The Balkans from within,
Reginald Wyon
 

Montenegro
 

BLACK ANDRIJA
 

THERE was no more unpopular man in easy-going Podgorica than Andrija Mijabovic, lieutenant of militia, a black-browed, sullen young fellow, disliked even by his few associates, who, outcasts likewise, held together with that quaint tolerance of each other always found in social pariahs.

At home Andrija had an aged and infatuated mother, and strangely enough, a young wife, though how he succeeded in wooing this fair daughter of the Black Mountain was an affair veiled in mystery. The presence of these loving women at home had no influence on Andrija. He loafed, drank, and gambled from morn to night and from night to morn, not going home sometimes for days together. That was the origin of the trouble. Had these poor women let him go his way in peace, he might have drunk himself to death, been banished or imprisoned without disturbing any one in particular. Nobody took any notice of Andrija, and a goodly few scarce knew of his existence. But mother and wife judged otherwise. They formed a deputation of themselves, and waited on handsome, good-natured Spiro Vukovic, the governor of Podgorica, and brigadier of the Zeta battalions, begging him to speak with Andrija and show him the wickedness of his ways. In this manner the thing became known, for Spiro spoke of it to us and others whilst sipping our ante-prandial raki

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before the door of Lazo's inn under the shadow of the mulberry trees.

It was the hour when we were wont to gossip over the events of the day, a necessary institution in a land without the blessings, or curse, of daily newspapers - and occurrences of rare triviality assumed at times the aspect of startling news, according to the barrenness or plenitude of conversational themes. Thus it was we discussed shooting affrays on the near border, bloody deeds of the vendetta, or trifling domestic gossip of the town with much the same interest.

Besides the governor, there was the usual collection of town dignitaries. Pompous Kapetan Tomo, chief of the gendarmerie; Milos, the governor's secretary, neat and conspicuous in European clothes, an effect heightened by an enormously high collar; Marko, the mayor; the district judge, whose name I forgot, though not his cheery face; the "man" doctor, Austrian by birth, and his colleague the "horse" doctor, an Italian. A little distance away stood a gendarme (the governor's personal orderly), a keen, fearless-looking man, smoking cigarettes with a great air of restfulness and enjoyment.

A stranger to the group would have had no difficulty in recognizing the governor were he told to pick out the man in authority there, for Spiro had an unmistakable air of command under his affable exterior. When he stood up he was a head taller than any man present, and that is saying much where the average man stands five feet eleven inches in his heelless opanki.

Passing the brown hand often over his iron-grey hair, Spiro told us of the petition laid humbly before him that afternoon by the two weeping women.

"And I know not what to do," he concluded; " I cannot

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interfere as Andrija's superior, and yet I would help the poor women."

"Why not send for him unofficially and speak him fair?" suggested one. "He must at least pay respect to thy words, O Spiro."

And Spiro had said that this was the only idea which had occurred to him, and that he would do so.

Some days passed and I chanced to meet the governor strolling at midday, as was his habit, up and down the broad street before his house.

I spoke of Andrija, and Spiro's face clouded with anger.

"He did not come," he said shortly, and I wondered greatly at Andrija's impudence, for it was a case of a subaltern ignoring a request of his commanding general.

Wisely I held my peace, and we spoke awhile of other things, then I wended my way to Jovan's coffee-house.

Strangely enough, Andrija was the first man upon whom my eyes fell on entering the dingy room, sitting moodily in a corner, alone. My salutation, courteously acknowledged by the other men present, found no response from him, and somewhat purposely I seated myself at his table. A growl echoed my second greeting, and with a shrug I turned to watch the bluff Kommandir of the Zeta battling peaceably at Russian billiards with the no less genial ex-Albanian chieftain, Sokol Baco. My thoughts wandered back to those days when these grizzled veterans had fought each other in different manner upon the plain and slopes outside the town. Then these two hoary old giants had been vigorous men in their prime, and their "bags" of bleeding heads were wont to be great. Savage, pitiless war, scenes of carnage and fierce hand-to-hand fighting had been the nursery of these men - and indeed that of all the other

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onlookers, and yet it had left their hearts tender, a laugh ever lurking behind their drooping moustachios, and an open, generous hand.

No, war has certainly no brutalizing tendency, I mused, laughing in infectious unison with the great Albanian, who has beaten his partner by a clever unexpected stroke, and is slapping his thigh to the accompaniment of great roars of delight.

A man enters breathlessly.

"The house of Stefan Voinovic is burning," he gasps, and vanishes again into the broiling glare outside.

With many and varied exclamations the guests break up, for a fire is a rarity in times of peace; but at the door they are pushed back by a man entering. They fall back, leaving the new comer a space in their midst. It is the governor himself.

Rapidly and lucidly he gives instructions - some little but important duty to each man of rank present, who salutes and retires promptly. Then Spiro's keen glance falls on my neighbour, who alone has not risen from his chair.

"What, Andrija," he shouts, striding swiftly to the table. "What dost thou here - and seated? Begone and call thy section together. They will be awaiting their officer at the place of muster."

The man rose slowly, and a flame shot into Spiro's eyes at the ostentatious laziness.

"Quickly!" he roared, and with a sharp cane he dealt him a light blow on the shoulders. "We will speak of this and other matters afterwards, Lieutenant Andrija."

Andrija's studied sloth of movement was gone ere the blow had fallen. Stiffly erect, he waited till the governor had concluded.

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"We will indeed speak of this matter afterwards, Gospodin Spiro," he spoke, and with face aflame he darted from the room.

Events moved quickly the next few hours. The fire was extinguished with no little difficulty, but the sun was still high above the rugged mountains as I bent my steps once more to the street where stood Jovan's coffee-house. As in the forenoon, Spiro Vakovic was pacing to and fro, alone except for the ever-present orderly, some ten paces to the rear. We spoke together, and whilst Spiro listened with some incredulity to the stories of steam fire brigades and their men, Andrija Mijabovic approached us, an evil look upon his face.

"Of what matter hast thou to speak with me, Spiro, other than that which occurred to-day, concerning which I shall have something to say?" he quoth with studied insolence.

As I turned to go, I saw Spiro's face darken under its tan.

"Thou dost neglect thy wife, Andrija, and I would know why thou didst not answer my summons to thee to come."

I heard no more, entering aimlessly the deserted coffeehouse, for the habitues were resting and eating at their homes after the exertions of the preceding hours.

Besides, the storm now bursting had no attractions for me. Louder grew the voices of the angry men quarrelling in the sunlight, and then I heard the voice of Andrija, harsh and menacing.

"And now for the other matter, Spiro. Thou hast struck me like a dog this day. Thus I return that blow "

And I turned, hurrying to the doorway, for I was afraid, knowing what that meant.

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Two shots had rung out before the door was reached, and this is what I saw.

Spiro reeling, his hand clutching at the revolver in his silk sash; Andrija, a smoking revolver in his hand, just lowered from the second shot; and the gendarme drawing his weapon, hurrying with great leaps to catch his master. The next instant the picture was changed, for Spiro had drawn and fired, and Andrija was badly hit. Almost simultaneously the gendarme's huge revolver crashed out, and Andrija threw up his arms, turned on his heels, and fell prone on his face.

"A good shot," murmured Spiro, an ever-widening spot of crimson on his creamy surcoat, and with a sigh he fell gently to the ground, almost bearing with him the brawny gendarme who had caught him in his arms.

Another few seconds and the street was full of armed men. The last glimpse was that of men firing bullets in a blind frenzy of wrath into the corpse of Andrija.

That same night the wife of Andrija drowned herself, and his mother was tied with ropes, a raving maniac.

Thus were the innocent punished with the guilty, because of the love borne to a villain by two faithful women.
 

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