Shut in by the silence and loneliness of the everlasting hills, whose dark summits look down upon it on every side, it seems hardly to belong to the busy, bustling world of the nineteenth century at all. Like Iceland, or Central Asia, or Chinese Tartary, it is a kind of "reservation" where the barbaric usages of the olden times can have free play, without offense to the feelings of the respectable age which reads newspapers, and sends telegrams, and travels in railway cars, and does its brigandage with bubble companies and suits at law instead of knife and gun.|
From the spot where I write I can see a tall, gray tower, standing up on the bright morning sunshine, which, till the reigning Prince forbade it, was never without a plentiful adornment of Turkish heads. To the left stands a little pink building, smaller than many an American farm-house, which was the actual palace of the sovereigns of Montenegro till replaced by the modest stone-house with green shutters that is now the Windsor Castle of Cettinje.
This stalwart, ruddy-cheeked fellow who comes striding down the mountain path behind me wears in his crimson sash two pistols and a silver-hilted yataghan [yatagan] as long as my arm, the notched blade of which has a business-like air suggestive of long and active service.
Plashing through the half-melted snow that carpets the single street comes the national beast of burden, i. e., a woman, brown and robust as one of Tennyson's "daughters of the plow," with an enormous basket of fish on her back, a present to Prince Nikita from the Montenegrin Consul at Cattaro [Kotor], which she has carried all the way up from the sea-shore, a six-hours march.
A passing beggar (fancy beggars even in Montenegro!) halts and kisses my hand, with a hoarse petition for alms in that provoking dialect which sounds just enough like Russian to mislead you into thinking that you can understand it, and to double your mortification on finding that you cannot. Such an apparition, however, is not so unusual as it might seem in these parts, where there is little money but what comes from Russia. Had the Dulcigno [Ulcinj, Улцињ] dspute of last Autumn ended in war Montenegro would have been literally without means to purchase supplies for her Army, which could hardly have indemnified itself at the expense of the Albanians, to whom fortune has assigned the enviable lot of being able to rob everybody and having nothing to be robbed of in return.
Twice sacked and burned by the invading hordes of Islam, connected with the outer world by a single road, surrounded by grim rocks and barren mountain peaks, peopled with a race whose whole history has been one long battle, this quaint little stronghold of the past seems to have nothing in common with the puffing steamers and flitting boats and foreign telegrams and crowded streets and business-like regularity of the great European system which you have left but a few hours march below you. This valley became the seat of the Slav metropolis in the year when Richard of Gloucester [Richard III of England] smothered his boy nephews in the Tower of London. That dark, handsome, stalwart man who comes flying over the snow in a neat sledge drawn by two magnificent brown horses, answering your greeting in irreproachable French, bears a name celebrated in the Servian war ballads of the thirteenth century, and has himself seen two of the bloodiest and most merciless struggles recorded in history.
Yonder stately figure in high black cap and flowing dark robes, before whom the bold mountain-men bend so reverentially as he sweeps by toward his home in the convent whose tall white tower stands out in bold relief against the dark hillside, is the last surviving representative of those terrible Montenegrin Bishops who were wont to lead their flock to battle against the Moslem, as Moses lead the armies of Israel. But Cettinje is by no means devoid of features which show that the influence of that irrepressible "outer world" which has sent special correspondents through the deserts of Central Asia, and peopled the solitudes of the Lebanon with Western excursionists, has begun to penetrate even here.
A few houses up the street, the unpronounceable inscription, "Glas Tzrnogortza," (The Voice of Montenegro,) surmounts the quaintest little editorial office imaginable, much more like a white-washed cottage than a newspaper sanctum, and furnished with a Spartan simplicity worthy of its exterior. Close beside it, but a little retired from the line of the thoroughfare, stands a long low building, (of hewed stone as a matter of course, in this rock-abounding region, where wood is a rarity,) with green trim doors and windows. This is the Government school, where a good number of rosy little Montenegrinesses, in flat caps and short skirts, assemble every day to pursue their studies. Closing the perspective of the street, a very welcome object to the traveler, who, wet, weary, and bemired from head to foot, struggles in after a long ride over the mountains, is a large hotel, built by the Government in 1867, and certainly amazingly comfortable for such a wild region.
But all this while I am forgetting to describe, so far as it can be described at all, the ascent from Cattaro, which may bear comparison with anything either in Switzerland or the Caucasus. You start about 9:30 A. M. in the vain hope of getting up in advance of the pelting rain, which, at this season, commences about 2 every afternoon, and works steadily on until daylight the next morning. Your traveling equipment is simple enough, consisting of a stalwart Montenegrin to carry your portmanteau, and a horse for yourself, although the latter, in such a region, seems as incongruous as a porpoise in a sentry-box.
And no wonder. Turn which way you will, precipices upon precipices, so black and grim as amply to account for the name of "Tzerna Gora" (black mountain,) which we translate by Montenegro, pile themselves up to the very sky, dwarfing into utter insignificance the narrow winding bay which seems to have strayed in here by mistake, and the little toy town, or rather village, pasted along the tiny strip of level ground beside it.
Right in front of you the mountain surges up in one great wave of dark purple, the crest of which you can hardly see without bending your head back. This culminates on the left in one stern gray crag nearly 2,000 feet in height, hanging so directly over the dainty little colony below that it is not easy to look up without a shudder of expectation that it may at any time thunder down to blot Cattaro and its people from the face of the earth.
Half-way along its outer face, the great cliff is riven by a cleft, black and narrow as the gash of a sword, from the gloomy depths of which a swollen torrent comes rushing and roaring down to the sea. Further to the right, another chasm almost severs from the main cliff a huge dark rock, along the black jagged crest of which winds the crumbling wall of an ancient fortress, now utterly deserted, whose gaping loop-holes look down into the valley with a blank unseeing stare. Midway between these two clefts a kind of rough seam runs straight up the face of the precipice in an endless series of cross-stitches, as if some bachelor mountain-giant had torn his coat, and cobbled it up as best he might.
The summit of the precipice is the Montenegrin frontier; the rough seam is the road thither, and it is hardly to be wondered at if the idea of ascending such a road on horseback appears at first sight very much on a par with driving a coach-and-four up stairs, or trying to ascend Bunker Hill Monument on a bicycle.
But there is no time to think about it now. The Montenegrin porter is well up the first zigzag, with the portmonteau, standing boldly out from his broad back, like a new study of Christian with his burden scaling the Hill of Difficulty. The horse steps solemnly forward, with a mingled air of grave responsibility and of full confidence in his ability to meet it, over heaps of rolling stones which would send any civilized animal hoofs uppermost in a moment; and away we go.
Upward, ever upward, round ticklish corners where you look over the low parapet wall sheer down for hundreds of feet into a roaring waterfall; over slippery boulders, among which even my experienced horse, though sure-footed as a Circassian warrior or a mule of the Andes, stumbles and flounders painfully; beneath huge rocks, hanging so loosely over the tremendous depth below that you involuntarily hold your breath as you pass under them; along rocky ledges, heaped with a chaos of stones of all sorts and sizes, to which Lisbon just after the great earthquake was like a Fifth-avenue sidewalk.
Little by little the sounds of life from the valley die away; the little red-tiled houses melt into the cold white mist that covers the lower ground; the silence and loneliness of the everlasting hills inwraps us like a shroud. Not a sound is to be heard save the sharp rattle of the loose stones under my horse's hoofs and the hoarse roar of some distant torrent.
My guide, striding on in front, silently as a spectre, begins to look gigantic and unearthly through the engulfing mist. The measured tread of the horse along the brink of these tremendous precipices, where one false step is certain death, has in it something weird and ghost-like. We seem like a train of phantoms on their march to the grave.
Suddenly a big stone falls, crashing close to my horse's feet, and then another and another. The great king upon whose dominions we have intruded is showing us what he has in store for those who dare to molest his solitude. I see my Montenegrin compress his lips sternly, though his warrior pride forbids him to quicken his pace, even in the teeth of deadly danger. But my less scrupulous horse quickens his at once, and soon brings me out of the line of fire, though not without one or two escapes so narrow that I can feel the wind of the missiles as they pass.
Just at this moment a woman, big and brawny enough for a Scythian Amazon, comes tramping up under a load almost as big as herself. She salutes me in passing with the customary "Dobra vstretcha," (a good meeting,) and, without even troubling herself to follow the zigzags of the road, marches straight up the face of the ridge upon footing barely sufficient for a chamois, and disappears amid the rocky heights beyond.
Now a blast of wind rends the mist-wall, and the panorama below comes forth in all its beauty. The grim old fortress on its lonely crag, the trim little red-tiled houses of the miniature town beneath, the smooth, green, transparent waters of the winding inlet, the vast purple shadow of the mighty mountains that wall it in, the tiny white hamlets that cling to their skirts, the broad sheen of the open sea beyond—all these, steeped in the brief bright splendor of the Winter sunlight, burst upon the eye in one blaze of glory.
With the first breath of the life-giving mountain air, the world below, with all its petty cares and worries, vanishes like a dream. I leap from my saddle, and, springing upon the nearest rock, go scrambling up the face of the ridge as if my life depended upon it, while my horse, relieved of his burden, jogs merrily along the path. My guide's dog barks and frolics around me, and chases imaginary cats in and out of the boulders, while two or three huge Montenegrins, who come marching down the horrible descent as if it were a stair, greet me in passing with a smile of fatherly indulgence.
Hurrah! Here at last is the first patch of snow, and here another, and another, and another. Who cares for stumbles or bruises in this glorious atmosphere, where one cannot feel tired if one would? I experience a momentary pang at seeing my Montenegrin tripping jauntily along the edge of a fathomless precipice, with my portmanteau bobbing from his shoulder at the end of a single strap; but this is forgotten in a moment, for just above us rises the smooth parapet of the new military road, which meets our track at this point, and a few minutes later we are on Montenegrin soil.
Away, away along the winding highway, now dexterously avoiding a huge heap of debris which has rushed down upon the road, now picking our way round a grisley gap where nearly half the road itself has fallen away down the precipice, now halting to admire a vast black cavern in the flanking cliff, against whose blackness pillars of ice stand out spectrally, while from its sunless depths comes sullenly the hoarse roar of unseen waters. Snow, sunshine, mountain air, scenery unmatched in Europe, a bounding sense of health and elasticity which makes the mere feeling of existence an enjoyment—is not one such day worth months of the humdrum life of civilization?
Almost without knowing it, I strike up a song, and my guide responds in a voice worthy of Stentor, while the dog barks a lusty accompaniment. A passing traveler comes up, and, on either side, we at once begin snow-balling each other like schoolboys, without even waiting for an introduction.
As we begin to descend into a bare, stony plateau, shut in on every side by huge cliffs, a strapping young shepherdess, overlooking her flock from a projecting crag, shows all her white teeth in a broad, hearty smile, as if our coming were the best joke she had seen for many a day.
And now, passing a solitary little red-towered church, we descry before us, so mixed up with the vast gray boulders that it is hard at first sight to tell one from the other, the tiny stone hovels, rudely thatched with straw, of the hamlet of Niégosch, which the old chiefs of the Petrovich family, when they came into Montenegro as its champions and its rulers 300 years ago, named in loving remembrance of their far-off home in Herzegovina.
Hitherto all has gone well, but now our troubles commence in earnest. Suddenly diverging from the beaten road, our path leads right up a bare, crumbling slope, ankle-deep in half-melted snow, and so overflowed by countless torrents that I am fain to get to my saddle once more. At the same moment the wind, rising in its might, drives before it a pelting storm of rain. Drenched and dripping, we zigzag for hours through a maze of slippery ridges and snow-filled hollows, while the half-seen phantoms of black crags and skeleton trees loom spectrally through the mist, and every now and then a train of laden pack-horses or a brawny Montenegriness, waddling under a fagot bigger than herself, starts suddenly out of the gloom just at the narrowest part of the path, necessitating a somewhat intricate game of "puss in the corner" on the very brink of the precipice.
At length, just as my fingers seem to be absolutely non-existent and the reins to be sustaining themselves in mid-air by art-magic, my guide announces the good news that we shall be at Cettinje in three-quarters of an hour more.
Then comes a headlong descent into another isolated plateau, a glimpse of two or three grim fortress-like houses among the cliffs, a momentary vision through the driving rain, of groups of tall, well-armed men and brown-faced women scattered along a muddy street of small stone cottages with a big, substantial-looking house closing the perspective; and then suddenly I find myself bundled up a very slippery stair into a well-warmed room and hear my landlord, a handsome young giant of six feet two, advising me, with a jolly laugh, to "have some hot coffee at once, just to keep you alive till dinner's ready."
[unsigned, but clearly written by DAVID KER]
The New York Times, Februrary 28, 1881, p.2:|
CHIEFS OF A NOBLE RACETHE PRINCE AND BISHOP OF MONTENEGRO.
AN AMIABLE FOREIGN MINISTER—
PRINCE NIKITA AND HIS FAMILY...
CETTINJE, Montenegro, Jan. 31.—It is a somewhat novel situation to find one's self quartered in a hotel 2,400 feet above the sea, surrounded by knee-deep snow and shut in by the savagest mountains in Europe, where hens and ducks range the grounds at will, with an occasional pig by way of variety; where you can hardly come down stairs without running against a six-foot moutaineer in crimson vest and blue knickerbockers, with a perfect museum of weapons hanging all over him; where your landlord and his help, male and female, pop in and out of your room at all hours in the friendliest manner possible, and seem to look upon you quite as an old comrade instead of a mere passing guest; where your right and left hand neighbors at table are Montenegrin warriors in full native dress, who have probably taken as many Turkish heads as they have fingers on both hands; where nearly half of what you eat, and three fourths of what you drink, have been carried up from the sea-shore, over 20 miles of frozen precipices, upon the backs of horses or of women.
But, despite all this, one may be as comfortable in the capital of Montenegro as I have been in places almost equally unlikely, such as the oasis of Biskra, in the Sahara Desert, or the fortress of Kazalinsk, in Central Asia. If the streets are unpaved, the houses are at least rain-proof; if the weather is cold, the welcome is warm; if our postal arrangements are represented by a queer little thatched cottage, with a slit biscuit tin at its door for a letter box, and a long-limbed mountaineer sent twice a week down the mountains to Cattaro by way of mail train, there is at all events plenty to write about, and a cordial readiness on the part of every one to give you both information and assistance, not always to be found in more civilized regions.
Indeed, there is perhaps no race in the world with whom one may more quickly or more easily make one's self at home than the Black Mountaineers. Before the jovial, boyish good-humor of these simple Goliaths it is impossible to feel either shy or morose. I am already "hand and glove" with half a dozen strapping fellows, the least of whom could take me up in one hand; and the only foreign lady who has ventured here this month is so assiduously "capped" by the handsome, picturesque giants of the village whenever she apppears that a stranger would be apt to mistake her for the Princess in person.
But all this while I am forgetting to describe my interview with Prince Nikita [Nikola I Mirkov Petrović-Njegoš], which was fortunately a more successful experience than that of the English farmer who boasted that although he had never seen the Queen, he "had a cousin as once coom very nigh seein' the Dook o' Wellington."
Immediately on arriving at Cettinje I send in my card—almost the only dry thing left about me—to the Voievode Radonich, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and present myself at his house next morning. Formerly the palace of the Montenegrin Princes, it makes an imposing show among the little thatched stone hovels of two rooms each which make up the bulk of the town.
It is a long, low, red building, encircled by a quadrangular wall with a low round tower at each corner, whence a French traveler spitefully nicknamed it "the billiard-table." Near the door lies a rarity in Montenegro—an iron six-pounder, which, though unmounted and useless, is an object of great admiration to the natives. Passing through a huge desolate court-yard and up a stone stair, I am ushered into a small, bare room, with no furniture save a table and two chairs.
The next moment, in comes a tall, handsome, black-whiskered man, whose towering figure, clad in the picturesque white tunic, crimson vest, and blue hose of the Montenegrin warrior, looks quite colossal in that small chamber. I ask him if he remembers Lieut. Greene [Francis Vinton Greene], American military attaché at the Czar's head-quarters in 1877. At the sound of the familiar name his face lights up at once, and he eagerly inquires after the author of Army Life in Russia.
"I haven't read the book myself, says he, "but from the extracts given me by the Russian officers, I should say it must be quite worthy of the praise they give it. Be sure you tell M. Greene, when you go back, what a pleasant recollection I have of our acquaintance. Meanwhile, what can I do for you?"
I state my wish to pay my respects to the Prince, and take my leave, supposing the matter at an end for the day. But M. Radonich's kindness outruns my expectations. That very afternoon, just as I am drying myself for the third time—for Montenegro in Winter is very much like the Irish village where one went out on foot one day, and in a boat the other six—my big landlord comes in to announce with a jovial grin that the Prince has sent an aide-de-camp to conduct me to him.
In steps a good-looking young fellow with curling black hair, whose smooth, well-shaped features have even more than the ordinarily fresh and youthful look given to every Montenegrin face by the absence of beard or whisker, and by the jaunty trimness of the long, pointed mustache.
This is Blazo Petrovitch-Niégosch, a cousin of the Prince himself and younger brother of the famous Bojo Petrovitch, "the hero of Montenegro," who crushed the Turkish invasion of 1876 and commanded the Montenegrin army sent last Autumn to drive the Albanians from Dulcigno.
Through a terrible plash of half-melted snow we reach the palace, a neat little white stone house with green shutters, backed by a small garden and surrounded with a wall. Passing through a group of enormous fellows in full mountain costume, who, as they lower their drawn swords in salute, expose to view the small metal plate on their flat black and crimson caps which is the badge of the royal body guard, we mount a stair, and enter a handsome drawing-room furnished in the French style.
Among the portraits which adorn it are those of the Prince's father, Mirko, and of his uncle, Danilo, murdered at Cattaro in 1860; while the inner room, smaller, but equally handsome, contains full-length paintings of the Princess and her children, as well as a needle-work portrait of the Prince himself by a young lady of the district.
Suddenly the inner door opens, and a tall, dark, very fine-looking man of 40, clad in a rich gold-embroidered vest worn over a long-sleeved white tunic, an undervest of crimson silk, blue trousers, knee-high boots, and a parti-colored sash around the waist, come forward with an outstretched hand and a smile of cordial welcome. Looking at the panther-like elasticity of his strong limbs, and the herculean breadth of chest which seems almost to lessen his magnificent stature, one can understand Nikita Petrovitch's reknown as the strongest man and the best shot and horseman of his kingdom; but there is as little of the mountain fierceness in his fine thoughtful face as of the cumbrous formality of a European court in his frank and easy courtesy.
He laughs good-humoredly at the account of my ascent from Cattaro through the storm, says a few pleasant words about his own stay at Trieste and Paris as a boy, and then proceeds to apologize for not being able to present me to the Princess, who is, unfortunately, indisposed.
"Had you come a little later," says he, smiling, "you would have found a full house here. I have six girls of my own and two boys, and when my two eldest girls come home from Russia we shall have one piano going here and another there and the whole house will be in a stir."
Listening to all this, spoken in the frank, hearty manner of one talking without reserve to an intimate friend, I begin to understand the boundless influence exercised by this man over his fierce subjects, and the enthusiastic reverence that has stood the test of that daily companionship and close familiarity which the less manly sovereigns of civilized Europe so prudently avoid.
When I allude to the exploits of his soldiers during the war, there is a momentary flash of true warrior fire in the large, dark eyes, as he answers emphatically, "Yes, we did our best!" The next instant, however, a shade of sadness falls over the noble face, as he adds in a tone of deep feeling, "But it has cost us dear!" showing how sorely the large heart of "the father of his people" feels the loss of the brave fellows whose bones lie bleaching on the bare hill-sides of Nicsics [Nikšić] and the bleak gorges of the Moratcha [Morača].
The next morning I enjoy a treat of another kind... M. Petrovich [Blazo Petrovitch-Niégosch], whose inexhaustible kindness is still unsatisfied wtih all the trouble that he has already taken on my account, now insists upon carrying me home with him and introducing me to his wife and sister-in-law, as well as to his elder brother, the famous Gereralissimo of the Montenegrin armies.
Accordingly a few minutes later I find myself in a pretty little drawing-room between two young and very charming ladies, whose fresh girlish beauty gives no hint of their being the wives of public men and mothers of several children. Nothing can exceed the kindness of their welcome. They make tea for me with a genuine Russian samovar, (tea-urn,) and serve it with their own hands. They show me countless photographs of the native celebrities, and promise me a complete group of the Prince and his family to take away with me as a souvenir.
In order to give me an idea of the Montenegrin gala dress they slip away to exchange their picturesque every-day garb of a black coif pinned to the hair, a dark crimson jacket braided with black, a white vest embroidered with colored silk, and a dark blue skirt covered with a black apron, for the richer costume of the Court.
Presently they return in jackets of crimson velvet richly embroidered with gold, cream-colored vests of thin muslin worked down the front with gold thread, white skirts, and girdles of many silver links, strong and heavy as a fetter.
Meanwhile my host dons the splendid battle-garb of the Montenegrin warrior: a gold-laced cerise jacket with hanging sleeves, like the Hungarian Dolman, and a cuirass of crimson and gold covered with scales of steel, which must have been perfectly proof against the bullets of the old-fashioned musket.
Nothing, in short, is wanting to our enjoyment save the company of Gen. Bojo Petrovich, who is unfortunately detained elsewhere...
It is certainly a curious sensation, in the wildest region of Europe to find one's self chatting with the wife and brother of a man whose very name has long been the terror of the whole Turkish border. But there is a wonderful charm in the frank, hearty admiration, unmarred by the faintest tinge of envy, with which the fine young fellow who has enteretained me speaks of the brother whose name has resounded through the length and breadth of Europe, who is a Commander-in-Chief and President of the Senate at 32, and who, when even younger, destroyed two powerful Turkish armies, took two important strongholds, and captured guns and prisoners without number in less than four months.
I have parted with less regret from many an old friend than from these simple, kindly, mountain folk, whom I have known little more than an hour.
"You must come back in Summer, you know," says Mme. Bojo Petrovitch, in her cordial, open-hearted way, "and see my husband and all the other people, so we won't say good-bye, but only au revoir."
[unsigned, but clearly written by DAVID KER]