Empress Elisabeth (Sissi)’s aggressor, who has fled by Rue des Alpes, is caught and held by an electrician, Mr Louis Chammartin, who was coming from the opposite direction, then by a gendarme. The gendarme takes him back to Beau-Rivage Hotel. He is interrogated. Mme Fanny Louise Mayer, the Hotel Manager, recounts:
“My husband, at the height of exasperation, gave him a violent blow to the mouth. A young Austrian Baron, who was at the hotel, also wanted to attack him. The gendarme prevented him.”
The gendarme has the man transferred to Paquis Police Station. The unknown man refuses to answer questions. He has a cynical, wild air about him.
Meanwhile, Elisabeth is arriving at the boat’s boarding ramp. Her lady-in-waiting, Countess Irma Sztaray, ceases to hold her for a few seconds. Elisabeth has barely arrived on board than she turns and says:
“Now, give me your arm. Quickly!”
The Countess seizes her, assisted by a lackey, but the Empress collapses gently, her head resting on her lady-in-waiting’s breast. Sissi has lost consciousness. The Countess calls for water, which is sprinkled on a face that is becoming paler and paler. Then, she calls for a doctor.
There isn’t one, but a female passenger, a former nurse, hurries over. The boat’s captain, Captain Roux, arrives. He has heard that a woman has been taken ill. He does not know her identity and advises Countess Sztaray to disembark the sick person and take her back to her hotel.
“She has fainted from fear.”
Heavy heat reigns on deck. Captain Roux proposes a cabin. No, she needs air. Three gentlemen carry Elisabeth onto the top deck and lay her on a bench.
The lady-in-waiting opens the black gown, cuts the corset which is hindering breathing and slips a sugar-lump imbibed with alcohol between Sissi’s lips.
Sissi instinctively eats the sugar. She opens her eyes and tries to rise.
“IsYour Majesty feeling better?”
“Yes, thank you.”
She manages to sit up.
“But what has happened?”
“Your Majesty fainted. But she is feeling better now, isn’t she?”
No answer. Elisabeth has lost consciousness again.
Hastily, the Countess finishes unlacing Sissi and notices a brown stain, the size of a silver florin, on the mauve batiste undershirt. Beneath the left breast, she discovers a triangular wound and a drop of dried blood. A clot… The Countess cries out to the nurse:
“Good God! She has been assassinated!…”
The Captain is called.
“For Heaven’s sake, I beg you! Go back to the quay, quickly! This lady is the Empress of Austria. She has a chest-wound. I cannot let her die without a doctor and a priest.”
Immediately, the Captain gives the order to head for Geneva. As there is no stretcher on board, they improvise one with sailcloth, cushions and two oars. Elisabeth moans, her face covered in perspiration. The Countess, desperate, is at her feet. Six sailors carry the stretcher to the hotel. Covered with her coat, Elisabeth, still unconscious, rolls her head from side to side. A desperate combat, an ultimate fight…
The hotel Concierge holds Sissi’s hand “so that it doesn’t hang down miserably”. A gentleman protects her head with the sunshade.
“Panic was at its height. Sadness and consternation could be read on all faces.”
Laid on her bed, Elisabeth is still moaning. It is ten-past-two. A doctor, Dr Golay, tries to sound the wound. The lady-in-waiting asks:
“Is there hope?”
The doctor sadly replies:
“Try anyway! Try to bring her back to life!”
Mme Mayer and an English nurse help to undress Elisabeth and take off her shoes. A priest arrives. He gives her absolution. All the women are on their knees in prayer. A second doctor, Dr Mayor, incises the artery of the left arm, but there is not a drop of blood. It is twenty-to-three. The Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary has just died without regaining consciousness. She was sixty-one-years-old. Her cheeks are slightly coloured and her lips have a last smile on them, that smile which had moved millions of men and women. Mme Mayer writes:
“Countess Sztaray closed her eyes and joined her hands. I stayed with Countess Sztaray until the arrival of the suite which came around six o’clock. The Empress was embalmed and put in a coffin. In the evening, the Countess had me called as well as my husband, and gave me a rose that she took from the coffin and which I keep preciously, as well as a little piece of mauve ribbon stained with blood. Today, the blood has disappeared. The drama took place fifty years ago, but the memory of it has remained as if it had happened yesterday.”
At Schonbrunn, Emperor Franz-Josef rises at four o’clock in the morning, as usual: the Emperor, a disciplined soldier of sixty-eight, leaps from his bed, bids good morning to his chambervalet and enquires about the weather while the man in charge of his bath brings his vulcanised bathtub. Washed, rinced, dried, Franz-Josef dresses in his daily uniform – blue tunic, black trousers – and his doctor makes his routine visit. From breakfast to luncheon, served at his desk, the Emperor prepares the manoeuvres which he is to preside in Slovakia. At the beginning of the afternoon, he writes to Sissi:
“My sweet, loved soul”.
He tells her that the day before he had enjoyed a delicious glass of good milk from her dairy and that he is leaving, this evening, for the manoeuvres. His last words are:
“I entrust you to God, my Dear Angel and I embrace you with all my heart.
Your little one.”
At half-past-four in the afternoon, Count Paar, the Emperor’s aide-de-camp, arrives at the Hofburg. He is very pale and asks to be received urgently. He is holding a message from Geneva. The text is brief:
“Her Majesty the Empress seriously wounded. Please announce to the Emperor with care.”
Franz-Josef, absorbed in his dossiers, raises his head, surprised that Count Paar, usually impassible, appears so emotional.
“What’s the matter, my dear Paar?”
“Your Majesty… I have just received some very bad news, alas!…”
Franz-Josef rises in one bound and cries out:
He snatches the telegramme and backs away, stumbling.
“Well! More news should arrive… Telephone, telegraph, we must absolutely know more.”
In the corridor, steps are approaching. The aide-de-camp on duty presents himself, at attention, holding a second message. Franz-Josef rushes over and tears it open. He reads:
“Her Majesty the Empress has just died.”
Frozen in horror, the Emperor remains motionless, then collapses into his armchair. His head in his hands, he cries. In a neutral voice, between two sobs, he says:
“Nothing has been spared me on this Earth…”
To be continued.