Monday, August 4, 2014

A Talk with Queen Mary

Since I have featured excerpts from Mary Roberts Rinehart's wartime conversations with Albert and Elisabeth of Belgium, it may be interesting to see the American author's account of her meeting with Mary of Teck, from  Kings, Queens and Pawns.
It will be a surprise to many Americans to learn that the Queen of England is very lovely to look at. So much emphasis has always been placed on her virtues, and so little has been written of her charm, that this tribute is only fair to Her Majesty. She is tall, perhaps five feet eight inches, with deep-blue eyes and beautiful colouring. She has a rather wide, humorous mouth. There is not a trace of austerity in her face or in any single feature. The whole impression was of sincerity and kindliness, with more than a trace of humour.
I could quite believe, after I saw Her Majesty, the delightful story that I had heard from a member of her own circle, that now and then, when during some court solemnity an absurdity occurred, it was positively dangerous to catch the Queen's eye!
Queen Mary came up the long room. As she paused and held out her hand, each lady took it and curtsied at the same time. The Queen talked, smiling as she spoke. There was no formality. Near at hand the lady-in-waiting who was in attendance stood, sometimes listening, sometimes joining in the conversation. The talk was all of supplies, for these days in England one thinks in terms of war. Certain things had come in; other things had gone or were going. For the Queen of England is to-day at the head of a great business, one that in a few months has already collected and distributed over a million garments, all new, all practical, all of excellent quality.
The Queen came toward me and paused. There was an agonised moment while the lady-in-waiting presented me. Her Majesty held out her hand. I took it and bowed. The next instant she was speaking. 
She spoke at once of America, of what had already been done by Americans for the Belgians both in England and in their desolated country. And she hastened to add her gratitude for the support they have given her Guild.
"The response has been more than generous," said Her Majesty. "We are very grateful. We are glad to find that the sympathy of America is with us."
She expressed a desire also to have America know fully just what was being done with the supplies that are being constantly sent over, both from Canada and from the United States.
"Canada has been wonderful," she said. "They are doing everything."
The ready response of Canada to the demand for both troops and supplies appeared to have touched Her Majesty. She spoke at length about the troops, the distance they had come, the fine appearance the men made, and their popularity with the crowds when they paraded on the streets of London. I had already noticed this. A Canadian regiment was sure to elicit cheers at any time, although London, generally speaking, has ceased any but silent demonstration over the soldiers.
"Have you seen any of the English hospitals on the Continent?" the Queen asked.
"I have seen a number, Your Majesty."
"Do they seem well supplied?"
I replied that they appeared to be thoroughly equipped, but that the amount of supplies required was terrifying and that at one time some of the hospitals had experienced difficulty in securing what they needed.
"One hospital in Calais," I said, "received twelve thousand pairs of bed socks in one week last autumn, and could not get a bandage."
"Those things happened early in the war. We are doing much better now. England had not expected war. We were totally unprepared."
..."What is your impression of the French and Belgian hospitals?" Her Majesty inquired.
I replied that none were so good as the English, that France had always depended on her nuns in such emergencies, and, there being no nuns in France now, her hospital situation was still not good.
"The priests of Belgium are doing wonderful work," I said. "They have suffered terribly during the war."
"It is very terrible," said Her Majesty. "Both priests and nuns have suffered, as England has reason to know."
The Queen spoke of the ladies connected with the Guild.
"They are really much overworked," she said. "They are giving all their time day after day. They are splendid. And many of them, of course, are in great anxiety."
Already, by her tact and her simplicity of manner, she had put me at my ease. The greatest people, I have found, have this quality of simplicity. When she spoke of the anxieties of her ladies, I wished that I could have conveyed to her, from so many Americans, their sympathy in her own anxieties, so keen at that time, so unselfishly borne. But the lady-in-waiting was speaking:
"Please tell the Queen about your meeting with King Albert."
So I told about it. It had been unconventional, and the recital amused Her Majesty. It was then that I realised how humorous her mouth was, how very blue and alert her eyes. I told it all to her, the things that insisted on slipping off my lap, and the King's picking them up; the old envelope he gave me on which to make notes of the interview; how I had asked him whether he would let me know when the interview was over, or whether I ought to get up and go! And finally, when we were standing talking before my departure, how I had suddenly remembered that I was not to stand nearer to His Majesty than six feet, and had hastily backed away and explained, to his great amusement.
Queen Mary laughed. Then her face clouded.
"It is all so very tragic," she said. "Have you seen the Queen?"
I replied that the Queen of the Belgians had received me a few days after my conversation with the King.
"She is very sad," said Her Majesty. "It is a terrible thing for her, especially as she is a Bavarian by birth." (Read full account)

1 comment:

Laura said...

Both Mary of Teck and, of course, Albert & Elizabeth (of Bavaria) of the Belgians are great favorites of mine. Elizabeth was quite the character and I can imagine they enjoyed much mutual respect. Thanks for this wonderful post.