The commercial reason underlying Italy's insistence on obtaining control of Fiume is due to the fact that Italians are convinced that should Fiume pass into either neutral or Jugoslav hands, it would mean the commercial ruin of Trieste, where enormous sums of Italian money have been invested. They assert, and with sound reasoning, that the Slavs of the hinterland, and probably the Germans and Magyars as well, would ship through Fiume, were it under Slav or international control, instead of through Trieste, which is Italian. One does not need to be an economist to realize that if Fiume could secure the trade of Jugoslavia and the other states carved from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the commercial supremacy of Trieste, which depends upon this same hinterland, would quickly disappear. On the other hand, those Italians whose vision has not been distorted by their passions clearly foresee that, should the final disposition of Fiume prove unacceptable to the Jugoslavs, they will almost certainly divert the trade of the interior to some Slav port, leaving Fiume to drowse in idleness beside her moss-grown wharfs and crumbling warehouses, dreaming dreams of her one-time prosperity.
Italy's third reason for insisting on the cession of Fiume is political, and, because it is based on a deep-seated and haunting fear, it is, perhaps, the most compelling reason of all. Italy does not trust the Jugoslavs. She cannot forget that the Austrian and Hungarian fractions of the new Jugoslav people—in other words, the Slovenes and Croats—were the most faithful subjects of the Dual Monarchy, fighting for the Hapsburgs with a ferocity and determination hardly surpassed in the war. Unlike the Poles and Czecho-Slovaks, who threw in their lot with the Allies, the Slovenes and Croats fought, and fought desperately, for the triumph of the Central Empires. Had these two peoples turned against their masters early in the war, the great struggle would have ended months, perhaps years, earlier than it did. Yet, within a few days after the signing of the Armistice, they became Jugoslavs, and announced that they have always been at heart friendly to the Allies. But, so the Italians argue, their conversion has been too sudden: they have changed their flag but not their hearts; their real allegiance is not to Belgrade but to Berlin. The Italian attitude toward these peoples who have so abruptly switched from enemies to allies is that of the American soldier for the Filipino:
"He may be a brother of William H. Taft, But he ain't no brother of mine."
The Italians are convinced that the three peoples who have been so hastily welded into Jugoslavia will, as the result of internal jealousies and dissensions, eventually disintegrate, and that, when the break-up comes, those portions of the new state which formerly belonged to Austria-Hungary will ally themselves with the great Teutonic or, perhaps, Russo-Teutonic, confederation which, most students of European affairs believe, will arise from the ruins of the Central Empires. When that day comes the new power will look with hungering eyes toward the rich markets which fringe the Middle Sea, and what more convenient gateway through which to pour its merchandise—and, perhaps, its fighting men—than Fiume in friendly hands? In order to bar forever this, the sole gateway to the warm water still open to the Hun, the Italians should, they maintain, be made its guardians.
"But," you argue, "suppose Jugoslavia does not break up? How can 14,000,000 Slavs seriously menace Italy's 40,000,000?"
Ah! Now you touch the very heart of the whole matter; now you have put your finger on the secret fear which has animated Italy throughout the controversy over Fiume and Dalmatia. For I do not believe that it is a reincarnated Germany which Italy dreads. It is something far more ominous, more terrifying than that, which alarms her. For, looking across the Adriatic, she sees the monstrous vision of a united and aggressive Slavdom, untold millions strong, of which the Jugoslavs are but the skirmish-line, ready to dispute not merely Italy's schemes for the commercial mastery of the Balkans but her overlordship of that sea which she regards as an Italian lake.
Jugoslavia's claims to Fiume are more briefly stated. Firstly, she lays title to it on the ground that geographically Fiume belongs to Croatia, and that Croatia is now a part of Jugoslavia, or, to give the new country its correct name, the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. This claim is, I think, well founded, and this despite the fact that Italy has attempted to prove, by means of innumerable pamphlets and maps, that Fiume, being within the great semi-circular wall formed by the Alps, is physically Italian. The Jugoslavs demand Fiume, secondly, because, they assert, if Fiume and Sussak are considered as a single city, that city has more Slavs than Italians, while the population of the hinterland is almost solidly Croatian. With the first half of this claim I cannot agree. As I have already pointed out, Sussak is not, and never has been, a part of Fiume, and its annexation is not demanded by the Italians. Conceding, however, for the sake of argument, that Fiume and Sussak are parts of the same city, the most reliable figures which I have been able to obtain show that, even were the Slav majority in Sussak added to the Slav minority in Fiume, the Slavs would still be able to muster barely more than a third of the total population. By far the strongest title which the Slavs have to the city, and the one which commands for them the greatest sympathy, is their assertion that Fiume is the natural and, indeed, almost the only practicable commercial outlet for Jugoslavia, and that the struggling young state needs it desperately. In reply to this, the Italians point out that there are numerous harbors along the Dalmatian coast which would answer the needs of Jugoslavia as well, or almost as well, as Fiume. Now, I am speaking from first-hand knowledge when I assert that this is not so, for I have seen with my own eyes every harbor, or potential harbor, on the eastern coast of the Adriatic from Istria to Greece. As a matter of fact, the entire coast of Dalmatia would not make up to the Jugoslavs for the loss of Fiume. The map gives no idea of the city's importance as the southernmost point at which a standard-gauge railway reaches the Adriatic, for the railway leading to Ragusa, to which the Italians so repeatedly refer as providing an outlet for Jugoslavia, is not only narrow-gauge but is in part a rack-and-pinion mountain line. The situation is best summed up by the commander of the American war-ship on which I dined at Spalato.
"It is not a question of finding a good harbor for the Jugoslavs," he said. "This coast is rich in splendid harbors. It is a question, rather, of finding a practicable route for a standard-gauge railway over or through the mile-high range of the Dinaric Alps, which parallel the entire coast, shutting the coast towns off from the hinterland. Until such a railway is built, the peoples of the interior have no means of getting their products down to the coast save through Fiume. Italy already has the great port of Trieste. Were she also to be awarded Fiume she would have a strangle-hold on the trade of Jugoslavia which would probably mean that country's commercial ruin."
I have now given you, as fairly as I know how, the principal arguments of the rival claimants. The Italians of Fiume, as I have already shown, outnumber the Slavs almost three to one, and it is they who are demanding so violently that the city should be annexed to Italy on the ground of self-determination. But I do not believe that, because there is an undoubted Italian majority in Fiume, the city should be awarded to Italy. If Italy were asking only what was beyond all shadow of question Italian, I should sympathize with her unreservedly. But to place 10,000 Slavs under Italian rule would be as unjust and as provocative of future trouble as to place 30,000 Italians under the rule of Belgrade. Nor is the cession of the city itself the end of Italy's claims, for, in order to place it beyond the range of the enemy's guns (by the "enemy" she means her late allies, the Serbs), in order to maintain control of the railways entering the city, and in order to bring the city actually within her territorial borders, she desires to extend her rule over other thousands of people who are not Italian, who do not speak the Italian tongue, and who do not wish Italian rule. Italy has no stancher friend than I, but neither my profound admiration for what she achieved during the war nor my deep sympathy for the staggering losses she suffered can blind me to the unwisdom, let us call it, of certain of her demands. I am convinced that, when the passions aroused by the controversy have had time to cool, the Italians will themselves question the wisdom of accumulating for themselves future troubles by creating new lost provinces and a new Irredenta by annexing against their will thousands of people of an alien race. Viewing the question from the standpoints of abstract justice, of sound politics, and of common sense, I do not believe that Fiume should be given either to the Italians or to the Jugoslavs, but that the interests of both, as well as the prosperity of the Fumani themselves, should be safeguarded by making it a free city under international control.
No account of the extraordinary drama—farce would be a better name were its possibilities not so tragic—which is being staged at Fiume would be complete without some mention of the romantic figure who is playing the part of hero or villain, according to whether your sympathies are with the Italians or the Jugoslavs. There is nothing romantic, mind you, in Gabriele d'Annunzio's personal appearance. On the contrary, he is one of the most unimpressive-looking men I have ever seen. He is short of stature—not over five feet five, I should guess—and even his beautifully cut clothes, which fit so faultlessly about the waist and hips as to suggest the use of stays, but partially camouflage the corpulency of middle age. His head looks like a new-laid egg which has been highly varnished; his pointed beard is clipped in a fashion which reminded me of the bronze satyrs in the Naples museum; a monocle, worn without a cord, conceals his dead eye, which he lost in battle. His walk is a combination of a mince and a swagger; his movements are those of an actor who knows that the spotlight is upon him.
Though d'Annunzio takes high rank among the modern poets, many of his admirers holding him to be the greatest one alive, he is a far greater orator. His diction is perfect, his wealth of imagery exhaustless; I have seen him sway a vast audience as a wheat-field is swayed by the wind. His life he values not at all; the four rows of ribbons which on the breast of his uniform make a splotch of color were not won by his verses. Though well past the half-century mark, he has participated in a score of aerial combats, occupying the observer's seat in his fighting Sva and operating the machine-gun. But perhaps the most brilliant of his military exploits was a bloodless one, when he flew over Vienna and bombed that city with proclamations, written by himself, pointing out to the Viennese the futility of further resistance. His popularity among all classes is amazing; his word is law to the great organization known as the Combatenti, composed of the 5,000,000 men who fought in the Italian armies. He is a jingo of the jingoes, his plans for Italian expansion reaching far beyond the annexation of Fiume or even all of Dalmatia, for he has said again and again that he dreams of that day when Italy will have extended her rule over all that territory which once was held by Rome.
He is a very picturesque and interesting figure, is Gabriele d'Annunzio—very much in earnest, wholly sincere, but fanatical, egotistical, intolerant of the rights or opinions of others, a visionary, and perhaps a little mad. I imagine that he would rather have his name linked with that of that other soldier-poet, who "flamed away at Missolonghi" nearly a century ago, than with any other character in history save Garibaldi. D'Annunzio, like Byron, was an exile from his native land. Both had a habit of never paying their bills; both had offended against the social codes of their times; both flamed against what they believed to be injustice and tyranny; both had a passionate love for liberty; both possessed a highly developed sense of the dramatic and delighted in playing romantic roles. I have heard it said that d'Annunzio's raid on Fiume would make his name immortal, but I doubt it. Barely a score of years have passed since the raid on Johannesburg, which was a far more daring and hazardous exploit than d'Annunzio's Fiume performance, yet to-day how many people remember Doctor Jameson? It can be said for this middle-aged poet that he has successfully defied the government of Italy, that he flouted the royal duke who was sent to parley with him, that he seduced the Italian army and navy into committing open mutiny—"a breach of that military discipline," in the words of the Prime Minister, "which is the foundation of the safety of the state"—and that he has done more to shake foreign confidence in the stability of the Italian character and the dependability of the Italian soldier than the Austro-Germans did when they brought about the disaster at Caporetto.
I have heard it said that the Nitti government had advance knowledge of the raid on Fiume and that the reason it took no vigorous measures against the filibusters was because it secretly approved of their action. This I do not believe. With President Wilson, the Jugoslavs, d'Annunzio, and the Italian army and navy arrayed against him, I am convinced that Mr. Nitti did everything that could be done without precipitating either a war or a revolution. Much credit is also due to the Jugoslavs for their forbearance and restraint under great provocation. They must have been sorely tempted to give the Poet the spanking he so richly deserves.
* * * * *
When the small army of newspaper correspondents who were despatched by the great New York and London dailies to Khartoum to interview Colonel Roosevelt upon his emergence from the jungle started up the White Nile to meet the explorer, they were deterred, both by the shortage of boats and the question of expense, from chartering individual steamers. But the public at home was not permitted to know of these petty limitations and annoyances. On the contrary, people all over the United States, at their breakfast-tables, read the despatches from the far-off Sudan dated from "On board the New York Herald's dahabeah Rameses" or "The New York American's despatch-boat Abbas Hilmi," or "The Chicago Tribune's special steamer General Gordon," and never dreamed that the young men in sun-helmets and white linen who were writing those despatches were comfortably seated under the awnings of the same decrepit stern-wheeler, which they had chartered jointly, but on which, in order to lend importance and dignity to his despatches, each correspondent had bestowed a particular name.
But the destroyer Sirio, which we found awaiting us at Fiume, we did not have to share with any one. Thanks to the courtesy of the Italian Ministry of Marine, she was all ours, while we were aboard her, from her knife-like prow to the screws kicking the water under her stern.
"I am under orders to place myself entirely at your disposal," explained her youthful and very stiffly starched skipper, Commander Poggi. "I am to go where you desire and to stop as long as you please. Those are my instructions."
Thus it came about that, shortly after noon on a scorching summer day, we cast off our moorings and, leaving quarrel-torn Fiume abaft, turned the nose of the Sirio sou' by sou'-west, down the coast of Dalmatia. The sun-kissed waters of the Bay of Quarnero looked for all the world like a vast azure carpet strewn with a million sparkling diamonds; on our starboard quarter stretched the green-clad slopes of Istria, with the white villas of Abbazia peeping coyly out from amid the groves of pine and laurel; to the eastward the bleak brown peaks of the Dinaric Alps rose, savage, mysterious, forbidding, against the cloudless summer sky. Perhaps no stretch of coast in all the world has had so varied and romantic a history or so many masters as this Dalmatian seaboard. Since the days of the tattooed barbarians who called themselves Illyrian, this coast has been ruled in turn by Phoenicians, Celts, Macedonians, Greeks, Romans, Goths, Byzantines, Croats, Serbs, Bulgars, Huns, Avars, Saracens, Normans, Magyars, Genoese, Venetians, Tartars, Bosnians, Turks, French, Russians, Montenegrins, British, Austrians, Italians—and now by Americans, for from Cape Planca southward to Ragusa, a distance of something over a hundred miles, the United States is the governing power and an American admiral holds undisputed sway.
Leaning over the rail as we fled southward I lost myself in dreams of far-off days. In my mind I could see, sweeping past in imaginary review, those other vessels which, all down the ages, had skirted these same shores: the purple sails of Phoenicia, Greek galleys bearing colonists from Cnidus, Roman triremes with the slaves sweating at the oars, high-powered, low-waisted Norman caravels with the arms of their marauding masters painted on their bellowing canvas, stately Venetian carracks with carved and gilded sterns, swift-sailing Uskok pirate craft, their decks crowded with swarthy men in skirts and turbans, Genoese galleons, laden with the products of the hot lands, French and English frigates with brass cannon peering from their rows of ports, the grim, gray monsters of the Hapsburg navy. And then I suddenly awoke, for, coming up from the southward at full speed, their slanting funnels vomiting great clouds of smoke, were four long, low, lean, incredibly swift craft, ostrich-plumes of snowy foam curling from their bows, which sped past us like wolfhounds running with their noses to the ground. As they passed I could see quite plainly, flaunting from each taffrail, a flag of stripes and stars.
The sun was sinking behind Italy when, threading our way amid the maze of islands and islets which border the Dalmatian shore, we saw beyond our bows, silhouetted against the rose-coral of the evening sky, the slender campaniles and the crenellated ramparts of Zara. It was so still and calm and beautiful that I felt as though I were looking at a scene upon a stage and that the curtain would descend at any moment and destroy the illusion. The little group of white-clad naval officers who greeted us upon the quay informed us that the governor-general, Admiral Count Millo, had placed at our disposal the yacht Zara, formerly the property of the Austrian Emperor, on which we were to live during our stay in the Dalmatian capital. It was a peculiarly thoughtful thing to do, for the summers are hot in Zara, the city's few hotels leave much to be desired, and a stay at a palace, even that of a provincial governor, is hedged about by a certain amount of formality and restrictions. But the Zara, while we were aboard her, was as much ours as the Mayflower is Mr. Wilson's. We occupied the spacious after-cabins, exquisitely paneled in white mahogany, which had been used by the Austrian archduchesses and whose furnishings still bore the imperial crown, and our breakfasts were served under the white awnings stretched over the after-deck, where, lounging in the grateful shade, we could look out across the harbor, dotted with the gaudy sails of fishing craft and bordered by the walls and gardens of the quaint old city, to the islands of Arbe and Pago, rising, like huge, uncut emeralds, from the lazy southern sea. At noon we usually lunched with a score or more of staff-officers in the large, cool dining-room of the officers' mess, and at night we dined with the governor-general and his family at the palace, formerly the residence of the Austrian viceroys. Dinner over, we lounged in cane chairs on the terrace, served by white-clad, silent-footed servants with coffee, cigarettes, and the maraschino for which this coast is famous. Those were never-to-be-forgotten evenings, for the gently heaving breast of the Adriatic glowed with a phosphorescent luminousness, the air was heavy with the fragrance of orange, almond, and oleander, the sky was like purple velvet, and the stars seemed very near.
Though the population of Dalmatia is overwhelmingly Slav, quite two-thirds of the 14,000 inhabitants of Zara, its capital, are Italian. Yet, were it not for the occasional Morlachs in their picturesque costumes seen in the markets or on the wharfs, one would not suspect the presence of any Slav element in the town, for the dim and tortuous streets and the spacious squares bear Italian names—Via del Duomo, Riva Vecchia, Piazza della Colonna; crouching above the city gates is the snarling Lion of St. Mark, and everywhere one hears the liquid accents of the Latin. Zara, like Fiume, is an Italian colony set down on a Slavonian shore, and, like its sister-city to the north, it bears the indelible and unmistakable imprint of Italian civilization.
The long, narrow strip of territory sandwiched between the Adriatic and the Dinaric Alps which comprised the Austrian province of Dalmatia, though upward of 200 miles in length, has an area scarcely greater than that of Connecticut and a population smaller than that of Cleveland. Scarcely more than a tenth of its whole surface is under the plow, the rest, where it is not altogether sterile, consisting of mountain pasture. With the exception of scattered groves on the landward slopes, the country is virtually treeless, the forests for which Dalmatia was once famous having been cut down by the Venetian ship-builders or wantonly burned by the Uskok pirates, while every attempt at replanting has been frustrated by the shallowness of the soil, the frequent droughts, and the multitudes of goats which browse on the young trees. The dreary expanse of the Bukovica, lying between Zara and the Bosnian frontier, is, without exception, the most inhospitable region that I have ever seen. For mile after mile, far as the eye can see, the earth is overlaid by a thick stratum of jagged limestone, so rough that no horse could traverse it, so sharp and flinty that a quarter of an hour's walking across it would cut to pieces the stoutest pair of boots. Under the rays of the summer sun these rocks become as hot as the top of a stove; so hot, indeed, that eggs can be cooked upon them, while metal objects exposed for only a few minutes to the sun will burn the hand. Scattered here and there over this terrible plateau are tiny farmsteads, their houses and the walls shutting in the little patches under cultivation being built from the stones obtained in clearing the soil, a task requiring incredible patience. No wonder that the folk who dwell in them are characterized by expressions as stony and hopeless as the soil from which they wring a wretched existence.
No seaboard of the Mediterranean, save only the coast of Greece, is so deeply indented as the Dalmatian littoral, with Its unending succession of rock-bound bays, as frequent as the perforations on a postage-stamp, and its thick fringe of islands. In calm weather the channels between these islands and the mainland resemble a chain of landlocked lakes, like those in the Adirondacks or in southern Ontario, being connected by narrow straits called canales, brilliantly clear to a depth of several fathoms. As a rule, the surrounding hills are rugged, bleached yellow or pale russet, and destitute of verdure, but their monotony is relieved by the half-ruined castles and monasteries which, perched on the rocky heights, perpetually reminded me of Howard Pyle's paintings, and by the medieval charm of Zara, Sebenico, Spalato, Ragusa, Arbe, and Curzola, whose architecture, though predominantly Venetian, bears characteristic traces of the many races which have ruled them.
Just as Italy insisted on pushing her new borders up to the Brenner so that she might have a strategic frontier on the north, so she lays claim to the larger of the Dalmatian islands—Lissa, Lesina, Curzola, and certain others—in order to protect her Adriatic shores. A glance at the map will make her reasons amply plain. There stretches Italy's eastern coastline, 600 miles of it, from Venice to Otranto, with half a dozen busy cities and a score of fishing towns, as bare and unprotected as a bald man's hatless head. Not only is there not a single naval base on Italy's Adriatic coast south of Venice, but there is no harbor or inlet that can be transformed into one. Yet across the Adriatic, barely four hours steam by destroyer away, is a wilderness of islands and deep harbors where an enemy's fleet could lie safely hidden, from which it could emerge to attack Italian commerce or to bombard Italy's unprotected coast towns, and where it could take refuge when the pursuit became too hot. All down the ages the dwellers along Italy's eastern seaboard have been terrorized by naval raids from across the Adriatic. And Italy has determined that they shall be terrorized no more. How history repeats itself! Just as Rome, twenty-two centuries ago, could not permit the neighboring islands of Sicily to fall into the hands of Carthage, so Italy cannot permit these coastwise islands, which form her only protection against attacks from the east, to pass under the control of the Jugoslavs.
"But," I said to the Italians with whom I discussed the matter, "why do you need any such protection now that the world is to have a League of Nations? Isn't that a sufficient guarantee that the Jugoslavs will never attack you?"
"The League of Nations is in theory a splendid thing," was their answer. "We subscribe to it in principle most heartily. But because there is a policeman on duty in your street, do you leave wide open your front door?"
To be quite candid, I do not think that it is against Jugoslavia, or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say, against an unaided Jugoslavia, that Italy is taking precautions. I have already said, I believe, that thinking Italians look with grave forebodings to the day when a great Slav confederation shall rise across the Adriatic, but that day, as they know full well, is still far distant. Italy's desperate insistence on retaining possession of the more important Dalmatian islands is dictated by a far more immediate danger than that. She is convinced that her next war will be fought, not with the weak young state of Jugoslavia, but with Jugoslavia allied with France. Every Italian with whom I discussed the question—and I might add, without boasting, many highly placed and well-informed Italians have honored me with their confidence—firmly believes that France is jealous of Italy's rapidly increasing power in the Mediterranean, and that she is secretly intriguing with the Jugoslavs and the Greeks to prevent Italy obtaining commercial supremacy in the Balkans. I do not say that this is my opinion, mind you, but I do say that it is the opinion held by most Italians. I found that the resentment against the French for what the Italians term France's "betrayal" of Italy at the Peace Conference was almost universal; everywhere in Italy I found a deep-seated distrust of France's commercial ambitions and political designs. Though the Italians admit that the Jugoslavs will not be able to build a navy for many years to come, they fear, or profess to fear, that the day is not immeasurably far distant when a French battle fleet, co-operating with the armies of Jugoslavia, will threaten Italy's Adriatic seaboard. And they are determined that, should such a day ever come, French ships shall not be afforded the protection, as were the Austrian, of the Dalmatian islands. Italy, with her great modern battle fleet and her 5,000,000 fighting men, regards the threats of Jugoslavia with something akin to contempt, but France, turned imperialistic and arrogant by her victory over the Hun, Italy distrusts and fears, believing that, while protesting her friendship, she is secretly fomenting opposition to legitimate Italian aspirations in the Balkan peninsula and in the Middle Sea. (Again let me remind you that I am giving you not my own, but Italy's point of view.) You will sneer at this, perhaps, as a phantasm of the imagination, but I assure you, with all the earnestness and emphasis at my command, that this distrust of one great Latin nation for another, whether it is justified or not, forms a deadly menace to the future peace of the world.
Because I did not wish to confine my observations to the coast towns, which are, after all, essentially Italian, I motored across Dalmatia at its widest part, from Zara, through Benkovac, Kistonje, and Knin, to the little hamlet of Kievo, on the Jugoslav frontier. Though the Slav population of the Dalmatian hinterland is, according to the assertions of Belgrade, bitterly hostile to Italian rule, I did not detect a single symptom of animosity toward the Italian officers who were my companions on the part of the peasants whom we passed. They displayed, on the contrary, the utmost courtesy and good feeling, the women, looking like huge and gaudily dressed dolls in their snowy blouses and embroidered aprons, courtesying, while the tall, fine-looking men gravely touched the little round caps which are the national head-gear of Dalmatia.
Kievo is the last town in Dalmatia, being only a few score yards from the Bosnian frontier. Its little garrison was in command of a young Italian captain, a tall, slender fellow with the blond beard of a Viking and the dreamy eyes of a poet. He had been stationed at this lonely outpost for seven months, he told me, and he welcomed us as a man wrecked on a desert island would welcome a rescue party. In order to escape from the heat and filth and insects of the village, he had built in a near-by grove a sort of arbor, with a roof of interlaced branches to keep off the sun. Its furnishings consisted of a home-made table, an army cot, two or three decrepit chairs, and a phonograph. I did not need to inquire where he had obtained the phonograph, for on its cover was stenciled the familiar red triangle of the Y.M.C.A.—the "Yimka," as the Italians call it—which operates more than 300 casas for the use of the Italian army. While our host was preparing a dubious-looking drink from sweet, bright-colored syrups and lukewarm water, I amused myself by glancing over the little stack of records on the table. They were, of course, nearly all Italian, but I came upon three that I knew well: "Loch Lomond," "Old Folks at Home" and "So Long, Letty." It was like meeting a party of old friends in a strange land. I tried the later record, and though it was not very clear, for the captain's supply of needles had run out and he had been reduced to using ordinary pins, it was startling to hear Charlotte Greenwood's familiar voice caroling "So long, so long, Letty," there on the borders of Bosnia, with a picket of curious Jugoslavs, rifles across their knees, seated on the rocky hillside, barely a stone's throw away. Still, come to think about it, the war produced many contrasts quite as strange, as, for example, when the New York Irish, the old 69th, crossed the Rhine with the regimental band playing "The Sidewalks of New York."
We touched at Sebenico, which is forty knots down the coast from Zara, in order to accept an invitation to lunch with Lieutenant-General Montanari, who commands all the Italian troops in Dalmatia. Now before we started down the Adriatic we had been warned that, because of President Wilson's attitude on the Fiume question, the feeling against Americans ran very high, and that from the Italians we must be prepared for coldness, if not for actual insults. Well, this luncheon at Sebenico was an example of the insults we received and the coldness with which we were treated. Because our destroyer was late, half a hundred busy officers delayed their midday meal for two hours in order not to sit down without us. The table was decorated with American flags, and other American flags had been hand-painted on the menus. And, as a final affront, a destroyer had been sent across the Adriatic Sea to obtain lobsters because the general had heard that my wife was particularly fond of them. After that experience don't talk to me about Southern hospitality. Though the Italians bitterly resent President Wilson's interference in an affair which they consider peculiarly their own, their resentment does not extend to the President's countrymen. Their attitude is aptly illustrated by an incident which took place at the mess of a famous regiment of Bersaglieri, when the picture of President Wilson, which had hung on the wall of the mess-hall, opposite that of the King, was taken down—and an American flag hung in its place.
The most interesting building in Sebenico is the cathedral, which was begun when America had yet to be discovered. The chief glory of the cathedral is its exterior, with its superb carved doors, its countless leering, grinning gargoyles—said to represent the evil spirits expelled from the church—and a broad frieze, running entirely around the edifice, composed of sculptured likenesses of the architects, artists, sculptors, masons, and master-builders who participated in its construction. Put collars, neckties, and derby hats on some of them and you would have striking likenesses of certain labor leaders of to-day. The next time a building of note is erected in this country the countenances of the bricklayers, hod-carriers, and walking delegates might be immortalized in some such fashion. I offer the suggestion to the labor-unions for what it is worth.
Throughout all the years of Austrian domination the citizens of Sebenico remained loyal to their Italian traditions, as is proved by the medallions ornamenting the facade of the cathedral, each of which bears the image of a saint. One of these sculptured saints, it was pointed out to me, has the unmistakable features of Victor Emanuel I, another those of Garibaldi. Thus did the Italian workmen of their day cunningly express their defiance of Austria's tyranny by ornamenting one of her most splendid cathedrals with the heads of Italian heroes. Imagine carving the heads of Elihu Root and Charles E. Hughes on the facade of Tammany Hall!
Next to the cathedral, the most interesting building in Sebenico is the insect-powder factory. It is a large factory and does a thriving business, the need for its product being Balkan-wide. If, for upward of five months, you had fought nightly engagements with the cimex lectularius, you would understand how vital is an ample supply of powder. Believe me or not, as you please, but in many parts of Dalmatia and Albania we were compelled to defend our beds against nocturnal raiding-parties by raising veritable ramparts of insect-powder, very much as in Flanders we threw up earthworks against the assaults of the Hun, while in Monastir the only known way of obtaining sleep is to set the legs of one's bed in basins filled with kerosene.
Four hours steaming south from Sebenico brought us to Spalato, the largest city of Dalmatia and one of the most picturesquely situated towns in the Levant. It owes its name to the great palace (palatium) of Diocletian, within the precincts of which a great part of the old town is built and around which have sprung up its more modern suburbs. Cosily ensconced between the stately marble columns which formed the palace's facade are fruit, tobacco, barber, shoe, and tailor shops, whose proprietors drive a roaring trade with the sailors from the international armada assembled in the harbor. A great hall, which had probably originally been one of the vestibules of the palace, was occupied by the Knights of Columbus, the place being in charge of a khaki-clad priest, Father Mullane, of Johnstown, Pa., who twice daily dispensed true American hospitality, in the form of hot doughnuts and mugs of steaming coffee, to the blue-jackets from the American ships. As there was no coal to be had in the town, he made the doughnuts with the aid of a plumber's blowpipe. In the course of our conversation Father Mullane mentioned that he was living with the Serbian bishop—at least I think he was a bishop-of Spalato.
"I suppose he speaks English or French," I remarked.
"He does not," was the answer.
"Then you must have picked up some Serb or Italian," I hazarded.
"Niver a wurrd of thim vulgar tongues do I know," said he.
"Then how do you and the bishop get along?"
"Shure," said Father Mullane, in the rich brogue which is, I imagine, something of an affectation, "an' what is the use of bein' educated for the church if we were not able to converse with ease an' fluency in iligant an' refined Latin?"
When we were leaving Spalato, Father Mullane presented us with a Bon Voyage package which contained cigarettes, a box of milk chocolate, and a five-pound tin of gum-drops. The cigarettes we smoked, the chocolate we ate, but the gum-drops we used for tips right across the Balkans. In lands whose people have not known the taste of sugar for five years we found that a handful of gum-drops would accomplish more than money. A few men with Father Mullane's resource, tact, and sense of humor would do more than all the diplomats under the roof of the Hotel Crillon to settle international differences and make the nations understand each other.
I had been warned by archaeological friends, before I went to Dalmatia, that the ruins of Salona, which once was the capital of Roman Dalmatia and the site of the summer palace of Diocletian, would probably disappoint me. They date from the period of Roman decadence, so my learned friends explained, and, though following Roman traditions, frequently show traces of negligence, a fact which is accounted for by the haste with which the ailing and hypochondriac Emperor sought to build himself a retreat from the world. Still, the little excursion—for Salona is only five miles from Spalato—provided much that was worth the seeing: a partially excavated amphitheater, a long row of stone sarcophagi lying in a trench, one or two fine gates, and some beautifully preserved mosaics. I must confess, however, that I was more interested in the modern aspects of this region than in its glorious past, for, standing upon the massive walls of the Roman city, I looked down upon a panorama of power such as Diocletian had never pictured in his wildest dreams, for, moored in a long and impressive row, their stern-lines made fast to the Molo, was a line of war-ships flying the flags of England, France, Italy, and the United States. On the right of the line, as befitted the fact that its commander was the senior naval officer and in charge of all this portion of the coast, was Admiral Andrews's flag-ship, the Olympia, but little changed, at least to the casual glance, since that day, more than twoscore years ago, when she blazed her way into Manila Bay and won for us a colonial empire. On her bridge, outlined in brass tacks, I was shown Admiral Dewey's footprints, just as he stood at the beginning of the battle when he gave the order "You may fire when you are ready, Gridley."
Of the 18,000 inhabitants of Spalato, less than a tenth are Italian, the general character of the town and the sympathies of its inhabitants being strongly pro-Slav. In fact, its streets were filled with Jugoslav soldiers, many of them still wearing the uniforms of the Austrian regiments in which they had served but with Serbian kepis, while others looked strangely familiar in khaki uniforms furnished them by the United States. It being warm weather, most of the men wore their coats unbuttoned, thereby displaying a considerable expanse of hairy chest or violently colored underwear and producing a somewhat negligee effect. Because of the presence in the town of the Jugoslav soldiery, the crews of the Italian war-ships were not permitted to go ashore with the sailors of the other nations, as Admiral Andrews feared that their presence might provoke unpleasant incidents. Hence their "shore leave" had, for nearly six months, been confined to the narrow concrete Molo, where they were permitted to stroll in the evenings and where the Italian girls of the town came to see them. For a Jugoslav girl to have been seen in company with an Italian sailor would have meant her social ostracism, if nothing worse.
Though Italy will unquestionably insist on the cession of certain of the Dalmatian islands, in order, as I have already pointed out, to assure herself a defensible eastern frontier, and though she will ask for Zara and possibly for Sebenico on the ground of their preponderantly Italian character, I believe that she is prepared to abandon her original claims to Dalmatia, which is, when all is said and done, almost purely Slavonian, Jugoslavia thus obtaining nearly 550 miles of coast. Now I will be quite frank and say that when I went to Dalmatia I was strongly opposed to the extension of Italian rule over that region. And I still believe that it would be a political mistake. But, after seeing the country from end to end and talking with the Italian officials who have been temporarily charged with its administration, I have become convinced that they have the best interests of the people genuinely at heart and that the Dalmatians might do worse, so far as justice and progress are concerned, than to intrust their future to the guidance of such men.
It had been our original intention to steam straight south from Spalato to the Bocche di Cattaro and Montenegro, but, being foot-loose and free and having plenty of coal in the Sirio's bunkers, we decided to make a detour in order to visit the Curzolane Islands. In case you cannot recall its precise situation, I might remind you that the Curzolane Archipelago, consisting of several good-sized islands—Brazza, Lesina, Lissa, Melida, and Curzola—and a great number of smaller ones, lies off the Dalmatian coast, almost opposite Ragusa. From Spalato we laid our course due south, past Solta, famed for its honey produced from rosemary and the cistus-rose; skirted the wooded shores of Brazza, the largest island of the group, rounded Capo Pellegrino and entered the lovely harbor of Lesina. We did not anchor but, slowing to half-speed, made the circuit of the little port, running close enough to the shore to obtain pictures of the famous Loggia built by Sanmicheli, the Fondazo, the ancient Venetian arsenal, and the crumbling Spanish fort, perched high on a crag above the town. Then south by west again, past Lissa, the western-most island of the group, where an Italian fleet under Persano was defeated and destroyed by an Austrian squadron under Tegetthof in 1866. A marble lion in the local cemetery commemorated the victory and marked the resting-places of the Austrian dead, but when the Italians took possession of the island after the Armistice they changed the inscription on the monument so that it now commemorates their final victory over Austria. It was not, I think, a very sportsmanlike proceeding.
Leaving Lissa to starboard, we steamed through the Canale di Sabbioncello, with exquisite panoramas unrolling on either hand, and dropped anchor off the quay of Curzola, where the governor of the islands, Admiral Piazza, awaited us with his staff. In spite of the bleakness of the surrounding mountains, Curzola is one of the most exquisitely beautiful little towns that I have ever seen. The next time you are in the Adriatic you should not fail to go there. Time and the hand of man—for the people are a color-loving race—have given many tints, soft and bright, to its roofs, towers, and ramparts. It is a town of dim, narrow, winding streets, of steep flights of worn stone steps, of moss-covered archways, and of some of the most splendid specimens of the domestic architecture of the Middle Ages that exist outside of the Street of the Crusaders in Rhodes. The sole modern touches are the costumes of the islanders, and they are sufficiently picturesque not to spoil the picture. How the place has escaped the motion-picture people I fail to understand. (As a matter of fact, it hasn't, for I took with me an operator and a camera—the first the islanders had ever seen.) Besides the Cathedral of San Marco, with its splendid doors, its exquisitely carved choir-stalls black with age and use, its choir balustrade and pulpit of translucent alabaster, and its dim old altar-piece by Tintoretto, the town boasts the Loggia or council chambers, the palace of the Venetian governors, the noble mansion of the Arnieri, and, brooding over all, a towering campanile, five centuries old. The Lion of St. Mark, which appears on several of the public buildings, holds beneath its paw a closed instead of an open book—symbolizing, so I was told, the islanders' dissatisfaction with certain laws of the Venetians.
But the phase of my visit which I enjoyed the most was when Admiral Piazza took us across the bay, on a Detroit-built submarine-chaser, to a Franciscan monastery dating from the fifteenth century. We were met by the abbot at the water-stairs, and, after being shown the beautiful Venetian Gothic cloisters, with alabaster columns whose carving was almost lacelike in its delicate tracery, we were led along a wooded path beside the sea, over a carpet of pine-needles, to a cloistered rose-garden, in which stood, amid a bower of blossoms, a blue and white statue of the Virgin. The fragrance of the flowers in the little enclosure was like the incense in a church, above our heads the great pines formed a canopy of green, and the music was furnished by the birds and the murmuring sea. Here we seemed a world away from the waiting armies and the great gray battleships, from the quarrels of Latin and Slav. It was the first real peace that I had known after five years of war, and I should have liked to remain there longer. But Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, all the unhappy, war-torn lands of the Near East lay before me, and I turned reluctantly away. But my thoughts keep harking back to the little town beside the turquoise bay, to the restfulness of its old, old buildings, to the perfume of its flowers, and the whispering voice of its turquoise sea. So some day, when the world is really at peace and there are no more wars to write about, I think that I shall go back to where
"Far, far from here, The Adriatic breaks in a warm bay Among the green Illyrian hills."
THE CEMETERY OF FOUR EMPIRES
We stood on the forward deck of the Sirio as she slipped southward, through the placid waters of the Adriatic, at twenty knots an hour. Less than a league away the Balkan mountains, savage, mysterious, forbidding, rose in a rocky rampart against the eastern sky.
"Did it ever occur to you," remarked the Italian officer who stood beside me, a noted historian in his own land, "that four great empires have died as a result of their lust for domination over the wretched lands which lie beyond those mountains? Austria coveted Serbia—and the empire of the Hapsburgs is in fragments now. Russia, seeing her influence in the peninsula imperiled, hastened to the support of her fellow Slavs—but Russia has gone down in red ruin, and the Romanoffs are dead. Germany, seeking a gateway to the warm water, and a highway to the East, seized on the excuse thus offered to launch her waiting armies—and the empire reared by the Hohenzollerns is bankrupt and broken. Turkey fought to retain her hold on such European territory as still remained under the crescent banner. To-day a postmortem is about to be held on the Turkish Empire and the House of Osman. Think of it! Four great empires, four ancient dynasties, lie buried over there in the Balkans. It is something more than a range of mountains at which we are looking; it is the wall of a cemetery."
Rada di Antivari is a U-shaped bay, the color of a turquoise, from whose shores the Montenegrin mountains rise in tiers, like the seats of an arena. We put in there unexpectedly because a bora, sweeping suddenly down from the northwest, had lashed the Adriatic into an ugly mood and our destroyer, whose decks were almost as near the water as those of a submarine running awash, was not a craft that one would choose for comfort in such weather. Nor was our feeling of security increased by the knowledge that we were skirting the edges of one of the largest mine-fields in the Adriatic. But the Sirio had scarcely poked her sharp nose around the end of the breakwater which provides the excuse for dignifying the exposed roadstead of Antivari (with the accent on the second syllable, so that it rhymes with "discovery") by the name of harbor before I saw what we had stumbled upon some form of trouble. There were three other Italian destroyers in the harbor but, instead of being moored snugly alongside the quay, they were strung out in a semblance of battle formation, so that their deck-guns, from which the canvas muzzle-covers had been removed, could sweep the rocky heights above and around them. A string of signal-flags broke out from our masthead and was answered in like fashion by the flag-ship of the flotilla, after which formal exchange of greetings our wireless began to crackle and splutter in an animated explanation of our unexpected appearance. Our hawsers had scarcely been made fast before a launch left the flag-ship and came plowing toward us, a knot of white-uniformed officers in the stern. From the blue rug with the Italian arms, which, as I could see through my glasses, was draped over the stern-sheets, I deduced that the commander of the flotilla was paying us a visit.
"You have come at rather an unfortunate moment," he said after the introductions were over. "Last night we were fired on by Jugoslavs on the mountainside over there," indicating the heights across the harbor. "In fact, the firing has just ceased. There must have been a thousand of them or more, judging from the flashes. But I hope that madame will not be alarmed, for she is really quite safe. They are firing at long range, and the only danger is from a stray bullet. Still, it is most embarrassing. On madame's account I am sorry."
His manner was that of a host apologizing to a guest because the children of the family have measles and at the same time attempting to convince the guest that measles are hardly ever contagious. I relieved his quite obvious embarrassment by assuring him that Mrs. Powell much preferred taking chances with snipers' bullets to the discomfort of a destroyer in an ugly sea; and that, having journeyed six thousand miles for the express purpose of seeing what was happening in the Balkans, we would be disappointed if nothing happened at all.
When I left Paris for the Adriatic I carried with me the impression, as the result of conversations with members of the various peace delegations, that the people of Montenegro were almost unanimously in favor of annexation to Serbia, thereby becoming a part of the new Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. But before I had spent twenty-four hours in Montenegro itself I discovered that on the subject of the political future of their little country the Montenegrins are very far from being of the same mind. And, being a simple, primitive folk, and strong believers in the superiority of the bullet to the ballot, instead of sitting down and arguing the matter, they take cover behind a convenient rock and, when their political opponents pass by, take pot-shots at them.
My preconceived opinions about political conditions in Montenegro were largely based on the knowledge that shortly after the signing of the Armistice a Montenegrin National Assembly, so called, had met at Podgoritza, and, after declaring itself in favor of the deposition of King Nicholas and the Petrovitch dynasty, which has ruled in Montenegro since William of Orange sat on the throne of England, voted for the union of Montenegro with the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. Just how representative of the real sentiments of the nation was this assembly I do not know, but that the sentiment in favor of such a surrender of Montenegrin independence is far from being overwhelming would seem to be proved by the fact that the Serbs, in order to hold the territory thus given to them, have found it necessary to install a Serbian military governor in Cetinje, to replace by Serbs all the Montenegrin prefects, to raise a special gendarmerie recruited from men who are known to be friendly to Serbia and officered by Serbs, and to occupy this sister-state, which, it is alleged, requested union with Serbia of its own free will, with two battalions of Serbian infantry. If Montenegrin sentiment for the union is as overwhelming as Belgrade claims, then it seems to me that the Serbs are acting in a rather high-handed fashion.
I talked with a good many people while I was in Montenegro, and I was especially careful not to meet them through the medium of either Serbs or Italians. From these conversations I learned that the Montenegrins are divided into three factions. The first of these, and the smallest, desires the return of the King. It represents the old conservative element and is composed of the men who have fought under him in many wars. The second faction, which is the noisiest and at present holds the reins of power, advocates the annexation of Montenegro to Serbia and the deposition of King Nicholas in favor of the Serbian Prince-Regent Alexander. The third party, which, though it has no means of making its desires known, is, I am inclined to believe, the largest, and which numbers among its supporters the most level-headed and far-seeing men in the country, while frankly distrustful of Serbian ambitions and unwilling to submit to Serbian dictatorship, possesses sufficient vision to recognize the political and commercial advantages which would accrue to Montenegro were she to become an equal partner in a confederation of those Jugoslav countries which claim the same racial origin. Most thoughtful Montenegrins have always been in favor of a union of all the southern Slavs, along the general lines, perhaps, of the Germanic Confederation, but this must not be interpreted as implying that they are in favor of a union merely of Montenegro with Serbia, which would mean the absorption of the smaller country by the larger one. They are determined that, if such a confederation is brought about, Serbia shall not occupy the dictatorial position which Prussia did in Germany, and that the Karageorgevitches shall not play a role analogous to that of the Hohenzollerns. Montenegro, remember, threw off the Turkish yoke a century and three-quarters before Serbia was able to achieve her liberty, and the patriotic among her people feel that this hard-won, long-held independence should not lightly be thrown away.
It is not generally known, perhaps, that, when Austria declared war on Serbia in August, 1914, an offensive and defensive alliance already existed between Serbia, Greece, and Montenegro. We know how highly Greece valued her signature to that treaty. Montenegro, with an area two-thirds that of New Jersey, and a population less than that of Milwaukee, could easily have used her weakness as an excuse for standing aside, like Greece. Very likely Austria would not have molested her and the little country would have been spared the horrors of a third war within two years. But King Nicholas's conception of what constituted loyalty and honor was different from Constantine's. Instead of accepting the extensive territorial compensations offered by the Austrian envoy if Montenegro would remain neutral, King Nicholas wired to the Serbian Premier, M. Pachitch: "Serbia may rely on the brotherly and unconditional support of Montenegro in this moment, on which depends the fate of the Serbian nation, as well as on any other occasion," and took the field at the head of 40,000 troops—all the men able to bear arms in the little kingdom.
It has been repeatedly asserted by his enemies that King Nicholas sold out to the Austrians and that, therefore, he deserves neither sympathy nor consideration. As to this I have no direct knowledge. How could I? But, after talking with nearly all of the leading actors in the Montenegrin drama, it is my personal belief that the King, though guilty of many indiscretions and errors of policy, did not betray his people. I am not ignorant of the King's shortcomings in other respects. But in this case I believe that he has been grossly maligned. If he did sell out he drove an extremely poor bargain, for he is living in exile, in extremely straitened circumstances, his only luxury a car which the French Government loans him. It is difficult to believe that, had he been a traitor to the Allied cause, the British, French, and Italian governments would continue to recognize him, to pay him subventions, and to treat him as a ruling sovereign. Certain American diplomats have told me that they were convinced that the King had a secret understanding with Austria, though they admitted quite frankly that their convictions were based on suspicions which they could not prove. To offset this, a very exalted personage, whose name for obvious reasons I cannot mention, but whose integrity and whose sources of information are beyond question, has given me his word that, to his personal knowledge, Nicholas had neither a treaty nor a secret understanding with the enemy.
"The propaganda against him had been so insidious and successful, however," my informant concluded, "that even his own soldiers were convinced that he had sold out to Austria and when the King attempted to rally them as they were falling back from the positions on Mount Lovtchen they jeered in his face, shouting that he had betrayed them. Yet I, who was on the spot and who am familiar with all the facts, give you my personal assurance that he had not."
Nor did the King give up his sword to the Austrian commander at Grahovo, as was reported in the European press. When, with three-quarters of his country overrun by the Austrians, his chief of staff, Colonel Pierre Pechitch of the Serbian Army, reported "Henceforth all resistance and all fighting against the enemy is impossible. There is no chance of the situation improving," King Nicholas, in the words of Baron Sonnino, then Italian Foreign Minister, "preferred to withdraw into exile rather than sign a separate peace."
I may be wrong in my conclusions, of course; the cabinet ministers and the ambassadors and the generals in whose honor and truthfulness I believe may have deliberately deceived me, but, after a most painstaking and conscientious investigation, I am convinced that we have been misinformed and blinded by a propaganda against King Nicholas and his people which has rarely been equaled in audacity of untruth and dexterity of misrepresentation. To employ the methods used by certain Balkan politicians in their attempted elimination of Montenegro as an independent nation even Tammany Hall would be ashamed.
When, upon the occupation of Montenegro by the Austrians, the King fled to France and established his government at Neuilly, near Paris—just as the fugitive Serbian Government was established at Corfu and the Belgian at Le Havre—England, France, and Italy entered into an agreement to pay him a subvention, for the maintenance of himself and his government, until such time as the status of Montenegro was definitely settled by the Peace Conference. England ceased paying her share of this subvention early in the spring of 1919. When, a few weeks later, it was announced that King Nicholas was preparing to go to Italy to visit his daughter, Queen Elena, the French Minister to the court of Montenegro bluntly informed him that the French Government regarded his proposed visit to Italy as the first step toward his return to Montenegro, and that, should he cross the French frontier, France would immediately break off diplomatic relations with Montenegro and cease paying her share of the subvention. This would seem to bear out the assertion, which I heard everywhere in the Balkans, that France is bending every effort toward building up a strong Jugoslavia in order to offset Italy's territorial and commercial ambitions in the peninsula. The French indignantly repudiate the suggestion that they are coercing the Montenegrin King.
"How absurd!" exclaimed the officials with whom I talked. "We holding King Nicholas a prisoner? The idea is preposterous. So far as France is concerned, he can return to Montenegro whenever he chooses."
Still, their protestations were not entirely convincing. Their attitude reminded me of the millionaire whose daughter, it was rumored, had eloped with the family chauffeur.
"Sure, she can marry him if she wants to," he told the reporters. "I have no objection. She is free, white, and twenty-one. But if she does marry him I'll stop her allowance, cut her out of my will, and never speak to her again."
Because it has been my privilege to know many sovereigns and because I have been honored with the confidence of several of them, I have become to a certain extent immune from the spell which seems to be exercised upon the commoner by personal contact with the Lord's anointed. Save when I have had some definite mission to accomplish, I have never had any overwhelming desire "to grasp the hand that shook the hand of John L. Sullivan." To me it seems an impertinence to take the time of busy men merely for the sake of being able to boast about it afterward to your friends. But because, during my travels in Jugoslavia, I heard King Nicholas repeatedly denounced by Serbian officials with far more bitterness than they employed toward their late enemies and oppressors, the Hapsburgs, I was frankly eager for an opportunity to form my own opinions about Montenegro's aged ruler. The opportunity came when, upon my return to Paris, I was informed that the King wished to meet me, he being desirous, I suppose, of talking with one who had come so recently from his own country.
At that time the King, with the Queen, Prince Peter, and his two unmarried daughters, was occupying a modest suite in the Hotel Meurice, in the rue de Rivoli. He received me in a large, sun-flooded room overlooking the Tuileries Gardens. The bald, broad-shouldered, rather bent old man in the blue serge suit, with a tin ear-trumpet in his hand, who rose from behind a great flat-topped desk to greet me, was a startling contrast to the tall and vigorous figure, in the picturesque dress of a Montenegrin chieftain, whom I had seen in Cetinje before the war. I looked at him with interest, for he has been on the throne longer than any living sovereign, he is the father-in-law of two Kings, and is connected by marriage with half the royal houses of Europe, and he is the last of that long line of patriarch-rulers who, leading their armies in person, have for more than two centuries maintained the independence of the Black Mountain and its people.
King Nicholas, as is generally known, has been remarkably successful in marrying off his daughters, two of them having married Kings, two others grand dukes, while a fifth became the wife of a Battenberg prince. Remembering this, I was sorely tempted to ask the King as to the truth of a story which I had heard in Cetinje years before. An English visitor to the Montenegrin capital had been invited to lunch at the palace. During the meal the King asked his guest his impressions of Montenegro.
"Its scenery is magnificent," was the answer. "Its women are as beautiful and its men as handsome as any I have ever seen. Their costumes are marvelously picturesque. But the country appears to have no exports, your Majesty."
"Ah, my friend," replied the King, his eyes twinkling, "you forget my daughters."
Another story, which illustrates the King's quick wit, was told me by his Majesty himself. When, some years before the Great War, Emperor Francis Joseph, on a yachting cruise down the Adriatic, dropped anchor in the Bocche di Cattaro, the Montenegrin mountaineers celebrated the imperial visit by lighting bonfires on their mountain peaks, a mile above the harbor.
"I see that you dwell in the clouds," remarked Francis Joseph to Nicholas, as they stood on the deck of the yacht after dinner watching the pin-points of flame twinkling high above them.
"Where else can I live?" responded the Montenegrin ruler. "Austria holds the sea; Turkey holds the land; the sky is all that is left for Montenegro."
One of the things which the King told me during our conversation will, I think, interest Americans. He said that when President Wilson arrived in Paris he sent him an autograph letter, congratulating him on the great part he had played in bringing peace to the world and requesting a personal interview.
"But he never granted me the interview," said the King sadly. "In fact, he never acknowledged my letter."
I attempted to bridge over the embarrassing pause by suggesting that perhaps the letter had never been received, but he waved aside the suggestion as unworthy of consideration. I gathered from what he said that royal letters do not miscarry.
"I realize that I am an old man and that my country is a very small and unimportant one," he continued, "while your President is the ruler of a great country and a very busy man. Still, we in Montenegro had heard so much of America's chivalrous attitude toward small, weak nations that I was unduly disappointed, perhaps, when my letter was ignored. I felt that my age, and the fact that I have occupied the throne of Montenegro for sixty years, entitled me to the consideration of a reply."
But we have strayed far from the road which we were traveling. Let us get back to the people of the mountains; I like them better than the politicians. Antivari, which nestles in a hollow of the hills, three or four miles inland from the port of the same name, is one of the most fascinating little towns in all the Balkans. Its narrow, winding, cobble-paved streets, shaded by canopies of grapevines and bordered by rows of squat, red-tiled houses, their plastered walls tinted pale blue, bright pink or yellow, and the amazingly picturesque costumes of its inhabitants—slender, stately Montenegrin women in long coats of turquoise-colored broad-cloth piped with crimson, Bosnians in skin-tight breeches covered with arabesques of braid and jackets heavy with embroidery, Albanians wearing the starched and pleated skirts of linen known as fustanellas and comitadjis with cartridge-filled bandoliers slung across their chests and their sashes bristling with assorted weapons, priests of the Orthodox Church with uncut hair and beards, wearing hats that look like inverted stovepipes, hook-nosed, white-bearded, patriarchal-looking Turks in flowing robes and snowy turbans, fierce-faced, keen-eyed mountain herdsmen in fur caps and coats of sheepskin—all these combined to make me feel that I had intruded upon the stage of a theater during a musical comedy performance, and that I must find the exit and escape before I was discovered by the stage-manager. If David Belasco ever visits Antivari he will probably try to buy the place bodily and transport it to East Forty-fourth Street and write a play around it.
There were two gentlemen in Antivari whose actions gave me unalloyed delight. One of them, so I was told, was the head of the local anti-Serbian faction; the other, a human arsenal with weapons sprouting from his person like leaves from an artichoke, was the chief of a notorious band of comitadjis, as the Balkan guerrillas are called. They walked up and down the main street of Antivari, arms over each other's shoulders, heads close together, lost in conversation, but glancing quickly over their shoulders every now and then to see if they were in danger of being overheard, exactly like the plotters in a motion-picture play. From the earnestness of their conversation, the obvious awe in which they were held by the townspeople, and the suspicious looks cast in their direction by the Serbian gendarmes, I gathered that in the near future things were going to happen in that region. Approaching them, I haltingly explained, in the few words of Serbian at my command, that I was an American and that I wished to photograph them. Upon comprehending my request they debated the question for some moments, then shook their heads decisively. It was evident that, in view of what they had in mind, they considered it imprudent to have their pictures floating around as a possible means of identification. But while they were discussing the matter I took the liberty, without their knowledge, of photographing them anyway. It was as well, perhaps, that they did not see me do it, for the comitadji chieftain had a long knife, two revolvers, and four hand-grenades in his belt and a rifle slung over his shoulder.
From Antivari to Valona by sea is about as far as from New York to Albany by the Hudson, so that, leaving the Montenegrin port in the early morning, we had no difficulty in reaching the Albanian one before sunset. Before the war Valona—which, by the way, appears as Avlona on most American-made maps—was an insignificant fishing village, but upon Italy's occupation of Albania it became a military base of great importance. Whenever we had touched on our journey down the coast we had been warned against going to Valona because of the danger of contracting fever. The town stands on the edge of a marsh bordering the shore and, as no serious attempt has been made to drain the marsh or to clean up the town itself, about sixty per cent of the troops stationed there are constantly suffering from a peculiarly virulent form of malaria, similar to the Chagres fever of the Isthmus. The danger of contracting it was apparently considered very real, for, before we had been an hour in the quarters assigned to us, officers began to arrive with safeguards of one sort or another. One brought screens for all the windows; another provided mosquito-bars for the beds; a third presented us with disinfectant cubes, which we were to burn in our rooms several times each day; a fourth made us a gift of quinine pills, two of which we were to take hourly; still another of our hosts appeared with a dozen bottles of acqua minerale and warned us not to drink the local water, and, finally, to ensure us against molestation by prowling natives, a couple of sentries were posted beneath our windows.
"Valona isn't a particularly healthy place to live in, I gather?" I remarked, by way of making conversation, to the officer who was our host at dinner that evening. His face was as yellow as old parchment and he was shaking with fever.
"Well," he reluctantly admitted, "you must be careful not to be bitten by a mosquito or you will get malaria. And don't drink the water or you will contract typhoid. And keep away from the native quarter, for there is always more or less smallpox in the bazaars. And don't go wandering around the town after nightfall, for there's always a chance of some fanatic putting a knife between your shoulders. Otherwise, there isn't a healthier place in the world than Valona."
Across the street from the building in which we were quartered was a large mosque, which, judging from the scaffoldings around it, was under repair. But though it seemed to be a large and important mosque, there was no work going forward on it. I commented upon this one day to an officer with whom I was walking.
"Do you see those storks up there?" he asked, pointing to a pair of long-legged birds standing beside their nest on the dome of the mosque. "The stork is the sacred bird of Albania and if it makes its nest on a building which is in course of construction all work on that building ceases as long as the stork remains. A barracks we were erecting was held up for several months because a stork decided to make its nest in the rafters, whereupon the native workmen threw down their tools and quit."
"In my country it is just the opposite," I observed. "There, when the stork comes, instead of stopping work they usually begin building a nursery."
I had long wished to cross Albania and Macedonia, from the Adriatic to the AEgean, by motor, but the nearer we had drawn to Albania the more unlikely this project had seemed of realization. We were assured that there were no roads in the interior of the country or that such roads as existed were quite impassable for anything save ox-carts; that the country had been devastated by the fighting armies and that it would be impossible to get food en route; that the mountains we must cross were frequented by bandits and comitadjis and that we would be exposed to attack and capture; that, though the Italians might see us across Albania, the Serbian and Greek frontier guards would not permit us to enter Macedonia, and, as a final argument against the undertaking, we were warned that the whole country reeked with fever. But when I told the Governor-General of Albania, General Piacentini, what I wished to do every obstacle disappeared as though at the wave of a magician's wand.
"You will leave Valona early to-morrow morning," he said, after a short conference with his Chief of Staff. "You will be accompanied by an officer of my staff who was with the Serbian army on its retreat across Albania to the sea. The country is well garrisoned and I do not anticipate the slightest trouble, but, as a measure of precaution, a detachment of soldiers will follow your car in a motor-truck. You will spend the first night at Argirocastro, the second at Ljaskoviki, and the third at Koritza, which is occupied by the French. I will wire our diplomatic agent there to make arrangements with the Jugoslav authorities for you to cross the Serbian border to Monastir, where we still have a few troops engaged in salvage work. South of Monastir you will be in Greek territory, but I will wire the officer in command of the Italian forces at Salonika to take steps to facilitate your journey across Macedonia to the AEgean."
This journey across one of the most savage and least-known regions in all Europe was arranged as simply and matter-of-factly as a clerk in a tourist bureau would plan a motor trip through the White Mountains. With the exception of one or two alterations in the itinerary made necessary by tire trouble, the journey was made precisely as General Piacentini planned it and so complete were the arrangements we found that meals and sleeping quarters had been prepared for us in tiny mountain hamlets whose very names we had never so much as heard before.
Until its occupation by the Italians in 1917 Albania was not only the least-known region in Europe; it was one of the least-known regions in the world. Within sight of Italy, it was less known than many portions of Central Asia or Equatorial Africa. And it is still a savage country; a land but little changed since the days of Constantine and Diocletian; a land that for more than twenty centuries has acknowledged no master and, until the coming of the Italians, had known no law. Prior to the Italian occupation there was no government in Albania in the sense in which that word is generally used, there being, in fact, no civil government now, the tribal organization which takes its place being comparable to that which existed in Scotland under the Stuart Kings.
The term Albanian would probably pass unrecognized by the great majority of the inhabitants, who speak of themselves as Skipetars and of their country as Sccupnj. They are, most ethnologists agree, probably the most ancient race in Europe, there being every reason to believe that they are the lineal descendants of those adventurous Aryans who, leaving the ancestral home on the shores of the Caspian, crossed the Caucasus and entered Europe in the earliest dawn of history. One of the tribes of this migrating host, straying into these lonely valleys, settled there with their flocks and herds, living the same life, speaking the same tongue, following the same customs as their Aryan ancestors, quite indifferent to the great changes which were taking place in the world without their mountain wall. Certain it is that Albania was already an ancient nation when Greek history began. Unlike the other primitive populations of the Balkan peninsula, which became in time either Hellenized, Latinized or Slavonicized, the Albanians have remained almost unaffected by foreign influences. It strikes me as a strange thing that the courage and determination with which this remarkable race has maintained itself in its mountain stronghold all down the ages, and the grim and unyielding front which it has shown to innumerable invaders, have evoked so little appreciation and admiration in the outside world. History contains no such epic as that of the Albanian national hero, George Castriota, better known as Scanderbeg, who, with his ill-armed mountaineers, overwhelmed twenty-three Ottoman armies, one after another.[A]
Picture, if you please, a country remarkably similar in its physical characteristics to the Blue Ridge Region of our own South, with the same warm summers and the same brief, cold winters, peopled by the same poverty-stricken, illiterate, quarrelsome, suspicious, arms-bearing, feud-practising race of mountaineers, and you will have the best domestic parallel of Albania that I can give you. Though during the summer months extremely hot days are followed by bitterly cold nights, and though fever is prevalent along the coast and in certain of the valleys, Albania is, climatically speaking, "a white man's country." Its mountains are believed to contain iron, coal, gold, lead, and copper, but the internal condition of the country has made it quite impossible to investigate its mineral resources, much less to develop them. With the exception of Valona, which has been developed into a tolerably good harbor, there are no ports worthy of the name, Durazzo, Santi Quaranta, and San Giovanni de Medua being mere open roadsteads, almost unprotected from the sea winds. There are no railroads in Albania, and the indifference of the Turkish Government, the corruption of the local chiefs, and the blood-feuds in which the people are almost constantly engaged, have resulted in a total absence of good roads. This condition has been remedied by the Italians, however, who, in order to facilitate their military operations, constructed a system of highways very nearly equal to those they built in the Alps. Though the greater part of the country is a stranger to the plow, the small areas which are under cultivation produce excellent olive oil, wine of a tolerable quality, a strong but moderately good tobacco, and considerable grain; Albania, in spite of its primitive agricultural methods, furnishing most of the corn supply of the Dalmatian coast.
Albania, so far as I am aware, is the only country where you can buy a wife on the instalment plan, just as you would buy a piano or an encyclopedia or a phonograph. It is quite true that there are plenty of countries where women can be purchased—in Circassia, for example, and in China, and in the Solomon Group—but in those places the prospective bridegroom is compelled to pay down the purchase price in cash, not being afforded the convenience of opening an account. In Albania, however, such things are better done, a partial payment on the purchase price of the girl being paid to her parents when the engagement takes place, after which she is no longer offered for sale, but is set aside, like an article on which a deposit has been made, until the final instalment has been paid, when she is delivered to her future husband.
Albania is likewise the only country that I know of where every one concerned becomes indignant if a murderer is sent to prison. The relatives of the dear departed resent it because they feel that the judge has cheated them out of their revenge, which they would probably obtain, were the murderer at large, by putting a knife or a pistol bullet between his shoulders. The murderer, of course, objects to the sentence both because he does not like imprisonment and because he believes that he could escape from the relatives of his victim were he given his freedom. If he or his friends have any money, however, the affair is usually settled on a financial basis, the feud is called off, the murderer is pardoned, and every one concerned, save only the dead man, is as pleased and friendly as though nothing had ever happened to interrupt their friendly relations. A quaint people, the Albanians.
In order to develop the resources of the country and to transform its present poverty into prosperity, Italy has already inaugurated an extensive scheme of public works, which includes the reclamation of the marshes, the reforestation of the mountains, the reconstruction of the highways, the improvement of the ports, and the construction of a railway straight across Albania, from the coast at Durazzo to Monastir, in Serbian Macedonia, where it will connect with the line from Belgrade to Salonika. This railway will follow the route of one of the most important arteries of the Roman Empire, the Via Egnatia, that mighty military and commercial highway, a trans-Adriatic continuation of the Via Appia, which, starting from Dyracchium, the modern Durazzo, crossed the Cavaia plain to the Skumbi, climbed the slopes of the Candavian range, and traversing Macedonia and Thrace, ended at the Bosphorus, thus linking the capitals of the western and the eastern empires. We traveled this age-old highway, down which the four-horse chariots of the Caesars had rumbled two thousand years ago, in another sort of chariot, with the power of twenty times four horses beneath its sloping hood. This will entitle us in future years to listen with the condescension of pioneers to the tales of the tourists who make the same trans-Balkan journey in a comfortable wagon-lit, with hot and cold running water and electric lights and a dining-car ahead. It is a great thing to have seen a country in the pioneer stage of its existence.
In that portion of Southern Albania known as North Epirus we motored for an entire day through a region dotted with what had been, apparently, fairly prosperous towns and villages but which are now heaps of fire-blackened ruins. This wholesale devastation, I was informed to my astonishment, was the work of the Greeks, who, at about the time the Germans were horrifying the civilized world by their conduct in Belgium, were doing precisely the same thing, it is said, but on a far more extensive scale, in Albania. As a result of these atrocities, perpetrated by a so-called Christian and professedly civilized nation, a large number of Albanian towns and villages were destroyed by fire or dynamite. Though I have been unable to obtain any reliable figures, the consensus of opinion among the Albanians, the French and Italian officials, and the American missionaries and relief workers with whom I talked is that between 10,000 and 12,000 men, women, and children were shot, bayoneted, or burned to death, at least double that number died from exposure and starvation, and an enormous number—I have heard the figure placed as high as 200,000—were rendered homeless. The stories which I heard of the treatment to which the Albanian women were subjected are so revolting as to be unprintable. We spent a night at Ljaskoviki (also spelled Gliascovichi, Leskovik and Liascovik), three-quarters of which had been destroyed. Out of a population which, I was told, originally numbered about 8,000, only 1,200 remain.
Though the great majority of the victims were Mohammedans, the outrages were not directly due to religious causes but were inspired mainly by greed for territory. When, upon the erection of Albania into an independent kingdom in 1913, the Greeks were ordered by the Powers to withdraw from North Epirus, on which they had been steadily encroaching and which they had come to look upon as inalienably their own, they are reported to have begun a systematic series of outrages upon the civil population of the region for which a fitting parallel can be found only in the Turkish massacres in Armenia or the horrors of Bolshevik rule in Russia. In their determination to secure Southern Albania for themselves, the Greeks apparently adopted the policy followed with such success in Armenia by the Turks, who asserted cynically that "one cannot make a state without inhabitants."