Lise Colas
May 21 · 4 min read

A poetic prose hybrid about Mary Vetsera, the teenage lover of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria.

Mary Vetsera (detail) carte de visite portrait, c.1887 (public domain/wikimedia commons)

You were a prized commodity, a fine imperial blend with impeccable heritage, exotic aura smoked over pine, gathered from a choice selection of leaves further down the branch, away from the crown, yet not so far as to escape notice.

Your eyes a particular grey-blue, edges tinged with sultry ink. Your reluctance to smile made people wonder what lay beneath, while hot-blooded hacks eager to colour in your various charms, duly ransacked history for superlatives, painting you as some mythic seductress, born fully formed from rare Aegean mother of pearl conveyed to shore by zephyrs.

Petite in stature, your hair a stunning feature, brunette and lustrous, rippling over your shoulders, gathered up and firmly braided by family ambition into luxurious silken rope, a robust lure for worthy suitors.

Poised and flirtatious with the same amber tone and exotic ambience of a lapsang souchong, to be poured straight into filigree-clasped tumbler and savoured while reclining in a Turkish room, before cigars are sent for.

Inclined at times to be sad and wistful, your youthful refrain irrepressible, the song of a ringdrossel heard in a forest clearing, another fragile short-lived creature soon to become an archived trophy, plumage turned to sepia, lying alongside those plucked wildflowers pressed into the pages of history.

You were an angel of the pounded turf, where kings in waiting gathered, the head-turning prelude to a Liebestod-walzer, orchestrated by Death himself.

You shone at those stultifying court socials, the perfect fit for an unhappily married prince steeped in disillusion — an exquisite twig of youthful insouciance grafted onto the mature branch of a grand seduction, perfume blending with the heady allure of a camellia growing out of bounds in the palace grounds.

He couldn’t get enough of you, as you shuttled to and fro his private quarters and how eagerly you drank from the lees of his despair and nihilism, corrupting your delicate bloom.

You lived for the drama of love alone, relishing each assignation, secluded inside a rattling carriage with the blinds pulled down, swathed in a dramatic cloak, perhaps fancying yourself a Cleopatra in training, jewel-eyed asp held close to your bosom.

As those august delusions of empire gradually faded into the distance, your impassioned longing for oblivion would leave fragmented bitter bark at the bottom of the glass.

Death awarded you a grim coda. Your rigid corpse hastily dressed by bemused uncles, a broomstick handle holding you up on your final carriage ride as they chaperoned you to a bleak burial ground, far away from your beloved destroyer, who lay in state, death-wish covered up, an eagle fallen from the sky.

You were moved around the plot as they demolished your old love nest and made it into a holy shrine, tended by the prayers of those whose passions were severely circumscribed. They even lay an altar cloth over the very spot where the kingdom of your body had been his to kiss away.

In those letters to your family, your writing slants and loops as if towards some future bliss, a final flourish of bravado as the nib swept across the blankness — you set your heart on this ending and there was no going back.

Your last words were later folded away, deposited in a bank vault and not looked at again until the next century was over with.

Yet you were never forgotten and some couldn’t even leave you to rest in peace. Sometime during the post-war occupation, Russian soldiers broke into your grave, groping amidst your bones for jewels. When your damaged casket was officially repaired a few years later, a young doctor examined you, trying to find the fatal mark of the coup de grace, but he couldn’t, so your death became a mystery once more.

Your tomb was sealed up while certain far-fetched conspiracy rumours fluttered away into the dusk, forming a colony of bats that are still out there somewhere, dangling upside down.

And shortly after the centenary of your departure for eternity, you suffered another indignity — when a crackpot super-fan from Linz dug up your remains so they could undergo forensic testing, laying claim to you as his own relative.

Your crowning glory was revealed to the world postmortem — still abundant in quantity, a tangled mane impossible to comb out, the colour of smoked tea and as convoluted as the ivy that once clung to your sepulchre, captured for posterity by a police photographer.

I wish you had changed your mind and run away, you had plenty of time to think while cooped up in that gloomy schloss on a winter’s day. Yet you were so addicted to the idea of eternal love, it became a notion you couldn’t live without.

Desperate to escape the tethers of your upbringing like any teenager, you dreaded the prospect of your socially ambitious mother lining up some well-connected dullard for you to spend your life with. Your last note to her was a reproof above all else.

You were blithely unaware your princely lover had another amour on the go, an ex chorus girl called Mitzi, who had turned down a previous fatal invitation — in fact laughed it off. You reacted differently when asked, without any qualms or hesitation, because you were always one to take love seriously and when you looked into his eyes, you saw your destiny.

This year marks the 130th anniversary of Mary Vetsera’s death, aged seventeen, at Schloss Mayerling, in a suicide pact with her lover, Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria. In 2016, her final letters were discovered tucked away in a bank vault in Vienna. They clearly state her intention to die alongside the thirty year old Rudolf, although her wish to be buried with him was, of course, never granted.


The Junction

The Junction is a digital crossroads devoted to stories, culture, and ideas. Our interests are legion.

Lise Colas

Written by

writes poetry and short fiction as well as quirky unreliable memoir and lives on the south coast of England.

The Junction

The Junction is a digital crossroads devoted to stories, culture, and ideas. Our interests are legion.

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