I Live Again by Ileana, Princess of Romania
JANUARY 7, 1948: 3:30 P.M.
A last farewell to our dear, small house; to my room with its loved pictures and comfortable bed; to the well-known tables and chairs. Good-bye, dear home, good-bye to your warmth and friendliness. I shall never see you again. This is the last time. Never again shall I enter under your roof or see the dawn from your windows.
As one condemned to die I left it, knowing that this in very truth was the end. Outside my room in the narrow passage stood the weeping servants. They kissed my hands and wept as if I were already dead. I tore myself away from them and, gathering the silent and frightened children together, went with them and Anton into the courtyard. The three cars and the truck lent to us were ready to start.
The hospital staff were there to say good-bye once more, and some of the patients with them. On the street the guards had seen to it that no one stood about or watched. I went up to each one who waited: my patients, my friends, and those with whom I had worked so hard and so well. Words failed us, but we let our tears run unshamed down our faces. I kissed each in turn, a kiss of peace, of friendship, of farewell. Only with one did I not exchange this embrace, for in this hour truth was too naked, and I knew his would be a Judas kiss. I was far beyond resentment. I could forgive, but I could not pretend.
At the gate stood my old friend the publican, whom I had been often warned against because he was a Communist. He strode past the guard, ignoring him, and throwing his arms around me he kissed me heartily, while his tears mingled with mine.
"Remember you are our Ilenuta draga: nothing can ever change that: our dear child!"
I could but press the old man's hand. Turning once more to the others I tried to smile, then I entered the waiting car. We drove out, and as we did so the gendarme at the gate, in spite of orders, presented arms and called "Sa tariti, Domnitza!" as he had always done.
When we crossed the bridge, there at the village side stood a great mass of peasants and of the students home on vacation. They had waited there, where they were fairly sure the guards could not prevent their doing so. As many as could come, with so short a notice, had gathered even from the most distant villages. They crowded around the cars and I got out. They kissed my hands and the hem of my uniform; they handed me fir branches, the evergreen that stands for the eternity of love, life, and faith. Then the multitude knelt down before me and asked for my blessing, and I lifted my hand and made the sign of the cross over their bent heads.
Once more I entered the car. The people drew aside, still kneeling, to let us pass, and a great sound of wailing went up from them. I felt that I was helping with the rites at my own funeral. The afternoon was drawing to a close, and my heart lay within me like a dead weight. The road was still heavily blocked with snowdrifts, so that we had to make a detour through Tohan, a village of factory workmen considered entirely "Red." Here, too, the road was partly impassable. We tried driving through the fields which the wind had swept clear of snow, but there had been a thaw. Two of the cars and the truck sank into the damp earth and we could not move them. At this hour the workmen were returning on foot from the factory not far away.
"I will go and ask them for help," I said. Those who were with me, especially the Communist guards, felt this was imprudent, and were afraid of the consequences, but I had no fear as I went over to some of the workmen and requested their help. Silently they acquiesced, and came to our rescue. With great efforts, by digging, pushing, and pulling, and only after getting themselves wet and muddy, they got the cars on the solid ground again, and to a point from which we could regain the road. The work had been done efficiently and well, but in unusual silence.
"I must go back to them and thank them," I told the guards.
"That would be most unsafe! It is getting dark, and they might do you harm," I was warned. Nevertheless, I retraced my steps to where the little knot of taciturn men still stood.
"Thank you," I said to them. "Please take this and divide it among you. I know it is little, but it is all I have." And I held out to them what money had been left to me.
The men looked at one another, and then one stepped out from among them.
"No, Domnitza," he said to me sorrowfully. "No, Domnitza, not today will we take a gift from you. Have you not been at our beck and call night and day? None has knocked at your door without being received. We have rendered you so small but so sad a service—see, the very earth is loath to let you go! But one request we still have of you. Will you kneel down with us and say a prayer for King and country, and for your return?"
And there in that muddy field, as the sun slowly set behind the Carpathians and filled the world with a last glow of splendor, I knelt down, joining in prayer with the factory workmen and those who till the soil. "Our Father, Who art in heaven . . ."
The sun was setting: but it rises again!