It was December 1918, after the royal family returned in Bucharest… Queen Marie of Romania wrote in her last memoir:
“The ‘Spanish flue’ was raging everywhere and I was continually visiting the English, French and Romanian soldiers down with this horrible malady. The doctors warned me that it was exceedingly contagious and that I ought not to allow our men to kiss my hands. Having for two years, fearlessly lived amidst every form of epidemic, without ever taking any precaution, I was deaf to their injunctions, firmly convinced that I was immune. But this time unfortunately it was not the case, and quite shortly after our return I fell ill and had a very bad time of it, paying at last my tribute to sickness, just at the moment when everyone wished to glorify me for what they so kindly termed: my bravery and heroic resistance. I believe there was even, for a few days, great fear that should lose their still so necessary Queen.
I believe I was more exhausted than I knew; the immense straining effort was at an end and it was as though I could not properly adjust myself to peace and plenty. Laughingly I declared: ‘I belong to the old canons, so I suppose my time is over’. Anyhow for about three weeks I was very ill indeed. […]
I had just been planning with great enthusiasm, a large banquet we wanted to give the English, French and Romanian soldiers, in the great ball-room of the old palace. Soldiers and officers alike were to sit at our table, which we would preside ourselves. All was ready, I myself saw to every detail, but just the evening before, that wretched and treacherous ‘Flue’ laid me low – I meant to get up next day, certain that my usual energy would put me on my feet and carry me through; but this was illusion; I could not lift my head, hardly could I see out of my eyes, though I still insisted upon personally supervising the dressing of my daughters for the great occasion. But next day, when they wanted to tell me about the tremendous success of the banquet, I turned my face to the wall, begging them to say nothing; the very word ‘food’ was more than I could bear; I felt as though never again would I be able to put a morsal into my mouth. For thus does the celebrated Spanish Flue – treat its victims!
During my illness I had a strange hallucinations – I had continually the sensation of being two personalities, and the second ‘myself’, lying in bed with me, took every sort of shape. Even the separate parts of my body seemed to have faces! It was horrid, especially as quite casual acquaintances, noticed more particularly for their ugliness, became my companions. I could not get rid of them!
Then there was also that other queer sensation of dissolving into nothing; I felt as though I were melting into my bed, becoming bodiless, and withal struggling not to disappear quite in that uncanny way. I actually used to ask General Baliff, my ‘Fearful One’ as I called that severe, austere military follower and adviser, to sit by my bed and hold my hand; his very ‘fearfulness’ was a sort of guarantee against the invading shadow which seemed creeping upwards to annihilate me.
Everybody was very kind, my little lady-in-waiting, Simky Lahovary spent several nights in an armchair in my bedroom so as to be near, in case of need. Through the mist of fever I dimly saw faces leaning over me: Nando, the children, old Nini, different friends, different doctors, but it was all like a bad dream.
Deadly also was the gradual crawling back to life, everything overwhelmed me, tears came too easily, it felt as though never again would I be my own vigorous self, and the ache in every limb was next to unbearable…. But after a period of abject weakness and almost morbid discouragement, I did finally climb back to face life and its many harassing obligations”.
© Diana Mandache, “Later Chapters of My Life. The Lost Memoir of Queen Marie of Romania”, Sutton, 2004 – ©2020 DM