Since the accession of her husband to the throne of Belgium, in 1910, the young Queen has suffered much from delicate health, and was for a time in rather a dangerous condition. The adoration with which the people regard her was manifested in the affectionate demonstration which they made when the Queen drove out for the first time after her illness. It seemed as though all Brussels had come out to pay her loving homage.
But, though unable for a time to visit amongst the poor and take an active part in philanthropic work, the Queen had inspired such love in the people that the flower which she chose for her name-day-june 30 - was made the means of obtaining funds to help forward a cause dear to the heart of the Queen. Last year the little wild rose was named as the Queen's flower, and all through the towns and villages of Belgium the people wore the bloom. The proceeds from the sales were given to support the campaign against tuberculosis. The flower was sold at a penny, and some two hundred thousand francs were realised.
This year (1911) La Fleur de la Reine is the edelweiss, and the sale has been taken up with enormous enthusiasm. The favour is an artificial representation of the white, star-like flower, and attached to it is a ribbon with a tiny portrait of the Queen. The proceeds are to be devoted to fighting the terrible ravages made by that awful disease, the sleeping sickness, which is the scourge of the Congo.
The Queen shares the King's interest in that land, which, under the protectorate of the Belgian Government, has now entered upon a phase of prosperous and humane management. Under the autocratic rule of the late King of the Belgians, the Congo had become a word of reproach, and its vast wealth in rubber and other products was wrung from a suffering and enslaved people. Before he came to the throne the present King, in 1909, accompanied by experts, travelled through the whole of Congoland upon a tour of investigation. The Congo had been annexed by the Belgian Government in November, 1908, and the future King determined to see for himself the condition of its inhabitants, with a view to carrying out reforms. The result was the great improvement carried out in the country by the Ordinances of 1910. The basis of government is now free trade and free labour. The working of the estates by monopoly is abandoned, and the natives are permitted to have rubber freely.
The King during his travels was deeply impressed by the ravages made by the sleeping sickness, and he and his advisers endeavoured to rouse the interest of medical science to grapple with the scourge. At a meeting at the palace in Brussels, January, 1911, the King said, in reply to a speech on the subject made by the President of the Royal Academy : " The sleeping sickness ravages whole districts in the Congo. I have convinced myself of this. It is always from the medical faculties that we await discoveries which will put us in the way of progress in combating these evils. With regard thereto I make before you here a pressing appeal to our doctors to generously second the efforts of their fellow-countrymen, so that in increasing numbers they may bring to the Belgian Congo the benefits of modern medical science. There is for our country a humanitarian object to be fulfilled, and I have every hope that the youth of our universities will be anxious to associate themselves therewith."
The accounts which the King gave of what he had seen of the terrible disease deeply moved his gentle consort, who, as we have seen, has been interested in medical science from her girlhood. And so it came about that the ladies of Belgium, moved by the Queen's example, started a campaign to raise funds for aiding the victims of sleeping sickness, and to help the efforts being made to exterminate the fly which carries the disease germs. The sale of the Queen's flower this year has been more popular than ever.
The matter concerns all Europeans who trade with the Congo, for they will benefit equally with the Belgian people by the assuagement of the pest. It was a very happy thought on the part of M. Roger Ehrhardt and Mr. Leon Osterrieth, of the Belgian Section of the International Rubber Exhibition in London this year, to organise a sale of the Queen's flower on June 30 for the cause of the sleeping sickness. The committee of Belgian ladies was assisted by many ladies in English society, and record sales were made of the edelweiss, not only on the Queen's name-day, but throughout the succeeding period of the Exhibition. Silver was asked, and gold was not refused, for the sweet little emblem, and it was a fine opportunity for those who have benefited by the rubber boom to do something for those who toil in the pestilential Congo districts.
The Queen also takes much interest in the work of the Bacteriological Laboratory at Leopoldsville in its efforts to grapple with diseases. When returning from a sojourn in Egypt for her health, the Queen stayed a short time in Liverpool en route for home, and was much interested in the work of the Tropical School of Medicine in that city, particularly with regard to the sleeping sickness
The new reign in Belgium has been begun under the happiest auspices. The King and Queen are devoted to each other and to the welfare of their people. The King is a noble-spirited man, who has patiently bided the time when he might use his power to wipe out the memory of much that was wrong in the past. He follows in the footsteps of Leopold, the first King of the Belgians, that good and wise ruler who was the uncle of Queen Victoria, and a second father to her. The private letters of the late Queen reveal how implicitly she and the Prince Consort relied on the judgment of " Uncle Leopold." It was while on a visit to her uncle at the palace of Laeken, near Brussels, that Queen Victoria ratified the betrothal of her eldest son to the Princess Alexandra of
Denmark, a circumstance which will ever make a bond between this country and Belgium.
The King and Queen have three children, Prince Leopold, Prince Theodore, and the Princess Marie Jose, who was born at Ostend, where the Queen frequently stays for her health. These charming children take up much of their mother's time, for the Queen watches over them in every particular herself, and superintends the education of her sons. The younger of them has . inherited her musical tastes, and is learning to play the violin.
The Queen realises to the full how much the welfare of a nation depends upon the character of its rulers, and in the Royal nursery and schoolroom at Brussels she is laying the seeds which it is hoped will bear fruit in after years. It may be said that the Queen of the Belgians devotes herself to her children and to the poor.
The Court life is very simple, and the chief events are the dinners and receptions to the Ministers when Parliament is sitting. The Queen may in the future institute more festivities, and revive the former prestige of the Court of Brussels, but as yet her Majesty has found but little time in which to inaugurate a new regime.