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H.M. the Queen Dowager of Italy, who, before her marriage with the late King Humbert, was Princess Margherita of Savoy. The beauty and accomplishments of Queen Margherita have rendered her famous among modern sovereigns, while her tender charity to the poor has earned her the love of her people
Photo, Guigoni and Bossi
Sometimes, however, her experiences have taken a humorous turn, and she is fond of relating how, on one occasion, when her car broke down on a country road, she and her companions had to walk to the nearest railway station some miles off. Arrived there, her Majesty travelled to Rome by the next train like any ordinary person; but, as luck would have it, she and her friends got into a compartment occupied by a young honeymoon couple, who, un-aware of the Queen's identity, cast angry looks at her during the whole of the journey. " It was the first time in my life," remarked her Majesty, "that I had ever known myself to be de trop."
Queen Mar-gherita, it might be mentioned, possesses a rare vein of humour, and is very fond of a practical joke of the harmless order. Some time ago she caused great consternation among her attendants by a little practical joke she played upon them. Her Majesty was out walking with two servants when she entered a peasant's hut, and told the men to wait for her outside. Half an hour passed, then an hour, then two hours, and, as the Queen had not returned, the attendants became so anxious that they went into the hut to see what had happened. To their dismay the Queen was nowhere to be found, and the old peasant woman who lived in the hut either could not or would not give any information as to her Majesty's whereabouts. On rushing back to the palace the attendants were told that the Queen had arrived there nearly two hours previously. It appeared that her Majesty had entered the hut in ordinary walking costume and had changed it inside for a peasant's dress. Then, delighting in the joke, she had passed out again without being recognised by her servants, and had walked back unattended to the palace. The story of this practical joke reminds one of the amusing trick played by the late King Humbert on his wife. His late Majesty relied very much upon his wife's judgment, but when she suggested that he should dye his hair, which was becoming quite white, he gently declined to "act the dandy," as he expressed himself. The Queen then thought she would try a stratagem. She caused a quantity of fine hair dye to be sent from Paris and put in the King's dressing-room, together with directions for use, making, however, no allusion to the subject. The King said nothing, though he could not fail to see the pigment. Now, the Queen had a large white poodle of which she was very fond. What was her horror a few days later to see her pet come into the room with his snowy locks changed to those of the deepest black! King Humbert had expended the dye upon changing the colour of the poodle's hair. Needless to say, the subject of hair dyeing was dropped between the Royal couple.
One of the most praiseworthy features of the late King Humbert's career was the manner in which he set himself the task of paying off the debts of his father, King Victor Emmanuel II., which were in a great measure due to his indiscriminate charity. He set the example to the Court of simple living, caring little for ceremony or State display, and although he could have declined the responsibility of settling with his father's creditors, he willingly took over enormous liabilities which necessitated economy for many years.
Indeed, so strict were the economical principles he instituted at the Court that on a certain day champagne ceased to appear on the table, and on the Queen inquiring why this was the case, the King laughingly answered that champagne would henceforth only be served on Sundays, as the most rigid economy had to be observed.
On yet another occasion King Humbert gave his wife one of those gentle rebukes into which enters a sense of humour, and which are, on that account, less hard to bear. It appears that King Humbert once asked one of the Queen's secretaries what would be an acceptable Christmas present for her Majesty. This gentleman, a truer friend than courtier, had the courage to suggest to the King that the Queen had a large number of unpaid milliners' and dressmakers' bills. The King promptly desired that they should all be given to him. On Christmas morning King Humbert placed all these bills, receipted, under the
Queen's table-napkin. There was no other present. It is said that her Majesty accepted the hint, and was afterwards less extravagant. Queen Margherita has always been passionately fond of beautiful clothes and jewels, and has spent, as a rule, at least £3,000 a year on dress out of her own private purse, in addition to the amount allowed her. Furthermore, she has all her life been very fond of costly and rare lace and delicate crochet work, and as she would only buy this when hand-made she has spent large sums on it at one time or another.
It is well known, too, that Queen Marghe-rita possesses some of the finest pearls in the world. They are her favourite jewels. She wears several rows around her neck, and it is by these pearls, if by no other sign, that she can always be recognised. Before the death of King Humbert these pearls were multiplied every year, for his Majesty shared his wife's love of precious stones, and added annually a string to the precious necklet until it descended far below her waist.
A propos of Queen Margherita's love of dress, an amusing story is told in Rome about her Majesty's maids Some time ago the Queen noticed a woman in the street wearing a dress which seemed strangely familiar to her, and a few minutes' thought convinced her that the dress was one which she had recently discarded. Investigations at the palace disclosed the fact that one of the Queen's maids, to whom the dress had been given, had sold it, and for this reason she was dismissed. Queen Margherita engaged another woman, whom for years she regarded as a " perfect jewel of a maid." Quite recently, however, it came to light that the second maid had been making £1,000 a year by the sale of the Queen's cast-off apparel, which was always given to her. This she sold, generally to American women, stipulating that the dresses should not be worn in Italy, and it was only a breach of the pledge on the part of a woman from Buffalo that brought about her discomfiture.
Although Queen Margherita will be sixty years of age on November 20, 1911, she is still one of the most elegant women in Italy. No woman knows better the art of how to look her best and how to retain her beauty. Her complexion and figure are still the envy of Italian society.
Her Majesty cares little for Court life, and since her husband's death she has devoted much time to philanthropic work throughout Italy. She is, in fact, regarded by the people of that country in the same light as Queen Alexandra is regarded by the poor of this land. Sympathy for her widowed state is mingled with admiration for the fortitude with which she faced the tragedy of her life.