I FEEL that a few words are necessary to explain when and why this book was written. At one time I thought of modifying it, but reading it through again, as its author, I well realized that that throbbing note of suppressed anguish running through the whole was the real thread holding its pages together; if changed, much of their meaning, may I even say of their charm, would be lost.
At Iassy, after our retreat, and all the grief and misery attached to it, we lived through a time of intensest and most demoralizing depression. We had been hard hit, very hard; three quarters of our country had had to be surrendered; winter was upon us, and with it famine, want, and pestilence. Spirits were at lowest ebb, and confusion reigned in our midst.
I stood in the centre of it all, myself a refugee, a Queen with empty hands, a mother who had just buried her youngest child, one of the first victims of the epidemics raging around us—I felt this depression at first, as one too broken by personal grief to be able to help others. Little by little, however, the intense suffering around me tore me away from my own sorrow, gave me the ardent and intense desire to be of use to my people, and through them to my country, at a moment when all hope seemed to be abandoning us.
There was something within me which told me that my voice above all others was now necessary to them; we had become so small, so shivering, so helpless; and in our more primitive countries the idea of "a mother" near by, to whom all can turn, is a great comfort, I might even say the greatest comfort. But how get into nearer and direct contact with the masses? How, as Queen, raise my voice so that it could be heard by thousands and thousands...?
Then, one day, an old professor came to me, himself a writer—a friend. He too had lost everything; but, like his Queen, he felt that some reaction must be brought about, some effort, some outward sign that faithful hearts were watching over those too broken, too poor, too miserable to lift their heads and struggle on. This old friend had just read My Country, published in England; he approved of it, said I must write more, that this was a good beginning, but that there were many beauties left to describe—that the Roumanians were happy, flattered that I, their Queen, the Princess born in a far-off land, should have so deeply absorbed the charm of my adopted country as to be able to describe it so accurately.” I shall translate it, he said, but you must add to it; so many have left their homes, have been torn away from what they loved, that you will reach their hearts by speaking to them about the cherished regions they had to abandon."
"Chapter by chapter we shall publish it in the most popular newspaper, the one which finds its way into the trenches, into the villages even. In that way your voice will reach those who have never even seen you; you will become a reality to them, they will feel your heart beating with theirs, your soul suffering with theirs, and it will be a wonderful thing for them and for you."
"Not many Sovereigns are given your gift, use it; you must come forward now, put aside all hesitation, all diffidence, all self-consciousness; I shall translate what you write as you write it, and if you vary the places you describe, you will always be sure to touch one or the other of your readers who come from that part—believe me, it is your duty to use that power of expression given to you—it may be an unusual thing for a Queen to do, but is not our situation tragically unusual ? Is it not the duty of each to help when he can, as he can...?”
That was what the old patriot had to say, and considering his arguments sufficient, I put all timidity on one side and began talking to my people.
At first I wrote a few short pages telling them how my heart was with them, how I shared their sorrow, their anxiety, their humiliation; encouraging them to face the adversity of to-day in the firm intention of remaining steadfast, of not giving way to despair; and when I had stirred up their emotions and made them listen, I kept their interest alive by publishing every other week a chapter describing one or another of the parts torn from us. They got accustomed to wait impatiently for the appearance of these chapters, which later were printed in a small volume, upon atrocious war-paper, with still more atrocious ink.
Fifteen thousand of these ugly little volumes were snapped up in no time, and when I wandered amongst the sick and wounded, through hundreds of hospitals, they kept asking for” the Queen's little book," which each sufferer wanted to lay under his pillow as a precious possession.
These pages have never yet been published in English; in which language they were written, as I can write in no other.
Of course, I cannot expect that, in our more unemotional after-war days, they should awaken one quarter of the interest which they then aroused in the hearts of my stricken Roumanians; but, perhaps, even to-day, they may please some. There are no war-pictures amongst them—those I collected in another volume—but the anguish of that time rings through them, and that is what makes them poignant to the one who wrote them, and I hope to be forgiven for not purging them of that underlying note of tragedy felt through every line.
The original volume ends after the chapter about Jassy, but as it is being published so many years later, I felt that perhaps it would add to the book's interest if I wrote a few after-war pages, speaking of the joy of return, a joy mixed with much pain, as can well be imagined; but, all the same, it is a story that ends well, and there is something in that...
The illustrations were made by my daughter, the Queen of Greece, then quite a girl; they may be faulty, but they have the right atmosphere, the right feeling, for she too loves her country well!