"Oh God, oh God, hurry! Would somebody do something?" Irma Sztáray's heart piercing cry echoed the room. Her face, pallid as that of her mistress who was lying on the stretcher, carried a look of hysteria, while her breath so heavy it could be heard from all over the place. People could be seen rushing to and fro in and out the room at full speed, bumping into furniture and each other but none were stopping.
"Make sure she is comfortable," Fanny Louise Mayer's high pitch voice could be heard among the rushing and clamoring everywhere in and out. "Countess, we need to undo some of her clothing. We have to see where she's wounded, and how severe!"
Countess Sztáray squeezed her mistress's hand tightly, "Frau Mayer, someone has sent for the doctor, is that right?"
"Yes, Countess. They will be here immediately," Frau Mayer said, as she bent over the stretcher on which lied what appeared to be an unconscious form of a thin, delicate woman, and started loosening and undoing the thick, black dress on her.
"This is Empress Elisabeth of Austria!" Countess Sztáray cried, her voice carrying a tone of plea and helplessness, "We cannot just let her die like this!"

"She will not, Countess. I promise you, she will not," Frau Mayer put a hand on Countess Sztáray's shoulder, and she joined her to finish her work. "Now what we must do is loosen her up and see what is happened to her."
Elisabeth remained still, lying there soundless and motionless with a pale face and closed eyes, looking as if asleep. As Countess Sztáray gently moved her hands around to loosen the laces and buttons on her dress, she gave no sign of feeling, and no outward show of pain of any kind. When her dress was finally pulled off, the two women detected two drops of blood, one slightly larger and of dark red color, tainted on the chest of her snow white gown underneath.
"What is that?" Frau Mayer pointed; the expression on her face suddenly turned into inexplicable fear.
"The Empress has been stabbed!" Countess Sztáray cried. Frau Mayer bent over Elisabeth's body to study closer, and by where the blood was she saw a small red wound. There was no blood coming out anywhere at the moment, but what appeared in front of the two women's eyes was obviously a deep cut, right on the spot where her heart would be underneath.
Countess Sztáray stumbled twice, and if it were not for Frau Mayer who quickly reached out her hands to hold her up from behind she would have fallen head back onto the floor.
"Put the Empress on the bed!" Frau Mayer ordered loudly and two servants bent down by the stretcher obediently, one on each ends, picked up Elisabeth and carefully moved her from the litter to the bed. Frau Mayer repeated the Empress's name, but she remained in her old state, unresponsive and totally oblivious to anything that was being done or said to her.
"I should have known it. I should have known." Countess Sztáray stammered as she struggled to pull herself back up as steady as she could and bent down by the bed. An ominous sense of feeling suddenly overwhelmed her. "Oh God, she is dying, she is dying." she muttered, suddenly feeling her head spinning beyond her control. She knelt by the bed and gazed at her mistress, not knowing what to do. At the moment two physicians and also a priest rushed into the room, followed by several people carrying medical equipment in their hands. Countess Sztáray, almost unaware of their presence, was weeping bitterly by the bed, clutching her mistress's hand which, she could feel, was slowly turning cold in hers.
"Please, please, make room. Let us see her," Dr. Golay called, rushing toward the bedside. People were still dashing back and forth everywhere, but Countess Sztáray could not make out what they were doing.
Dr. Mayer gazed closely at Elisabeth's face, then moved his finger under her nose, hoping to feel air still coming out. But after a few seconds, he slowly moved his hand away and lowered his head. Dr. Golay put down Elisabeth's hand which he had been feeling for a pulse and let out a deep sigh. Countess Sztáray raised her eyes that were filled with fear and vulnerability and stared at the doctors, while Frau Mayer moved her eyes from Elisabeth, then to the doctor, and then back to Elisabeth. And the priest, already sensing the situation, silently drew a cross on his chest.
"I am deeply sorry, Countess," said Dr. Mayer in a low tone, "I am afraid that at this moment, there is nothing we can do for the Empress. She might have already expired before we came in."
Countess Sztáray burst into a flood of tears and threw her arms around the lifeless body of her mistress; the tears rolling out of her eyes had wet Elisabeth's colorless face. Frau Mayer, swallowing and wiping her own tears at the same time, gently comforted the hysterical Countess while the priest walked to the bed to perform a last blessing. The two doctors stood aside, lowering their faces to express their grief. The whole room was in a hush, with only the sound of sobbing and crying and the mutter of the priest speaking those holy words could be heard.
"The Empress might have survived had the knife been left in the wound," said Dr. Golay, after performing an autopsy of Elisabeth's body, "the knife broke the fourth rib in her chest, pierced her lungs and the pericardium, then stabbed through the heart and came out in the left ventricle. The knife was so sharp that it caused slow bleeding internally, thus the reason why no great amount of blood is found anywhere on the outside. So, as you have described, Countess, while the Empress was managing to walk the distance up to the ship, her pericardium was slowly filling up with blood, eventually causing her to collapse and lose consciousness, while losing a great amount of blood without even knowing."
Countess Sztáray fell into a chair; all the strength in her entire body seemed had flown out in one second.
Time slowly went by second after second. Sunshine soon left the room and was replaced by darkness. Twilight turned into midnight, but all this time Countess Sztáray had remained in her chair, trembling uncontrollably, without a word coming out, and heedless of everything that was happening around her. Frau Mayer stayed with her, constantly persuading her to have some food and rest. But all her efforts proved vain. Countess Sztáray, as if going through electrical shock, sat straight and rigid in her chair and showed no implication of any kind. All through the night she remained in her spot, and even when a ray of the morning sun poured in through the window she still remained unmoving in her old place, expressionless and looking hypnotized. The only thing that appeared to be different about her was those dark shadows that emerged from underneath her tearful eyes, which now looked weary, blank, and emotionless.
The opening of the door and the lively sounds of morning did not distract her. Countess Sztáray shifted her eyes over to Elisabeth, who was now covered with a long white veil on the bed, with arms folded, and her face peaceful as if only sound asleep. Tears continued rolling down her cheeks and she did not bother to wipe them. Only with the sound of guards coming into the room along with the clattering of their tools did she manage to slowly pull herself out of her trance.
"Countess Sztáray," an officer in the uniform of a security police inspector sat down in front of her and called softly, "I am the chief of police and security here in Geneva, and we have just received the tragic news. I have received the order of undertaking the inquiry of this shocking case, and all I would like from you is perhaps some information that might be helpful to the authority on the investigation of the assassination of the Empress of Austria."
Countess Sztáray merely heard his voice, but for a while did not look at him and gave no hint that she had noticed his existence. In the officer's eyes, she looked like a sitting corpse that seemed was still breathing.
"Countess Sztáray, please, we need your help. We have not found too many eyewitnesses to this crime, and we do believe that you, like us, would like have this matter solved quickly," said the officer, not losing his patience.
Countess Sztáray slowly nodded; her face deadpan and she herself was surprised that she could actually feel her own movement now.
"Countess, would you please, if you may, give me a full account of what had happened yesterday, as much as you can remember?" the officer asked.
Countess Sztáray wiped her eyes with her handkerchief and straightened her body, now sore from an all night of rigid sitting in the hard, wooden chair and the stifling of her traveling clothes. She moved her eyes unwillingly away from Elisabeth and looked at the officer, whose stare displayed sympathy and compassion.
"The Empress asked the household to take everything before her onto the boat for Caux," Countess Sztáray spoke finally spoke. Her voice came out hoarse and croaky that even she herself was shaken by the sound of it. She cleared her throat twice and took a deep breath, while the officer waited patiently for her to continue.
"She wanted me to accompany her shopping in the city first, and then we would meet the rest of the entourage on the landing-stage. Afterwards we came out of the Beau Rivage to cross the park towards the Quai du Mont Blanc where we would catch the boat. We had no protection with us, for we could almost assure that the Empress was well undercover at the moment and that we left quite subtly. We had no inkling of what was about to happen, and that was my fault, for I should have known something and been more precautious," Countess Sztáray wiped her eyes again, which were again welled up with tears that the officer was becoming blurry in front of her.
"By the balustrade on the lake, when we were walking toward the steamer, we confronted a man whom we simply thought was another passenger and paid not much attention to, and we stopped to let him by. It was then, when he suddenly stumbled in front of me, and then sprang at the Empress. His movement was so quick that all I could catch was him knocking her over and then her falling backwards on the pavement. I didn't even completely notice that he might be holding a weapon in his hand. I screamed, and a cab-driver along with a tourist went to help the Empress up, while the man ran off and I did not catch the direction to which he was headed for I was shocked for a moment and all my attention was on the Empress. At first I thought that she had suffered a heart attack, but she soon stood back up and assured us that she was all right, when some people gathered around us and expressed their concern. And then the two of us, not wanting to bring any more attention to ourselves, continued along the quay toward the boat, and on the gangway, she suddenly staggered and all she said was 'what happened'. I tried to hold her up, but she slipped down unconscious. A member of the Chamber of Commerce carried her to her cabin after she fainted, and the captain was at first reluctant to order procession, but upon the request of the suite of Her Majesty he gave the signal to leave. However, in a short while, we noticed, in panic, that the Empress seemed unable to recover her consciousness. We had done everything possible to assist her, and it was then, when I and the other ladies about her observed a small spot of blood upon her bodice, and her condition to us seemed to be serious," Countess Sztáray sighed as she licked her colorless lips that were already dried and chapped, and the officer waved his hand and brought over a servant, who was given the order to bring a glass of water.
"It was then when the idea of a possible assassination attempt suddenly occurred to me, and it was then when that suspicious man who roughly passed us by came back into my mind," Countess Sztáray continued, taking a small sip from the glass in her shaking hands. "I immediately summoned the captain and said to him, 'Sir, on your ship lies Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Queen of Hungary, mortally wounded. One cannot allow her to die without medical and priestly assistance. Kindly give orders to return at once.' The captain hurried back without a word and the ship immediately changed its course back to Geneva."
The officer nodded and sighed, "your description is very helpful, Countess. And at this moment I will tell you, yesterday perhaps not long after the incident, we have been informed that a man by the name of Luigi Lucheni had been followed and later caught and handed over to authority. We would want to make sure we have gotten the right one. So now, if you do not mind, can you please give me a description of that man, whom you believe, was the Empress's attacker?"
Countess Sztáray nodded, holding the glass on her lap, "he was dressed in, what I would say, a middleclass man's outfit, dark color, a hat, and he appeared to be clumsy. He flashed in front of my eyes and disappeared the next moment, so I did not quite catch his face. But I could see that he was not a very big man, and from a first look, he appeared to be common and even harmless. But for God's sakes, how could I, how could anyone have known?" Countess Sztáray shook her head and surrendered to her now irrepressible sob, again overwhelmed with tears that she found herself unable to go on.
The officer stood up, "I express my most sincere sympathy, dear Countess. With all the citizens of Geneva, I mourn for the passing of the Empress of Austria. May she rest in peace, and may her spirit be forever at rest. We are sure that she shall be forever remembered by all."
"I give you my thanks, officer," said Countess Sztáray as she slowly attempted to stand up. But her body, already stiff from the long hours of sitting, along with her numbed feet, made her lose her balance and fall back into the chair. The officer immediately reached forward and helped her sit back down steadily.
The body of Elisabeth was robed in white gossamer and laid in an oak coffin, lined with white and silver satin and placed in a carriage to be taken back to Vienna. On the bier lay a silver cross, and the floor was covered with black carpet and the walls draped with black cloth. Nuns knelt beside the coffin, and Countess Sztáray, completely clad in black from top to bottom, with a black veil covering her pale, tear washed face, knelt with them and said her own prayers. The adjoining rooms were filled with flowers and wreathes, tied with yellow and black ribbons. Elisabeth's blessing and procession to the station was carried out in full military honors, and the bells of all the cathedral in Geneva tolled on and on as the carriage, decked with flowers and ribbons and drawn behind black horses, slowly moved through the streets, where silence reigned and crowds, carrying ribbons and flowers and many in tears, watched mournfully as the Empress of Austria moved on her final journey. The funeral train gradually rolled through the cities and towns of Austria, where all houses were draped in mourning. Crêpe and black banners bung from every flagpole and on every balcony in Vienna, as the coffin was carried from the train to the Habsburg chapel, which was also covered in black. The last rites were to be recited in front the imperial family and the Court.
"It was all my fault, Your Majesty," Countess Sztáray broke down once again when she confronted the bereaved Emperor Franz Joseph. She fell onto her knees in front of him and started sobbing, "I have not done my duty to protect Her Majesty. I have not done what I should have done. It may be up to Your Majesty to punish me in any way you please, and I shall not protest."
Franz Joseph knelt down and gently, holding her arms, brought the Countess up from the floor.
"Countess Sztáray," he said; his voice deep and sober. This was the first time he had spoken to anyone since his hearing of his wife's death. "How can anyone blame any faults on you? All this time you have stayed with her, loyal and devoted as anyone can imagine to her. How can I say any wrongs of you? You could not have done anything, my dear Countess. It was fated by God. Her time had come, and no one could stop it."
"No, no, Your Majesty," Countess Sztáray cried, "I could have done something. I could have, if only I had the wit, and if only I had the courage. I should have had my eyes on that man from the beginning, I should have insisted on having protection around us. And I even could have brought myself in front of Her Majesty to shield that one fatal stab. All these I could have done but did not do. What could have done to the world if it is now me lying in that coffin and not the Empress? It is not me but her that matters to Your Majesty, your family, and all of Austria. How could Your Majesty be so forgiving with me? How could I ever forgive myself?"
Franz Joseph sighed, "Countess, if it is you lying in that coffin at this moment and not Elisabeth, none of us would ever forgive ourselves. You dying for her would be no better than her dying herself. You have done your duty, and you have done it well. You have nothing to forgive for, because you have nothing to repent. The Empress had met her fate, and now she's in peace and forever away from harm and torment, and you have remained with her till the end. At this moment, my only order for you is to go have some rest, for I am sure you and all others have had many very difficult days."
"I am spared nothing in this world," Franz Joseph, after Countess Sztáray obediently walked away, sat down and sighed, before himself breaking into tears, "but now, she has at last returned forever."
Two days later, Elisabeth's body was taken into the chapel of the Capuchin Church. The silent crowds carried white lilies and roses and spread snow-like petals onto the roads as they watched the Austrian, Hungarian, and Polish cavalry as they escorted the hearse through the streets. Bishops crowded into the small church along with the mourners, rosaries in hand and muttered their prayers. At the end of the ceremony, after the choir had enchanted the sound of the sacred music, Franz Joseph fell on his knees and sobbed. Countess Sztáray walked to the coffin, carrying a bouquet of flowers in her arms, with almost every petal wet from the tears that were dropping down from her eyes, now onto the floor in front of the coffin.
"Rest in peace in Heaven, my dear Empress," Countess Sztáray, holding back her sobs, gently kissed the soft white roses, mixed with yellow lilies, in her arms and placed the bunch on top of the coffin, "May your soul be now singing with the angels, and may God place his loving hands on you and protect you forever."
"She has finally left him," said Countess Sztáray, when, after a few days on one night, sat down with Countess Marie Festetics, and it was the first time when the two women had spoken to each other in a long time. "At last she is now emancipated, and by the method that was feared the most by all the crowns in this world. Although so unhappy and melancholy she had been, and so tired of life, but her, a harmless woman, to be sent to her grave by the dagger of an assassin is just too dreadful. She was indeed, shy and strange and solitary, and often did not welcome society, but she out of all did not deserve to be struck down like this, and by a mindless anarchist. Why should such awful thing happen to her? Why? Why is Destiny being so cruel to us all?"
"It's the curse," Marie Festetics sighed, wiping away a tear that was now falling out of her own eyes, "it's a curse that has been cast upon the royal families of Austria and Germany. Think back during her lifetime, how many relatives of the royal Wittelsbachs and the Habsburgs have met their tragic doom is already beyond my belief. Her cousin, the king of Bavaria, would drown in a lake, her sister, the gentle Duchess of Alençon, would be burned in a fire, her first daughter would die of illness at the age of two, and her only son, the Crown Prince and the only heir to the throne, would take his own life with a pistol at Mayerling. The royal family has been cursed, and they could only go wherever Fate guides them. There is no other explanation."
"But how could anyone have hated her that much?" Countess Sztáray sighed; tears have again choked her throat. "She would not hurt a mouse! The only thing she has ever done was belonging to the circle of royalty that is now being hated and targeted by more and more, and that was one fatal mistake in her life that was not even up to her choice to make. Her tragedy was that for forty-four years she was a ruler of a great power, and her whole life's happiness had been taken from her because of it. Yet she had loved her people so, and they her. To be free and away from anxieties and depression was all she wanted, and how could she suffer because of such simple longings? When she was born and when she married she was the sweet and adorable Sissi who attracted many, but when she died she was the lonely wanderer who could not find a place for herself in this world. Not only so many of her good qualities had been wasted, but the simplest things that she wished for in life had led to her tragic end."
"The world is in a turmoil now," said Marie Festetics, "who knows what can happen, and who knows what will be the next? Fate is merciless and unpredictable, and maybe it is not even up to God to decide. But thank Goodness that she did not suffer. She went painlessly."
"I know that, for a long time, she had indeed, wanted to die. All she wanted was to escape everything that she so loathed in this world, and if she had to die to have what she needed, she would," Countess Sztáray said somberly, "but by such a way? Poor soul, first a hard life, then a tragic death. But all I wish now is that she would be forever away from sorrows and that she shall be forever living in peace and comfort, and have everything that she had always wanted but was never able to have during her lifetime. And this is something that she had to die for, for she simply could not get while alive."
The two women sighed. They threw a glimpse at the clock on the side; it was five minutes before twelve.
The dagger that had struck Elisabeth had also struck everyone else in the heart. Franz Joseph, as always, again failed to put duty before feelings. Since Elisabeth's funeral, he had never smiled, not even to himself. And for a long time, regardless of the endless consolations from everyone, Countess Sztáray was unable to recover. And, like Franz Joseph, a great part of her life became forever shadowed with grief and regret. Franz Joseph would hardly admit to himself that Elisabeth had gone from him. Once, when hunting at Gödöllö, with Countess Sztáray accompanying, he visited the rooms of Elisabeth's residence twice. Nothing was changed: they were still decorated with her favorite flowers, sprayed with her favorite scents, and adorned with her favorite paintings and ornaments. All the pieces of furniture were dusted, and the mirrors and floors polished and the walls lit with their luminous lights.
"She can walk in at any moment," said the Emperor, with a sad and wistful look in his eyes, "it is quite sad, and yet rather comforting."
"She can still see them," said Countess Sztáray, "she can still see them and be happy about them."
Franz Joseph nodded and patted the Countess gently on the hand, glanced around one more time as if finding one more bit of shadow or trace of his remote yet always beloved wife, and slowly ambled away. But Countess Sztáray stayed behind, her eyes swept by every table, every chair, every curtain, every light, and every piece of glass; everything that was now left empty and neglected without the mistress who had once loved them so.
"It was not a woman I struck, but an empress," Luigi Lucheni boasted, "it was a crown that I had in view."
"I wanted to kill a royalty, I did not care whom," these were later Lucheni's words to the judges, who were carrying out perhaps one of the biggest cases so far in history, "I am glad I did not botch it. I am glad that she is indeed dead."
But how could he know; how could Countess Sztáray, or Franz Joseph, or anyone know, that that one stab from Lucheni's file had in fact, done Elisabeth perhaps the biggest favor. To go quietly and peacefully, not knowing what was going on, away from the home that she had never been willing to return to, which had always been more of a confinement than a home, and away from the family whom she would cause pain, was exactly what she had wished for. But one thing maybe she had failed to consider, was that how much despondency and lachrymose her death might later bring to all who had loved and admired her. A part of her husband and daughters' lives would be deprived forever, those citizens of Austria-Hungary who had always adored their beautiful empress from afar, would feel a great part of their nation missing forever, and Countess Sztáray, along with all her most devoted ladies-in-waiting and friends, would never recover from the shock and horror they had encountered on that day.
"Would she be happier where she is now than everywhere she had been all her life?" Countess Sztáray murmured to herself in a low tone that no body around her could hear before walking away, and tears again saturated her eye sockets, "Would she be happier with Death, rather than with her Emperor husband, who had loved her but did not know how to love her?"
From the distance, she seemed could hear some voices chanting, "Elisabeth, Elisabeth." over and over. From whom, or what, or where, she did not know. But she whispered that name with them a few times, and the chanting flew by her ears, and then drifted away, far away, into the air, into the sky.