The Queen and Her People
Then the doctor came to the poor woman, and handing her a fifty-franc bill, said, "Thank Queen Helene. She bids me tell you in her name that your child shall want for nothing as long as it is ill." The poor woman was so overcome at having unwittingly spoken with the Queen, that she scarcely knew what to say or do. Finally, taking heart of grace, she attempted to thank her in a few troubled words. "But why this trouble?" the Queen asked smilingly. "Am I not a woman, just like you? Your child has just the same right to live that mine has, and it shall be cared for till it is perfectly well again."
On another occasion she arranged that a little crippled boy-michael Gallo-whom she first saw dragging himself painfully along on a pair of roughly-made crutches, should be treated by the best specialists; while frequently she entertains hundreds of poor school-children at Racconigi and San Rossore. There was one occasion, however, when Queen Helene's gift brought sorrow instead of gladness to the recipient.
While out walking one day in the suburbs of Rome, she noticed a poorly-clad girl knitting. She stopped and asked her if she could knit stockings. "Yes," said the girl, " I can knit very well." "Do you know who I am?" inquired Queen Helene. "Yes," answered the girl again, " you are the Queen." "Well, then, make a pair of stockings, and send them to the palace." The stockings arrived at the Royal residence some time afterwards, and the Queen, in return, sent her humble friend a fine silken pair, one of which was filled with sweets, while the other contained a goodly sum of money. Instead of joy, however, the Queen's gift brought sorrow to the girl, as the following letter proves: "Your Majesty, -Your gift has caused me many tears. My father has taken the money, my elder brother has eaten the sweets, and as for the stockings, my mother put them on herself."
Perhaps, however, nothing has endeared Queen Helene more to the hearts of her husband's subjects than the courage and practical sympathy she has shown when calamity has overtaken them. Everyone remembers the part she took in the rescue work at Messina, visiting the very heart of the disaster area, and by her conduct preventing a stampede in the hospital in Messina on a slight recurrence of the earthquake. She tended the injured, made clothes for the half-naked children, gave money to the destitute-in a word, did all that a woman could do under such terrible circumstances.
Nor is this the only occasion on which Queen Helene has displayed courage and devotion where others were concerned. Immediately after the funeral of King Humbert, in 1900, there was a serious collision on the Campagna, about seven miles from Rome, between two trains taking home mourners. The moment the news reached the Quirinal Palace, King Victor a nd Queen Helene, who had been hardly a fortnight on the throne, finding that a special train would take too long to prepare, set off in cabs for the scene of disaster. Arriving there about two in the morning, they worked all night in the rescue party, Queen Helene dressing wounds on the injured or dying, and the King personally directing the removal of the debris and the extrication of the victims. Though they did not leave the scene till the early morning, both King and Queen visited the hospitals that afternoon to visit or inquire for the wounded.
Here is another story which illustrates the promptitude and presence of mind of her Majesty. In 1906 she accompanied King Emmanuel to Castel Porziano on a shooting trip. The weather was very cold, and the Royal party sat for a time around a huge bonfire, Suddenly a Royal equerry jumped over the fire by way of a joke. His clothes unfortunately caught fire. Immediately there was a panic. The ladies of the party screamed, while the gentlemen seemed to lose their heads. Not so her Majesty, however. She immediately threw herself on the equerry, tore away the burning part of his clothing, and choked the flames with her skirts, and thus by her promptitude
Photo, Abeniaca The children of the King and Queen of Italy-prince Umberto, and the little Princesses Yolanda, Mafalda and Ciovanna. The children are brought up with great simplicity, and as naturally as possible saved the attendant from what might have been a terrible death.
In addition to sport, by the way, Queen Helene finds much recreation in the study of archaeology, and some time ago was instrumental in discovering, during some excavations carried out under her immediate supervision, a beautiful statue by Mynon, the celebrated Greek sculptor.
Her chief delight, however, is to paint portraits of her children, and being a skilful painter in oils and water colours she has executed some charming pictures which adorn the walls of the Quirinal Palace.
In the management of her own children, Queen Helene has proved herself a very practical mother. The story has often been told how, when Princess Yolanda was born, her Majesty was much criticised by the grandes dames of the Court for her objection to some of the old Italian customs in connection with Royal nurseries. One of these customs was to bind the Royal infants in very tight swaddling clothes. Queen Helene quickly did away with these, with the remark:
" Babies legs were made to kick with, and my baby shall be free to kick." Her children, charities, and official duties naturally make a great demand upon the time of Queen Helene. But she has found time to write a book of verse, in addition to painting some excellent pictures. It is, perhaps, singular, in view of the happy married life of the King and Queen of Italy, that her book of verse should have been entitled " The Crown of Thorns," and that it should deal with the sorrow and sadness of a throne. The lines tell of a woman who sits on the steps of a throne. Her eyes are full of tears, her lips distorted with grief, yet no one sees her, save the king upon the throne. Her name is Care. Beneath the king's crown of gold is another crown-a crown of thorns.
Is the poem an interpretation of her Majesty's real thoughts concerning the burdens of her husband and herself? Certainly their characters would seem to suggest that they would much prefer the domestic happiness of a humble home to the pleasures of a palace.