I Live Again by Ileana, Princess of Romania
THEN IN my room in Bran, as now in my New England bedroom, a photograph of my father stood on a table where I could see it as I entered the doorway. It is the last photograph taken of him, and it shows his beautiful, clear-cut profile, with his hair and his beard turned slightly gray. I remember thinking when I was little that all kings had beards, and being very astonished when I was presented to the old King of Sweden, who was clean shaven. According to my ideas, also, kings always wore uniforms. My father wore mufti only in the country, and even then only on days when he felt especially gay and in a holiday mood. Secretly I wonder now if he ever felt really quite at home in civilian clothes.
Always my thoughts seek him out most easily in Sinaia, because there his royal duties were a little less exacting, and we could see more of him. We migrated to Sinaia for the summer at the end of June, and remained there until fall, when the opening of Parliament called my father back, and my studies summoned me also to the city. But do not imagine that life was ever simple, or lacking in duties and in calls from ministers, even at Sinaia! Once we were playing a game of writing epitaphs, and my sister Mignon wrote her epitaph for a king: "Rest him, 0 Lord, far from his ministers!" That is how she who was the daughter of a king and the wife of a king felt about it. Always things were spoiled for us children by some minister coming to hold consultations with our parents. I realize now that the lives of the ministers also were interrupted, but in those early years I had small sympathy for them, and only felt sorry for us.
My father was at heart a quiet, gentle scholar, who all his life kept a lively interest in the science of botany. But above all else he was what the Germans call "pflichttreu," which means literally "duty-faithful." It was this innate sense of duty that made him overcome his personal shyness and gave him an air of royal dignity which made him stand out among other men, in spite of his retiring nature. One of his greatest personal pleasures was to go for long rambles with his dogs through the Sinaia forests, looking for rare plants for his rock garden. Deep satisfaction he also found among his books. I can see him now, his spectacles on his nose, one eye half shut because of the smoke of his cigar, one eyebrow a little raised, as with his beautifully shaped hands he selected a favorite volume, his long fingers lovingly turning the pages as he looked for a well-loved passage. He read with ease the old Greek and Latin classics in their original tongues, and he knew the ancient Romanian Cyrillic alphabet.
His knowledge of Latin stood him in good stead when he visited the villages in Transylvania, where language would have been a barrier between him and those speaking only Hungarian if he could not have talked in Latin with the Catholic priests, and so have had translators the people would trust. He read widely also in modern languages, and in addition to his thirst for knowledge and his love of beautiful literature he enjoyed a good detective story. He and I were great admirers of Bulldog Drummond, and used to carry on long fanciful conversations, pretending we had met one or another of the characters in the series. Later, when I met certain Communists who reminded me of people Bulldog Drummond had encountered, I used to long to have someone like my father, who might share with me what seemed almost a recognition of people I had not really believed could exist.
Although his outward reserve with his children was great, my father had a deep inner comprehension and understanding upon which I unconsciously relied always, even in little matters. When I was about ten or twelve years old I developed a passion for dressing up, and I loved to arrange a costumed dinner party. My father joined in cheerfully when his duties permitted, and I remember one most successful evening when he put on an old dressing gown made of an Indian blanket which had been given him by the Red Cross during the war. Binding a few feathers around his head, he took the part of a red Indian chief to my entire satisfaction.
He was quite extraordinarily modest, and rarely wanted anything for himself. Once on his return from a journey to Paris he gave each of us a lovely and thoughtfully selected gift. Then, almost shyly, he showed us a beautiful jade vase. "This," he said firmly, "is for myself! I will not give this one away." We admired the vase and encouraged his intention, but in only a few days he brought it down from his study. "I really don't know just where to put it," he said apologetically. "I think you'd better have it down here somewhere." And he handed it to my mother, who solved the problem by placing it where we could all enjoy looking at it.
It seems strange that Fate sought out this quiet and self-contained scholar to guide a nation to the realization of all its dreams. His life demanded of him great and terrible decisions on every level; the sacrifice of the loyalties of his youth; the sacrifice of his relationship to his oldest son when this son did not measure up to his responsibilities. He was so modest that I think he never quite grasped his personal contribution to his accomplishments. He did not accept it as a tribute to himself when a whole people were swept with joy and gratitude, adoring him as a victorious liberator. After World War I, when he returned to Bucarest and when he entered Transylvania people literally knelt in the streets as he went by. I myself saw an old man step out of the kneeling mass of people and hold up a child, saying to him:
"Look at him well! Remember his every feature, that when you are old like me you may remember and tell your grandchildren what our Liberator looked like!"
After the war, because of his great love and understanding for his people, he set about the agrarian reform, aided by Ion I. C. Bratianu—son of the Bratianu who had persuaded King Carol I to come down the Danube to Romania. Thus the soil at last became the possession of those who tilled it, and because this social reform was headed by the King, for whose vast acres no exception was made, everyone had to follow suit. And, to do them justice, most of the landed proprietors did not protest: a Romanian's love of the soil is well understood by all other Romanians. When at the end of his last illness he closed his weary eyes, it was as quietly and unassumingly as he had always lived.
"I am very tired," he murmured as he rested his head against my mother's shoulder. "I must once just rest a little."
The whole nation wept as for the death of a dear parent. And with the unfailing perspicacity of the people they called him not "the Liberator"; not "the Victorious." For the title that should live in their hearts they gave him a dearer one: "Ferdinand the Loyal, King of the Peasants."
The Sinaia that he loved stands in the valley of the Prahova River, which cuts the principal pass through the Carpathians. It is a narrow valley, but very beautiful. The great forest comes down to the very edge of the turbulent river and the rocky peaks stand grandly outlined against a Mediterranean-blue sky. It is indescribable, that marvelous blue of the Romanian sky; a deep, intense blue where often no cloud will be in sight for many weeks. As a result, rain for us is always a blessing, and we can enjoy its cool silver-gray falling with a grateful heart.
The town of Sinaia is formed by old-fashioned villas of the last century, when society, following the example of King Carol I, built their summer residences in the beautiful valley. They grouped their houses around a park, a casino, and a shopping center, but the King built his magnificent castle up in the forest where it was peaceful and secluded. When my father became king in 1914 he did not move into this Castle of Peles, but preferred to remain in the Castle of Pelisor, which had been built for my parents just before the birth of their fourth child, and which was full of charm. It resembled a comfortable English country house more than anything else, and it was a home we all adored. As a child I was greatly chagrined by my brother Nicholas's boast that he had been born up in the mountains, while I was born in a mere suburb of Bucarest!
Dear, comfortable Pelisor! Always there was the sound of rushing waters about and through it, so that visitors on their first night thought it was pouring rain outside, and were startled to awaken to an azure sky and see that the ground was stone dry. Our mornings started with breakfast taken in the long dining room. Following a Romanian custom, my mother sat at the head of the table with my father on her right; then, in succession, came all the members of the court that had followed us, any visitors there might be, and we children. All meals except the evening one were taken with the whole court, even to the officer of the guard. Everyone was included in "the family"; everyone seemed to belong together; conversation and jokes flowed freely around the table. On Sundays at the changing of the guard, which was housed in a building of its own, the band would play and the people on their way home from church would wander up and listen to the music and walk about the beautifully laid-out terraces of the palace. My parents used to saunter down and mix with the crowd freely; they needed no guards to protect them. That is the Sinaia I cherish in my memory: the beautiful mountains; the sunshine, flowers, and music; the smiling holiday crowd; my father and mother, gracious and dear to everyone; a feeling of good will and contentment everywhere.
But in later years when I went to Sinaia I felt my heart contract a little. After my mother's death the Pelisor was closed. My brother Carol, returning to Romania in 1930 as King Carol II, used the Castle of Peles for official entertaining, and he had other conceptions of how life should be lived. He built a wall around the terraces, and the guard was no longer there for show but to keep people out. The life of his court was much more orderly, formal, and correct, but it was also less happy and congenial.
When my nephew, young King Michael, came to the throne after his father's abdication in 1940, he inherited a troubled situation. The country was bitterly resentful because of the lands that had been taken from it by the combined threats of Germany and Russia, then allies. In less than a year Romania was at war with Soviet Russia. The government—as I have said—was a military dictatorship under Marshal Ion Antonescu. Michael decided to go on living in the Foisor, a house that had been rebuilt and used by his father after the original dwelling of that name had burned down, and that lacked the charm of the others for those of us who had known the old days. Though his court was full of sober dignity, and his beautiful, gentle mother lent it charm, there was an atmosphere of sadness about it, and it lacked the vigor and zest of former times. 'But Michael had been too young to remember the sunny days of his grandparents. His youth had been a sad one. His father had left his family and his country when Michael was hardly more than a baby, and had not returned until Michael was seven. Then, because Carol's wife had divorced him, Michael was unhappily without a mother most of the time until, at eighteen, his father's abdication made him king. He is said to have remarked sadly on one occasion:
"When I needed a mother, I had a father; and when I needed a father, I had a mother."
All these things were in my thoughts during those few days at Bran with the younger children, when I had left Brasov temporarily after the newspaper accounts of my speech. I realized after a day or two that, in addition to having been badly hurt by being blamed for something I had not done, I had also been really exhausted by the long hours of work I had been doing and by the misery and despair I had so constantly witnessed. A little rested, I knew that I must not let my personal feelings keep me from working where there was so much need. The best thing would be to see Michael and his mother, Queen Helen, whom the family had always called Sitta. Then, too, I had been thinking so much about my father that I felt a great longing to see his favorite home again, so I motored to Sinaia over the magnificent pass, of which I never tired no matter how often I crossed and recrossed it.
Michael, unlike the three kings of his family who had ruled before him, preferred the comfort of civilian clothes to a uniform. He is a tall, blond young man, somewhat broad and solid. His hair has a wave in it, his eyes are blue, and he has a most enchanting smile. It brings with it deep dimples that are almost disconcerting in the face of a man so serious and given to so few words. To me, of course, there will always be in him things which remind me of the sunny-haired child who brought so much happiness to us all by his birth, and whose carefree baby ignorance of what had happened added to the stunned grief of the whole family when Carol renounced the throne and left Romania in 1925. At Sinaia I found him always followed by a German police dog. Before that it had been a great Dane—I can never think of Michael without a dog at his heels.
Sitta, his mother, is a slim, tall woman, with the greatest charm and sweetness about her. Her appearance is always exquisitely neat and dainty; I have only once seen her ruffled. It is from her that Michael inherits his dimples and his sudden, entrancing smile. She is a little shortsighted, which gives her a slight air of hesitation, and which has added to her natural shyness. When she came to meet me, she in her turn was surrounded by a crowd of Pekinese dogs, barking and gamboling around her feet. As always, it was with a sigh of contentment that I glided into the atmosphere of her well-run house; the perfect service at a beautifully laid table; the simple but excellently cooked food. The conversation was easy and often amusing, since both mother and son have a strong sense of humor and an incomparable talent for describing an amusing situation. Yet lurking in the background there seemed to be the shadow of tragedy past and to come. Intangible and ignored, it was nevertheless present, and I had the feeling of fighting against time and an overwhelming fate.
As I had thought, Sitta and Michael were both interested in hearing of what was being done in Brasov for the refugees, and of the plans for the Red Cross hospital soon to be opened. The hospital had of course been one of the reasons for the luckless meeting I had attended, which I explained and described fully. Once they understood what had happened, and how really innocent I had been in the matter, they were most kind. We discussed my situation, and they came to the conclusion that I could go on working as long as I accepted no leading position. In the Red Cross hospital I was to be simply one of the nurses, and to have nothing to do with the official side. I told them of the class for nurses' aides which Colonel Franz Josef of the military hospital thought was needed, and which he had spoken to me about organizing. They felt that if I joined it as a pupil, so that I should not seem to be assuming any leadership, it would be satisfactory for me to help with it.
Although at first thought these restrictions seemed somewhat hampering, I found in actual practise that they were most advantageous. I was at first much freer of responsibility, and yet my work in Austria had actually given me so much valuable experience that I was able to be of considerable service. When I was later asked for help and advice, I had the satisfying feeling that it was because I had proved myself to be a thorough and efficient worker, and not because I had, as it were, come in at the top on my title. Therefore, as time went on I saw that a blessing had come out of the experience.
I left Michael and Sitta with a lighter heart than I had brought. The woods of Sinaia, too, had worked their old magic. Yet one small anxious question remained in my mind. Did Marshal Antonescu and his wife also understand by this time that I had been the victim of circumstances? There was one way to find out: I would go and ask them.