As illustrating the simplicity of the life Queen Helene led in her early days, it might be mentioned that she was wont to walk about the streets of Cettinje quite unattended, mixing with her father's subjects in an informal manner, and often joining in their amusements and revels.
She was known as the " Shepherdess Princess," and the attachment which existed between her father and herself was such that at first he decided not to send her to a more cultured country for education, although, when she was a mere child, a gipsy foretold that she would be chosen to share one of the greatest thrones in Europe. And those acquainted with the superstitious nature of Montenegrins are well aware how such a prophecy would have swayed the majority of parents in that wild country.
Alexander III., however, brought his influence to bear, with the result that Princess Heldne was sent to St. Petersburg, where she not only attended a school for girls of noble birth, but was received into the Imperial Family. Indeed, much of her time was spent at the Winter Palace, and she became on terms of intimate friendship with the Grand Duchess Xenia, the eldest daughter of Alexander III. It was thus that she became acquainted with the present Tsar of Russia. She seemed in every way a suitable bride for that monarch. Her accomplishments, knowledge of Russia and the Russian people, and sterling character made a great impression on Alexander III., and he expressed a wish that she should become his daughter-in-law. But, as already mentioned, Nicholas II. was not heart free, and although a great friendship existed between the two young people, Princess Helene returned to Cettinje at the age of eighteen without having entered into any attachment.
Curiously enough, it was at the funeral of Alexander III., on November 19, 1894, that the Princess first met her future husband. At that time her Majesty was twenty-one years of age-a strikingly handsome brunette, with dark eyes, jet black hair, and a very fair complexion. The Prince of Naples-as the King of Italy then was-was immediately attracted by the beautiful Montenegrin princess; but it was not until the following year, when they again met at the Venice Exhibition, where many Royalties had foregathered-amongst them being Princess Helene and her mother-that he had an opportunity of becoming closely acquainted with the lady who was to share his throne.
The attraction was mutual, and King Humbert readily gave his consent to the marriage when he understood the deep affection which existed between his son and Princess Helene. But there was considerable opposition to the marriage on the part of King Humbert's Ministers, who wished the Prince to make a more ambitious marriage. But the reply of King Humbert was characteristic of that outspoken monarch, who was so cruelly assassinated in 1900. "The Princess chosen by my son," he said, in answer to the objections raised, " is the scion of a brave race that has fought for liberty. The House of Montenegro, like my own house, is synonymous with liberty." The marriage, therefore, was duly celebrated in Rome on October 24, 1896, the Princess Helene having been received previously into the Roman Catholic Church. At first the Princess had many prejudices on the part of the Italian aristocracy to fight against, although both King Humbert and his wife, Queen Margherita, were delighted with their daughter-in-law. After the simple life of Cettinje, she was appalled at the waste and extravagance of the Royal Court, and she soon brought practical economy to bear upon the entourage of her husband and herself. It caused some grumbling, and even to-day Roman society is apt to look askance at the simple manner in which King Emmanuel and his consort live. They entertain little, and are happiest when they can enjoy outdoor sports and pastimes together, or when they can leave State business and Court ceremony behind; and at Racconigi, where their children reside for the greater part of the year, spend their days with their family.
A Friend of the Poor
It was thought when King Emmanuel ascended the throne, after the death of his father in 1900, that he would change his mode considerably, and revert, at least to some extent, to the magnificence and brilliancy which was characteristic of the Italian Court years ago. But the fact that he had become a king, and his wife a queen, made no difference. They both adhered to the simple, unaffected ways in which they had previously found so much enjoyment.
By the poorer classes of Italy, Queen Helene is idolised, on account of her practical sympathy and kindly thought for their wants. Creches and orphanages have found a cordial patroness in her Majesty. She is not satisfied with giving merely monetary help, but takes the warmest interest in their inmates. Many are the stories told of her kindliness to the poor and suffering, but there is none which better illustrates her character than the following, which first appeared in a responsible Italian paper.
One day a poor woman, a certain Mrs. Vivante, took her sick child to the dispensary in Via Morosini, Rome, to have the doctor prescribe for it. The child's condition was very serious, and at the doctor's diagnosis the poor mother, thoroughly frightened, began to cry. While the doctor was attending to the little one, a lady stepped into the dispensary. She was very plainly and simply dressed, yet something in her appearance caused those present to step aside and make room for her. She silently listened to what the doctor was saying, and when he had handed back the child to the weeping mother she approached her.
"Your child has need of very special care," she said. "Why do you not send it to the hospital?" "Because I am its mother, lady, and cannot bear to part with it. I feel that if I can keep it with me, and care for it myself, it will recover just as quickly." The lady did not reply, but going up to the doctor, she spoke to him in a low voice for a few minutes.