June 29, 1914
Archduke Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated.
Certainly, it was news most concerning to Europeans, and my American friends probably wouldn’t even give the unfortunate event a second thought, other than commiserating that it was a terrible thing to happen to any man and his wife. Yes, Sophia the Duchess of Hohenberg was also struck down in Sarajevo.
Daniel and I had joined Father, Sally and Louisa for breakfast, and later, I’d found the men in Father’s office, their brows deeply furrowed and their discussion intense.
Daniel, noting the concern on my face, relayed the tragic news.
“The papers say a Bosnian nationalist is responsible and is being held in custody. Apparently, he tried to shoot himself on the spot, but the pistol was wrested from his hand.”
The mood in Europe was tumultuous, the area like a tinder box awaiting a spark. This news didn’t bode well.
“Why do you suppose he did it?” My knees felt weak from impending dread and I lowered myself onto the last empty chair. “What would be the motive behind such a ghastly deed?”
“You needn’t worry yourself, Ginger,” Father said. “Your life here in Boston will remain unaffected.”
I ignored that rather dismissive sentence and stared at Daniel with eyebrows raised expectantly.
“I suspect my wife will not take that as an answer to her question,” Daniel said with a slight smile.
“I suppose you’re right about that,” Father replied reluctantly. I knew he still saw me as his child, but I was a married woman now.
Father lit a cigar, puffed three times and let out a stream of smoke. Apparently, he decided to humour me since he continued, “Daniel and I were just discussing possible ramifications of this attack. It is troubling to think about what might come next.”
“The papers are citing revenge as the motive,” Daniel offered.
“Revenge?” I asked
“Yes, you see yesterday was the anniversary of Serbia’s defeat by Austria in1389 at Kosovo Polje. It was also St Vitus’s day; a celebration for Slavic nationalists,” Daniel said.
“And Franz Ferdinand picked that day to visit Sarajevo?” I asked.
“Yes, that does rather seem like an unwise choice,” Daniel said. “He is, or rather was, heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne, you know. His presence in Serbia on that day would have sparked a lot of anger for many people.”
“He was there to inspect the imperial armed forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a region annexed by Austria-Hungary back in 1908,” Father added.
Of course I already knew this. Many Serbians felt that those territories should be part of Serbia, and this battle over who had rights to the land created considerable tension in that part of the world.
“It is also clear that the assassin was not acting alone,” Daniel said. “I read in the Boston Globe that the authorities believe there were others involved and police are investigating, but already the Austria-Hungary government are blaming the Serbian government.”
“It’s a dangerous allegation,” Father said. “These anarchists have managed to stir the pot, all right.”
“Doesn’t Serbia have close ties with Russia?” I asked.
“Precisely,” Daniel remarked, “and Austria-Hungary has strong ties with Germany of course.”
Oh mercy. A lump formed in my stomach. “If this blame casting goes too far, there are other countries who could be drawn into conflict.” Such as France, who was an ally to Russia.
Daniel and Father just looked at each other and nodded.
A worse thought sprung to mind. “Great Britain could be pulled into conflict.”
Daniel shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Who are of course, also tied to Russia.”
I remembered the talk I had with Louisa not long ago about how Britain was inextricably tied with the rest of Europe. I had explained to her that many of the leaders of those countries were related to each other by blood and through marriage. The King of England, The Tsar in Russia and the Kaiser in Germany were all first cousins!
“Indeed.” Father took a final puff of his cigar and stabbing the ashtray with the glowing tip.
“Well,” Daniel started, “If Great Britain gets involved…” he left that sentence unfinished. The implications of that thought hung like a heavy, dark cloud in the room.
Sally entered the doorway, paused, and put her hands on her hips. “From the looks on your faces you would think that the price of tea has doubled overnight.” She laughed at her own joke and when none of us smiled, said, “What’s wrong?”
I could tell but the look in Father’s eye that he didn’t want to get into the terrible affair with Sally, but he sighed resignedly, not wanting to get her riled up, and gave her the headlines.
Sally responded to the news by saying, “Why on earth should we care about some random shooting in a far off country?”
Father shifted his weight yet again on his chair, and I suspected the grimace on his face was as much due to the pain in his legs than his unimaginative wife. “My dear, I’m afraid this could be more serious than what you imagine.”
“I doubt that,” Sally said. “This will blow over soon and we’ll be all be back to paying the proper attention to our own city. For instance our new mayor, who somehow managed to weasel himself into office in January. It is already obvious to me how he favours the Irish population, and his wife, well that hat—”
“Sally, I am not interested in hearing gossip about the mayor’s wife,” Father snapped. We all looked at him in surprise. It was unusual for him to speak so sharply to his wife, indeed to anyone. He softened his tone, “I would rather that discussion of the style of a hat that the mayor’s wife wore on election day be discussed when I am not in the room. There are more pressing matters at hand and though I am loathe to admit it, it could very well be that our own lives may soon become deeply affected.”
Sally wasn’t the type to step down. “I hope you’re not implying that the actions of a foolish, trigger happy young man on the other side of the world will have any influence on how I go about my days!”
“I’m not talking about an argument in the street, Sally, or the fanatical actions of a small group of zealots.” Father stared out of the window as if gazing out to sea. “I am talking about the possibility of a great and terrible war.”