The Balkans from within,
Reginald Wyon



DOWNS, rolling downs, jagged snow-tipped peaks in the distance, and that fresh keen air which blows only on the uplands, 4,500 feet above the sea level. Rich springy grass and dense forests in the valleys and hollows affording refreshing shade, while at convenient intervals the thirsty wayfarer finds rivulets of clearwater, so cold that he must drink circumspectly. Such is the country north of Šavnik stretching up to the base of the mighty Durmitor.

We have left Šavnik below us, a pleasant little village of substantial houses, hidden away in a deep ravine where three tiny rivers meet, with its romantic old Turkish bridge, and its spiritual father, a white-bearded veteran, one of the heroes of the last wars. How the dear old man enjoyed our visit, and with what gusto he put away his tots of raki. He was not the first to decline further potations and, I am fully convinced, would have caroused with us until further orders.

Now we have climbed two great hills, crossed the intervening plateau, and at a wayside grave we are halted for a few minutes' rest. A party of men have attached themselves, for they are journeying our way, rough, unkempt giants, of quite a different type from the rest of the Montenegrins.

One youth has picked me out as his special prey, and for the last half hour has put me through a searching examina-


tion, demanding particulars of my past life, my present ideas, and plans for the future. Half irritated, I have answered him and have retaliated, but not even my most unreasonable questions has he taken amiss, for I would give him an object lesson in inquisitiveness. "Art thou married?" "No, Gospodin." "Why art thou not married?" "Because, Gospodin, I have no money." "When wilt thou marry, then? Hast thou a maiden whom thou wouldst marry if thou couldst?" All he has answered as if they were the most natural questions in the world, and laughed the while.

We ride on, and the inquisition over - we have left no subject of our past, present or future lives untouched, however delicate - he develops into my cicerone.

"Here, seest thou, Gospodin, on this knoll is the grave of a Turk. The crosses at the side show the spot where his companions - Christians from Servia - were mysteriously murdered not long ago. They had lit a fire and were resting, when in their sleep robbers came and killed all three, Turk and Christian alike. Not till this day have we found the murderers or any reason for this foul deed. We buried the Serbs in the churchyard below."

A little farther and we pass another cross, with an inscription setting forth a story similar to the last. A merchant of Risano, journeying on his way, was suddenly shot down. I pause, for I know his home well, snugly hidden away up one of those majestic fiords of the lovely Bocche de Cattaro.

"A dangerous neighbourhood," I remark, not unnaturally, but the young fellow laughs and shrugs his shoulders.

After all, it is only a matter of a few human lives, nothing more.

The inhabitants of northern Montenegro lack the in-


born courtesy of the rest of their brethren. They stare at us almost rudely as we ride through a village and draw rein at the han for milk. Yet a greeting brings a hearty response, not unmingled with surprise that we know their language.

And then the Durmitor breaks upon our longing view as we top a ridge - Montenegro's loftiest mountain: a majestic pile of earth, rocks and snow. The surrounding uplands are so high that its height is dwarfed, and I feel a sense of disappointment, but that passes as we draw ever nearer and nearer to that colossal mountain, or rather collection of mountains.

At length we reach the base of the Durmitor and begin to look anxiously for little Zabljak, our resting place for the next few days. The sun has dipped down below the mountains, and almost at the very instant we button up our coats. Later on we even dismount, for the cold is very hard to bear after the heat of the plains.

"How far to Zabljak? " hails Stefan of a peasant at work by a little cemetery on a hillock, railed in by massive timbers.

"Ye are close - half an hour," comes back the cheering answer.

A ridge is before us, in half an hour we top it, and look for the houses of the town. Another valley and another ridge meet our hungry gaze.

"God greet thee, brother. How far to Zabljak?" shouts Stefan once more.

"May your luck be good - an hour."

"Ask no more," I call angrily to Stefan, and we plod on. The second ridge is reached, and in the failing light we see - yet another covered with lofty pines. In


silence we walk onwards, while each reads the other's thoughts. They are prayers that we may not be condemned to another night in that gloomy forest before us.

Now we have reached it and are skirting the path, which climbs obliquely up the hillside, causing us to walk fearfully the higher we ascend, for the side below us is nearly precipitous.

"Keep to the telegraph poles," I call to Stefan.

"Curse them," he answers, but I forgive him. I know he is thinking of that time near Šavnik when we sought for them in vain throughout a weary night.

Then we descend, and now darkness has enshrouded the mournful scene. Stefan halts irresolutely but I push by.

"Wilt thou sleep here and freeze?" I ask.

"I cannot see the path," he answers.

"What need, fool, when we have found the town?"

And he looks again. Before him is a ghostly house, and within a minute we are walking down a wide street of grass trodden into a multitude of paths, between weird, conical-roofed houses of wood.

It might be a village of the dead, so quiet and lifeless it appears; but no, there is a light, and at the beat of our horses' hoofs upon the turf a man appears.

"Show us the inn," I say, and the man scratches his head.

"Then take us to the house of the Kapetan," I continue, for I have that in my pocket which will compel attention.

It is an order to all those that be in authority to attend to my wishes, and I present it a few moments later to a young man, tall and thin, wearing a shield upon his tattered cap.

"Good," he answers. "Ye are my guests. Wife, bring the raki."


Thankfully we collapse upon a wooden bench in the bare room, glad to be out of the nipping cold and at rest.

Then men come in and some call me by name.

One is bluff Kapetan Tomo from the High Court of Law, and another is a professor, both from Cetinje and old acquaintances.

"It is good that thou hast come," says Tomo. "We wanted a fourth hand at whist. After thou hast supped we will commence."

And I laugh at the incongruity of it all, for yet another man has come in, a botanist whom I once met in Prague.

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