The Balkans from within,
Reginald Wyon



"WHAT'S the time?" I ask mechanically as a noise like thunder followed by an earthquake arouses me from my slumbers. I open my eyes, and a slanting beam of sunlight illumines the room, utterly empty except for a mattress upon the floor, and a collection of guns, carbines, and cartridge belts in one corner. My trusty Stefan releases the corner of the mattress - explaining the seeming earthquake, and stands over me relentlessly.

"All right, Stefan," I murmur. "Go away. I'll be down in a moment."

But he moves not, and his features assume an apologetic grimness.

"Thou gavest certain orders yesterday, Gospodin," he says, "and below the boatmen wait this past half-hour. Thou wast very enraged yesterday because we started an hour too late."

Ah, yesterday I remember I just turned over and closed my eyes again for a few moments, which Stefan afterwatds magnified into an hour.

"Give me my things then," I demand of Stefan; and in a few minutes I appear below in the lightest garb compatible with decency, for the heat of the Lake of Scutari rivals that of the tropics. Stefan approaches me with a ladle of water, pouring it into my hollowed hands, and I just succeed


in damping my face. Wash-stands, basins, towels, and such like luxuries are not to be had in the unbeaten tracks of Montenegro, and even in some of the larger towns the zealously cleanly must perforce content themselves with the backyard and a pail.

By a steep track we wend our way down to the waters, and a moist warmth ascends to meet us even at this early hour. An old man who has promptly annexed my gun suggests a staid and impressive harlequin. He is clothed literally in shreds and patches, even as the "wandering minstrel;" practically nothing of the original cloth remains. He is carrying the gun tenderly, as a mother would her infant, while in advance trots a mischievous-looking boy, to prepare the canoe. Stefan, ex-Hungarian sergeant, mutineer, and deserter, shoulders my carbine, and marches as if he were again leading his section into action against the Bosnians. At a roughly constructed pier of stones is tied a flat-bottomed canoe, and in it we take our places - the boy in the bows rowing, while in the stern sits the old man looking ahead. These two propel the boat swiftly forward with much dexterity, and Stefan and I have practically the whole canoe to ourselves. Down a wide channel we go, between the high and precipitous banks of the island of Vranjina and a submerged forest of willows, keeping a wary eye upon the deep blue sky above, lest a crane should sweep o'er us within range. Several boats pass us, full of mahogany-coloured fishermen proceeding towards the shimmering expanse of the great lake which we are leaving behind.

"May God be with ye," they half chant, pausing in their long strokes as we go by to gaze at the strange spectacle of a foreigner in their midst.


"Look," shouts one with a mighty voice, as a graceful crane skims towards us, lowdown, but at the well meant hint the bird swerves and turns aside, while his companions, more versed in hunting, rend him with scathing irony. As we leave the island's shelter, large fields of water stretch out before us, hedged with long grass, and here and there a solitary willow. The surface is dotted with duck, and far away a group of pelicans are gravely fishing. We strike across these fields, so shallow that our canoe sticks occasionally, and nimbly our paddlers jump overboard and shove us clear, on towards the thickets of willows beyond. Deeper channels traverse these submerged fields, and along them we turn and twist, through a belt of willows, where paddles are useless, and we pull and push ourselves along by the branches. Suddenly the boy throws himself flat in the boat: a few yards before us sits a crane in the branches of a stunted willow. He sees us, and with an ungainly spring he seeks to escape, but it is too late. He crashes through the twigs with a dull thud into the water. The report startles hundreds of water fowl into activity, and high above us a great pelican circles majestically, perplexed, yet inquisitive.

Stefan takes the carbine with a mute request, and aims at the bird. I shrug my shoulders. It is an absurd feat to attempt, but I am curious, for often has Stefan boasted of shooting eagles on the wing with a rifle. The carbine rings out with a sharp and unpleasant crack. The pelican swerves violently but continues his wild circling, for we are hidden in the dense undergrowth. The magazine clicks as Stefan ejects and reloads.

"Thou fool," I remark, "thou art only wasting cartridges."


As an answer the carbine cracks, and a bunch of white feathers breaks from the pelican. Still he continues his mad circling, and wonderingly I await the next shot. Bang! Our paddlers shout ecstatically as the enormous bird collapses and falls in a helpless mass into the bushes a few hundred yards away. Stefan puts the carbine aside with a smirk of self-satisfaction, and we proceed feverishly to hunt for the bird. We find it, and Stefan generously lays it at my feet.

And now we are nearing our destination, a willow island so densely wooded that even a man wading up to his middle can scarce pentrate its centre. With great cunning a colony of white crane have built themselves a home within its branches, and we can see a few as they sail to and fro above us, their snowy plumage gleaming in the strong sunshine.

One flies close overhead and I fire. It falls, and the next moment the air hums with the whirr of a thousand wings. In wild excitement the beautiful fowl rise high, some circling, others flying away, and hurriedly we seek shelter under the outer branches. For several minutes they fly so thickly over our heads that it is hard to aim until the momentary excitement passes, and we recover our mental equilibrium. Then the birds become more wary, and we gain a little more breathing time. Our paddlers, ever watchful, acclaim each successful shot, enthusiastically wade into the thicket to fetch our dead or wounded birds, and murmur sympathetically when we miss. Our guns are hot, the sun is burning fiercely, and the birds get scarcer: not even a rifle shot fired at random into the thickest raises more than one or two stragglers. The rest have departed till sunset, or are crouching in their nests; for they are no


fools after the first shock is over. Were we real feather-hunters - for it is from these birds we get those beautiful aigrettes - we would wade in and slaughter the unlucky birds in their nests, as has been done in most parts of Europe, to the almost utter extermination of the species. The boy begs for my gun and for permission to stalk a few in this manner, but I refuse, and we begin our homeward paddle. Whew! it is hot. My head is beginning to split from the concussion of the gun, coupled with the heat. Inwardly I pray that there may be nothing more to shoot this morning. But we sight some duck, and Stefan insists, urging a depleted larder, but they dive as we approach. With great cunning our helmsman turns the boat and paddles furiously, signing to me to be ready to fire at a certain spot. - Up come their little heads twenty yards away from our bows and, setting my teeth, I fire. My head seems to split in two, but one duck remains floating helplessly.

"One more," says Stefan.

"It is enough," I answer, laying aside my gun.

"For thee, yes," remarks Stefan, fishing out the duck, and again we are paddling furiously in a curving sweep.

"I and the pp [1] would like a duck too," he adds.

I give him the gun, ignoring the allusion to my appetite, and stuff my fingers ignominiously into my ears. Bang, bang, right and left, and two ducks, one dead, and the other flapping helplessly are left.

"Home," I say as we capture the duck, and an hour later I am lying on my back in the shade, wondering if the sport of the morning was worth such a sick headache. Shooting under such conditions is not good enough, and I swear to give it up. For a few birds, in such a blazing sun -

1. Pp is a priest of the Orthodox Church.


"At what time shall the boat be ready this afternoon?" asks Stefan, approaching me with a half-plucked duck.

"At four o'clock as usual, ass. And now let me sleep this off."

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