OF THE ALBANIAN
'OH, I know all about the Albanians,' cried a lady; 'they are those funny people with pink eyes and white hair.'
But the Albanian is not so quickly explainable; and of all the Balkan peoples he is least known to the English.
His European name, ' Albanian ' is said to be connected with the word ' Alp.' He calls himself ' Shkyipetar,' and his land ' Shkyiperia 'that is, ' son of an eagle,' and ' land of the eagle '; nor could a more fitting name be found for the untamed mountain man, with his keen eyes, aquiline nose, and proud bearing.
There are two marked Albanian types, the dark and the fair. The fair is commoner, so far as I have seen, in the South. The characteristic man has a nose like Dante's, with a drooping tip, narrow in the bridge and fine cut; very marked eyebrows that start straight and drop in a slant below the orbit bone; a long jawbone that sweeps down in a fine line and ends in a firm chin cleft at the tip. The skull is straight-backed, as though a piece has been chopped off, and there is great width just above the ears, this especially in the fair type, which has brown, sometimes almost flaxen, hair and gray eyes. In figure he is tall (not so tall as the Montenegrin), lightly built, slim-hipped, and as supple as a panther. The dark type, which near Ipek and Gusinje is very dark, is often longer skulled, rather shorter in height. The tribal system and lack of communication has accentuated local differences.
Albania is divided by the river Skumbi into two partsGhegaria, or North Albania, and Toskeria, or South. In the South there is a considerable population also of Greeks and Vlahs, with both of which the Albanians have intermarried. North of the Skumbi, with the exception of some foreign traders and Turkish soldiers and officials, the population is entirely Albanian.
In the debateable vilayet of Kosovo there is still a considerable Servian population, but it is largely outnumbered.
Among the Ghegs the tribal system still flourishes in the mountain districts. A man when asked his name says he is So-and-so, of the Eotti or Shala. No outside man, I am told, can become a member of a tribe, and the tribe has power to decide whether a man may sell all his property away from it. He may, and often does, marry a wife from another tribe. The marriage of cousins is forbidden.
The largest tribe is that of the Mirdites, said to number 30,000. Dibra is also a large tribe. Then come the Dukagini, the Pulati (including Shala and Shoshi), the Matija, the Kastrati, the Hotti, the Klementi and the Skreli, which average 10,000 apiece, and there are a number of minor tribes of from 1,000 to 5,000 strong. (The figures are only approximate.) These tribes contain both Moslems and Roman Catholics, have their own leaders, and are not liable for conscription in the Turkish army.
In Toskeria, though certain Begs can command an armed following, the tribal system is practically dead; but the people still fall into three main divisions: the Tosks, between the Skumbi and the Viosa; the Liabs, south of the Tosks; and the Chiams, further south still. All these have minor divisions.
The language also is divided into two main dialects, Tosk and Gheg, and the difference in accent is marked. A man from Korche in the South finds Skodra talk as difficult to follow as a Cockney does broad Yorkshire. The Mirdites claim that their dialect is the purest of all, and their isolation from the world makes this highly probable. All the place-names in and around Mirdita are pure Shkyip, which points to the fact that no foreigner has ever occupied it.
Shkyip is an Aryan tongue, and has as marked an individuality as the men who speak it. Much of its vocabulary resembles early Greek and Latin; but the words often appear to be allied to, and not derived from, those tongues. It possesses, also, many odd consonantcombinations peculiar to itself. Unlike any other European tongue, it has a definite and an indefinite form of declension for nouns. The adjective follows the indefinite form, and is placed after the noun, and between noun and adjective comes what the grammar calls a 'characteristic'a kind of article which agrees in gender with the noun and has a declension of its own. Thus: ' diale i mire,' a good boy; ' diali i mire,' the good boy. The comparison of adjectives is formed, not by inflection, but merelyby prefixing ' more ' (' ma ') or ' very' (' shum').
The verbs are capable of expressing very subtle shades of meaning, and have, according to the latest grammar, no less than eleven moods and fifty-five cases. Many of these, however, are compounds with ' to have' or ' to be.'
No written line exists to show how the tongue grew or changed. Its past is wrapped in darkness. Long historical ballads have been passed from memory to memory. Literature, save of to-day, there is none. A uniform method of writing has not yet been adopted, and Albanian is awaiting an author to crystallize it. There is a tradition of an old Albanian alphabet both at Elbasan and at Skodra, but no successful attempt to find an alphabet in which the language could be printed was made till 1879. A special alphabet was then arbitrarily constructed, a sadly mongrel affair compounded of Greek, Latin, and Cyrillic characters and some specially invented letters. With modifications it is still used by the press at Sofia, which publishes the Drita, a paper in the Tosk dialect, and various books; also by the British and Foreign Bible Society for the translation of the Gospels. But it is hopelessly unpractical and very expensive, requiring special type and type-setter, and will soon be superseded. Many attempts have been made to use the Latin alphabet, and the extremely practical system invented by Mgr. Premi Dochi, the Abbot of the Mirdites, has overcome most of the difficulties, and, owing to its great simplicity, is making rapid way.
The first book in the alphabet of 1879 was published at Constantinople, but the printing of the language was not long after forbidden on Turkish soil. The Sultan had learnt from experience that schools are centres of revolution, and would hear of no more national educational movements. Latterly he has made very active efforts to suppress the tongue altogether. In the South many people have beenimprisoned for possessing books or papers printed in it, and all schools teaching it are forbidden. But North Albania is a circumstance over which the Sultan has little control; it possesses a printing press and several schools.
A language may die a natural death. I doubt if one has ever been killed. Persecution has perhaps supplied the necessary fillip. The knowledge of reading and writing the language is spreading rapidly. You find it in very unexpected quarters, and as a common bond of sympathy it is knitting together all classes of the people. Papers printed in London, in Rome, in Sofia, and Bukarest are smuggled in and read by Moslem and Christian alike all over the land. A literary language shows signs of developing.
In Albania, even the prosaic work of dictionarymaking is spiced with a dash of romance and adventure. The story of Kristoforidh is told throughout the land with bitter indignation. A native of Elbasan, a patriot and enthusiast, he devoted some forty years of his life to the building of a monumental dictionary, collecting not only the main dialects, but visiting village after village in search of local words. He died in 1892, and bequeathed to his son the manuscript, which is reported to have contained no less than forty thousand words. The Greek Consul at Durazzo offered young Kristoforidh several thousand francs for the manuscript, and represented that his Government wished to publish it. The Greek offer was accepted; the Consul received the manuscript. Far from paying for it, he denounced the young man to the Turks for national propaganda, and he was imprisoned : for two years. The fate of the dictionary is unknown. A rumour was spread that the Greeks had destroyed it. Some believe it exists and will yet see light.
The language is but part of the national question. The whole country wishes for independence. This it cannot obtain without the consent of the Powers. A successful revolt, many fear, might lead to European intervention, and to a further extension of Slav territory. The Albanians have no rich relationsto support them as have the Bulgars, but as an extension of Russian influence is adverse to Austria, Austria is playing on the Albanian side. When Russia put a Consul into Mitrovitza in Slav interests, Austria hurried, not only to plant a rival Consul, but an Albanian school. So far Austria has 'come out top' in this district, and has neatly planted her gendarmerie officers there.
Italy, meanwhile, who would like to control both sides of the Adriatic, works hard to prove to the Albanian 'Codlin's your friend, not Short.' The astute Albanian listens to either charmer, accepts the money of both, and weighs the pros and cons.
So far as I learnt, what Albania really wants is independence, recognised by Europe, and a Prince, preferably a European one, approved of by the Powers. I met few in favour of creating an Albanian royal family, nor did I hear any of the so-called Albanian claimants to that position spoken of as having any following in the country. They are mostly outsiders, unacquainted with the land. People of all classes throughout the land hastened to explain their hopes and fears for their fatherland, and to pray for English recognition of its existence. My presence in some towns caused a most painful amount of hope. People hailed me as a saviour, and treated me as though I were a knight-errant come to redress their wrongs. I was quite unprepared for this, and it appalled me. I remember nothing more extraordinary than some of these interviews in the heart of the country, when I heard freedom preached passionately by keen-faced men with burning eyes, urgent, insistent, who prayed me almost with tears to lay their case before the British Government, saying, 'England is a just country, and she will listen to the truth.' Nor shall I easily forget the day when I was taken in at a back-door after a long roundabout walk, and heard an address in French. It was torn into pieces as soon as read, for it bore many signatures, hut I wrote it from memory very shortly afterwards:
'We cannot express to you the joy that your journey gives us. We know very well the terrible sufferings you must have undergone upon the road. They must be for some good purpose. We believe that God has sent you to save us. Only in your country in all the world does true freedom exist. You have seen the misery of our land! Between the Moslem Begs, who are permitted to extort money from us, and theGovernment, which takes our money and gives us nothing in return, the majority of us are reduced to dire poverty. There are many who have scarcely a shirt to cover them. After a bad harvest many die of cold and hunger on the mountains. The people of our villages are ignorant savages, and there is none to help them. We pray you in God's name to write all day and all night, to print our misery in every paper and to ask for justice. The Slavs have Russia to help them. We have no one. We entreat you to continue the journey that you have begun. For you there will be no danger, and you will be preserved through all difficulties. We thank you from our hearts. May God save you !'
It reads coldly in black and white. Set in the aching desolation of the land it was an exceeding bitter cry poignant, tragic, helpless, and it is but one example out of many. I protested in vain I had neither power nor influence.
Nor did folk waste time over revolutionary rhetoric. They lucidly unfolded the situation. 'Russia's interest in and work for the Bulgarians,' they said, 'has been, and is, purely for her own purposes. This England has long known. Russia is her foe and ours. Together we fought her in the Crimea. The recent risings in Macedonia are the result of long years of Russian intrigue. That land is ours. It was ours before any Bulgar set foot in it. Now they work to persuade Europe that it is theirs. Bulgaria, as all the world knows, is a poor country. Financed by Russia, these people strive to take our land. We could easily have killed them all had we wished. Europe calls them patriots when they kill us, and condemns us if we avenge ourselves. England has just given money to feed these people. We do not wish these peasants to starve, for they are the victims of political intrigue, and are very ignorant. But if England means by giving this help that she will aid Pan-Slavonic plots and help Russia to take our land, then we think it shows great ignorance of the issues at stake and great injustice. If England will give us as much support as she has given the Bulgars, we will rise as soon as Lord Lansdowne is ready, and will make a far better joh of it than they have.'
Should independence under a European Prince be denied them, they must accept the protection either of Italy or Austria. They then choose Austria unhesitatingly. In common with all the Balkan people, they believe the Austrian Empire will not last long. Austria will provide them with roads and railways, and then a break up and leave them free and provided with modern improvements. Austria has promised to allow liberty of language, and has permitted an Albanian school at Borgo Erizzo, in Dalmatia.
Italy, on the contrary, strives hard to Italianize the large Albanian colonies in Calabria and Sicily (who belong, by the way, mainly to the Uniate Church), and, having once got a footing on the further side of the Adriatic, would never voluntarily withdraw, but would pour in Italians and suppress the Albanian tongue. An anti-Italian propaganda is being worked evidently, for I was told by some villagers that union with Italy would be fraught with great danger. 'Italy possesses the holiest thing in the worldthe picture of the Blessed Virgin which the angels carried over the sea from Skodra and saved from the Turks. Yet Italy has behaved impiously, and has insulted the a Pope, and the curse of God is upon her. Her people are starving, and her lands are desolate. Naturally we do not wish to fall under this curse.' Also Italy has married Montenegro, and is regarded as Pan-Slavonic.
As for Greece, her name in the places I visited produced only a torrent of abuse. It must be independence or Austria. South Albania, having suffered far more from Turkish rule than the North, seemed more ready to accept Austria. The North preferred in dependence, but might take Austria for want of better.
The Dibra tigers, as their fellow-countrymen even call them, are all for independence. Austria is reported to be striving to tame their ferocity with gold. I believe the whole country desires release from the Sultan's Government, and that they will press for it ere long.
Oddly enough, Albania's hereditary foe, Montenegro, is inclined to support her claim for independence. The wheels within wheels of Balkan politics are almost endless. An Austrian occupation of Albania would be something like a deathblow to Servian national hopes.
Such, in brief, is the present political situation; but it would take a volume to enter into the endless subterfuges, entanglements, and shufflings by which the external Powers strive to gain their ends, and the Albanians tooutwit the lot. A large proportion of the sons of the eagle have always had their own way, and mean to continue doing so.
An unhappy Greek, who held a Government appointment under the 'reform' scheme, said to me in despair: 'What is the use of my staying here? I can do nothing. These people do not want Turkish laws. They simply tell me so. They will yield to nothing that will increase the Sultan's power. When I first came here, I went up into the mountains with four gendarmes as escort to parley with the leaders of a tribe, and to ask them to deliver up certain murderers, that they might be tried and punished according to law. They received me with great courtesy and hospitality. I explained my errand. They thanked me, and said they were perfectly well able to punish their own criminals, and required no assistance from the Turkish Government. I pressed the point. They said: ' " We are fond of visitors, and happy to receive you as our guest. You are welcome to stay here so long as you like as a friend, but if you mean to interfere in our affairs, we beg to point out to you that you are here with only four gendarmes, and every man of us is armed, and we recommend you to return whence you came while you can !" '
I thought so, too. They were very polite, and gave me to eat and drink of their best, and I said good-bye. I have not been there again. We can do nothing! If we sent up troops, there would be terrible bloodshed. These mountain men fight like devils. Probably all the tribes in the North would rise, too. The Turkish Government cannot afford this. These men can neither read nor write, but they know very well how they stand. They have brains, I tell youthey have brains. We have arrested a few, but what is the use? Their friends come to give evidence. I have assisted at the cross-examination of people of very many nationalities, and I have seen nothing like the intelligence of these wild men. They see at once where the question will lead them. You cannot catch them. You may feel certain they are lying, but they baffle you. They have never learned to read, therefore they have memories. They make up the story beforehand; they never forget, and they make no mistakes. Natives of some wild lands are overawed at the sight of officials and men in European costume. These men are afraid of nothing. I confess they are too clever for me. It is true they are savage. They have had to bein order to keep their liberty. When they are no longer obliged to live cut off from the world, they will awake and realize their strength. I assure you they are Bismarcksveritable Bismarcks. Some day they will demand, and Europe will have to give them what they ask !'
He was so much impressed with the futility of his errand that he talked of throwing up his appointment.
The reform scheme as first put forth provided for the appointment of qualified Christian judges. Until then, under Turkish law, Christian judges were a mere matter of form, and appointed by the local prefect, who could put in any little shopman he pleased, regardless of qualification. They were paid about £25 a year, and their power was nil. Now they are appointed by the Minister of Justice, must be trained lawyers, and receive about £100 a year. There are two Moslem and two Christian judges on the Bench, and the president is Moslem. The Christians can, therefore, be outvoted; but I heard no complaints of this having been unfairly done. The Christians of Turkey have, no doubt, scored by this concession, but in Albania it has given very little satisfaction.
The poorer part of the population is glad when a tyrannical Beg is locked up, but, on the whole, the people look with great distrust on any scheme likely to give the Turkish Government a stronger hold on them. Moreover, it is only in Turk-ridden districts that one hears tales of religious oppression. Once north of the Skumbi, I heard no more talk of oppressed Christians, save in Skodra, the seat of the Turkish Vali.
The Albanian is always an Albanian. The Moslem Serb and the Moslem Bulgar have all sense of nationality swept away by the mighty power of Islam. They are reputed the most fanatical Turks in Europe, and are greatly dreaded by their Christian kinsmen. 'Turk,' it cannot too strongly be said, means in the Balkan Peninsula Moslem, and has nothing to do with race. Many 'Turks' know no Turkish, and talk pure Serb.
With the Albanian it is otherwise. He is Albanian first. His religion comes afterwards. The celebrated fights among the Albanians are always intertribal, or the quarrels of rival Begs. Christians may then fight Christians, and Moslems Moslems. The Christian the Albanian persecutes is the Slav Christian, and this is the old, old race hatred. Of all the passions that sway human fortunes, race hatred is, perhaps, the strongest and the most lasting.
The dread that Europe, under Pan-Slavonic pressure, will give more land to the Slavs has, since the Treaty of Berlin, led to a merciless oppression of the Serbs in Kosovo vilayet, an oppression which is partly vengeance for the loss of Dulcigno.
In the face of a common foe, Moslem and Christian Albania unite. Some nations have a genius for religion. The Albanians, as a race, are singularly devoid of it. Their Mohammedanism and their Christianity sits but lightly upon them, and in his heart the wild mountaineer is swayed more by unwritten beliefs that date from the world's well-springs. Of the primitive paganism of the land little is known, and I have failed to learn what man or men converted this very conservative people to Christianity. Some may have listened to St. Paul himself and to his preachers. For at that time the Slav was unknown, and the neighbourhood of Thessalonica was largely inhabited by the aboriginal race. But the teaching must have penetrated the wilder parts very slowly. Preachers from Salonika bore it across South Albania in course of time, and the wild tribes ceased from human sacrifices and other barbarous rites. But they seem to have taken far less interest in it than did the other converted peoples, who hastened to found independent Churches, and to conduct their services (as is permitted by the Orthodox Church) in the language of the people.
The South Albanians alone neither troubled to do this nor to translate the Scriptures. They left all Church matters in Greek hands, and threw in their lot with the Greeks when the final split between the two Churches took place. The services are still in Greek, and the Bible was not translated into Albanian till the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Recently, with the desire for autonomy, a desire for an independent Church has arisen. It is bitterly opposed by the Greek Patriarch, and the Sultan, who has seen the results of a Bulgarian Church, has refused his consent. Albania has no 'Russia ' behind her to enforce her claims. A large proportion of the priests are Greek, and there is a tendency to replace Albanians by Greeks in the higher posts. Sermons in Albanian are strictly prohibited. This causes great wrath, and I was asked several times to tell the British public that the Greek Patriarch was 'a thief, a liar, and perhaps an assassin !'
'The old people,' said the young, 'say that the Japanese are not Christian, and that the Russians are of our Church. What do we care about the Church? We hate the Russians! Here, I tell you, we are all Japanese !'
The effect of all this is to set on foot a scheme for a Uniate Church, under Austrian protection, which would tend to unite more closely North and South.
In the North matters are diffferent. The mountain tribes which have not turned Moslem have always been faithful to Rome, and have consequently retained much more national independence. But in neither north nor south did Christianity succeed in gripping the Albanians firmly. At the end of the fifteenth century, when Skenderbeg died, they soon came to terms with the Turks, and, mainly to retain freedom, began to ' turn Turk' in considerable numbers: the chieftains' families that they might retain command, and the peasants, who were in contact with the Turks, in order to escape spoliation. In outlying parts they remained Christian, while their Begs went over to Islam.
I believe the Mirdites and their Prince are the one example of an entire tribe which has remained Christian throughout. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries conversions to Mohammedanism were, for various reasons, very numerous, and many more were brought about at the beginning of the nineteenth century by Ali Pasha, who, during part of his lurid career, made religion a reason for robbing his Christian subjects of much property.
But the Albanian, even when he appears to yield to circumstances, asoften as not makes them yield to him. He took Christianity very lightly, and Mohammedanism, too, seems to have had but little effect upon him. Many of the people are extraordinarily lax about it; in no place that I know have the Albanians taken the trouble to build a really fine mosque, and there are whole districts where the women are unveiled. Oddly enough, where they are veiled they are veiled extra thickly. A good Mohammedan should turn Mecca-wards and pray five times a day. I have spent day after day with Moslem gendarmes and horse-boys, and never seen an attempt at a prayer. But, on the other hand, once, when passing some soldiers of an Anatolian regiment who were devoutly praying by the wayside, my mounted escort pointed them out to me and laughed as though it were the best of jokes.
Under the veneer of Mohammedanism often lies a thin layer of Christianity. In many villages 'Moslems' still give each other red eggs at Easter, and I have seen them making pilgrimages to a Christian shrine. I am told that some swear by the Virgin. There are often Christians and Moslems in the same family. If a Moslem charm fails to cure they try a Christian one, or vice versa. The cross or the verses out of the Koran are simply amulets. Under all lies a bed-rock of prehistoric paganism, which has, perhaps, more influence in their lives than either of the other two.
The Northern Moslems are Sunnites, or profess to be; but the Moslems of the South all belong to a very unorthodox sect of Dervishes, the Bektashites. Hadji Bektash, variously reported to have come from Bokhara and Khorassan, founded the order early in the fourteenth century. But the Dervish spiritual principles are far older than Mohammed's time, and Hadji Bektash, in so far as he was a Moslem, was a follower, it is said, of the Kaliph Ali.
The present Bektashites, I am told, do not observe the Mohammedan fasts, and trouble very little about the prophet. They are very tolerant of other religions. Jella-a-din, nephew of Ali Pasha, and formerly Governor of Ochrida, had a Christian wife, whom he allowed to go regularly to church, stipulating only that she should be veiled. The teaching is said to be highly mystical and of a pantheistic nature, with a flavour of Omar Kayyam. Lately, I am told, it has been a good deal persecuted, and the Sultan has been workinga Sunnite propaganda. A Governor who went only to the Bektashite 'tekieh,' and not to mosque, would lose his post now. At one place I was told, 'It is better not to talk about it. We are afraid of trouble.'
In the event of a free Albania, it seems probable that many of the sect will turn Christian. For the lower classes, as do most religions, Bektashism supplies a quantity of miracles, and large numbers of lambs are sacrificed at the shrines of popular saints Khizi, a mythical character, who is said to figure largely in Oriental spiritualism, is identified by many with St. George of dragon fame, and the Bektashites keep St. George's Day with ceremony.
The Albanian, in short, stands out in marked contrast to all the rest of the Sultan's subjects. In appearance he usually impresses the stranger very favourably. The 'magnificent Turk' that the Cook's tourist admires in Constantinople is almost always an Albanian. So is the faithful and honest kavas that protects him. When you meet someone who cries up the splendid physique of the Turkish army, you always find he has seen the Albanian regiment.
And alone, of all the Balkan peoples, the Albanian is an artist. His peculiarly indomitable personality always brings him prominently forward. Where he has been handed over with part of the territory to Montenegro he is rapidly absorbing all the trade. When he ceases to obtain money by fighting he does so by commerce. He owns half the shops of Cetinje, and you may find him driving a flourishing trade all the way up the Dalmatian coast, and also in Italy, and in Bosnia.
Commercial travellers who have to do with him will tell you that he understands business, and is reliable. He has, it appears, only to live under a decent Government to prosper.
His aspirations are very great. As the aboriginal inhabitant, he claims all the five vilayetsKosovo, Skodra, Monastir, Janina, and Salonika. The claims of other peoples also have to be considered, but when the division of the debateable lands takes place it is to be hoped that the rights of the Albanian will not again be ignored, and that his land will be extended eastward. It is said of him sometimes that he has no definite plan of Government, and has not succeeded in obtaining his own independence; but it must be remembered that, though Bulgaria owes her position entirely to outside help, when once started she has done very well. And the Albanian considers the Bulgar 'a thick-headed Scythian.'
'Turn we to survey,
Where rougher climes a nobler race display;
No product here the barren hills afford,
But man and steel, the soldier and the sword.'
MONASTIR TO TEPELEN
IT was two o'clock a m., pitch dark, and freezing hard, when I left Monastir in a large ramshackle carriage, with four horses abreast and a Bulgarian driver, two gendarmes riding ahead as escort, and two Albanians (our assistant at Ochrida and his brother) as travelling companions. The road was frozen into deep ruts, and we were rattled about like dried peas in a pod. As I had had no time to rest since leaving Ochrida, and had been riding all the previous afternoon to make sure my new saddle was all right, I nevertheless dozed till dawn, and dreamed I was on board ship. The pallid sun crawled up, the white fog lifted off the frozen land, and we all got out and walked to thaw our toes.
Leaving Resna on our right, we turned along the western side of Lake Presba. Ploughing was in full swing, and in some fields the young green corn was already sprouting and promising food for the hungry land, and the big lake was extraordinarily beautiful in the morning light. Ochrida is magnificent, but Presba is faery-like in its loveliness.
My comrades held out hopes of a 'han' and a possible fire, where we should rest and refresh at midday, but we arrived only to find it had been burnt down during the late insurrection, and a party of Albanian soldiers encamped in the ruins, as lonesome, melancholy, and comfortless as any Bulgarian refugees. I bought for twopence a very neatly-made wooden spoon, with an ingenious folding handle, from a trooper, who was whiling away the time by carving such from a lump ofboxwood, and producing artistic results with no other tools but a clumsy pocket-knife; for the Albanian is a born arts-and-craftsman, clever-fingered and inventive, with an instinctive sense of design and a power of boldly handling strong colours that rarely fails him.
No fire, no shelter, frozen ground, and a bitter wind. I took refuge in the carriage again, and having had nothing but a cup of black coffee since last night's dinner, ate a whole fowl without any help. Then on again through a pass that was Montenegrin in its wild ruggednessall loose gray rocks and big box-bushes, whose leaves were nipped red with the frost. Here my comrade pointed out the split in the cliffs whence a band of brigands had swooped down on his brother some twelve years ago, and carried him off into the mountains, where he suffered great hardships for six months as their prisoner. Now, however, the country had been reported safe, and no one had been 'held up ' for two years, for the chief brigand bands had surrendered their rifles and been amnestied.
We zigzagged down a steep and long descent, saw below us the small lake of Malik, the third of the Albanian lake group, whence flows the river Devoli, and reached the big fertile plain. No more wooden, lath-and-plaster houses, but well-built stone ones, with red-tile roofs, neat villages, and scattered on the hillslopes, the big wealthy-looking dwellings of the local
Begs. The land was well cultivated, and the road very fair, and the men by the way walked with a swinging stride, and held their heads up. 'All here is Albanian,' said my comrade, and I felt I was once again in a part of the Peninsula where I felt at home. Part of the population is also claimed by Greece, some is Vlah, and it is clearly not Bulgarian. Nevertheless, part of this land, too, was to have been swept into Russia's Big Bulgaria of S. Stefano fame.
Koritza (Korche, Alb.) is a surprising town. It is clean, really cleanthe cleanest town I know in the Turkish Empirewith straight, well-paved streets that are quite free from dogs and garbage. It lies high on a mountain-ringed plain, over 2,000 feet above sealevel, is healthy, and has a good water-supply.
Scarcely more than a third of the inhabitants are Moslem. In the mountains hard by inferior coal is quarried, and the town actually boasts a steam flourmill. Were Korche connected by a railway with thecoast, there is no doubt it would develop rapidly, for the coal is good enough for export. Even with the present difficulties of communication there are a surprising number of foreign goods in the shops. Much of its wealth has been made abroad, for though under present circumstances the Albanian finds it difficult to progress at home, he shows great business capacity in other lands, and proves his patriotism by spending his earnings in his native land.
Korche is the more interesting because writers of forty years ago compare it most unfavourably with Ochrida. But while the Christian population there has been led to disaster by political propaganda, that of Korche has progressed steadily and surely.
Ochrida is still mediæval, but Korche is civilized. I was received with very great hospitality at the Albanian girls' school, which is so much 'up-to-date' that I felt as if I had been suddenly dropped back into Europe. It is the only recognised school in all South Albania in which Albanian children can learn to read and write their own language. It uses the special Albanian, and not the Latin alphabet.
A boys' school, which was started in Korche seventeen years ago, with Government permission, went on very successfully for fifteen years, when the authorities suddenly swooped down, closed it, and imprisoned the masters at Salonika without any form of trial. Korche being one of the places the Greeks wish to annex, the Greek Bishop of Korche objects to the teaching of the vernacular. But the girls' school lives under Austrian and American protection, and has so far weathered all storms.
I called on the Turkish Muttasarif, just to show that I was on a free-and-above-board Government-permitted expedition. He was affable, spoke French, and told me that the population consisted entirely of Greeks and Turks. Albania was a word we did not mention. I might have, he said, as large an escort of gendarmes as I pleased. I told him I believed there was no danger, and one would be enough just to show that I had leave to travel. He heaved a sigh of relief.
' No,' he said, 'there is no danger. Here, thank God, we have no Bulgarians!'
Bulgarians are not beloved in Korche, the trade of which suffered much last year when the roads to Salonika and Monastir were infested by Bulgarian bands, and almost unpassable for many months. Korche was very kind to me. It greeted my plan of riding all through Albania with enthusiasm. The houses I visited were all Albanian; very good houses, too, comfortably and prettily arranged, and at each I was begged to tell England that there are better people than Bulgars to be freed. Here and elsewhere I was distressed at the high hopes raised by the mere fact that someone had come from England to see what the land was really like. Nor were my assurances that I possessed no political power ever of any avail.
The political situation always fills the foreground in the free States of the Balkan Peninsula. In the lands that are yet Turkish it obscures the heavens and pervades all space. Many wanderings had shown it me from the Servian and Montenegrin points of view. I had seen it at Resna and Ochrida through Exarchist and Patriarchist eyes. I knew what it looked like in the vilayet of Kosovo, and was now to be shown it in a new light. You cannot escape it; if you shut your eyes to it some one will rub your nose in it. I stayed a few pleasant days at Korche, and then plunged alone into the unknown.
One a.m. is a dree hour, and though my kind host supplied me with a breakfast of hot milk, I cannot say that I started to explore Albania with much enthusiasm. It was a brilliant, starlight night, and bitterly cold. I said good-bye to all my friends, and started in the same four-horsed carriage in search of the strange man who was to pilot me through a wild land. The road was terribly rough. I dozed unhappily till six, and stared through the white dawn on a lone bare land, as rugged as Montenegro, with narrow cultivated patches in the valleys and great snow-peaks above.
At 9.30 we rattled into Kolonia, a group of tiny houses on a small and lofty plain, ringed round with bleak heights.
My driver, a Bulgar, made me understand we must rest for two hours, and put me down at a forlorn han. The owner showed me up to the empty and unfurnished den which is the cold comfort offered by these hostelries. Albanian was the only tongue spoken. Several people came and stared at me, and retired. Then an officer appeared, the Izbashi. I tried him in Servian, as a sort of forlorn hope. He rose to it at once, for his Mama was a Bosniak. In came the Kaimmakam, in great state, with several policea mild-looking, elderly man, who spoke only Turkish. The Izbashi translated. I was to go to the Kaimrnakam's house, where there was a fire, and all was very good. So off we went. Arrived there, the Izbashi fetched his Bosnian mama, a funny old girl, who was not veiled, but was particuiar to keep a shawl over the top of her head and carefully pinned under her chin while the Kaimmakam was in the room. Otherwise she did not treat the gentlemen with any respect, but chattered and joked away at a great rate. To entertain me the Kaimmakam produced a Turkish book, with pictures of the Marble Arch and the Bank, and was delighted when I recognised them. I fancy he imagined I resided, when at home, in one or the other. They were exceedingly hospitable, asked whether it was a day on which I ate meat, and insisted on preparing me a meal.
Meanwhile the two men withdrew, and sent their ladies inthe wife of each and several daughtersall closely veiled, giggling wildly and in great excitement. They unwound themselves, and appeared in would-be European attire of the most appalling cut and design. The Izbashi's Boanian mama showed me off, and was so voluble that I did not understand much; but as she greatly preferred doing all the talking, this was of no consequence. Suddenly a hand was heard at the door.
There was a wild seizing of wraps, several shrieks, and a rapid veiling. Even the Isbashi's mama put on her shawl again. The door opened, discreetly, a few inches, and a small boy of four squeezed in. This was considered a vast joke. My lord, who was the Izbashi's only hope, was well aware that he was the sole representative of the superior sex, and gave himself the airs of a Pasha. Cross-legged on the Kaimmakam's couch, he received the homage of the ladies with much dignity and satisfaction, and perpetrated many witticisms at my expense, which were unfortunately lost upon me. More knocks and a parley. The ladies reswathed themselves, and went giggling out again, and, after sufficient interval had been left for their escape, the gentlemen and the dinner appeared. A beefsteak, bread and honey, a glass of wine, and a brand-new knife and fork to eatwith' quite alla Franca,' as the Izbashi said. They begged me to stay the night, but I made them understand that I was expected at Leskovik.
Kolonia is entirely Moslem, and there are not more than 100 houses. There is little cultivable land in the neighbourhood, and the place, until quite recently, has been famed as a nest of brigands. The present disturbed state of the Turkish Empire has, however, given a good deal of employment to fighting men, and there has been no brigandage in this part for two years. Kolonia treated me, at any rate, very handsomely, and sent me on my way rested and refreshed, and escorted by a fresh couple of gendarmes.
On through a wild, bleak land of gray rock, sparsely inhabited, and for the most part uninhabitable. I grinned when I remembered that, in drawing-room meetings in England, people seriously propose to pen the 'naughty' Albanians into territory of this sort, and ask Lord Lansdowne to make the Sultan see that they stop there.
A huge white wall of snow-clad mountain with an almost level sky-line towered on one hand, grim and impassable. Leskovik, small and stony, hung high on its slope. The Police Commissary and a mounted escort dashed out to meet me, and we clattered into the main street a little before sundown, after a sixteen hours' journey.
The usual crowd gathered to see me, and it was an anxious moment, for here I was to meet my unknown travelling companion, and on him the success of my tour would largely depend. He appeared at once, and took me off to the house of a relative. I owe him many thanks, for though he had never before undertaken dragoman work, he piloted me successfully all through Albania. That I might see the wilds of the land he left his usual business route, and through all the consequent hardships and fatigues he was always cheery and helpful and good-natured.
Leskovik is a quite small place, solid and stony, built much like a North Wales village, but clean and tidy, the population mostly Bektashite Moslems. Some of the Christian women had a small cross tattooed between their eyebrows. There is a small church and a Greek school. The town exports dried meat, the flesh of the mountain sheep, and has to import almost all its corn. Such cultivable land as there is is well worked.
I was now in the vilayet of Janina, which is more under Turkish power than any other part of Albania. Its Vali is much hated, and it is the only one of the three Albanian vilayets I went through in which the Christian Albanians complained of persecution. This arises from the fact that the taxes in this part are farmed out to several powerful and notorious Moslem Begs, who, by exacting double and treble, even ten times, the dues by force of arms, and keeping the difference, find it worth while to support the Turkish Government. I was assured there were plenty of 'good' Begs, but that only the 'bad ' ones had Government appointments.
Nor does the Christian population alone fear persecution. I was given a message to the effect that the Moslems were very pleased that I should visit their town, and were sorry they could not ask me to visit them, but some years ago an Austrian Consul had passed this way, and by invitation had spent the night at a Moslem house. Its master was shortly afterwards arrested and sent into exile without trial. The Kaimmakam, a young Albanian who speaks French well, came to see me twice, and expressed very liberal views. All religions to him were but paths to the same place: we must travel by the road; whether we go by the church or the mosque makes no matter. It is the same God. When he went anywhere he went to mosque, 'but what we have to remember is that we are all Albanians. In England,' he added, 'there are many religions, and people do not kill each other about it.' Poor man ! he thought we were civilized, and had never heard of Passive Resisters. He questioned me about the Bulgarians, and was eager for news. This hatred of the Exarchists for the Patriarchists-could I explain it? In order to free themselves from Moslem rule, here are the Christians who amuse themselves by killing each other! For himself, he did not like the Bulgarians, but he was sorry for the poor devils of peasants who were the victims of politicians. He asked me to tell him the truth about the state of the burnt villages, and said he was glad someone had supplied food. 'But, I believe,' he added with a smile, 'that they did not make an Exarchist of you ! Mademoiselle, I can promise you that you will find friends in Albania.'
From Leskovik I rode to Postenani, my guide's home, by a rough track through wild mountains skirting round Malesin, a huge isolated sugar-loaf which, sixty-five years ago, was held as a fortress by one of Ali Pasha's Begs, who defended it successfully against the Turk for several years. Finally they discovered and cut off his water-supply, and he surrendered. He had three houses upon it: one at the top, one at the base, and one halfway up. Only the latter remains, and his son, the present Beg, is very poor.
Postenani, a small village, lies very high, with a valley below it and a huge and almost perpendicular cliff towering at the back. It is almost all Christian. My arrival caused great excitement, no foreigner having been there lately, and never a woman; and I was received with the greatest kindness and lavish hospitality. Any amount of visitors called on me, and I paid return visits on all. I am afraid to say how much black coffee, rakija, jam, water, and sweet-stuff I swallowed. They all had to be partaken of in each house. Few houses possessed chairs or tables, but they were comfortable and well-to-do.
The floor, covered with scarlet and black rugs of good design; the walls, panelled with dark wood almost up to the raftered, often well-carved, ceiling, the hooded stone fire-place, with its blazing logs, made a rich setting for the athletic figures of the young men, with their white fustanellas frilling round them, and the handsome women, clad for the most part in dark blue grave, dignified, sober people, strong, well set up, and healthy. Much ceremony is observed. The young treat the elder with great deference. The women always kissed me, and laid my hand against their foreheads. The elder lady of the house sits with the guests, the son's wife waits on everyone, stands all the time, and leaves the room backwards. The houses were specklessly clean, the boards scrubbed to whiteness, the cups and cooking utensils shining.
The fame of the help given to Macedonia had spread and raised high hopes. Surely, if England had helped the Bulgars they would help the Albanians when they knew their needs. I was distressed by the hopes founded on my visit. One woman declared that good could not fail to come of it.
Brigandage and the Government, I was told, were what they sufferedfrom. The Government robbed them, and gave them no protection at all. The richer men paid armed guards; the others subscribed for two more. They greatly feared the men of the Kolonia district, but vowed I was safe, as there was no one in the village who would betray my presence to outsiders. Were it known, they would probably be raided, as I was worth putting to ransom. Moslems took to brigandage to escape conscription and to gain money to pay for exemption from military service. They were chiefly from rugged districts where there no means of earning enough otherwise.
It was a dog's life in the Turkish army. Many of those who had taken up brigandage were amongst the strongest and most intelligent. In any other land such men would be good citizens. Here they lived like wild beasts on the mountain, and robbed rather than be robbed and oppressed by the Government. Such is brigandage from the native point of view. They dreaded the brigands, but they pitied them, and regarded them as the victims of circumstances. My guide was afraid to travel anywhere with me without a gendarme or two, as, had anything happened to me, he would have been accused of connivance.
I stayed some days with the kindly, simple villagers, many of whom had earned their money, as did my guide, in other parts. There seemed to be a great deal of esprit de corps among them. Those who had money paid taxes for those who had not, and made up the sum due from the village; so also are the dowries for the poor girls subscribed by the community. The women marry at sixteen or eighteen, generally under twenty. The daughter of a well-to-do peasant is expected to bring with her the value of £T100.
Halfway up the cliff, not far from the village, is-a hot sulphur spring, reached by a narrow path hacked in the rock-face, all wet and slippery, with a sheer precipice below, the last pieces very bad, but they drag invalids up it. Two cranky huts are stuck like swallows' nests on the ledge. The water bubbles and rumbles loudly within, and hot steam spouts forth. This is highly esteemed as a rheumatism cure. There is no doctor within miles, and the people prayed me to bring some water to England and have it analyzed to see if it would serve as a cure for other things; but, unluckily, though, after untold escapes, I conveyed a glass bottleful in my saddle-bags all the way to London safely, the analysisfailed, and the poor people will be disappointed.
Poor people, hard - working, living strenuous, dangerous lives in the little oasis they have made among the mountains, who tendered their hospitality with such kingly courtesy, I was sorry to leave them. But time was flying. My guide made up his bale of goods, and the Kaimmakam sent over a couple of 'suvarris' with a polite message that I was to ride one of their horses if I wished. We had one pack and two saddle mules. The 'kirijee'a tall young fellow in a fustanella, with a very large sheath-knife as long as a Roman swordstrode alongside and took rides on top of the pack now and again.
Loading up and farewells took some time, but at last we were off into the heart of the mountains, away over great loose stones, through wildly magnificent scenery, barren and lifeless, like the bones of a dead world; then over the pass and along a hoof-wide track high along the mountain-side. Down far, far below lay the valley of the Viosa, green and fertile, 'all a-blowing and a-growing,' and the heights beyond were fiercely blue.
The leap from winter and the wilderness to spring, and colour was dazzlingly sudden. Had I been a poet I should have written a verse about it. The sunshine warmed the heart of the pack-mule; he sang aloud, leapt with all four feet at once off the ground, wagged his tail, lashed out freely, and played like a lamb upon the giddy brink.
The descent was far too abrupt for riding. We scrambled down somehow, and got to the bottom in an hour. Halfway down, in a copse, was a tiny stone chapel, now disused, as all the neighbouring tiny villages have turned Moslem. I was told, however, that it was miraculously protected, and no one dared cut wood near it. This was evidently true, for the trees were the largest in the neighbourhood. The villages scattered about the mountain's foot were mere groups of ten or twenty cottages, but all stone, and solidly built.
In the valley we struck the highroad, such as it is, and waiting by the bridge I spied military, and found, to my disgust, that two officers and three troopers had come to meet me. Leskovik had warned Permeti of my approach. A military escort almost always means you are 'suspect.' Gendarmes will obey orders, and are often most obliging and useful on rough tracks. Officers are quite unmanageable and very expensive. A military escort also is a great expense to the village on which it is quartered.
All the relief agents and correspondents in Macedonia had been more or less haunted by the army, excepting only myself. To have evaded it there, only to encounter it when out on 'the spree' in Albania, was humiliating.
Entering the town with this bodyguard caused crowds to turn out to see me. It was as bad as being a wild-beast show or the Royal Family. I was conducted to a house where the Kaimmakam had arranged that I should stay. More than this, a soldier was put on guard at the door of my room to keep perpetual watch over my doingsa cheery polyglot youth whose business it was to bob in with every Christian visitor and overhear the conversation. As an officer was told off to accompany me wherever I went, I was practically a prisoner. I could not go out for a stroll without such a parade that crowds thronged to see me. I could not sit in my room without my hostess, a Greek, thinking it polite to keep me company. As I understood no word of her conversation, and she always stood up whenever I moved, and as, so my guide told me, the presence of the soldier made her very nervous, the position was most embarrassing.
I had been quartered on the poor lady quite against her will. I think she was selected because she was Greek, with a view to proving to me that it was a Greek town. The room was very swagger with European carpet and furniture, a lamp and looking-glass tied up in gauze, and Berlin woolwork, virulent enough to have been made in Germany, which glared from every corner and hung framed on the wall. In spite of this gallant attempt at being European, the bed was, as usual, spread upon the floor when night came. The soldier ate up the remains of my supper, and slept just outside my door.
I paid a state call on the Kaimmakam next day that is to say, I was told at what hour he wished to receive me, and was fetched by an officer. The Kaimmakam is very much a Turk, and comes from Asia Minor. His civility was extreme and his French very fair. He was entirely at myservice, and no honour was too great for me.
He dismissed all the other men, sent for his wife and mother, who spoke only Turkish, and started crossexamining me, but was not clever at it. I knew that Albania was disaffected, but I had not till then realized that the Turkish Government was so nervous about it. 'Bless the man !' thought I, 'the political situation must be uncommonly " tittupy." ' It was my first, but by no means my last, experience of being 'suspect'' and I was amused. The Kaimmakam eyed me keenly all the time, piled on questions, and supplied information. The inhabitants, he said, were all Greek.
'They nevertheless speak Albanian, do they not?' said I.
'Malheureusement,' said the Kaimmakam sadly.
He added vaguely that they had somehow learnt it ! Many even imagined that they were Albanian. This was a pity, but with plenty of schools the matter would soon be set right!
I said that to an English person it was a sad and strange thing that people in the Balkan Peninsula scarcely ever knew what they really were. He agreed it was 'tres triste'; it was all caused by lack of education. With schools, in a few years, they hoped to set everything right! Thus he, too, was playing the old, old game of trying to prop Turkish rule by rubbing one race against another. I wondered how much he believed of what he told me. We talked about the blessings of education. I deplored the terribly dangerous state of the countrythat even a town like Permeti was unsafe. Horror on the part of the Kaimmakam---no danger at all'parole d'honneur.'
'Then there is no need for that soldier to remain at my door?'
This was unexpected. The Kaimmakam smiled sweetly.
'The soldier,' he explained, ' was not there to protect me, but merely because of my high rank.'
' Alas, monsieur ! I am not a Princessyou mistake: I am of the lower classes. In England I am nobody ! I am not accustomed toceremony, and it troubles me.'
' You do not understand, mademoiselle. This soldier is simply to do you honour,'
' I understand very well, monsieur. You think I am a spy.'
The Kaimmakam was horrified. The soldier was my servant, and I could command him.
I said good-bye to the Kaimmakam and returned to my lodging. There I told the soldier to go. He saluted cheerfully, and departed. In ten minutes he was back again, and said that the Kaimmakam said he was to wait for further orders! I gave it up, and reflected upon the political situation. I was sorry for the Kaimmakam, for he had given the show away, rather badly.
The leading Christians of the town all called on me, and were most polite. The presence of the soldier explained their position with silent eloquence. He and a police officer walked on either side of me, and helped me to pay return calls on the Christians. It was just before Easter, and the Christian houses were in the agonies of the 'spring clean,' which is in reality nothing more nor less than the Easter purification. Every room has to be scoured and whitewashed. The gipsy women of the town served as painters swarthy, bright - eyed things in baggy breeches, as active as monkeys, who rushed about wielding their whitewash brushes with the greatest glee, chattering gaily the while. Not that the houses looked as if they required doing up; they were specklessly clean to begin with. The Dutch are said to be the cleanest housewives, but I believe the South Albanians would run them hard.
The town is clean, well built, and most beautifully situated on the edge of the blue-green Viosa, which tears through a gully it has cut for itself in the loose soil. There are 7,000 inhabitants, three mosques, three churches, a Christian girl and boy school, and a Moslem boy school. A huge isolated rock, a fragment fallen from the mountain above, lies out boldly by the river's edge, crowned with the ruins of a monastery, the dwelling-place of some forgotten saint, and a spring of holy water flows from its base. On the hill just above is amass of ruined walls, all that is left of the fortresses built in Ali Pasha's time. Perhaps it was because I came to it out of stones and barrenness that, as I saw it from the ruins of Ali Pasha's fortress, Permeti, with its tall cypresses, purple Judas-trees, and delicate spring greenery, seemed one of the fair spots of the world. But it is on the edge of the wilderness, and the soldier threw back his head and yowled aloud, to imitate the wolves of a winter's night when the snow is deep on the mountain. Permeti, too, had a due respect for the capabilities of Kolonia, and remembered the day, twenty years ago, when a band had swept down and carried off a Moslem maiden, the fierce fight, and the struggle in the then bridgeless river which drowned several of the combatants.
The Kaimmakam duly returned my visit. An officer entered my room salaaming, and announced that Kaimmakam Beg was about to visit ' Mamzelle Effendi.' I understood the two titles; the rest was in Turkish. Enter the Kaimmakam at once. He had been telegraphing industriously, and found out quite a lot about me. Said I had come all the way from Korche to Leskovik without a dragoman. He was amazed. I said it was nothing for the English. The fact that I had been giving relief in Macedonia weighed heavy on his soul. So many lies, he said, had been written about Turkey, that he was very anxious that I should hear nothing but truth; therefore he sent officers with me. I had come alone to learn the truth for myself, and he was doing his best to assist me. The 'truth,' of course, was that all parties were feverishly anxious for my suffrages.
The paying of compliments caused me much wear and tear. I put one on with a trowel; he piled on several with a spade. I found it impossible to put them on thick enough. The other party always went several better. The gist of it all was that no pains were to be spared to teach me the truth about Permeti. It is doubtless the rarity of that article in the Turkish Empire which makes the officials value it so highly. I sallied forth again, this time with a young Albanian officer, a cheery youth most anxious to show off his country.
We proceeded to explore things Moslem. In a little garden, hedged round bytowering cypresses, lay the tomb of a holy Bektashite Dervish; here the good man had lived and died, and the spot is holy and works miracles. He was beheaded and died a martyr, but he picked up his head and carried it back to his garden. Of the respect in which he was held there was no doubt, for the grave was strewn with small coins, and a little wooden money-box was hung on the wall, and the spot was quite unprotected, save by the good man's spirit. Seeing that I was interested, the young officer, no doubt a Bektashite himself, at once offered, to my great surprise, to take me to a 'tekieh' (Bektashite monastery) that lay high on the hillside, above the towna rich tekieh, so he said, owning wide lands and sunny vineyards.
It was a small, solid, stone building with a courtyard in front. At the entrance we waited while the officer went in to interview the 'Baba' (Father). My Christian guide doubted that we should be let in. We were, however, requested to go round to the back-door, and soon told the Baba was ready. In we went, to a bright little room with a low divan round it, and texts in Arabie on the walls, and big glass windows that commanded a grand view of all the valley.
The Baba entered almost at once, a very grave and reverend signor in a long white robe; under which he wore a shirt with narrow stripes of black, white, and yellow; on his head a high white felt cap, divided into segments like a melon, and bound round by a green turban; and round his waist a leathern thong fastened by a wondrous button of rock crystal, the size and shape of a large hen's egg, segmented like the cap and set at the big end with turquoises and a red stone. He was very dark, with piercing eyes, shaggy brows, gray hair, and a long beard.
Courteous and dignified, he thanked me for visiting a humble Dervish, and prayed that the Lord would protect me now and always, and teach me much upon my journey. He seemed to imagine I was on some sort of mysterious quest. I regretted deeply that I could not talk with him direct, as he sat there and expressed religious sentiments with impressive dignity.
'A man,' he said, 'must always do his duty, though he never lived to see the results. Those that come after him will benefit by his work. But we are all born either with a good or a bad nature. It is our fate. A man, though he work ever so hard, his work is vain if his nature be bad.'
He asked a good many questions about my journey, and seemed genuinely pleased to see me. After he had given us coffee he said that, as it was the first time I had ever visited a Bektashite tekieh, perhaps I should like to see all the building. There were two other small dwelling-rooms. A priest and a pupil lived with him; their life, as I could see, was very simple, he said. They had many men to till the fields and make the bread. Giving bread to the needy was one of the duties of the monastery.
He led us to the kitchen, a fine room with a huge fire-place, arched over by a stone vault carried on four columns. Rows and rows of great loaves were laid out on benches, and more were being made.
Lastly, he showed the chapel. Of this I had but a passing glimpse from the doorway, for he did not invite me to enter. It had a divan round three sides of it, and an altar with candlesticks at one end, and was quite unlike a mosque.
When we left he showed us out at the front-door, shook my hand three times, said a long blessing over me, and hoped that I should be led that way again. I thanked him and he thanked me, and we parted. The young officer was greatly pleased with the success of the visit, and appeared to reverence the Baba greatly.
Tepelen was to be my next halting-place, and as it was about a ten hours' ride, I arranged to leave early. I reckoned without my host, however. Kaimmakam Beg was going to pay-a final call on 'Mamzelle Effendi,' and though ready packed, booted, and saddled, I had to wait. After some hours Kaimmakam Beg sailed in, gay with a bright pink shirt. He had inquired overnight how much escort I would like, and I had asked for one suvarri. He now informed me that, in consideration of my exalted rank, he had decided to give me soldiers, but I could not start to-day because it was raining. Also that he was going to telegraph to Tepelen that I was to be quartered in a private house.
My unlucky hostess had been kept in a constant nervous twitter by the presence of soldiers and officers; all her relatives and children had haunted my room perpetually with the best of intentions, and I had had nomoment of privacy. I did not wish on my tour to be a nuisance to everybody with my soldiers. I told the Kaimmakam firmly that it would be useless to make ready a room for me. I was not accustomed to any ceremony, and should go the han. As for the rain, it often rained in England. I thanked him for all he had done for me, said I should start at once, and soldiers were unnecessary. He agreed; but no sooner was I mounted than up came an officer, the Commissary of Police, a trooper, and two suvarris! They were not pleased, for by this time it was raining hard, and it rapidly got worse. We rode along the valley of the Viosa. It is supposed to be carriageable, but, as all the bridges have fallen, is not. Through the sheets of gray rain, snow-clad peaks loomed dim on either hand, with tiny villages clinging to the lower slopes, and many Bektashite tekiehs. Then the rain became a fusillade of water, and cut us off from all the world. The icy torrent lashed and stung my face and blinded me. I shut my eyes tight, set my teeth, hung on to the saddle-bow, and trusted to the mule, buoyed up always by the hope that I should tire out the military escort.
At Klisura the valley narrows to a gorge. Perched on the great crag that commands it is the huge konak of a mighty Beg, son of one of Ali Pasha's Begs, till two years ago, so the tale runs, the curse of the neighbourhood. He seized everythingmills, farms and stock--levied blackmail freely, and tyrannized over the population, who complained so bitterly of him to the Government that he is now under trial at Constantinople. The konak was passing rich, rumour said. All the nails that went to the making of one room were of pure silver, and in Ali Pasha's time the Beg possessed enough silver-mounted weapons to arm 300 men. It showed, dim and mysterious through the rain, a fit stronghold for a wild chieftain in a wild land. High above, veiled in the clouds on the very mountain-top, lay the ruins, I was told, of King Pyrrhus's castle. Pyrrhus, King of Epirus, and lord of all this land in the brave days of old, and still celebrated here.
We rode into the han at the mountain's foot, a desolate place witha few bare, dirty rooms, in one of which I had a fire lit; my guide, the kirijee and I steamed while we ate the eggs and bread we had brought with us. The military escort meanwhile drank rakija freely, and blew out itself and its horses down below, and ran me up a fine bill, which had to he paid. 'Honour' is a very expensive thing. My guide, who was used to getting about the country at a franc or two a day, was much distressed.
I was to have been met by more military at this point, but they had not turned up. The lot that had come with me were soaking wet, and said it was impossible to go on. I mounted, rode through them, and waved good-bye, which surprised them, as they seemed to expect backshish as well as their bill. As I knew I had paid enough for them to booze on for the rest of the day, I went straight ahead into the rain; the two suvarris followed me, and that was the end of my first and last military escort.
The ride through the gorge should have been magnificent, but all was drenched and blotted in a torrent of rain. The river was full and wide. Thick and muddy, it whirled along, carrying trees and branches; here and there a clean stream rushed into it from its rocky banks with such violence that it made a whirl of clear blue-green in the muddy torrent.
'The Viosa is a wicked river,' said the kirijee. 'From source to mouth it turns no mill, it does no work, but much destruction every year. It has but one redeeming point: it drowns many Turks. Perhaps that is what it was made for. Who knows?
Thunder crashed on the hills, and echoed and re-echoed far away down the valley. The water streamed off my cloak. The road was too heavy for us to get up more than a trot. I began to wonder whether choking off a military escort were worth the price. We seemed to be constantly dismounting, dragging our beasts down gullies and up the other side (for the stone bridges that should have spanned the tributary streams had, every one, fallen), remounting on a wet saddle only to dismount again and clamber over a heap of boulders that had fallen from the mountain-side. Some of these, judging by the bushes rooted between them, had blocked the way for years; but on the maps it is a carriageable road. My companions explained to me that, previous to the Treaty of Berlin, the road-tax was paid in labour and the roads were passable. Byway of ' reform,' a money tax was substituted. It has been collected ever since with praiseworthy regularity, and the roads remain untouched. Such bridges as existed in the neighbourhood were built by a wealthy Beg at his own expense.
We had had about eight hours of this, and I was beginning to wonder how many more I could stand, when a mosque and some ramshackle houses showed ghostly through the downpour; the leading suvarri turned his horse into an entrance, there was a parley, and I slipped out of the saddle and followed him into a little dark drink-shop, smelling strongly of petroleum, and crowded with dripping men. We were at Dragut, and this was the han and general shop. The river, we were told, was a raging torrent; we could not reach Tepelen that night; no boat could take us over. The han was crowded because the folk who had tried to reach the bazar to-day had all returned from the ferry, unable to cross. We must pass the night here. It was a dree holedark, chill, foodless, fireless. I wondered why I had come, and only a belief that it was not my Kismet to die in Albania cheered me up. We asked for a fire, and drank rakija.
After a weary twenty minutes the 'hanjee' took us up to a room he had made ready. An icy draught blew through its glassless windows, and our breath steamed in the chill, damp air; there was a piece of matting on the floor, and a tiny tray with a few hot ashes in it. That was all. I was dismayed. The hanjee vowed this was the best room in the house, and that he had no fire-place. We crouched miserably over the wretched little 'mangal '; it did not give enough heat to thaw our fingers, and our clothes were dripping. I looked at the smouldering bits of charcoal with desperate interest, saw they had been but freshly chipped off, and knew that they must have come from a burning log not far away. And that log was the only thing in the world I wanted. The hanjee then confessed to the fire-place, but said it was in his storeroom, which was full of goats' hides, and not fit for me.
It was in truth a melancholy spot. There was a large hole in the roof, through which the water was trickling. It was half full of sacks and onions, piled into a corner to be out of the wet, and all the walls were hung with smelly, gamey, half-dried goats' hides. But there was the hearth-stone, with two smouldering logs upon it. I don't believe I was ever half so glad to see anything. We soon had a blazing fire, called in the drenched gendarmesand kirijee to dry at it, and steamed gaily till the room was foggy, took our boots off, and roasted our feet. My cloak, which hung on a nail, still dripped so that it made puddles. Outside the rain turned to driving sleet.
A neighbour came in and very kindly offered to let me spend the night in his harem, but I did not feel equal to being stranded, tired and damp, among people of whose language I scarcely knew a single word, and, moreover, I clung to the fire-place. I might be given a chilly little room all to myself with a little pan of charcoal in it. I had not the nerve for this, and shocked the poor man's sense of propriety, I fear, by electing to sleep alone in a house full of men. The hanjee supplied coarse maize bread, and with three eggs, 'maggi,' and an onion from the heap in the corner, I made by far the best soup I ever tasted.
An interesting dispute arose when supper was over. The gendarmes were of opinion that the hanjee was a well-known bad lot, and that I could not sleep safely in his vicinity. The hanjee was certain the gendarmes were desperate characters, and I must avoid their end of the building. As I meant to sleep by the fire whatever happened, I took no interest in their moral characters. The waterproof sheet had kept the blankets quite dry, which was all I cared about, and there was a dry patch on the floor large enough to hold me. The hanjee gave me a tree-stem to bolt the outer door with, which seemed rather superfluous, as there was a quite unfastened trap in the floor. I heated the blanket at the fire, rolled up tight in it, slept for eight hours without budging, and woke to the blank misery of gray dawn, gray ashes, a wet floor, and a lean white cat chewing a corner of goat-hide.
I tried to stand, and found, to my horror, I was locked up with rheumatism all down one side from ankle to waist. 'Oh you silly fool !' said I to myself; 'and you thought you understood roughing it !' As a matter of fact, it is usually a mistake to imagine one understands anything. I swallowed a large and indefinite dose of salicylate of soda, washed down with neat brandy, for the muddy dregs of water in the pitcher were too dirty to drink unboiled. I hauled myself on to my feet painfully, and unbarred thedoor. Things were a bit more cheerful when the fire was rekindled, and we breakfasted on maggi and the remains of last night's bread.
The hanjee produced his little bill, which included 3s. 4d. for my bedroom. When I explained that for a smaller sum in Montenegro I had had meat, bread, wine, coffee, and rakija as well, he truthfully replied that Montenegro was a very different place. As, however, he charged an unhappy peasant 2 francs merely for sleeping in the common room without any fire or food, I did not fare so badly.
The sun was shining when we rode out, and the place looked exquisitely beautiful; purple Judas-trees in full bloom, in subtle harmony with the silver-gray olive-gardens, showed it could be hot sometimes. But the snow had fallen in the night and lay low on the mountain-sides; it was dank and chilly till the sun gained strength, and every step of my beast sent a thrill of pain running up and down one side of me from ankle to hip joint.
An hour brought us to the Viosa, with Tepelen majestic, high on its further bank, fortified by big stone walls, loop-holed and buttressed, builtby Ali Pasha, and left unfinished at his death. I had plenty of leisure to contemplate it. The swirling, whirling river raged in a turbid torrent, foaming between the eight buttresses of the broken bridge; on the hill beyond was a crowd that bawled and yelled. One of my suvarris put his hands to his mouth and roared. A reply came bellowing back. The river had begun falling, and perhaps in three hours would be passable; at present the ferry couldn't come at any price.
We unloaded the pack-mule and set the beasts grazing. Several natives joined us in the hopes that a special effort would be made to take me across, and that they might profit by it, and I heard the story of the bridge. It was smashed by a great dood in winter six years ago, and ever since the town had suffered bitterly. Most of its fields lie on the further side of the stream, and this is impassable for a large part of the winter. Then the land can neither be tilled nor sown.
One of my suvarris owned a large piece, and had made a living out of it. Since the bridge fell he was unable to do so, and had been obliged to join the police. There followed the old dismal story of arrears of pay. All thecompany prayed me to help them.
'If you would only do so,' said a man, 'you would give happiness to hundreds of people.'
Many people, I was told, had offered to subscribe towards the rebuilding, and they had vainly petitioned Constantinople again and again. Forty or fifty people were drowned yearly trying to ford when the river is low to save the cost of the ferry, but when they had wanted to try and build a temporary wooden bridge across the still-standing buttresses, they had been forbidden, and told bridges belonged to a Government department. They were terribly in earnest about it.
A Moslem vowed that all I had to do was to write to the Sultan and say I would do it myself. I said I had not money to build bridges.
'It will cost you only a postage-stamp,' he said. 'You must write and say that the sight of the suffering of his Moslem subjects has made you, a woman and a Christian, undertake to help them. A woman and a Christian! It will be such a terrible thing to the Padishah to be offered help by a female giaour, he will order the bridge to be built at once! But you must write from England. He receives all the letters that come from foreigners. Our poor petitions he never sees !'
The Sultan, someone added, was afraid of the English; he allowed them to do anything: 'See what they have been doing in Macedonia! You can help us if you will.'
The relief work in Macedonia was intended to be non-political and purely humanitarian; indirectly it had great political effect, as I learnt daily, and inspired wild hopes in the Sultan's land alike among Moslems and Christianshopes so great that it dawned upon me gradually that nothing but abject fear could have ever forced His Majesty to have permitted that work to be carried out. Were it not for the misery of the mass of his subjects, of all sects, there are times when I should feel sorry for that terror-stricken man clinging madly to his decaying power in Yildiz Kiosk, a prisoner in his own house, while his moon, no longer ' crescent,' wanes pallid in a pool of blood.
I stared at the gaunt wreck of the broken bridge, the wild mountains, the lone, lorn land. It had come to this: I, a 'female giaour,' was asked to shame the great Padishah by one of his Moslem subjects. The irony of things can scarce go further. Their insistent belief in my power would have made me believe I was the British Empire had not the burning, grinding pain in my leg reminded me I was only myself, and helpless to bear the intolerable weight of the 'white man's burden,' which everywhere the people strove to thrust upon me. And this was at the birthplace of Ali Pashaof Ali, Lord of South Albania, the Lion of Janina, gorgeous, glorious,brutal, barbarousinvincible Ali, whose rule reached from Arta to Ochrida, and who was only overpowered and slain when he had reached the age of eighty. Where art thou now, oh Ali Pasha? Thy people cry for help to a female giaour !
Ali was born in 1741, over there in that little tekieh on the hillside to the right of the road as you ride to Tepelen. His father was a Dervish, and that is why he became great, says local tradition; his father was Beg of Kabija, the village above the tekieh, says history, but Tepelen was sure he was also a Dervish.
'Some Dervishes are allowed to have sons,' said the suvarri.
Ali's father was robbed of his patrimony by his own brothers. He died sweetly revenged upon them, but he left his widow Khamka and his young son nothing but a patch of barren ground. Ali gained his bread as a kirijee. One day, when upon the march with a caravan, he met a holy man, who warned Ali's master he must use no violence towards the boy, for he was destined to have a great future. The master jeered.
'If,' he said, 'you know the future, tell me this: My mare is in foal. Will she bear a male or a female ?'
The holy man said: 'She will bear a mule.'
The master was both scornful and angry. He shot the mare and ripped her open, and found a mule within her. Then was everyone greatly astonished,and they believed in the future of Ali.
Thus we whiled away the time waiting for the river to sink. There was nothing to eat, and the sun came out hot, so I went to sleep on the suvarri's big sheepwool cloak, till I was awakened by wild yells. The caik had started from the other side, a huge and heavy, flat-bottomed barge, and was being whirled downstream at a fearful pace.
240 THE BURDEN OF THE BALKANS
'They will all drown!' cried my guide, and he prayed aloud as they dashed straight at the piers of the bridge. Loud yells, an exciting second or two, they steered cleverly, shot safely through, paddling violently, and landed, some way below, triumphanta wild set of black gipsies, ragged, half-stripped savages and towed the barge up-stream level with the point they had started from. The suvarri leapt his gray horse into the caik, a gipsy bent to give me a pick-aback.
'You are really going?' said my poor guide, as they dumped us both on board.
I was so eager to buzz through the bridge with that crew of the devil's own that I did not realize till we were shoving off how really nervous the poor man was, and repeuted I had dragged him into danger. He buried his head in his hands; we whirled down-stream; the gipsies paddled for their lives, and the sweat poured off them as, with a supreme effort, they wrenched the caik round; it shot clear between two piles, and reached the further bank in a few seconds. Two more voyages fetched the kirijee, the three mules, and the other suvarri without accident.
This treat cost ten shillings, and gained me the gratitude of many unlucky peasants, who were stuck in the town unable to get away, and two townspeople, who came over with me; so it was money well expended.
Rain set in again almost at once; the wild stream rose again rapidly, and there would be no more traffic for days. The possibility of fetching me had been hotly debated all the morning, and, finally, it was by orders of the Kaimmakam that the attempt had been made. In fact, said the Police Commissary, only for a very special visitor like myself would the risk have been run. I fancy, from the sensation our arrival caused, that the crossing was really rather dangerous. It felt at the time like the'water-shoot' at Earl's Court.
The hanjee hurried to prepare a room suitable for one so distinguished. He laid a red rug on the door, :and arranged eight brass ash-trays all in a row across the middle (I had to pick them up, as I kept tumbling over them, and explained in answer to many inquiries that respectable females don't smoke in England). He put up an iron bedstead, and covered it with a rug and two very handsome pieces of thick, cream-coloured silk, woven in stripes, added a scarlet cushion, and admired the effect greatly.
Tepelen is a wonderful place, the wild heart of a wild land. Walled and buttressed, it stands on a high plateau, around which tower snow-clad mountains. Just above the town the torrential Drin dashe into the Viosa, and spreads wide between great shingle-banks, the bare bones of the land it has devastated. The plateau ends in a rocky crag, scooped to a seat, which commands a huge view. Here Ali used to sit and look across his lands, while on another rock just opposite him sat his faithful Arab, who watched ceaselessly lest a foe should attack him in the rear. None dared attack him in front, for his eyes glittered like fire, and struck terror into all beholders.
Alternate sun and storm swept the land; the lower slopes of the hills were pink and purple with blossoming almonds and Judas-trees; the mountains beyond were violently ultramarine, a riot of fierce colour. Such is the cradle of Ali Pasha.
Tepelen is in Liabaria, and the Liabs (or Ljaps) have a sinister reputation. Two years ago, I was told, the road between Klisura and Tepelen was in the hands of brigands, and could not be passed without paying blackmail. Even now, to attempt to ride it without gendarmes would be risky. The newly-appointed 'reform' judge told a dismal tale of savagery, with which he was unable to cope.
'Oú commencer?' he cried dolefully'Oú commencer?' Schools were his chief idea, and these, undoubtedly, he said should be Greek, 'for Liabaria is part of Epirus, and Epirus was part of Greece; therefore the Liabs are Greeks.'
That they persisted in talking Albanian and calling themselves Shkyipetars was a deplorable fact. Blood feuds raged, and aman's property is his only so long as he can defend it. As for his life, it is not so highly valued as a sheep's, for a sheep is food. There is now practically no communication with the outer worldfar less than in Ali's time, a century ago. He kept the trade-route clear, and there was a bridge and a paved road up to the town. Ali's faults were glaring and obvious, and shocking to the Western mind. Viewed from the ramparts of Tepelen, they come into focus, and are seen in a truer light. He was of the people, and he handled them successfully, for he was one of that rare tribe of geniuses 'the man that was born to be a King.' The poor 'reform' judge struck me as a man who had been given a far 'larger chunk than he could chew.'
Now Ali's konak is a huge heap of ruins, and within his fortifications dwells a horde of filthy gipsies of a low and most villainous-looking type. These form the bulk of the inhabitants. One hundred gipsy houses, seventy Moslem Albanian, and thirty Christian, make up all the town. These latter have the bazar and such trade as the place carries on. The Kaimmakam and the gipsies alone dwell within Ali's walls. The land outside and the houses upon it all belong to the neighbouring tekich, which is reputed ' very rich.'
The fortifications are solid and well built of hewn stone. Ali meant Tepelen to rank high as a town, and so it may do some day, for the Viosa valley is the only route from the sea through the mountains to the interior, and it is an old, old trade-route, and the ancient way from Apollonia to Dodona. Fragments of ancient walls still stand within those of Ali. They are very rudely built, without mortar, of unhewn stones of unequal sizes somewhat smoothed on the outer surface, and roughly battlemented. They are called the walls of Helen. Tepe (Turkish) is a hill according to the Kaimmakam, and Tepe Eleni Helen's Hill. 'Helene,' he added, was 'une femme tres connue dans l'antiquite,' and the walls must therefore be Roman! (Greek and Latin are not compulsory in Turkish colleges.) I can assign no date to these walls, and have failed to learn anything about them. The ruins of former greatness and the filthy herd of human monkeys at present squatting within them make up one of the most melancholy pictures that I know.
The Kaimmakam and the Police Commissary were, I believe, genuinely pleased to see anyone from the outer world, and made me most welcome. I was the only European who had been that way for several years. Heselected the hour of 7 a.m. as the most suitable for receiving me at the konak. I was asked if I wished to call officially or in a friendly manner, and replied I would do whichever they wished.
They wished to be friends. The Kaimmakam's sitting-room was heavily scented with musk, and entirely furnished with the snow-white rugs woven in the neighbourhood, huge fluffy things into which you sink comfortably, and the walls were hung with quantities of photographs, for the Kaimmakam is an enthusiastic photographer. He recounted the difficulties of his post among these wild people, and told me that, in accordance with the new reform scheme, he had just received instructions to start schools in two of the neighbouring villages. They were to be in the Turkish tongue, because the people were Moslems; but he admitted that none of them understood it. He hoped that next time I came I should find the bridge built and the roads made.
He was doing his best. Arrangements were being made. He showed me all his photographic plates, and begged me to take any I liked, for I must not leave Tepelen without a recollection of it, and unluckily he had no prints ready to offer me. I accepted four, and, oddly enough, brought them unbroken to England in my saddle-bags. He also gave me coffee, for which I was truly thankful, for as no one ever breakfasts in these lands, I had not succeeded in getting a mouthful of anything before paying my call.
My visit to him is a bright spot in my experience of Turks. He was the only Turk I had to do with in Albania who did not cross-examine me and treat me as though it was only lack of evidence which prevented his ordering my immediate arrest. Tepelin is a savage spot, but it did not make me feel that I was living in the witness-box, or that life is but alternate games of 'poker' and 'patience.'
TEPELEN TO ELBASAN
AVLONA was the next place on our route. It was said to be distant but a ten hours' ride, and the track assez bien. The kirijee who had brought us from Postenani offered to take us on for a moderate sum, and further volunteered that he had a friend, one Zadig, in the Tepelen police, who would gladly be armed escort for us. The kindly Kaimmakam said Imight have whatever escort I pleased, a military one if I wished, but for safety a couple of zaptiehs were enough. Zaptiehs, I should note, are far better escorts on rough tracks than suvarris, for when the 'going' is really bad the suvarri is entirely occupied in keeping his own horse on its legs, and has no spare hand to pull you out of a hole.
Off we went. It was a fine day, and Zadig and the kirijee sang weird duets at the tops of their voices. We started along the river Benchi, but soon reached the Viosa, and followed its left bank down-stream on a more or less bad track.
About half an hour from Tepelen we passed on the left a hill with a much-ruined ancient wall ringing its summit. The place is called Dukut, and has been identified by some, according to the Kaimmakam, with Dodona, but Dodona has with fair certainty been located close to Janina. I dared not afford time to climb up to investigate it, as in this wretched land the loss of a few hours may mean that night will over take you in the wilderness, and the nights were as yet far too chill and damp to risk sleeping out in. In spite of flannel bandages and salicylate, the ghost of rheumatism still haunted me.
We pushed on. At the door of a little tekich a fine white-bearded old dervish was dealing out bread to the poor. After this the way grew worse and worse, and the land was almost uninhabited. Only a tiny village showed white on the mountain-side here and there, and, save a goatherd or two, we met no one the whole day. All the land looked like an undis covered country, and as wild as the day it was created. We pounded over loose wet stoues and then into awful liquid mud and stiff wet clay. The legs of the poor mules sank in knee-deep, and came out with a loud plop.
I had to sit my beast as long as possible, though I felt it was cruel, as I could not have tramped far in such 'heavy going.' Mules are singularly stupid animals. They climb, it is true, with cat-like agility, but those that are used to travelling in a caravan persist in following the beast in front no matter what happens, and when the first mule has fallen into a mud-hole and been hauled out, the others fight desperately to be allowed to do the same.
We made many detours with but slight benefit, and I went down all theworst descents on foot, as the animals pretty well rolled down them, and arrived in a heap at the bottom, and the pack-mule, often on its knees or haunches, had to be hauled on to its legs again by the two zaptichs.
Zadig ('the faithful') was fitly so called, and showed strength, skill, and patience that was beyond all praise. I was nearly thrown once as my mount fell forward suddenly with one foreleg into a deep mudhole, overbalanced, could not get a footing, and plunged violently, to the terror of the zaptiehs, who thought I was going to be smashed. I could not dismount without falling under the beast in the mud, but managed to steady him down, and he climbed out all right. My saddle and bridle saved me many a spill. The bridle is specially necessary, as the kirijees supply only halters, and the beasts when scared are then quite out of control.
The zaptichs were anxious at our slow progress. The kirijee was in despair, and said he had never travelled a worse way. We made only a half-hour's halt for lunch, and to let the beasts browse, and then pushed on. Life, so far as I was concerned, resolved itself into a ceaseless struggle to keep my mule on its legs when I was mounted, and to keep my own balance when on foot. The valley narrowed, and we skirted along the mountain-side high above the yellow, swollen Viosa. Beyond it lay the district of Malakastra, of evil repute. The natives of the neighbourhood do not hesitate to call it the 'slave country.' I made many efforts to learn the truth about this, and repeat the facts as told me.
Since the Egyptian slave-trade has been checked, the natives of Malakastra, who are a lazy lot and all Moslems, have taken to selling their daughters into service for, some said, as little as £T5 or £T6 to anyone who requires 'servants.' The houses of the wealthy Begs are, in many instances, served entirely by these girls, who remain from ten to fifteen years according to the terms of the agreement, and are then free, and usually return home and marry. At Permeti I was told that some men with a gang of thirty girls had very recently passed through, en route for the larger towns. And at another place I heard of a girl who had escaped, afterhaving been frightfully beaten, and had been recaptured. The Government is aware of the trade, but winks at it, and pretends that the service is voluntary. The zaptiehs were surprised at my doubting the possibility of the fact, and declared that the Malakastrans sold all their female children. They (the zaptichs) lived on the slave route, and often saw men bringing along parties of girls. Many people spoke to me about the disgrace of this traffic, and begged me to make the facts known. These were all Albanians. When, however, I asked a foreign consul about it, he laughed, and said it was only a custom of the country, and as the girls were set free in the end, it was all right; also that they probably did not have a harder time than they would if they stayed at home. All of which is true. Nevertheless, the system is one which must be open to the grossest abuse, for, so everyone assured me, the girl is her master's property, and cannot leave before the expiry of the agreed term of years. If it is not slavery, it is something unpleasantly like it.
Malakastra, as seen across the river, is a wild, mountainous land. The only village in sight was a solidlybuilt stone one. There was good land, too, I wa told, but the people till little of it. The valley narrowed again, and became a rocky gorge. We made an abrupt descent on foot to the river's edge. How the beasts got down with unbroken legs I do not know. On either side the river were various almost inaccessible caverns high in the cliff face. These are all fabled to contain magic treasure, if you only know how to find it.
In spite of the long march he had already made, the kirijee thought it worth while to scramble up to one of them, but returned to say that the entrance was blocked and he could not get in. Evening was drawing in, and we were still in the wilderness. We had been nearly ten hours on the march, and were barely half-way to Avlona. Men and beasts were exhausted; it would be impossible to push on in the dark even were they not. There was a han on the river's edge but a little further on, and there, said the zaptichs, we must pass the night.
It was a ramshackle wooden and stone affair, with a peculiarly villainous-looking owner. I rode into the yard and dismounted stiffly, while Zadig and his comrade parleyed with the hanjee. The odd part of this sort of travelling is, that so long as you know you have another mile to go, yougo, mechanically almost dropping to sleep, swaying in the saddle, and waking with a start, but always hanging on somehow, dismounting and scrambling over yet another obstacle, even after you are past thinking of anything except that there is a goal you will reach some day; there always seems another ounce left in you to be squeezed out until you know you have really arrived. Five minutes after the strain is off you know you are deaddog-tired, could eat refuse, or sleep in a mud-hole.
The only room in this han was, like that at Dragut, used as a storeroom for hides and maize, but it had a sound roof, and we were soon squatting round a crackling blaze of brushwood. The zaptiehs came in, very pleased with themselves. It was a bad neighbourhood they said, so, to insure my safety, they had told the hanjee that I was a prisoner. Now he would think I had no money, and there would only be a few pence to pay next morning. I was a much greater responsibility than a real prisoner, for if a prisoner escapes it is no great matter, whereas if I were taken by the natives the ransom asked for me would be something enormous. Kolouri, the village on the hill above, was a bad place, but they were going to sleep with the hanjee, and we should get away all right next morning.
Luckily my guide had providently brought so much bread and eggs that we had plenty left for supper. The hanjee supplied wine and coffee, and I made maggi. I should pity myself if I had to do a hard day's work on nothing but white European bread, but the brown, very slightly bitter, bread of the Near East, made, I am told, of a mixture of wheat and rye, is far more sustaining.
Warmed and fed, we rolled up in our coverings to sleep. But there was no chimney at all, and the smoke escaped only through the shuttered window holes. Even on the floor it was so dense that my eyes and nose streamed and smarted. The tired kirijee and my guide were sleeping sweetly, and I could only choke, till, remembering that when saving people from a fire you should tie a wet handkerchief over your mouth and nose, I spread a damp towel over my head, and was asleep in five minutes.
All too soon the gray dawn was crawling through the shutters, and the kirijee was declaring that, as it was raining, we had better start before itgot worse. No food of any sort could be obtained, and a few crusts were all we had left. We took the usual nip of black coffee. It was boot and saddle at once, and we started in a fine drizzle, Zadig triumphant, for the bill was excessively moderate. The hanjee eyed my very superior saddle suspiciously, and said he didn't believe I was a prisoner after all.
We were told we should find the way better, but it was worse; there was no track at all. We struck up across country, over any kind of ground, always very steep up or very steep down. Wherever it was not rough stone that had to be climbed, it was soppy clay that had to be waded. The mules had repeatedly to be hauled out of mud-holes by their tails. The zaptiehs were extremely kind to me, but I got into great difficulties with them, as their idea of getting me over a bad place was to grip me by both hands and leap wildly, without giving me time to get a footing or see where I was flying too. Then we landed anywhere all of a heap. When this happened on a sort of shelf of wet rock and mud overhanging the raging river I had to yell to my guide, who was struggling along another shelf, to tell them to let me pick my own way, and turn their attention to the beasts.
All things come to an end in time. We emerged from the gorge, were on level ground again, reached the Shushitza, a tributary of the Viosa, and crossed it by a brand-new stone bridge. I don't think I was ever so surprised to see anything. Down came the rain in torrents; we rushed into the han alongsidea highly superior han, which supplied not only maize bread but excellent olives, plenty of oil and rakija, off which we feasted gratefully. It poured for an hour, then the sun came out and we with it.
We were told it was but three hours to Avlona. There was a splendid paved roadas good as anyone could desirefor nearly 200 yards, and I felt most cheery. Then it gradually faded away; bushes at least six years old appeared in the middle of it, there came a sea of clay for a quarter of a mile, and then, now and again, a few yards of pavement all alone in the wilderness. Three or four natives going our way said that soon it would be really very bad. And it was. It became a narrow shelf, trodden in a very steep hillside of wet clay; the hoof-pits were knee-deep; the whole was streaming. I was ahead, and wanted to dismount, but they all cried, 'No!' I sat the struggling beast for a few awful minutes as he reeled and fought for a footing on the giddy edge, then there was a wild yell, and the pack-mule rolled over on its side and lay stuck fast. This was enough for me. I dismounted into the squash, and followed the peasants, who were treading a new track higher up the hillside.
The kirijee and zaptiehs dug the mule out, and got it on its legs with difficulty after partly unloading it. The Kaimmakam's photographic plates were on its upper side and were unhurt ! We crawled round somehow. I felt as though I had been going to Avlona all my life, and should continue doing so throughout eternity.
We struck a hard track again, over land all glorious with anemones, purple, scarlet, and salmon colour, and reached high pastures on the hilltop, misty with pink asphodel and rich with thick turfthe best grazingland in Albania, so they said. Below lay grassy valleys, and beyond the hill, the district of Klimari, a group of five Christian villages, which have resisted the tax-gatherers so successfully that they pay only three-and-fourpence yearly tax per house, and are the envy and admiration of the neighbourhood. Here we yelled for directions to the goatherdsruffianly-looking fellows, surrounded by wolfish hounds and armed with very long sheath-knives, something like the swords of the ancient Romans. Till last year they all carried guns as well, but were then disarmed under the 'reform' scheme.
Except for the folk of Klimari, all the people scattered through this part are Moslems. But the women are unveiled and work in the fields, which points to the fact that they are but recently converted, and have taken Islam in a very superficial manner; for as Zadig, a Moslem, pointed out, it is only Christians who let their wives do all the work.
Over the crest of a hill the Adriatic shone suddenly with a glare of sunlight upon it, and an ultramarine island out beyond. Thalassa! I thought we had almost arrived, but we asked a shepherd, 'How far to Avlona?' and he said, ' Three hours,' which was what they had told us at the han several hours ago. Again we struck a track. This time itwas intersected by streams, and all the bridges had fallen. Oh the joys of living under the Turkish Government! But there are people who wonder why the Albanians say it is a waste of money to pay road-tax. The first gully was some 10 feet deep with abrupt sides. The fallen bridge formed wobbly stepping-stones by which we crossed, and, by damming the stream, made a wide deep pool. The mules tumbled down the bank, and the leader pitched straight into the deepest part, clawed, went down on his haunches, and was got out with difficulty. The kirijee forced my saddle-mule, much against his will, to a better spot, but the pack-mule hurled himself after the first one, stood in deep water, and fought to be allowed to climb the worst part, for where one mule has been the next madly persists in following. An awful plunging ensued, and the three men got him up finally by one hauling his tail while the others supported him on either side It took a good twenty minutes, and there were several more gullies to cross, all unrideable.
The long rays of the evening light came slant and low. We passed through an olive-wood, grotesque, gray, and weird, haunted by black demoniac buffaloes, the most magic sight I have ever seen, and then, far away down below us, lay Avlona, with the sea and bay and island, like a map.
There was an abrupt and rough descent over what looked like pure mica, all sharp and glittering, in great chunks. More mud, more olives. I recognised the funnel of a Lloyd steamer in the bay. We reached the paved road at the entrance of the town, and at the special request of the zaptiehs I mounted and rode to the inn door.
We had been just twelve hours on the road. The elder zaptieh said he had been twenty years in the force, and never made such an awful journey. We had been two days on the road instead of one. The kirijee said it was because we had started on a Tuesday, the unluckiest day in all the week. Men and beasts were dead-tired. I felt a brute for having brought them along. I and my mule were the best preserved of the party, for he had carried the lightest weight, and I had ridden a good deal, but even I had only one idea in my head, and that was, that as soon as I had supped I would go on board that Lloyd steamer and leave the rest of Albania to take care of itself. Having eaten mutton for a solid half-hour, however, I did nothing of the sort.
Zadig and his comrade came next morning to say good-bye. I was sorry to part with them. They had served me very faithfully, and without their help I should still be sticking in the clay. Touchingly grateful for their backshish, which I am sure they had earned many times over, the poor chaps said they had had no money for six months, and this was a godsend. They had tried to do their best for me. They kissed my hands and left me with a shower of good wishes.
Avlona is a small town with about 5,000 inbabitants, and lies on low, swampy ground, about half an hour from the port; is surrounded with olive and cypress, is picturesque, gaily coloured and haunted by great white storks that build on wall and roof and keep up a lively clapper-clapper with their long red beaks. But the large undrained marshes breed fever, and the stricken population drags miserably through the hot summer months, under a Government which regards all disease as Kismet.
Three foreign consulatesAustrian, Italian, and Greekare watching Albanian interests; the fourth, Russian, of course, is watching the other three. Propaganda rage. The school and language question burns. Greece is active. Italy comes into line with the others here, has planted two Italian schools, and is working to plant two others in the neighbourhood. An Austrian post-office makes the sending and receiving of letters safe. Throughout my tour I was begged by Albanians to commit nothing I had written about the state of the country to the Turkish post.
A French company is successfully working the asphalt beds at Selenitza, some miles north of the town, and strings of little pack-donkeys carry the big black cakes down to the port. Avlona exports, also Vallonea, a species of acorn used for dyeing and tanning, and some hides and olive oil. Were it joined by roads to the interior, Avlona should be rich, for the bay is the finest on the coast for harbour purposes.
Now, the port, as someone naively said, 'is not very good. It is just as God made it.' But Austrian steamers call regularly, and Avlona is accustomed to the sight of foreigners; not to those, however, who drop down suddenly upon it from the wild interior. This was a quite unprecedented and alarming event.
The Kaimmakam, a Turk, a dark, Eastern-looking thing, suspected me enormously. He began as usual by saying that the country was inhabited entirely by Greeks and Turks, that next year there would be excellent carriageable roads everywhere, and bridges galore, and that quantities of Greek schools were about to be erected. Then he got to business; he asked hundreds of questions.
'No, monsieur, I am not a journalist nor a missionary; Je suis Anglaise. No, my father was not an ambassador, nor a Consul, nor a journalist, nor did he "make politics." My brothers are not officers, neither are they in the diplomatic service. No, none of them have visited the Turkish Empire; nor have my uncles, nor my cousins. They have no intention of so doing.'
As he seemed anxious to learn about my family, I yarned to him about it till he was sick of the subject. There was nothing suspicious about me, and he was greatly bothered. He would like to know how many countries I had visited, and what places. I gave him strings of names in France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Servia, Montenegro and Bosnia. I was strictly truthful, and he believed no word I said. He must hear, also, all the Turkish places I had visited, why, when and how. I told him exactly. He was greasy-polite, and talked general conversation for a bit. Then he asked suddenly if I had an English passport as well as a teskereh. I gave it him. He examined all the visas with minute care, and I laughed aloud.
It was a most barefaced attempt to 'catch me out.' His surprise was beautiful.
' Mademoiselle, it appears, has really been to all these places !'
'As I have already told you, monsieur.'
Finally he decided that 'to do me honour ' the Police Commissary had better accompany me everywhere. He did. I had only to appear in the street, and he sprang out of the ground and watched me as a cat does a mouse. I walked him round and round the bazar for the sole purpose of exercising him till he was sincerely sorry Iwas 'suspect.' I offered, also, to show him the contents of both my saddle-bags. He knew I was laughing at him, and could not see the joke.
Several Christians asked me to visit them, but sent afterwards to say they were afraid of receiving me lest they should be persecuted by the Government when I had left. 'The Vali of Janina, the head of the vilayet, is a "Turk of Turks," ' I was told by some foreign residents, 'and persecutes the Albanian language, and everything that tends towards instructing the Christians. The Kaimmakam is not really a bad man, but terrified of the Vali. Among the Albanians themselves there is no religious hatred, but the party for the liberation of Albania has been held back till lately by the jealousies of the local Albanian Begs.'
News came in while I was at Avlona that the new 'reform scheme' had been accepted but was not to apply to this vilayet, and caused great dismay. All the money would now go to the pockets of the foreign officers, who were doubtless already rich, nobody else would be paid, and no good would be done anywhere. The recent increase of the beast-tax is falling very hardly on these people, as they are great meat-eaters. One of the foreign Consuls said it could not possibly be enforced and was atrocious, for it was high for oxen, and in the case of lambs, more than the market value of the animal. The Bulgars had revolted, and the other peoples were being robbed to pay the expenses. The only thing for the others to do was to revolt too the sooner the better; the Albanian movement was organizing and consolidating rapidly, and we should soon see results. The Turk is at death's door, and the final struggle imminent. And so on, and so on. And the poor Police Commissary had to wait outside.
I rode out to see the ruins at Canina on the hill behind the town. It is a suburb of Avlona, and consists chiefly of houses of the better-to-do Moslems. Several of these have lately been subject to severe police espionage, and one imprisoned for national propaganda. The Police Commissary and a soldier had to go with me to see that I was not mixed up in the affair. Afterwards I was asked to pay the hire of the Police Commissary's horse and of his saddle!
The details of the Turkish Government are incomparably grotesque. It is a Gilbert and Sullivan opera written in blood. It got tired of hunting me after two or three days, and left me to wander round alone and drawand photograph as I pleased, for my travelling companion's business took some time more to transact.
Orthodox Good Friday was very solemn, and everyone flocked to church in black. Avlona has a large Christian population, all Orthodox. The service lasted the whole day; a painted crucifix, draped with black, stood in the middle of the church, and each one kissed the foot on entering. Halfway through the service it was removed, and a table put in its place, on which lay a bier, covered with a black cloth, painted with the body of the dead Christ, for no images are allowed by this church. Two priests carried the bier round the Church on their heads, preceded by an incensebearer, walking backwards, and followed by a procession. The service was all in Greek, and the singing a tuneless nasal yowl. In the late evening the church was crammed to suffocation, and as each one held a lighted candle, it was a glare of yellow light and foggy with smoke. In the middle of the service some of the Turkish police pushed their way in and had a look at the bier, their red fezzes conspicuous above the bareheaded crowd. The raucous voices, barbaric music, and gaudy, shabby trappings, dim through the smoke, made a dramatic scene which culminated when the priests lifted the bier and carried it from the church; there was a wild scramble of men and boys, who all strove to shove a shoulder under it, if only for a second, as it was borne all round the building, and the whole congregation followed with twinkling candles.
Almost all the kirijees are Christians, and were holiday-making, and we had difficulty in finding anyone to take us on till after Easter. We finally got off on Sunday morning with a couple of Moslems and very good horses. The Kaimmakam told me he was short of police, and could not give me more than one suvarri, which, after the amount he had recklessly wasted upon me a few days before, was amusing.
We rode along the edge of the 'lake ' of Avlona, a shallow, brackish lagoon in a swamp from which the sea has retreated, a place that breeds fever all the summer, and crossed it on a stone causeway to the village of Lart. It was about seven in the morning, the village lay bright-white by a great dazzle of water, and the sky was exquisitely clear.
'Christ is risen!' cried the villagers as we rode through, and in front of every house curls of blue smoke rose from the big wood fire over whichthe Easter lamb was roasting, spitted lengthwise on a pole. Once through the village our troubles began; they always do on a Turkish road. When starting on a journey in this land people give you an elaborate ' send-off' 'May the road be smooth for thee! May no harm befall thee! Mayest thou arrive safely at thy journey's end !' and so forth.
I was told that no language contained so many and such beautiful farewells as does Albanian. I replied that there is no country in which they are so urgently required. We had to cross several miles of swamp, fetlock-deep at best, often hock-deep, and quite foggy with mosquitoes. Progress was frightfully slow; the mud black, oily, and smelly. We rode knee-deep in the sea at last, as the bottom was a little firmer there.
Finally we reached our old friend the Viosa, here wide, shallow, and tame, and crossed without difficulty, horses and all, in a big caik made of two dug-out tree-trunks, after the pack-animal had refused, rolled down the bank, nearly fallen into the river, been unloaded, and picked up again. Landing from these caiks is a gymnastic feat. You have to make your horse jump into the water first; then you persuade him to stand alongside, and you climb into the saddle from the caik's edge. After this we had a good track, and rode along merrily past a small Vlah village, where folk were dancing and singing weird songs.
Soon, on a hilltop, we saw a solitary column, short and Buted, shining white on the blue sky, and the suvarri told how, long ago, a great city stood there, the sea came right up to the hill, and that was the post to which the ships were tied. Such is all that local legend tells of ApolloniaApollonia, once one of the most important cities on the coast, celebrated alike for its commerce and its learning.
From his studies here young Octavius hastened when he heard of the murder of his uncle, Julius Cæsar, and it was one of the starting-points of the Egnatian Road, the great military road between Rome and theEast. Now the sea has crept back, leaving a fever-stricken swamp in place of the port where Rome disembarked her legions, and not one wall stands of all the city.
We rode up the next hill to the monastery of Pojana, and our horses' hoofs chipped black and white tesserce out of the path, part doubtless of the mosaic floor of a villa. Pojana and Avlona are both probably corruptions of the word 'Apollonia,' but Pojana is, judging by the remains found, the site of the old town, and Avlona a new port with the old name, made when the sea left Apollonia high and dry. (It should be noted that this was not the Apollonia' visited by St. Paul. That was a town not far from Salonika.)
The monastery church is Byzantine. It is evidently of early date, but the people of the monastery could give me no history at all. At one time it has evidently been unroofed and partly destroyed, as the whole of the upper part is of later workmanship. It is built of stone. At the west end is a long open narthex, or porch, supported by a colonnade, the capitals of which are all grotesque beasts and bogies. The interior of the building is entirely whitewashed. Outside, the walls of both church and monastery are set with a quantity of classic fragments, many of them of great beauty.
One little white marble Amazon kneeling to support a cornice is an admirable work, and with the exception of a lost foot and arm, as sharp-cut and perfect as when new. There are also a Medusa head in relief, some very good tomb reliefs, some inferior ones, and also some extraordinary and grotesque Byzantine reliefs, notably one of a goat grazing. Leaning against one of the doors of the church was the torso of what has been a draped male Roman portrait statue. The head, I was told cheerfully, had been knocked off and taken to a house in Avlona. Also it had hands a little while ago, but they are 'gone.' White and crystalline scars showed that folds of the toga had been quite recently broken off: Near it was the lower part of a draped female statue. Both fragments were of the finest white marble, and the best style of Roman work.
It was Easter Sunday, and the courtyard was full of peasants in their besttall men in dazzling white fustanellas, dark blue leggings, crimson waistcoats with two bands of silver chains crossed on the breast, andwhite coats with hanging sleeves embroidered in black; women in long-skirted, sleeveless coats striped diagonally with scarletbrilliantly aproned, and a-dangle with coinswho flashed and glittered like parrots in the sunshine. Dead Rome, Byzantium, and live Albanians, past culture and present desolation made an entirely fascinating whole.
The head of the monastery, an Albanian, tall, haughty, a sort of ecclesiastical pasha, served by a most humble priest, and a host of fustanelled retainers, received me with affability, and offered hospitality. I decided to stay the night. All the land round, it appears, is swayed by him, and the monastery is wealthy though barbaric. Our horses were supplied lavishly with hay and corn. I was informed that a sumptuous meal would be prepared for me, too, and particularly asked not to eat the food I had brought.
The people who had come up to afternoon service had not expected anything half so amusing as a foreign female, and were most friendly. When I began a drawing of the church, a man who could speak a little Italian came forward and said:
'Signorina, we are ignorant Albanians out of the village. We should like to see what you are doing, for we have never seen such a thing before. But, if it troubles you, we will go at once.'
In all civilized countries an artist is reckoned fair game; I have rarely met with such consideration, and could but reply that they were all welcome. When I inquired if they had any 'anticas' to sell, they were overjoyed, and, so soon as afternoon service was over, invited me to go back to the village with them. It was an odd walk. They were far too polite to lead the way, and made me walk first, in solitary grandeur, while they followed in a troop. As I did not know the path, the plan, though well meant, was not wholly successful. All the hillside was covered with copsewood in full leaf and masses of wild-plum blossom, and was alive with butterfliesswallow-tails, fritillaries, red Admirals, tortoiseshells, brimstones, clouded yellows, and great coppers. The ground was thick with primroses and bee orchises, and beyond was the blue Adriatic.
Pojana, the village, lay at the hill's foot. It is very tiny, and wretchedly poor. Pieces of columns, carved capitals, and hewn blocks of marble have been used as building material, and give the place a forlorn, sic transit look. An altar with a bull's head and a fine acanthus-leaved capital lay by the door of the first hut. I sat ona stone and held a court.
The arrival of a wealthy foreigner caused great excitement. Every house possessed a bagful of coins and other odds and ends. I tried to buy something of everybody, so as not to disappoint them, and for a few francs got a number of late Roman Emperors and some of the little bronze coins of Apollonia itself, with Apollo on one side and his lyre on the other, to the great satisfaction of the villagers and myself.
The sun was setting when I reached the top of the hill again; the wet marsh down below burned scarletgold between bars of purple land. A huge bay-tree stood up monumental against the glare. I never knew what 'to flourish like a green bay-tree' meant before. The day faded and darkened into night. I was tired and hungry. I had lunched at 11 a.m., and it was now 8.30 p.m. There was no sign of that sumptuous meal.
I asked my guide to unpack some food. He went off, and returned dolefully to say that an Easter lamb was being prepared for us, and we had better wait.
We waited hungrily. I bolted two tubes of maggi raw, and should have gnawed a crust had not the head of the monastery thought it his duty to keep me company. Buoyed up always with the belief that the British Empire, if it buckles to the task, can outstay the world, I waited for that Easter lamb. It came at 9.30 p.m. There was plenty of it. I had it in solitary grandeur. Two men came in with a chair, and placed upon it a whole shoulder and a pile of fragments, and gave me a huge and heavy loaf to nurse. On the floor they put a great bowl of milk, reeking of wood smoke, the grinning, blackened head of the lamb, and a dish of what looked like prunes and cream, but was really the lamb's liver chopped in lumps, half burnt, and mixed with clotted sour milk. A handful of salt and a bottle of sour wine completed the menu. It was a fleshy, barbaric meal. I believe I ate for three quarters of an hour, and made no visible impression on it. The kirijee and the suvarris in the next room, however, subjugated it entirely.
My room had two doors, neither of which fastened, but with my saddle for pillow I slept the sleep of repletion and exhaustion. Getting up in these places wastes no time. You have only to put your boots on, and the retainers help you to wash all that shows.
The sun was just up; the world was still and gray; all was exquisite in the keen pure dawn. The people were flocking up to Easter Monday service, the women, Vlah and Albanian, all bearing in large flat baskets on their heads Easter offeringseggs, bread, milk, and fowls. 'Christ is risen,' they said. The air seemed full of the joy of life.
I swallowed a bowl of milk hastily, and bestowed a handsome backshish on the head ofthe monastery, which he received with the condescending air of a Prince conferring a favour, and was in the saddle before 7.30 a.m., and away over trackless land with an extraordinary feeling of exultation.
The world was all before me, and the beyond was ever a-calling. Easter lamb had agreed with everyone, and both kirijees and suvarri were as gay as birds. Away we went over undulating ground, through bushes and asphodel and small hooky acacias, which tear the clothes to ribbons. In a dip in the hills was a graveyard, and fragments of classical columns kept guard over dead Moslems. The mud had all dried. We got along at a good pace, and reached Fieri in a couple of hours. The Fieri police were much exercised about us; they had been telegraphed to by Avlona to expect us for the night. They had intended arranging the private house and military escort business, but, by staying at Pojano, I had out-mancouvred them. They wanted me to stay while an escort was arranged, but I had shaken off all 'honours' with great difficulty, did did not want to start them again, and vowed I could not wait. My suvarri had to leave at Fieri. I asked for another to take me to Berat, and won my point. We halted only long enough to water and feed the beasts.
Fieri is a big village belonging to a very enterprising Beg who wants to make it a trade centre, and has rebuilt all the market-place with large solid-looking houses of stone, which have a surprisingly up-to-date appearance. It was all agog with Easter Monday, and reminded me of 'Benkoliday,' so gay it was. I heard music that twanged and squealed like bagpipes. It was an Albanian gipsy-band with four performers: two guitars, a violin, and a sort of clarionet. It came out and performed for my special benefit. I asked for Albanian music only. The clarionet squealed a jiggleJaggle, bagpipey air, and the stringed instruments went buzz, buzz, buzz with great vigour. The performers burst into song, and sang until the sweat poured down them. The crowd, in its best fustanellas, applauded and kept its eyes fixed on me. When I paid for this treat, the leader of the band clapped the coin on his sticky, sweaty forehead, and withdrew backwards, fiddling, thus adorned.
A fresh suvarri turned up, and we started for Berat, cheered to learn that the track had so dried up that, if we pushed on, we might arrive by nightfall, and not have to stay at a wayside han. We crossed the Janica, and reached the Lumi Beratit (River of Berat), a fair-sized river, thick and muddy. Following its left bank, we got along quickly. On our right was the mountain district, Malakastra, the 'slave country,' as I was assured here also. We rode over plain landthe 'Muzakija,' named after the Muzaki, a celebrated line of chiefs who once ruled as far as Kastoria. The Muzakija includes all the coast land as far as Durazzo. The inhabitants are Christians, wretchedly poor, who live in mud-and-wattle shanties. The land is owned by Moslem Begs as chiftliks, and the peasants who work it are little better than serfs. A franc a day, I was assured, was the utmost a man could earn for a long day's work, but that is rare and exceptional pay. Two piastres (4d.) is the usual price for road- or wall-making.
These Begs, I was told, grow rich on the corn and olives they export, and are hand-in-glove with the Turkish Government, which winks at their extortions so long as they send in tax enough. The poverty of Macedonia was child's play to that of the Muzakija. I saw women with barely enough clothing to cover their nakedness, and much of the housing was on a par with that of the temporary shelters run up by the refugees in the burnt villages.
'Ils ont assassine l'Albanie,' said a Consul to me, speaking of the Government.
If the British public wants to intervene on behalf of the Balkan people, common justice demands that it should investigate the case of each, and not run only to the help of that which hoists the most bloody posters.
The land of the Muzakija is very good, but waterlogged in parts, andrequires draining. Much is rudely cultivated and yields well. The breed of fiery little horses it was noted for has become scarce. There is good pasture on the hills, but owing to the badness of the roads few beasts are raised for export, the wretched beasts, except in very fine weather, arriving at port too exhausted to fetch good prices. We crossed the Lumi Beratit on a fine stone bridge built some seventy years ago by an Albanian Beg, and reached Berat about sunset.
Berat is in an extraordinarily lovely situation, and scrambles down the hillside all bowery and flowery to the brink of the Beratit; quaint wood-and-plaster houses overhang the river; the ruined fortress crowns the height above; the huge mountain range of Tomor (alt. 2,416 metres) towers square-headed, barren and snow-clad on one side, and the slopes of the neighbourhills are gray with olives. The river, all unbanked, has wrought terrible devastation. Great tracts of land lie denuded, stagnant water festers in the hollows, and all the summer fever rages. Only the Christian quarter on the hill-top is fairly free.
Malarial fevers are the curse of Albania, especially in the South. The doctors assured me that with this exception the people are very healthy, recover from very severe accidents, and often heal quite clean from wounds without any antiseptics. Now it was springtime, and no fever due for six weeks, and Berat looked an earthly Paradise.
The Muttasarif, a cheery, stout old Turk, received me affably, and said I was the first Englishwoman in Berat within the memory of man. He detailed his plans for the improvement of the town, and was great on the new road about to be made from Avlona. I had my doubts about it, as I had already learnt that the engineer was afraid it would not be a very good road. Half of the money had already evaporated in Constantinople. Out of the rest he must pay himself for 'il faut vivre.' Mashallah, the road would last two years if there were not much rain.
According to the Muttasarif, however, Berat, next year, would have a perfect road, and simply bristle with schools of every description, always excepting one in the vernacular. I encouraged the good man's plans, and added that with such a force of water in the river he could lightthe town with electricity, work all the shoemaking (Berat's chief trade) with it, and run a light railway to Avlona. This completely staggered him.
'You have only been here twenty-four hours, and you have already thought of all this ! You,' he added piously, 'think only of people's bodies; Iof their souls.'
Berat has but one consulate, and that a Greek one. People cling to it as their one link with the outside world, and a safe means of receiving foreign correspondence, and the Greeks, having no rivals here, are working an active propaganda. There are four Greek schools, to which Greece is said to contribute £300 a year, and there is a Greek Bishop. But Italy is striving hard to plant a school of her own to counteract Greek influence. The town has about 11,000 inhabitants, rather more than half Moslem.
The neighbour-lands are very savage. Blood-feuds rage and brigandage was rife till a year ago, when active efforts were made against it, many men captured, and some executed. But the land is in a mediæval state of barbarism, and the quarrels of the rival Begs have a Montague and Capulet flavour. The latest excitement was the case of Suli Beg. A certain man wished to give his daughter in marriage to a Vlah. But one of Suli Beg's followers coveted her as bride. He appealed to Suli to help him. The girl's father, on the other hand, belonged to a rival Beg's party. The rival Beg said the girl should marry the Vlah; Suli said she should not. Each party sent a troop of some thirty armed rmen, and a fight took place. Several were killed, others badly wounded, including three women and the girl herself, who was captured by Suli's men, carried off, and kept prisoner for a month. They were then forced to yield her, and she married the Vlah. This very fourteenth-century affair took place two years ago. It caused such excitement that Suli was captured, tried, and condemned to three and a half years' imprisonment. He had appealed, and the case was to be retried in a higher court. I expressed fearthat perhaps he might, after all, escapepunishment.
'Oh no,' said my informant. 'You see, in this land things go very slowly. It has already taken much time to appeal and obtain promise of a new trial; the trial itself will take much longer. Meanwhile Suli is in prison. Even if he succeed in proving himself innocent, and reversing the judgment, he will still have had his three and a half years. It is so with us!'
Berat was swarming with beggars. Some lived in holes in the banks outside the town. Communication with the outer world is difficult and very limited; agriculture is archaic, and if the local crops fail dire want follows. After the drought of 1902 numbers of peasants died of starvation, vainly striving to eat leaves and bark, and the place, I was told, had not yet recovered from the losses it then suffered. Berat, when I arrived, had just been asked for £3,000 tax, and said bitterly, 'It will all go to pay European officers, who are rich already. Europe had better leave the place alone than rob one district to pay for another. If we rise, will England guarantee us the same amount of help she has given the Bulgarians?'
Berat's chief trade is in hides, 'opanke' (the local leathern sandal), and saddlery. It has a fascinating bazar. I wandered about alone when my guide was busy, and met with the greatest courtesy. If any little boys tried to follow me, they were stopped by the nearest man. The odd part of all these towns is that the wild are so wild and the civilized so civilized. All the centuries are jumbled together. The better-to do wear European clothes and are quite smart, and at the pharmacy you can buy Vichy water and Giesshubel from a man who speaks French; but, coming to market, you meet long, lean men of the mountains, in ragged fustanellas, armed with flintlocks of a pattern quite 250 years old, though of modern make. And the wildest thing of all I met was a sort of fakirswarthy, half-stripped, mad-eyedwho carried a begging-bowl and a battle-axe that looked as if it hailed from the Far East.
In the han I had a small, unfurnished room, with three swallows' nests in it, and a large hole in the floor, and I lived on lumps of meat from the cookshop. You select what looks most eatable. The man asks how many penn´orth you require. You indicate the size; he hacks it off, and, seizing a handful of salt in large, dirty-gray crystals from a pot alongside, he rubs it between his palms and sprinkles your dish. He lends you the plate, andsends for it later. The food is rough, but it is nourishing. The meat is meat, and the bread is bread. It has not had half the goodness removed by freezing, by borates, by chemical processes or adulteration.
The old town called the Kastra, which sounds as though the Romans had had a say in the matter (and that they had a town here seems shown also by some sculptures built into a church wall), stands on a hill high above the river. One side is precipitous and the other steep, and the summit is walled all round with fortifications of varying age. The lower courses are in many places of huge, irregular stones; above this comes, at the main entrance, rubble and flat tiles set in plaster. On the right of the gate are the letters 'M.K.' and a cross in red tiles. These are believed to show that this part was built by Michael Komnenus, who founded the Despoty of Epirus in 1202. The rest of the walls date from all or any of the intervening periods up to Ali Pasha's time.
The Kastra has had an exciting existence. Here Skenderbeg besieged the Turks, and near here fell Muzaki, Lord of the Muzakija. Later Berat was the capital of Toskeria, and was ruled by Pashas who claimed descent from the Kastriot family, till the end of the eighteenth century. The last of them, Kurd Pasha, waged fierce war with Kara Mahmoud, Pasha of Skodra. The Tosks were defeated and lost very heavily. But Kurd survived his foe, who was killed by the Montenegrins, and lived to capture young Ali of Tepelen, then practising as the leader of a brigand band. But for Kurd's mercy there would have been no Ali Pasha. Kurd is reputed rich and generous. It was he that built the bridge that still crosses the river. The builder he consulted said that such a swift stream could not be bridged, for he did not believe the Pasha would pay enough. Kurd, to show him money was nothing to him, pulled out a bag of gold and threw it into the water. The builder thereupon said it would be quite possible to build a good bridge, and did so. Thus runs the tale.
After Kurd's death Ali Pasha seized Berat, and largely refortified the Kastra. And since his time it has been Turkish.
On one of its bastions lie seven fine old bronze guns, two of them on rotting gun-carriages. Any other country would put them in a museum. Onone, which is of iron, is the date '1684,' and the letters 'T.W.' in Roman characters, which makes it likely that it is of English make. If so, it has seen many adventures before finding a final resting-place at Berat.
The Kastra is now the Christian quarter. An old pre-Turkish church still stands, and in the hillside are hewn two tiny chapels. Outside the town are large Moslem cemeteries, and on the grave of more than one Bektashite saint many lambs are slaughtered. Moslem grave-yards always spread far and wide. Of Orthodox Christian ones almost nothing is seen, either here or in Macedonia, as it is the custom among the members of the Greek Churchin these parts, at any rateto disinter the corpses after three years' burial, wash the bones, hold a service over them, and store them in a special building. Should the corpse be not entirely decayed, it is considered a very bad omen. This digging up of remains seems very unpleasant to us, but several times Orthodox Christians remarked to me with disgust that the Moslems, owing to their horrible habit of leaving their dead undisturbed, wasted much good ground.
I spent the inside of a week at Berat, received much hospitality, and was free from police supervision. My comrade was not so lucky. The Vali of Janina telegraphed that he was suspect the day after our arrival, and he had to take his bags to the konak for police inspection. I went too, just to see that he was not bullied. The two police and a Pasha, said to be a great friend of the Sultan, were not at all pleased to see me, but did not like to turn me out. The search was very amusing. They were greatly excited over it, and at last I laughed, which surprised them greatly. They seemed to expect me to be alarmed and im pressed. They spoke only Turkish, and my guide Batly refused to translate several quite funny things I wanted to say. He was of opinion, however, that my presence mitigated matters considerably.
We left Berat for Elbasan at about six in the morning, I on the most painful horse I have ever ridden, for it could neither trot nor amble, but joggled continuously. I do not mind a 'Tommyjog' for a reasonable time, but when it comes to jolting for twelve hours on end it is fatiguing. I was thankful when the track was too bad for anything but a walk. Otherwise the way was most amusing. We soon reached the river Devoli, a tributary of the Beratit, and followed its left bank.
The suvarri, a very cheery, wiry young thing, who was pleased to consider my journey a commendably sporting affair, and to approve of it highly, declared that, barring a man's own little private affairs, the road was pretty safe. His own family, unluckily, had a great deal of blood upon it. His poor old father, who at his age could no longer settle these affairs of honour, had had to fly the neighbourhood. For himself it was not so bad, especially since he had joined the gendarmerie. This afforded him some protection and kept him well armed. For my sake he sincerely hoped we should meet none of his foes to-day; and he kept a sharp look-out with his gray hawk's eyes. Luckily, they did not live near the track; but his presence would be reported, and they would be expecting his return. He was never such a fool as to go back the way he had come! The number of forlorn graves by the track were silent witnesses of the truth of his remarks.
All the men ploughing wore flintlocks, and the young goatherds on the uplands each carried a Martini and a well-filled cartridge-belt. Some of them were quite boysfine-looking young savages, too; upstanding and alert, with a swagger 'do-you-bite-your-thumb-at-me' air. Life in the outlying districts is very hard, and only the fittest of all have any chance of surviving. About a quarter of the land was cultivated, and clearances were being made in a forest, where the soil was rich.
We rode out into a fair open grass plot, with two big walnut-trees in the middle. Here the suvarri halted us to admire the deep bullet trenches with which trunks and boughs were freely scored. A year ago two wretched men, a father and son, the owners of that house on the hill, had here dodged bullets until hit. A big tumulus of stones covered all that was left of them. Why were they killed? The suvarri did not know. Probably they had blood on them. If so, it was very foolish of them to go out not properly armed. (To go out without a gun under these circumstances is as foolish as to go out without an umbrella in England, and then complain if you get wet.) The judges had sent the assailants to Hades. This is a wild Pagan land, called Moslem, but neither church nor mosque, priest nor 'hodja,' is to be found in many of the scattered villages.
Stones jammed in the fork of many a wayside branch told of the beliefs that really sway the people. They are put as resting-places for the feet of the dead as they pass through the air, and the neighbourhood had veryconsiderately furnished the route with plenty. I fancy my kirijee added one.
When called on for military service, the men of these vague villages will often declare themselves Christians and exempt, and afterwards repel with guns the men sent to collect army tax on the grounds that they are Moslems, and not liable.
At last, in the valley, some stumps and a broken arch showed where the bridge had been. We steered for the river, and the suvarri, yelling and bawling to some peasants on the bank to know where it was fordable, took to the water. I won his esteem by following without hesitation. We just did not have to swim, and the others made the plunge with obvious reluctance. This amused him vastly; and to prove that I was not afraid of anything, 'not even Martinas,' he swung round his horse, and threw his rifle to his shoulder playfully.
After this we bustled along over a fair track, and saw Elbasan out on a big plainwhite minarets a-twinkle among cypressesand we never seemed to get any nearer.
Finally, we crossed the Skumbi, the frontier of Ghegaria, on another of Kurd Pasha's bridges, trailed into the town at sunset, and drew rein at the han. I was horribly tired, for I had been too joggled to eat more than an egg and a bit of bread at midday, and I fondly hoped for rest and refreshment, but no such luck. The Police Commissary at Berat, who was reputed among the Christians to 'have Satan in his heart,' had telegraphed that two suspicious and revolutionary characters were coming, and the police at Elbasan were awaiting us. I had scarcely time to climb up to a tiny unfurnished room that gave on the balcony, and the hanjee was hospitably chasing the dust about the floor with a bundle of twigs when they were upon us.
But Ghegaria is very differently managed from Toskeria. These police were a most gentlemanly couple of fellows. We were tired, they said, so any search that was required should be put off till to-morrow. As for me, I was most welcome. But with the best of intentions they enlarged upon the theme, and, as the language is a flowery one, it was an hour before we could think of food.