The implication of the villagers in the numerous murders which had occurred was proved by the discovery of some of the Turkish bayonets at Beronschitzi, while they actually made an offer to restore the property of the murdered aide-de-camp, provided a reward was paid for them. They even sent a list of the effects to Ali Pacha, with the sum which they demanded for the restoration of each article.
I venture to give these details even at the risk of incurring the charge of too great prolixity, as hitherto a one-sided account only has been given to the world. Every channel of information, whether it be the telegraph from Ragusa or the Slavonic press, does its best to mislead the general public, by exciting sympathy for the Christians, as unjust as it is undeserved. Even in the affair in question much stir was made by the Slavish newspapers about the death of seven Christians, while, as Dervisch Pacha very fairly complained, no notice was taken of the murder of thirty-seven Mussulmans during the same period.
Another event, which afforded a handle for the ill-wishers of Turkey, was the pillage of the four Greek chapels of Samabor, Dobrolie, Kazantzi, and Grachantzi. This occurred in July 1859, and the case was investigated by the Russian Consul at Mostar, who imputed the act to Turkish soldiers, producing in evidence the fact of a sergeant having in his possession a kind of church vestment. The sergeant, however, did not attempt to conceal the vestment, and accounted for his possession of it in a manner which was deemed satisfactory by the British and other Consuls.
It was more probably done by Uskoks, who gutted a chapel near Nevresign a few years before, or by the rebels themselves, at the instigation of others, for the purpose of bringing odium upon the Turks in the eyes of Europe.
By these and other no less unworthy means was the agitation fostered throughout the province, until the whole frontier became denuded of Mussulman inhabitants, who were compelled to take shelter in Klobuk, Niksich, and other places capable of some sort of defence.
By the spring of 1861 affairs had assumed so serious an aspect, that even the Porte could not but awake to the danger which threatened that portion of the empire, and to the necessity for immediate and strenuous measures. This danger lay not so much in the aggressive power of the rebels themselves, as in the ulterior results which it was calculated to produce.
It required little foresight to understand that the movement was destined to be the germ of a general insurrection of the Slavonic Christians of Turkey, which would lead to the partial or entire dismemberment of her European provinces.
In this dilemma the Sultan's government bethought them of appealing to the only man in the empire who was capable of grappling with the difficulty. Omer Pacha was taken once more into favour, and was despatched to the scene of discord. A Slave by birth, but tied to the interests of his imperial master by the devotion of a lifetime, no more fitting choice could have been made. With alacrity he proceeded on his mission—a mission which required both courage and address, energy and endurance.
He commenced his task by issuing the following proclamation, in which he called upon all to return to their allegiance, in full assurance that it was the intention of the Sultan to carry out the reforms which had been guaranteed by the Hatti Humayoun of 1855.
'What this proclamation is I let you all know.
'His Majesty the Sultan has appointed me the chief of his armies in the Roumelian provinces, and has sent me here to carry out in this mission all the just privileges, which have not hitherto been fulfilled. In obedience to the commands of the Sultan, I have come here to show to you how kind and good are the intentions of our sovereign to his subjects, and to announce without distinction to Mussulmans, Greeks, and Catholics together, the following decrees:—
'1st. Every village has the power to name one or two chiefs as representatives, whom I will acknowledge.
'2nd. Every district has the power to name one or two representatives whomsoever the people of the district may choose.
'3rd. The Christians shall have full religious liberties, and shall be permitted to build churches and place bells therein, like all the rest of the subjects in the empire.
'4th. The Zaptiehs (police) shall not be permitted to locate themselves in your houses, but an appointed place shall be set apart for them in every village.
'5th. The arrangement which has been made at Constantinople touching landowners and the agriculturists, and to which both parties have assented, shall immediately be put into execution.
'6th. The taxes shall be collected by your own chiefs, and consigned by them to the officers sent by our Sultan to receive them.
'7th. I will further recommend to the Greek Patriarch at Constantinople that a Bishop of your own nation should be nominated, who knows your language and customs.
'8th. I will take such measures as shall secure you the right of purchasing landed property.
'When this proclamation shall have been promulgated to you, and you should still have some farther favour to ask at my hands, you may do so in writing, or by word of mouth. All that is possible for your welfare I will endeavour to fulfill.
'Furthermore, it is your bounden duty to submit yourselves to your sovereign, and to show humility to him.
'From the Divan Marshal &c. &c. &c. &c. —at Mostar.
'When you shall have heard what I have promised, see that everyone know of it, and what is necessary to execute let me know, and it shall be fulfilled.'
This proclamation, was disseminated in all the Nahias (districts), towns, and villages, and in many instances produced a favourable result. But it could not be expected that these assurances, even though they should have reached them, could have made much impression on a set of lawless brigands, who loved plunder for plunder's sake, and who were supported both morally and practically by the agents of civilised European powers.
Having allowed a sufficient time to elapse for all to make their submission, it now remained to employ force where it was requisite. But the difficulties which Omer Pacha had to encounter were prodigious. An unprecedented drought rendered an unusually sterile country more incapable than ever of sustaining life, while the period which generally elapses between the autumn rains and the killing frosts of winter, renders the time available for military operations short and uncertain. Add to this, the total want of provisions, stores, and other necessaries, which his predecessors had neglected to procure, and an empty treasury, and we may not be surprised that his mission is as yet uncompleted. But another and still greater difficulty presented itself to him. This related to the attitude which he should assume towards Montenegro.
The shortest and most efficient line to pursue, in order to arrive at the root of the evil, would have been to have invaded and subjugated that province. But even had he felt confident of his power to effect it, he remembered too well the lesson of former years, when his successful advance was checked by political interference. There was little reason to suppose that the same power, which then intervened, would allow him greater latitude in the present instance. The idea, therefore, was discarded, and endeavours were made to bring about a pacific understanding, which should result in the re-establishment of order. A meeting between Omar Pacha and the Prince of Montenegro was consequently agreed upon at a point close to the Lake of Scutari. Omer Pacha, accompanied by the European commission, travelled to the spot. All appeared to be going well. Though nothing definite was ever promulgated, there is good reason to believe that the Turkish Plenipotentiary would have offered the most advantageous terms to the Prince, including an accession of territory to the NW. and W., and the possession of Spizza, a seaport, had the meeting taken place. But at the last moment the Prince evaded his share of the arrangement, on the shallow excuse that his people would not permit him to cross his own frontier. He well knew that the Sultan's representative would not demean himself by pandering to the caprices of one by rights a subject, and that the only way in which Omer Pacha would ever pass into Montenegro would be at the head of his soldiers.
In vain did the European Commissioners try to change his decision. In vain they asserted the sincerity of the Sultan, and the safety with which he might fulfill his agreement. They could only elicit a surly, 'Faites comprendre ces gens-la.' The indignant 'C'est assez, Monsieur,' of the French Commissioner brought the interview to an abrupt conclusion. The rejection, for such it must be deemed, of the Turkish overtures, together with the boast which escaped the Prince, that he could pacify the frontier in fourteen days, are quite sufficient proofs of his implication in the disturbances, and would fully justify the Turks, were they to sweep this nest of hornets from the face of the earth.
Unfortunately, the principle of non-intervention between a sovereign and his subjects is a chimera, refuted as it has so signally been by the very author of the principle.
The Commissioners now saw that nothing more could be done save by force of arms, and were dissolved accordingly.
Omer Pacha returned to Mostar to continue his preparations for carrying on hostilities, not against the Montenegrins, but against the rebellious Christians on the Turkish side of the frontier.
Leave Mostar for the Frontier—Mammoth Tombstones—Stolatz—Castle and Town—Christian Shopkeeper—Valley of the Stolatz—Disappearance of River—Temporary Camp—My Dalmatian Servant—Turkish Army Doctors—Numerical Force of the Turks—Health of the Army—Bieliki—Decapitation of Prisoners—Christian Cruelty.
Day dawned on September 14, 1861, on about as cheerless a prospect as can well be imagined. A chilly drizzle, swept hither and thither by strong gusts of wind, did not tend to enhance the beauty of the surrounding country, while it portended rather ominously for the success of the operations, the first important step in the prosecution of which may be considered to have been begun upon that day. By nine o'clock, the hour fixed for our departure, the wind had fallen, and the rain began, to descend in torrents, defying all precautions in the shape of cloaks and waterproofs. So it continued until past noon, when the clouds cleared away, and the sun shone out bright and warm.
There is little to interest the traveller in this part of the Herzegovina, unless it be the existence of clusters of old tombstones, which occur very frequently throughout the province. About one hour before reaching Stolatz, which was our destination, we came upon one of those ancient cemeteries, which is well worthy of notice from the mammoth proportions of the tombstones. These are, as is usually the case, adorned with primitive sculptures of men clad in armour, horses, and dogs, and decapitated heads; dates are seldom found, but the character of the work and the frequent occurrence of the cross confirms the supposition that they were erected previous to the Turkish conquest. On our approach to Stolatz we were met by a deputation of the country people, and by bands of children sent out to greet the arrival of him who is regarded as the general pacificator. The anxiety displayed by these to do homage by kissing his stirrup-iron when mounted, or the hem of his trousers, was by no means appreciated by Omer Pacha, who possesses very Europeanised views on these subjects. The enthusiasm with which he was received, however, could not be mistaken, and forms an important element in his prospects of a successful termination of the affair. Outside the walls a battalion of regulars was drawn up, and every here and there some detachments of irregular soldiers.
Stolatz is charmingly situated on both banks of a small stream, which are covered with fig and olive trees, and at the northern extremity of the ravine in which it is built is the old castle for which it is famous. This was put into repair by the rebellious Ali Pacha, and was the last position held by him before he was taken prisoner by Omer Pacha. It is simply a rectangular enclosure, with square towers at intervals in place of bastions, and would afford little security against an army provided with artillery. In addition to the weakness of its defences, it is so situated as to be formidable only to the town which lies beneath it, since it is commanded by several points on the surrounding hills, where batteries might be safely erected at short ranges. On the towers and their connecting curtains are many old guns, some mounted, and others lying as they have probably lain for centuries. Some of these are of the time of Maria Theresa, and nearly all were ornamented with inscriptions and designs. The custom of naming guns or giving them mottoes is very ancient and widely spread. I remember seeing a number of Sardinians grouped round a gun in Capua upon the day of its surrender to the Garibaldian and Piedmontese forces. They appeared much amused, and on enquiring the cause of their merriment, I found it to be the result of their appreciation of the motto upon the gun, which ran as follows:—'Ultima ratio regum.' (the last argument of kings), an argument which at any rate told with little effect in the case of Francis II., for the simple reason that it was introduced at the wrong moment. Doubtless some of these relics of Eastern warfare possessed as pointed and applicable dicta as that of Capua, and had I had sufficient time I should have scraped off the mould and rust of accumulated ages, and have copied some of the inscriptions. That they could be fired was placed beyond a doubt by the promiscuous medley of explosions which greeted us, and which I purposely abstain from calling a salute, so unlike was it to everything one has been wont to classify under that name.
Omer Pacha passed that night in the house of an opulent Mussulman, while I was billeted upon the principal Christian inhabitant, a Greek[O] shopkeeper. These men, one of whom is to be found in most of the principal towns and large villages, may be regarded as the Parsees of Turkey. Their shops are tolerably well supplied with European commodities, and their owners are far in advance of their fellow-townsmen in cleanliness and civilisation. Yet, in spite of this, some of the modes in which they delight to honour even the passing stranger are far from acceptable. Among the least objectionable of these is the encouragement of their children to seize and slobber over his hands, the only manner of avoiding which is to keep them thrust deeply into his pockets—an odious custom elsewhere, but here indispensable. Before bidding a last farewell to the house of my entertainer, I must pay a grateful tribute to its comfort and cleanliness. In vain I pressed him to accept some return for his hospitality, and it was at length only in the form of a present to one of the aforesaid children that I could induce this kind-hearted family to take any memento of their grateful guest.
On leaving Stolatz, our route lay in a SE. direction along the bridle-path upon the right bank of the river. During the first two hours, the rocks on our left were quite bare and devoid of all signs of vegetation. Afterwards they assumed a far less barren appearance, being covered with good strong brushwood, which grows down close to the water's edge. The water is itself clear and shallow, and at one point suddenly disappears—an instance of that phenomenon so common in these countries, to which allusion has already been made. Above the point of disappearance, the valley has all the aspect of the dry bed of a river, with its sloping banks and pebbly bottom.
Our force, which on leaving Mostar had consisted only of a small body of cavalry for escort purposes, and some hundreds of irregulars, was augmented at Stolatz by half a battalion of regular infantry. That the picturesque effect produced by these Bashi Bazouks (conspicuous among whom were the Albanian levies) was heightened by the addition of the regulars, in their soiled garments and woollen great coats, I cannot pretend to say; yet let no one endeavour to depreciate the Turkish infantry who has not seen them plodding gallantly on beneath a broiling sun, and in a country which, by its stony roughness, would tax the energies of the stoutest Highlander.
Those first marches, before we joined the main army, were for us, who were mounted, pleasant enough. Taking advantage of any clump of trees which we might encounter—and these were not very numerous—the halt would sound, and in an incredibly short space of time coffee and pipes would be served to the General, his Secretary, and myself, the staff forming themselves into a group a few paces distant.
During these halts children or curious adults would be seen peeping from behind the trees, bent on catching a glimpse of the Serdar Ekrem. I noticed that he never missed an opportunity of conversing with the country people, who would tremblingly obey his summons to come and receive 'Bakshish,' until reassured by his kind tone and gentle manner.
In thus speaking of Omer Pacha's moral qualities let me not be mistaken: I do not wish to infer that he possesses a very refined mind, still less that he is gifted with those elements which go to form the philanthropist; but that which he does possess is much good nature, a long-headed shrewdness, which shows him the policy of toleration, and a general disposition to support the weak against the strong. Thus, if he has been accused of squeezing the faithful subjects of His Imperial Majesty the Sultan, I venture to say that these attentions on his part have been devoted entirely to those whom he knows to have amassed money by grinding extortion, and thus he pays them off in their own coin.
On the night of the 15th we halted in a small encampment about five hours beyond Stolatz, where tents were already pitched for our reception. Here one of those sights met our view so characteristic of the country, and so unlike anything one is accustomed to see in regular armies. A certain amount of hay and barley had been collected, and, having been warned to do so by one of the staff, I ordered my servant to push on ahead, that he might make sure of a portion of the spoil. On my arrival I went down to watch operations, and vastly amusing it was to see the scuffle which was going on—black servants, privates of dragoons, and staff officers all helping themselves in a manner that would have wrung the heart of the most generous forage contractor or commissariat officer. Here I discovered the sort of stuff of which my servant, a Dalmatian, was made. Some one, it appears, had told him, with what truth I know not, that a party of Greek Christians had lately made an incursion into this very camp, killing several Turks. This, and the reports of a few muskets, so completely unmanned him, that he stoutly declared his intention of remaining awake during the night; and it was only by allowing him to lie in the tent by my side that I could induce him to try and sleep. The abject cowardice of this youth on subsequent occasions gave me but a poor impression of the modern Dalmatian—an idea which was confirmed by the conduct of his successor, who was, if possible, a more pitiable poltroon than Michaele. That the position of a servant whose master was without bed or coverlet was not particularly enviable, I am ready to admit, and many a time did he come to complain of incipient starvation; but at the moment it was difficult to make allowance for these little inconveniences, which were common to us all.
We were now approaching Bieliki, where a considerable body of troops was massed under Dervisch Pacha, a General of Division. The character of the country through which we passed continued the same—stony and rough, varied only by a little low wood.
The last march was doubly as long as its precursors, and it was late in the evening before we reached the camp. Excepting several detachments of irregulars posted at intervals, the country presented a most deserted appearance; and, from accounts which I have since heard, I cannot help fancying that the cause and effect were very closely allied, or, in other words, that the presence of the irregulars accounted for the absence of the general population. The semi-feudal spirit, which was in great measure extinguished elsewhere with the destruction of the Janissaries, is still rife in this portion of the empire; and it seems to me that more real danger is to be apprehended by the Porte from this independent spirit in the Mussulman population than from the bloodthirsty hatred of the Christians.
About four hours from Bieliki we were met by Dervisch Pacha. Here, again, we found more Bashi Bazouks, both horse and foot, as well as a battalion of chasseurs of the army of Constantinople. On arriving in camp, I was told off to share the tent of a Colonel-Doctor, by name Rali Bey, who received me most hospitably. He is a young Greek, who has served about eight years, having entered as a Major-Doctor. (Be not horrified, O Surgeon-Major, at so unheard-of a proceeding! Doubtless your privileges are far greater than his, save that you have the Major as an appendage in place of a prefix.) The aforesaid Rali Bey was far the best specimen of a Turkish military doctor whom I ever met. As a rule, they are not an attractive set. Almost invariably Constantinopolitans, they jabber execrable French fluently enough, and affect European manners in a way which is truly disgusting: add to this a natural disregard of cleanliness, and an obtrusive familiarity, and nothing more is wanted to complete the picture. Of their professional capacity I am unable to speak, never, I am thankful to say, having been compelled to intrust my constitution to their hands; but, judging from the fact that, on leaving college, they dispense with books, I felt inclined to attribute the singularly small amount of sickness in camp more to fortuitous circumstances than to the ars medendi, as practised by these ingenuous young men.
The sanitary state of the army at that time contrasted very favourably with its condition some two months later in the year. At the first period to which I allude there were only seventy men actually in hospital, the whole force at Bieliki amounting to 8,047 regulars and 2,900 Bashi Bazouks. Of the twelve battalions of regular infantry which composed the force five were armed with rifles, and were termed chasseurs in consequence. At the same time, it is fair to add that special attention has been paid to this arm, and the naturally keen eye of the Turkish soldiers renders their education a matter of comparative facility.
The night which followed our arrival at Bieliki was, I think, the most sleepless I have ever experienced. So thoroughly tired was I, that the deafening crashes of thunder, the forked lightning, and the deluge of rain, which poured in torrents through the tent, might have passed unheeded, but for the mass of minute life, which defied sleep. With early dawn I wandered off, too glad to escape from my tormentors, and went through the hospitals, surgery, and other buildings connected with the permanent encampment. The irregular lines of tents gave a picturesque appearance to the camp, which was heightened by the configuration of the surrounding hills. Far off to the SE. rise the rugged mountains of Montenegro, at the foot of which lies the plain of Grahovo, a spot fraught with disastrous reminiscences to the Turks. Important as that affair was, since Grahovo was ceded to the Montenegrins in consequence, its details have been grossly exaggerated. It is currently accepted that 7,000 Turks were cut to pieces by 4,500 mountaineers, the real truth being that the latter were probably nearly as numerous as their opponents. The Turkish force consisted of two entire battalions and a portion of a third, and, from the impracticable nature of the country, it would have been strange had the result been otherwise than it was. Hemmed in and mowed down from all sides by an unseen foe, the Turkish soldiers lost all self-reliance, it is true, and the panic which ensued must have tended considerably to increase the magnitude of their loss. In justice to Hussein Pacha, the Turkish General, it should be known that the operations which placed his army in this false position were not of his planning, but were carried out in deference to the wishes of the Civil Governor, and against his advice. From the above remarks I would not have it supposed that I am desirous of detracting from the well-merited praise to which the Montenegrins are entitled for their long and successful resistance to the Turkish arms. Their gloriously stalwart frames, and their independent spirit, both of which they inherit with their mountain air, entitle them to admiration and esteem; but an undue appreciation of these should not be allowed to warp the judgement or prejudice the mind. Some there are who invest them with almost supernaturally noble qualities, while they attribute every conceivable enormity to their enemies the Turks. Each of these views is incorrect. The Osmanlis, whether it be from a consciousness of their own decrepitude, or some other cause, appear to have lost the spirit of cruelty which characterised their more successful days; and it is a matter of fact that the atrocities committed by their Christian antagonists in the Greek War of Independence, during the incursion of the Hellenic bands into Thessaly and Epirus in 1854, or in the present emeute, equal, if they do not surpass, anything which they can lay to the charge of the Turks. Travellers are apt to form their opinions upon the evidence of their own senses; and when such is the case, their verdict cannot fail to be favourable to the Moslems: for things seen with one's own eyes will always make a deeper and more lasting impression than the most harrowing details, the scene of which is laid in times gone by.
It may be urged that the want of power has caused this increased humanity; and in part it may be so, for the nature of a people can never undergo a sudden and entire change. But I can myself vouch for the lenity which they displayed when they have had the power, and to wit great provocation, to have acted otherwise. The incontrovertible facts, too, remain that Mussulman Turkey has been the first to relinquish the unchristian custom of decapitating prisoners, and other inhuman practices, which the so-called Christians appear little inclined to renounce. This will, of course, meet with an indignant denial on the part of their supporters; but it must be a strong argument which can overcome the disgust occasioned by the sight of women without ears, children without noses, and bleeding corpses of soldiers literally hewn to pieces with knives, all of which I have witnessed with my own eyes.
In matters which do not immediately concern England, no opinion is probably entitled to so much reliance as that of a Briton, even allowing for a certain tendency, which he often has, to measure all people and things by his own standard; and for this reason, that he is probably free from all political and religious bias, while we know that he cannot be actuated by prejudices resulting from community of origin, which invalidates the testimony of the subjects of so many other European states. However narrow-minded Englishmen may be in their own affairs, they are generally capable of taking a broader and sounder view of those of their neighbours than any other people. I think, therefore, that it speaks strongly in favour of the opinions which I have advanced, that they are shared by all those few Englishmen whose calling has brought them into connection with these countries, or the still smaller number who have gone thither for their own gratification. To the former class, more especially, I can unhesitatingly appeal, to bear me out in the heterodox assertion that the Christians are, as a mass, greater enemies to progress than the Turks.
[Footnote O: I.e. of the Greek Church.]
Tzernagora—Collusion between Montenegrins and Rebels—Turks abandon System of Forbearance—Chances of Success—Russian Influence—Private Machination—M. Hecquard—European Intervention—Luca Vukalovich—Commencement of Hostilities—Dervisch Pacha—Advance on Gasko—Baniani—Bashi Bazouks—Activity of Omer Pacha—Campaigning in Turkey—Line of March—Pass of Koryta—The Halt—National Dance—'La Donna Amabile'—Tchernitza—Hakki Bey—Osman Pacha—Man with Big Head—Old Tower—Elephantiasis—Gasko—Camp Life—Moslem Devotions—Character of Turkish Troops—System of Drill—Peculation—Turkish Army—Letters—Scarcity of Provisions—Return of Villagers.
If the past history of Tzernagora or the Black Mountain is deserving of our admiration and wonder, its future prospects afford a no less open field for doubt and speculation. So far all has gone well with her: the manly character of her people, and their apparent invincibility, have enlisted the sympathies of the world in her behalf, while identity of religion and race have procured for her the more tangible advantages of Russian protection.
That the last-named power is disinterested in pursuing this policy is not for a moment to be supposed. The price she has ever demanded for her protection has been one too willingly paid by these lawless mountaineers, an unremitting hostility to Turks and Turkey. For centuries this was open and undisguised on the part both of the people and the Vladika, by whom, despite his religious calling, the destruction of Turks was rewarded as a distinguished national service. Such, however, is no longer the case; although their hatred is not one whit diminished, or their depredations less frequent than of old, they mask them under the garb of a feigned neutrality and an unreal friendship. Thus they protest, in the face of the most damning proofs to the contrary, their innocence of all connivance with the Herzegovinian rebels. Corpses of those who have been recognised as accredited leaders they declare to be Uskoks, proscribed brigands, whom it behoves every lover of order to hunt down and destroy. But none are deceived by these shallow excuses, which ill corroborate the assertion which, in an unguarded moment, escaped from the young Prince, that he would undertake, upon the fulfillment of certain conditions, to pacify the frontier within fourteen days.
This tacit admission of collusion with the rebels is quite sufficient to justify the Porte in endeavouring to overrun the province, and thus trample out rebellion in its principal stronghold. Presupposing its ability to effect this, we then arrive at the real debatable point, whether such a course would be allowed by the other powers. In the case of England the answer can hardly be doubtful; for it would ill behove a country, in whose Parliament all religions are tolerated, to interfere in the matter, abandoning that policy of non-intervention which she has so openly confessed and so successfully pursued, upon the narrow grounds of the inexpediency of permitting a Mussulman power to overrun a Christian province, and a province, be it remembered, which legally composes an integral portion of the Turkish empire.
The candid announcement made by the Porte of its intention to abandon the policy of forbearance towards Montenegro, which it has as yet pursued, betokens the existence of a small spark of its ancient spirit, and augurs well for its success. Should the belligerents be left to themselves, I believe that it will succeed; but the web of political intrigue which has grown around the question, fostered by hereditary policy, imperial ambition, and private machination, render it difficult to foretell the issue. The chances which render success probable are the deference which France has of late shown to the wishes of England, the want of union prevalent throughout the Austrian empire, and the internal movement in Russia, which incapacitates her from doing mischief in this part of Europe. Yet, let us not disguise from ourselves the self-evident fact, that the views of Russia remain unaltered, that the policy of Peter is still maintained inviolate, and that, although the last war may have convinced her that actual self-aggrandisement will not be tolerated, she still holds one object ever in view—the destruction of Turkish supremacy on both banks of the Danube and the substitution of dependent Slavism.
Throughout European Turkey, and nowhere more than in Montenegro, has her influence waned since the Eastern war; yet so long as she shall possess, and so freely use, the golden key, she must and will have very great weight.
Of the three causes which, as I have said, tend to complicate the Herzegovinian-Montenegrin question, private machinations have recently been the most successful, and consequently the most injurious to order and the general weal. The energy of some of the foreign employes has been truly astounding, while their glib tongues and manoeuvring minds have worked metamorphoses worthy of Robin or the Wizard of the North. This distortion of facts was somewhat naively described by a French colleague of M. Hecquard.[P]
'Montenegro,' said the former gentleman, 'c'est une invention de Monsieur Hecquard.' Instances of such duplicity have been frequently brought to light. These, while they reflect little credit on the individual, speak badly for the good faith of the government represented, as discovery is rarely followed by punishment—frequently quite the reverse.
The high-handed policy which the Porte is now pursuing is the most likely to be attended with beneficial results; for, as experience has shown us, the system of concession is entirely useless, each addition to their territory only making the Montenegrins the more grasping and more avaricious. That a solution of the difficulty must in some way be arrived at is clear. Should Turkey fail in effecting this by the means she is now adopting, Europe will be called on to interfere; for while things exist as at present, the developement of those countries in agriculture or commerce is as impossible as in civilisation and Christianity.
The disorganised condition of the Herzegovina, with its attendant incubus of half a million of debt, renders it certain that one of two results must inevitably ensue: either Turkey will be compelled to surrender that province, and possibly Bosnia also, or she will sustain a still severer blow to her already shattered finances. Of the two evils, the latter is the least in the opinion of the Ottoman government, and it was this consideration which induced it to determine on the prosecution of hostilities in 1861. Several causes combined to retard the commencement of military operations until late in the year. The principal reasons were, the almost unprecedented drought which prevailed during that year, and the deference shown by Omer Pacha to the wishes of the European Commission, then sitting at Mostar, whose members did all in their power to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion without having recourse to arms. In the meantime troops were being massed, and stores, provisions, and magazines provided at Gasko, Bieliki, and Trebigne. The country infested by the insurgents extended from Bosnia round the frontier as far as Suttorina, in the vicinity of which Luca Vukalovitch had established his quarters. This man, who has acquired a certain notoriety, was a blacksmith by trade, but, preferring a life of lawless indolence to honest labour, betook himself to his present calling. He appears to be quite devoid of that chivalrous courage which has distinguished many of his class, and consequently deserves neither sympathy when free nor mercy from his captors when taken.
On September 3 the first move was made. Columns left Bieliki and Trebigne, which, after scouring the district surrounding Grahovo, returned without effecting any important results. A re-distribution of the troops then took place. Trebigne was almost denuded of regular soldiers, its defence being intrusted to Bashi Bazouks, while the entire force was distributed at other points of the frontier, Bieliki and Gasko constituting a permanent base of operations. At the former of these Dervisch Pacha was in command, a man of considerable military talent, though thoroughly unscrupulous, while another General of Division, Osman Pacha, had his head-quarters at Gasko.
Such was the position of affairs on September 18, 1861. Upon the morning of that day, intelligence was received of such a nature as to render an immediate move advisable. An order to this effect was issued at 2 P.M., just as I had succeeded in rendering habitable a very smart little tent, which had previously belonged to the Spanish General Prim, and had been given by him to Omer Pacha after the campaign on the Danube. At 3 P.M. six battalions paraded with eight guns, and some sappers, the whole under the command of Ali Pacha of Scutari, a General of Brigade. For some hours our course lay in a NE. direction along a ridge, and separated only by the intervening gorge from the mountains of the Baniani, which ran parallel on our right. These were known to be infested with rebels, traces of whom were found by a force of irregulars sent to attack them during the chilly hours of morning. Here I, for the first time, saw Omer Pacha throw off the air of easy carelessness habitual to him, and apply himself con amore to the work before him. He selected the positions to be occupied by the outposts and picquets, indicating to his staff such points as he considered most worthy of their attention, and endeavouring, by his own exertions, to atone for the shortcomings of his subordinates. The force bivouacked that night on the side of a hill overhanging a hollow, in which was pitched one of the small camps with which these districts are now interspersed. The choice of ground was certainly most injudicious, and the General expressed his annoyance in no measured terms.
From this time the privations endured by the troops were very great. Long marches over an almost impracticable country by day, the most intense cold by night, without tents or extra clothing, and with little food, were endured with uncomplaining devotion. In some measure I could sympathise with them, having passed all the nights since leaving Mostar without bed or blanket. Thus many a cold morning hour did I eke out in vain search for wood to kindle a little fire; and had I to undergo the ordeal again, I should certainly prefer to pass the night a la belle etoile, with my toes to the smouldering embers of a camp fire, and my head well wrapped up after the manner of all Easterns.
On the second day after leaving Bieliki, our course lay due N. through a perfect wilderness of rocks, varied only by an occasional basin, formed by surrounding hills, and covered with a species of dwarf vegetation. The appearance of the force, as it straggled over this wavy expanse of stone, was curious enough, and it certainly baffles all attempts at description; so I must ask my readers to allow their imagination to people the mer de glace with some thousands of Oriental soldiers, regular and irregular, pipe-bearers, and household servants formidably armed, and they will not be far from a just conception of the case. After marching for five hours over this inhospitable tract, we halted at the mouth of a valley where the hills open out into a small plain. This forms the entrance to the Pass of Koryta, whence we had just emerged. It is a spot of ill repute even amongst the barbarous inhabitants of these regions; and more Turks have received their death-wounds from behind the boulders, which have served to screen the assassins, or from the knives of the ever-ready Greeks in that fatal gorge, than in any other spot of these disordered lands. The Pass is formed by the extremities of Banyani and Pianina, and is of much strategical importance. It was one of the first points subsequently occupied by Omer Pacha. Many a disaster has been brought about by the incautious recklessness of those in command of Turkish troops, and it was with some satisfaction that I saw the heights both in front and rear crowned by Turkish battalions, before the remainder were allowed to pile their arms, and betake themselves to sleep or any other recreation. It was impossible not to revert in imagination to the scenes of blood and strife of which Koryta has been the site, as contrasted with its appearance at that moment. Groups of Turkish soldiers were amusing themselves by dancing a national dance, with as much gaiety as though they had not marched a yard, and with far more activity than one would be disposed to give them credit for possessing. The dance, a kind of jumping reel, was accompanied by droning music not unlike the pipes. A little farther a regimental band was murdering the two or three European airs with which it was acquainted. One of these, to which they showed a good-natured antipathy by frequently murdering, was 'La Donna e Mobile,' or 'La Donna Amabile,' as Omer took pleasure in calling it. And thus the day wore on, until, late in the evening, we arrived at Tchernitza, a little town of about 600 inhabitants. Our camp was formed on a level plot, which looked green and pleasant after the barren country through which we had passed. Just above the spot where the men bivouacked was a lofty mound surmounted by a turret, from which an armed sentry of a regiment of redif (or militia) kept watch over the surrounding country. While taking a bird's-eye view from this point, I heard myself accosted, to my no small astonishment, in very fair English by a Turkish officer. My new acquaintance proved to be one Hakki Bey, a Major of Engineers, employed on the staff of Osman Pacha. He told me that, after having passed ten years at the Turkish Military College, he had been sent to England for five years to complete his education. What can the world say of Turkish education after this stupendous example? He was an officer of much intelligence, and soon worked himself into Omer Pacha's good graces. On the following morning I met Osman Pacha at breakfast in the Generalissimo's tent. He answers fully to the latter's description of him, as being a man of much feeling, and very much the reverse of what he is represented by Mr. Oliphant. That gentleman, in his narrative of the Trans-Caucasian campaign, calls him 'a thorough Moslem, and a hater of all Feringhees.' Now I am at a loss to conceive on what grounds he can base that assertion; for, excepting that he speaks no language but his own—a very common circumstance with English gentlemen of a certain age—he is thoroughly European in his ideas and tendencies. Of his kindness to myself under circumstances of difficulty and danger I shall ever entertain the most lively recollection.
While peering about in the single street of Tchernitza, I observed a crowd collected in one corner. The centre of attraction proved to be a man with a big head. The unfortunate creature seemed to experience very much the same treatment as he would have met with had he been turned loose in the streets of London. Everybody stared, most people laughed, and some jeered at his terrible affliction. He may have numbered some five-and-forty years, stood about five feet four inches high, with a head of about twice the natural size. The idiotic appearance produced by this deformity was increased by the dimensions of his tongue, which protruded from his mouth, and hung down at the side in the most woe-begone manner. The poor wretch accepted the banter of the spectators with that good-humoured indifference which leads one to hope that the victims of such freaks of nature are insensible to the full weight of their calamity. To the SE. of the town or village stand the ruins of an old castle, once the favourite resort of the Dukes of Herzegovina. Nought save the remnant of the walls remains to mark its importance in days gone by.
The remainder of our march to Gasko was in the plain, and presented few objects to attract attention, unless it was another victim of fell disease. A poor girl, suffering from elephantiasis, was one of the only women whom I had seen for many days. Her foot was swollen to an incredible size, and I have been since informed that it is not an uncommon complaint in those countries. As usual, we found the force already encamped at Gasko drawn up to receive us, four mountain guns on either flank. These were mounted, and drawn by two mules. In places inaccessible to wheeled carriages, they are carried, as in our own service, by two mules, viz. the gun on one, and the carriage on the other.
The infantry presented a more creditable appearance than any I had yet seen, and the encampment generally looked clean and orderly. Camp life is under no circumstances a very agreeable phase of existence, and least of all in Eastern countries, when divested of the excitement resulting from the probability of an attack. In other lands there is sure to be something to attract the mind. Staff officers in gay uniforms pass and repass in all the importance of official haste, cornets of cavalry bent on performing the onerous duties of galloper, and the pompous swagger of infantry drum-majors, all combine to vary the scene and amuse the eye. But in Turkey this is not so. All are equally dirty and unkempt, while the hideous attempts at music have very far from a soothing effect. An attentive listener may hear a single voice four times in the day calling to prayer, a custom which, under no circumstances, is ever omitted. Of the internal response to this appeal I am of course unable to judge, but from outward appearance I should imagine it to be small. The Pachas, it is true, indulge in the somewhat unintellectual amusement of twiddling a chain of beads, talking on indifferent subjects the while; but I never observed even this small tribute of respect amongst the inferior officers. And thus the day wears on in dull monotony, until at sunset a crash of many voices may be heard from the centre of the camp, rising up to heaven, and calling down a blessing on their Sultan's head.
Immediately upon his arrival at Gasko, Omer Pacha had betaken himself to the only habitable house in the adjacent village, coming down to camp with early morning. I consequently became the guest of Osman Pacha, who treated me with uniform kindness. It is a strange coincidence that almost every Turkish Pacha, whatever may have been his origin, however low his moral character, possesses a dignity of deportment and a charm of manner which among Europeans is deemed an infallible test of a kind heart and high breeding. This, however, does not apply in its full sense to Osman, for a more amiable and moral old gentleman never breathed. Indeed, I much fear that the good qualities of his heart somewhat eclipsed those of his head, as subsequent events will show. Many of his remarks, however, were shrewd and pointed enough; thus, while comparing the English with the Turkish soldier, he very candidly admitted that the former carried off the palm in the matter of fighting, with the following reservations—that the Turk is content to serve with a very considerable arrear of pay, and with very little in the way of clothing or nourishment; that he is able to endure equal if not greater fatigue and hardship; and lastly, that he does not indulge in strong drinks. All this must be admitted by the most prejudiced arbitrator; nor is it the highest eulogium to which the Moslem soldier is entitled. Habits of order and obedience, which are only sustained in European armies by the strictest discipline, form part of the national character, and therefore render the minuter details of military economy unnecessary. That they will ever become sufficiently familiarised with their European clothing as to present a smart appearance, is improbable; yet their parade movements are even now performed with considerable accuracy and rapidity in the loose shuffling manner in vogue amongst the French, while of their prowess in the field we have had ample proofs on divers occasions—whether in the European campaign of 1828, when, despite the confusion resulting from the recent destruction of the Janissaries, they beat the Russians at all points; or in Asia during that and the following years, where, if not so successful, they often displayed a heroism unsurpassed in history. Or, coming down to the present time, we have but to recall the noble stand made at Kars and Silistria, which, almost without defences, they held for months against the most determined efforts of Mouravieff and Paskievitch. Singularly enduring, brave, and obedient, they require only good leading to form them into one of the most effective armies of the world. But this is precisely the one thing in which they are most strikingly deficient, and of which there is little hope of any permanent amelioration.
In no department of the public administration are the baneful effects of that spirit of insincerity and rapacity, which is almost universal at Constantinople, more apparent than in the army. Money drawn upon the authority of false returns, and eventually appropriated by the highest people of the land, affords an example of peculation and dishonesty which is carried out through all ranks, and the result is that the greater portion of the army has received no pay for more than six-and-twenty months. There is reason to believe that this system of sending in false numerical returns has been of late carried to an incredible extent. The nominal strength of the Turkish army is as follows:—6 corps d'armees, each consisting of 6 regiments of 4 battalions, each battalion numbering 1,000 effective men, with a proportion of cavalry and artillery to each corps d'armee.
This gives us 144,000 regular infantry; and yet I have good authority for saying that, should Turkey enter upon a war to-morrow, she would do so with less than 80,000 regular infantry. Of these 29 of the strongest battalions were in the Herzegovina during the past autumn, and that force has received a slight increase during the winter months. To the merits of these troops I have already borne testimony. Against those by whom they are officered I would now raise a protest, since they appeared to be so selected without regard to any one qualification which may entitle them to the rank. Even were the finances of the empire restored to a flourishing condition, and other reforms instituted, the army cannot be thoroughly effective until it is re-officered, and the new officers duly impressed with a conviction of the just distribution of rewards and punishments. It is deplorable that so low a sentiment should be the only one with which to inspire the officers, in order to secure the zealous fulfillment of their duties. But so it is: their birth and education, and the flagrant instances of bought rewards, which are constantly before their eyes, combine to render it the best sentiment of which they are capable. This applies principally to the regimental officers in the lower ranks, upon whom the efficiency of an army so much depends. Great good is anticipated from the extended scale introduced into the Military College, and it is said to be the intention of the government to appoint as soon as possible officers to commands who have passed through it, to the extinction of the old system of conferring the highest rank upon Pachas, whether fitted for the position or not.
Excepting the chief of the staff, and some of the aides-de-camp, the staff in the field was composed of engineer officers, most of whom had passed some years in France or Belgium, while one had remained five years in England. But these are men of a very different stamp from the general run of regimental officers, who appear to think it the greatest privilege of their position to get very drunk whenever the opportunity offers itself, thus presenting a curious contrast with the remarkable sobriety of their men. One evening I chanced to witness a scene as amusing as it was characteristic of the people among whom I lived. A post had arrived, and Osman Pacha's private Secretary was occupied in dispensing the letters. The officers were admitted to his tent, and the childish glee which they displayed was diverting in the extreme. Not only did they mark their gratitude by kissing every portion of the Secretary's garments on which they could lay hand, but danced about, showing the epistles to all who approached. Fortunately, perhaps, few of these could read, so the breach of confidence was not very great. I have often noticed that an Oriental, when he does shake off the apathetic reserve habitual to him, becomes more excited and enthusiastic than warmer-blooded nations. At any rate they seem to possess a full measure of that natural instinct of joy at receiving tidings of loved ones in far distant lands. One of these letters was from the wife of an officer, who had not heard from her for many months, and whose last reports had informed him of the destruction of his house by fire. The apparent indifference with which he had received the first announcement completely gave way to a flood of happiness on hearing of the safety of those he loved. Verily they are not so devoid of feeling as is generally supposed—these fatalist Turks.
The arrival of Dervisch Pacha with six battalions from Bieliki, which was now occupied by two battalions of redif, converted Gasko into the sole base of operations. The rain, which had for the past few days fallen in torrents, would have enabled Omer Pacha to have commenced hostilities on a greater scale, but for the dearth of provisions, which should have reached the frontier long since. It now became apparent that little could be done during the remaining months of the year, for nature had effected for the rebels whatever the indolence of the Turkish commanders had left undone. The magnificent harvest of the preceding year, which the rebels had appropriated, and the extraordinary drought which had prevailed during the spring and summer of 1861, combined to diminish the Turkish prospects of success. Moreover, the object of the Generalissimo was not so much to hunt down the rebels as to inspire them with confidence in the leniency of the Sultan's rule, while he, at the same time, occupied the country in such force as to convince them of the necessity of eventual submission. Already were the good effects of this measure manifested in the rapid return of the inhabitants to the surrounding villages. Metokhia, Aphtoria, and Lubniak, all in the close vicinity of the Turkish camp, had been deserted by their occupants, who, like the majority in the plain of Gasko, are of the Mussulman religion. These now returned to their desolated homes.
[Footnote P: The French Consul at Scutari and member of the European Commission, a man as remarkable for talent as for cunning and love of intrigue.]
Expedition to Niksich—Character of Scenery—Engineer Officers—Want of Maps—Affghan Dervish—Krustach—Wallack Colonel—Bivouac—Bashi Bazouks—Pass of Dougah—Plain of Niksich—Town and Frontier—Albanian Mudir—Turkish Women—Defects of Government by Mudir and Medjlis.
The ennui produced by a long halt after a series of consecutive marches had by this time taken such a hold on me, that with delight I heard Omer Pacha's announcement of his intention to send a force with provisions for the town and garrison of Niksich, whose proximity to Montenegro placed them in the position of a beleaguered garrison, and rendered them dependent upon the government for the ordinary necessaries of life. For this duty Osman Pacha was detached, taking with him seven battalions and four guns, which were subsequently reinforced by an eighth battalion from Krustach. For the first three hours our route lay in the valley of Gasko, which looked green and fertile, though showing few signs of cultivation. The ruins of a church were the only antiquarian relics which I noticed on the march. At the extremity of the valley the pathway winds to the SE., having the rugged Piwa, looking bleak and bare, on the left, and the more wooded heights of Baniani on the right. The configuration of the hills, and the sharp outline of the country generally, combined with the indescribably wild and rocky character of some parts of the foreground, and the sloping grass banks in others, to produce a picture at once grand and picturesque; but it was a picture of which the eye soon wearied and the appreciation palled. There, as throughout the whole march to Niksich, the country abounds with the most magnificent defensible positions; natural parapets, whence a most destructive fire might be poured upon an advancing foe, and incapable of being turned by any flank movement; positions, in short, constructed for the enactment of a second Thermopylae. No signs of humanity were to be found in that barren region. Here and there the carcass of a stray horse, which had died probably of pure inanition, and afforded a scanty meal to the birds and beasts of prey, was the only sign of aught that had ever beat with the pulse of life. Leaving the main body, I came up with a small party of engineer officers, employed in taking the angles on the line of march. The serious inconvenience resulting from the want of a good map of these countries is now much felt. True, it was partially removed by the existence of a map of Montenegro, including a portion of the Herzegovinian frontier, drawn by Major Cox[Q], R.E., and published by the Topographical Department, a copy of which I had presented to Omer Pacha, and which was much appreciated by him. Very properly, however, he proposes that the country shall be surveyed by Turkish officers, and a map constructed upon their observations. Its accuracy will be somewhat doubtful, if we may judge from the crude manner in which they set to work. The only instruments employed were prismatic compasses, with which they jotted down angles at all the salient points, an orderly dragoon counting his horse's paces in the intervening time, which was occasionally as much as twenty minutes. Passing these I reach the advance guard, and still pressing on I soon find myself alone. No, not quite alone; another turn of the rocks brings me abreast of a strange companion, his long flowing dress of yellow surge, and Dervish's hat, with its hair-fringe, proclaim him to be one of that large class of religious devotees who live in indolence by working upon the superstition of their co-religionists. My friend, however, was a man of some affluence, and very superior in all respects to the generality of his order. By birth an Affghan, he has spent many years in the Herzegovina, and had followed the army for some weeks before I chanced to meet him. Wherever there was a prospect of work or danger there were his little bay stallion and tufted lance always to be seen. There was something weird-like in his presence, as he now sat like a statue on his horse, and anon darted forward with a flourish of his lance, sending up wreaths of blue smoke from the inseparable chibouque. We thus rode in company until we overtook the small force of irregulars, who had been sent in advance of the main body. This constant use of, and great reliance on, the Bashi Bazouks, is most prejudicial to the efficiency of the service; for while it tends to deteriorate the spirit of the regulars by depriving them of the first chance of meeting the enemy, it exposes the others to the influence of bribery, which constitutes so prominent a feature of Oriental warfare. Omer Pacha well understands the disadvantages resulting therefrom, and will soon have established a more healthy system. Already he has succeeded in inspiring the troops with a degree of self-confidence, quite unprecedented, by merely avoiding that error into which Turkish Generals so often fall, of detaching small bodies of troops, who are cut up by the enemy without object and without result. Individually, he is perhaps somewhat destitute of the elan which is generally associated with the character of a Guerilla chief, and yet without detracting from his character as a master in the art of modern war, there is no species of campaigning which he understands so well as that which he has successfully waged in Montenegro and the other hill countries of the Turkish empire. Energy and caution are the two qualities indispensable to success in these countries, and these he possesses to an eminent degree. It may be deemed presumptuous in me to pass an opinion upon one whose fame is world-wide; but that very fact must be my excuse, that those who are entitled to universal admiration are likewise subject to universal criticism. I have heard it urged that Fuad Pacha, the present Grand Vizier, who displayed much ability in the conduct of the war against the rebels in Thessalyand Epirus in 1854, would have succeeded better in the present hostilities. But, on the other hand, if the Grand Vizier be gifted with a greater amount of dash, Omer Pacha possesses a cooler judgement and a larger experience than any man in the Turkish empire; and before leaving the subject, I would call attention to the meritorious service which he has rendered to the Sultan under all circumstances. Disgraced without cause, he has faithfully adhered to the country of his adoption, displaying through good report and evil report an integrity which does honour to his principles. For, be it remembered, that he is bound by no ties of blood or nationality, and that treachery to Turkey would probably serve as a passport to the highest honours in Austria or Russia.
Apologising for this digression, I would now return to Osman Pacha and the column whom I have left so far to the rear. Late in the afternoon we arrived at Krustach, a position somewhat similar to Koryta, and of equal importance as regards the military occupation of the country. The valley is at this point shut in on either hand by hills of just sufficient height to give an advantageous command to a defending force; these are connected by a cross range, that present an apparently impassable barrier to an advancing foe. This position is surmounted by a small fort with a court-yard, whose walls are pierced for musketry. Four guns of indifferent quality are here mounted, commanding the approaches on either side, while three guard-houses, each capable of holding two or three companies, have been built on the most elevated positions, flanking the approach from the NW. The garrison consisted of two battalions commanded by a Wallack colonel, who might have passed but for his fez for an officer in the Russian service, so much did he resemble one of that nation in physiognomy. He appeared to be an active and intelligent officer, and had, I heard, rendered good service during the Eastern war. The appearance of the valley that night was strange and picturesque. Hundreds of fires stretched far up the sides of the cradle of hills in which our bivouac was formed, while a regular line of light marked the chain of outposts which crowned the surrounding heights. Head-quarters might be recognised by a large paper lantern suspended on a high stick close to the camp-fire, around which lay Osman Pacha, one of his staff, the Affghan Dervish, and myself, all sleeping quite as comfortably as though we had never known a bed. Trumpets sounded at 5 A.M. for a start; and, having ascended to the fort, we found the sun struggling for the mastery with the clouds on the tops of the adjacent hills. The army was now in full motion; the regular infantry defiled in something like order down the narrow path, which had been imperceptible to us on the preceding evening. The Bashi Bazouks, on the other hand, might be seen streaming down the hill-side, jumping, rolling, and tumbling in strange confusion. Having inspected the fort we joined in with these, and rode down a descent, which would have been impracticable for any save the sure-footed iron-plated horses of the East. After traversing the valley for some miles, the rugged line of Piwa closed in upon us on the left, and a black impenetrable mountain seemed to bar our farther progress. After three quarters of an hour's ascent we were glad to halt. Clambering to a grassy knoll, we made a frugal meal of the hardest of biscuit soaked in muddy water, the only food, by the way, which the troops tasted from the time of leaving Gasko until their return. These biscuits are manufactured at Constantinople, and are so hard as to be uneatable unless soaked; they, however, form a good substitute for bread, which is seldom to be procured. But we must not linger too long, for already the sun is high in the heavens. On, on, once more, brave little horses and unflinching men; your labours will soon be rewarded: and thus they toiled on, until, with sobbing flanks and perspiring brows, the highest requisite point was reached. Stretching away to our right front was a grassy glade, looking like velvet after the stony wilderness we had just left: a pine wood on the left gave it all the appearance of an English park, which was only dispelled by the extraordinary sight which now met the eye. Behind a dip in the ground were collected a considerable body of irregular horse and foot, who were awaiting our approach in all the magnificence of banners, kettledrums, sackbuts, psalteries, and all kinds of possible and impossible instruments of music. No sooner did we approach than away they went, horse and foot, shouting and blowing and waving their flags. The idea seemed contagious, for it was instantaneously followed by Osman Pacha and everyone who bestrode any kind of beast, prominent amongst whom the Affghan might be seen, flourishing his lance well to the fore. The glade opened out into a valley of inconsiderable size, which has witnessed more than one encounter between the Christians and Turks. Only the previous winter an engagement took place, in which the Turks, notwithstanding that they remained masters of the position, had from forty to fifty men put hors de combat. The timber here was of far finer growth than any I had yet seen, and the numerous oaks and elms lying with uptorn roots betokened the violence of the storms which rage. Many of them were lying midway across our line of march, and it was found necessary to remove them to admit of a free passage. This was soon effected, though perhaps with a little more noise than is consistent with English ideas of order. We had by this time entered the Pass of Dugah, formed by the extremities of Piwa on the left, and Banian on the right. The slopes on either hand are wooded, that of Banian to much the greatest extent. It is some fifteen miles in length, and consists of a series of open spaces, connected by narrow defiles, whose bottoms resemble the bed of a dry stream. The scenery is generally pretty, and abounds with interest from its being a constant bone of contention between the rival factions. As a defensive position it is undoubtedly strong; but there is nothing in the nature of the ground in reality to impede the advance of a determined force. While halted in one of the open spaces which I have mentioned, we discovered a hole or cavern in the side of the hill, capable of holding at least two hundred men. Doubtless this is a constant resort of the freebooters and other lawless ruffians who infest this part of the country. It was here that the European Consuls were nearly meeting their deaths, although accompanied by the Secretary of the Montenegrin Prince, when employed in making arrangements for the relief of Niksich, which was then invested.
It was dark before we reached the extremity of the valley, and little did we then think under what circumstances we should next see it. The latter portion of our march lay through a wood of hazel and other small trees, intersected here and there by pathways. Here we were met by more irregulars, and, debouching from the high land, we found a portion of the garrison of Niksich drawn up on the opposite bank of a little stream which flowed beneath us. The contour of the surrounding country is very remarkable: the gray heights of Piwa behind us, Drobniak to our left, and Banian looking green by comparison on the right, while the rocky mountains of Karatag form a dark and gloomy foreground to the picture.
During the ensuing night the rain descended in torrents, rendering the spongy ground on which we had bivouacked very much the reverse of a desirable resting-place. In vain I waited for an improvement in the weather, which only became worse and worse; and eventually I started in pursuit of that portion of the troops which had left at early dawn in charge of the provisions for Niksich. These consisted of 65,000 okes of meal and biscuit, with a few head of horned cattle. The last commodity appeared to me to be scarcely necessary, as we met some hundreds of bullocks being driven out to graze in the valley, while the presence of our force rendered such a measure safe. How these were generally supplied with forage I am at a loss to conjecture, since the Mussulman population were unable to venture more than one mile from the town, except in bodies of 500 armed men. The distance to the town from the commencement of the valley is about six miles, through a broad and well-watered pasture land. In parts this has been ploughed and devoted to the produce of grain, burnt stubble of which denoted the destructive ferocity of the neighbouring Montenegrins. The new line of frontier recently defined by the European Commission scarcely tends to promote a pacific adjustment of existing difficulties. On the contrary, the line of demarcation as it now is must inevitably lead to further complications. Situated at the apex of a triangle, the town and plain of Niksich offer a tempting bait to the lawless brigands, who infest the mountains which form two of its sides, and who keep the unfortunate Mussulman population in terror of their lives. At the south-eastern extremity of the plain stands the town of Niksich, a small, dirty, and irregular collection of buildings, all huddled together in the closest possible vicinity to the ruined fort, as though seeking the protection of its mouldering walls. Of the origin of the fort I could learn little, save from an inscription over the arched entrance, from which it appears to have been built by the son of an old and influential Albanian chieftain about 200 years ago. Two square towers, containing five pieces of ordnance, form the principal feature in the defensive works; but the whole place is in so ricketty a condition that, were a cannonade to be opened from its walls, they would inevitably come down about the ears of their defenders. From the easternmost of these towers the town runs out some few hundred yards towards the Montenegrin frontier; but all egress upon that side is out of the question, as there is ever a bullet in readiness for anyone who may be so rash as to cross a certain green patch of grass, which appears to be accepted as the legitimate boundary of the two provinces, although not precisely specified as such. At this point the Turkish sentries are withdrawn, but farther to the south a small white building serves as a guard-house, whence sentries are supplied to form a cordon round that portion of the frontier. On arriving at Niksich, we—that is, Osman Pacha's principal staff officer and myself—paid a visit to the Mudir, whom we found sitting in dignified conclave with his whole Medjlis. The Mudir, a magnificent Albanian, standing about six feet four inches, and of proportionate girth, welcomed us most cordially, and appeared a person of far greater intelligence than most of his class. He bitterly lamented the increase of suffering, resulting from the change in the line of frontier. 'Attacks by the Montenegrins and their friends,' said he, 'are now of daily occurrence, and there seems to be no chance of any improvement in our condition.' He expressed great confidence, however, in the advantages to be derived from Omer Pacha's arrival, and took a clear and sound view of things generally. He argued, correctly enough, that the rebels would stand a good chance of being literally starved into submission during the ensuing winter and spring, since the occupation of the country by the Turkish troops had prevented them from getting in their harvest, while the benighted frenzy which they had themselves displayed in the wanton destruction of the crops had deterred the neighbouring landowners from cultivating their fields. But the open intelligent face of our friend, the Mudir, lit up, more especially when telling us of some of the dours which he had made against the rebels; and in good sooth he looked better fitted for such employment, judging from his great length and breadth, than for sitting hour after hour on his haunches, emitting clouds of tobacco-smoke, and reflecting upon the individuality of God, and the plurality of wives, reserved in the next world for all those who say their prayers regularly, and kill a sufficient number of Feringhees in this. These stereotyped notions, however, regarding the tenets of Mahometanism are fast losing credence, just in proportion as the growth of European ideas is undermining its very foundation. I do not say that Mussulmans are becoming more religious or more elevated from their contact with Christian peoples. Indeed, I rather incline to the opposite opinion; but the European tendencies which prevail are marked clearly enough by the facile adroitness with which the followers of the Prophet contrive to evade the injunctions of the Koran, whether it be in the matter of wines and strong drinks, or the more constitutional difficulty touching loans, debts, and the like. For myself, I rather incline to the view of the old Pacha, who, after listening with his habitual patience to the long-winded arguments of a Protestant missionary, completely dumb-foundered that excellent divine by remarking that he (the Pacha) felt quite convinced of the similarity of their creeds, since the only apparent difference was, that the Christian has three Gods and one wife, while the Mussulman has three wives and one God. Even in this last matter, the plurality of wives, a marvellous amendment is visible. It is probably owing to the expense attendant thereon, and also to the little fact, that it is not quite in accordance with the spirit of the age to drown, or otherwise destroy, those women who indulge their very pardonable and womanly frailty of wrangling and fighting one with another. But, granting all this, it is impossible not to perceive that the position of Turkish women is daily improving. All of a certain class receive some education; and I never yet spoke to any intelligent Turk on the subject without hearing him deplore the existence of those laws in the Koran which would deprive the world of that which renders it most enjoyable. That the time will come when the religious influences of Mahometanism will cease to offer a bar to all progress and advancement, is sufficiently evident, and it consequently behoves Europe to guard against the re-establishment of moral heathenism on the ruin of fanatical Islamism.
Returning to the council-chamber of the Mudir of Niksich, I would call attention to the similarity of expression and venerable appearance of nearly every member of the Medjlis. This is one of the faults of the system, that an undue preponderance is thereby given to the ideas of a certain class.
From the experience of those Europeans who have had good opportunities of forming an opinion, it would seem that this double government of Pacha and Medjlis works badly, owing to the ignorance and want of capacity of those from whom the latter are selected. It would, therefore, be far more salutary were they only permitted to advise in place of having a vote; absolute authority being vested in the Pacha, who should be held personally responsible that the rights of the people be not infringed, and rigorously punished if convicted of malpractices. Many will doubtless deny the advantages to be thus derived; but it is self-evident that in half-civilised countries power should be in the hands of as few as possible.
It is not my intention to enter the lists as the champion of the Ottoman Government, whose apathy and insincerity cannot be too strongly condemned; but I contend that governments, like everything else, must be judged by comparison, and that the only true measure of the merits of a government is the moral and social condition of the people whom it rules. The Turkish Government, whether regarded in its central or provincial bearings, is decidedly in advance of its subjects. In its diplomatic relations, in monetary and financial schemes, Turkey has at any rate acquired a certain amount of credit, while an increase of the revenue from four to nearly twelve millions within the past thirty years, and the continued increase of the Christian population, is a certain proof of the diminution of oppression, and proves conclusively that a remnant of vitality still exists in her veins.
[Footnote Q: The British member of the European Commission for defining the frontier of Montenegro.]
Return to Gasko—Thunderstorm—Attacked by Rebels—Enemy repulsed—Retrograde Movement—Eventful Night—Turkish Soldiers murdered—Montenegrin Envoy—Coal-Pit—Entrenched Camp assaulted—Return of Omer Pacha to Mostar—Distinctive Character of Mahometan Religion—Naval Reorganisation—Military Uniforms—Return to Mostar—Dervisch Bey—Zaloum—Express Courier—Giovanni—Nevresign—Fortified Barrack—Mostar—Magazine—Barracks—Wooden Block-houses—European Commission—Tour of the Grand Vizier—Enquiry into Christian Grievances—Real Causes of Complaint—Forcible Abduction of Christian Girls—Prince Gortschakoff's Charges—The Meredits—Instincts of Race.
On our return from the town we found the leading battalions in the act of crossing the stream which separates the valley from the overhanging woodland. The 900 ponies, now deprived of their burden, carried in lieu thereof sick soldiers from Niksich, or such as preferred riding to walking. Little order prevailed, and it is only wonderful that the consequences of entering a defile more than an hour after midday should not have proved more disastrous than they actually did. In vain I added my remonstrances to those of some of the staff, who were intelligent enough to predict evil. The order had been issued. The advance guard had already marched, and it was too late to countermand the departure. Thus saying, Osman Pacha crossed the stream and ascended to the high ground, now covered with a confused mass of bipeds and quadrupeds. At this moment the rain, which had ceased during the past hour, began to descend once more in torrents, accompanied by vivid flashes of lightning and thunder, which, though still distant, reverberated through the woods with grand effect. In the midst of this we retraced our steps until about 4 P.M., when the centre of the column, with the baggage and head-quarters, defiled from the woods into one of the open spaces, of which mention has been made. The General informed me of his intention to halt there until the morning; and he could not have found a spot better calculated for the purpose, since, by massing the troops in the centre, they would have been out of range of the surrounding heights, and a double line of sentries would have been the only precaution absolutely necessary. For some reason he, however, subsequently changed his mind, and the delay which had taken place only made matters worse. The advance guard of four battalions, under Yaya Pacha, had continued the march in ignorance of the halt of the main body, and were ere this out of hearing or chance of recall. Scarcely had we recommenced our advance when a dropping shot in the rear gave us the first announcement that the enemy had taken advantage of our false step, and was bent on harassing what would now assume the appearance of a retreat.
The shots, which were at first few and distant, soon increased, and by the time that the Affghan and myself had reached the rear of the column the action appeared to have become general. Ali Pacha, who commanded the rear-guard, now committed the grave error of halting the three battalions of his brigade, and wasted most valuable time in performing desultory movements, and in firing volleys of grape and musketry, without arriving at any practical results. At one point, however, the rebels, who were advancing in force with loud cries of fanatical vengeance, received a substantial check. Two companies of Turks had been concealed on either side of the defile, which was narrow at this point. Concealment was facilitated by approaching darkness, and it was only at a given signal that they rose and poured a deadly volley into the ranks of the advancing foe, who immediately fell back. This circumstance appeared to damp their ardour, and they contented themselves with running in small parties along the flank of our line of march; two or three would dash down the sloping banks, and, having discharged their pieces without aim or precision, would return to the safety afforded by the rocks and trees. It was between 6 and 7 o'clock before the order to resume the march was issued. And now began a scene which none who witnessed are likely to forget to their dying day: deeply tragical it might have been, but fortunately circumstances combined to render it merely ridiculous, as reflected in the mirror of memory. The rain still fell heavily, lying in places to the depth of nearly a foot, and converting all the ground that was not rocky into a slippery quagmire. So profound was the darkness, that it was literally impossible to see any object six inches from one's eyes, and it was only by the occasional flashes from the firelocks of the persevering enemy and the forked lightning that we could realise the surrounding scene. By the light of the last were revealed horses and men falling in all directions, and I may safely say, that some of the 'crumplers' received that night would have shaken the nerve of the hardest steeplechase rider. For my own part I preferred walking, after my horse had fallen twice, and with this object proceeded to dismount, but on bringing my leg to the ground, as I imagined, I made a rapid descent of about eight feet. On clambering up I was met with a sharp blow on the face from what I believe to have been the butt of a Turkish musket, and my horse was not to be found. About half an hour later, while feeling for the road, to my great satisfaction, I placed my hand upon my English saddle, and thus repossessed myself of my steed. No need to dilate farther on the events of that disastrous evening. Suffice to say that, after some hours more of scrambling and toiling, falling frequently over the stones and trees which were strewn plentifully across the path, we reached the spot where the advanced body had arrived some four hours previously, and had succeeded, in spite of the rain, in kindling a few fires. It was close upon midnight when Ali Pacha arrived at head-quarters to report that the rear-guard had reached the bivouac, though nothing was known as to the losses incurred in men, horses, or provisions. All that was certain was that one gun had been abandoned, the mule which carried it having rolled down a ravine. This was never found, as the rebels, who passed the night within ten minutes' walk of our bivouac, had carried it off before the arrival of the force sent back at daybreak to effect its recovery. Our loss, however, proved to be insignificant—two killed and six wounded, and a few ponies, &c., missing. As might be supposed, the Slavish newspapers magnified the affair into a great and decisive victory for the rebels. It is true that it reflected little credit on Osman Pacha; and it might have been fully as disastrous to the Turks as their worst enemies could have desired, had not the intense darkness of the night, the heavy rain, and the want of pluck in the Christians (a fault of which they cannot in general be accused), combined to get them out of the scrape without any serious loss. The two whose deaths it was impossible to disallow, as their mangled bodies gave evidence thereof, were foully butchered by these long-suffering Christians. It came about as follows:—An officer and three soldiers had remained a little in rear of the column, being footsore with the march. As the rebels came swiftly and quietly along, one of the soldiers, believing them to be a Turkish regiment, made some observation. In a moment he and his comrade were seized, and, while receiving many assurances of safety, were stripped to the skin. The officer and the third soldier instantly concealed themselves behind some of the projecting rocks, within ten yards of the spot, and thus became auditors of the ensuing tragedy. No sooner had the rebels stripped their unfortunate captives, than they fell upon them en masse, literally making pin-cushions of their naked bodies. Throughout that long and painful night did those two men lie hid in jeopardy of their lives, and glad must they have been when they saw the rebels retracing their blood-stained steps on the following morning, and more grateful still when the arrival of the Turkish force enabled them to feel assured of life and liberty. The following afternoon we returned to Krustach, where we found a Montenegrin emissary, who was journeying homeward, having had an interview with Omer Pacha. He was a finely built and handsome man, dressed in his national costume, with a gold-braided jacket, and decorated with a Russian medal and cross, for his services against Turkey at a time when Russia was at peace with that power. He had been Superintendent of the Montenegrin workmen at Constantinople, and had consequently seen something of European manners, although unacquainted with any language save Slave and some Turkish. He told me that he had left 400 followers in Piwa; but this I found did not exactly coincide with a statement he had made to Omer Pacha, and it subsequently transpired that his body guard amounted to about double that number. This worthy asked me to accompany him to Cettigne, but circumstances conspired to prevent my accepting the invitation; and so we separated, he to Cettigne, we to Gasko on the following day.