A Translation from the French of the Humorous Side of Bulgaria’s King
Guest of a King in War
Review of Reviews
A Translation from the French of the Humorous Side of Bulgaria’s King
A writer in Lecture pour Tous gives us an interesting glimpse of the personality of Ferdinand I King of Bulgaria, and of the war as seen from the vantage ground of the King’s own railway train where the writer was a guest.
There is no more popular figure in the world to-day, he says, than that of the sovereign whose sudden entry on the campaign has been followed by victory. A fortnight has sufficed to practically settle the result of the war. The king has quitted his palace, and his favorite flower gardens, at Vrana, although in full bloom are deserted. When he is not at the head of his troops, at headquarters, on some Sig. 5
eminence scanning the horizon, in the entrenchments, or with the ambulance corp, he takes up his quarters in a specially furnished train which appears and disappears, here and there all over the country like some phantom caravan, from which is exercised an unceasing vigilance over everything connected with the war.
It is now in temporary retirement at Stara Zagora on a siding close to the railway station, which is gaily decorated with flags as if for some fête. The platforms resound with the heavy tramp of the soldiery, with their wild hurrahs, and endless entrainment of regiment after regiment, of horses, of cannons with their
mouths as yet muzzled, ambulances and supplies, all destined to play an active part in the coming struggle.
It was my fortunate privilege to occupy a place in the Royal train, the well-known “blue train” with its little red blinds. It has already been here some days. When will it leave? This evening, to-morrow, or in a week’s time? And for where?
All we knew was that it awaited the development of events. Meanwhile I was an occupant of the famous No. 7 car, associated in our minds with the early years of the Bulgarian Prince, and with the abortive attempt aimed at its destruction.
Not far from me are Count R. de Bourbolon, Grand Marshal, the old and
faithful friend of his sovereign, whom this hour of need finds at his post of devotion. M. Dobrovitch, chancellor and head of the cabinet in his travelling chancellery, a shrewd and capable politician, General Markoff with his severe Neronian profile, and keen goodhumored Colonel Alexis Stoianof.
In the crowded compartments of the car which are bedrooms, salons and offices, all in one, under the benevolent tutelage of small silver ikons the aides-de-camp, staff officers, secretaries, and attaches carry out their allotted duties, all imbued with the idea of self sacrifice and devotion to their country, ready at any moment for any and every task they may be called upon to perform.
For a fortnight it was my unique privilege to live in intimate acquaintanceship with these men and their sovereign. There was an unceasing tension, hurried arrivals and departures, a perpetual qui vive.
What is happening? What is the news? Who is that ? Ah ! Saroff. At all hours of the night you might catch sight of the commander-in-chief. He it was who was responsible for the farsighted and patriotic preparations for this struggle. With his keen eye and crisp word of command, no doubt he comes to get sanction for his latest tactical movement, or some fresh disposition of troops. Perhaps he will let drop some word as to how things are progressing. But no, he comes and goes without a word. Here comes M. Danef, hurriedly sent for by the king doubtless on some grave and important mission. He also departs in silence, smiling, in haste to execute his task. Now it is a messenger arriving from Macedonia. At any rate we shall hear some news now of the two princes who set out for Salónica accom-
panied by M. Stancioff, the Bulgarian Minister at Paris, who did not hesitate to take up active service on behalf of his country. How goes it with the princes? What are they doing? but the messenger comes and goes with never a word. In another part of the country the Queen is fulfilling a charitable mission, while the Princesses are at Sofia with their own hands kneading and making the small rolls of bread for the wounded.
Wherever her aid is most urgently needed, there is the Queen to be found. An officer arrives to say she will pass the night here. Probably we shall hear something from him, but with a hasty hand shake he is gone.
No. No one speaks here unless it is his duty to do so. No one asks an unnecessary question, every one is dominated by the same feeling of suspense and respect for the unknown. Among the whole staff not one indiscreet word, nor one needless enquiry to satisfy mere curiosity. Such self restraint and moral discipline evoke admiration.
With the king, however, councils of war and of state unexpected cabinet meetings, audiences, nondescript visits, which with a wise foresight he freely encourages, are the order of the day. This freedom of access which he grants is noteworthy. It may be an eminent Turkish officer a prisoner, whom after questioning, he informs that he together with his half-starved and tattered men will be well treated. Now it is an old peasant from Rhodope, who set out for the war with his three sons and three sons-inlaw, while his wife and daughters are serving at the hospitals. Now an inventor, keen on some v onderful machine he has invented, a painter of battle scenes, a priest, a seer, a bone setter, a doctor, all are courteously listened to.
With Count Jean de Castellane, who is in charge of the French Mission from Paris, the king has frequent consultations .
Here in passing let me pay a word of tribute to the perfect work of the French hospital which has been installed in cooperation with the monks. Nothing can 'better express he feeling with which it is regarded than these simple and touching lines addressed by a young soldier to Mme. Stancioff, who is French, and is called ‘the mother of all wounded soldiers’: “If our
fathers, mothers and brothers had known that they would be replaced by new fathers and mothers, and that our wounds would have been made so easy to bear,
they would never have wept for their sons.”
But to return to King Ferdinand, he must give his attention to all messages reports, letters or telegrams, and reply to all of them. Petitions, offer of service, advice, all have to receive his consideration. He must become acquainted with the contents of the memoranda, papers, books, etc., which are piling up in the velvet upholstered salon and in the sleeping room, with its beige hangings worked in Fleur de Lis.
All his own personal belongings, art treasures, mysterious small boxes, birthday albums, miniatures, triptichs and innumerable other souvenirs which he prizes, all these he has brought with him.
But at the present time his thoughts turn more particularly to his ancestors whom he regards as his tutelary guardians. Here we see portraits of the Koharis, the heads of the Orleans family, the renowned Marshal Josias, the Duke Augustus of Saxe Coburg, his father, who with Bugeaud conducted the Algerian campaign, the highly esteemed Princess Clementine, and dearest of all to him his mother, attired in the uniform of the Bulgarian regiment of which she was honorary chief. With a smiling countenance under her white locks ishe watches over her son. At the foot of the photo in that bold handwriting which concealed so great a maternal love, are inscribed the words “To my dearly loved son, from his most faithful soldier.”
She was not destined to live to see his triumph, but perhaps from above she sees it and knows that it is French generalship that is victorious, that, in her son the grandson of Louis Philippe and husband (by his first marriage) of the granddaughter of Charles X, France still lives, that in him these latter Kings of France, Versailles and Chantilly still survive in the Balkans.
Reference has often been made to King Ferdinand’s love of luxury, his extravagance and fondness for outward display, forms, and ceremonies. However, this may be, under ordinary circumstances, while on this train this could certainly not be said of him. He was quite the reverse. He was never seen, but in an old tunic the color of dried mud. On his hands were none of those jewels of the value of which he is a better judge than any jeweller. The Bulgarian Military Cross and the Legion of Honour were his only decorations, with perhaps in the evening the order of the Golden Fleece at his neck or the Maltese Cross on his arm.
Turn now to the dining-room decorated in mahogany and maple, with three clocks giving the times of the different capitals. Here it was that his guests on the train were brought regularly into contact with him, but the precise and formal etiquette of the court was here relaxed. If at the appointed time the king had not appeared
the meal was begun without him. His place is at the small table from which he can see and converse with everyone. The service is expeditiously performed by the soldiers of the guard in their blue and silver uniforms. The menus are not elaborate. They are prepared by Barrus one of our own countrymen from Draguignan and usually include Bourgas Oysters, Euxinograd peas, and Tchirpan light wine.
The kings characteristics are well-known, his manner at once seductive and embarrassing, critical and illuminating. But seated here at his table he speaks but little, being completely absorbed in the reality of impending events. The pile of despatches which he brings with him increases every minute. He reads, makes notes, considers, gives his orders and meantime everything is getting cold. . .
Heavily laden trains ¡are passing the whole time, and with that love of machinery which lately led him to drive the Brussels-Paris express, he draws aside the blind and watches them. He knows the history of each car, and the name, origin, and record of every locomotive. All the engineers are his pupils.
It is with justifiable pride he points to the work of his railways, which, under the indefatigable direction of Minister Franghia and of M. Morloff, have carried out without a hitch every detail of mobilization to the minute exactly as previously arranged on paper.
' Some of the trains which pass are infinitely saddening and touching. One may contain a freight of wounded soldiers, in which case the King rises from his seat and salutes. On those rugged countenances, even on those to whom death is near, only smiles are to be seen. They give proof of a national bravery, an unwavering faith in their country, and the King gives here and there a few words of sympathy or congratulation as he realizes all that his soldiers have suffered and endured.
“Ah!” he said to me one day, just as lunch was finished, “it is terrible that it should have to end in this way. I can assure you I have tried everything to avoid it. I look back at all my visits to Constantinople, my respect for the Con stitution and the Suzerain Power. . . .
Every one of those visits was a Calvary. My subjects even began to marvel at such patience and at the petty humiliations which I endured, and at my official urbanity which had to conceal my wounded patriotism. However, for their sake, for
our cause, and for the future, I put . up with everything.
“And I must say that none of my visits to Yildiz Kiosk were utterly fruitless.*
“I feel sure that Abdul Hamid would eventually have seen the situation in its proper light. He used sometimes to say that next to himself I was the first person in the Empire. I would smile at the compliment, but I feel I had managed to inspire him with a certain confidence in me.
“I believe that had it not been for the Young Turk party—but there, the die is cast—they are going to try conclusions with the Young Bulgarians—Forward.”
On another occasion, when the train was at Yamboli, he pointed out to me a passage from a letter written by his uncle, the Due d’Aumale in 1864, in a book only lately published, and containing the correspondence of M. Cuvillier Fleury and the Duke, in which the latter said : ‘ * Since the Turks came here they have let everything perish, even the plants.” “That,” said he, “is as true to-day as it was then, and that is why we are here. ’ ’
On starting for Kirk-Kilisseh, the 13th of November, as preparations were being made for the coming battle, he said, “Yes, to-day is the 13th. And they say I am superstitious. It was on a Friday, too, that I declared war. But superstition does not enter into the matter, when the cause is just, and when you know the people who are defending it. You have seen these soldiers of mine, just think what they have done. Twenty-seven miles a day, and fighting all the way. When the horses drop they drag
the guns themselves.....and they will play
with the bullets extracted from their
wounds.......... The whole nation is in
arms, and they are Turks themselves sitting at the Sobranje (the Bulgarian Parliament) who are voting the supplies.......”
As he was speaking this, my mind went back to the time when I was walking with him through his greenhouses amidst his roses and fruits, which he had reared himself: “Yes,” were his words then, “but in order that each one may have his harvest, in order that this wonderful soil may yield its hidden treasures, we must be constantly on the alert, and to have flowers, we must have cannons. ’ ’
At a time when France is looking on with a kindly eye at the actions of this monarch whose profile brings to mind so strikingly the bust of Francois I in the oval court at Fontainebleau, I recall an incident that happened one delightful evening, a 14th of July, (French Republic Day), at Vitosch in Bui-
garia. The prince, as he then was, had invited some French friends to dinner on the lawn. The band of the Guards struck up the Marseillaise. Everyone stood up, experiencing the same thrill of emotion. The Prince proposed first the toast of M. Loubet and then another to that “immortal hymn which has gone the round of the universe,” and suddenly a shout, irresistible, deep and poignant with emotion escaped him, “Vive la France,” such as I have seldom heard the like of.
To-day the end is near. One nation is
rising to accomplish its destiny, another is in the throes of dissolution. To-morrow the royal train will travel unmolested through the conquered territories, it may be my lot to witness their annexation. But I shall ever treasure in my heart the recollection of that other country at a time when all hearts were throbbing with hopes and fears —where all were imbued with a steady but not reckless confidence in the future, and an appreciation of the joy and beauty of living —where the heart of the whole nation beat in that of one individual.
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