WE have left Scutari, the capital of Albania, behind and the good ship Danitza is ploughing her way through the placid waters of the lake towards the Montenegrin shores at the upper end.
It is a perfect day - a little hot, perhaps, in the sun, but the motion of the boat creates a cooling breeze. On our left rises the mighty Rumija, whose jagged peaks divide us from the Adria, and gentle slopes, green and pleasant to the eye, descend by easy gradients to the island-fringed coast along which we are skirting. To the right stretches a broad expanse of sparkling water, and beyond lie the snow-clad Albanian Alps, here and there wreathed with a milky-white cloud towering into the otherwise cloudless sky.
The little steamer - which is very cosmopolitan in itself, for a metal plate proclaims that it was built in England, is owned by a Scottish firm, flies the Montenegrin flag, and is captained by an Austrian - has a full complement of third-class passengers. They are very noisy too, which is irritating, for I feel sleepy, and would like to doze in the shade of the awning. There is something very soothing about the swish of water on a hot day; but to-day I can hear nothing but the loud and excited conversation of the Albanians abaft the engines. They are a wild-looking lot, all armed, and of the Christian faith, as the attention they pay
to enormous bottles of strong drink proclaims. One of them starts a weird war-chant, and the rest join in a stormy chorus.
"It is too early," I murmur to myself. "If it were ten o'clock at night instead of ten in the morning, I might excuse a little conviviality; but in the broad daylight it is sacrilege."
An hour passes; and I must have dozed, for the steward taps me gently on the shoulder. He informs me in shocking Italian that the mid-day meal is ready.
The Albanians have got much worse I notice, as I execute an acrobatic feat necessary on entering the tiny cabin. I bump my head, which causes me to swear; bump into the table, which makes me repeat what I said before; and then I bow to the other occupants of the table. There are two besides the captain, who is an old friend; one is the consul of a great Power much interested in the Albanian question, and the other a brown-habited Franciscan friar.
The consul is a small grey-haired and bearded man of insignificant stature, and his restless fingers proclaim him to be of an excitable temperament: probably the noisy Albanians have got on his nerves. The Franciscan contrasts oddly with him in all respects - big, placid and young. His moustache looks out of place; but I know all Roman Catholic priests grow moustaches in these regions, where a beardless man excites derision. He is as talkative, too, as the other is silent, and we speedily enter into conversation. In broad Styrian dialect he tells me of the excitement in Scutari, and how a few days ago the spiritual shepherd of a fierce clan, inhabiting part of those wild mountains to our right, arrived in Scutari a fugitive from his flock. We discuss the probable revenge which another clan will take
for the burning of one of their churches by Turkish soldiery. He remarks on the unnatural calm displayed by the Albanian Christians in Scutari at the present moment.
"It bodes ill for the Mahometans," he says. "I never trust the mountaineers when they are so quiet after an outrage."
A wild burst of yelling almost drowns his deep-toned voice.
"Your children exhibit no such unnatural calm here, father," I remark. " They are a few degrees worse than a crowd returning from a race-meeting in England - and more I cannot say."
The consul moved restlessly on his chair.
"They are all drunk," exclaimed the captain, "and excited about that church."
"That is obvious," I answer. "It is lucky we aren't Turks."
The friar comments on the abnormal state of affairs in the whole of Northern Albania, which I corroborate, contributing to his ghastly stories of murders and mutilations a few gleaned from other sources.
The consul does not agree with us. "It is like this every spring," he says coldly. "You newspaper-men magnify these small troubles into affairs of international importance."
"I should like to see the reports you send to your Government," I retort. "That the Porte always seeks to minimize a big massacre into a merely local affection we all know."
A shot rings out above us - the consul nearly jumps from his chair - then another and another.
"I thought that would come soon. In fact I wonder they haven't begun shooting before," I remark,
THE LAKE OF SCUTARI.
"I protest against this!" exclaims the consul excitedly to the captain, who is lighting a cigarette. "It must not be allowed on this steamer!"
"It is nothing," answers the captain, quietly puffing rings of smoke and watching them vanish through the skylight. "The noise eases their feelings."
"I call on you as captain of the boat to stop the firing!" continued the consul angrily, as another volley rings out; "otherwise I shall report you. There is a rule forbidding it," and he points to a printed list of regulations.
The captain sighs, finishes his glass, and calls to the steward to bring him his revolver. Then he climbs up the hatchway to the deck. I follow him, and listen admiringly as he sharply orders the revellers to cease, in a torrent of Turkish, Albanian, and Serb oaths. The Franciscan retires hastily to the cabin again, as he too hears the captain's comprehensive blasphemy.
"Who shall give us orders to stop?" shouts a truculent ruffian, brandishing a huge revolver.
"And who shall make us? " adds another cut-throat with bloodshot eyes, pushing through the group and firing deliberately over the captain's head.
I notice the under lip of the captain tremble, and his face changes expression. It means he is really angry.
"I will," he says simply. "It is against the orders, and you will stop."
Hoarse laughter accompanies him as he turns to go down the companion, and for ten minutes there is no firing. Then a tornado of shots breaks out again, and the captain flies up on deck revolver in hand. He is too quick for me, but I hear him from below.
"I will shoot the next man who fires, and take the steamer.
back to Scutari. There I will hand the whole lot over to the authorities - those that are alive," he adds significantly.
I dare not breathe. Such consummate effrontery from the captain, one man against a score of reckless dare-devils who care nothing for human life, all inflamed with drink, petrifies me. The impudence of this laughable threat was stupendous.
As I emerge on deck, I see them replace their smoking revolvers in their belts and go off laughing.
I congratulate the captain. He is trembling violently.
"It is all that - consul. Why shouldn't they shoot if it amuses them?" he says. "Steward!" he roars; "bring me up a bottle of wine on deck and two glasses."
He continues cursing until we cast anchor at Plavnica, and an unwieldy barge puts out of the Marshes and removes our lively passengers. They salute us respectfully as they go.
"Fancy making a row with a lot of boisterous children like them!" remarks
the captain. "Bah!" he says, and spits expressively towards the cabin.
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