I was dying to ask minute questions about the Crown Prince’s affair, but just enough sense was left in my make-up to know that I must not. They might whisper their gossip to each other who knew all of the truth anyway, but to strangers their loyalty would compel them to suppress not only what they themselves knew but what we knew to be the truth. Both of these officers had known Prince Rudie well; had hunted with him; travelled with him; served with him; had often been at his hunting-lodge Mayerling, where he died, but, when they came to refer to this part of their narrative, they were so visibly embarrassed that we changed the subject to the Princess Stephanie. Here, although they were studiously careful to put nothing into actual words, their manner plainly indicated their contempt and dislike of the heavy Belgian Princess, who was so poor a helpmeet for the graceful and picturesque figure of the Crown Prince of Austria.
“Did you know the lady in her Majesty’s suite who wrote ’The Martyrdom of an Empress?’” I demanded, boldly.
Von Engel’s face flushed darkly.
“I do not know. I am not certain,” he stammered.
“Never mind. Don’t commit yourself. She was exiled, wasn’t she, for arranging meetings between Prince Rudolph and his belle amie? She was a dear thing, whoever she was, for she gave him what was probably the only real happiness he ever knew. And when people love each other well enough to die together, it means more than most men and women can boast.”
Jimmie trod on my foot just here, so I stopped, but, to his and my surprise, Mrs. Jimmie not only agreed with me, but added:
“What a misfortune it is that princes and kings and queens must marry for state reasons, so that love can play no part.”
I don’t know whether Von Engel had not then put two and two together, so that he knew that Mrs. Jimmie had her own husband in mind when she made that speech about love or not. I think not, for I happened to be looking at him, and for a moment I thought he was going to spring from his horse right into her lap.
To me the two loveliest women rulers of the world, the ones whose histories I most grieve over, and with whose temperaments I am most in sympathy, are the Empress Eugenie of the French and the Empress Elizabeth of Austria. The Empress Elizabeth was of such a high-strung, nervous, proud temperament that had there not been madness in her unfortunate family, all her apparently unbalanced acts could be accounted for by her imperious and imperial nature, and the stigma of a mind even partially unbalanced need never have been hers. Many a wife in the common walks of life has been driven to more insane acts in the eyes of an unfeeling and critical world than ever the unhappy Empress Elizabeth committed, and for the same causes. An inhumanly tyrannical mother-in-law, the most vicious of her vicious kind, whose chief delight was to torture the high-strung nature she was too small to comprehend;