The Strange Lady
Dense rain clouds hung deep over the port of Trieste, and bolts of lightning struck near Miramare Castle. The first large drops of rain fell. The winds howled in short bursts around the reinforced battlements. The sounds of the heavy surf mixed with the rumbling thunder were only drowned out by the patter of the rain against the window panes.
Just a few hours ago, the imperial yacht “Miramar” had arrived at the private pier of the castle with Empress Elisabeth of Austria and her small entourage on board. While the ladies-in-waiting, Countess Marie von Festetics, Ida von Ferenczy, and Landgravine Therese von Fürstenberg as well as the always-busy Baron Nopsca, exhausted from the journey, retreated to their rooms, Empress Sisi had begun one of her infamous long walks without a bite to eat. And despite the nearing thunderclouds, she went alone.
“I’m beginning to seriously worry about Her Majesty,” the Baron said to Ida von Ferenczy and stepped towards one of the high windows from which one could see over the fence all the way down to the empty coastal streets of Trieste.
“Not a single person in sight! I hope she has enough common sense to seek shelter somewhere. What would the Emperor say if something happened to her!?”
“I don’t even want to imagine that, Baron! What if she sought shelter in a local public house, all by herself, and someone recognizes her? Just think about the assassination attempt three years ago! And to this day, you occasionally read ‘Eviva Guglielmo!’ smeared on buildings and statues, even after that Italian irredentist, Mr. Oberdank, was arrested.”
“That time, our police force did good work. I’ve informed the local police president immediately after we arrived! They will keep a close watch on the castle and the surrounding areas.”
“That is more than necessary, Baron. No one is safe because of these Nationalists, but Her Majesty doesn’t seem to care. She just pretends that none of this pertains to her.”
“You’re telling me?! She doesn’t make it any easier for me,” the Baron moaned. “I thought over time, she would change, but apparently, I was wrong. She not only looks like the years have passed her by without a trace, but she also acts like it. The word ‘fatigue’ is not part of her vocabulary. She rides like the Devil, and her wanderlust is almost unearthly. Nature, nature, nothing but nature! And that combined with her love for the poet Heinrich Heine and his writings…”
He looked towards the Heavens for help, while Ida jumped up in the bright light of the latest lightning bolt, which was almost immediately followed by the grumbling of thunder.
“Holy Mother of God…” a female voice could be heard from the direction of the door. “What’s she going to look like this time when she comes back? And I just combed her hair and pinned it up just before we disembarked the yacht.”
Fanny Feifalik, Her Majesty’s hairdresser, entered the room and fell onto an armchair while wringing her hands in despair.
“You have nothing but hair on your mind,” Baron Nopsca snapped. “But I don’t really care what she looks like when she gets back, as long as she returns!”
“Well, she is responsible for Her Majesty’s hair,” Ida defended the hairdresser. “That’s what she’s paid…”
“Not just,” Fanny sneered. “From time to time, I must also play her part…just like I did recently in Smyrna, for example.”
In Smyrna, a whole elite regiment had to march to the pier to receive Sisi, and a large crowd expected to see the mayor of the city welcome the Empress upon her arrival. But she had already landed via a dinghy to play a trick on the people, as she put it. And so, she observed, along with other people, as the parade boat landed with Fanny Feifalik onboard. The poor woman had to endure the entire welcoming ceremony, while Sisi laughed pitilessly.
Such substitutions happened quite often, and Mrs. Feifalik didn’t find them funny at all. She saw herself as a target for terrorists and other dangerous elements, who possibly planned an attack upon the Empress. That she wasn’t altogether wrong, was proven by the case of the terrorist Guglielmo Oberdank, whose name had been smeared on the surrounding wall of Miramare Castle, and other places. It was meant as a protest against the timely arrest of the man who wanted to end the life of Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife during their stay in Trieste three years earlier...
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