Border life in Montenegro
ALL was still this morning at dawn when we stole out of Andrijevica. The night gendarme was the only person we met, and he winked appreciatively as we walked our horses down the street. Now we are resting beside the noisy Lim, our horses grazing contentedly on the rich grass, and Stefan produces from his capacious breeches pocket a bottle of fresh milk. Our Protenes munched - what a godsend those biscuits proved at times! - we have lit cigarettes, and Stefan is lazily throwing pebbles into the stream. A little way up the hillside is a mutilated house. Its appearance is so weird that I stroll towards it. A man is performing very perfunctory ablutions before the door, washing with a tiny ladle of water the heavy sleep from his eyes.
"God protect thee!" I call, and he, shaking the drops from his face, bids me welcome. His house is literally cut in half as with a giant knife. Seeing my inquiring gaze his frank face clouds in anger.
"Who has done this thing?" I ask.
"My brother - God curse him! "answers the man gruffly.
"Tell me," I continue; "and if thou hast a cup of coffee ready, I will drink it."
The surly look vanishes for one of pleasure. The true mountaineer delights in hospitality, and he leads me into the half-ruined cottage, to the common living-room, which is roughly fenced with logs at its mutilated end. A woman rises to kiss my hand, and deftly prepares my coffee, while
her husband helps himself to a pinch of tobacco from my tin.
"Thou knowest the law that when a man dies his goods are equally divided between his sons?" he begins abruptly. I nod. "This was the house of my father, and when he died my brother and I were his sole inheritors. Now, my brother coveted this house for his own, but I, as the elder, have the right to live in it, and I did make him a fair offer in money and in cattle instead of the half of the house. This he would not take, even though the Kapetan adjudged the value of his half, and I was willing to pay. He is a wicked man, and had hated me, his own brother, for years. His half he would have and nothing else, and as I would not suffer him to live with me, he came one day when I was absent and cut the house even as thou seest it, burning in a huge fire that which was legally his."
"Hast thou no redress?" I ask.
"None," he answers gloomily. " It was his, and he took it, but some day —" and he pauses significantly.
I am glad when Stefan comes for me with the news that our guide has come, and that we should be moving. I bid farewell, and go forth from the outraged brother's house with feelings of relief. The company of a peasant with a grievance is in no land to be desired. The guide salutes smartly, but he is not alone. A gendarme has accompanied him. I know him - he is one of the Voivoda's most trusted men.
"Art sent to bring me back?" I ask sharply.
"Nay, Gospodin," he answers, his face wreathed in smiles; "but I am sent that thou mayest witness all in safety and from a good point of vantage. This, though, is only for thy ear."
I mentally thank the good nature of the Voivoda, and we start upon our journey. We strike obliquely across the
THE AUSTRIAN THREAT.
hills, and in an hour we see a small body of men marching loosely along the valley at our feet. There are mounted men amongst them, in whom I recognize the Voivoda and his adjutant. At the neck of the valley we await them.
The Voivoda canters ahead to meet me with a cheery "Good-morning." He checks my thanks, for, as he says, it may be only a talk. "We are very few," he remarks with a glance at the little body of men, who now halt around us, leaning upon their rifles, "and they will be there perhaps in thousands."
"Is it wise to face so many with so small a force?" I hazard, but the Voivoda smiles craftily.
"They are enough," he says. "I know each man from childhood; besides, a larger force would only precipitate matters." Again that smile steals over his rugged face and I am perplexed.
"May I ride with thee?" I ask, smothering my inquisitiveness, and he nods.
"Thou art now under my command," he says, laughing, and makes his old joke again of an Anglo-Montenegrin alliance.
At a curt order a score of men detach themselves, and at a long swinging double disappear up the wooded slopes. There are but thirty men left with us, and these, I notice, glance often at their loaded magazines. A subdued eagerness shows itself in every face, and I feel my heart beating faster as I unsling my carbine.
We halt at the edge of a wood, and at our feet stretches a small plain. Under its cover we dismount, and another glance shows me that of our remaining thirty men, now but the half are there. No orders are given, each man has obviously received his instructions hours ago. Beyond the plain is a scattered forest, and with my field glasses I fancy
I can detect white-clad figures moving restlessly amongst the trees. The Voivoda moves at length from the sheltering wood, and I would follow, when the gendarme touches my arm.
"Thou art to stop with me, Gospodin," he says, and, noticing my half-angered look, he adds, "Thou wilt see everything. Look! but a dozen men go with the Voivoda; the rest are here."
A stone projects from the slope, which falls away from the wood, and upon it stands the Voivoda. His orderly gives a long hail, which echoes across the valley, and then the little group waits in silence. An answer soon comes, but, unpractised in the art of long-distance talking, I can distinguish no word. It is the beginning of the conference, for, as my guide informs me, it was at this place that the shepherd-boy was murdered. He points me out the blockhouse, from which I now see soldiers emerging, and little by little hundreds of Albanians come out fearlessly into the open.
It is a wonderful sight. To the right and left almost precipitous mountains form a neck of the intervening plain, making an ideal spot to combat a treacherous flank-attack if such should be planned. The Voivoda uses his orderly as a mouthpiece, and he is answered by a knot of men some 500 yards away. Nearer they do not come.
"What says the Voivoda?" I ask impatiently.
"He is demanding that the sheep be returned, and that the men who shot the boy should be given him. They answer that they know not who has stolen the sheep, the liars, and that the nizams (Turkish regulars) fired, not they. It is not true, for we found three Martini bullets in the body. Listen; the Voivoda is saying so. Now they answer that one of their clan was shot three days ago, and it was the revenge for him. Ah! now they are insolent. They know
but fifty men are with us, for their spies have watched us doubtless all the way."
"But what do they say?" again I demanded.
"I am listening, Gospodin; but such long talking is slow. Ah, but they shall repent these words. They answer that so will all Montenegrins be treated who graze their sheep on the border pasturages. See, the Voivoda is angry!"
"Then we will teach ye a lesson," I myself hear, and the Voivoda turns to retrace his steps.
A puff of smoke in the distance, and one of the Montenegrins near the Voivoda falls heavily to the ground. He is picked up by his comrades, and, without hurrying his step, the Voivoda raises his hand. Rifles crackle all around me, and in another second the Voivoda has reached the wood, the bullets chipping the branches in a perfect hail around him. My gendarme pulls me down behind a rock. Our arrangements are perfect - the fifty men are spread at intervals throughout the length of the wood, and the superiority of their magazine fire over the breechloaders of the Albanians is quickly apparent.
"Watch the nizams," shouts the gendarme. He too is firing.
They are scuttling like rabbits to their blockhouse. Three fall before they reach it, and as I hastily sweep the ground with my glasses, I see many figures, some motionless, others writhing on the grass. It is over in a few minutes, and not a soul is to be seen, though a rattle of rifle-fire comes from the opposite wood.
"It is good," says my guard, snapping the lock of his rifle, preparatory to reloading the magazine. "They have paid tenfold. Let us now go, and quickly. Yes, it is all finished. Listen, our men fire no more. Why should we waste good cartridges on trees? Come; it is the Voivoda's order."
And hurriedly we retrace our steps to the horses, which Stefan is holding, blind rage upon his face that he should have been debarred from the fight. We mount and ride as quickly as our guide can trot, which is a good pace. A quarter of an hour later and we charge into the arms of the adjutant, and to the right and left stand hundreds of Montenegrins. I looked surprised.
"My battalion," laughs the adjutant, "in case they follow, which they will not do if I know the cowardly rascals."
Now, an Albanian is not cowardly; but I let that pass, for I know the clan we have just fought. They are the Clementi, and once I spent a happy time in their midst - but that is another story.
Then the men of the ambuscade double in, looking extremely happy, and lastly the Voivoda. He greets me with a brisk nod, and asks me if I am satisfied.
"So I hope are the Albanians," I say, and the answer calls forth a hoarse chorus of laughter.
"Now let us get back to dinner," remarks the Voivoda. "I love not such early hours as we have kept this morning. And yesterday was a heavy day for one of my years."
The waiting battalion salutes us as we pass through their ranks, and the adjutant bids me au revoir.
"Thou didst know that the Albanians would only come out if thy party was so small?" I query.
"Yes," he answers; "thou seest now why we do not fear spies."
"And the battalion followed us in the rear?"
"Exactly," answers the Voivoda, lighting a cigarette.
I ponder much on the wiles of the guileless Montenegrin as I ride somewhat
thoughtfully by his side.
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