an excerpt from
Marie of Roumania - The Intimate Story of the Radiant Queen
by Mabel Potter Daggett
George H. Doran Company, Murray Hill, 1926, pp37-42
Among all of the royal palaces and castles there is one that is very special. And that not only in Roumania. There is in all Europe no other royal residence so romantic. Castle Bran is in the far fastnesses of the Carpathians. It stands right against the sky, rising precipitately out of the very crown of a mountain peak. The name means a "gate" and it is so called because it guards the mountain pass below. This is the very old fortress with which the Saxons defended this part of Europe against the Turks. Inscriptions on its foundations show that it stood here in the year 1200, and how much older than that it may be no one can tell. This ancient fortification, presented by the city of Brasov to the Queen, she has restored and furnished and made her beautiful Castle Bran. There are apartments for the King and for each of the children as they may come for a visit. Still this is her personal castle. "There is no court," she explained to me, "not even a lady-in-waiting. And I ask here only the people I like."
It is to Castle Bran that the Queen turns for escape from all affairs of state. From Sinaia, Bran is distant some three hours' journey by automobile, so that you may go and return in a day. We went, the Queen and Mashka and I, in her polished mahogany, silver-mounted Rolls-Royce car. The top is always down and she rides with the wind. Peasants' straw-covered carts, and flocks of sheep and herds of goats made way. Pigs and chickens and geese scattered to the ditch as we flew by. Flashing here through a village and there through a forest, over a mountain and down to a valley, the beautiful machine seemed to rise and dip like a bird. And at last with one final whirl straight for the clouds, it had dropped us at the castle entrance. Up so high, there never was need for a moat.
A narrow flight of some thirty steps leads to the great oak door. When you stand in the ancient courtyard, you know you have come to the Castle of Dreams-Come-True, the mystical, enchanted Castle of Dreams-Come-True.
You lift your eyes to high gray towers, hung with red-roofed, brown-timbered balconies blazing with flowers in orange and crimson. Now these balconies do not run regularly. Sometimes one slips behind a gray embrasure to emerge again farther on. And sometimes one drops a step or two or three. But up and down and around as they go, there are two of them. From the courtyard the most fascinating little narrow old stone stair-cases wind mysteriously up and away into the interior of the castle.
Try to follow one and it leads you maybe up to some high landing where you bend beneath a low arched doorway and brush past a sculptured saint in a niche in the wall; and lo, now where is your staircase? When you come to it again, it may be another that has wandered up this way from the opposite tower.
I gave up trying to count the staircases. They say there are seven. Choose any one you will, and it brings you to a new surprise. Any room you reach will always be along some narrow ledge and then up a step or two or down a step or two from any other. There are plain whitewashed walls and dark timbered ceilings and sometimes the very same little old windows from which those crusading knights in armor looked out on their other centuries. This simple background is made to glow with richly colored rugs and rare hangings. The furniture is all of quaint design, some of it collected from Europe's bygone ages and some of it built right here as the mistress of this castle has directed. "This is the way we will have that cup-board," she said to her architect, with a few quick lines of her pencil on paper. And so it was done.
There is everywhere through the castle majestic beauty, solemn and ancient and old. And then a charm so subtle I could not withal define its mystery. Until later the Queen herself was telling me: "You see, I have given my castle a soul."
That it is which makes all the other royal residences you can see in Europe, compared with hers, seem like museums. They are repositories for objects of art, more costly perhaps than her smaller kingdom may afford. But as houses where people live, they utterly lack the feeling motif you find in hers. Most of all, at Bran there is that sense of a woman's presence that lingers in every room. Even if you should not see her at all, you would say with conviction, "I know that surely at least yesterday she went through that open door." Especially there are flowers everywhere to smile that she has been here.
"You have to have flowers," says the Queen, "to make a house come alive." All of the low white-washed rooms are splashed with their color. They hang in swinging Roumanian kettles from the ceiling. They stand in high Bessarabian jars against the walls. Bowls from Ragousa hold them; brass pots from Constantinople, and glass vases from Venice hold them. There are even pools of flowers in low flat dishes set on the floor. I have never seen anything more decorative than a dark Spanish brazier afloat with flaming bunches of nasturtiums placed just where a stream of sunlight slanting over the floor sets it all afire.
Flowers in just such profusion you will see in every residence that the Queen of Roumania occupies. At Bran there are the saints besides. In an angle of a room, at a turn of a corridor, you may meet them anywhere in sudden surprise. Some-times they are high carved wooden figures, some-times little sculptured ones set in a niche in a wall. Some are the very Madonnas the crusaders worshipped. And all are worn and very old with the far-off ages from which they have traveled down. But they never strayed here by chance, I said to myself. Some one who liked them asked them here. And just then with a smile and a wave of her hand, the Queen introduced them : "My people, you see, who live with me."
We sat on the high flowered balcony at dinner. "There's going to be such a beautiful storm," the Queen announced, "we shall not go back to-night." She turned to me: "That will not matter. I shall lend you a nightgown." She said it as casually as any other woman. "And I shall put you to sleep, let me see, I think in the bedroom of my Ileana."
Hardly had we finished coffee, when suddenly from over the next mountain with a mighty rush and a roar the storm had come. Now there is no such thing as electric light at Bran. In the central castle hall, Florentine silver lamps swing softly in the gloom. On the white Roumanian hearth, for this cool evening a fire glowed red from out the farthest blackness. Lightning flashed. The thunder rolled. The wind howled. But the Queen stretched herself at ease on a divan and smiled: "This, my castle," she explained, "is the house where the four winds meet. But its walls are four feet thick."
At the next resounding crash, Mashka had covered her ears. "But," the Queen insisted quietly, "it's only God. It is God warning us what he can do. That's the way I always feel. In a storm at Bran, all the mystery of God and the majesty of God just sweep surging through my soul." Still Mashka crouched all the evening on the great bear rug on the floor until at last the storm had gone rumbling on its way across mountain and valley.
It was eleven o'clock. "And now it is time for good night," said the Queen. She held high against the shadows a lighted silver candlestick her maid had brought. She stepped to the wall beyond the bookcases. A paneled door flew open at her touch. From the threshold she waved her hand to us.
And she had disappeared down the secret stair-case in the thick stone wall. Armored knights once clattered down these same stone steps to dark dungeons where they led. This is later by some seven hundred years. And a Queen in red-slippered feet steps softly down to pleasant dreams in a beautiful chamber.
I awoke next morning with that feeling one sometimes has, you know, of left-over wonder. My hand brushed the spread of rich yellow satin. The light streamed through curtains of orange silk at the window. And from a picture on the wall, the saint for whom Ileana is named looked down at me. Ah yes, I remembered. I had slept in the bed of a princess. And I had worn the Queen's lace night-gown.