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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 medjidies at 22|- piastres each, all sorts of curious concave plates of base metal, worth 11^, 6f, 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. "See here," he says, "this swanzicker you give me has a hole through it; that diminishes its value by two paras." Two or three neighbours are called in to decide the question. Each has a different opinion on the subject.
The fact is that all money is acceptable here, and that, especially since Turkey's reduced circumstances, the currency consists of the old, semi-defaced coinage of a dozen nations at least, whose value is arrived at by guesswork. I met no one in Albania capable of telling off-hand how many piastres a given piece was worth.
We spent the three days Shouma had given us, in preparing for our journey, and seeing as much as we could of the habits and customs of the Bcutarines.
As we had made up our minds to ride, we paid a visit to the bazaar to purchase two horses. All sorts of extraordinary animals were produced, and refused.
At last we came across one that struck our fancy—a long-legged, extremely lean creature, tall for the country, of a red-brick colour.
Brown, who is a horsey man, proceeded to examine him in a scientific manner, to the admiration of the Arnaut stablemen.
He pointed out the weak points of the animal by signs to the dealer, who was quite as sharp as any of his fraternity in England.
Brown, wishing to express his disapproval of the extremely emaciated condition of the horse, pointed to his ribs; whereon the man, misunderstanding his meaning, deliberately counted them before him—a very easy process in the case of this Albanian Rosinante—and indignantly signified to my companion that he was too much of a gentleman to offer for sale a horse that was not provided with a sufficient number of those necessary costal supporters.
The animal was then trotted out, down one of the crowded alleys of the bazaar. He found favour in Brown's critical eye, so the bargaining commenced.
"Sa pare?" (how much) I asked.
The dealer held up both his hands, and said, "napoleon Frank "—to signify that he wanted ten napoleons.
Brown expressed infinite disgust, and held up two fingers.
The dealer in his turn turned his back, with indignant gesticulations and exclamations at the ridiculously low offer.
At last a bargain was struck, the money counted out, and the purchase delivered to us.
We were mounted at the time on two horses Mr. Green had kindly lent us; so we led off Rosso —as we named our animal, in consequence of his rosy hue—with a rope behind us.
Through Mr. Green we managed to procure another steed, a younger animal, and of more robust habit than the lean and haggard Rosso. From his more gentlemanly appearance we gave him the name of Effendi.
We managed to pick up two saddles in the bazaar—one the regular Turkish saddle, at first so uncomfortable to the novice, but gaudy with flimsy metal ornament; the other was a secondhand Turkish officer's saddle, similar to that used in Europe, and provided with formidable-looking holsters.
We felt very proud of our purchases, and took a long ride the same afternoon over the plain, to a very fine old Venetian bridge that spans a branch of the Bojano, Mr. Green's son accompanying us.
Rosso and Effendi proved to be all that could be desired.