Returning to the village I found our supper nearly ready, and the floor of a carpenter's shed adjoining swept out and more or less tidied up for our reception. Squatting around the wood-fire on the floor we dined in company with some labourers, who were discharging goods from a barge, Montenegrins and Turks; and very good company they were. Turkish coffee followed the stew, and cigarettes, of course ; after which we all lay down round the fire and slept comfortably.
The morning was very unpropitious for our work. Heavy and continuous rain delayed our start for some hours. A boat and a couple of men had been engaged to take us to a likely marsh on the Albanian side ; all the luggage was piled up amidships and covered with my waterproof sheet, while Djouraschkovitch and myself huddled together in waterproofs at the stern, covered or partly covered with an umbrella he had thoughtfully borrowed from the hotel. He had forgotten the trifling ceremony usual in such cases, of asking permission from the owner ; but I did not feel inclined to find fault with him, and only regretted that he had not brought away two instead of only one.
As soon as we reached the open water it became evident that we could not possibly reach our intended destination. The wind was blowing half a gale, and the waves threatened every moment to swamp our heavily laden boat. The two boatmen flatly refused to cross the lake, and for some time we could only cling on under the lee of a submerged willow-tree, which gave us a slight shelter, while we deliberated as to what could be done.
Finally it was decided to go in the opposite direction, which would bring us to the heronry I had seen from the steamer the previous day, and we should be able to keep, most of the way, under the shelter of a belt of submerged trees, reed-beds, and water-lilies. A big bed of water-lilies makes a most efficient breakwater. The force of the heaviest waves is quickly spent and lost among the heavy, floating leaves and long stalks of the lilies; and in place of the heavy water continually breaking over the boat we rode comfortably and easily over a long, oily swell. But the rain continued, and though heavy rain is also very good in keeping down a sea, yet it is most miserable to sit in a small boat with no room to move, exposed hour after hour to its pitiless pelting.
Seeing at last a small huddle of poverty-stricken huts on a rocky shore we determined to land for the purpose of obtaining a hot meal of some kind if it were possible. But the only things eatable to be had were some smoked fish, which we broiled over the fire in one of the houses. The people here were so poor that though they had coffee there was no sugar in the house. However, they managed to get some from a neighbour, and very welcome we found a cup of hot coffee in our drenched condition. The small sum I gave in payment was accepted gratefully, the woman kissing my hand as I left: this I found to be a very common form of salutation and a way of expressing thanks for any benefits, but one I felt rather embarrassing. Men frequently do it as well as women, especially after receiving a liberal backsheesh for any services they have rendered. More embarrassing still is it to be embraced and kissed by an Albanian, bristling with deadly weapons.
It was still raining heavily when we re-embarked, still very wet but rather more comfortable after our rest and refreshment.
Presently we approached the heronry I had noticed, but, to my great disgust, I found that this time I had myself mistaken the Common Grey Heron for the Great White Heron. The bright sunshine on the white necks of the birds, and the fact that their bodies were hidden by the branches, together with the distance at which the steamer had passed, had helped to mislead me. There were many nests on the tops of a clump of tall willows growing in deep water ; and from the treetops came the unmistakable chipping cry of young Herons. Evidently the eggs had all hatched, but to make sure I climbed to one of the nests to see what there was. And a nasty climb it was in my wet clothes. The boat plunged and rolled in the heavy sea which surged among the trees, while the trunks were perfectly slimy with moisture. To add to my difficulties, the small branches were very rotten, and broke off short in my hands as I ascended one after the other. Djouraschkovitch was in a great fright, shouting frantically, ' Monsieur, descendez-vous, je vous prie; les ramiers sont trop faibles pour vous ; vous tomberez,' etc, etc.
However, I got up all right, only to find young birds, as I expected, and descended safely, though stepping into the plunging boat from the slippery trunk was no easy job, as the men were unable to bring it in very close ; though even if I had gone overboard-as I fully expected to do-I could not have been any wetter than I was already. I was glad to find myself once more inside the boat, uncomfortable as it was, and we proceeded on our way, more or less dispirited by this fresh disappointment.
It was now necessary to cross an open arm of the lake exposed to the full force of the wind. Luckily both wind and rain had by now somewhat abated ; and after a hard pull, during which the waves frequently broke over us, half-filling the boat, we finally arrived at a village on the Montenegrin side.
The Lake of Scutari forms a natural boundary between the two countries, the frontier running diagonally across. There was a very decent little inn at this village, Vir-Pazar, where we stopped for the night. It was a market day, and the busy but peaceful scene in the streets was a pleasant change after our experiences in Scutari.
After dinner we had a conversation with two Montenegrin gentlemen stopping there on their way to Cetinje, the capital, one a doctor, the other some official. On learning I was an Englishman they began to pour their troubles into my ears, in the most impassioned language, begging for the protection of England as the only way to save their country from Austria or Italy on the one side, and from Turkey on the other. In vain I pleaded that I was not the Prime Minister, but merely an obscure naturalist with no influence whatsoever; that England had quite enough on her hands without incurring the further jealousy of all the great European powers, who were already jealous enough ; that even if I wrote to the papers, and had my writings accepted, my name would carry no weight at all ; and that the complications of Balkan politics were far beyond my comprehension or the comprehension of anybody who had not given them a life-long study. All this was of no avail ; they still talked and pleaded, sometimes with tears in their eyes, as they spoke of the dreadful barbarities to which they had been subjected. And certainly, though I must have lost a good deal - for they spoke at length in Servian, which had to be translated into French by my interpreter, and my replies in French translated again into Servian- yet I heard enough to sympathize with them even if it was out of my power to help them. I heard tales of peaceful Montenegrin peasants being shot dead while ploughing in their own fields by some bloodthirsty Albanian across the frontier, out of mere sport, and blood-curdling accounts of how their girls and women are constantly seized and carried over the border, never to be seen again by their friends, parents, or husbands, sometimes to be butchered by being knocked on the head with an axe when their captors have tired of them.