Our motorcade wound slowly through the streets while throngs lined the walkways. Mixed amongst the varieties of flowers waved hand-held cloths, some makeshift flags, others less intricate but sporting the Imperial colors. Over the grinding of the automobile's engine, I no longer heard the cheers, though I assumed they still came, and to which I answered with searching eyes lingering methodically upon random faces while maintaining my standard blank, slightly disapproving expression. This was the extent of which the crowd received from me, for my arm had long ago tired and I refused to lift it again, even to loyalists such as these.
Attempted AssassinationM. Stanley Bubien
The other arm, however, I dutifully wrapped about my Sophie---a luxury I seldom enjoyed because of the staunch customs court life imposed upon royalty, especially those like myself who---as my uncle deemed it---"foolishly" chose a wife outside the nobility. Certainly for this breach the court attendants treated me a laughingstock, but such judgements I easily ignored, for customs were only binding socially, and my Sophie's companionship afforded me whatever impetus I required to cast aside any and all embarrassment.
"Enjoying your anniversary gift?" I asked loudly enough to be heard over the engine. She nodded her response. This gave me comfort, for, though I hated travelling into our annexed territories, it accorded the opportunity to skirt the restriction keeping Sophie from sharing my automobile while upon our homeland soil.
I rested my free hand upon Sophie's belly, "And how does our newest son enjoy riding with his father?" My expression remained entirely unemotive for our surrounding subjects, but I knew Sofia could read my heart through the light caress.
In answer, she placed her palm upon mine, allowing herself the smile that I myself would not. "Our son rests both in comfort and security. Just as his mother does whenever in the arms of her Duke."
Earlier in life, my demeanor would have broken at such sentiment, but ages in court had taught me well, and my countenance did not waver in the slightest. I did, however, pull her closer, imperceptible to those without, but enough to lend my Sophie every assurance I could offer.
It was a sunny Baltic morning, and as the motorcade circumnavigated River Miljacka en route to City Hall, a light Sarajevan breeze carried to my ears pieces of the conversation between the front seat occupants, a Count of the family Harrach and our driver. This sensorial mixture compelled my gaze to drift out upon the smooth waters of the river. But, at that moment, a sharp report cracked from the opposite side of the automobile, tearing my attention back to mob on the street.
"Bravo!" the Count cried as he slapped his legs. "A flat tire! Now we shall have to stop!" He was looking directly at the driver---far too comfortable in his home city to sense any danger---and missed the man near the light post throwing the package in our direction.
Fortunately for Sophie and myself, the driver was not as much a fool as the Count. He pushed the accelerator. The auto, however, did not respond immediately, and the package arced undeviatingly toward us.
"Sophie!" I cried as I sat upright and threw my arm outward. My elbow met the package painfully, deflecting it over the rolled-back canopy and behind the automobile. I could not turn completely around to see where the package went, but it was of no import, for I received my answer when the bomb exploded, throwing only a flash of light heat over us.
Police appeared from the crowd and went to work instantly and efficiently, apprehending the bomber who had cast himself into the shallow river for escape, clearing away the uninjured, and assessing the damage upon the automobile to our rear. I held Sophie low in the seat and scanned the remaining crowd until we received the order to move on.
With our arrival at City Hall, I turned my attention again to Sophie. Though still shaken, she understood my expression and tipped her chin dutifully. Accepting her consent, I leapt out as my door was being opened and marched directly toward to the Mayor, covering the distance in four great strides. Seeing my approach, I do believe he cowered.
"Mr. Mayor, this is outrageous!" my voice boomed as I encroached upon the squat, egg-shaped man. "One comes here for a visit and is received by bombs! It is outrageous!"
The Mayor's eyes darted from side-to-side, seeking counsel from his advisors, but they remained stiffly mute as my own entourage caught up with me. He took a blustering breath, and his cheeks puffed up as he stuttered, "Muh... ah... mmm..." Lifting the kerchief he had held prior to my approach, he wiped it across his forehead, an action which seemed to return him to a semblance of sanity. He grasped for words, but stuttered nonsense yet again. With lowered head, he brought a fist to his mouth and cleared his throat into it three times in succession. He then faced me, and commanding a politician's smile to his lips, he spoke.
He began in a rather stilted tone but gained further composure as he continued. A comical figure this man was, deserving of the most desperate hilarity, for---and I believe my nostrils may have flared with this realization---instead of addressing my accusation, he had launched into his prepared speech.
"Your Royal and Imperial Highness!" the Mayor bellowed. "Archduke Franz Ferdinand, we welcome you! Our hearts are full of happiness as Austria-Hungary graces our humble city with her blessing, for on this 28th day of June, the Year of Our Lord, 1914, she honors us with her finest nobility..."
He continued to prattle on, and I noted privately to myself that this was yet another of the multitudinous reasons I so despised visiting the provinces. Though I remained at attention, I felt Sophie's presence beside me and I longed desperately to be in the automobile again, speeding away from this pompous ass with Sophie once more in my arms. My sole consolation was that it would be soon---though indeed, not soon enough.
Based on a true story.
Copyright ©1997 M. Stanley Bubien. All Rights Reserved.
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