THE BALKAN TRAIL
WITH 62 ILLUSTRATIONS AND A MAP
SMITH, ELDER, & CO., 15 WATERLOO PLACE
[All rights reserved]
TO MY FRIEND
I. N. F.
THE BALKAN TRAIL
THE BULGARIAN BORDER
Men of position are proud and prejudiced. In humble Sofia, where there is little pretence, the judge of a supreme court, whose salary was 72l. a year, declined an offer of double that wage to serve me as interpreter. An officer in the army, and other Government officials to whom I made approaches, displayed similar pride and lack of enterprise. I was bound for the border, and the only individuals willing to accompany me were two fallen stars of feeble age, in circumstances of despair; and at last I was obliged to choose between these luckless linguists. One was an anarchist, light of head and heavy of heart, the other a bankrupt viscount with a bad eye. I selected the nobleman, but a word for the anarchist; he is dead.
He was a very dirty anarchist, with long, shaggy, unkempt mane, and a hungry, haunted look. He wore a silk-lined frock coat of ample capacity, a pair of trousers of doubtful suspension, shoes in which his feet flapped, a silk hat of bygone glory, no collar, no cuffs. He was of small stature, but his outfit had been created for no little man. A wonderful ‘gift of gab’ had he; in a few moments I knew his whole history. He had acquired his knowledge of English in the States, where in the ’sixties he had served (probably soup) with the Stars and Stripes when the Stars and Bars were in the field. But—and the veteran is unique in this regard—he could not procure a pension from the United States Government. Nevertheless he loved my country. He had never gone hungry there, while he had often felt the pangs in Bulgaria. What had Bulgaria done for him? Even the clothes he was wearing had been given him by an Englishman. For his country’s neglect of her travelled son, he had acquired the Irish complaint, he was ‘agin’ the government.’ He was for sending Prince Ferdinand to the hereafter, and favoured the fashionable dynamite bomb. He was a simple soul; before he could execute his plot he was sent to eternity himself—though not quite hoist by his own petard. He was shot, one bright summer evening, in the public park in front of the palace. Old Barnacle had not known David Harum’s precept, ‘Do unto the other feller what he would do unto you—but do it furst.’
Barnacle was an honest man, and he would have been faithful; all he needed to make him generous was a little success. I knew him well before he died. But in selecting my interpreter I felt compelled to act on the principle that a clever crook is sometimes a safer companion than an honest simpleton.
The man with the bad eye proved to be a character with a most romantic past, a Continental count who had fallen from his high estate, but still a man of good taste—particularly for food. He, too, had been a soldier; he had commanded a company of cavalry in the Russo-Turkish war, and could still, in his age, ride me out of my saddle. But he was a Jew, and wisely, as time has proved, did not return after the war to the land of his birth. He was not a dragoman by profession, there was nothing servile about him. An English correspondent would not have tolerated his patronage. But in America, a man and his master, and a master and his man, equal pretty much the same thing; and we have heard that things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other. No serious class prejudices hampered me, and I was content to permit my man to be my companion in a land where I could communicate direct with so few.
The Count had Bulgarian, Turkish, and Russian history, as well as all the languages of Europe, at his fingers’ ends. In view of his many accomplishments I agreed to pay him six francs a day and his living and travelling expenses. But this was not all my man got from me.
The price of a good lunch in London will keep two men for a day in Balkan country, but I did not know this when I commissioned the Count to provide a hamper of food for the first days of our journey. Three loaves of bread, a hunk of Bulgarian cheese, some dried lamb, and two bottles of native wine cost him more of my money than twice the quantity would have come to in London. After the investment he dined at the ‘Pannachoff.’ I sat behind him unnoticed and watched him consume three times as much food as an ordinary man.
His string of names did justice to his characteristics, Isaac Swindelbaum von Stuffsky. He was a real count: Isaac Swindelbaum was all his card bore; an impostor in his predicament would have flaunted the title. He was called ‘count’ to his face and a ‘Russian spy’ behind his back. But he was not the latter, he was too poor. Until the correspondents came, he had lived on the meals and the drinks which tales of his exploits in the war that created Bulgaria won him from her officers.
When a man has no visible means of support in either Bulgaria or Turkey he is always labelled Spy. In Bulgaria the term is one of reproach, but in Turkey spies are looked up to and envied as among the only regularly paid servants of the Sultan. But the officers of Sofia knew that my man was not a spy. They said he was an emissary of Russia simply because he insisted that the great Slav country and Austria, allies for reform, were sincere in their desire to bring about peace in Macedonia, which none of the officers believed.
It was a run of only forty kilometres from Sofia to Radomir, but it took our train half the day to cover the distance. Radomir is the terminus of the railway to the south, and about half-way to the frontier. Only one mixed goods and passenger train makes the trip to and from Sofia each day, and the line is not very profitable. If the Turkish Government would allow a junction railway to be constructed from Uskub or Koumanova up to Egri-Palanka, this road would then be continued to meet it, and all Bulgaria as well as Macedonia would reap a benefit. But the Turkish rulers like not civilising institutions.
Our train stopped now and again to pick up some peasant’s pig or waited ten minutes for a late passenger, and we had opportunity to see something of the villages at which it stopped. At one little town there was a striking scene. It was early in March; the snow on the Balkans had not yet begun to melt, and the peasants were still clad in their sheepskin coats. Before a low khan (a caravansary) were two cavalry officers and several private soldiers; and all about surged to and fro white-clad, furry peasants leading horses of all breeds and in all conditions—nags which had never eaten other feed than grass, and well-groomed, blooded beasts, bred from the special stables maintained by the Government for the purpose of improving the native stock. The officers were counting animals available for military service in case of war, and the peasants had come from miles around, eager to have their horses tried and graded.
As a result of this fair, riding horses were not to be hired when we arrived at Radomir; so we negotiated for one of the customary cross-country conveyances, cast-off city carriages of all designs, drawn by numerous nags. The drivers told my Count that were he not with me they would get thirty francs a day from me. I should have thought that charge cheap. But, despite my price-elevating presence, my dragoman brought them down in the end to regular fares. This Jew of mine saved double his wage every day, and though he swindled me whenever he had an opportunity, no one else had the chance while he was with me.
But the bargain took a long time to strike. For an hour he wrangled with these drivers, who seemed to have formed an anti-American trust. At last I entered the negotiations, and demanded what all the talk was about.
‘I’m saving money for you,’ the Count informed me. ‘I’ve got them down to twelve francs.’
‘Good! then hire a team and we will start.’
‘I’ve just hired this man,’ said the Count, and he proceeded to inform one of the clamouring coachmen that he was engaged. The delighted driver dashed off to get his team, and in a few minutes a jingle of bells announced his return with the coach. It was a most dilapidated vehicle, patched and strengthened with many pieces of rough plank and bits of rope; but they were all alike.
I had particularly fancied a four-horse team, the horses all abreast as in a chariot, but this hired by the Count had only three.
COUNTING ANIMALS AVAILABLE FOR MILITARY SERVICE.
‘I think we had better have four horses, Count,’ I suggested. ‘We have a long drive before us, and I don’t like moving slowly.’
‘I have already engaged this man, sir. He asks only twelve francs a day and guarantees to get us over the mountains in the best time possible.’
‘What’s the price of a four-horse team?’
‘They ask fifteen francs.’
‘Well, I think we can afford twelve shillings for a conveyance, four horses and a man, Count!’
‘But I have already engaged this man, sir.’
‘Count, we will take a four-horse team.’
The Count expostulated, and I had to repeat. It was then I discovered that there was something of the Rob Roy in my old Jew. He would rob me because, as he informed me later, Americans were rolling in wealth, but he was going to do the right thing by a peasant.
‘But I have hired this man, sir,’ he said again. ‘We shall have to pay him if we take another.’
I told the Count to give him half a day’s wages, which he did, and the peasant nearly collapsed with surprise.
The drive over the mountains to Kustendil consumed six hours, so we did not arrive there until long after dark.
My advance had been telegraphed ahead from Sofia, and soon after breakfast next morning I was waited on by the governor of the district and all his staff in a body. The governor had instructions from the Minister of the Interior to facilitate my journey in every way, and was ready to do anything he could to aid me. I expressed my appreciation of his kindness, and promised to avail myself of it if necessary. There was method in this hospitality: the Bulgarians are not ordinarily so polite.
The arrival of an American correspondent was a great event in the little town, and hard on the heels of the governor came two English-speaking Bulgars, college graduates respectively of Princeton and the University of West Virginia. One of them was a magistrate, the other a minister acting under the direction of the American missionaries. Politically the magistrate and the governor were enemies, and the officials, all members of the Orthodox Church, were none too friendly with the Protestant preacher. The courtesy between the parties was stiff and measured. When the governor and his staff took their leave, the minister and the judge commandeered me for the rest of the day to talk over old times in America. We went over to Fournagieff’s home, a plain building with whitewashed walls of stucco, a low door, and a narrow, ladder-like staircase leading up to the mission-room. There we hunted out a book of college songs, and all three sang old Princeton airs for an hour to the accompaniment of an American melodeon.
Fournagieff’s father was among the refugees from Macedonia who were then in Kustendil, having come across the border to escape a search for arms in the Raslog district. I could not get the old man to admit his association with the Committajis (committee-men), but I think there is no doubt that he was a local voivoda. At any rate, the Turkish officials suspected him of being a chief, of organising and arming the peasants of his village, and planned to subject him with others to an inquisition; but a friendly Turk warned him of the prospective arrival of troops and advised escape. Old Fournagieff’s Turkish friend supplied a testimonial vouching for his loyalty to the Padisha, which enabled him to pass over to Bulgaria by the bridge on the Struma, and saved him the hardship and dangers of climbing the border Balkans between Turkish posts.
Kustendil is not a favourite place of refuge, and there were few fugitives here; but the town suits the purposes of the insurgents, and rightly has a bad name among the Turks for breeding ‘brigands.’ The mountains in this district are wooded and rugged, and an infinitely larger and more vigilant force than the Turkish Government maintains on the frontier is necessary to close it to the committajis. There were several bands in Kustendil at this time, preparing to cross into Turkey, and the leaders of one called at the hotel and invited me to accompany them. I should see everything in Macedonia, they said, if I went under their guidance, whereas, if I trusted myself to the Turks, I should see only the beauties of the land and none of its horrors. I questioned these fellows as to the conditions of the scheme, and learned these: I should have to travel by night and keep closely hidden by day; I should have to wear the peasant garb peculiar to the district in which I was, and raise a beard to hide my foreign physiognomy; I should have to live on the coarsest of native food and sometimes go without any; I should not be allowed to talk to anyone, for the band could not take along my antique interpreter.
I was very anxious to see one of their fights, I said, and I asked if they would have one within a reasonable time.
Certainly, came the reply; they could have a small one whenever I liked.
I was much tempted to the adventure, but afraid to trust myself to the tender mercies of these ‘brigands,’ and mildly told them so. This gave the leader an idea.
‘Would you like to get rich?’ he asked.
‘I would,’ I replied.
‘If you will permit us to capture you, we will share whatever ransom we obtain.’
Before I could reply the Count delivered his advice, which it suited me to follow. The Count did not like the idea of the brigands taking me out of his hands.
ON A FRONTIER BRIDGE.
While I was entertaining the committajis the governor returned to the khan to invite me to luncheon, and entered my room unannounced. I expected to see a hurried scattering of my guests, but none of them so much as changed countenance. The governor took them in at a glance, but otherwise completely ignored them. At this time the Bulgarian Foreign Office was declaring emphatically that every effort was being made to prevent the passing of bands from the Principality into the sovereign State, so it rested with the governor to make excuse for the inactivity of the law in this case. The governor gave explanation at his table. He said he knew every one of the insurgents who were in my room, and that they were all bogus warriors, not worthy of arrest. None of them had ever been to Turkey. They belonged to the External Committee, and they took good care to do no internal work.
While strolling through the town with my Count at a later day, there appeared a band of some twenty unarmed insurgents under arrest. One gendarme had charge of the whole party, and took little heed of their scattering. They were on their way to Sofia. They had just come back from Macedonia after hiding their arms in the mountains, and had come down to the town to surrender. If they allowed themselves to be arrested, I understood, they received free transportation to the capital, where their names were recorded and they were set free on parole; whereas, if they avoided arrest, they were compelled to walk to wherever they would be, for none of them possessed sufficient money to pay railway or coach fare.
They were a mongrel crew, only one clean ‘man’ among them, and that a woman. They looked as if they had seen service. Their outfits covered a wide range of variety, and were much torn and tattered. A few had military overcoats with many patches, some wore native cloaks of broad black and white stripes, and others were wrapped in blankets like American Indians. The woman had no greatcoat, but her uniform was warmer and in better condition than those of the men: the patches were perfect. She carried a needle and thread, but only one kind of medicine, though a red cross decorated her arm. She caught my eye at once, and I sent the Count into the band to ascertain if she would honour me with an interview. My man went up to her with the blunt and burly manner he was wont to wear, grabbed her by the arm, and explained his errand in a word. This, I can imagine, is what he said: ‘Come with me; an American correspondent wants to hear your story!’ The whole band, including the single guard, stopped, wheeled round, and followed the bad-eyed Count and his captive. They gathered about the girl and me, and prompted her memory whenever it failed on points of detail.
THE AMAZON. THE MASCOT.
We sat on two empty wine casks in front of a peasant’s khan, and I took notes as the Count drew from the Amazon an account of her adventures beyond the border.
This band had been in the enemy’s country for about six months, in which time they had had five fights, and she estimated that she herself had killed and wounded no fewer than eight Turks. While she talked she crossed her trousered limbs and drew a dagger from her legging as a Scot would from his sock. She tossed the weapon about and caught it dexterously by the handle, and told me how she marched with her brothers-in-arms fifty miles and more a night.
In the daytime they rested at the summit of some lonely mountain which commanded a length of road and a breadth of valley, and from these ‘crows’ nests’ in the height descended by night to ambush small bodies of Turks or swoop down on little towns, attempting the total destruction of the garrison and the last male Moslem therein. This woman had no mercy on Turks; she said they had slain her mother, her father, and all her brothers in one day. She was a soldier of fortune; revenge was hers, and hope for Macedonia. In concluding her remarks the lady drew a phial of arsenic from her trousers-pocket and informed me that the poison was for the purpose of taking her own life in case of capture by the Turks. I took her photograph, with and without her companions, and the whole band shook hands with me and resumed their march to the railway terminus.
This was the only female fighter I encountered on my tracks through the Balkans, but there are many with the bands. A missionary told me an interesting story of one, which throws light on the strange mental workings of some of the insurgent chiefs. The missionary met the Amazon, a pretty young woman about twenty, wandering along a high road near Samakov. The girl asked the way to the town, and told the following story: She had been betrothed to a young man who felt called to the service of his country. She threatened her lover that if he joined a revolutionary band she would go with him. Both firm in their purpose, they both joined the band, and for several weeks fought side by side. But the girl was not able to stand the hardships, and the heavy work soon began to tell on her. She began to lag behind the others on the hard night marches, and would not have been able to keep up at all except for the assistance of her strong young lover. Finally the voivoda called the man before him and delivered himself thus: ‘Committajis have their work to do and cannot be hampered with women. The woman must be left behind to-night, but you must continue with the band.’ The man protested, entreated, threatened, but all to no avail. That night the insurgents started, leaving the woman to an unknown fate; the man refused to accompany them. The chief did not hesitate to order the recognised punishment, and his men, though they liked the young man well, did not hesitate to execute the command.
The youth was taken into a secluded dell, from which he never came forth. The girl listened, but no sound escaped. The report of a gun might have attracted Turks.
She found his body later, stabbed, and buried it in leaves. The insurgents punish with death; they have no prisons.
THE ROAD TO RILO
A representative body of Bulgarians assembled at the khan on the morning of our departure from Kustendil. Several army officers, who were staying at the khan, rose early and ate a five-o’clock breakfast with us; a deputation of committajis arrived before we had finished the meal; at six o’clock the missionary and the judge appeared; and a mounted officer and two gendarmes drew up before the door; peasants on their way to the fields, and meek and miserable refugees, for want of something better to do, gathered to see the strange foreigners depart. Everybody was anxious to be of service to us, and ready at a word to do anything we required. But the judge and the minister managed to secure all of my few commissions, because they, speaking English, did not have to wait like the others until the Count interpreted my wants. I had to arrange several minor matters, such as the forwarding of telegrams and letters, and to send some of my luggage back to Sofia, because we had discharged our shandrydan at this point, and would proceed down the frontier mounted.
While I was engaged stuffing a toothbrush, a box of Keating’s, a couple of pairs of socks, and other absolute necessities into my saddle-bags, the Count, ever busying himself with money matters, went to the khanji and requested the statement of our account. Now, the innkeeper was a Greek, and, true to Hellenic principles, he had charged us all and more than he had any hope of getting. He tried to put the Count off and get a settlement from me. But my Jew was not to be thrust aside by any mere Greek.
When Greek meets Jew.
The khanji informed the Count—after much insistence on the part of the latter—that we owed him a sum of several napoleons (I do not remember the exact amount).
‘What!’ exclaimed the Jew. ‘Let me see your book.’
The Greek passed over a much ear-marked memorandum book in which he had kept the record of the number of nights we had slept at his hostelry, and what we had eaten. We had been charged three francs per night per cot, while two officers who shared a room with us and had like accommodation, were paying less than a franc apiece; two francs fifty for each meal—for which the Bulgarians paid less than a third as much—and a franc a flagon for the Count’s wine, correspondingly high for the native vintage. My man began to talk to the khanji in loud, loose language, which let the entire assembly know of the Greek’s crime. The officers, the committajis, and even the ordinary natives became indignant at this ‘attempt to impose on a foreigner,’ and in a body joined the Count in abusing the garrulous Greek. The Greek stood his ground in a manner worthy of his ancient forefathers, and declined to take one sou off his bill, arguing that I should pay at the rate at which I was accustomed to paying. The foreigner, he contended, should not profit by native prices, but the native should profit by foreign prices. Good reasoning. I offered to ‘split the difference’ between native and foreign prices. The Greek agreed, but the sum to be paid figured out too much to meet the approval of the Count, who left the khan most disgruntled, because, he said sorrowfully, ‘It hurts me to be cheated; and even if it suits you to throw away money, I would have you refrain from lavishing it upon Greeks, who do not appreciate it, and puff themselves up with pride at having successfully swindled me!’ My old Jew assumed more the rôle of manager than man, and I did not dislike him for it. While I acted on my own judgment in matters of more or less importance, I always listened to his counsel, for it was generally good, and I took no measures to suppress him.
We made so early a start from Kustendil that the governor was unable to be present; but he sent a representative to wish us a pleasant journey and to offer me an escort of gendarmes.
‘Isn’t the district safe?’ I asked.
The question was offensive. Everybody generally responded to my inquiries in one breath, but this brought a dignified silence over the assembly; only the official person, the governor’s representative, replied:
‘Every district in Bulgaria is perfectly safe. You can travel anywhere in our land as securely as you can in your own.’
‘Then of course we need no escort?’
‘But there is danger,’ interrupted the Count, unconsciously blinking his bad eye. ‘The route which we are taking is seldom travelled, and if we encounter border patrols we shall arouse suspicion.’ The Count knew what the company of gendarmes would mean in foraging, and to old Von Stuffsky the grub was the thing!
The gendarmes were fairly well mounted, but the only animals that we could obtain were two tiny pack-ponies full of tantalising pack-train habits. They were strong little beasts, and could travel all day without showing fatigue, but it was impossible to get them out of a pack-train gait, and under no circumstance would they travel side by side. After the Count had struggled desperately with his little brute for quite an hour, he borrowed one of the officer’s spurs, and we all halted while he sat on a rock and fastened it to a foot; for had we not waited, the Count’s animal, having no other to follow, would have taken him back to its stable. When the old man mounted again his temper had cooled, and instead of giving his pony a vicious kick, as I expected, he brought his heels together gently but firmly. The horse lifted a hind leg and kicked viciously at the bite. But this did not rid him of the annoyance, so he turned his head around and sought the insect with his teeth. For this he got a kick in the nose, and then began to learn what the spur meant.
The price for the hire of the ponies was absurd, a franc a day apiece; and we paid another franc a day for a boy to go with us and care for them. This boy was wise; he came along on foot.
From the crest of the first high hill Macedonia came into view. The land sweeps on as one; there is no line to mark where Occident ends and Orient begins; but somewhere down there the order of things reverses. Here, where we stood, the Mohamedan is the infidel; across the valley the Christian is the giaour.
We took a course generally along the Struma, as near the border as we could pass without being halted by frontier guards. We kept to the north bank as much as possible; when compelled, because of bad ground, to take the south side, we did not lose sight of the river, for there was no other line to keep us within the border. There was no high road on our route, and for many miles not even a footpath. We had no guide, and neither of the gendarmes had been over the route before. Consequently we had often to retrace our steps and make long détours, sometimes for miles, when we happened to get into a ‘blind’ cañon or meet the edge of a mountain side too steep for descent. Once, while following the river (which was generally fordable), we came to a gorge less than a hundred feet in breadth, through which the water poured swift and deep, and on both sides the mountains rose almost perpendicularly. We could not venture the horses into the seething waters, nor was it possible to get them up the steep slopes, so we were obliged to make our way back up stream until we found an incline gradual enough to climb.
It was often necessary to dismount and make our way on foot. For several miles we followed a footpath seldom more than two feet wide, high up on the side of a steep, rocky mountain. Fortunately the ponies were cool-headed and sure-footed. On one such ledge we overtook a committaji pack-train making its way towards the frontier from Dupnitza with ammunition and provisions for a band. We hailed the insurgents and accompanied them to an apparently deserted hut with a little wooden cross at its top. When we came in sight of this place the voivoda gave a long, loud whistle, and two men appeared. Where were the others? We were all disappointed to hear that the band had had a good opportunity to cross the border the evening before, and had gone back into Turkey without waiting for the supplies.
We ate lunch at the insurgent armoury, and had a contest at target-shooting after the meal. Some of the insurgents were very good marksmen, but the gendarmerie officer hit more ‘bull’s eyes’ than any of us.
THE ROAD TO RILO.
For hours before we came upon this hut we had not passed a single habitation, and for quite a while after we left it the mountains were completely deserted. It was just the place for a brigand camp. Most of the country through which we passed this day was not only uncultivated, but almost entirely barren; dwarfed shrubs grew in patches here and there, but no woods did we pass in the whole twelve hours’ track.
In the afternoon we came upon a faint footpath which led in our direction. After following it for half an hour, we found it change abruptly into a waggon track, though no farmhouse or ploughed field excused this sudden transformation. The road began at nowhere, but led down to the river again, through it, and up to Boborshevo, where we had planned to spend the night. We found our boy already established at the khan; he had outstripped us early in the day.
We were all weary and dusty, and ravenously hungry, but the khan’s larder contained only a huge round loaf of brown bread, a few bits of garlic, and the materials for Turkish coffee, which I had not yet come to regard as fit to drink; nor did it seem possible to obtain much else in the village. We despatched the boy to make inquiries, and he returned with the information that each of four peasant families could supply a loaf. Not a very promising outlook for supper! I asked if the villagers ate nothing else themselves, and learned that they lived practically by bread alone. They have generally a bit of cheese or an onion with which to flavour the bread; but meat or fowl or eggs they indulge in only on fête days.
But our gendarmes assured us that we should get a supper, and presently the meal came bleating through the door. It was allowed to stop in the café for a few minutes, where it cuddled up to the Count, while the khanji sharpened his knife. Then the poor little thing was dragged back into the stable, and in about half an hour a smoking stew was set before us.
This town afforded about the worst accommodation we had yet found, but it provided a wandering minstrel. All the creature could do was laugh; but his laugh was incessant and infectious. We gave him supper, and he returned again in the morning for breakfast, whereafter I took the preceding photograph of him, which by no means does justice to the breadth of his grin. The cap which he wore was made (he told us) by an insurgent in a band with which he had travelled as a mascot. It was an extra large committaji cap bearing the committee’s motto, in the usual brass design,‘Liberty or Death.’ It lacked, however, the skull and crossbones sometimes worn.
The khanji at Boborshevo apologised for the bill he presented at our departure. He had stabled and fed nine of us, including the four ponies, and our indebtedness came to a grand total of eleven francs! The khan-keeper was a Bulgarian.
It is interesting to observe that a Turk swindles you to demonstrate to himself how much more clever he is than is an ‘infidel’; a Greek swindles you because he desires your money; while both Turk and Greek declare the Bulgarian too stupid to cheat.
We expected to find a high road leading out of Boborshevo, but if there was one it did not lead in our direction. The only road towards the east was another waggon track which again crossed the Struma. By this time we had come to feel as much at home in the water as out of it. We had at first shown consideration for our boy by taking him across the river on one of our horses, but we both got tired of this, and he soon struck his own course, invariably arriving at appointed meeting places an hour or more before us. We met him at Kotcharinova this day at noon, resting at the village fountain and making a meal of bread and lump sugar. He declined a piece of lamb, saying that to eat meat two days in succession would make him ill.
To the south of Kotcharinova, less than half a mile, is a border post, where the casernes of the respective forces stand on the opposite shores of the narrow Struma, and the Bulgarian and Turkish sentries pace side by side, bayonets fixed, at the centre of the bridge. We made a détour to Barakova (such is the name of this post), leaving our escort to await us on the road to Rilo. There was no difficulty in securing from the Bulgarian officer permission to visit the Turkish side, but we were halted for a quarter of an hour at the magic line while the Turkish sentry called the corporal, and the corporal called the sergeant, and the sergeant went and waked the commandant, who first peeped out of his window, then rose, dressed, and came to fetch us. The first remarks of this smartly uniformed officer, who spoke some French, were in the nature of apologies for the Turkish part of the bridge; a Graphic artist, with whom I visited Barakova a year later, described it as ‘made of holes with a few boards between.’
The half-dozen fezzed soldiers whom we saw from the bridge were fine specimens of men, and at a glance compared favourably in uniforms and arms with the Bulgarians. I was curious to go through their camp, but the officer would show me only his own room. The Turks possess no military secret unknown to the European, but they are all afraid he might find one in their camps.
‘It is quite absurd,’ said the officer at Barakova, as, seated on his rough divans, we sipped his coffee; ‘it is quite absurd for the foreign journals to say that Turks commit atrocities. We are a highly civilised people, and our Padisha is a most enlightened and humane monarch, and it is ridiculous to accuse him or his army of doing a single barbarous deed. Now, the Bulgarians are barbarians, and, naturally, it is they who perpetrate all these massacres and other horrible crimes.
‘Tell me,’ continued the Turk without abatement, ‘are sections of America still barbarous? I read of blacks being burned at the stake.’ Clever Turk.
A BULGARIAN BLOCKHOUSE.
THE BRIDGE OVER THE STRUMA: TURK AND BULGAR.
More than a year later I returned to Barakova from the Turkish side and asked the same Turkish commander for permission to visit the Bulgarian barracks; but he had many excuses to offer. Perhaps the Bulgarian garrison would not like us to visit them unannounced; it was against all regulations for anyone to step across that border without a passavant which could not be issued nearer than at Djuma-bala; if anything should happen to us while on the Bulgarian side, the Padisha would be seriously grieved at his (the officer’s) having permitted us to go over into Bulgaria. But we had despatches to forward and letters to post, and vented upon the Turk three hours’ persistent persuasion, when finally he consented to take us over the bridge himself. Six other officers accompanied him, and our interpreter was detained in the Turkish barracks as a hostage. There was no other way than to deliver our letters to the Bulgarians in the presence of the Turks, and the moment was awkward for all parties.
Shortly after leaving Barakova we got the first view of Perim Dagh, a celebrated high peak in Macedonia, renowned among the Bulgarians as the mountain from which Sarafoff issued his call ‘to his brothers’—Sarafoff and St. Paul!—to come over into Macedonia and help him!
This was a more productive district than that through which we had passed the day before; the land was generally tilled and settlements were comparatively numerous. And after passing Rilo Silo (Rilo village), where the long climb to the monastery begins, the way leads through a dense forest which covers the mountains.
The road to Rilo is by the side of a rapid brook, which has its source somewhere in the wild woods far above the monastery, up under the line of perpetual snow. It tumbles for more than twenty miles over the small boulders, and between the big ones, down, down, down to the village; this, at least, is as far as I know it tumbles, from having followed it. On both sides of the brook rise the Balkans, the crest of the range to the south forming the border-line. From Rilo Silo to Rilo Monastery there is but one pass through these mountains, and in this gateway to Turkey stands the Bulgarian blockhouse shown in the preceding picture. In spite of the fact that it was yet winter, the leaves on the trees were thick enough to keep the rays of sun from the road, and there was a chill under the grove which soon caused us all to unpack our greatcoats. As our elevation increased, the air grew yet colder; the brook took on icy rims, icicles clung to the bigger boulders, and snowdrifts lodged by the side of the road. We dismounted one by one, for the slow up-hill pace of the horses afforded no exercise, and we needed more warmth than our coats would give. The gendarmes, as I have said, were better mounted than were the Count and I, but on foot we had the advantage of them. Their horses had always to be led—and did not lead as well as they drove—while our pack-ponies, ever content to follow pace, could be turned loose, and would follow the other animals as tenaciously as if tied to their tails.
The sun had long dropped behind the mountains—though the day had not yet gone—when we emerged from the forest into a clearing, and the first view of the great, bleak, deserted-looking monastery broke suddenly upon us. The heavy gates were swung back, grating on their rusty hinges, and a long-bearded, black-robed priest came forth to welcome us. The gendarmerie officer had telegraphed from Rilo Silo that we would arrive that night, and the hospitable monks had got our rooms warm and ready, and prepared a splendid supper for us.
There was no fireplace or stove in the room which was allotted to me, but a broad, tiled chimney came through the wall from an ante-room. A queer little dwarf—not a monk, but long-haired and bearded like them—who occupied this room, was assigned to the task of waiting on us and stoking the fire in the oven.
The Rilo Monastery is a great rectangular pile four storeys high, built of stone around a spacious courtyard. On the outside a height of sheer wall is broken by small barred windows only above the second floor, and two arched gateways below, one at each end of the place. The old convent was built for siege. Within, facing on the courtyard, are broad balconies, quite a sixth of a mile around. The chapel stands in the centre of the court, and beside it there is an ancient tower and dungeon dating from mediæval times. Although the foundation of the monastery is very old, most of the present structure and the church date from only 150 years back. At one time it sheltered several hundred monks, but the number has dwindled away until to-day there are but fifty or sixty there. The old abbot said ruefully that since the Bulgarians had become free they are not so willing to enter holy orders as they were when under the Turks. Naturally; this monastery, for some reason, was always exempt from ravage by Turkish troops, and to enter it was to find safety for body as well as soul. The greater part of the building is now usually unoccupied, and its vast, bare rooms have a most desolate appearance.
The painting of the place is most peculiar. Outside the stones are left their natural colour, but the courtyard walls are whitewashed and striped with red. The balconies and the overhanging roof, the rafters of which are visible, are almost black from age. The place would be magnificent were it not made hideous with atrocious frescoes, which might have originated in the mind of a Doré and must have been executed by a schoolboy. The pictures covering both the outer and inner walls of the chapel, which stands in the centre of the court, are grouped in pairs or sets, and portray side by side the after torments of the wicked and the bliss of the good. Many of the sleeping-rooms are likewise decorated in a manner conducive to nightmare.
RILO MONASTERY: GRACE BEFORE GRUB.
There is a museum at Rilo of old Bulgarian books, icons, and other church relics, of all of which the monks are very proud. Many of the books were saved from destruction at the hands of the Greek priests in their late attempt to Hellenise the Bulgarians by obliterating their language. There are presents from the Sultans, and some articles of intrinsic value.
I was much interested in a retired brigand who lived at the monastery, and invited him and a committaji sojourning there to join us one evening at supper. We were a strange gathering that sat down to the monks’ good fare that memorable night. There were many monks, in flowing robes and headgear like stove-pipe hats worn upside down. In the centre of this sombre assembly was our party: the brigand, a powerful mountain fellow who had worn his weapons day and night for thirty years; a desperate revolutionist engaged in directing the passage of bands across the Balkans; a border officer who had been picked for his nerve and judgment to serve on the Turkish frontier; my Count and myself.
It took much persuasion and many glasses of the monks’ good wine to make the brigand tell us of his adventures; but when he had fairly begun he went into most extravagant detail and gave us substantial demonstration of how he had done his many deeds of valour. He took his yataghan and wielded it about him in a desperate manner as he told us of how, when surrounded on one occasion, he cut his way through overwhelming numbers of Turkish troops; he drew his dagger at another period and crept stealthily along to slay an adversary by surprise; and he stretched himself full length on the floor and aimed his rifle over imaginary rocks when giving an account of what he considered the narrowest escape he had ever had.
He and his band had been forced by a body of Turks up a mountain side at the back of which was a yawning precipice. Half of his men dropped behind rocks and held the Turks at bay while the others took off their long red sashes and tied them together into a rope, by which all but four managed to escape by sliding down the chasm into a thickly wooded valley below. The brigand told us that he had chopped off the heads of Turks with a single blow, and had to his credit in all seventeen dead men. He was an Albanian—a Christian Albanian—which accounts for the record he kept of his killings.
Everybody at the monastery but myself was accustomed to such narratives as these, and no one else—not even the holy monks—showed the least emotion at the bloody recital. It was purely for my benefit.
Towards midnight the conversation turned to combats to come, and both the officer and the committaji assured me there would be no lack of blood-letting as soon as the snows melted. Ammunition was going across the frontier nightly, and preparations for the revolution were being prosecuted vigorously under the very noses of the Turkish authorities. But it was necessary in some districts, where the Government officials were keenly on the alert, to adopt curious means of getting arms into the towns. The insurgent told this story of how a supply of dynamite bombs was got into Monastir. A funeral parade started from an ungarrisoned village near by, and marched into the town to the solemn chant of a mock priest, attired in gilded vestments, and acolytes swinging incense. Mourners, men and women, followed the corpse, weeping copiously. The Turks did not notice that the dead man was exceptionally heavy, and required twice the usual number of pall-bearers. The insurgents buried their load in the Bulgarian cemetery with all due dust to dust and ashes to ashes. The local voivodas were apprised of the fact, and the following night a select delegation robbed the grave.
There were no refugees at Rilo on the occasion of my first visit. Several months had elapsed since the search for arms in the Struma and Razlog districts, and the fugitives who had come to the monastery to escape this inquisition in Macedonia had now moved on to the towns and villages further from the frontier. But six months later, when I returned after the revolution in Macedonia, the place was crowded with refugees. There were nearly two thousand quartered in the main building and in the stables and cornbins round about, and more were arriving daily. Some reached the monastery driving a cow or two, and others leading ponies and donkeys heavily laden with all their poor possessions; but many came with only what they carried on their backs. The special burden of the little girls seemed to be their mothers’ babies, borne in bags strapped to their backs.
Some of the young mothers bore between their eyes peculiar marks which attracted my attention. They were crosses tattooed there. They told me that these life marks were for the purpose of preventing the Turks from stealing them; but I am of the opinion that the sign of the Cross would not prevent a Moslem from taking a Christian woman.
A caravan of pack-ponies arrived at Rilo every morning, bringing bread, which was supplied to the refugees by the Bulgarian Government. Besides this they received soup from the monastery once a day.
The kitchen at Rilo is quite worthy of description. It is on the ground floor, but above it there are no other rooms. Its walls go up to the roof. The fire is built in the centre of the room, on the floor, which is of stone, and the smoke rises a hundred feet and escapes through a round hole about a foot in diameter. The refugee soup was boiled in a huge iron cauldron, suspended by chains over the fire. So large was this pot that the cook had to stand on a box to stir the boiling beverage, which he did with a great wooden spoon almost as long as himself. At noon the refugees gathered in the courtyard with earthen vessels, and as the names of their villages were called they came up to the pot, and the old grey-bearded cook dished out a big spoonful of soup to each mother, and a monk handed her a loaf or more of bread according to the number of children she had.
FATHER COOK AND THE BRIGAND.
The native costumes of the Macedonians are of the gayest colours, and this midday scene was beautiful as well as pitiable. But there was a night scene at the monastery which was even more fascinating. There were two companies of infantry also quartered here, and as there was no hall to spare for use as mess-room, they were obliged to eat their meals in the open courtyard. A few minutes before the supper-hour pots of stew or soup, or other army rations, were set in a row on the stone pavement. When the call to mess was sounded the soldiers fell in behind the pots, each with half a loaf of bread and a tin spoon, and stood facing the chapel. The drums beat again, and with one accord the line of yellow-coated men doffed their caps. Their officer, likewise reverencing, pronounced the grace, and the company made the sign of the Cross three times in drill regularity. The men then seated themselves, eight round a pot, and began their meal in the golden light of pine torches fastened to the great pillars which support the balconies.
In the Balkans the Christian call to mass is beaten on a pine board. The hours of prayer are regular at Rilo, and the time of day is told by the shrill tattoo. The next lap of our trail was long, and we rose and saddled horses at the call to six o’clock mass.
THE TRAIL OF THE MISSIONARIES
From Rilo it is a day’s track to Samakov, a primitive, dreamy town, full of frontier colour and character. A mosque and a Turkish fountain still do duty in the market place, and many times a day Turks come to the fountain to wash before entering the mosque to prayer—just as they do across the border. But over there the Christian drawing drinking water makes way for the Moslem to wash his feet, while here the Turk is made to wait his turn like any other man. Samakov is much like other border towns, built largely of mud bricks, roofed with red tiles, crowned with storks’ nests. It possesses, however, one distinctive feature.
The largest American college in South-Eastern Europe, outside of Constantinople, is here. It is conducted by the American missionaries, and educates most of the Bulgarian teachers employed in the Protestant schools throughout Bulgaria and Macedonia. It is something more than a theological institute; it is also an industrial school, patterned after those most successful in the United States, where boys learning trades may earn part or all of their tuition. The carpentering department and the printing press are both conducted at a profit, which is credited proportionately to the boys who do the work. In the girls’ school the duties of home and life are taught, as well as book knowledge, and some of the young women are trained for the positions of teachers in the smaller mission schools.
The Bulgarians owe much to the American missionaries, both directly and indirectly. For one thing, the Americans have excited, without intention, the jealousy of the Orthodox Church, which has undoubtedly assisted in keeping the priests active in developing their own educational institutions. It was not until the American missionaries opened a school for girls in their land that the Bulgarians began to educate their women. But that was many years ago, before Bulgaria became a quasi-independent State; now the State schools afford every advantage the Americans can offer—except the American language.
The Bulgarian Government attempts to administer justice to all denominations and to maintain religious equality before the law, and the Government comes fairly near to this aim. The Greeks complain that Greek schools are not subsidised, but Turkish schools are maintained by the State. It is due to the freedom of religious opinion existing in Bulgaria that the missionaries have become so closely allied with the Bulgarians, for in no other Balkan country, except perhaps Rumania, is there the same liberty of thought. The Servian Government prohibits by law all proselytising to Protestantism. The Greeks—though they welcomed the aid and sympathy of the missionaries in the Greek war of independence—have since enacted laws which make the teaching of ‘sacred lessons’ in the schools compulsory, lessons of a character which the missionaries refuse to disseminate. The Sultan would not tolerate the missionaries in his dominions if they attempted to convert Mohamedans, while the few Turks who have deserted Mohamedanism have mysteriously disappeared. And it has been found almost impossible to convert Jews. So the missionaries are left only the Bulgarians on whom to work. Their schools and churches are open to other nationalities in both Bulgaria and Macedonia; but, for the double reason that they are institutions of Protestants and of Bulgarians, very few of the other races ever seek admission.
BULGARIAN PEASANTS, SAMAKOV.
But the Bulgarians do not appreciate the work of the Americans; indeed, those who are not converted distinctly rebel against what they term the ‘Christianising of Christians.’ I have said that the Government was just in religious matters; the members of the Government, however, are not. Government officials (adherents of the Orthodox Church, or they would not be elected) make it difficult for the missionaries to extend their work, by delaying necessary permits and privileges as long as possible; and they favour members of the Orthodox Church in making appointments to public service. The unfortunate missionaries are, therefore, between the devil and the deep sea; for while the Bulgarians resent being the subject of missions, the Turks accuse the Americans of propagating a revolutionary spirit amongst the Bulgars. Of the latter, however, they are not directly guilty, though the education of a peasant naturally tends to fire his spirit.
But there was one occasion when the American missionaries came to be important instruments of the Macedonian revolutionary cause. This was in the notorious capture of Miss Ellen M. Stone, a certain feature of which, not correctly chronicled at the time, makes a most interesting narrative.
Early in July 1901, a party of Protestant missionaries and teachers—among whom Miss Stone was the only foreigner—left the American school at Samakov and crossed the Turkish frontier to Djuma-bala. From Djuma they proceeded into Macedonia, without an escort, considering that the party, numbering fifteen, was too large to be molested. Towards nightfall of the first day out the travellers, growing weary, allowed their ponies to straggle, as the Macedonian pony is wont to do. At dark the cavalcade began to ascend a rugged mountain in this disorder, and rode directly into an ambush laid for the Americans. It was an easy matter for the brigands to ‘round-up’ the whole number without firing a single shot. The brigands had no need for the other members of the company, being Bulgarians, and sent all of them on their way except Mrs. Tsilka, whom they detained as a companion for Miss Stone.
The sum demanded for Miss Stone’s ransom was twenty-five thousand Turkish liras, slightly less in value than so many English pounds. The American Government took no effective measures to secure the release of its subject, and it was left to the American people to subscribe the ransom money. In a few months the sum of sixty-eight thousand dollars (fourteen thousand five hundred pounds Turkish) was collected, and the American Consul-General at Constantinople went to Sofia to negotiate the ransom. But in Bulgaria he was annoyed by the people and the press, and hampered by the Government, and he soon found it impracticable to pay the money to the brigands from that side of the border. The Orthodox churchmen had no sympathy for the American evangelist and treated the affair as a grand joke, while the Government sought to prevent payment of the ransom on Bulgarian soil, lest it should be called upon by the United States at a later date to refund the amount.
At the end of five months from the time of the capture, the Consul-General (Mr. Dickenson) had accomplished only an agreement with the brigands that Miss Stone should be set at liberty on payment of the sum collected in lieu of the one demanded, and he returned to Constantinople and transferred the work to a committee appointed by the American Minister on instructions from Washington.
According to accounts sent to the newspapers at the time by correspondents who, with many Turkish soldiers, dogged the footsteps of the three men who formed the ransom committee, these gentlemen, Messrs. Peet, House, and Garguilo, after travelling over hundreds of miles of wild mountain roads, doubling on their tracks sometimes daily in their search for the brigands, finally despaired of paying the ransom in gold, sent the gold back to Constantinople, secured bank-notes in its stead, and paid two agents of the insurgents in paper money at a cross road when they (the committee) managed to escape the vigilance of the Turkish soldiers for a few minutes. But the correspondents were sadly duped, for necessity and the committajis demanded that they should be placed in the same category as the Turks, and regarded as dangerous characters.
If a member of the committee could tell this tale it would make a most readable volume, but the committee is bound by a promise to the insurgents to keep secret certain details, and I am able to give only a bare outline of the adventure.
I first learned that the original accounts of the ransoming were erroneous from Mr. Garguilo, whom I met one day at the American Legation at Constantinople, of which he is the dragoman. He was proud of having defeated some worthy men among my colleagues and the Turkish police at the same time. He told me bits of the story which whetted my curiosity, and I resolved to run it to earth.
Before I left Constantinople I called on Mr. Peet at his office, the headquarters of the American Mission Board, and, in the course of a conversation about the Stone affair, added a few more facts to those Mr. Garguilo had given me. It was my good fortune, not long after, to meet Dr. House at the American mission at Salonica, and I took the opportunity of discussing the affair with him. And as I proceeded through Macedonia I encountered many others of the principal actors in the little drama. I came upon Mr. and Mrs. Tsilka at Monastir; then the Turkish officer who had been detached to follow the fourteen thousand five hundred pounds of gold; and later, in Bulgaria, I found a member of Sandansky’s band, the band which had captured Miss Stone. The brigand was the most communicative of all these principals, and I got from him some details which the ransom committee had been sworn not to divulge, for fear lest punishment should be meted out by the Turks to the town which played the important part in the delivery of the ransom.
On Mr. Dickenson’s return from Sofia the ransom committee left at once for the Raslog district. The brigands at this juncture had become indignant at the long delay in the payment of the money and had broken off negotiations with the Americans. The first work of the new committee, then, was to re-establish communication with the insurgents, and, in order to let the brigands learn that they were on their trail, the news of the fact was disseminated broadcast throughout Bulgaria and Macedonia, and also sent to the European press, which the revolutionary organisation follows closely. This eventually accomplished the desired effect, but also caused an increase of the number of correspondents on the trail of the committee.
For nearly a month the committee moved from town to town through the snow—for it was now winter—faring on the coarsest of food, sleeping in comfortless khans and undergoing many hardships, but meeting with no success. Trail after trail drew blank. On one occasion word came that two frontier smugglers, captured by the Turks, had professed to having seen Miss Stone and Mrs. Tsilka’s baby strangled, and could take the committee to the graves! There had been several other reports that the brigands had wearied of waiting for the ransom and had killed their captives, but none so detailed as this. The Turkish authorities at the point from which this evidence came were anxiously petitioned for further facts. Another examination of the smugglers was made, and the following day a telegram announced that they were altering their testimony. ‘The alterations’ completely denied the first statement, without even an excuse on the part of the smugglers for having concocted it. It seems the Turks had asked them for information of Miss Stone, and the frightened smugglers had replied in the Macedonian manner, according to what they thought their questioners desired to hear.
After a while the committee broke up, Messrs. Peet and Garguilo establishing themselves at Djuma-bala and Dr. House going to Bansko, the most rebellious town of a most rebellious district, ‘to conduct a series of missionary meetings.’ Dr. House was the only member of the committee who could speak Bulgarian and converse direct with the brigands, and his action was severely criticised by the correspondents. As the journalists saw the case, here was a member of the committee, the most valuable man because of his knowledge of the brigands’ language, wasting valuable time preaching Christianity to Christians, just when his every effort should be devoted to the task of freeing the two unfortunate women and a new-born babe, who were suffering untold tortures in some sheepfold high in the snow-covered mountains. But the correspondents were not aware that Dr. House had escaped their vigilance and that of the Turks, and, under the guidance of an insurgent disguised as an ordinary peasant, had visited a delegation of the brigands; nor did they know that further negotiations for paying the ransom were proceeding along with the revival meetings at Bansko.
After Dr. House had got into touch with the brigands the money was sent for. Mr. Smyth-Lyte, of the American Consulate, conveyed it from Constantinople. Two cases, containing fourteen thousand five hundred gold pieces and weighing four hundred pounds, were delivered to him from the Ottoman Bank, where the ransom fund had been deposited. The bullion was sent under proper guard to the railway station, where a special car was awaiting it. Two kavasses were sent with Mr. Smyth-Lyte from the bank, and these bodyguards always slept on the money. At Demir-Hissar, where the train journey ended, Mr. Smyth-Lyte was met by a Turkish officer, who informed him, in polished French, that he (the officer) was the humble servant of Monsieur the Consul, for whom the Padisha had the greatest concern. Monsieur’s commands, he added, would be fulfilled even to the death of the officer and twenty trusty troopers who were under his command. The Turk was suave and smartly dressed, and the trusty troopers non-communicative and very ragged.
A rickety brougham was ready to take the American and the money to Djuma-bala, a two days’ journey. The two packages of gold were loaded into the doubtful conveyance, the troopers formed a cordon about it, and the journey was begun. But the party had hardly got fairly upon the road when the severe pounding of the gold as the carriage bumped over the rocks, carried away the floor, and down went the boxes. There was a halt and an attempt to patch up the vehicle, but it was useless. One of the pack-horses accompanying the soldiers was unloaded and the gold strapped on its back; but the packages were of unequal sizes, and would persist in finding their way under the stomach of the hapless brute. At last the two kavasses, who were well mounted, were each called upon to carry a box, and in this way the money was got over the mountains.
More troops fell in as the way became more dangerous, until the number of the escort reached a hundred. Some of the cavalry men went far ahead to scout, especially through the great Kresna Pass, where a handful of men could ambush an army; and others dropped back far behind the cavalcade to cover the rear. But the journey was made without mishap, and late at night of the second day, Mr. Smyth-Lyte arrived at Djuma-bala, met there Messrs. Peet and Garguilo, and delivered over his precious charge. Early next morning he set off on the return trip with his kavasses and a guard of half a dozen men.
On the arrival of the money at Djuma there was a general concentration of correspondents, Turkish soldiers, and spies about it. The committee was no longer the subject of attention; the money was now the thing. If they kept close to the money, reasoned the correspondents and the soldiers, they were bound to be in at the ransom. The correspondents had no other interest than to get the news, but the soldiers were bent on getting the brigands. The Turkish Government had no idea of allowing the bandits to reap their golden harvest.
So it came to be the task of the ransoming committee to separate the gold from the correspondents and the soldiers, apparently a hopeless one. Every correspondent present was a man of sharp wits and almost untiring energy. Each of them had a dragoman always watching the Turks who surrounded the gold. The Turkish spies kept their eyes on the soldiers, the committee, and the correspondents alike.
The committee would decide at a moment’s notice to leave a town for a visit to some mountain village, telling no one; but the soldiers were always with them, ostensibly guarding them from other brigands, and the tireless correspondents were on their track before the dust had settled behind their horses.
After a while Messrs. Peet and Garguilo, bringing the money, came to Bansko and there settled down with Dr. House, who was still preaching to the Bulgarians. The committee secured a private house to live in, and in one room stored the gold. Here a long rest took place. The correspondents railed against the committee, accusing it of laziness and love of comfort; but they, too, grew indolent and took their ease at their khan. At first they, with the Turks, dogged the very footsteps of the three men of the committee, but after a week of this they grew weary, for the ransoming committee were wont to walk far daily ‘for exercise,’ and loiter aimlessly on cold and unattractive mountain roads about the town. It was not probable that the brigands would venture very near to a village so heavily garrisoned and patrolled as was Bansko, and to watch the gold soon became sufficient for the correspondents. Had any of them put himself to the trouble of ascertaining what Mr. Garguilo’s habits were when comfortably ensconced at the Embassy at Constantinople, he would have discovered that any exertion whatever is distinctly foreign to that gentleman’s daily routine.
At the end of a month, to the intense surprise of everybody, a messenger came from Constantinople, travelling in all the state which had dignified Mr. Smyth-Lyte’s journey. With great ceremony the two boxes of gold were delivered to him. There was no mistake about them; they were the same two boxes. They were still bound tight with iron bands and they still weighed four hundred pounds. One hundred soldiers escorted them back to Demir-Hissar. There they were carefully placed aboard another special car, and two kavasses ate and slept on them until they were safely delivered back to the Ottoman Bank at Constantinople.
A few days later the committee started on its return to the railway, with a small escort and only one correspondent. The others considered that for the present the affair was over.
At one place on the route Mr. Garguilo and Dr. House managed to leave their escort and the correspondent a little behind. The soldiers and the correspondents had lost interest now. At a cross-road they stopped and waited for their trackers. When the correspondent came up Mr. Garguilo told him that ‘the deed was done.’
On the ground there were several torn envelopes, such as a bank would use to cover notes. A few days later Miss Stone, Mrs. Tsilka, and the baby were ‘discovered,’ in a village near Seres. Two of the committee met and escorted them to Salonica.
It is obvious how the story that the money was paid in paper came to appear in the English and American press; but the money was not paid in paper.
When Messrs. Garguilo, Peet, and House took their daily walks about Bansko they went out with heavy packages of gold concealed under their coats, and they returned with a like weight—but not of gold! Each night they removed a certain amount of the money, and on their return would place the lead in the bullion boxes—the vigilant guards about the house all unconscious that the gold was going. Finally, the fourteen thousand five hundred pieces had been delivered to the brigands, whom the committee-men met on their walks, and four hundred pounds of lead filled the boxes.
The return of the boxes to Constantinople with all the pomp and ceremony attendant upon the transport of treasure was not without an object. It was necessary to keep the fact that the ransom had been handed over a complete secret until the captives were released, in order that the Turks should not get on the track of the brigands. A promise that every effort should be made to throw the Turks off the trail was demanded by the brigands, as was an injunction of absolute secrecy concerning also the place and manner in which the money was paid.
But the time is past when the secret need be kept, and the brigands, now off duty between revolutions, are spinning this yarn, along with accounts of other adventures, to admiring friends in Sofia.
The money which the revolutionary organisation secured by this capture went a long way, I am told, in preparing the uprising of 1903. The insurgents say that they expected the Government of the United States to exact from the Sultan the price of this ransom, thereby making the Padisha pay for the arms used against himself. But this has not been done.
We went to prayer meeting at Samakov at the invitation of the American missionaries, and took with us several officers of the garrison. The missionaries prayed fervently and at length that the Macedonian insurgents might be turned from their wicked ways. The prayer annoyed one of the officers, and, to my embarrassment, he rose and stalked out of the chapel. The others agreed with the missionaries—to a very limited extent—that the measures of the committajis were ‘often too drastic.’
The entire Bulgarian army is in sympathy with the work of the insurgents, and not the least enthusiastic with ‘the cause’ is the little mountain battery at Samakov. It is proud of the short cannon, carried in three parts on the backs of pack-ponies, and it is proud of its proficiency at handling them. The entire battery got out one morning and took us up into the mountains to show us how the guns worked. The Bulgarian army has been preparing for many years to fight the Turks.
SOFIA AND THE BULGARIANS
We drove back to Sofia in a small victoria drawn by four white ponies with blue beads around their necks and a diamond-shaped spot of henna on each forehead. Patriotism was running high in the country at the time, but the Bulgarian colours are red, white, and green. The decorations were in deference to the ‘Evil Eye.’
We came down the long valley to Sofia and entered the town at twilight, making our way to the Grand Hôtel de Bulgarie. The shops grew from peasant establishments where cheese and onions and odd shapes of bread were spread on open counters, to emporiums where French gloves and silk hats were on sale. Electric cars became numerous, double lines crossing each other at one corner. Here a sturdy gendarme raised his hand for us to stop; he was not as large as a London policeman, but he carried a sabre at his side. The chief of police explained to me later that the weapon was not for use, but simply to impress the other peasants, who would have no respect for the brown uniform alone.
At the head of the main street we came to a solid drab-coloured, rectangular building, surrounded by high, drab-coloured walls. The massive iron gates were wide open, and before each paced two sentinels. This was the palace of the Prince. Just beyond the palace was the hotel.
Several army officers in uniform were standing before the Bulgarie as we drove up, and one hailed me in this familiar manner:
‘Well, how goes it? I see you are from “the land of the free and the brave.”’
He knew who I was; strangers are conspicuous in Sofia, and their presence becomes known quickly. There was to be a military ball at the officers’ club that evening, and I was invited forthwith. The ‘American,’ as this officer was called, waited at the hotel until I had dressed, and, after dining with me, took me to the dance.
The scene was very like that at a military hop in any civilised country. The officers looked martial in their simple Russian uniforms, and the ladies were tastefully but modestly dressed. There is no wealth in Bulgaria—not a millionaire in pounds in all the land—and the officers of the army live on their pay. Many members of the Government and other state officials were at the ball, wearing ordinary evening dress with some few decorations.
It is said of the Bulgarians that they dislike foreigners, which is true to an extent. Their attention to me on this occasion is to be accounted for in the observation of an historian, that they are ‘a practical people and their gratitude is chiefly a sense of favours to come.’ I was the special correspondent of an important newspaper, and they were anxious that I should sympathise with their cause. They adopted no surreptitious means of making me do so; they went straight to the point and demanded my attitude. I intimated that I had come out to the Balkans to take nobody’s side; I had come ignorant even of the geography of South-Eastern Europe, and intended to withhold my judgment until I had seen the question from more sides than one. They granted that this was fair, and remarked that an honest man who was not a fool must perforce become a bitter partisan on the Balkan question.
The day before my departure from Sofia (on this first occasion) I excited the suspicions of a local journalist by declining to declare my sympathies. The reporter intimated that in his opinion a newspaper like mine would hardly send on such a mission a man who was quite as ignorant as I professed to be! They are bold, these Bulgars.
This journalist was my undoing. I did not see what he wrote about me until I returned to Sofia, a few weeks later, and found myself completely ignored by the very Bulgars who had been most attentive. Officers who had toasted me when I started for the frontier would not return my salute; newspaper men who had interviewed me now slunk by in the street, and statesmen and politicians barely nodded when I lifted my hat. This was undoubtedly deliberate; the Bulgarians could not have forgotten me so soon. I sought my friend the officer who spoke American, and inquired of him if he knew in what way I had offended his fellow-countrymen. He did not hesitate a minute. The Vitcherna Posta, he informed me, had shown me up. The paper had discovered that I had come out to the Balkans pledged to support the Turks, and my pretended ignorance was simply a bluff. The proprietor of my paper, who would probably condemn another man for accepting a monetary bribe, had been bought with a paltry decoration from his Sultanic Majesty. No news but such as was favourable to the Turk and hostile to the Bulgar would be published in my paper. In proof of this statement the ‘Vampire Post’ called attention to the fact that I had paid frequent visits to the Turkish Agency before my late departure.
The young officer did not tell me this in the offensive manner of a candid friend; he delivered the accusations straight from the shoulder, and on concluding offered me a native drink, as if I could have no mitigating argument; he was satisfied of my guilt, but when he was in America my countrymen had treated him well.
‘The Bulgarians are not very politic,’ I observed; to which the officer assented and signed to me to drink, implying by a gesture: this disagreeable explanation is over, but you are my guest.
The Sofia journal had mistaken me; I was not the correspondent of the paper whose proprietor had been decorated by the Sultan. Nor were the numerous visits I had paid to the Turkish Commissioner due to any but legitimate reasons. The Sultan’s representative, indeed, accused me of making a suspicious number of calls on Bulgarian officials and of receiving too many revolutionists at my hotel; and when I applied to him for permission to proceed to Macedonia I found many visits and much persuasion all of no avail. He had an antidote prepared for me, an immediate trip to Constantinople, where the diplomatic atmosphere is sympathetic with the Sultan. Thus, by trying to maintain the friendship of both Bulgar and Turk, I had incurred, at the very outset of my mission, the hostility of both.
The Bulgarians are suspicious people. They excuse this trait in their character by explaining that they lived under the Mohamedan for five hundred years. This is their favourite excuse for all their sins. But they have also acquired at least one of the Turk’s good points; they are dignified and can control themselves; they seldom lose their tempers and generally act cautiously. They are somewhat obstinate, which is a Slav characteristic, and this, with a childlike sensitiveness due to their youth as a nation, makes for pride.
An Englishman who spends any length of time among the Bulgarians generally likes them. The strong strain of barbarism in the Bulgar finds sympathy in the breast of the Britisher, and the Bulgar’s respect for the ultra-civilised chord in the other man also wins its reward. The Bulgar never approaches an Englishman, who, he knows, resents approach; he never becomes friendly, fearing a rebuff; and he maintains for ever a dignity and distance in the presence of the stony one. Now, the Bulgar doesn’t know it, but this is exactly the way to gain the esteem of the Englishman, who recognises a diamond in the man who can cut him.
The Bulgarians are most anxious for the favour of Great Britain. They aspire to become a great nation and to annex the conquerable territory to their south. They see that their friends, if they have any, are the Western Powers, and not Austria and Russia; and ‘their gratitude is chiefly a sense of favours to come.’
When a voivoda is killed in Macedonia a high mass for the repose of his soul is celebrated the next Sunday or fête day at the cathedral in Sofia. Small boys, hired by the revolutionary committee, hold crayon portraits of the dead heroes, draped in mourning, for the people to see as they enter church. After mass the congregation gathers in the vast open space before the cathedral to hear addresses by members of the revolutionary committee, who sometimes speak from the cathedral steps. The speeches are generally quite sane, often contain advice to foster British friendship, but never suggest the release of Russia’s hand.
THE CATHEDRAL, SOFIA.
THE BRITISH AGENCY, SOFIA: A DEMONSTRATION.
At the conclusion of one of these meetings I accompanied a crowd to the British Agency. On their way they passed the Italian Agency, halted, and gave three cheers. In front of the Lion and the Unicorn the shouts were loud and prolonged. A silence followed, and they waited for an acknowledgment. But, of course, his Majesty’s representative could not acknowledge a demonstration hostile to Turkey, a State with which the British Government was at peace. The Bulgarians finally moved off, and made for the residence of the Russian. There, the crowd seemed undecided; some were for cheering and passing on, others were bent on seeing M. Bakhmetieff. The Russian, unlike the English agent, responded promptly, and spoke from his terrace in his own tongue—which is sufficiently like Bulgarian to be understood by a Bulgarian crowd. He told them that Bulgaria must bide Russia’s time, that Russia was the friend of all Slavs, and Russia would eventually come to their aid.
Bulgarians of intelligence and education put little faith in the promises of the present Russian Government. But Russia holds a fast grip on the masses of the people; the peasants are grateful for their deliverance, and many of the politicians are open to bribery.
But the model of the Bulgarians is by no means the great Slav country. They can boast of having attained in a quarter of a century a liberty which the Russians have not yet secured. The institutions of Bulgaria are liberal in principle, and often in practice; the constitution is democratic. The suffrage is extended to every male adult, as a result whereof seven Turks represent the Mohamedan districts of the Danube and Turkish border in the Sobranjé, and sit among the other deputies without removing their fezzes.
The Bulgarians are anxious to be classed with people of the West, and they strive hard for civilisation, though a streak of Eastern origin sometimes displays itself. Once I was asked a significant question by a boy who had spent several years at an American mission school.
‘The English papers,’ he said, ‘often assert that we are not civilised. Will you tell me what constitutes a state of civilisation?’
‘Is it a man’s education?’ he asked. ‘It is not our fault if we have not education; we are learning as fast as we can. It cannot be that clothes make the man. It may be the result of your religion; but I wonder if England is more religious on the whole than Bulgaria is. We hear of horrible social crimes there that never occur here. And our politics is no more corrupt than that of America, which sends us missionaries. We are accused of having national jealousies and ambitions. England is certainly not free from the former, and if she is no longer ambitious, it is simply because her aspirations are all achieved.’
I was unable to define civilisation.
When Bulgaria became independent, Sofia was a very dirty town, without a street paved with anything but cobble stones, and with but one house of any pretensions, the Turkish ‘konak.’ To-day, besides a palace and a parliamentary building, there are a national bank, a post office, a military academy, several vast barracks, and many other Government buildings. There are parks and public gardens where bands play on summer evenings; new streets and avenues have been laid out, and some of the narrow ones of Turkish times have been widened; substantial shops and hotels mark the business quarter, and modern homes the avenues. Still, Sofia reminds one of a lanky girl whose spindle shanks and lean arms have outgrown her pinafore. The dwellings, by setting far apart, try to reach out the long new avenues and cover the gawky child, but in places she is absolutely bare.
One day I drove out along one of the avenues to call on a Cabinet Minister. The coachman drew up at a modest cottage, whose greatest charm was an ample garden. I repeated the name of the Minister, and looked dubiously at the coachman.
‘Touka, touka’ (‘here, here’), he said, so I entered.
A little girl, the Minister’s daughter, responded to my rap and invited me in. The servant was cooking.
Not far from here were the humble homes of two painters and a sculptor, upon whom I often called. They were instructors at the National Institute of Art, of which Ivan Markvitchka is the head.
But the streets of Sofia have not altogether parted with the past; there are many touches of the old Turkish times left. Many of the shops are dark, low, and dingy, though the shopkeepers no longer block the pavements with their wares and sit cross-legged among them. An ancient Turkish bath and an old mosque stand side by side in front of the market place on the principal trading corner. The bath is not attractive in appearance, but the water is excellent—brought by pipe from a boiling mineral spring in the mountains a few kilometres distant. The place is closed to the public on Mondays, when the garrison of Sofia is scrubbed. Detachments of a hundred men arrive hourly, each with a towel and a bar of brown soap; three-quarters of an hour later they are turned out clean.
Compulsory service in the army has been a great training to the Bulgarian peasants. The natives of Macedonia bathe as they marry, only once or twice in a lifetime. A child is not washed when it is born for fear of its catching cold, nor when it is baptized, for oil is used at this ceremony.
An open letter from a Greek priest to the American missionaries concerning the use of oil instead of water at the baptismal office, demonstrates the Macedonian prejudice against water—except for internal use. The priest defended the use of oil on the score that, as a result of oiled christening, the Macedonian peasants, though they never wash, carry with them no foul odour, as do peasants baptized with water.
A VIEW OF SOFIA: VITOSH IN THE BACKGROUND.
Behind the mosque and the bath is an open space which resembles an empty lot, except on Fridays. Friday is both the sabbath of the Turks and the market day of the Bulgars, but the police are never called upon to prevent a clash between the two. Once a week the capital is crowded with peasants assembled from every village within a radius of twenty kilometres. Fellow-residents of the same broad, sunny plain in which Sofia lies come trooping in, clad in lighter clothes than those worn by the mountain men from Vitosh. They begin to gather on Thursday evening, and long before the next day breaks the space is covered with sacks of corn, strings of onions, bunches of chickens, baskets of eggs, buckets of cheese, bolts of homespun cloth, bleating lambs, and squealing pigs.
The peasants, young and old, men and women, walk to market. Only pigs and babies are carried. The carts and the pack-animals are too heavily laden to carry their owners; and, besides, every individual afoot can carry something more. One sympathises with a pretty girl dressed in holiday costume, a red rose in her hair, carrying a pig over one shoulder, over the other a dozen chickens strung up by the feet. One sympathises with the pig and the fowls also, for these poor things have been carried with their heads hanging for probably three hours. The pig is slung by one or both hind legs, with a lash tied so tightly that it entirely stops the circulation, and may cut through the flesh to the bone. The girls always laugh on their way to market, and the pigs always cry. Of course the pigs are laid down now and again along the route, when the happy girls take a rest, but they arrive in Sofia with their eyes popping out of the sockets. These pigs which the girls carry are little pigs, but huge hogs are hung in the same manner at the sides of laden ponies.
On various occasions I pointed out this wanton cruelty to prominent Bulgarians whom I knew, and generally got some reply about the five hundred years the peasants had spent under the Turks. Where was the boy who asked me what the English word civilised meant?
ON THE MARKET PLACE, SOFIA.
The Bulgarians are careful of their draught animals. This, perhaps, they have learned in their term of subjection to the Mohamedan. It is a common sight in summer to see a girl in holiday attire, with a long-handled dipper throwing water from a puddle on to the backs of sweltering buffaloes as they move slowly past, dragging a heavy, creaking cart. In the winter each buffalo has his blanket.
The peasant girl weaves the cloth for her own clothes, spins the threads on her long marches to town, and saves her earnings for brass belt-buckles, bracelets, and other ornaments. Her bracelets often weigh over a pound, and her belt-buckle sometimes measures ten inches across. Her hair is far below her waist, but it generally changes in both texture and colour considerably above. The lower portion resembles horsehair. When such an appendage is spliced on to the maiden’s own locks, the proud possessor spends hours making the combination into a score of thin plaits, which she spreads out across her shoulders and loops together at the end.
The bazaars of other capitals in the Near East are filled with cheap German and Austrian imitations of native jewellery and dress, but Sofia is freer from this pollution.
There are few Jews in Bulgaria as compared with the number in the border State of Rumania; the Jews cannot thrive on the close-fisted Bulgars. The Jews who live among them are fairer in business transactions than their co-religionists anywhere else in the Balkans. I had an interesting experience with an old Israelite one day. He was selling key-rings, among other trinkets, on the market place, and I stopped and took one. I held up a franc by way of asking the price, and he said, ‘Franc,’ and held up one finger. The ring was a common affair and not worth so much, but I needed one badly, and, being unable to argue over the price, I gave up the franc and proceeded to adjust my keys to the ring. The old Jew was embarrassed. He had clearly expected me to bargain with him. He looked at the franc and then at me, undecided whether to do the honest thing or pocket the piece. As I started away he touched me on the arm, drew a greasy old purse from a deep pocket in a baggy pair of trousers, and finding a fifty-centime piece, pressed it upon me.
But while the Jew who has elected to remain among the Bulgars has had to surrender some of his principles of gold-getting, the Bulgar at horse-trading is a brother of the world fraternity of stock-dealers. One bright market day, when the streets were crowded with peasants and the European garb was almost obliterated, I went with a fellow-correspondent to buy a horse. We were not long in finding a satisfactory animal, but the bargaining was a tedious process. The owner of the horse was a simple old peasant, but he was assisted in the deal by the mayor of his village, an independent person of some thirty years, dressed like the other in homespuns and sheepskins.
The old peasant gripped the bridle of his horse as if someone were trying to rob him of the animal, and followed the very words of the deal as they passed from one man to the other. After a long wrangle a price was finally agreed upon, and the money was produced in the form of Bulgarian bank-notes.
A gleam of joy came over the old man’s face when the currency was first laid in his hands, but it died away almost instantly, giving place to one of hopeless bewilderment; he could not count so much money. He asked my friend if he was not swindling him, and then he asked the mayor, and again and again they each counted the notes over. It was pitiable. He said he had received many pieces of paper from Turkish ‘effendi,’ and they were never worth anything (the Turkish army has a way of giving paper promises for goods and labour).
‘You are no longer a Turkish subject,’ said the mayor.
He finally loosened his grip on the bridle, but as he delivered over the animal a last pang of fear struck his heart, and he turned hastily about in search of something. Spying me at a little distance off, he came shuffling towards me as fast as his old legs would carry him. I had left the scene and gone over to inspect the buffaloes lying quietly covered with their masters’ coats of goats’ hair. The old peasant made his way among the beasts to where I was, and thrust the roll of bills at me, pleading something in Bulgarian. The mayor shouted to him that I did not understand Bulgarian; but I understood the old man, and tried to put his mind at ease as to whether he possessed three hundred good gold francs.
The older peasants of Bulgaria are nearly all illiterate, but State schools teach the younger generations to read and write. Many of the older inhabitants understand the Turkish language; the younger Bulgars are learning French.
They are building a national opera-house in Sofia, and strangers are always taken to see the work. At present there is only one playhouse in the town, a Turkish theatre. One evening I was invited by Boris Sarafoff, the Macedonian leader, to be one of a box party to witness a performance at this place. It was during the war in the Far East, and the other guests of the insurgent were a Japanese and a Russian who happened to be in Sofia at the time. Gathered from the four corners of the earth, it was natural that no two of us thoroughly agreed on any one point, but each was tolerant of the others. As for Sarafoff, more anon; here, ‘the play’s the thing.’
Our box cost the sum of five francs; it was the best in the house with the exception of the royal box. There were seats to be had for twenty and standing room for ten centimes. The building was a rough wooden barn, rather rickety, whitewashed inside. From the single gallery hung hand-painted works of art only equalled by the mural decorations at Rilo. The pictures were grotesque and ludicrous. They portrayed the absurdities of the Turk, his peculiar way of doing things, and his chronic inclination to rest. The band, which vied with the pictures in keeping early arrivals in good humour until the curtain rose, was composed of a fair young lady who beat the drum, a bald bass violinist, a stout matron who blew the cornet, and two or three normal musicians—all led by a youth of not more than fifteen. The work of the band, however, was more artistic than that of the painter, which was well for it, because the music was not included in the price of admission. When the play began the beauty who beat the drum left her instrument to pass a plate among the audience in the same manner that a collection is taken in church. But this was not the only collection to be made. Between the acts the actresses appeared by turns in the house. After the band the leading lady had first draught on the audience. The lady who simply walked on got the last pull—and got what she deserved.
The plays presented at the Turkish theatre are all comedies. The language employed is Turkish; the principal characters are Turks; the actors are Armenians. The leading man is a splendid actor. His impersonation of a Turkish pasha, with all that functionary’s suspicion and corruption, was done with such extravagance, and yet such delicacy, that the Jap, the Russian, and myself, as well as Sarafoff, were highly amused.
The Turk is the subject of much of the Bulgarian’s humour as well as his wrath. He is to the Bulgar very much what the Irishman is to the Englishman, the funny as well as the exasperating man. The Bulgarian peasants are usually on the best of terms with the Turks in their land. They generally treat them with fairness and consideration. But on occasions insurgent bands which have met with defeat across the border have avenged themselves on Mohamedans in Bulgaria. But such slaughters happen with less and less frequency, and on an ever-diminishing scale. Except for individual slaughters, none has taken place for more than ten years. The Government is jealous of its case against the Turk, and has been most zealous in its efforts to prevent murders of Mohamedans ever since the day Prince Alexander, on ascending the new throne, visited the mosque of Sofia in token of respect for the religion of his Turkish subjects. On the whole, the Mohamedan in Bulgaria is better off than his brother in Turkey, who, except that he holds the position of the man with the gun, suffers under the Ottoman rule almost or quite as much as does the Christian. Nevertheless, there is a continuous exodus from Bulgaria of Turks and Pomaks (Bulgarians converted to Mohamedanism) to the land where the Mohamedan rules. And when these Turks pack their goods and chattels and start to trek, they do not stop until they have passed beyond the Bosphorus. They seem to think—as many men have thought for many years—that the day of Turkish power in Europe will soon be past.
The Prince of Bulgaria is a shrewd monarch, but he is not much loved. There are parties which think Prince Ferdinand too subservient to the Russian Government, and parties which think him too independent of the Czar; parties which think him ambitious, and say that he would be a king, and still others which say he cares too little for the man in the sheepskin coat to risk his princely crown in a military venture. I went down, by special invitation, on a private train, to see his Highness cut the ribbon that stretched across the newly finished port of Bourgas. After the cannon had signalled the fact that the harbour was open to the commerce of the world, Prince Ferdinand turned from the end of the pier and strode back towards the shore, shaking hands and chatting a moment, with, as I thought, everybody. When he came to me I extended my hand as I would to Mr. Roosevelt, but the Prince stood still and fixed me with a withering glare. Another correspondent acquainted with us both came to the rescue and presented me to the Prince. The Prince mustered his English, which he said he had not employed for many a year, and conversed with me in my own tongue for quite five minutes. But he did not apologise for his rudeness.
CONSTANTINOPLE AND THE TURKS
The Count could claim no country. Both Russia and Bulgaria denied him; and the man without a passport is contraband in Turkey. My pockets were full of smaller articles of the forbidden class, and my shirt was packed like a life-preserver. Austrian military maps and weighty books on the Balkans, a Colt’s and cartridges, and many rolls of kodak film, which might be taken for sticks of dynamite—these things puffed up my person.
The Customs inspectors entered the train at Mustafa Pasha, and, perceiving my plight, subjected the baggage to a scandalous search. They turned out every bag, ran their hands into the shoes, undid the balls of socks, and even lifted the linings of an extra hat; but all they found was a Bulgarian art journal containing a few pictures. As I replaced my mauled garments one of these fiends poked his fezzed head into my compartment again. He handed back the Bulgarian journal, saying, with approval, ‘Allemand, monsieur.’ The magazine was printed in German.
Strange things are contraband in Turkey—salt, because there is monopoly in the land; firearms, though they are sold openly in the streets; novels such as the ‘Swiss Family Robinson,’ because the dog is named Turk; dictionaries containing the words ‘elder’ and ‘brother,’ as Abdul Hamid usurped the throne from his elder brother; and works of chemistry containing the term H2O, which could but mean Hamid-Second-Zero.
Another baggage inspection takes place at Constantinople, but this is only for the purpose of extorting backsheesh. I paid a mijidieh to the chief inspector, claimed to be German, and took my bags through unopened.
The approach to Constantinople by train is over a long, marshy plain. Occasional camel caravans lumber along the road beside the tracks, and cranes, pelicans, and storks rise majestically and sail away as the train passes. The outskirts of Constantinople are repulsive. The train passes down a narrow street between rows of miserable dwellings, many no larger than drapers’ boxes, roofed with flattened petroleum tins; and at the base of the decaying walls of the city, excavations, closed with more petroleum tins, form the kennels of indolent gypsies. The entrance to Constantinople by train is not attractive. To see its glories one must come up the Bosphorus.
Constantinople is almost an antithesis of Sofia. One is a country town, small and new; the other is an Imperial city, great and old, with palaces and paupers, masters and slaves, and squalid barbaric splendour. It is a world capital, whereto all Christian countries send their Ministers, to vie with each other for the favours of an Asiatic monarch who rules by their discord. It is a place where many races meet and morals fleet. ‘No city in the world, not even Rome, has more personality.’
With the Golden Horn and the Sweet Waters of Asia at her feet, with her mighty mosques and towering minarets, marble palaces and treasure stores, Constantinople would seem a glorious city. But this is not the impression one obtains.
Within the city, to the unaccustomed eye, the horrible sights eclipse all others. The place is foul, and suffering, hungry creatures, human and animal, are pitiable to behold. The streets, except in front of the palaces and embassies, are seldom cleaned, and if one ventures out of doors on wet days he must wade through sloughs of filth.
Beggars, purposely maimed, and with ‘incurable diseases, including laziness,’ beset one on every side; mangy, starving dogs, lying on the pavements, are so numerous that pedestrians must take the roadway; and pitiable beasts of burden labour painfully along under fearful burdens.
A Turk, in his way, is most humane towards animals, and it is the Jews and the Christians who treat them badly. According to Western ideas, it would be a kindness to put the unhappy dogs of the imperial city out of existence; but the Turk reasons differently—what Allah has given life should live at Allah’s will.
DOGS OCCUPY THE PAVEMENT; PEOPLE WALK IN THE STREETS.
THE TURKISH BARBERSHOP.
In a street in Constantinople one day, I saw a miserable puppy rolled over by a carriage. Its hips were crushed, and it seemed to suffer agony. I went to a drug store near by and fetched some chloroform, but on attempting to administer it, a powerful hoja, who evidently knew what it was, put his hands on my shoulders and gently thrust me back. He informed some of the bystanders of my intention, and they lifted their hands and pointed towards heaven. They recognised me as a foreigner. Had I been a native non-Moslem they would not have been so gentle. If a native Christian kills a dog he is sent to prison—unless he subscribes a sufficient bribe to the court’s revenue.
Very often the Mohamedan’s charity takes the form of a distribution of food to the dogs, and the narrow streets are sometimes blocked by an enormous pack catching bits of bread from the hand of some penance-maker. But the garbage from the houses is the only certain source of subsistence that the dogs have. They know to a minute the time of day each family throws out its refuse, and if you pass along the streets in the early morning you can mark the houses which have not yet rendered up their daily quota by the canine crew waiting before the door.
The dogs of Turkey are more like wolves in appearance than domestic animals, but they are perfectly harmless. They rarely find sufficient food, and seldom taste meat, which may account for their gentleness—but their want of proper nourishment has no effect upon their lungs. Between them and the firemen night is made hideous in Constantinople. As certain as the setting of the sun one’s slumbers will be disturbed before the dawn by a most unearthly screeching—even worse than that of the London firemen—accompanied by the high-pitched yelps of countless dogs.
The Turkish fire department is a curious institution. Modern machinery cannot be brought into Turkey except by bribing the Custom-house. As it profits officers of the Government nothing to bribe themselves, the municipal fire brigade is still equipped with the primitive hand-pump. Electricity, like steam, is also barred, and the alarm system is distinctly original and truly alarming. From the ancient tower of Galata and from the Seraskier Tower in Stamboul, watchmen keep a look-out for fires. When one is discovered half a dozen swift runners grab long, sharp spears, descend several hundred ruined stone steps through the darkness slowly with the aid of a tallow taper, dart out into the crowded streets, and scatter in various directions, shouting at the tops of their voices and stabbing dogs. They make a tour of the mosques, from the minarets of which the volunteer firemen are called to duty. Meanwhile guns have begun to boom on the Bosphorus, and in a short time the streets are swarming with frenzied creatures, dashing along like maniacs, shrieking hideously, and also prodding dogs out of their way.
It is not an uncommon sight to see these strange firemen come down the streets from a five-mile run with nothing on but a pair of pants, or perhaps a skirted vest—sometimes only a fez; and then you will see others dressed like soldiers marching in a leisurely and orderly manner. The energetic individuals are the volunteers; the others are members of the regular ‘paid’ fire department.
The ambition of every chief of volunteers worthy of the name is to bring his brigade to the scene of the conflagration first, as the reward of the first arrivals is the choice of the plunder. Should he find there is no loot to be had, he searches out the owner and bargains with him while his band prepares to pump—if a satisfactory price can be agreed upon. This work must be done hurriedly, of course; not that there is any danger of the ‘paid’ brigade arriving before the fire is out, but other volunteers are pouring in; competition grows rifer, and rows and fights with rival crews more and more furious. Finally, the ‘paid’ department does arrive, and the volunteers are driven from the ruins like hungry wolves from a carcass. The ‘paid’ firemen will accept no gratuities; they are soldiers of the Sultan, and have many months’ salary due to them.
Many regiments of the garrison of Constantinople, however, are well paid, for they constitute a part of that vast organisation maintained by Abdul Hamid for the express purpose of his own safety. This, indeed, seems to be the first purpose of the whole Turkish Government—the safety of the Sultan, for which Mohamedan and Christian of the Imperial Ottoman Empire suffer alike. The difference in the attitude of the ‘infidel’ and that of the ‘faithful’ is simply that one resents the needless hardships inflicted upon him, whereas the other sits and suffers, resigned to the will of Allah. The word ‘Islam’ means ‘I am resigned.’ The Sultan is recognised as Mohamed’s vicegerent on earth, and to his will all faithful followers bow.
The Padisha, however, does not appear to accept the doctrine of fatalism with the same good grace as do the faithful of his Mohamedan subjects. Extraordinary precautions are taken for his safety. At a Selamlik, or public visit to a mosque for prayer, which I attended, Abdul, who professes to the Mohamedan belief that no bullet could pierce his flesh until the moment prescribed in the Great Book, came to worship surrounded by a bodyguard so solid that the ball of a modern rifle could not have reached him through it. His escort arrived running, massed about his victoria, the hood of which is said to be of steel. In former years foreign guests, for whom Ambassadors and Ministers would vouch, were permitted, in a pavilion crowded with detectives, to see this ceremony. But since the recent explosion of an infernal machine in the neighbourhood during a Selamlik, this privilege has been abolished. An army corps, gathered from every part of the variegated empire, surrounded the palace.
CONSTANTINOPLE: MOSQUE OF YÉNI-DJAMI ON THE BOSPHORUS.
Constantinople is full of stories about precautions within the walls of Yildiz Kiosk. It is said that the Sultan tests his meals on his servants before he touches them himself, and, for obvious reasons, his favourite dish is œufs à la coque. A tale from his harem gives it that, one day when his nerves were unusually unstrung, he drew his revolver and with his own hand shot a wife who caused his suspicion by a sudden change of posture. It is told that an American lady who pointed out to the Sultan a way by which he could be assassinated received a handsome present, and it is well known that there is an army of spies employed solely to run down plots against the Sultan’s life. These unprincipled servants often find conspiracies where they do not exist, often only in order to display to their master their activity, and again for the rich rewards such ‘discoveries’ bring.
Once in Paris I met a Greek who had served for two years as a private secretary at Yildiz. Greeks and other non-Moslems occupy many posts in the Sultan’s service where cleverness and an understanding of European character are imperative. This particular Greek incurred the Sultan’s suspicions, and was clever enough to escape from Constantinople. I was indeed glad to get the opportunity to talk with a man who had been of the Sultan’s household, and many of the tales I had heard, which needed proof, I repeated to him. He said they were mostly true—in principle. He did not believe that the Sultan had faith in one word of the Koran; certainly he was no fatalist. The Greek went on to say that while the Sultan is crazed on the one point of plots against his life, he is remarkably clever at handling men. He seems to have an uncanny power over men. When they first meet him they are surprised at his sanity and his gentility, which is a good beginning; and he gradually weaves his web of influence about old and tried ambassadors. The only people who have been thoroughly equal to him are the Russians; they play his own game. They have played on his weak point and made a treaty with him—according to this gentleman—guaranteeing his throne to him for the rest of his life in return for certain privileges which allow them to take inventory of his estate. ‘Après moi, le déluge!’ But the Sultan is not quite all of his Government, and for the others the entire indemnity for the war of 1878, as it is paid in annual instalments, is set aside—so my informant says—for distribution at Constantinople. The Palace and the Porte probably receive from Russia retaining fees larger than their salaries.
I happened to be in Constantinople again at a time when the Russians were meeting with defeat in Manchuria. The town was much interested in the contest, and the Turk in the street, who is ignorant, was rejoicing in his dignified way at the reverses of his country’s enemy. But suddenly the Russians turned the tables and won several astounding victories over the Japanese, and the Moslems were unhappy. This is how it happened. ‘The Palace’ had discovered that the sensibilities of the Russian representatives in Turkey were being tried severely by the reports of their defeats in the Far East, and that individual of marvellous imagination, the Turkish censor, was put to work to lighten their distress, which he did most generously.
According to the press of Constantinople all is ever serene throughout the imperial Ottoman dominions, everybody is always lauding the Padisha and praying for the safety of his good and gracious Majesty. Persons who are interested in the provinces subscribe to European papers, and have them brought in by the foreign posts. During my first stay at Constantinople thousands of troops were being shipped to Salonica daily, but as this fact would hardly accord with the sublime declarations of the Ottoman newspaper, they were embarked only after nightfall, when the inhabitants are mostly behind barred doors.
I presented a letter from the Turkish Commissioner at Sofia to a certain Turkish Minister, whose name I must not mention, and was ushered into his presence alone. The letter, I was told, recommended me highly as ‘a friend of the Turks,’ though I protested my neutrality; and I understood that I would receive good treatment at the hands of the officials and get all the news. What I wanted was permission to cross Macedonia beyond the railway.
‘Why do you desire to make this trip?’ asked the Turk. ‘It is dangerous, and the accommodations are very poor. If you will remain here you may come to me daily and I will tell you the truth about everything that is going on in the country.’
Of course I declined this.
The Turk puffed at his cigarette and sipped his coffee, thinking for a few minutes; then he turned and regarded me. Until then I had thought I had an honest face.
‘You can make thousands and thousands of francs out of the Turks,’ said the Minister.
I pretended not to take him.
‘Thousands and thousands of francs!’ he repeated impressively.
‘And what would I have to do?’ I asked.
‘Write the truth,’ the Turk replied softly.
‘It is not necessary to pay me to do that,’ I responded.
His Excellency said that a telegram would be sent to the Vali of Salonica instructing him to permit me to go where I would. A teskeré would be issued to me here viséd for Salonica. I thanked the Turk, but I felt that I should not be allowed to go very far.
A HAMMAL AND A LOAD OF PETROLEUM TINS.
During the course of my interview at the Sublime Porte I received a cup of delightful coffee, but it was the most expensive cup of coffee I ever drank. I had not provided myself with sufficient small change for a visit to the Turkish Government building. On my departure after the interview his attendants were lined up in the corridor like the servants at a French hotel. I was stripped of my silver and copper, and when I had given my last metaleek I hurried out of the door. But, unfortunately, I did not take a carriage, and I had hardly got a hundred yards down the street when a little old Turk, who proved to be the man who had given me the coffee, touched me on the arm, and said, ‘Effendi, backsheesh.’ This coffee-man followed me a quarter of a mile further to the nearest shop, where I changed a lira and gave him his tip. My dragoman explained that unless I distributed backsheesh liberally the Minister would never be in to me again, and, thinking perhaps some day I might have to make another call upon him, I ‘squared’ myself with his doormen.
Unfortunately, on each occasion that I have made the journey from Constantinople to Salonica I have been pressed for time, and could not await a steamer to take me through the Dardanelles. The train makes the trip three times a week, leaving Constantinople at night.
About twelve o’clock the first night out a Turkish officer opened the door of my compartment, which I had had to myself up to this time, and entered with a beaming smile and a grand salaam. This was extraordinary; the Turks are generally more dignified or else more subtle. My travelling companion, I saw by his attire, was a pasha.
There was not the detachment of troops usually arrayed at the station to do honour to a general about to start on a journey, and three young officers, very likely his adjutants, who were the only friends to see him off, seemed unnecessarily depressed. But the general had mirth enough for the company, and up to the moment the train left he spun yarns and cracked jokes to the torture of the others, who tried loyally to affect amusement. When the third bell sounded for the train to resume its progress the pasha shook hands warmly with his young friends through the window; they pressed their cheeks to his in Turkish fashion, then gave him the low Turkish salute due to his rank. The old man turned to me with a smile, and asked by a sign whether I would have the window closed. I shrugged my shoulders, meaning ‘suit yourself,’ and asked my companion if he could speak French. ‘Turk,’ he replied, meaning only Turkish. I cannot describe exactly how we made each other understand, but before we lay down to sleep I had told him I was an American correspondent, and had learned that his medals were in token of distinguished services in the Russo-Turkish war and elsewhere, and that his destination was Tripoli, which means exile.
When I said, ‘Padisha?’ with a questioning look, he signified by a benign glance upward and a lift of two fingers to his lips that not a doubt must be entertained as to the Sultan’s goodness. After a moment he placed the Sultan in a spot and drew a circle about him. ‘Espion,’ he said, pointing to the circle, and turned up his nose.
In the morning the pasha’s orderly brought him a fresh water-melon, which he broke in two, giving the larger portion to me. At Dede-Aghatch he gave me a cordial hand-shake, and directed me to a place for breakfast; then he stepped into a carriage, which was waiting for him, to take him to the ship in which he was to set sail to his doom.
In covering this same route a few months later our train passed a ‘special’ stopped on a ‘siding.’ Aboard it was a staff of officers, their orderlies and servants. Sitting on the bench in the station yard, complacently sipping coffee, I recognised the Vali of Monastir. He, too, was now billeted for exile.
Among the many demands of the Russians at the assassination of their Consul at Monastir was the displacement of this Vali. The Sultan will comply with any demands the Russians make in earnest, but he has certain punishments which his subjects seek to win. To be exiled without the privilege of seeing Constantinople ‘for the last time’ is disgrace, but to be condemned via an audience with the Sultan spells ‘Thou good and faithful servant,’ and brings a substantial post in Asia, away from the interference of ‘infidel’ Powers and carrying with it a lordly pension.
SALONICA AND THE JEWS
When ‘the voyager descends upon’ the Grand Hôtel d’Angleterre at Salonica, his attention is first drawn to the regulations as to the manner in which he shall conduct himself during his sojourn at the grand hotel. These regulations are printed in gaudy letters in Turkish, in Greek, and in French, and hang in gilded frames on the walls of each bedroom in the most conspicuous place. A literal translation from the French is in part as follows:
1. Messieurs the voyagers who descend upon the hotel are requested to hand over to the management any money or articles of value they may have.
2. Those who have no baggage must pay every day, whereas those who have it may only do so once a week.
3. Political discussion and playing musical instruments are forbidden, also all noisy conversations.
4. It is permitted neither to play at cards nor at any other game of hazard.
5. Children of families and their servants should not walk about the rooms.
6. It is prohibited to present oneself outside one’s room in a dressing-gown or other negligent costume.
9. Coffee, tea, and other culinary preparations may not be prepared in the rooms or procured from outside, as the hotel furnishes everything one wants.
10. Voyagers to take their repast descend to the dining-room, with the exception of invalids, who may do so in their rooms.
11. A double-bedded room pays double for itself, save the case where the voyager declares that one bed may be let to another person. It is, however, forbidden to sleep on the floor.
I should explain that no insult is meant to the French on the part of the hotel management by employing their language as one of the mediums of instructing its many-tongued guests in proper deportment. The management realises that of all Europeans Germans are most in need of lessons in deportment; but the hotel, for some reason, is rarely afflicted with Germans, and French is understood by all the people of the Near East of the class that patronise a hostelry like the d’Angleterre.
There are several hotels in Salonica which will not permit guests to sleep on the floor.
Salonica is the metropolis of Macedonia, and an important commercial centre. It is the Thessalonica of old, built by Cassander on the site of ancient Therma, and named by him after his wife, a sister of Alexander the Great. It is older than Constantinople, and has a history which just falls short of being great. Xerxes and his hosts camped on the plains between Therma and the Axius, now the Vardar, and the view of Mount Olympus across the bay inspired him to explore the course of the Peneus; and a short time before the Peloponnesian War the Athenians occupied Therma.
Thessalonica fell into the hands of the Romans, became the chief city on the Via Egnatia, and disseminated Christianity among many of the Slavs, Bulgarians, and other peoples who came down from the north and the east.
It became a free city and then a part of the Byzantine Empire, and was finally sold by a Greek emperor to the Venetians, from whom it was captured in 1430 by the Turks.
High up in the Turkish quarter of Salonica—which rises in a long slope and then in steps from the sea—is a queer little Greek monastery dating back unknown centuries. It was there when the Turks came; for history records that the monks within its walls were treacherous to their fellow-Christians and sold the city to the Mohamedans. Under the courtyard of the monastery runs the aqueduct which supplies Salonica with water from the mountains, and supplied Thessalonica five hundred years ago. It was access to this, a certain means of reducing the city, that the monks of Chaoush (such is the name of the monastery) bartered when the Mohamedans besieged Thessalonica, for certain privileges to be granted after the conquest. The Turks have kept their bargain to this day, but Chaoush has not flourished. Time has moved the Christian quarter down to the sea, and the monastery is surrounded to-day by houses with latticed windows.
Once, when searching for this monastery with a fellow-countryman who conducted the mission at Salonica, I happened to open by mistake the gate of a Turkish yard. There was a rapid covering of faces by an amazed assembly of females. Discovering our error, we closed the gate and moved off; but veiled women, stones, and innuendoes were soon upon our heels, and our retreat in order shortly became an utter rout. Happily the unfortunate error occurred at an hour of the day when there were no husbands at home, and the women themselves were not in attire to follow us far.
I loved to ramble up through the Turkish quarter of Salonica where the native ‘infidel’ fears to tread. There is a charm about using the liberty one’s country commands. I generally stopped at a Turkish café on the route, and sat out in the narrow street on a stool with a cup of coffee on another before me, the subject of curious regard by mollahs and hojas in their long cloaks, and other Mohamedans of little work. Once at one of these cafés, with an English boy whom I picked up at Salonica for interpreter, I got into conversation with a harmless-looking Turk on the subject of wars and the Powers; and I learned from him that the Moslems are going to rise again, and will not stop in their conquests until they have subdued the world.
‘Abdul Hamid is a great prophet, infallible and invincible,’ said the Turk.
He pointed to three old warships in the harbour (whose machinery had been sold to a second-hand junk dealer years ago) as specimens of the means with which the work was to be accomplished; and it was useless to tell him that even the British navy was superior to that of his Sultan. He pitied me for my exceeding ignorance of history, because I thought the Turks had been defeated in the field several times; they had never been defeated!
His culminating remark had a touch of pathos in it. He was a hungry-looking individual himself, and was glad to get the two piastres we gave him for showing us the way to the wall. ‘The hosts of the Padisha,’ he said, quoting, I judge, some mollah, ‘are the most powerful force in the world; but unfortunately they have not enough to eat.’
This ignorance is due to the teachings of the mollahs, from whom the young Turks derive, directly or indirectly, all of their knowledge. While I was in Salonica an order came from Constantinople to purge the library in the military school, and as a result all reading books, including modern histories which dealt with the decline of the Turkish Empire, were destroyed.
THE WALL AND BEYOND, SALONICA.
We often went up to the Turkish quarter, but never learned the road to the gate. But with a few words of Turkish, which one must naturally pick up, and many signs, we could generally manage to get coffee and directions. We always halted at the gates, and, supplied with stools by the café-ji there, sat and rested for half an hour, watching the children come to the fountain with jugs for water, the women slip noiselessly by, covering their faces with special care at spying us, and the men pass through the eye of the needle hunched up on under-sized asses. Truly a Biblical scene, though the characters were Mohamedans.
There is a great dignity about the ruling race, the man for whom all others step aside, who drinks first at the fountain and removes his fez nowhere. He is not loud or voluble, and seldom loses his temper. When he is provoked he does not squabble, but strikes.
The Christian natives of Salonica are generous in warning one of dangers outside the walls, of brigands and revolutionists; but we often strolled through the gates and over to the barren hills beyond, encountering Turks, Albanians, and Bulgarians, perhaps insurgents, without mishap.
The hills were especially attractive in the afternoon, cooler than the closed-in bay below, and pervaded with a quiet in delightful relief from the ceaseless babble of swarming Levantine tradesmen down in the town. At sunset hour we found a favourite spot on the edge of a steep declivity with only a broad expanse of plain between us and the purple mountains of Thessaly. The sun dropped into a dip in these and left the sky for an hour rich in Oriental colouring flaming from behind. To the south a stern bit of the old wall on the precipitous corner of a rock was silhouetted, and we could never tell whether we preferred this in or out of the picture. That is a true test of quality, when either of two things is preferred as it happens to be at hand; generally the unpossessed is the desired.
Tourists do not come to Macedonia, but if they did they would find a show that no other part of Europe can produce. Not only is the comic-opera stage outdone in characters, in costumes, and in complexity of plot, but the scene is set in alpine mountains on a vaster scale than Switzerland affords. But to pass all these—for the play comes in in the course of the book, and scenery baffles description—there are relics of the ages that would interest many a man who has already travelled far. Salonica is said to be richer than any city in Greece in ecclesiastical remains, and its ancient structures, for the most part, have borne well the ravages of time. There are many great edifices, built by the Romans during their occupation and by the Greeks in their time, and a minaret at the corner of each denotes the purpose it serves to-day.
There is a mosque of St. Sophia at Salonica, built, like its great sister at Constantinople, during the reign of Justinian, and with a history also marked by the wars of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. But a fire of four years ago and an earthquake more recently have wrecked the place, so that it is no longer used. The Rotunda, now the Eski Metropoli Mosque, was built by Trajan, after the model, though on a smaller scale, of the Pantheon at Rome, and was dedicated by him to the rites of the mysterious Cabiri. It is circular, the dome unsupported by columns. The whole of the interior is richly ornamented with mosaics which seem to have belonged to the original temple, as nothing about them divulges adjustment at Christian hands.
One of the best preserved models of ancient Greek architecture extant is said to be the Eski Djuma Mosque. In the porch are several Doric columns, and within the building is a double row of massive columns with Corinthian capitals. There are ‘The Church of the Twelve Apostles,’ and the mosque of St. Demetrius, whose shrine within is revered by Moslems and Christians alike.
Between the Rotunda and the sea is the site of the Hippodrome, where Theodosius, the last of the Emperors who were sole masters of the whole Roman Empire, caused to be committed one of the bloodiest of massacres for which Salonica is famous. Although a zealous follower of Christianity, and commended by ancient writers as a prince blessed with every virtue, his moderation and clemency failed signally on this occasion. In order to chastise the people for a movement in favour of a charioteer very popular among them, and who had been arrested at his order, the inhabitants were assembled at the Hippodrome under the pretext of witnessing the races, and then barbarously massacred, without distinction of age or sex, to the number of seven thousand.
At the end of the main street, which once formed part of the Egnatian Way, stands a triumphal arch generally supposed to have been raised in honour of Constantine, to celebrate the return from his victory over the Sarmatians. The supports are faced with white marble highly wrought, representing a battle between Roman troops and barbarians, and a triumphal entry into a city. The arch was repaired and plastered over some years ago in a painful manner, with no regard to conformity with the supports.
THE ANCIENT ARCH OF CONSTANTINE, SALONICA.
The doubt which encompasses the history of every ancient place in Salonica finds its climax in the spot where St. Paul preached. There are no fewer than seven of these, and the Christian who would stand where the Apostle stood has to make a long pilgrimage of mosques and synagogues. The main street of Salonica, which once formed part of the Via Egnatia, is lined to-day with curious little shops like boxes, ten or twelve feet square, and often smaller. The floors are all up off the ground from two to three feet, and the keepers need no chairs. The customer stands on the narrow pavement, and the man within reaches for what is wanted from where he sits on crossed legs. He is a most indifferent salesman, and one may take or leave his wares without drawing a word from him. A large percentage of these little places are weapon shops, where belt-knives from six to eighteen inches in length are made on the premises, and also gaudy pistols of tremendous bores. Second-hand English revolvers are in the collection, strung across the opening, and brand-new Spanish models. The prices of the foreign weapons are high, and when one asks the reason, the explanation is given that they are all contraband, and the Customs officers have to be paid large sums for passing them. These arms dealers will sell to anyone who will buy, Turk, Jew, and Christian alike. The Government places no restriction on the sale of arms to non-Moslems: the regulation is that they shall not possess them.
This is also the street for native shoes, which are manufactured on the premises. The most common foot-gear, worn by every Balkan people, is the ‘charruk.’ It is something more than a sandal, for it has a cover for the toes; it is a slipper pointed like a canoe bow, and closely resembles an American Indian’s moccasin. It is made of skin with hide lacings, which are wound high up a pair of thick woollen stockings, worn like leggings over the trousers. The Turk often wears these, but seldom do his women. The Turkish woman’s favourite footwear is a cross between a sandal and a clog. It is simply a wooden block the shape of the sole of a shoe, and an inch or more thick, with nothing to hold it on the foot but a strap across the toes. A European cannot keep them on his feet, but the Turk manipulates them with marvellous dexterity. Their great convenience is the rapidity with which they can be shed, as this has to be done on so many occasions throughout the Turkish day: at the hours of prayer, and on entering the presence of superiors, and, obviously, whenever it is desired to sit comfortably, for a Turk is most uncomfortable if he is not sitting on his feet. These clogs are hacked with a hatchet out of solid blocks of wood, and even the shoe in high favour with the Consular kavass, a red thing with a huge black pompon on a turned-up toe, is manufactured by the squatting shopkeeper.
In this street one is not shouted at, or dragged bodily into the shops if he stops to look at a display of wares, as he is in Greek and Jewish quarters. This is the business street of the man who opens his shop and sits still till Allah provides the trade.
Certain classes of shops in Salonica perambulate.
The cart has to be largely dispensed with in most Turkish towns, chiefly because the streets are paved. This is not the case in Salonica; the paving is comparatively good there; but the Macedonian has got into the habit of providing for roads paved with cobble stones. Over the backs of asses and sure-footed mountain ponies the butcher has an arrangement of carving boards, and cuts off a lamb chop or a roast at his customer’s door. One has to rise early to see the heads still on the lambs, for they are great delicacies, and go first, and when roasted the unbounded joy of the native cracking the skull and picking out the tasty bits is nauseating in the extreme. The entrails of animals are also relished; they are eaten as the Italian eats his macaroni.
THE TURKISH BUTCHER.
The milkman, generally a Tzigane, does not drive the cow through the streets, but brings the milk slung over an ass, in a skin, one end of which he milks at order. A small Jew, with a huge fez and a man’s coat which reached almost to the skirt of his dress, was a daily nuisance on Consul Avenue. I suppose he dragged his four-footed draper’s shop down the aristocratic foreign thoroughfares to show off his father, who dressed in ‘Franks,’ but whose bellow was distinctly Levantine.
In summer months the two-footed lemonade stand would be a pleasant encounter were it not so numerous. But as it is generally an Albanian, it does not pester one to buy: it simply requires one to get out of its road. It carries a shelf in front with half a dozen glasses stuck in holes, a copper pitcher in its hand with water for rinsing glasses after Christians have used them, and a curious reservoir of an over-sweet drink on its back. If this receptacle has not many little metal pieces to jingle upon it, the gaily garbed Albanian keeps up a tapping with two glasses as he advances down the street.
Most of the men of Macedonia wear a form of skirt, but especially in Salonica does the new arrival feel that he has landed among a race of bearded women. The most picturesque dress to be seen in Salonica is that of the Southern Albanian. It is a sort of ballet skirt, like that of the Greek ‘Evzones,’ a white, pleated thing about the length of a Highlander’s kilt. But the Albanian is more modest than the Scot, and wears his stockings to a proper height.
The skirted man most in evidence, however, is the Jew, and his skirt is indeed a marvellous garment. It resembles a dressing-gown made of some bed-curtain or sofa-cover material. It is plain in cut, dropping straight from the shoulders to the heels, but of the most wonderful designs in cotton prints. On the Sabbath day, which the Jew observes devoutly, he adds to his costume a long Turkish sash, and also, regardless of the weather, a greatcoat of a good black cloth lined with ermine. One would hardly suspect these thrifty Israelites of undue vanity, and yet for no other reason than to enhance their personal beauty do they suffer this oppressive garment on the hot Saturdays of a Salonica summer.
The Jewish girl dresses in ‘Franks’ until she is married, but at her wedding she receives as a dowry an outfit of clothes fashioned after those her mothers have worn for countless generations. This is an expensive trousseau, and is calculated to last all her life, for she is not to be a burden to her husband in the matter of dress. The most costly garments in the wardrobe are a fur-lined greatcoat—almost a duplicate of her husband’s—and the covering for her hair. This latter is in the nature of a tight-fitting green cap, with a border of probably red and a chin-strap of still another colour. The cap extends to a long bag behind, in which her braid of hair is stuffed. On the end of this bag a square of several inches is worked in pearls, wherein lies the value of the cap. In skirts the women, like their husbands, go in for gaudy cotton prints. Their waists are cut exceedingly high. In the back the skirt falls from somewhere between the shoulders, but in front a short white blouse is visible, which is cut for street wear (and worn winter as well as summer) almost as low as a European lady’s ball-dress. It becomes difficult for me to give further details of this feminine attire, so I respectfully refer curious ladies to the accompanying photograph, which, though snapped for the character it presents, also portrays a specimen of these curious gowns.
I believe that formerly the Hebrew religion required the women to hide their hair and the men to wear dresses, but to-day these customs are continued by them from habit, for economy, and with a purpose. Their purpose in dressing alike is to look alike, as it is dangerous in Turkey for a non-Moslem—or even a Moslem—to rise above his fellows in either wealth or position. The Sultan considers it a danger to himself for one of his subjects to grow powerful, and he maintains a staff of levellers who have various means of reducing the man who dares to rise. The successful Turk is exiled; other subjects are dealt with in other ways.
I once had occasion to send a report to London that a number of dynamite bombs had been discovered by the police in the office of a Bulgarian merchant just opposite the British post office in Salonica. The Turkish authorities took care to let the foreign correspondents hear this news. It was some weeks later that I learned how the bombs got so near the British post office. The business of the Bulgarian merchant, whose name was Surndjieff, had been prospering noticeably. The merchant received notice one day that a certain sum—say, one hundred liras—was required of him by the police. He had paid all his legal taxes, and, being a stubborn Bulgar, he refused to subscribe the blackmail. A second demand, in the form of a warning, was sent to him, and still he took no heed. One morning he arrived at his office and found his door unlocked. Everything within seemed undisturbed, however, so he set about his duties. In about an hour a detachment of gendarmes arrived with an order to search the premises, and the very first drawer opened by the officer in command contained a dozen ‘infernal machines.’ Of course the Bulgar was arrested at once and incarcerated in the White Tower, to escape from which cost him several hundred liras in bribes to gaolers and others.
JEWS. JEWISH WOMEN.
Now, the Jew’s property is no safer at the hands of the Turkish officials than is that of the Christian, and yet the Jew is a loyal supporter of the Turkish Government. But there are reasons for this loyalty. The Jews of Salonica, like most of those of Constantinople, found a refuge in Turkey from the Spanish Inquisition, and if they have not liberty in the Sultan’s dominions, they have at least equal rights with Christians. Their position is even, perhaps, better than that of the Turk, who indeed is one of the greatest sufferers from the oppression of the Turkish Government. The Turk is the ruler of the land and the privileged person, and the Jew has learned never to defy his authority. But what cares the Jew who makes the laws so he may make the money? He has learned to outwit the Turk and to take care to let the Turk take unto himself that credit. This would not satisfy one of the Christian races, who all have scores to pay and ambitions to realise; their gratification at defeating the Turk would only be complete if the Turk suffered the knowledge of the fact. The coveting of Macedonia by the Christian races in and about Turkey is another cause for the Jews’ support of the present administration; for under Greek, Serb, Bulgar, and Rumanian the Jews would not occupy the position of most favoured subjects.
Most of the Jews of Salonica wear the fez, but some of the wealthy ones, who would enjoy their wealth, have acquired the protection of foreign Powers, and dress in European clothes. Viennese and Parisian styles and makes of clothes are not too good for them, and they travel to Austria and to France regularly in the warm months of the year.
The Hebrew boy is generally educated in his father’s shop, but the girl is often given a good schooling, which raises her in mind and morals far above the man she marries—which is sad. Among the various large foreign schools at Salonica there is one for girls conducted by the British Mission to the Jews. It affords a means of learning English, which makes it a most popular institution; and it is within the reach of all classes, because pupils are taken at whatever they can afford to pay. But while the school has been conducted for many years, and an old Scottish missionary (who has recently died) preached to the scholars for half a century, there is yet to be recorded a single convert to Christianity. The old Scotchman once told me that he thought a good share of the blame for his failure was due to the example his own countrymen set. He said he hated to go into the street when the British fleet was in the harbour because he was invariably asked by some Israelite if he wanted to convert them to ‘that’—pointing at a drunken sailor. A drunken man is rarely seen in the streets of Salonica except when a foreign fleet is in the bay, and the ‘drunks’ are most numerous when that fleet is British.
The hundred and one bootblacks (all Jews) who infest the cafés of Salonica, and swarm about the hotels to pester the unfortunate inmates as they emerge, are in great glee when an Englishman appears. They mistook me for an Englishman, but whenever I sought to disillusion a native on this score, I was told ‘England, America—all the same.’ The Jews all speak a few words of English, learned, no doubt, from their sisters.
‘When comes the English fleet?’ is the first question a bootblack puts to an Englishman.
‘Do you want the English fleet to come to Salonica?’ I asked.
‘You bet!’ They must have acquired this from the American missionaries.
‘English sailor get much bootshines; pay very well. Ten shillin’ me make one day—English sailor very much drunk always.’
Jews are always very fond of music, and they fill the cafés-chantants of Salonica on Saturday evenings. Extracts from ‘Carmen,’ ‘Traviata,’ ‘Faust,’ and like operas were being rendered by a small troupe of Italians at one of these places, to which the entrance fee was two piastres—about fourpence. But this was beyond the price of the populace, and the masses flocked to another place of amusement a little further down the quay, where no entrance fee was charged, and by purchasing one cup of coffee you could sit and hear the music the whole evening. Here there was a French artist whose répertoire was known by the whole town, and the audience made it a rule to shout for the songs they desired to hear. A certain duet about dogs and cats, in which the lady meowed and a sickly looking male partner barked, was the Jews’ favourite recital. Late one Saturday evening, when the singers stopped for a cue, the Jews in the audience began to bark, which was the recognised signal for the dog song. But there were a number of Greeks in the audience who wanted the lady to sing alone, and they set up a call for one of her solos. The respective parties attempted to shout each other down, which raised an unearthly din in the neighbourhood, and soon resulted in a pitched battle. But the cry of ‘Soldiers’ brought the conflict to an abrupt termination, and before the gendarmes arrived both the Jews and the Greeks were scurrying for their homes as fast as their legs could carry them.
The Jews are rigorous observers of the fourth commandment in so far as they themselves are concerned. Under no circumstances will one of them do a stroke of work on their Sabbath day. But they have no scruples against enjoying themselves by the labour of others. The small boats in the bay are owned entirely by the Jews, and all the week they hustle for Christian and Turkish patronage. But on Saturday evenings in summer they indulge in the hire of Christians and Turks to row them up and down the city front on the smooth water of the bay.
The various Sabbaths in Turkey are somewhat annoying to the traveller. On Fridays the Turkish officials will not visé passports or issue teskerés; on Saturdays the Jews refuse to shine your boots; on Sundays the Christian shops are closed. But neither the Turks nor the Christians observe their days of rest with the same rigour as the Jews do. Though it is impossible to get a teskeré from the Turkish Konak on the Turkish Sabbath, a note waiving the necessity of the document can be had for a consideration. We all know the Christian is not an over-strict observer of Sunday.
Salonica is unfortunate in possessing a colony of each of the Macedonian races. Besides Turks and Jews, there are many Greeks and Albanians, some Bulgarians and Servians, and a few Kutzo-Vlachs (Wallachians) and Tziganes, and still another people peculiar to the town. One is struck in Salonica by the beautiful Mohamedan ladies who walk along the streets with their veils thrown back; and it impels one to think that the woman who pulls her veil down when she sights a man must necessarily lack beauty. Not so; one is a Turk and one is not a Turk.
The handsome females who wear the Turkish garb, but do not always cover their faces, are a peculiar sect of Jews alleged to be converted to Mohamedanism. They live, like all the other peoples, distinctly to themselves, not even associating with the Turks; and while they are too few to have a national entity, they carry on, nevertheless, their little feuds with the Jews. Their story is this: Some centuries ago a Jew of Salonica, by name Sebatai Sevi, declared himself to his people as their long-promised redeemer, and won a certain following. He is an example of power making jealous his monarch. At the Sultan’s order he was conveyed to Constantinople and taken into the Padisha’s presence. His plea was heard, but found no credence at the Palace, and the false prophet was given the alternative of death for himself or conversion to Mohamedanism with his entire flock. The Government, no doubt, granted all the assistance Sebatai needed to ‘persuade’ his followers to make the change, and it was soon accomplished. But, unlike Christians converted by pressure or force to the religion of the Turk, these Jews have not become fanatics. Indeed, they are quite luke-warm about the religion, and it is supposed they profess Mohamedanism simply for safety, and practise Sebatai’s religion in secret. They never marry outside their own sect, not even with the Turks. There is a story of long standing to the effect that the little circle of Dunmehs (for this they are called) once subscribed a purse of 4,000l. to purchase the pretensions of a Turkish pasha to the hand of a fair maiden of their colony.
The Dunmehs are the richest people, on the whole, in Salonica. With their Hebrew instincts for business and their position as Mohamedans, they have a decided advantage over the other peoples. They fill largely the rôle of Government contractors, and secure many of the plums in the gift of the administration, which it is impossible for non-Moslems to get, and for which the Turks are too indifferent to trouble themselves. The Dunmehs make a speciality of purchasing the rights to gather tithes, for which they often pay more than the legal value thereof. These rights they divide into small sections and dispose of at a profit to the actual collectors of taxes. The tithe is legally one-tenth of the crop, but as it is measured by the collectors, supported by a guard of Turkish soldiers, it generally assumes larger proportions, sometimes attaining to a quarter, and even a half, of the peasant’s harvest. And there is no resource for the peasant against this unjust confiscation, as the first law of the Turkish court is the Koran, which, as interpreted, provides that the word of a Christian shall not offset that of a Mohamedan.
But army and other contracts, for which the payment is forthcoming from the Turkish Government, are not often sought by the Dunmehs. These are left to Turks with influence at the Palace; for influence at the Palace or at the Porte is necessary in order to secure any payment from the Turkish Government. Ismail Pasha, an Albanian in the high esteem of Abdul Hamid, and with many friends among the Palace clique, is the only man in Salonica with courage enough to undertake Government contracts. And his daring is proportionately rewarded.
This man’s history is worthy of recital; it reads like that of a self-made millionaire. He was born of poor but dishonest parents, and educated himself—dispensing with the arts of reading and writing. He began life as a khanji’s boy, learned there how to rob the wayfarer, and attained, at the age of eighteen, a competency in a brigand band. Step by step, as the men above him died off (sometimes by indigestible pills, and sometimes by falling backward on the knife of an ambitious subaltern), Ismail became a leader. In this capacity he did his work so well, striking terror to the heart of both Turk and Christian, that his ability was recognised by no less a person than Abdul Hamid, who saw in him a man of exceptional ability. This self-made man was invited by the Sultan to Constantinople, there decorated, given the title of Pasha, and sent to Salonica with the high commission of first-class spy, assigned to the task of reporting to his Padisha the doings of the governor of the vilayet.
Now, an official in Turkey always knows his spy, and the spy always knows that his man knows him. The spy and his man, of course, are always together, and they become the most intimate friends. Naturally, the man seeks ever to please his spy, which in this case makes Ismail Pasha virtual Vali of the vilayet. He dictates the names of the police who shall be employed—and naturally has a preference for outlaws; kaimakams and other officers of districts hold their places at his pleasure; and Government contracts are awarded to Ismail Pasha, be his bid high or low. Ismail is the trusted ally of Abdul Hamid, and is permitted, therefore, to grow rich and powerful.
On the occasion of my first visit to Salonica one of the American missionaries took me over the town sightseeing. When we came to the local branch of the Imperial Ottoman Bank, a modern bank building of quite an imposing appearance, my fellow-countryman said he had heard that ‘the committee’ were going to dynamite the place. But this was no news to me, for, on alighting at the railway station, the Greek porter of the Angleterre had told me of this project of the insurgents, giving it as a reason why I should stop at his hotel instead of at the Cristoforo Colombo, which stood just beside the bank; and the Jew bootblacks while shining my shoes had discussed the coming ‘outrages’ and had told me several exact days on which they would take place. A revolutionary plot so widely known could be little more, I thought, than a work of native imagination, and, as the missionary held a similar view, I lengthened not my stay in Salonica to await the event. I was in search of exciting ‘copy,’ and without the slightest solicitude for that I left behind, took my way to the interior of the country. During my absence the authorities raided a Bulgarian khan in the neighbourhood of the bank, which rumour fixed upon as the bomb factory of the committajis; but they discovered no insurgents and no dynamite. The real factory, however, was not a hundred feet away, and when I returned from my excursion inland I occupied a room in the Hôtel Colombo which directly overlooked it. It was, to all outward appearance, a little Bulgarian shop in a narrow, unpretentious street, and the shopkeeper and his customers were only simple, dirty peasants. I often watched the Bulgars enter and leave the place, but so little did I suspect their real character that only three days before their attack I deserted Salonica again for the Albanian district.
The Jewish bootblacks had fixed upon Easter as the day for the dynamiting: that was a Christian festival, they knew. But the Easters of both calendars came and went without disturbance—though the garrison of the town was augmented on every ‘appointed’ day, to be ready to suppress the ‘rising’ of Bulgarians in an expeditious manner, while every Bulgarian barred his door lest the suppression should come without the dynamiting. It was after many appointed days had passed by without mishap, and most of the Asiatic soldiers had been withdrawn from Salonica and sent to join the army for the penetration of Albania, that the promises of the insurgents were at last fulfilled. Someone has said ‘Fools lie; wise men deceive by telling the truth.’
ASIATIC SOLDIERS: ‘REDIFS.’
WAITING FOR DYNAMITERS, SALONICA.
All of the special correspondents—gathered like vultures in Macedonia to prey on the harvest of death—knew of the prediction for Salonica; but correspondents flock together, and we all followed the leader to Uskub with our hawk eyes set upon Albania. And there we were, in Uskub, when the dynamiting took place. The news reached us about noon of the morning after the event. Instead of eating luncheon, I got a travelling bag ready and boarded the south-bound train at half-past two, with one other correspondent—an Englishman. Happily, we were not rivals: he represented a London daily and I was working for America: otherwise we might have resented each other’s presence. As it was we rejoiced together at having a clear start of twenty-four hours on the others, for there is but one train to Salonica each day.
By nightfall the Englishman was bored by my conversation and I was bored by his, and, having nothing to read, we stretched ourselves out on the seats of our compartment and went to sleep soon after dark. It was in this condition that we arrived in Salonica at half-past ten o’clock; but nobody woke us, and we slept on. The few other passengers—all Turks, as Bulgarians were restricted in travelling at the time—left the train quietly and repaired to a khan across the road to spend the night. The train hands, frightened Christians, lost no time in ‘shunting’ the train, and after placing it on a ‘siding’ a quarter of a mile from the station, deserted it, us included, and joined the Turks in the crowded café.
About midnight I awoke and wondered where I was. It gradually dawned upon me that I was aboard a train, and I rose and looked out of the window. Every light was out: they must have been extinguished from above or we should have been discovered. I could discern, indistinctly, in the faint light of a new moon, a waving line of high grass on both sides of the train, and here and there a low, thick tree, but not a house was visible. I woke the Englishman. Towards the city, usually aglow with little lights from the water’s edge all the way up to the wall on the hills, only a few dim lamps now shone. The gas main to the town had been cut by the committajis the night before, and they had also attempted, in their dynamite revel, to destroy a troop train not far from the spot where ours now stood. We knew that the railways were patrolled everywhere and doubly guarded in the vicinity of Salonica, and there was little chance of our getting out of the train without being seen. We also knew that the Turk is averse from taking prisoners on any occasion, and naturally supposed that the deeds of the dynamiters—for many of whom they were still hunting—had not tended to lessen this Mohamedan characteristic. But to remain in the train and be discovered in the small hours of the morning by some excited Asiatic seemed a greater danger, and we decided to take to the open at once. Whereupon we gathered our bags, quietly opened the door, jumped to the ground and scurried through the high grass in the direction of the town. Fortunately we escaped from the train without detection. But we had gone hardly a hundred yards when a Turkish shout went up that was both a challenge and an alarm. We saw the Turk who gave the yell, for the moon was behind him, but I am sure he only heard us. He was near a tent, and the first to respond to his call for assistance were his companions from within. Six of them rolled out from under the canvas in their clothes, rifles in hand, and in a minute more there were twenty others by his side, all jabbering high Turkish. We had dropped our bags at the challenge and thrown up our hands, but still they did not seem to see us. They evidently thought we numbered forty—the usual size of an insurgent band—and it took us some time to convince them that we were only two Englishmen.
‘Inglese Effendi’ was the extent of our Turkish, and this we shouted to them with every variation of accent we could contrive, trusting they would comprehend our meaning in one form or another. I had not forgotten in the excitement that I was an American, but neither had I forgotten that the Turks consider an American a peculiar species of Englishman, and the situation was such that I was willing to forgo detail in explanation. They located us at once from the noise we were making, and, as soon as they had loaded and cocked their rifles, spread out single file like Red Indians, and wound a circle about us—keeping at a safe distance from our dynamite. During this manœuvre an animated discussion took place as to whether—we judged—it were not better to shoot us first and find out afterwards whether we were Bulgarians or not. This process was boring, for our arms were growing numb, and yet we dared not lower them. They shouted to us a score or more questions, but we could understand not a word. And we, concluding our Turkish had failed, tried them with English, French, and German, and the Englishman (who was the linguist) in a rash moment discharged a volley of Bulgarian. It was well for us then that these soldiers (as we learned later) had arrived from Asia Minor only a few days before, and knew not even the tone of the insurgents’ language. They had understood one variation of our ‘Inglese Effendi,’ and though they could not imagine what ‘English gentlemen’ were doing on a railway line beyond the city in the dead of night, there was one among them willing to take the chance of capturing us alive. But the bold fellow was not without grave fears, as the manner in which he performed this task amply demonstrated. All guns were turned on us:
Rifles to front of us,
Rifles to back of us,
Rifles all round us,
But nobody blundered.
The Turks signed to us to keep our hands up. We could lift them no higher so we stood on our toes—to show how willing we were to comply with all suggestions. Then the brave man who had volunteered to take us prisoners made a long détour and approached us from behind stealthily, lest we should turn upon him suddenly and cast a bomb. I was made aware of his arrival at my back by a thump in the spine with the muzzle of a loaded and cocked rifle. The finger on the trigger was nervous—if it was anything like its owner’s voice—and I dared not even tremble lest the vibration should drop the hammer of his gun. I being thus in my captor’s power, the other Turks approached. One unwound the long red sash from his waist and with an end of it bound my hands. Meantime, the Englishman had been surrounded, and two curly-bearded fellows, gripping his hands tightly, dragged him to my side and bound his wrists with the other end of the red sash. Our proud captor then seized the centre of the sash, and, carefully avoiding our baggage, led us away to the camp in exactly the same manner as he would have led a pair of buffaloes, and the other soldiers followed, jabbering, at our heels. Our captor’s tugging pulled the sash off my wrists, but I held on to it and pretended I was still shackled, considering the fright it would give the Turks to discover me mysteriously at liberty again.
We were kept but a few minutes at their camp, then taken through the railway station, now deserted, across a road to the Turkish café where the other passengers and the train crew were spending the night. It was a peaceful spectacle we entered upon, but we soon disturbed the composure of the Christians in the place. The train crew was stretched out on the floor snoring lustily, and the passengers, because of their race, sat on the tables, their feet folded under them, occupied in sucking hookahs. Our dramatic entrance, on the ends of the red sash and surrounded by ragged soldiers, did not distract the Mohamedans from their hubble-bubbles, but the snoring ceased immediately.
We pounced upon the conductor before he was on his feet, and through him, by means of French, explained to our captors who we were and how we happened to be in the train, and demanded our release. But the Asiatics threatened the Christian and he slyly deserted us and slunk out of the door. The passport officer, who records arrivals, a Mohamedan, took it upon himself to relieve us of the bondage of the red sash and returned it to its owner, whereupon he brought upon himself a storm of abuse from the Asiatics, and he too deserted us. One by one all the Christians escaped to the next khan, taking their snoring with them, but leaving the curly-bearded Anatolians and the ‘bashi-bazouks.’ These Turks remained perched on the tables, our only company through the whole long night, apparently without a thought of a thing but their gurgling pipes. Indeed, not even the occasional sound of an explosion in the town caused them so much as to lift their eyes.
The soldiers knew now that we were foreigners, and did not attempt to re-bind our hands, but they continued to keep us prisoners with the object of securing ransom money. Had we been subjects of their Sultan we should probably have had our pockets searched, but, being foreigners, our persons, at least, were favoured with a grudged respect.
We refused persistently to comply with their demands for money, until they became violent. When they had given our bags ample time to explode, one of the Turks fetched them to the café, but declined to surrender them unless we paid him. Even this we refused to do. Hereupon one truculent fellow whipped out his bayonet and shook the blade in our faces, at the same time drawing a finger significantly across his throat and gurgling in a manner that must have been copied from life. This realistic entertainment so impressed me that I rewarded the actor with all the small change I possessed, about six piastres. The amount did not satisfy him by any means, for he explained that he desired to divide the money with his companions, but I dreaded to show them gold, and handed over an empty purse—my money was in a wallet. Then they put pressure on the Englishman, but he flatly declined to reward them and pretended to prefer the alternative they offered. Bold Briton! they turned from him in disgust and proceeded to fight over the shilling I had given them. The individual who had drawn his bayonet carefully replaced it in its scabbard and slung his gun by a strap over his shoulder before entering the fray. And not once did he or any of the others use a weapon, though they punched each other’s faces viciously—not, however, disturbing the bashi-bazouks on the tables, whose rhythmic suck of the hubble-bubbles could be heard above the irregular sounds of the brawl.
The fight concluded and quiet restored, the Englishman got writing materials out of his bag and proceeded to take notes for despatches. But this proceeding did not meet with the approval of our guards. The truculent individual walked round behind him without a word, and drew his bayonet again. This time he was truly alarming, for he was alarmed himself. He suspected that we were making a report of the treatment we had received. Now this Englishman was none other than ‘Saki,’ author of ‘Alice in Westminster,’ a man who would write an epigram on the death of a lady love. In a few minutes Saki’s mind had risen above all earthly surroundings in search of an epigram on a capture by Turks, and he was oblivious to the presence of the Asiatic hovering over him. Perceiving my friend’s unfortunate plight, I came to the rescue, shook him back to earth, and persuaded him to destroy his papers. We could do nothing the rest of the night but sit and study the Turks and listen to the rhythmic gurgles of the hubble-bubble pipes.
Early in the morning two army officers arrived and came into the khan for coffee, and we appealed to them in French to relieve us from the tender mercies of our tormentors. But they sipped their coffee unaffected, and informed us that the soldiers were not of their command. Indeed, these Asiatics seemed to be of nobody’s command! Up to the hour they took it into their heads to return to the railway station, no superior officer came near them. It was about six o’clock when they departed, leaving us without ceremony. There were already cabs at the station, bringing passengers for the early train, and one of these took us into the city.
The streets of the city, usually crowded at dawn, were still deserted by all except soldiers when we entered. There were sentinels seated cross-legged at every corner, who rose and unslung their guns as our carriage approached—the dynamiters had gone to their work in carriages. But we were not halted on this ride, for we had a Turkish driver who served as a passport. We drove first to the hotel named from America’s discoverer, but finding it had been put out of business by the same explosion that destroyed the bank, we went back to the Angleterre. After a wash and breakfast we at once set about gathering an account of the events of the past two days. It was difficult, however, to move through the town, Asiatics challenging us at every turn, and we sought out the British Consul for assistance.
We arrived at the Consulate just as the Vice-Consul, accompanied by the Consular kavass, was starting on an official tour of investigation. This was an opportunity we could not afford to miss. We attached ourselves to the Vice-Consul, and the gentleman protested. But he was courteous in his objections to our company, and we remained with him. His great solicitude was to know the exact number of the slain on both sides, a fact which concerned us less than graphic accounts of the fighting; for it is a duller story to say a thousand people were put to the sword than to give in detail the way a single Christian died. H.M. Vice-Consul was a careful young man, with little confidence in correspondents. He evidently thought it would be useless to provide us with accurate information, and took no trouble to point out to us that the slaughter had not assumed the proportions of what might in Turkey be called a massacre. He seemed to concern himself chiefly with priming himself to contradict in his official despatches the gross exaggerations wherein we would undoubtedly indulge; and in view of his services to us we were both sincerely sorry to disappoint him.
THE WRECK OF THE OTTOMAN BANK.
ENTERING THE DYNAMITERS’ DEN.
The dead were all now removed from the streets, though the routes taken by the carts in which they were collected could still be traced to the trenches by clotted drippings of blood and bloody wads of rags on the roads. The Consul led the way to the Bulgarian cemeteries in the hope of being able to count the corpses, but the last spadeful of earth was just being shovelled into the long graves as we entered the gates. We could only, therefore, estimate the number. We paced off the dimensions of the excavations, and, taking the word of the Turkish official that the bodies were laid but one row deep, estimated that there could not be more than twenty in a trench—and, as far as we knew, there were but three trenches throughout the city.
From the cemetery we followed the Consul to the site of the Ottoman Bank and passed with him through the cordon of troops which surrounded the ruins. Workmen were busily engaged uncovering a tunnel under the street leading from a little shop opposite to a vital spot beneath the bank. The little shop was that which I had watched so often from my window in the Hôtel Colombo. The peasants I had seen enter and leave the place had been, many of them, insurgents in disguise. The stock displayed in front was only a ruse to cover the real merchandise, which had come all the way from France and had been passed by the Turkish Customs officials on the payment of substantial backsheesh. We were told that ‘special’ customers of this shop went away nightly with heavy baskets, now suspected of containing the earth excavated during each day. It is said to have taken the insurgents forty days to cut the tunnel, by means of which they were able to blow up the bank.
The soldiers were preparing to break into the den of the dynamiters, and we waited in the street to see what they would discover within. They were compelled to enter first by a side window, because the iron front of the place was stoutly barred. They made an opening large enough for a man to pass through, and two of them climbed in cautiously with lighted lanterns. I do not think they expected to discover any Bulgarians, dead or alive, within—nor did they—but they feared to tread on dynamite. They found a sword of the pattern in use in the Bulgarian army, and a wooden box with a small quantity of dynamite, and a basket containing a strange assortment of other things. They passed these trophies out of the window and permitted us to examine them. In the basket were several yards of fuse, a few pounds of steel lugs for making bombs more deadly, a bottle half full of wine, a hunk of native cheese, and a string of prayer beads. The dynamite, in the shape of cubes two inches thick, was carefully packed in cardboard boxes, on the covers whereof were instructions for use printed in three languages—French, English, and German, in the order named.
There is some irony in the fact that the explosives supplied to the insurgents by France did most damage to citizens of the country from which they came. The revolutionary attack on Salonica was directed primarily against Europeans and European institutions, ‘as a threat and in punishment for the non-interference of the civilised nations in behalf of the Christians of Macedonia.’ The Imperial Ottoman Bank is owned and conducted largely by Frenchmen and Italians, the Guadalquivir belonged to the Mesageries Maritimes Company, and against these institutions the insurgents accomplished their most successful dynamite work. They began the eventful day with an attempt to blow up a troop train leaving for the interior, crowded with Anatolian soldiers. An ‘infernal machine’ was placed on the railway track over which the train was to pass in the early morning, but it was timed to go off a few minutes too soon, and exploded before the train reached the spot.
Their next exploit was more cleverly contrived. It was the destruction of the French steamer. A Bulgarian, describing himself as a merchant, and possessing the requisite teskeré for travelling in Turkey duly viséd, took second-class passage for Constantinople aboard the Guadalquivir, and went aboard with his luggage a few hours before the ship sailed. He inspected the steamer, pretending mere curiosity, and learned that the state rooms amidships were allotted only to passengers holding first-class tickets; whereupon he paid the difference in fare and shifted a heavy bag into a cabin nearer the engine-room. A few minutes before the ship weighed anchor the Bulgarian hailed a small boat and went ashore, ostensibly to speak to a friend on the quay, leaving all his baggage behind. But he did not return, and the ship sailed without him. She was hardly in motion, however, before a terrible explosion amidships wrecked the engine-room, cut the steering gear off from the wheel-house, and set the vessel afire. The concussion was of such violence that it is said to have shaken the houses on the quay, nearly two miles away. The engineer and several firemen were severely injured, but no one was killed. Another vessel in the harbour went to the assistance of the Guadalquivir, rescued the crew and passengers, and towed the ship back into port. There was a suspicion of foul play, but the cause of the explosion was not definitely fixed until that night.
Crowds soon collected to watch the ship burn, and grew until at evening the whole town was on the quay—little suspecting that this was the day for the long-promised dynamiting. The plot was well planned.
An ‘infernal machine’ placed under a viaduct which carried the gas main over a little gulley, exploded promptly at eight o’clock, and this was the signal for the general attack. Before the lights of the city had finished flickering, a carriage dashed up to each of the principal open-air cafés along the water-front, and several drew up before the bank. In each of them were two or more desperate men, who in some cases jumped out and threaded their way to the midst of the wondering crowds, before hurling their deadly missiles. They made for the places where their bombs would do damage among the foreign element and the most prominent citizens, and attempted to throw them into the thickest groups. But the people, already alarmed, were on the qui vive, and few of the explosions in the cafés did really effective work. The Macedonians are well drilled in scurrying into their houses, and, recognising the attack at last, they did not linger till the troops came. The dynamiters tried to catch some ‘on the wing,’ but a bomb is a poor weapon for use against the individual.
The proprietor of the Alhambra personally pointed out to us the holes made in his curtains and his stage, and gave us pieces of shell he had gathered in his yard; but two tables and three coffee-cups and one man was the complete record of the destruction wrought at his establishment.
Dynamite requires confinement to be thoroughly effective. The destruction of the Imperial Ottoman Bank was thorough. The Bulgarians who had this work in charge were evidently the pick of the band. Four of them alighted from their carriage in front of the building and several others behind it. Those attacking the front, in the guise of gentlemen, succeeded in getting near enough to the two soldiers on guard to overpower them and cut their throats. Then they began casting bombs at the windows. The other insurgents entered the courtyard of the Hôtel Colombo and hurled bombs into the doors of the German skittle club, a low building at the back of the bank. While these two divisions of dynamiters were at this work, and their confederates were elsewhere attacking various places, the charge beneath the bank was set off. A vast hole was rent in the rear wall of the building, the skittle club was demolished and the front of the Hôtel Colombo shattered. The manager of the bank, who lived above the offices, escaped with his family before the building succumbed to the fire, and all but one of thirty Germans who were in the skittle club at the time got out with their lives.
The explosions of the bombs caused the wildest panic everywhere, but they seem to have been remarkably ineffective. They were thin-shelled things (I have seen several), some three and some four inches in diameter, with a hole for loading. The shells and the dynamite were imported separately and put together in various places in the town. The insurgents appear to have had little knowledge in the manipulation of the bomb other than what was contained in the printed instructions. In some cases—in the mountains—they have blown themselves to pieces while loading shells.
The dynamiters escaped in most instances. After doing their work they sought cover, leaving the excited soldiers to wreak their vengeance on the unarmed Bulgar. This is a part of their system, that those who will not join them shall suffer for their weakness. But in one place the insurgents were trapped, and a pretty fight took place ’twixt dynamite and rifle, for the account of which I am indebted largely to the wife of a missionary, who witnessed it through the blinds of one of the mission windows.
The American Mission at Salonica is one block—an Oriental block cut by crooked streets—away from the spot where the Ottoman Bank stood. It was opposite an antiquated Turkish fort, and next door to the German school. On the other side of the school is a little house with a broad balcony overlooking the schoolyard. This little house was one of the insurgent rendezvous, though unknown and unsuspected. About half an hour after the explosions at the bank, while the little party of Americans watched the burning bank from the back of the mission, bombs began exploding, seemingly almost under their door, at the side of the house. The American property was not the object of the attack; it was directed against the German school. The insurgents had, apparently, waited until the troops from the fort were drawn off to other parts of the city before beginning their job. They threw their bombs from the balcony down at a corner of the building, where they exploded. The detonations were deafening, but the whole damage to the school was less than that which a single bomb would have wrought if put into one of the rooms.
But the fort opposite had not been left entirely deserted, and a few minutes after the first report it opened fire from the battlemented walls. The Turks were soon reinforced by two detachments of troops which came up from opposite directions. One force, in the darkness, mistook the other for insurgents and fired into them. For more than two hours the fight continued, during which probably forty bombs exploded and hundreds of rifle cracks rent the air. The missionary’s wife told me she had seen the Bulgarians light their fuses in the room, then dash out on the terrace and throw the bombs into the street below. Several times the Turks attempted to rush the place, but the street was narrow and stoutly walled, and whenever they came up the Bulgarians dropped bombs into them and drove them back. Towards the last the insurgents staggered out and only dropped their bombs. As they lit the fuses the Americans saw one of them bleeding from a wound in the face, and the other from the chest. Finally the defence ceased, and the Turks charged the little fortress successfully. They battered in the door and dragged out the garrison, both undoubtedly beyond earthly suffering.
Several of the dynamiters went up with their bombs; some were killed by the soldiers in the streets during the night, but a majority (I was told by an insurgent) got out of the town safely before morning and made their way, singly and severally, to join other bands in the mountains.
Early the following morning the Turkish population came down from the hill in a body, yataghans in hand, ready to clear out the Bulgarian quarter. But Hassan Fehmi Pasha, the Vali of Salonica, had anticipated this descent of the ‘faithful,’ and himself drove out and cut them off and persuaded them to leave the work to the soldiers. A house-to-house search of the Bulgarian quarter was begun at once, and every male Bulgarian of fighting age was hounded out. They had barred their doors and hidden themselves in the darkest corners of their houses. But the bars did not defy the soldiers’ axes, and their hiding places were generally shallow, and practically the whole male population was locked up in ‘Bias Kuler’ (White Tower) and the prison in the wall. No women were arrested in this ‘round up,’ but one was shot in the streets. The reason, it is said, was that her figure was padded with dynamite bombs.
Just two months prior to this general incarceration of Bulgarians a general amnesty had taken place. The Sultan by a single Iradé reprieved all Bulgarian prisoners. The prisons of European Turkey were thrown open, exiles were brought back from across the seas and set free. Political and criminal offenders were treated alike. Brigands returned to the mountains, petty thieves to the cities, and insurgents to revolutionary bands. Among the last was the chief of the ‘internal organisation,’ Damian Grueff, who returned from Asia Minor to resume supreme command of the committajis. This was one of the features of the Austro-Russian ‘reform’ scheme. The Sultan evidently desired to begin it with a grand display of beneficence, perhaps foreseeing the result of this liberality. The British Government, at any rate, appreciated the error of the act and protested against its being executed; but Great Britain had given a mandate to Russia and Austria to do in Turkey what one of them cannot do at home, and what both are seriously doubted of honestly desiring.
Almost as absurd as this general amnesty were the general arrests which now followed the ‘Salonica outrages.’ Not only was the Bulgarian community of Salonica put behind bars, but an attempt was made to extend the wholesale incarceration throughout Macedonia. This proved a failure for two reasons: the Turks could not catch the revolutionists, and they had not gaols enough to contain the unarmed Bulgars. When the gaols were filled with ‘suspected’ peasants extraordinary tribunals were created in the several consular towns to judge the prisoners. I visited one of these while ‘in session.’ The building was a shanty in the outskirts of the town; it had been whitewashed for this function. The usual cellar (an excavation under a Macedonian house) served to hold the prisoners in waiting. A score of them, manacled, were brought from the gaols every morning, and choked into this dark hole, whence, one at a time, they were unchained from their partners and sent up the ladder into the court. Three dreamy looking Turks and two corrupted Christians (a feature of the reforms) tried the peasants. There were no witnesses—at least not when I was present—and the case seemed to go for or against the prisoner as he himself could persuade the sleepy judges of his innocence. The judges never asked a question; the whole evidence, pro and con, was drawn by one Turk in a shabby uniform, who stood before the handcuffed prisoner, questioned him, and then advised the judges—still sleeping—of his testimony. Judgment was by no means summary; it was not ‘Who are you?’—‘Ivan Ivanoff.’—‘Guilty!’ Every Bulgar had an hour or more to talk. So slow was the process of these courts that another amnesty took place before they had tried half the prisoners. Nevertheless, the number of condemned was large, and for many months the weekly steamer which conveys political prisoners into exile was crowded on touching at Salonica.
EXILES, SHIPPED WEEKLY FROM SALONICA.
The week we spent at Salonica after the dynamiting bristled with incident. The days we devoted to gathering news and material for ‘letters,’ and the nights we put in ‘writing up.’ In making our rounds of the town it seemed that every sentry would have his turn challenging us, and the Turkish post office insisted on searching me before I entered, and relieving me, for the time being, of my pistol. Even at night we were not free from the investigation of the now cautious authorities. Every patrol passing the Angleterre would rouse the house and ask why the candles burned at so late an hour in the room we occupied. We had just time each day to swallow a hasty dinner at the little restaurant opposite the hotel when the ‘all in’ hour, sundown, arrived. But we took a supper of yowolt (a kind of curdled milk) and bread to our rooms to eat at midnight. At six o’clock each morning we were on our way to the railway station to hand our despatches to the Consular kavass. Of course we could trust none of our ‘stuff’ to the Turkish telegraph or post offices. For one thing, no report was permitted to pass the censor which did not in all cases describe the insurgents as ‘brigands,’ and this word throughout a despatch would lend a false colour to it. There is, besides, no assurance that either a letter or a telegram will ever reach its destination through the Turkish institutions; and so we had deposited a sum of money with the telegraph operator at Ristovatz, the Servian frontier station, and sent our despatches to him by either of the messengers who take the mails of the English, French, and Austrian post offices to the frontier daily.
One morning, after we had worked all night and got to bed only after delivering our despatches safely into the hands of the French messenger, a skirted kavass with a tremendous revolver, we were rudely awakened at nine o’clock by a continuous booming of cannon in the harbour. We knew it was a foreign fleet, and had rather looked forward to its arrival, but we were perfectly willing to have it stay away altogether rather than come at this hour. It boomed on and on until there was nothing for us to do but get up and go to see how many warships and whose they were. We dressed and went up on the broad terrace of the Cercle de Salonique, to which the American Consul had given us cards. There we breakfasted and watched them sail into the bay under Olympus, still snow-capped, standing higher than the cloud line, his smaller companions tapering off to his right and left.
There was a coarse rumble as the heavy chain of the first warship, an Austrian, followed its anchor to a bed. For a week we watched the Italians and the Austrians rivalling each other in this naval demonstration. An Austrian, then an Italian; then three Austrians, three Italians—at the end of the week nearly a score of foreign ships swung on their anchors in two parallel lines, the torpedo boats close in to the shore and the big ships in deeper water. Neither nation could let the other appear the stronger in the eyes of the Turks or, more particularly, the Albanians.
The Turkish flagship, which has swung at anchor in the bay of Salonica for the past ten years, floats an admiral’s colours. The admiral had been warned that there would be a naval demonstration in the bay, but his Government had not informed him that every ship that entered would salute him. In consequence he was unprepared to fire some hundreds of guns, and his ammunition was soon exhausted; so he gave orders to switch his flag up and down twenty-one times to each foreign ship, and for a week the Star and Crescent rose and fell at the Turk’s hind mast.
All the peoples but the Mohamedans had rejoiced at the arrival of the foreign ships, but they were all disgusted with them before they left. The Bulgarians had thought they would all be released from prison, otherwise the town would be bombarded; the Jews had thought the sailors would hire their boats to come ashore; the Greeks had thought the officers would dine nightly at their hotels; and the Tziganes had made their children learn enough words of French to beg for small coin.
‘The English float no come?’ asked a Jew bootblack of me with a glance of disgust at a group of Italian sailors passing.
‘What’s the matter with these fellows?’ I inquired.
‘Never get drunk so much as English. Got no money anyhow.’
During the week of sentinels and excitement at Salonica the wife of one of my friends at the American mission died. I had known them only a few months, but I was the only other American in the town, and was asked to be one of the pall-bearers with several of the English residents there. The Vali sent down a detachment of troops to prevent any disturbance, and they accompanied the funeral to the English cemetery to protect a number of Bulgarian women who wanted to follow the remains of their friend to the grave. It was a strange sight—the parade of these peasants whose husbands were dead, in gaol, or in hiding, following the hearse through the semi-deserted streets afoot, surrounded by fezzed soldiers. After them came a train of native hacks, in which the European community followed.
The town was resuming its normal quiet and we began to inquire for excitement elsewhere. The Englishman in some way got a tip that trouble was brewing in Monastir, and he and I made ready to disappear one morning, leaving the other correspondents in the dark as to where we had gone. It was now necessary for him to secure a teskeré—I already possessed one and needed but to have mine viséd. On application to his Consul for this document he was advised to designate himself ‘artist,’ as the word ‘correspondent’ always shocks the Turk. (The correspondent represented the Graphic.) But the Turkish official must have a reason for everything, and the first question of the dignitary who drafts the passports was, why an artiste desired to go to Monastir.
‘To see the country—among other things,’ said the Englishman. ‘I understand it is very fine.’
‘The country is magnificent,’ replied the Turk, ‘but the café-chantants are all closed now.’
The café-chantant artiste was the only artist known to this enlightened official.
We had thought that all the live insurgents had left Salonica and we were going on their trail. But one desperate dynamiter had remained in town, and was doomed to die before we left. He chose the hour and place himself: about two o’clock of the day before we left, within a stone’s throw of the Angleterre. It was a rainy day, and we—the whole corps of correspondents—were lingering over our lunch at the time, idly speculating on ‘What next?’ when several shots rang out almost in front of the place. At the first everyone jumped up, expecting either a dynamite attack on ‘Europeans’ or a massacre of Christians. We were both. But the firing stopped almost the instant it had begun, and we moved towards the door. There the crowd hesitated for a moment, but those—of us behind—forced the front file out into the street. Curiosity soon got the better of fear, and three minutes after the shooting we were ‘on the spot.’
It was only seventy yards up the street from the Hôtel d’Angleterre. The body of a boy some eighteen or twenty years of age lay pale and lifeless in a gutter half full of dirty water. There was a short pause before anyone ventured to approach him; there was an infernal machine under his coat. Then a black soldier went up, felt the body carefully and relieved it of an iron bomb and two sticks of dynamite. He had no sooner done this than two other Asiatics approached the body, and one, with blood trickling down his face, set upon it with the bayonet, muttering Turkish—curses, I imagine—through his clenched teeth. Before he had struck many blows, however, an officer caught hold of his sword arm and violently pushed him back; and for a moment there was a rapid argument, followed by a tussle. The other white soldier raised his gun, butt downwards, to smash in the victim’s face, but the negro thrust him back too. In a few minutes four soldiers and the officer came and dragged the body through the mire across the street, and the now freed Asiatic, with drawn bayonet, unable to control himself, began again his curses, and dealt three blows at the stomach of the victim trailing through the mud. Then he put his bayonet between his teeth and took hold of the feet, and helped to throw the dead Bulgar upon a Jew’s cart standing by. The old Jew drove off rapidly; he had cut a cabman out of a job.
The slaughtered youth was said to have come from a small town up the railroad. He was a Bulgarian school teacher. In his attempt to blow up the telegraph office (this was his object) he went down to the place dressed as a European. He loitered about his goal, which aroused suspicion, and when he collected his courage and started to enter, one of the sentries at the door challenged him. The young man, holding a paper in his hand and feigning indignation, is said to have exclaimed, ‘Let me pass! I want to send off this telegram.’ The guard answered, ‘I must search you before you go in.’ Here the young Bulgar thrust his hand into his pocket for a bomb, but before he could withdraw it, the stalwart guard, who was twice the size of the Bulgar, grabbed him by the throat, threw him on his back, and sent two balls into him. A letter was found on the boy’s body stating that he had successfully carried out one piece of dynamiting and hoped to accomplish this.
MONASTIR AND THE GREEKS
The train to Monastir is very slow: it takes the best part of a day to go about a hundred miles. The conductor, somewhat of a wag, informed us that, as the natives are accustomed to paying for transportation by the hour, they would probably drive if the railways charged more than the carriage-man’s rate per hour. But this is not the only reason the journey consumes such a length of time. Wherever there are two ways between towns the track invariably takes the longer. This, we were told, is due to the fact that while the Sultan seeks to limit the number and the terminal lengths of railways in his dominions, the Sublime Porte sees fit to subsidise these undertakings of foreign companies according to the mileage covered.
Our train pulled slowly out of Salonica at 8 A.M., and dragged slowly into Monastir at 5.45 P.M., half an hour late in spite of the liberal time-table. The trip, however, was most interesting. There is a line of old Roman watch-towers along the coast, dilapidated things resembling Roman ruins in England. They are now inhabited by Turkish frontier guards, to whom Greek smugglers must pay tribute in order to bring in goods duty free. Behind these towers, across the bay, stands Olympus. The historic mountain, already forty miles away, is still to remain in view until we cross the Vardar Valley and burrow into the hills. We had got to know Olympus well, and looked upon him as a sort of sentinel of civilisation here on the border ’twixt East and West. The old fellow had carried us back to schooldays, and jogged our memories of the ancient Greeks. Of course, we appreciated his company on this journey inland, and admired the majestic manner in which our old friend travels. He goes along with the train just as the moon does; passing over minor objects, towns, forests, and insignificant things, and keeping steady pace with you, until a close range of unworthy hills suddenly cuts him off from view. Distance lends enchantment, but proximity makes importance.
After leaving the plain the train begins to climb over a watershed, and gradually winds a tortuous way, up, up, up to the snow and the clouds. In a few hours the line is a succession of alternating tunnels and bridges—passages through the mountain-tops and spans across the chasms. At every tunnel’s mouth and at every bridge was a little group of tents and brush huts, from which ragged guards emerged to get the bag of bread the train dropped off. A sea of mountains rolls away on all sides. On the nearer slopes rectangular carpets of yellow corn and red and white poppies spread out at irregular intervals. On the second line the fields are less distinct. Further off the mountains blur out into blue and grey, and finally mix colour with the clouds. Shortly after midday the train threads the eye of a high peak and emerges in sight, across a far valley, of Vodena—Watertown. It does not descend to the plain and climb again, for that, besides being impracticable, is the most direct route to the town. Around the mountain sides the train winds for an hour through more tunnels and over more bridges, but in view, when in the open, of a score of slender silver ribbons trailing down a precipice that falls abruptly from the town’s edge. Passing back of Vodena the track crosses the mountain streams, which tumble through the streets of the town on their way to the fantastic falls.
ON A MACEDONIAN LAKE.
Not the least of the charms on this road to Monastir is Lake Ostrova, a mountain bowl of clear green water. The train does not cross the lake, for again that would be too direct; it circles the shore at the base of the mountains, taking, of course, the longer way round. To bridge a Macedonian lake is like putting a pot-hat on an American Indian. It is a legend in the Caza of Ostrova that the lake rose suddenly from springs about a hundred years ago; and perhaps there is some truth in the record, for at one end, on an island just large enough to hold a mosque, stands a lone minaret—all that remains, it is said, of a once populous village. There is always incentive for wild imagination in Macedonian mountains. Several regiments of Albanians were camped at the village on the shore of the lake, and every man of them gathered at the station to meet our train. A field of white fezzes swept away from the car window in every direction for a hundred yards. When Albanians appear Slav peasants often suspend business. Generally fresh trout, ‘still kicking,’ are to be had at Ostrova station, but this day not a single native ‘dug-out’ was drawn up on the beach.
Aboard our train was an Albanian bey returning with his little daughter from a pilgrimage to Mecca. Friends were gathered at several stops to greet him. They threw their arms about him and pressed faces with him, but none of them noticed the girl. She was a marvel of beauty, probably ten years of age, and yet, of course, unveiled. Her hair, which hung in a single bunch under a soft blue homespun kerchief, was a rich auburn—though the roots of it were black. Her finger-nails were likewise dyed with henna. She wore richly figured bloomers, like the gypsies, and a loose, sleeveless jacket of blue over a white blouse. We told the Albanian his child was pretty, which caused him to exclaim in alarm, ‘Marshalla!’—May God avert evil! It is bad luck in Turkey to receive a compliment.
We asked the Albanian if he had many children. ‘One children and three girls,’ was the reply.
At Monastir we surrendered our teskerés to a Turkish official, to be retained until we left town, and took a carriage to the Hôtel Belgrade. This is the only hotel in the town; the others are all khans. In spite of the immortal William, there is much in a name. By its presumption the Hôtel Belgrade got the patronage of both the correspondents and the ‘reformajis’—as the reforming officers and officials were derisively dubbed. There were some queer characters among us. A ‘special commissioner’ of the Daily News took his mission so seriously that he never smiled, and always wore a silk hat. The other Englishman suggested an opera hat for cross-country travel, in the hope that his compatriot would spring it in the company of an Albanian and get shot. An Italian official of the Ottoman Bank had taught himself English, and was enraptured when we arrived. It was with much pride that he addressed us at supper. But we did not recognise the language, and expressed in French our unfortunate ignorance of foreign tongues. ‘That is your own tongue,’ said the Italian; but even of this we understood not a word. The man drew a pencil from his pocket, and on the back of a letter wrote:
‘I am speaking English.’
We were astounded.
‘Perhaps I do not pronounce correctly,’ he wrote next. ‘I have learned the noble language from books.’
The hilarious Englishman gave the unhappy Italian his first lesson at once. He took the pencil, and wrote:
‘Always pronounce English as it is not spelt; spell it as it is not pronounced.’
The Italian was an earnest student, and soon made progress. Before we left the hotel he was interpreting to the proprietor for us. One day the Englishman asked if there was any chicken on the bill of fare. The Italian conversed with the proprietor for a few minutes, and then informed us that there was ‘a kind of a chicken.’
‘What kind of a chicken?’ chirped the Englishman; and the special commissioner of the Daily News almost smiled.
‘It is a—what do you call it?—a goose, sir.’
The Italian went with us to the bazaars one morning to look at some rugs, but he took us only to second-hand dealers, until we protested.
‘We do not want old rugs,’ we said.
‘Oh,’ said he, ‘you want young ones.’
The Hôtel Belgrade was, as you might imagine, kept by a Servian. It was a most depressing place—except for the amusing Italian. Its bare board floors were regularly scrubbed, and we seldom found extraneous things in either the food or the beds. Nevertheless, there was a bad smell about the place, from the garbage in the street, and much noise from miserable dogs in front of it, which came for the garbage. The front door was braced with stout props, which were set in place every evening soon after twelve o’clock, Turkish, this being sundown; but the doors of the rooms were without bolts. The steep staircase was lighted with smoky kerosene lanterns, the bedrooms were supplied with tallow candles. The dining-room was a gruesome place. Life-size prints of King Alexander and Queen Draga stared down from the badly papered walls. This was before the assassination of the monarchs; but after the event (which called me to Belgrade) they hung there still. There was no sentiment in the matter; the proprietor simply possessed no portrait of King Peter, and was not prepared to lay out money for new pictures.
At the open door to the yard stood a smelly ram that had become bow-legged from its own weight. It was so fat it could hardly waddle, but it was never required to walk further than the length of a short rope. The unfortunate animal was afflicted with the capacious appetite of both goat and pig; it was able to eat anything and continually. And everybody fed it. It got the uneaten vegetables from the ‘potage légumes,’ fins of the fish if there was ‘poisson’ on the menu, bits of daily lamb; even the stumps of cigarettes thrown in its direction were promptly swallowed. Some of us protested to the proprietor, and offered to buy the creature if he would have it killed. ‘What!’ exclaimed the horrified Servian; ‘kill my luck? Stomackovitch has brought good fortune to this house for eleven years!’ The bow-legged ram with the insatiable capacity had been tied in the hotel yard ever since it was a frisky lamb.
I became disgusted with the hotel, and tried the khans; but I had run out of Keating’s. I had made friends with the missionaries (one needs no introductions in Macedonia), and by frequent visits at the mission I found that they were in the habit of having waffles for breakfast, Indian corn for dinner, and home-made biscuits for supper. These attractions of the American home were irresistible, and I applied to Mr. and Mrs. Bond for permanent board and lodging. Now, the missionaries are Puritan people, and while more than anxious for the society of a fellow-countryman, they hesitated at taking me, fearing that perhaps I was afflicted with evil habits; so before adopting me the dear old people put me to a test.
‘We allow no strong drink in this house,’ remarked Mr. Bond.
‘So I perceive,’ I replied.
‘Do you smoke?’
‘I can do without tobacco quite easily.’
Condition three was a compromise. ‘We do not send for our post on Sundays,’ said the missionary.
‘I can go for my own letters.’
‘You attend service?’
The room I got for my goodness was on the first floor. It held a big downy bed, wherein one could roll about without danger or discomfort. There was a rug on the floor, on a washstand a china wash-bowl and pitcher instead of the petroleum tin with faucet in the khan yards for guests who wash. My window looked out on the garden and over the red-tiled roofs of the town, covered with storks’ nests.
The residence was situated on the border between the Turkish and the Bulgarian quarters. Round the corner, in the upper room of a large wooden building, was the church; and in the next street was the girls’ school, conducted by two American women with the assistance of several Bulgarians educated at Samakov.
The number of people in the congregation was less than a hundred. They were all Bulgarians, with the exception of one family of Albanians. The school was quite prosperous, having several grades and boarding pupils who came from a hundred miles around. Among the scholars were Greeks from Florina, and Vlachs from Krushevo, as well as Bulgarians and Albanians, all, of course, Christian girls. The school was a sort of select seminary for the better classes.
Tsilka, husband of Mrs. Tsilka, his wife, and ‘the brigand baby,’ born in captivity, lived near our house. Tsilka assisted Mr. Bond in his duties, and Mrs. Tsilka taught at the school. They both spoke English quite well, and the accounts they gave of the long captivity and the ransom were extremely exciting. It was never dull at the mission. There was always something interesting going on. My visit began in the height of a panic. Rumour, which stalked rampant after the Salonica outrages, planned trouble for Monastir on the following fête, St. George’s Day. The Vali, under instructions from the Governor-General, got his garrison in readiness to combat an attack by dynamiters, and the civilian Mohamedans, being in an ugly mood, prepared to assist the soldiers. No attack came from the Bulgarians, but the promises of trouble were fulfilled nevertheless. Turks all ready, it required but a signal to start them to work. The signal came in a row between a Turk khanji and a Bulgar baker over payment for a long due account. The Bulgar died, and the mob of bashi-bazouks slaughtered some forty other ‘infidels’ before being dispersed by the soldiers, who at first assisted them.
Then came the panic. Christians closed their shops and barred their doors, and the streets were deserted except for Mohamedans, who, one is led to believe, would shoot a foreign giaour as quickly as they would a native infidel. The Vali sent a soldier to escort the Englishman and me, being giaours, on our daily trips through the streets. The trooper was given us for protection from the Bulgarians, but we kept our eye fixed upon him, for he was an armed Mohamedan.
There was also a guard assigned to duty at the mission. This was a youthful Turk, who brought with him a strip of matting in lieu of a prayer rug. He came one morning at nine o’clock, and nine o’clock next morning found him still at his post. We discovered the poor fellow weeping, and asked the cause. He had been posted here to guard the mission, and told to remain until relieved. His task was severe, as he had brought no food. The missionaries fed him, and he remained twenty-four hours longer before another soldier came to take his place. The object of putting a guard in front of the mission was twofold. One day he arrested a peasant who came to the mission with a bundle and went away with a large piece of brown paper neatly folded in his hand. This piece of paper, in which the economical peasant had brought back my week’s washing, was the evidence produced against him. It was carefully saved, and shown to the Vali. The washing-list was written upon it.
To go about the town at night was thrilling. The patrols and sentinels had orders to arrest—and later to shoot—any man discovered on the streets without a lantern. Several times we were invited to dine at the Consulates, and the Consuls sent their kavasses with a lantern to escort us. As we proceeded down the streets the challenges would come from a hundred yards away, and our Albanian trusty would reply in a deep commanding tone. Even our own guard would jump to his feet on our return as the light of the lantern turned the corner of our narrow street. If nightfall overtook ox-teams or buffalo-carts within the city, the horned beasts were unyoked where they were, blanketed and fed, and their masters slept in the carts. It was uncanny stumbling into munching beasts at night.
Sometimes, when a fight had taken place in the neighbouring hills, a line of cavalry ponies, led by their masters, would pass down the cobble-stone road back to the mission bringing the wounded soldiers into the caserne. Often the men were mortally wounded and had to be supported on the backs of the stumbling ponies. This was a gloomy spectacle. It was peculiar to the night, for the Turks never brought in their wounded till the streets were deserted; they are sensitive over losses.
During an anxious period in Monastir there came around an anniversary of the Sultan’s accession day. The streets were beflagged with Star and Crescent, and Turkish designs in night-lights were arranged on the hills. The day before the celebration long lines of soldiers made their way from the camps and casernes to the various town ovens, each with a whole lamb, dressed ready for baking, in a huge pan on his shoulder. It was a curious sight to see these preparatory parades pass down the streets with the potential dinner. This, indeed, was the only parade to honour the Padisha, for on the anniversary day itself all ‘infidels’ braced the bars behind their doors, and Mohamedans remained in their homes by order of the Vali; and only a doubled guard remained in the streets, to be ready for an insurgent surprise. At night we left the house and crossed the street to the school, and after putting out all the lights—a precaution of the ladies—climbed to the top of the house to see the illuminations on the hills. Not a sound was to be heard over the entire city.
But no matter how intense the quiet in Monastir, there was always one hour of the day when a fearful row raged. That was the hour the British Consul took his daily walk. The Consul was a Scot, McGregor by name, who owned a British bulldog and employed an Albanian kavass. The latter is common to Consuls, but the bulldog was a novel and disturbing element. As the fatted pup strode the narrow streets between his master and his master’s man, a wave of protest from the native canines followed in his wake. The native dog, like the native Mohamedans, is averse to permitting an outsider within his sacred precincts; but, unlike the Turk, the dog is not required to brook the insult in peace. Whenever a protracted dog-fight passed down the semi-deserted streets, ’twas known that the British Consul was out for his daily walk; and when the disturbance came towards the mission, the hired girl was sent to put the kettle on for tea.
There were always visitors at the mission, and sometimes they were peculiar people. One morning a forlorn native appeared at the door with a dejected wife and two miserable children; they stood in a row, salaaming submissively with their thin hands crossed upon their empty stomachs. We went out to inquire their business, and heard the following not unusual story. The man was unfortunately a Bulgarian, and for that crime had been cast into prison in the general incarceration of his race. During his confinement his shop had been plundered by bashi-bazouks, and now he had nothing to live on, and nobody would give him work. (It was a case of ‘No Bulgars need apply’; men who employed Bulgarians were suspected of sympathy with the insurgents.) This Bulgar had called at the mission—here he showed some embarrassment—to see how much money he would receive if he and his family became ‘Americans’! This missionary explained that the Protestant Church did not offer pecuniary inducements and other mundane rewards for converts, as did the Greek, Bulgarian, Servian, and Rumanian Churches, and told him that he would not become an American if he chose to join the Protestant Church. The missionaries had a British relief fund at their disposal at this time, and out of it gave the man a couple of mijidiehs. He was made to understand, however, that this beneficence was a gift, pure and simple, and in no way meant as a bribe to induce him to leave the Orthodox Church. It is difficult for the Macedonian to see why men give up comfortable homes in happy countries to come out and live in a land like theirs.
On another occasion we received a visit from a more enlightened Macedonian. He, too, was a Bulgarian, so he said; and in the same breath told us that he had two brothers, one of whom was a Servian and the other a Greek. This peculiar phenomenon, prevalent in many parts of Macedonia, here came to my notice for the first time. I was puzzled, and asked how such a thing was possible. The Macedonian smiled, and explained that his was a prominent family, and, for the influence their ‘conversion’ would mean, the Servians had given one of his brothers several liras to become a Servian, while the Greeks had outbid all the other Churches for the other brother.
One day Mr. Bond filed a despatch at the telegraph office which brought us a call from the police. A reunion of the missionaries of European Turkey was taking place at Samakov, and the Monastir staff, thinking it unwise to go to Bulgaria at this particular moment, sent a message to the assembly reading ‘Greetings in the name of the Lord.’ The telegraph clerk accepted the despatch and the money. Three days later a gendarme called at the mission to ascertain who this Lord was. Mr. Bond explained to him at length, but the Turk was suspicious, and carefully cross-examined the missionary. He wanted to know particularly if the Lord for whom this telegram was being sent, and who must therefore be in Monastir, was either a Russian or an Austrian. When the missionary informed him that the Lord had been a Jew, the Turk was surprised, but went away without further inquiry. Next day, however, he called again, and asked if Mr. Bond would kindly put the statements he had made in writing for the bimbashee. The missionary wrote out a brief statement, pointing out that the Koran mentioned the Man in question. But the telegram was never sent, nor was the payment for it ever refunded.
A BIT OF OLD MONASTIR.
Quite as subtle was the reasoning of the censor when a number of quotations from the Bible, which it was desired to print on Easter cards, were submitted to him. The censor required a thorough understanding of each passage before he would pass it. Receiving this he gave the missionaries permission to publish all the texts except one—that of ‘Love one another,’ this precept being contrary to the policy of divide et impera, by which the Sultans have defeated the Christian peoples, both subject races and Great Powers, for many generations.
On a short visit to Florina I once secured an abundance of first-hand evidence of the manner in which the great Greek propaganda in this district is conducted.
I went to Florina without authority, in the company of the stout Mr. Reginald Wyon, correspondent of the Daily Mail, with the object of getting through to Armensko, the scene of a recent massacre. Just beyond Florina the Turks turned us back, and took us, at our request, to the residence of the Greek Metropolitan, where we hoped to get some information of the affair. The Metropolitan was reputed to be the most violent propagandist in the Monastir vilayet. He had recently made an extended tour through his district under the escort of a body of Turks, exhorting all recalcitrant Christians to return to the Patriarchate, warning them of massacre if they remained Bulgarians, and assuring them, on the authority of the Vali, immunity from attack by Turkish troops if they became ‘Greeks.’ In fear of punishment and hope of reward whole villages of terrified peasants swore allegiance to the Patriarchate, and their names were duly written in a great book. Armensko was one of the villages visited.
For thus counteracting the work of the Bulgarian committees, and also, according to the insurgents, for serving the Turkish Government as a chief of spies, the bishop was condemned to death by the ‘Internal Organisation.’
At the time of our arrival the bishopric was garrisoned with Turkish troops. There were probably forty curly-bearded, hook-nosed, ragged, greasy Anatolians—the same fellows, as far as one could see, who had held us up one night at Salonica—quartered in the house. They had possession of the lower floor, and their mats were spread throughout the vast hall, and a large room at one side resembled an arsenal. The Asiatics lolled about the steps and slept in the hall, and barely moved for us to pass. We picked our way among the reclining forms, climbed the steep steps, and stalked through a broad bare corridor, where our footfalls sounded like thunderclaps, to a reception-room, of which the only furniture was several small round coffee-stools. The walls were hung with Turkish rugs, of an indifferent quality, behind the usual divans, which were part of the construction of the building. The Turks, as is their way, and the other occupants of the house because the bishop was taking a siesta, walked the bare boards shoeless. It was not necessary to inform him of our arrival. A tousled head poked itself out of a door ready to say something a bishop shouldn’t, but, spying us, jerked itself back. We were required to wait fifteen minutes for his holiness to don his robes.
Then he appeared in a flutter of excitement. Pouring out unintelligible apologies, he rushed up to my fat friend, being the elder, threw his arms around him, and smacked him twice on each round cheek. I saw I was to be treated likewise—there was no hope of escape—so I bent to the ordeal, to save the bishop the trouble of mounting a stool in all his robes. After he had finished with me the loving soul stooped and gave even the little dragoman four resounding kisses.
The Metropolitan was a man of about sixty years of age, with pronounced Hellenic features. His beard and hair were almost entirely grey, but both were full and abundant still. He wore no hat, and his long hair was drawn straight back and done in a knot, like a woman’s.
The bishop was alive to opportunities, and the unexpected arrival of two newspaper correspondents was a great chance for him. It quite caused him to lose his dignity for the time being in an effort to do the cause he espoused a service. He explained the presence of the soldiers below; he had received a letter from the insurgents telling him they would kill him unless he desisted from thwarting their diabolical propaganda. Then, as a preliminary to a lengthy discourse on Bulgarian atrocities, the bishop cautioned us to believe every word he said. Indeed, we could take his word as we could that of an English gentleman, and we could publish everything he said, even if the committajis slew him for it. The old man here paused, at our request, for the interpreter to translate his remarks, and while interrupted, he called several attendants and despatched them in different directions—two to the Greek school for ‘professors,’ another to the kitchen for coffee and jelly, and still a fourth on another mission—all for our enlightenment and material benefit. Then he resumed his lecture, during the course of which the professors began to arrive, and with them came also a member of the Greek community, who, the bishop proposed, should lodge us that night. The professors joined the bishop in blaspheming the Bulgars, but our host-to-be only substantiated accounts of atrocities at the appeal of the others. Three little girls, who had to be dressed, were sent into the room. They courtesied as they entered and kissed our hands. These were the orphans of a man who had been assassinated by the committajis because he refused to contribute to their revolutionary fund. These ‘brigands’ had murdered several priests in the district, mutilated their bodies in a shocking manner, and laid them in the high-roads or before their churches as a warning to their compatriots. No punishment, said the Metropolitan, was too severe for such fiends, and, questioned by us, he declared that he informed the authorities whenever he learnt that there was a band in the district.
We asked the bishop for some information of the affair at Armensko, but this was not in the line of his discourse, and he evidently did not care to complicate the Balkan question for our uninitiated minds. The great question was the Bulgarian propaganda. He dispensed with the massacre as a ‘mistake of the Turks; they should not have done what they did,’ and returned to the insurgent question.
We took notes of the Metropolitan’s remarks, but he was dissatisfied that we should permit any to go unrecorded. Finally, as we started to leave, the old man said, with a touch of resentment in his voice, ‘I wish I knew English; I would write letters to the Times and let the world know the truth.’
We went home with the Greek to whose tender mercy the bishop had consigned us for the night. A meal was already served when we arrived at his house, and his daughter, a pretty girl about twelve years of age, attired in her newest native frock, stood ready to wait on us, trembling at the honour. But the old man drove her from the room, closed and bolted the door, and cautiously approached our dragoman. ‘Tell the Englishmen,’ he said in a whisper, ‘that the bishop is a terrible liar!’
The interpreter was an English boy, whom we had picked up at Salonica, and the peasants were not afraid to talk to him, as they would have been to another native. It was obvious that the old man had more to say, but we put him off until we had eaten. Then, again carefully ejecting his gentle offspring, he proceeded to inform us that the father of the little orphans we had seen had joined an insurgent band, and then informed the bishop of the band’s plans; and the bishop had transmitted the information to the authorities. The traitor was discovered, hence his death. When the Metropolitan was in Armensko, the Greek said, he told the people that if the Turks came they should go out and meet them and tell them they were Greeks. The Turks came, the peasants went out to meet them, but the Turks did not give them time to announce their national persuasion.
The troops who destroyed Armensko were commanded by Khairreddin Bey, a man already notorious for his methods. According to a report of the committee, the Turks had met a body of 400 insurgents at Ezertze and been defeated. At any rate, the Turks turned back towards Florina, and on their way passed through Armensko, a village of about 160 houses. Without warning they fell upon the inhabitants, slaughtered about 130 men, women, and children, and plundered and burned the houses. Some Roman Catholic sisters of charity, who conduct a free dispensary at Monastir, secured permission from the Governor-General to proceed to Armensko and relieve the wounded. They arrived a week after the affair, and found as many as sixty living creatures huddled together in the two churches, the Greek and the Bulgarian, which, though plundered, had not been destroyed. The human bodies had all been buried, but the carcases of burned pigs, horses, and cows were still lying among the ruins, decomposing and befouling the atmosphere. The sisters, whom we saw after their return, said that some revolting crimes had been committed upon the women. They gave the foreign Consuls at Monastir details of the affair, and the Governor-General was indignant, and permitted them to go to the relief of no more massacred villages.
The sisters brought the survivors to Florina, and those severely wounded they took on to Monastir. The peasants were all the same people; the same blood coursed through their veins, and they spoke the same language, a corrupted Bulgarian, their vocabularies containing some Greek and many Turkish words; but some were ‘Greeks,’ and some were ‘Bulgarians.’ The ‘Greeks’ were received by the Greek hospital, but admittance was refused those who had rejected the offer of the Metropolitan of Florina to become ‘Greeks,’ and there was nowhere else to take them but to the Turkish hospital.
The subjects of the Sultan do not love one another.
The rivalry between the racial parties—they cannot be defined as races—works death and disaster among the Macedonian peasants. Bulgarian and Greek bands commit upon communities of hostile politics atrocities less only in extent than the atrocities of the Turks. Sometimes Servian bands enter the field.
But the propagandas also greatly benefit the people. The Bulgarian, Greek, Servian, and Rumanian schools—tolerated by the Government because they divide the Macedonians—give the peasants an education which they would not acquire at the hands of the Turkish Government. In the large centres the ‘gymnasiums’ offer the inducements of higher education, and in some cases music and art, for which professors are brought from Budapest and Vienna. Children are often supplied with clothes, boarded, and lodged without charge.
All this effort is to possess the greatest share of the community when the division of the country comes. As far as the peasants are concerned, I believe it would make very little difference whom the country goes to, as long as the Government is liberal and equitable. Indeed, I found sympathy with the Bulgarian cause among many Greeks, Vlachs, and Servians, simply because the Bulgarians are fighting the Turks.
The Greek clergy and other propagandists worked hard to influence us. They brought documents to prove their contentions. But figures lie in Turkey. A little thing like figures never bothers one of the ‘elect’; a Turk can supply official documents proving anything—a map coloured red as far as Vienna, or a census of the population showing more Mohamedans in the land than there are inhabitants. And the other races to some extent copy the Turk. Some of the Greek partisans contended that the major part of the country was peopled by Greeks, but wiser men explained that many members of the Greek community spoke Slav languages and Vlach, but that they are Greeks, nevertheless, because their sympathies are Greek.
‘The inhabitants of Normandy are not British,’ they said.
‘But is not this sympathy unnatural—the work of your clergy, by means not wholly righteous?’
They said the adhesion of the other races to the Patriarchate was entirely natural; the Bulgarians converted artificially with brigand bands.
The Greeks fear that an autonomous Macedonia—for which the Bulgarian committees are striving—would be annexed by Bulgaria, as in the case of East Rumelia. The Greeks, therefore, support the Turks, until such time as Macedonia becomes Hellenic. They have been at work for a century converting the country. Before the creation of the Exarchate, when there was but one Orthodox Church in European Turkey, they strove to destroy the Bulgarian language, abolishing it from the schools and churches. When the new Church was established they stamped it schismatic; and many Bulgarians were afraid to leave the old Church, and remain to-day faithful to the Patriarchate—and members of the Greek community.
Some Greek partisans claim also the Servian communities of Macedonia because the Servians have no autocephalous church, and all Greeks claim the Vlach communities.
The Kutzo-Vlachs, or Wallachians, are a people akin to the Rumanians. They speak a language similar to that of the Rumanians, evidently a Latin tongue. The kingdom of Rumania claims these people, and conducts a propaganda among them to retain them, in the hope of securing territorial compensation—a corner of Bulgaria, perhaps—at the division of Macedonia.
Until 1905 the Vlach churches were also under the direct control of the Patriarchate; but Rumanian influence at Constantinople then obtained their independence. The Greeks contested the separation violently, and sought to prevent by force the installation of the Vlach clergy. Rumania, not being contiguous to Turkey, was unable to give battle with armed bands, and declared a civil war upon Greece. Diplomatic connections were severed, trade treaties abolished, and Greek shipping in the Danube was severely taxed.
Travel in Turkey is severely restricted. If a native succeeds in obtaining a teskeré, or the visé thereto, necessary for making a journey, there is still the deterring danger of arrest on suspicion at his destination or en route, in spite of his papers. If he is a non-Moslem he is suspected of nothing worse than being a revolutionist, and is only set upon by polite police officers; but if he be Mohamedan, he is required to deal with the spies of the Sultan. I once witnessed in Salonica the impressive military funeral of a pasha who had been in high favour at Court. So highly was the pasha esteemed that the Sultan sent one of his own physicians, a Greek, from Constantinople to attend him—though, incidentally, the doctor arrived after the pasha’s death. But the unfortunate Turk had not possessed sufficient of Abdul Hamid’s confidence to secure for him permission to visit Constantinople—for which he had applied several months before—in order to have an operation performed there by competent surgeons.
Foreigners fare better. They may travel to the limits of the few railway lines without serious annoyance—if they confine their stops to Consular towns. To enter the ‘interior,’ however, permission is seldom given, and Europeans (in Turkey the name includes Americans) are never allowed to leave the railways without an escort. Only on one occasion did we get away from the railways with the consent of the authorities. This was at the instance of a certain Consul, a man who demanded things and got them. The journey was across a section of Macedonia from Monastir, the terminus of one railway, to Veles, an intermediary point on the north-and-south line. As might be supposed, the country was comparatively quiet at the time, the crops were being gathered, and the authorities informed us (the Englishman and me) that all insurgents had been ‘suppressed.’
We rode out of Monastir perched high on Turkish saddles, at a dizzy distance above our diminutive steeds. At first we sought to secure our lofty positions by a tight grip of the reins, but they pulled on curb bits, and so tortured our poor little ponies that we soon sacrificed our pride, gave the animals their heads, and ‘gripped leather’ until we learned to balance. Just outside the town our escort, six mounted men, awaited us and fell in with us without so much as a salaam. They were the usual ragged beggars, much patched where they sat, tied up in places, and generally off colour. Across their faded chests stretched many yellow stripes—in lieu of gold braid—which designated them of the corps of Zaptiehs. Three of them wore shoes of the regulation order issued by the Imperial Ottoman commissary department, but the others were more fortunate. Of these latter two possessed native woollen stockings and charruks, and the third had a high boot on one foot and a shoe and leather legging on the other. The leather legging hardly met about the calf to which it was applied, and lacing was necessary to fill a slight breach, while the boot was large enough to admit a long, flute-like cigarette-holder, a tobacco-pouch, and a flint. The fezzes of this brigade were the one uniform thing other than their guns; they were all good, possessed tassels, and one even showed signs of having been pressed at a not far distant date—unlike those which sat upon Christian heads.
We discovered early that our escort were very poor horsemen. They did not seem to understand their animals; for though the ponies they rode could have been managed without any bit at all, yet they all kept a heavy hand on a cruel curb. The ponies were small, and had none but natural gaits, and the short trot was most uncomfortable unless one rose in the saddle. This the Zaptiehs were unable to do. In consequence the horse suffered. Two at a time they took turns at riding with us at a steady trot, while the others galloped and walked alternately, thereby covering the same distances we did in the same time.
A ride across Macedonia affords a wealth of interest. Your escort is a study in Turk; every peasant you meet is a new picture; the mud-brick houses of the Christians and the Mohamedan chiflics are curious and picturesque, and you must stop at times and absorb the scenery. You can sympathise on a journey like this with the small boy who cried because he had so many sweets he could not eat them all. Our route the first day lay through open country, and our escort was therefore quite small. We traversed the length of the Monastir valley and stayed the night at Prelip. It should be a happy, prosperous valley, for Nature smiles on it, but it is desolate and almost deserted. The cornfields hug the towns, and the villages hide themselves in obscure corners of the mountains. The ‘high road,’ a waggon-track, which we followed, skirted one village and passed through another, but they were made up of such huts as brigands would not stoop to enter. A sheep-dog, big framed and thick coated—but a bread-fed, skinny animal, with an uncertain lope and an unsound bark—came at us. One of the Zaptiehs drew his sword and gave it a trial swing at a low bush near his horse’s feet; but a peasant came crying after the dog, and called the brute off before it got within reach of the Turk’s blade. This was a Turk of less religious fervour than his fellows.
The Zaptiehs smoked continually as they rode, and rolled cigarettes for us. They gave us lights from their cigarettes, but only the irreligious fellow would accept the same favour from us, for which I asked the reason. ‘They will not take fire from a giaour,’ he said.
The insurgents had boasted that the crops would not be harvested this year, but the corn and the tobacco were already on their way to market. We passed Christian caravans which took the fields to give us the road, and Mohamedan carts which made us give them the right of way. The former were unarmed and most meek, doffing their dejected fezzes and standing abject with hands clasped on their stomachs as we passed. The others, down to the half-grown boys, carried pistols and guns, and bore themselves like a ruling race. The Turks, however, appeared to be as poor as the Christians, and once two veiled women, gathering their faded rags about them, even to covering their henna-tipped fingers, came up to our horses to beg. Nevertheless, their husband, riding a dwarfed donkey, carried a revolver.
The lot of the animals in Macedonia is similar to that of the people. The one survives on grass as the other lives ‘by bread alone.’ The peasant lies down to sleep at night in his clothes, and the heavy-saddled pack-animals are relieved only of their loads. The long, latticed saddle, reaching from before the animal’s shoulders to his haunches, is seldom removed. It becomes in time an integral part of the animal, it conforms somewhat to his shape, and he gives way in places to its lines; and when it does leave a back it often brings hair, and sometimes skin, with it. The animals are not pegged out or tied together when the caravan halts. The system practised is to lock their fore feet with short-chained iron cuffs, or else to tie them with a bit of rope. There are various means of propelling the beasts of burden, but only the carriage-driver uses the Western lash. A donkey is generally sat upon sideways, not astride, and continually beaten with the heels; the horseman wears heavy spurs; the driver of pack-trains, oxen and buffalo teams, carries a pointed stick or a staff with a nail in the end. These last instruments are gently pressed against the hind quarters, and the pressure is kept on till the animal attains the required speed.
The buffalo, which is a heavy creature and unable to acquire speed rapidly, lifts his long, snake-like tail and veritably twists it about the tantalising stick. These pitiful-eyed, straight-necked, knock-kneed creatures are larger and more powerful than the ox, and the buffalo cow gives considerably more and richer milk than the domestic variety. But the buffalo is an exceedingly delicate creature, and requires constant care. His hair is long, but thin and scant, and he is addicted to early baldness on the back. In this condition his skin resembles the hide of a rhinoceros. When the weather is warm he drags his slow way along the roads, covered with soft, slimy mud. The driver walks beside him with a crude, long-handled dipper, and at every puddle replenishes the supply of cooling mud. In the winter the black beast maintains the same measured pace, but then he wears a different covering. His thick, coarse blanket protects him from the cold—a thing of broad stripes, brown and white, made of the same material of which his master’s cloak is woven, spun by the peasant wife, probably in the same piece of cloth.
At several places at which we stopped the peasants came to us to ask medical advice for themselves and their animals, and we were exceedingly sorry that we could not prescribe for either; for their own ideas of doctoring border on superstition, and seem to follow the plan of killing pain by pain. At one village we witnessed (and protested against) the treatment of an unfortunate horse which had, by strange mishap, swollen to an abnormal size. A stout cord was put around its tail close to the root and twisted with a stick until all circulation in the tail was stopped. Then, when the appendage had become numb, a wire nail was driven into it in four places. The horse died of complications, including lockjaw. A horse which, at a stage of the journey, carried our luggage, possessed but one ear. We asked what had become of the other, and were told that it had been cut off piece by piece to cure repeated fits.
There is often to be seen in Macedonia, especially in the Monastir district, a thing resembling a big bird’s-nest built on stilts. The nestling wears a soldier’s costume and carries a gun. He is a field guard, an institution of the Government designed to ‘protect’ Christian peasants from ‘brigands,’ Albanian and Bulgarian. This he often accomplishes by becoming a member of a band of the former. The Governor-General will show you yard-long petitions stamped with many tiny seals, the marks of the peasants, pleading that no Christians be put to guard them, as the Austro-Russian reform scheme provides. The signatures to these petitions are not secured in the general way, by a Turk with a loaded gun; they are bona fide. The peasants really do not want the protection of a half-hearted Christian, who has probably never before handled a gun, and who will only bring disaster upon them. The Turkish guard is a contemptuously tolerant creature. His band is strong enough to defend the peasants from other marauders, and so long as they pay the annual tribute of so many sheep or goats, and so much grain, there is no other call upon them—except for the needs of the bird in the nest. The committee’s agents, when laying their cause before Europeans, will designate this bird a vulture, and tell you how he exacts maidens of the peasants; but the Greeks, who claim to be the enlightened people of the country, explain that this, to a Macedonian peasant, is not what it is to an Englishman or an American. There are always two sides to a question.
Though the revolution had not yet occurred, and the peasant population was still engaged in peaceful pursuits, the country swarmed with soldiers. Cavalry and infantry patrols, Turks, Albanians, and Asiatics, passed us by. Occasionally we met a guard with handcuffed prisoners, Bulgarians and sometimes Albanians. Now and then a member of our escort would meet a long-lost friend, and the old comrades would drop from their horses and embrace each other, pressing cheeks first one side and then the other. We were yet an hour off from Prelip when the white tents about the town came into view. Soon we came to the cornfields. The corn was ripe and glowing under the slanting rays of the evening sun, and here and there red poppies had wandered in to stud the golden fields. Once the road led by a milk-white field, most innocent in appearance, but covered with the deadly blooms of opium. Many houses on the edge of the town, and some in the narrow streets, were hung from roof to ground with strings of tobacco leaves, changing colour in the sun.
When we entered Prelip the natives were gathered at their gates preparatory to withdrawing for the night. It was too late for Christians to follow, and the Turks are too dignified to do more than bestow a casual glance at any traveller. But in the morning our appearance caused a commotion in the town. Greeks left their shops, Bulgarians deserted the market-place, Vlachs followed us with their pack-animals, Jews and gypsies came after us, the one to sell, the other to beg of us; men, women, and children joined in our train. They followed us until we crossed a narrow street, at the other side of which only a few veiled women were visible; then the whole throng came to an abrupt stop.
‘What is the matter with the crowd?’ I asked one of our guards.
‘They are like the dogs,’ he replied; ‘they have their boundaries. At this street begins the Turkish quarter.’
We walked on through the quiet, clean, Turkish quarter and came upon a group of bashi-bazouks, who had been called into service as village guards, squatting by the roadway smoking. They were kind enough to rise and permit me to photograph them standing. This was rather an exceptional case; the Mohamedans generally resented my camera. A gypsy minstrel, a thing of shreds and patches, on his way to a wedding feast, protested that the Evil Eye would be upon him if I took his likeness, but I ‘snapped’ him while he argued. It would have been unkind to inform him.
TURKISH WEDDING FESTIVITIES.
We then followed the Tzigane to the wedding, of which, of course, we were permitted to witness only the street celebrations, those of the male side of the house. This took the form of an almost uninterrupted dance to the monotonous music of two reed flutes and two crude bass drums. The flutes had a range of about three shrill chords, and the drums had two notes apiece. With the right hand and a heavy stick the drummers beat a slow, steady boom, while with a lighter stick in the other hand they kept up a rapid tattoo. They played by ear, of course, and the strain of a single bar of music went for hours. Monotony is bliss to the Mohamedan. A long mixed line of men gave the dance. There were Turks with red fezzes, Albanians with white skull-caps, soldiers, and bashi-bazouks. The leader of the line, swinging a red handkerchief, led the way round a circle formed by the crowd and set the figures, which varied little more than the music. The dance was evidently copied from the Bulgarian horo. Sometimes the leader withdrew in favour of the second man, and now and then a man in the line would fall out, to have his place filled sooner or later. But on went the dizzy dance to the doleful sound all the afternoon.
My companion trounced a Greek barber at Prelip, and I had my hair cut by accident. We had begun to look like Bulgarian insurgents, with full crops of hair and unshaven faces, and, resolving here to abolish the dangerous likeness in so far as our beards were concerned, we repaired forthwith to the nearest barbers’. The Englishman chose a Greek barbershop, and was shaved by a man with a characteristic nose of large proportions. At the conclusion of the ordeal he inquired the price, and was told that he owed the sum of two piastres. He handed the Greek a mijidieh, which is worth nineteen piastres in Prelip, and received five piastres in change. At this the Englishman protested, and the Greek yielded up another small coin. But more than this no gentle persuasion could move him to give. Among the crowd which had gathered to see the ‘Frank’ shaved was one accommodating individual who spoke a garbled French. The Englishman enlisted his services to make known to the man with the nose that, unless he produced the proper change forthwith he would have his olfactory organ promptly and vigorously pulled. This had no effect, and the threat was put into execution, to the wonderment and increase of the crowd. But nobody protested, and the Greek produced another insignificant coin. Again the interpreter was employed, and again without result. So again the Englishman laid his hands on the Greek, and this time so ill-used the poor man that he handed the key to him and told him to help himself with piastres from the money drawer. The Englishman took the proper change and departed.
My experience was less thrilling, but the disfiguring was of me. I discovered a Turkish barbershop, consisting of a Turk and a towel, a cane-bottomed stool, and some utensils made in Austria. The shop occupied the narrow pavement with the dogs, out of the way of the pedestrians. After shaving me with a heavy weapon, the Turk held up a formidable pair of scissors by way of asking if I wished to have my hair cut. For the moment I forgot that a shake of the head in Turkey means ‘yes,’ and a nod means ‘no’—and I shook my head. I was rescued from the wall against which I had been reclining during the process of shaving, and straightened up for the purpose, I thought, of having my hair combed. But the Turk, with a single clip, took off a large bunch of hair, and left me, without alternative, to be barbered in the latest Prelip fashion.
A GYPSY MINSTREL. A TURKISH TRUMPETER.
The Turk does a great many things in an opposite way to which we do them. He writes backwards; the conductor on the horse-car at Constantinople and Salonica punches the tickets for the station at which one gets aboard instead of that to which he is destined; the wood-sawyer rubs the wood on the saw, which he holds between his legs; the sailor, feathering oars, turns the blades forward instead of backward; the officer salutes the soldier.
In the interior of Macedonia it is not necessary for the authorities to preserve the same show of order that is required in Consular towns, and our escort for the next stage of the journey came to the khan for us. There were a score of Zaptiehs in the charge of a fat but ragged sergeant, who gave me his name but could not write it. This is nothing extraordinary; one of the foreign officers of the reform scheme told me he had found but two sub-lieutenants in the whole Kossovo vilayet who could read and write.
For several hours the road led along the sides of a stream winding between two ridges of mountains. The mountains were said to be infested with insurgents; this was a part of the country through which Sarafoff operated. Turks’ heads peered down at us, and silently assured us that the road was overlooked for miles beyond. Studded over the steep slopes, wherever a great boulder protruded far enough for a footing, soldiers were suspended between us and the clouds, which the mountains often pierced. Despite this survey of the route, five of our men straggled out to the front, the foremost a mile in advance. As we would descend one steep slope we could see the vanguard climbing the next. Whenever we came to a blockhouse, always pitched on the highest peak, one of the garrison would bring us cool water from the nearest fountain.
The road was good for many miles; it had been constructed only a year before. But the contract had not called for bridges, so bridges there were none, and it was necessary for us to ford every stream. But a few months after this excursion a war-scare set the Government to honest work, and this and several other excellent roads, most of them leading towards the Bulgarian border, were hurriedly completed. Millions to retain, but not one cent to maintain.
Not a single village did we pass this day, only one lone wayside khan. Macedonia is sparsely inhabited. Once we came over the crest of a hill and descried a gathering of twenty or thirty men far down in a valley below—a little island formed by a split in a thin stream. It took us an hour to get to the island, which lay in our route, and meanwhile men mounted their horses and rode away into the mountains, and others appeared from unseen places and came to the meeting. This was too open a spot—visible from any of the surrounding hills—for brigands to divide spoils; nevertheless the business was illicit. We got off our horses and penetrated the crowd. In the centre sat a Turk with two sacks of cut tobacco. This he was selling direct to consumers, without paying the tax levied by the Turkish Regie. We filled pockets for two metaleeks—a penny between us—and proceeded on our way up the opposite mountain-side.
OUR ESCORT FORDING A STREAM.
This was a hard day’s ride. It would not be exact to say that we were in the saddle ten hours, for we dismounted and walked over many steep mountains, but we were on the road from six in the morning until six in the evening, allowing two hours for halts. We passed through the camp of an Anatolian regiment pitched beside the vast caverns of Veles, dropped down the Vardar, and crossed by the only bridge in view of many primitive wooden water-wheels. The bazaar began at the bridge and ended at a Turkish khan, at which we alighted. There was but one sleeping-room in the khan, and this chamber was equipped with six cots filled with loose cornshucks in lieu of mattresses; there was no other furniture in the room. We wanted to take the room and pay for all six beds, but the landlord preferred to accommodate two Turkish friends, and offered to let us have the other four beds.
We washed at the tap of the inevitable petroleum tin in the stable, and the proprietor’s son brought us clean but exceedingly rough towels. After our ablutions we repaired to the front of the house, where a dozen or more Turkish officers sat sipping coffee. The ranking man among them, an Albanian, rose as we appeared, and addressed us in French. A Turk would not have spoken without some substantial motive. The Albanian asked where we had come from, where going, how old we were, whether married or not, as rapidly as he could put the questions—which is polite in Turkey. We both understood that this was all in good taste, as was also the noise the other officers made drinking coffee. It was difficult for the Englishman, however, bound by the heavy fetters of British restraint, to reply to this interrogatory readily and with any marked show of pleasure, and quite impossible for him to sip his coffee in the manner of the company. But, having come in contact with many queer people in the course of my travels, I was experienced in such a situation, and not only answered all the Albanian’s questions with alacrity, but put them straight back to him, and while he was speaking I sucked coffee and sighed heavily after each mouthful as though in the height of bliss. This display of good manners met with a cordial reception by the Turks, and they invited us to dine with them at the officers’ mess—an exceptional invitation.
We went with them to their quarters in a clean Turkish house, off a narrow street half covered by the extended second storey. We climbed a bare, ladder-like staircase and entered a small, unpainted room with many rugs on the rough boards. There was a long, covered thing like a mattress on one side, stretching from end to end of the floor, and a high divan, likewise stretching the length of the wall, on the other side. I was weary, and the long cushion offered more excuse for reclining, so I dropped myself upon it; but the other man got upon the divan and let his feet hang. We looked foreign to the place, I know; for when the officers were seated there were many pairs of shoes on the floor, but ours were the only feet to be seen, and ours were the only bare heads. Once in a while a Turk would remove his fez and rub his head, but generally the red cap sat somewhere on the skull of its owner.
A strong native drink, which changed colour like absinthe when water was added—mastica it is called—was served by a Bulgarian boy, who shed his shoes at the door and entered in stocking feet. One of the officers made the boy tell us what good masters the Turks are. Radishes, sliced apple, roasted monkey-nuts, and a delightful little Turkish nut were served and left in the room an hour before dinner. The Englishman and I ate heartily of these, for we were ravenous, and it was well that we did. When the meal came on we all drew around a small wooden table. Six of us sat in so many chairs, and the others stood around behind us, and reached over our heads for their food. We were each supplied with a hunk of bread, a fork, a spoon, and a towel, but no plates were distributed. One dish at a time was placed in the centre of the table, and removed when it was empty. The meal varied from stewed lamb to little squares of lamb toasted on sticks, going through five courses of lamb. Then there was fruit and coffee. There was wine, and five of the Turks drank it; devout Mohamedans do not.
At this meal I failed in Turkish manners, even as the Englishman had done previously. We were all required to stick our forks and spoons into the single dish and dig for ourselves, and when the meat was gone to sop our bread in the gravy. But we were both continually withdrawing our forks as another man advanced his, which the Turks did not understand. Of the first few courses we got very little, but then the Albanian caused the officers to give us a two minutes’ handicap at the succeeding dishes.
After dinner there was Turkish music—which was not pleasant. The reed flute played in the Turkish street harmonises with the character of the country, and is not unattractive; but in a close room its monotony is inclined to put the weary travellers to sleep. The low wail of a Mohamedan priest calling the ‘faithful’ from a minaret is ‘like the sighing of the pines,’ but the whine of a Turk at close quarters, accompanied by the facial contortions necessary to his nasal chant, is conducive to bad dreams. We had our revenge; the other man retaliated with ‘Alice, Ben Bolt.’
Several of the officers escorted us back to the khan through the silent street, answering the challenges of the night patrols.
Two dark figures, which followed us from the officers’ quarters, entered the khan behind us and stretched themselves on the floor before the door of the general sleeping-room. There we found them when we emerged in the morning; they proved to be two soldiers to whom the authorities had assigned the duty of ‘shadowing’ us. They told us, with much amusement, of how they had lost us the night before. Arriving at the khan about nine o’clock, they were informed that we had ‘disappeared’; the khanji had not seen us leave with the Turkish officers. This alarmed the soldiers, and they started on a search for us. They were about to report our disappearance to headquarters, when, coming to the Turkish quarter, they heard strange sounds never before perpetrated in Veles. This was the song of ‘Sweet Alice.’
In the morning a negro merchant arrived at the khan from Istip and told us of a fight ‘in progress’ at Garbintzi, a little village about eight hours’ ride to the east. We had intended to take the train that afternoon for Uskub, but the chance of seeing a fight caused us to change our plans. We gathered as much hurried information as we could about the route, hired a Turkish guide, and set off for Garbintzi before noon. We planned to go unescorted, but this was not to be. Our guide, in pursuance of police orders, had informed the Konak of our sudden change of destination, and the kaimakam despatched four Zaptiehs to accompany us. We were surprised that they permitted us to proceed.
Being anxious to reach the scene of the combat as quickly as possible, we rode rapidly over the mountains, and came to Istip about six o’clock.
An officer came up as we entered the town and greeted us like long-lost brothers. He was a Turk, and had a mission to perform. He informed us that the kaimakam had received a telegram from Veles advising him of our approach, and instructing him to see that we were treated in a manner befitting our exalted positions. The only place they could offer such worthy guests, who had so honoured Istip with a visit, was the kaimakam’s own house. The kaimakam, I may explain, lived above the gaol.
We were presented to the kaimakam, and the official congratulated the Englishman on belonging to that great race which had so long befriended the Turks. To me he said he thought it wonderful that a great New York paper would send so youthful a man so many miles on so important a mission.
‘How old are you?’ he asked.
‘Twenty-five,’ I replied.
‘You look eighteen.’ He did not ask why I wore no moustache, probably fearing it was because I could not. The Turk is a gentleman.
Information had evidently been given by our escort that we carried revolvers, for two officers entered the room through a door at the back, drew up chairs, and seated themselves immediately behind us. But we did not attempt to shoot the kaimakam. Another officer, perhaps the spy attached to the governor, also entered and occupied a seat beside his quarry.
Then the kaimakam brought his compliments to an end and sat silent. Nobody spoke for forty seconds. We sought to end the uneasy interview, and informed the kaimakam, what we were sure he already knew, that we were on our way to Garbintzi.
‘The fight is over; the troops have just returned,’ he informed us.
‘That is unfortunate,’ I replied, ‘but as we have come this far I guess we’ll visit the scene.’
But the kaimakam guessed we wouldn’t.
‘I have orders,’ he said, ‘to prevent you from going any further. You must return to Veles.’
We suggested that the Governor-General was making a mistake; if we were not allowed to visit Garbintzi we must conclude that the reports that massacre and arson had accompanied the fight were true. The Englishman added that, if the Turkish version were based on fact, it would be well to let us verify it. But the kaimakam shook his head; he had his instructions.
We left the house extremely disappointed, and on the way to the khan—for he had said nothing about putting us up—began to think out a plan for getting to Garbintzi. We went to our guide, and, feigning extreme dejection, instructed him to saddle, and be ready himself at eight o’clock next morning; we were going back to Veles. An officer visited us during the evening to ascertain what time an escort should be ready to take us back. The information we gave him agreed with that we had given the Turkish guide—which had been imparted to him. Putting the question to us was only a point of politeness: the horses were being watched.
We rose at five o’clock next morning, dressed hurriedly, and went to the stables. Two soldiers had slept there, and one set off at a run to the Konak. But the hour was early for the Turks, and we got out of town without a soldier on our heels.
We passed the sentinels on the border of the town and rode hard in the direction of Veles until we had passed out of sight of a blockhouse which stood high on a hill a few miles beyond, and would, no doubt, report that we had fairly gone by towards the railway. It was a ride of barely ninety minutes from Istip to Garbintzi by road; with a good hour’s start, we calculated that we could get there before being overtaken, even though we went by a roundabout route. But we did not reckon with our guide. When we called a halt and asked him if there was not a road over the mountains to Garbintzi, he was frightened. He answered that there was a way, but the road was bad, and it would take four hours to go by it from the spot where we stood.
‘Lead us over it,’ we said to the dragoman, who repeated the words to the guide.
There was a parley of ten minutes, during which our nerves were at high tension. Every minute we expected to see a troop of cavalry coming after us. At last we got the information. ‘He won’t go.’ There was no time for argument, when it had taken so much time and all the Turkish which we had heard to convey that fatal negation.
‘How much does he want?’ the Englishman demanded.
‘He will not go at any price,’ came the reply. ‘He has a wife and children depending on him, and an officer has been to him last night and told him that he should lead us to Veles and nowhere else.’ It was no use arguing. We turned our horses’ heads towards a village of some ten houses a few miles off, half way up a mountain side. The dragoman followed. The guide would not leave the road to Veles, literally following instructions.
It was Sunday, and the peasants were all in their brightest clothes. They were dancing a horo, but our appearance among them broke up the festivities. Every man, woman, and child in the village collected about these queer travellers. They understood the dragoman’s Bulgarian, as was apparent by the state of alarm into which they fell. Not for a hundred liras, said the headman of the village, would one of them guide us over the mountains.
‘Why?’ I asked.
‘Why!’ came the answer, ‘the man who should take you over those mountains would be shot by the committajis, for we have refused to arm. Were the Turks to find out that one of us had left here without a teskeré, and taken you to see a village which they had destroyed, they would come and do the same to this place.’
‘Please leave us,’ they begged, as we still argued, ‘and get away before the Turks see you.’ Several old women began to cry.
We returned to our guide, our last card played, and said demurely, ‘Lead us back to Veles.’
We made our way slowly, and waited at the next khan for a cloud of dust on our trail to develop into a troop of cavalry, who kept a close cordon about us for the rest of the journey back to the railway.
Defeated we had been, but we had learned a lesson in the ways of the Turk, who thinks his intelligence is superior to that of a mere ‘giaour.’
USKUB AND THE SERBS
After our attempt to evade the authorities we were closely watched until we left Veles, the police, as is their way, pretending to wait upon us only for our convenience. When we departed two mounted gendarmes accompanied us to the railway station, though we needed no protection, and a careful sleuth, with painful politeness, assisted us in taking tickets for Uskub—an unnecessary courtesy—and went with us to the train to see, he alleged, that we secured a comfortable compartment. There was only one first-class compartment in the train, and this was occupied by a well-dressed officer whose trousers had been pressed inside out. The Turkish gentleman stood not upon ceremony, as does his admiring British contemporary on such occasions; he introduced himself before we had taken our seats, immediately inquired our life history, and soon divulged what purported to be his. He was no other than Hamdi Pasha, of Albanian extraction, the youngest general in the Turkish army, so he informed us, on his way to the Bulgarian border, of which he was military inspector.
It was raining heavily when we arrived at Uskub; nevertheless, a picked company of Nizams (regulars) was drawn up in honour of our travelling companion, and presented arms as the train pulled in. The pasha alighted, saluted, and, with us on either side of him, sharing a great white umbrella, proceeded to the Hôtel Turati. Then the bedraggled band struck up one of several Sousa compositions which have been Orientalised for the Ottoman army, and the company marched away through the slush, doing the German ‘goose’ step, acquired from the Kaiser’s officers in the Sultan’s service, which showy effort spattered the mud on civil pedestrians on both sides of the narrow street.
Behind the soldiers straggled several hundred Albanians, raw Redifs (first reserves), who had come up on our train in cattle-cars marked in bold letters, in a language they knew not of, ‘8 Chevaux ou 48 Hommes.’ And behind the Arnauts trailed a score of prisoners protesting violently at being driven to gaol through the mire. These were Christians impregnated with the sense of free men’s rights. They were attired in ‘Francs,’ fezzes, and handcuffs—with the exception of one, a priest, who wore only the manacles in common with the others, apparently the conductors of a Bulgarian gymnasium temporarily out of business.
Before the school teachers paraded a grinning gypsy bearing on his back a bundle of old muskets.
‘See, see!’ said the pasha. ‘They were captured in arms. There are the guns.’
‘8 CHEVAUX OU 48 HOMMES’: ALBANIAN RECRUITS.
But a foreign Consul, wise in the ways of the wily Government, told us that this gypsy and his parcel of rifles was the ostentatious advance guard of every detachment of Bulgarian prisoners. The manœuvre was designed to deceive those representatives of the Powers and newspaper correspondents who were particularly prying.
Uskub is a stern place with a breath of the mountains upon it. It is but an eight hours’ journey from Salonica, but, thanks to the restrictions of travel and intercourse, wholly free of a Levantine atmosphere. It is peopled principally by Arnauts—as the Turks call the Albanians—and Slavs, both men of character, though their morals are of a peculiar code. These Albanians and Slavs are natural enemies, and of the Slavs again there are Bulgarians and Servians, not good friends. The Kossovo vilayet, of which Uskub is the capital, has been described as a prolongation of Albania, Servia, and Bulgaria. The provincial delimitations of Turkey were undoubtedly designed with a view to encompassing under the same administration as many hostile elements as possible.
The differences between the Servians and the Bulgarians of Macedonia are almost entirely a matter of education. The two races have long since forgotten the enmity of their ancient emperors, and in five centuries of similar suffering under a mutual monarch they have at heart but one desire. They have become assimilated to an extent in these ages, and in some sections it is difficult to determine one from the other. Their language, here where the two races blend, can be spoken of as one. They have duplicate religions, similar ideas, identical customs. The peasants dress alike, and only the partisans and propagandists are distinguishable by their attire. A European cut of clothes is worn by those who attend the Bulgarian gymnasium, while a military jacket attests the adherents of the rival school.
At one time, prior to 1878, the territorial ambition of the Servians and that of the Bulgarians did not clash. The Servians aspired to a confederation of all Serbs, hoping for the annexation of Bosnia and Hertzegovina and a union with Montenegro. But the Treaty of Berlin gave a mandate to Austria-Hungary to occupy two Turkish provinces peopled by Serbs, thereby severing the two Serb States apparently for all time. Servian nationalists were horrified at this injustice, and frenzied attempts were made to undo this act of the famous treaty. But all efforts were unavailing against the power of the great neighbour, and in desperate fear of being shut in from the sea for ever, a petty, dwarfed State, the Servians turned from the Adriatic and faced the Ægean, and sought to acquire a right of way by that route to the world at large.
Notwithstanding the fact that in Macedonia only what is known as Old Servia—that section of Kossovo between Uskub and Servia proper—is extensively peopled by Serbs, Servian patriots laid claim to all the Slav elements in the districts to the south, straight away to the coast, arguing that the Bulgarians, originally a Tartar people, had been assimilated by the Slavs. The Servians spread their schools beyond the territory rightly theirs, establishing gymnasiums in Salonica and Monastir to compete with the Greeks and Bulgarians in converting the population. But below Old Servia, only purchased support of their cause was forthcoming from the people, and nowhere south of Uskub did the Servian campaign seriously worry the two big propagandas.
This business of cornering communities is expensive, and little Servia would hardly have been able to cast her claims so far except with monetary aid from one of the ‘interested Powers,’ and the support of that Power’s agents in the distressed land. When the Bulgarians began to show an independent spirit, and diplomatic connections with Russia—which assumed the form of a dictatorship on the part of the boasted liberator—came to be severed for a term of years, that ‘interested’ Power adopted Servia as its ward, and is still at work disciplining the other little country that dared to dispute its honesty of motive. Russia among the Balkan States does a work similar to that of the Sultan in Macedonia; she aids the weak to rival the strong, fosters their jealousies, and maintains a dominant influence on the distress she begets; and, unlike the Sultan, she does this in the guise of Christian sympathy.
In Uskub the Russian Consul, for ever attired in military greatcoat and Muscovite cap, and always accompanied by a brace of stalwart bodyguards bristling with weapons, snubs the retiring little Bulgarian agent, and on all occasions bestows his pretentious patronage upon the Servian representative. It was at Russian suggestion that the Servian schools adopted a distinctive uniform, after the manner of Russians in Finland and in other lands they have hoped to Russify.
The Austro-Russian accord on Macedonian affairs resembles a thieves’ alliance—without that saving grace, however, the proverbial honour that exists among thieves. For centuries these partners of the present have been loitering around the gates of the European estate of the Ottoman gentleman with the many wives and the torture-chamber. One of these interested neighbours has been in the habit of rushing in to the rescue whenever a Christian cry escaped the Bluebeard’s window—always attempting to get away with something; the other, not so daring, but quite as designing, waited without the walls and made his burly rival return the booty or compensate him (the other) under threat of the police. Three years ago this worthy pair allied agreed to rob the house no more, but planned to enter—and reform it!—and received a mandate so to do from the European Powers. But, in spite of the pretensions of these confederates, neither has forsaken his pet policy, which is directly opposed to that of the other. While the gallant Russian is engaged advocating the cause of the Serbs, his Austrian ally-in-reforms is diligently at work advancing the interests of a rival race.
The Roman Catholic church at Uskub, a feature of the Austrian propaganda, was decorated one dusty summer day with garlands of mountain flowers and many flags. A vast Mohamedan banner floated from one side of the Christian belfry and an equally large emblem of the Dual Monarchy from the other; and strings of little flags, alternately Turkish and Austro-Hungarian, streamed away from the tower to the high mud walls about the churchyard. Over the door, where only the Catholics who entered could see, hung a large print of Francis Joseph much bemedalled, and none was visible of Abdul Hamid.
It was the feast of Corpus Christi, and the Englishman and I, attracted by the Albanians converging upon the place from all directions, betook ourselves to witness the celebration. The darkened church was aglow with many candles around the crucified Christ, and the fourteen ‘stations of the Cross,’ set like little chapels about the churchyard, contained life-sized pictures of the Saviour’s labour to the Crucifixion. During the indoor service the Albanian women, veiled like their Mohamedan sisters, occupied one side of the church, and the men the other. In the pew of honour sat the Austrian reformajis in full feather, the brilliant uniform of Count de Salis, chief of the gendarmerie contingent, relieved and glorified by a Salonica frock-coat covering the venerable person of the Christian Vali, who sat next. This decrepit representative of the Sultan was playing a game similar to that of the gaily garbed gendarmes. He was selected by the Porte several years ago as a co-governor with the Turkish Vali because of general incapacity and indifference to affairs. His duties were ostensibly to reform the province, but he was incapable of performing them or he would not have received the appointment. This day he was displaying the Christian sympathy of his Sultanic master, just as the Austrians flaunted their religious zeal before the Catholic Albanians.
At the conclusion of the indoor service on Corpus Christi day, priests and people left the church chanting, each carrying a lighted candle, and made a tour of the ‘stations,’ kneeling and praying a few moments at each. Little flower-girls, dressed in gayest shalvas, preceded the procession scattering rose-leaves. Two proud Albanian boys swung the incense lamps, and four others bore a panoply of silk over the heads of the priests. First behind the priests came the Count and the Christian Vali, and then followed the Austrian Consul and other Austrian officers and the people. The ordeal of kneeling in the grass was trying to the trousers of the Count and painful to the rheumatic limbs of the venerable Christian Vali, whom the Count was required to assist to his feet on each occasion.
It was a windy day, and the candles, borne gingerly at arm’s length, sputtered, and spattered the gorgeous uniform and the ample frock-coat. The delegates at their divine duties, wore on their faces, I must say, most unholy expressions, and at the conclusion of the ceremony the poor old Christian with the fez presented the appearance of having eaten his supper without stuffing the end of a napkin in his collar. Religion and politics make an unhappy mixture; they war within one like custard and cucumbers.
The presence of two unsympathetic newspaper correspondents, standing by at this ceremony, appeared to annoy the official party, and for some time after that ‘the two English correspondents’ (of whom I was one) were severely snubbed by the Austrian officers. An imaginary but effective barrier was thrown across the middle of the dinner-table, dividing the Englishmen and the Russians from the Austrians and the Jews, mostly Vienna correspondents.
But there came a day when the latter, overwhelmed by curiosity, were forced to fraternise again.
A strange female of daring demeanour, unheralded and alone, appeared at the hotel. Her species had never been seen before in Uskub. Her skirt was shockingly short, and contained a hip-pocket, from which the blued butt of a Colt’s 44 protruded. Her hat was a duplicate of mine, and all her other garments were more like a man’s than a woman’s. Fast on her heels arrived the ubiquitous policeman with his compliments and his veiled demands for information. She possessed a teskeré, and gave it to him, but he was not content with this, and would have her passport with its big red seal.
‘Not much, my fine feller! You can have Abdul’s rag all right, all right, but this here document belongs to your auntie.’
The gentle police understood her not. Nicola, the Albanian waiter, attempted to interpret. He spoke a little French, but this was of no avail. The Turk called in a miserable Christian (she must be Christian) who spoke, besides Turkish and Albanian, Bulgarian, Servian, Rumanian, and Greek, but not a word of any kind had he in common with the curious stranger.
‘Of what use are all my tongues!’ he exclaimed piteously, as he was kicked out by the Turk. One of the Russians offered his services. His accomplishments comprised all the languages of Europe, including English. No use. ‘The woman who speaks no human language,’ he called her; and the name clung to her.
Nicola saw that the fearful female belonged to none of the known races, so when she appeared at dinner he seated her with ‘the English.’ She recognised me at once, and Austrians, Russians, Jews, and the Englishman, who hailed from Yorkshire, seeing that I was able to converse with the lady, at once made use of me to present their compliments and make gentle inquiries. The pragmatical Russian subsequently developed his witticism, and dubbed me the superhuman interpreter.
Between meals the unknown prowled the town carrying a small black box with a covered eye, which flapped at every native she met. Tziganes fled madly down the roads, Albanian women took fright, covered their faces and scurried into their houses, and even the Turk of habitual immobility suffered a rude shock to his equipoise.
Now, the potting of a peasant and the hold-up of a native in the crowded streets are episodes which do not disturb the tranquillity of Uskub, but the visit of an apparition from Mars is an event which does not take place every day. The stranger stalked through the covered bazaar, putting the place in a panic for the time being, and climbed the steep hill to the citadel, where the army practised at range-shooting without cartridges—an economy in ammunition. There she marched boldly up in front of the line of soldiers blinking at far-off targets through the sights of empty guns, aimed the eye of her black box at them, and snapped it. The triggers fell with a unison of clicks never before accomplished on the rifle-range. An officer of the garrison, who had been educated in Germany, and was accustomed to strange sights, emerged from the barracks at a pace Turks seldom acquire, and established for ever his reputation for bravery by ejecting the interloper. The artillery barracks was next to receive the spook, who was caught in the act of aiming her spell-box at the cannon. She was taken into custody by the commander himself, the troops refusing to obey orders, and detained until a fast rider could find the Vali and learn from him whether this were not an Austrian spy in disguise.
This was too much for the Turks; business was already at a standstill, and the garrison completely demoralised. The Vali ordered out his state coach forthwith, and with four outriders in the shape of trusty troopers unafraid of man or superman, made his way to the British Consulate. The preliminary compliments were cut unusually short, and in less than ten minutes the governor of Kossovo got to business.
‘It will be shot, O exalted Consul,’ said the Vali, ‘if it roams at large another day. I have assigned police to follow it for its protection, but I fear even they will be powerless to preserve it. Can you not persuade it to depart?’
The Consul tapped his head and rolled his eyes, after the manner best understood of the Moslem, and the Moslem heaved a comprehending sigh, expressed his gratitude, and took his departure.
Next day all Uskub knew that it was mad, and Moslem and Christian alike bowed low in holy reverence as it passed.
‘Well,’ said my countrywoman, after she had shaken hands with Russians, Jews, Austrians, and English, coming last to me, ‘you can bet your sweet life I ain’t sorry I hit on somebody in this benighted land who can speak plain United States.’
GRAVES OF DEAD COMMITTAJIS.
THE OLD TURKISH SEXTON WHO LIVED IN A GRAVE.
Uskub is ordinarily a quiet and sober town, and well might it be; it is nestled in a valley of death. Tombstones are always the prominent feature of a Turkish town, but Uskub resembles an oasis in a desert of dead. Acres of them in general disorder, a few erect but mostly toppling or fallen, surround the town and stretch long arms into it; they flank the main road and dot the side streets, and far out into the country lone deserted stones stand where no man’s hand has been for ages. The sight is gruesome, and one’s mind is wont to picture the many massacres that have made this sea of silent slabs. But a large proportion of the graves are those of Mohamedans, and history records no general slaughter of them since the battle of Kossovo, more than four centuries agone. This is the explanation—Christians plant bones on top of bones, but the six feet of earth allotted to the dead Turk generally remains his until Judgment Day. In many Turkish towns you will find streets turned out of their natural course to leave the grave of a Turk undisturbed.
The old sexton of a cemetery in Uskub, who lives in a cave burrowed under the ground like the abodes of those he watches, was in a terrible dilemma after the American adventuress had snapped his photograph, because she, a giaour, tramped back to the road over the resting-place of believers.
On one side of the Hôtel Turati is a Turkish cemetery, and not far behind it is a Christian burial-ground; and almost daily a funeral procession passes the hotel to one or the other of these burial-grounds. The body of a Turk is borne on a litter on the shoulders of his friends, each of them taking a turn for a few minutes as pall-bearer. If the deceased was very popular, and the distance from his home to the grave very short, there is a continual commotion about the corpse, friends giving place rapidly to one another as the body is borne along.
The Christians do not carry their dead on their shoulders, but they, also, convey the corpse on a litter to lower it into a wooden coffin in the grave. Priests precede the funeral parade on foot in full vestments, chanting as they march, and the friends follow the body, one carrying the coffin-lid.
A strange sacrifice for the dead takes place quarterly in the Christian cemetery. The peasants gather from far and near bringing cakes and pans of boiled wheat, of the best they can afford, and place them on the graves of the dead. Candles are stuck about the food and tinsel paper cut in fine shreds arranged over it. Priests pass from grave to grave praying with the peasants for the souls of the departed, and sons of the priests, who serve as acolytes, swing censers. At the conclusion of the ceremony the sacrificial food is distributed to the poor—or rather the poorer—and lazy gypsies gather with many naked babies at the borders of the cemetery.
Leaving the ceremony the foreigner is beset by these beggars, especially the naked urchins. They follow one to the gate of the hotel. One brat is too large to go unclad, according to the requirements of decency regarded by the Turks, so his mother’s apron is tied around his waist. But he hopes to elicit a piastre by cutting capers, one of which is a somersault. As his arms and head go down the single garment drops over them, and the high half of his anatomy is exposed like the double-headed dolls in the Strand. But we give them nothing. We have seen these fellows count their day’s collection, and knowing the day’s wages of a field labourer in Turkey to be infinitely less, we give to the latter. The Tzigane maims a brat, and by its begging the family is supported. And it is the fool Christian who gives; it is a part of his religion to pay by ‘charity’ the way of deceased souls through the golden gates.
A round and ragged brown urchin who blacks boots before the hotel and swallows the money he receives, bettered his position one day through the favour his funny face had found with the foreigners at the hotel. On calling for the bootblack one morning he appeared leading a blind beggar. But nobody patronised him now, and the two departed jabbering viciously. Next morning the brat was back again with his blacking-box, shining boots and swallowing small coins.
There is a Tzigane quarter in every large town in Turkey, and it generally stands somewhere near the circle of graveyards. It is always the most squalid quarter, holes in old walls, shanties made of flattened petroleum tins, caves in hillsides, serving the gypsies as abodes. They are a filthy people, and a burden to the community. They seldom till the soil, object to work, and live for the most part by begging or stealing. They stand alone in the world as a people without a religion, and their primitive instincts lead them to follow the natural bent of man to prey upon others. They came into Europe on the heels of the Turk, and remained in some of the countries from which he has been compelled to recede. In one of the Balkan States they are exempt from military service, as they cannot be held to routine; in the others they are generally assigned to duty in the bands because of their talent for music.
Across the old stone bridge, on the road that leads up to the citadel, are many curious booths. A questionable character of doubtful race sits Turkish fashion in one the size of a draper’s box, before him a pot of writing fluid, several wooden pens, some slips of common paper, and a pepper-box of sand, also a constant cup of coffee, a tobacco-box, and a flint. Natives pass up this hill to the market place behind the old fort, and on market days the man of letters is very busy. Christians do not patronise his talents, for in every Christian community, thanks to the propagandas, there are several peasants who can read and write; but Mohamedans, faithful to the wishes of the Padisha, abstain from the corruption of education, and thereby make the letter-writer necessary.
A veiled lady presents a letter at the booth.
‘From whom?’ asks the sage of cipher.
‘Our husband,’ the veiled lady replies.
‘“Most beloved of my wives,”’ the flattering fellow begins to read, ‘“I am well. I wish you are well. The weather is well. The buffaloes are well….”’ Here the wise man studies the document closely, and asks: ‘What is your husband’s name?’
‘Ah, yes; Almoon.’
THE HORSE MARKET.
SWEARING TO A BARGAIN.
The woman pays two metaleeks.
A few weeks later the same woman appears with another letter.
‘From whom is it?’ again the question.
‘Our husband,’ again the reply.
‘“Most beloved wife,”’ by way of variation, ‘“the weather is well. I am well. I wish you well.” What did you say your husband’s name is?’
‘Ah, yes; Almoon. Your husband’s writer does not form his letters well.’
The woman pays two more metaleeks.
Some time later she returns again. The intelligent man of letters recognises her this time, and employs his trained memory.
‘“Most beloved of my wives,”’ he begins, ‘“I hope you are well. I am——”’
‘Effendi,’ the woman interrupts, ‘this letter, I think, is from my sister.’
‘Ah, you should have told me!’
Another hole in the wall, the keeper clinking coin—no doubt as to his race, he deals in money. He charges a piastre (twopence) for changing a lira, but silver coins are bought by him at current value. In Turkey a gold piece seems to have no fixed value; but actually it is the price of silver that varies. In Constantinople a pound Turkish is worth 103 piastres, in Salonica only 101, but in Uskub it brings 105, and in Monastir 107 or 108. Obviously the thing to do is to buy silver coin in Monastir and sell it in Salonica. Imagine getting twenty-three shillings in change for a pound in Liverpool, twenty-two in Manchester, and twenty in London!
Over the opening of a larger booth bunches of blood-coloured skull-caps hang by long black or blue tassels a foot or more in length, resembling at no great distance the scalps and scalp-locks of Red Indians. White Albanian caps and Turkish fezzes are also on sale, and a row of heavy brass blocks, like closed mouth of cannon, line the front of this formidable-looking shop. These last are presses for fezzes, which are put in shape for two metaleeks.
Lemonade booths, faced with rows of huge bottles containing green, red, and yellow drinks—limes, blood oranges, and lemons corking the respective bottles—and other permanent shops line the hill road and flank the covered bazaars. But the real fair is held only once a week on the open space above, where the Turkish garrison performs its silent target practice.
Tuesday is the market day in Uskub, and the scene behind the ancient fortress above the Vardar, in view of the surrounding country for many miles, is alone worth going to Turkey to see. The vast hilltop is littered with native goods for sale or exchange, and crowded with men and women in gay and gruesome garbs. Albanian shepherds and their lean dogs mind flocks of fat-tailed sheep, their spectral wives, in faded ghost gowns, sit selling hand-worked waistcoats of gaudy hue; Christian peasants who have come afoot or on asses or driving primitive ox-carts, display all sorts of country commodities, from new grain to ice (in the summer time) from the white peaks in the distance; Turks have a little rough lumber (there is not much in Macedonia); and Turkish soldiers, among the most ragged men in the concourse, dispose of horses, old boots, hunks of bread, gathered—who knows how? Tziganes are always on the horse market. A photograph shows a bargain being made, a third man, a Turk, swearing a Bulgarian and a gypsy to an exchange of cows.
Our defeat at Istip had not been forgotten. Since then we had awaited only a reasonable excuse for taking a reasonable risk. One of the Austrians came in with the account of a combat between a Servian band and a Turkish regiment, which had taken place two days before at a spot in the mountains above a hamlet named Pschtinia, several hours’ ride towards the Bulgarian border. This was justification for breaking the Turks’ cordon about us. Our papers had sent us many miles at heavy expense, and we must have exclusive news. Better reading, to be sure, is the cool, considered report of reports written at headquarters, but the true correspondent always prefers to date his stuff at the firing-line.
To assure ourselves that we were taking no unnecessary risk, that there was no chance of securing permission to seek the scene of this fight, we called on the Governor-General, who had duped and deceived us many times—no doubt to his quiet satisfaction, though he was always too much of a gentleman to display delight in our dilemma.
‘Ah,’ said Hussein Hilmi Pasha, as we sipped his coffee, ‘you went to Istip, and were prevented from visiting Garbintzi. I sent orders to turn you back. As I have often told you, effendi, it is dangerous in the interior; one cannot say where a “brigand”’—his excellency meant a Bulgarian insurgent—‘may be lurking to shoot the European. I have letters from the chiefs threatening to kill a consul. As you know, they hope to make trouble for us with the Powers.’
‘But, excellency, you may give us an escort.’
‘Even with escort one is unsafe. They can fire at you from a mountain side high up above. They are fiends, these brigands; they do not care if they are killed themselves.’
‘But we were permitted to cross a most lawless section of the country, and were stopped only when we sought to visit the scene of a fight. Surely, your excellency, this is a mistaken policy on your part; we must gather that there is something to hide from correspondents.’ We had put down this argument before.
‘There is nothing to hide. Come to me, and I shall tell you the truth about all affairs. But I can permit no more travelling in the interior.’
The same old story. We left the pasha’s presence pretending disappointment. But his threat of Bulgarian ‘brigands’ did not disturb us, and we were willing to take the chance of encountering Albanians. We were going to Pschtinia. The game was not difficult; it required simply coolness and courage and a knowledge of the ways of the Turk. The Englishman possessed sufficient of the first two requisites, and I had dealt with the Ottoman authorities for more than a year.
Late that evening we sent our dragoman for a Turkish coachman, and hired him to be on hand the following morning at nine o’clock, Turkish time, to take us to Kalkandele, an Albanian town about the same distance off as is Pschtinia, but in the opposite direction. We knew the native coachman’s ways.
A jingle of many bells announced the arrival of our carriage next morning at ten o’clock Turkish (about 5.30), the hour at which we planned to leave. The bells were for the purpose of warning other vehicles coming the opposite way along steep roads, but they would also have the effect of disturbing sleeping guardhouses and apprising them of the fact that we were bound on a country journey. The danger of collision was the minor risk, and we ordered the driver to relieve his ponies of their noisy necklaces. The Turk protested, and commenced to discuss the matter, but there was no time for argument. Having got the bells safe under a seat, we told him to drive to Pschtinia.
‘You hired me to go to Kalkandele.’
‘We have changed our minds.’
‘But I have told the police you were going to Kalkandele.’
Exactly; and without doubt the first guardhouse on the road to the west had instructions to turn us back.
Our Turk soon learned that we were no meek and native Christians, and rather than lose his job altogether he obeyed our commands. We drove quietly through the deserted streets, the ponies’ hoofs pattering softly in the thick cushion of dust, the lucky beads on their harness rattling, one wheel of our shandrydan maintaining a rhythmic creak—but no one speaking. Drowsy patrols who had fallen asleep by the wayside looked up from the corners as we drove by, but our Turk on the box served us as a passport. Even the guardhouse at the far side of the Vardar was content to let us pass at this sleepy hour, seeing that our team was not equipped with country bells. We passed under the barracks observed only by the sentinel on the crest of the cliff, who blinked his heavy eyes and stared stupidly down like a waking owl, his head swinging a mechanical half-circle as we came into view and passed out again. A mile and a half through a million gravestones, stretching from the crooked roadway on either side across the sweep of a broad plateau—this was nerve-racking. We were in full view from the citadel, the barracks, the Konak, and several minarets—a black beetle crawling along a crooked chalk line drawn through a never-weeded prairie of white stone stalks and sheaves. We urged the driver to lay on the lash and crawl quicker, and we took turns in casting sly glances behind. But the end of this drear graveyard came at last. We switched sharply on a waggon trail to the left, and plunged into the hills, in a stroke clipping dreamy Uskub from the scene. We breathed freer; we were fairly started on our journey long before the guardhouse on the road to Kalkandele had given us up and reported our failure to pass their way.
From time to time our driver became unruly, slowing his pace and refusing to use his whip, protesting that his horses would not last to Pschtinia at the rate at which we were going. We promised to let him give them a long rest at our destination, to drive back to Uskub at his own pace, and to raise his fee a mijidieh, all of which, with occasional promptings, kept the horses to their fugitive gait. Our rattle-trap dashed through the cornfields, terrified the peasants in their harvesting, drew the shepherds’ dogs, and scattered grazing sheep, rolled down the mountain sides, making desperate swerves, and climbed up empty, assisted by its passengers. We passed Albanians and Bulgarians, who may have been brigands and insurgents, and questions were asked our driver, but he was out of temper and did not stop to reply. We made Pschtinia at eleven—the wonder, only a trace broke!—the Turk in a rage, and the sweat pouring from his panting steeds.
We chuckled at the expense of Hilmi Pasha, and drew visions of his wrath; he would permit us to see no more of the interior for ourselves. We grew bold here and planned to march on foot across Macedonia, from Uskub east to Djuma-bala, and from there on the Bulgarian border to Drama near the sea, a distance, all told, of three hundred miles, and you shall see whether we carried out this resolution.
The inhabitants of Pschtinia, many bandaged and limping, gathered round us and kissed our hands, thinking we were foreign Consuls come to inquire into their grievances. After the fight the Turks had passed through Pschtinia on their way back to barracks at Koumanova, stopped and beaten the peasants for having harboured the insurgents (which they protested they had not), and carried off the headmen to prison at the town. The old men insisted on showing us the welts on their backs and bruises on their legs, inflicted by the Turks with heavy sticks, and said that the villagers worst mauled had been taken to Koumanova to the doctor, and were now in the gaol there.
When we had eaten of the eggs and brown bread, and drunk of milk provided by different villagers, we climbed to the battlefield with two guides who had escaped mauling. It was a forlorn place for a last stand against overwhelming odds—a vast gravel dome, barren but for dwarfed yellow shrubs, and out of sight of every human habitation, even the village it sheltered. The band had been discovered some distance to the north, and chased by an ever-increasing pack of pursuers until driven to bay at this high peak. The insurgents attempted evidently to reach a forest on a neighbouring height, but the Turks cut them off before they could reach it. Little piles of stone a foot high, showing the haste with which they had been thrown together, were still standing, behind each a dark brown spot, a bloody rag or two, a scattering of empty Mauser cartridge-cases. On the slope of the dome we picked up Martini cases. ‘Turk,’ said the peasants. That was evident. The calibre was stamped in Turkish characters. Holes in the pink earth, with bits of cast iron firmly embedded in the rock, marked the places where the dynamite bombs had struck at the last charge, when the soldiers stormed the crest and the end of the insurgents was a matter of seconds.
Some time after the soldiers had withdrawn, and the dome was desolate again, a few peasants ventured to the top. They found the bodies of twenty-four Servians, battered and disfigured, and completely stripped; the Turks had taken away their own dead. Not so much of value as an old shoe remained on the battlefield. The next day the strong outfits of the insurgents, which had come from Belgrade, were sold by the soldiers on the market place at Koumanova. The peasants of Pschtinia rolled the bodies in coarse striped buffalo blankets, carried them down to the village, and buried them in the cemetery, the village priest performing the burial service. A rough wooden cross was raised over each grave. The villagers said the soldiers came back to Pschtinia and tore the crosses down; but they reared them again when the Turks were gone.
‘Are you Servians?’ we asked the peasants.
‘Then this band was an enemy to your party?’
‘But they were Christians.’
On descending to the village we found our Turk already harnessing his team. He had been fed, and so had his horses, and they were all in a more tractable mood. The villagers, hale and halt, gathered around our carriage as we prepared to start, and poured forth their blessings on our Christian heads. Several small boys brought us dirty little fried fish, about two inches long, as a parting gift. We took the fish, rewarding the young villagers, and, as we crossed the stream, deposited the smoky carcases whence they had been drawn wriggling an hour before.
Our driver took us home by a different route, more direct, he said, with a great ‘something’ to see. He had noted that the Englishman gave backsheesh, and was wont to put us in his countrymen’s way. He himself belonged to the world-fraternity of cab-men, whose instincts vary nowhere, East or West; but his cousin, to whom he took us, was a Turkish peasant, a man who, when the spirit of war is without his soul, is as true a gentleman as Occident or Orient produces.
In crossing a trackless moor to the road that led where our Turk would take us, we lost the road, and for an hour wandered aimlessly till we met an armed man with a woman who covered her face at sight of us. The armed man asked the usual questions of our Turk, and gave him directions.
It was five o’clock when we arrived at a great wall of mud bricks, infinitely higher and better built than those surrounding the average Macedonian dwelling, but dilapidated and showing long want of care. The walls enclosed a vast irregular area, and entirely obscured the view within. We drove round wondering and asking questions of our Turk, which he ignored with a smile. Finally, we approached a high gate designed after the fashion of that leading to the Sublime Porte. Our driver stood up on the box and began a hallooing, which burst like trumpet blasts on the still surroundings. It was some time before a far-off answer came over the walls. The call and the reply were continued, the latter drawing gradually nearer, and after some minutes a man spoke through a keyhole not less than five inches high. Our Turk descended from the carriage-box, was recognised by him within, and told to wait until the key was fetched. We then peered through the keyhole, and after a brief interval spied the inmate returning from the house toiling under the weight of an iron key of robust diameter and a foot and a half long.
The huge oak gate was swung back, and we entered, greeted with a dignified salaam and a shake of the hand. There are no social classes among the Turks across which the hand-shake is debarred. Deference is shown superiors only in the salaam, a pasha receiving a lower bow with an extra twist of the hand than that given a bey, and a bey a lower dip of hand and head than a bimbashee, a bimbashee than an ordinary mortal effendi.
The Turk who welcomed us was the keeper, and, with his wife, the only occupant of this vast estate, the empty home of an exiled bey. The house was shown to us by both the keeper and his wife, who, though, of course, a Mohamedan woman, wore no veil. The house was handsome for this part of the country, but depleted even of furniture. The only pictures on the walls were common paintings on the plaster now cracked and falling. The harem, where marble divans for five wives were built in nooks, was filled with newly harvested grain. A bold rooster, the only lord of the manor, cackled to half a dozen happy hens and scattered the corn. We helped the keeper eject the usurper and his feminine following.
A bridge, resembling the Bridge of Sighs, led out of the harem into the dwelling of the exiled lord, bare like the other house. We climbed the creaky, dust-covered stairs to a turret at the point of the roof, which overlooked the surrounding walls and afforded a view of the encircling mountains. A brilliant southern sun was setting in an Oriental sky, and a train of three buffalo teams, silhouetted in the glow, crept along the sky-line.
Late in the evening we passed through the long cemetery and entered Uskub. Lights were out for the night, and patrols paced the streets. We were halted several times, but our driver’s Turkish rang true, and we proceeded to the gates of Hôtel Turati, where, after much knocking, Nicola roused from his slumbers and removed the bars.
METROVITZA AND THE ALBANIANS
‘Listen, my brothers! You must be ready for the Holy War. When you hear for the second time the voice of public crier Mecho, gather great and small, of all ages between seven and seventy, and range yourselves under the banners. Those who have blood debts have nothing to fear. God and the country pardon them. The Seven Kings are banded together, but we do not fear them, nor would they frighten us if they were seventy, or as many more.’
The clans agreed upon a bessa, or truce, blood feuds were declared off for the time, and the Albanians of Jakova, Ipek, and other districts neighbouring Metrovitza banded together, great and small, of all ages, to combat the reforms imposed upon the Sultan by the Powers.
The feature of the reforms which gave them most offence was the mixed gendarmerie. The British Consul at Uskub had suggested that it would be sheer slaughter to create Christian police among the Albanians. But the arrogant Russian, who at that time played first fiddle in the opéra comique, opposed this view, probably for no other reason than that it was English; and the Turks, who make game of mad methods, agreed to the Austro-Russian demands with alacrity, and sent six Servian gendarmes to Vutchitrin.
The public crier made his second call. Albanians to the number of several thousand foregathered and visited Vutchitrin. But arriving there they found the Turkish kaimakam had sent the sorry Serbs away to a secret place of safety.
This was not a dire disappointment for the Albanians; they projected bigger sport for the following day and kept the peace during the night. Early next morning they set forth for Metrovitza, a short march, to fulfil a promise, made a year before, to destroy the newly established Russian Consulate. But, over-confident and swaggering with pride, they boasted openly of what they would do, and when they came to the Consular town they found the roads blocked with infantry and covered by cannon. The Albanians halted, and the chiefs went forward to parley with the Turkish commander: they were faithful followers of the Padisha, doing only what he would desire. But the Turk could not be moved, and threatened to fire if the Albanians advanced.
The Albanians did not believe that the Sultan’s soldiers would fire on the faithful, and when the whole force had gathered they marched boldly upon the town by two roads at the same time. They were met by a volley from the troops, and, much cut up, retired. A body of them occupied an old mill across a little stream which bordered the barracks, and fired upon the garrison from there until shelled out. Then the whole number, after collecting their dead—with the tacit permission of the Turks—withdrew to their own towns. But the Russian Consul was not to escape.
The garrison of Metrovitza, which was largely Albanian, sympathised thoroughly with the Albanian effort that had failed, and, indeed, every Mohamedan did. The Government had got more than it bargained for. The garrison was sore and sullen, and when the soldiers gathered at the cafés in the evening, it was to deplore the day’s work and to speculate upon the Padisha’s will.
At one café a fanatic dervish, after working his hearers to frenzied pitch, exclaimed, ‘And is there not a single Mohamedan who will rid us of this giaour?’
‘I will,’ said a piping little voice.
‘You! Oh, no, you will not!’ said the dervish scornfully.
‘I will,’ repeated the other.
He was a soldier who had been in the fight, a slim, sickly fellow with a sad visage. I saw him on trial at Uskub.
The next morning M. Stcherbina, attired in Russian uniform, followed by a Cossack, two heavily armed kavasses, and a troop of soldiers, officers, and officials—the Turks doing honour and service against their convictions—went out to inspect the line of battle, the plan of which, it was alleged, the Russian had directed. As the Consul in great state passed, the sentinels presented arms—which the Russians exact of the Turks. One Mohamedan, required thus to degrade himself, lowered his gun quickly as the Consul passed before him at a distance of three paces, and without waiting to aim, fired a fatal ball into the ‘infidel’s’ body. Then, flinging away his gun, the soldier started at a mad pace down the slope, over the rocks toward the mountains of Albania.
The Consul’s retinue, surprised for a moment, were soon after the fugitive, firing fast; but he travelled a hundred yards before they wounded him. The Cossack claimed, and no doubt fired, the telling shot.
At his first trial the murderer was condemned to prison for a term of fifteen years. Strange to say, Abdul Hamid is averse from capital punishment. But the Russians were not satisfied with this sentence and demanded a new trial; and at the second hearing, at Uskub (a mock affair with the verdict pre-determined) the soldier was condemned to death. Before he was executed the White Czar pardoned the murderer of M. Stcherbina! But a few months later, not only the murderer of M. Roskowsky, Russian Consul at Monastir, but also a soldier who stood by and saw the deed done, and made no attempt to prevent it, were hanged at Russian command.
The ways of the Turk and the ways of the Russian are wonderful and similar.
The display of the Russian dead was truly Russian. The body of M. Stcherbina was placed on a bier in a goods car, lined and completely covered with mourning, on each side and each end an immense white cross. This moving catafalque was dragged from Metrovitza to Salonica, met along the route by Servian and Bulgarian clergy and such Consuls as would participate in the demonstration, and opened for services at the chief stations. At Salonica the body was laid in state in a new Bulgarian church, from which there was a great parade to a Russian man-of-war, Consuls all participating, Turkish soldiers and officials doing honour.
The object of these proceedings seemed to be to impress Turks, Christians, and Jews alike with the power of Russia. Alas! for the power of Russia, the Japanese war soon followed, and its result delighted Turks and Jews and many Christians.
From Constantinople came a commission of holy men with gifts from the Sultan and arguments from the Koran to conciliate the injured Albanians. But they would not be reconciled. Abdul Hamid had kept them armed for generations for his own purposes, had chosen his bodyguard from among them because of their faithfulness, and now no amount of backsheesh, or multiloquence about their transgressing the will of God, would bring them to terms. They were going to fight. So the Albanian soldiers were brought out of the Albanian districts and replaced by purely Turkish regiments. More Anatolians were brought over from Asia Minor in vast numbers, and mobilised at Verisovitch.
Those who knew the Turkish Government doubted that actual hostilities against the Albanians would take place. But Russia was pressing—threatening a naval demonstration with the Black Sea fleet—and the Sultan fought his faithful friends.
Two small encounters took place. Of course the Albanians, badly armed and without organisation, were easily defeated. The chiefs were made prisoners and taken to Constantinople, where they were decorated, probably pensioned for life, and made altogether better off than they had been hitherto.
It is supposed that the Sultan ‘fixed’ his Albanian bodyguard before he sent an army against their brothers, for had not his own safety been secured, it can be taken he would have preferred war with the ‘Seven Kings.’
Metrovitza, being on the railway, was accessible without the permission of Hilmi Pasha, and an Englishman, a Dane, and I went up to see the battle ground. We were invited to visit the Russian Consulate, and found a Russian kavass awaiting us with a bodyguard of soldiers.
It was not a far walk from the station to the Consulate, which we recognised from a distance by the tremendous tricolour that floated from the balcony, drooping to within six feet of the road beneath. The Consulate was situated between the barracks and a camp of Turkish soldiers, and on several sides, immediately about the house, were small detachments of picked troops.
First to greet us as we entered the door was the Cossack, in bushy busby, blue dress with large white spots, brown sleeves, leggings, and many weapons. He was a moth-like creature, hair, beard, and skin the same sickly pallor, and eyes of a dull blue. The kavasses—generally swaggering—looked sheepish; they were Albanians—traitors, in their countrymen’s eyes. But the Consul, M. Mashkov, late of Uskub, was full of fire, actually pugnacious, and, so he told us, ready to die in his country’s service.
A telegram arrived a few minutes after we did, containing a warning that the Sublime Porte had received a letter from the Bulgarian committajis, informing the Turkish Government of their intention to assassinate another Russian consul. The object of this telegram—the origin of which is obvious—I am at a loss to understand, but such warnings to consuls come constantly from the Turkish Government.
‘They have killed M. Stcherbina,’ said M. Mashkov; ‘they may kill me; but they cannot kill the Russian Consul!’
The Dane asked the Consul if he really thought he would be assassinated, and M. Mashkov replied, ‘I expect to leave Turkey as M. Stcherbina did. If the Albanians do not kill me, the Bulgarians will.’
But I am glad to record that our entertaining and generous host—whose ideas and sympathies, I regret, do not agree with mine—was soon transferred to Egypt, and got away from Turkey alive.
We tramped over the battlefield in the same manner that the dead Russian had done, with Russian kavasses and Turkish soldiers for our protection, and a Turkish officer who spoke French as a conductor. We resembled a Russian commission, and the sentinels rose from the ground and saluted. Every time we passed one the sins of my life all came back to my mind.
Albania is the most romantic country in Europe, probably in all the world. It is a lawless land where might makes right, and parts of it are as forbidding to the foreigner as darkest Africa. In the country around Ipek, Jakova, and Prisrend, and even Kalkandele, the homes of men are strongholds built of stone, with no windows on the ground floors, and those above mere loopholes. At the corners of a village or estate are kulers, towers of defence, from which the enemy can be seen far down the road.
The first law of the land is the law of the gun, as it was in the Wild West. But the country is more thickly populated than was the American border in the old days, and men have banded together in clans for offensive and defensive purposes.
There is no education in Albania—the Turks have kept the country illiterate—and promises have come to be bonds. It is because the Albanians keep their word that Abdul Hamid has chosen them as his bodyguard. But the Albanian has no regard for the man he has not sworn to, and, though the petty thief is despised, it is considered brave work to kill a man for his money.
Albanian customs are dangerous to break, and are handed down the generations unwritten as sacredly as are feuds. Some strange customs exist. To compliment an unmarried woman, for instance, is provocation for death. A blood enemy is under amnesty while in the company of a woman. A woman may shoot a fiancé who breaks his betrothal or call upon the young man’s father to kill him. If a man commits murder, and, flying for his life, enters the house of another, friend or foe, he is safe. This is the case, even if he takes refuge in the house of a brother of the man he has slain. He may not remain there for ever; but for three days he can live on the best the house provides. When that time is up, he is shown on his way. Twenty-four hours is given him to make his escape; after that the bessa is over and the blood feud begins.
THE ALBANIAN AND HIS KULER. ALBANIAN.
In their national dress the Albanians of the North are always distinguishable. The men wear baggy trousers, usually white, tight fitting to the ankle. Down each side of them and over the back is a broad band of rich black silk cording. Very often a design in rich red tapers down each leg to the knee. A broad sash (over a leather belt), between trousers and shirt, serves as holster for pistol and yataghan. A short, richly worked waistcoat reaches down to the top of the sash, but misses meeting across the chest by six inches. The costumes differ considerably in various parts of Albania. In Southern Albania the men wear pleated ballet skirts like the Northern Greeks.
For headgear the Albanian generally wears a tiny, tight-fitting white skull-cap which looks in the sun like a bald spot. Some wear caps of Ottoman red, from which a rich, full, flowing silk tassel of black or dark blue falls to the shoulders.
The cut of the hair is peculiar. The men of one section will have their heads closely shaven, except in one circular space about an inch across. The single tuft curls down underneath the cap like a Red Indian’s scalp-lock. Others will shave the top of the head where the cap rests. There is reason in this; as the Mohamedan seldom removes his fez, the heat over the head is thereby equalised. There are a dozen other cuts, none of which beautify the Albanian; nevertheless, he is always of striking appearance.
The Albanians are of pure European origin. They are tall, broad-shouldered men, with fine faces. They are quite unlike any of the other people of Macedonia, even speaking a totally different language. While nothing definite is known of their origin, it is more than probable that they are the descendants of the ancient Illyrians, who once occupied all the western side of the Balkan Peninsula, and were gradually driven to the mountains of Albania by the successive invasions of Greeks, Romans, Slavs, and Turks.
Albania has never been wholly subdued or civilised. It was partially conquered by Servian princes in the Middle Ages, and under them attained a certain civilisation; but at the Turkish conquest it relapsed into a wild state.
The majority of the Albanians have become Mohamedans, chiefly because the religion carried with it the right to bear arms and other privileges. In ‘Turkey in Europe,’ there is an account of a characteristic Albanian conversion. Until about a hundred years ago the inhabitants of a certain little group of villages in Southern Albania had retained their Christianity. Finding themselves unable to repel the continual attacks of a neighbouring Moslem population, ‘they met in a church, solemnly swore that they would fast until Easter, and invoked all the saints to work within that period some miracle that would better their miserable lot. If this reasonable request were not granted, they would all turn Mohamedan. Easter day came, but no signs from saint or angel, and the whole population embraced Islam.’ Soon afterwards, the change of faith was rewarded; they obtained the arms which they desired, and had the satisfaction of massacring their old opponents and taking possession of their lands.
A GROUP OF ALBANIANS.
Northern and Southern Albanians are quite different peoples. The Ghegs and the Tosks they are respectively called. The Tosks are less turbulent than their Northern brothers. They are ruled by beys, or hereditary landlords, in a feudal manner. These beys owe an allegiance to the Sultan. They receive their titles from the Turk, and unless they do his bidding to the modest extent he demands, a means of getting rid of them is found.
In the North, however, there is not this handle to whip in proselytes. A Catholic propaganda is protected by Austria, and, with the exception of one clan, which is all Catholic, every tribe contains both Mussulmans and Christians. This demonstrates that there is little fanaticism among them. The clan is stronger than the religious feeling.
It would be difficult for the Turks to carry out there the custom of disarming Christians. But the Ottoman Government has secured the loyalty of Christian as well as Mohamedan Ghegs by allowing them to pillage and kill their non-Albanian neighbours to their hearts’ content. They are ever pressing forward, burning, looting, and murdering the Servians of the vilayet of Kossovo. The frontier line of Albania has been extended in this way far up into Old Servia. Even the frontier of Servia proper is not regarded by these lawless mountain men. They often make raids into the neighbouring State, as they have done into Bulgaria when quartered as soldiers on that border.
The Albanians have overrun all Macedonia. They have found their way in large numbers as far as Constantinople. But beyond their own borders and the sections of Kossovo from which the Servians have fled, they are held within certain bounds. In many Albanian districts the Albanians are exempt from military service, but large numbers of them join the Turkish army as volunteers. They enlist for the guns and cartridges.
The Albanian looks down on the Turk. You insult an Albanian and compliment a Turk if you take either for the other. An Albanian seldom wears a Turkish fez. Even in the Turkish army the low white skull-cap is his head-covering.
Sometimes the Albanians show very little regard for their Turkish officers. Once at Salonica I saw a company refuse to board a train because some contraband tobacco had been taken from them by the officials of the foreign monopoly that exists in Turkey. But the Turk is different; he is fanatically subordinate. On several occasions I have seen Turkish soldiers stand like inanimate things while their officers pulled their ears, punched their heads and kicked them.
If they thought their Padisha in earnest the Turkish private and peasant would never resist a measure of reform. But the Albanians have always resisted reforms for the reason that reforms would interfere with their privileges.
The disarming of the Albanians is indispensable to reforms in Macedonia. The establishment of law courts in Albania was one of Hilmi Pasha’s additions to the Austro-Russian scheme of reforms! If this reform is ever applied, both parties in a case will go into court with all their weapons, and the result will be—no matter which way the verdict goes—the death of the judge.
Of late years attempts have been made by educated Albanians residing in Bucharest and in Italy to create an agitation for Albanian autonomy; but these movements have had no effect as yet on the Albanians; the Turks are too clever at their control. Should a leader appear among them who threatens organisation or civilisation, an emissary of the Sultan arrives with gifts and decorations. If the chief is not venal, he is enticed or taken secretly by force to Constantinople, where he may be given authority over a district or province which will more than compensate him for his loss, but where he can work the empire no harm.
There is no free Albanian border state, as with the Greeks, the Bulgarians, and the Serbs, and the Turks are able to prevent the Albanians from becoming educated. There are Catholic schools in Northern Albania and Orthodox Greek in Southern Albania, but the Turks deny the very existence of the Albanian language. The publication of Albanian books is prevented and Albanian schools are suppressed. A few years ago some of the wealthier inhabitants of a certain town started a school to teach their children their own tongue. One evening the professor disappeared. He was stolen by Turkish soldiers, deported, and imprisoned. He was held for eight months without trial, and then as arbitrarily released. He received the usual Turkish shrug of the shoulders when he asked the reason for the outrage. This was at Cortia, where the Turk’s rule is not merely nominal.
The position of the Albanians in Turkey is unique. It is in the power of the Turks to subdue and govern them; but the Sultans have preferred to give them licence and to keep the strip of Adriatic land they occupy a lawless barrier against the West. There is no railway across Albania, there is only one place along the coast at which ships stop, and the foreigner is forbidden by both Albanian and Turk. The Turk protests that he cannot afford the European safe passport across Albania, and the Albanian has been taught to suspect every European as a spy come to reconnoitre for a foreign Power.
A few men from civilisation have been to the heart of this romantic country. In order to get there safely it is necessary to acquire the friendship and the confidence of the chief of a clan, and to get from him a promise of safe passport. Only on one occasion, it is said, did anyone trusting himself to an Albanian chief lose his life. The man, with all his escort, was killed by the members of a hostile clan, and to this day a blood feud lasts as a result.
To take the risk of entering Albania without reason seemed foolhardy, and as we never had adequate excuse, we left the Balkans without fulfilling our earnest desire to cross it. We touched the country, however, from the east and from the west, and encountered Albanians everywhere in Macedonia.
We sailed down the Adriatic from Trieste, bound for Greece, the mountains of Albania often visible, and we touched, among Italian and other ports, at Hagio Saranda. The place has as many names—Albanian, Turkish, Slav, Italian, German—as it has houses. The Austrian-Lloyd steamer dropped anchor in the bay, and several queer, unwieldy row-boats—small barges—came up alongside for a few boxes of Austrian goods. The ship lay at anchor an hour, and we went ashore. The same cringing, unarmed Christians, the same swaggering Albanians, the same suspicious officials and ragged soldiers. The Turks bowed politely as we landed, and asked questions. We were going down the shore to take a bath.
‘This is a small town, effendi; we are sorry there is no bath here.’
We were not searching a Turkish bath, and we explained by signs that we were going out to swim.
‘But, effendi, you have not sufficient time.’
We knew we had.
The argument lasted some time longer, until we broke off rudely, leaving the officials talking. They did not stop us, but ordered all the soldiers to follow and see what our object really was; and they stood behind bushes and rocks from which they could watch us, and also cover any insurgents with whom we might have rendezvous.
THE LONG TRAIL
There was excuse for us to cross Macedonia. Twenty-five thousand peasants from Turkey had taken refuge in Bulgaria, and no correspondent had personal knowledge of the state of affairs that caused this exodus. The Man of Yorkshire and I got together again and appointed a day to start on the journey we had planned long since. We instructed Alexander the Bulgar to appear on the morning with a pair of socks in his pocket. Alexander had the temerity to ask the reason for luggage. We gave him no hint. Alexander was not safe enough to be trusted with the secret. Again we hired a carriage with a Turkish driver to take us to Kalkandele; and again we succeeded in getting out of town while the Turks dozed, bound in an opposite direction.
WAYFARERS AT A ROADSIDE FOUNTAIN: TURKS.
To Egri-Palanka, the frontier town at which we proposed to leave the carriage and take to our legs, was a two days’ journey. We spent the intervening night at a lone khan, miles away from any other habitation. The Turk protested, and attempted to draw up at a Turkish blockhouse, but by vigorous methods we got the horses past this danger spot at a pace which did not give the Turkish officer time to make up his mind.
Stable for beast and stable for man were one and the same at the khan, and the Turk declared the Christian food unfit to eat. We had eggs which had seen better days, gritty black bread, and goat’s milk with wool in it. Alexander and the Turk consumed a quantity of heady wine and advised us to do so, but we liked not the stuff. Supper over, we stretched ourselves out for the night, one upon the table, the rest on benches, the other alternative being the floorless ground. There were no rugs for us to lie on and no covering, and no one thought of undressing.
We had hardly laid ourselves down in this unholy place than the ‘plagues of Egypt gat about us.’ Even across the table from which we had supped half an hour before they came at us in battalions. Alexander and the Turk, insensible with drink, groaned and tossed, but snored nevertheless; sleep, however, was impossible for us. We shook ourselves, unbarred the doors, and escaped to the still high road, which we paced most of the night. It was too cold to sleep.
Through the windows we saw the sleepers by the dim light of a taper, tossing and fighting. This was some comfort to us.
‘I’m glad,’ said the Man of Yorkshire when Alexander the Bulgar emerged much scarred from the battle of the night, hundreds of the enemy lying dead upon the expanse of his sturdy chest, ‘I am glad all was not peaceful with you and the Turk.’
‘You mistake,’ said Alexander; ‘we slept profoundly.’
‘Why, we saw you tossing all night long, and your groans were pitiful.’
‘Ah, monsieur, we drank well at supper; and though the arms moved and the mouth talked the eyes remained closed.’
After vast deviations to ford streams and avoid bridges, we arrived at Egri-Palanka. As we expected, a smiling police officer awaited us on the outskirts of the town. Our escape from Uskub had been discovered, our direction traced, and instructions to turn us back had been wired on. After many gracious bows and compliments, the policeman invited himself into our carriage, and never again left us until we left Egri-Palanka. He conducted us to the khan, where he was joined by several gendarmes. The polite chief introduced us to the others, announcing that they were for our service and safety, and we all salaamed and shook hands.
After a meal, a wash, and a short rest, we went, followed by the gendarmes, to visit the gypsy quarter, the kaimakam, and other sights. When we left the town to climb to the Bulgarian monastery a troop of soldiers suddenly appeared to augment our following. The Englishman and I could have outstripped the ill-conditioned Turks in a mile, but it was part of the game we were playing to pretend to despise walking, and we stopped a dozen times to rest, feigning fatigue.
The high road to Uskub was without a crossing, and when we departed the following day, bound back the way we had come, the authorities of Egri-Palanka seemed relieved and assured. Considering our foreign susceptibilities, our escort did not surround us; it followed at a distance of half a mile.
We pulled up the hood of the carriage—not because of the sun—and hustled the driver. At every stiff hill we got out, to relieve the horses and to get a sight of the party in the rear. They were suffering, apparently, from the pace we were setting. It was extremely hot, and we left them further and further behind. After an hour of this we were quite a mile in the lead.
We had packed our few effects in shape to sling over our shoulders, one sack for Alexander. At a convenient bend in the road we halted our shandrydan, passed Alexander his pack, and handed a letter to the driver. The letter was to be delivered at Uskub that night without fail, and upon the presentation of it he was to receive his fare. Had we paid him he would have gone to Palanka again to pick up another load. This much through the mouth of the equally bewildered Alexander, who was then dragged from the box and hustled through three acres of standing barley before he knew what had got him.
It came off! How we slogged through that corn and down into the valley, looking back, with the perspiration streaming off our faces, to see our driver toiling away through the dust, presenting a large and discreet carriage hood to the unsuspecting escort. Presently a kindly hill shut out the road, and we struck our route by the map and the sun.
Three or four miles up the road the driver would come to the military post already mentioned, where he would halt to feed his horses; the escort would overtake him, and he would tell of our flight. A couple of hours was the most we could count on before the pursuit was started.
What a day of dodging roads and skirting villages, of scrambling up perpendicular mountain sides, and peering for Turkish patrols on the red line of high road below! It was fun the first day. We made a wager of a mijidieh, the optimistic Man of Yorkshire betting that we would not be caught before the night. I lost. I was glad to lose—the first day. We renewed the wager for the following day.
We spied a snug, secluded little village—Christian, because there was no minaret—and dropped down to it at dark. It was Servian, and the Servian schoolmaster gave us supper and shelter.
‘The peasants think you are Bulgarian,’ he said.
‘Committaji?’ we asked.
‘Yes,’ he said.
We told the schoolmaster to persuade them we were not.
There was little danger that they would bring the soldiers down upon us, knowing the habit of the Turk to visit vengeance upon the town that harbours committajis. But we learned that there were three families of Turkish peasants living in the village, and this, indeed, alarmed us. It was quite on the cards that they would trot over to Kratovo, half an hour away, and come back with a cheery gang of Anatolians or Albanians, whose habit in dealing with insurgents is to fire the house in which they are and shoot them as they emerge from the flames.
So we sent our compliments to the Turks (Mohamedans must be treated with deference) and requested them to call; which they did, and were convinced that we were not Bulgarians. Nevertheless, we spent a most uncomfortable night. We lay on the rough gallery rolled in rugs, watching the fireflies and listening for the ‘fire brigade,’ falling asleep from dead weariness and starting out of it at every sound.
We got away from the Servian village early the following morning, taking a guide for the direction in which we were bound, but not divulging our destination. We shook him off when we got the lay of the country and were certain of our maps again.
About noon we dropped, as intended, into the monastery of Lesnova. We sat down by a fountain in the courtyard, the brown-timbered structure enclosing three sides, and over the mud wall on the fourth stretched the valley into the blue distance. A palsied beggar in a filthy state devoured food like a ravenous wolf, washing it down unchewed with great gulps of water. The old abbot who came out to greet us said they could do nothing for the man’s ailments; there are no doctors in the country, and folk who become ill die.
Here we got the first news of events which had driven the Christian peasants to Bulgaria. The story was the same we had heard so often before; nothing new except the details of tortures. Of these there are sufficient in later chapters; for this, the adventure of our long trail.
The monks gave us a good meal, and we slept for an hour on a comfortable divan, for we were footsore already. The soles of my boots and those of Alexander’s—whom we had now come to call ‘Sandy’—had gone, and we were driven to native charruks—which, from their absence of heels, caused me to walk as on eggs for many miles, and made my insteps very sore. The Englishman’s clumsy foot-gear outlasted mine by many hours; still, I do not believe in British boots.
Shortly after one o’clock we were on the climb again, up a decent path for once, which led over a big hill towards the town of Sletovo. A delightful town it appeared, as we looked down from behind a bush at the top of the hill. It was surrounded by tents, with even barracks to add a charm. The first sight of us from one of those tents by any intelligent soldier, and our trekking was over! By great luck a trail led off to the right, which seemed to skirt the tents entirely, and we picked our way cautiously down it, concealed by a shoulder of the hill. At the bottom the trail turned straight into the town. There was another path somewhere to the right leading away; but how to get to it? Just as we had made up our minds for a dash through some corn we came on the connecting link, a dry watercourse, and we were soon on the circular tour. But now, while keenly watching the tents to the left, an ancient tower—probably of Roman antiquity—appeared on our right front. Outside this, with his rifle leaning against the wall, squatted a sentry, dirgeing a dismal Oriental lay. He was not more than two hundred yards off, and commanded a view of our heads and shoulders above the corn; but there was nothing for it except to go ahead. I am confident that I watched that songster with one eye and the town on the opposite side with the other. For five minutes our fate hung on the balance. Our hats were unmistakable; no one but a man from civilisation wears anything with a brim to it in that part of the country. Once his dull eye was caught by our headgear we were booked. But the amiable creature sang on, his mind probably back in Anatolia; and we dropped out of sight to the next stream and took a big drink.
Late that afternoon a few drops of rain came down, a delightful sensation to the parched and dusty ‘foot-slogger’; but presently this increased to sheets of water driven before a cold wind, and for half an hour we clung, soaked, to the slimy face of a bank, with little mud waterfalls dribbling down our necks. Then the storm blew over. The path, awkward at any time, was like a switchback skating-rink, down which we slid and staggered with horrible swoops and marvellous recoveries, to a boiling yellow torrent below, about as fordable as the Mississippi in flood. We had hoped to do a greater distance this day, but neither of us was sorry—though neither of us admitted it—that we had to seek shelter on this side of the stream. There was an attractive-looking place near at hand, but a forbidding minaret stood high above the poplars; and we pushed on to the first Christian village.
We had slogged for two days, travelled for four; we were sore in every joint and muscle, wet to the skin, and chilled to the bone. We began to lose temper with each other, and vented our feelings upon Sandy. We spoke seldom, except at meals, when our spirits revived, and in the fresh hours of the morning. Now we were sour and snappish, and each disagreed with whatever the other proposed. The constant strain and the heavy marching were beginning to tell on our dispositions. And we had hardly begun our journey. I was sorry I lost the bet. Perhaps the other man was too.
IN A MOUNTAIN VILLAGE: BULGARIAN PEASANTS DANCING THE HORO.
The headman of a Bulgarian village received us with the hand-shake that is the sign of friendship. He thought we were insurgents. They were harbouring one in the village. Sitting on a wooden platform under the low thatch of his roof, we pulled off our wringing things to the last stitch, half the village looking on, absorbed and unabashed. Clad in our ‘other’ shirts (which were fortunately dry), we scrambled through the stable to an opening through which we could discern a fire burning. Our host’s wooden sandals were not easy to keep a balance on. With smarting eyes I groped through the smoke towards the ‘window,’ a two-foot hole for chickens in the wall on the ground level, and sat, feet outstretched towards the wood fire in the middle of the hard earth floor. By degrees I made out the hostess hanging up our garments to dry. The other man crawled towards me, and we sat coughing and blinking at the native bread-making. A flat, round, earthen dish was made red hot on the fire, then taken off and the dough slapped into it. A lid was then buried in the embers, and, when hot enough, put on the top of the dough. This primitive oven turns out a fine crust, but the middle of the loaf is very pasty.
Sandy now appeared with an armful of wet things, and hung the hats on a bundle of clothes and wrappings by the fire, which began to squeal. We discovered that this was the youngest member of the family, fast approaching a score in number.
After the row had died down we gathered that our ‘room’ was prepared. This consisted of the usual mud floor and walls, with a straw mat and home-made rugs to sleep on, and a couple of red bolsters. Here we sprawled and supped under the interested eyes of a donkey and a bundle of torch-lit natives who squatted outside the door.
In the morning our toilets caused much amusement. The assembly—which, for aught I know, watched us through the entire night—was much puzzled over what it seemed to think was an attempt on my part to swallow a small brush greased with pink paste. It broke into a general laugh when I parted my hair, being sure I was combing it for another reason.
One of the patrols which was sent out after us—we learned later—arrived at this village an hour after we left; but the peasants had no idea whither we had gone.
The torrential stream had subsided into a babbling brook when we forded it, about eight o’clock, and boldly took the high road to Kotchana. We were weary of rough mountain paths, and kept this course until within dangerous proximity of the town, then struck off into the fields—this time rice fields. It was the season when the fields were flooded, and the only way across was by the tops of the embankments, which held us high to the view of anyone in the neighbourhood. We had gone too far to retrace our steps when we discovered we were in Turkish fields. We came suddenly to a dry patch of ground. A score or more Turkish women, their veils slung back over their shoulders, their loose black cloaks laid to one side, were working the ground in their gaudy bloomers. At sight of us there was a wild flutter for veils—but not a sound.
We maintained our well-drilled blankness of expression and passed on, soldiers three, single file. I was in advance breaking through the weeds when I stumbled upon the husband of the harem. The bey was lying supine upon his back in the grass, a great umbrella shading his face. The rotund gentleman grunted, and slowly opened his eyes. He seemed uncertain for a moment whether I was man or nightmare, but when I spoke he knew he was awake. He scrambled to his feet, drew a great, gaudy revolver, and levelled it full in my face. Of course I did not pull my gun. I fell back, shouting quickly, as I had done on a previous occasion, ‘Inglese, Inglese effendi.’ Alexander to the rescue! That worthy, from a covered position in our rear, informed his Majesty the Mohamedan that we were English, as I had said. That we were foreign Christians was evident from the fact that we carried arms. The old Turk seemed rather ashamed of the fright he had displayed, and, slyly tucking his revolver into his red sash, stepped to one side and bowed us the right of way.
This day we encountered many pitfalls. How we escaped one after another seemed so incredible to the Turkish authorities, when we were finally rounded up, that they seriously suspected we had come by an ‘underground’ route.
We were afraid that the bey would hurry into Kotchana and inform the authorities that two strange Franks had passed, but as long as we could see him he still maintained his post, watching his women work. About three hours later, however, while we were enjoying a refreshing and much-needed wash in a cool mountain stream, Alexander keeping watch, a cavalry patrol of half a dozen men came up at full gallop. We had just time to duck behind a sandbank, almost beneath their horses’ hoofs.
Towards midday Sandy waxed mutinous. He was a most submissive servant while we travelled like gentlemen, but his spirit rankled under the dangers into which he was led like a lamb. ‘If you are killed,’ he would frequently remark, ‘your parents will receive much money, but what will the Turkish Government give my poor mother?’ We had not been fair to Sandy.
In skirting Vinitza the boy lay down in a corn patch and refused to budge. The soles had again gone from his shoes, and now the soul could go from his body. He was resigned; all Bulgarians must be martyrs. The Turks could take him.
Threats availed nothing; pleading was of no use. Finally we took his pack and carried it as well as our own, and promised to get a horse for him, by pay or intimidation, from the first unarmed Bulgarian we encountered. On this condition he struggled to his feet. Poor Sandy! the worst, for him, had not yet come.
The peasants along our route this day were numerous, for it was market day at Vinitza, and we had no difficulty in hiring a horse for Alexander. Then, however, we became too conspicuous. We gathered fellow-travellers to the number of probably fifty, both Bulgars and Turks, who asked the usual innumerable questions. Sandy, in spite of all admonitions, would tell all he knew to whoever asked. We heard him say ‘Skopia,’ ‘Palanka,’ ‘Kratovo’ in his soft Slav way. We cussed Sandy, and he lied. He said he had not told them whence we had come. But he knew no more than the natives whither we were bound!
A party of Turkish peasants, much armed, spurned Sandy, and would speak with us direct. When they discovered their dilemma their tone became surly and insulting.
We passed through a long, narrow defile most fragrant with honeysuckle and wild roses, and occasional cool breaths from the pines on the slopes above came down to us. A sense of peace pervaded the place, and, growing accustomed to our company, we enjoyed the relief of a comparatively good road and no towns or encampments. But the pass came to an abrupt termination, and there at its mouth sat a band of twenty soldiers! For a few minutes things looked rather nasty, but our British and American passports, with their huge red seals, were so impressive to the ignorant soldiers that they feared to lay hands on us. They asked whither we were going, and we replied, ‘Towards Pechovo.’ But on falling behind the next hill in that direction we deserted our peasant following and struck off on our own route.
This was the longest day’s track we made. We covered thirty miles in ten hours; during which our midday meal was off a loaf of bread bought for a metaleek from a peasant Turk. I gave him a piastre and he insisted on giving me change.
We encountered a Bulgarian who lived on a hillside about an hour off, joined him, and wended our way to his hut for our last night in hiding. I owed the Man of Yorkshire still another mijidieh.
We slept in the open, under a tree; the hut was too full.
We rose very early in the morning and started off on three miserable ponies gathered by our host from neighbouring mountain men. We had hardly proceeded two hundred yards when we were challenged by a Turkish post. A dilapidated blockhouse stood at the foot of the hill on which we had slept, and our slumbers would not have been so peaceful had either we or the Turks known of the others’ presence. The soldiers were unofficered and could not read, and an attitude of assurance, supported by our red seals, again passed us on.
The man who accompanied us to bring back the horses had just returned from Bulgaria, whither he had fled leaving a pretty wife and six small children.
‘Brute!’ observed the Man of Yorkshire.
‘Ah, well! One can always get another wife!’ said Sandy.
The mountain men had been able to give us only bread to put into our packs, but as we skirted Tsarevoselo, the peasant—who could enter the place without being noticed—went in and procured two large lumps of sugar. Sweetened bread and cool water from a fall made our lunch; after which we plodded on, until an hour after nightfall we entered Djuma-bala.
THE TURKISH QUARTER: DJUMA-BALA.
‘How long do you give the police?’ asked the Man of Yorkshire.
‘Fifteen minutes,’ I replied.
The first of them arrived in five.
We had done half our journey—the hardest half. We were certain of the rest. We expected some difficulty with the Turks, and we had much.
Sandy disappeared. We knew where to look for him. We went to the gaol and demanded his release. And the Turks released him. They were positive that he was the committaji who had brought us through their country, and they refused to let him proceed with us. After discussion by wire—which required several days—instructions came from our old friend Hilmi Pasha to send us back, without our Sandy. But we refused to go without Sandy. This deadlock lasted for a week. Meanwhile we telegraphed to the British Consul-General at Salonica, signing the telegrams in one instance ‘Moore and Booth,’ in another ‘Booth and Moore.’ Translated into Turkish the signatures arrived at the Consulate ‘Mor-o-bos’ in one case, ‘Bot-o-more’ in the other. We were known to our friends by these names thereafter.
The Consul visited Hilmi Pasha (who was then in Salonica), and got permission for us to proceed with our dragoman. Hilmi had some hard words for us, the least of which were ‘Ces vagabonds!’
We received a telegram in Turkish from the Consul, and took it to the kaimakam for interpretation. The kaimakam read, ‘Monsieur Boot et Monsieur Mo-ré, you may depart for Drama, as you desire, but your interpreter must be left behind.’
We felt somewhat sick.
Another telegram to the Consul-General.
The reply came at midnight. In the morning we took it to a Christian. We told him nothing of the kaimakam’s interpretation of the first. He puzzled over the characters for a few minutes, then wrote in French, ‘Telegraphed to you yesterday, Hilmi Pasha gives permission to proceed to Drama and take interpreter.’
We went back to the kaimakam. He offered us chairs, but we declined to sit. He offered us cigarettes, and we declined them.
‘Kaimakam Bey,’ said we, ‘we are going out of here to-morrow morning and our interpreter is going with us. Good-morning.’
We turned on our heels and left without salaaming to the bey or to any of his sitting satellites.
The kaimakam jumped to his feet and followed us to the door shouting, ‘Ce n’est pas ma faute, messieurs. Ce n’est pas ma faute!’
An hour later an officer who had been attached to us during our sojourn at Djuma was ushered in by Sandy. He came to present the kaimakam’s compliments and to say that by a strange coincidence the permission we sought had just arrived from the Governor-General.
RUINS OF KREMEN.
We rode away from Djuma-bala with a large escort, and made our way slowly through the wildest and most beautiful mountains I have ever seen. We worked around Perim Dagh to Mahomia; spent a night at Bansko, where Miss Stone had been ransomed; passed through the ruins of Kremen, the scene of a wicked massacre; dropped down the river Mesta by a long-untrodden path; crossed a trackless lava formation of many miles that resembled a vast boneyard of giant skulls and scattered skeletons. The trail was hard, and it took four days to get to Drama.
THE TRAIL OF THE INSURGENT
The Consuls and two newspaper correspondents cordoned at the storm centre received comprehensive and accurate reports of what was happening in the surrounding country through a secret emissary of the revolutionary committee. This envoy extraordinary, pleading his cause before the foreign representatives at a hostile capital, was a man of nerve, resource, and careful judgment, as well he had to be. Besides his other accomplishments, he had a knowledge of three European languages, French, German, and Italian, and was therefore able to translate the official insurgent reports from the original Bulgarian into languages understood of the Consuls. The contents of these periodical papers were a record of recent activities on the part of both insurgents and Turks. Combats and massacres were located, and where possible the numbers of killed and wounded were given. The final report was a summary of the summer’s work. It announced the razing, partial or entire, of 120 villages, and stated that 60,000 peasants in the vilayet of Monastir were homeless. Illustrating the report was a map which had been drafted by a skilled hand and manifolded by machine; a key in the corner explained the meanings of the different intensities of colour in which the villages were marked, from white, indicating total escape, to black, total effacement.
The dissemination of such information during the ‘general rising’ defeated the designs of the lawful administration, and, of course, the Turkish police were hard on the trail of the enemy in their midst. Hitherto it had been the practice of the Governor-General (who, like us, had left Uskub for more active fields) to inform foreign consuls only of such serious disorders as he could not hope to keep from them. Until now the number of casualties on the Turkish side in any single combat had been limited to ‘three killed and two wounded,’ and the Imperial Ottoman reports invariably defeated the ‘brigands.’ Now the limit of losses had to be raised, because of consular scepticism as to their accuracy, but still no record of defeat at the hands of the insurgents was ever permitted. Insurgent bands seldom numbered more than a hundred; nevertheless, his Excellency Hilmi Pasha would occasionally announce a loss to them of several hundreds. Invariably such a ‘destruction of brigands’ proved on unofficial information to be a massacre of non-combatants. It annoyed the chief officer of reforms exceedingly that foreign consuls and correspondents should give credence to the reports of the insurgents in preference to those of his office. His worry, however, was only on the score of effect in Europe; the tacit implication as to his veracity disturbed his excellency indeed very little.
A square-jawed Servian of some six-and-twenty years, dressed as a European with the exception of the fez, entered the Hôtel Belgrade for a cup of coffee—one act which never attracts suspicion. The café of the distinguished hostelry was otherwise deserted except for the Englishman and me. The stranger seated himself near us, looked us over while he sipped his coffee, then addressed us cautiously.
‘You are English correspondents?’ he inquired in a low voice in German.
‘We are,’ said my comprehending companion.
‘I have a confidential communication to make. Will you take me to your room?’
We went to the Englishman’s room, and the Servian explained his mission; whereupon he opened the door and called in a boy, not over fifteen, clad in a Greek gabardine, and carrying a basket of eggs.
This was our first meeting with the agent of the revolutionary committee. Of course, the papers meant for us were among the eggs.
For many weeks thereafter the envoy extraordinary and his youthful first secretary delivered the incriminating documents, but seldom twice in the same manner.
One day we received a message asking us to meet the insurgent at a certain house within the hour; the case was imperative. We made our way to the place indicated, and there received the revolutionist’s report with the map already mentioned. The man apologised for being unable to bring his final paper to us, and continued, ‘I must not be seen in the street to-day. They have my brother. They came to the house this morning while I was out and took him. The boy found me, and warned me not to return. For me it is fortunate that my work here is done.’
We never saw the Servian committaji again, and do not know that he eluded his pursuers; perhaps they were too close on his trail.
Monastir was thronged with Turkish warriors, Albanians, Anatolians, and European Turks, soldiers and bashi-bazouks, hale men and halt men; a one-armed soldier and a hump-backed dwarf carried guns, Turk and Turk alike. The vast barracks was overcrowded, tents stretched across the parade ground, otherwise seldom utilised, and climbed high up the mountain behind the caserne. The military hospital was surrounded by tents. A certain subdued delight fills the breast of the gentle Turk, and renders the combative Albanian loyal to the Padisha, when the native rajah gives cause for castigation. There is glory for Mohamed in the despatch of an infidel, and material profit in the plunder reaped. Nearly a hundred thousand Albanian and Turkish soldiers were crowded into the Monastir vilayet to ‘repress’ the ‘armed insurrection,’ and such resident Mohamedans as were not called to the colours sharpened their yataghans and joined unorganised in the work of the army.
With this force on the warpath the town became quiet. Such Bulgarians as had not gone to the mountains became Greeks or Servians, and for a time the race disappeared from the streets. Greeks and Vlachs also kept close to their houses, and some days only soldiers selling plunder held the market place. The army commandeered the better pack-animals and teams as they appeared on the streets, paying for them in paper promises—in consequence whereof all fit animals were soon kept stabled. Honest toil ceased, and only the labour of the struggle continued. In the early morning, before the town stirred, detachments of troops started for the mountains with many pack-ponies, each laden with four ample tins of petroleum. At night, when Monastir was still again, the pack-ponies came back—bringing in the wounded of the Turks.
The revolutionary committee had declared the ‘general rising’ of the peasants with less than ten thousand rifles of all patterns, a meagre force with which to contest the Ottoman authority, and a poor result for the price that had been paid in men and morals. The insurgents had been gathering arms for several years. Many murders had been committed in Macedonia in the forced collection of levied assessments, and some had taken place in Bulgaria; many massacres of innocent peasants had been brought about in the Turkish search for arms; many insurgents had given their lives fetching the arms from friendly and hostile frontiers.
The high chiefs of the committee never expected to defeat the Turks with their inadequate force of untrained peasants; their purpose was to provoke the Sultan to set his soldiers upon the Christians. They were willing to pay the lives of many thousands of their brother Macedonians for the accomplishment of their desire—the country’s autonomy. They were fanatics. The Turks called them Christian fanatics, but it was not only the insurgents who were frenzied; probably 40,000 men, women, and children, the entire population of many villages, went to the mountains unarmed. This was the general rising. And all the Bulgarians who remained in their villages, and many other Macedonians, gave their whole sympathy to the cause of the committajis.
The revolution was declared in the vilayet of Monastir, among other reasons, because of a specific design upon the Greek communities. You have seen in a previous chapter how the Turks at repression recognised no difference between Greeks and Bulgarians, massacring both alike, even though the Greek clergy had some assurance that Bulgarians alone would be ‘repressed.’ The insurgents understood the Turk better. They laid deliberate plans to draw him down upon the communities of hostile politics. By capturing lightly garrisoned towns whose inhabitants adhered to the Greek Church, putting the Turkish soldiers to death, they drew the Turks in force to the retaking of these places, whence they (the insurgents) would cautiously withdraw, leaving the ‘Greeks’ to the vengeance of the Mohamedans. They argued that measure must be met by measure; Greek priests converted by threatening Bulgarian peasants with the Turk.
A TURKISH BAND LEAVING MONASTIR.
A storm of protest came from Athens, directed chiefly against one Bakhtiar Pasha, simultaneously commander of the most bloodthirsty body of soldiers and the most rapacious band of bashi-bazouks, who put to the sword and the torch both exarchist and patriarchist community. With the support of ambassadors of the Powers, the Greek Minister at Constantinople demanded the immediate relief of this general from his command ‘in the interest and honour of the Turkish army’; and the Sultan, always tractable under pressure, promised to punish the offending pasha. Forthwith the deviceful monarch despatched a special messenger from Constantinople to Monastir, bearing congratulations and the Order of the Mijidieh in diamonds for Bakhtiar the Brave.
But there came a day when Abdul Hamid kept a promise. Two ‘Greek’ towns, Nevaska and Klissura, were captured by insurgents and the Turkish garrison put to death. Some time elapsed before the Turks saw fit to retake the towns, and during the interval the Sultan was persuaded not ‘to further alienate Greek sympathies.’
At the approach of a strong body of Turks the insurgents retired, and the soldiers entered the town in military order, blades sheathed, and leading no asses laden with petroleum.
But massacre and the burning of villages continued, and refugees entered Monastir in large numbers, some coming in alone, others travelling in companies. Several hundred women and children who arrived from Smelivo, one of Bakhtiar’s ‘victories,’ were driven back from Monastir by troops, though without further reduction of their numbers. The news of this came to the Consuls in a very few hours, and the Austrian, who was most active, visited the Governor-General at once and protested; whereupon the survivors of Smelivo were allowed to enter Monastir.
One day a woman among the refugees went to Herr Kraal and asked him to obtain the release of a son, whom she had thought dead, but had seen alive in the custody of certain Turks. The Consul caused his dragoman to ascertain where the boy was kept, and on learning the exact house, he called on Hilmi Pasha and stated the case. His excellency was horrified at such a charge against a Turk. For what purpose would a Mohamedan steal a Christian child? The Consul gave the Governor-General the location of the house, and threatened to send his dragoman and kavasses to release the child unless the police were put to the job at once. An Austrian dragoman accompanied the Turkish police; the boy was found and restored to his mother.
There was a Greek in Monastir known as a professional redeemer of stolen Christians. Through the instrumentality of the Greek Vice-Consul, Jean Dragoumis, this curious character and I were brought together. I ascertained from him that he had, in a period of twenty years, participated in the rescue of seventeen of his compatriots. Most of them were girls and women stolen by force or enticed from their own homes by Mohamedans. The most recent instance of this fortunately infrequent practice occurred, the native alleged, during our presence in Monastir. Two small boys were brought into Monastir by a Turkish soldier and ‘offered for sale on the market place’ along with other plunder. A subscription was raised among some Greeks, according to my informant, and the children were ‘purchased’ from the Turk for four mijidiehs. ‘Since Herr Kraal has protested,’ said the rescuer of Christians, ‘orders have been issued that no more stolen children shall be brought into Monastir.’ Jean Dragoumis himself, a splendid young Greek, interpreted for me on this occasion.
It is always difficult in Turkey to know just what is true and what is false. Even the peasants will attempt, for one consideration or another, to impose upon the stranger. Sometimes they invent or embellish incidents simply for vain notoriety, and again with deliberate intent to prejudice your sympathy. The refugees who came into Monastir from the surrounding country told some terrible tales. They told of dead lying unburied by the roadway, where they had been shot for no other reason than their race—which was undoubtedly true. They told in many instances of dogs gorging upon the unburied dead—which is quite probable; the hungry, bread-fed dogs of Turkey would devour any flesh. They told, in one case, of children having been thrown alive into a burning lime-kiln—which is possible. They told of women having been flayed alive—which I do not believe; it is not in the Turk’s nature to inflict lingering torture.
My companion and I saw among the refugees in the Greek hospital a woman whose shoulder had been almost severed from her body with a single sword slash; another woman whose hand had been cut off with a sabre—the arm, she said, had held her infant, which was hacked to pieces at her feet. We saw a small boy who had been shot through the head, and a small girl who had been stabbed in several places. These were the most cruel of many cases in the hospital.
On one occasion we succeeded in entering the Turkish civil hospital, where there were a number of wounded Bulgarians. In a women’s ward, where bandaged heads and limbs were in plain evidence, the dutiful doctor, a Greek, informed us that his patients were all suffering from ‘feminine complaints.’
‘But,’ we said, ‘some of them appear to be wounded.’
‘Oh, a few,’ replied the loyal servant of the Sultan, ‘must have attempted to commit suicide. They were found with wounds.’
At the barred door of a prison ward, through which we could see bandaged men, we were told, for variety, that this was the ‘accident’ ward. We inquired what comprised accidents.
‘Some fell out of trees, others amputated their own arms while cutting wood.’ This deviceful M.D. was indeed worthy of the Sultan’s service.
Towards the close of the revolution a Turkish proclamation addressed to the peasants in the mountains was placarded throughout the vilayet. It read, in true Ottoman fashion, in part as follows:
TURKS ON THE MARCH.
‘There is no need to mention how much his Imperial Majesty the Padisha, our benefactor and enlightened master, desires the prosperity of the country and the welfare of all his subjects without exception, sacrificing sleep and quiet day and night, thinking how to perfect his lofty purposes, and therefore commands the execution of certain benefits. Everywhere courts are approved and established for the preservation of the rights of the people; for the guarding of faithful subjects and the execution of the laws bodies of police and gendarmes are enlisted; for the saving of life and property guards are appointed; for the spreading of education schools are opened; roads and bridges are constructed for the people to carry food and merchandise; as also are begun everywhere various other needed benefits, and for this end part of the local income is apportioned.’
(‘I have the honour to transmit herewith a translation of the proclamation to the Bulgarians,’ ran the official report of the British Consul covering this document. ‘The list of reforms accomplished is purely illusory!’)
‘But some evil-minded ones,’ continued the proclamation, ‘not wishing the people to be benefited by these favours, and regarding only their own selfish interest, deceive the inhabitants and commit various repulsive transgressions. There is not the least ground for the lies and assurances with which the Bulgarians are deceived. All the civilised people of Europe and elsewhere regard with horror their deeds, which destroy the peace of the land, and everywhere—with great impatience—the suppression of these enemies to peace and order is awaited. The Imperial Government observes with sorrow that many people still rebel notwithstanding that until now, because of its great mercy, it has proceeded with marked clemency toward the agitators. But since the Government cannot coolly see the order of the country destroyed and the peaceful population subjected to murders and other evils, it categorically orders the commanders of the troops, wherever they are sent, to disperse and kill most severely the disturbers and their followers who still remain in rebellion. Therefore, for the last time, the Bulgarians who have been deceived and have left their fireside and their trades are invited to return to their homes and villages, and those who do not return and run towards the mercy of the Imperial Government will be punished and destroyed in the severest fashion.’
The rebels did not run toward the mercy of the Imperial Government, but many of them, because of their privations with the bands and the approach of winter, began to return from the mountains to their homes or the sites of them, seeking on all occasions to avoid the Turkish troops. I heard an account of how in one instance a party of some forty men and a hundred women and children received a message from a detachment of the army promising them safety if they would return to their village, and with this specific assurance they ventured back. They were met on the way by the Turks, and the men were manacled and marched away towards Florina, where, the Turks said, their names would be recorded and they would then be set free. About half-way to town they met a larger body of soldiers, commanded by a superior officer, who demanded why Bulgarians had been made prisoners. No adequate reply forthcoming, the ranking man gave orders that the peasants should be put to death forthwith. The troops set upon the handcuffed men, slew them, and decapitated their bodies. The headless bodies, so the story goes, were thrown into the stream. What became of the heads none could say.
(A photographer at Monastir has, in former years, taken many pictures of Turkish soldiers and officers standing behind tables on which were laid the battered heads of Bulgarians and other ‘brigands.’ But heads are no longer brought into Monastir, and the photographer has been forbidden to display all pictures of this nature. I was able, however, to procure some.)
On a visit to Hilmi Pasha’s office soon after this incident I took occasion to mention it to his excellency. He was completely ignorant of the story, and asked me for details.
‘No, no, Monsieur Moore,’ he declared when I concluded; ‘none of the Sultan’s men would do such a deed.’
‘But your excellency,’ I said, ‘I know that the Metropolitan of Florina called on the kaimakam and requested him to have the bodies drawn out of the water and buried. The main facts of the story cannot be denied.’
‘Where did you say the Bulgarians were from?’ asked the Governor.
I consulted my note-book and told him.
‘There is no such place.’
‘Perhaps I have not pronounced the name properly, but the act of treachery remains,’ I contended.
‘Ah, yes,’ said Hilmi, ‘the town was ——; I recollect now. Monsieur Moore, Turks never lie. With your pronunciation and the error in the figures you gave I did not recognise the affair. There were sixty Bulgarians killed, not forty. But the deed was not one of treachery; it happened two days before the Sultan granted pardon to the rebels.’
The inspector-general volunteered some further information on other affairs, notably that of Krushevo. At first the Turks contended that the insurgents had burned and pillaged the Vlach town. Now Hilmi Pasha informed me that bashi-bazouks had done the work. ‘The officers,’ he said, ‘tried to keep them off the heels of the army, but they were many, many, and while occupied fighting the insurgents the troops could not prevent the bashi-bazouks from plundering. I have had thirty bashi-bazouks arrested, and I have just received a report from one of my officers stating that four thousand animals, which were driven off by the bashi-bazouks, have been returned to the inhabitants of Krushevo.’
This statement was both an important admission and an interesting announcement, and I sent it at once to the Times, for which I was now correspondent. But a few days later on visiting Krushevo I was compelled to contradict his excellency’s information as to the return of stolen cattle.
In spite of the efforts of the authorities to suppress the news of what was happening, and to gull the correspondents, we were able to collect much valuable information, and through the Consular post to get our despatches safely to the Servian frontier, whence they were wired to London uncensored. When the Governor-General learned—via London and Constantinople—the nature of the reports the correspondents were sending through, he was much disturbed, and sought to frighten us out of the country. He sent a communication to Mr. McGregor informing him that he had received a letter from the committajis announcing that they intended to assassinate a British consul, a British correspondent, or an American missionary. The Consul—I use his words—considered this ‘a step taken by the authorities in order to cast suspicion on the Bulgarians in the much more likely eventuality of a Turkish outrage,’ and ‘consequently reminded Hilmi Pasha that, whatever the nationality of anyone guilty of a crime against a British subject, the responsibility of the Imperial Government will be the same.’
ON THE TRACK OF THE TURK
A rude shaking roused me from my slumbers at the early hour of 4.30 A.M., and I discovered myself in the clutches of a tremendous Albanian, a skirted fellow wearing wicked weapons. His remarks were unintelligible to me, but he presented a card containing a few words in bad English. It was from a consul, a man who gave me much assistance, and read:
‘Be ready for ten o’clock Turkish; an Albanian which can be trusted shall bring horses, and you shall be taken to Krushevo.’
This was the morning after my interview with Hilmi Pasha, at which I had received the Turkish version of the Krushevo affair. Was I to defeat the Governor-General again?
My dragoman and I were ready when the guide arrived, and in less than eight hours we were ‘taken to Krushevo.’
The Monastir Valley was almost deserted. Bridges were down, and we forded the rivers. Occasionally parties of soldiers and bashi-bazouks were potting at something, perhaps at peasants. Near Krushevo we passed Turks on the road, some carrying short adzes and axes in their sashes, as the Albanian wears his yataghan; others bore hand-pumps of reed.
Our difficulties were not serious. We traversed the long plain without mishap, and began at noon to climb the tall mountain to the Vlach town in the sky.
A party of Albanians drove pack-animals to the ruins of a Greek monastery half-way up the mountain, to gather the petroleum tins, still lying about the walls. There were tracks of the Turks everywhere. Here a company had camped, there a battery had been posted, across a fissure in the mountain Adam Aga’s bashi-bazouks had divided booty; barricades of stone where the tents had been, earthworks for the guns, the carcase of a stolen ass, killed to settle dispute between Moslem claimants. There was trace of the insurgents, too; a dozen Turkish graves on a level bank, around them a score of black ghosts, the wives of the slain officials.
We reached the ruins of the guardhouse at the high point in the road and dropped into the wrecked town; there was not a moment to lose. Our stay in Krushevo was of doubtful duration; how long we could avoid the clutches of the garrison was a question. There was yet daylight, and the use of the camera might be restricted to-morrow. A Turk saw me hand over my tired horse and anxiously unstrap my kodak. He knew what it was, and told me not to use it. But this took a minute to translate, and my instrument but a second to snap. He was a mild-mannered man, and instead of taking me in hand himself, he set off to the kaimakam for instructions, and I plunged into the wreckage, lost to him for an hour.
Natives in long gabardines and fezzes emerged from holes and hollow walls and followed me. A young girl spoke English; she attended the mission school at Monastir. A Vlach home from Rome to marry also spoke English. He and his sweetheart had survived, though they had lost everything they had. The insurgents had made him pay fifty pounds (Turkish), for which he held a paper note redeemable with interest by the Principality of Macedonia! Another Vlach invited me to his home, which the Turks had not visited till the petroleum gave out; it was, therefore, only pillaged.
The doors were splintered where the adzes had been applied. The house was bare, stripped of every rug. A rough wooden table had been constructed of a barn door and blocks of wood. The younger members of the family were sent scurrying to the neighbours. From one came a bowl, from another two iron forks and a spoon, which had been saved from the Turks. We got a supper, all eating from the big bowl, the family with their fingers.
We spent the night here. It was a memorable night.
The house stood high upon a rock and overlooked the area of hollow walls. Ruined Vlachs slunk in through the night, sat with us on the balcony, and, whispering, told us the tale of their city. In the dim light of a crescent moon they pointed out the Konak where the Turks had been killed, the woods above where the spies had been executed, the Greek school which the insurgents had used as Government offices, and ‘Hell Hole,’ still containing bodies.
Once the Vlachs stopped abruptly and changed the subject to England. What sort of a place was Angleterre?
‘A pretty good place,’ I replied, ‘but you should see America.’
‘They are the same country.’
I reverted to Krushevo.
The Vlach who spoke English interrupted:
‘The man who has just arrived is a spy.’
The Vlach traitor knew he was known, and looked sheepish. He did not remain long, and I got the rest of the account that night, making notes in the dark.
This is the story of Krushevo:
Just after midnight on the morning of August 2, 1903 (this was the day that the general rising was proclaimed), a rattle of rifles and a prolonged hurrahing broke the quiet of the peaceful mountain town. Some three hundred insurgents under ‘Peto-the-Vlach’ and four other leaders had taken the town by surprise. In the little rock-built caserne were fifteen Turkish soldiers, and in the Konak and private houses were ten or twelve Turkish officials and their families and a few soldiers. The inhabitants of the town were Christians, Wallachians (or Vlachs) in the majority, and a colony of Bulgarians. The soldiers were able to grab their rifles and escape from the caserne, killing eight or more insurgents as they fled. The night was black, and a steep, rocky slope behind the building lent an easy exit. The Turkish telegraph clerk likewise escaped; but the Government officials who were in the town died to a man. The kaimakam was absent on a visit to Monastir.
After surrounding the Government buildings to prevent the escape of the Turks, the insurgents broke into the shops and appropriated all the petroleum they could find. This they pumped on the Konak, the caserne, and the telegraph offices with the municipal fire-pump, and applied the torch. From fifteen to twenty Turkish soldiers and officials were shot down as they emerged from the flames; but the women and children were given safe escort to a Vlach house, with the exception of one woman and a girl who fell as they came out. Whether they were shot by accident or intention on the part of a committaji is not known.
The flames spread, and a dozen private houses and stores were burned with the Turkish buildings. Some, I believe, were set afire to light the Konak and make certain the death of the Turks.
In the morning the insurgents placed red flags about the town and formed a provisional Government, appointing a commission of the inhabitants, consisting of two Bulgarians and three Wallachians, ‘to provide for the needs of the day and current affairs.’ Without instruction all the inhabitants discarded the fez.
Three chiefs of bands were appointed, a military commission, whose duties were drastic. Their first act was to condemn to death two ardent Patriarchists who had spied for the Turks on the organisation and preparations of the local committee for insurrection in the district. The men were made prisoners, taken into the woods, and slain.
On the first day the insurgents made a house-to-house visitation and requested donations of food, and later required any lead that could be moulded into rifle balls. More bands arrived, and a number of Bulgarians and Wallachs of the town joined the insurgent ranks, altogether augmenting the number to over six hundred. They began at once to raise fortifications, and made two wooden cannon such as had been used in the Bulgarian revolt of the ’seventies. The cannon were worthless, and were left to the Turks, who brought one of them into Monastir.
On the second day the men of the town who possessed wealth were summoned to appear before the military commission. A list had been made (the information given by members of the organisation whose homes were in Krushevo) of the standing and approximate wealth of each ‘notable’ in the community. As these headmen appeared before the triumvirate a sum in proportion to his means was demanded from each. No protests and no pleading affected the commission, and in every instance the money was forthcoming within the time limit. More than 1,000l. was collected in this way, and in exchange was given printed paper money, redeemable at the liberation of Macedonia.
On the following Sunday the priests of both the Greek and the Bulgarian churches were ordered to hold a requiem for the repose of the souls of the committajis who had fallen in the capture of Krushevo. Detachments of insurgents were present, in arms, and gave the service a strange military tone. Open-air meetings were held on the same day, and the people were addressed by the leaders of the bands.
During the ten days of the insurgent occupation sentinels and patrols saw to the order and tranquillity of the town, and no cruelties were committed. Business, however, was paralysed. The market place was closed and provisions diminished; and attempts to introduce flour failed, the emissaries to the neighbouring villages being stopped by Turkish soldiers and bashi-bazouks, who were gathering about the town.
The news of the capture of Krushevo reached Monastir August 3, but not until nine days later was an attempt made to retake the place. By that time three thousand soldiers, with eighteen cannon, had been assembled. About the town, also, were three or four thousand bashi-bazouks from Turkish villages in the neighbourhood.
When the guns were in position on favourable heights above the town, Bakhtiar Pasha, the commander of the troops, sent down a written message asking the insurgents to surrender. The insurgents refused, and an artillery fire was begun. Most of the insurgents then escaped through a thick wood which appeared to have been left open for them, but some took up favourable positions on the mountain roads leading into the town, others occupied barricaded buildings in the outskirts, and resisted the Turks for awhile. Two of the leaders, Peto and Ivanoff, died fighting.
Peto-the-Vlach was a picturesque character. He was thirty-five years of age, a native of Krushevo. He had been fighting the Turks for seventeen years. He was made prisoner in 1886 and exiled to Asia Minor. But benefiting by one of the frequent general amnesties he returned to Macedonia, rejoined the insurrectionary movement, and led the organisation of Krushevo and the neighbouring district.
At a conference of the leaders immediately prior to the Turkish attack, Peto declared that he would never surrender his town back to the oppressor; the others could escape if they would, the Turks could not again enter Krushevo except over his dead body. With eighteen men who elected to die with him, he took up a position by the main road and held it for five hours. It is said that he shot himself with his last cartridge, rather than fall into the hands of the Turks.
The natives put on their fezzes again, and a delegation of notables bearing a white flag went out to the camp of Bakhtiar Pasha to surrender the town. On their way they were stopped by the soldiers and bashi-bazouks and made to empty their pockets. Further on more Turks, whose rapacity had been less satisfied, demanded the clothes and shoes they wore. Arriving at headquarters of the general, situated on an eminence from which there was a full view of the proceedings, the representative citizens, left with barely cloth to cover their loins, offered a protest along with the surrender. Bakhtiar had their clothes returned to them, and told them he could do nothing with ‘those bashi-bazouks’—though beside him sat Adam Aga, a notorious scoundrel of Prelip, who had brought up the largest detachment of bashi-bazouks, and with whom, subsequently, Bakhtiar is said to have shared the proceeds of the loot.
The Turks entered the town in droves ready for their work, rushing, shouting, and shooting. The bashi-bazouks knew the town, its richest stores and wealthiest houses; they had dealt with the Vlachs on market day for years. They knew that the Patriarchist church was the richest in Macedonia. The carving on the altar was particularly costly, and there were rich silk vestments and robes, silver candlesticks and Communion service, and fine bronze crosses. They went to this church first. Its doors were battered down in a mad rush, and in a few minutes it was stripped by the frenzied creatures to the very crucifixes. Then a barrel of oil was emptied into it and squirted upon its walls; the torch was applied, and the first flames in the sack of Krushevo burst forth.
The Greek church was on the market place among the shops. The Turks who were not fortunate enough to get into the church went to work on the stores. Door after door was cut through with adzes, the shops rifled of their contents, and then ignited as the church had been. Two hundred and three shops and three hundred and sixty-six private houses were pillaged and burned, and six hundred others were simply rifled—because the petroleum gave out.
Some of the inhabitants escaped from their homes and fled into the woods. Turks outside the town met them and took from them any money or valuables they had, and good clothes were taken from their backs. A few pretty girls are said to have been carried off to the camps of the soldiers. But the Turks were mostly bent on loot. The people who remained in their homes were threatened with death unless they revealed where they had hidden their treasure. Infants were snatched from their mothers’ breasts, held at arm’s length, and threatened with the sword.
Krushevo, with its thrifty Wallachian population, was the wealthiest city in Macedonia. It was not many hours’ ride from the railway terminus at Monastir, and, for the purpose of making this journey, many of the Vlachs possessed private carriages. There were pack and draught animals and cattle to the number of many thousands. The Turks appropriated these, drove off the cattle in herds, and loaded the spoils from the stores and homes in the carriages and carts, and on the backs of the Vlachs’ pack-animals. Seven thousand animals were taken by the Turks—and not one went back.
This work went on for forty-eight hours. The first night was demoniacal. Three hundred houses were in flames, and dashing in and out among them were yelling fiends, firing rifles, slashing Christians who happened to be in their way, fighting among themselves, breaking in doors, splashing oil and firing houses, loading waggons and pack-animals. Money, jewellery, silver plate, linen, furniture, bedding, clothes, carpets went away to the Turkish villages in the neighbourhood.
Vlachs are rich and thrifty, Turks indolent and poor. They are pleased when the Sultan issues orders to suppress giaours.
Krushevo was built on rock in a slight depression in the top of a range of mountains. The houses were constructed solidly of stone, with thick slate roofs all cut from the mountain-side. Hilmi Pasha had explained to me that the ‘unfortunate’ conflagration was caused by the explosion of shells, which, he argued, any civilised nation would have employed in capturing the town. Every house in Krushevo was ignited individually. The gates of six hundred houses which suffered only pillage bore the hacks of adzes and axes. Soldiers and bashi-bazouks, holding hands—as Turks do—still lurked about with their adzes in their belts. On the walls, most of which still stood, stains of petroleum trailed down. I entered one house through which two cannon balls had passed. But there was not a mark of flame as a result.
The sacking of Krushevo made a deep impression in Monastir, where the news soon arrived, and instructions came back to the Turkish commander to secure a paper signed by all the townsfolk declaring that the work had been done by the insurgents. A few of the inhabitants signed from fright, but most of the Vlachs were not intimidated. The Governor-General concocted a story to tell foreign consuls and correspondents.
A strange fact which puzzled many was that, with the exception of the Bulgarian church, no section of the Bulgarian quarter was plundered. It was said by the Greeks—who tried by every means to incriminate the insurgents—that the leaders of the bands bought immunity for the Bulgarian inhabitants by a payment to Bakhtiar Pasha of the money they had collected from the Vlachs. But this widely circulated statement, which went out from Athens, could hardly be true. That such a negotiation could have been conducted at such a moment is hardly probable. The ranks of the insurgents were largely filled by Wallachians; the insurgents had lost two hundred men in resisting the Turks; it is doubtful that the leaders could have got alive to close quarters with Bakhtiar Pasha; and most doubtful of all is that the Turk would have respected any terms made with the committajis. The reason that the Bulgarian houses were not entered is either that the Turks dreaded dynamite or that the poorer Bulgarian quarter was not worth plundering; perhaps both these reasons applied. It was well known to the Turks that the Bulgarians, who are small farmers, sheep raisers, and labourers, were miserably poor; while the Wallachs, who travelled as far as Salonica, were mostly merchants and comparatively well to do.
The soldiers, having captured no insurgents, made prisoners of 116 innocent Vlachs, chained them together, two by two, and marched them to Monastir, taking along a wooden cannon as evidence of their guilt. On the road they brained five men. The surviving prisoners were at once released, through consular intervention, I think.
After remaining in the woods for two days the terror-stricken people who had escaped from the town began to return. They found bodies of their relatives and friends lying about the streets, Turkish dogs, I was told, gorging upon them. The people sought to bury their dead, but that was not generally permitted. With some exceptions the bodies were gathered by the soldiers and thrown into shallow trenches in the streets. But this was done with no thoroughness, and three weeks after the recapture I saw in a dry canal, which ran through the town under many of the houses, thigh bones and backbones, ribs, and skulls, picked clean. Many of the inhabitants had hidden in this partly covered ‘hell hole,’ and some, driven out by chills and the pangs of hunger, had been shot on emerging.
‘HELL HOLE,’ KRUSHEVO.
The drug store of the town had been sacked and burned, and the doctor who owned it had been killed. A young and less efficient medical man was left alone to care for 150 wounded. The Roman Catholic sisters at Monastir applied to Hilmi Pasha for permission to go to the relief of Krushevo and take medicines. But they had told foreign consuls and correspondents what they had seen at Armensko, and Hilmi replied, in Mohamedan fashion, ‘Those who will die, will die, and those who will live, will live.’
I attempted to enter some of the Bulgarian homes at Krushevo, but they were still tightly barred. The inmates pleaded with me to pass on lest the Turks should come after me and punish them for telling tales. But the Vlachs were bolder; they besought me to enter and see the havoc the Turks had wrought, to see the wounded women, children, and infants lying on the floors, their injuries barely tended, the wounds of many mortifying, as the stench told too well. And men, women, and children died from wounds not vital.
Each evening at sundown the awful stillness of Krushevo was shocked by three long-drawn, triumphant shouts from a thousand throats. They were Turkish cheers at evening prayer for Abdul Hamid, the Padisha.
We were mounted ready to leave Krushevo when a native woman came out of the crowd bringing a small boy. She went up to the interpreter and spoke to him in a whisper.
‘She wants you to take the boy back to Monastir,’ said my man. ‘She says no native is allowed to leave Krushevo, and she wants to get her boy to a safer place.’
‘We can’t do that,’ I replied. I was apprehensive about the journey back.
But the woman wept, so I took the boy, and she kissed my hand. He was about eight years old. He had no luggage but a loaf of heavy bread, and he wore but a single garment, a gabardine. He sat quietly behind my saddle and did not bother me much, and towards sundown we reached Monastir safely. The horses picked their way slowly over the rough cobble stones. As we wound into a side street the grip about me loosened, and I turned to see the youngster slip down from the horse. He waved his hand to me and ran like a hare down a narrow lane.
‘That is all right,’ said the dragoman, as we went on our way to the mission.
We never saw the boy again.
THE LAST TRAIL
Late in September, when the snows began to fall upon the Balkans, the insurgents called a conference, and Damian Grueff, the supreme chief, and many of the high chiefs of the Internal Revolutionary Committee, met on Bigla Dagh. About six hundred committajis were gathered with the voivodas. A triple line of sentinels cordoned the mountain, and for ten miles in every direction outposts watched the roads.
The fighting season was over. The revolution had not accomplished its purpose; all it had brought about was a beggarly extension of the Austro-Russian reforms. But there was no use continuing to fight. The peasants were beginning to return to their villages—or the sites of them—and what arms they still possessed had better be taken from them and stored in safe hiding-places for another year.
The organisation was reduced to a winter status, Damian Grueff remaining in active command of some sixty bands of a thousand men in all. The other insurgents were parolled until summoned again.
The committajis had hoped that the ‘general rising’—or, rather, the suppression which they foresaw for it—would cause the Powers of Europe to make Macedonia autonomous. They put most of their faith in the sympathy of Great Britain, and in this they made no mistake—though Great Britain has tried for a long time to sympathise with the Turks. At the wanton suppression of the feeble rising it was the British Government that advocated the delivery of the province from Turkish control. Austria and Russia, on the contrary, and especially Russia, urged upon the Turkish Government the necessity of a rapid and thorough repression of the rising, and warned Bulgaria early and often against entering into the conflict.
It was announced during the revolution that the Russian Czar and the Austrian Emperor would meet, together with their Foreign Ministers, at Murzsteg; and to this conference the Bulgarians attached much hope until it was declared from Vienna and St. Petersburg that the interview of the Emperors would in no way alter their Macedonian programme.
The programme was altered, however, as a compromise with Lord Lansdowne. The British Foreign Minister, with support from the Governments of Italy and France, proposed to the Austrian and Russian Foreign Ministers, while at Murzsteg, that Macedonia be placed under the control of a governor-general independent of the Sultan and responsible to the Powers alone. The Austro-Russian alliance objected to this, but, in spite of previous declarations to the contrary, agreed to extend their scheme of reforms.
The Murzsteg programme, as the new scheme is known, provided for the appointment of two civil agents, one Austrian and one Russian, to ‘assist’ Hilmi Pasha; for the appointment of foreign officers to reform the Turkish gendarmerie; and for taxation, financial, and other reforms. The two most interested Powers would have employed only Austrian and Russian officers to reorganise the Turkish gendarmerie, but Italy and Great Britain insisted on participating in this work, and each of them, as well as France, sent a contingent of five officers and a chief to Turkey. Germany, in consideration of the Sultan, who opposed this reform desperately, declined to detail a staff.
The Russian civil agents (the first was withdrawn) have both been men with Russian ideas of government. The Austrians (the first of whom died) have been without sufficient support from Vienna. Hilmi Pasha remains absolute governor of the Rumelian provinces, and the second Austro-Russian programme remains at this writing, April 1906, little more effective than the first. Except in the district of Drama, where the British officers operate, there is little change in the condition of Macedonia. Soldiers and civil officials, left unpaid, continue their work of plunder and extortion, murders are numerous, and minor massacres take place from time to time; the insurgents maintain their organisation, skeleton bands continue to roam the country, and occasionally fights occur.
During 1905 Lord Lansdowne again pressed for effective measures of reform. The Italian and French Governments again gave him some support. Towards the end of the year Austria and Russia ‘invited’ the other Powers to participate in an international naval demonstration to wrest from the Sultan financial autonomy for Macedonia. The British Foreign Office at once agreed to participate, and proposed that the demonstration should exact also effective reforms in the judicial administration of Macedonia, but the two most interested Powers again opposed whole-hearted measures. Germany advised the Sultan to accede, but would send no ships.
After the conference on Bigla Dagh, the voivodas, with their bands, separated, bound in different directions on various missions. Boris Sarafoff, with ninety men, dropped south from Bigla Dagh around Florina to convey news of the revolution’s end to certain other bands, and to gather arms from the peasants. The band were destined ultimately to return to Bulgaria, 120 miles away; but they were doomed to cover several times this distance, spending thirty-four days, on the march back to the free land.
They now avoided encounters with the Turks, travelled by night and rested by day. At the limit of each revolutionary district the band were met by a guide, who conducted them on to the next. They found the local organisations, disarmed the ‘irregulars,’ and secreted the rifles and munitions. They dropped almost due south, passing along the crest of the mountain range to the east of Lake Presba, which Bakhtiar Pasha’s forces were then ‘driving’; but Sarafoff, with several other bands, slipped through and proceeded in safety down around Florina, then up across the Monastir-Salonica railway, and north by a zigzag trail past Prelip to the Vardar above Kuprili.
At the side of the Vardar runs the railway from Servia to Salonica, utilising the cuts the water has made in centuries of flow through the mountains. At every mile-post along the railway was a military camp or a blockhouse. Here was the first failure of the organisation.
The local guide did not appear at the appointed meeting-place, and the band waited in vain. What happened to the peasant was never known, but shortly after the appointed hour several voices were heard. Lest the party who were approaching should be Turks, the insurgents took the precaution to remain silent.
The voices became distinct, and the insurgents were relieved to hear the Bulgarian tongue. One of Sarafoff’s lieutenants, named Detcheff, also an ex-Bulgarian officer, was sent out to meet the newcomers. A call of ‘Halt!’ was heard, and in quick succession the crack of several rifles. Detcheff did not return.
The number of the enemy was evidently small, and they took themselves off hurriedly in the direction they had come. The band were much attached to Detcheff, and hotheads among the men were for following the Turks; but Sarafoff, seeing the folly and danger of this, led them off at once towards the river, travelling fast to escape possible trackers.
It was difficult marching in the dark without a man who knew the ground, and the insurgents dared not light a match to look at a map. Suddenly the band came to the edge of a yawning chasm. A stout rope which they carried was unrolled and slung around a tree, both ends trailing down the precipice. Two by two, one on each line of the rope, the men dropped down to a watercourse below. Then one end of the rope was pulled, and the other went up around the tree, and fell. The rope had to be saved.
The insurgents arrived at the river before morning, but did not dare to cross without a survey. They laid themselves down on an elevation covered with a thick growth of shrub, speaking only in whispers throughout the next day. It was a tantalising day, for every half-hour a patrol of Asiatic or Albanian soldiers would pass at a languid pace—and an enticing range—along the railway below. The hiding-place of the band overlooked the river and the railway for about a mile in each direction, and, with the aid of Austrian military maps, Sarafoff planned his crossing and the route to be taken thereafter.
To the south, about half a mile away, was a camp of half a dozen tents guarding a bridge; to the north, about a quarter of a mile, was another, of tents and brush huts. Almost immediately below the band was a narrow, walled waterway which carried flood-water from the mountain, down under the tracks into the river. The waterway was now dry.
The night train passed south about nine o’clock. Then the Turks relaxed their vigilance. And there was about two hours left before the moon rose. As soon as the puff of the engine had died away in the distance, two strong swimmers descended to the river with the rope and fastened it securely from one shore to the other. This done, they returned and informed the chief, and one by one the men climbed down through the culvert and launched out into the stream. Arriving on the opposite bank, they scurried into the woods. Four of the men, more fastidious than the others, took off their clothes to make the passage, and attempted to hold them, with their guns, over their heads. The Vardar is not very deep, but its current is terrific, and all four, finding that they needed both hands to the rope, lost their clothes. This quartet arrived at the point of reassembling dressed in cartridge belts; but they had saved these, their guns and dynamite bombs. Very like Kipling’s warriors who ‘took Lungtungpen naked!’ The other men suppressed their laughter at the discomfited group only because of the dangerous proximity of the camp to the north, and made up between them costumes for the shivering four.
The last man to cross the stream loosened the rope at the other side, and two others pulled him over; and the ‘trek’ was immediately renewed.
Before day dawned, the insurgents drew up at a sheepfold on a mountain-side. The barking of the dogs woke the old shepherd, who, discovering the nature of his guests, roused his sheep and drove them out; and the insurgents crept in under the low brush roofs on to the warm straw. The insurgents took two sheep and roasted them whole for their evening meal.
One morning, by accident, the band lay down to rest within two hundred yards of a vast camp of soldiers. At sunset, the Mohamedans offered up the three evening cheers for their Padisha, and the insurgents uttered three curses upon ‘his Sultanic Majesty.’
It had come to be known to the Turks that Sarafoff was making his way to the Bulgarian border; a reward was offered for his head, and cavalry patrols were sent out to intercept him. But it was not difficult to elude these, for the cavalry could not leave the roads; and it broke the monotony of the days in hiding to watch the patrols pass on the highways below.
It is generally with the bands to fight or not to fight; but sometimes they are surprised by the Turks. Sarafoff and his band succeeded in eluding the troops until they arrived in the neighbourhood of a little town named Bouff, where, being worn out with a week’s hard marching, they elected to rest for thirty-six hours.
The first day was uneventful, but as the second began to dawn on the heights one of the pickets, a boy of fourteen, rushed into camp with the news that the Turks were entering the little valley in which the insurgents were camped. The boy had hardly delivered this news when a picket from the summit of the ridge to the east rushed in breathless, and announced that soldiers were climbing the slope on his side. And from various other points soon came sentries with similar information.
The insurgents were about their chief in an instant to hear his command. Sarafoff had studied the lie of the land overnight, and it required but a moment for him to decide upon his plan of battle.
The band were occupying the base of a narrow ‘dip,’ one end of which was closed by an insurmountable wall of sheer stone, and the other now blocked by probably two hundred Turkish soldiers. Another body of Turks, perhaps three hundred strong, were already coming over one of the two mountain crests. The other slope—the only way of escape open to the band—was so steep as to be impossible of ascent except by aid of the low bush that covered it. The surprise was complete, and the trap was tight.
There was a huge rock, lodged half-way up the open mountain-side, which would offer some protection. Sarafoff picked eight men from his band and started for this boulder, leaving the others, in charge of a lieutenant, to lie low in the bushes until he and his party attained the eminence. By climbing fast and taking the shelter of the shrubs, the nine men got to the rock with the loss of but one of their number. Not until then did they return the fire of the Turks, now descending the opposite slope. As soon as the main body of the band heard the fire of their comrades, they scattered, and started to pick their way up around the rock to the summit of the peak. It took them two hours to make the ascent, and during this time some of the Turks wound around to the right of Sarafoff’s position on the boulder, and a few got far above him to his left. Between these two raking fires the place would have been untenable had not the insurgents above kept these parties of Turks replenishing their numbers every minute. When the Turks succeeded in picking off three more of Sarafoff’s men, leaving him now but four—though all of the other insurgents had not yet reached the point of the peak—he vacated the boulder. The four men scattered, as the others had done, and scurried up the ascent. All five succeeded in gaining the little fort at the top, and, without waiting to take breath, dropped beside the main body, and took up the fusillade which these had already begun.
While waiting for Sarafoff, the band had been surrounded. The heights were a mass of broken boulders which afforded protection to their enemies as well as to the insurgents. Only one spot, to the south, was smooth and bare, and this space the Turkish commander took the precaution not to occupy, for two reasons. First, his men would have been picked off as fast as they filled it, and the sacrifice evidently did not appear to him to be necessary; secondly, the opening acted as a bait for the hard-pressed insurgents, tempting them into the passage, on each side of which soldiers were massed in strong force. Sarafoff surmised that this was a trap, and, while realising the hopelessness of his position, chose to fight it out where the lives of the band would cost the Turks dearest.
Until ten o’clock the Turks, certain of success, made no attempt to storm the position. They had taken up secure places behind rocks, and keeping up a desultory firing, they awaited the arrival of reinforcements, for which they had sent to a near-by town. The reinforcements came—for the sake of speed, in the shape of cavalry and artillery. The cavalry could not get into action because of the roughness of the ground, and was deployed as a patrol to prevent any other band which might be in the neighbourhood from coming to the relief of Sarafoff. The artillery could not be brought into close quarters for the same reason, but it was posted on an eminence quite within range.
Shortly before noon the cannon opened fire. The target was rather small and decidedly indefinite, and for nearly an hour the shells went over or fell short of the insurgent position; but when the artillerymen finally succeeded in getting the range, the flying splinters of shell and stone meant certain death to anyone who dared to put his head above the rocks. The insurgent fire slackened under this hail, and the Turkish commander, evidently supposing that the band had been materially reduced in number, ordered an assault from all sides. The cannon fire was discontinued for fear of working slaughter among the charging soldiers, and the Turks came forward to the attack, dodging from rock to rock, and closing in on all sides—except in the space purposely left open. Sarafoff ordered half of his men to lay down their guns and prepare their dynamite, and cautioned the others to make every rifle shot strike its mark. He himself, expecting a hand-to-hand encounter at the last, laid aside his gun, drew his sword, and strapped it to his hand. The riflemen did their work well. Turks fell on every side; but on they came! When the foremost of them got to within twenty yards of the little fort, the insurgents began to throw their bombs. The Turks have a terror of the dynamite bomb, and these ‘infernal machines’ checked their advance for a time. At a lull in the din there were repeated shouts from the Turks in Bulgarian (which many of them speak), ‘Lay down your arms and surrender, Sarafoff! the Padisha is good, and will surely pardon you!’ But the leader had no thought of allowing himself and his men to fall alive into the hands of the Turks; his knowledge of how they respect promises to ‘infidels’ precluded any idea of his accepting the tempting offer.
It was now after one o’clock. If the band could hold out until nightfall, there was a slight chance for some of them to cut their way through the Turkish lines with bombs; but the Turks would certainly make any sacrifice to storm the position before dark—the great Sarafoff was cordoned and would not have another opportunity to escape.
The day was inclement, and thick, black clouds hung over many of the mountains. Perhaps the Turks longed for one of these to break from its hold on another peak, and float over to this, for they abated their fire when a dense, all-enveloping wreath followed this course. Sarafoff judged that they would storm his shelter in the protecting mist, and laid his plans accordingly. At the moment that the blackness was complete, the insurgents began again to cast their dynamite, and kept a zone about their little fortress hot with exploding shells. The Turks waited until this cannonade should conclude; but while they waited, all the insurgents dispersed except Sarafoff and fifteen of his men, and, each acting for himself, dashed for the open space left by the Turks with such precision. A pistol was loaded for each of the wounded men who could not escape, in order that they might blow out their own brains; and then, lighting the last half-dozen bombs with long fuses, to hold off the Turks yet a few minutes, Sarafoff gave to the men who had stayed with him the order to fix bayonets and follow those who had gone before.
When night fell, less than fifty men of the original ninety gathered together in the dense forest on the far side of the mountain appointed as the place of meeting. They were blackened from smoke, and down some of the drawn and haggard faces streaks of blood were trickling. Their throats were parched, and they were famished with hunger, and a few of them were off their heads with fatigue and excitement, and had to be gagged.
They all lay as quiet as mice throughout the night, and the next day two of the most innocent-looking members of the band, stripped of their insurgent paraphernalia, and in the garb of ordinary peasants, went down into Bouff for food.
When they got to the village, they found it had been visited with the vengeance of the Turks. On returning to garrison, the Turkish soldiers passed through Bouff and murdered a few old men and defenceless women whom they found there (the other inhabitants being still in the mountains). They fired many of the houses and pillaged the town, and there was very little of anything valuable left. There was much coarse, uncooked flour scattered about, and some Indian corn, and of these commodities the two insurgents collected as much as they could carry and returned to their comrades.
At nightfall of the day after the fight the band resumed their march. The insurgents filed out of the woods in a long, single line, the local guide leading, and made their way to the edge of the next revolutionary district, where the chief thereof was awaiting them. They replenished their spent supply of ammunition from the secret stores of the villagers in the mountains, and proceeded on their way. Their course now was to the north-east, and they made tracks for their destination as straight as the Turkish camps and patrols would permit, arriving without further adventure at the friendly frontier.
The Turkish guard would certainly be on the watch for the band, so the leader decided to cross the border close to one of the smaller posts, where, he judged, the patrols would be less active, not expecting such audacity. He selected a passing place within earshot of a blockhouse, which could be seen plainly in the moonlight. A sentinel sat in Turkish fashion before the door, wailing a doleful dirge through his nose, a way Turkish sentinels have. To the time of the Turk’s music the insurgent band filed over the border, guns loaded and cocked, bayonets fixed, and arrived in Kustendil, whence to Sofia their march was a triumphant procession.
I received orders late one evening to proceed at once to Sofia and prepare to accompany the Bulgarian army, which was mobilising on the Turkish frontier. I was glad to get this order, and obeyed instructions, though I knew there would be no war. The British Consul then secured a passavant for me, by which I was described as a man of a round figure and black moustaches. In a civilised country my identity would have been challenged, but the instrument passed me over the Turkish border.
The streets of Sofia were crowded with committajis, in brown uniforms, fur caps, white woollen leggings, and sandals. They were mostly members of General Tzoncheff’s committee who had fought along the Struma. Later, bands from Grueff’s organisation began to arrive. There were several leaders who had been prominent in the revolution. I sought the count again, and, with my old interpreter, spent many hours among the insurgents. They were generally to be found at the cheaper cafés, sitting over the rough tables recounting their adventures. It was at a café that I got the story of Sarafoff’s Trail.
These soldiers of fortune had become indifferent to everything but revolution. They did not care how they looked or what they did, and a worse gang of beggars I never saw. Pride had flown. Work! Not they. They are hunters of men.
COMMITTAJIS OFF DUTY.
THE MACEDONIAN COMMITTEES
The following information regarding the Macedonian Committees was contained in a letter from General Tzoncheff to me. There are some eliminations, but no alterations in the text.—F. M.
‘The beginning of the revolutionary movement goes back to the years 1893-94, but its real, substantial work began from 1895. At this time there were already two organisations—one in Macedonia, which was revolutionary; the other in Bulgaria, which was legal, open organisation.
‘By the very nature of things the legal organisation in Bulgaria became the representative of the Macedonian cause before Europe. In accordance with the revolutionary organisation, the legal one worked up the well-known principles for an autonomy, which were proclaimed by a memorandum to the Powers and to the Press in 1896.
‘The revolutionary work was carried on by the two organisations in harmony until the year 1901, each organisation acting in its sphere for the same object. Though separated in their way of action, the two organisations were, in fact, one and the same. The members of the one passed into the other, as the needs and the circumstances dictated. All the Macedonian leaders have belonged and participated to the two organisations. Thus Deltcheff from 1899 to 1901 worked conjointly and signed the resolutions of the High Macedonian Committee under the presidency of Boris Sarafoff, who was chosen by us.
‘In 1901 the harmony was destroyed. Sarafoff and the other members of the committee, including Deltcheff, encouraged by the extreme popularity of the cause, gave a revolutionary impulse to the legal organisation in Bulgaria by acts which were very compromising. The murder of the Rumanian professor, Michailyano, in Bucharest, and other deeds brought Bulgaria to the verge of a war with Rumania. The public opinion in the principality, in the Balkan States, and in Europe was excited. We asked Sarafoff and the other members of the committee to retire, and thus to save the situation. But Sarafoff could not at that time realise how grave the situation was, and refused to quit the committee. Several intrigues were invented with the object to represent the split as of a character of fundamental principal differences. New elements, chiefly the extremists or the anarchical current, supported Sarafoff. The Bulgarian Government, under the pressure of the European diplomacy, especially of the Russian, gave its full support to the disunion in the organisation.
‘The union between the different revolutionary currents brought about during the last insurrection was again broken up. Now we have three revolutionary currents—ours, Damian Groueff’s, and the so-called anarchical current at the head of which stand B. Sarafoff, Sandansky, and others. With the current of Damian Groueff we have not any fundamental differences, but much with the anarchical. This last current is not at all a disciplined organisation; its members act nearly independently. Some of them—for instance, Sandansky and Tchernopeeff—during the last two years have made deeds in Macedonia which have brought great calamities on the population and have alienated the sympathies of the civilised world. Their aim is to throw terror and anarchy in the country and make life impossible for the inhabitants. Lacking discipline and well-defined objects, their members often go to extremes, which are very injurious to the cause of the Macedonians.
‘During the last months efforts were made for an understanding between us and Groueff. The foundations for the understanding are even laid down. If these efforts succeed fully, we hope then to have a strong revolutionary organisation which will be able to put down all the pernicious and demoralising elements in the Macedonian movement and use all its power to attain the object and the desire of the Macedonians—establishment in the country (of) a civilised government and administration, which will open to its inhabitants a free field for progress, civilisation, and economical prosperity.
‘The immediate object is not and will not be an insurrection. In the first place the present political situation in Europe is unfavourable for such an action; and in the second place our interest dictates that time and freedom should be given to the Powers to fulfil their promise for a good government, and, if they fail, that the Christian world should see that this failure is not due to the Macedonians, but to the ineffective measures of the diplomacy. And then to tighten the organisation and to give a strong impulse to the movement, so as to be ready for another struggle, when the political situation permits and if the reforms fail.’
SPOTTISWOODE AND CO. LTD., NEW-STREET SQUARE
I am indebted to Mr. Smyth-Lyte for this section of the narrative.
A foreign-made metal coin, worth about a farthing.
A Turkish term denoting civilians, in contradistinction from soldiers.
The number is probably an error of public crier Mecho.
An inscription on the blade of a yataghan possessed by the author reads: ‘Open the door to me in both worlds.’
The figures were given me by Boris Sarafoff.
Not all the munitions of war secretly brought into the country came through Bulgaria. Certain insurgent leaders who spoke Greek without a foreign accent worked in Greece, purchasing arms with the connivance of the Greek authorities under the pretext that they were leaders of Greek bands, hostile to the Bulgarians; and much dynamite was imported through the Turkish Custom-house at Salonica.
Beside this record of the Turks stands a most dastardly deed on the part of the insurgents. Retiring from Nevaska a party of them laid a diligent trail to a spot in the mountains where they carefully prepared a lunch, poisoning the Mastica with arsenic, and leaving several bottles of it on the ground, to appear as if the band had left hurriedly at the approach of the Turks. This was told me in person by Tchakalaroff, the voivoda who led the band.
The italics are the author’s.
I have lost the name.