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.

This is the fourth part in a five-part series. Read part one here,
part two here, part three here, and part five here.


Trebinje is the nearest town to the Dalmatian coast that exhibits what life was like for the Slavs who were conquered by the Turks.

We found ourselves slipping down the side of a broad and fertile valley that lay voluptuously under the guard of a closed circle of mountains, the plump grey-green body of a substantial river, running its whole length, marked by poplars and birches. We saw the town suddenly in a parting between showers, handsome and couchant, and, like all Turkish towns, green with trees and refined by the minarets of many mosques. These are among the most pleasing architectural gestures ever made by urbanity. They do not publicly declare the relationship of man to God, like a Christian tower or spire. They raise a white finger and say only, ‘This is a community of human beings, and, look you, we are not beasts of the field.’ But I kept my eyes on the mountain, wondering which gully had seen the military exploits of my admired Jeanne Merkus.

That, now, was a girl, one of the most engaging figures in the margin of the nineteenth century, sad proof of what happens to Jeanne d'Arc if she is unlucky enough not to be burned. She was born in 1839, in Batavia, because her father was Viceroy of the Dutch East Indies. Her mother came of a clerical Walloon family, and was the divorced wife of a professor in Leyden University. Jeanne was sixth in the family of four boys and four girls. When she was five her father died, and she was brought home to Holland, where she lived with her mother at Amsterdam and The Hague until she was nine. Then her mother died and she went to live with an uncle, a clergyman, who made her into a passionate mystic, entranced in expectation of the second coming of Christ.
It happened that when she was twenty-one she inherited a fortune far larger than falls to the lot of most mystics. Her peculiar faith told her exactly what to do with it. She went to Palestine, bought the best plot of ground she could find near Jerusalem, and built a villa for the use of Christ. She lived there for fifteen years, in perpetual expectation of her divine guest, and conceiving as a result of her daily life a bitter hatred against the Turks.

When she heard of the Bosnian revolt she packed up and went to the Balkans, and joined the rebels. She came in contact with Lyubibratitch, the Herzegovinian chief, and at once joined the forces in the field, attaching herself to a party of comitadji led by a French officer. We have little information as to where she fought, for very little has been written, and nothing in detail, about this important and shameful episode of European history. We have an account of her, one winter’s night, struggling single-handed to fire a mine to blow up a Turkish fortress among the mountains when all the rest of her troop had taken to their heels, and failing because the dynamite had frozen. It is almost our only glimpse of her as a campaigner.

Jeanne’s more important work lay in the outlay of her fortune, which she spent to the last penny in buying Krupp munitions for the rebels. But as soon as the revolt was a proven success the Austrians came in and took over the country, and in the course of the invasion she was captured. She was set free and allowed to live in Dubrovnik, but she eluded the authorities and escaped over the mountains to Belgrade, where she enlisted in the Serbian army. There the whole population held a torchlight serenade under her window, and she appeared on the balcony with a round Montenegrin cap on her fair head.

But there was to be no more fighting. The action of the Great Powers had perpetuated an abuse that was not to be corrected till thirty-five years later, and then at irreparable cost to civilization, in the Balkan Wars and the First World War. There was nothing for Jeanne to do, and she had no money to contribute to the nationalist Balkan funds. The Turks had seized the house in Jerusalem which she had prepared for Christ, and, not unnaturally, would pay her no compensation. We find her moving to the French Riviera, where she lived in poverty. Sometimes she went back to Holland to see her family, who regarded her visits with repugnance because she talked of her outlandish adventures, wore strange comitadji-cum-deaconess clothes, smoked big black cigars, and was still a believing Christian of the ecstatic sort. It is said that once or twice she spoke of her lost spiritual causes before young kinsfolk, who followed them for the rest of their lives.

The members of her family who remained insensible to her charm carried their insensibility to the extreme degree of letting her live on Church charity at Utrecht for the last years of her life, though they themselves were wealthy. When she died in 1897 they did not pay for her funeral, and afterwards they effaced all records of her existence within their power.

It is important to note that nothing evil was known of Jeanne Merkus. Her purity was never doubted. But she never achieved martyrdom, and the people for whom she offered up her life and possessions were poor and without influence. She therefore, by a series of actions which would have brought her the most supreme honor had she acted in an important Western state as a member of the Roman Catholic Church, earned a rather ridiculous notoriety that puts her in the class of a pioneer bicyclist or Dr. Bloomer. …

It was a poor day for the market. A storm had been raging over the mountains all night, and as the year was still early, and the crops light, most of the peasants had not thought it worth while to get up at dawn and walk the seven or eight miles to Trebinje. There were a few handsome women standing with some vegetables before them, soberly handsome in the same vein as their plain round cap and their dark, gathered dresses, gripped by plain belts. We saw a tourist level a camera at two of these. They turned away without haste, without interrupting their grave gossip, and showed the lens their backs. These were very definitely country women. They wore the typical peasant shoes of plaited thongs, and by their movements it could be seen that they were used to walking many miles, and they bore themselves as if each wore an invisible crown of immense weight—which meant, I think, an unending burden of responsibility and fatigue.

There were also about the market place plenty of Moslems, the men wearing the red fez, the women in the black veil and overall made of a straight wide piece of cotton pulled in at the waist by a drawstring. ‘Turks,’ said the guide, and he was talking nonsense. Nearly all the Moslems in Yugoslavia except in the extreme south, in Macedonia, are Slavs whose ancestors were converted by the Turks, sometimes in order to keep their properties, sometimes because they were Bogomil heretics and wanted defense against Roman Catholic persecution. This is preeminently the case in Bosnia and Herzegovina; the true Turks left at the time of the Austrian occupation.

‘Look!’ said my husband, and I found that he was enraptured at the sight of the fezzes and the veils, for though he had spent some time in Istanbul and Ankara, that had been since the days of Ataturk and his reforms.

‘Do you think the veil adds charm to the female?’ I asked.

‘Yes, in a way,’ he answered; ‘they all look like little Aberdeen terriers dressed up to do tricks, with those black muzzles sticking out.’

One stopped, and offered to sell him some white silk handkerchiefs of offensive aspect, with tatting at the corners. His taste in linen is classical; she was not fortunate. Nor were any of the six others who sought to sell him such handkerchiefs at various points in Trebinje. ‘I don’t like their handkerchiefs and I don't like them,’ he decided. ‘No doubt they’re perfectly respectable, but they waggle themselves behind all this concealment with a “Naughty Nineties” sort of sexuality that reminds me of Alley Sloper and the girls, and the old Romano, and the Pink “Un and the Pelican.”’


This was not the last we were to see of that peculiar quality. A little Moslem boy handed us a leaflet which announced that tourists could visit an old Turkish house in the town, formerly the home of a famous Pasha, which was complete with its original furniture and its original library. We found it in the suburbs, standing among gardens where spring was touching off the lilac bushes and the plum trees—a house perhaps a hundred or a hundred and fifty years old. It was a very pleasing example of the Turkish genius for building light and airy country houses that come second only to the work of our own Georgians, and in some ways are superior, since they hold no dark corners, no mean holes for the servants, no rooms too large to heat.

This stood firm and bright and decent, with its projecting upper stories, the windows latticed where the harem had been, and its two lower stories that had their defended Arabian Nights air of goods made fast against robbers. Across a countryish courtyard, almost a farmyard, was the servants’ house, where the kitchens and stables were. Down some stairs to the main door, which was on the first story, ran a pretty, smiling girl of about sixteen, unveiled but wearing a gold-braided jacket and pink trousers, which here (though not in other parts of Yugoslavia) are worn only by Moslem women. Behind her came an elderly man wearing a fez and a brocade frock coat. On seeing us the girl broke into welcoming smiles, too profuse for any social circle that recognized any restrictions whatsoever, and left us with a musical-comedy gesture. ‘Turkish girl,’ said the man in the frock coat, in German. ‘Then why is she unveiled?’ asked my husband. ‘She is too young,’ said the man in the frock coat, his voice plump to bursting with implications.

We wavered, our faces turning back to Trebinje. ‘Come in, come in,’ cried the man, placing himself between us and Trebinje. ‘I will show you all—old Turkish house, where the great Pasha kept his harem—all very fine.’ He drove us up the stairs, and shepherded us through the main door into a little room which in its day had been agreeable enough. Pointing at the latticed windows, he said richly, ‘The harem was here—beautiful Turkish women wearing the beautiful Turkish clothes.’ He opened a cupboard and took out a collection of clothes such as may be found in any old clothes shop in those provinces of Yugoslavia that were formerly occupied by the Turks. ‘Very fine, all done by hand,’ he said of the gold-braided jackets and embroidered bodices. ‘And look—trousers!’ He held up before us a garment of white lawn, folded at the ankle into flashy gold cuffs, which could never have been worn by any lady engaged in regular private harem work. ‘Transparent,’ he said. Coyly he sprang to another cupboard and brought out a mattress. ‘The bed was never left in the room,’ he said; ‘they took it out when it was needed.’ There was unluckily a third cupboard, with a tiled floor and a ewer. ‘This was the bathroom. Here is where the Turkish lady kept herself clean—all Turkish ladies were very clean and sweet.’ He assumed a voluptuous expression, cocked a hip forward and put a hand on it, lifted the ewer upside down over his head, and held the pose.

Undeterred by our coldness, he ran on to the next room, which was the typical living room of a Turkish house, bare of all furniture save a bench running along the walls and an ottoman table or two, and ornamented by rugs pinned flat to the wall. I exclaimed in pleasure, for the view from its window was exquisite. The gray-green river we had seen from the heights above the city ran here through meadows deep in long grasses and pale flowers, and turned a mill wheel; and the first leaves of the silver birches on its brink were as cool to the eye as its waters. Along this river there must have wandered, if there is any truth in Oriental miniatures, a young prince wearing an ospreyed fez and embroidered garments, very good-looking then, though later he would be too fat, carrying a falcon on his wrist and snugly composing a poem about the misery of his love.

‘I should be obliged,’ said the man in the frock coat, ‘if the well-born lady would kindly pay some attention to me. Surely she could look at the view afterwards.’

‘Shall I throw him downstairs?’ asked my husband.

‘No,’ I said, ‘I find him enchantingly himself.’

It was interesting to see what kind of person would have organized my life had I been unfortunate enough, or indeed attractive enough, to become the inmate of a brothel. So we obeyed him when he sharply demanded that we should sit on the floor, and listened while he described what the service of a formal Turkish dinner was like, betraying his kind with every word, for he took it for granted that we should find all its habits grotesque, and that our point of view was the proper one. ‘And now,’ he said, rising, and giving a mechanical leer at my ankles as I scrambled off the floor, ‘I shall show you the harem. There are Turkish girls, beautiful Turkish girls.’

At a window in the passage he paused and pointed out an observation post in the roof of the servants’ house. ‘A eunuch used to sit there to see who came into the house,’ he said. ‘A eunuch,’ he repeated, with a sense of luxuriance highly inappropriate to the word. He then flung open a door so that we looked into a room and saw three girls who turned towards us, affected horror, and shielded their faces with one hand while with the other they groped frantically but inefficiently for some colored handkerchiefs that were lying on a table beside them. Meanwhile the custodian had also affected horror and banged the door.

‘By God, it is the Pink “Un and the Pelican,”’ said my husband.

Then the custodian knocked on the door with an air of exaggerated care and, after waiting for a summons, slowly led us in. ‘Typical beautiful Turkish girls,’ he said. They were not. Instead of wearing the black veil that hides the whole face, which almost all Yugoslavian Moslems wear, they wore such handkerchiefs as Christian peasant women use to cover their hair, but knotted untidily at the back of the head so that their brows and eyes were bare. ‘Now they are cultivating our beautiful Turkish crafts,’ he explained. They were not. Turkish embroidery and weaving are indeed delicious; but two of these wenches held in their hands handkerchiefs of the offensive sort that my husband had rejected in the market place, and the third was sitting at a loom on which a carpet which ought never to have been begun had been a quarter finished.

After we had contemplated them for some time, while they wriggled on their seats and tittered to express a reaction to my husband which both he and I, for our different reasons, thought quite unsuitable, the custodian said, ‘Now we will leave the ladies by themselves,’ and, nodding lecherously at me, led my husband out of the room. I found this disconcerting, but supposed he had taken my husband away to show him some ‘beautiful Turkish feelthy peectures,’ in which case they would be back soon enough. As soon as we were alone the girls took off their veils and showed that they were not ill-looking, though they were extremely spotty and had an inordinate number of gold teeth. They suggested that I should buy some of the offensive handkerchiefs, but I refused. I meant to ask my husband to give them some money when he came back.

To pass the time I went over to the girl at the loom and stood beside her, looking down on her hands, as if I wanted to see how a carpet was made. But she did nothing, and suddenly I realized she was angry and embarrassed. She did not know how to weave a carpet any more than I do; and the girls with the handkerchiefs did not know how to sew—they were merely holding them with threaded needles stuck in them. They all began to laugh very loudly and exchange bitter remarks, and I reflected how sad it was that slight knowledge of a foreign tongue lets one in not at the front door but at the back. I have heard poems recited and sermons preached in the Serbian language which were said to be masterpieces by those who were in a position to judge, and I have been unable to understand one word. But I was able to grasp clearly most of what these young women were saying about me, my husband, my father and my mother.

But the scene was horrible, because they looked not only truculent but unhappy. They were ashamed because I had detected that they could not sew or weave, for the only women in the Balkans who cannot handle a needle or a loom are the poorest of the urban population, who are poorer than any peasant and cannot get hold of cloth or thread because they have no sheep. The scene was pitiful in itself, and it was pitiful in its implications, if one thought of the fair- mannered and decent Moslem men and women in Trebinje and all over Yugoslavia, sad because they knew themselves dead and buried in their lifetime, coffined in the shell of a perished Empire, whose ways these poor wretches were aping and defiling. I could not bear to wait there any longer, so I left them and walked through the house, calling for my husband. The search became disagreeable, for I opened the door of one or two rooms and found them full of trunks and bundles lying on the bare floor, stuffed with objects but open and unfastened, as if someone here had meditated flight and then given up the plan on finding that the catastrophe which he had hoped to escape was universal.

I called louder, and my husband answered me from a room by the main door. ‘What did he take you away for?’ I asked. ‘He didn't take me away for anything but to give you the thrilling experience of seeing those wenches unveiled,’ he said.

The custodian came forward and said, ‘I have been showing your husband these beautiful Turkish books; they have been in this house for many centuries.’ He thrust into my hand a battered copy of the Koran, which fell open at a page bearing a little round label printed with some words in the Cyrillic script.

‘Oh, Lord!’ I said. ‘Look! This is the stamp of a Sarajevo secondhand bookshop.’

‘Really, this is all too silly,’ said my husband. ‘It is like charades played by idiot ghosts round their tombs in a cemetery.’

We went out into the courtyard, followed by the custodian, who seemed at last to realize that we were not pleased by his entertainment. ‘Do they speak Serbian or not?’ he asked our guide. ‘No, I don't think so,’ our guide answered. The custodian looked puzzled and decided to assume that life as he knew it was continuing in its usual course. So he gave us the Turkish greeting by raising his hand to his forehead, exposing that national custom to our patronage or derision,-- he did not care which it was, so long as we tipped him, — and he said, ‘Now you have met a Turkish gentleman and seen how all Turkish gentlemen used to live.’ My husband gave him money, and we walked away very quickly.

The guide said, ‘Were you pleased with the visit? It is interesting, is it not?’

My husband asked, ‘Who is that man?’

‘He used to be the servant of the owner of the house,’ said the guide.

‘Who is the owner?’

‘He is a Moslem baron,’ said the guide. ‘Once his family was very rich, now he is very poor. He furnished this house and put his servant in charge of it, and I think the money he gets from it is nearly all that he has. He lives far out in the country, where it is very cheap.’

When we were driving out of the town I said, ‘I hate the corpses of empires—they stink as nothing else. They stink so badly that I cannot believe that even in life they were healthy.’

‘I do not think you can convince mankind,’ said my husband, ‘that there is not a certain magnificence about a great empire in being.’

‘Of course there is,’ I admitted, ‘but the hideousness outweighs the beauty. You are not, I hope, going to tell me that they impose law on lawless people. Empires live by the violation of law.’


Below us now lay the huge Austrian-built barracks, with the paddocks between them, and I remembered again what I had hated to speak of as we drove into Trebinje, when we were out to have an amusing morning. Here the Herzegovinians had found that one empire is very like another, that Austria was no better than Turkey. Between these barracks the Austrian Empire killed eighty people for causes that would have been recognized on no statute book framed by man since the beginning of time.

Then the news came in 1914 that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife had been assassinated by Serb patriots at Sarajevo, the Austrian authorities throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina arrested all the peasants whom they knew to be anti-Austrian in sentiment and imprisoned some and hanged the rest. There was no attempt at finding out whether they had been connected with the assassins—as, in fact, none of them were. Down there on the grass between the barracks the Austrians took as contribution from Trebinje seventy Serbs, including three women, such women as we saw in the market place. Someone I met in Sarajevo on my first visit to Yugoslavia had had a relative killed there, and had kept photographs of the slaughter which the Yugoslavian Government had found among the Austrian police records. They showed the essential injustice of hanging: the hanged look grotesque; they are not allowed the dignity that belongs to the crucified, although they are enduring as harsh a destiny. The women looked particularly grotesque, with their full skirts; they looked like ikons, as Constantine had said Slav women should look when dancing. Most of them wore an expression of astonishment. I remember one priest who was being led through a double line of gibbets to his own; he looked, not horrified, but simply surprised. That, indeed, was natural enough, for surprise must have been the predominant emotion of most of the victims. They cannot have expected the crime, for, though it was known to a large number of people, those were to be found only in a few towns, far away from Trebinje. When these victims heard of it they can never have dreamed that they would be connected with it.

‘The scene was a typical illustration of the hypocrisy of empires, which pretend to be strong and yet are so weak that they constantly have to defend themselves by destroying individuals of the most pitiable weakness,’ I said.

‘But an empire,’ my husband reminded me, ‘can perform certain actions which a single nation never can. The Turks might have stayed forever in Europe if it had not been for the same combination of forces known as the Austrian Empire.’

‘But there was no need for them to combine, once the Turks were beaten,’ I objected. ‘In the nineteenth century the Turks were hopelessly beaten, and the Porte was falling to pieces under the world’s eye, yet the Austrians were flogging their peoples to keep them in subjection exactly as if there were a terrifying enemy at their gates.’

‘Yes, but by that time there were the Russians,’ said my husband.

‘But Tsarist Russia was a rotten state that nobody need have feared,’ I said.

‘That, oddly enough, is something no nation ever knows about another,’ said my husband. ‘It appears to be quite impossible for any nation to discover with any accuracy the state of preparedness for war in another nation. In the last war both Great Britain and Serbia were grossly deceived by their ideas of what support they were going to receive from Russia; and Germany was just as grossly deceived by her ally Austria, who turned out to be as weak as water.’

‘But how absurd the behavior of nations is!’ I exclaimed. ‘If I ran about compelling people to suffer endless inconveniences by joining with me in a defensive alliance against someone who might conceivably injure me, and never took proper steps to find out if my companions were strong enough to aid me or my enemies strong enough to injure me, I should be considered to be making a fool of myself.’

‘But the rules that apply to individuals do not apply to nations,’ said my husband. ‘The situation is quite different.’

And indeed I suppose that I was being, in my female way, an idiot, an excessively private person, like the nurse in the clinic who could not understand my agitation about the assassination of lying Alexander of Yugoslavia. But it is just to admit that my husband was indulging his male bent in regard to international affairs, and was being a lunatic.


A Moslem woman walking black-faced in white robes among the terraces of a blossoming orchard, her arms full of irises, was the last we saw of the Herzegovinian plains; and our road took us into mountains at first so gruffly barren, so coarsely rocky, that they were almost squalid. Then we followed a lovely rushing river, and the heights were mitigated by spring woods, reddish here with the foliage of young oaks, that ran up to snow peaks. The river received tributaries after the astonishing custom of this limestone country, as unpolluted gifts straight from the rock face. One strong flood burst into the river at right angles, flush with the surface, an astonishing disturbance. Over the boulders ranged the exuberant hellebore, with its pale green flowers.

But soon the country softened, and the mountains were tamed and bridled by their woodlands and posed as background to sweet small compositions of waterfalls, fruit trees, and green lawns. The expression ‘sylvan dell’ seemed again to mean something. We looked across a valley to Tablanica, the Town of Poplars, which was the pleasure resort of Mostar when the Austrians were here, where their officers went in the heat of the summer for a little gambling and horse racing. Before its minarets was a plateau covered with fields of young corn in their first pale strong green, and orchards white with cherry and plum. We drove up an avenue of ash trees, bronze and gold with their late buds, and lovely children dashed out of a school and saluted as at a sign and wonder. We saw other lovely children later, outside a gypsy encampment of tents made with extreme simplicity of pieces of black canvas hung over a bar and tethered to the ground on each side. Our Swabian chauffeur drove at a pace incredible for him lest we should give them pennies.

A neat village called Little Horse ran like a looped whip round a bridged valley, and we wondered to see in the heart of the country so many urban-looking little cafes where men sat and drank coffee. The road mounted, and spring ran backwards like a reversed film. We were among trees that had not yet put out a bud, and from a high pass we looked back at a tremendous circle of snow peaks about whose feet we had run unwitting. We fell again through Swiss-like country, between banks blond with primroses, into richer country full of stranger people. Gypsies, supple and golden creatures that the window curtains of Golders Green had clothed in the colors of the sunrise and the sunset, gave us greetings and laughter. Moslem women walking unveiled towards the road turned their backs until we passed or, if there was a wall near by, sought it and flattened their faces against it. We came to a wide valley, flanked with hills that, according to the curious conformation, run not east and west or north and south, but in all directions, so that the view changes every instant and the earth seems as fluid and restless as the ocean.

‘We are quite near Sarajevo,’ I said. ‘It is at the end of this valley.’ Though I was right, we did not arrive there for some time. The main road was under repair and we had to make a detour along a road so bad that the mud spouted higher than the car, and after a mile or so our faces and topcoats were covered with it. This is really an undeveloped country; one cannot come and go yet as one chooses.

‘Look,’ I said, ‘the river at Sarajevo runs red. That I think a bit too much. The pathetic fallacy really ought not to play with such painful matters.’

‘Yes, it is as blatant as a propagandist poster,’ said my husband.

We were standing on the bridge over which the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife would have driven on the morning of June 28, 1914, if they had not been shot by a Bosnian named Gavrilo Princip, just as their car was turning off the embankment.

We shuddered and crossed to the other bank, where there was a little park with a cafe in it. We sat and drank coffee, looking at the Pyrus japonica and the white lilacs that grew all round us, and the people, who were almost as decorative as flowers. At the next table sat a Moslem woman wearing a silk overall striped in lilac and purple and dull blue. Her long narrow hand shot out of its folds to spoon a drop from a glass of water into her coffee cup; here there is Turkish coffee, which carries its grounds in suspension, and the cold drop precipitates them. Her hand shot out again to hold her veil just high enough to let her other hand carry the cup to her lips. When she was not drinking she sat quite still, the light breeze pressing her black veil against her features. Her stillness was more than the habit of a Western woman, yet the uncovering of her mouth and chin had shown her completely unoriental, as luminously fair as any Scandinavian. Farther away two Moslem men sat on a bench and talked politics, beating with their fingers on the headlines of a newspaper. Both were tall, raw-boned, bronze-haired, with eyes crackling with sheer blueness: Danish sea captains, perhaps, had they not been wearing the fez.

We noted then, and were to note again and again as we went about the city, that such sights gave it a special appearance. The costume which we regarded as the distinguishing badge of an Oriental race, proof positive that the European frontier has been crossed, is worn by people far less Oriental in aspect than, say, the Latins; and this makes Sarajevo look like a fancy-dress ball. There is also an air of immense luxury about the town, of unwavering dedication to pleasure, which makes it credible that it would hold a festivity on so extensive and costly a scale.

This air is, strictly speaking, a deception, since Sarajevo is stuffed with poverty of a most denuded kind. The standard of living among the working classes is lower than even in our great Western cities. But there is also a solid foundation of moderate wealth. The Moslems here scorned trade, but they were landowners, and their descendants hold the remnants of their fortunes and are now functionaries and professional men. The trade they rejected fell into the hands of the Christians, who therefore grew in the towns to be a wealthy and privileged class, completely out of touch with the oppressed Christian peasants outside the city walls. There is also a Jewish colony here, descended from a group of Jews who came from Spain after the decrees of Ferdinand and Isabella and grafted themselves on an older group that had been in the Balkans from time immemorial; it has acquired great wealth and culture. So the town lies full-fed in the trough by the red river, and rises up the bowl of the blunt-ended valley in happy, open suburbs, where handsome houses stand among their fruit trees.

But the air of luxury in Sarajevo has less to do with material goods than with the people. They greet delight here with unreluctant and sturdy appreciation. They are even prudent about it; they will let no drop of pleasure run to waste.

It is good to wear red and gold and blue and green; the women wear them, and in the Moslem bazaar, which covers several acres of the town with its open- fronted shops, there are handkerchiefs and shawls and printed stuffs which say ‘Yes’ to the idea of brightness as only the very rich, who can go to dressmakers that are conscious specialists in the eccentric, dare to say it in the Western world. Men wash in the marble fountain of the great mosque facing the bazaar, and at the appointed hour prostrate themselves in prayer, with the most comfortable enjoyment of coolness and repose and the performance of a routine in good repute. In the Moslem cookshops they sell the great cartwheel tarts made of fat leaf-thin pastry stuffed with spinach which presuppose that no man will be ashamed of his greed and his liking for grease. The looks the men cast on the veiled women, the gait by which the women admit that they know they are being looked upon, speak of a romanticism that can take its time to dream and resolve because it is the flower of the satisfied flesh.

This tradition of tranquil sensuality is of Moslem origin, and is perhaps still strongest among Moslems, but also on Jewish and Christian faces there can be recognized this steady light, which makes it seem as if the Puritans who banish pleasure and libertines who savage her did worse than we had imagined. We thought of them as destroying harmless beauty, but here we learn to suspect that they throw away an instruction necessary for the mastery of life.


We knew we should try to get some sleep before the evening, because Constantine was coming from Belgrade and would want to sit up late and talk. But we hung about too late in the bazaar, watching a queue of men who had lined up to have their fezzes ironed. It is an amusing process. In a steamy shop two Moslems were working, each clapping a fez down on a fez-shaped cone heated inside like an old-fashioned flatiron and then clapping another cone on it and screwing that down very tight, then releasing the fez with a motherly expression. ‘What extremely tidy people the Moslems must be,’ said my husband; but added, ‘There must be some festival tomorrow. We will ask the people at the hotel.’ But we were so tired that we forgot, and slept so late that Constantine had to send us up a message that he had arrived and was eager to go out to dinner.

When we came downstairs Constantine was standing in the hall talking to two men, tall and dark and dignified, with the sallow, long-lashed dignity of Sephardim. ‘I tell you I have friends everywhere,’ he said. ‘These are two of my friends; they like me very much. They are Jews from Spain, and they speak beautiful soft Spanish of the time of Ferdinand and Isabella, not the Spanish of today, which is hard and guttural as German. Now they will take us to a cafe where we shall eat a little, but it is not for the eating they are taking us there; it is because they have heard there is a girl there who sings the Bosnian songs very well. It is not for nothing that there are so many mosques in Sarajevo; this is truly the East; and people attach great importance to such things as girls who sing the Bosnian songs, though they are very serious people.’

The men greeted us with beautiful and formal manners, and we went down the street to the cafe. It could be seen they liked Constantine half because he is a great poet, half because he is like a funny dog. But at the door they began to think of us and wonder if they should take us to such a place. ‘For us and our wives it is nice,’ they said, ‘but we are used to it. Perhaps for an English lady it will seem rather strange. There are sometimes dancers … well, there is one now.’ A stout woman clad in sequined pink muslin trousers and brassiere was standing on a platform revolving her stomach in time to the music of a piano and violin, and as we entered she changed her subject matter and began to revolve her large firm breasts in opposite directions. This gave an effect of hard, mechanical magic; it was as if two cannonballs were rolling away from each other but were forever kept contingent by some invisible power of attraction.

‘Your wife does not mind?’ asked the judge and the banker.

‘I think not,’ said my husband.

As we went down the aisle one of the cannonballs ceased to revolve, though the other went on rolling quicker than ever, while the woman cried out my name in tones of familiarity and welcome. The judge and the banker showed no signs of having witnessed this greeting. As we sat down I felt embarrassed by their silence and said, in explanation, ‘How extraordinary I should come across this woman again!’

‘I beg your pardon?’ said the judge.

‘How extraordinary it is,’ I repeated, ‘that I should come across this woman again. I met her last year in Macedonia.’

‘Oh, it is you that she knows!’ exclaimed the judge and the banker, and I perceived that they had thought she was a friend of my husband’s.

I was really very glad to see her again. When Constantine and I had been in Skoplje the previous Easter he had taken me to a night club in the Moslem quarter. That form of entertainment which we think of as peculiarly modern Western and profligate was actually far more at home in the ancient and poverty-stricken Near East. In any sizable village in Macedonia I think you would find at least one cafe where a girl sang and there was music. In Skoplje, which has under seventy thousand inhabitants, there are many such, including a night club almost on a Trocadero scale. In this small Moslem cabaret I think there was nobody more opulent than a small shopkeeper, but the performers numbered a male gypsy who sang and played the gusla, a very beautiful Serbian singer, a still more beautiful gypsy girl who sang and danced, and this danseuse de ventre, who was called Astral When Astra came round and rattled the plate at our table I found she was a Salonica Jewess, member of another colony of refugees from Ferdinand and Isabella who still speak Spanish, and I asked her to come and see me the next day at my hotel and give me a lesson in the danse de ventre.

She was with me earlier than I had expected, at ten o’clock, wearing a curious coat frock, of a pattern and inexpert make which suggested she had hardly any occasion to be fully dressed, and that she would have liked to be a housewife in a row of houses all exactly alike. The lesson in the danse de ventre was not a success. I picked up the movement wonderfully, she said. I had it perfectly, but I could not produce the right effect. ‘Voyez vous, madame,’ she said, in the slow French she had picked up in a single term at a mission school, ‘vous n’avez pas de quoi.’ It is the only time in my life that I have been reproached with undue slenderness; but I suppose Astra herself weighed a hundred and sixty pounds, though she carried no loose flesh, like a fat Western woman, but was solid and elastic. After the lesson had failed we sat and talked.

When Astra came to our table later that evening she told me that she hoped to be in Sarajevo for some weeks longer, and that she was happier here than she had been in Skoplje. ‘Ici,’ she pronounced, ‘les gens sont beaucoup plus cultivés.’ As soon as she had gone I found at my shoulder the Swabian chauffeur from Dubrovnik, whom we had paid off that afternoon. ‘Why is that woman talking to you?’ he said. He always disconcerted me by his interventions. I was always afraid that if I said to him, ‘What business is this of yours?’ he would answer, in the loathsome manner of a miracle play, ‘I am Reason’ or ‘I am Conscience,’ and that it would be true. So I stammered, ‘I know her.’

‘You cannot know such a person,’ he said. ‘Do you mean you have been in some cafe where she has performed?’

‘Yes, yes,’ I said. ‘It was in Skoplje, and she is a very nice woman. She has a son of whom she is very fond.’

‘How do you know she has a son?’ asked the chauffeur.

‘She told me so,’ I said.

‘You do not have to believe everything that such a person tells you,’ said the chauffeur.

‘But I am sure it is true,’ I exclaimed hotly, ‘and I am very sorry for her.’

The chauffeur gave me a glance too heavily veiled by respect to be respectful, and then looked at my husband, but sighed, as if to remind himself that he would find no help there. Suddenly he picked up my bag and said, ‘I came to say that I had remembered I had forgotten to take that grease spot out with petrol as I had promised you, so I will take it outside and do it now.’ He then bowed, and left me.

I thought, ‘He is really too conscientious. This is very inconvenient, for now I have no powder.’ But of course he would not have thought it necessary for me to have any powder.

But my attention was immediately diverted. A very handsome young man had come up to our table in a state of extreme anger; he was even angrier than any of the angry young men in Dalmatia. He evidently knew Constantine and the judge and the banker, but he did not give them any formal greeting. Though his hair was bronze and his eyes crackled with blueness, and he might have been brother to the two Moslems we had seen talking politics in the park that afternoon, he cried out, ‘What about the accursed Turks?’

The judge and the banker made no reply, but Constantine said, ‘Well, it was not I who made them.’

The young man insisted, ‘But you serve our precious government, don’t you?’

‘Yes,’ said Constantine, ‘for the sake of my country, and perhaps a little for the sake of my soul, I have given up the deep peace of being in opposition.’

‘Then perhaps you can explain why your Belgrade gangster politicians have devised this method of insulting us Bosnians,’ said the young man. ‘We are used,’ he said, stretching his arms wide and shouting, ‘to their iniquities. We have seen them insulting our brothers the Croats, we have seen them spitting in the faces of all those who love liberty. But usually there is some sense in what they do; they either put money in their pockets or they consolidate their tyranny. But this crazy burlesque can bring them no profit. It can be done for no purpose but to wound the pride of us Bosnians. Will you be polite enough to explain a little why your horde of thugs and thieves have formed this curious intention of paying this unprovoked insult to a people whose part it should be to insult rather than be insulted?’

The judge leaned over to me and whispered, ‘It is all right, madame; they are just talking a little about politics.’

‘But what has the government done to insult Bosnia?’ I asked.

‘It has arranged,’ said the banker, ‘that the Turkish Prime Minister and Minister of War, who are in Belgrade discussing our military alliance with them, are to come here tomorrow to be received by the Moslem population.’

‘Ah,’ said my husband, ‘that accounts for all the fezzes being ironed. Do many people take the visit like this young man?’

‘No,’ said the banker. ‘He is a very extreme young man.’

‘I would not say so,’ said the judge, sadly.

At that moment the young man smashed his fist down on the table and cried into Constantine’s face, ‘Judas Iscariot! Judas Iscariot!’

‘No,’ said poor Constantine to his back, ‘I am not Judas Iscariot. I have indeed never been quite sure which of the disciples I do resemble, but it is a very sweet little one, the most mignon of them all.’ He applied himself to the business of eating a line of little pieces of strongly seasoned meat that had been broiled on a skewer; and when he set it down wistfulness was wet in his round black eyes. ‘All the same, I do not like it, what that young man said. It was not agreeable. Dear God, I wish the young would be more agreeable to my generation, for we suffered very much in the war, and if it were not for us they would be slaves under the Austrians.’


One morning we walked down to the river, a brightening day shining down from the skies and up from puddles. A Moslem boy sold us an armful of wet lilacs; a pigeon flew up from a bath in a puddle, its wings dismissing watery diamonds. ‘Now it is the spring,’ said Constantine, ‘I think we shall have good weather for our trip. Yes, all will be very well.’ When he is pleased with his country he walks professionally, with his stomach well forward. ‘But see what we told you the other night,’ he said, as we came to the embankment and saw the town hall. ‘Under the Austrians all was for the Moslems. Look at this building—it is as Moslem as a mosque, yet always since the Turks were driven out of Bosnia the Christians have been two thirds of the population. So did the Catholic Hapsburgs deny their faith.’

But actually it is the Moslems who have most reason to complain of this town hall, for their architecture in Sarajevo is exquisite in its restraint and amiability, and even in modern times has been true to that tradition. But this was designed by an Austrian architect, and it is stuffed with beer and sausages down to its toes. Within, however, it is very agreeable, and remarkably full of light; and in an office high up we found a tourist bureau, conducted with passion by a man in the beginnings of middle life, a great lover of his city. He dealt us out photographs of it for some time, pausing to gloat over them, but stopped when Constantine said, ‘Show these English the room where they held the reception which was the last thing the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his Archduchess saw of their fellow men.’ The head of the tourist bureau bowed as if he had received a compliment and led us out into the council chamber, not unsuccessful in its effort at Moslem pomp. ‘All is Moslem here,’ said the head of the tourist bureau, ‘and even now that we are Yugoslavian the mayor is always a Moslem, and that is right. Perhaps it helps us by conciliating the Moslems, but even if it did not we ought to do it. For no matter how many Christians we may be here, and no matter what we make of the city, — and we are doing wonderful things with it, — the genius that formed it in the first place was Moslem, and again Moslem, and again Moslem.’

But the three reception rooms were as libelous as the exterior. They were pedantically yet monstrously decorated in imitation of certain famous buildings of Constantinople, raising domes like gilded honeycomb tripe, pressing down between the vaults polychrome stumps like vast inverted Roman candles. That this was the copy of something gorgeous could be seen; it could also be seen that the copyist had been by blood incapable of comprehending that gorgeousness. Punch-drunk from this architectural assault, I lowered my eyes and the world seemed to reel. And here, it appeared, the world had once actually reeled. ‘It was just over here that I stood with my father,’ said the head of the tourist bureau. ‘My father had been downstairs in the hall among those who received the Archduke and Archduchess, and had seen the Archduke come in, red and choking with rage. Just a little way along the embankment a young man, Chabrinovitch, had thrown a bomb at him and had wounded his aide-de-camp. So when the poor mayor began to read his address of welcome the Archduke shouted out in a thin alto, “That’s all a lot of rot. I come here to pay you a visit, and you throw bombs at me. It’s an outrage.” Then the Archduchess spoke to him softly, and he calmed down, and said, “Oh, well, you can go on.” But at the end of the speech there was another scene, because the Archduke had not got his speech, and for a moment the secretary who had it could not be found. Then when it was brought to him he was like a madman because the manuscript was all spattered with the aide-de- camp’s blood.

‘But he read the speech, and then came up here with the Archduchess, into this room. My father followed, in such a state of astonishment that he walked over and took my hand and stood beside me, squeezing it very tightly. We all could not take our eyes off the Archduke, but not as you look at the main person in a Court spectacle. We could not think of him as royalty at all, he was so incredibly strange. He was striding quite grotesquely; he was lifting his legs as high as if he were doing the goose step. I suppose he was trying to show that he was not afraid.

‘I tell you, it was not at all like a reception. He was talking with the Military Governor, General Potoriek, jeering at him and taunting him with his failure to preserve order. And we were all silent, not because we were impressed by him, for he was not at all our Bosnian idea of a hero. But we all felt awkward because we knew that when he went out he would certainly be killed. No, it was not a matter of being told. But we knew how the people felt about him and the Austrians, and we knew that if one man had thrown a bomb and failed, another man would throw another bomb, and another after that if he should fail. I tell you it gave a very strange feeling to the assembly. Then I remember he went out on the balcony—so—and looked out over Sarajevo. Yes, he stood just where you are standing, and he too put his arm on the balustrade.’

Before the balcony the town rises on the other side of the river, in a gentle slope. Stout urban buildings stand among tall poplars, and above them white villas stand among orchards, and on higher still the white cylindrical tombs of the Moslems stick askew in the rough grass like darts impaled on the board. Then fir woods and bare bluffs meet the skyline. Under Franz Ferdinand’s eye the scene must have looked its most enchanting blend of town and country, for, though it was June, there had been heavy restoring rains. But it is not right to assume that the sign gave him pleasure. He was essentially a Hapsburg—that is to say, his blood made him turn always from the natural to the artificial, even when this was more terrifying than the primitive; and this landscape showed him on its heights nature unsubdued, and on its slopes nature accepted and extolled.

Perhaps Franz Ferdinand felt a patriotic glow at the sight of the immense brewery in the foreground, which was built by the Austrians to supply the needs of their garrison and functionaries. These breweries, which are to be found here and there in Bosnia, throw a light on the aggressive nature of Austrian foreign policy and its sordid consequences. They were founded while it was still Turkish, by speculators whose friends in the government were aware of Austria’s plans for occupation and annexation. They also have their significance in their affront to local resources. There is an abundance of cheap and good wine here. But what was Austrian was good, and what was Slav was bad.

It is unjust, however, to say that Franz Ferdinand had no contact with nature. The room behind him was full of people who were watching him with the impersonal awe evoked by anybody who is about to die; but it may be imagined also as crammed—how closely can be judged only by those who have decided how many angels can dance on the point of a needle—by the ghosts of the innumerable birds and beasts who had fallen to his gun. He was a superb shot, and that is certainly a fine thing for a man to be, proof that he is a good animal, quick in eye and hand and hardy under weather. But of his gift Franz Ferdinand made a murderous use. He liked to kill and kill and kill, unlike men who shoot to get food or who have kept in touch with the primitive life in which the original purpose of shooting is remembered. Prodigious figures are given of the game that fell to the double-barreled Mannlicher rifles which were specially made for him. At a boar hunt given by Kaiser Wilhelm, sixty boars were let out and Franz Ferdinand had the first stand: fifty-nine fell dead, the sixtieth limped by on three legs. At a Czech castle in one day’s sport he bagged two thousand, one hundred and fifty pieces of small game. Not long before his death he expressed satisfaction because he had killed his three-thousandth stag.

This capacity for butchery he used to express the hatred which he felt for nearly all the world, which indeed, it is safe to say, he bore against the whole world, except his wife and his two children. He had that sense of being betrayed by life itself which comes to people who wrestle through long years with a chronic and dangerous malady; it is strange that both King Alexander of Yugoslavia and he had fought for half their days against tuberculosis. But Franz Ferdinand had been embittered by his environment, as Alexander was not. The indiscipline and brutality of the officials who controlled the Hapsburg Court exceeded anything that was ever seen at Versailles. It happened that for some years it looked as if Franz Ferdinand would not recover from his illness, and during the whole of this time the Department of the Lord High Steward, believing that he would soon be dead, cut down his expenses to the quick in order to get the praises of the Emperor Franz Josef for economy. Penniless in spite of the great art collections he had inherited, he was grudged the most modest allowance, and even his doctor was underpaid and insulted. This maltreatment ended when it became obvious that he was going to live, but by that time his mind was set in a mould of hatred and resentment, and though he could not shoot his enemies he found some relief in shooting, it did not matter what.

It may be conceived, therefore, that even as the game which Saint Julian Hospitaler had killed as a cruel hunter appeared before him on the night when he was going to accomplish his destiny and become the murderer of his father and mother, so the half million beasts which had fallen to Franz Ferdinand’s gun, according to his own calculations, were present that day in the reception hall at Sarajevo. One can conceive the space of this room stuffed all the way up to the crimson and gold vaults and stalactites with the furred and feathered ghosts, set close, because there were so many of them—stags with the air between their antlers stuffed with woodcock, quail, pheasant, partridge, ptarmigan, and the like; boars standing bristling flank to flank, the breadth under their broad bellies packed with layer upon layer of hares and rabbits. Their animal eyes, clear and dark as water, would brightly watch the approach of their slayer to an end that exactly resembled their own.

For Franz Ferdinand’s greatness as a hunter had depended not only on his preeminence as a shot, but also on his power of organizing battues. He was specially proud of improvement he had made in the hunting of hare: his beaters, placed in a pear-shaped formation, drove all the hares towards him so that he was able without effort to exceed the bag of all other guns. Not a beast that fell to him in these battues could have escaped by its own strength or cunning, even if it had been a genius among its kind. The earth and sky were narrowed for it by the beaters to just one spot, the spot where it must die; and so it was with this man. If by some miracle he had been able to turn round and address the people in the room behind him, not with his usual aggressiveness and angularity, but in terms which would have made him acceptable to them as a suffering fellow creature, still they could not have saved him. If by some miracle his slow- working and clumsy mind could have become swift and subtle, it could not have shown him a safe road out of Sarajevo. Long ago he himself, and the blood which was in his veins, had placed the beaters at their posts who should drive him down through a narrowing world to the spot where Pincip’s bullet should find him.


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