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TURKISII ARMY DOCTORs. I43
a corrupt, vile thing this Turkish Government is. The court eats all the country. We who work, the employés of the state, the doctors, the soldiers, never receive any pay now. We are put off with excuses on excuses, lies on lies. As long as they think they can obtain our labour for nothing, not a para will they let slip through their fingers. Look at my case. I have been a doctor in the Turkish army for forty years, I have been through the Crimea, over all Asia, in the service of the Porte. I am entitled to a good pension. I have been day after day to the office at Constantinople, and put my case before the authorities. They put me off with all sorts of fair promises, but I knew what that meant, so went to them day after day, and worried them so much that they decided to get rid of me in some way. “There is a permanent hospital in Scutari, in Albania, they told me. “In consideration of your long service we appoint you as head doctor of it. Start at once to your post.' Now that I have travelled all this way, at my own expense mind you, what do I find? The permanent hospital no longer exists—it is a myth, and they knew it at Constantinople all the time, and no doubt chuckled merrily, when I had turned my back, at the clever way they had rid themselves of the importunate old nuisance.” Our friend the gendarme called on us after dinner. He too had his grievance. He had just called on his commandant, in hopes of receiving some small portion of the arrears of pay due to him. The following brief conversation ensued:— “What do you want here, Lieutenant P. P.” “I want money.” “What? Eh! Money! What on earth for P” “To procure bread.” “Ah! bread; that is well. Do you know what there is in the caisse 2'' “ No.” “Well, there is nothing; and I see little chance of there being a single parathere for some time. So go, young man, and do not indulge in extravagant habits. I advise you as an older man.” After a few consultations with Mr. Green, Brown and myself determined to carry out our original plan of riding to Janina, and of visiting Priserin on our way, if the Leaguesmen were willing to receive us in that city. Our friend the gendarme offered to accompany us the whole way for a small consideration. This suited us exactly. For with him we could converse, and the chances were small of our meeting people who could understand any Western language, on our route. Besides, the Turkish government compels all travellers to take an escort of zaptiehs. At certain stages these are changed, and another escort is given, of greater or less numerical strength according to the state of the country to be tra
OUR EsCORT. I45
versed. In the company of this officer, we should probably be able to dispense with this nuisance, except perhaps on a few stages where brigands were supposed to be prowling about. An escort of Zaptiehs is really of little use; for when brigands are come across here, it is not in twos and threes, but in overwhelming numbers.
We were rather surprised when our intended companion told us that he could easily procure letters of safe-conduct for us to the chiefs of the League at Priserin and Jakova, as he himself had many intimate friends among the head men of that formidable organization, at Scutari. Curiously illustrative was this of the present condition of this country. Here was an official of the Turkish Government, an officer of police, openly associating and sympathizing with rebels, whose avowed object it is to throw off the Turkish yoke by force of arms, and place a prince of their own choice on the old stone throne of Scanderbeg at Kroia.
The next thing to do was to make preparations for our journey. We had spent all our gold, so found that we were obliged to change some of our English notes. This was no easy matter. After some difficulty, with the assistance of Mr. Green we found an old Christian merchant, Shouma by name, reputedly of great wealth. He might be able to manage the little affair for us.
We called on him, and according to the custom of the country we indulged in coffee, sweetmeats, sherbet, and cigarettes before commencing to state our business. Very suspiciously he looked at the notes. Bills of exchange he would have discounted without hesitation ; I believe our own promissory notes would have satisfied him. But in governments this wise man had no faith. He did not believe in a paper currency.
He had observed how in his own country it had depreciated till at last it was absolutely valueless. He knew that even Austria's notes were worth considerably less than the sum they are supposed to represent. I tried to explain to him what Bank of England notes really were—what the difference between a convertible and an inconvertible paper currency was; but Shouma evidently considered that the convertible paper was a still more subtle device of a more clever government to hoodwink and swindle the people.
However, he agreed to change a ten pound note for us, provided that Mr. Green guaranteed that it really was worth ten golden sovereigns. Mr. Green was of course willing to do this for us. Shouma accordingly took our note, but told us that it would take three days at least to rake together so large a sum as ten pounds in Scutari. He would go that very day to the bazaar, and get as much as he could, for us to go on with.
CHANGE FOR A TEN Pound NoTE. 147
In three days, a huge packet of metallic discs, of every size and inscription, was ready for us. This was accompanied by a document, lengthy as the manifest of a mail steamer, specifying the value of this wonderful ten pounds’ worth of coins. He gave us 131 piastres and a fraction for each sovereign. It took us two hours to count and verify our change. There were silver medjidiés at 22% piastres each, all sorts of curious concave plates of base metal, worth 11}, 6%, 13%, and many other odd sums nasty to calculate. There were Greek coins, Russian roubles, old Austrian swanzickers bearing the effigies of Maria. Theresa, Peruvian and Mexican dollars, and I know not what besides. Verifying one's change, is no joke in Albania. To shop in the bazaar of Scutari is a maddening operation, unless one heroically resigns oneself to the certainty of being cheated twice over in every transaction; for not only must one bargain fiercely and cunningly, and beat down the price the merchant asks for an article in the first instance, but after one has come to terms, and is about to hand over his fifty piastres, say, another still warmer and more utterly confusing discussion is sure to ensue as to the value of the coins one presents to him. The piece of money you yourself received as a twenty-piastre bit, he insists is worth only eighteen.