The insurgent provinces
A MORNING'S SIGHT-SEEING IN MONASTIR
"THIS is the hospital," remarked our Jew guide, as he led us into a fine garden before a large and not ungainly building. Indeed there was no doubt about its character when we entered the main hall of the Greek Hospital of Monastir.
Clean and orderly, a large, airy pharmacy to the right, offices to the left, and pervading everywhere that unmistakable hospital atmosphere.
A young doctor receives us, and assures us that there will be no difficulty whatever in obtaining permission to inspect the wards.
"In fact," he says with a smile, "my permission is quite enough. We wish the correspondents to see some of our cases."
"It is just those cases we wish to see," we respond with an answering smile.
And we pass upstairs to the "Accident Wards."
We must resemble an official commission as we enter the first large and airy ward, full of men and boys, swathed for the most part in ominous bandages and plaster. A look of fear and unspoken anxiety appears on the faces of the patients, not even quieted when they see us without the fez; moreover our note-book evidently does not inspire confidence.
Who all these worthy gentlemen are who accompany us we ourselves do not know, but ultimately they develop into two or three doctors, the apothecary, and the male nurses. They are all communicative and technical, too much so in some cases, and explain the various cases with brevity, reading from the cards above each bed.
We halt at the side of a yellow-faced, under-sized boy, and a doctor throws back the bedclothes, showing a knee in a plaster-of-Paris case.
"Elias Velian," he reads, "fifteen years of age, and native of Biloshi. Mauser bullet through the left knee, shattering the knee-cap. Cripple for life. Greek nationality."
"A boy, thirteen years old" - we are beside the next little patient - "shot through both hips by Mauser bullet at Smerdes."
Poor little fellow, he looks pitifully at us as we pass on to the next little sufferer, a year younger still.
"Philip Jolam, twelve years old. One of the survivors from Armensko. Mauser bullets through right hand and right foot. Left leg shattered by a Martini bullet."
"You are aware," remarks another doctor, "that the Nizams alone are armed with Mausers, and the Redifs and Bashibazouks with Martinis?"
"Also that only officers possess swords?" he continued. "You will see the meaning of this in the female ward."
"Yes," we answer. There were no cavalry employed in these or any massacres.
And now we stand beside a young man from Armensko, with shattered thigh and shoulder.
"Tell us how thy life was saved," we ask.
He looks at the doctors, half fearfully, half questioningly. They speak to him encouragingly, saying we are his friends, and mean him well.
"When I fell the Turks would have killed me quite," he began shyly, "but a man fell dead upon me, and saved me from the bayonets. He was my father."
We question him further, and, gathering confidence, he tells us of the approach of the Turkish troops after their defeat by insurgents on the hills, how the priest, a young and handsome man (afterwards killed and namelessly ill-used), together with the elders of the village, went out to meet them, offering hospitality and rest. But other soldiers had reached the village from the rear, and commenced firing shots. It was the signal.
"They said afterwards that Bulgarians were in the village and firing on them. But it was a lie. We were all Greeks, and the men who fired behind the village were soldiers sent to do this. We saw them."
"We fled back to our houses; many of us fell; but here we found no shelter. The soldiers set fire to our houses, and as we ran out we were bayoneted on the streets or shot down in the fields. When I fell I was in the midst of the village, and saw the soldiers murdering, plundering, and violating our women. There was a girl with five bullet wounds - I counted them afterwards - outraged by three soldiers, and then she died. Some of the little children were cut down by swords; many had four and five wounds; twenty-eight we counted, of whom four died."
"But only the officers had swords?"
"Yes, the officers helped; the rest were Anatolian and Albanian soldiers."
He sinks back, and the doctors motion us to move on. The man had spoken listlessly and without excitement, but there was something in his eyes which said more than the bare words.
We are led into a small room beyond, where lies a little boy of twelve, another of Armensko's survivors. His head is swathed in bandages, and he is as one dead. Indeed we think it, so waxen is his face, but the doctor shakes his head.
"Bullet through the skull," he says laconically, "but he is dying fast. Probably end of this week."
(N.B. - The next time I visited the hospital he was buried.)
In silence we leave the little victim, glad in one sense that his sufferings are over. At least he will never regain consciousness in this world that has used him so cruelly.
Our cicerones lead us on to the women's ward, after we have spoken with another young man of Bistritza, shot for pleasure, he tells us, by Bashibazouks as he worked on his field.
The first two patients we see are both from Biloshi, a little girl of ten, whose sweet face is still livid on one side from the blow of a rifle butt, and a woman whose eyes are terrible, and no wonder.
The little girl has eight knife wounds.
"Three in the head and neck, three in the breast, and two in the stomach," reads the doctor glibly.
"How did it happen?" we ask.
With trembling accents the child answers -
"At night they fired in the village, and we ran across the fields. Then they caught me and stabbed me."
The woman says the same thing. She had her baby in her arms.
"They chopped it to pieces before my eyes," she wails.
A doctor supplements the story.
"All her left fingers were cut off; she was holding her baby at the time. She received five sabre cuts on the head, two of which fractured the skull. Further, a bullet through the right arm."
We shudder and pass on to the next bed, where lies a refined and tender-looking woman and her child, a sweet-faced little girl of perhaps four.
"These are from Krushevo," says our guide. "The child is shot through the foot, but the mother saved it, and fled to the mountains, where they have starved since then. Friends smuggled them in here two days ago. "Nervous prostration and starvation," he adds, replacing the board.
There is one more bad case which we are not spared. A perfectly ghastly-looking woman has fascinated us horribly since entering the room. She moans incessantly.
The doctor stands at her side and soothes her as he speaks.
"From Armensko. Sabre cut on left shoulder, cleft to the lung - we could see it working - and nearly severing the arm. One of the most terrible wounds we have treated, and a marvel she lives. Also a Mauser bullet through the other arm."
We feel sick and faint as we emerge once more on the corridor. We decline to see more, but one question we put ere we leave:
"Your'patients are all Greeks or Wallachians?"
"And what becomes of the Bulgarians? There must be hundreds of them."
"This hospital does not admit them," is the cold answer. "They go to the Turkish hospital - if they can get there."
Unhappy Bulgar peasant! Even in sickness and grievous misery thy co-religionists refuse thee succour.
We strove to get an equal insight into the Turkish civil hospital, but in vain. Something they showed us, it is true; two wards, one full of Turks - but no case really bad - another full of wounded Bulgar prisoners.
Iron bars surrounded the latter ward, a barred gate, guarded by an armed gendarme, gave access to the interior. Some show of reluctance was made ere this gate was opened, but the chief doctor came and took us in. All the men were sitting up in bed, some even were walking up and down. One patient specially attracted our notice, a man with a face terribly slashed and disfigured, now half healed.
Questions we ceased to ask, for they were ignored, or answered evasively, and as speedily as might be we were conducted to the apothecary, for no Turk can let a visitor go without a show of hospitality. It is thus that they seek to mask their lies and gain friends. It is ever impolitic to make needless enemies, and this the Turk understands and acts upon to the full.
Who knows but what we believe the charming chief surgeon when he declares that we have seen everything. Maybe we should have done, had not an assistant chemist, evidently a Christian or a Jew, whispered in our ear, "You should see the other wards."
We asked again on leaving, but ever polite came the
THE COURT HOUSE.
response, "Gentlemen, ye have seen everything," and for the third time we were invited to inspect the operating-room.
And now we are crossing a yard to a small building, where sits the special court of law to try Bulgarian prisoners suspected of participating in the insurrection. It is a court from which there is no appeal, and men are daily sent to exile, or death - it is the same thing often - or, and this is more seldom, set at liberty.
The house is built on the side of a little hill, entered from the lower side by the cellar, from which one climbs to the main floor, level with the road above.
Guards stand at the cellar door, where we are allowed to enter, to save a long détour. The interior is dark, so dark that at first we can distinguish nothing, for we are blinded by the glare outside. But we are suddenly conscious that it is packed with human beings, and hark, that is the mournful clank of chains. There is something that strikes to the very marrow in the sound of iron fetters on the limbs of men.
As our eyes grow accustomed to the gloom we pause involuntarily ere we mount the steep wooden ladder leading to the light above. The space around us is full of men, chained by clumsy iron bars, wrist to wrist. They are awaiting their trial. Ere the guards can hurry us up the ladder, a young man in European attire steps quickly forward, dragging his companion with him.
He is of refined appearance, neat even in this black hole, and suddenly begins to speak in faultless French.
"I am a teacher from Ochrida." He is talking very fast, for gendarmes are coming down the steps. "Four months ago my father, brother, and I were arrested, and have been in prison ever since."
"What have ye done?" we query.
"God knows; we know nothing," he continued in the same rapid manner, though his voice trembled with excitement. "Our house and all our goods are confiscated. For the sake of humanity, do something for us. For the love of God, obtain our freedom."
He is pushed roughly back amongst his fellow-sufferers. One more glance-of pity-we give him, and his face is eager and hopeful. But what can we do for him?
Already impatient commands order us to proceed, and we mount the steps slowly. Long will that scene remain graven on our memories. The darkness, the squalor, and those manacled figures, so piteous, so silent, except for their courageous spokesman. Like dumb animals they gazed at us. Many were in European clothes, others in the tattered peasant costume, and one was a full-blooded Albanian; though how he came there we know not.
Ah! could ye in England but realize this misery, ye would not turn deaf ears to these cries for help, saying that this is exaggeration or talking politics. Ye were not always so cold and unbelieving; even twenty-five years ago ye were different; yet this is going on to-day, and will continue till help comes, for come it must ere long.
And what is written here is not the worst.
"God pity that man to-night when he gets back to prison," says our dragoman, a none too feeling man, and a Jew. "I would sooner be dead than be in his place."
We are in the light once more. Sentries stand on either side of the door leading into the court-room, and we would enter. Two rifles thrust across the door bar the way, but a word from a Turk gives us access.
It is a long room; the well is railed in, and filled with
rows of benches; a clear space leads round it to the tribunal at the farther end, where sit some sleepy Turks - the judges, the State prosecutor, and two or three clerks. Before them stands the interpreter, an evil-looking fellow, and at the farther end of the well nearest the judges sit three wretched objects in dirty sheepskins. They are Bulgarian peasants and the prisoners on trial. Absolutely motionless they sit with downcast heads, seemingly oblivious of their surroundings, for they understand not a word of Turkish, and in a monotonous voice the prosecutor is speaking. He talks slowly, and with frequent pauses, to enable the clerk to write down his words in full. There is another man who has just finished speaking, and he is the prisoners' defender. He also is indifferent, and lolls back in a chair beside the interpreter.
Meanwhile chairs have been brought us, and we sit and watch. Some witnesses are called, also peasants, who are quickly dismissed. They leave that dreaded court with alacrity. Who knows when they themselves will occupy the prisoners' bench?
An officer lounges behind us, evidently in command of the guard, also indifferent, except for a languid interest in us. Every one is indifferent, judges, lawyers, guards, and prisoners. It is nothing but an empty formality to please Europe.
Flies are running unheeded over the heads of the prisoners; they do not lift their manacled hands, but stare motionless on the floor before them. Then a question is put to them, and one rises slowly, and answers. Again he sits in the same impassive attitude.
The chairman nods, and the three rise once more and stumble stupidly out of the room, down to the cellar below.
Other names are called. A judge yawns and stretches himself, and we
go out into the generous sunshine once more, thanking God that we were
born in another land.
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