THE LANDS OF THE SERB
Mary E. Durham
not know where the East proper begins, nor does it greatly matter, but
it is somewhere on the farther side of the Adriatic, the island-studded
coast which the Venetians once held. At any rate, as soon as you leave
Trieste you touch the bubbling edge of the ever-simmering Eastern Question,
and the unpopularity of the ruling German element is very obvious. "I -
do - not - speak - German," said a young officer laboriously, "I am Bocchese";
and as we approached the Bocche he emphasised the fact that he was a Slav
returning to a Slav land. Party politics run high even on the steamboat.
We awoke one morning to find the second-class saloon turned into a Herzegovinian
camp, piled with gay saddlebags and rugs upon which squatted, cross-legged,
a couple of families in full native costume, and the air was thick with
the highly scented tobacco which the whole party smoked incessantly. The
friendly steward, a Dalmatian Italian, whispered hastily, "This is a Herzegovinian
family, signorin'. Do you like the Herzegovinese? " Rather taken a back,
and not knowing what his politics were, I replied, stupidly enough, "I
find their costume very interesting." This frivolous remark hurt the steward
deeply. "Signorin'," he said very gravely, "these are some of the bravest
men in the world. Each one of these that you see would fight till he died."
Then in a mysterious undertone, " They cannot live without freedom . .
. they are leaving their own land . . . it has been taken, as you know,
by the Austrian. . . . They are going to Montenegro, to a free country.
They have taken with them all their possessions, and they go to find freedom."
I looked at them with a curious sense of pity. Though they knew it not, they were
the survivors of an old, old world, the old world which still lingers in
out-of-the-way corners, and it was from the twentieth century quite as
much as from the Teuton they were endeavouring to flee. All these parti-coloured
saddlebags and little bundles tied up in cotton handkerchiefs represented
the worldly goods of three generations, who had left the land of their
forebears and were upon a quest as mystical as any conceived by medieval
knight - they were seeking the shrine of Liberty. "Of old sat Freedom on
the heights"; let us hope they found her there! I never saw them again.
On the other hand, in a boat with Austrian sympathies, the tale is very different.
" I am a Viennese, Fraulein. Imagine what it is to me to have to travel
in this dreary place ! The people ? - they are a rough, discontented set.
Very ignorant. Very bad. No - I should not advise you to go to Montenegro
- a most mischievous race." "And what about Bosnia and the Herzegovina?"
"Oh, you will be quite safe there; we govern that. They are a bad lot,
though ! But we don't stand any nonsense."
Thus either party seizes upon the stranger and tries to prevent his views being
"prejudiced." He seldom has need to complain that he has heard one side
only ; but there is a Catholic side, an Orthodox side, a Mohammedan side,
there are German, Slav, Italian, Turkish, and Albanian sides ; and when
he has heard them all he feels far less capable of forming an opinion on
the Eastern Question than he did before.
Dalmatia has its charms, but tourists swarm there, and the picturesque corners are
being rapidly pulled down to provide suitable accommodation for them. Let
us pass on, then, nor pause till we have wound our way through that wonderful
maze of fiords, the Bocche, and landed on the quay at Cattaro. Cattaro
is a tiny, greatly coveted, much-fought-for town. The natural port for
Montenegro but the property of Austria, it swelters, breathless, on a strip
of shore, with the waters in front of it, and the great wall of the Black
Mountain rising sheer up behind. Its "heart's in the Highlands,"
but the enemy holds it as a garrison town ; the Austrian army pervades
the neighbourhood, and a big fort, lurking opposite, commands the one road
from mountain to coast Cattaro, after all, is only a half-way house to
Montenegro, and this is why Austria lavishes so many troops upon it.
Behind the town starts the rough zigzag track, the celebrated "ladder of Cattaro,"
which until 1879 was the only path into Montenegro, and is the one the
peasants still use. The making of the road was for a long-while dreaded
by the Montenegrins, who argued that a road that will serve for a cart
will also serve for artillery. A tangible, visible gun was their idea of
the means by which changes are wrought ; but the road that can let in artillery
can let in something more subtle, irresistible, and change-working. The
road was made, and there is now no barrier to prevent the twentieth century
creeping up silently and sweeping over this old-world land almost before
its force is recognised. Whether the hardy mountain race which has successfully
withstood the gory onslaught of the Turk for five hundred years, will come
out unscathed from a bloodless encounter with Western so-called civilisation
Time alone can tell.
The road from Cattaro to Cetinje has been so often written of that it is idle
to describe it once again, nor can any words do it justice. After some
three hours' climbing, we pass the last Austrian black-and-yellow post,
and the driver, if he be a son of the mountain, points to the ground and
says, "Crnagora! (Tsernagora). Crnagora, gaunt, grey, drear, a chaos of
limestone crags piled one on the other in inextricable confusion, the bare
wind-swept bones of a dead world. The first view of the land comes as a
shock. The horror of desolation, the endless series of bare mountain tops,
the arid wilderness of bare rock majestic in its rugged loneliness, tell
with one blow of the sufferings of centuries. The next instant fills one
with respect and admiration for the people who have preferred liberty in
this wilderness to slavery in fatlands.
Wherever possible, little patches of ground are cultivated, carefully banked up
with stones to save the precious soil from being washed away, and up on
the mountain sides scrubby oaks dwarfed and twisted by tile wind find a
foothold among the crags. Most of the men carry revolvers, and the eye
soon becomes so much accustomed to weapons that on a return to unarmed
lands everyone appears, for a few days, to be rather undressed. The road
winds, the red roofs of Njegushi come in sight, and we make our first halt
in a Montenegrin town, and rest our weary horses.
We enter the little inn, and our coachman claims his revolver, which is hanging
with several others behind the bar, for none are allowed to enter Austria;
they are deposited in some house near the frontier and picked up on the
way back. George Stanisich, the big landlord, hurries up his womenkind
to make ready a meal, looks after the drinks, and converses cheerfully
on the topics of the day-preferably on the war, if there happens to be
one. "Junastvo" (that is, heroism-"deeds of derring-do") is a subject that
occupies a large space in the Montenegrin mind, and no wonder, and every
man's ambition is to be considered a "dobar junak" (valiant warrior) and
worthy of his forefathers.
Njegushi cannot fail to make a most vivid impression on the mind, for it is the
entrance to a world that is new and strange. The little stone-paved room
of the inn, hung with portraits of the Prince and the Tsar and Tsaritsa
of Russia; the row of loaded revolvers In the bar; the blind minstrel who
squats by the door and sings his long monotonous chant while he scrapes
upon his one-stringed gusle ; and the tall, dignified men in their picturesque
garb, all belong to an unknown existence, and the world we have always
known is left farbelow at the foot of the mountain. In Njegushi one feels
that one has come a long way from England. It is, in fact, easy to travel
much farther without being so far off. Yet the Montenegrin love of liberty
and fair play and the Montenegrin sense of honour have made me feel more
at home in this far corner of Europe than in any other foreign land.
Njegushi is the Prince's birthplace. His ancestors were some of a number of Hercegovinians
who, intolerant of the Turk, emigrated in the fifteenth century. The village
they left was called Njegushi, and they gave the same name to their new
home. In connection with this I give here a curious tale which I have met
with more than once. I repeat it as told ; my informants, Serbians,
believed it firmly, but I can find no confirmation of it.
When these Herzegovinese migrated to Montenegro, a large body of them went yet
farther afield and settled in the mountains of Abyssinia, among them a
branch of the family of Petrovich of Njegushi, from which is directly descended
Menelik, who preserves the title of Negus and is a distant cousin' of Prince
Nikola of Montenegro, and to this large admixture of Slav blood the Abyssinians
owe their fine stature and their high standard of civilisation, as compared
with the neighbouring African tribes.
The house of the Prince stands on the left of the road as we leave the town.
The road ascends once more ; a steep pull up through a bleakness of grey
crags; we reach the top of the pass (3350 feet), and turn a corner. "Cetinje!"
(Tsctinye), says the driver briefly, and there, in the mountain-locked
plain far below, lies the little red-roofed town, a village city, a kindergarten
capital, one of the quaintest sights in Europe, so tiny, so entirely wanting
in the usual stock properties of a big town and yet so consciously a capital.
Two wide streets which run parallel and are joined by various cross streets
make up the greater part of it, and it has some 3000 inhabitants. As we
enter the town the first building of importance stands up on the left hand,
brand-new, a white stone building with a black roof. To any other capital
it would not be remarkable either for size or beauty; here it looms large
and portentous. It is the biggest building in the town, and it is the Palace
of the Austro-Hungarian Legation. Not to be outdone, Russia has just erected
an equally magnificent building at the other end of the town, which now
lies between representatives of the two rival powers. "Which things are
an allegory. "Twenty years ago Cetinje was a collection of thatched hovels.
Today, modest as they are, the houses are all solidly built and roofed
with tiles. Few more than one storey high, many consisting only of a ground
floor, all of them devoid of any attempt at architecture ; not a moulding,
a cornice, or a porch breaks the general baldness: :they are more like
a row of toy houses all out of the same box than anything else. The road
is very wide, and very white; a row of little clipped trees border it on
each side, so clipped that they afford at present about as much shade as
telegraph posts, and they all appear to have come out of the same box too.
It is all very clean, very neat; not a whiff offends the tenderest nostril,
not a cabbage stalk lies in the gutter. It is not merely a toy, but a brand-new
one that has not yet been played with.
Cetinje is poor, but dignified and self-respecting. A French or Italian village
of the same size clatters, shouts, and screams. Cetinje is never in a hurry,
and seldom excited. It contains few important buildings. The only ones
of any historic interest are the monastery, the little tower on the hill
above it where were formerly stuck the heads of slain Turks, and the old
Palace called the Biljardo from the fact that it contained Montenegro's
first billiard-table. It now affords quarters for various officials and
the Court of Justice. There are no lawyers in Montenegro, and this is said
to simplify matters greatly. The Prince is the final Court of Appeal, and
reads and considers the petition' of any of his subjects that are in difficulties.
Such faith have folk in his judgement that Mohammedan subjects of the Sultan
have been known to tramp to Crnagora in order to have a quarrel settled
by the Gospodar. That he possesses a keen insight into these semi-civilised
people and a remarkable power of handling them is evident from the order
that is maintained throughout his lands even among the large Mohammedan
Albanian population, and it would undoubtedly have been much better for
the Balkan peoples had he had larger scope for his administrative powers.
Cetinje's other attractions are the park, the theatre, and the market, where the
stranger will have plenty of opportunity of wrestling with the language.
The language is one of the amusements of Montenegro. It is not an easy one.
I hunted it about London for months, and it landed me in strange places.
The schools and systems that teach all the languages of Europe, Asia, Africa,
and America know it not. In the course of my chase I caught a Roumanian,
a Hungarian, and an Albanian, but I got no nearer to it I pursued it to
a Balkan Consulate, which proved to consist entirely of Englishmen who
knew no word of the tongue, but kindly communicated with a Ministry which
consisted, so they said, entirely of very charming men, with whom I should
certainly be pleased. The Ministry was puzzled, but wished to give me every
encouragement. It had never before had such a run upon its language. It
suggested that the most suitable person to instruct me would be an ex-Minister
who had come over to attend the funeral of Queen Victoria. The ex-Minister
was very polite, but wrote that he was on the point of returning to his
native land. He therefore proposed that a certain gallant and dashing officer,
attache to the Legation, should be instructed to call and converse with
me once a week. "No remuneration, of course," he added, "must be offered
to the gallant captain." " But suppose," I said feebly, " the captain doesn't
care about the job; it seems a little awkward, doesn't it?" "Oh no," said
the Consul, exultant; "when he hears it is by the orders of X., he won't
dare refuse." As I am not a character in one of Mr. Anthony Hope's novels,
but merely live in a London suburb, I thanked everybody and retired upon
a small grammar, dazzled by the fierce light that my inquiries had shed
upon the workings of this Balkan State, and wondering if all the others
were equally ready to loan out Ministers and attaches to unknown foreigners.
There is a childish simplicity about the conversation of the up-country peasant
folk that is quite charming. They are as pleased with a stranger who will
talk to them as is a child with a kitten that will run after a string,
and, like children, they have no scruples about asking what in a more "grown-up"
state of society would be considered indiscreet questions, including even
the state of one's inside. The women begin the conversation and retail
the details to their lords and masters, who, burning with curiosity, stand
aloof with great dignity for a little while, and end by crowding out the
women altogether. Neither men nor women have the vaguest idea whence I
come nor to what manner of life I am accustomed. When they learn that I
have come in a train and a steamboat, their amazement is unbounded. That
I come from a far country that is full of gold is obvious. "And thou hast
come so far to see us ? Bravo !" Much patting on the back, and sometimes
an affectionate squeeze from an enthusiastic lady, who at once informs
the men that I am very thin and very hard. " Bravo! thou art brave. Art
married ?" "No." Great excitement and much whispering. "Wait, wait," says
a woman, and she shouts " Milosh ! Milosh ! " at the top of her voice.
Milosh edges his way through the crowd. He is a tall, sun-tanned thing
of about eighteen years, with the eyes of a startled stag. His mother
stands on tiptoe and whispers in his ear that this is a chance not to be
lightly thrown away. A broad smile spreads over Milosh's face. He looks
coy, and twiddles his fingers. "Ask her ! ask her !" say the ladies encouragingly.
"Ask her" say the men. Milosh plucks up courage, thumps his chest and blurts
out, " Wilt thou have me ?" "No, thank you," I say, laughing ; and Milosh
retires amid the jeers of his friends, but really much relieved. "Milosh,
thou art not beautiful enough," say the men ; rind they suggest one Gavro
as being more likely to please. Gavro takes Milosh's place with great alacrity,
and the same ceremony is repeated. The crowd enjoys itself vastly, and
tries to fit me out with a really handsome specimen. I glance round, and
my eye is momentarily caught by a very goodly youth. "No! no! he's mine,
he's mine !" cries a woman, who seizes him by the arm, and he is hastily
withdrawn" from competition amid shouts of laughter. "I have no money,"
says one youth frankly, "but thou hast perhaps enough." "And he is good
and beautiful," say his friends. For they are all cheerfully aware that
their faces are their only fortunes. There is a barbaric simplicity and
a lack of any attempt at romance about the proposed arrangements which
is exquisitely funny, for they are far too honest to pretend that I possess
any attractions beyond my supposed wealth. I have often wondered what the
crowd would do if I accepted someone temporarily, but have never dared
try. Five offers in twenty minutes is about my highest record.
But all these are country amusements. Cetinje is far too civilised a city to
indulge in them, and to "see Montenegro" we must wander much farther afield.
| Podgoritza and Rijeka
Land of Montenegro