CHAPTER XXVII. A NIGHT ALARM. USKUP. THE FINISH.
Difficulties in Hiring - A Disturbed Region - Taking Refuge in a Harem - A Midnight Visit from a "Band" - At Uskup - War the only Solution of the Macedonian Problem - A Gloomy Forecast - Germany's Designs
THOUGH the Turkish officials were courteous, they always endeavoured to head me off from going through a disturbed district. Yet they constantly protested that the country was quiet. The Vali of Monastir assumed I would return by rail to Salonika. In conversation about the Bulgarian "bands," he assured me the country to the north, which had been the scene of so much disturbance, had, by the valour of Turkish arms, been reduced to quietude, and was now as peaceful as England itself. When, therefore, I stated my intention of striking across country till I hit the Salonika-Uskup railway he was disconcerted. True, there was a carriage road, but it was little used; the sleeping accommodation was vile, and he was certain that after my rough experiences in Albania I should prefer the comfort of a railway train! I politely ignored all this, said I had heard much about the beauty of the scenery, and, as it would probably be some time before I should be in Macedonia again, I preferred to go by road, especially as it would occupy no longer time
than if I went by rail. Rather reluctantly he conceded the point, and promised that I should have an escort of four mounted soldiers.
Being well aware that an attempt would be made to frustrate me by instructions to the owners of horses to say they had none to spare, I hastened back to the Greek inn and sent out my dragoman to bring in one or two men who owned horsee and vehicles, which by courtesy were called landaus. They were quite willing, especially when they knew there was to be an escort. Still, as the country was troubled, and there was no saying what might happen, they refused to take me to the nearest point on the railway, a day and a half of quick travelling, for the usual charge of a lira and a half. They would accept nothing less than four lira, although that was more than I should have paid to travel first-class by train. Ultimately the bargain was struck for four lira. I arranged for a vehicle and three horses to be ready at daybreak the next morning.
That night I dined with Mr. Wilkie Young, who was in charge of the British Consulate at Monastir. Daring dinner my dragoman sent a message that there was trouble, because all the horses in Monastir seemed to have been stricken lame. I took that as an endeavour to squeeze an extra lira or two from me. When, however, at midnight I returned to my inn, I was met by my dragoman, who with dismayed countenance informed me the driver with whom I had made the bargain would not go at all. Feeling nettled at what had been done - for I knew instructions had come from the officials to put
obstacles in my way - I sent to the police headquarters, got two gendarmes, and made them fetch the driver, who first pleaded he had no horses, then that his horses were worn out and could not possibly do the journey under three days, and finally that he would not make the attempt for ten lira because there were so many "bands" about. Then, though it was two o'clock in the morning, I sent a message to the Vali reminding him of his promise to give me an escort, and saying that I intended to start in a couple of hours, and expected the soldiers would be in readiness, but that I was having inconvenience because the driver had it in his head there was the likelihood of encountering a "band," which the Vali knew was impossible, and then I courteously hinted that I should create a row if he did not exercise his authority and compel the driver to fulfil his bargain. The result was a command that the driver should be ready, for the gendarmes would be at the inn by four in the morning.
I lay down for an hour's sleep. The gendarmes came. But there was no sign of vehicle or driver. The stable was found, with horses and a carriage ready, but no driver. I decided with my dragoman we would drive ourselves, and let the owner take his chance of payment and recovering the animals. Then there crawled out of a dark corner a weazened, consumptive old creature who said he was the brother of the driver, who could not do the journey because his wife was ill, but that he would come with us instead.
So, after the customary vexatious delays, we
made a start. We struck north through a pleasant valley, watered by the river Karusu. There were plenty of mule caravans, but all were accompanied by troops as escort. Before midday we reached Prilip, a nicely-wooded town with a mixed population, chiefly engaged, it seems, in political squabbles and in settling them with the dagger. From there we made for the mountains. The disturbed state of the land was evidenced by the fact that even peasants were accompanied by soldiers. Every few miles was a caracol, where a bunch of gendarmes were on the constant watch for revolutionaries. The scenery was magnificent, but what was more interesting was to halt and have chats with the soldiers concerning their conflicts with the "bands."
Yonder was the village of Macova, where, only three days before, twelve houses had been burnt by a "band," because it was supposed the villagers had given news to the soldiery of their presence in the neighbourhood. Over there was the village of Orovsji, where a Bulgarian "band" had been surrounded and seven of them killed, though four of the soldiers also lost their lives in the enterprise.
All through the afternoon I was never lost sight of by the soldiers at one caracol or another, despite the fact that I had four mounted horsemen with me. The instant we were sighted soldiers came from the caracol, watched from the neighbouring hills, and kept us in view until soldiers further on picked us up. It was exciting. With my usual ill-luck, however, no Bulgarian "band" made its appearance.
Owing to the innumerable halts and the almost
tearful request of the escort not to make any endeavour to travel in the dark, I was compelled to pull up for the night at a little place called Isvor.
It was a Bulgarian village, and, as I learnt afterwards, a somewhat risky spot to halt at. As an additional precaution I discovered that of the four men who accompanied me only one was a Turk, one was an Albanian, whilst the other two were Bulgarians in Turkish employ.
The han was nothing but a mud hovel, filled with smoke, and I had no relish to spend the night there. I sent two of the Bulgarians into the village to make some arrangement with a peasant to let me pay for the use of a room. It was then the Turkish soldier came to me, and, through my dragoman, urged that I should avoid staying at a Bulgarian house, for the risk was too great: he and his Albanian mate would be powerless if an attempt were made to capture me for ransom purposes. I had got so weary of such stories that I paid no heed. The Bulgarians, however, came back with the news that no Bulgarian would take me in, nor supply me with food, because as I was accompanied by troops they would fall under the suspicion of the "bands."
As fortune would have it, I was endeavouring to cheer my disconsolate self with a pipe, as there was to be no supper that night, when an old fellow came down to the stream-side to water his cattle. He, under the expectation of a couple of medjedehs as reward, had a suggestion. He was half-Bulgarian, half-Albanian, and was in charge of a tower belong-
ing to an Albanian Bey, to which the latter had been in the habit of bringing his ladies in the summer-time. The Bey, however, was supposed to have Turkish sympathies, and therefore for the last three or four years he had left Isvor alone and had taken holiday with his ladies in some other part of Macedonia. The old caretaker was certain the heart of the Bey would be delighted if ever he heard that an effendi from England had made use of the tower.
We went to it. It was a big, square erection of three stories, built of boulders, except the top story, which was of wood. There were no windows to the lower story, only a doorway, with the door heavily studded with iron and guarded by a thickwalled courtyard, the gate of which was also ironstudded. We made ourselves prisoners for the night. I could not help laughing, however, at seeking refuge in a harem from capture by revolutionaries. This was the second time in my life I had been a visitor to the harem of an Oriental. The first occasion was in Persia, eight or nine years before, and all the poetry which had been in my mind about the gorgeousness of a harem was dissipated when I was shown over it during the absence of the ladies, and found it a very tawdry and gimcrack place. This tower of the Bey, however, served the double purpose of place of refuge as well as harem. It would be difficult, indeed, to force an entrance.
The best room was finely carpeted; there were couches with silken cushions, and on the walls were
huge mirrors and gaudy pictures. The old man cooked some rice whilst I dictated a letter, to be handed some day to the owner, expressing my apologies for having taken possession of his residence for a night, and my thanks. After we had fed on half-cooked rice, the soldiers lay down to sleep in the lower apartment, whilst my dragoman and myself occupied the upper. I threw open the little casement which shutters the women's part of a Moslem residence, so that we might enjoy the cool and delicious air.
Perhaps I had been sleeping for a couple of hours when my dragoman hurriedly awoke me with the whispered "Listen! there are horsemen outside. It is a 'band!'"
I crept on tiptoe to the open window, and there, sure enough, in the heavy darkness could be discerned some five or six horsemen. It was evident several men on foot were endeavouring to break open the door which guarded the yard. I got out my revolver. The dragoman slipped down the narrow stairs, and quietly awoke the soldiers. They came up stealthily, bringing their rifles.
The interesting occasion had come when an attempt was being made to get hold of me. I knew there was no personal danger to myself, unless it might be from an accidental bullet. Besides, with our protection we were more than a match for the half-dozen men below. We watched them in the dark for maybe a quarter of an hour. They were fumbling at the gateway, conversing in mumbling tones, but not getting much "forrader."
It became tiresome crouching and waiting for something to happen.
"Perhaps," I had said to the soldiers, "they will clear off if we let them know we are ready for them."
Then one of my escort shouted something, and at the same moment fired his gun over the heads of the revolutionaries. The horses jumped at the guncrack. The attackers moved off, and disappeared. We waited to see if they intended to return. But, as all was silent, I lay down and went to sleep again.
At daybreak I asked my dragoman how he had slept.
"Not at all, not at all! I was afraid those Bulgarians would be returning and setting fire to the tower. Let us get away!"
We went on. By nine o'clock we were in Keuprulu, a Turkish military centre, with a railway line, a station, and a passable restaurant. There, whilst we were enjoying a Turkish breakfast followed by cigarette-smoking and coffee-drinking, as the guests of the Turkish officers, I was able to realise I had struck civilisation again. A gramophone was screeching out "The Honeysuckle and the Bee."
At midday came the train from Salonika. A couple of hours later I was at Uskup, with cordial welcome from Mr. Ryan, in charge of the Consulate, enjoying the luxury of a bath and a sprawl in a long, low, padded basket-chair, specially invented for the convenience of lazy Britons.
At Uskup I had opportunity of another interview with Hilmi Pasha. "Ah!" he said to me with a sigh, "I am investigating lies, lies - nothing but lies!"
He recognised that the Powers meant well in the intention to take under their charge the financial control of Macedonia, so that taxes might be gathered fairly and expended properly. But he indicated rather than said it was all toward the exasperation of Turkey, who wanted to do the right thing, but wanted to do it in the Turkish way. I tried to read between the lines, as it were, and I saw the thought that many Turks would prefer the conflict of war to the badgering and the wire-pulling of different chancelleries to which the Porte is subjected.
It is regrettable to state, but I have never met an individual whose opinion was worth anything who believed that the intervention of the Powers, the rebukes to the Sultan, and the coddling of Macedonian finance can do more than stave off the terrific explosion of war which is apparently, alas! the only solution of a terribly perplexed problem.
That Bulgaria - taking advantage of the revolutionary propaganda which is officially repudiated - will, before long, pick a quarrel with Turkey there is little doubt. Prince Ferdinand is against war; but popular passion will be too strong for him. Greece will throw in her lot with Turkey, and Servia will probably come to an arrangement with Bulgaria. The influence of France and England will succeed, possibly, in keeping off the interference of the other Great Powers, though Turkey will assuredly have a financial ally in Germany.
At present Bulgaria is zealously preparing her armaments, as Japan, through long years, prepared for the conflict with Russia. There is the difference that whilst Russia did not really expect war, Turkey does, is also preparing, and in many quarters is eager. To imagine that Bulgaria - admirably, even superbly equipped as she is - will march through Turkey is, in my opinion, a huge mistake. I cannot resist the conviction, however, that in the end Bulgarian arms will prevail.
It will be when Bulgaria requires the full fruits of her victory that a grave crisis for the peace of the whole of Europe will occur. Neither Austria nor Germany, nor Russia, nor perhaps Italy, will acquiesce in the creation of another Power in the Near East. Roumania and the smaller States, like Montenegro, with no greater political ambitions than to be left alone, cannot be expected to be silent onlookers while holding the knowledge that their ultimate fate will be absorption. Albania will blaze with insurrection.
That the picture I draw is black and pessimistic I realise. But it is no blacker than the picture which is in the mind of every diplomatist who understands the Balkan problem at its true value. There is a glimmer of hope, as I have hinted in another chapter, that a solution may be found in a great Balkan Confederation, with the Turks a party to that Confederation. But that, it may be, is a counsel of perfection. At present Germany stands outside. She will have no hand in the reform of Macedonia and the
restriction of the power of the Sultan. The attitude of Germany is sinister.
Her policy is that of the long arm. Her price for aiding Turkey will be
first concessions, then protectorates, then possessions. But with Turkey
defeated she realises, as everybody realises, that the Balkans will be
a hell-pot of anarchy, and she expects to be the Power which will subjugate
the rivals. Over their weakened bodies she will march to the AEgean. But
who can doubt it must be a bloody road she will travel?
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