THE LUCK OF THIRTEEN
WANDERINGS AND FLIGHT THROUGH MONTENEGRO AND SERBIA
MR. AND MRS. JAN GORDON
WITH PHOTOGRAPHS AND A MAP TAIL PIECES BY CORA J. GORDON COLOUR PLATES BY JAN GORDON
NEW YORK E.P. DUTTON AND COMPANY 681 FIFTH AVENUE 1916
PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED LONDON AND BECCLES, ENGLAND
II. NISH AND SALONIKA 10
III. OFF TO MONTENEGRO 20
IV. ACROSS THE FRONTIER 31
V. THE MONTENEGRIN FRONT ON THE DRINA 47
VI. NORTHERN MONTENEGRO 66
VII. TO CETTINJE 85
VIII. THE LAKE OF SCUTARI 99
IX. SCUTARI 105
X. THE HIGHWAY OF MONTENEGRO 122
XI. IPEK, DECHANI AND A HAREM 145
XII. THE HIGHWAY OF MONTENEGRO—II 169
XIII. USKUB 182
XIV. MAINLY RETROSPECTIVE 198
XV. SOME PAGES FROM MR. GORDON'S DIARY 213
XVI. LAST DAYS AT VRNTZE 227
XVII. KRALIEVO 244
XVIII. THE FLIGHT OF SERBIA 263
XIX. NOVI BAZAR 284
XX. THE UNKNOWN ROAD 299
XXI. THE FLEA-PIT 315
XXII. ANDRIEVITZA TO POD 328
XXIII. INTO ALBANIA 341
XXIV. "ONE MORE RIBBER TO CROSS" 359
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Jo at the Machine Gun Frontispiece
The Ipek Pass in Winter 140
Retreating Ammunition Train 276
Albanian Mule-drivers Camping 354
Shoeing Bullocks 4
Peasant Women in Gala Costume, Nish 20
Serb Convalescents at Uzhitze 28
Serb and Montenegrin Officers on the Drina 58
A Concealed Gun Emplacement on the Drina 58
Peasant Women of the Mountains 76
A Village of North Montenegro 76
Jo and Mr. Suma in the Scutari Bazaar 110
Christian Women hiding from the Photographer 112
Scutari—Bazaar and Old Venetian Fortress 112
Disembarkation of a Turkish Bride 114
Governor Petrovitch and his Daughter in their State Barge 114
In the Bazaar of Ipek 162
Street Coffee Seller in Ipek 162
A Wine Market in Uskub 184
Big Gun passing through Krusevatz 194
Broken Aeroplane in the Arsenal at Krag 220
Where the "Plane" fell 220
House near the Arsenal damaged by Bombs 220
Peasant Women leaving their Village 260
Serb Family by the Roadside 260
The Flight of Serbia 266
Unloading the Benedetto, San Giovanni di Medua 364
Route Map of the Authors' Wanderings At end of text
THE LUCK OF THIRTEEN
It is curious to follow anything right back to its inception, and to discover from what extraordinary causes results are due. It is strange, for instance, to find that the luck of the thirteen began right back at the time when Jan, motoring back from Uzhitze down the valley of the Morava, coming fastish round a corner, plumped right up to the axle in a slough of clinging wet sandy mud. The car almost shrugged its shoulders as it settled down, and would have said, if cars could speak, "Well, what are you going to do about that, eh?" It was about the 264th mud hole in which Jan's motor had stuck, and we sat down to wait for the inevitable bullocks. But it was a Sunday and bullocks were few; the wait became tedious, and in the intervals of thought which alternated with the intervals of exasperation, Jan realized that he needed a holiday.
To be explicit. Jan was acting as engineer to Dr. Berry's Serbian Mission from the Royal Free Hospital:—Jan Gordon, and Jo is his wife, Cora Josephine Gordon, artist, and V.A.D.
We had a six months of work behind us. We had seen the typhus, and had dodged the dreaded louse who carries the infection, we had seen the typhus dwindle and die with the onrush of summer. We had helped to clean and prepare six hospitals at Vrntze or Vrnjatchka Banja—whichever you prefer. We had helped Mr. Berry, the great surgeon, to ventilate his hospitals by smashing the windows—one had been a child again for a moment. Jo had learned Serbian and was assisting Dr. Helen Boyle, the Brighton mind specialist, to run a large and flourishing out-patient department to which tuberculosis and diphtheria—two scourges of Serbia—came in their shoals. We had endeavoured to ward off typhoid by initiating a sort of sanitary vigilance committee, having first sacked the chief of police: we had laid drains, which the chief Serbian engineer said he would pull up as soon as we had gone away. We had helped in the plans of a very necessary slaughter-house, which Mr. Berry was going to present to the town. There was an excuse for Jan's desire. The English papers had been howling about the typhus months after the disease had been chased out by English, French, and American doctors, who had disinfected the country till it reeked of formalin and sulphur; shoals of devoted Englishwomen were still pouring over, generously ready to risk their lives in a danger which no longer existed. Our own unit, which had dwindled to a comfortable—almost a family—number, with Mr. Berry as father, had been suddenly enlarged by an addition of ten. These ten complicated things, they all naturally wanted work, and we had cornered all the jobs.
So, after the fatigues of February, March, and April, and the heat of June, Jan quite decided on that Uzhitze mud patch that a holiday would do little harm to himself, and good to everybody else. Then, however, came the problem of Jo. Jo is a socialistic sort of a person with conservative instincts. She has the feminine ability to get her wheels on a rail and run comfortably along till Jan appears like a big railway accident and throws the scenery about; but once the resolution accomplished she pursues the idea with a determination and ferocity which leaves Jan far in the background.
Jo had her out-patient department. Every morning, wet or fine, crowds of picturesque peasants would gather about the little side door of our hospital, women in blazing coloured hand-woven skirts, like Joseph's coat, children in unimaginable rags, but with the inevitable belt tightly bound about their little stomachs, men covered with tuberculous sores and so forth, on some days as many as a hundred. Jo, having finished breakfast, had then to assume a commanding air, and to stamp down the steps into the crowd, sort out the probable diphtheria cases—this by long practice,—forbid anybody to approach them under pain of instant disease, get the others into a vague theatre queue, which they never kept, and then run back into the office to assist the doctor and to translate. All this, repeated daily, was highly interesting of course, and so when Jan suggested the tour she "didn't want to do it."
But authority was on Jan's side. Jo had had a mild accident: a diphtheria patient fled to avoid being doctored, they often did, and Jo had chased after her; she tripped, fell, drove her teeth through her lower lip, and for a moment was stunned. When they caught the patient they found that it was the wrong person—but that is beside the subject. Dr. Boyle thought that Jo had had a mild concussion and threw her weight at Jan's side. Dr. Berry was quite agreeable, and gave us a commission to go to Salonika to start with and find a disinfector which had gone astray. Another interpreter was found, so Jo took leave of her out-patients.
* * * * *
In Serbia it was necessary to get permission to move. Jan went to the major for the papers. There were crowds of people on the major's steps, and Jan learned that all the peasants and loafers had been called in to certify, so that nobody should avoid their military service. Later we parted, taking two knapsacks. Dr. Boyle and Miss Dickenson were very generous, giving us large supplies of chocolate, Brand's essence, and corned beef for our travels, and we had two boxes of "compressed luncheons," black horrible-looking gluey tabloids which claim to be soup, fish, meat, vegetables and pudding in one swallow.
The Austrian prisoners bade us a sad farewell, but many friends accompanied us to the station, and the rotund major and his rounder wife did us the like honour. Our major was a queer mixture: he was jolly because he was fat, and he was stern because he had a beaky nose, and in any interview one had first to ascertain whether the stomach or the nose held the upper hand, so to speak. With the wife one was always sure—she had a snub nose. On this occasion the major furiously boxed the Austrian prisoner coachman's ears, telling us that he was the best he had ever had. The unfortunate driver was a picture of rueful pleasure. The two plump dears stood waving four plump hands till we had rumbled round the corner of the landscape.
In the train to Nish it was intensely hot. We had sixteen or seventeen fellow-passengers in our third-class wooden-seated carriage—all the firsts had been removed, because they could not be disinfected—and the windows, with the exception of two, had been screwed tightly down. Every time we stood up to look at the landscape somebody slipped into our seat, and we were continually sitting down into unexpected laps. Expostulations, apologies, and so on. Somebody had gnawed a piece from one of the wheels, and we lurched through the scenery with a banging metallic clangour which made conversation difficult, in spite of which Jo astonished the natives by her colloquial and fluent Serbian. We had an enormous director of a sanitary department and a plump wife, evidently risen, but fat people rise in Serbia automatically like balloons. We had three meagre old gentlemen, one unshaven for a week, one whiskered since twenty years with Piccadilly weepers like a stage butler; some ultra fashionable girls and men; and a dear old dumb woman wearing three belts, who had been a former outpatient; and several sticky families of children.
The old gentlemen took a huge interest in Jo. They drew her out in Serbian, and at every sentence turned each to the other and elevated their hands, ejaculating "kako!" (how!) in varying terms of admiration and flattery.
The American has not yet ousted the Turk from Serbia, and the bite from our wheel banged off the revolutions of our sedate passing. Trsternik's church—modern but good taste—gleamed like a jewel in the sun against the dark hills. On either hand were maize fields with stalks as tall as a man, their feathery tops veiling the intense green of the herbage with a film, russet like cobwebs spun in the setting sun. There were plum orchards—for the manufacture of plum brandy—so thick with fruit that there was more purple than green in the branches, and between the trunks showed square white ruddy-roofed hovels with great squat tile-decked chimneys. Some of the houses were painted with decorations of bright colours, vases of flowers or soldiers, and on one was a detachment of crudely drawn horsemen, dark on the white walls, meant to represent the heroes of old Serbian poetry.
To Krusevatz the valley broadened, and the sinking sun tinted the widening maize-tops till the fields were great squares of gold. We had no lights in the train, and presently dusk closed down, seeming to shut each up within his or her own mind. The hills grew very dark and distant, and on the faint rising mist the trees seemed to stand about with their hands in their pockets like vegetable Charlie Chaplins.
A junction, and a rush for tables at the little out-of-door restaurant. In the country from which we have just come all seemed peace, but here in truth was war. Passing shadowy in the faint lights were soldiers; soldiers crouched in heaps in the dark corners of the station; yet more soldiers and soldiers again huddled in great square box trucks or open waggons waiting patiently for the train which was four or five hours late. There were women with them, wives or sisters or daughters, with great heavy knapsacks and stolid unexpressive faces.
While we were dreaming of this romance of war, and of the coming romance of our own tour, a little man dumped himself at our table, explained that he had a pain in his kidneys, and started an interminable story about his wife and a dog. He was Jan's devoted admirer, and declared that Jan had performed a successful operation upon him, though Jan is no surgeon, and had never set eyes upon the man before.
Georgevitch rescued us. Georgevitch was fat, tall, young and genial, and was military storekeeper at Vrntze. He was an ideal storekeeper and looked the part, but he had been a comitaj. He had roamed the country with belts full of bombs and holsters full of pistols, he and 189 others, with two loaves of bread per man and then "Ever Forwards." Of the 189 others only 22 were left, and one was a patient at our hospital where we called him the "Velika Dete" or "big child," because of his sensibility. With Georgevitch was a dark woman with keen sparkling eyes. Alone, this woman had run the typhus barracks in Vrntze until the arrival of the English missions. She was a Montenegrin; no Serbian woman could be found courageous enough to undertake the task. After struggling all the winter, she was taken ill about a fortnight after the arrival of the English. The Red Cross Mission took care of her and she recovered.
We left our bore still talking about his wife and the dog, and fled to their table, where we chatted till our train arrived. We found a coupe—a carriage with only one long seat—the exigencies of which compelled Jan to be all night with Jo's boots on his face, and we so slept as well as we were able.
NISH AND SALONIKA
To our dismay a rare thing happened—our train was punctual, and we arrived in Nish at four o'clock. It was cold and misty. The station was desolate and the town asleep. Around us in the courtyard ragged soldiers were lying with their heads pillowed on brightly striped bags. A nice old woman who had asked Jo how old she was, what relation Jan was to her, whether they had children, and where she had learnt Serbian, suddenly lost all her interest in us and hurried off with voluble friends whose enormous plaits around their flat red caps betokened the respectable middle-class women.
Piccadilly weepers vanished and a depressed little quartet was left on the platform—our two selves, a lean schoolmaster, and an egg-shaped man who never spoke a word. We found a clerk sitting in an office. He said we could not leave our bags in his room, but as we made him own that we could not put them anywhere else he looked the other way while we dropped them in the corner.
In the faint mist of the early morning the great overgrown village of one-storied houses seemed like a real town buried up to its attics in fog. We found a cafe which was shut, and sat waiting on green chairs outside. Around us old men were talking of the news in the papers. They said that Bulgaria was making territorial demands, and as the Balkan governments covet land above all things they felt pessimistic as to whether Serbia would concede anything, and said, shaking their heads, "It will be another Belgium."
We celebrated the opening of the cafe by ordering five Turkish coffees each, and the schoolmaster and we alternately stood treat. Jo loaded up with aspirin to deaden a toothache which was worrying her.
We spent a cynical morning in interviews with people who were supposed to know about missing luggage. Both they and we were aware that the first hospital which got a wandering packing-case froze on to it, and if inconvenient people came to hunt for their property the dismayed and guilty ones hurriedly painted the case, saying to each other, "After all it's in a good cause, and it's better than if it were stolen."
Then we went to see the powers who can say "no" to those who want to do pleasant things, and were handed an amendment to a plea for a tour round Serbia, including the front, which we had sent to them and which had been pigeon-holed for a month.
"But we don't want to see a lot of monasteries," said Jan, as he gazed at a little circle drawn round the over-visited part of Serbia. The powers were adamant and seemed to think they had done very well for us. We went away sadly, for monasteries had not been the idea at all.
Half an hour later we were pursuing an entirely different object. We had discovered that Sir Ralph Paget was housing about L1000 worth of stores destined for Dr. Clemow's hospital—which was in Montenegro—and which needed an escort. He was somewhat puzzled at our altruistic anxiety to take them off his hands, but was much relieved at the thought that he could get rid of them.
We hurried to the station, rescued our knapsacks under the nose of a new official who looked very much surprised, and boarded the English rest house near by. English people were sitting in deck chairs outside the papier-mache house which stood surrounded by a couple of tents and a wooden kitchen in a field. Austrian prisoners were preparing lunch, and we were introduced to Seemitch the dog.
Though young, Seemitch was fat and exhibited signs of a much-varied ancestry. The original Seemitch, an important Serb with long gold teeth, was very indignant that a dog, and such a dog, should be called after him, so Sir Ralph arranged that of the two other puppies one should be called after him and the other after Mr. Hardinge his secretary. Thus the man Seemitch's dignity was restored.
At the station, to our great joy, we met two American doctors from Zaichar. One we had mourned for dead and were astonished to see him, shadow-like, stiff-kneed, and sitting uncomfortably on a chair in the middle of the platform. Months before he had pricked himself with a needle while operating on a gangrenous case, and had since lain unconscious with blood-poisoning.
While we were cheering over his recovery, a little Frenchman slipped into our reserved compartment, which was only a coupe, and had seized the window seat. Jan found him lubricating his mouth, already full of dinner, with wine from a bottle. As he showed no signs of seeing reason from the male, Jo tried feminine indignation. "That seat is mine," she snapped to his back-tilted head.
"Good. I exact nothing," he said, wiping his moustache upwards. She suggested that if any exacting was to be done she possessed the exclusive rights.
"Quel pays," he answered. Jo thought he was casting aspersions on England and on her as the nearest representative, and the air became distinctly peppery. The Frenchman hurriedly explained that he was alluding to Serbia, so they buried the hatchet and became acquaintances.
* * * * *
Uskub, or Skoplje, and one hour to wait. All about the great plains the mountains were just growing ruddy with the dawn, and we gulped boiling coffee at the station restaurant.
One of the American doctors seemed restless. Some one had told him it was advisable to keep an eye on the luggage. They began to shunt the train, and soon he was stumbling about the sidings in a resolute attempt not to lose sight of the luggage van. We sympathetically wished him good luck and walked past into the Turkish quarter, adopted by two dogs which followed us all the way. We had a hurried glimpse of queer-shaped, many-coloured houses, trousered women, and a general Turkishness.
We returned to find our American friend furious, full of the superior methods of luggage registration in the States.
We had beer with him at the frontier, delicious cool stuff with a mollifying influence. He told us he held the record for one month's hernia operations in Serbia. We were later to meet his rival, a Canadian doctor, in Montenegro.
Locked in the train, we awaited the medical examination, and sat feeling self-consciously healthy. At last the Greek doctor opened the door, glanced at a knapsack, and vanished. We were certified healthy.
It was a beautiful dark blue night when we arrived at Salonika. Crowds of people were dining at little tables which filled the streets off the quay, in spite of the awful smells which came up from the harbour.
It is impossible to sleep late in Salonika. Soon after dawn children possess the town—bootblacks, paper-sellers, perambulating drapers' shops; all children crying their wares noisily. The only commodity that the children don't peddle is undertaken by mules laden with glass fronted cases hanging on each side and which are filled with meat.
We breakfasted in the street, revelling in the early morning and shooing away the children, who never gave us a moment's grace. In self-defence we had our boots blacked, for the ambulating bootblack molests no longer the owner of a well-polished pair of boots. It is queer to walk about in a town where one-third of the population is only pecuniarily interested in the momentary appearance of feet and never look at a face, like the man with the muckrake with eyes glued on life as it is led two inches from the ground.
When we had finished searching for disinfectors and dentists we wandered up the hill through the romantic streets. Jan sketched busily, but toothache had rather sapped Jo's industry, and she generally found some large stone to sit on, whence to contemplate.
An old woman's face, peering round the doorway, discovered her sitting on the doorstep, a Greek dustman gazing stupidly at her.
In two minutes they were talking hard. The old woman was a Bulgarian, but they were able to understand each other. What Jo told the old woman was translated to the dustman, and when Jan came up they were introduced each to the other, the dustman with his broom bowing to the ground like some old-time court usher.
Once a Greek woman offered a chair to Jo. She was much embarrassed, as the only Greek words she had picked up were "How much?" and "Yet another;" and as both seemed unsuitable she tried to put her gratitude into the width of her smile.
We scrambled on ever afterwards through streets which were more like cliff climbs than roads. The sun grew red till all Salonika lay at our feet a maze of magenta shadow. We sat down in an old Turkish cemetery, where we could watch the old wall sliding down to plains of gold, where, falling into ruins, it lent its degraded stones for the construction of Turkish hovels.
A kitten with paralysed hind legs crawled up to us and accepted a little rubbing. When dusk came we moved on, marvelling at the inexhaustible picturesqueness of Salonika.
As we clambered down the breakneck paths, the priests were illuminating the minarets with hundreds of twinkling lights.
The next day was the Feast. Mahommedans were everywhere. By the women's trousers, which twinkled beneath the shrouding veils, one could see that they were gorgeously dressed. Befezzed men were lounging and smoking in all the cafe's.
In the evening once more we wandered up through the old Turkish quarter. We heard a curious noise like a hymn played by bagpipes, rhythmically accompanied in syncopation by a very flabby drum. Round the corner came four jolly niggers blowing pipes, and the drummer behind them. Very slim young men with bright sashes and light trousers were twisting, posturing, and dancing joyfully. One of them threw to Jo the most graceful kiss she had ever seen.
We left Salonika in the morning, having been wakened by new sounds. Thousands of marching feet, songs. This was puzzling.
In the train a young Greek told us that his nation had mobilized against the Bulgars, but that it was not very serious. He said that there had been very friendly feeling in Greece for England, but that we had done our best to kill it.
"You see, monsieur," he explained, "your offer to give away our land. It is not yours to give. You say that does not matter, but that colonies, great colonies in Africa will replace the small part of land that we may surrender. Kavalla is more valuable to Grecian hearts than all Africa, for how could we desert our Grecian brothers and place them beneath the rule of the Turk or Bulgar?"
On the train were more American doctors. One had just arrived, and was still full of enthusiasm for scenery and sanitation. Also there was Princess —— surrounded by packing cases. Some months earlier she had visited our hospitals in Vrntze and she had asked if one of our V.A.D.'s could be sent to her as housemaid. Seeing her in the station, Jo involuntarily ran over in her mind, was she "sober, honest and obliging?"
The American doctors and we picnicked together. We ate bully beef and a huge water melon. The heat was awful. The velvet seats seemed to invade one's body and come through at the other side. One of the doctors sat on the step of the train, and Jo found him nodding and smiling as he dreamt. She rescued him before he fell off.
After twelve hours they left us. Uskub once more and an hour to wait. We sat behind trees in boxes on the platform and ate omelet with a nice old Jew and his ten-year-old daughter, who already spoke five languages.
Then to sleep. We found our half coupe contained a second seat which could be pulled down, so we each had a bed. At four in the morning we were awakened by the most awful imitation of a German band.
What had happened? We looked out. It was barely dawn, and a wretched little orchestra was grouped at the edge of the tiny station. Every instrument was cracked and was tuned one-sixteenth tone different from its companions. What it lacked in musical ability it made up in energy.
Why, oh, why at that hour, we never found out. Perhaps it was in honour of the Princess, poor lady!
OFF TO MONTENEGRO
Back to Nish in the rain, and Jo was wearing a cotton frock. There may be more dismal towns than this Nish, but I have yet to see them, and this, although the great squares were packed with gaily coloured peasants—some feast, we imagined—carts full of melons, melons on the ground, melons framing the faces of the greedy—cerise green-rind moons projecting from either cheek. The Montenegrin consul was not at home, so off we went to the Foreign Office to give a letter to Mr. Grouitch, who sent us to the Sanitary Department of the War Office (henceforth known as S.D.W.O.). S.D.W.O. wouldn't move without a letter from "Sir Paget." We got the letter from "Sir Paget" and back to the S.D.W.O., to find it shut in our faces, and to learn that it did not reopen till four.
Then came the matter of Jo's tooth. This abscess had been nagging all the time, it had vigorously tried to get between Jo and the scenery. We had sought dentists in Salonika, rejecting one because his hall was too dirty, a second because she (yes, a she) was practising on her father's certificates, the third, a little Spaniard, had red-hot pokered the gums thereof and only annoyed it. But we had heard there was a Russian dentist in Nish, a very good one. The Russian dentist turned out to be a girl, and tiny—she spoke no Serb, but Jo managed, by means of the second cousinship of the language, to make out what she said in Russian.
"The tooth must come out," squeaked the small dentist.
"Can't you save it?" prayed Jo; "it's the best one I've got, and the one to which I send all the Serbian meat."
"It must come out," squeaked the Russ.
"Can't you save it?" prayed Jo.
"It must come out," reiterated the Russ.
"You're very small," said Jo, doubtfully.
This annoyed the dentist. She pushed unwilling Jo into a chair, produced a pair of pincers, and, oh, woe! she wrenched to the north, she wrenched to the south, she wrenched to the east, and there was the tooth, nearly as big as the dentist herself.
"I never can eat Serbian meat again," murmured Jo as she mopped her mouth.
After tea we returned to the S.D.W.O., and by means of our letter and our Englishness we got in front of all the unfortunate people who had been waiting for hours, and received our passes, etc., immediately.
Sir Ralph Paget's storekeeper wouldn't work on Sunday, so we had also to rest, and we celebrated by staying in bed late and going for a walk in the afternoon with an Englishman who was en route for Sofia. We came to a little village where every house was surrounded by high walls made of wattle. The women soon crowded round, imagining Mr. B—— a doctor. Jo pretended to translate, and gave advice for a girl with consumption, and an old woman whose hand was stiff from typhus, and we had to give the money for the latter's unguent. For the consumptive she said, "Open the windows, rest, and don't spit"; but that isn't a peasant's idea of doctoring: they want medicine or magic, one or the other, which doesn't matter.
The train started "after eight" on Monday evening. The English boys at the Rest house were very good to us, adding to our small stock of necessities a "Tommy's treasure," two mackintosh capes, and some oxo cubes. One youth said, "You won't want to travel a second time on a Serbian luggage train"; then ruefully, "I've done it! The shunting, phew!"
A Serbian railway station is a public meeting-place; along the platform, but railed off from the train, is a restaurant which is one of the favourite cafes of the town. It is such fun to the still childish Serbian mind to sit sipping beer or wine and watch the trains run about, and hear the whistles. We had our supper amongst the gay crowd, and then pushed out into the darkened goods station to find our travelling bedroom, for we were to sleep in the waggons—beds and mattresses having been provided—and we had borrowed blankets from the Rest house.
We found our truck and climbed in. There were certainly beds enough, for there were thirty light iron folding bedsteads piled up at one end. We chose two, and, not satisfied with the stacking of the others, Jan repiled them, with an eye on what our friend had said about Serbian shunting. Even then Jo was not happy about them.
We sat on our beds, reading or staring out of our open door at the twinkle of the station lights, the moving flares of the engines, and the fountains of sparks which rushed from their chimneys; listening to the chains of bumps which denoted a shunting train. We heard another chain of bumps, which rattled rapidly towards us and suddenly—a most awful CRASH. The candle went out, and we were flung from bed on to the floor. Our truck hurtled down the line at about thirty miles an hour, and suddenly struck some solid object. Another wild crash, and the whole twenty-eight beds flung themselves upon the place where we had been, and smashed our couches to the ground.
We have read stories of the Spanish Inquisition about rooms which grow smaller, and at last crush the unfortunate victim to a jelly: we can now appreciate the feeling of the unfortunate victim aforesaid. There were piles of packing-cases at either end of the van, and for the next hour, as we were hurtled up and down by the Serbian engine-driver, at each crash these packing-cases crept nearer and nearer. The beds had fallen across the door, so it was impossible to escape. When the lower cases had reached the beds they halted, but the upper ones still crept on towards us. In the short, wild intervals of peace Jan tried to push the cases back and restore momentary stability. In addition to diminishing room, we were flung about with every crash, landing on the corner of a packing-case, on the edge of an iron bedstead, and with each crash the light went out. We will give not one jot of advantage to your prisoner in the Spanish Inquisition, save that we escaped whereas he did not.
The engine-driver tired of the sport just in time to save our limbs, if not lives, and he dragged the train out of the station into the dark.
At Krusevatch we halted for the next day. After a discussion with the station-master, who asked us to come down first at six p.m., then at four, then at one, and lastly in two hours, at nine a.m. we strolled up towards the town. There was an old beggar on the road, and he was cuddling a "goosla," or Serbian one-stringed fiddle, which sounds not unlike a hive of bees in summer-time, and is played not with the tips of the fingers, as a violin, but with the fat part of the first phalanx. As soon as he heard our footsteps he began to howl, and to saw at his miserable instrument; and as soon as he had received our contribution he stopped suddenly. We were worth no more effort; but we admired his frankness.
Krusevatz market-place is like the setting of a Serbian opera. The houses are the kind of houses that occupy the back scenery of opera, and in the middle is an abominable statue commemorating something, which is just in the bad taste which would mar an opera setting. There was an old man wandering about with two knapsacks, one on his back and one on his chest, and from the orifice of each peered out innumerable ducks' heads. We returned to the station at nine, but were told that nothing could be done till one. So we went up to the churchyard, spread our mackintoshes, and got a much-needed sleep. The church is very old, but isn't much to look at, and we, being no archaeologists, would sooner look at that of Trsternick, though it is modern.
We returned to the station to unload our trucks, for at this point the broad-gauge line ceases, and there is but a narrow-gauge into the mountains. A band of Austrian prisoners were detailed to help us, and they at once recognized us, and knew that we came from Vrntze. They were in a wretched condition: their clothes were torn, they said that they had no change of underclothes, and were swarming with vermin, nor could they be cleaned, for they worked even on Sundays, and had no time to wash their clothes. They begged us for soap, and asked us to send them a change of raiment from Vrntze. We explained sadly that we were not going back just yet, but we could oblige them with the soap, for a case had been broken open, and the waggon was strewn with bars. We also gave some to the engine-driver, as a bribe to shunt us gently.
We imagined that the soap had burst because of the shunting, but in our second truck discovered that this same shunting had been strangely selective. It had, for instance, opened a case of brandy, it had burst a box of tinned tongue, and even opened some of the tins which were strewn in the truck. And yet the truck had been sealed, both doors. Several cases of biscuits, too, had been abstracted, and all this must have happened under the very noses of the Englishmen who had supervised the loading. Some of the prisoners said that they were starving, so we distributed our spare crusts amongst them, and they ate them greedily enough.
In the fields by the railway were queer pallid green plants which puzzled us. They were like tall cabbages, and shone with a curious ghostly intensity in the gloaming.
We dangled our feet over the side of our waggon watching the flitting scenery. At one point we passed a train in which were other English people, who stared amazed at us and waved their hands as we disappeared. Dusk was down when we passed Vrntze, and we reached the gorges of Ovchar in the dark. We thundered through tunnels and out over hanging precipices, the river beneath us a faint band of greyish light in the blackness of the mountains.
Uzhitze in the morning at 4.30; it was cold and wet. Jan wanted to hurry off to the hotel, but Jo sensibly refused, and we settled down till a decent hour.
The hotel was a huge room with a smaller yard; on the one side of the yard were the kitchens, etc., and on the other a string of bedrooms. We then crossed the big square to the Nachanlik's (or mayor's) office.
Outside the mayor's office we found an old friend. He had been a patient in our hospital, and gangrene, following typhus, had so poisoned his legs that both were amputated. He had been discharged the day before, and had travelled up from Vrntze, some eight hours, in an open truck. The Serbian authorities had brought him from the station and had propped him on a wooden bench outside the mayor's office, where he had remained all night, and where we found him. He was a charming fellow, though very silent. Once when Jo had remarked upon this silence he had answered, "When a man has no longer any legs it is fitting that he should be silent."
He was waiting for his father, who lived twelve hours away in the mountains. The old man came with a donkey, and there was a most affecting meeting between the old father and his poor mutilated son. Tears flowed freely on either side, for Serbs are still simple enough to be unashamed of emotion. The donkey had an ordinary saddle, on to which our friend was hoisted. He balanced tentatively for a moment, then shook his head. A pack-saddle was substituted.
"It is hard," he said, "young enough, and yet like a useless bale of goods."
Twenty hours he had endured, and yet had twelve to go—thirty-two hours for a man without legs. This will show of what some Serbs are made.
Within the office we found a professor whom we had met before, and who was acting as assistant mayor. We took him to the station and estimated that thirty-two waggons would deal with our stuff.
Jo and Jan went for a stroll, Uzhitze, especially in the back streets, is like a Duerer etching—that one of the Prodigal Son, for instance, all tiny, peaky-roofed houses. We took a siesta in the afternoon, but Jan was dragged out to talk to our professor, who explained that it was impossible for the Serbian Government to find thirty-two ox-carts at once, so the convoy must make two journeys. He also said that horses would be provided for us, and that we would take two or three days to do the trip, but that the ox-waggons would be at least seven, which was death to our romantic dream of toiling laboriously up almost inaccessible mountains at the head of straining ox-carts, sleeping by the roadside, brigands, and all that.
We went down to the station, unloaded the truck and checked the numbers. A few were missing, but not so many as we had expected.
A regiment of soldiers were called up; at a word of command they pounced upon our packing-cases and hurried them off to a storehouse. The smaller cases were left to go on donkeys, two on either side.
The professor dined with us. He is an Anglophile, and was determined after the war to go to England in order to discover the secret of her greatness. He had a theory that it lay in our educational laws, which he wanted to transplant into Serbia wholesale. Jan thought not, and suggested that it might lie even deeper than that.
Next day was a Prazhnik, or feast day, and the great square was crowded with peasantry in their beautiful hand-woven clothes. There were soldiers straight back from the lines chaffing and flirting with the pretty girls, and presently a group began to dance the "Kola" about a man who played a pipe. It is not difficult to dance the Kola. You join hands till a ring is formed, and then shuffle round and round. If you have aspirations to style you fling your legs about as much as space will allow, and we noticed how much better the men danced than the girls, who were almost all very clumsy.
We were to be called at six, so went to bed early, and in spite of the odours from the yard slept soundly.
ACROSS THE FRONTIER
We got up in good time, breakfasted, but there was no sign of horses. After waiting two hours a square man was brought up to us by the waiter and introduced as our guide. The professor, who had promised to see us off, was apparently clinging to his bed, for he did not come. Our guide was a taciturn, loose-limbed fellow, but had nice eyes and a charming manner; he helped us on to our horses, and off we went. Jan was rather anxious at the start, for he had done very little riding since childhood; but his horse was quiet, and soon he had persuaded himself that he was a cavalier from birth. Jo was riding astride for the second time in her life.
We took the road to Zlatibor (golden hill). There was a heavy mist, the hills were just outlined in faint washes on the fog, and as we mounted the zig-zag path, higher and higher, the town became small and fairylike beneath us; and a soldiers' camp made a queer chessboard on the green of the valley. Jo's horse cast a shoe almost at the start, but the guide said that it did not matter. We went on and ever up, our horses clambering like goats. The scenery was on the whole very English, and not unlike the Devonshire side of Dartmoor.
Our guide took us a two mile detour to show us his house. Later we reached a tiny village with a queer church. We off-saddled for a moment, and were welcomed by the inhabitants, who gave us Turkish coffee and plum brandy (rakia), while in exchange we made them cigarettes of English tobacco. At sixteen kilometres we reached a larger village, where we decided to lunch. We were astonished by the sudden appearance of a French doctor. He was delighted to see us, more so when he found that we both spoke French, and invited us to coffee. We lunched with our guide at the local inn. We ordered pig; indeed there was nothing else to order.
"How much?" said mine host.
"For three," answered we.
"But how much is that?" replied mine host. "You see, each man eats differently." So we ordered one kilo to go on with.
Half a pig was wrenched from a spit in front of the big fire, carried sizzling outside to the wood block, where the waiter hewed it apart with the axe.
We had discovered peculiarities in our horses. They had conscientious objections to going abreast, and always walked single file; this was owing to the narrowness of the mountain paths. Jo's horse, which somehow looked like Monkey Brand, insisted on taking the second place, and would by no means go third. At last we reached the top of Zlatibor—which gets its name from a peculiar golden cheese which it produces. The view is like that from the Cat and Fiddle in Derbyshire, only bigger in scale, and from thence the ride began to be interminable. It grew darker, we walked down the hills to ease our aching knees, and Jan decided that horse riding was no go.
Finally the guide decided that it was too late to reach Novi Varosh that night, and so the direction was altered. The road grew stony and more stony. A bitter breeze came up with the evening. We came to a green valley, at the end of which was a rocky gorge, down which ran the twistiest stream: it seemed as though it had been designed by a lump of mercury on a wobbling plate. We turned from the gorge on to a hill so rocky that the path was only visible where former horse-hoofs had stained the stones with red earth.
The village consisted of an enormous school, a little church, soldiers encamped round fires in the churchyard, and seven or eight wooden hovels. Our guide stopped at the door of the dirtiest and rapped. A furtive woman's face peered out into the gloom. We climbed painfully from our saddles, for we had been thirteen hours on the road.
"Beds?" said the guide to the woman.
"Good Lord!" thought we.
She shook her head dolefully and said, "Ima," which means "there is." Serbians nod for no. The woman slid out into the night and passed to another building, climbed the stairs to a veranda and disappeared.
It grew colder, the guide was busy unharnessing the horses, so shivering we sought refuge in the dirty house, which was not quite so bad within as we had feared. It was furnished with a long table and two benches only, and was lighted by a small fire which was burning on a huge open hearth, and which gave no heat at all. The woman came back and led us to the other house for supper, which was boiled eggs, and the guide generously shared his own bread with us, as we had none. There was no water to drink, and Jo tried, not very successfully, to quench her thirst with rakia.
There were but two beds, and on inquiry finding that there was no place for the guide, we allotted one bed to him. On our own bed the sheets had evidently not been changed since it was first made, and the pillow which once had been white was a dark ironclad grey. We undid our mackintoshes and spread them over both counterpane and pillow. We lay down clothed as we were, and by the time we had finished our preparations the guide was already snoring.
As soon as the light was turned out the whole room began to tick like ten agitated clocks, and all about us in the darkness began strange noises of life: rats scampered in all directions and were finally hurdling over our heads. We had taken some aspirin to ward off the stiffness of unaccustomed exercise, but we were sore, and the narrowness of the bed forced us to lie on our backs; exhaustion, however, conquered all discomforts, and we slept. Jo awoke in the night and yelped to find that the mackintosh had slipped and that her head was resting on the pillow.
We were up again at 5.30, and Vladimir, the guide, suggested that we should breakfast at Novi Varosh, four hours on; but our stomachs were not of cast iron, and we clamoured for eggs. We got them, left Negbina—that was the name of the village—about seven, and once more adventured on the road.
By eight we had passed the old Serbian frontier: the country was growing more interesting, like the foothills of the Tyrol; on the streams were inefficient-looking old wooden mills, the water rushing madly down a slope and hitting a futile little wheel which turned laboriously.
Novi Varosh, with roofs of weathered wood gleaming purplish amongst the trees, was a wonderful little town, and quite unlike any other we had seen; clean without, and if the energy of its citizens at the village pump is a good sample, clean within also, for Serbia. Here are Turks too: ladies in veil and trousers, and trousered kiddies with clothes of orange, yellow and purple. Twice in the streets we were stopped by authority. Our lunch was well cooked, one can clearly see this has not been Serbia for long, for the Serbs are the worst eaters in the world. Jo gave medical advice to a Serb, and on once more.
On the road were travellers never ending in their variety, and one father was mounted with a pack behind him, and on the top of the pack his little daughter clad in many coloured cottons, clasping him tight round the neck and peering inquisitively from behind his ear.
About three p.m. we reached the Lim. The road climbs to a great height, and the peasants in their gay costumes were reaping, some of the fields so steep that we wondered how they stood upon them; on the opposite cliff was an old robber castle like a Rhine fortress.
The Serbian town of Prepolji introduced itself by six Turks lying by the roadside, then there were three Turkish families, afterwards an assorted dozen of small girls in trousers, finally, an old man doddering along in a turban and a veiled beggar woman, who demanded backsheesh. "Where are the Serbs?" we thought.
The Greek church looked as if it had been new built, so that the Serbs could claim Prepolji as a Christian town, and had a biscuit tin roof not yet rusted.
Our hotel was like that where Mr. Pickwick first met Sam Weller, a large open court with a crazy wooden balcony at the second story, and the bedrooms opening on to the balcony. When we opened our knapsacks to get out washing materials, we found that the heat of the horse had melted all the chocolate in Jan's, and it had run over everything. It was a mess, but chocolate was precious, and every piece had to be rescued. We had only been ten hours in the saddle, but we descended stiffly, and were pounced on by a foolish looking man, with a head to which Jo took immediate offence. This fellow attached himself to us during the whole of our stay, and was an intolerable nuisance; we nicknamed him "glue pot," and only at our moment of departure discovered that he was the mayor who had been trying to do us honour.
The next day was Sunday, and the village full of peasants. Stiff-legged and groaning a little within ourselves we walked about the town making observations: Turkish soldiers, Turkish policemen, Turkish recruits, but all the peasants Serb. The country costume is different from that of the north, the perpendicular stripe on the skirt has here given way to horizontal bands of colour, and some women wear a sort of exaggerated ham frill about the waist. The men's waistcoats were very ornate, and much embroidery was upon their coats.
An English nurse came into the town in the afternoon. She, a Russian girl, and an English orderly had driven from Plevlie, en route to Uzhitze. Half-way along the wheel of their carriage had broken in pieces, so they finished the road on foot. Curiously enough we had travelled from England to Malta with this lady, Sister Rawlins, on the same transport. The Russian girl had been married only the day before to a Montenegrin officer, nephew of the Sirdar Voukotitch, Commander-in-Chief of the North, and she was flying back to Russia to collect her goods and furniture.
Next day as we were sketching in the picturesque main street, from the distance came the sounds of a weird wailing, drawing slowly closer and closer.
"Hurra," thought we—two minds with but a single, etc.,—"a funeral—magnificent. Just the thing to complete the scene."
A string of donkeys came round the corner, on either flank each animal bore a case marked with a large red cross. Amongst the animals were donkey-boys, and it was from their lips came the dismal wailing. Never have we seen so ragged and wretched a crew. The boys were evidently the "unfits," and they looked it, every face showed the wan, pallid shadow of hunger and disease. A few old men in huge fur caps, with rifles on their backs, stumbled along, guarding the precious convoy. "Glue pot" led us all to a large empty building, once a Turkish merchant's store, where the cases were to be housed. The bullock carts with the heavier packages came in in the evening, and we sent the men five litres of plum brandy to put some warmth into their miserable bodies. This moved them once more to singing, but we think the songs sounded a little less dreary.
The Commandant asked for, and got, half a dozen sheets from us as a sort of superior backsheesh, and promised us horses for the morrow.
The next morning dawned dismally. Miss Rawlins and her companions were to go on by post cart, and their conveyance arrived first, only two and a half hours late. It was a sort of tinker's tent on four rickety wheels. There seemed to be barely room for one within the dark interior, but both Miss Rawlins and the little Russian climbed in somehow. Charlie, the orderly, clung on by his eyelids in front, and off they went. We last saw two faces peering back at us beneath the fringe of the tent. They had no luck. Half-way to Uzhitze the cart upset and they were all rolled into the ditch, missing a precipice of sixty feet or so by the merest fraction.
Our own horses arrived later, we mounted, and with cheers from the assembled authorities, we rode off.
The rain came down in a steady drizzle; we discovered that the waterproof cloaks which we had borrowed from Nish were not very weathertight. We climbed right up into the clouds, but still the rain held on. From the floating mist jutted great boulders and huge red cliffs. Our guide put up an umbrella and rode along crouching beneath it. At 1400 metres we reached an inn, where we lunched. A Montenegrin commissioner insisted on paying our bill, and said that we would do the same for him when he came to England. Every one in Serbia or Montenegro is interested in ages. They were astounded at ours. They said that Jo would have been seventeen if she were Serbian; and one rose, shook Jan warmly by the hand and said he must have "navigated" the marriage well.
We rode over the frontier, but we were not yet in the real Montenegro. This is not the black mountain where the last dregs of old Serbian aristocracy defied the Turk, this is still the Sanjak, three years ago Turkish, and with pleasant pasturages spreading on either hand.
At last we came up over Plevlie. To one corner we could see the town creeping in a crescent about the foot of a grey hill, far away on the other side was a little monastery, forlorn and white, like a shivering saint, and between a great valley with four purplish humps in the midst of the corn and maize fields, like great whales bursting through a patchwork quilt.
Our horses were thoroughly cheered up, and we passed through the long streets of the town at a lively trot, a thing Jo was taught as a child to consider bad form.
A semi-transparent little man in a black hat stood on the hotel steps beckoning to us. But we had no use for hotel touts, and waved our sticks saying, "Hospital." He seemed curiously disappointed.
The hospital, many long low buildings, lay buried in a park of trees. The staff lived in a tiny house near by, where we were welcomed by the cook, Mrs. Roworth. She explained that as the house was hardly capable of holding its ten or twelve occupants, a room had been taken for us at the inn, but that we were to meal with them.
"Not that you will like the food," she said, "for it's all tinned, and I have only twenty-five shillings a week to buy milk, bread, and fresh meat."
We wondered why, in such a fertile country, a party of hard-working people should be condemned to eat tinned mackerel and vegetables brought all the way from England?
However, the dinner was excellent—all "disguised," she said, for she had during the few weeks she had been there concentrated on the art of disguising bully beef and worse problems, and had sternly put Dr. Clemow on omelets and beefsteaks, as his digestion had caved in under six months' unadulterated tinned food.
We met old friends, fellow travellers on the way out. In those days they were a wistful little party, wondering how they were going to reach Montenegro, the Adriatic being impossible. At last one of the passes was hurriedly improved for them by a thousand prisoners, and they rode through in the snow. Since then typhus had raged, two of their number had been very ill, and one had died. Their energy had been tremendous, and everywhere in the country they were spoken of as the wonderful English hospital, and even from Chainitza, where there was a Russian hospital, soldiers walked a long day's march in order to be treated by the English.
Dr. Roger's rival was there, the perpetrator of ninety hernia operations a week—or was it more?
All this on tinned food!
Our hotel room proved large and comfortable with a talkative willing Turk in attendance. We slept immensely and were wakened by yet another horrible cock crowing. All Balkan cocks seem to have bronchitis.
Plevlie is a red-tiled nucleus with a fringe of wood-roofed Serb houses planted round it. There are ten mosques, while the only Greek church stands forlorn on the other side of the great hollow two miles away.
The town is not really Montenegrin. It has the cosmopolitan character of all the Sanjak, Turks, Austro-Turks and Serbs—a mixture like that at Marseilles or Port Said.
The shops are Turkish, though their turbaned owners, sitting cross-legged on the floor-counters, can speak only Serb—a thing which puzzled us at the time.
We saw veiled women and semi-veiled children everywhere, thickly latticed windows with curious eyes peeping through, and yards with high wooden palings above to prevent the possible young men on the houses opposite from catching a glimpse of the fair ladies in the gardens.
Plenty of long-legged Montenegrin officers—with flat caps bearing the King's initials, and five rings representing the dynasties of the ruling house—filled the streets, and also the inevitable ragged soldiers with gorgeous bags on their backs.
Some of the women, too, were wearing these caps, but theirs were yet smaller and tipped over their noses, like the pork pie hat of our grandmothers. One closely veiled woman showed the silhouette sticking up through her veil just like a blacking tin.
The Mahommedan is much more fanatic in these parts than his more civilized brother of Salonika or Constantinople. Women of the two religions do not visit. The hatred is partially political, and Jo began to realize that her dream of visiting a harem would not be easy to achieve. We met three women walking down a lonely street. Although their faces were covered with several thicknesses of black chiffon, they modestly placed them against the wall and stood there, three shapeless bundles, until we were out of sight.
Jan's feelings were very much hurt, but he soon got used to being treated like a dangerous dragon.
When we reached our hotel again we found the elite of the town waiting in the bar-room for us. There was a huge jolly Greek priest, all big hat and velvet, the prefect, the schoolmaster, a linguist, and the little black-hatted man whom we had mistaken for a hotel tout.
The priest was president of the Montenegrin Red Cross, the prefect was a former Prime Minister and a Voukotitch. All important men who are not Petroviches are Voukotitches; the first being members of the king's and the second of the queen's family.
The little black-hatted man was secretary of the Red Cross, and was formally attached to us while there as cicerone. He explained to us that they had all been in the hotel expecting us the night before, with a beautiful dinner which had been prepared in our honour.
We apologized and inwardly noted the grateful temperament of the Montenegrin. We were solemnly treated to coffee and brandy, and the jolly priest emptied his cigarette box into Jo's lap. When the first polite ceremoniousness had worn off we asked delicately about the front.
"Did we wish to see the front?"
Certainly, said the prefect, we should have the first horses that should come back to the town, and the little transparent shadow man should accompany us. And our letter to the Sirdar Voukotitch, commander in chief of the north?—He should be told about it on his return that evening from the front.
At sunset the muezzin sounded, cracked voices cried unmelodiously from all the minaret tops. Immediately, as if it were their signal, all the crows arose from the town, hovered around in batches for a moment, chattering, and flew away up the hill to roost in the trees round the hospital till sunrise.
Salonika rings with children's cries, Dawson city with the howlings of dogs, but the towns of the Sanjak have no better music than the croaking of carrion crows.
THE MONTENEGRIN FRONT ON THE DRINA
When Jan awoke it was dark, and he was with difficulty rousing Jo when suddenly a voice howled through the keyhole that the horses were waiting. Jan grabbed his watch—5 a.m.; but the horses had been ordered for six. Hastily chewing dry biscuit, Jan jumped into his clothes and ran down. There was a small squat youth with a flabby Mongolian face hovering between the yard door and the inn, and Jan following him discovered three horses saddled and waiting. He hastily ordered white coffee to be prepared, and ran up again to hurry Jo and to pack. He rushed down again to pay the bill, but found that the Montenegrin Red Cross had charged itself with everything, very generously, so he ran up once more to nag at Jo. The secretary, whom we called "the shadow," had not appeared, so we inquired from the squint-eyed youth, received many "Bogamis" as answer, but nothing definite; so we decided, as it was now past six, that he had changed his mind and had sent this chinee-looking fellow, whom we named "Bogami," in his place.
Jan's horse was like an early "John" drawing of a slender but antiquated siren, all beautiful curves. Jo's would in England long ago have taken the boat to Antwerp; her saddle stood up in a huge hump behind and had a steeple in front, and was covered by what looked like an old bearskin hearthrug in a temper, one stirrup like a fire shovel was yards too long, the other far too short, and were set well at the back.
"What queer horses!" we remarked.
"Bogami," said Bogami; "when there are no horses these are good horses, Bogami."
"Where is the secretary?"
"Bogami nesnam" (don't know).
From Uzhitze we had good horses, from Prepolji moderate, now these; imagination staggered at what we should descend to if we did a fourth lap to Cettinje, for instance, but we climbed up. Jo with her queerly placed stirrups perched forward something like a racing cyclist. Bogami's horse was innocent of garniture, save for a piece of chain bound about its lower jaw, but he slung his great coat over the saw edge of its backbone and leapt on. He must have had a coccyx of cast iron. We had to kick the animals into a walk—there were fifty kilometres to go.
After a while we began to wonder if it would not be quicker to get off and foot it, but we did catch up and eventually pass a Red Cross Turk. We saw a soldier striding ahead. By kicks and shouts we raised a sprint along the level road; we drew even with him, and then began a race; on the uphills we beat him, on the downhills he caught up and passed in front. He was a taciturn fellow, and save that he was going to Fochar we learnt nothing about him. On a long uphill we gained a hundred yards, and by supreme efforts held our gains. He eventually disappeared from view, and we were rejoicing at our speed when we realized that the telegraph wires were no longer with us—one can always find the nearest way by following the telegraph, for governments do not waste wire. Jan looked for them and found them streaming away to the left, and among them, well up on the horizon, our enemy the soldier.
"Look," we cried to Bogami, "isn't that the shortest way? The wires go there."
"Bogami," he replied; "wires can, horses can't, bogami."
There is a fine military road to Chainitza, made by the Austrians, but it remains a white necklace on the hills, almost an ornament to the landscape. No one seemed to use it, while our old Turkish road which snaked and twisted up and down was pitted with the hoofs of countless horses. It is a stony path, and our animals were shod with flat plates instead of horseshoes; they slipped and slithered, and we wondered if in youth they had ever had lessons in skating.
There was a heavy mist, but it began to break up, and through peepholes one caught fleeting glimpses of distant patterning of field and forest, and hints of great hills. The sun showed like a great pale moon on the horizon. There were other travellers on the old Turkish trail, horsemen, Bosnians in great dark claret-coloured turbans, or Montenegrins in their flat khaki caps, peasants in dirty white cotton pyjamas, thumping before them animals with pack-swollen sides, soldiers only recognizable from the peasants by the rifle on their backs, and Turks; most were jolly fellows, and hailed us cheerfully.
From a house by the roadside burst a sheep, followed by five men. They chased the animal down the road whistling to it. We had never heard that whistling was effectual with sheep, and certainly it did not succeed very well in this instance.
Somewhere beyond this house Jan's inside began to cry for food, two biscuits and a cup of cafe au lait being little upon which to found a long day's riding. He tentatively tried a "compressed luncheon." Its action was satisfactory, but whether it resulted from real nourishment contained in the black-looking glue, or whether it came from a sticking together of the coating of the stomach, we have not yet decided. Jo preferred rather to endure the hunger.
Bogami had quite a charm; for instance, he appreciated our troubles with the beasts we were riding. Jo's horse stumbled a good deal on the downhills; her saddle was very uncomfortable and so narrow that she could never change her position. We came into most magnificent scenery, the beauty of which made a deep impression even upon our empty selves. There were deep green valleys, rising to peaks and hills which faded away ridge behind ridge of blue into the distant Serbian mountains, great pine woods of delicate drooping trees which came down and folded in on every side, and though it was almost September there were strawberries still ripe at the edge of the road, little red luscious blobs amidst the green.
Metalka at one o'clock, and we were on the real Montenegrin frontier. There are two Metalkas, a Montenegrin and an Austrian, and they are divided one from the other by a strip of land some ten yards across which rips the village in two like the track of a little cyclone. Bogami directed us to a shanty labelled "Hotel of Europe." A large woman was blocking the door; we demanded food, she took no notice. Hunger was clamouring within us. We demanded a second time. She waved her hand majestically to her rival in Austria, at whose tables Montenegrin officers were sitting with coffee.
An officer greeted us.
"We had expected you yesterday," he said.
We waved to the horses.
"That is a pity," he murmured. "You see, there was something to eat yesterday!"
In spite of his pessimism we got eggs and wine. Bogami had a large crowd, to whom he lectured, and we sent him out some eggs.
After lunch we pushed on, in conquered territory. To Chainitza they said was one hour and a half, it proved nearer three.
We joined some peasants, and they told us that they were going to the great festival. The old mother halted at a sort of sheep pen by the roadside; when she rejoined us she was wiping her eyes.
"That was my brother," she explained; "he was killed in the war;" for it is the custom to erect memorial stones by the roadside. Many of these are very quaint, sometimes painted with a soldier, or else with the rifle, sword, pistols and medals of the deceased.
Chainitza lies in a backwater, where the deep valley makes a sudden bend. When we came to it the sun was in our eyes, and halfway between the crest and the river the town seemed to float in a bluish mist; two white mosques stood out against the trees, and the roof of one was not one dome, but many like an inverted egg frier, or almost as though it was boiling over.
We were stopped at the entry by a sentry.
"Where are you going?"
"To the Russian Hospital."
He took us in charge and led us, in spite of protestations, to the hotel. A man in a shabby frock-coat received us, and Jo, mistaking him for the innkeeper, clamoured once more for the Russians. The shabby man explained that he was the Prefect, and that this was a State reception. We began to be awed by our own dignity. We explained to him that the Shadow had changed his mind and had sent Bogami instead.
Bogami brought our knapsacks to our room, where he was immobilized by the sight of himself in the looking-glass of the wardrobe; probably he had never seen such a thing before, and he goggled at it. He at last backed slowly from the room.
We rested a while, then descended to find—the Shadow.
He was rather hurt with us, and wanted to know why the —— we had gone off without him. We explained, compared watches, and found that Jan's was an hour too fast. The poor Shadow had been chasing us on a borrowed horse, with our permissions to travel in his pocket, and wildly hoping that he would catch us up before we were arrested as spies.
We had tea with the Russians in a little arbour on the roadside, and chewed sweets which had just arrived from Petrograd, having been three months on the journey, but none the worse for that. Many officers came, amongst them the husband of the little Russian girl we had met at Prepolji. They all seemed to be Voukotitches, and at last the Sirdar himself honoured us. He is a huge man, and yet seemed to take up more room than his size warrants. He has a flat, almost plate-like face, with pallid blue eyes which seemed to focus some way beyond the object of his regard. Were his moustache larger he would be rather like Lord Kitchener, and he was very pleased at the obvious compliment. He poses a little, moves seldom but suddenly, and shoots his remarks as though words of command. He was very kind to us, and was immensely astonished at Jo's Serbian, holding up his hands and saying "Kako" at every one of her speeches. He suggested that poor Bogami should be beaten, but we begged him off. Captain Voukotitch, the husband of a day, was appointed to be our guide for the morrow—because Jo spoke Serbian.
After tea we went up to the bubbly mosque, which was in reality the Greek church. We entered a large gate; on the one side of a yard was the church, and on the other a big two-storied rest-house, where one could lodge while paying devotions or doing pilgrimages. Its long balconies were filled with country folk all come for the festival, and who were feasting and laughing as though the war did not exist. The courtyard was filled with men and women in Bosnian costumes, white and dark red embroideries. Through the open door of the church one could see the silhouettes of the peasants bowing before the Ikons and relics. It was almost dark, and one man began to play a little haunting melody upon a wooden pipe, but though they linked arms and shuffled their feet, the young men did not dance.
At supper the Shadow revealed a quaint sense of humour, and so to bed.
The next morning was lovely, and we started at seven with the youngest Voukotitch and the others. Some officers had lent us their horses, and Voukotitch had proudly produced his English saddle for Jo. On the road the spirit of mischief entered him.
"You can ride all right," he said; "wouldn't you like to go to the nearest machine-gun to the Austrian lines?"
"Rather," said Jo.
"You'll have to do some stiff riding, though. I know the major, and he is bored to death. He'll let us."
"But what about the bullets?" said the Shadow.
In time the major was produced, emerging from a cottage by the roadside, other officers with him, and we had a merry coffee party in an arbour. One told Jo that he was a lawyer. The few Montenegrins who had the misfortune to be educated were not allowed to serve at the front, but he had been lucky enough through influence to be allowed to take a commission. He had not seen much serious fighting, however, as no move had been made for several months.
Then we tackled the hills. "Come along," said the major, cheerfully; and his horse's nose went down and its tail went up, and off it slid downhill. We had seen the Italian officers do such things on the cinematograph, but little thought that we should be in the same position. We supposed it would be all right. Jo's horse became nearly vertical, and she sat back against its tail. Jan followed. Sometimes a sheet of rock was across the path—then we slid; sometimes the sand became very soft—we slid again. Then a muddy bit, and the horse squelched down on his hind quarters.
Here we met a Serbian captain who was in charge of the battery. He was very lonely, and delighted to have a chance to talk, and he talked hard all day, showed us a neat reservoir his men had built, explained to us that beautiful uniforms were coming from Russia soon for the weirdly garbed beings who were guarding the hills, and asked us to lunch behind the trenches under a canopy of boughs.
While lunch was being prepared he took us round his artillery, and into his observation station on the top of a crooked tree. Below us we could see the river Dreina—on the other side of which was Gorazhda, held by the Austrians—and the fortified hills behind.
It seemed impossible that this wide peaceful scene was menacing with a threat of death, yet at intervals one could hear a faint "pop! pop!" as though far-away giants were holding feast and opening great champagne bottles. Away in the hills could be seen an encampment of white tents, which caused a mild excitement, for they had not been there the day before, and we were told that they were quite out of range.
During lunch the youngest Voukotitch tempted the major—who was in splendid mood—suggesting that it was rather tame to go home after having come within mere bowing distance of the Austrians, and that a few stray bullets would not incommode us.
The major saw reason fairly quickly, so we bestrode our horses again and continued our switchback course. At an open space where the Austrians could shoot at us if they wished we had to plunge down the hill quickly, keeping a distance of one hundred yards from each other.
The little Shadow prudently got off his horse and used its body as a shield.
We banged at the door of a cottage, and a young lieutenant came out; somebody said he was nineteen and a hero.
Here we left our horses and began to scramble through brambles along a narrow path, climbing up the back of a little hill on the crest of which were the machine guns. Just before we got to the top we plunged into a tunnel which bored through the hill; at the end was the gun. The hero scrambled in, wriggled the gun about and explained. He invited Jo to shoot. She squashed past him; there was a knob at the back of the gun on which she pressed her thumbs, and she immediately wanted another pair with which to stop her ears. The gun jammed suddenly. The hero pulled the belt about, and Jo set it going once more.
The Austrian machine guns answered back and kept this up, so Jo pressed the knob again and yet again. Then we got into the trenches above. Whenever Jo popped her head over the trenches for a good look there were faint reports from the mountain opposite. One or two bullets whizzed over our heads, and we realized that they were aiming at Jo's big white hat.
Jan climbed down the hill and took snap-shots of Gorazhda; the enemy got a couple of pretty near shots at him.
When the Montenegrins thought this sport was becoming monotonous they remembered the business of the day. A big house in Gorazhda was said to be full of Hungarian officers, and they wanted to get the range of this with one of the big guns. This decision had been made a day or two before with much deliberation. This they thought the State could afford. The precious shell was brought out, and every one fondled it.
Men were called out and huge preparations were made for sighting and taking aim. We scuttled round with field glasses, and finally stood on tiptoe behind branches on a mound by the side of the gun. There were many soldiers fussing in the dug-out, and at last they pulled the string.
"Goodness! Now we've done it," Jo thought, as the mountains sent back the fearful report in decreasing echoes. We seemed to wait an eternity, and then "something white" happened far beyond the village.
The officers looked at each other with long faces. "A bad miss—the expense."
We felt the resources of the Montenegrin Empire were tottering. Awful! Could they afford another?
Finally, with great courage, they decided that it was better to spend two shells on getting a decent aim than to lose one for nothing. The terrific bang went off again, and this time the "something white" happened right on the roof of the house. The Hungarian officers all ran out, and the machine guns below jabbered at them. Nobody was killed as far as we know, but every one was content and delighted.
Sunset was approaching, and we rode away quickly, only stopping once to drag a reluctant old Turk from the mountain side and make him sing to the accompaniment of a one-stringed goosla. He hated to do it as all his best songs were about triumphant Mahommedans crushing Serbs, and of course he couldn't sing those.
He sat grumpily cross-legged on the ground, encircled by our horses, droning a song of two notes, touching the string quickly with the flat lower part of his fingers.
We left him very suddenly because the darkness comes quickly in those hills, so we made for the high-road as hard as we could.
We rode fast to the Colonel's cottage, sat down to the dinner table, which was decked with pale blue napkins, and a fine-looking old Voukotitch, an ex-M.P. in national costume, acted as butler. In spite of his seventy odd years he had joined the army as a common soldier. He refused all invitations to sit with us, for he knew his place. The young husband was his nephew, and they kissed fondly on leave-taking.
We rode back in the moonlight. At one spot on the road was a sawmill, and the huge white pine logs lying all about looked like the fallen columns of some ruined Athenian temple. We tried to enjoy the moment, and to brush aside the awful thought that we must remount Rosinante and Co. next day.
The Shadow was terribly puffed up about his feat. The following morning as we were sketching in the town, an officer approached respectfully.
"His excellency the Sirdar invites you to supper," he said.
We considered a moment, for we had intended to return to Plevlie. The Shadow broke in.
"It is inconvenient to come to supper," he said to our horror. "Tell his excellency that the gentleman and lady will come to lunch if he wishes it."
The Sirdar meekly sent answer that lunch would suit him very well, and we could drive back with him to Plevlie. "Would we come to his house at 12.30?"
The Prefect told us that we ought to go to the lunch at twelve, because the Sirdar's clock was always half an hour fast. We arrived, but the Sirdar evidently had been considering us, he did not appear for the half an hour, so we sat with his staff sipping rakia by the roadside.
The lunch was excellent, but the Sirdar's carriage, like every other carriage in Montenegro, was a weird, ancient, rusty arabesquish affair, tied together with wire. We had two resplendent staff officers, armed to the teeth, who galloped ahead, we had two superior non-coms., also armed to the dentals, galloping behind, while on the box sat a man with gun, pistols, sword, dagger and a bottle of wine and water which we passed round whenever the Sirdar became hoarse. The coachman was as old and as shabby as his carriage, and every five miles or so was forced to descend and tie up yet another mishap with wire—ordinary folks' carriages are only repaired with string.
The Sirdar occupied almost the whole of the back seat, and Jo was squeezed into the crack which was left. Jan was perched on a sort of ledge, facing them. The carriage was narrow, six legs were two too many for the space. Jan's were the superfluous ones. He tried this pose, he tried that, but in spite of his contortions he endured much of the seven hours' journey in acute discomfort and the latter part in torture.
In spite of his throat the Sirdar did nearly all the talking. The country we were passing through were scenes of his battles: with one arm he threw a company over this hill, with a hand, nearly hitting Jan in the eye, he marched an army corps along that valley; he explained how he had been forced to give up the Ministry of War because there was no other efficient commander for the north.
A blue ridge of pine trees appeared on our right hand.
"You see those hills," said the Sirdar: "I'll tell you the story of a reply of mine, a funny reply. I ordered a general last winter to march across those hills. He said that the troops would starve. I looked him in the eye. Then you will eat wolves, I shouted. He went."
If we passed peasants he stopped them. He seemed to have an extraordinary memory for names and faces.
"Never forget a face," he said, "never forget its name. That is the secret of popularity."
He was very anxious that we should go to Cettinje and to Scutari. He kindly promised to see about it, to arrange for our horses and to have our passage telegraphed before us. At Podgoritza he said a government motor-car should wait for us. He advised us to make a detour from the straight road and to see the famous black lake of Jabliak and the Dormitor mountains. We thanked him gratefully. He waved our thanks aside.
"And I will write to my friend the Minister of War. He will arrange that you go to Scutari." He then explained all the reasons why Montenegro should hold Scutari when the war was over.
"It was ours," he said; "we only gave it up to Venice so that she should protect us from the Turk. If we do not hold Scutari, Montenegro can never become a state, so if we cannot keep her we might as well give up Cettinje. After all we are but taking back what was once ours."
He was daily expecting the uniforms from Russia, and asked every soldier on the road for news. At last one said that he had seen them.
"The stuff is rather thin, your excellency, but the boots are splendid."
We were accosted by a clean-limbed, joyous youth, who bore on his cap the outstretched winged badge of the police. He said—
"Mister Sirdar, he tell me take you alon' o' Nickshitch."
Sure enough the next morning there he was, with three horses, which if not the identical animals of our Chainitza trip were sisters or brothers to them. It was a wretched day, gusty, and the rain sweeping round the corners of the old streets. Early as was the hour, the wretched prisoners were peering through the lattice windows of their prison, which evidently once had been the harem of some wealthy Turk; where beauties had once lain on voluptuous couches, wretched criminals now crouched half-starved, racked with disease, and as we passed held out skinny arms. All Montenegrin saddles are bound on with string, even those of the highest in the land; indeed, one cannot imagine how the people did before string was invented, and ours began to slip before we were well clear of the town. Necessary adjustments were made, and on once more.
Our guide was well armed—he carried two murderous-looking pistols, and a long rifle slung over his back. He was in high spirits and showed us that the proper way to ride Montenegrin horses was to drop the reins on to the animal's neck, kick it in the stomach with both feet, elevating your arms and uttering the most unearthly yells. Thus terrified, the unfortunate wreck would canter a few yards, and our cicerone would turn in his saddle and grin back at us, who were humanely contented with the solemn jog-trot of our aged steeds along the well-worn horse-track—for there was no road.
We crawled along, wretched in the downpour, the scenery completely hidden by the clouds; but towards midday, as we climbed ever higher and higher, we plunged into pine forests where the rain began to thin to mist, veiling the trees with layers of drifting fog. Out of the forests we came—the rain having ceased—into a strange-looking landscape, whose japanesiness is equalled possibly only by Japan itself. There were the queer rounded hills, the gnarled and twisted little pines and dim fir-clad slopes cutting the sky with sharp grey silhouettes.
Here we stopped to eat. We opened a tin of meat and made rough sandwiches with the coarse brown or black bread which is the staple food of Serbian nations. When we were satisfied there was meat left in the tin. Two wretched, ragged children came on the road singing some half-Eastern chant, and we hailed them. They refused the food with dignity, and marched on offended.
We came to the Grand Canyon of Colorado—we beg its pardon—of Montenegro, The Tara. Great cliffs towered high on either side, great grey, rugged cliffs topped with pine and scrub oak. Down, down, down to the river, an hour, and we crossed the bridge out of Novi Bazar into Montenegro—thirty years free from the Turk. We halted at a little coffee stall made of boughs. Jan wanted to get a photo, but the women were so shy that Jo had to push them out into the open.
On the way up the other cliff our guide became communicative. He had been in America, in the mining camps, and spoke fair American.
"In ole days, dese was de borders," he said; "'ere de Serb, 'n dere de Turk. Natchurally dey 'ate each oder. Dey waz two fellers 'ad fair cold feet, one 'ere, one over dere, Turk 'n our chapy. Every day dey come down to de ribber 'n dey plug't de odder chap wid dere ole pistols what filled at de nose. But dey neber hit nuttin. One day de Serb 'e got mad and avade in de ribber, but 'e did'n 'it de Turk. Nex' day dey hot' avade in 'arf way across. Dey miss again. De tird day dey avades in rite ter de middle, 'n each shoots up de odder dead. Yessir, 'n dere bodies float down ter 'ere."
He looked up and pointed.
"Dey was a gooman up dere," he said.
"Yes, a man wat 'ad a gooman all to 'isself."
"Dey was an ole town all made o' stones," our guide explained, "where dis man made 'is gooman. You know wat a gooman is?—kill all de fellers what pass 'n do wat you likes."
We understood suddenly that "Government" was indicated.
"Dat's wat I say," he answered, "gooman—'e was killed by a Montenegrin chap wat throwed 'im orf de cliffs, 'n a Turk gets all 'is land. Dat's 'ow dey was done dose days. Dere ain't much 'o de ole town lef now."
"We 'ad to chase de Turk outer 'ere," he went on; "lots 'o fighting, but we 'ad luck. You see, dey 'ad two lines, 'an we got de first line before 'e was ready, 'n wiped 'im out, so de secon' line did'n know if it was 'im retreatin' or us advancin', and we was into 'em before dey 'ad made up dere minds. Yessir."
The ascent was terribly laborious. Our animals were sweating, though they were carrying nothing but the knapsacks.
"Ye see dat flat stone?" said the guide. "Dat's were de gooman feller 'ide 'is gold. Dey was tree Italians chaps 'ere 'n dey turn ober dat stone ter roll it downill. 'N underneat was all dat feller's gold. Dat madum larf, I tell yer."
We climbed higher and yet higher; we thought we would never reach the crest. The sweat poured from us, and we were drenched.
On the top there were but few stones of the old castle, and we rode over the ruins. We passed into a queer pallid country, pale grey houses, pale yellow or pale green fields, grey sky and stones, a violently rolling plain where our guide lost his way, and we became increasingly aware of the discomfort of our saddles, and prayed for the journey to end.
We refound the route, and asked a peasant, "How far to Jabliak?"
"Bogami, quarter of an hour."
At the end of twenty minutes we asked once more.
"Bogami, quarter of an hour."
At the end of twenty minutes more we asked again, our spirits were falling.
"Bogami, quarter of an hour."
"* * *!"
We then asked a peasant and his wife. The woman considered for a moment.
"About an hour," she said.
Her husband turned and swore at her.
"Bogami, don't believe her, gentlemen," he cried, "it's only a quarter of an hour."
We left them quarrelling.
It grew dark, and we grew miserable. Jabliak seemed like a dream, and we like poor wandering Jews, cursed ever to roam on detestable saddles in this queer pallid country.
At last a peasant said it was five minutes off, and then it really was a quarter of an hour distant.
We came down from the hills to find the whole aristocracy—one captain—not to say all their populace, out on the green to do us honour. They had been informed by telegraph of our august decision to sleep in their wooden village. When we got off our horses our knees were so cramped that we could scarcely stand, and we hobbled after the captain into a bitterly cold room without furniture. Various Montenegrins came and looked at us, and an old veterinary surgeon, also en route, but in the opposite direction, conversed in bad German. The old vet. was a Roumanian, and the only animal doctor in all Montenegro.
To their great surprise we demanded something to eat.
"Supper is at nine," they said severely.
"But we have had nothing since ten this morning," we protested.
"But supper will be ready at nine," they said again.
After a lot of trouble we got some scrambled eggs, but nothing would persuade our guide, whose name, by the way, was "Mike," to have anything. It almost seemed improper to eat at the wrong hours, even if one was hungry.
After supper we sat growing colder and colder. At last, in desperation, we asked if there were no place in the village which had a fire.
"Oh yes, there is a fire in the other cafe," and thither we were conducted.
We were in a jolly wooden room, with a blazing stove and a most welcome fugginess. The hostess brought us rakia, coffee and walnuts, and did her utmost to make us comfortable. Montenegrins crowded in, and discussed the probable end of the war. There was little enthusiasm shown, most of the talk was of the hardships, and a little grumbling that the farms were going to pieces because of the lack of men.