Gabriel was an angry and ambitious young man determined to change the world, but he was having a bad day. Only a half an hour earlier, at 10:00 AM, a friend had been arrested for ineffectively tossing a bomb at a car, the main effect of which was apparently to scratch the nape of a lady’s neck, pop some tires, blow out a store-front window, bloody the Sunday dress of some people in the crowd, and lightly wound an aide to the dignitary he had targeted. Sure, the lady was a duchess; still, the achievement failed to match the youthful and idealistic ambitions of the bomb-thrower.
It had been a high stress day, preceded by a high stress week, but Gabriel had a talent for dealing with stress. His friend, however, had turned stress into chaos, so Gabriel, discouraged, drifted away from the crowds to think about what to do next. He stood outside Schiller’s delicatessen at the corner of Appel Quay and Rudolph Street and simply waited.
Time passed and the church bells tolled 10:30. Only two minutes later he was somewhat surprised to see the motorcade approach him, driving along the Appel Quay. His surprise grew as the lead car turned onto Rudolph Street. His surprise became delighted astonishment when the lead car stopped, forcing every car behind it to stop. Had anybody ever been so lucky?
There, five feet from him, nothing but air between them, sat his target, the goal of his thinking and planning and waiting for months – the reason he had learned how to shoot, the reason for the bomb in his coat, the reason for the Browning that he now pulled from his pocket when the press of the crowd had forced him to let go of the bomb.
Once, twice, he pulled the trigger. Then put the gun to his own head – certain that he had failed as he saw the car speed away, his target sitting perfectly still and upright.
Suddenly, someone knocked the gun from his hand. He bit the cyanide capsule that he had brought for this moment – but the stick of a policeman knocked it from his mouth. Despairing, arrested, he realized that he had failed to kill both his target and himself. It was a very bad day for Gabriel, or, in his own language, Gavrilo.
Only he did not know the difference he had made. He had shot the Arch-duke.
The bullet had smashed the Arch-duke’s jugular. “It’s nothing,” he replied to Count Harrach, who had stood on the running board to protect him and had asked him if he was in great pain. “It’s nothing,” he said again, but his mouth was full of blood.
The other bullet had struck his beloved wife Sophie.
“It’s nothing,” he repeated, speaking only of his own wound.
“Little Sophie,” he had said, “Little Sophie, don’t die…. Stay alive for our children.”
She tried, but, as Gavrilo thought he had done, she failed.
More softly, he repeated, “It’s nothing.”
The car raced to the governor’s mansion.
“It’s nothing,” said the fading Arch-duke.
“It’s nothing,” he repeated for the sixth time as their blood mingled on the leather seat.
“It’s nothing,” her head resting on his knees.
“It’s nothing,” his head slumping to hers.
“It’s nothing,” for the ninth and final time, and the car approached the governor’s home.
This little nothing had changed the world. All he needed was an angry will, a match, and a powderkeg.
It was 100 years ago, June 28, 1914, when Gavrilo Princeps assassinated Arch-duke Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie. He made a difference.