Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

earlier years, which he had passed almost exclusively among natives. He described his adventures with great vividness and picturesqueness and humour, and their delight and interest and wonder was once more--I can find no other word--touching in its

-I spontaneity and simplicity. They were especially aghast over the “hardships” he had obviously undergone, taking not into account any glamour of adventure, or danger or freedom which made such hardships seem as nought in the recollection.

““ Think of what these poor fellows eat and drink---of the beds they sleep on-the discipline—the dead monotony,” said Tremaine to me afterwards. “Good Lord! And to think my life in the jungle horrified them!”

But we agreed that the naïve expressions of surprise and enjoyment which, through Brother David and the guest-master, reached our ears, suggested that this "recreation ” must have been exceptionally lively, and Tremaine said he had heard that this half-hour of ordered enjoyment is usually abhorred by its victims.

* After Benediction, as a series of sermons for men is being preached by one of the monks, I stayed to listen, but Tremaine escaped ; and when I went up to my little room I saw him once more wandering with his brother in the grounds, smoking his eternal pipe.

'He is going to-morrow and I expect I shall miss him. His is a unique personality. Strong and energetic beyond the average, with a vitality I have never seen equalled. The intensity of enjoyment with which he talks, or listens to anything that interests him ; the diversity of his interests ; literature, nature, history, psychology, politics, sport, theology-nothing comes amiss to his omnivorous mind; he appears to me equally absorbed, whether he is engaged in reading, talking, saying his prayers, taking photographs, or eating his meals with an appetite I never saw excelled. The quality most striking about him is his abnormal power of concentration. I am minded to take our honeymoon trip to his residency at Banat, for the mere pleasure of pursuing this acquaintance, which has to-night, as we walked and smoked after supper, advanced across the border and touched friendship.

'There is some quality in him of enthusiasm which has outlived all the chances and changes and doubtless the disappointments of his seven-and-thirty years. Yet he must have learnt early all that isolation and responsibility can teach. But dear old Bernard himself is not more simple at heart than this man, with all his experience and ripe wisdom.

a

'I wish he were not going away to-morrow, but he said frankly that he couldn't bear the parting from his wife any longer. He showed me her miniature on his dressing-table with all the pride of a lover. Yet they have been married ten years.

““That's Kit,” he said, and did not attempt to hide his delight when I exclaimed with truth that I had never seen a more charming face.

' It was that of a young girl, with bright wistful eyes, and curly dark hair, and a rather timid smile.

““ It was taken just after we married, when she was one-andtwenty. But she hasn't changed a bit,” he said simply; and something told me that in the faithful eyes of that large and loyal soul, she would never change .

' Oh, my little love—why didn't you choose a lover more worthy of you than a useless, loafing, aimless lounger in the ways of life? When I meet a man cast in the heroic mould of a fellow like Tremaine, do you think I can't see the difference?-ay, and feel it bitterly. I look on at us both, as it were, from the outside -and compare us.

* But you have chosen me, and I love you ; and if I dared, I would comfort you by saying that your wish has never been nearer its fulfilment than now; for a chance word from this man's mouth has moved me more than all the arguments. He has upon me an extraordinarily inspiring and vivifying effect, so that it is my disillusions which seem to vanish in his presence ... but tomorrow when he is gone, I may be in another mood; I know myself. Don't count on anything. .. We have not touched on the subject of religion until to-night, when the semi-darkness and the growing attraction, which, I may frankly say, exists between us, induced an exchange of confidences.

'I asked him, diffidently, whether he were happy about his brother; and he said, with emphasis and that decision which arises from a habit of clear thought and purpose :

"“ Absolutely. His faith is strong, and free from any manner of doubt."

One would say from his face that he had such freshness and vitality ; such exuberance of spirits, and unbounded capacity for enjoyment."

“Yes. That's why he distrusts himself. He distrusts himself to a quite extraordinary extent. He believes his will-power to be infinitely weaker than his passions, and has therefore deliberately put himself into harness to be driven by a stronger will than his

[ocr errors]

own. He has thrown himself into this life with his characteristic ardour.”

His content is obvious." ““It's more than content. It's happiness," said Tremaine. “I never saw the old fellow so thoroughly happy.”

You could not have chosen such a life for yourself?”

He agreed heartily. ““ It's not at all in my line.”

'I only ventured on one more word, and indeed we had no more time, for the clock was chiming in readiness to strike the half-hour after nine which sends us all meekly to our respective

[ocr errors]

rooms.

[ocr errors]

““ Then do you think that a man, conscious of many human weaknesses and a weak will, of a mental capacity by no means above the average, and with no claim to the possession of any spiritual perception of his own, would be justified in submitting his judgment blindly to the guidance of those whose lives are purer, whose wills are stronger, and whose perceptions are clearer than his own; that he may accept their faith and be guided by it, even though he does not understand, nor even share that faith?”

He paused.

"“I think,” he said slowly," that as a sick man, consulting a doctor, takes his advice as a rule, blindly; so such a man as you describe may accept the teaching of the combined wisdom of his betters, as likely to be superior to any theory he could evolve for himself. Our people, you know, think it as absurd for each individual to think out his religion for himself, as it would be for a layman to instruct a physician-or any other expert. The Church claims to be an expert on a certain subject, to put it baldly."

““ And if one accepts the teaching of that Church—and just does the minimum she asks—is that sufficient ?'

He turned on me with a curious light in his blue eyes.

"“You won't find yourself doing that. It is everything-or nothing,” he said.

* We bade each other good-night, and I came to my little room here, not to sleep, but to write to you, my darling. . . . How little of a man-what a poor moth you must think me-hovering, hovering, never settling. Or let us go back to the hermit's old simile, the chameleon reflecting, truly perhaps for the moment, the colour of his surroundings

(To be continued.)

6

WHERE THERE WAS PEACE IN THE BALKANS.

PODGORITZA, where not a man, woman, or child has had a thought beyond fighting of late, was a peaceful country town when I was there, a few years ago. It was the only town, indeed, in the whole Balkan region, where Mahommedans, Roman Catholics, and the Orthodox were on terms of real good-fellowship, where they could all meet together and talk, without any fear of a fight. Under the trees before the hotel where I was staying, Turkish officers and Montenegrin functionaries would sit side by side of an evening, drinking coffee together in the most friendly fashion; while Albanians walked up and down exchanging with them, on appropriate occasions, gravely courteous greetings. Even the Governor would be there sometimes, talking just as readily to Turks or Albanians as to Montenegrins. For, frontier town though it were, with aliens who were hungry as well as rapacious at its very door, there was all-round peace and good will in Podgoritza in those days, prosperity too. One had only to look at the faces of its people to know that all was going well with them, that the little factories they had started were thriving. Yet, until 1879, when the Great Powers made a present of the town to Montenegro, it was the veriest desolation of desolations : there was great poverty there, endless strife, fanaticism running riot, with weeping and wailing in its train.

We are the only nation who know how to manage Albanians and Turks,' the Montenegrins are wont to say; and that this is no vain boast, Podgoritza, when I was there, was strong proof. 4. Not only was there at that time no animosity among the diverse races that dwelt in and around the town, but what rivalry there was was of an eminently friendly, wholesome kind. There were three municipal schools there, one for the Orthodox children, one for the Roman Catholic, and one for the Mahommedan; and each of the three school directors was striving heart and soul, according to his lights, to make his special school the model school for the whole district. The result was the Orthodox school was extremely good, and so was the Roman Catholic, while the Mahommedan would have been good had its director had a free hand. Unfortunately, tradition ordains that the Koran must have the lion's share of every boy's time; and reading, writing and arithmetic must be the remlings,' VOL. XXXV.-NO. 200, N.S.

11

a fact that handicaps seriously even the cleverest of the Mahommedan boys. The little Montenegrins answered almost every question I asked them, answered it without hesitation and intelligently, as a rule. Never before had I come across children quite so quick-witted as they were, so mentally alert; never before, children who had so many ideas in their little heads, or who cherished such lofty ambitions. Why, every boy among them seemed firmly convinced that he was destined to play a great rôle in the world, for the honour and glory of Montenegro. My only fear with regard to them was lest their exalted notions should stand in the way of their earning their daily bread.

The Turkish schoolboys were less alert than their Montenegrin comrades; but, judging by their faces, they were not one whit less intelligent—their teacher assured me, indeed, that they were much more intelligent. They, however, had none of their comrades' hopefulness, none of their soaring ambitions, their belief in themselves. On the contrary, there was a world of sadness in their great dark eyes, of depression in the solemn dignity of their bearing. Never a laugh was heard in their playground : even there they seemed to take life with quite unnatural seriousness, as if haunted by the thought that nothing but sorrow lay before them. Not so their sisters. A more cheery, light-hearted little company I never saw than that I found in the girls' school at Podgoritza. Some thirty little maidens, all smiles and dimples, were sitting in a semicircle on the floor when I arrived. They were all barefoot, and they were all nursing tenderly their pretty little toes. Face to face with them, also on the floor, was an old priest who was expounding to them the whole duty of woman according to the Koran, the whole duty of woman, being, so far as I could make out, to render man happy. He might just as well have expounded it to the winds, however, for any heed these little butterflies paid to his teaching. They chuckled and laughed and cast coquettish glances around, la joie de vivre personified.

The old priest seemed depressed. The teaching of female children is weary, weary work,' he informed me, with a mournful sigh.

Even in the prison at Podgoritza, all-round peace and goodwill prevailed, I found, prisoners and jailers being evidently on the best of terms. The jailers demeaned themselves, indeed, as if their special work in life was to make the prisoners comfortable. I once told a Montenegrin state official that there was no punish

a

[ocr errors]
« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »