The Schloss is an old white building full of beauty and interest, built on the hill below the village, in the midst of a park where Maria Therese used to hunt. Though very old the house has happily suffered little through imprudent restoring, and despite constant improvements its beauty has not been impaired, as has so often happened with old Hungarian houses. The gardens which surround the Schloss are so beautifully laid out and so ornamented with fountains and statues that K is known to Hungarians as the Miniature Versailles ; the head gardener being a person of such serious importance in K that even the Herrschaft at the Schloss speak of and treat him not as an ordinary gardener but as a Man of Art.
Indoors, too, the house confirms its reputation of being a small Versailles, for the collection of pictures and antiquities, begun centuries ago, is pursued by the Prince of to-day with vigour, and carping guests have been heard to remark that though there wasn’t a chair in the Schloss but had a history and a value that made ordinary mortals’ hair stand on end, there also wasn’t one that offered any ease or comfort except in the Prince’s den where all was modern but sacred to the Prince. Life was always merry at the Schloss, and it was a very jolly party that Excellenz von R found gathered there when she arrived hot and cross from Vienna, on June 28, 1914, bringing her bad news.
We were : the Prince and Princess the best-natured and most happy-go-lucky of all hosts and hostesses ; their daughters, Claire aged twenty-one, fair, blue-eyed and very beautiful, and Billy aged eighteen, large and dark and interested in all things pertaining to sport; General T , round, white-haired, and explosive once Commandant of a very famous Galician fortress, but now living in irksome retirement in Vienna ; his son Walther, a lieutenant of Ulans, known to us as ” The Babe ” ; finally, myself, known to everybody as Jerry a name which no circumstances could make beautiful, and which became heart-breaking when invariably pronounced there as ” Sherry.”
Everybody knew and liked Excellenz von R , who was a very gay and enterprising old lady, and Claire, Billy, and I who had looked forward in pleasure to her coming, awaited her at the gates and clambered into the carriage from both sides as it passed for Jan, the coachman who had driven Excellencies to and from the Schloss for the past twenty-five years, found it beneath his dignity to stop at the gates to take us in, so we tumbled in as best we could on and around Excellenz, whose face was long and tragic.
“Ach, my dear children, have mercy on old bones! And I bring you bad news! The Tronfolger and his wife were shot today in Sarajevo. Oh, poor Sophie!” and Excellenz, who was an intimate friend of the Duchess, burst into tears. ” It’s quite true too, official before I left Vienna this afternoon.”
But Jan was before her at the house and called as he drove up, to the footman on the steps
” Tronfolger mit Frau heute geschossen.”
German, which he insisted on speaking, was not Jan’s strong point. The footman, a Bohemian and anti-Austrian, sniffed at this lack of breeding, and answered very casually ” So.” Excellenz, though she was still weeping, was very angry and shook her fist at Jan, but she got her innings in the hall where the Princess was awaiting in perplexity as she saw Excellenz’s wrath and tears.
” What, Francesca, you arrive in tears at K ? ”
“Yes, I should think I do it’s too awful,” and Excellenz sobbed out her news.
” What nonsense ! ” said the Princess. ” How can you believe these wild stories ? Besides, who would shoot that pair?”
” But it’s official.”
” What is official? ” asked the Prince appearing.
” The Archduke and Sophie were shot today in Sarajevo.”
“Then what the devil made them go there ? They might know beforehand that they wouldn’t get out of there with whole skins,” he replied, greeting his guest.
In the drawing-room I found the General,who in the excitement of the moment had been forgotten. He said as usual, ” Pooh! that’s not a funny joke, Sherry.”
“That may be ; but it’s official, and you ought not to receive your ‘officials’ with ‘pooh,’ but perhaps it’s your way here. Here is Excellenz von R in tears she has brought the news from Vienna.”
“Old wives’ tales ! I don’t believe it.”
Excellenz nevertheless persuaded him.
“Donner wetter! Jesus Maria! And she tried to save him ! Plucky woman always was plucky. Skinflint though a skinflint. Too fond of the Jesuits! This plot was arranged in Serbia, I’ll stake my life stake my life. Aoh, those Serbs! The scum of creation scum of creation ! We must exterminate them one day. They have always been a trouble, but this will bring about their end at last. Ach, the poor Archduke and the poor Duchess! Ach! Pooh! ”
“Personally,” said the Prince, “I think you needn’t be so angry with the Serbs. They’ve done us a good turn really. The Archduke it’s useless to pretend otherwise, General was the best hated man in Austria, and the Duchess the best-hated woman. Both cared only for the Church. They won’t really be regretted. The young Karl Franz Josef may be the saving of Austria at a critical moment.”
“Why critical? “I asked.
“Strained relations everywhere between Hungarian and Austrian, Hungarian and Slav everything is at sixes and sevens. We’re in a bad way.”
“And this is due to discontent with the murdered Archduke? With Karl Franz Josef it will be otherwise?”
“Who can tell ? He is younger and is more likely to listen to reason. Franz Ferdinand as regards foreign policy was a failure, and had he lived to be Kaiser we should probably have had a split with Germany. The new Tronfolger’s views I believe are very different, and, as I said already, he can possibly be led.”