When, two years later, the Princess on her approaching marriage bade good-bye to her friends in the Balmoral cottages, old Mrs. Grant "spoke her mind " to the Queen, saying that she thought the Princess was as sorry to go as they were to part with her ; then, suddenly recollecting herself, apologised, saying, " I mean no harm, but I always say just what 1 think, not what is fut (fit) ! "
Queen Victoria knew well how to value the honest speech of her faithful Highland people, and made the comment, " Dear old lady, she is such a pleasant person ! "
More than forty years rolled by, and the Crown Prince and Princess Frederick of Germany were again amongst the scenes of their courting days at Balmoral. The Prince was soon to ascend the Imperial throne of the Fatherland, but the hand of death was already upon him. One day he set out alone up Craignaben, and returning with a bunch of white heather, laid it upon his wife's lap, with the words, "1 gathered it at the very spot."
After the death of the Prince Consort, her Highland home and its many tender associations became more than ever endeared to Queen Victoria, and it was her unvarying custom to spend her own birthday, in May, and that of the Prince, in November, at Balmoral.
Each spring, when the birches were in tender leaf and the yellow broom spread its glory over the landscape, and each autumn, when the purple heather clothed the hills, the Queen came with her family and Court for a sojourn in the Highlands. Often in the autumn she lingered until the first snow-covered the mountains and glen, and she could enjoy the exhilaration of being driven over the tracks through the white world.
The Queen's example set the fashion for spending holidays in Scotland. Rank and fashion flocked to the North each autumn, and humbler folk contrived to get a tour in the Highlands. The railway crept from Aberdeen to Ballater, within seven miles of the Castle, and coaches conveyed visitors through the Royal estate to Braemar. Happy indeed were the tourists who were fortunate enough to see the Queen taking her afternoon drive, attended by servants in full Highland dress, and by the ever faithful John Brown.
A Love Story
The story of Balmoral Castle continued to be purely a record of the private life of the Royal Family. Gradually the estate became dotted with statues, cairns, and other memorials which marked the Queen's joys and griefs - the marriages of her children, and the deaths of loved ones - and above all towered the noble statue of the Prince Consort, while his cairn, like that of the Queen, crowned one of the heights.
Her Majesty loved to gather all her family about her at Balmoral, and Abergeldie Castle, two miles distant, became the Highland home of the Prince of Wales upon his marriage with the Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Thither they came each autumn with their family.
The widowed Duchess of Albany and her children used to stay at Birkhall, on the Royal estate, when the Queen was at Balmoral, while Princess Beatrice, after her marriage, remaining as ever her mother's constant companion, brought with her handsome husband and merry children a renewal of the old joyous family life to the Castle.
Love romances had continued to be associated with the Queen's Highland home. Sweet Princess Alice roamed the hills with her lover, Prince Louis of Hesse, just as " Vicky and Fritz " had done, and, later, handsome Princess Louise became the affianced bride of the heir of the Argylls as they strolled one afternoon from the Glassalt Shiel to Loch Dhu.
Lady Jane Ely was in attendance on the Princess, but most thoughtfully fell behind to talk to Lord Hatherley, who was of the party, and so left the lovers to themselves. On their return to the Castle, the Queen was informed of what had taken place. "An eventful day," she wrote in her diary. "Our dear Louise was engaged to Lord Lome."
The years pass by, and another Scottish noble finds a Royal bride on Deeside. It was during autumn sojourns in the Highlands that the young Princess Louise of Wales gave her heart to her father's friend and neighbour, the Duke of Fife.
Queen Victoria continued to add to Balmoral domains throughout her life. The primitive peasant huts were early replaced by neat, trim cottages. Pleasant and commodious houses for various members of the Queen's household rose in the glen, conspicuous amongst these being the house of the Munshi, the Queen's Indian secretary, and that of John Brown.
Not far away, nestling amongst the hills, is " The Bush," the little cottar farm where Brown's parents lived when he first entered the Royal service as a stable-boy, and tourists still take an interest in visiting the humble homestead of the lad who, by his faithful devotion, was to earn the trusted friendship of his Queen. John Brown lies in the churchyard by the Dee, and his simple tombstone bears the Queen's grateful tribute to an honest man's fidelity :
That friend on whose fidelity you count, That friend, given you by circumstances Over which you have no control, was God's own gift.
In time the old ivy-clad church of Crathie, which the Queen loved so well, gave place to a pretty, new church of white granite, better suited to the needs of the parish and Royal household. This is now becoming a shrine of memorials, the latest being the new altar table which King George unveiled in his Coronation year to the memory of his beloved father.
Queen Victoria added to her Balmoral estate the forest of Ballochbuie, where her sons and grandsons followed the chase, and where she delighted to have picnic parties with her family and friends, the Royal kettle being boiled on a stone hearth near a spring in the forest.
In various picturesque parts of the estate the Queen built shiels, or cottage homes, where she could enjoy solitude and communion with Nature. The first of these was the " Hut," by the falls of Glen Muich, which was constructed out of two old peat-covered huts. There the Queen and Prince Consort used to spend days amid the grand solitude, living the simple life; and to the end of her days her Majesty would stop at the Hut for rest and refreshment when driving through that part of the domain.
Three miles further away, the Queen built the Glassalt Shiel, a compact little house of ten rooms, and in 1868 she celebrated the house-warming in true Highland fashion.
After the purchase of Ballochbuie, the Queen erected in the very heart of the forest, the Danzig Shiel, which is in part occupied by the head keeper, but has a suite of rooms set apart for the Royal use. Giant firs, relics of the old Caledonian wood, surround it, and the cascade of Garbh Allt falls near the shiel. It is a place of strange fascination, and one can picture the rapture of the poet-queen of Roumania when, during her stay at Balmoral, she accompanied her hostess to the Danzig Shiel.
Carmen Sylva was overpowered by the weird and solemn grandeur of the forest, and her imaginative nature revelled in the picturesque scene when a Highland torchlight dance celebrated the return of the Royal sportsmen with the deer. This shiel was the forest sporting headquarters of King Edward, and continues to be that of King George. •
Down the glen, three miles beyond the Castle, is the fourth and last of the Royal cottage homes of Balmoral, the Queen's Shiel, most intimately associated with the revered Sovereign's life.
It stands in a beautiful solitude, where the Gelder comes tumbling over its rocky bed. On most fine mornings, when she was in the Highlands, the Queen came in her pony chair from the Castle to the shiel, and there, with her secretary, passed several hours writing and transacting business. Many State secrets could the walls of that tiny dwelling tell, for it has witnessed the Royal signature to some momentous dispatches.
Amongst the memories attached to the Queen's Shiel, none is more pathetic than the visit to it of the Empress Eugenie, when, by Queen Victoria's invitation, she came to stay in the Highlands immediately after the terrible death of the Prince Imperial. The sorrowing mother was calmed by the beauty of the place, and after a simple luncheon of trout, served with oatmeal, in the Highland fashion, she and the Queen walked along the banks of the Gelder, talking of the happy days of long ago, before bereavement had cast its sombre shade over their lives.
Many Royal and distinguished visitors did Queen Victoria entertain at Balmoral, but the most striking of all was the reception of the Emperor and Empress of Russia. The torchlight procession which escort( the Imperial pair to the Castle, and the meeting in the hall between the fair young Empress and her beloved grandmother, made a scene of picturesque and tender interest.
The Empress and her sisters, the motherless little girls of Princess Alice, had passed many holidays at Balmoral, and the first morning after her arrival the Empress brought her husband to Mrs. Symonds' shop " just to see," as she said, " whether " the old lady would "know who he was." The Imperial pair made lavish purchases for their tiny daughter, the Grand Duchess Olga, at this delightful village emporium, and returned to the Castle as merry as children themselves.
The " shop" has been the delight of three generations of Royal children. There King George purchased some of his first fishing tackle, as his father did before him, and its miscellaneous stores are now the joy of his own children.
Since the death of Queen Victoria, the fair Highland castle of her creation has remained true to the national traditions with which she endowed it. There King Edward and Queen Alexandra kept their Court in Scotland, surrounded by their faithful Highlanders, and preserving the time-honoured Scottish sports and pastimes; and this year (1911) the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those simple folk who witnessed the first coming of Royalty to the Deeside, more than sixty years ago, danced at the Coronation ball given by King George and Queen Mary.
Balmoral lives, too, as a precious childhood's memory to many crowned heads in Europe. The Kaiser paddled in its burns to the detriment of his kilts; the Tsarina rode its hillsides with girlish zest and spirit; the Queen of Spain spent every spring and autumn of her life amidst its mountains •and glens before a crown came to her fair head ; and the Queen of Norway, too, passed a portion of each year on Deeside before another land claimed her.
The reigning Duke of Saxe-coburg-gotha will recall the old woman's scrubbing-brush which, as a small boy, he floated all too successfully down the Dee, and the pocket-monev which had to go to buy another one. The Duke of Hesse, too, knows the Castle so endeared by his mother's memory. And the future Queens of Sweden and Roumania have their youthful associations with the loved Highland home of our Royal House.