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An escort—A Turkish. dinner-party—Brigands—Our sportsman —A chief of the League—Objects of the rebels—Aehmet Agha—A meeting of the League—The Boulem-Bashi of Klementi—An Arnaut chieftain.
The next day (Saturday, November 1st), after our black coffee, and the usual bustle attending the packing of our animals, we shouldered our rifles, and made a start. Our landlord insisted on our pouring down numerous glasses of raki in his house, and, according to the general custom over here, accompanied us to about half a mile or more from the town, when a halt was called. Then he produced a glass, and a large bottle of mastic, which had to be finished by us ere bidding a final adieu. We all highly approved of this good old custom.
It began to rain soon after we commenced our march, and the plain assumed very quickly that lake-like appearance which we had observed the last time we crossed it.
On arriving at the khan where we had slept
on our march to Podgoritza, we found in front of it a large encampment of Turkish soldiers. We entered the house to get some coffee, and were then pounced upon by some of the officers, who wished to see our passports, and learn who we were, and whither we were bound. They insisted on sending an escort of four men with us as far as Helm, for, as they told us, we were breaking through all the regulations laid down by the government for the security of travellers in journeying thus without zaptiehs. That travellers should be thus escorted we knew to be the rule throughout Turkey, but we evaded it whenever we could. In Albania such an escort is worse than useless. In the first place, the zaptiehs will not venture to go with you into the mountains, where the Arnauts would probably attack them for the sake of their arms; and on the other hand, their company is sure to make you very unpopular in every village you go through, for these defenders of the peace consider they have a legal right to requisition provisions, and all they want, without paying for them.
On reaching Helm we found that the provision boat had left, thus we were obliged to pass the night here. Robinson proposed that we should pitch our tent. While we were discussing the point a Turkish officer came up, and spoke to us in French. He pointed out a dismal stone house by the lake side, and told us that the commandant of the troops stationed here resided in it, and would be very glad if we would accept his hospitality for the night. We were all delighted, with the exception of Robinson, who sighed deeply— his beloved tent was not to be pitched after all.
We were shown into a rough, unfurnished room, and dinner was soon announced. We dined with the commandant and the Frenchspeaking officer, Marco and a negro soldier waiting on us. It was a regular Turkish dinner—no chairs, no knives and forks. We had to squat down in Eastern fashion, and eat the savoury pilaf with our fingers. After dinner we entered into a lengthy conversation with the commandant, the other officer acting as interpreter. He hated Albania, and the Albanians. "Why," he said, "these dogs of Arnauts should be smoked out of their fastnesses. My soldiers dare not leave the camp; if a few of them stray a mile or two away, 'ping, ping,' a dozen bullets hiss about their ears. The beasts murder them for their rifles. We might as well be in an enemy's country at once. I advise you to be cautious in travelling among these mountains. It is really very unsafe."
The conversation turned on politics. The old soldier seemed very excited. "Ay I" he said, "all our friends have forsaken us; you English A Turkish Dinner-party. 197
even are no longer allies of the Turk. And this being so, why should we do anything for you? why assist you? why listen any more to your counsels? I will tell you, by Allah! there is but one stick left that Turkey may lean on. Her only hope is in an alliance with the strong, with Russia; that is what it will come to, you will see."
"I am afraid you will find that Russia devours her allies."
The commandant laughed. "There is something in that," he said. "The truth is, that poor Turkey has no friends, and no hope. We shall have to leave your Europe, I fear; but I do not think you will find that Turkey, overrun by Sclavs, will be so much better than it is now."
The next morning our host ordered a special londra for us, and ordered his men to row us down to a point on the lake, whence we could march to Scutari before nightfall. Our crew of ragged soldiers, grim, half-starved, some of negro, some of Arab blood, brought us, in about two hours, to a sheltered little bay on the east shore of the lake. Our course had lain across a regular forest of half-submerged trees, which grew in fantastic shapes, and whose lower ends were thickly surrounded with sedge and water-plants. The effect was curious, not unlike those tropical swamps where vegetable life is so profuse and varied.
On landing we repacked Rosso and Effendi, and were just on the point of bidding adieu to our crew, and commencing our march, when an incident worthy of mention occurred.
With the exception of snipe, and such like small deer, we had come across little game in Albania. The ferce natures have little chance in this barren country, where war is frequent, peopled as it is too by men who never leave their thresholds without carrying their loaded guns with them. But now, however, the keen eye of Jones suddenly lighted upon a large and unknown bird, perched on a stump not fifteen yards from the shore. It was a curious and melancholy-looking creature, something like a mangy pelican with a moulting tail.
Now Jones, my readers will remember, had purchased an Arnaut gun at Scutari, an orthodox flint-locked pushka, with barrel as long as himself. This weapon had been strongly recommended by the vendor for sporting purposes. On inspecting it, Jones noticed the barrel was most decidedly bent. He pointed this out to the merchant. "Bent! Ah, that is nothing," said he; "easily remedied." So saying he inserted the barrel between two of the beams of his roof, bent it straight, squinted down it, and handed it back. "There you are! Excellent pushka!"
With this weapon Jones proceeded to slay the