The quest of the Pelican having been brought at last to a successful end, I set to work packing up and making preparations to start for the Dobrudscha to look for the other European Pelican, Pelecanus onocrotalus. But before the steamer arrived by which I expected to travel to Trieste, in order to take the train to Roumania, I received telegraphic instructions to proceed to Scutari in Albania to search for the Great White Heron (Ardea alba).
This is one of the least known among European birds by English naturalists, not so much on account of its rarity in point of numbers, for in places it still exists in more or less abundance ; but these places are invariably very remote and inaccessible. It is also extremely shy, and with good reason. It has suffered persecution all over the world on account of the beautiful plumes which it assumes in the breeding season. These plumes and those of the Little Egret are known to the millinery trade and the fashionable world as Ospreys, and fetch very high prices.
In consequence of this persecution these birds have become exterminated in most countries, and it is only in very remote and out-of-the-way places that they can exist at all. I did not altogether consider Scutari the best place, although I knew that they were to be found there, but my instructions left me no choice in the matter.
Now Scutari is not an easy place to get at, nor is it, when you do reach it, a very desirable place to live in. I could have gone overland from where I was, but it would have taken me four days over very difficult and dangerous country. There is also a small Italian steamer which runs up the Bojana river, when there is sufficient water, and calls at Scutari. But taking all things into consideration I determined to go by steamer to Dulcigno, and from there travel by horse. One reason for this was the hope of being able to procure the services of Djouraschkovitch as interpreter, for after my experience of Albanian towns I was not anxious to arrive at one alone and unable to understand the language.
But engaging Djouraschkovitch was not quite such a simple matter as I had expected. It turned out that he had employment at the Turkish Consulate, and also at the local office-a sort of town hall.
He declared himself unable to leave without procuring a substitute to do his work-and it seemed there was only one man in the place able to do the work. This one man naturally stuck out for his price ; and eventually I had to promise to pay all expenses and Ģi per day.
This matter being at last settled, two horses were engaged for the next day for us to ride, and two more, in charge of two men, as pack-horses to carry the luggage. We had a long and difficult journey in front of us, so an early start was made. After crossing the little ferry an hour beyond the town we struck off to the hills, crossing them in single file by means of a winding track. These tracks in Montenegro, as in Albania, over the mountains are probably nearly as old as the mountains themselves. As our horses toiled upwards in single file I noticed that each horse put its feet into the same place as the one preceding it, and looking more closely, it was evident that the solid, living rock was worn into holes like a rough stairway. What countless generations of men and horses must have passed over these mountains to have thus eaten out a visible path! The rocks, could they but speak, could tell queer tales of rapine, murder, and bloodshed. For thousands of years this country has been the scene of endless fighting, invasions, and marauding forays.
And it is so still. When on the frontier this year, only a few months ago, the ' capitan' of the little village I was in told me that within the last three years thirty men had been shot in his district alone. He described to me how one morning, riding through the forest, he came on five dead bodies lying around a pool of blood. The Albanians of Northern Albania are not only more fanatical and savage than they are in other parts, but the race hatred between them and the Montenegrins is as old as the hills, and is kept at fever heat by constant bickerings and bloodshed.
The frontier is in a constant state of turmoil and unrest, and both sides are ever on the watch. At present the Bojana river and the Lake of Scutari form a boundary between these ancient enemies, but only thirty years ago Turkish territory embraced the strip of coast, and included the town of Dulcigno and the port of Antivari, shutting off Montenegro entirely from the sea.
Travelling here one has to be always armed and ready for emergencies-almost to ride rifle in hand with the finger on the trigger, and across the border a man may be killed for the sake of the cartridges in his bandolier!
We had not proceeded very far before we discovered that one of the pack-horses was not up to the weight he carried. Coming down a steep and stony hillside he nearly fell, and soon afterwards in a narrow lane he stumbled and rolled over, sending the man flying over his head. We were by now riding along the Bojana river, against whose strong current fleets of Turkish craft were sailing towards the town. I knew we should have to cross this river twice, and was told there were bridges. About these, however, I had my doubts, so that when we reached the first crossing I was not surprised to see on the other side a very ancient and crazy-looking ferryboat, but no bridge. They told me that it had been carried away by the winter's floods, but if so it had been swept away so completely that there was not the very slightest trace of it left, and the ferryboat looked as if it had been running since the Deluge.
They do not take the trouble here to make any landing-places for these ferryboats, and embarking horses, especially if they are at all restive, is a difficult and tedious business. However, in due time we did cross, bag and baggage. On the Albanian side we had coffee at the dirty little han-after some bother with the people, who were stupidly suspicious of the money we tendered in payment.