From here we were joined by a Turk, who was also going part of the way to Scutari, and we were glad of his company, for he knew the way, and none of us did. There were now no, roads which could be recognized as such. Sometimes we splashed between high banks through what was either a submerged road or a river-bed, I am not quite sure which ; and at other times we rode over boggy ploughed fields covered with maize stubble, forcing our way through hedges and over ditches. Several times we had to turn back and make long detours owing to deep water in front. One deep river we crossed with some difficulty, my horse almost swimming. One of the pack-horses was just behind me-the same beast which had fallen before. Midway I heard a cry, and, turning my head, saw the pack-horse roll completely over and disappear under water. My luggage and the rider were also completely submerged. I had to ride back and help to cut loose the luggage, and repack it in mid-stream. Everything was of course completely saturated.
These are events of everyday occurrence when travelling in Albania, with the chance of being held up by brigands, or shot at by some fanatic, thrown in. The conditions are about equal to those met with in travelling in Central Africa, without the chance of seeing any big game.
However, everything comes to an end at last, and we were not sorry when we reached the outskirts of Scutari, though our troubles were by no means over. A long and very shaky wooden bridge over the river had to be crossed. We all dismounted for this, and it certainly looked so rickety that I should not have been surprised if the whole structure had collapsed. At the guard-house at the end we were stopped and our passports examined, but of course there was nobody there able to read, so a sentry was sent with us through the town in search of an officer. After he was found another search had to be made for an interpreter, and when all this troublesome business was at last settled we had to retrace our steps through the bazaar for our things to be examined at the custom-house.
Our weary horses slipped and stumbled along in a stone-paved gutter full of filth, about a foot wide and nearly a foot deep, between rows of open booths or shops. The light overhead was shut off with crazy roofings, and mattings hung at every angle, while the bystanders jeered and made uncomplimentary and hostile remarks. I had no need to understand the language to perceive the nature of their behaviour, and on asking Djouraschkovitch afterwards he told me it was lucky I could not understand the actual words.
This town of Scutari, or Skodra, used to be the ancient capital of Montenegro, when that warlike little Principality was much larger than it is to-day, for it then included parts of Herzegovina and a part of what is now Albania. But later it was ceded to Venice in return for assistance against the forces of Turkey. Since then it has been taken and retaken many times, and is now a Turkish town of some importance, and the chief town of a province or vilayet. It is without exception the most fanatical town I have ever seen. Murders are of constant occurrence. Quite recently two Christian judges, appointed to try Christian cases, were both shot dead as they sat at a cafe in the street, while the murderer boasted to a police officer of what he had done. No attempt was made to arrest him until Baron B--, who was then Consul, went to the Governor-General and insisted on his arrest, giving information at the same time as to where he was to be found. The house was not visited by the authorities for two days, and only then after they had sent notice to the culprit beforehand. Needless to say there was nobody there to arrest when they did search it.
At the custom-house, by a great bit of good luck, the officer in charge knew Djouraschkovitch, and we had no trouble. At last we were free to find an hotel which had been recommended to me. As soon as we had cleared the bazaar, whose streets were too narrow for wheeled vehicles, we chartered a cab and transhipped all our luggage into it.
Never have I seen such a cab before or since. An open carriage in the very last stage of decrepitude and decay, two groggy-looking horses harnessed with scraps of leather and bits of rope and string, and driven by a dirty individual in a tattered great-coat and a fez. But this ramshackle turn-out must have been stronger than it seemed or it would never have survived one trip through the town. I thought I knew the worst of Albanian roads, but this chief street, the main thoroughfare of one of the most important towns in Albania, was far worse than any road I have ever seen in any part of the world. Several puddles were, without any exaggeration, up to the axles ; and as our Jehu, standing up in his box, urged on his crazy steeds, one terrific bump nearly sent us out headlong into the mud, and did quite send flying one of my portmanteaux. Djouraschkovitch turned quite white, and said he would get out and walk, ' that he didn't like it'; no more did I, but I prevailed on him to sit still; in fact, I held him in his seat. To tell the truth, I wanted him for ballast! Alone, and without his weight to steady the affair, I felt that it would be impossible for me to remain in it for a moment; I should presently be tossed up like a shuttlecock and find myself on my back in a morass.
It was a great relief at last to find ourselves under a decent roof with a good dinner in front of us. The hotel, to my surprise, was really comfortable and homelike. It was kept by a Serb, assisted by his son and daughters. Perhaps compared with hotels in other cities it had its shortcomings ; but considering the state of things outside it was a perfect oasis of comfort. And inside one felt safe, which, to tell the truth, I never once did outside the door. The Hotel de l'Europe in Scutari, in Albania, is quite a pleasant recollection.
One day, hearing a great uproar in the street, I looked out and saw a powerfully-built mountaineer being marched along, firmly held on each side by two men. He was struggling violently and doing his best to get at his revolver. Behind them walked six soldiers with loaded rifles ready to shoot him the moment he should break away. It seemed he had gone into a cafe very drunk, and had started to throw the furniture about and to smash the crockery. On the proprietor objecting to this behaviour he had drawn his revolver and fired at him.