CHAPTER XIII - TWO QUEENS
ROUMANIA has the distinction of having the most beautiful of all the Royal ladies in Europe on her throne—Queen Marie, the eldest daughter of the Duke of Edinburgh and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and his wife the Grand Duchess Marie of Russia. She is thus a cousin of King George and of the Tzar Nicholas.
So it was with feelings of keenest anticipation and pleasure that we received a gracious command to lunch with their Majesties.
Punctually to the hour we drove up to the Palace and mounted by a broad red-carpeted staircase to the reception-rooms above, where we were received by General Robescu, Master of Ceremonies, Colonel Goccianu and a lady-in-waiting.
It was a brilliant morning, and the sun shone brightly over the gardens of the Palace and the gleaming roofs of the city that lay beyond. It bathed the room in a warm glow of light which brought out in generous measure the faint perfume of the many groups of flowers, and caught in delicate facets of colour the many bibelots and bric-à-brac lying about.
The room is long and spacious, and with its rich carved walls of dull burnished gold and the wealth of beautiful coloured embroideries and pictures, gives a jewelled Byzantine effect. Towards the windows, arched pillars form delightful alcoves, in one of which stands a very original altar-shaped piece of furniture of gilded wood, the carving in high relief and with deep festoons of roses looping the corners. It has a distinctly old Italian effect, and was executed from a design by the Queen. Near the door hangs a portrait of her when Crown Princess in Roumanian dress, a sheaf of wild cherry blossom in. her arm—an appealing and beautiful pose.
As the silver chimes of a clock rang out the hour, the folding doors opened, and the King, accompanied by the Queen and their two eldest children—the Crown Prince and the Princess Elizabeth—joined us.
The King was in uniform, which showed off to advantage his slight, well-knit figure. He is a handsome man, with a charming smile and gentle, dignified manner; a pointed light brown beard, grown when he was very ill, suits him admirably.
I had the honour of sitting beside him at lunch, and his views on life, travel, politics and literature were full of a shrewd discernment and tolerant outlook. On my other side sat the Crown Prince Carol, very blond and handsome, keenly interested in sport, army matters and aviation. He had met my brother. Captain Bertram Dickson, when he was visiting Prince Cantacuzène in Bucharest, and was keenly alive and interested in my brother's career and strenuous efforts up till his death to make the British War Office and Government realize the importance of aviation as a scouting and offensive arm of the Service.
The Queen was dressed in a clinging gown of ivory crêpe de chine, the rounded arms and throat bare but for a fine chain of graduated pearls. The poise of the head, with its beautiful golden hair, is admirable—regal, yet full of grace—the figure slender, the expressive eyes a changing blue, and the exquisite complexion—her English inheritance—one of pearls and peaches—to use a metaphor of old Sir Joshua Reynolds, who endeavoured to describe it thus in teaching his pupils how to paint—proclaims her the loveliest Royal lady in Europe.
Artistic to her finger-tips, she carries this sense through every phase of her life, and her dress, like her environment, is picturesque in the extreme.
After luncheon the Queen took me to see her private apartments, which are justly celebrated for their originality and beauty of design. It is here that one gets a true estimate of the inventive genius, the delicate skill in colour schemes, and the high artistic feeling which she possesses in an extraordinary degree. Walls and roof are of carved wood, overlaid with dull burnished silver; the floor, in unglazed tiles of blue shading into cool greens, has tiger and polar-bear skins strewn about.
Two fine stone fonts in a Byzantine design hold a wealth of ferns and brilliant-hued azaleas, striking a note of tropical colour in the clear coolness of the Silver Room.
On the raised platform, under an alcove, lies the sleeping-couch, covered with a couvre-lit of beautiful stitchery in many shades of mauve. To the right is a prie-dieu of fine carving, and everywhere in quaint angles stand beautiful chairs and tables carved and made by Her Majesty's clever hands, while the wealth of bibelots gives evidence of the cultured taste and discerning eye of the connoisseur. Close by the door stands a handsome cabinet in carved and silvered wood, made and presented to her at Christmas by some of the servants on the estate whom she has taught.
On the walls hang numerous pictures and photographs—one a charming Danish scene by her aunt, our most beloved and gracious Queen Alexandra, and various clever water-colours painted by her sister, the Grand Duchess Cyril of Russia; while graceful studies of her children in most original frames painted by the Queen add but another interest to a room justly celebrated for its artistic decorations.
One of her interests is the collection of scent bottles of every country and period, and I was shown a few very fine specimens, though I believe the collection approaches nearly six thousand. Another of her interests, and a somewhat original one, is the collection of old Byzantine crosses taken from ancient graves and which have been placed in the parks surrounding the palaces of Cotroceni and Sinaia.
At the end of the corridor are the nurseries, and the English nurse-in-chief beamed proudly when congratulated upon the health and beauty of her charges. The rooms, big and sunny, were filled with the paraphernalia of happy childhood: toys, dolls' houses and the piebald rocking-horse—the faithful Dobbin of every English home—stood with meek, uncurled forelock, awaiting the sturdy little Prince Nikola's onslaught and ride.
At this, the Palace of Cotroceni—which is larger and more roomy than the one the late King and Queen occupied in Bucharest—Queen Marie holds afternoon receptions during the winter season, at which music is the leading feature. The beautiful new music-room which has been lately added is built and decorated in the old English style.
Returning to the great salon, two of the younger children—a perfectly beautiful boy and girl—joined their Royal parents there, and romped about the room in all the abandon of merry youth. Princess Mignon begged me to tell them some new English conundrums, and my stock was soon exhausted in answer to their eager inquiries.
The one that pleased them most was, "How many legs has a horse?" and this even baffled the King and gentlemen of his suite. The answer delighted the children: "Six. Two hind legs and fore (four) legs in front."
The royal children lead the simplest and healthiest of lives, both here and at Sinaia, and with their lovely complexions and masses of golden hair resemble their beautiful mother.
They are being educated and brought up on broad, modern methods, for the Queen, like her ambitious mother, the Grand-Duchess Marie, has her own ideas about education, which are fully shared by the King, and nothing will be omitted in equipping them for their future positions and in developing their natural qualities of mind and nature to the utmost. English is the language generally spoken in the Royal home, but the elder children already speak French and German quite fluently.
A great deal of her time is spent with them, for both she and the King are devoted to their family, two sons and three daughters—a quintette beautiful enough to have inspired the genius of a Greuze or Reynolds, and who are constantly to be seen with their parents. Indeed, the dictum of Carmen Sylva that "the profession of Queen demands three qualities, beauty, bounty and fecundity," may well be applied to her.
The Queen spent all her childhood in England at Eastwell Park, leading a romping, healthy, out-of-door life with her brother and sisters. At eighteen she was betrothed to Prince Ferdinand of Hohenzollern-Zigmaringen, nephew and heir-presumptive of King Carol, and the marriage took place at Potsdam in January, 1893, the slender, lovely young Princess looking like a fairy in her bridal gown.
She was enthusiastically received in her new country, and she endeared herself at once by her sunny, sweet disposition, and the appeal her brilliant beauty made to the aesthetic sense of an impressionable Latin race.
Her high-spirited, energetic and talented nature has wonderfully fitted her to be the Queen of a country that has the Ville Lumière as capital, with its gay and luxurious aristocracy. Apart, too, from the court and social side, she has thrown herself heart and soul into all the schemes, charitable and philanthropical, necessary for the education and progress of the country with wonderful judgment and unfailing tact and charm. Her generosity is unstinted: beautiful frames, pictures, carved wood and pieces of embroidery fashioned by her clever fingers are always at the disposal of charity and to be sold for the sick or suffering. Her patronage is freely given to music and the drama, and she is frequently to be seen at concerts and the theatre. She has founded the Society of Goddesses, of which she is the head, and each goddess acts as fairy godmother to one poor child at least.
In religious matters the King is a Roman Catholic; the Queen clings to her early Anglican faith, while the two elder children have been baptized into the Greek Orthodox Church, the faith of their country. Diverse as their religions are, no more happy or united family exists. He shares with his wife her fondness for all outdoor sports, and is a keen soldier, capital shot and graceful fencer. They are both ardent automobilists, and lovers and excellent judges of horse-flesh.
Indeed, dowered as both their Majesties are with the natural inheritance of intelligence, goodness of heart and high ideals—still further enhanced by the possession of their people's devotion—they should be sure of an illustrious reign, and one which will leave its mark on the history of their country.