Elizabeth - Empress of Austria - George Upton
Elizabeth's sojourn in Madeira did not bring the permanent improvement that was hoped for. A few weeks after her return to Austria the cough returned, and fearing that the nature of her illness had been mistaken, her parents' physician who had had the care of her in her youth was sent for. He decided that she was suffering from acute indigestion and that a change was imperative. This time the place of resort chosen was the island of Corfu, where she arrived safely soon afterward, accompanied by her physician. The Empress was charmed with the villa that had been secured for her, about half an hour's drive from the capital. It was surrounded with gardens and large grounds, and in a shorter time even than at Madeira she began to show the beneficial effects of the climate. Not far from the house was the mountain Aja Kyriahi, on the summit of which stood a small church surrounded with cypresses. Every morning before sunrise she climbed to this spot, and whenever in after years she came back to Corfu she always visited it.
At the end of two months her health was quite restored, and toward the close of October she left for Venice, where she held her court that Winter. I7er return to Vienna the following August, after a sojourn in the Tyrol, was the occasion for almost as much enthusiasm as on her wedding day, the people everywhere showing the most touching proofs of their sympathy and devotion.
But again her stay in Vienna was destined to be of short duration, for after the lapse of a few weeks, unexpectedly and without confiding her intentions to any one, she left the capital, to seek refuge in travel from the troubles and complications of her position there. The Emperor followed to try and bring about a reconciliation, but she refused to meet him, and he returned at length to Vienna weary and disheartened. With her capacity for loving and her pride Elizabeth must have suffered intensely from the slights and disappointments of her married life, and fresh persecutions on the part of her mother-in-law, who had already succeeded in estranging her husband and children from her, no doubt led her to this step.
Months went by, and still the Empress continued her wanderings. There was a general feeling of sympathy for the Emperor, but in spite of this many began to take the part of his young wife, and when the Archduchess Sophie condemned her too harshly, believed that had it not been for "Madame Mere," her daughter-in-law would never have gone away. The estrangement lasted for several years, but Elizabeth, at the urgent entreaties not only of the court but of her own family, agreed to return to Vienna once or twice a year to fulfil the state duties required of her. She remained no longer than necessary, however. The joys of travel had become too dear to her, the constraints of court life too irksome.
Franz Joseph meanwhile was growing more and more unreconciled to this state of affairs. The health of the Crown Prince was causing some anxiety, and his Majesty was urged to make his peace with the Empress. Elizabeth accordingly was approached by her mother, the Duchess Ludovica, for whose opinion she had the greatest respect, and who finally convinced her that it was her duty to go back to her children. Time and loneliness too had softened the bitterness of her feelings and awakened a mutual desire for reconciliation. Outside events also helped to bring about the reunion. Misfortune had overtaken Austria: the war of 1866 had driven the Hapsburgs from Italy and Germany, and Elizabeth, roused to sympathy, turned her face homeward, feeling that her place was with the Emperor and his people. Though still young in years her sorrows and trials had robbed her of her youth, and she came back a woman strong and self-reliant, caring little for court life, but devoting herself to hospital work among the wounded soldiers with an energy and self-sacrifice that earned her the reverence of all. Day after day she spent at the bedsides of the suffering, speaking to each in his own language and seeking to satisfy his wants. One man, named Joseph Feher, had refused to have his arm amputated, but the Empress begged him so earnestly to consent to the operation that he finally yielded, and she wrote to his mother that she would have her son taken to the palace of Laxenburg and provide for his future. Another day she came upon a soldier whose head had been so nearly severed that the physicians had no hope of saving him. Sitting down beside him, she asked if he had any last requests that she might fulfil for him. In a faltering voice he answered:
"Since I have had the happiness of seeing the Empress at my death-bed, there is nothing left to wish for in this world. I die happy!"
Wherever she appeared the weakest tried to lift themselves at her approach. Arms were out-stretched to touch her as she passed, and when she left, there was a general murmur of
"God bless our Elizabeth!"