After the death of Louis II, Elisabeth felt irresistibly drawn to the place where the tragedy had taken place, as if called by Louis II. She indeed believed in the survival of the soul, in communication with the afterlife. For her, her beloved cousin was not quite dead. And so, at the first opportunity, she had gone back to the lakeside of Starnberg were he had met his end. She lived, as she might have during the fatal night, at Possenhofen. It was her parents’ castle, where she and her siblings had been raised.
The big mansion belonged to an impecunious family and was not luxurious, but Elisabeth found in it familiar and reassuring elements of her earlier years. In its simplicity and discomfort, she preferred it to the imperial palace which awaited her and in which she almost never sojourned. At Possenhofen, she demanded to stay in the room she had occupied as a young girl. On the second floor, with a low ceiling and cluttered with big Bavarian furniture painted in vivid colours, the room overlooked Lake Starnberg, and one could glimpse, standing on the other shore surrounded by trees, the turrets of Berg Castle. As of the first night she had spent at Possenhofen, the ghost of Louis II had appeared to her, as she later recounted to Maria Larich:
“…He had reached the foot board and we looked at each other for a very long time. Slowly, in a sad voice, I heard him ask me:
– Sissi, are you scared of me?
– No, Ludwig, I am not scared.
– Well, he sighted, I am not happy where I am. Death did not bring me peace. Sissi, listen to me: she burns in the turmoil, flames surround her, smoke suffocates her; she burns and I am powerless to save her…
– Who are you talking about, dear cousin?
– I don’t know, because her face is hidden. But I know it is a woman that loved me, and until her fate has come to pass I will not be free. Then you will join us, and we will all be happy together in heaven.
– What do you mean Ludwig? When will I follow you?
– I cannot tell you when, as in the dimension of souls still linked to the earth like mine, time has no place.
– By which way will I join you? By way of a sorrowful elderliness weaved of regrets and memories?
-No, Sissi, you will cause many tears to fall, and you will experience many regrets and memories before you join us. But your departure will be sudden and you will not get a warning before.
-Will I suffer?
-No, he replied smiling, you will not suffer.
-How will I know when I wake up tomorrow that I did not dream this moment?
“Ludwig slowly approached. He was right next to me, and the brutal cold of death, of the grave, overcame me. “Give me your hand,” he instructed me. I held out my hand and his soaking wet fingers wrapped around mine. At that moment I felt for him an infinite pity. “Stay!” I begged him “Do not leave the friend that loves you to return to your suffering! Oh Ludwig, pray with me so that we find peace.”
“But even as I was speaking, his image faded away and then, disappeared.”
Ten years passed. Many hardships burdened Elisabeth, the worst being the tragic death of her only son Rudolf. He had been found at the Mayerling hunting lodge, killed by a bullet to his head, with at his side – also killed in the same manner–his last mistress, a very young woman named Maria Vetsera.
Elisabeth’s sisters, whom she dearly loved, had also caused her grief. The oldest, Helene, had died prematurely of a sudden ailment. Maria, queen of Naples, had lost her kingdom after an epic fight and slowly wore away in exile. Mathilde had seen her husband, the count of Trani, commit suicide by throwing himself out of the window.
Only her youngest sister, Sophia, could bring her consolation. And yet, the beginning of her life had been difficult, as she too had known misfortune and sorrow. At the beginning of his reign, Louis II, the beloved Ludwig, had proposed to her. Everyone, starting with Elisabeth, was thrilled to see him take the right path. For Elisabeth, it was one more connection with him, and she was certain Sophia would bring him happiness.
Then Ludwig had become more and more vague about the wedding. He had spaced out his meetings, and had retrenched himself in his fantastic castles and more than once had reported the ceremony. Finally, he had broken the engagement without giving any explanations. Later, Sophia had found balance again, and maybe even happiness, by marrying a French prince, Ferdinand d’Orleans, duke of Alençon. But then she accidentally died in the most atrocious manner, burned alive in the fire of the Bazar de la Charité, in Paris.
Elisabeth was the most affected. Already, the frightful death of her sister had struck her with horror, but above all, she recalled the warning she had received from the ghost of Louis II: “Sissi, she burns in the turmoil, flames surround her, smoke suffocates her; she burns and I am powerless to save her… ¬– Who are you talking about, dear cousin? – I don’t know, because her face is hidden. But I know it is a woman that loved me”. And so Elisabeth at last knew who it was, it was her own sister that burnt in the vision of Louis II.
“Ludwig’s prediction has come to pass. My sister, the woman that had loved him, burnt to death. The rest of his prediction will also come to pass. Like he told me, I too will follow them in death. He told me I would not know old age, full of regrets and memories. Good. He told me I would not suffer, very good. He told me that death would come suddenly, with no warning. By the grace of god!”
A little more than a year had gone by. In this beginning of autumn 1898, the countess Dobrzensky was not happy. Her roses, her passion, were the pride of her garden. This summer, the blooming had been richer than ever, transforming her terraces into a kaleidoscope of perfumes and delicate shades. However, a few days ago, she had caught her assistant gardener, a young Italian named Luccheni, savagely cutting her roses. He was acting out of pure sadism, for the mere satisfaction of destroying something beautiful. While killing the flowers he had –noticed the countess Dobrzensky¬ – a cruel smirk. She fired him within the hour. Which did not bring her peace. “I do not feel at ease,” she kept repeating to her family, “To do what he has done, this boy must have the soul of a murderer.”
On this same September 10th, Empress Elisabeth resided at the Beau Rivage Hotel in Geneva, upon which she had stumbled through her wanderings. She had spent the morning buying present for her grandchildren. Of course, no bodyguard, no policemen of the Secret Police followed her, she had long ago forbidden all protection.
Only her Hungarian lady-in-waiting, the Countess Sztaray, accompanied her.
“We were slowly walking on the Mont-Blanc quay,” the lady-in-waiting recalls, “Her Majesty was enjoying the sun and joyfully commenting on the colourful life she was discovering in the streets. Personally I was terribly worried. I brought to her attention our need to return to the hotel and prepare ourselves for our journey. “
Indeed, the monarch had decided to go to Caux using public transport, which meant taking the steamboat. At 1:35pm, Elisabeth left the hotel. A dedicated walker, she went on foot to the harbour. As she reached the quay, a young man walked up to her and punched her in the chest before running away. It all occurred so fast no one had time to react. In addition, Elisabeth did not seem otherwise moved, she continued walking as if nothing had happened.
She reached the boat and crossed the gangway determinately. Once on the deck, she stood there, contemplating the beautiful landscape unfolding in front of her. The ship had already set sail and was moving away from the shore when she seemingly spun on herself and collapsed. Assuredly she fainted due to the heat, the people around her thought. The countess of Sztaray rushed to assist the empress. To allow her to breath, she unbuttoned her vest. Only then did she discover with horror a small bloodstain on her shirt, right where the heart was.
The captain immediately gave the order to turn back. Upon reaching the dock, the empress was rushed to the hospital. The doctors had been alerted and did all they could to save her. Without success.
The police hustled. The weapon was soon found near the crime scene: a very thin dagger, very slender, sharp as a razorblade. It was so thin that, by an extraordinary medical phenomenon, the empress struck at the heart had felt nothing at first, allowing her to keep walking and stay standing a while longer.
It did not take long for the policemen to arrest the murderer; it was this very Luccheni, the gardener who had cut the roses of the Countess Dobrzensky. He identified as an anarchist. He was decided to kill a representative of aristocracy, a world he despised and wished to annihilate. He had come to Geneva because he had read in the press that a prince of Orleans would be there, but he had not found his victim. However, the newspapers had announced the arrival of the Empress of Austria in town. In the absence of a prince, she would pay for all the others! After practicing on the roses of the Countess Dobrzensky, he had managed to kill the most beautiful flower of them all, the most rare, the most precious.
Elizabeth, as her cousin Ludwig had announced, had soon followed her sister Sophie in death. The three cousins had reunited in the afterlife. Maybe then the third part of the prediction of Louis II had come to pass: “Then you will join us, and we will all be happy together in heaven.”
1. Maternal grandmother of the countess of Paris, who relates this anecdote.