The Balkans from within,
Reginald Wyon



VIRPARZAR always gives me the impression of being cut off from the rest of the world utterly and completely. Yet it is richly endowed with some of Nature's choicest gifts in the way of scenery, and for fear of having been too liberal in this respect she has added fever. It lies up a long estuary of the Lake of Scutari in the form of a ring of more or less dilapidated houses, facing an open marketplace and surrounded by extensive swamps. Beyond the swamps lovely green hills rise in glorious confusion, and the peep of the lake is exquisite, with the twin-peaked island of Vranjina and the embattled fortress isle of Lesandria, whilom prison and now a jealously guarded arsenal. Across the stretch of shimmering water, its fringing marshes teeming with pelican, crane and duck, tower the snow-clad Albanian Alps, while behind the tiny village stretches the fertile valley of the Crmnica, slowly rising, enclosed in walls of richly wooded hills to the lofty Sutormann Pass and the blue summit of the Rumija, beyond which lies the Adria. The spot is idyllic, yet accursed because of the aforementioned fever, and I am doomed to spend twenty-four hours in it, waiting while they find a mule to carry me over the Sutormann to-morrow. The tiny Danitza, Montenegro's sole representative on the waters in the shape of steamships, is whistling mournfully up the estuary on one of its bi-weekly visits. From the door of the wretched little hove


I watch the handful of passengers land from an ungainly barge. They are nearly all baggy-breeched Scutarines, the commercial princes of these regions, but amongst them I notice a European. I watch him with curiosity, for I know him not. He is obviously not a tourist, neither is he travelling for his pleasure, as the look of disgust on his face proclaims. Also he is inquiring for the diligence, and then a feeling of wicked joy comes over me that another mortal has been victimized like myself, for now he is a fast prisoner till the day after to-morrow, unless he intends to be tortured for many hours on a Turkish saddle. He passes me on the way to the only inn, with its one bedroom, muttering strange oaths in Italian, and again I rejoice, for I shall be no more alone. And within ten minutes he returns, evidently seeking for me, and I rise up and go towards him.

"I have heard you were here," he says; giving me his hand.

Of course, I answer, and we introduce ourselves.

He is the new veterinary doctor of Montenegro, an Italian. We seat ourselves in the hovel, which is coffee-house, wine-shop, and shoemaker's workshop combined, and the smiling young Turk, native of Scutari, prepares us coffee. A faded photograph attracts my attention on the wall, and I take it down. It is the likeness of a Turkish officer; and at his side stand two Sudanese, and the place of its origin is Suakim.

"It is my father," says the young Turk with conscious pride. "He was killed many years ago in Africa."

I turn the portrait over and the inscription in writing on the back sets forth that he was the captain of an Albanian company of soldiers in the army of one "Beker Pacha," in the early eighties. I read the inscription aloud, it is in French, and then I recognise that "Beker" was the


ill-fated Baker, one of the heroes of my childhood. Verily the world is very small.

The vet and I talk of the country, which he does not know yet as well as I do, of mutual acquaintances, and of towns and cities we know in the world outside. I recount in his sympathetic ear the story of my walk from Cetinje hither and he tells me of a similar experience in the mountains around the wonderful monastery of Ostrog, perched up on the face of a beetling cliff.

"They told me there that my destination was but a quarter of an hour away, and not knowing in those days the Montenegrin idea of time, I left my horse to proceed on foot. In half an hour I reached a village, and learnt that I had still another quarter of an hour, and so I plodded on. Three hours later I arrived and had to sleep the night in a hut, half house and half cattle shed.

"I know," I answered with feeling, staggering painfully to my feet. "Look at the wreck I am from a five hours' stroll!"

"I will treat you," he says kindly. Massage and a little rubbing in with spirits will put you right. You should always carry embrocation with you in case of such eventualities."

"There will be no need in the future," I reply. "My walking days in Montenegro are over. Please treat me, though, as 'Arzt' and not as 'Thier' (vet), for I am very tender."

And I smile wanly as I straighten my knees and pause a moment for the cramp to pass.

By the evening we have exhausted every topic of conversation but one, and that is religion. My friend is an Atheist: he says he cannot help it, living in a land like this so full of religious superstition.



We are sitting in the only bedroom, with closely shuttered windows to keep out the fever mists, while the chorus of croaking frogs from the swamps below forces us to raise our voices.

"But of all religions I hate that of the Turks the most," he says with unnecessary vehemence.

"Go on," I say, for I scent a story.

"You know the spot where the paths divide for Kolasin and Andrijevica?"

Do I not? It is one of the most gloriously romantic spots in Montenegro, where the river Tara dashes over its boulder-strewn course towards the Danube, for it is across the watershed of the Adria and the Black Sea. Gloomy pine forests and enormous beech woods bedeck the surrounding hills, covering with delicious shade the bridlepath which meanders beside the foaming torrent. Clefts in the imprisoning hills disclose glimpses of snow-topped mountains, and all is so wildly desolate yet so entrancingly beautiful, that I sigh with longing when I think of the glories of the Brda, the Alpine land of North Eastern Montenegro.

"I had my servant Lazo with me, whom you know," went on the doctor, "and it was evening as we drew rein before the little han, where he wished to spend the night. Two villainous Turks were cooking a meal over the fire in a cauldron, and as we stretched our limbs outside, a Montenegrin from the Vassovic' arrived, tired and footsore. He entered the hut and drew from his pocket a piece of meat, and without more ado he laid it upon the embers to grill. Scarcely had he done so when one of the Turks sniffed, and demanded of the newcomer what he was cooking.

" 'A piece of meat,' he said quietly, 'I am tired, for


I have journeyed since daybreak and have eaten nothing.'

" 'What meat?' asked the Turk excitedly.

" 'Pig,' answered the Montenegrin.

"I verily believe," continued the vet, " that they would have killed him. Both Turks turned on the unlucky Montenegrin as if possessed with devils, and I, hastily turning to Lazo, asked if he was with me. He nodded - he loves a row, you remember, and drawing our revolvers we entered the hut.

" 'Another syllable and you are dead men,' I said, 'or we will take ye before our revolvers to Cetinje, and have ye punished.' For both men had drawn their revolvers on the bewildered Montenegrin, which alone is a crime. The Turks stammered in their fright that pig's meat was an abomination in their eyes, that they were true Mussulmans and so on.

" 'Ye are the strangers in this land, which is the home of the man ye have threatened. By what right can ye introduce your senseless superstitions here?'

"And we bundled them outside, cooking pots and all. I have no patience with nonsense of this sort." He leant back puffing his cigarette angrily.

"You will get yourself into trouble one day," I say sleepily, "if you go about preaching your views on religion in this manner; and now if you wouldn't mind operating on me I should be obliged. Sleep is weighing heavily upon me."

And for the next few minutes human cries mingled with the deafening croaking of the frogs outside. The vet was an exceedingly strong man, and evidently accustomed to horses.

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