ON DECEMBER 27, 1913, my mother-in-law died, and we all went to Sigmaringen for the funeral. Although his mother had had two slight strokes and had to a certain degree lost her power of speech and thought, this was a great grief to my husband, as it was the final breaking up of the old home.
Many royalties flocked together to render the last honors to the woman who had once been a great beauty, and amongst these were the Kaiser and the King of Saxony, the latter being a nephew of Fürstin Antoinette and closely attached to the Hohenzollern family.
The King of Saxony was known for his plainness of speech. He had a heart of gold and was well loved by his people, but it was not his way to beflower his language; besides, he spoke broad Saxon, not the most melodious of German dialects.
I have an amused remembrance of him at the large family lunch after the funeral; a meal at which those not overwhelmed by grief occasionally have a tendency to expand rather too much under the comforting influence of food and drink.
The Kaiser and the king sat facing each other on the broad side of the table, and conversation flowed freely and a little more loudly than was strictly in keeping with funeral conventions. But the King of Saxony had one of those voices that know little about minor keys.
Spreading out his napkin with a sigh of content, he leaned over toward my brother-in-law, William, who was, so to say, chief mourner, and exclaimed in a cheerful tone: "Well, William, my boy, it's a good tiling your church ceremony did not last any longer, or your mother would not have been the only corpse!" This was an allusion to the freezing temperature of the family crypt.
A Fine Lot of Republicans
WILLIAM, taken aback, stuttered some sort of reply, and looking at my husband, I saw how he was hovering between amusement and righteous indignation. But, nothing abashed, the jovial gentleman now turned toward his imperial colleague and began asking him questions in a bantering tone, his voice ringing through the hushed chamber.
The Kaiser was going from Sigmaringen to Austria to shoot with the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and the King of Saxony was interested in every detail and finally inquired what the Kaiser intended to wear in the evening during his visit, plain clothes or uniform. The Kaiser demurred for a moment and then voted for uniform. "Right you are!" exclaimed the cheerful guest. "Right you are, because you look hideous in plain clothes."
Such was this outspoken king, of whom it is said that once, after the revolution, when traveling through what had formerly been his land, he was asked by his ex-subjects to show himself at the window of his carriage.
Acceding to the demands of the people, he looked down with a grin upon the cheering crowd beneath him and called out: "Well, I must say you are a fine set of republicans!"
After the World War, Prince William of Hohenzollern's twin sons married two of the King of Saxony's daughters, their second cousins.
I now realized that Carol needed a complete change of atmosphere, and I inspired uncle with the idea that our son ought to be sent to Potsdam, to the same regiment where his father and uncle had served, for I had the feeling that Carol must be taught the real meaning of discipline and order in a place where he was of no paramount importance.
It is strange that I, the Englishwoman, was the one who proposed this to the two Hohenzollerns. Uncle, so stern in general, was incomprehensibly lenient in all that concerned our children. Here his severity and even his usual sagacity seemed to give out; besides, he and my husband were so disconcertingly slow even when there was really no time to lose. Carol had reached a stage when he needed to be taken firmly in hand.
My proposal, which had at first taken the king and the prince by surprise, was finally considered logical and practical, and in January, 1914, Carol was actually sent to Potsdam to serve for a time in the well-known Erste Garderegiment.
General Perticari, a very intelligent man, a former aide-de-camp to King Carol, was attached to our son, and with them, to keep house for both, went Hélène, the general's wife, who had been my friend from almost the first day of my arrival in Rumania. Carol seemed to take kindly to his new surroundings, and in the spring of 1914 his father and I went to pay him a visit on our way to Russia.
The Strain on the Triple Alliance
IT IS necessary for future events that I should here mention that, in the last years of his reign, King Carol's politics, which had been exclusively on the side of the Triple Alliance, underwent certain changes.
I unwillingly bring in politics, but we were advancing toward tremendous upheavals, so it is not possible that I should not try to explain in my own modest way how Rumania gradually turned from the Triple Alliance to the Entente. Later on I had something to do with this, but it is only fair to myself and others that I should reach back a little to relate how it all began.
Rumania was de facto, though it was not officially admitted, the fourth in the Triple Alliance. I cannot remember when the first understanding was come to or the first pact signed, but I know that it was renewed.
Uncle's deepest convictions made him absolutely loyal to this treaty, which he considered beneficial to his country, although it was never publicly acknowledged or really officially known. Whenever uncle changed his government, he would confide this treaty, under the promise of secrecy, to his prime minister of the moment.
There are, however, few who know how or even care faithfully to keep a secret, and though not officially confirmed, most of the political world knew, or, anyhow, guessed, that Rumania was a fourth in the Triple Alliance.
Unfortunately for the Triple Alliance, Austria-Hungary had two faces, the German and the Magyar; the latter was hated by the Rumanians. In spite of repeated warnings sent by King Carol to Vienna, the persecution of our people under Hungarian sway never lessened, and this filled Rumanian hearts with bitterness. Besides, Hungary invented every possible economic and administrative chicane against our country and was insufferable in the Danube question, so important to us, but too lengthy to relate here.
The long and the short of it was that, little by little, uncle found himself facing an ever-increasing feeling against Hungary which made the old resentment against Russia gradually pale before this new cause for complaint.
The Propaganda Duel
KING CAROL'S appeal to Germany, as chief ally, to bring pressure to bear upon Hungary had little or no success. The Hungarians disliked the Germans almost as much as the Rumanians, and behaved just as ruthlessly with the Germans—Saxons—living in their territories.
France and Russia, continually on the watch, were, naturally, well aware of all this and began a clever propaganda on their side so as to weaken Rumania's loyalty toward the Central Powers. France, always loved by Rumania, was well to the fore, Russia being careful not to show her face too soon.
In spite of all this, King Carol did not budge an inch from his loyalty, though he watched with anxiety the consequences of the German blunderings. Having gained almost entirely the Rumanian market and being also financially closely bound up with Rumania, perhaps Germany felt oversure of her ally.
Entirely conscious of how the Franco-Russian propaganda was gaining ground in his country, he made every possible effort to open Berlin's eyes, but although this warning came straight from the head of the state himself, Berlin paid little attention, whilst the opposite propaganda was progressively undermining German prestige in Rumania.
Deeply offended that his voice found so little echo in Berlin, where he had been accustomed to be listened to, and feeling that he was being slighted by the allies to whom he had been so faithful, King Carol began to let things go and set up no more active opposition to the Franco-Russian propaganda, which continually gained ground.
My part in this new orientation of politics is supposed to have been predominant even then, but this does not correspond with the truth. I was in those days still an absolutely negligible quantity and would never have dreamed of having a political opinion of my own.
Others may have had their eyes upon me as a factor for the future, but if they did, I was completely unconscious of their machinations.
My sympathy for Russia was purely sentimental, I being much attached to my Russian relations, and I was often pained when I realized how much my husband and his uncle disliked and mistrusted this, my mother's country.
It is true that I had never felt German, but English, though much of what was German was sympathetic to me, and that I was always eager to promote any understanding between England and Rumania; but England never showed any particular interest in my adopted country, which I often regretted.
When the idea of a marriage between our son, Carol, and Olga, the eldest daughter of the Czar, was proposed, I was more against than for it, because I feared that uncanny illness—hæmophilia—which the women of certain families are supposed to give to their sons. I knew that poor Alix had given this illness to her heir, and I dared not face such a risk for our family. Gladly would I have welcomed one of Nicky's daughters, had it not been for this, as, besides the ties of affection, it was a most flattering proposal, especially as it had been brought forward by the Russian side. But when we were asked to pay a visit to Tsarskoe Selo and to bring our son with us, uncle, as well as my husband and myself, considered it ungracious to refuse; besides, I was always keen to go to Russia.
Our first étape was Potsdam, to visit Carol in his temporary home. Carol seemed contented at Potsdam and had taken kindly to the military atmosphere; besides, he had the pleasure of having as a friend his cousin Friedel, elder of the Hohenzollern twins, who was serving in the same regiment.
Friedel was a wee earnest little fellow made adamant by marvelous royal principles as to duty and obligations which nothing could sap. He and I, since his early childhood, were firm and special friends, and he greeted me with enthusiasm, delighted to see me at Potsdam, and, knowing my love for horses, showed me with pride a fine gray he had just bought, which, immediately on the day of my arrival, I had to visit in its stable.
Before we continued on our way to Russia, Kaiser Wilhelm asked us to spend a few days with him at Berlin.
Of course, my mighty cousin had heard of the Russian marriage project. Although he mostly professed a certain contempt for Rumania, I am not sure that he was pleased to see the trend of her politics and sympathies toward his enemies, although at that time I do not think he knew how much disliked he was. He had no ill feelings; he was only too sure of himself, of his might, of his Deutscher Gott.
Kaiser Wilhelm at Home
THE empress was absent, and this made the atmosphere less stiff and official, and William was a more cheerful host than Augusta Victoria; besides, he happened to be in excellent humor and took the trouble to be hospitable and amiable. He even went as far as to talk to me as though I really existed, which he had never before done. Whether this was for political reasons, I do not know, but I prefer to imagine that it was because he was enjoying my company as undeniably I was enjoying his. I certainly found him most interesting and entertaining.
He had the unusual quality of being able to describe things and people correctly and in detail. When I asked him about Emperor Nicky's daughters, whom he knew quite well, I discovered he could put others before you as they were, make a real picture of them.
Most people have a conventional, stereotyped way of describing others, but I immediately saw that William really knew these girls he had often met whilst cruising in the Baltic Sea, and that he had studied their different characters and knew the peculiarities of each.
Conversation at meals was gay and animated and my husband looked pleased.
Being overmodest and shy, Nando could seldom create an atmosphere, but he felt hurt when William treated him with indifference.
Whilst we were there, the Kaiser was to open an enormous new library which had just been completed according to his plans and desires. He asked us to take part in the official ceremony, and as the empress was not there, it fell to my share to walk arm in arm with him in the solemn procession through this magnificent building.
I am grateful that this occasion was offered me to see, I may even say to feel, Kaiser Wilhelm in all his Prussian glory, during a ceremony when he expanded in an atmosphere profoundly congenial to him and characteristic of truly German achievement. I felt that this was really Emperor William's Germany, something which had been molded according to his taste and the ideal he was reaching out for. This colossal building stood for success: Huge, solid, somewhat flashy, somewhat too splendid, too new, but an attainment, mighty, audacious, with a touch of aggressiveness about it—almost a challenge, in fact.
As I solemnly walked down the great hall beside my cousin, I felt rather as though I was on the stage—the grand entry in Tannhäuser, or Aïda. The Kaiser was in his white cuirassier uniform, a martial figure with his upturned mustache, head held high, his sword and spurs clinking as he strode.
The din was tremendous, but William was enjoying himself, and because his enjoyment was contagious, I, too, was enjoying myself as a child reveling in a splendid show.
Looking at him, suddenly, in some inexplicable way, I found myself in sympathy with him. Something rose from my deepest depths—a queer feeling of understanding for all men, good or bad, big or small, imposing or absurd, real or only pretending to be real. I felt a kindly comprehension for this self-satisfied monarch who had achieved an ideal.
He was splendid in his own showy way, but, to me at least, also somewhat pathetic, as all human creatures are pathetic in their eternal pursuit of an ideal which generally retreats as they advance.
But at that hour William had achieved; he personified that which he desired, and I felt toward him somewhat as I had felt in former days toward my small son when he considered himself a conqueror because he was brandishing a toy sword.
The contrast between Berlin and Tsarskoe Selo was great.
Here we had reached another world; the world Nicolas II and Alexandra, his ill-fated empress, had created for themselves as the years advanced. Not in sympathy with the outward world, they had almost entirely shut themselves off from society and even from their own kith and kin.
The outward pomp and show of power were still there, glittering palaces, guard regiments, wild-looking Cossacks on constant patrol. But all this ended at the front door, and stepping over the threshold, you entered suddenly into a quiet family life, uniform, exclusive and rather dull—father, mother, son and daughters, sufficient unto themselves.
Strongly attached since childhood's days to my mother's people, I arrived at Tsarskoe full of eager anticipation, though neither my husband nor my son joined in my elation.
Nicky was, as I had always remembered him—welcoming, sympathetic, full of quiet charm. There was something mild, gentle, somewhat hushed about him, and his eyes had a kind, almost a loving look. His voice was low, caressing, a little muffled, and he always seemed glad to see you. From Nicky one never felt estranged, but neither did one get any nearer. He seemed to live in a sort of imperial mist.
With Alix it was different. There had always been something strained about her. I thought that, perhaps, this attitude was reserved for me personally, but I soon discovered that I was no exception; she behaved almost identically to most of her relations. She had no warm feeling for any of us, and this was, of course, strongly felt in her attitude, which was never welcoming. Some of this was no doubt owing to shyness, but the way she closed her narrow lips after the first rather forced greeting gave you the feeling that this was all she was ready to concede and that she was finished with you then and there. Because of this, it was very difficult either to start or keep up a conversation.
She managed to put an insuperable distance between her world and yours, her experiences and yours, her thoughts, her opinions, her principles, rights and privileges. She made you, in fact, feel like an intruding outsider, which is, of all sensations, the most chilling and uncomfortable.
The pinched, unwilling, patronizing smile with which she received all you said, as if it were not worth while answering, was one of the most disheartening impressions I ever received. When she talked, it was almost in a whisper, and hardly moving her lips, as though it were too much trouble to pronounce a word aloud. Although there was little difference in age between us, she had a way of making me feel not even grown up.
The Strange Household of the Czar
Nothing was more depressing than sitting at her table. She never tasted any of the food put before others, and had separate dishes served for herself, cooked with monastic simplicity.
Nicky and his children, on the contrary, had healthy appetites, and he liked to see me enjoy all the dishes I had delighted in as a child, including the uniquely excellent court sweets.
The imperial couple lived so entirely for themselves, shut away from the outside world, that, although my mother and sister were both at St. Petersburg, neither of our hosts ever thought of inviting them whilst we were there. In former days the imperial family had come together on all occasions, and I found it difficult to get accustomed to this new order of things.
Much had changed in Russia and a feeling of dissatisfaction lay over all things. Tsarskoe Selo seemed to sleep, but beneath that sleep lay something uncanny which we sensed without being able to explain it.
But Ducky, when she came to me, told me many things, and then mama and also all the other members of the family, and little by little I understood that Tsarskoe Selo was looked upon as a sick man refusing every doctor and every help. And it was always Alix's name which was mentioned as the chief stumblingblock.
And, of course, also the name of Rasputin was on every lip.
I liked the girls; they were natural, gay, pleasant and quite confidential with me when their mother was not present; when she was there, they always seemed to be watching her every expression, so as to be sure to act according to her desires.
I studied each of them in turn. Olga was not pretty; her face was too broad, her cheek bones too high, but I liked her open, somewhat brusque way. Tatiana was taller and more handsome, but also more reserved. It is said that she was most like her mother in character and that there was a special understanding between them.
Marie was shorter and plumper; she had very fine eyes and a pleasant expression, but a too-broad mouth somewhat marred an otherwise pleasing face. I was not much attracted to Anastasia; she had no particular sort of face, and I do not know why, but I would have said that she was rather shy and watchful. But this may have been only an impression. I was never with them long enough really to know them intimately.
Neither Carol nor Olga showed any sort of desire toward becoming more closely acquainted, and I felt rather shy about this part of our mission, as I understood that by the general public, who longed to see one of their grand duchesses marry a future heir to a throne, something was expected of us. But in this closed-palace atmosphere where nothing was discussed and from which the outer world seemed so carefully excluded, it was a problem how to bring about a conversation leading up to personal topics.
However, I felt it was necessary to have a talk with Alix. Having discussed the marriage plan with my husband, we decided that it might appear rude if we left without having made the advances politically desired, as it is generally considered proper for the young man to do the proposing.
One day, therefore, after lunch, I asked if I could see Alix alone, so she took me into her boudoir, and there I very frankly told her that I was at a loss to know what to do. In all fairness toward Alix, I must say that on this occasion she did not make conversation difficult and talked very quietly, like a reasonable mother.
We agreed with each other that neither of us could make any promises in the name of our children, that they must decide for themselves. The only thing we could do would be to create occasions when they could meet, which would certainly not be easy, as our lives were lived so far apart. Alix was as pleasant as was possible for her, but I quite realized that these occasions for meeting would never come about, as it did not in the least look as though our son and their daughter were attracted to each other, nor were we either of us the sort of parents who would press marriage upon our children if they felt any distaste.
The Paths of Glory—
Smilingly we agreed that we felt entirely incapable of influencing Fate—that, in fact, we had no idea how such things were done. At that hour we were simply two mothers, mutually relieved that we had had it out. I felt that I had done my duty; the rest was in the hands of Fate.
Being still in deep mourning for my husband's mother, we were unable to take part in any social festivities, though the whole of Petersburg opened wide its arms to us; but there was a parade in honor of the Crown Prince of Rumania on the vast square before the Winter Palace, and once, seated behind Nicky in his box near the stage, so that I could see without being seen, I witnessed one of the celebrated Russian ballets at the court theater.
The Czar appeared now very rarely in his capital, and the Empress, almost a confirmed invalid, hardly ever went with him; he was, therefore, generally accompanied by his two eldest daughters.
The public was still very loyal, and I was deeply impressed when the whole house rose like one man at the entrance of their sovereign, and the entire public, high and low, struck up in chorus the national anthem, of all anthems the most solemn and thrilling. Sung thus by several hundred voices, it sent a tremor right through you and made your heart beat.
During the entr' actes many members of the imperial family flocked together to greet the Emperor and his guests. I was delighted to see my different relations again, and also to make the acquaintance of several young cousins who had grown up since I had last been in Russia. There seemed to be a whole flock of them.
Finally we took leave of Tsarskoe Selo. I was sad to say good-by to Nicky; a quite unique and not easily definable charm emanated from this quiet, almost inconspicuous little man who was the last Czar of all the Russias. I can never think of him without emotion; he deserved a better fate.
The Shot at Sarajevo
To part from Alix was not difficult; she made leave-taking quite easy. Her life was like a closed chamber, peopled with strange imaginations and still stranger individuals, into which no outsider had entry. No fiery sword at the gates of the Garden of Eden could have been more forbidding than her tight-lipped smile which brought two unwilling dimples to her cheeks—dimples completely out of place in so austere a face. No, it was no grief to leave Alix.
The murder of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo on June twenty-eighth came to us, as it did to the rest of the world, as a thunderbolt.
The tension of the month which followed was great. We were all at Sinaia, and I had, as usual, been peacefully planning our yearly visit to mama at Tegernsee. Carol was still at Potsdam. Now, of course, all plans had to be laid aside.
A common feeling of anxiety gave us a desire to huddle close together, like animals when they sense that a storm is rising.
Uncle especially seemed to need our company, so we met several times a day, not counting the meals which were taken together.
It was lovely weather and uncle liked to stroll about with us on his terraces or the paths near the castle. He had become very frail and could no longer indulge in the long walks through his beloved forest which used to be his chief pleasure. Now he stooped somewhat from the shoulders, and by the cautious way that he moved, it could easily be guessed that he was often in pain.
I vividly remember the anxious expression of his emaciated face, which had taken on the color of old wax, as, almost hour after hour, he followed up the development of events, and how careworn he looked when he realized that the hope of a peaceful solution of the Austro-Serbian conflict became less and less.
And then, suddenly, exactly a month from the day of the murder at Sarajevo, after many fluctuations, the die was cast and it was war. Austria declared war on Serbia on July twenty- eighth.
We looked at one another aghast, conscious of the terrible significance of the hour when the world's peace was torn to shreds. The fuse had been lighted. How far would the fire spread?
And the sad thing came to pass that uncle and I, who had taken so many years to become friends, found ourselves now, from the very first, instinctively and irretrievably in different camps.
War mentality has something very peculiar about it; the spirit of nationality awakes irresistibly in each man or woman. It is almost impossible to remain even moderately neutral. Only those who are highly philosophical or those whose interest it is to play a double game can remain calm or abstract, but most human beings immediately identify themselves solidly with one side or the other. Patriotism becomes rampant.
Aunty, who for years had almost forgotten her nationality, and who at times had done nothing but boom all that was English or French almost to the detriment of things German, suddenly found herself die Rheintochter—the daughter of the Rhine—with a vengeance: it was all the time Deutschland über Alles, Gott mit uns, and all the rest of it.
I was told that I must look upon the downfall of England as a certainty; that it was Germany's day, the beginning of the Teuton era; they must become lords of the world for the good of humanity. She even said a thing very difficult for me to swallow: She declared that England had to fall because her women had become immoral!
Where she had got hold of this notion, I cannot say, but I had to hear it again and again, as aunty was very persistent when she once got an idea into her head. I avoided arguments, though it was very hard not to answer back, and I was determined not to quarrel if I could possibly help it.
Between uncle and myself the case was sadder. Our friendship and mutual appreciation of each other, slowly cemented through long, difficult years of conflict, had become dear to us and it was for both a deep, though never openly pronounced, regret that now, at this late hour—we did not know it was the last—our sympathies separated us once more.
Not violently or with unfriendly words, we were both careful not to hurt each other's feelings, but when he talked and propounded his opinions, he felt that I was no more with him. And yet he still had a desire to talk; he had got into the habit of telling me things, and still had an urge to do so, to teach me, to advise, to instruct. We still came often together and I listened, but I was mute.
A House Divided
There was also something else; and that special, almost morbid, faculty I have of feeling for others and understanding their side of the questions as well as my own, even when interests clash, made me understand how bitter it must have been for the old king to realize that, whilst he was gradually falling out of sympathy with his people, I was becoming their hope—I, the unruly little princess he had educated with such pains, was today the country's hope!
Today nearly the whole of Rumania was straining toward the Entente, away from the Triple Alliance, but uncle still believed that the good of his country was in the old allegiance.
My husband, always the old king's most loyal follower, his most patient and obedient heir, was a closed book to his people. No one knew what he felt, he never raised his voice, never expressed himself; but the very blood that ran in my veins was a guaranty that I felt as Rumania felt.
I look upon this as a supreme favor of Fate. Even to this day I feel like falling on my knees and thanking God for that stupendous stroke of luck. At the great hour, my country and I were one.
This might so easily have been otherwise, and passionate as I am, how should I have stood a conflict which would have torn me in two—a conflict which King Ferdinand had later to face? This remains an unanswered question. Luckily, it never needed an answer!
All through life I have instinctively believed in my good star, and now, at this crucial hour, providence, in its mercy, decreed that Rumania and I should stand for the same thing.
Austria had declared war on Serbia on July twenty-eighth, and Germany and France opened hostilities on the first and second of August, although there was no actual declaration of war. On the third of August, Italy declared her neutrality, and it now became urgent for Rumania to take a stand herself, as her allies were impatient and disagreeably pressing; telegrams were flying backward and forward between Berlin, Vienna and Bukharest, so, on August fourth, King Carol called together a crown council at Sinaia with all the responsible representatives of both parties, the Liberals—in power—and the Conservatives, so as to consult with them as to what attitude our country should take. The crown prince was, of course, present.
Rumania Casts the Die
This was a tragic and memorable sitting. Uncle, true to his allegiance, in spite of the slights he had suffered at the hands of his allies, was ready to see Rumania enter on the side of Austria and Germany, although he had no absolute obligation; his treaty being only a defensive treaty. But uncle was convinced that Rumania's chance was on the side of the Central Powers and stuck to this, although Italy had already backed out on the pretext that she had not been consulted and was therefore liberated from her obligations, and Rumania's case was the same.
To make his attitude clear, it must be understood that uncle had blind confidence in the German army's superiority over every other army. He never had much belief in the French and imagined that the Germans would continue to advance with lightning rapidity, sweeping all before them—that it would, in fact, be a repetition of 1870. He therefore had visions of Rumania sharing in an overwhelming German victory, and this explains why he desired Rumania to declare herself from the first for the Central Powers. My husband, I believe, was of the same opinion, but he told me nothing; Nando could be exceedingly silent, and, unlike most women, I never tried to find out those things men did not wish to share with their wives.
Poor old uncle, it seems, stood up with all his well-known authority, unshakably loyal to the politics he had always followed, full of a passionate desire for his country's welfare; now a frail, suffering old gentleman, but a soldier still, accustomed to be a leader, accustomed to have his word listened to. But today he could not move those who sat round the same table with him; he remained alone with his convictions; they listened, but were mostly hostile to his urging and out of sympathy with his desires. Only one—Peter Carp—of all his political men, the one with whom he had always been least in sympathy, was heart and soul with him about entering immediately into war on the side of the Germans. Bratianu and his party opposed this, and most virulent in their protest were Take Ionescu and his followers.
Poor old aunty passed through terrible anxiety whilst her ailing husband sat through that harrowing council. Though she hated war, she saw eye to eye with him as to his belief in Germany's omnipotence.
I found her pacing the Peles corridors, up and down, over the soft red carpets, like a great animal in a cage. She swept me along with her and talked and talked incessantly. I was silent, but my heart was beating as much as hers in excruciating anxiety. Although I knew the country's pulse, the issue was still uncertain, and it was incredibly painful to be pacing thus arm in arm with aunty, each of us with a separate fear or hope in our hearts.
When the result of the conference was known and uncle had come out of it a broken and saddened man, aunty, of course, became dramatic, and, as was her way, almost reveled in the grand tragedy of the situation: The old king denied by his people after a long life of hard work for his country.
Legend will have it that uncle died of a broken heart. I do not know if hearts actually break, but it was certainly tragic that he should be at odds with his people at the last, and I really believe that this grief hastened his end.
The following months were sad for us all, and heavy with unexpressed emotions throbbing beneath the outward calm of our Sinaia life.
The tremendous events taking place in Serbia, France, Belgium, Russia and Germany were followed up by everyone with excruciating anxiety, and the cruel strain of contrary currents could be felt in all things beneath the outward harmony of our official existence. Each man was hugging to himself his own hopes and fears, accepting as truth all news most in keeping with his sympathies.
What was triumph to the one was grief to the other, but we managed to discuss things with outward calm, so as not to hurt one another's feelings too much.
Uneasy Lies the Head—
Only aunty, accustomed to perorate on all subjects, could not leave well-alone and tried our nerves by stirring up dogs best left sleeping. Her conversation at lunch was not always tactful. She kept loudly proclaiming that uncle ought to shake the dust of this ungrateful country from his feet and go and rest in peace, far from all conflict. Uncle visibly writhed under the things she said during meals, as all ears were more than ever keenly open. Underlying passions could only be kept dormant with superlative tact on all sides, and a mutual desire to be gentle and kind to one another, no matter if our sympathies were running along in divided channels.
But this notion that perhaps uncle meant to abdicate had taken root and sent a shudder through the country, which was afraid to lose its dynasty at the crucial hour. I was not initiated into what was actually being discussed between uncle and nephew, and I was one of those whose anxiety was most poignant. I have just proclaimed that I had no feminine curiosity and that I never tried to make my husband speak when he desired to be dumb, but this was not only a political question, it meant our very existence. What understanding had the king and the crown prince which I was not to know?
If uncle abdicated, would he persuade my husband to do the same? Would it mean that, after the long, difficult, sometimes even bitter, years of hard work and education, now that my life, interests and loyalty had really sent deep roots down into Rumanian soil, I was to be torn away just at the hour when our people might really need me? How could I today stand this awful fear without trying to make my husband confess if he had made any fatal promise?
But he was dumb, cruelly dumb. Nothing would induce him to give me a hint about what secret understanding he had with his uncle, of what they were preparing for us, over our heads, without consulting our feelings or allowing us to raise any protest.
No Christmas for Uncle
The battle of the Marne was a terrible blow to uncle; it shook his most precious beliefs. He stood aghast before this unexpected turn of events; as a German, he was overwhelmed, but as a soldier he was keenly interested in this great war game, so different from any he had known in his day. In spite of personal sympathies, he could detach himself enough to discuss events with quiet objectivity, and conversation at meals was therefore both animated and interesting, and not at all one-sided.
I remember how, one day at lunch, aunty was becoming lyrical over the horror of the world in general and how, in her uncomfortably poetic exuberance, she began proclaiming in loud language that we should all join hands and in a mighty circle sail up to heaven, away from the miseries of this darkened sphere.
Uncle grunted his royal disapproval. "Nonsense, I have no desire to leave this earth. At present I am far too interested as to the outcome of the war. I want to see the end." And turning to me, he added: "With this new development things have taken, I am afraid we cannot hope for peace before Christmas."
Before Christmas—and there were to be four Christmases before we saw peace—but there was to be no Christmas for uncle any more.
Nor was uncle destined to see how the war ended, however interested he might be! Uncle died quite suddenly in the night of ninth to the tenth of October in his bed.
It happened that my husband and I were absent from Sinaia just that very night, a rare occurrence, as we seldom went to town at that season. But it had been considered good policy that the prince and I should show ourselves in Bukharest, so that with our appearance in the capital the rumors that we were all going away should be denied.
It had been found advisable that we should put in an appearance at the autumn races, where the public with its thousand eyes could see that we were both there in flesh and blood.
Nando was to spend the night at Cotroceni, but I had promised to go and sup with Marthe Bibescu at Mogoşoaia and sleep in her house, returning only next morning with my husband to Sinaia.
Early on the morning of the tenth Prince Stirbey called me to the telephone to tell me that I was queen.
I have often been asked since, what were my emotions when this event took place, and each time I answered with perfect truthfulness that it was one of the most tremendous and overwhelming emotions of my life.
I had always faced the fact that, sooner or later, inevitably this must come about; mentally I had been preparing myself for it, but when it actually came, it was a colossal shock.
I was quite conscious of what an enormous responsibility it meant, especially because of the times we were living in and of the extreme seriousness of the general situation in Europe and our country in particular. We were facing a new political era, and every move, every decision, would be of paramount importance.
It was a solemn moment, but I felt no fear, although it was as though all of a sudden a new door had opened upon life. We were standing on the threshold. What should we find on the other side?
I was the same woman as yesterday, but tomorrow was separated from yesterday as with the stroke of a sword; there would never be any going back, no shelter could be found, we were out in the glaring light. Something had died, but in that dying something else had come to life—a colossal responsibility, but also colossal possibilities, if we were equal to our task, if we were strong enough to grasp the day which was coming. And on a golden bowl I gave my husband at that time I had these words inscribed: "Tomorrow may be thine if thy hand be strong enough to grasp it."
A Tribute to a King
Yes, it was thus I felt at that hour, and. when I knelt beside the old king's bed and gazed for the last time upon his face, scarcely paler than it had been during the last few weeks of his life, so unchanged and yet so calm, so nobly aloof in his new-found, well-earned rest, I felt as though with mute lips I must take my vows before his great silence:
"Have no fear, uncle, we shall bravely carry on. Your hand was heavy, often you tortured my youth, but according to your lights, you were fair and just. I shall not forget the lessons you taught me, although I was so slow about learning and growing up; and here, kneeling beside you, though today you are dumb and have no more orders to give me, I feel that you still have a message for me, your once so troublesome niece. Yes, uncle, I shall try to be as you were, faithful unto death, loving your country as you did for so many long years. If God wills, bravely and fearlessly we shall carry on your work. Amen."
Aunty, seated in a chair at her husband's side, all draped in black and surrounded by many weeping ladies, was more full of words than ever. Over and over again she related how he had died quite suddenly in her arms, and she, groping in the dark, not able to find the switch to put on the light. A wonderful death for him, but for her a fearful shock.
My children were grouped around her and Nando held her hand, but uncle was silent; his day was done.
All the details belonging to this time, although deeply engraved on my memory, are too trivial to relate at length. I prefer quoting a passage out of my book, From My Heart to Theirs, written at the time, but never published; it sums up everything in a single picture, and better than any other words recaptures the spirit of the day. This is what I wrote:
In turning over the last of these pages, I inclose within them the days of my youth.
Days of struggle, days of illusion, days of disappointment, days of reparation, days of doubting, days of recommencement, days of love, days of revolt—days of my youth.
Days of storm or of sunshine, days of accomplishment which sometimes came too late. Days rich with possibilities, days made heavy by fear and doubt, days full of sunshine, flowers and hope; days pulsing with joy or pain; days full to the brim, warm, marvelous, teeming with life and energy—days of my youth.
Days when I trembled and days when I laughed, days when all things seemed possible, days when every step was an effort, but also days when my feet flew as though winged over the earth. Days of my youth.
And here is a picture which has remained forever engraved upon my heart:
That morning I had become queen—queen of a people who had learned to understand me little by little; queen at a moment when the whole of Europe was on fire and flames were licking our every frontier. I was queen; a new and fearful page was opening before me, solemn with unknown possibilities, heavy with unknown fears.
We were standing in Parliament, the new king was taking his oath before his people. The old master had passed away and the new one, with all his hopes and theirs, stood before them on the brink of a new life; he was neither loved nor unloved; he was a closed book.
No one knew his thoughts, but he might be as the dawn of something greater, might become the fulfiller of a long-dreamed-of dream.
I stood somewhat apart, with my children around me, a long black mourning veil covering my face. My heartbeats were as the feet of Fate.
I hardly heard the king's voice, nor his words, but I heard how they acclaimed him, their king of tomorrow—a long thunder of applause rolled round the walls.
Then suddenly my name ran through space:
And there was something in the way they called out my name that had within it a sound of hope.
I suddenly felt that I must bare my face before the whole house, that I must turn toward them with no veil of mourning between them and myself.
A great clamor mounted to the vault above, something long-drawn-out and tremendous that came irresistibly from many hearts!
And we faced each other then, my people and I.
And that was my hour—mine—an hour it is not given to many to live; for at that moment it was not only an idea, not only a tradition or a symbol they were acclaiming, but a woman—a woman they loved.
And at that hour I knew that I had won, that the stranger, the girl who had come from over the seas, was a stranger no more; I was theirs with every drop of my blood!
Disappointment, sorrow, misfortune might follow, for are we not all in the hands of God? But that hour when we stood looking into each other's eyes, all their many faces turned toward my face, was my hour, and it is, therefore, upon this vision that I want to close—the vision of my people turning toward me as though I were their supremest hope.
Editor's Note—This is the last of a series of articles by Queen Marie of Rumania.