Open main menu

Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 130.djvu/446

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
438
A LADY'S VISIT TO THE HERZEGOVINIAN INSURGENTS.

roof that let in the rain, and at the hard floor they had to lie on, without any bedding or covering.

Harrowing were the sights of suffering that greeted us on every side. Here lay a poor old man of eighty, stone blind, with hardly a stitch to cover him, moaning piteously; whilst close to him, in a wooden cradle lent by some sympathizing mother in the district, lay newly-arrived twins, launched into this world of sorrow and struggle, but as yet conscious only of the pangs of hunger; whilst over them hung their mother, who told us piteously that ten farthings a day were all she could muster for herself and the two helpless beings with whom nature had seen fit to bless her. We thought of the lines of Shakespeare: —

A terrible child-bed hast thou had,
My dear. No fire! No light!
The unfriendly elements
Forget thee utterly.

Heart-sick and weary, we struggled through them into the blessed sunshine. The feast of St. Blasrus (the patron saint of the town) is a great day at Ragusa, and the spring sun lit up a brilliant scene; all the windows were hung with tapestry and the doors dressed with banners. The streets were crowded with holiday-makers, early as it was, and all were bound in the same direction to the gates of the town, where the communi of the different villages around salute before entering. It was indeed a picturesque sight that greeted us, as soon as we had passed the drawbridge. We were not a moment too soon, for the procession of villagers was winding down the hill in the distance, each municipality carrying the banner of the district. The Austrian band led the way, and as soon as the gate was reached, the standard-bearer of each village knelt down on one knee, and twisting his pennon round his head, he saluted the town, amidst the firing of blunderbusses and the rolling of drums.

The peasants' dresses were one mass of gold embroidery from cap to gaiters. Many of them had, I daresay, descended from father to son for hundreds of years. They cannot be purchased nowadays for less than eighty or ninety guineas, and it is therefore not wonderful if they represent all the savings made by their owners.

After they had shaken hands with the mayor of the town, they proceeded down the principal street to the square, opposite the cathedral, where they again saluted, and then depositing their banners in the church of St. Blasrus, they trooped out to have a regular day's enjoyment.

There was to be seen the most singular and striking mixture of costumes — Brenesi, Canalesi, and Ragusan — some of the women wearing the becoming white caps of the country; whilst others had simply the home-embroidered muslin handkerchiefs common to all the female population of the Dalmatian and Albanian coast. The girls had tight-fitting serge bodices, and their hair was plaited and decorated with gold coins. To see them laughing and talking together, made it difficult to believe that danger, sadness, and privation were so near at hand.

Even the poor refugees seemed determined to cast their troubles away from them for to-day; and although one saw a tear let fall, and a bitter sob escape now and then, as some poor mother hears the news of a son wounded, or a wife of her husband being called to join the fighting, joy on the whole wins the day.

Here and there were men with earnest, careworn faces, whose dress and appearance showed they had come from the scene of war. They generally stood in groups, discussing the last news. It was curious to see these same rough warriors kneeling down with the greatest fervor to kiss the relics of St. Blasrus, which, enshrined in silver cases, were carried round the town. We were told that these consist of two left arms. The anatomical knowledge of these poor creatures, however, is not great, and they did not appear to question for an instant the genuineness of what was offered to their adoration. After this operation had been gone through, there was a lull in the proceedings, as the inner man must be refreshed in order to be able to go through the business of the day.

After luncheon came the tombola.

The Austrian government have given three prizes, and these childlike people have entirely forgotten everything relating to St. Blasrus in their excitement about the lottery. The square was a mass of anxious eager faces, and instead of murmured prayers and benedictions, nothing was audible but groans, hisses, and shrieks.

At last the winners of the principal prize (20l.) were declared (for it was a tie " between the letter-carrier of the camp of Peko, the insurgent chief, and an Austrian soldier). As they stood together, they might be taken as types of the two powers that are striving for empire in the land — one, free, easy in all his