July 15, 1914

The sun shone. The days passed. The jolt of Sarajevo subsided. The world discovered that Austria, instead of rounding on the Serbs, rusticated placidly along with its German ally. Belgrade relaxed. So did St. Petersburg, Paris, London. The feeling grew that Habsburg’s response to the assassination would be as reasonable as it was tardy.

And since so many leaders jaunted away from Vienna and Berlin, why should their counterparts elsewhere stick to their desks? One by one the dramatis personae of the opposing camp began to play their parts in Count von Berchtold’s script.

Together with his daughter, the Chief of Staff of the Serbian Army went on vacation-in Austria, of all countries, at Bad Gleichenberg. On July 15, Raymond Poincare, President of France, that is, of Serbia’s closest Western ally, embarked on a cruise as cheery as the Kaiser’s. With his Prime Minister he sailed on a summit junket to Norway and Russia. Tsar Nicholas II, Serbia’s eastern protector, awaited his French guests at Tsarskoe Selo, a pleasure dome of multi-hued marble overlooking the Gulf of Finland that served as his summer castle. “Every day,” he noted in his diary, “we play tennis or swim in the fjords.”

In England, the Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, a childless widower and lover of leafy solitude, indulged himself in leafy solitude. Near Winchester, by the banks of the river Itchen stood his cottage, brushed by willows and embraced by ivy. During much of that July, Sir Edward could be found here. He spent the days leaning against the rail of a footbridge, lowering his rod down to the stippled trout.

The First Lord of the British Admiralty pursued a more ebullient pastime at Overstrand on the Norfolk coast: There Mr. Winston Churchill had his holiday house. On its beachfront he worked away with spade and bucket, assisted by his children. The Churchill family was building sand castles that featured deep moats to trap the tide.

At almost the same time the British Prime Minister Sir Herbert Asquith sent his daughter off to Holland “so that the girl can have some fun.” Sir Herbert himself did not stray too far from No. 10 Downing Street. After all, he had to tend to something of a crisis. More fuss was afoot about the Irish Home Rule Bill.

Frederic Morton, Thunder at Twilight, ch. 30

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