "I think in colors," she said. As her writing shows, she is an artist first, observing accurately, and reproducing both the spirit and the letter of a place or a scene. It was Carmen Sylva who encouraged her Majesty to write for print. The Rumanian translation of her work—for it is in English that she writes and thinks—has become very popular with the people.
Now, as queen of a country that is one of the most afflicted of all those at war, she has taken up her pen to try to interpret her Rumania to America, the nation that will not misunderstand her open speech and her unveiled heart. Before the war she had written a little book for publication in Great Britain; but this is a better one, because her pen has been dipped in blood and in tears. With that spiritual strength which is woman's peculiar inheritance, her Majesty has been able to wear a smile as she has moved among her people, a ministering servant and a regal leader.
Courage, a quality which rulers must possess, is instinctive with Queen Marie. Not for naught is she of Great Britain's brave line of royalty. In all the terrible days of last winter, when plague and death ravaged the remnant of Rumania, she visited the hospitals, going among the smitten ones, indifferent to infection. Always she rides about without an armed escort. Her laughing disdain of the antiaircraft shrapnel which rained about us from the skies on the motor ride is of a piece with her complete disregard of all considerations of her personal safety. Two days after my visit with the queen at the Regina Maria Hospital I went to the front-line trenches, though with endless difficulty, because the commanders did not want an American killed while their guest. It chanced that I saw the very trenches where a few days earlier her Majesty had approached to within fifteen yards of the Prussians, so that her companions conversed with them, without betraying, of course, the presence of visitors. For a journalist the venture was right and proper, for it is in his day's work; but for the queen it was too grave a risk. The road by which she approached was under fire and torn by big shells. I found that she had gone not only into the first-line trench, but also out into the observation-posts. How constant is the peril was illustrated by the fact that when the Germans heard an officer and me talking, they exploded a hand-grenade to try to catch us. Yet on speaking to me of her visit to the front, the queen had mentioned only its interest, never its danger
What soldiers think of such a queen was apparent at this front. All the trenches through which she had walked have been artistically railed and lined and paved with white birch branches, and placarded, "Viva Regina Maria." Such is the queen who in the hour of her country's most desperate need turns with confidence and expectancy to America, the land of the understanding heart.