Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: Part IV

Violence was indeed all I knew of the Balkans,' writes Rebecca West, 'all I knew of the South Slavs. And since there proceeds steadily from the southeastern corner of Europe a stream of events which are a danger to me, which indeed for years threatened my safety and deprived me forever of many benefits, that is to say I know nothing of my own destiny. The Balkan Peninsula was only two or three days distant, yet I had never troubled to go that short journey, which might explain to me how I shall die, and why.' So it was that in 1937 Rebecca West, with her husband, set out to explore the Balkans, and particularly Yugoslavia, to see for herself why the fate of the Continent and of England has so often been threatened by the Powderkeg of Europe. The story she brought back with her annihilates distance, and touches every thoughtful reader.

Through Franz Ferdinand's mother, the hollow-eyed Annunziata, he was the grandson of King Bomba of the Sicilies, one of the worst of the Bourbons, an idiot despot who conducted a massacre of his subjects after 1848, and on being expelled from Naples retired into a fortress and lived the life of a medieval tyrant right on until the end of the fifties. This ancestry had given Franz Ferdinand tuberculosis, obstinacy, bigotry, a habit of suspicion, hatred of democracy, and an itch for aggression, which, combined with the Hapsburg narrowness and indiscipline, made him a human being who could not have hoped to survive had he not been royal. When he went to Egypt to spend the winter for the sake of his lungs, it appeared to him necessary, and nobody who knew him would have expected anything else, to insult the Austrian Ambassador. By the time he had passed through his twenties, he had made an army of personal enemies, which he constantly increased by his intemperate and uninstructed political hatreds. He hated Hungary; the name of Kossuth made him spit with rage. When receiving a deputation of Slovaks, though they were not a people he would naturally have had much sympathy with, he said of the Hungarians, 'It was an act of bad taste on the part of these gentlemen ever to have come to Europe,' which must remain an ace in the history of royal indiscretion.

He had a dream of replacing the Dual Monarchy by a Constitutional Trinity, in which the German and Croat Crown lands should form the first part, Hungary the second, and the South Slav group—Croatia, Dalmatia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina—the third. This would have pleased the Croats, and the Croats alone. Most German Austrians would have been infuriated at having to combine with the Czechs and see the South Slavs treated as their equals; Hungary would have been enraged at losing her power over the South Slavs; and the non-Catholic South Slavs would have justly feared being made the object of Catholic propaganda and would have resented being cut off from their natural ambition of union with the Serbs of Serbia. By this scheme, therefore, he made a host of enemies; and though he came in time to abandon it, he could not quickly turn these enemies into friends by making public his change of mind. As he was only the heir to the throne, he could announce his policy only by the slow method of communicating it to private individuals.

He abandoned his plan of the Triune Monarchy, moreover, for reasons too delicate to be freely discussed. In 1896, when he was thirty-three, he had paid some duty calls on the Czech home of his cousins, the Archduke Frederick and the Archduchess Isabella, to see if he found one of their many daughters acceptable as his bride. Instead he fell in love with the Archduchess's lady-in waiting, Sophie Chotek, a woman of thirty-two, noble but destitute. He insisted on marrying her in spite of the agonized objection of the Emperor Franz Josef, who pointed out to him that according to the Pragmatic Sanction, the secret law of the Monarchy, a woman of such low birth could not come to the throne as consort of the Emperor.

It was not a question of permission that could be bestowed or withheld, but of a rigid legal fact. If Franz Ferdinand was to marry Sophie Chotek at all, he must do it morganatically, and must renounce all rights of succession for the unborn children of their marriage; he could no more marry heher any otr way than a man with a living and undivorced wife can marry a second woman, though the infringement here was of an unpublished dynastic regulation instead of the published law.

Himself a typical product of Hapsburg indiscipline, Franz Ferdinand made no allowances when his relatives and the officials of the Court reacted to his marriage with a like indiscipline. Franz Josef's chamberlain, Prince Montenuovo, was one of the strangest figures in Europe of our time—a character that Shakespeare decided at the last moment not to use in King Lear or Othello, and laid by so carelessly that it fell out of art into life. He was a man of exquisite taste and aesthetic courage, who protected the artists of Vienna against the apathy of the Court and the imprudence of the bourgeoisie. The Vienna Imperial Opera under Mahler was his special pride and care. But he was the son of one of the bastard sons mothered by the wretched Marie Louise, when, unsustained by the judgment of historians yet unborn that she was and should have been perfectly happy in her forced marriage with Napoleon, she took refuge in the arms of Baron Neipperg. To be the bastard son of a race so great that it could make bastardy as noble as legitimacy, but great only because its legitimacy was untainted with bastardy, confused this imaginative man with a passionate and poetic and malignant madness. He watched over the rules of Hapsburg ceremonial as over a case of poisons which he believed to compose the elixir of life if they were combined in the correct proportions: there was death here and life. 'And now for the strychnine,' he must have said when he began to devise the adjustments necessitated by the presence at the Court of a morganatic wife to the heir of the throne. Countess Sophie was excluded altogether from most intimate functions of the Austrian Court; she could not accompany her husband to the family receptions or to parties given for foreign royalties, or even to the most exclusive kinds of Court balls. At the semi-public kind of Court balls she was allowed to attend, her husband had to head the procession with an archduchess on his arm, while she was forced to walk at the very end, behind the youngest princess. The Emperor did what he could to mitigate the situation by creating her the Duchess of Hohenburg; but the obsessed Montenuovo hovered over her, striving to excavate every possible humiliation, never happier than when he could hold her back from entering a Court carriage or cut down to the minimum the salutes and attendants called for by any State occasion.

Franz Ferdinand had been given, for his Viennese home, the superb palace and park known as the Belvedere, which had been built by Prince Eugene of Savoy. He now made it the centre of what the historian Tschuppik has called a shadow government. He set up a military chancellery of his own, to which presently the Emperor Franz Josef, who always treated his nephew with a remarkable degree of tenderness and forbearance, though not with tact, resigned his control over the army. But this chancellery dealt with much more than military matters, attracting every able man in Austria who had been ignored or rejected by the Court of Franz Josef. And Franz Ferdinand became day by day less lovable. His knowledge that he could not leave the royal path of his future to his children made him fanatically mean and grasping; and his manner became more and more overbearing and brutal. He roused in small men small resentments, and, in the minds of the really able men, large distrust. They saw that, though he was shrewd enough to realize that the Austro-Hungarian Empire was falling to pieces when most of his kind were wholly blind to its decay, he was fundamentally stupid and cruel and regarded his problem as only one of selecting the proper objects for tyranny.

Some of them feared a resort to medieval oppression; some feared the damage to specific interests, particularly in Hungary, which was bound to follow his resettlement of the Empire. Such fears must have gained in intensity when it became evident that Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany was taking more and more interest in Franz Ferdinand, and was visiting him at his country homes and holding long conversations with him on important matters. The last visit of this kind had occurred a fortnight before the Archduke came to Sarajevo. There is a rumor that on that occasion Kaiser Wilhelm laid before Franz Ferdinand a plan for remaking the map of Europe—that the Austro-Hungarian and German empires should be free, and that Franz Ferdinand's eldest son should become king of a new Poland stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea, while the second son became king of Bohemia, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia, and Franz Ferdinand's official heir, his nephew Charles, should be left as king of German Austria. It is certain that Kaiser Wilhelm must at that moment have had many important things on his mind, and it is hardly likely that he would have paid such a visit unless he had something grave to say. But it is definitely known that on this occasion Franz Ferdinand expressed bitter hostility to the Hungarian aristocracy. It is also known that these remarks were repeated at the time by Kaiser Wilhelm to a third person.

The manners of Franz Ferdinand did worse for him than make him enemies. They made him gangster friends, who may become enemies at any moment with the deadly weapon of a friend's close knowledge. Franz Ferdinand's plainest sign of intelligence was his capacity for recognizing a certain type of unscrupulous ability. He had discovered Aehrenthal, the clever trickster who as Austrian Minister had managed to convert the provisional occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina into annexation behind the backs of the other Great Powers in 1907. Since Aehrenthal on his deathbed had recommended Berchtold to succeed him, that incompetent warmonger might also be counted as one of the works of Franz Ferdinand. But an even greater favorite of his had been Conrad von Hotzendorf, whom he had made the Chief of General Staff. This creature, who was without sense or bowels, fancied himself not only as a great soldier but as a statesman, and would have directed the foreign policy of his country had he been allowed. He was obsessed by the need of preserving the Austro-Hungarian Empire by an offensive against Serbia. 'Lest all our predestined foes, having perfected their armaments, should deliver a blow against Austria-Hungary,' he wrote in a memorial he presented to Franz Josef in 1907 which was followed by many like it, 'we must take the first opportunity of reckoning with our most vulnerable enemy.'

In the intervening seven years this obsession had flamed up into a mania. In 1911 Franz Josef, with the definite statement that his policy was pacific and that he would permit no question of an offensive war, with Aehrenthal's consent dismissed him from his post and made him an Inspector General of the Army. But Franz Ferdinand still stood by him, and so did all the partisans of the Belvedere, who numbered enough industrialists, bankers, journalists, and politicians to make plain the decadence of pre-war Vienna. But Berchtold was impressed by him, and in 1912 he was once more appointed Chief of General Staff. He was preaching the same gospel. 'The way out of our difficulties,' he wrote to Berchtold, 'is to lay Serbia low without fear of consequences.'

But at this time Franz Ferdinand's convictions had taken a new turn. He was becoming more and more subject to the influence of the German Kaiser, and Germany had no desire at that time for war, particularly with a Balkan pretext. In 1913 Berchtold had to tell Conrad, 'The Archduke Franz Ferdinand is absolutely against war.' At this Conrad became more and more desperate. His influence over Berchtold had been sufficient to make the latter refuse to see the Prime Minister of Serbia when he offered to go to Vienna to negotiate a treaty with Austria, covering every possible point of dispute. He persuaded him, moreover, to withhold all knowledge of this pacific offer from either Franz Josef or Franz Ferdinand. This is the great criminal act which gives us the right to curse Berchtold and Conrad as the true instigators of the First World War.


Such enemies surrounded Franz Ferdinand; but it cannot be laid at their door that he had come to Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. This was a day of some personal significance to him. On that date in 1900 he had gone to the Hofburg in the presence of the Emperor and the whole Court, and all holders of office had, in choking tones, taken the oath to renounce the royal rights of his unborn children. But it was also a day of immense personal significance for the Slav people. June 28 is the feast day of Saint Vitus, who is one of those saints that are lucky to find a place in the Christian character, since they started life as pagan deities; he was originally Vidd, a Finnish-Ugric deity. It is also the anniversary of the Battle of Kossovo, where, five centuries before, the Serbs held lost their empire to the Turk. It had been a day of holy mourning for the Serbian people within the Serbian kingdom and the Austrian Empire, when they had confronted their disgrace and vowed to redeem it, until the year 1912, when Serbia's victory over the Turks at Kumanovo wiped it out. But, since 1913 had still been a time of war, the Saint Vitus day of 1914 was the first anniversary which might have been celebrated by the Serbs in joy and pride. Franz Ferdinand must have been aware that he was regarded as an enemy of Serbia. He must have known that if he went to Bosnia and conducted manoeuvres on the Serbian frontier just before Saint Vitus's Day, and on the actual anniversary paid a State visit to Sarajevo, he would be understood to be mocking the Slav world, to be telling them that, though the Serbs might have freed themselves from the Turks, there were still many Slavs under the Austrians' yoke.

To pay that visit was an act so suicidal that one fumbles the pages of the history books to find if there is not some explanation of his going, if he was not subject to some compulsion. But if ever a man went anywhere of his own free will, Franz Ferdinand went so to Sarajevo. He himself ordered the manœuvres and decided to attend them. The Emperor Franz Josef in the presence of witnesses told him that he need not go unless he wished. Yet it appears inconceivable that he should not have known that the whole of Bosnia was seething with revolt, and that almost every schoolboy and student in the province was a member of some revolutionary society.

Even if the extraordinary isolation that afflicts royal personages had previously prevented him from sharing this common knowledge, steps were taken to remove his ignorance. But here his temperament intervened on behalf of his own death. The Serbian Government—which by this single act acquitted itself of all moral blame for the assassination—sent its Minister in Vienna to warn Bilinski, the Joint Finance Minister who was responsible for the civil administration of Bosnia and Herzegovina, that the proposed visit of Franz Ferdinand would enrage many Slavs on both sides of the frontier and might cause consequences which neither government could control. Bilinski, however, was an Austrian Pole; Ferdinand loathed all his race, and had bitterly expressed his resentment that any of them were allowed to hold high office. Bilinski was also a close confidant of old Franz Josef and an advocate of a conciliatory policy in the Slav provinces. Thus it happened that when he conscientiously went to transmit this message his warnings were received not only with incredulity but in a way that made it not only psychologically but materially impossible to repeat them.

Franz Ferdinand never informed in advance either the Austrian or the Hungarian Government of the arrangements he had made with the Army to visit Bosnia, and he seems to have worked earnestly and ingeniously, as people will to get up a bazaar, to insult the civil authorities. When he printed the program of his journey he sent it to all the Ministries except the Joint Ministry of Finance; and he ordered that no invitations for the ball which he gave after the manœuvres outside Sarajevo, at Ilidze, were to be sent to any of the Finance Ministry officials. It was as if a Prince of Whales had traveled through India brutally insulting the Indian Civil Service and the India Office. There was a thoroughly Hapsburg reason for this. Since the military authorities were in charge of all the arrangements, it held been easy for Franz Ferdinand to arrange that for the first time on Hapsburg territory royal honors were to be paid to his wife. This could not have happened without much more discussion if the civil authorities had been involved. Its result was final and bloody. Bilinski could not protest against Franz Ferdinand's visit to Sarajevo when he was not sure it was going to take place, in an atmosphere of such indelicate rage. He could not even supervise the arrangements for policing the streets. With incredible ingenuity, Franz Ferdinand had created a situation in which those whose business it was to protect him could not take one step towards his protection.

When Franz Ferdinand returned from the balcony into the reception room his face became radiant and serene, because he saw before him his wife. She had been in an upper room of the town hall, meeting a number of ladies belonging to the chief Moslem families of the towen, in order that she might condescendingly admire their costumes and manners, as is the habit of barbarians who have conquered an ancient culture; and she had now made the proposal that on the return journey she and her husband should alter their program by going to the hospital to make inquiries about the officer wounded by Chabrinovitch. Nothing can ever be known about the attitude of this woman toward that day's events. She was a woman who could not communicate with her fellow creatures. We know only of her outer appearance and behavior. We know that she had a heavy yet pinched and aphrodisiac face, that in a day when women were bred to look like table birds sue took this convention of amplitude and expressed it with the rigidity of the drill sergeant. We know that she impressed those who knew her as absorbed in snobbish ambitions and petty resentments, and that she had as her chief ingratiating tribute a talent for mimicry, which is often the sport of an unloving and derisive soul.

But we also know that she and Franz Ferdinand felt for each other what cannot be denied to have been a great love. Each found in the other a perpetual assurance that the meaning of life is kind; each gave the other that assurance in terms suited to their changing circumstances and with inexhaustible resourcefulness and good will; it is believed by those who knew them best that neither of them ever fell from the heights of their relationship and reproached the other for the hardships that their marriage had brought upon them. That is to say that the boar we know as Franz Ferdinand and the small-minded fury we know as Countess Sophie Chotek are not the ultimate truth about these people. These were the pragmatic conceptions of the pair that those who met them had to use if they were to escape unhurt, but the whole truth about their natures must certainly have been to some degree beautiful.

But even in this field where Sophie Chotek's beauty lay she was dangerous. Like her husband, she could see no point in consistency, which is the very mortar of society. She bitterly resented her position as a morganatic wife because of her noble birth. It was infamous, she felt, that a Chotek should be treated in this way. It never occured to her that Choteks had a value only because they had been accorded it by a system, which, for reasons that were pcrfectly valid at the time, accorded the Hapsburgs a greater value; and that if those reasons had ceased to be valid, and the Hapsburgs should no longer be treated as supreme, then the Choteks also had lost their claim to eminence.

Sophie's proposal that they should visit the wounded aide-de-camp in hospital would be comprehensible only if the speakers had been drunk or living through a long, fevered night; but they were sober, and, though they were facing horror, they were facing it at ten o'clock on a June morning. Franz Ferdinand actually asked Potoriek if he thought any bombs would be thrown at them during their drive away from the town hall. This question is incredibly imbecile. If Potoriek had not known enough to regard the first attack as probable, there was no reason to ascribe any value whatsoever to his opinion on the probability of a second attack.

There was one obvious suggestion which it would have been natural for either Franz Ferdinand or Potoriek to make. The streets were quite inadequatelv guarded, otherwise Chabrinovitch could not have made his attack. Therefore it was advisable that Ferdinand and his wife should remain at the town hall until adequate numbers of the seventy thousand troops who were within no great distance of the town were sent for to line the streets. This is a plan one would think would have been instantly brought to men's minds by the mere fact that they were responsible for the safety of a woman.

But they never suggested anything like it, and Potoriek gave to Franz Ferdinand's astonishing question the astonishing answer that he was sure no second attack would be made. It is incredible that he should have been so imprudent, particularly as he knew that any investigation would bring to light that he had failed to take for Franz Ferdinand any of the precautions that had been taken for Franz Josef on his visit to Sarajevo seven years before, when all strangers had been evacuated from the town, all anti-Austrians confined to their houses, and the streets lined with a double cordon of troops and peppered with detectives. It is only credible if one knew that Potoriek had received assurances that if anything happened to Franz Ferdinand there would be no investigation afterwards that needed to be feared. Indeed, it would be easy to suspect that Potoriek deliberately sent Franz Ferdinand to his death, were it not that it must have looked beforehand as if that death must be shared by Potoriek, as they were both riding in the same carriage.

It is, of course, true that Potoriek shared Conrad's belief that a war against Serbia was a sacred necessity, and had written to him on one occasion expressing the desperate opinion that, rather than not have war, he would run the risk of provoking a world war and being defeated in it; and throughout the Bosnian manœuvres he had been in the company of Conrad, still thoroughly disgruntled by his dismissal by Franz Ferdinand. It must have been quite plain to them both that the assassination of Franz Ferdinand by a Bosnian Serb would be a superb excuse for declaring war on Serbia.

Still it is hard to believe that Potoriek would have risked his own life to take Franz Ferdinand's, considering that in this, a land of sharpshooters, he could easily have arranged for the Archduke's assassination when he was walking in the open country. It is extremely doubtful, also, if any conspirators would have consented to Potoriek's risking his life, for his influence and military skill would have been too useful to them to throw away.

Yet there is an incident arising out of this conversation which can only be explained by the existence of relentless treachery somewhere among Franz Ferdinand's entourage. It was agreed that the royal party should, on leaving the town hall, follow the route that had been originally announced for only a few hundred yards: they should drive along the quay to the second bridge, and should then follow a new route, by keeping straight along the quay to the hospital instead of turning to the right and going up a side street that led to the principal shopping centre of the town. This had the prime advantage of disappointing any other conspirators who might be waiting in the crowds, after any but the first few hundred yards of the route, and, as Potoriek had also promised that the automobiles should travel at a faster speed, it might have been thought that the Archduke and his wife had a reasonable chance of getting out of Sarajevo alive. So they might, if anybody had given orders to the chauffeur on these points. But either Potorick never gave these orders to any subordinate, or the subordinate to whom he entrusted them never handed them on.

Either hypothesis is hard to accept. Even allowing for Austrian Schlamperei, soldiers and persons in attendance on royalty do not make such mistakes. Yet, though this negligence cannot have beck accidental, the way it contrived the death of Franz Ferdinand cannot have been foreseen. The Archduke and his wife and Potoriek left the town hall, taking no farewell whatsoever of the municipal officers who lined the staircase, and went on to the quay and got into their automobile. Franz Ferdinand and Sophie are said to have looked stunned and stiff with apprehension. Count Harrach, an Austrian general, jumped on the left running board and crouched there with drawn sword, ready to defend the royal pair with his life. The procession was headed by an automobile containing the deputy mayor and a member of the Bosnian Diet.; but by another incredible lapse neither of these officials nor their chauffeurs were informed of the change in route. When this first automobile came to the bridge it turned to the right and went up the side street. The chauffeur of the royal car saw this and was therefore utterly bewildered when Potoriek struck him on the shoulder and shouted, 'What are you doing? We're going the wrong way! We must drive straight along the quay.'

Not having been told how supremely important it was to keep going, the puzzled chauffeur stopped dead at the corner of the side street and the quay. He came to a halt exactly athwart the corner of the side street and the quay. He came to a halt exactly in front of a young Bosnian Serb named Gavrilo Princip, who was one of the members of the same conspiracy as Chabrinovitch and had gone back to make another attempt on the Archduke's life after having failed to draw his revolver on him during the journey to the town hall. As the automobile remained stock-still, Princip was able to take steady aim and shoot Franz Ferdinand in the heart. He was not a very good shot: he could never have brought down his quarry if there had not been this failure to give the chauffeur proper instructions. Harrach could do nothing; he was on the left side of the car, Princip on the right. When Princip saw the stout, stuffed body of the Archduke fall forward he shifted his rovolver to take aim at Potoriek. He would have killed him at once had not Sophie thrown herself across the car in one last expression of her great love and drawn Franz Ferdinand to herself with a movement that brought her across the path of the second bullet. She was already dead when Franz Ferdinand murmured to her, 'Sophie, Sophie, live for our children'; and he died a quarter of an hour later. So was your life, and my life, mortally wounded.

Part One: January 1941
Part Two: February 1941
Part Three: March 1941
Part Five: May 1941
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