The Balkans from within,
Reginald Wyon



THE scene is brilliant in the extreme, and one that is most pleasing to the eye. It is also unique, for nowhere in the Balkans can such another variety of national costumes be witnessed. There are Bosnians, conspicuous by huge red turbans, dark blue tunics and baggy trousers closely fitting to the lower leg, great sashes and belts, once the resting-place of an armoury of weapons before Austria forbade the carrying of arms; on their feet they wear opanki, shoes studded with enormous nails, and not seldom with real horse-shoes. Their women folk are not so picturesque, and can lay no claim to physical beauty as can the men. In one of the booths sit six such men, brawny giants, utterly unlike the equally big Montenegrins, whose costume gives them a more dapper appearance. From their wide white sleeves ceasing at the elbow appear muscular arms, but their faces are kindly and attractive. With them sit two Herzegovinians, very counterparts in dress to their Montenegrin brethren. The same little round cap perched at a more coquettish angle, smaller in size, and without the Prince's cipher, red and gold jackets, and wide blue breeches; but in the expression of their faces is a difference and a very marked one too. They lack the open fearless look which stamps the mountaineers who defied the mighty Moslem for five hundred years. Extremely pretty are the women, in such a variegated and complicated costume that it defies


description. One is dancing below us, a black tassel peeping out from her veiled head, covered with a bright red cap over which her hair is plaited. Now a cavalcade of Turks rides along the path, just arrived from Sarajevo. Amongst them are two women closely veiled, and as they pass us they bend their heads still more over the saddles, which they bestride, as do all the women of these lands. Moslems, Greek and Roman Catholics, even Protestants, all journey to St. Vasili.

At my side sits a venerable man clothed in European dress, except for a blue crowned Montenegrin cap, such as is worn by the clergy. His silvery hair falls on to his shoulders, and from his face shines the soul of a saint. It is Deda (grandfather), the patriot and recluse. He is beaming with happiness at the company of a stranger with whom he can talk of past days and other lands. Many are the wonderful stories he has told of the struggles of the Serbs against the Turks, and of the stirring times when the Karageorgevic fought the Obrenovic for the kingdom of Servia, and how he fled from Servia when his prince was finally expelled. I had met him the day I arrived in Ostrog, walking slowly but upright still, before the monastery. Involuntarily I had paused, and he noticing my questioning look had asked me if I sought "Arsenije Lazic," or, he had added, "perhaps thou hast heard of me as Deda?" And, indeed, I was seeking him, for there are few people in Montenegro who had not spoken to me of Deda. From that moment began a beautiful friendship between us. Three episodes of that friendship are graven in my memory: when he took me to his grave; as I sat one evening long into the night listening to his wonderful life; and, lastly, when he stood on the road before the monastery to bid me farewell.



In a lonely glade he has built his tomb and tends it daily. Once he had shown it to the Prince, saying: "Gospodar, it is meet and right that I should give what I can to the land of my fathers in return for the home that thou hast provided me with in my old age. Riches I have none, and so I leave my bones to Montenegro."

And I, too, had stood at the grave with its still living tenant at my side.

"Arsenije Lazic, first lieutenant of cavalry and faithful servant of" (in letters of gold) "Prince Alexander II. Karageorgevic, born in the year 1821, and died in the year..." I murmured a prayer that the space at the end of the inscription might long remain a blank and Deda had smiled and answered, "Nay, my son, I am not morbid, neither do I wish to die; but I am old and I am ready to go when God calls me. Read further." And I read the concluding sentence

"Farewell, Montenegro. May the leaves of thy trees turn to gold. I go to my eternal rest."

Then we had gone back to the pulsating life below amongst the tents. In his barren cell we had sat together many hours. Once he told me how, refusing allegiance to the House of Obrenovic and suspected of being a spy, "which," he added with his beautiful smile, "I was, for I and many others still hoped to win back our lawful Prince" - they had arrested him and thrown him into prison. "See," he said, baring his right leg, "my leg is still swollen where they chained me, and my right hand trembles, not from age, for the other is as steady as thine, but from the weight of the fetters I wore for three months. And they beat me with bags of sand on the breast and back, and though the blood gushed from my mouth they could not make me speak.


'Ye may kill me,' I said, 'but speak I will not, for I have nothing to tell.' And so they let me go. I have been true to my Prince, and now I have my reward. For what can a man do more than carry iron and bear torture rather than break his oath?"

"When my father died," he said at another time, "he called me to his bed. I was but a boy then, yet his dying words are written here" - he tapped his forehead. " 'Come hither, my son,' and I went to him and kissed him. The gash on his face was livid. It was a wound from the Turks, against whom he also fought for many years. 'My son, I am dying. Be good and honest even as I have ever striven to be. Take not that which is another's, and thine own give not. Shouldst thou find that which is not thine, so leave it where thou hast found it. What thou seest, say thou hast not seen. What thou hearest - thou hast heard nothing. I pardon thee all thy sins. Farewell. I am dying. Be good.' "

Deda had risen and stood with his hand on my head as he repeated the message spoken seventy years ago, and I saw that in spirit he was again standing by that deathbed in far-away Servia, a careless, reckless boy, hardly realizing then what those words meant.

Then he sighed and spoke of his own near death

"I fear not death, but oh! it is terrible when I am sick. No one comes to me to tend me, and I must die alone. Not one of my family lives, and here they hate me. Yes, my son, it is so. They are jealous of my past, and what I know. Only my Prince loves me, and for that I am truly thankful."

Of these and of many other things he spoke often to me, and my heart went out to that lonely old man. He testified


to the wonders worked at the shrine of St. Vasili, which he had seen with his own eyes.

"Six years ago," he said, "I too slept at the shrine, and I who have never known fear spent a night of such horror that even now my flesh creeps when I remember. I could not sleep for fear, and in the dead of the night an icy feeling crept over me, and clearly and distinctly I felt as if some one laid a cloth upon me three times, thus" - he laid his stick lightly upon my breast. "Yet next moring - aye, and whenever I visit the Holy Vasili I return down the hill walking as a man of forty. My strength returns to me, and steep as is the path, I need no stick to help me down."

Again I see Deda standing on the wide road some few hundred yards below the monastery. He has just blessed me in such beautiful words that I would have gladly bent my knee to that invocation. Then he had kissed me many times, for he said, "I fear I shall never see thee more, and I have learnt to love thee, my son." And I have left him hurriedly - there are tears rolling down that furrowed face.

There he stands, behind him the wooded slope leading up to the tiny monastery under the beetling cliff, and all around the glorious sunshine of life and strength. As I draw my revolver and give him the Montenegrin parting salute, he doffs his cap, and with an effort I turn the corner that shuts him off from view.

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