THE LANDS OF THE SERB
Mary E. Durham
are apt to speak of the Serbs of Serbia as "the" Serbians, and to forget
that modern Serbia is a recent state mapped out arbitrarily by the Powers,
and that the truest representatives of the Great Serbian Empire are the
Montenegrins, who for five centuries have fought "the foe of their faith
and freedom" and have lived for an ideal, the redemption of the nation.
It has been said that every nation gets the government that it deserves.
If so, Montenegro has deserved greatly. Instances, it is true, have not
been wanting of the Serb tendency to split into parties, which has been
so fatal to the Serb people and now threatens to ruin modern Serbia; but
in the hour of need Montenegro has always found a strong man to guide her
and has had the sense to trust to his guidance. She can point with pride
to a line of Petrovich princes who, even in the darkest and most hopeless
days, have striven not only to maintain freedom, but to train their people
worthily as a nation. And herein lies the main difference between Montenegrins
and Serbians. The Montenegrins during all these years have been learning
to obey, while the Serbians have learnt to oppose all forms of government.
The subjects of Prince Nikola are disciplined and self-respecting; of those
of King Peter it has been not inaptly remarked that where there are four
soldiers there are five generals.
We have seen the Montenegrin in his towns, let us follow him into his mountains.
Kolashin (with a long "a") can be reached in one day of sixteen hours from Podgoritza.
It is better to make two easy ones of it and to enjoy the way. With a very
dark youth, one Boshko, and a chestnut pony, I left Podgoritza at five
one morning in June. Up we went through the wild, rugged valley of the
Moracha, where the green water hurries between huge limestone crags, and
on up, up, over loose stones, till by midday we were in an aching wilderness
of hot, limestone on the crest of the hill and were following the direction
of the Mala Rjeka ("Little River"), a tributary of the Moracha, which flows
in the valley below. One tree with an ink-black shadow cooled us for an
hour. Boshko then began to discuss our chances of shelter for the night.
Ljeva Rjeka, the usual halting-place, was bad, he said ; moreover, he knew
no one there. His own home, on the other hand, was not far. It was not
"very good," but "pretty good." Would I sleep "kod nas" ? (chez nous).
I looked at Boshko, reflected that "kod nas" would have interesting peculiarities,
and decided to risk it.
We started off again. I had three loaves of rye bread on my saddle, and milk,
boiled and tasting strongly of wood smoke, can be got at every cottage,
so that there was no fear of starvation. Goat, sheep, and cow milk is the
staple food of the mountain people. We fell in with several caravans, and
in company with a long string of men and beasts went down a green and fertile
valley till we came to a point where the telegraph posts which had hitherto
accompanied us and bound us to the outer world went one way and Boshko
indicated another. "Our house is yonder." "Is it far, thy house?" - "One
hour and a half." "And Ljeva Rjeka " - "One hour." We left the caravan,
the path, and the telegraph posts, forded the stream and struck into a
trackless wilderness - that is to say, that only a native could have found
the way. It was far too bad for the horse to carry me over. On we scrambled.
After an hour of it, I asked, "How far ?" "Yet one hour and a half," said
Boshko cheerfully. It grew late and chilly; there was no sign that any
human being had ever been this way before, and we were over 3000 feet up.
We trudged on almost in silence for another hour. Then again, "How far
?" and again, "Josh jedan sahat i po," said Boshko thoughtfully, looking
for landmarks in the waning light. I bore up as best I could. To the third
"How far ?" he replied, "It is now but a little way." We walked another
hour, and then made a rapid descent over loose stones into a forlorn and
dark some valley fenced in by cliffs, the pony floundering badly. A white
church gave promise of habitations. "My village," said Boshko, pointing
to some scattered hovels, "Brskut." He proposed calling on the priest,
"the handsomest popa in Montenegro." I, however, would not then have turned
from my path to see the handsomest man in the world. "Kod nas" proved to
be almost the best house in the valley.
We arrived at 7.30., I was so glad to see anything with a roof on that I did
not even shudder at the sight of it. It was a shanty of loose stones. The
family's room was reached by a wooden ladder, the cattle shed was below
it. "Mother" came out to greet us, and was at first struck speechless by
the sight of me. She reminded Boshko that they had no beds, to which he
replied airily that it was of no consequence. I went up the ladder into
pitch darkness. Someone lit a pine splinter in the ashes of the fire and
dragged up the only chair. This serves as a sort of throne for the head
of the family. It is large with widespread arms, and has legs not more
than three or four inches high, to suit the comfort of gentlemen used to
sitting cross-legged on the ground. "Mother" most kindly took my boots
off and set a huge wooden bowl of fresh milk on my knees. People came out
of dark corners, blew up the fire, slung the caldron over it, threw on
logs, and as many flocked in to see me as the place would hold. It was
a narrow slip of a room, about twelve feet by six, with the hearthstone
at one end of it, and a barrel that served as larder. The smoke surged
round the room. Father, mother, brother, brothers-in-law, sisters, sisters-in-law,
uncles, and friends all shook hands with me and bade me welcome. They were
all bare-legged, and their clothes were dropping off them in rags. I was
vaguely conscious of a mass of faces haloed in wood smoke ; several huge
warriors towered up to the roof; a very courteous and aged veteran, to
whom the chair probably belonged, was smoking his chibouk by my side, then
I nodded forward and should have been asleep in a minute, but they woke
me by laughing. Not only had they the excitement of seeing me, but we had
brought the latest news of the death of the King of Serbia, and the conversation
was lively as they supped. Here as elsewhere, they said the deed was "strashno"
(horrible), but that it was a good thing he was dead. But in most instances
the extreme loyalty of the Montenegrins for their own Prince caused them
to express disgust for the officers who betrayed their King while "still
eating his bread."
Supper over, we went into the next room and went to bed. They gave me a large
wooden bench against the wall. I put my cloak under me and my waterproof
over me, and a man took off his strukka, folded it, and put it under my
head. They swept the floor, spread sheets of thick felt, stripped the children
and rolled them in pieces of blanket, took the cartridges out of their
various weapons; I heard a murmured prayer, they lay down in rows on the
floor, and the whole twelve of us were very soon asleep. I don't think
I stirred till I was wakened by the family getting up, and found the owner
of the strukka waiting to take it from under my head. I woke to a horrified
consciousness that I had not wound up my watch. But it was still ticking,
and said 3.30 a.m. I slept-sweetly till six, then washed my hands and face
in the stream in Montenegrin style, and returned to have breakfast with
Boshko, who, in elegant deshabille, was loading his revolver on
the doorstep. His mother had captured and washed his only shirt and was
now drying it at the fire, so that the upper part of his person was in
a very airy condition. We breakfasted amicably out of the same bowl, and
"Mother" boiled me a glassful of sugar and milk so sweet that I could hardly
swallow it. But I had to, for it was meant for a great treat. Boshko was
so pleased with his home comforts that he proposed we should stay "kod
nas" for several days, and I had some difficulty in tearing him away.
It was half-past seven before he got into his shirt and saddled the pony.
"Mother" kissed me when I left, and refused at first to take any payment,
as she said I was a friend of Boshko. Poor thing, she had done all she
could for me, and had even given me the last of their precious sugar. When
the money was really in her hand, her joy was great, and she thanked me
over and over again. We started in pouring rain. "You had better not mount,"
said Boshko cheerfully, and made straight for what looked like an inaccessible
cliff. The path was the worst I have ever tried. We crawled up an awful
zigzag. It was as much as he could do to urge the pony up it; twice it
was near rolling over, for the streaming rain made the foothold precarious.
Then I slipped over the edge, and Boshko was badly scared, but when I stuck
on a bush and crawled up again, he proposed that we should add four hours
to our journey by going to see a very beautiful lake which he vaguely said
was "over there." I refused; we scrambled up about 1000 feet, and found
ourselves safely on the top. We were soon over the pass and descending
the other side into a magnificent wooded valley through dripping grass.
The pony sat down and slid, and at the bottom we struck the proper track
again. Boshko took stock of the heavens, foretold speedy sunshine, and
suggested taking shelter meanwhile at the nearest house, he was a
casual young thing, with no idea of either time or distance, and loved
We were warmly welcomed in a big wooden chalet, and passed an hour with the
most delightful people. The teacher, the captain (a beauty), the priest,
and some dozen friends sat in a ring round the heap of logs that blazed
in the centre. They made room, and insisted on boiling milk for me and
roasting an egg in the wood ashes, because I had come so far to see them.
"Where is King Peter ?" was the topic of the day. His election was
not generally expected in Montenegro. Most folk I met thought the Serbs
would proclaim a republic. I never could resist laughing at the idea of
a Serbian republic, and was snapped at rather fiercely for doing so one
day. "Why do you laugh? It is not a joke." "I laugh because everyone in
Serbia will wish to be President. That will be a joke." There was a solemn
silence. Then someone, with a twinkle in his eye, said, "There is no doubt
she has been in Serbia!" But nobody liked the remark. The Montenegrin is
hurt if things Serbian are criticised by an outsider. The Serbian, on the
other hand, usually tries to glorify himself at the expense of his relations,
and speaks of the Montenegrins as a savage tribe. In this he errs fatally.
A youth in an exceedingly bad temper came in, sat down and explained his wrongs
- an affair of florins - at the top of a most powerful voice. The roof
rang with his wrath. The company took it most stolidly, blew clouds of
smoke, and let him finish. An elder then argued the matter through to him.
All nodded approval. This annoyed him, and he fairly bellowed. Someone
pointed him out to me with a smile, drew one from me, and cried out at
once, "The Gospoditza is laughing at you !" which had the effect of stopping
him suddenly. Then the girl who was sitting next me gave me a little poke,
and looking up, said with a pleasant smile, "He is my husband; he is always
like that !" and she seemed as much amused as everyone else. Nor did she
display any emotion when he strode out still bubbling.
The rest of the journey along the beautiful valley of the Tara was easy and
uneventful, and we reached Kolashin early in the evening. Kolashin is tiny,
primitive, and most kindly. Rich grass meadows surround it; wooded hills,
thick with fir and beech, ring it round, and over them tower the rugged
blue peaks of the mountains; a new Switzerland waiting to be explored.
Timber is cheap, the houses are wood-roofed with shingles which bleach
to a warm silver-grey, and the upper storeys of such houses as possess
them are mainly of wood. We pulled up at the door of a small drink-shop.
Boshko, in great form and very important, explained me volubly to all inquirers.
We went upstairs into a big guest-room ; Montenegrin, inasmuch as it contained
bedsteads and rifles and a long divan ; Western, for it had a table and
several chairs ; altogether sumptuous and luxurious as compared with "kod
nas." To Boshko it was a sort of Cecil or Savoy. Mine host, ragged and
excited, his wife, a dark lean woman with anxious eyes, a girl from next
door who was always referred to as "the djevojka" (maiden), and Ljubitza,
the thirteen-year-old daughter and maid-of-all-work, flocked in with rakija
and suggestions. The telegraphist and another man, who were regular boarders,
came to help. Then the djevojka came straight to the point. "Which bed
shall you sleep in ?" she asked. I had been wondering this myself, for
it is undoubtedly easier to be Montenegrin by day than by night. The telegraphist,
one of the goodliest of Montenegro's many handsome sons, came to my rescue.
"She is a stranger and does not know us," he said ; "perhaps she will wish
to sleep alone." To the surprise of the rest of the company, I rose at
once to this suggestion. "You are just like the Italian Vice-Consul at
Skodra," they cried. "He came here once for ten days' shooting, and he
had a room alone all the time!" There was luckily a second apartment, and
I was soon installed in great state, and all the company too. My letter
of introduction to the Serdar produced a profound impression. The simple-minded
folk seeing that the envelope was open, thought it public property, and
read it joyfully aloud. It was couched in complimentary terms. " What a
beautiful letter!" they cried, and as the room was pretty full, I was thus
favourably introduced wholesale. As for the jovial Serdar, nothing could
exceed his kindness. He and the doctor, much-travelled men, asked me as
to my journey and where I had slept en route. "Brskut" overpowered them,
for they knew the sort of life to which I was accustomed. After Brskut,
it did not matter where I went. "Lives in London and has slept at Brskut
' kod nas'! You are a Montenegrin now," cried the Serdar, and he and the
doctor roared with laughter. But another man, who knew only Montenegro,
could not see where the joke came in.
Kolashin, as I have said, is primitive, but that it should be civilised at all is
greatly to its credit. Thirty years ago this out-of-the-way corner was
under Turkish rule and as wild as is Albania today, for the whole energy
of the people was devoted to wresting the land back from the Turk. Three
limes did they take Kolashin, three times were they forced to yield it
again to superior numbers. The grim persistency of the men of the Kolashin
district succeeded, and since 1877 Kolashin has become the fourth in importance
of Montenegrin towns. Cut off from the world by the lack of a road, snowed
up for nearly four months of the year, its resources are at present unworked
and unworkable, but its magnificent forests and its Sine pasture should
spell money in the future. Montenegro has been blamed for not opening up
more speedily her newly acquired hinds. It is possible that the delay is
by no means an evil, for it has saved the people from being overwhelmed
by a mass of Western ideas for which their minds are as yet unready; ideas
which, ill assimilated and misunderstood, and forced with a rush upon Serbia,
have worked disastrously in that unhappy land. The men of Kolashin are
huge and extremely strong, and are good hewers of stone, road-makers, and
builders, when shown how to set to work. With their splendid physique,
they require a good deal of labour to work off their steam and keep them
out of mischief. Inter-tribal blood-feuds are not yet quite extinct,
but the rule of the present Serdar is fast putting a stop to them ; the
place is growing under his hands, and the people look up to him as to a
The Serdar took me to the "weapon show " of the district. The battalion, 500
strong, was drawn up in a meadow outside the town, three companies of stalwart
fellows, each company with its barjak (colours), a white flag with a red
cross. A row of hoary old war-dogs had come out to sun themselves and see
what sort of a show the younger generation made ; grand old boys - long,
lean, sinewy, with white hair and bright deep-set eyes, their old war medals
on the breasts of their ragged coats; some of them arrayed martially for
the occasion with silver-mounted handjars, or flintlocks, thrust in their
sashes. And about the Serdar's popularity with young and old there was
no mistake. He introduced me to the old soldiers. The Montenegrins' pride
in the veterans who have helped to redeem the land is very touching. "Look
at him," they say, pointing to an old, old man who is sitting almost helpless
at his door. "He is a 'veliki junak' (great hero); he fought," etc. etc.
To be thought "veliki junak" is every man's ambition. "Junashtvo" (heroism)
fills a large place in the mind of the Montenegrin, who is brought up on
tales of the cool daring and extraordinary pluck of his forebears. "Be
a brave boy, like Milosh Obilich," I heard a mother say to her little boy
who was crying ; nor can I easily forget the mighty youth, clean-limbed,
clear-eyed, and the pink of courtesy, who told me with great earnestness
that he wished to be "a hero like Hayduk Veljko !"
Every man is a soldier. The "weapon show" takes place ten times a year, either
on a Sunday or a saint's day. Marching and formal drill are hateful to
file mountaineers, but they love their guns like their children, and it
is the pride and joy of every man that he is always ready to fight for
his country. The Serdar's five hundred were, so he told me, all splendid
shots. As we were leaving, one of the veterans came forward and said that
they thanked me for coming so far to see them, and thought I was "very
brave." "Very brave" is what the Montenegrin likes best to be considered,
so it was the poor old boy's prettiest idea of a compliment.
Every thing at Kolashin was kind to me but the weather. I was storm-bound for
many days, and riding over the mountains was impossible. I resigned myself
till the clouds chose to lift, and tried to see Europe through the eyes
of Kolashin ; and learnt much of the earth and the bareness thereof ; and
how little it requires to make life worth living, provided there are no
Turks about; and of people who live looking death in the face on bloody
frontiers ; and of simple, honest souls who have lived all their lives
among these mountains, who burn with a patriotism that only death can destroy,
men the guiding star of whose existence is the Great Serbian Idea, who
would lay down their lives cheerfully any day to help its realisation.
The nearer you come to the frontier, the more do you feel the ache of the
old wound. "Old Serbia" lies but a few miles away crying to be saved, and
such is the force of environment that you find yourself one day filled
with a desire to sit behind rocks and shoot Turks for the redemption of
that hapless land.
My companions all regarded Kolashin as a great centre of business and civilisation,
for they had come from far wilder parts. My hostess was born at Gusinje,
the stronghold of one of the fiercest Arnaout tribes. "It is a beautiful
town," she says, "larger even than Kolashin ; but you cannot go there;
they will shoot you." She and her friends spent a happy hour turning out
the meagre contents of my saddle-bags, pricing all the articles, and trying
some on. That none of my clothes were woven at home amazed them, "all made
in a fabrik," they could scarce credit it. It seemed too good to be true.
What with spinning, weaving, and making, they said they had hardly time
to make a new garment before the old was worn out. More and more women
came to see the show, and their naive remarks threw a strange light upon
The family's hut was a windowless, chimneyless, wooden shanty, devoid of all
furniture save a few lumps of wood and a bench, and the rafters were black
and shiny with smoke. Plenty of light came in, though there was no window,
for no two planks met. A Singer's sewing-machine, which sat on the floor,
looked a forlorn and hopeless anachronism, for all else belonged to the
twelfth century at latest. Certainly the huge and shapeless meals did -
the lumps of flesh, the lamb seethed whole in a pot, and the flat brown
loaves of rye bread. A Montenegrin can go for a surprising time without
food, can live on very little, but when food is plentiful his appetite
is colossal. These worthy people used to serve me with enough food for
a week. Because I could not clear it all up, Ljubitza used to run in at
odd intervals with lumps of bread, bowls of milk, glasses of sliva, onions,
and other delicacies, to tempt my appetite. My window gave on the balcony,
so there was room for many people to look in, see me eat and urge me to
further efforts. When they assembled also to see my toilet operations,
about which the ladies were very curious, I had to nail up my waterproof
by way of protection. Whereupon a baffled female opened the window. The
establishment possessed one tin basin, which I shared with the gentlemen
in the next room. I captured it over night and handed it out to them in
the morning on the balcony, where they took it in turns to squat while
Ljubitza poured water over their hands and heads and they scrubbed their
faces. It is not the thing to wash in your room in Montenegro, and my hostess
thought me very peculiar upon tin's point. And in spite of the " lick-and-a-promise
" system, folk always looked clean.
On market day the inn was crammed. Supper in the big room went on till ten
o'clock. Ljubitza hung around the door of my room and suggested that there
were. two beds in it, did I still prefer sleeping alone? I said very firmly
that I did, whereupon her mother came and threw out sketchy suggestions
of a similar nature. For in these parts no one ever thinks of undressing
to go to bed, and it never occurs to anyone that you could wish to do so.
The "guest-room " is made to contain as many as it will; mattresses are
spread on the floor and coverlets supplied ; nor did the regular boarders
seem to have the least objection to sharing their room with ten or twelve
strangers. But there are no "strangers" in Montenegro. You ask a man all
his private affairs to begin with, address him as "my brother," and call
him by his Christian name. Nor in spite of the overcrowding are the rooms
ever stuffy, for all the windows, and possibly the door too, are left open.
Not even the tiny cottages are close. At Cetinje one day I met two excited
Frenchmen who had just been over the barracks, and their astonishment was
so great that they imparted it to me. "Figure to yourself," they said,
"two hundred men slept in there last night and the air is as fresh as upon
the mountain ! But it is astonishing! Parole d'honneur, if you but put
your nose into one of our casernes, you are asphyxiated, positively asphyxiated!"
And I, who am acquainted with the rich, gamey odour of the French "Tommy,"
had no difficulty in believing it.
Life up at Kolashin is mainly a struggle to get enough to eat and a roof overhead.
In the lamb season meat is cheap and plentiful. Corn comes chiefly from
the lower plains, and there is often lack of bread ; in the winter folk
fare very hardly. Even in fat times milk and maize-flour boiled in olive
oil form the staple food of the peasantry. Nature is quite unthwarted by
Science ; only the very fit survive, and those have iron constitutions.
A good deal has been written about the very inferior position of women in Montenegro.
Some writers have even gone as far as saying that the Montenegrins despise
their wives, apologise for mentioning their existence, and do not allow
them to appear in company at all. My own experience does not bear out these
reports, which possibly originate in the fact that most books on the Serb
people have been written by men, and that centuries of experience of the
Turk and his methods have implanted a deep distrust of every foreign man
in the heart of the wild Montenegrin, both man and woman. Men I had never
seen before used to say to me, "Good-night. Sleep safely, I shall be near,"
and I regarded it only as a formula until one night it was varied by "Good-night.
Lock your door to-night. There is an Italian in the house!" 'But their
belief in each other seemed to be great. The women were always telling
me what wonderful men their husbands were, and the men were equally complimentary
about their wives. They laid great stress on the part which the women had
played in Montenegro's struggle for freedom, saying that the Montenegrins
were fine soldiers because not only their fathers but their mothers were
heroes. The conditions of life have been such that until twenty-five years
ago defending his home and his flocks took up almost the man's whole time.
All other work fell naturally to the women. The work is certainly very
heavy, but so it was and is in every country where there is no labour-saving
machinery. The women themselves do not appear to regard it as at all unfair.
At any rate, they constantly advised me strongly to settle in the country
and do as they did. It is very usual for many members of the same family
to live together. The real thorn in the side of a Montenegrin woman, then,
is a sister-in-law who does not do her full share of the work. "Is your
sister-in-law good?" was a stock question. " Very good." The fervour of
the immediate reply, "Thank God. How fortunate!" was most enlightening.
Kolashin was hospitable, and pressed me to stay. indefinitely. Boshko, gorged with
lamb, was in great glory and in no hurry to go. But one day the clouds
lifted, the mountain tops showed clear, and I issued marching orders. Armed
with two letters of introduction to Voyvode Lakich, the head man of Andrijevitza,
we started in the grey of the morning in the company of a ragged Mohammedan
Albanian and a young Mohammedan tradesman from Podgoritza, a great swell,
who Boshko assured me was one of his dearest friends. He rode a showy white
pony and gave himself airs. Boshko admired him hugely, and referred to
him always as the Turchin. Boshko had a great faculty for hero worship,
and recommended several of the objects of his admiration to me as likely
to make suitable husbands. All being ready for a start, the inevitable
rakija appeared, and I had to drink, stirrup-cups with the friends I was
leaving. I thought two sufficient. "You must take the third," said one
of the regular boarders, "for the Holy Trinity." "She does not know about
the Trinity," said someone hastily in an undertone ; " they do not have
the Trinity in her land." The surprise and delight of the company on learning
that we did was great. We all swallowed a third glass with enthusiasm,
and I said adieu. Alat, my chestnut, was very cheerful after his long rest,
but the steep path soon tamed him. We went up a thousand rugged feet quickly,
Alat hurrying after the Turchin, who sang, shouted, and rode recklessly.
Boshko panted behind. We drew rein at the top of the ridge and awaited
him. The ragged man kept up with never a sob. Below, around, above,
lay wild and wooded mountains and bare peaks. "Which way ?" said the Turchin.
"Knowest thou, O Boshko?" "Not I, so God slay me! " was his cheerful answer
; "I thought that thou knewest!" "By the one God, not I." "This way or
that, as there is a God above me, I know not." And so oil and so on. The
Turchin, a reckless, feckless young thing, burst out laughing, dug a spur
into his pony and swung him round, whipped out his revolver, fired it over
my head out of pure light-heartedness, and saying, "We will go this way
; God grant it does not lead to the frontier," plunged into a wood on the
left "God grant it doesn't," said Boshko fervently, for he had a
mighty respect for frontiers.
The track was mud and loose rock. We dismounted and filed through the wood,
winding higher and higher up the mountain side. From time to time all three
men halloed to herdsmen above and below us, to learn if we were on the
right track. Some said we were and some that we were not. The Turchin said
it was less trouble to go on than to go back, but that we should probably
arrive at Berani of the Turks, and then "God help us," which terrified
Boshko. The ragged man observed the peaks carefully and said he thought
he knew. Then down came a driving, drenching mist and hid everything. The
Turchin shivered and got into a great-coat. I struggled, streaming, over
slippery stones, and the loose ones bounded down the mountain side. At
last we came to a wide level where the track branched, the fog lifted,
and the ragged man was certain of the way. The rain was bitterly chill,
snow lay in patches on the ground, and the aneroid registered 5200 feet.
Above us rose the bare peak of Bach. We were on good turf, could mount
again, and Alat was as tame as a snail. The ragged man steered us cleverly
across country, and the sun came out. We put up at a bunch of incredibly
wretched huts, mere lean-to's of planks, so low that one could only stand
upright in the middle. The people, who were in rags that barely held together,
brought us milk in a wooden bowl, out of which we all three ate with wooden
ladles. For the Turchin, being Albanian, had no scruples about feeding
with unbelievers. A very aged woman, ninety years old, crouched by the
fire, which was stirred up to dry my wet clothes. When I wished to pay
on leaving-, the master of the house flared up. He was a magnificent -
looking fellow, who bore himself right kingly in spite of his rags. "I
am a soldier," he said ; "nothing is sold in my house." I had to leave
with thanks and handshakes, for they would take nothing at all, and I felt
ashamed of having eaten their food, they were so poor. We tracked down
to Andrijevitza, which we reached about four in the afternoon. The scenery
when the mist rose was grand. Great snow peaks above and flowery grassy
slopes below, with all the wild charm of an undiscovered country upon them.
Andrijevitza is a tiny, tiny place (2200 feet above the sea), nestled in a valley on
the banks of the Lim, which hurries down from the lands of Plava and Gusinje,
and is here joined by a little tributary. I put up at the baker's shop,
a funny little house built on a slope. It accommodated a cow in the basement
and fowls in the roof. These began to scrattle and peck about four in the
morning, you woke with the feeling that they were raking for corn in your
head, and tile baker's wife, who kindly let me share her bedroom and saved
me from the general guest-room, used to hammer on the ceiling with my umbrella
by way of quieting them. Life at Andrijevitza is somewhat rough, but I
fared exceedingly well; for the kindness, courtesy, and hospitality of
everyone more than made up for the barbaric simplicity of all domestic
arrangements. Nor did it ever occur to anyone that I was not living in
the lap of luxury, for I had every comfort that money can buy in Andrijevitza.
Compared with Andrijevitza, Kolashin is large and wealthy. Andrijevitza
is poor, proud, honest and selfrespecting - and it has a right to be proud,
for it is the very last outpost of civilisation in that direction. The
border and the Turk are but four miles away, the men of Andrijevitza are
fighting frontiersmen, and their head is that "veliki junak," Voyvode Lakich.
Voyvode Lakich - the eagle-eyed, grey-headed warrior, the beloved of his people,
a terror to the Turks - is a type of all that is fine in Old Montenegro.
One of a long line of fighting men, his honest eyes, his hearty laugh,
and the simple dignity of his bearing command entire trust at first sight,
and the respect with which he is regarded tell that he is a born leader
of men, a Duke (dux) in the old sense of the word. His courtly old wife
called on me at once with her daughter-in-law, and proceeded to welcome
me in the orthodox style with glasses of rakija. Poor old lady, she was
really no more addicted to raw spirits than I am, and gasped between each
glass; but in spite of my efforts the proper forms had to be observed,
and we duly swallowed the three glasses required by Christianity and the
laws of hospitality. She marvelled greatly over my journey, for she herself
had never left the neighbourhood. Her nephew, she said, was a great traveller;
"he had been to Nikshitje, Podgoritza, and Cetinje." She was the great
lady of the land and much respected, but has lived a life of toil and poverty
and danger compared with which the life of our own "working classes" is
one of pampered luxury. I do not think that there is anyone in Montenegro
whose soul is imperilled by great possessions. When I had once left Podgoritza,
and the world, behind me, my two small saddlebags were regarded as an inordinate
amount of luggage. "You have quite enough clothes on. What can you need
these for ? Leave them here, and call for them on the way back." No one
travels with more than can be tied up in a pocket-handkerchief, and what
that minimum consists of I have never rightly fathomed.
Life at Andrijevitza is earnest; it is either quiet to dulness, or it is filled
with very grim realities. For the Albanians across the border are an ever-present
danger. The Powers of Europe, represented by many worthy gentlemen, met
at Berlin in 1878, and together they swept and raked the Turkish Empire
and bedded it out into states. Now, it is no light task to plant out nationalities
about which you know little, in a land about which you possibly know less.
Nor was the welfare of the said nationalities quite the only thing that
absorbed the Council's attention. It is therefore not very surprising that
the nationalities most concerned were not best pleased with the results.
The nearest brothers of Montenegro are in Old Serbia, but the uniting of
the Serb peoples did not fall in with Austria's aspirations. Montenegro
cried for bread and her brothers ; she was given, largely, stones and Albanians.
Gusinje and Plava were included in Montenegrin boundaries, and trouble
began at once. Order was only restored by substituting Dulcigno for this
robbers' nest. Gusinje and Plava were left to the Albanians, but the corrected
frontier was not delimited for some time, was the source of much fighting,
and to this day is not strictly observed. As someone picturesquely observed,
"it floats" - mainly on blood. And the representations made on the subject
to Constantinople by the Montenegrins have not been more successful than
any other representations made in that quarter unbacked by ironclads. At
Andrijevitza not only the Crimea but the Treaty of Berlin are writ up very
large against us. And die apathy of England towards the suffering
of the Balkan Christians is a bitter thing to all the Serb peoples. Down
on a frontier with the enemy almost in sight, the feeling becomes intense.
"Your people have been our enemies," said someone, "and you know it, but
you have come alone all the way here among us. When you go home, you must
tell the truth about us. It is all we ask of you." For that England can
be really aware of what life under the Turk has meant for the Balkan people,
none who have lived that life can credit.
The peasants and flocks had not yet gone to the upper pastures for the summer,
and until they are there, travelling on the border heights is dangerous
for solitary wanderers, owing to constant Albanian incursions. The murder
of a Montenegrin herd-boy last year gave rise to a good deal of lighting,
and at Mokra, on the very edge, things were still "not good."
Owing to the farce of Austro-Russian reform, and other reasons, Gusinje was apparently
just then in a supersensitive frame of mind. I gave up Gusinje reluctantly,
and planned to see Berani on a market day. The valiant Boshko was reluctant.
"We must go without a revolver," he said, "and I do not know the road."
"We go freely to market," said I. "O Boshko, thou art afraid." "I am not
afraid," said Boshko indignantly, " but I dare not." So I consented to
his engaging a second man, and relieved his mind. When the moment for departure
came, he divested himself mournfully of his beloved six-shooter, hung it
on a nail next my spare skirt, and looked ridiculously nude and ashamed.
We rode with a long string of pack-beasts on a good track down the valley
of the Lim. Before we had been going an hour, grey clouds swept down upon
us and rain began ; but everyone vowed it would be fine, and I foolishly
pushed on. A guard of dirty Nizams cowered at the entrance of a loopholed
shanty, and a Turkish "kula" (blockhouse) was perched on the hill on either
side of the valley. The telegraph wire, which had hitherto run trim and
straight between upright and regular poles, now drooped in limp festoons
from one crooked "clothes-prop" to another. We were in Turkey. No place
looks really jolly in the rain, but in many lands rain means new life,
hope, and plenty. In Turkey it is grey desolation ; the unfilled
land, the wretched Christian peasantry, the squalid huts, sodden and soaked,
seem all rotting together in a land whereon the sun will never shine again.
We splashed oil. No one took any notice of us, for we were going to market.
The Turkish block-houses, "half an hour apart" along the frontier, were
left behind us. We slopped past a yellow guardhouse and more gaunt Nizams
and rode into Berani, a small town of, for the most part, crooked houses
of timber and mud, a wide main street, a large market-place, two
wooden mosques, and a fortress.
The inn, kept by a Serb, was far better than the look of the place led one
to expect. The man was from Ipek and his wife from Novibazar, and
they welcomed me warmly, A visit from a foreign Christian was an unusual
event, and the question was what course it would be most diplomatic to
pursue with regard to the authorities. I was begged not to seek them, but
to leave them to hunt me, if they thought fit. A Czech who had come about
a fortnight ago had gone straight to the Kaimmakam, had been promptly ordered
back across the frontier, and a guard had been set to watch the inn and
see that he did not leave it except to return whence he came. Mine host
hoped I would not bring the police upon him. "But I have a letter and a
passport," I said ; for, with the blood of the dominant race in me, the
idea of sneaking in corners from the Ottoman eye was most unpleasing. To
the Christian subjects of the Ottoman it seemed the only natural and sensible
way of acting. "What is a letter or a passport ?" they cried ; "here you
are with the Turks." There was a marked unwillingness on the part of everyone
to take me to the Kaimmakam, and the Czech's plan had failed, so I decided,
by way of experiment, to see Berani before I was hunted out of it. Meanwhile
they pointed out the great man to me through the wooden grating that covered
the window. He went into his official residence, and it was suggested that
we should now go out. It was interesting to see how entirely suitable this
furtive way of setting about things was considered.
The rain had ceased, and the market was crowded with Montenegrins and the Serb
peasants of the neighbourhood. In this part of the country
the peasantry is all Serb and Christian. The Mohammedans are the army of
occupation that holds the land, the Nizams, Zaptiehs (police), and officials,
and a certain amount of tradesfolk in the town. These latter are in many
cases the descendants of Mohammedanised Serbs, as is also the Kaimmakam
himself. The most remarkable fact about Berani is that the Montenegrin
national cap is on sale in the main street. That this is permitted is astonishing,
for it does not take one long to see that the Christian population is heart
and soul with the Prince. In the course of the last war Berani was taken
several times and was held by the Montenegrins. The people's hopes ran
high. "But," they say, "it lies in good land, so the Council of Berlin
gave it back to the Turks. See the fine meadows and the fields that should
be ours ! And but little grows in them, for they gave it back to those
Down came the rain like a fusillade, and I spent a cold, damp afternoon in the
public room of the inn. A man who said he was German was waiting to interview
me. He was a watchmaker by trade. He started at once on the death of King
Alexander. Which of the Powers did I think had brought this about? Did
I think it would affect the future of Old Serbia? He was so anxious to
know my opinion on the subject that I had none. "Serbia" was the only word
that the Serbs at the next table could understand, and it made them nervous.
They ordered drinks and got me into their circle as soon as possible, asking,
"What have you told him? He is a dirty German. He will denounce you to
the authorities." They were a frank, hospitable, kindly set, of whom I
afterwards saw much. I did my best to convince them that the manner of
Alexander's death was worse than a crime - for it was a blunder; but though
we remained very good friends, I never succeeded.
I went to Berani on purpose to see Giurgovi Stupovi, the monastery church of St.
George; for in Turkey you should always have a harmless and suitable reason
for travelling, and I watched the rain dismally. It looked like the Delude,
and forty days of it would have settled the Eastern Question as far as
the Turk is concerned. Monastery hunting was out of the question. I went
upstairs, set cross-legged on a divan to warm myself, and nursed the cat
for the same purpose. My hostess did her best to entertain me and called
in any number of her friends, and I began to make the acquaintance of the
women of Old Serbia, of whom I was to learn more later. These women came
to see me whenever they had the chance; I was a stranger and quite a new
sight:, and no matter what I was doing or how tired I might be, they questioned
me with pitiless persistency. Such interviews on the top of a long day's
ride are wearisome to the last degree, but in travelling in these lands
there is only one road to success, and that is, never to lose patience
with the people under any circumstances. They were extremely ignorant;
England conveyed no idea to them. Beyond their own immediate surroundings
they knew nothing at all, and their mental horizon was bounded by Turks.
I asked no questions, and let the information dribble out unaided. Omitting
a mass of childish and personal questions, the conversation was always
more or less on this pattern : -
"Hast thou a father?"
"Did the Turks kill him?"
"No." This caused surprise.
"Hast thou brothers ?"
"Glory be to God! How many Turks have they killed ?" for my male relatives were
always credited with a martial ardour which they are far from possessing.
The news that they had killed none caused disappointment. Then
"Is thy vilayet (province) far off?"
"God help thee! Are there many Turks En thy vilayet ?"
"No Turks? Dear God, it is a marvel !" And so on and so on. Attempts to start
a new topic brought back the old one. "What a pretty child !" elicited
only "He has no father. The Turks killed him." And all these things
are trivial details; but "little straws show which way the wind blows,"
and their dull "everydayness" is more eloquent of helpless suffering than
are columns of disputed atrocities. And through it all these people cling
with a doglike fidelity to their Church and the belief that the God of
their fathers will one day give them back the land which should be theirs.
I remember few grimmer things than these wretched women and their Turk-haunted
Tired out, damp and chilled right through, I shrank from facing the ceaseless
downpour, and to the great relief of my two men, stayed the night at Berani.
The trouser-legged landlady made me a very respectable bed in a room with
a lock on the door. Supper - which was always on the point of coming, but
did not arrive till ten o'clock - consisted of a great chunk of flesh in
a large tin dish full of funny stuff. The lady tore the shoulder-blade
off with her finders and offered it me to begin on. It was a failure as
a meal. I dismissed the whole company, to their infinite regret, locked
t-he door, ate all my "siege ration" of chocolate, went to bed, and slept
like a log. In the middle of the night a violent attempt to open the door
woke me. I was too tired to worry at first. Then I cried, "What is it?"
No answer and stillness. It was pitch dark, and there were no matches.
In a little while the attempt began again. Then I recognised that the sound
was inside the room, and grasped the situation. The cat I had been nursing
was shut up inside the room, and her two kittens were squealing outside.
She was making wild efforts to get to them. I let her out, and saw by a
flickering lamp that the rain was streaming through the roof and the whole
landing was a lake. Next morning my landlady said the cats had frightened
her very much In the night Midnight noises were more alarming to her than
to me, and probably for very good reason.
It was still drilling when I left Berani early for the monastery, which is
but a little way outside the town. The church is celebrated as being the
oldest in the Balkan peninsula. It was built by Stefan Nemanja, the first
of that line of Nemanja kings who led Serbia to glory. He ruled from the
middle of the twelfth century, abdicated a few years before his death (which
took place in 1195 ?), and retired to Mount Athos. He was canonised, and
as St. Simeons is still greatly revered. The old monastery was burnt by
the Turks, but the church, wrecked of all decoration and robbed of its
treasure, still stands. It is a long, barrel-vaulted building, with an
apse at one end and a narthex at the other. The masonry is rough, coarse,
and irregular. A Roman gravestone is built into the wail upside down near
the side door. Inside no trace of wall painting remains, but one piece
of an inscription in which Stefan's name appears. All is forlorn and melancholy.
A large assembly of folk were there to welcome me, and we had to retire
to the monastery and partake of rakija. The most interesting figures were
the head of the monastery and a wild-eyed priest, whose long grey locks
were twisted up under his cap. He wore striped Albanian leg-gear and had
a revolver thrust in his sash, though Christians are forbidden to carry
weapons in Turkey. He rode off on a pony, and had presumably leaked in
over the frontier and evaded the authorities ; but I thought it would be
useless to ask questions on such a delicate subject. We returned to Andrijevitza
by another road, thus avoiding Berani and the guard at its entrance, which
seemed to me a very unnecessary precaution, but pleased my guides extremely.
At Andrijevitza I found the Czech of whom I had heard at Berani, a Professor
of botany who was making a detailed study of the flora of Montenegro, a
good-natured, jolly man, who was a good friend to me, and to whom I am
indebted for several interesting pieces of information. Commenting on the
number of vipers which arc to lie met with on the hillsides, he told me
that the people all still believe in the existence of serpents of enormous
size, fabulous dragons in fact. A man once told him chat he had seen one,
20 metres long, and swore "By God, I saw it with these eyes." Nothing would
convince him that his eyes had deceived him, and his comrades firmly believed
the tale. They have many medicinal herbs, the secret of which they jealously
guard. One plant in particular they consider an infallible cure for snake-bite,
but he never succeeded in inducing them to show it him. It would lose its
power, they said, if they told. Cats all know it, and go off and cat it
The Montenegrin flora, which includes many plants peculiar to the district,
had never been completely worked before, and beyond the frontier was quite
unknown to science. He was wild to planthunt there, but his encounter with
the Kaimmakam had been so unpleasant that he had reluctantly given up all
hopes of doing so for the present. The Kaimmakam, lie said, and the Voyvode
were friendly enough a short time back, but the political situation was
Just then strained, and I had been lucky to escape an interview.
Everyone wanted to know how I had fared, and I was asked round to the Voyvode's
house. The baker's lady took me. We went up an outside staircase into a
tiny room with a hearthstone and an iron pot in it, and from this into
another room, where the Voyvode's lady welcomed me cordially. Her daughter-in-law
and her son came in, followed by the Voyvode and his secretary, the kapetan.
It was a tiny whitewashed room with a bare wooden floor, a table, three
wooden chairs, and a bench - quite devoid of all the comforts of an English
labourer's cottage; and portraits of Prince Nikola and the Russian and
Italian Royal Families were the only exceptions to its Spartan simplicity.
Hospitality was the order of the day. Rakija was produced, a plate of cheese
and another of tittle lumps of ham, and a fork. All clinked classes, took
it in turns to eat little bits of ham off the ôork, and were very
festive. I have seldom met more charming people. The Voyvode was loud in
his contempt for Boshko, and vexed that I should have had to pay a second
man. This sealed Boshko's fate. He was, though well-meaning, quite incompetent
as a guide. I paid him off and dismissed him. Alat had to go too, and the
saddle, as Boshko dared not return without them.
Events followed thick and fast. Sunday was Kosovo Day, and Monday market day.
A crowd of strange beings flocked in from Gusinje, wild mountain Albanians,
with heads swathed in white cloths and restless, watchful eyes. But the
bringing of weapons to market has been lately forbidden, and they had nothing
more lethal upon them than well-filled cartridge belts, with which even
the little boys were equipped. Our interest in one another was mutual,
and I spent most of the morning in the market and down by the river, where
they were selling and slaughtering sheep and goats, and the purple puddles
were so suitable to the scene that they ceased to be revolting. Gusinje,
being forbidden, fascinated me exceedingly, and I was charmed to find a
Gusinje man had put up for the night at my hostelry. Djoka was his name
; he was as stripey as a tiger ; his sun-tanned face was baked and weathered
into lines, and his dark brown eyes glittered and sparkled. "Art thou Christian
or Mohammedan?" he was asked when his "visitors' form" was being filled
in. He looked up lazily from the bench where he was a sprawl, and "By God,
I know not," was all the reply he vouchsafed. We entertained one another
for most; or the afternoon. He had never seen drawing done before, and
his interest was intense. He asked to be drawn so that people could see
his new cartridge belt, and posed with a view to showing as much of it
as possible. "But I must have a gun," he said. The idea of lending a Gusinje
man a rifle even for the purposes of fine art was scouted by the Montenegrins,
and we had to do without. He sat motionless and unblinking for twenty
minutes ; then unluckily the onlookers told him it was quite finished.
He jumped up, and so many came to see that further sitting was impossible.
The Botanik and I consulted him about going to Gusinje. He was in high good
humour, for his portrait pleased him greatly. "We only want to see,"
said the Botanik. "I pick flowers and make them into hay, and the
lady will draw you pictures. We will make no politik." " Thou art a man,
and they will not believe thee," said Djoka firmly; "and for thee, lady,
it is better not. Perhaps there is danger, perhaps there is not.
In Gusinje there is no law. Next year thou shalt come, and thou also."
"Why will it be possible next year and not now ?" I asked; but Djoka
merely stared straight in front of him with a blank face and repeated what
he had said before. And his final good-bye to me was an oracular " Next
year, O lady."
Meanwhile, outside in the street people were busy putting up flags, for it was the
eve of Prince Danilo's birthday. Night fell - it grows dark early in these
valleys - and one Marko rushed in to say the Voyvode wanted me at once.
We flew to the market-place, where flared a huge bonfire ringed round by
all the men of the neighbourhood, squatting or standing in an expectant
circle. On one side sat the Voyvode, with the priest on his right hand
and all his officers round him. There was a table in front of him with
five glasses and a huge flagon of rakija. Place was made for the Botanik
and for me on the Voyvode's left. He turned to me. "My falcons !" he said
in a voice of love and pride, as he glanced round his men. There was a
blue-black night sky overhead with never a star in it. The petroleum-fed
bonfire leapt into a waving banner of flame and threw hot light on the
faces of veterans, stern frontiersmen, and eager boys, illuminating weapons,
blue and crimson uniforms, medals and gold stitchery in one brave blaze.
The kapetan, who was sitting next us, whipped out his revolver, fired it
overhead, and the fun began. Anyone who felt inspired burst into song,
and anyone that chose joined in. The village rang with national ballads
shouted at the full pitch of huge voices, with the wildest enthusiasm,
and a running fire of revolver shots marked time barbarically - ball cartridge,
of course. Anyone who, carried away by his feelings, fired all six barrels
in succession, was loudly applauded. The glasses were filled, and the rakija
flowed with embarrassing profusion. The Montenegrins are very moderate
drinkers, but it was etiquette for every man of rank to drink with the
guests. The five glasses flew from hand to hand, and the Botanik and I
were hard put to it as one captain after another filled a glass to us;
for to refuse is an insult. "Drink," said the Botanik desperately, "drink.
What must be, must." From time to time the fire was fed, and, as it blazed
again, one youth with a wild yell would challenge another to dance. Leaping
up into the air like young stags, they dashed into the middle of the ring,
dancing madly a kind of Highland fling, with the flaming bonfire as background,
yelling savagely the while they drew their revolvers, leapt higher and
higher, and on the top of the leap fired over the heads of the shouting
crowd, who in their turn beat time with a volley of bullets ; while against
the darkness of the night, fire flashed from the muzzles of upturned weapons
all round the ring. "Take care, brothers ! take care!" cried the Voyvode
at intervals, when the angle of fire was dangerously low. And as each pair
of youths finished their dance they threw their arms round each other's
necks and kissed one another heartily on both cheeks before making room
for another couple. When both cartridges and rakija were about exhausted,
the Voyvode stood up. "Enough, brothers! Enough!" and he started the national
hymn, "God save Montenegro," which was sung with a wild fervour about which
there was no mistake. Glasses were filled for the final toast, and we drank
to the Gospodar and all his family, and to the speedy restoration of the
ruler of Great Serbia to his rightful throne at Prisren. "Now, my falcons,
go !" said the Voyvode. The party abruptly dispersed, and the bonfire died
But the wave of patriotism had surged too high to subside at once. The musical
talent of the neighbourhood flocked to the guest-room at the baker's, the
gusle passed from hand to hand, and each man in turn vied with his comrades
in long historic ballads. Those who meant to go home brought their rifles
with them, "for it is dark"; those who meant to stay hung lip their revolvers
and took their belts off. How those fellows sang ! - sang till the sweat
glistened upon their brows, their faces flushed, and the veins stood out
upon their throats. Nor did there seem to be any end to the number of verses
each man knew. The gusle has but one string, and as a musical instrument
it is about as poor a one as has ever been devised ; it wails monotonously
on one or two minor notes varied only by a curious trill that recurs perpetually,
but to the Montenegrin it is what the bagpipes are to the Highlander. It
calls up all that is Montenegrin within him. They sang of Kosovo and of
the Serbo-Bulgarian war and of the border fights of the neighbourhood.
The song ended often in a yell of triumph, and the singer threw himself
back exhausted by the emotions he had lived through. Djoka, the man from
Gusinje, took his turn and varied the subject of song by singing the sorrows
of a Turkish woman whose husband the Montenegrins had killed. He
sang in a clear high voice, and manipulated the gusle more skilfully than
any other man I have heard. "Dost thou hear the wailing of the cuckoo till
the city echoes to her woe ? The snow is falling and the earth is frost-bound.
That that thou hearest is no cuckoo ; it is the voice of a woman that cries
for her murdered man," etc., and the Montenegrins retorted with a similar
song in which the conditions were reversed. When everyone had sung himself
hoarse we suddenly discovered it was one o'clock in the morning. The boy
began hastily strewing- mattresses, and I retired into the back bedroom
with the baker's wife, to find there the tired-out Botanik, who was sleeping
the sleep of exhaustion and had to be aroused.
Next morning at nine o'clock there was a solemn service in the little church.
The "heads," in gala costume, marched in front and the rest of the village
trailed after. I could not follow the prayers accurately, but the name
of Prisren recurred many times, and the church was filled with kneeling
warriors who prayed with painful intensity for the redemption of Stara
Srbija. For the saving of Old Serbia and the union of the Serb peoples
is the star by which the Serb steers, the goal of his desires, the ideal
for which he lives and is ready to die. We walked out serious and very
silent into the sunshine, and the emotional strain was visible on many
faces. The Voyvode introduced me to an officer who had arrived that morning
and explained my tour to him briefly. "We want you to see Old Serbia,"
said the Voyvode. I was formed up in line with the "heads," and we
marched back to the village, and on the way they talked of Stara Srbija
and of Stara Srbija. "It was the heart of our empire, and you must see
it," said the officer. This was a new idea to me and soared beyond my wildest
plans. That hapless corner of the Turkish empire was left after the last
war to be ravaged by the Albanians. Until the Russians insisted upon forcing
a consul into Mitrovitza, none of the Powers knew or cared what was passing
in that dark corner, and travellers were denied access. My map ceased at
the Montenegrin frontier, and beyond was a blank. I pondered the question
till we arrived at the village.
The market-place was arranged as on the night before; we took our seats and
repeated last night's entertainment, minus the bonfire and revolvers, for
the Voyvode said that more firing would make the Albanians think that fighting
was taking place and bring them over the border in force. Patriotism was
hotter than ever, and "the falcons" sang "Onamo, onamo !'"Yonder, yonder
let me see Prisren," with great energy. We drank all the proper healths,
we sang the national hymn, and the party broke up. This time, however,
the "heads" adjourned to the Voyvode's and took the Botanik and me with
them. The little room was quite full of men in festal garb covered with
gold and medals ; we ate hot mutton and little bits of ham with our fingers,
and drank rakija. The Voyvode proposed my health, said I was like the swallow
that flew south, and that, like the swallow, I must come again next year.
And they all drank to me but not to England, though I noticed that they
drank to Bohemia as well as to the Botanik with much warmth. Then they
turned their attention to urging me to Stara Srbija. I consulted the Botanik.
"Go," he said ; "the only danger is from Albanians, and they never touch
a woman." I looked at all the "heads," and trusted them. The Voyvode said
he would give me a letter that would take me over, and the kapetan that
he would find me a man and a horse. The "heart of our empire and the throne
of our kings " began to exercise an irresistible fascination over me. I
said I would start that very afternoon, and did. I was to ride to Berani,
thence to Pech (Ipek), thence to Dechani; from Dechani to Prisren and back
to Andrijevitza across country - or rather, I was to try to do so, but
the whole expedition was pleasingly vague, as it depended entirely upon
"circumstances," that were all Turks, and therefore uncontrollable. Everyone
was full of enthusiasm, and told me above all thing's to go to Dechani,
the most holy shrine in Stara Srbija. My belongings were then overhauled,
for it was necessary to ride as light as possible. I tipped all my things
on to the bed. Quite a number of people came to help. My idea was chocolate
and underclothing. The Montenegrins thought otherwise. One stalwart fellow
took my second skirt off the wall. "This," he said, "is very pretty and
not heavy. Take it. Then if you meet any foreign consuls you can walk about
with them." This bright idea pleased everyone, for your Montenegrin dearly
loves "to peacock." They selected a scarlet silk necktie to complete the
conquest of the consuls, and considered that this was all the outfit that
was absolutely necessary. The kapetan arrived with the letter, the pony,
and the guide. "I give you this lady to take care of," he said; "you will
protect her and serve her well, or when you come back you will go to prison."
I laughed. "I am not joking," he said sternly. I mounted with my gay light-heartedness
rather dashed, waved "good-bye" and started. The pony was a wiry one, the
wooden pack-saddle padded with a cape quite comfortable, except that loops
of cord were its only stirrups, and the clean, honest eyes of Radovan,
the man to whom I had been handed over, filled me with trust from the first.
The road to Berani was now lonely. Near the border a man on horseback suddenly
clattered across the valley. "Woman." he shouted, "stop !" "Go on, and
do not speak," said Radovan ; "he is a Turk, and a bad one. If he wishes
to ask something he knows that he should ask me." The Turk drew alongside.
"Woman, answer me. What is the time ?" Radovan looked at the sky and gave
the approximate hour. The Turk took no notice but shouted at me again.
After this he said a good deal in a language I did not understand, and
rode away. Radovan laughed. "I know that man," he said ; " he wanted to
see if you had a good watch."
We reached Berani, and this time, as there was no market to explain our errand,
were challenged at once and told to wait at the inn. The inn was amazingly
excited at hearing my proposed route, and foretold failure. No foreigner
had been passed through for many years. I awaited a summons before the
Kaimmakam with anxiety. "There he is !" they cried, and I was suddenly
shouted for to be interviewed in the middle of the main street. He
was a long, lean, morose individual, who snapped, "What do you want?" in
Serb, and was taken aback at my errand and nationality. He was doubtful,
very doubtful. Inspired by previous experience of Turkish ignorance, I
tried a bold bluff that was not "bakshish," and rather to my own surprise
I scored a sullen permission. Having successfully played the empire, I
gave him the Voyvode's letter. "Voyvode Lakich," he said, "h'm, Voyvode
Lakich, Voyvode Lakich." He tore it open, read it, smiled grimly, indicated
that he had had quite enough" of me for the present, and turned away with
my passport and the letter, muttering "Voyvode Lakich " as he went. The
inn and its customers were exultant. "You will be quite safe," said a woman
; " the Turks will not dare touch you. They are afraid of your friends
across the frontier, and know you would be nobly avenged." She believed
this piece of nonsense, poor thing, and her chance remark threw a swift
sidelight on a dark life where "safety" depends on power of revenge. My
host, hostess, Radovan, and I passed the evening together round a pan of
food. They were in high good-humour, for I was expected somehow to champion
the Christian cause! If England only knew she could not fail to act! "The
Turks," said my host, "killed my father before my eyes when I was fifteen
" - His wife, with a cry of alarm, shut the window lest he should be overheard.
I had planned to start early next morning, but had no such luck. My passport
had not been stamped. This was explained by the fact that the gentleman
to whose department it belonged had lost a daughter. He intended to weep
all day, and could not be interrupted. I protested, and was told that two
or three days could make no difference to anyone, and was kept in a pleasing
state of uncertainty as to what was to happen.
Late in the evening I received orders to start next morning at four with some
traders and a zaptieh as escort Radovan disguised himself as a Turkish
subject, and we started punctually in the grey dawn. It was very cold,
and the entire landscape was blotted out by driving rain. We crossed the
Lim by a wooden bridge full of holes, which a portion of the Turkish army
had been trying to mend by stuffing sticks into them. Half blinded by the
rain, we breasted the hill and waited on the top for the "drushtvo" (company)
and the zaptieh, who soon appeared like ghosts out of the fog. The track
was pretty bad, the landscape quite invisible, and we rode through a wilderness
in a ceaseless downpour. The way was enlivened only by murder stones, which
were pretty frequent. "That's the Bohemian," said the zaptieh. "Who shot
him?" said someone. "God knows," said the zaptieh stolidly, " how should
I ? We slopped on. "Those were traders," said the zaptieh presently (there
were two stones this time). "Were they robbed?" asked one of the drushtvo,
a trader himself. " By God, I know not. There was nothing on them when
they were found." And so on and so on. At eleven the weather cleared quite
suddenly; the clouds rolled away and disclosed scenery that was startlingly
magnificent. We had been mounting all the time and were on vast uplands.
The huge peak of Kom of the Vassoievich towered from Montenegro and a border
blockhouse showed clear on a ridge. "That's Mokra," said the zaptieh, and
he laughed and tapped his rifle - an unnecessary pantomime, for the land
told its own tale.
It is "a land that is not inhabited." There are miles and miles of the richest
pasture, where no flocks feed, - they would cost the herdsman's life, -
rich valleys where no man dwells, and great lonely forests of stately fir
trees. We were in Arnaoutluk (Albania), a land where nothing is done and
where under Turkish government nothing can be done. A few most wretched
shanties - Albanian, of course - were the only human habitations I saw.
The Albanian hordes who till lately had held the district and completely
blocked the trade route had been for the time being driven back, and now
the road was once again practicable. Radovan spoke Albanian fluently, as
did also the zaptieh. We got some smoky milk and some coffee at an Albanian
hut (which stank frightfully, for the walls were covered with raw ox-hides
nailed up to dry), and sat on the floor and drank out of the same bowl
while a party of weird wild men sprawled round and asked questions. They
kindly threw logs nn the fire that I might dry my clothes, and only charged
five pence for our refreshments. Then on, and we passed through Rugove,
a small Albanian village consisting of a handful of cottages and a wooden
mosque, a sinister spot, the scene of the recent arrest of some revolutionary
chieftains and a good deal of bloodshed, and plunged into the valley of
the Bistritza, thickly forested with fir trees. The steep hillside was
a tangle of roots or streaming with liquid mud, through which I slithered
on foot for some miles, and the pack-animals staggered along-with difficulty,
pecking and stumbling. We got ahead of the drushtvo, but as the light was
beginning to wane the zaptieh called a halt, and we waited for them. I
had been told ten or twelve hours would take us to Ipek, and my heart sank.
When we joined forces everyone was dead tired. Poor Radovan was so done
that I begged him to ride my pony, but he refused, and the track was soon
such that I too had to walk.
It was an extraordinarily wild and impressive scene. The cliffs on the opposite
side rose in a perpendicular wall, there was a night sky overhead, and
the moon came out and glittered on the torrent that spouted and roared
below. It was pitch dark under the trees, and numberless tiny fireflies
flashed and disappeared. We staggered and scrambled over the rocky path,
which was too narrow in many places to let one animal pass another. I walked
ahead with the zaptieh, who uttered loud yells to warn any other caravan
of our approach. We heard yells ahead, and the narrow valley echoed with
unearthly howls. We met, and as we were all cross and tired, we backed,
scrambled, and shouted, in a tangle as each party tried to make the other
give way. I divided the last lump of dry bread with the zaptieh and Radovan
as we tramped out from under the trees, and the valley was wide and bare.
On the steep cliff was an inscription in Turkish with a great blot of crimson
under it - only paint, but it showed mysterious in the moonlight and struck
awe into all beholders except myself. As no one could read it they called
a halt, began to discuss its probable meaning, and were in no hurry to
start again. I walked on and the zaptieh followed, and we came to the end
of the gorge. "Pech very soon," said the zaptieh ; "ride, lady, ride, the
way is good." I mounted reluctantly, for it was not, and very nearly came
to grief in consequence.
At last, after sixteen and a half hours on the march, we clattered over a
stony breakwater by the river's edge to tile big iron-faced gates of tile
monastery, which is surrounded by a high stone wall. The zaptieh banged
the heavy knocker, the gates were opened cautiously, I slid from my weary
beast, and we entered. Here were some long white buildings, a fountain,
and a group of men sitting on the ground. The Iguman came forward to welcome
me. He proved later to be a friend indeed, but now he and the others were
too much overcome by astonishment and curiosity to think of anything else
but satisfying it. They gave me a chair, a rickety hard thing, and I sat
stiff and tired in the chill moonlight and enumerated my brothers, sisters,
and other relatives in answer to a flood of questions. One man who was
gnawing a piece of meat kindly offered me a clammy lump by way of refreshment.
Radovan asked if we could have some hay for the horse, and was told there
was none at all and none could be got till the next day. I was so sorry
for the poor brute that I forgot my own fatigues. It was turned loose In
the monastery enclosure to pick up what it could, but as that had been
fed over by geese the fare was very scanty. The Iguman meanwhile was arranging
for me. It was lucky that there were other guests in the house or I should
have fared hardly, for it was the fast of SS. Peter and Paul. As it was,
supper was just ready. The company was most kind to me, and, when I had
fed, the Iguman conducted me to the room which was reserved for the Vladika
when he visited the monastery. It had a proper bedstead in it ! I wished
the Iguman "good-night," tumbled into bed without further investigations,
and did not find out till next morning that I had not only the Vladika's
room but in all probability his sheets also.
The Iguman came early to see me, gave me a lump of sweet stuff and a tumbler
full of boiled milk and sugar for breakfast, - for no one in these parts
thinks of eating anything solid before midday, - and we went out to see
the churches. The Patriarchia of Pech, formerly the seat of the Archbishop
of Serbia, was, to the grief of the Serbs, made dependent on the Patriarchate
of Constantinople in 1766 by the Turkish Government. Of the four little
churches neatly fitted together to form one large, irregular, dome-sprinkled
building, three, including the Church of the Virgin and the Saborna Crkva
(cathedral), were built by the Patriarch Arsenio, and are, I was told,
nearly eight hundred years old. The fourth and smallest, St. Nikola, was
added later by the Patriarch Makario. The churches are entered by a portico,
the tiled roof of which is supported on wooden posts and which leads into
a long narthex. The Saborna Crkva is by far the largest. Nor is it easy
to give an idea of the interior of any of these churches. The general effect,
made up of a mass of extraordinary detail, is old-world and barbaric in
the extreme. The walls are entirely covered with frescoes of the most primitive
description, a jumble of fierce colours toned by age into a rich harmony.
Quantities of cut glass chandeliers hang from the roof, and from these
again dangle numbers of ostrich eggs. Dim gilt ikons and holy pictures,
blackened by the tapers that with pious zeal are stuck on their frames
by a blob of hot wax, hang on the walls. Reading desks, taper stands, candle-sticks,
all are of the most early pattern and the rudest make. A curious seat,
under a canopy hung with dingle-dangles, is the throne upon which was crowned
Stefan Dechanski, the Sveti Kralj. And this curious primitive art, that
now looks exotic, Eastern, foreign, once swayed the art of all Europe.
We find its traces in our own Norman architecture ; we find them in the
early churches of Italy. It reached its highest stage of development in
St. Sophia, and St. Mark's, Venice, but it is now dead and done for. Art
is no exception to the rule, that all things are blighted in the land on
which the Turk has laid a hand. After his arrival all further development
The monastery covers a good deal of ground. There are long rambling guest-houses
for the crowds that come on pilgrimage days, rooms with long fixed tables
spreading out into a large round at one end for the accommodation of those
of high degree. One of these buildings is of the same date as the church.
Timbered, wide-eaved, and picturesque, it is a wonderful relic of medieval
days. This was doubt less the sort of accommodation Chaucer's pilgrims
put up with. Pilgrims in those days were as ready to sleep in rows on the
floor as they are in the Balkans now, and their luggage was doubtless brought
down to the same irreducible minimum.
| Contents | To Dechani
and Back to Podgoritza
Land of Montenegro