All this while time was flying, it was getting on towards the end of April, and in spite of all our efforts no nesting colony of Pelicans had been discovered, and no photographs done. Matters were looking serious, as I had no intention of going home without something to show.
So one evening we got out a large-scale map of the country, in the hope of finding therein some other locality where we might hope to discover them, and held a council of war. As they were not nesting round Durazzo it would be necessary, I declared, to make an expedition into the surrounding country and search there until they were found.
The result was that we decided to take Marco, with a pack-saddle loaded with a few necessaries, including a camera and photographic equipment, and ride southwards for two or three days, searching thoroughly two localities which looked likely.
Accordingly, on the 29th of April, we started off, after a good square meal, in the middle of the day, intending to sleep at the house of a Bey who had often pressed B-to visit him. The village where he lived was on our way, so that it just suited our purpose.
The first part of our journey lay along the shore, where the going was good enough on the firm sand, but after we left that we had the usual experiences of deep mud and extremely bad roads.
In front of some cliffs, about fifty feet in height, were numbers of Kestrels, and a pair of Peregrines, apparently nesting. Presently, after two or three hours' riding, we approached a long, straggling-village, with a villainous road through it paved with irregular stones of all shapes and sizes. Turning off at the end of this we reached our friend's house, and rode through the open gateway into a large courtyard, where we were hospitably welcomed and conducted to the guest-chamber over the gateway.
The Bey is an Albanian, descended from a once powerful and noble family, whose possessions have been much reduced. His grandfather, I was told, used to ride abroad with a 'tail' of 100 mounted and armed retainers ; but either in consequence of having got too big for his boots, or for some act of rebellion, his estates, or the greater part of them, were confiscated, and the present Bey is in consequence much less powerful than his ancestors.
He is not by any means a warlike individual in appearance, but a rotund tub of a man, with a flabby face-just the man you would expect to see from his way of life. He takes no exercise, but spends the whole day smoking cigarettes and drinking raki. He is a Mussulman, and I heard had lately married a second wife, who is extremely jealous, and will not allow him to spend any time with his first wife. As this second wife has a separate establishment the poor man is kept busy running about, and dare not sit up late at night for fear of a scolding. This, of course, was only servants' gossip, which came to our ears through Marco ; for, needless to say, nothing was seen or heard of any of his womenfolk. This was my first visit to a Mohammedan house, and I found it rather awkward, for though Bhad coached me beforehand in the various points of etiquette to be observed, I constantly forgot at the critical moment what to do. I couldn't even get any hints from watching him, for being a stranger I was, in a way, the chief guest, and was always served first. It was decidedly embarrassing, for instance, to be presented by an obsequious manservant with a large brass tray on which were mysterious pots and glasses and spoons. What to do with them I couldn't think. What I did do I don't exactly remember now, but I am perfectly sure it was not what I ought to have done, and what I learned to do later, viz. to take a spoon from a glass containing several, help myself with it to a mouthful of a sweet, sticky conserve of some fruit, and then place the spoon I had used in an empty glass on the other side of the tray put there for that purpose. Then cigarettes and coffee were handed to us as we sat on divans round the room, while B-and our host exchanged compliments, and I tried to look interested in a conversation I couldn't understand. It was settled that we should dine and sleep there ; but I was warned that dinner was likely to be a long time preparing. And it was a long time, finally appearing a little before midnight. We were very hungry, so that when a tray was brought in with various snacks of roast chicken, olives, pine pips, and small trifles of a similar nature, I was glad to help myself with my fingers like the rest, but for some time very sparingly, as I didn't want to spoil my dinner. However, the hours went by, and still the dinner didn't turn up, so that in desperation I made a meal on what was before me. These were washed down with small glasses of raki, a colourless spirit flavoured with aniseed. Our host, though a Mohammedan, drank copiously, until I calculated he must have had at least twenty-five glasses, and when the dinner finally appeared he was in a jovial mood. The piece de resistance came first in the shape of a lamb roasted whole. This alone was sufficient to account for the delay, as no doubt the beast was alive when we rode up, and had to be killed and cooked. It was certainly cooked to perfection, and our host had no difficulty in pulling it to pieces with his hands. B- on these occasions has Marco to help to wait, besides the servants of the house, and travels provided with plates and knives and forks in case these necessary articles, from our point of view, should be omitted. I had some difficulty in getting through my first liberal help, especially as Humdy Bey kept putting fresh pieces on to my plate. Diving into the interior of the lamb he would pull out the kidneys, or some similar morsel, and give it to me in his hand. This is considered a mark of honour; but I could only look forward with apprehension to the succeeding courses, and hope that I should be able to keep going. The last dish was the pilaff, mutton stewed with rice ; but before this appeared nearly a dozen courses, alternately meats and sweets, were served until I was in desperation. Turkish sweets are fearful concoctions-very sweet, very sickly, and very tasteless. The wine was of a special kind, of which the Turks think very highly, made of grapes naturally perfumed. It tastes as if heavily flavoured with scent, and I thought it particularly offensive.
The correct fashion is to eat enormously, and to express repletion audibly in a very disgusting fashion. Our host set the example, but we, his guests, were unable to follow suit as we should have done, and were no doubt considered very degenerate and ill-bred in consequence.
It was a great relief when the meal was at last finished, long past midnight, and we were left alone. Marco and the servants had cleared away the table and spread for us on the floor two mattresses and gorgeously-coloured coverlets of flowered silk, on which we slept comfortably the sleep of utter satisfaction.
Early in the morning-too early for me, for I would gladly have had another hour or two-we were roused by Marco bringing water and towels, and an indiarubber collapsible basin. This was another indispensable article always carried, and I found it so necessary that on B-leaving Albania for the United States, I bought it from him. You can't wash yourself at all satisfactorily, Turkish fashion, by having a little water poured over your hands out of a brass teapot over a shallow brass tray.
After breakfast we started off again under the guidance of two Albanian retainers of the Bey, lean, wild-looking mountaineers mounted on rough, shaggy horses, each man carrying a Martini slung over his shoulder.
All day we rode, sometimes over hills covered with brushwood, sometimes ploughing through treacherous bogs. Once we stopped for a half-hours rest and a cup of coffee at a small han, or Turkish inn. Here I was amused at seeing two buffaloes resting from their labours after ploughing, submerged in a small but muddy pond, while their owner plastered them liberally with wet mud scooped up with his hands. This was, of course, to protect them from insects.
On the way we put up, from a dead and putrid cow, two Sea Eagles and two Egyptian Vultures, the first I had seen in these regions. I should have much liked to wait for their return, but it was too far from anywhere to be worth while. Besides, we were now too large a party, and it didn't seem practicable to stop the whole cavalcade for a doubtful chance of a photograph. Presently we found we were approaching the large lake, which was one of the objects of the expedition to explore, but on the wrong side. The guides had mistaken the direction, and appeared to be in some doubt as to our whereabouts. Finally, after a look at the map, we took charge ourselves, and they had to follow us, which they did at a distance and very unwillingly. The ground was very boggy, even for Albania, and the going was the worst I had ever experienced. Sometimes it proved impossible to proceed, and we had to try another way round ; but after struggling for a couple of hours, and crossing with great difficulty a narrow but very deep stream, we finally found ourselves in the right direction on the right side of the lake.