[Archduke Albrecht’s] wealth was almost boundless, but so was his charity, and many were the good deeds accomplished by him in secret, especially at Vienna.
In 1879 I had undertaken to supervise twice a week one of the volksküchen (people’s kitchens), to which I have referred already in this volume. One fine morning I noticed a rather seedy-looking individual who entered the hall, and sitting down at one end of a small table ordered a “portion” of soup and beef from one of the ladies in attendance. A twinkle of merriment came into my eyes, for at one glance I had recognized Archduke Albrecht, the owner of more millions than he could well count. Anxious to see the fun out, I brought the coarse plate and cup myself to the cornier where Emperor Franz Joseph’s uncle sat, and handed them to him the utmost impassibility. He seemed somewhat embarrassed, and looked diffidently up at me through his spectacles.
Not a muscle of my countenance relaxed, and with a slight nod I walked away, watching, however, from my cornier how this poor man’s fare would please the archducal palate. I might add the entire “portion” was consumed without a single sign of distaste being manifested, and that at the end of this frugal repast his Imperial and Royal Highness rubbed his mustache and fingertips on his handkerchief just as unconcernedly as any other habitué of the volksküche. As for me I went about my duties seemingly unaware of the keen look which he occasionally shot at me from under his bushy white eyebrows. At last he rose and prepared to go, but, as if suddenly altering his mind, he walked up to me, and drawing me to one side, said, gently:
“You have recognized me in spite of my attempt at disguising myself, so I might as well tell you that I sometimes come here in order to see whether the food is what it ought to be.” Then he added: “Do you not think that, on this cold morning, some hot coffee with plenty of milk and sugar would be a pleasant addition to the dinner of all these poor devils?”
I laughed a ready acquiescence, and ten minutes later a small notice placarded at the entrance of the küche informed the delighted customers that in consideration of the unusual severity of the weather, hot coffee was to be distributed without extra charge during the entire course of the day.
Marguerite Cunliffe-Owen, The Martyrdom of an Empress (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1902), pp. 179-180.
Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 209