Anguish and Omens
DIPHTHERIA STALKED GERMANY . It struck in the garret and the palace, in the back room and the nursery. In Hesse, Princess Alice watched three of her children stricken - and her husband, the new Grand Duke. Her daughter, 'May', died. When she told her sick son, he burst into tears. Trying to comfort him, she kissed him; it proved to be the kiss of death. She, herself, died of the disease on 14 December 1878, the anniversary the death of her father, the Prince Consort.
The Crown Princess had been particularly close to Alice. 'Our darling!' she wrote to Queen Victoria. 'I can hardly bear to write her dear name: she was my particular sister, the nearest in age, the only one living in the same country with me! We had so many interests in common and all our children were so near of an age! . . . Her last letter to me, a little pencil note, which, alas, I did not keep, was a cry of anguish for her sweet little flower, so rudely torn from its stem. I never heard from her again.'1
Three months later, her own little flower was torn from her. The tenyear-old Prince Waldemar also caught diphtheria. His tonsils swelled to the size of a walnut; he could scarcely swallow or shut his mouth. In spite of his sister's death, Waldemar's mother insisted on nursing him herself. She kept him isolated and was sprayed with carbolic before seeing her other children. After four days of choking with a rattle in his throat, Waldemar died. His mother thought him the dearest, nicest and most promising of her boys. It broke her heart to leave him lying so silent and so still, and see his pets in the next room; all his birds, his three dogs, the fishes in his aquarium and his little crocodiles. His mother could not bear the sight.2