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Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 130.djvu/449

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441
A LADY'S VISIT TO THE HERZEGOVINIAN INSURGENTS.

tempest is blowing, accompanied by sheets of rain.


We were delayed here five days by heavy rains, which turned the Scala into a running river, and made it impossible to think of starting on our way to Cetigne.

On Thursday, the 10th of February, the wind changed, and although bitterly cold, brought a cloudless sky and clear atmosphere. Our little horses were ordered, therefore, and awaited us on the quay at half-past seven o'clock in the morning. We trotted across the old bridge, through the market-place, and began the toilsome ascent. The path went zigzag up the mountain-side; sometimes it seemed almost sheer over a precipice, making one dizzy as one looked down at the town of Cattaro far beneath.

Clear and piercing did the sound of the church-bells come up through the frosty air, and the voices of the mountaineers talking to one another far above were as audible as though they had been close to us. They were trooping down to sell their potatoes, eggs, and milk, to the people of the Bocche, and to carry back in exchange stuffs and other simple luxuries the town affords.

The sight of poor women staggering along under heavy burdens, whilst the men walked beside them perfectly unencumbered, struck us painfully; but we accepted it, after a time, with the same resignation as the women themselves, and learned to look on the Montenegrin warrior as a fancy article, that ought not to be expected to do anything save fight in time of war, and saunter about in his splendor in time of peace.

The girls have a certain amount of beauty, but it soon fades, for they are married at thirteen or fourteen, and then enter upon a life of wretched drudgery. The wife of the prince and of the president of the senate are the only women who can read and write, and they, even, have to wait at table and do all the household cooking. It is needless to say, therefore, that their education is not advanced enough to have induced them to fight for women's rights.

At about nine o'clock we got on a level with the old Venetian fortress, that protects the wall on the side of Montenegro. At its foot lies a little cluster of houses, for the most part in ruins, showing the lawlessness of their neighbors on the heights; for in times past, when wheat was scarce in Montenegro, its inhabitants made a raid on the adjoining country — Turk or Christian — to supply the deficiency; and many are the traces, both on this side and round about Ragusa, of their depredations.

As we got higher, the number of people coming down the mountain increased. The women all dressed in the long white Dalmatian jacket; whilst the men wore the round scarlet Montenegrin hat, with the initials of the prince, N. I. (Nicholas I.), embroidered in gold on the crown, and a black silk band round the edge, put on as mourning for the occupation of Servia by the Turks.

In their belts gleamed daggers and silver-mounted pistols, whilst all had on the opanche, or sandals made of ox-hide, which we, in our stiff-soled civilized boots, could not help envying when we saw the ease with which they enabled their wearers to climb. The agility displayed by them was astonishing. They quite disdained the winding path we followed, and went straight down the side of the mountain, those at the summit holding long conversation with their friends far below.

After about two hours' ascent, we found ourselves in a region of snow — a white carpet two feet in thickness, that lay over everything. The country began to grow more and more wild, reminding one of Gustave Dore's pictures of Dante's Inferno. Not a habitation of any kind was visible until we came to the village of Niègush, our first halting-place. We drew up opposite the inn, a hovel thatched with straw, from which the icicles hung thick. Luckily we had brought provisions with us, for the place produced nothing but black bread, starkie (a strong sort of spirit), and coffee. We were surrounded as we ate by a number of insurgent women and children, who, although they did not beg, looked so longingly at our food, that we had to ask them to share it with us. Poor creatures! they had not yet learnt to hold out their hands for alms.

Gazing at the silver buckles and necklaces these Herzegovinian women wore, we wanted to purchase some of them; but it is curious how loth they are to part with their finery. They will go about in rags, and yet keep their caps covered with silver chains and coins. Our old hostess, seeing I had a fancy for these gewgaws, beckoned me to follow her; and, taking me up a ladder into a garret, the dirt and dilapidation of which it would be hazardous to describe, she unlocked a wooden box, in which was stored finery that might have made many a duchess envious. She had one belt, for which,