AS my thoughts turn very naturally before all else to the place where I had to abandon the little one I so deeply loved, a moment must I pause to speak of the home that generously housed me for many years.
Dear home of Cotroceni, you are empty now! If ever I return to you, how will I find you? Will you receive me gladly, or will you still tremble because of all you have seen?
Dearly have I loved you, Cotroceni!
In winter time I would see from my bed the sun rising over the town; accustomed to awake early, this feast of colour was mine each day. Against its glowing glory the naked trees stretched their branches, covered with swarms of crows. At certain moments this dark invasion would rise into the air like a thundercloud, streaking the orange sky with moving lines of black.
In spring-time the birds would awaken me with their chirping; or the barrack-bugles calling me out for my daily ride. Oh, how well I knew each one of those bugles; by their different notes I could easily tell which regiment was marching by! In the days of my youth my own regiment would always play a certain tune, so as to announce to me that it was passing my way.
Ah, those sounds of Cotroceni! I know them all, and if now suddenly I hear any that resembles them, it makes my heart beat and tears start to my eyes. The spring and early summer nights were resonant with these bugle-calls; were full of the distant barking dogs; and round about Easter time I used to hear girls' voices singing in chorus: "Christ has arisen, arisen from Dead." From out of the town gay sounds of waltz music would at times come wafted towards our quiet garden, mingling strangely their tunes with the songs of the nightingales singing until deep into the night. The air would be full of the perfume of flowers. . . . But now all that is . . . is past!
I can still hear the hurrying feet of my children scampering towards me over the sanded paths, their hands full of flowers, their fair locks flying in the wind. Always at all ages would they run thus towards me with flower-filled hands, knowing my love for each humblest plant. One after another I can see them coming, and always there was a little one to replace, the one who had grown up ; last year it was little Mircea; and always did they come thus, with flowers in their hands. . . .
According to the seasons the flowers would vary ; first, it would be the early violet, or primrose, or a tiny white anemone ; then would come daffodils the colour of the sun, then tulips and irises, lilacs and roses, till in mid-summer they would bring me lilies, snow-white, with pungent smell and almost as tall as the child carrying them towards me.
But all that is past. . . . Mircea lies cold in his grave, and soldiers that are not our soldiers stand as sentries before the doors of our house. . . .
* * * * * * * *
Cotroceni was once a convent, hidden by forests that quite separated it from the town. Its old church still stands in the centre of the courtyard, surrounded by chestnut trees, which, when in flower, appear to be decorated with thousands of candles, fastened to their boughs as though for some feast. In autumn their leaves turn to precious gold, but in winter the trees stand naked and shivering against the walls of the church.
No ill-conceived restorations have desecrated this ancient sanctuary. There it stands untouched, guarding its charm of other days; but, alas, when the house was rebuilt around it, no one had thought of reconstructing it after the beautiful models of old convents in other parts of the country. They wanted to build us a "palace," little guessing that the Princess come so far would one day be the ardent admirer of a style that many had forgotten because of newer importations from foreign lands. So the architecture of the house has no beauty, except a small part we added later on.
Although I have spent many a happy hour in that house which for years was my home, now all my longing goes to its church, where part of my heart lies bleeding.
Within its mystic silence more than one prince has found rest, Princes whose names are carved upon ancient tombstones. But beside those tombs, a stone there is which bears no name. Small and exceeding lonely is the one who lies there awaiting the return of those who had no time to carve his name in marble.
One day we shall perhaps go back. Then an inscription shall be engraved thereon, according to ancient custom—not many words will be needed, for scarcely four short years was he guest on earth, when God called him away to happier regions. Close beside that nameless tomb there is a stone with this inscription: "In the prime of his life, in the flower of his youth, cruel death tore from the honours that were his due, the too young Constantine, fair offspring of Radu Hanai, Grand Spatar. He was twenty-two, and to his mother great grief did he leave. Oh! Worthy indeed of tears is his loss. Having taken the root of immortality in the race of the Cantacuzenes, he has been here honourably interred so that his memory may remain unforgotten. It was in the year of Christ one thousand seven hundred and twenty-three. Many sighs did he leave to his relations, but as to his mother, deep is her sorrow and her tears know no end. Dear God our Saviour, may Thy grace remain with him always, so that he may rest in peace and so that salvation may be his evermore. 1729."
Touching words with a quaint archaic sound about them, full of the echo of ancient emotions; for a while they may also stand for that other tomb which has no name.
The one was called Constantine, the other Mircea. The one reached his twenty-second year; five summers did not pass over the other's head; but a mother's sorrow is the same throughout all ages ; no matter how long or how short her happiness may have lasted, her grief cannot be measured by years !
This spring Mircea will bring me no flowers; our garden will bloom in vain, the daffodils will fade, the tulips pass away, the roses fall to pieces, loving hands will carry no lilies to the tomb that has no name. . . .
Nightingales will sing, perfumes will float through the air, but the bugles that will sound will not be the bugles of our army!
"Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living that are yet alive.
"Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who bath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun."