Alexander II. passed part of the summer of 1874 in a German health-resort taking the mineral waters. When not in the castle in which he was staying with his train he affected the life of an ordinary citizen. He did so as much from necessity as from choice. Czar or subject, the same water must be drunk at the same spot and hour by all who seek its cure. Nor can any distinction be made in the matter of...
Alexander II. passed part of the summer of 1874 in a German health-resort taking the mineral waters. When not in the castle in which he was staying with his train he affected the life of an ordinary citizen. He did so as much from necessity as from choice. Czar or subject, the same water must be drunk at the same spot and hour by all who seek its cure. Nor can any distinction be made in the matter of the walk which the patient is to take after draining his two or three gobletsful.
The promenade at a watering place is a great parade-ground for the display of plumage, the gayest and costliest gowns being reserved for the procession that follows the taking of the remedy; but while the race is under way and everybody is striving to throw everybody else into the shade, the fact of their being there pierces each dress as with "X" rays, showing their flesh to be of the same fragile clay.
So the Czar accepted the levelling effect of the place good-naturedly and sought diversion in the unsustained rôle of a common mortal. Unsustained, because he carried his gigantic, beautiful form with a graceful self-importance and a martial erectness that betrayed his incognito even in the open country stretches to which he would stroll off in search of mild adventure and flirtation.
It was a late afternoon in the valley. The river glittered crimson. The hills on the other side of the summer town were capped by a sultry haze. Donkeys used in ascending these hills were trotting about impishly or standing in stupid row awaiting custom. The sun blazed down upon a parade of a hundred countries, including a jet black prince from Africa, a rajah, a Chinaman in dazzling silks, a wealthy Galician Jew in atlas, and a pasha with German features.
The Czar, his immense figure encased in a light frock coat of excellent fit, was sauntering along apparently unaccompanied except by his terrier and cane. When saluted he would raise his straw hat and nod his enormous well-shaped head with a cordiality that bordered on good-fellowship. He seemed to relish this exchange of courtesies with people who were not his subjects in this little republic of physical malady. It was as though he felt apart from his autocratic self without feeling out of that pampering atmosphere of deference and attention which was his second nature; and he gave an effect of inhaling his freedom as one does the first whiffs of spring air.
As to his fellow patients, they either discovered something majestic in the very dog that followed him, or were struck by the knuckles of his ungloved hands, for example, as if it were remarkable that they should be the same sort of knuckles as their own. He was strikingly well-built and strikingly handsome. He wore thick close-cropped side whiskers of the kind that is rarely becoming, but his face they became very well indeed, adding majesty to a cast of large, clear-cut features. It was the most monarchical face of its time, and yet it was anything but a strong face. His imposing side whiskers and moustache left bare a full sensuous mouth and a plump weak chin; his blueish eyes gave forth suggestions of melancholy and anguish. Interest in him was whetted by stories of his passion for Princess Dolgoruki, lady in waiting to the Czarina; so the women at the watering place tried to decipher the tale of his liaison in those sad amative eyes of his.