Freedom or Death. The Life of Gotsé Delchev

Mercia MacDermott

 

CHAPTER XIX

To live means to struggle -

the slave for freedom,

and the freeman for perfection.

    Yané Sandansky

 

Yané Sandansky was the man who had master-minded the kidnapping of Miss Stone and who had succeeded so brilliantly in a genre of revolutionary activity in which Gotsé had always failed. Yané had succeeded precisely because, unlike Gotsé, he was able to harden his heart and pursue a plan relentlessly to its end. 'Irrepressible energy', 'granite tenacity' and 'unbelievable will-power' [1]: these were the qualities which made Yané what he was.

 

He was born in 1872 in Vlahi, a remote village above the Kresna Gorge, and, in 1878, when the local people rose in rebellion, his father took part in the rising as the standard bearer of a cheta. The family was forced to flee to Dupnitsa, where they eked out a meagre living, and Yané grew to manhood. He left school early and became a shoe-maker's apprentice, but when he had completed his military service in Kyustendil, he did not return to his trade, but became a scrivener, working first with his uncle, who was a lawyer, and then on his own. He read voraciously, striving to compensate for his scanty education, and, like so many of his contemporaries, he was particularly influenced by Zahari Stoyanov's biography of Levsky, and his Notes on the April Rising, as well as by Ivan Vazov's Under the Yoke. Another book which played an important role in his development was What's To Be Done? by the Russian writer Nikolai Chernyshevsky.

 

In 1895, without having any clear idea of what it was all about, he joined a Supreme Committee cheta and took part in the burning of Dospat. In 1897, during the war between Turkey and Greece, he again joined a cheta organized by officers, and was wounded in the elbow during a clash with Turks in Pirin. After this, obviously dissatisfied with the achievements of such cheti, he decided to engage in no further activity of this kind until he had found out whether there really was an organization inside Macedonia, and until the whole situation was clear to him. He remained in Dupnitsa and became first the librarian and then the chairman of the cultural society formed in 1897 by the progressive young intellectuals of the town in opposition to the established reading-room club, which they considered to be hopelessly dominated by conservatives.

 

Among the members of the new society was a very young teacher named Dimo Hadzhidimov, who, like Yané, was a refugee from Macedonia. Dimo came from Gorno Brodi, in the Serres district,

 

 

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where his father, as mayor, had taken the lead in every patriotic undertaking connected with education and the Church. Dimo was a convinced Marxist, [2] and his ideas and arguments made so lasting an impression upon Yané that, although he never became a Party member, and spent his life fighting Turkish feudalism, not capitalism, his views on all social, economic and international problems were basically Socialist, [*] and it was from among the Socialists that he usually sought advisers and companions.

 

Another man who greatly influenced Yané was Nikola Maleshevsky, the Organization's agent in Dupnitsa. From him, Yané learnt much about the Organization, and in 1899, for the first time, he met Gotsé, who was visiting Dupnitsa, and who, in Yané's own words 'enlightened me properly about the aims of the Internal Organization... I immediately understood that Delchev was indeed a man who knew in fine detail about the Organization and everything that it was striving for.' [3] In the same year, he met Gyorché Petrov in Sofia. From then on, all Yané's doubts about the struggle in Macedonia vanished, and when, in the following year, relations between Sarafov and the Organization deteriorated, he unhesitatingly took his stand on the side of the Organization. He attended the Congresses in Sofia, and during the spring and early summer of 1901, he toured a number of villages in the Gorna Dzhumaya and Pirin areas with an agitational cheta, visiting, among other places, his native Vlahi.

 

Yané lived and worked in a hard and ruthless environment, full of enemies of all kinds, and therefore he himself was hard and ruthless, notwithstanding his undying devotion to the compassionate and all-forgiving Gotsé. Yané never forgave a traitor and was utterly uncompromising in his attitude towards enemies. He himself admitted that he could never rest until blood had been avenged with blood. [4] Yané has frequently been accused of cruelty, but he was not cruel in the sense that he took pleasure in killing, or that he killed lightly and without discrimination. He never punished without incontrovertible proof of guilt, according to the laws of the Organization, but, where such guilt was proven, he would never temper the law with mercy.

 

Yané Sandansky was a striking, not to say intimidating figure, with his dark forked beard, his high balding forehead, and his strangely disturbing eyes, which could be as leaden and piercing as bullets. He burned with a cold, subdued flame. His anger was terrible, but he never lost his temper or shouted. He was always willing to listen to other people, and to hear them out, and he himself always spoke in a

 

 

*. It must be borne in mind that Socialism in Bulgaria was, from the start, of the Marxist variety, and not the British Labour Party variety, and it was the BWSDP (later renamed the Communist Party) which created and led the Bulgarian tradeunion movement.

 

 

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logical, clear and down-to-earth manner without resorting to oratory or poetic frills. He was simple, too, in his needs and way of life. Although the people called him the Tsar of Pirin', he was content to wear the most ordinary, practical uniform, and never went in for the flamboyant national costumes favoured by many chetnitsi, and even by Gotsé himself. Neither did he carry a vast arsenal of knives and revolvers, but simply one of each, plus a short gun and a Turkish yataghan. He never spent a penny more than was necessary, and was fanatically meticulous about public money. When he received the ransom for Miss Stone, he gave two pounds apiece to his chetnitsi, and handed the rest over to the Organization, without deducting a penny for himself or his poverty-striken parents.

 

Yané's handling of the 'Miss Stone Affair' provides as clear an insight into his character as any other single event in his life. Here one can see his celebrated tenacity and iron will, his ability to harden his heart, and, behind the granite facade, the basic humanity which won him the love and devotion of his 'subjects' in Pirin.

 

Money was a perennial problem for the Internal Organization, and, in the late summer of 1901, in view of the Supremist offensive, Yané was making serious plans to kidnap someone for ransom. He had his eye on Syuliman Beg, the son of a pasha in Gorna Dzhumaya, and persuaded Hristo Chernopeev [5] to help him. When their plans fell through, they cast about for some other suitable victim, and their choice fell on Dr House, of the American Mission in Salonika, whom they hoped to lure to Bansko, where there was a Protestant community. Leaving their men in a wood, Yané and Chernopeev went into Bansko to investigate the possibilities, and they discovered that, while it would be difficult to get hold of Dr House, there was an ideal hostage available in the person of Miss Ellen Stone, who was also based in Salonika, but was actually in Bansko, conducting a summer course for native Bulgarian teachers in Protestant schools and for Bible women.

 

Chernopeev was not altogether sorry about the change: 'Dr House has always been a friend of the peasants; when we heard that he had decided not to come our way, I, for one, only half regretted it... I didn't mind Miss Stone so much. She often preached against us, telling the poor peasants that God would right their troubles, and not the 'brigands'. All harmless stuff - nobody took it seriously, but it made the business less difficult for us to gulp down.' [6]

 

Some of the Bansko Protestants were members of the Organization and they readily agreed to keep Yané informed of her movements. When the time came for Miss Stone and her party to leave Bansko for Salonika, [7] Yané and Chernopeev waited for them on the road between Bansko and Gorna Dzhumaya. There they were joined by

 

 

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another voivoda, Krŭstyu Asenov, [8] who informed them that neither Gotsé nor Gyorché - whose opinion they had sought - was in favour of the kidnapping. Things had gone so far, however, that Yané and Chernopeev decided to go ahead with the plan on their own responsibility, and Krŭstyu Asenov agreed to join them. [9] Thus the whole band numbered seventeen men, [10] as compared with the Protestant party of thirteen, six of whom were women.

 

The place chosen for the ambush was the so-called 'Supported Rock' (Podpryanata skala), in an extremely narrow wooded valley where only a brook separated Rila from Pirin. This bare, cliff-like rock, jutted out into the valley, forcing the stream to bend, and at this point, the pathway actually entered the water, so that travellers had to ride into the swift-flowing water and strike the trail on the other side of the rock. [11]

 

It was just as the party was riding into the water, unable to see what was on the other side of the rock, that the cheta struck, surrounding the affrighted Protestants and driving them away from the stream, up the steep mountain side on the opposite bank. When they were well away from the trail and from the Turkish guard house, which was not so far from the rock, they halted. Here Miss Stone and another woman were separated from their companions and were taken away on horses, while a section of the cheta remained behind to guard the rest of the party, who were released a few hours later.

 

For the sake of propriety, Yané had decided to provide a chaperon for Miss Stone, and his first choice was Mrs Usheva, the eldest Bible lady in the party. Unfortunately, she was suffering from cramps, brought on, in the opinion of Miss Stone, [12] by the honey which she had eaten that morning, and, when the cheta appeared, she had fainted away. Yané wrote her off as a liability and took the only other married woman in the party. This was Mrs Katerina Tsilka, a Bulgarian from Bansko, who had studied nursing in the United States, where she had married Gregory Tsilka, an Albanian, who had been trained as a missionary at the Union Theological Seminary in New York. Mrs Tsilka had been visiting her parents after nine years' absence, and now she and her husband were returning to their home in Korcha, without their little boy, who had died while they were in Bansko. What Yané did not know was that Mrs Tsilka was again pregnant, and when he did know, he refused to allow the fact to turn him from his purpose. Thus began an extraordinary Odyssey, which lasted almost six months, during which time Yané and his comrades coped with every emergency, including the birth of Mrs Tsilka's baby, while the cheta and its hostages moved from place to place, hunted not only by the Turks, but also by Supremist cheti. To add to his problems, Yané dislocated some bones in his foot on the second

 

 

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evening after the kidnapping. Some days later, he slipped over the frontier to consult a doctor, but, on learning that the injury would require lengthy treatment, he decided to endure the pain, although for three months he could barely walk. [13]

 

During the first few days, the two women were kept in total ignorance of their captors' purpose, and they feared the worst. Initially the chetnitsi tried to keep up a pretence of being ordinary bandits, but they found the strain of trying to talk Turkish too great, and gradually lapsed into Bulgarian. At the time of the kidnapping, two incidents in particular had frightened the women out of their wits. The first was when the cheta had captured and killed a Turk, who had happened to be passing at the time of the kidnapping. [14] According to Yané, [15] the Turk was a smuggler, who, on being told to stop, had fired on the cheta and wounded one of the men before being overpowered. The second incident was trivial, but none the less alarming to the women. Believing that they were about to be robbed by brigands, Mr Tsilka had handed his money and his watch to his wife, who put the money in her mouth and tucked the watch under her belt, but it slipped and showed. One of the 'brigands' called her attention to it and advised her to put it away more securely. 'He could not have alarmed her more: if the brigands did not want our money and our watches, what could be their purpose!' [16]

 

The women's anxious inquiries always brought the reply 'Don't be afraid", but they were not easily to be comforted, although from time to time, their captors' behaviour gave them grounds for timid hope. One 'brigand' brought them a Bible which he had found while searching the party's luggage for food, for the cheta had eaten nothing for nearly two days. The men also brought Mrs Tsilka a shawl and Miss Stone her mackintosh, for which they were very grateful; cloaks and rugs were spread on the ground for them to rest on whenever they halted in their strenuous journey across the thickly wooded mountains, and they were fed with the best that was available. 'What really surprised us was a gift from one of the brigands of a bunch of wild cyclamen, which touched us beyond anything else, and made hope spring up in our hearts, that men who could thus care to supply us not only with the necessities of life, but even with flowers, could not be bent upon murdering us. The brigand had observed that some of the flowers which covered me like a breastplate the day before when we rode out of Bansko, were still clinging to my dress (though our hearts were crushed and discouraged), and he had sent these blossoms of the forest "Because I saw you loved flowers". ' [17]

 

Miss Stone writes much of the comfort which they derived from their faith in God, but, nevertheless, Yané recalls that they cried almost every day for the first five or six days. [18] This became wearing

 

 

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even for a man as tough as Yané, and in the end he decided to drop the pretence that they were a mixed bag of brigands, and to tell the women the whole truth. This did not have the comforting effect which he had hoped, mainly because the women were certain that the Board of American Missionaries could not and would not pay the twenty-five thousand pounds demanded. Miss Stone tried to make her captors understand that not all Americans were millionaires: 'He [*] listened quietly, but incredulously, and was evidently umoved by my representations. Then I told him of my mother, so enfeebled with her nearly ninety years that I feared that to hear by telegraph of the kidnapping of her only daughter might cause her death. Both Mrs Tsilka and I broke down and cried bitterly for our dear ones, to whom we feared the news might even then have come with crushing weight. The brigand's eyes showed that we had made it hard for him too, for he could not wholly steel himself against our plea, as I went on to beg that since their hopes for ransom could not be realized through me, they would free us and send us on our way... He listened quietly, but answered at last, resolutely:

 

' "We can make no change. Whether you grieve or not, we shall carry out our plans to the end." ' [19]

 

In due course, letters were sent to leading Prostestants demanding twenty-five thousand pounds and setting a time limit, after which the women would be killed, and thus the 'Affair' became international head-line news, and the White House and State Department were flooded with letters and telegrams imploring the Government to act. [20] Money came rolling into a ransom fund, so that by the second week in October, the American authorities were hoping to negotiate the early release of the captives. [21] Unfortunately for everybody concerned, difficulties arose, not enough money was forthcoming, no settlement could be reached, and the 'Affair' dragged on, week after week, month after month, during which time Yané constantly moved the women back and forth between villages on both sides of the Struma in the district of Gorna Dzhumaya, sometimes hiding in houses and sometimes camping out in the mountains in makeshift shelters, and always travelling at night. Once they even crossed into the Principality.

 

Most of the time the chetnitsi were courteous enough to the women, but the latter continued to go in fear of their lives, especially when they were informed of breakdowns in the negotiations. At the end of November, Chernopeev and Asenov went to Sofia to see Charles M. Dickinson, the United States Consul-General in Constantinople, who had come to Sofia to deal with the emergency,

 

 

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but, while holding out hope that the money would eventually be paid, the American said that they would have to wait. [22]

 

The bad news reached the kidnappers on the morning of Thanksgiving Day, but, with touching consideration - for it was a heavy blow - they kept it secret until the following day, so as not to darken the American holiday, which, in the words of Miss Stone, 'passed more cheerfully than we could have believed was possible.' [23] The evening before, Mrs Tsilka had been describing to one of the chetnitsi how the holiday was celebrated in the United States, and, as a result, the men had actually gone to the trouble of finding a turkey in an effort to cheer their captives, and had brought them presents of woollen socks and 'thick woollen nether garments', over which the women laughed uproariously.

 

The 'thick woollen nether garments' proved very welcome, because the winter was upon them, and the first snow had fallen. The chetnitsi had begun to feel the cold as well, and would dance, singing softly to themselves, in order to warm themselves up. The women then begged for material to make themselves warmer outer garments, and this, too, was provided, together with buttons and braid. Earlier, they had been given material for blouses and handkerchiefs, which they had cut out and sewn with great pleasure, for time hung heavy on their hands, especially since they usually spent the day confined in cottages or sheepfolds, lest they be seen by prying eyes.

 

Once, in the village of Selishté, three zaptiehs came to the house in which the party was hiding, but the host put them soundly to sleep by plying them with rakiya until they became drunk. A far more dangerous situation arose in the village of Troskovo, where the cheta was betrayed to a Supreme Committee cheta, numbering seventy-eight men, led by the haramiya Doncho Zlatkov, [24] who was anxious to acquire the hostages for himself. Chernopeev and Asenov, together with six chetnitsi, had earlier been sent to harry Doncho, whose men had recently killed a member of the Petrich cheta. In his memoirs, Yané says that he had had a premonition that Doncho would come after them, because he had had a dream which had convinced him that something was amiss, [25] strange though it may seem that a man with Yané's views and strength of character should pay any attention to dreams. Doncho established himself in another house, and all night long there was an exchange of fire between the two cheti. In the morning, one of Doncho's men came under flag-of-truce, but Yané's men, suspecting treachery, shot him dead. At this moment, Miss Stone and Mrs Tsilka decided that if the worst came to the worst, they would take their death at the hands of the guard that stood over them, rather than fall into the hands of 'unknown highwaymen', or Turkish troops. [26]

 

 

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Fortunately, neither fate overtook them. Possibly Doncho did not realize how few men Yané had, for the firing ceased, and eventually they were able to slip out of the village. They had not gone far when they met Chernopeev and Asenov, with forty members of the Organization's militia, whom they had raised from the village of Leshko to reinforce the cheta. Since the immediate danger had passed, Yané told the militia to go home, and continued with his cheta of twelve, plus himself and the women. Miss Stone commented: 'What a wonderful day that was to us, when captors and captured alike rejoiced in their salvation from the horrible fate which threatened all through the night. We freely said to them, "God has saved us", and one of them admitted, "I prayed, too, I tell you; I prayed from the bottom of my heart." And we said: "We know you did, for only God could have saved us." ' [27]

 

If the encounter with Doncho's band was the most critical episode in the cheta's marathon game of hide-and-seek, the most memorable and bizarre episode was undoubtedly Mrs Tsilka's confinement. Miss Stone had acquainted the chetnitsi with her companion's condition on the second day of their captivity, but Yané had not been prepared to release them on this account, because he had fondly imagined that the ransom would be forthcoming in three or four weeks at the most.

 

By November, when there still appeared to be no prospect of a speedy release, 'I took it upon myself to inform the brigands of the state of things, and in very plain language told one of them the exigencies of the situation. His face looked anxious, even troubled. I fancy it is not an easy thing for brigands to know where to turn to find materials for a baby's wardrobe. He looked so stern that my heart almost quailed, but the exigency was imperative. I told him we must have some kind of white woollen cloth - flannel if they could find it - and some thin white cotton cloth for the little dresses. He heaved a deep sigh, and finally said: "Well, make a list of the most indispensable things, and we will see what we can do about getting them." ' [28]

 

In due course, they were given the two kinds of cloth and some reels of cotton, and they began with great glee to make the little clothes, which were lovingly decorated with the maximum amount of tucks, hemstitching and featherstitching in order to pass the time.

 

December came, and still no agreement had been reached over the ransom. In spite of their dreadful predicament, Yané steadfastly refused to make things easier for everybody by releasing Mrs Tsilka, at least. Having joined the horo, as the Bulgarian proverb goes, he was determined to dance it through to the end. He sent Chernopeev and Asenov back to the Principality to renew negotiations with Dickinson, 'telling them to bring matters to a close as best they could, because by now we had had enough', [29] and, in the meantime, he

 

 

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continued to travel across the snowy mountains, inexorable and grimly resigned.

 

'As time passed,' writes Miss Stone, 'both of us became convinced that there was no mistaking God's plan that Mrs Tsilka should be captured with me. Her helplessness appealed most strongly to the brigands. One of the steadiest among them made her his special care. He it was whose arm was always ready for her, and who patiently steadied her steps, who mounted her and dismounted her, who spread the brigands' cloaks for our bed, and often tucked us in. I shudder to think how much harder it would have been for me had not their tenderer natures thus been appealed to by my companion's approaching motherhood.' [30]

 

Further on in her memoirs, she writes: 'When my companion was overborne, as she sometimes was, with her sorrowful memories and her longings for her dear ones, especially in anticipation of her coming trial, I more than suspected that the brigands sometimes got up some sort of show of athletics or manoeuvres or a game to divert her attention from herself, for they were greatly disconcerted when she was more than usually sad, and evidently distressed if she gave way to tears,' [31]

 

On the evening of December 21, 1901 (January 3, new style) the party left the village of Pokrovnik for Sŭrbinovo in Pirin. That night they rode for ten or twelve hours, and in one place the path became so steep that they had to dismount and climb. 'A man on each side side assisted each of us, and one behind Mrs Tsilka tried to give her additional help. Overcome by her weakness and pain, she moaned out to them, "Leave me here to die, I cannot go any further." Moved to pity by her extreme agony, the brigands encouraged her by saying, "Only a few steps more," and supported her far more tenderly than they had ever dreamed they could support a captive.' [32]

 

Finally they stopped to rest in a little building in the vineyards loutside the village. The building was used for wine-making and was 'almost entirely monopolized by two huge wine casks.' [33] There was a heavy frost and the chetnitsi lit a fire, the smoke of which quickly filled the room, because there was no chimney. There, on a bed of straw, covered with a goat's hair cloak, with a log for a pillow, and surrounded by sleeping chetnitsi, Mrs Tsilka went into labour. The first pains made her get up, and the guard, noticing that something was amiss, woke Yané, who rubbed his eyes and said:

 

'Madam, you had better lie down and sleep; tonight we have a long journey to make.' [34]

 

At this, Mrs Tsilka burst into tears and said she could not possibly travel any more, and when Yané insisted that the place was dangerous, she cried: 'Kill me, if you wish, but I do not move from this hut

 

 

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tonight. If I die, let me die here, and not on the road.'

 

'He again lay down,' writes Mrs Tsilka, 'but not to sleep. He became anxious; he twisted and turned and watched me closely. His heart was touched. He was human after all.

 

' "If madam wishes, we shall all go out and leave you alone," he said somewhat gently.

 

' "Yes," I said very quickly and very positively.' [35]

 

Yané ordered his men out, and left her alone with Miss Stone. He took the precaution, however, of sending for midwives from the village. When an old woman arrived 'black with smoke and dirt', [36] her primitive efforts to help - based as they were on superstitious ritual rather than medicine - actually made poor Mrs Tsilka laugh, although she fully expected to die, not believing that a normal birth was possible under the circumstances. She was, moreover, convinced that the cheta would not tolerate the baby and its crying, and would kill it as soon as it was born, lest the noise betray them.

 

Contrary to all expectations, the birth was an easy one, [37] and by the evening (December 22, 1901/January 2 1902), Mrs Tsilka had been delivered of a baby girl. When Miss Stone went out to announce the news to the chetnik on guard, he took a gourd that was lying in the hut, drew a measure of wine from the great cask above Mrs Tsilka's head, and took it out to his comrades so that they could drink the health of the mother and the newcomer. Later, Yané himself appeared. Mrs Tsilka recalls: 'His eyes were fierce at other times, but now they were downcast. He said nothing; he stood in front of the fire and seemed deep in thought. Every time the baby cried or grunted he was startled; he was not used to that sort of thing. Everybody in the room was silent except the baby. To break the oppressive silence Miss Stone picked up the infant and handed it to the chief (this is just like Miss Stone). At first he appeared confused and embarrassed, but as he watched the little helpless morsel in his strong arms, a smile passed over his face. I was anxious. I watched his expression, I read his thoughts, I waited for results. And, sure enough, his smiles lasted longer, he bent his head closer to the baby's face. He was no more a brigand to me, but a brother, a father, a protector to my baby. He now made up his mind to have a good time, so he sat down by the fire and began to warm baby's feet. My heart jumped with joy, I was relieved.

 

' "He means to spare my child. He can do it, he is the chief." His voice was deep and somewhat melodious, and now it was the sweetest music in my ears, for he spoke of baby; he was concerned that the baby should not catch cold. He sprang to his feet, gave the baby back to Miss Stone, and asked for a list of things necessary for the mother in the line of food.

 

 

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' "I shall give these orders and shall soon return." ' [38]

 

When he returned, he offered to keep watch over the child while the woman slept. During the night, the mother awoke in a panic to find her baby had gone, and momentarily feared the worst until she saw Yané - his revolver and dagger still in his belt - nodding with uncontrollable weariness beside the fire, with the baby tenderly cradled in his arms, i both smiled and wept with joy. I thanked God for the gentleness in this man. Is it possible? Is this the same man I saw only a few months ago so mercilessly stabbing a poor victim to death? Is he the same man who not long ago bragged and threatened our lives? Yes, he is the very same. Who wrought this change in him? Nobody but the little wee baby. He called her by many pet names. She was "the little brigand, the daughter of the cheta", but his favourite was Kasmetché (good luck). He did all he could to make us happy and comfortable. He kept the fire going, he boiled barley, cooked chicken, and made himself as useful as he could. This same man forgot all about danger outside. This wee thing had stolen his heart. He was thinking of nothing else but of the little kasmetché. He laughed, he joked, he appeared as happy as though it were his own baby.' [39]

 

Next evening, Yané asked if the rest of the men could come in and see the baby, and when Mrs Tsilka gladly gave her permission, the whole cheta crowded into the little room 'in full dress - their weapons in place, their hands and faces remarkably clean.' [40] Each in turn took the baby in his arms, murmuring words of blessing, and congratulated the mother, the midwife and Miss Stone, and each promised to make a present - a pair of moccasins, a chetnik's uniform, a whistle, a cap, a song in honour of the occasion, and so forth. It was an extraordinary scene - a bright interlude of unadulterated joy in a protracted ordeal that had become a nightmare for all of them.

 

' "What are you going to call her?" one asked.

 

' "Ellena," I said, "in honour of my mother and of Miss Ellen M.

 

' "Do you know," said another, "no cheta has ever had a baby born among them. This is an extraordinary event for us. We shall immortalize her name. It shall be written on our guns. Ellena shall be written on our guns."

 

'Another brigand spoke out: "This mother makes me think of Mary, the mother of Christ. She, too, lay in straw, and it was about this time of the year."

 

' "No," said another, "this is a martyr; no woman has suffered as she has."

 

'Then they all turned and looked at me with great pity. After giving baby a hearty kiss, they bade us good-night and disappeared out in

 

 

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the darkness. I believe they had a great discussion that night, whether it was wise to preserve the life of the newcomer or not. [41]

 

According to Anton Strashimirov, [42] such a discussion did indeed take place. Mrs Tsilka could not be moved, and the cheta was in grave danger of being surrounded by Turkish troops. 'The voivodi were in despair, and some proposed that they split up into groups, having first killed the prisoners, otherwise they would all be captured alive. The situation was such that the voivodi wrestled all night in their souls over the dreadful alternative. In the morning, Yané Sandansky cut the Gordian knot with the simple thought: "We cannot lead our people if we do not respect their morality; here we have an innocent mother with a newborn babe, but if we kill them, we will be killing both ourselves and our cause in the eyes of the people; so, let us all die, but let us not bury our cause." '

 

No other decision was possible after Yané had spent the night with little Ellena in his arms, dreaming, perhaps, of his own Elena - the girl in Dupnitsa whom he could have married and whose love he had sacrificed for Macedonia. No other decision was possible after he had allowed his men to greet the new arrival, and, indeed, when things became so difficult that Yané was on the point of leaving Mrs Tsilka and a chetnik, disguised as peasants, in the hope that they would not be noticed by the Turks, two of his men declared that they would stay, and die beside her, if necessary, and in the end they all stayed.

 

On the second day after the birth, Yané announced that they would have to travel again, because they were in imminent danger - Turkish troops had arrived in the nearby village. Mrs Tsilka was to be carried in a box specially made for the purpose, strapped to one side of a strong horse, with ballast on the other, and chetnitsi to support the load. While the box was being made, the old midwife gave her parting presents to the baby - a dark red cap, decorated with a silver coin, according to the old Bulgarian custom, and a piece of garlic to ward off the Evil Eye. She also spat on her finger and put it in the baby's mouth.

 

The first dreadful journey lasted six or seven hours because of the problems of getting the heavy box over boulders and up and down the steep mountain tracks. Whatever the reason may have been - whether it was indeed the most suitable refuge, or whether Yané had been totally overcome with memories and nostalgia - that first journey took them to his native village of Vlahi, where they spent nine days hiding in an outlying house.

 

Thus began another seven weeks of moving and hiding, hiding and moving, with all the additional problems of keeping the baby warm on night journeys through snow and biting winds, of washing and drying nappies, of preventing the baby from crying when its voice

 

 

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might reach enemy ears, and of bathing it in make-shift tubs - when conditions permitted. Although the chetnitsi did everything possible to alleviate the hardships and inconveniences suffered by the mother and her baby - from making a tent of cloaks hung on rifles around the mother, when she had to nurse the baby in the open, to helping to dry nappies in front of the fire - there were times when there was no water, times when no fire could be permitted, times when the women and baby were nearly suffocated by smoke in the huts where they were hiding, times when Mrs Tsilka, in particular, fell into utter despair.

 

The chetnitsi suffered no less than the women. When there was little or no food, it was always the men who went without; when there was food, the best was always given to the women; when the wind blew through the cracks of the wretched buildings in which they took shelter, it was the chetnitsi who gave up their warm cloaks to protect the captives. For the voivodi, especially, the whole affair was as much a nightmare as it was for the women. Not only had they to endure the constant strain of dodging their enemies, but they also knew that if they failed, or if any harm befell the women, the Turks would unleash unprecedented terror throughout Macedonia - many people had already been arrested - and the Organization itself would punish them for undertaking the kidnapping without permission and against advice.

 

Neither was the intimidation and mental suffering all on one side, as Chernopeev later explained to the American journalist, Albert Sonnichsen: 'Have you ever found yourself in a position of strong opposition to a middle-aged woman with a determined will, all her own? She assuming the attitude that you are a brute, and you feeling it? Firm opposition, not physical violence; that would be a relief, hour by hour, day by day... [43] What can you do with an angry, elderly and very respectable woman glaring at you? Once she made a sudden move with her umbrella - she always carried that umbrella - and her Bible and the old bonnet - well, it may have been imagination on my part, that move with the umbrella, but I stumbled backward through the doorway of the hut, to save my dignity. But I didn't save much of it. She wouldn't allow smoking. She didn't forbid it by actual injunction, you know, but so: "Have you human hearts, or have you absolutely no regard for helpless women?" In a shrill voice, you know. You couldn't smoke in her presence after such a scene.' [44]

 

Chernopeev also told Sonnichsen that Miss Stone made Krŭstyu Asenov read her Bible, and that he retaliated by getting her to read Socialist pamphlets, so that they could look into each other's creeds. [45]

 

The birth of the baby and the additional problems that it caused literally turned Chernopeev's hair grey. [46] Yet miraculously enough

 

 

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the baby not merely survived the appalling ordeal of its first two months of life, but appeared none the worse for it when the captives were eventually released safe and sound on Febraury 9 1902 (February 23, new style). They had passed the whole winter with the cheta, and tiny green leaves were sprouting under the bare bushes. A few days earlier, one of the 'brigands' had found a yellow crocus, and had laid it across the forehead of the sleeping baby. [47]

 

The ransom - reduced from £25,000 to £14,500 - had, in fact, been paid on January 12, while the party was still in Vlahi, but, because the land was swarming with Turkish troops, the women could not be released at once without endangering the cheta and the local committees. It had originally been agreed that they should be handed over in the Serres area, but close pursuit by the Turks made this too risky, and, in the end, the captives were left with their luggage, two pillows, two goat's hair chetnik cloaks, and a Turkish pound apiece, at 4.30 a.m., under a pear tree, five or ten minutes walk from a village near Strumitsa.

 

As Chernopeev, who was in charge of the final operation, intended, the women soon made contact with a villager, and it was not long before they were safely in the home of a Protestant pastor in Strumitsa, enjoying the luxury of hot baths and clean clothes. Next day, Mrs Tsilka was reunited with her husband, and they all returned to Salonika amid universal rejoicing.

 

Yané had not been wth the women during the last weeks of their captivity, because he had gone to Bansko, with a group of his men, to meet the ransoming commission - consisting of Dr House (Senior Missionary in Salonika), the Rev. W.W. Peet (Treasurer of Missions in Turkey) and A.A. Gargiulo (Dragoman at the United States Embassy). The handing over had been a very complicated affair, because the money - in gold and weighing over a hundred and three kilos (two hundred weight) - was being convoyed by no less than two hundred and fifty Turkish soldiers all intent on catching the 'brigands'. In the end, on Yané's advice, the commission secretly removed the money from its boxes and substituted lead, which the unsuspecting Turks convoyed to a new rendez-vous, leaving the money with Yané and his men, who took it over the border into the Principality. There they deposited it with several trusty friends, including Dimo Hadzhi-dimov, Krŭstyu Asenov's sister, and Yanka, until Gotsé should come and receive it officially on behalf of the Organization.

 

By sheer chance, as Yané and Krŭstyu Asenov were setting out again from Kyustendil, each with a cheta of a dozen men, they met Gotsé on the frontier, and they all returned to Sofia together.

 

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NOTES

 

1. Yavorov. Opus cit. p. 147.

 

2. Dimo Hadzhidimov joined the Bulgarian Workers' Social-Democratic Party in 1901, and eventually he rose to being a member of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party. He sat in the Bulgarian National Assembly as a Communist. In 1924 he was assassinated by fascists.

 

3. Memoirs of Yane Sandansky, Materiali... Vol VII, p. 14.

 

4. Anton Strashimirov. Kniga za Bŭlgarité, p. 96.

 

5. Chernopeev's real name was Chernyu Peev, and he was born in the village of Dermantsi (near Lukovit in northern Bulgaria) in 1868. He served in the Bulgarian Army off and on from 1889-1899 and became friends with Saratov, who recruited him for the movement. Later, Chernopeev broke off all relations with Sarafov, and worked exclusively for the Internal Organization. He was the voivoda of the cheta in which Gotsé's brother Mitso was killed. Later, Gotsé sent him to the Gorna Dzhumaya area, with the task of countering Supremacist propaganda for an early rising.

 

6. Albert Sonnichsen. Confessions of a Macedonian Bandit. New York 1909, p. 259.

 

7. They actually set out on August 21 (new style, September 3) 1901.

 

8. Krŭstyu Asenov was from Sliven and was the nephew of Hadzhi Dimitŭr.

 

9. See the Memoirs of Sava Mihailov. Materiali... Vol VII, p. 86. Mihailov had been sent to ascertain the Organizations attitude. He came back to Bansko with Asenov, but did not take part in the actual kidnapping.

 

10. Materiali... Vol VII, pp 18-19.

 

11. The Rock has now been cut back considerably in order to make room for the road from Blagoevgrad through Predela to Razlog and Bansko. The place is just before the road from Gradevo emerges into the open meadows of Predela.

 

12. Miss Stone's own account of the 'Affair' can be found in McClure's Magazine. Vol. XIX. May, June, July, September and October 1902. That of her companion, Mrs Tsilka, is in the August issue of the same year. Sandansky's memoirs are in Materiali... Vol VII, p. 17-23, and Chernopeev's in the same volume pp 60-61. Additional information gained by the American journalist, Albert Sonnichsen, from Chernopeev, can be found in Sonnichsen's book Confessions of a Macedonian Bandit.

 

13. Materiali... Vol VII, pp. 19-20.

 

14. Mrs Tsilka writes that Yané himself stabbed the Turk to death. See McClure's Magazine, August 1902, p. 297.

 

15. Materiali... Vol VII, p. 19.

 

16. McClure's Magazine, Vol XIX. May 1902, p.7.

 

17. Ibid., pp 11-12.

 

18. Materiali... Vol VII, p. 19.

 

19. McClure's Magazine, May 1902, p. 16.

 

20. Daily News. Oct. 8, 1901.

 

21. Ibid., Oct. 14, 1901.

 

22. Materiali... Vol VII, p. 20.

 

23. McClure's Magazine. June 1902. p. 107.

 

24. Doncho was a brigand of many years' standing, who usually spent the winter in Dupnitsa, living as a 'respectable' citizen, and the summer in Pirin, robbing Greek merchants from Melnik and others. The Organization tried to reform him but in vain. His robberies often resulted in Turkish retaliatory measures against the local popula-

 

 

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tion, and A. Popov, the Bulgarian commercial agent, sent many reports to the Bulgarian Government (1897, 1898, 1899) requesting them to curb his activities. Eventually, Doncho himself wanted to join the Organization, but, in view of his previous refusals and his notoriety as a brigand, it rejected his application.

 

25. Materiali... Vol. VII, p. 21.

 

26. McClure's Magazine. June 1902, p. 109.

 

27. Ibid.

 

28. Ibid., July 1902, p. 221 (Miss Stone's memoirs).

 

29. Materiali... Vol VII, p. 21.

 

30. McClure's Magazine. June 1902, p. 101.

 

31. Ibid, p. 224

 

32. Ibid., July 1902, p. 224.

 

33. Ibid.

 

34. Ibid., August 1902, p. 292 (Memoirs of Mrs Tsilka).

 

35. Ibid, p. 292.

 

36. Ibid., p. 294.

 

37. Materiali... Vol VII, p. 22.

 

38. McClure's Magazine. August 1902, p. 296.

 

39. Ibid, p. 297.

 

40. Ibid., July, p. 227 (Miss Stone's memoirs).

 

41. Ibid., August 1902, p. 297.

 

42. Anton Strashimirov. Kniga za Bŭlgarité. Strashimirov was nto himself present at the meeting, but heard of it from those who were.

 

43. Albert Sonnichsen. Confessions of a Macedonian Bandit. New York, 1909. pp. 256.

 

44. Ibid., pp. 261-262

 

45. Ibid., p. 263.

 

46. Ibid, pp. 256 and 263.

 

47. McClure's Magazine. October 1902, p. 562.