PART II. MACEDONIA, 1904.
'Brooding on ancient fame.'
THAT night was revealed the majesty of the Parthenon in the moonlight.
Dignity - purity - mystery - romance. Alone in all the world the Spirit of Dead Glory, enthroned in her Temple, remembers.
Before her the centuries stand reverently still; she never sees them, but watches in her proud sorrow the silent, marching ghosts of the Wonders of Old Time.
Lovingly the moon bathes those ethereal pillars. Together, when the world was yet young, she and the Temple looked down on Athens and beauty, and theirs is the wisdom. Now stands the stricken Parthenon - immeasurably above earth - thanking God for blindness.
Under the spell of the Acropolis and its crown - the jewelled jewel - one finds its sordid setting of modern roofs and streets more despicable, perhaps, than they really are. Whether the clanging of the tramway gongs in the better streets or the dirt of the meaner ones is the more incongruous it is hard
to say. The new city is built over and among the ruins of the old. Turning a corner one finds some crumbling temple shouldered by shabby houses or painted villas, with broken marbles heaped among the grass and rubbish in the corners. Swarms of loathsome guides fatten on the inquisitive strangers who scramble in the ruins, pawing the flutings and intoning from red books.
"A tourist show - a legend told,"says the Bard, of another place, and well the line fits modern Athens.
Robbery among the Greeks is not a cultivated art; it is a hereditary gift; they are all born with it. Every Greek I have ever had dealings with involving the smallest coin has tried to rob me, and many succeeded. One could as soon expect a schoolboy to throw Hackensmidt as the ordinary European to get even with a Greek over a money deal. An Athenian waiter could give any Jew alive two stone and a beating over the matter of small change, as many times as the Israelite cared to stand up. There is only one known method of getting square with them, and that is to dine twice at the same place, near the door. You pay the first night....
On the site of the old Stadium of 176 B.C. stands the new one, built for the Olympian games of 1896 A.D. From the long arena the blinding white marble goes up tier on tier for a hundred feet. A cavalryman trotting high up against the sky above the topmost row was a puzzling sight till one found
that the outer wall is built up with earth, making an easy slope to the top. Inside, from the footway around the arena, rises a marble wall eight or ten feet to the first tier of seats, and against this stood in groups the Royal Bodyguard, the picturesque Ephzons, white-clad, with little red caps and shoes, embroidered jackets and the spreading kilt. A charming English lady with a voice fromn home told me that this Greek kilt is called a fustinella. Posed in the sun, throwing transparent blue shadows on the white marble, these picked men filled the eye finely. On an upper tier I saw a rough threatening one of them with a club. The soldier knocked it out of his hand and sandwiched the fingers of the mauvais sujet between his rifle-butt and the marble with a bump that set the greaser roaring like a bull.
The great amphitheatre holds eighty thousand people, and there were present that afternoon perhaps two thousand - a mere spot on its enormous space, with the look of half-a-dozen flies in a marble bath.
Suddenly there was a vigorous bugling, and in at the entrance doors came the leaders in a foot-race from Marathon, accompanied, may it please you, by enthusiasts on bicycles, who were happily stopped at the doors. The winner ran once round the arena, passed the identical laurelled statue which served the ancients for a winning post, and made his bow to the royal box. Then followed physical drill by a gymnastic squad, which the Duke of York's boys could have beaten hollow, and some average rope-climbing. An attempt at reviving
ancient traditions is worthy of all praise, but as a success ---!
The Prime Minister was good enough to give us a few minutes in the cool of the late afternoon. It was a pleasure to listen to his resonant Parisian
French, rolled out in a rich bass voice. His opinions on the "situation" in Macedonia were naturally biassed, and every phase of it was studied from the Greek point of view. He said that there never was any revolution in Macedonia. The whole of the trouble consisted in the Bulgarians coming down and burning Greek villages. He believed, as all the Greeks do, that their nationality is in the majority in the distressful land, and that the Bulgarians are agitating solely with a view of possessing a country to which they have no claim. The poor Greeks, he said, are not allowed to arm themselves, and are at the mercy of the bloodthirsty bands. Therefore they warn the nearest Turkish troops whenever a band appears in their neighbourhood, as their only means of protection.
The Premier admitted that the Turks had done a certain amount of damage, and in some cases nearly as much (!) as the Bulgars. Touching the new Gendarmerie scheme, he was not optimistic.
"To begin with, how is it possible that the officers of five different nationalities should agree? Assuredly it is the best idea proposed up to the present, but I have grave doubts as to its success."
Under the roof of Alexander the Great we shared our luncheon-table with an octogenarian globe-trotter, who had been on the move for nineteen years. His habiliments suggested the brotherhood of them that stalk the elusive butterfly. But whilst his knowledge of the hereditary and acquired tastes of winged insects was fathomless, he did not despise the humble science of military strategy,
and showed clearly with forks and salt-cellars in what a ridiculously simple manner the position of Spioen Kop could have been captured and held. Like many others with whom this particular demonstration used to be a hobby, he forgot to allow for the presence of several Boers, who I believe were there at the time of the action, and who might have hindered even five hundred Times historians.
There is something repulsively interesting about the guides of Athens. After close study of the species, I came to the conclusion that all the venom of these vampires is contained in a small cane which each carries, and without which no guide ever appears in public. Armed with this cane he becomes a magician, fraught with boundless powers of evil. Take from him his ogre's staff and he turns into a harmless citizen. I have no doubt that many of the ordinary people we met stickless in the streets - some even with families - had only to go home and take up their fell wand to be transformed at its touch into hideous beasts of prey, luring helpless tourists into dark purlieus and devouring them.
Along the side walks sit the local thirst-quellers behind large flagons of green liquid, crowned by a lemon lest the public mind should forget that it is meant for lemonade. To create in the heedless passer-by a vision of cooling draughts of nectar, a tinkling of glasses is kept up by a little arrangement of revolving balls which has lured generations of greedy Greeks to death by poisoning.
Walking behind a handsome Ephzon at the palace
gateway, Moro was admiring his smart kit, when he turned round and observed, "Glad you like it." Balaam's surprise on a historic occasion could have but faintly compared with our amazement. A corporal of the Greek Guard talking English! He showed his white teeth in a broad smile and explained that before his turn of service he had been in the United States, and was glad to meet up with anyone who talked the lingo.
"Regiment? Photographs? Sure! Come along!"
In the grey-walled courtyard of the Palace, under a verandah, lolled three or four of the quarter-guard, their tassel-gartered white tights thrust out in front of them. At a word from the corporal (who was in charge) two of them dived into the cool guard-room and swaggered out with their rifles, grinning. The three stood for the "snap," and a man in a neat blue undress was hailed from the barrack-rooms across the courtyard for a place in the next group. When they walked the many-pleated fustinella fluff-fluffed in front of them to the knee-action, like a ballerina's skirt. I would have paid half-a-sovereign to see a company in line march across that square. The corporal was an entertaining as well as an obliging warrior, and when we finally left him, presented us with a photo of himself signed with his distinguished but quite unreadable name. Fine fellas, the Ephzons.
The sailing of steamers from Piraeus appeared to be such a haphazard matter that no one would undertake to prophesy about it; consequently, one
An 'Ephzon. - Drill order. [To face page 140.]
Salonica boat got away without her purpose having leaked out. One afternoon, however, Alexander's head bottle-washer sprang upstairs in consuming strides with the news that a vessel of known virtue might leave for Turkey that very evening.
So good-bye to Athens, where glory dwells amid middle-class gentility, like the Apollo Belvedere in a seedy frock-coat. Looking back across the plain, the One Gem stood alone among the ever-lasting hills, coloured tea-rose in the sunset.
Piraeus is a flourishing port. Bales and stores crowd its busy quays, and cargo boats of all the flags pack its basins. A dirty Greek packet was our Argosy, and a dog-hole six feet by four our portion of it. Crowds of ill-visaged Turks and forbidding Greeks swarmed all over the decks and there was barely standing room. Of course our kennel door had no lock, so we stood sentry over it by turns till the shore contingent returned to earth and the ocean greyhound swung her head to the sea. The deck had cleared in the mysterious way it always does on leaving port, and there was room for a walk round. Leaning over the rail was a short, middle-aged man in good clothes and neat boots, who turned out to be an old acquaintance of Moro's, and none other than the late private secretary of His Imperial Majesty the Sultan of Turkey. He was on his way to his ancestral acres at Volo, and very disgusted at having missed the previous boat, an Italian, and "at least clean."
At the summons of a tin bell all descended into a dark den and dealt with a procession of greasy
meats encouraged on their way by draughts of diluted turpentine of a rich ruby hue. Both were abundant but intimidating. The thick, sticky atmosphere pressed upon us, heavy with the smell of boiling oil. As our bed-box opened out of this salubrious retreat we decided not to risk asphyxiation, and laid rugs on deck in the lee of the wheelhouse.
I opened my eyes at dawn and beheld all round me shrouded forms. Half-awake, I stared at the uncanny shapes in horror, wondering in whose family vault I had been laid to rest. One of the bodies emitted a loud snore, and as two bells struck consciousness of comparative safety returned. Moro slept like a hog, till half-an-hour later we ran between two points of land and anchored. Tumbling into a shore boat we pulled half a mile from the steamer; in four fathoms of clear green water you could see the little shelves of white sand on the bottom, and we dived straight down into the cool depth of it.
All that drowsy day the ship ran through little grey islands dotted with bright-green bushes to the still water's edge, behind them on one side the rock-cliffs of Euboea, on the other the coast of Greece. Later, Moro's friend concocted tea, and we sat astride the benches with the cups between us whilst he unfolded "Leaves from a Life."
His Imperial Majesty and his private secretary, you must know, had had a little tiff, and people who have tiffs with the Sultan never go back again to see how things are getting on at dear old Yildiz.
It is not etiquette. In fact, as a general rule, they never go anywhere or see anything to speak of after a difference of opinion with that rather touchy old gentleman, and Penley Bey, as we will call him, considered himself remarkably lucky, after various vicissitudes, to be sailing back to his old home once more. He had no craving to plant the sole of his foot on even the remotest patch of Turkish soil again, as in that moment he might bid adieu to life and lovely Laura, so to speak, for the long arm of co-influence would twine affectionately round his neck and draw him gently behind the jalousies, and this world would see Penley Bey no more.
It was noticeable that one or two of the sinister-faced Turks aforementioned frequently admired so much of the view as could be seen from the neighbourhood of our tea-party, and it was also remarkable that at such times our conversation turned lightly on the weather. Only when these scene-stricken gentlemen had temporarily vanished did our interesting friend unburden himself.
"I know these people as well as they know me," he observed, munching a biscuit and waving his spoon airily towards the companion-hatch, "but they don't know that. My dear sir, as soon as they can get to the telegraph wire at Salonica it will be known at Constantinople that I left the ship at Volo. And much good may it do them all."
The habits and customs of the Morbid Monarch are not known to everyone, so I will set down a few of them. They are mostly actuated by the everpresent fear of sudden death, which impels him,
inter alia, to drive to the Selamlik in a bombproof carriage, closely surrounded by armed guards. The persons who are privileged to watch this proceeding from a safe distance are very carefully looked after by police emissaries, who stand in the crowd and suppress the slightest suspicious movement. No one is allowed to put up a pair of field-glasses, far less to possess a camera or sketch-book. This is the only appearance (if it can be called an appearance) which Abdul Hamid makes out of doors.
Within the walls of the Palace he feels no more security than outside. Not more than three or four of his most trusted subjects have access to him. His Albanian bodyguard are a source of constant terror to him. On various occasions when some Albanian question has come up for settlement, a threat of revolt and assassination from these protectors of his Royal Person has compelled him to order it according to their wish. At such times of disturbance he will sleep in a different room each night, and not a soul in the palace will know in what quarter of it he is to be found. An underground dungeon, a corner of the roof, an arbour in the garden - in any unlikely hiding-place will he secrete himself, in this terror of murder which is on him night and day. His food, which he takes alone, is first tested on some pet dog; often the bearer of it is commanded to eat some before his Imperial master is emboldened to touch the dish.
This is no mere mania. There are few of those
sly schemers at Yildiz who would not gladly see him dead. His extraordinary personal influence and his almost sacred character as head and centre of the Mohammedan religion have so far saved him. But I have heard more than one of his subjects darkly remark, discussing the power of the Palace, "All men must die - some soon."
On the sea-front at Volo we drank "a run of luck" to Penley Bey, gentleman and good fellow, and left him to return to his family and estates after fifteen stirring years.
The peak of Mount Pelion, cloud-capped, lifted astern as the ship drove out of the gulf of Volo into a stiff head wind. In the night she passed Ossa, and by breakfast time was opening up the gulf of Salonica. With great solemnity Moro and I, in the sanctity of our bunk-house, padded our clothing and pockets with books, maps and diaries, which things the Turk does not consider fit or proper objects to be introduced into his country. Each staggered on deck with the midriff measurements of Daniel Lambert and the fat boy of Peckham combined. Behind me was strapped the faithful but obtrusive Webley, and each great-coat pocket sagged brazenly with fifty rounds of ammunition in little boxes.
Notwithstanding which we got through.
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