After luncheon at the home of Baroness Julie de Rothschild and a long visit – more than three hours – through the aviaries of strange birds, the aquariums of exotic fish and the flowers of rare perfumes, Empress Elisabeth (Sissi) returns to the Beau-Rivage Hotel, Quai Mont-Blanc, in Geneva. She had refused to return to Territet with the Baroness de Rothschild’s yacht. She decides to return only the following day, by an ordinary boat, a steamer of the Compagnie generale de navigation, in exactly the same way that she had come.
Of the two women, it is the lady-in-waiting, Countess Irma Sztaray, who is the most tired. They sit down for a moment in front of Prince of Brunswick Garden. The Empress is holding a peach in her hand. Just when she is about to bite into it, a crow knocks the fruit from her hand with its wing. Sissi rises, very grave, and says:
“A crow is not a good sign. It always indicates misfortune in our House.”
Having arrived at the Beau-Rivage Hotel, the Empress goes up to her apartments. In contradiction with what has often been said, her incognito is not absolute. In fact, in the hotel’s Guest Register, the receptionist had written:
Her Majesty Empress Elisabeth of Austria.
Countess Sztaray, Lady-in-Waiting to H. M. the Empress.
Dr Eugene Kromar, Private Secretary to Her Majesty.
General Bercivczi, Chamberlain to Her Majesty.
Countess Harrach, Lady of the Court.
Countess Festetics, Lady of the Court.
Prince of Auersperg, Grand Chamberlain at the Court.
H. E. Count Bellegarde
Mlle de Meissel, chambermaid to H. M.
Mlle de Hennike, chambermaid to H. M.
Count of Kuefstein, Minister of Austria-Hungary in Berne.
Mr Mader, Master of the Imperial Train.
An amusing detail: the high-ranking people staying at the Beau-Rivage Hotel and their suite are given very careful writing, in thick, upright characters. The “ordinary” guests are mentioned, on the same page, in a less elegant, italic writing. The first “ordinary” guest, expected on 11 September, is the actress Madame Sarah Bernhardt.
After having rested for an hour, Sissi leaves again, at half-past-six, with her lady-in-waiting, to visit a few pastry shops. Quai du Rhone, she buys a table for her daughter Maria-Valeria. At a quarter-to-ten, they have returned. The night is superb and Sissi, who likes to sleep with the window open, is disturbed by the noise from the street and the melodies of an Italian singer. Further, the intermittent ray from a lighthouse inundates the room with light. She refuses to close the curtains, and goes to sleep only at two o’clock in the morning. The Empress usually rises at seven o’clock, but her night had been so short that she is not heard until nine o’clock. Madame Fanny Louise Mayer, the Hotel Manager, has left a detailed narration of Saturday 10 September 1898:
“For her breakfast, the Empress had asked for a selection of little breads, of all flavours and all forms, which were served to her on a big silver tray.”
At nine o’clock, Sissi says to her lady-in-waiting:
“At eleven o’clock, I want to go into town to listen to a new orchestrina and, at twenty-to-two, as planned, we shall take the boat to Caux.”
At eleven o’clock precisely – Sissi is as punctual as her husband – the two women leave the hotel and go towards the Baecker Music Shop, Rue Bonnivard. The Empress has always loved music boxes and Barbary organs. A machine with a handle plays popular airs on a roll: Carmen, Rigoletto, Lucia di Lammermoor, La Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein, Lohengrin and Tannhauser, one of the Empress’ favourite works. Elisabeth buys the machine and eighty rolls.
“This will give pleasure to the Emperor and the children.”
She signs the Golden Book only in Hungarian: Erzsebet Kiralyne (Elisabeth [Hungarian] Queen).
At one o’clock the Empress returns to the hotel. In front of the mirror, she removes her hat and her white gloves, rings for a lackey and asks him for some cold milk. Countess Sztaray eats a rapid luncheon and looks at the time on her little watch suspended at her neck by a gold chain. It is twenty-five minutes past one. She rises and knocks at the door to Elisabeth’s salon, for it is time to leave. In front of the balcony, Sissi is savouring her milk in a silver goblet which belongs to her. The lady-in-waiting addresses her in Hungarian:
“Your Majesty, it is nearly half-past one, the steamer leaves in a few minutes, we shall have to hurry.”
The Empress replies in Hungarian:
“I have never seen Mont Blanc so clearly.”
Elisabeth, usually in such a hurry, is unable to tear herself from the vision of the majestuous Alps. By precaution, the lady-in-waiting sends the lackey to the boat, to ask that it’s departure be retarded if necessary. Sissi says:
“Poor Irma, the responsibility that you have today seems to weigh heavily upon you…”
“Your Majesty! Please, imagine that we miss the steamer! We would be completely alone in Geneva! It is unthinkable!”
In fact, several members of the Empress’ suite have already left Geneva, with the luggage, by the midday train to Territet.
Laughingly, Elisabeth gives the goblet to the lady-in-waiting, who washes it rapidly and puts it away in a bag. In front of the mirror, the Empress puts her black hat and her white gloves back on, and collects her sunshade and fan. She leaves the apartment fairly slowly.
On Quai Mont-Blanc, the two women start to hurry. The boat’s bell is already ringing as they pass in front of the monument to the Duke of Brunswick. Elisabeth admires the chestnut trees. The quay is almost deserted. The Empress says:
“You see, we are in time, the people are boarding slowly and are not in a hurry.”
A young man is rapidly coming towards them. The two women step aside to let him pass, for he looks as if he is in a hurry. Suddenly, as he passes the Empress, the stranger appears to trip, raises his right fist and hits Elisabeth, who is under her sunshade. The Empress sinks to the ground, without a word. Her head strikes the quay. The lady-in-waiting screams, as the stranger runs away. A coachman helps the Countess raise Sissi. The Empress, red with emotion, arranges her hair which has come undone, and which had cushioned her head when it struck the quay. The coachman calls the Concierge of the Beau-Rivage Hotel. The lady-in-waiting, while brushing the Empress’ gown, asks her, convinced that the man had wanted to punch her:
“Is Your Majesty hurting anywhere?”
“No… No. Thank you. It is nothing.”
The Concierge insists that she return to the hotel.
“”No, no, nothing has happened.”
They arrive at the boat, whose bell is still ringing. Elisabeth asks in Hungarian:
“I wonder what that man wanted from me… Perhaps to steal my watch?”
Her red face becomes worryingly pale. The Countess holds Sissi, fearing that she will faint.
“Am I very pale?”
“Yes, Your Majesty, very pale. Is Your Majesty in pain?”
“My chest is hurting very much.”
The Concierge comes running back. He cries out:
“The aggressor has been arrested!”
To be continued.