The Princess Stephanie was not popular in Vienna, and it may be that her enemies-and they were numerous-sought by every means to ruin her future. At any rate, in the autumn of 1887, Prince Rudolf was deliberately brought in touch with the woman who was to prove his undoing. One day the Countess Larisch, cousin of the Crown Prince, invited him to a reception at her home in the capital. On his arrival, instead of taking him to where the other guests were assembled, she led him straight to a small private apartment. There, seated on a chair all alone, was the Baroness Marie Vetsera, the daughter of an Austrian diplomat and Jewish mother of great wealth. She was then nineteen years of age, and possessed of a beauty which was the wonder of all who beheld her. Up to that moment she had lived a life of complete retirement; she had never been at Court, and she had never gone into society. As soon as Prince Rudolf's eyes lighted upon her he stopped short, gazing at her as if hypnotised by the miracle of her beauty. Not a word of introduction passed between them; he stood there staring at her for several moments,
Love and then, suddenly going towards her, he took her in his arms and kissed her.
It was a case of love-wild, passionate love-at first sight. From that strange interview the Crown Prince went straight to his father, the Emperor, and offered to renounce the throne if he might be allowed to divorce Stephanie and marry the Baroness. The Emperor sternly remonstrated with him, pointing out the madness of his conduct, and forbade him ever to see the Baroness again. In his infatuation the Prince then hastened to Rome, and in an audience with the Pope begged for permission to divorce his wife. Needless to say, he was met by his Holiness with a severe rebuke. But even these disappointments did not serve to destroy Prince Rudolf's determination. For months he lived only for the Baroness, thinking of her, dreaming of her, and being restless and unhappy when out of her society. He left his wife, refusing to have anything to do with her, and at last the Emperor was forced to interfere. By dint of argument and persuasion, he at last wrung from the Crown Prince h i s promise that he would see no more of the Baroness. Having accomplished so much, the aged Emperor, with every feeling of satisfaction, led his wild son to Princess Stephanie's room, and himself joined the hands of husband and wife in a grasp which he fondly believed symbolised the permanent reunion of their hearts.
This took place on January 29, 1889. For the following evening a dinner was arranged, at which this settlement of a family dispute was to be celebrated. Preparations were made on a grand scale, and every -member of the Imperial house was invited to attend. Somehow or other, the news reached Baroness Marie Vetsera. She loved the Prince with a passion equal to his own, and the thought that she was to be robbed of him must have roused her to the performance of an act requiring both courage and determination. Her house was watched by Crown officials, who reported her every movement. She knew this, but none the less, as soon as she was informed what had taken place, she determined to go straight to her lover. On the afternoon before the family banquet she made her way to the palace of the Crown Prince, and forcing her way past the flunkeys who would have barred her progress, she succeeded in reaching Prince Rudolf's side. Nobody knows what took place between them, for the interview was in private, but subsequent events make it clear that she must have begged him not to desert her, and that he, weakening in his resolve at the sight of her, and forgetting his promise to his father, must have arranged a meeting with her for a last farewell at his hunting chateau of Meyer ling, near Vienna.
That evening the banquet was held. The aged Emperor, little dreaming what was in store for him, looked with pleasure and satisfaction at his son and daughter-in-law, whom he had at last brought together again. Prince Rudolf, it was reported, seemed in the best of spirits, and not one of the members of the Imperial house present realised the dark thoughts that shadowed his mind. Straight from that banquet, which was supposed to symbolise his reunion with Princess Stephanie, he rode to his shooting-lodge, taking with him the woman he loved.
And here all available information ceases. The curtain is rung down suddenly on the scene of the Prince riding through the night with the Baroness to Meyerling. When it rises again it rises only to show the tragic denoument. At the time it was reported that he was accompanied by friends, including Prince Philip of Coburg and Count Hoyos; but these statements have been denied, and history, it is safe to say, will never be able to lift the veil that shrouds the tragedy that happened at Meyerling on the night of January 30, 1889.
On the following morning, in a room of the chateau, Prince Rudolf and the Baroness were both found dead, lying side by side. How did they die? The question must be left unanswered; the answer is, and must remain as, one of the great secrets of the Hapsburgs, and of history.
Symphonies and Accompaniments by Henry Parker
J. B. Cramer & Co.
On the banks of Allan Water,
When brown Autumn spread its store,
There I saw the miller's daughter,
But she smil'd no more. For the summer grief had brought her, And the soldier false was he: On the banks of Allan Water
None so sad as she.
3 On the banks of Allan Water, When the wintry snow fell fast, Still was seen the miller's daughter,
There a corse lay she.