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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 14 page 04

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“It has not been a good day for me, Moritz,” he told me. “I am a dead man if they catch me, but I think I can trust you, because you’ve always listened to me. I’ll be out of the city soon.”

“You are with some companions, I am guessing.”

“Friends I met in Belgrade — but we are all from Bosnia originally. Bosnia which the Austrians have taken, and they are now imposing all sorts of torments on my people. We managed to wrench free of the Turks, and now we have the Austrians.”

“I’ve heard this from you before. I understand what you are saying.”

“Every Serb, Croat and Slovene should be an enemy of Austria. Serbia has the moral duty to help with the unification of all the South Slavs. Unification or death!”

From my angle, I could see what he could not. The open-top limousine with the archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife next to him was clearly visible through the front window, stopped. I was utterly amazed, but did not let it show. And Gavrilo had a gun!

“So am I going to eat or what?” he said.

Yes, I really did keep control of myself. I nodded again to the kitchen man, who brought the plate. Gavrilo seemed to calm down as he looked at it. He ate surprisingly slowly. My ćevapčići is food to savour at leisure. I watched as the archduke’s car spluttered into life again and moved away.

The men in uniform stood behind Gavrilo as he finished his last good meal for a long while. They had the pistol out of his pocket before he knew what was happening. One of them managed to say, “Thanks for your message, Herr Schiller.”

“They won’t hang you, Gavrilo,” I said to him. “You’re not twenty yet.” I don’t think he heard me. He was trying to curse both them and me, but they held a gloved hand over his mouth as they dragged him off, overturning the table as they did so.

So the archduke got back safely to Vienna to stand up to the old-timers and push for more autonomy for ethnic groups in our multicultural empire. What a mercy he wasn’t hurt. If he had been, who knows what the consequences might have been?

Details of Richard Wilcocks' Stories from the War Hospital are available at www.firstworldwarhospital.co.uk.