CALM AND DEEP PEACE
AND thus do all good things come to an end. We are bidding farewell to hospitable Kostice. In the fresh early morning Padre Giulio celebrated mass at the far end of the village upon a rude stone altar, at whose corner stood a wind-beaten, worm-eaten cross of quaint design.
That concluded, the monk and I paid farewell visits (for there is as much etiquette to be observed in an Albanian vilage as in any of our cities and towns), taking care not to enter first the hut of one in an inferior station of life. Strange to find the priest of a mountain clan exercising the same diplomacy with his parishioners as the vicar of a provincial town!
In each hut we have drunk coffee, milk mixed with snow, raki, and bowls of rich cream.
Our own particular host, whose roof has given us shelter for the last few days, has prepared us a formidable meal, a superfluity after our round of visits. Good, handsome Midašdjoka, with what pleasant memories I still think of thee and thine!
He accompanies us on our long ride back to Zatrijebac - ten weary hours - and his two sons, likewise the gnarled kapetan and other villagers. We are a formidable company as we climb over the dividing ridge and fire our last revolver cartridges in farewell, rifles, bandoliers, and revolvers complete; Katrina, Padre Giulio's housekeeper, heavily laden
with the sacramental vessels and robes, which another woman helps her to carry, and a score of men, accompany us for the first few hours.
It is a glorious ride through great woods of beeches, past gurgling streams, and skirting precipices, sometimes at their base, then up their beetling heights, which yield a shuddering view into their leafy depths. Soon we strike the Montenegrin path to the Kom, and pass flock after flock of sheep and goats, all on their way to those rich pasturages which I know and love so well.
We pass hale old Bozo, gay septuagenarian, in whose hut I spent many happy days just a year ago. He nearly tumbles off his pony in his hurry to give me the kiss of friendship.
Six maidens, all mounted man-fashion on six shaggy ponies, amble giggling by, all but the sixth, a sweet maiden, blushing terribly because her pony is refractory and shows an inclination to follow mine. How the other five - safely past - recover confidence, and call embarrassing remarks to their erring sister! An Albanian cures her pony of his love for us with a resounding thwack of his thick stick, and we proceed, meeting whole families, their household goods packed on ponies' backs, the elders mounted and the young men striding along, rifle on shoulder; little children guiding with shrill whistles lively herds of goats; timid sheep which gaze wonderingly at us, preparatory to a sudden dash into the leafy thickets, accompanied by a storm of imprecations, as lurid from the children as from the men. Across the bleak plain of Korito, where once a hailstorm caught us, drenching us to the skin, and chilling us to the very marrow, but now a blazing furnace.
Once more through the cool forest depths, with frequent
halts, when we stretch ourselves full length on the soft moss. The old kapetan is ill and he is riding my horse, much against his will, but I am glad. With a young Albanian I roam far ahead, attempting impossible rifle shots at small birds, or pausing to chip a rock on the skyline after long and careful aim and much judging of distance.
Through the scattered village of Zatrijebac, up the last great hill, and at the brink of the awful ravine of the Cievna we await the others.
Hundreds of feet sheer below us flows the little Cievna, again, as at its source, in a setting of unparalleled grandeur. How often have I sat here with Padre Giulio, for hours together, talking, talking of the world outside, and of this little world of its own! Noisy cities, hurrying crowds, ambitious hopes, quarrels and hates, how insignificant are ye all when face to face with such a view as this! - when the only sound that disturbs that serene silence is the distant low of a calf or the bleating of a lamb, the only worrying thought that it must end too soon.
A perfect spot for dreamers and idealists, for those who love to be with Nature, which is God. Not, too, without its contrasts, for I know a hasty word, a hurried shot, would people those grand slopes with crowds of men lusting for blood and death. And I seem to see it all again as the padre has oft conjured up the scene to me, men fighting, the echo of their rifles crashing round the ravine, the hotly contested spur beyond the little river where men drop to rise no more, and in the thick of the battle moves a little figure in brown habit, tending those still living and writhing in mortal agony, indifferent to the bullets that rend his cassock, heeding only those poor erring sheep of his.
Even now his soft voice sounds in my ear.
"I knew I should find thee awaiting us, Carissimo. But come, the men are weary and thirsty. This evening, when the moon is shining, we will return and talk once more our last talk."
And lo! gone are the warring bands, the setting sun illumines the gloomy ravine with an ineffable glow of peace, and the friar presses my arm as we walk away to his house, a few hundred feet distant.
The men eat and drink, the kapetan kisses me a score of times, uttering thanks which I do not deserve, and departs for his home, after first exacting a promise to break my fast with him on the morrow ere I ride down into the valley. Midašdjoka, too, bids me farewell, he and his sons. They return the way we came to-day, after but an hour's rest, and the padre and I are left alone.
By the light of the rising moon we sit once more in our favourite spot. Before we leave it the Cievna is sparkling like a writhing serpent of burnished silver, and far away gleam the snowy peaks of the Proclotea.
"Thou wilt come again?" asks the friar, after we have sat long in a silence too beautiful to break.
"If God wills, I return," is my answer, and he understands.
"Then I shall see thee again. Do not forget us in thy cities, for we shall think often of thee."
And I promise.
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