I FRANKLY admit that I was prejudiced against the Albanians before I undertook the little trip which is described in the following pages. Rumour hath given them a name for treachery and bloodshed, though it is fair to state that their old enemies and neighbours, the Montenegrins, are the foremost calumniators. I went amongst them somewhat in fear and trembling. I left them with the firm intention to go again. Yet it is not an experience that I can recommend to every one. It is dangerous to travel in Albania, of that there is no doubt, and it is imperative to prepare for such a tour by a sojourn of at least a few weeks on, or in the vicinity of, their borders. Another important factor is to be an Englishman. To explain.
Albanians are constantly visiting Montenegro and other countries near their borders as horse-dealers or merchants. The former are most useful men to know, for they come often with their troops of horses from the dangerous regions round Ipek, and travel long distances. Such a man speedily discovers if you are a political agent or a sportsman pure and simple. A report from him will do more to assure the safety of a journey into the wildest parts of Albania than a guard of fifty nizams. Then the Albanians by no means lack intelligence, and they are perfectly aware of the political intrigues of the Continental Powers, particularly of Russia, Austria, and Italy. Germany is reckoned with
Austria because of the language, and France has lately mixed herself up with the affairs of the great clan of the Miriditi.
Thus England is the only Great Power left who has never, to their knowledge, interfered in any way with Albania. Therefore an Englishman may travel with least risk of any. Best of all is to travel with a Franciscan friar. It is what I did. Of course, he is not always available, but every clan in the north of Albania is Roman Catholic, and each has its own spiritual chief as well.
My friend, Padre Giulio, is the priest of the famous clan of Zatrijebac, or in Albanian, Trijepsi, who, though under Montenegrin rule, are as full-blooded Albanians as any other clan living across the border. In dress, customs, and language, they are Albanians to the core, yet they are loyal subjects of Prince Nicolas, though few speak the Serb language.
Padre Giulio had invited me long ago to travel with him in Albania, and in particular to journey in his company to Selce, to assist in the celebration of the annual festival of San Stefano, in the heart of the wild mountains belonging to the clan of Clementi. After Gusinje, no clan has a worse name in Montenegro than the Clementi. They are in perpetual feud with the sturdy Vassovic clan, and many of the border skirmishes between these ancient foes I have witnessed from the Montenegrin side.
I made notes throughout my trip, and now I am able to fill them out into readable form. As I glance through the hastily scribbled lines I see those savage figures again, round whose fires I sat as honoured guest. The rugged mountains rise up and enclose the scene, and by my side sits the slender friar, talking in his muscial Italian, and with all the elo-
quence of his race, for he is a Neapolitan, an erstwhile student of medicine and philosophy, and once the bearer of a noble name.
Cows low, lambs and goats bleat in the keen mountain air, and the wood fire crackles merrily as our hostess prepares the evening meal.
I shall never forget those days. Let my story speak for itself.
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