When the Empress visits this country, she and Queen Alexandra usually spend much of their time paying surprise visits to hospitals and charitable institutions in which our Royal family take a strong personal interest, and on these occasions the Empress always leaves a substantial souvenir of her presence. The two Royal sisters have much in common. In personal appearance there is a striking resemblance, heightened by the fact that both ignore any prevailing fashions in hairdressing, and continue to adopt that form of high coiffure which best suits their type of feature. And her Imperial Majesty, like Queen Alexandra, still preserves the youthful, handsome looks which are so characteristic of the Danish Royal family.
Is this because Denmark really possesses the stone of youth ? Tradition says that a Limerick man once went to stay in Copenhagen, where he found himself very comfortable - one person vied with another to make him happy. When he was going away he said to his kind entertainers, ' Tell me what I can do for you." They told him that in a certain spot in County Limerick a box of gold was buried. If he would dig up the box he would find a stone ring. This ring he was asked to send to Copenhagen, but the gold he might keep. After digging up the box, the Irishman went off again with it to Copenhagen, but his friends declined to take any of the gold, and accepted only the stone ring. Then they turned upon him, and said, "Unfortunate wretch, you have betrayed and ruined your country. All would have gone well with her so long as the ring of youth remained in her, but from henceforth all poverty will leave Denmark, and her women will always be young and beautiful, while Ireland will bear a double burden of poverty. Her children will be forced to other countries; nothing will thrive in Ireland." Doubtless the superstitious will see much in the legend.
Assassination of Alexander II.
The Empress and Queen Alexandra share similar hobbies. They delight in music and gardening, and take equal delight in making long excursions into the country, where the trammels of etiquette can be more or less set aside. And the Empress has such a fondness for this country, and for the society of her sister, that it has been frequently rumoured that she intended to buy an estate in this country where, should the revolutionary troubles in Russia increase, she could offer a temporary shelter to her son, the Emperor, and his much-tried wife.
There must have been times when the Empress herself felt that she needed such an asylum; for tragedy has marked her life since her first betrothal. She saw not only her first lover die of consumption, but also one of her sons. Then, in 1881, came the terrible assassination of Alexander II., her husband's father, who fell a victim to the bomb-thrower as he was being driven in a close carriage from the Winter Palace, St. Petersburg, accompanied by his brother, the Grand Duke Michael. The first bomb shattered the carriage, but his Majesty miraculously escaped, and, apparently uninjured, stepped into the road. An officer ran towards him and asked whether he was hurt. The Emperor replied very calmly, " Thank God, I am untouched ! Don't disturb yourself. I must see after the wounded ! " And it was while he was ordering that all attention should be paid to a number of soldiers and civilians who had been injured that a second bomb was thrown, causing him such fearful injuries that he died very shortly after being taken back to the Winter Palace.
And this was the man who, filled with detestation of war and turmoil by the terrible losses suffered by Russia in the war with Turkey, was endeavouring, towards the end of his reign, to bring about the emancipation of the serfs and an elementary form of a representative government. And Alexander III., when he came to the throne, endeavoured to carry out his father's good work, being greatly assisted in his labours by the Empress. The ceaseless struggle against Nihilists, however, greatly embittered his Majesty, and led him at times to be somewhat severe, a fact which caused the Empress considerable grief. For she wished her husband to be as greatly loved in Russia as her father was in Denmark. The story goes that one day she saw on her husband's writing-table a document relating to some political prisoner. On it the Tsar had written, "Pardon impossible; to be sent to Siberia." The Empress took up the pen, and striking out the semicolon after " impossible " put it before the word, so that the sentence read, " Pardon; impossible to be sent to Siberia." The Tsar would not alter it, so it was sent in its amended form.
In the end, however, the Nihilists practically killed him. For some time his health had been declining, owing to the ravages of consumption. And then came the terrible railway accident at Borki to the train in which he was travelling, caused, it was believed, by a bomb thrown by one of the cooks in the kitchen accompanying the train. The Tsar never recovered from the shock. Medical aid failed to save his life, and ultimately he succumbed at his palace at Livadia, on November 1, 1894. The official account of his death makes pathetic reading. " The death of the Emperor," it says, " was that of an upright man, just as his life, which was inspired by faith, love, and humility, was a life of uprightness. For some days before his end, his Majesty felt that death was approaching. . . . After passing a sleepless night his Majesty said to the Empress on the morning of the 1st inst., ' I feel the end approaching; be calm, I am quite calm.' ... At two o'clock the Emperor's pulse became more rapid, and his eyes appeared to brighten.
A quarter of an hour later, however, he closed his eyes, leaned back his head, and commended his soul to God, leaving as a legacy to his people the blessings of peace and the bright example of a noble life."
For a considerable time the Empress was prostrated by the shock. She avoided all society, and retired to Gatchina, which is the Russian Windsor, and is some distance from St. Petersburg, where she now lives for the greater part of the year. And her unhappiness was intensified by the troubles which beset her son. As the world knows, the present Tsar endeavoured to follow out the policy of his father, and by certain reforms bring about a better condition of the people, and stamp out that revo-lutionary fever which has been such a menace to the throne. The bureaucracy has been too strong for him, however, and his beneficent schemes have accomplished practically nothing, in spite of the encouragement of his mother, who, because of her endeavours to gain the goodwill of the people of her son, has been the victim of many malicious stories circulated by those who are enemies to the real progress of the country.
She has been accused of being the "woman behind the throne," responsible for the unhappiness of the Tsarina because of her influence over the Tsar.
To those who know the noble character of the Empress, such stories are absurd. Between the Tsarina and the Empress exists a deep bond of affection, and during the troublous times through which Russia has passed of late years, these two Royal ladies have found much relief from anxious thought in mutual companionship. Further evidence of the falseness of the stories mentioned is to be found in the affection which the children of the Tsar and Tsarina have for their grandmother. A visit to the Empress is hailed with the keenest delight, and many happy family parties have taken place at the Empress's home at Gatchina.