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Maryhill Museum of Art
THE CHILD WITH THE BLUE EYES
By MARIE, Queen of Romania
She has flown away into the wide world—our child with the dark blue eyes—Romania's child, Ileana Cosinzeana. She spread her wings, and although she knew that she was tearing her roots out of our hearts, she flew away. For there comes the time when the young must spread their wings, when even the most loved of nests become too small for the call of life, the call of love, the call of destiny.
So the child of the great blue eyes turned her face toward other lands, and he who seemed more to her than all of us carried her away, and because we loved her we let her go. We even smiled. Or if we wept, we hid our tears so that they should not weight her flight.
Many kind words have been written about my child with the blue eyes. Everybody loved her, and yet today, moved by my great "dor" I want to speak about her as alone a mother can speak, the one who knew her best; who knew her quite small and helpless, the one who heard her first cry and was the first to see how large and how blue were the eyes she opened to the world.
Few children have large eyes at the hour of their birth, but the eyes of this little stranger were from the first like stars. Gazing into their depths it was as though I read in them many secrets she could not tell me, nor could I tell this new little soul given into my care all that life had taught me. A little stranger, and yet nearer to me than all else upon earth, and I called her Ileana. The other four who had come earlier and received names according to royal exigencies, homage paid to family traditions, but this time I claimed my right to call her as I wished—a recompense for having been obedient so long. I was no longer the child of seventeen who had come from a far land, and who had eternally to listen and to submit, but I was a woman who had known joy and pain and also the weight of royal patience, and who today at least claimed one privilege, the right to give the right name to those blue eyes...
Ileana; and at first her hair was fair and she was always a little in earnest. Even when quite small, life for her was not only filled with herself but with others—with those who needed her love. She always seemed to understand the need of others, and to that end her own need was subjected. From the beginning Ileana liked to give.
Ileana. To me the name was music and in growing she grew into her mama more and more. It never was a wrong name, but belonged to her blue eyes and to that desire she had to give...
But although Ileana was earnest, she was also a gay and happy little girl caring for all those things children care for; sunny fields, flowers, animals, the sky, the mountains and the spoonful of "dulceata" given her before going to bed. And Ileana loved her mother, loved her with a love that made us one, instead of two.
We understood each other, always in all things, and at no time did we ever disappoint each other.
Often when she sat silent beside me, those great blue eyes wide open, I would lay my hand on hers: Ileana, I know what you are thinking about, and I would tell her her thoughts and Ileana was not astonished that I knew her thoughts.
I always said: Ileana has the law within her, one need not teach Ileana what is right or wrong, Ileana knows.
All this may sound as though Ileana had been a too good little girl, but Ileana was not too good. She was simply as children should be and too often are not.
And when Mircea came, Ileana was immediately a mother. Mircea was not always a good little boy, but Mircea and Ileana belonged together and Mircea loved Ileana's dolls as much as she did, especially one which he called "Foica" and who was dressed like an English baby in a very long lace-inserted robe. Mircea would tuck "Foica" under his arm and her long robe would sweep the floor. One day I watched Mircea and Ileana putting their dolls to bed. There were a row of small beds, and after each child had been carefully tucked into its particular bed Mircea bent down, his wee fat legs far apart and gave each in turn a kiss; yet Mircea was a naughty little boy and pretended to love no one. But he loved Ileana and her dolls.
Then came the war, and though he was not a soldier, the war carried off Mircea, and whilst Mircea was fighting against Death he kept calling for "Ilana...Ilana..." even when he knew nothing any more, he called "Ilana...Ilana..."
But it was long before Ileana and I could talk together about Mircea's death. Mircea's going was something that I could not explain, and as though the child with the blue eyes understood that I could not explain why Mircea had gone, she never asked me about him. But when we had to flee to Jassy, Mircea's absurd wooden horse was taken with us, and also "Foica". But Ileana never played with "Foica". "Foica" only sat on a chair and stared with unseeing eyes into a world which had changed. But occasionally when no one was watching, Ileana would hide behind the big Romanian stove and play with Mircea's horse.
Many war pictures passed before Ileana's great blue eyes—too many pictures for eyes so young. Also she heard without listening endless tales of distress, the tales told by all those who came to her mother's room, whilst the child played about with a pencil, a book or a paint brush. Of course she did not understand everything that was being said, but she understood that our soldiers were cold and hungry, that many were dying and that great sorrow was passing over the earth. Subconsciously all this sunk deeply into her soul.
Hearing of all the suffering, small as she was, Ileana also wanted to do her share. So she began walking through the streets with a basket full of bread which she collected from our table, going round from one to another with the prayer that no one should eat their bread but give it to her for the hungry soldiers. Her nurse had to go with her, carrying a "thermos" of hot tea and rhum, and thus over-young Ileana became acquainted with the face of misery and even with the face of death.
She would also follow me into the hospitals, and in one of these she became the friend of a very young officer, with eyes as large as her own. He was suffering from cruel wounds, and Ileana would sit beside him and hold his hand...
Some days, though, we would cast all sorrow from us and ride out into the hills beyond Jassy. Ileana wore a Cossack dress and a high gray astrachan cap; she sat very upright and looked very small and determined and her mother felt proud of her child.
Of course my horse went faster than hers, but when I had reached a height I would stop and wait for her, and she would come galloping toward me, on her small dark pony, her eyes shining, her cheeks flushed. Side by side we would gaze over the rolling hills and I would speak to her of all those we had left "over there" in Bucarest, and in those parts of Romania now under sway of the enemy. She began to understand the real sense of the word "patria", and it was almost as though I could see her roots going deeper and deeper down into our Romanian soil.
In the summer of 1918 when our canons were stilled, she and I went for awhile to live in a small wooden "barrac" built above the river Trotus and here Ileana followed me into the villages, very poor villages where she saw misery in another form, where she made friends with four little shepherd boys, and strangely enough all four were called Ion; the tall Ion, the small Ion, the black Ion and still another Ion whose special designation I do not remember. But there was also Dimitru and his sister Stanca, and all these bare-tooted friends who used to follow us on our rambles over the very steep pathways amongst the hills. When we were tired we would sit down beneath our favourite tree, a very beautiful lime-tree which was the only lime which grew in those parts, and I would tell the peasant children that I had come from afar, and speak to them of other lands; but Ileana would tell them about God and the Saints. Solemn eyed the children would listen and then in their turn the four Ions and Dimitru and Stanca would tell us about their animals and about Baba Elisabetha who was Dimitru's Grandmother, and about poor Maria who was dying of consumption, and of course we had to visit Baba Elisabetha and poor Maria and then we had to go into many of the other cottages in the village and always we dragged with us a big basket full of things to eat because no one had much to eat in those days.
Foremost amongst the animals the many Ions had to look after was a beautiful milk white cow which Ileana and I used to call "The Holy Cow of India". It was the most beautiful cow we had ever seen and really it had about it something of an idol of the East.
It was a hard moment when we had to tear ourselves away from the wooden house and our barefooted friends. They belonged to our war days, as did the churchyard above the Trotus where we had buried so many young lives we could not save. Even after the war we frequently came back to our wooden house. The Ions kept getting bigger, as was also Ileana, and the last time we went there Dimitru had a bride, and poor old Baba Elisabetha had a bad pain in her side, and poor Maria was dead. I am sorry to add that little Stanca did not remain a good little girl...
During the latter war days Ileana had a different sort at companion—an elderly man of Irish origin, a man who, as a pioneer, had cut his way through life. His principles were strong and he had an immense and simple faith in all that is good, honorable and true. In the middle of powerful activities this man had been suddenly felled by a stroke while flying from one war point to another. His fall was like the fall of an old oak tree. While struggling back to health the child with the blue eyes came in to this man's life and they became friends. They could understand each other without many words. The child did not tire the big man, and though his tongue was heavy at first he had enough of speech left to teach the child those strong simple principles by which he lived. He also awoke in her a desire to serve. Although the man died before the child grew up he sowed many seeds which went deep down into her soul and those seeds fell on good ground....
I can still see those two, hand in hand, wandering in and out of the peasant huts, leaving here a gift and there a good word, and thus Ileana continued the habit of giving...
Ileana did not want to be a privileged person. She wanted to achieve things through her own merits. She was therefore very insistent about being examined like any other child. These examinations were solemn occasions of emotion. They were taken very seriously. Her instructors loved her dearly, but she would have resented any lightening of her task. She morally obliged them to be as serious about it as she was.
By slow degrees the child with the blue eyes began to grow up, but so gradually that there was never a shock, nor a season without harmony. All in gaining in depth, her eyes had lost none of their brightness. They seemed like wells into which she had absorbed all those visions of suffering gathered during the war. They had sunk into her soul. Those years had ripened her without, however, tarnishing her youth. She was not a sad child. She spread joy and gaiety around her; she was sport loving and energetic, life ran like sunshine through her veins, but beneath all gaiety was that earnestness so rare in the young. Ileana was healthy, energetic, impetuous, but nothing in her was ruthless; the feelings of others meant more to her than her own; this made of her a perfect companion. She had also something of the pioneer in her, a sort of very young and modern Joan of Arc, believing in "right" and ready to fight for it. She was never afraid of standing up for her convictions; ridicule never touched her, nor could the skepticism of age shake her belief. Her young friends and associates listened to her words, and little by little they began to look upon her as something of a leader, she was so very bright, so eager, so convinced.
However, steadily following up her main idea of learning her lessons as others learned them she, of her own accord, decided to tear herself away from her beloved home and country to spend some time in an English school. Although royal to the backbone, she wanted to learn real discipline, wanted to be one of many, to gain nothing through favor but only by her own merits.
She found school life hard, especially as her comrades showed her a certain hostility, instinctively resenting that she was a foreigner and of another caste. Her royalty, instead of smoothing her road, made it on the contrary more thorny; but the child with the blue eyes had grit, she did not fight this latent hostility with words, but with quiet patience, holding her own, gaining little by little the respect of both masters and pupils and finally leaving a good record behind her when she left.
Had we been living in good times now would have followed a period of amusements, balls, parties and those pleasures habitual to the young, but Ileana returned to face a great grief. Her home vas not as she had left it. One place was empty and with that emptiness came an endless series of sorrows which prolonged the sadness of the war years which had stamped themselves upon her childhood, nor was she of those who could see others suffer without lending a helping hand.
Friendship meant to her infinite devotion and a close following up of those lives which intermingled with hers, a constant and alive interest; it meant patience with the sick, aid to the needy, encouragement to the faint-hearted; it meant continual planning for the good of those she loved; it meant the abnegation of time, the spending of her every penny upon others; It meant also the giving up of her own desires and pleasures; others, they had to be thought of first.
Watching her as mother, I wondered if a period of selfishness would come, but it never did—for the child with the blue eyes had understood the time-old verity that giving is more blessed than receiving, so unstintingly she gave and gave and gave...
Quite as a child I have known her to spend every free hour between her lessons at the bedside of her dying school-mistress, where she interviewed and encouraged the doctors, paid the nurse and kept troublesome relations from worrying the last hours of the woman who had worked over-hard all the days of her life. With an intuition beyond her years, she understood the patheticness of an existence which had been all work and no joy, not even recompense; understood also how this pathetic creature clung to the little princess who had brought into her fading life a last ray of light. When finally she died, it was Ileana who buried her and now still goes to "Sioara's" grave.
And all through our close companionship, how many sick, suffering and needy friends has not Ileana brought to me for a summer holiday, for a sunny corner in one of my houses, for peace, rest, consolation, for a last chance of recovering health. All those in distress seemed to find their way to Ileana and she had time for them all. With infinite patience she would listen to their woes, fight their battles for them, help them out of their difficulties, sympathize with their disappointments and fill them with new courage to begin again.
Little by little it was I who began to lean on the child with the blue eyes as in earlier days she had leaned upon me, and when our good King died and much was at an end for us, our friendship and understanding became, in our new solitude, an almost sacred link.
We had more time to ourselves than formerly, our duties became less official, there was less hurry, but there was also a great emptiness which we filled with our love and ever growing need of each other.
Bran and Balcic became our favorite corners of refuge and whilst I found consolation in creating as much beauty as possible, my child filled that beauty with life. She still brought me all those who needed help or sympathy, but as years passed her conceptions widened and with this came the desire of doing good on a larger scale. She strongly felt the urge of her time, that throbbing, disturbing struggle between good and evil. Her outlook was modern; like all those of her generation she had the courage to face all problems squarely; she did not shun realities nor feed on vague dreams, but in spite of this she had no desire to deny those principles by which we, her parents, had lived. She believed in God, honored her elders, and politeness was a law of her being, nor did she ever allow her own desires to make her selfish or unfeeling. "Noblesse oblige" was her motto, as it had also been ours.
Sensing that the young of her generation were in need of a voice to rally them, of someone to indicate a new way, she suddenly felt that in spite of her natural timidity, in spite of her royalty which hampered her, she must bravely step forward and become that voice for which they were waiting. That steadfast earnestness, always her characteristic, stood her once more in good stead and although there was enough to discourage and frighten her, she held fast, standing firm against critics and doubters, finding courage in her own convictions and in her great desire to do good.
I was of course her chief confidant, the one to urge her on, but I also knew her every suffering and disappointment, for in these times there was more sorrow than joy; Ileana's youth' was not unburdened, nor is it easy to be a forerunner, some follow gladly but one is not always understood.
There were hours when those brave blue eyes were less bright, or when their brightness was the brightness of unshed tears; some revelations are harder to bear than others, but we were two to bear them, she with her youth and her hope, and I with that patience which comes to those who know life. Besides we loved life, and Balcic was so beautiful and both in Balcic and Bran we had grouped the young around us in summer colonies; we had become a center to them, because of us they bad happy holidays in pure air, far from the dust of towns. I was their protector, but Ileana was the spirit which held them together and carried them forward towards cleaner ideals. She knew how to talk to them and her words were words of conviction and hope.
Little by little she developed a real talent for speaking. Fearlessly she would stand up before the most difficult and critical audience, sustained in spite of her timidity by the strength or her convictions. When I saw her thus, standing upright, head high, eyes suspiciously bright, each time the vision rose before me of a very small child standing beside the open fire and reciting to her mother, "Little Boy Blue" and then my throat would tighten with unshed tears.
But the greatest passion of the child with the blue eyes was the sea. This was attavism from her mother's aide. She became a first-rate swimmer and with that way she had of wanting to know all things thoroughly, she began to study navigation and, as she had done as a child, now again she insisted upon passing real examinations before a naval commission as though she had been a man.
Often at Balcic, sitting on my balcony which overhangs the sea, I would watch my child cutting through the waves on her brave little boat "Isprava", her sails spread to the wind like the wings of a great bird and at times a pain would suddenly shoot through my heart at the thought of what it would mean to me if, instead of returning at sunset, those large wings were to carry her away out of my life, Ileana, my child, my companion, my love. Our understanding had been so absolute, our life so harmonious. I never in any way hampered her freedom, asked of her no sacrifices, laid upon her the strain of no obligation. She gave to me of her time just as much as she would. I never forced my company upon her, nor did I interfere with her friendships; but at the end of a full day I was always there to listen to her plans, her enthusiasms, or to discuss those problems too difficult to solve alone.
But I began to notice that life was pressing in upon her more and more—her eyes had a searching look, each day was a new expectancy, she was looking forward toward her own destiny.
It is always a tragic moment for a mother when she had to realize that the old nest is becoming too narrow for the child to whom she has given all her love, and that one day that child will spread wing and leave her behind. And the mother knows that love can wear a mask and that it prepares many a snare. The young are so credulous, see in all things what they believe to be their ideal, and it needs such a light touch, such gentle words to lead a trusting heart past cliffs against which it could break. Nothing is sadder than to have to tell a girl that what she took for gold was dross; it is cruel to have to shatter an illusion. It is like brushing the bloom off butterfly's wing, and yet even this had to be, and I saw pain enter those brave blue eyes, a pain which seemed to sink deeply into her soul. It was as though I saw it sinking and God alone knows who at that have suffered most, she or I!
But finally it was not the wings of the "Isprava" which carried the child with the blue eyes out of my life, but one of those mighty birds man has invented and that, Icarus-like, carry him through the skies, up, up above the clouds, ever nearer the sun; and the man who took her with him was strong, steady, reliable, and for Ileana his face was the face of love…
But on the day when her fate was sealed, when that great bird bore her away into a far land, away from the soil of her birth, although I blessed her happiness, I, her mother, her companion of yesterday, turned my face to the wall and wept…