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The inission-house — Gropa—The mandolin—A letter from Ali Bey—A trap—Our throats in danger—Ketreat—Nik Leka—Proverbs—A pleasant evening.
The next morning we were up early. The good priests would not hear of our leaving them till after the midday meal. "Gropa is but three hours or so from here," they said; "you have lots of time to stay and look over our church."
The little mission-house of Selz, as this the chief hamlet of the Klementi is called, is built on a terrace in the hill side, which commands a grand view of the ravine; gigantic bare cliffs of dark stone shut it in on every side. A small graveyard, where are buried all the monks that have died since the institution of the mission, lies to the front of the residence.
We went inside the little chapel. Very primitive and rough paintings of Biblical incidents ornamented the walls, the productions of the monks. Most of these were some 200 years old at least. The Franciscans have un
doubtedly done much good in Albania. They have been here from a very remote time. They have suffered persecutions, have died the death of martyrs, but have succeeded in completely winning the affections of the wild Arnauts. As Luigi said to me, "Why, should one of us be ill-used by the Turks, the whole of the mountains would rise in our defence. We need fear nothing here now." The headquarters of the order in Albania is at Scutari, where there is a large convent. I was much struck by the evidently sincere respect and love all the mountaineers entertained for their spiritual fathers. One could see that these men must be doing good here.
Before we started for Gropa, the suow began to fall heavily. We bid adieu to our good hosts. They kissed us and wept over us, for they feared we should never return, and insisted on filling our saddle-bag with wine, maize, bread, and mutton. Gropa, which signifies in the Albanian tongue the hollow, is not a village, but a miserable oneroomed hut, situated at the extreme end of the ravine, by the source of the torrent.
The path was coated with ice, and very perilous for the horses. Our guide, a savage-looking Klementi, walked bare-footed over the sharp stones and frozen snow with utter indifference.
The hut was nearly snowed up when we reached it. It was a desolate spot. A black pine-wood rose behind it on the hill-side. An hour's walk through this would have brought us to the summit of the ridge which overlooks Gussinje. The hut was inhabited by a man, his wife, and one child. A blazing fire was made up; then converting our mutton into kybobs, we made a capital dinner. They gave us coffee, but sugar they had none. Our guide, who had lately walked bare-footed over the ice quite at his ease all the time, now placed his feet in the ashes of the fire with a like indifference. Extremities of heat and cold affected the hardy highlander very little.
Our host was a musician in his way. He took down his mandolin, and with it accompanied one of the monotonous songs of his country. The Albanian mandolin is like a small banjo with three strings, and is played not with the fingers, but a chip of hard wood or bone.
These Albanian songs are not unpleasing, barbarous as is their music. The first line of each verse is the same as the last line of the preceding verse. There is a peculiar sadness and subdued fierceness in the way they sing which is really very affecting. The song is always of war, of victories over the Karatag, feuds with the Turk, or the doings of the heroic Scanderbeg. The mandolin is peculiar to Albania. The guzla of Montenegro has but one string, and is played with a bow like a violin.
At midnight we were awakened by the entry of two men. One was the brother of Nik Leka; the other a Bosnian Mussulman, by his dress. The Arnaut clapped me on the back. "Mir, Mir," he said, "Gussinje." Then he pointed to a letter. I understood what he meant. Ali Bey had given his permission, had written a letter to the fathers to that effect, and had sent this Bosnian soldier with it to Seltz. The soldier returned to Gussinje at once, while Nik Leka's brother also left us, to carry the epistle to the Franciscan mission. All seemed now to be going well, and very delighted we were. "We should see Gussinje after all.
It was early the next morning, when Father John suddenly made his appearance at the hut. He looked alarmed and anxious, and talked rapidly to our host. Something unpleasant had evidently occurred. We waited patiently till he vouchsafed to explain matters.
"I have heard from Ali Bey," he said. "Here is his letter. I will translate it to you. He writes thus:—
"'To Father John, greeting.
"' We have read—we have understood. The chiefs have assembled. If these people will be hostages, will guarantee that Marco Milano withdraw the Karatags within three days, let them
come to Gussinje; if nob, they had better not come' "« From Ali Pasha.'"
This was hardly what could be called a hearty welcome. Said John, "You understand what that means. If you can guarantee that the Montenegrins withdraw their troops—"
"We cannot do that."
"Of course not. Well, if you go they will wait three days, then cut off your heads. Now Nik Leka's brother has also brought this news from Gussinje. When they heard of your arrival, some of the men said, 'We have heard of these people. They have been to Podgoritza; they are friends of the Montenegrin chiefs. They must be spies. One is a red-bearded Russian (this was Jones). They are accursed giaour traitors.' Then thirty men decided to leave Gussinje last night, and surprise and murder you here in this hut. Ali Bey heard of it, and stopped them. But Nik Leka's brother says that you had better not stay here. The Gussinians are violently excited about you; they thirst for your blood. Come back to Seltz."
We were sitting down to breakfast when we heard all this cheering and appetizing information. My back was to the door, as was Jones's, when I heard a noise outside, and the next moment I saw the Franciscan drop the meat he was holding,