THE BAZAAR, SCUTARI
"NOT " says the captain of the Danitza, contradicting me, "the situation is not usual. The discontent of the Miriditi is greater than I have known it to be for the last five years."
We are finishing our breakfast in the early morning shade before the little Greek's hotel. He shall be nameless, for he is a man of oily tongue and preposterous bills, a Greek of the Greeks. The Austrian professor is toying with an egg, and an empty soda-water bottle proclaims that the previous night's impromptu sing-song in the Greek's courtyard in the sultry climate of the Albanian plain has not agreed with him. We had foregathered here the day before at dusk, and the stars had paled ere we sought our respective couches.
Yesterday the burly captain had brought the professor and a German on board his little steamer. During the evening Austrian consulate officials joined us, then the little Turk who is responsible to the vali for the antecedents of every stranger who sets foot in Scutari. Later came the Italian schoolmaster, with Djakovo the civilized Albanian, and a Turkish captain of artillery. It was just such a polyglot assembly as can be met with only in the Orient, and my head was buzzing still at; the memory of that babel of tongues, each man relapsing into his mother-tongue as the hours had worn on.
"Will it be safe to visit the bazaar?" hazarded the pro-
fessor through his handkerchief. A battalion of ragged Turkish infantry was just swinging by to the tune of a wild Oriental march, and the road was dusty.
"If the captain takes us, we shall be in very good hands," I answer with memories of other visits, under his efficient guidance, to the evil-smelling, many-coloured market of the Albanian capital.
"Let us go," says the captain. "Later, the heat will be unbearable for you, professor," he adds, with a wink at me.
Across the Turkish cemetery the clock from Paget's house chimes the hour of five, and the professor starts, looking hastily at his watch. Then he shakes it sadly.
"Must have dropped it," he murmurs.
"Turkish time, four hours of difference," remarks the captain laconically, and whistles for a cab.
An antiquated vehicle, swaying alarmingly over the atrocious road, dashes up, the wild-looking driver yelling as he whips the attenuated and sore-backed horses, and pulls them up on their haunches a yard away from us.
"It would be an interesting study, professor, to trace the origin of the cab," I say. "An essay on the subject might prove -"
"Will it hold together till we reach the bazaar?" interrupted the professor, somewhat rudely, for he has hurt himself against a mysterious corner skilfully concealed under a ragged covering.
Another yell and we are off, butting each other and finding more corners alternately. The pleasure of carriage-driving in Scutari is not that of London or Vienna, and is attended with much physical and mental suffering. In twenty minutes the horses come to a standstill abruptly,
A BACKWATER, SCUTARI.
after ploughing through a foot of sand with all eight legs planted at an angle before them. The professor uses an unacademical word as he pushes me back to my seat, and when the captain has found his hat we emerge on the glaring road.
Thousands of Albanians - men, women and girls - cover a desolate waste of ground. It is the wood market, and mules, donkeys, and small horses stand patiently under their enormous loads, swishing off the myriads of flies with a clock-work regularity. All around us jostle great men in every costume of the odd score of the Albanian mountain clans, unarmed, but with the inevitable bandolier of cartridges round their waists; handsome, well-grown men they are, head and shoulders taller than the everlasting patrols of disreputable Turkish soldiers who, with rifles at every angle of the slope, follow unhappily a wretched-looking corporal.
We enter the bazaar, a maze of badly cobbled alleys, between rude wooden booths displaying a confusing medley of wares, gaudy sashes, old carbines and rifles, Oriental embroidery, Albanian clothing, powerful-smelling meats, and cheap imitation jewellery. The projecting roofs meet overhead in the narrow alleys, just disclosing a strip of blue sky, through which the sun cuts harshly, as with a knife, into the steaming atmosphere below. Negroes, Asiatics, all the unclean elements of the Turkish Empire, are crowded into these narrow ways: gorgeous Scutarine merchants in jackets gaily embroidered in gold, silk shirts, redskull-caps with enormous blue tassels, voluminous black breeches of marvellous cut, and white stockings; their women-folks in scarlet cloaks and hoods; and, everywhere predominating in stature and numbers, the white-clad, lean hillmen, their revolver belts empty for a few hours in their lives. The
law insists on all arms being left at the guard-houses which surround the city; and could we peep inside one of those solitary blockhouses we should see the walls hung with firearms of every description and make of the last thirty years.
Threading their way slowly but surely down every alley tramps a patrol. The Turks are obviously nervous, and the police on point-duty have one and all their revolver cases unbuttoned. It was only recently that Turkish soldiers burnt a church of the most powerful clan of Northern Albania, that of the Miriditi. Officially the Turks are blockading them, but in reality it is the clansmen who have closed the roads to the sea, causing weeping and gnashing of teeth amongst the merchants and traders of Scutari. Retaliation is expected, and many are the voices raised this day clamouring that the bazaar should be closed, for the Miriditi have sworn to come and take their lawful revenge.
In a little square we enter a café, tired, hot, and bewildered. A solitary tree occupies the centre, and under its shade lie men and women snatching a little rest from the turmoil around them. At one end of the square an alley leads over the open plain beyond, for we are on the outskirts of the bazaar, which ends abruptly as if it were a walled-in town.
Six men in the Albanian serge swagger past. The black-bordering and embroidery of their clothes is more elaborate than that of the simpler costume of the hillmen.
"Watch these men," says the captain, "They are men of the Miriditi."
"What effrontery!" ejaculates the professor, who has been drinking in the story of their doings during the past few hours. "Do the Turks allow it?"
The captain shrugs his shoulders expressively as the clans-
men, with an indescribable air of bravado, disappear in the crowded alley, eyed askance by the chattering Turks. A patrol follows them at a discreet distance.
We sip our delicious coffee and gaze our fill at the ever-changing scene, when the captain murmurs an oath under his breath. His body has become rigid, and instinctively we follow the direction of his eyes.
In the middle of the square stands a man of enormous stature, clad in the garb of the Miriditi. One hand is carelessly placed in his open shirt; the other rests on his empty sash, thumb in bandolier: a magnificent man, and a chief of his clan. As he thus stands a patrol slouches past, the corporal eyeing him keenly. With a nonchalance worthy of the highest civilization, the chief withdraws his hand from his bosom and rolls a cigarette, spitting on the track of the departing soldiers.
"That is Adhem Beg, one of the most important leaders of the Miriditi," I explain to the professor.
The captain interrupts. "Watch him. He means mischief."
Scarce are the words uttered when the Albanian has drawn a silver-mounted revolver from his shirt. Crash! A Turk basking idly in the sun gasps and slides in a heap to the ground; and ere one of the petrified loungers can move, that revolver speaks sharply once more. With a scream, another Turk throws up his hands and rolls sideways in the filth-laden gutter, snatching at the burning cobbles as he rolls. All is confusion in a second now; men rush hither and thither, some up the alleys, others darting in the bazaar doorways, colliding with each other, shouting and cursing. The peaceful scene of a minute before, typical of Oriental laziness, is transformed into a yelling inferno.
Unmoved only is the Albanian; and see, his pistol is raised once more as he deliberately selects another victim. Crash! and a third Moslem bites the dust. But now down the alley comes another babel of shouts. A patrol is literally cleaving his way with rifle-butt and bayonet through the panic-stricken fugitives. The Albanian sees them coming, smiles, and darts for the open country. It is not flight - he is too dignified for that; but, like a deer, he courses, running in zigzags towards a low wall a hundred yards away. It is obvious that if he reaches that he is safe; but twenty yards are between him and his goal as the soldiers come into the square and quickly drop on their knees. Five rifles ring out with a deafening crash almost simultaneously.
With hearts beating to suffocation we watch the fugitive. He swerves, but runs on. His hand is on the wall. He bends to vault it while the magazines click crisply as the second cartridge is shot home. Again the rifles speak, and the Albanian slowly, very slowly, slips down on his side of the wall. It looks as if the strength of his knees gave way at the moment of his spring. A puff of blue smoke comes from the now prostrate man, a chip of wood hits the captain in the face, and then all is still.
Five minutes later we learn that Adhem Beg was shot in five places, and with his last dying breath he fired his farewell shot.
The bazaar is in an uproar as we with difficulty force our way homeward to the cab-stand. Bugles are pealing from the barracks as the troops hastily muster; but it is finished. Adhem Beg has avenged the affront to his clan, and died as a hero.
An hour later merchants and buyers discuss the incident over cups of
coffee and cigarettes.
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