Diaries and Letters - Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse by Meriel Buchannan
That fear of a solitary death weighed, it seemed, on the child's mind, for, after his only brother had been killed by falling from a window, he came one day to his mother, and buried his face in her lap. Smoothing the tumbled curls from his hot forehead, she asked what was the matter. He looked up at her, his little face puckered with anxiety, "When I die," he whispered, "you must die too, and all the others. Why can't we all die together?" Then, with a wail of distress, "I don't want to die alone, like Fritty."
Sensitive, imaginative, and affectionate, it was he who :&etted and pined when his parents went away, he who of all the children missed them the most. He it was who seemed always able to read his mother's thoughts without asking a question, who knew if she was unhappy or anxious, and without being told guessed, when, as was so often the case, she felt tired and ill. "I fancy," Princess Alice told Queen Victoria, "that seldom a mother and child have understood each other, and loved each other as we two do."
As quite a small baby he had been passionately fond of music, of flowers, of colours and the sound of words. He had been. able to sing in tune before he had reached the age of three. Whenever his mother played the piano he would get up and dance, making up the steps, and always keeping perfect time. Very early he showed signs of that artistic temperament which was so marked in his later years, and had been, maybe, inherited from his ancestress, Caroline Henriette of Zweibrucken Birkenfeld. She had married the Landgraf Louis of Hesse in 1741, and had ruled over the Principality while he was away at the wars, cultivating the society of artists, writers and musicians, Herder, Goethe and Grimm being amongst her closest friends.
Up to 1872 his childhood had been undimmed by sorrow, and he had been a happy little boy, spending the winters in the white palace at Darmstadt, and the summers at Kranichstein, learning to ride the Shetland pony that had been the gift oflus grandmother, Queen Victoria. Spoilt and petted by his three elder sisters, he was taken sometimes to stay at Osborne or Balmoral, or to the castle of Heiligenberg, where his greatuncle lived. He was not, perhaps, always at ease with the four Battenberg boys, being unable to join in the rough games they played with the two young Russian Grand Dukes, Serge and Paul -games which his eldest sister Victoria seemed to enjoy, but which he avoided, preferring to stay on the terrace, with his mother, and the Empress of Russia, or to wander round the gardens admiring the flowers.
The fearful shock of his younger brother's death in 1872 affected him profoundly, and nearly every night he would wake from an uneasy sleep, screaming that Fritty was fallmg out of thc window. He was, indeed, unable to get over the loss of the little boy who had been his constant companion, or to forget the horror of the moment, when he had seen him falling to his death.
It is believed that when, in 1878, he was himself seriously ill with diphtheria, and heard that his little sister Marie had died, he was so heartbroken and distressed that Princess Alice, disregarding the warnings given her by the doctor, took him in her arms to kiss him, and comfort him, in this way catching the disease herself. Whether he ever realized that he was partly responsible for his mother's fatal illness, is not known, but it is certain that he felt her loss more acutely than did his sisters, and even many years later there was always under his gaiety and high spirits a profOlmd melancholy which often kept him sleepless at night, and showed itself in the poems he wrote. "I have a soul that sings", runs the translation of one of these poems, "and like a bird in a cage, It voices its sorrow and grief, It twitters and laughs, It cries and laments, in unending joy, and unending pain."
After spending several years in the University at Leipzig, he passed his military examination in 1886 and joined the First Guards Regiment at Potsdam, returning to Darmstadt, however, when his father died in 1892, to take up his position as the reigning Grand Duke of Hesse. His good looks and charm had made him popular in Berlin, he was an excellent dancer, he was entertaining and amusing. "Of all the German Princes," Max Wauer says, "he was the one who gave the impression of a man of the world." The officers of his regiment missed him when he left, and in Berlin there were no doubt many aching hearts, but in Darmstadt he was welcomed with enthusiasm, and young girls on their way to school often went a long way round in order to pass by the Palace, in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the gay and good-looking Prince who was their ruler.
His three elder sisters had all married, and for the fIrst two years after his father's death his youngest sister, Princess Alix, who had not yet attained her twentieth year, acted as hostess for him, undertaking all the duties of a reigning Grand Duchess, carrying them out with conscientious devotion, in spite of the agonizing shyness from which she suffered.
In 1892 my father had been appointed to Coburg, an assignment which did not meet with Queen Victoria's approval, as she did not consider it suitable for "Mr. Buchanan who had a young and pretty wife" to be accredited to the Court of her brothcr-in-law, Duke Ernst of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, whose morals, where women were concerned, left much to be desired. Consequently, when the Charge d'Affaires at Dannstadt died unexpectedly, she signified her wish that my father should take up the vacant post, and appointed a bachelor to Coburg.
I was about six years old at the time, and a portrait painted by a German artist, soon after we came to Darmstadt, shows me sitting in a high-backed chair, dressed in a white muslin frock with a bluesash, and, a blue ribbon tied round my straight, fair hair. A smug, sedate, and, I am afraid, rather a priggish little girl, and certainly one of my earliest recollections bears out this fact.
It was not very long after we had arrived in Darmstadt and my nurse had taken me for a walk in the Emil Garden, which adjoined the small palace belonging to Prince Joseph of Battenberg. Having wandered for some time through the grounds, we went to sit on a bench near the little artificial lake, when a very lovely lady, dressed in deep black, accompanied by another smaller lady, also in black, passed by, and stopped to smile down at me with the bluest eyes I had ever seen. "Is this the little Buchanan girl:" she asked my nurse, and I wondered why the latter blushed as she got up to reply
"Your name is Meriel, isn't it I" the lady asked, and although she was still smiling I thought, child as I was, that her eyes were sad. "My brother and I are giving a tea-party on the terrace, would you like to come and join us?"
And, remaining stolidly seated, I looked up at her with rather reproving eyes. "My mother does not allow me to go to tea with strange people," I replied in a prim little voice~\.
The blush on my poor nurse's cheeks got deeper and she pulled me quickly to my feet. "Of course you will go to tea with Her Royal Highness," she said, and added in a sibilant whisper "You must mind your manners and curtsy. Don't you know this is Princess Alix of Hesse?"
My recollection of the actual tea-party is rather dim, and I don't think I enjoyed it very much, for when Princess Alix, telling my nurse to go back and fetch my mother, led me up to the terrace, I recall being overcome with embarrassment, because the slender young man she introduced as her brother kissed my hand with laughing gallantry. I was rather frightened, also, by his other sister, Princess Louis of Battenberg, and although I was immediately attracted to her eldest daughter, Princess Alice, I was too shy to respond to her friendly advances, and I ended by further disgracing myself by upsetting a cup of milk allover the table.
Although the Prussians were already assuming their arrogant effrontery, in those days Southern Germany still retained an atmosphere reminiscent of the fairy stories of Grimm and Hans Andersen. Old castles with turrets and battlements, rising above little clustering towns, Baroque palaces with orangeries and formal avenues of lime trees, where the inhabitants still lived surrounded by time-honoured traditions. Villages with steep red roofs, where storks built their nests, narrow cobbled streets, where chattering white geese paraded in single file, and where little girls, with stiff yellow pigtails, dropped shy curtsies to passing carriages. On Christmas Eve every mansion and every cottage had its pine tree, decorated with coloured candles. At carnival time everybody, young or old, rich or poor, went out in fancy dress, and mysterious figures in black or scarlet dominoes invaded the houses of their friends and acquaintances, or followed them in" the streets, whispering embarrassipg remarks in their ears. At Easter everybody gave parties where eggs, dyed all the colours of the rainbow, or made of chocolate or marzipan, were hidden in unexpected places, and bccame the property of anyone lucky cnough to find them. And always there was the sound of music. Torchlight proccssions of students singing, as they marchcd through the town; bands playing outside a house where somebody was celebrating a birthday; bands again accompanying a party on a day's picnic, or playing in some beer-garden or open-air restaurant.
In spite of being small the Court of Darmstadt had a glamour of its own, and although some of the chamberlains, the ladies-in-waiting and attendants were old, there was a gaiety and informality about it that was unusual in some of the small German Courts of those times, many of which were bound by frigid rules of etiquette, by icy unbending conventions, and an almost inhuman precision.
The Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig was only twenty-four when his father died, and he had no use for lugubrious faces, stiff manners and hushed voices. He wanted movement, colour and gaiety all about him, his rapid speech, his quick gestures, his bright blue eyes, which could on occasions be clouded with melancholy, all expressed his mercurial temperament, and some of those around him were often perplexed by his rapid changes of mood, found his restless activity somewhat exhausting, his love of practical jokes sometimes embarrassing.
Full of enthusiasms and new ideas, he was already beginning to make many changes in Darmstadt. He had done up some of the rooms in the New Palace according to his own taste, he had laid out the gardens; he would sometimes go unexpectedly into the flower shops in the town and give them directions about rearranging their windows and their floral decorations; he was taking a keen interest in the Court Theatre, would often attend rehearsals, design the costumes and scenery himself, would help generously to produce new shows and encourage new artists. He was, Princess Marie of Roumania once said, "an inventor of amusements", and certainly he was always thinking out some novel form of entertainment, some new diversion, some different way of bringing gaiety and change into the ordinary routine of life.
The most extensive renovations he began to make were probably those at the old hunting-palace of Wolfsgarten, which lay in the midst of woods, half-way between Darmstadt and Frankfurt. He turned the moat which formerly surrounded it into a flower garden, with pergolas of rambler roses and golden pumpkins. He modernized the main building, which faced the stables at the far end of the central quadrangle, with, on either side, small. one-storied houses all built of red sandstone. The principal building, with its high, pointed roof, approached by two flights of steep stone steps, contained the reception rooms, the private apartments of the Grand Duke, and the rooms reserved for royal guests; the little houses, on either side of the courtyard with its smooth lawns, its shady trees and stone fountain, were occupied by the ladies and gentlemen in waiting and visitors, the whole comprising a hundrcd and eighty rooms. The name Wolfsgarten (garden of wolves) had becn given to it because of the wolves which in the old days had inhabited the surrounding forests, and, with the wild boar, and deer, had provided abundant sport for the former Landgrafs of Hesse, two wolves still being kept in a cage at the edge of the woods, just outside the big wooden. gates which enclosed the buildings.
Here at Wolfsgarten, the Grand Duke spent all the summer months, with guests constantly coming and going. His sister, Princess Alix, did not always appreciate these guests, her inherent shyness making it almost a torture to be forced to receive strangers. Diffident and restrained, she often appeared cold, and almost hostile in her manner; she was unable to unbend and enter into the sometimes rather boisterous games and practical jokes her brother enjoyed. Already, then, she was irresistibly drawn to mystical matters, and would often steal away to her room to read books on occultism. There was a shadow of haunting sadness in her eyes, a sadness so apparent in the picture Kaulbach painted of her that many people who saw it declared that she was fated to bring misfortune.
Yet she was so gentle, so generous, so full of sympathy in those days, and I know that my parents never forgot the kindness she showed them, when, during our first wintcr in Darmstadt, I nearly died from pneumonia. One day, during that long illness, I can still recall drifting out of feverish unconsciousness to find her kneeling by my bed. "Look, Lady Georgie," I heard her say, "she has come to. She has opened her eyes. I am sure she is better, she smiled at me." That is the picture of her I shall always remember, and when I think of her now, I do not see her as the bitter, hard-faced woman I was to know, many years later as Empress of Russia, but as that young golden-haired girl kneeling by my bed, in her simple black, dress, her lovely eyes smiling at me with such inexpressible tenderness.
When the Grand Duke was invited by his grandmother, Queen Victoria, to Balmoral and met his cousin, Princess Victoria. of Edinburgh, the Queen, who had arranged the meeting in the hopes that these two grandchildren of hers would finally become engaged, was overjoyed when the plans she had made were successful. But Princess Alix could not tmderstand her brother's infatuation for the tall, dark young girl, with the rather sombre violet eyes; in her opinion the daughters of the Duke of Edinburgh were too sure of themselves and too forward in their manners and she deeply resented the fact that this cousin, who was four years her junior, would in future take precedence of her in Darmstadt. It was with a heavy heart that she attended their wedding at Coburg, and when, during the ceremonies there, the young Tsarcvitch of Russia again asked her to marry him, she accepted his proposal, the knowledge that she would now not have to share her home with her sister-in-law being perhaps yet another motive for her to overcome her reluctance in the change of religion.
It was a lovely spring day when, after their wedding at Coburg, which had been attended by Queen Victoria, and many other royalties, the Grand Duke and his bride made a state entry into Darmstadt. Bands were playing, church bells were ringing, the town was gaily bedecked with flags, the streets were full of happy, cheering crowds, and I was taken to see the procession from a window in a friend's house. In an open carriage, fIlled to overflowing with bunches of roses, or irises and lilac, the Grand Duchess, looking very slim and young, in a pale mauve dress and a flowered toque, raised her head, in answer to her husband's gesture, to smile at my parents, and I thought how lovely and romantic she was. I was indeed thrilled, by what seemed to me a traditional love story with the inevitable happy ending.
A few days later there was a gala performance of Hansel and Gretel at the Court Theatre, and as a very great treat I was allowed to go. By chance our box happened to adjoin one of the royal boxes, and to my intense excitement I found myself sitting next to the Tsarevitch, who had come on a short visit to Darmstadt. I was much more interested in him than in what was going on on the stage, for I had been told that he was gollig to, marry Princess Alix, and here was yet another thrilling romance to fire my imagination - the heir to that faraway throne in Russia, and a beautiful golden-haircd Princess! What fairy tale had ever been written to equal this in legendary splendour?
Slight and erect in his gold-braided hussar's jacket, decorations sparkling on his chest, the Tsarevitch turned once or twice to look at me, and every time no doubt found me staring at him with rapt attention. When the witches' kitchen blew up, with a quite unexpected noise, and I gave an involuntary exclamation, he turned again, his grave, gentle eyes alight with a smile of amused. kindliness.
Later that evening, when I had been taken home to bed, my parents went on to a reception at the Pal,ace. My father had been instructed to discuss some particular matter with the heir to the Russian throne, but when he found an opportunity to approach him, the Tsarevitch said that he had been very amused to find me sitting next to him, asked how old I was, and my name. "I am afraid," he added, "your little daughter had rather a shock when the witches' kitchen exploded. Please tell her from me that she had all my sympathy. I was very frightened too." And with a friendly handshake he turned away, leaving my father with his message undelivered. "I could", he commented rather bitterly in a letter to Lord Sanderson at the Foreign Office, "have wished my daughter at the ends of the earth."
It was not very long before the marriage which Queen Victoria had plaIllled for her two grandchildren began to show signs of discord. Ardent and impatient of constraint, with a temperament alternating between high spirits and a brooding melancholy, the Grand Duchess resented the many duties she was expected to carry out, and the conventions and restrictions of a small German Court. She forgot to answer letters; she postponed paying visits to boring old relations; at official receptions she often caused great offence by talking to somebody who amused her, and ignoring people whose high standing gave them importance.
Although she shared her husband's artistic tastes, and her paintings of flowers were almost professional in their perfection, she was imbued with a resdess activity, and never wanted to stay doing the same thing for long at a time. Like her sister, Princess Marie of Roumania, she was a superb horsewoman and whip, and completely without fear. The Grand Duke, on the other hand, had no great love of riding or of horses generally, and would often arouse her impatient contempt because he refused to accompany her when she had some other white horses from the Imperial stables in Vienna harnessed to her high dog-cart, sometimes in a tandem, at others in a four-in-hand, or all six together, driving them at a reckless speed along the dusty roads, trying to forget, it seemed, in the pace and the danger, her seething discontent. On other days she would ride out into the woods alone on Bogdan, the fiery black stallion which had come from the Russian steppes, returning hours later to find that an important engagement she had made - and completely forgotten - had had to be cancelled owing to her absence. When her husband reproached her, she would fly into a temper, and accuse him of being lazy because he had not gone with her.
The birth in 1895 of their daughter, Princess Elizabeth, for a time eased the situation between them. The people of Darmstadt were overjoyed, and Queen Victoria hoped that. her grandchildren would now settle down, and that there would soon be other babies, especially an heir to the Grand Duchy of Hesse.
In 1896 the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess attended the coronation of the Emperor Nicholas in Mosow, going on from there to stay with Prince and Princess Yussopoff at Archangelskoi. After the fantastic splendour, the gaiety and glamour of those days, the Grand Duchess returned, more restless, more unhappy, more dissatisfied than ever. For in Russia she had met again her cousin the Grand Duke Cyril, and the fondness they had always had for each other as children had turned into something deeper. Headstrong and passionate by nature, and married to a man she had never really loved, the Grand Duchess rebelled against the ties that bound her, the restrictions that surrounded her, she refused to take the necessary precautions when she once more became pregnant, and was heart-broken when the baby, which would have been a boy, was born prematurely.
It was impossible to keep anything secret for long in a little town like Darmstadt, where everybody knew everybody else's business, almost before they knew it themselves. The strained relations between the Grand Duke and his wife soon became a subject for comment and conjecture, not only in Court and military circles, but at the afternoon gatherings, where old ladies met to drink cups of coffee, topped with whipped cream, and discussed the latest rumours in sibilant whispers. The Grand Duchess was in love with this handsome cousin of hers. Oh, a remarkably good-looking man, someone had seen his photograph and had been quite overcome. The Grand Duchess had let that black horse of hers loose in the courtyard at Wolfsgarten, and the animal, which was really wild, had made straight for the Grand Duke, and torn a piece out ofhis trousers, whereupon, she had just laughed. One afternoon, it was said, her husband had come into her room, whistling a tune which was in his head, whcn she asked him to stop, and he had not done so, in a fit of ungovernable rage she had thrown down a whole tea-table laden with china. It was said that the Grand Duke was paying visits to a certain lady in town. It was said that the Grand Duchess had been furious because she had found him in bed, writing poetry, on a lovely summer's day. It was said that she had called him a coward because he had refused to go out with her in the dog-cart, when she was driving her six white horses.
Stories grew more colourful, more malicious, with every repetition. Criticisms were passed from mouth to mouth of the dances, the fancy-dress parties, the private theatricals in the Palace, the succession of visitors at Wolfsgarten, the thoughtless gaiety of the life that was led there, the picnics, the races at Frankfurt, the late hours that were kept, the games of cards which were played, the ceaseless entertainments.
In time these rumours reached the ears of Queen Victoria. Greatly disturbed, she sent for my father, asking him so many searching questions about the relations of her grandchildren that he became embarrassed and perplexed, and at last said diffidently that certain things had been told him in confidence, both by the Grand Duke and the Grand Duchess, and he was afraid that he could not betray the trust they had put in his discretion. The Queen, who was not accustomed to being opposed, was silent for a minute, and my father wondered anxiously whether he had hopelessly displeased her. At last she gave the little shrug of the shoulders, so characteristic of her. "I quite understand," she said gently; and then, with a sudden mist of tears in her eyes, "I arranged that marriage. I will never try and marry anyone again."
Certainly my father's position cannot have been an easy one, for although the Grand Duchess would sometimes laughingly call him, "My kind schoolmaster", there were other days when her quick temper would flare up, and she would tell him, in no uncertain terms, that he had no right to dictate to her, or to criticize her actions. Very often, also, I saw my mother's eyes reddened with tears on her return from the Palace, and when I asked what was the matter, she would reply a little uncertainly, "Never mind, darling. It is nothing really, but the Grand Duchess was cross with me." But when she had been cross it never lasted for long, and the next day a letter would arrive, begging my mother to go and see her again, saying that she could not get on without her, that she was the only friend she had, and the only person who understood how unhappy she was.
Several times, during the eight ycars we were in Darmstadt, my father's name was sent up to the Queen for promotion, and every time she refused to give her permission for him to be moved to another post. She wanted Mr. Buchanan to remain where he was, she said, because he had such a good influence on her granddaughter and had gained her confidence. 'She would see that his career did not suffer. She was not ungrateful, for in 1897 she sent two Jubilee Medals to my parents, enclosing a letter, saying that she hoped they would accept them, "as a mark of her gratitude for their great kindness to her grandchildren". It was, I believe, the Prince of Wales, who, in 1900, told his mother that she was prejudicing my father's advancement in the Diplomatic Service, by keeping him so long in Darmstadt, and reluctantly the Queen at last gave her consent for him to be posted as Counsellor to the Embassy in Rome, and at the last audience he had with her, at Balmoral, gave him the C.V.O.
The first time I went to W olfsgarten was soon after our arrival at Darmstadt, when the Grand Duke gave a children's. party. He had broken his collar-bone in a fall, and I had been given strict instructions by my parents to express their sympathy. The fact that I had to deliver this message weighed heavily on my mind during the train journey to Langen and the drive from the station through the woods, and when the Grand Duke received us at the head of the stone steps leading into the Palace, I was breathless and paralysed -with shyness. I don't remember what I said, but the garbled version I probably gave of my parents' message evidently pleased him, or else he was touched by my crimson-cheeked embarrassment, for his face lit up in a smile, and I remember the heavy gold bracelet on his wrist flashing in the sunlight as he stooped to pat my head.
After his marriage, and the birth of Princess Elizabeth, we spent most of the summer months at Wolfsgarten, one of the little houses at the side of the Palace being placed at our disposal. I loved that little red house, whose front windows looked out into the courtyard, the back ones facing the former moat and the distant woods. The scent of roses from the pergola was always in the small, light rooms, the song of birds and the raucous voices of the two scarlet macaws, who, on fine days, were tethered to their perches in the courtyard, drifted in through the open windows. Although it was so deep in the country, there was always life and movement. Carriages driving up to the flight of steps leading to the entrance into the Palace, horses being led out from the stables, guests corning down after luncheon to sit drinking coffee undcr the trees. Gay, laughing groups of people collecting to go to the races at Frankfurt, or to drive out on some excursion or picnic. The Grand Duchess and her sister Princess Marie of Roumania, going out riding on their two black horses. Servants hurrying to and fro carrying trays of drink down to the tennis court, or the luggage of somebody who had just arrived.
Generally we went to have breakfast on the other side of the courtyard in one of the little houses belonging to Fraulein von Grancy, the head lady-in-waiting, who, in her grey silk dresses and lace caps, always seemed to me to have stepped straight out of the pages of Cranford. My father and mother always had their other meals in the Palace, whilst I spent most of my days with Princess Elizabeth, under the charge of her English nurse, Miss Wilson, a capable, fresh-faced woman in her white pique dresses, possessed of endless patience and a warm, kindly heart, in spitc of her occasional sharp reprimands, which were no doubtfully deserved. The mornings were always spent in the pine woods near the tennis court, where there was sand for us to build castles with, a swing, and a high wooden pole with long ropes, ending in loops, in which one could sit and whirl oneself round and round. At eleven a Court servant would come out with mugs of milk, and plates of cucumber sandwiches, and even now I can never eat a cucumber sandwich without its flavour bringing back to me those lovely mornings, the scent of sun-warmed pine trees, thc distant voices from the tennis court, and Princess Elizabeth with her bright chestnut curls digging in the sand.
In the afternoon we would always go out driving, sometimes in one of the big, open carriages, through the forests of beech and pine, out into the highways, through sleepy little villages, whcre children came out to curtsy, past fields of golden corn, of poppies and cornflowers, where farmers doffed their hats, and smiling women with bright-coloured handkerchiefs tied over their heads called out a greeting to their little Princess. Sometimes we would pay a visit to some old castle, where other little girls lived strange, shut-in lives, surrounded by ccrcmonial rules which nowadays would appear fantastic and absurd. On other days we drove out in the Russian pony-cart, shaped rather like an Irish jaunting-car, to take tea in the woods, to pick bilberries and wild strawberries, and the little yellow mushrooms that looked so poisonous and tasted so good, cooked in cream and eaten sizzling hot.
In the evening my favourite entertainment would be to sit at the window of my room, long after I was supposed to be in bed and watch everybody going to dirmer in the Palace, all dressed in their evening clothes, their smartest uniforms, their ribbons and decorations. The most striking figure was always Mr. Hugo Wemyss, for whom I had a romantic adoration, and who, when he was staying at Wolfsgarten, invariably donned his tartan kilt in the evening. When it was raining it was especially amusing to watch the procession of people emerging from the houses, for then planks of wood would be laid down across the courtyard, and stout ladies would balance themselves precariously on the narrow boards, one hand holding up a dripping umbrella, the other clutching up a long satin train and a multitude of petticoats.
Hidden in the woods there was a small pond, where on warm days people would go and bathe, in spite of the duckweed that covered it, the bulrushes all around it, and the mud into which one sank up to one's ankles. On one side there was a steep slope, and here the Grand Duke had built a water-chute, This was at once a terror and a delight to me, and it was used almost exclusively by the men, few of the women being brave enough to risk the rapid descent and the inevitable wetting from the muddy spray that drenched all the occupants of the boat when it reached the bottom of the woodcn chute, and hurtled its way into the pond. One day, however, the Grand Duke and Prince Nicholas of Greece persuadcd my mother and one of the ladies-in-waiting to go with them, having prcviously arranged to deliberately upset the boat. My mother had that day put on a new pink muslin dress, vvith a multitude of small frills, which I very much admired, but when she returned, after her immersion in the muddy waters of the pond, it presented a truly lamentable appearance, and shrank: to such an extent that, greatly to my delight, she was forced to pass it on to me. Sometimes even the Grand Duchess, forgetting her sombre discontent, would indulge in a sudden spurt of merriment. One day when everybody was sitting out in the courtyard after luncheon, a servant, who was handing round the coffee, looked up with a startled exclamation and hurried forward to intercept two peasant women in checked aprons and with coloured handkerchicfs tied ovcr their heads, who were coming in through the big open gates leading into the woods, "You must not come in here. This is private property. It is strictly forbidden," I heard him say, and then, nearly dropping the tray of coffee cups, he gave a gasp of dismay as he recognized in the two women, whose entry he had tried to stop, the Grand Duchess and my mother.
Certainly for a little girl those summers were full of fascination and enchantment - listening to the echoes of Court scandal which I was not meant to hear, and so often did; watching the arrival and departure of guests; the groups sitting under the trees, or wandering in the gardens after dinner; the lovely dresses of the Grand Duchess and her sister, Princess Marie; the gleam of jewels in the moonlight, the sound of music drifting out from the windows of the Palace. So many people came to Wolfsgarten, names that now belong to a forgotten past, but in those days were well known and renowned. The Empress Frederick, the Duke and Duchess of Sparta, the Grand Duke Serge of Russia vvith his beautiful wife, the lovely Crown Princess of Roumania, the Emperor and Empress of Russia with their little daughter, the Grand Duchess Olga, the Crown Princess of Austria, and her sister, Princess Louise of Coburg, who, coming for a two-day visit brought vvith her thirty-four hats, pinning them to the muslin curtains over her windows, because there was no room for them in the cupboards. The Prince of Wales used to come to lunch after his annual visit to the Rosenhohe, and the grave of his sister, and in September, 1897, the German Emperor and Empress, arrived with a great fanfare of clattering horses and sabres, a blaze of uniforms, and much pomp and display.
In 1897 the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess attended the Diamond Jubilee in London, The Grand Duchess had, I think. no great love for her grandmother at that time. She resented her power and her control, and the fact that, because of her age and her rigid principles, she the granddaughter had to resign herself to an irksome allegiance to her marriage vows. But to the Grand Duke the Queen was always, "My own darling Grandmama", and he gladly submitted himself to her wishes, obeyed her without question, and did everything in his power to please her.
Unfortunately, the letters the Queen wrote to my father during the years we were in Darmstadt were packed away in one of the trunks stored in the Embassy when we had to leave Russia in 1918. But in the royal archives at Windsor there is a letter my father wrote to the Queen, in July, 1900, which shows the interest she took in all that concerned her grandchildren, and how much she liked to hear the minutest details concerning thcm. The Grand Duchess had recently had another miscarriage and my father began his letter by informing the Queen that he was staying at Wolfsgarten, and was glad to say, "that he finds the Grand Duchess much improved in spirits since the last time he had the honour to see Her Royal Highness a week ago. Though it will be long before the Grand Duchess gets over her great sorrow, Her Royal Highness is gradually begirming to resume her daily occupations, and to take an interest in her former pursuits. Her Royal Highness proposes to spend the greater part of the summer at Wolfsgarten, and is at present taking a course of salt baths, which, it is hoped, will strengthen Her Royal Highness. The Grand Duchess told Mr. Buchanan this morning how deeply she has been touched by Your Majesty's affectionate sympathy, and said she hoped soon to write to Your Majesty herself. The Grand Duke is looking remarkably well, though he is grown somewhat thinner. His Royal Highness has lately become fond of bicycling, and the regular exercise which he thus takcs seems to agree admirably with His Royal Highness. Princess Elizabeth is also very well, and is as devoted as ever to the Shetland pony which Your Majesty gave her. The pony follows Her Grand Ducal Highness about like a dog, even running up the flight of stone steps after her into her nursery."
How well I remember that pony running loose in the courtyard, Princess Elizabeth throwing her arms round his neck to kiss him, or, in her frilly white hat, being held on the saddle by her mother. She loved visiting the stables, and fondling the beautiful white Lippizaner horses from the famous stud in Vienna, their names in gold letters over their stalls - "Maestoso Africa, Maestoso Mercurio, Maestoso Theodastra." Bogdan would allow nobody but the Grand Duchess to enter his stall; he was let loose every afternoon, galloping at full speed round and round the courtyard, his long black tail streaming out behind him, with bared teeth and flaring nostrils making a dash at some Court lady or gentleman, chasing them in flurried trepidation up the steps. As soon as the Grand Duchcss called him he would go gently up to her, bending his proud head to caress her hand, following her quietly back to his stable.
In the late autumn of 1900 we left for Rome, and although I did not realize it at the time, nothing I have since known has ever replaced in vivid, stirring stimulation, or unalloyed happiness, those golden summer days spent at Wolfsgarten. With the death of Queen Victoria in January 1901, the marriage between her two grandchildren which had been so near her heart, came to an end. For now that there was no longer any fear of hurting or displeasing "Grandmama Queen" the Grand Duchess decided to gain her freedom, and leaving her husband, went to live quietly in Coburg, waiting for her divorce that would at last enable her to marry the man she had loved for so many years.
The scandal attending her separation caused a great stir in the Europe of thosc days, where divorce was not accepted with the leniency of modem times, and she fiercely resented the opprobrium cast on her name, the stem disapproval of her uncle, King Edward VII, and the indignation of both the Emperor of Germany and the Emperor of Russia, and more especially the latter's wife, the Empress Alexandra. For a woman with the pride and fastidiousness of the Grand Duchess, those years must have been hard to endure, and the letters she wrote to my mother were full of resentment and exasperation at the uncharitable treatment she was receiving from some of her relations. Had she not sacrificed years of her youth because of her grandmother's prejudices and had she not now the right to some happiness in life?
Yielding generously to her wishes, the Grand Duke allowed Princess Elizabeth to spend six months of the year with her mother, counting the days till she returned to him, sending her, whcn she was with him, every day to Fraulein Texter's school. Everyone in Darmstadt adored the little girl who was such a familiar figure in the little town, driving out with her father, or running through the streets, followed by her dog, which she insisted on taking with her to school. "Princessin Sonnenschein", they called her, because of her bright curls, her mischievous naughtiness, and the laughter in her pansy-blue eyes. "Princess Sunshine", the name which had once been given to her aunt, the Empress of Russia, a name which seemed fated to bring tragedy and disaster to its holder.
In the autumn of 1903 the Grand Duke took his daughter with him on a visit to Russia, going first to stay with the Emperor and Empress at Belovej, one of the Imperial shooting palaces, intending to go on from there to St. Petersburg. The four young daughters of the Empress were also at Belovej, and there were shooting-parties, excursions, picnics in the forest, games and romps through the big rooms of the Palace, laughter and merriment every evening. Then, early one misty autumn morning, Princess Elizabeth awoke with a start of agony, wide-eyed, panting for breath, burning with fever. When the Grand Duchess Victoria, summoned hastily by telegram, arrived two days later, it was only to stand beside a shadowed, silent bed, where, between masses of tawny golden chrysanthemums, her daughter lay asleep, deaf to her agony of self-reproach, beyond the call oflove, or joy, or sorrow.
The terrible swiftness of her death caused many rumours to circulate at the time, and it was said - and firmly believed by many - that there had been a plot to poison the Emperor, and that the dish which had been specially prepared for him had been given by mistake to his little niece. These rumours were later denied. Princess Elizabeth, it was said, had died of an attack of meningitis. Others again declared that it was paratyphoid that had carried her away so suddenly. Whatever the cause, the world is a little poorer for not having known that elfin charm, those bright brown curls, those laughing star-like eyes.
Heart-broken, and with a sadness that defied all description, the Grand Duke returned to Darmstadt, bearing with him the little coffin of his daughter to be laid to rest on the Rosenhohe, and the people watched the funeral of their Sunshine Princess with sorrowing hearts and tear-reddened cyes. They felt that something had gone out of their lives which could never be replaced, and passed through the quiet streets, telling each other in hushed voices that November was always a fateful month for the royal family of Hesse, a month which often brought mourning and loss, and a funeral winding its way through the town, beneath the cold, grey skies.
How slowly the time passed for the lonely, unhappy man in his empty palace, how long the days seemed, how quiet the rooms, where formerly there had been so much movement and animation. But fInally his divorce was ratified, and in1905 he married Princess Eleanore of Solms Hohensolms. She had not the romantic charm, the elegance, the artistic tastes of the Grand Duchess Victoria. The Court of Darmstadt lost some of its brilliance, there were fewer entertainments, fewer visitors came to Wolfsgarten; the old ladies trotting along the streets had no gossip from the Palace to discuss over their cups of coffee. The new Grand Duchess was popular and beloved. She kept up the hospitals and nursing-schools, the orphanages and institutions that had been begun by Princess Alice. She never forgot appointments, she never failed to answer letters, she never offended even the dullest people, by neglecting to talk to them, and she bore her husband two fine sons, Prince George Donatius, and Prince Louis of Hesse.
The Grand Duke regained some of his former vivacity and his former interests. He laid out a new rose-garden on the Rosenhohe, be built a new mausoleum and a new gate. The artists' colony he had started earlier was flourishing, and he built new factories to encourage the making of glass and painted china. In 19II he organized a big music festival in Darmstadt. More and more he devoted himself to the arts, more and more, as the years passed, his hatred of violence, in any form, increased.
When the First World War broke out in 1914 the fact that he was half English by birth and wholly English in sympathies caused him to be looked on with a certain suspicion, and, as two of his sisters were in Russia, and one in England, he was accused of corresponding with the enemies of Germany. On account of his principles, and his English relations, he was excused from active service at the Front, dedicating himself to the care of the wounded, visiting the hospitals, going with his wife in her ambulance train, spending moncy with liberal generosity.
The Revolution in Russia, the collapse of Germany, and the flight of the Emperor William, brought the world he had known falling in ruins around him. To a man of his vivid imagination, to whom cruelty and brute force were abhorrent, the fate that had overtaken his two sisters, the Empress Alexandra and the Grand Duchess Elizabeth, was a nightmare that almost robbed him of his reason. But he was not lacking in courage, and when the wave of communism sweeping over Gcrmany reached even quiet little Darmstadt, and a deputation from the newly-formed People's Government invaded the Palace, he met them with an intrepid, unflinching determination, refused all their demands, told them proudly that he would never abdicate, and sent them away cowed and overawed.
Retiring eventually to Wolfsgarten he lived there quietly but still retaining an almost royal state. His eldest son, George Donatius, had married the beautiful Princess Cecilia, daughter of Prince and Princess Andrew of Greece, and he and his wife and their two little sons George and Alexander, and their baby girl Joanna, shared the palace at Wolfsgarten with the Grand Duke and his wife.
It was seldom now that guests drove in through the big gates, there were no excursions to the races at Frankfurt, dance music no longer floated out into the summer night, but children's laughter still echoed in the rooms, two sturdy little boys played in the sand-pit among the pine trees, and ladies-and gentlemen-in-waiting still went across the courtyard to dine in the Palace, although they now no longer wore so many jewels and decorations, and the children playing in the pine woods no longer had those wafer-thin cucumber sandwiches which I had so much enjoyed in the past.
The years were passing, and for the grandson of Queen Victoria the shadows were falling. He who had so much loved life and movement, and animation, was forced to lie still. Devotedly the Grand Duchess nursed her husband through the long illness that attacked him when he was sixty-eight, and ended with his death in October, 1937.
A short time previously Prince Louis of Hesse, who had been working in England, had become engaged to the daughter of Sir Auckland Geddes, and the widowed Grand Duchess, anxious to be present at his wedding, left her husband's body on the Rosenhohe to await burial and accompanied her eldest son, his wife, and their three small children in the plane which was to take them to England. Once again it was the month of November, and once again that month brought death to the royal family of Hesse, for the plane crashed in flames, and there were no survivors.
And so Prince Louis, so tragically and suddenly succeeding as Grand Duke of Hesse, travellcd sadly back to Darmstadt with his young wife, and the bodies of those who had started out to be present at his wedding were buried with the body of his father on the Rosenhohe. Once more Darmstadt saw a funeral of its royal family under the grey November skies. "I don't want to die alone," little Prince Ernst Ludwig had said tearfully when he was a child. His wish had been fulfilled, for he was joined in the grave by his wife, his eldest son, his daughter-in-law and his three grandchildren.