The Country That I Love by Marie Queen of Rumania

CHAPTER 13


THUS ends the original book—I felt that it was but fair that I should close it with a word of homage to Jassy, the town which took us up, which at first rather resented our invasion, but which sadly missed us when we departed.

From all times Jassy was a very self-righteous little place, imbued with its own importance, nursing a deep grievance in its heart, but finding a certain comfort in the conviction that it was a far more aristocratic town than Bucarest, which, though large and prosperous, was but an upstart in comparison to Jassy's old-world distinction.

Some of the most cruel, most poignant hours of my life were spent at Jassy, but the great suffering endured together gradually forged an unbreakable link, binding us more strongly together than any happy experiences could ever have done.

As mentioned in my preface, this book has nothing whatever to do with war-pictures, except certain passing visions in the chapter on Jassy: the book was written to evoke happier recollections, to fire in every heart the desire to go back, to re-capture the lost homes. On my return to Bucarest I wrote also a series of war-pictures, a small volume, in English but published in Roumanian, because I lived too near the heart of every event not to leave a record of it for after-years; for those who care to remember, and for the younger generation who, when reading it will, I hope, be living in such times of peace as we were, when we were young, so that my descriptions of fear, misery, and heroically-borne suffering will appear to them rather more as legends than as a fearful reality of yesterday.

Strange as it may seem, although an ardent optimist; although of those who set out ever again, all through life, with the firm intention and in the firm belief that they will win; I somehow never saw visions of myself returning in triumph to our capital. I always believed in the final victory of my people, and more especially in the victory of the Allies. I believed in it firmly even when many had lost faith; but, somehow I always pictured myself in the midst of the struggle, helping, upholding, wherever I could be useful, straining my every faculty, doing the hard work rather than sharing in the glorious hour of victory. And I always had the strange premonition that a great sadness must lie at the heart of all victory; perhaps because, being no more a beginner, I knew life too well.

I am naturally a hard worker, a good fighter. I started young on a difficult road, in a far-off country; nearly all was struggle in my life. Often I won, I admit, but no one but I can know what was the price of each victory. I never lost courage, my health was sound, my spirit willing; I was ready to begin over and over again, and would build up what fell down with a patience and energy I never knew I possessed.

War, trouble, and affliction came at an hour in my life when I was ripe enough to face them; no more too young, not yet too old, so to say, I was in my full strength; I had just become Queen, and my people looked up to me as a great promise, as a hope they believed in. But war was to be the touch-stone. Should I be equal to my task?

In my heart of hearts I had every intention to be so. I had been brought up never to admit, for an instant, that we could be anything else but equal to the demands made upon us. But certainly, nothing was spared us—misfortune dogged us step by step, we had to drink the bitter cup to the dregs—but one happiness we had, our people remained staunchly true to us, misfortune brought us nearer together, did not drive us apart. A few defaulters there were, no doubt; one cannot expect the impossible; but nearly all were true; we hoped together, struggled together, suffered together, and a mighty bond of mutual respect and confidence rose up out of those two bitter years of exile.

And when came the hour of triumphant return, it was after all given me to share in it with my people, but the underlying sadness beneath the outward glamour of victory which my soul had apprehended, was there also, heart-breaking, a shadow darkening the brighter side of the picture.

Victory has always to be over someone, and I humbly confess that at all hours of life I am instinctively sorry for my enemy the moment I have beaten him, however difficult he may have been to beat, and however thoroughly he may have deserved his beating. I never have cared to see another's humiliation, I always want to turn my eyes away; besides, there were too many who had started out with us, who had died on the way, who did not reach the goal, who never knew that finally it had been victory....

I will not here describe our return to our capital, it does not belong to these pages, but to that series of war-pictures collected in another book. But this I will mention: On the little grave which I had had to abandon Mircea's name had been painted on a provisional stone; those in charge of the house had been allowed to care for it; sometimes even the enemy-sentries had allowed flowers to be laid upon it, anonymous flowers, brought by humble people of no importance according to the political or military world. Now we have had that provisional stone replaced by another, upon which, according to ancient custom, we had a short legend carved, relating how the little one slept there, all alone, the youngest of our children, guarding our home whilst we were driven into exile by the changing fate of war. Having in one of my first chapters quoted the inscription on that other, much more ancient tomb, I here cite this one. It runs thus:
 

In this sanctuary of Cotroceni, alongside of those who in former days were rulers of this land, lies the youngest son of King Ferdinand and Queen Maria, born December 21st, 1912.

MIRCEA

died October 20th, 1916, in the time of war, whilst the soldiers of Roumania were sacrificing their lives for the dream of centuries.

Two years he remained sole guardian of the home of his parents, over which the country's flag had ceased to float. Mourn for him, for he shared with us the days of suffering, but the days of rejoicing he did not live to see.


In all fairness to the overthrown, I would mention that whatever loot or destruction they gave way to in other houses, our invaders behaved well whilst in possession of our personal habitations, and we found but little missing on our return.

But it is not easy to return after two years' exile, it is not easy to take repossession of one's old home again—when so much has happened in between. The coming back is not all joy, nor can one immediately reinstall oneself in what used to be a home of happier days. We had got accustomed to live a cramped, restricted, harassed life, never knowing if we would still be safe next day. Besides, we had become unconventional; we had learnt other values; we had become frugal, and fearfully outspoken of speech....

Those we had left behind and found again stared at us, not daring to ask what were our thoughts, nor what our experiences had been, nor how much we had hoped, feared, or suffered. And we looked with awe at the thin, haggard faces of those who had been obliged to submit to enemy rule. There was something humble about them, something almost furtive—they had got accustomed to speak low, to keep their own counsel, to avoid looking into each other's eyes; their complexions were pale and the expression around their lips bitter; they had the masks of captives who had been underfed, and hidden away from the sun's blessed light.

A gulf had been dug between us. Although we had been tormented, starved, threatened, in danger of life and further retreat, we had been free on the little bit of land left to us; we had been proud and unsubjugated in spite of all we had gone through. They had had to bow their heads to the will of aliens; they had had to submit to rules made against them, to hear their dear ones insulted at all moments; they had quaked before the fear of reprimands, fines, restrictions; they never knew when accusations would be sent in against them, they had been fed upon false reports and depressing war news; systematically, their pride and their hope had been torn from them, each day a little more. They began wondering if we should ever really come back; time was endless—and when we actually did come, they gave us a tremendous reception, they greeted us with songs and cheers, with flowers and music; but our two separate forms of suffering had made us almost strangers to each other; we had to learn to live together again, to be patient, tolerant, forgiving, not to pry too closely into anyone's heart, not to ask too many questions, not to delve too deeply down into any suffering for fear of what might come to light....

I had become so accustomed to move about amongst the sick, the poor, the wounded, amongst those in distress, that I found it almost impossible at first to take up a normal life again. In some ways I felt like a ghost returning to haunt the home of yore.

When I finally entered into the shade of the church and knelt down beside the grave of the little one who had waited there all alone for two long years, it seemed to me a lifetime that I had been away—I was another woman—war had cut an enormous gash between the life that had been and the life that would be—it was as a chasm making two separate lives out of one, and it was difficult to find the bridge over that chasm.

Mircea belonged no more to this new life, this unknown life that was beginning to-day-----he was a treasure relinquished for ever, a bright vision belonging to that other life left on the other side with my youth...

Thus did I feel then when I returned. So, indeed, victory had its bitterness; there was a taste of ashes about the hour of triumph—at least thus did I feel it, and there was especially a shadowy chorus of all the voices of those who had died along the way, of all those who had struggled, hoped, and gone under before they knew which way the luck of battle would turn.

There was also the great weariness, I suppose—that great weariness which comes after superhuman effort—the tremendous reaction when all one's energy is no more strained to the utmost—when there is no more use for so much effort and when one has not yet learnt to fold one's hands and rest...

Perhaps this chapter will be considered out of keeping with the rest of this book—but you see I had to build a bridge between yesterday and to-day. Will my readers just look upon it as such? Then I shall pass on to happier things. One cannot step immediately from suffering into joy—especially when the suffering was war, exile, and the fearful shadow of death, which hung over the whole world during those tragic years.