It is June 19, 1867. Summer has begun. With the change of seasons, the days will begin to get shorter as well as warmer. There is work to be done. There are fields to be tended, but today is a holiday. To the Catholics of Querétaro, Mexico, it is a religious festival, the Fête-Dieu. In a few hours, the date will become associated with another, more sorrowful occasion. For today, Maximilian will die: Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph of Austria, or, to the people of Mexico these past three eventful years, Emperor Maximilian. Today is a holiday, and it will henceforth be a mournful one.
History tells us the sun was strong that day. It tells us the streets were lined with the faithful as a decrepit carriage slowly shuttled Maximilian from prison to El Cerro de las Campanas, the Hill of Bells, the execution site. History tells us the carriage was decrepit. History tells us many things. Sometimes those things contradict each other. And sometimes there are blank spaces, dark vacuums left for the imagination to illuminate and, perhaps, fill.
As day breaks, Maximilian wakes in his prison cell from a restful sleep, the air hot as it is thick. Sitting by his side on a small wooden stool is Tudos, his chef and close confidant, who had been permitted to share the cell with Maximilian on this final night. As the light begins to peek over the high window and color the far wall, a figure can be seen just on the other side of the cell gate: the recently arrived Father Soria. Soria should be at his church, preparing for the Fête-Dieu, but instead he’s here, to prepare Maximilian for death. Soria should be comforting Maximilian, but within minutes it is instead Maximilian who comforts Soria; it is Soria who sobs irreconcilably at the impending tragedy. Soria is meant to accompany Maximilian by carriage to the firing squad, but he can barely summon the strength to lift himself from the cell floor. Tudos dons Soria’s vestments, pulls the ceremonial hood close over his face, and bows his head in respect, as well as to hide his identity. Soria, now in Tudos’ clothes, sleeps on a threadbare cot. Maximilian and his disguised friend, Tudos, stand in silence. They wait for the guards.
The carriage holding Maximilian and Tudos is, indeed, ancient. Light enters through cracks in its plank walls and settles on a dense, motionless dust. Maximilian is still. Tudos, still but less peaceful, sits at his side. Tudos looks at his friend, if he may think of his emperor as such, and ponders the next twenty minutes. That is how long it will take for the carriage to transport them to the execution site. Tudos and Maximilian have doubts about the Masons’ reported plans to aid in his escape—not just about the plans, but about whether anyone actually intends to enact them. Maximilian is at peace because he knows, no matter what happens, his family’s safety has been assured. And then, with the expectation of someone who has just requested a favorite dessert, Maximilian brings his lips tight together and shuts his eyes. He moves his head backward, as if, through closed eyes and through the roof of the carriage, he were looking at the sky. Maximilian’s neck, below his thick beard and above his suit jacket, is a bright white space in the otherwise dark space. His slight movements have sent the dust swirling. Tudos pulls a blade from his boot and then deep across Maximilian’s throat.
History tells us that the carriage door stuck when the horses reached the execution site. Military guards need to usher the condemned, recognizable by his regal suit, through a side window. They then wait for Father Soria, and when he doesn’t appear at the carriage window, one of the guards peers in. What he sees is a body in a pool of blood. The guards then take Maximilian, or Father Soria, or Tudos, or whoever this is standing before them, and walk him to where two generals wait to die by his side.
The guards had prepared for many obstacles: Masonic forces would storm the proceedings, Maximilian would bribe the riflemen with his famed diamond, he would use a hidden weapon to gain escape, the carriage would be switched with a substitute. The guards had prepared for numerous many a variant situation, though not for this one. Still, they don’t feel any need to consult with their superior officers. There is work to be done. Even with the change of regimes, there are fields to be tended. The execution proceeds as planned.
A Sors is a project about the intersection of friendship and fate. Julio and Max are excited to explore this idea in the legend of Emperor Maximilian I of México and his intimate relationship with his imperial chef, a Hungarian named Tudos.
Thanks to Percy Falke Martin’s Maximilian in Mexico (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1914) for general scene-setting information.
Special thanks to all 30 who participated in the development dinner. Here are some images from Monday night:
Continue reading post three here.