WE LEFT SARAJEVO IN THE EARLY MORNING, PICKING OUR way over the peasants who were sleeping all over the floor of the station. Nothing we believe about peasants in the West is true. We are taught to think of them as stolid, almost physically rooted to the soil, and averse from the artificial. Nothing could be less true, for the peasant loves to travel, and travels more happily by train than on horseback. In old Spain I first remarked it. At the junctions trains used to stand packed as they are in the English Midlands, where there are myriad commercial occasions to set people travelling; but these had nobody in them except peasants who can have had the slenderest material motives to leave their homes. In the account of the Sarajevo trial the mobility of the prisoners and the witnesses is far greater than that of anybody in England below the more prosperous middle classes. Now that the country is self-governing and there are fewer restrictions, every train and motor omnibus is stuffed with people amiable with enjoyment, as if they were going to a Cup Tie, but with no Cup Tie whatsoever in view.
The journey out of Sarajevo is characteristic, leisurely and evasive and lovely. The train starts at the bottom of the bowl in which the city lies, and winds round it and comes out at a nick in the rim. There is a high station at the nick, and there one looks down for the last time on the hundred minarets, the white houses, and the green flames of the poplars. Thereafter the train travels through a Swiss country of alps and pinewoods, with here and there a minaretted village, until it goes into a long wooded gorge, which has one superb moment. Where two rivers meet they thunder down on each side of a great rock that has been sharpened by ages of their force to a razor-edged prow. Sometimes we looked at the scenery and sometimes we slept, and often we listened to Constantine, who throughout our entire journey, which lasted thirteen hours, talked either to us or some of the other passengers. The first time I was in Yugoslavia Constantine took me down to Macedonia so that I could give a broadcast about it, and when we arrived at Skoplie I thought I would have to run away, because he had talked to me the whole time during the journey from Belgrade, which had lasted for twelve hours, and I had felt obliged to listen. Now I know that in conversation Constantine is like a professional tennis-player, who does not expect amateurs to stand up to his mastery for long, who expects to have to play to relays, so sometimes I did not listen to him, until I caught one of the formulas which I know introduce his best stories.
‘When you are in Belgrade,’ said he to my husband, ‘you will meet my wife. My wife she is a German. She was very, very beautiful, and she is of a very old German family, and they did not wish her to marry me, so I rapted her from them in an aeroplane. And for long they would not be good with me, and I was not always very fortunate in the efforts I made to win them. You see, my mother-in-law she is the widow of a Lutheran pastor, and I know well that is a different religion from mine, but I think there are only two Christian religions in Europe, and one is the Orthodox Church and the other is the Roman Catholic Church. Now I know that my mother-in-law is not an Orthodox, for one of the things that disgusts her with me is that I am Orthodox, so it seems to me that to be Lutheran is to be some kind of Catholic. Perhaps a Catholic that lets his pastor be married. So one day my wife and I are staying with my mother-in-law among the mountains, and my mother-in-law and I are having breakfast on the balcony, before my wife has come down, and there is sunshine, and the coffee is so good, and there are many flowers, and I am so happy that I say to myself, “Now is the time to make myself pleasant to the old lady,” so I say to her that I see in the papers that the Pope is ill, and that I am sorry, because I think very well of the Pope, and I give her instances of all the things that have made me think the Pope is a good and wise man. I point to the snow peaks in the distance, and I say that to climb such heights is a great achievement, and so often had done the Pope, for he is a great mountaineer; and from that I pass on to the Papal Edicts, and praise their wisdom and discretion. And my mother-in-law says nothing to me, but that does not surprise me, because often I talk all, and others not at all. But then my wife comes down and my mother-in-law stands up and cries to her, “Look at the savage you have married, that sits there and on such a beautiful morning praises in my very face the Pope, who is the devil!”
‘And from her side the efforts to be friends with me are often not very good, though in time she came to like me. It is so with the white beer. Do you know white beer? It is the last of all that is fade in the world, and it is adored by the petite bourgeoisie in Germany. They go to the beer-gardens in the woods and by the lakes and with their little eyes they look at the beauties of their Germany, and they drink white beer, which is the most silly thing you can drink, for it does not taste of anything and cannot make you drunk. It is just like the life of the petit bourgeois in liquid form, but it is gross in its nothingness, so that some of them who have shame do not like it, and order raspberry syrup to add to it. But there are those who are not ashamed of being fade and they would not spoil it with a flavour, and they order “ein Weisses mit ohne ...” Mit ohne, mit ohne,could you have anything that is better for the soul of the petite bourgeoisie that is asked what it wants and says, “I want it with without.” That is to be lost, to be damned beyond all recovery, and yet there they are very happy, they sit in their beer-gardens and ask for mit ohne. It is altogether delicious, it is one of those discords in the universe that remind us how beautifully God works when He works to be nasty. Once I said this in front of the mother-in-law, and do you know ever after she gives me to drink this horrible white beer. And my wife has tried to tell her she should not do so, and my mother-in-law says, “You are foolish, I have heard him say he likes very much mit ohne,” and my wife she says, “No, you have it wrong, it is the expression mit ohne he likes,” and my mother-in-law says, “How can you say such nonsense, why should he be pleased when people say they will have white beer without raspberry syrup?” And to that there is nothing to be said, so I must drink white beer, though I am a Serb and therefore not a petit bourgeois, but a lord and a peasant.’
We were passing through lumber country, by a river on which we saw the lumbermen steering great rafts of logs over the rapids. ‘Some day you must travel so,’ said Constantine, ‘in the calm places you will hear the men singing so wonderfully.’ We passed through Vishegrad, a lumber town with many stacks of new logs and old houses, with minarets and a wide brown bridge over which there rode on a pack-horse a Moslem who must have been very old, or from the far south, for alone of all Bosnian Moslems I have ever seen he wore the head-dress which preceded the fez among the Turks, the turban. Then I slept a little and woke up in a little town where there was not a minaret, where there was no more trace of Islam than there would be in a Sussex village. We were, in fact, in Serbia. We went and stood on the platform and breathed the air, which was now Serbian air. It is as different from Bosnian air as in Scotland the Lowland air differs from Highland air; it is drier and, as they say of pastry, shorter. Anybody who does not know that it is one pleasure to fill the lungs up at Yaitse or Loch Etive and another to fill them down at Belgrade or the Lammermuir Hills must be one of those creatures with defective sensoria, who cannot tell the difference between one kind of water and another. On the platform a ceremony was going on, for there was travelling on our train an officer, a light-haired boy in his twenties, who had once been in the garrison of this town, and had afterwards been moved south and was returning northward to take up some new and more exalted duty. The people of the town had heard beforehand that he would be passing through and had gathered with their children to congratulate him on his promotion. It could be grasped, chiefly from their cheering when the train arrived and left, that they had liked him very much; but when he was standing in front of them he and they alike were transfixed with shyness, evidently arising from the sense of sacredness of military glory, for from what they said it appeared that he had reached a rank extraordinary for so young a man. He was extremely touching as he stood before them solemn with honour, his compact body whittled down from broad shoulders to a slim waist and lean haunches by discipline and exercise. He had one of those Slav faces that puzzle the Westerner, for he had the stern eyes and brows and cheekbones with which we expect hard, thin lips, but his mouth was full and sensitive. I liked the look of him as he stood there in his neat, olive uniform; I liked the faces of the children lifted to him, tranced by the thought of his austere and defensive destiny. There are better things in life than fighting, but they are better only if their doers could have fought had they chosen.
‘My town is Shabats,’ said Constantine, and I listened, for all his best tales begin with those words. ‘In Shabats we were all of us quite truly people. There were not many people who spoke alike and looked alike as there are in Paris and in London and in Berlin. We were all of us ourselves and different. I think it was that we were all equal and so we could not lift ourselves up by trying to look like a class that was of good repute. We could only be remarkable by following our own qualities to the furthest. So it is in all Serbian towns, so it was most of all in Shabats, because we are a proud town, we have always gone our own way. When old King Peter came to visit Shabats he spoke to a peasant and asked if he did well, and the peasant said he did very well, thanks to the trade in pigs and smuggling. We do not at all care, yet we care much. The peasant would tell the King he smuggled and broke his law, but he would die for the King. In the war we were a very brave town. The French decorated us as they decorated Verdun.
‘I would like to take you to see Shabats. But it is not as it was. I mean I do not know it now. You might not be disappointed by a visit, but I should be, because I should not be able to introduce you to all the people that were there when I was young, and that now are dead. Some of them were so very nice, and so very strange. There was an old man that I was very fond of, yes, and I loved his wife too. He had made something of a fortune out of making Army clothing, and he made it honestly, for he was a good, patriotic man, and did not cheat the poor soldiers. So with his money he could follow his mania, which was for the new thing, for Science, for the machine, for the artificial, the modern. You may not remember it, for I think it came earlier with you than with us, but there was some time ago a rage for such things. It was partly due to your H. G. Wells and his imitators, and it was partly due to our ideas about America, which we then believed to be entirely covered with sky-scrapers and factories. I had it myself a little, which is how I became friendly with the old man, for I spoke of such things before him and after that he used to send for me sometimes to come to his home and eat, because he had been to Belgrade, or Novi Sad, and had brought back a tin of vegetables or fruit, so I used to sit down with him and his wife in the midst of the country which grows the best fruit and vegetables in the world and we used to smack our lips over some pulpy asparagus and turnipy peaches from California, and talk of the way the world was going to be saved when we all lived in underground cities and ate preserved food and had babies artificially germinated in tanks and lived for ever.
‘I was only a boy then and I grew out of it, but the old man was firm in the faith, and his wife, who, I think, never believed in it at all but who loved him very dearly, followed him. I have said he was very rich, and so he was able to have the first sewing-machine in our town, and then the first gramophone, and then the first motor car, which, as we then had no roads for motoring, was of no use to him, but sent him into ecstasy. But there were many other objects on which he gratified his passion, far more than you would believe. His house was full of them. He had many very odd clocks; one I remember very well, the dial of which was quite hidden, which told the time only by throwing figures of light on the ceiling, which was all very well in the dark, but cannot have been much use to my friends, who always went to bed early and slept like dogs till the sunrise. He also fitted his house with a water-closet, which he was always changing for a newer pattern. Some of these water-closets were very strange, and I have never in my life seen anything like them since, and I cannot imagine what ideas were in the inventors’ minds. In some kinds one had to go so and so, and why in a water-closet should one go so and so? Surely that is the one place in the world where a man knows quite simply what he has to do. The clothes of my friends were very strange also. He would not wear peasant costume, of course, but as soon as he had adopted Western costume, he rebelled against that also, and he had ties that fastened with snappers and trousers that were made in one with a waistcoat. But he was worse about his wife’s dress. He made her wear knickerbockers under her skirts which our women used not to do, and which for some reason shocked them. Trousers they knew from the Turks, and skirts they knew, but trousers under the skirts, that they thought not decent. And when he heard of brassieres, those too he sent for, and made his wife wear them, and as she was an old peasant woman, very stout, they had to be enormously enlarged, and even then they remained clearly to be seen, never quite accommodated to her person. And he was so proud of having everything modern that he could not help telling people that she was like an American woman, and was wearing knickerbockers and brassieres, and then the poor thing grew scarlet and suffered very terribly, for our women are modest. But she endured it all, for she loved him very much.
‘I know how she loved him, for I became involved in her heart. You know that young men are very callous, and when I had got out of my boyhood it no longer seemed to be glorious to eat tinned vegetables, and I laughed at my old friend behind my hand. When I came from Paris after my first year at the Sorbonne, I went to see them and out of wickedness I began to tell them preposterous stories of new machines which did not really exist. Some of them might have existed, indeed some of them have come to exist since then. I remember I told them an American had discovered a system by which houses and trains were always kept at the same temperature, no matter what the weather is like outside. It is air-conditioning, it is now quite true, but then it was a lie. And I went on so, telling more and more absurd stories, until I said, “And of course I was forgetting, there is the artificial woman that was invented by the celebrated surgeon Dr. Martel. That is quite wonderful.” And my old friend said to me, “An artificial woman? What is that? A woman that is artificial! For God’s sake! Tell us all about it!” So I went on and on, telling many things that were not at all true, and that were not honest, and my friend listened with his eyes growing great, and then I looked at his wife and her eyes were great too, and they were full of pain. Then my old friend said to me, “But you must get me one, you must get me an artificial woman!” He could afford all, you see, and I realized she had known that he was going to say that, and that she was terribly sad, because she knew that she was his real wife and that she would not be able to keep him from an artificial mistress. So I said it was not ready yet, that Dr. Martel was working on it to improve it, and that it could not be bought, and then I sweated hard to tell him something that would make him forget it, and drank more plum brandy, and I pretended to be drunk. But before I left he came round to my house and he told me to bring him back an artificial woman, that he did not care at all how much it cost, and that he would sell all he had to be possessed of such a marvel.
‘So it was every time I came back from Paris on my holidays. I would go to their house and he would talk of other things for a time, but only as a little boy who has been well brought up, and knows that he must talk to the uncle for a little while before he asks, “And did you not forget my toy train?” But sooner or later he would say, “Now about the artificial woman. Is she ready yet?” And I would shake my head and say, “No, she is not yet ready.” Then I would see his wife’s face grow so happy and young and soft. She had him a little longer. Then I would explain that Dr. Martel was a very conscientious man, and a very great surgeon, and that such men like to work very slowly and perfectly. And then I would put my hand up so that she would not hear, and I would tell him some story that would not be very decent, of how the artificial woman had broken down under experiment, but the old man would listen with his eyes right out of his head, and she would go away to the kitchen and she would fetch me the best of her best, some special preserve or a piece of sucking-pig that she had meant to keep for the priest, because I said that the artificial woman was not yet ready. And I saw that she was getting very fond of me, like a mother for her son, and I grieved, for I did not like to have brought this sorrow to her by a silly joke. I felt very ashamed when she came to see me at a time when the cold wind had made me bad with my lungs, and it was as if I should go like my sister, who had died when she was sixteen, and I said to her, “Aunt, you are too good to me. I have done nothing for you,” and she answered with tears in her eyes, “But you have been as good to me as a son. Do you think I am so simple that I do not know the artificial woman must long ago be finished, with such a clever man as you say working on it? You tell my husband that it is not so only because you know that I could not bear to have such a creature in my house.” There was nothing at all that I could say. I could not confess to her that I had been a monkey without making it plain to her that her husband had been an ass. As many people in the town laughed at him, and she was more aware of it than he was and hated them on his account, I could not admit that I had been of their party, she would have felt betrayed. So I could do nothing but kiss her hand and tell her that always, always I would protect her heart from the artificial woman.
‘The last year of my studies was the last year before the war, and then I did not come back for my holidays at all, I was studying too hard philosophy under Bergson and the piano under Wanda Landowska, and then for years I was a soldier and all people were swept away, and it did not seem to matter to ask how or where they were. So it was not till years after that I heard what had happened to my two old friends. It is a terrible story to me, not only because I had a sort of love for them, but because it is typical of us Slavs. We are a light people, full of légèreté till it becomes heavy as lead, and then we jump into the river for no reason, and if our légèreté had not grown heavy as lead one would say for the sake of sport, but that has altered the case. Do you remember, no, we none of us can remember it, but we all have read of it, that at the end of the century people believed that something had happened to humanity and that we were all decadent and that we were all going to commit suicide? Fin de siècle, the very phrase means that. Everything takes a long time to reach this country and this talk arrived here very late, in 1913, and in the meantime it had been translated into German and it had become heavy, and morbid, and to be feared. It came to this poor silly old man and he learned that the most modern thing to do was to kill yourself, and so he did it. He became very melancholy for a time, working at it as other old men work at learning chess, and then went into his stable and hanged himself, to be modern, to have an artificial death instead of a natural. I think he was probably sure that there was immortality, for though he believed he was a freethinker I do not believe it ever crossed his mind that he would not live after death. And soon after his wife also hanged herself, but I do not think there was anything modern about her reasons, they could not have been more ancient. In Shabats many strange things happened, very many strange things indeed, but I think that of all of them not nothing was not never more sad.’
I slept, and woke up into a world of mirrors. They stretched away on each side of the railway, the hedges breathing on them with their narrow images. We were passing through the floods that every year afflict the basin of the Danube and its tributaries, and to me, who love water and in my heart cannot believe that many waters can be anything but pleasure heaped upon pleasure, there came a period of time, perhaps twenty minutes or half an hour, of pure delight. During this period I remained half asleep, sometimes seeing these floods before me quite clearly yet with an entranced eye that was not reminded by them of anything I had learned of death and devastation since my infancy, sometimes falling back into sleep and retaining the scene before my mind’s eye with the added fantasy and unnameable significance of landscapes admired in dreams. The scene was in fact if not actually unearthly, at least unfamiliar, in aspect, because of the peculiar quality of the twilight. Light was leaving the land, but not clarity. For some reason, perhaps because there was a moon shining where we could not see it, the flooded fields continued to reflect their hedges and any height and village on their edge as clearly as when it had been full day; and though the dusk was heavier each time I opened my eyes I could still see a band of tender blue flowers which grew beside the railway. By mere reiteration of their beauty these flowers achieved a meaning beyond it and more profound, which, at any rate when I was asleep, seemed to be immensely important though quite undefined and undefinable, like the sense of revelation effected by certain refrains in English poetry, such as ‘the bailey beareth the bell away.’
But presently the floods were blotted out from me, as thoroughly as if a vast hand had stretched from the sky and scattered earth on the waters till first they were mud and then land. Then Constantine came back into the compartment after an absence I had not noted, his face purplish, his black eyes hot and wet, his hands and his voice and his bobbing black curls lodging a complaint against fate. He sat down on the feet of my husband, who till then had been asleep, and he said, ‘On this train I have found the girl who was the first real love of my life. She was of my town, she was of Shabats, and we went to school together, and when we grew to the age of such things, which among us Serbs is not late, we were all for one another. And now she is not young any more, she is not beautiful, she has more little lines under her eyes even than you have, but it can be seen that she was very beautiful indeed, and that she is still very fine, very fine in the way that our women sometimes are, in the way that my mother is fine, very good for her husband, very good for her children, and something strong beyond. You know my mother was a very great pianist. It seems to me it would have been very well for me if I had made this girl my wife before the war and had come back to her, for I had terrible times when I came back from the war and it would have been good if I had had a grand woman like this to stand by me. But she would not have me; though we had been sweethearts for two years I knew that when I left Shabats to go to the Sorbonne she was glad to see that I am going, and all the way to Paris I was glad that it looked very well and as it should be, and I the man was leaving her the woman and going to a far place and having new adventures, because I knew that was how it was not and that she was tired of me. Never did I write to her because I was afraid she would not answer.
‘But now when I saw her here on the train I knew that it was a pity it was so, and I said to her, “Why did you treat me so? When I was young I was very handsome and my father was very rich and already you knew I was a poet and would be a great man, for always I was a Wunderkind, but you did not want me, though I think that once you loved me. What had you?” At first she would not tell me, but I asked her for a long time, and then she said, “Well, if you trouble me so for so long a time, I will tell you. There is too much of you! You talk more than anybody else, when you play the piano it is more than when any other person plays the piano, when you love it is more than anybody else can make, it is all too much, too much, too much!” Now, that I cannot understand. I talk interesting things, for I have seen many interesting things, not one man in a hundred has seen so many interesting things, your husband has not seen so many interesting things. And I play the piano very well, also when I love with great delicacy of heart, and in passion I am a great experience for any woman. And you must ask my dear wife if I am not a kind man to my family, if I do not do all for my little sons. Now, all these things are good things, how can I do them too much? And I am sure that at first she loved me, and when she saw me here in this train she was so glad to see me that her eyes shone in ecstasy. Why then did she become weary and let me go to Paris with all things finished between us? Why does she now become cross and tell me there is too much of me? Why have I so many enemies, when I would only do what is good with people, and when I would ask nothing but to be gentle and happy? I will go back and ask her, for she cannot have meant just what she said, for it was not sensible, and she is a very fine sensible woman.’
When he had gone my husband sighed, and said, ‘Good old Constantine. Now in all my life I have never got on a train and met a woman I used to love. Indeed, the nearest I have ever come to it was once going down to Norfolk when I met my old matron at Uppingham. That was indeed quite agreeable. But really, I prefer it that way. It seems to me that the proper place for the beloved is the terminus, not the train.’ ‘I am, however, travelling with you on this occasion,’ I reminded him. ‘Yes, my dear, so you are,’ he said, closing his eyes.
I myself slept after a time; and when I awoke he was still asleep and it was night, and a conductor was telling me that we were near Belgrade. We packed our books and collected our baggage and went to look for Constantine. He had fallen asleep in the corner of another compartment, and was now sitting half awake, running his hand through his tight black curls and smiling up at the lamp in the roof. There was no sign of the first woman he had ever loved, and he said, ‘As I woke up I thought of a beautiful thing that happened to me when I was a student in Paris. Bergson had spoken in one of his lectures of Pico della Mirandola who was a great philosopher in the Renaissance but now he is very hidden. I do not suppose you will ever have heard of him because you are a banker, and your wife naturally not. He did not say we must read him, he just spoke of him in one little phrase, as if he had turned a diamond ring on his finger. But the next morning I went to the library of the Sorbonne and I found this book and I was sitting reading it, and Bergson came to work in the library, as he did very often, and he passed by me, and he bent down to see what book I had. And when he saw what it was he smiled and laid his hand so on my head. So, I will show you.’ Passing his plump hand over his tight black curls, he achieved a gesture of real beauty. ‘That happened to me, nothing can take it away from me. I am a poor man, I have many enemies, but I was in Paris at that time, which was an impossible glory, and so Bergson did to me.’ He sat with his heels resting on the floor and his toes turned up, and his black eyes winking and twinkling. He was indestructibly, eternally happy.
The railway station at Belgrade is like any big railway station anywhere. It was odd to step back from a world where everything had its strong local flavour into scenes which were familiar precisely because they were so flavourless, so international in the pejorative sense of the word. In the colourless light descending its vaults there waited Constantine’s wife, Gerda, a stout middle-aged woman, typically German in appearance, with fair hair abundant but formless, and grey eyes so light and clear that they looked almost blind, vacant niches made to house enthusiasms. She wore a grey coat and skirt and a small hat of German fashion, and among the dark hurrying people she stood as if drawing contentment from her own character, from her advantageous difference. When we got out of the train Constantine ran to her and hugged her, and she smiled over his shoulder at us in resigned amusement. Then she greeted me, and my husband was introduced to her, and it might have been a tea-party in Hamburg or Berlin, with the same proud stress on a note which nobody not German can define. It is not magnificence; the slightest touch of the grand manner would be regarded as absurd. It is not simplicity; massive elaboration is required in furniture, in dress, in food. It is not the moderation of the French bourgeoise, for that is based on craftsmanship, on a sense that to handle material satisfactorily one must keep one’s wits about one and work coolly and steadily; these people at such tea-parties have no sense of dedication to the practical and financial problems of a household, they have an air of regarding it as an ideal that by handsome expenditure they should buy the right to be waited upon. Yet there is nothing wild, nothing extreme, about them or Gerda, only aims that are respected by the mass, such as continuity and sobriety. There is a positive element, even impressive in its positiveness, that welds these negatives into a dynamic whole; but I have no idea what it is.
We stood still together while Constantine and my husband looked for a lost suitcase, in an amiable yet uneasy silence. She took my book from my hand, looked at the title, and handed it back to me with a little shake of the head and a smile, full of compassionate contempt. It was a book called The Healing Ritual, by Patience Kemp, a study of the folk-medicine of the Balkan Slavs, which traced the prescriptions and practices it described back to early Christianity, to pre-Christian mythology, and to the culture of Byzantium and Greece and the Orient. Puzzled by Gerda’s expression, for it seemed to me a most admirable book, I asked, ‘Have you read it?’ ‘No,’ she said, smiling and shaking her head again, ‘but I do not believe it. I am not a Mystik.’ ‘But it is not that sort of book at all,’ I said, ‘it is by a graduate of the School of Slavonic Studies, who is also a trained anthropologist, and she has travelled all over the country collecting legends and customs and analysing them.’ Gerda continued to smile, bathed in satisfaction at the thought of her superiority to Miss Kemp in her poetic fantasy, to me in my credulity. ‘But it is a work of great learning,’ I insisted. Miss.Kemp could obviously look after herself and I did not care what Gerda thought of my intelligence, but there seemed to me something against nature in judging a book without having read it and in sticking to that judgment in spite of positive assurances from someone who had read it. ‘It is published by a firm called Faber,’ I continued; ‘they do not publish books such as you imagine this to be.’ She turned away so that she stood at right angles to me, her smile soared up above us: I could see her spirit, buoyed up by a sense of the folly of myself, of Miss Kemp, of Messrs. Faber, mounting and expanding till it filled the high vaults of the railway station. Unconstrained by any sense of reality, there was no reason why it should not.
When we were having breakfast in our bedroom a chambermaid came in about some business, one of those pale women with dark hair who even in daylight look as if one were seeing them by moonlight, and we recognized each other and talked affectionately. It was Angela, a Slovene, who had been very kind to me when I was ill in this hotel with dengue fever last year. She was the gentlest and sweetest of women and for that reason had developed a most peculiar form of hysteria. Perhaps because of her experience as a tiny child in the war she was a true xenophobe, she could not imagine anything more disgusting than a member of another race than her own. But she did not like to feel anything but love for her fellow-creatures, so she transformed her loathing for them into a belief that they exude powerful and most unpleasant odours. This belief made her life as a chambermaid an extraordinary olfactory adventure, for to this hotel there came people of all nationalities. She staggered from room to room on her round of duties, almost in need of a gas-mask when she came to making the beds. Her political convictions led her to think very poorly of the Bulgarians, the Italians, and the Greeks, and therefore it appeared to her that these people smelt like manure-heaps, like the area round a gasometer, like a tanner’s yard. Particularly was this so with the Greeks. When she spoke of her daily work in the suite then occupied by a wealthy young Greek merchant her face assumed a look of poignant physical apprehension, as if she were a miner talking of the firedamp which might provoke a disaster. The Hungarians seemed to her to have a strong smell, which, however, was not unpleasant, only extremely different from the smell a human being ought to exhale. But the Germans and Austrians were definitely very gross in her nostrils, and the French smelt wicked and puzzling, as I imagine a chemist’s shop might to a country woman who knew the uses of hardly any of the articles it exhibited.
About the natives of countries more remote she knew less, so she smelt less, and about such people as the Swedes and Finns her nose invented what were to full odours as suspicions are to certainties. To test her, I told her that I was not truly English, but half Scottish and half Anglo-Irish. This distracted her, because she had never heard of the Scottish or Irish, and while she was won to Scotland by my explanation of the resemblance between the Scottish and the Bosnians, it rightly seemed to her that to be Anglo-Irish was to be like an Austrian or Hungarian landowner among the Slovenes or Croats, or to be a Turkish landowner among the conquered Slavs. She would cry out as she made my bed, ‘I have it, I know what you smell like,’ and it would always be something valuable but ambiguous, not universally appreciated, such as some unusual herb, some rarely used kind of wood. But there would be some strain of pleasantness in the comparison, due to her belief that the Scottish resembled the Bosnians. And no matter how I and other borderline cases smelt, her toil was not repellent, since the foul miasma given out by the foreign guests of the hotel was exorcized and exquisitely replaced by the fragrance, stronger than that of rosery or herb garden because it was imaginary, which hung about the rooms occupied by Croats, Serbs, and Slovenes.
‘I feel happier about your illness now that I have been here and seen that the hotel is very good, and that the people are so very friendly,’ said my husband, ‘but it looked terrible when I read in the papers before I had got your letter that you were ill in a hotel in Belgrade. I thought of Belgrade then as the Viennese talk of it, as the end of the earth, a barbarian village.’ ‘I am sorry I tried to keep it from you,’ I said, ‘but after all I too had a shock when I read of my illness in the paper. For it said that I was in the care of two doctors: but there were three gentlemen coming in every day and baring my bosom and laying their heads against my heart, and I had hoped they were all members of the medical profession. On the whole I have never been more happily ill than I was here. When my temperature was very high and I really felt wretched, Angela and two other chambermaids and a waiter came and stood at the end of my bed and cried nearly the whole afternoon. Also my nurse cried a lot. I liked it enormously.’ ‘But you always say you hate scenes,’ said my husband. ‘So I do, when I am well, there are so many other things to do,’ I answered; ‘but when I am ill it is the only incident that can cheer and reach me under the blankets. And really it is sensible to show emotion at serious illness. Death is a tragedy. It may be transmuted to something else the next minute, but till then it is a divorce from the sun and the spring. I also maintain that it would have been a tragedy for myself and for a few other people if I died in my early forties, so it was quite logical for susceptible people to burst into tears at such a prospect and neglect the bells that their more robust clients were pressing. I am quite sure that it must be more exhilarating to die in a cottage full of people bewailing the prospect of losing one and the pathos of one’s destruction than to lie in a nursing-home with everybody pretending that the most sensational moment of one’s life is not happening.’
‘I see that,’ said my husband, ‘but you must remember that if people behaved like that they would not be able to bear the strain of patiently nursing the victims of long illness.’ ‘That is what is called taking the long view,’ I said, ‘and I do not believe it is so superior to the short view as is supposed. I remember once going a walk in Greece with two Englishwomen, one of them the enchanting Dilys Powell, to see a marble lion that lies somewhere near the foot of Mount Hymettus, when from a long way off we had seen some peasants about their business of repainting and cleaning a little church that had been erected to commemorate the feat of a Christian saint, who had turned to marble this lion (which was in fact archaic and many centuries older than any Christian). Suddenly one of their number who was walking away from the church towards a farm stopped in horror, just where the grass grew long at the edge of the road, looked down, and cried out to his companions, who also looked down, and then also cried out. Some went down on their knees on the ground, others ran back to the church and returned carrying things. When we got there we found that the first peasant had stopped because he had come on an old man who had fallen in a faint by the roadside, from hunger and thirst and weariness. He was, as one of the peasants explained to us, one of “those without corn,” a peasant who for some reason has no land and must tramp the country seeking to be employed by others. The English ladies might find it difficult to believe, he said, speaking with embarrassment, that such people existed, since we were from a rich country, but in a poor country like Greece there were some of them. This I found extremely embarrassing. But I forgot that, in my pleasure in the delightful kindness they were showing the old man, the way they were folding coats and cloaks to make a bed for him, and holding up to his mouth bottles of wine and pieces of bread, and crying out what a shame it was that he should have to be wandering on such a day and without food.
‘Then one of my companions said, “Yes, they are like this, very kind to people in trouble at first, but they are like children, they soon get tired. So-and-so of the British colony in Athens was taken ill with fever when he was walking in the mountains, and some peasants took him in and looked after him with extraordinary care for a few days, and then they simply turned him out.’ I felt a jar at that, for it seemed to me that here was a difference between primitive and civilized practice, which was, on the whole, to the advantage of the primitive. For there are more short illnesses than long, at least in circumstances where one is obliged to be dependent on strangers; and sympathy seems to me more necessary for acute pains than for chronic suffering, which gives one time to muster one’s defences. That, indeed, is something about which I feel bitterly. Twice it happened to me, before I married you, that people who were close friends of mine wrote inquiring how I was and what my plans were, and I had to write back to them telling that an extraordinary calamity had befallen me, something almost as extraordinary as that a wicked stepmother had sent me out into the woods in winter with instructions not to come back till I had gathered a basket of wild strawberries, and infinitely agonizing as well. On neither occasion did I receive any answer: and when I met my friends afterwards each told me that she had been so appalled by my news that she had not been able to find adequate words of sympathy, but that I was not to think she was anything but my friend and would be till death. And indeed both women are still my friends. It, however, only gives me a modified pleasure, it presents me with the knowledge that two people know me very well and enjoy my society but are not inspired by that to do anything to save me when I am almost dying of loneliness and misery, and that this unexhilarating relationship is likely to persist during my lifetime. It seems to me it would have been much better for me if I had had someone who would have cried out and said it was a shame that I should be so unhappy, as the peasants did when they found the old man by the roadside.’
My husband said, ‘I wonder. I wonder very much indeed. This has all something to do with economics.’ ‘What on earth?’ I said derisively. ‘I am moved, and your friends were moved, by fear of exceeding emotion,’ he explained, ‘and I believe it is because Western people always regard their emotion exactly as they do their material wealth. Now in a highly artificial capitalist society such as we live in, one’s money comes to one piece by piece, and if one spends it one might not be able to replace it, because the circumstances in which one made it may not be repeated, and in any case it takes a long time to store up capital, so that considering the shortness of life a piece of extravagance may never be corrected. But a peasant’s material wealth comes from the soil; he therefore knows that if he is wasteful one year the summer and autumn will bring him replenishment, and even the hazard of drought and frost and flood does not amount to anything so threatening as the immense discrepancy between capital and income, the enormous amount that has to be saved for a competency. So even a rich and lavish man may be more uneasy in his mind about expenditure than a very poor and economical peasant. And I fancy that therefore all of us in the Western world know an instinct to skimp our emotional expenditure which the peasant has not. It is true therefore that my feeling that Angela and the waiters and the nurses were doing something wrong in crying round your bed has no logical basis at all, and is a stupid transference and confusion.’ ‘Yet there are practical conveniences,’ I said, ‘because in towns we could not cry out and wail and weep as one could in a village. Think how strangers to Paris feel it the most frightening of towns instead of the least, simply because Parisians quarrel and grieve exactly as they would if they were the inhabitants of some hamlet of thirty houses, and the cries echo back from the tall houses and the pavements, exaggerated to the intensity of Hell.’
The telephone rang and my husband answered it. Putting it down, he said, ‘Constantine’s wife is coming up to see us.’ I sat down at the dressing-table and began to powder my face, but my eye was caught by the view from the window. Belgrade straggles over a ridge between the Danube and its tributary the Sava, and the Hotel of the Serbian King is high on that ridge, so between the blocks of the flats and houses on the opposite side of the street I looked at the flat plate of the floods. The waiter who had come to take away our breakfast tray followed the line of my eye and said, ‘Yes, it is unfortunate, you will be able to have no fresh caviare, for while the river is high they cannot get it.’ My husband exclaimed, ‘What, do you get caviare here?’ ‘You had better ask,’ the waiter replied, ‘where else can you get it? It is well known that Serbian caviare is the best in the world.’
When he had gone we rejoiced at this patriotic remark and I at last remembered to show my husband a verse I found quoted in a book by a Serbian author called Mitchitch:
Le ciel serbe est couleur d‘azur
Au dedans est assis un vrai dieu serbe
Entouré des anges serbes aux voix pures
Qui chantent la gloire de leur race superbe.
We were laughing over this when Gerda came in, and we repeated it to her. She smiled and said, ‘So you have got over your liking for the Serbs?’ ‘Not at all,’ I said. ‘But it is stupid to be like that,’ she said, ‘you cannot like people who are stupid.’ ‘Yes, we can,’ said my husband, with an air of quietly asserting our rights.
It did not seem possible to carry on this conversation on fruitful lines, so we spoke of other things; and presently, according to a charming German custom, she rose from her seat and shook hands with me in thanks for a handbag I had sent her from London some time before. Then we showed her some things we had bought in Bosnia, a Persian tile picture of a prince on his white horse, delicately holding out a fruit to a bird that delicately received it with his beak, in the most delicate of landscapes, and my coat of cloth of gold; and it was all very agreeable. We were lifted for a moment into that state of specifically German contentment that I had remarked in Gerda at the station, in which my husband was perfectly at ease, from sheer habit, since he had lived so much in Germany, but in which I am acutely uncomfortable, as I do not understand its basis and I feared I might put my foot through it at any moment. Its basis, on this occasion I think, was a sense that we were a group of the elect, connoisseurs of objects which many people would not at all appreciate, and able at the minute to command leisure for our enjoyment. She looked happy and much younger, and I remembered Constantine’s boasting of her beauty. Suddenly I remembered friendship and how beautiful it is, in a way that is difficult in London or any capital where one suffers from an excess of relationships, and I realized that it was probably a great comfort for this German woman, so far from home, to talk with my husband, whose German is like a German’s and of her own kind, for he learned it in Hamburg and she was of Bremen.
These thoughts made me say, next time there was a pause, ‘It was very pleasant in Sarajevo to see how many friends Constantine had, and how much they loved him.’ But Gerda made no answer. My husband thought she had not heard, and began to enumerate the families and individuals we had met in Bosnia, and the affectionate things they had said of Constantine to us. She remained perfectly impassive, so impassive that it seemed as if she was perhaps hiding some painful emotion; and my husband, afraid lest she had some idea that these friends of Constantine’s were not friendly to her, said, ‘And those who had met you spoke very regretfully because they had not seen more of you.’ He told her truthfully that the Bulbul’s father and mother, who had entertained Gerda at Travnik when Constantine and she came to Bosnia on their honeymoon, had asked after her with a special warmth. Gerda shrugged her shoulders and said, ‘I cannot remember them.’ ‘What a pity!’ I exclaimed, ‘they are such a wonderful pair,’ but before I could say very much about them she interrupted me, by asking coldly and wearily as if I had been talking for a long time about something I should have known would bore her, ‘It is twelve years ago since I saw these people, how can I possibly be interested in them?’ Impatiently she made arrangements that we should visit her for tea that afternoon, and soon after rose and left.
‘I do not understand that,’ said my husband later, as we walked out of the hotel towards the park that lies beside it, the Kalemegdan, which is the special glory of Belgrade and indeed one of the most beautiful parks in the world. ‘Usually a wife or husband is delighted, if only for superficial and worldly reasons, when the other partner has many friends. Unless of course there is hatred between them. Do you think Gerda perhaps really hates Constantine?’ ‘I do not know,’ I said. ‘Constantine thinks that she adores him. She certainly gives you the impression she would adore her husband if she could, and Constantine certainly adores her.’ ‘I have it!’ exclaimed my husband. ‘Most of the people I mentioned were Jews. What an odd, what an allusive thing it is to be a German nowadays.’ ‘It is like asthma,’ I said. ‘Suddenly they begin to strangle spiritually, and you have to remember it is because they are allergic to Jews. But there is more than that to it. She was happy with us, together we formed a group of people who were like the groups who are approved in her own country. Suddenly by talking of Constantine’s friends we deserted the camp and went over to the enemy, we took sides with the Jews and the Slavs who are constantly afflicting her with their strangeness, who make up the bitterness of her exile.’ ‘Yes, but it is a pity she does not fit her emotions better into the framework of society,’ said my husband, ‘for surely she would bring no other accusation against the Jews and the Slavs than that they do not fit into the framework of society. But it does not matter, she is probably a very nice woman and has many good points.’
But now we were in the park, and its charm was separating us from everything outside it, as good parks should do. We went through an area which is common to all parks, no matter where they may be, where nurses watch their children play among lilac bushes and little ponds and the busts of the departed nearly great, whose living prototypes sit beside the nurses on the benches, writing, or reading in books taken out of shiny leather portfolios. Then there is a finely laid-out flower garden, with a tremendous and very beautiful statue to the French who died in Yugoslavia during the Great War, by Mestrovitch, showing a figure bathing in a sea of courage. Many people might like it taken away and replaced by a gentler marble. But the pleasantness of this park is such an innovation that it has hardly earned the right to put all grimness from its gates. For this is the old fortress of Belgrade, which till the end of the Great War knew peace only as a dream.
Ever since there were men in this region this promontory must have meant life to those that held it, death to those that lost it. Its prow juts out between the two great rivers and looks eastward over the great Pannonian Plain (superb words, the flattest I know) that spreads across Hungary towards Central Europe. Behind it is the security of broken country and forest. Here, certainly not to begin at the beginning, the Illyrians made a stand against the Romans and were driven out. Here the Romans made a stand against the Huns and the Avars, and were driven out. Here the Slavs joined the Huns and were oppressed by them, and for a brief space enjoyed peace under the Byzantines, but were submerged by the Hungarians, until war between Byzantium and Hungary brought a victorious Greek army to the foot of this rock. Then the Serbs came, and knew imperial glory under the Nemanya dynasty; here the petty Serbian kings who had failed to uphold that glory made their last stand before the Turks. But the Hungarians, with typical Christian frivolity, claimed it for nearly a hundred years, harrying the Serbs so that they could not beat back the Turkish army. Hence Belgrade fell to Suleiman the Great in 1521. The Hungarians paid their scot five years later, when the Turks beat them at Mohacs and kept them in servitude for a hundred and fifty years. Then the tide turned, the maniac Vizier Kara Mustapha was defeated outside Vienna and brought to this very place to be strangled. Then in 1688 the Austrians swept them out and took the fortress, but lost it two years later, and it was not retaken till Prince Eugène of Savoy came down on it in 1717.
So far the history of Belgrade, like many other passages in the life of Europe, makes one wonder what the human race has lost by its habit of bleeding itself like a mad medieval surgeon. But it may be that not much has been wasted which we miss. Those that are preserved to unfold the buds of their being often produce very repulsive blossoms. In 1739 by a hideously treacherous agreement the Austrians handed Belgrade and its Serb inhabitants to Turkey. This was, however, not such a calamity for the Serbs as appears, for they had been so oppressively governed by the Austrians that many had already fled into Turkish territory, though the treatment they received there could be described not as good, but better.
In 1792, however, the Austrians conferred some benefits on the Serbs by a treaty which they had designed simply for their own security. They arranged that no Janizaries should be admitted to the garrison of Belgrade or any other Serbian town. This was to save the Austrians from a frontier that could immediately become aggressive in time of war, it virtually imposed a no-man‘s-land. But to the Serbs it meant liberation from the unchecked tyranny of the dominant military caste. In the next few years the Belgrade Pashalik became happy and prosperous under Hadji Mustapha Pasha, one of the few Turks who ever showed signs of a talent for colonial administration. He was so much beloved by his Christians that he was known as ’the Mother of Serbs,‘ an odd title for an intensely military people to bestow on the bearded representative of another. But there was a shift in palace politics far away in Constantinople, and the treaty was annulled. The Janizaries came back. They stole by fraud into this fortress, murdered the wise Hadji Mustapha, and set up a looting, murdering, raping tyranny over the countryside.
It was against them that Karageorge, Black George, the founder of the dynasty, a pig-farmer of genius, led his revolt in 1804. He besieged this fortress and it was handed over to him in 1806. He freed his whole country down to Parachin and Krushevats, in 1810. But when Serbia became the ally of Russia against Turkey in 1813, she was betrayed by Russian incompetence, and the Turks came back to Belgrade. They took a terrible revenge for Karageorge’s revolt. They massacred all the men who were not quick enough to take refuge in the Shumadiya, as it is called, the Wooded Place, the country lying south of Belgrade which formed most of the old kingdom of Serbia; and they sold many of the women and children into slavery. But later another Serbian leader arose, one Milosh Obrenovitch, and he induced Russia to support him in a revolt against the Ottoman Empire. It was successful. It was too successful. Russia had not wanted Serbia to be free, but to be absorbed into the Tsardom. But the Serbs had shown such mettle that Belgrade could not be mistaken for anything but the capital of a free Serbia. She was therefore cheated out of the victory she had earned. To prevent her from being too free she was forced to let a garrison of Turkish troops remain in Belgrade fortress.
This led to incidents. It could not have been otherwise. And the great powers were always there to turn them, sometimes out of greed and baseness, sometimes out of sheer idiocy, into wounds and humiliations. Their guilt can be judged from the conduct of the English in June 1862. One evening in that month two Turkish soldiers sitting at a fountain fell into a dispute with a Serbian youth and killed him. In the subsequent disorder a Serbian policeman was killed and another wounded. This started a race riot which lasted all night. The Serbian Cabinet and the foreign consuls and the Turkish Pasha joined together to take measures to stop it, and peace was believed to be restored when the garrison of the fortress suddenly opened fire on Belgrade. For four hours the unhappy town was bombarded. Not until the foreign consuls took the courageous step of pitching their tents on the glacis between the town and the fortress were the guns silenced. After this the British Foreign Office took a step memorable in its imbecility. Lord John Russell, without making any inquiries whatsoever, decided that the incident had occurred because the Serbians had violated their treaty obligations to Turkey, and he put forward the strange decision that Austria should invade Serbia. Fortunately Austria perceived that she could not choose a more dangerous moment, and sent no troops. It is a relief to remember that four years later English influence induced the Porte to withdraw from Serbia altogether. Foreign students of our politics must be puzzled to find that this change in attitude was due to the substitution of a Conservative for a Liberal Government.
But this withdrawal did not yet bring peace to the fortress. In front of it lay Hungary and Austria, greedy for it. Behind it lay Russia, greedy for it. Both wanted to snatch the Balkans from the hands of the dying Ottoman Empire. When the young Serbian state tried to placate Austria, Russia raged. In its rage it financed the Bulgars to turn against the Serbs, filling them with hopes of Balkan ascendancy which have ever since complicated and embittered the international situation. Later the great powers met at the Congress of Berlin and gave Bosnia and Herzegovina to the Austrian Empire, and thereby left Serbia helpless and humiliated. In 1905 Serbia resisted Austrian commercial aggression by a tariff war which was known as ‘the pig war,’ and formed a customs Anschluss with the Bulgars. So Austria’s hatred for Serbia grew day by day, till in 1914 Princip’s bullet acted as a catalytic to Central European passions, and the Austrian monitors bombarded the fortress from the Danube. In 1915 it was occupied by Austrian troops, not to be freed until 1918. Now its ramparts and glacis shelter in their mellow bluish-rose brickwork a sequence of little flower-gardens, which stuff the old ravelins and redoubts with pansies and tulips and forget-me-nots. It is the prettiest and most courageous piece of optimism I know: but for all that I think the Yugoslavs wise to have Mestrovitch’s statue by, to remind them of the imbecile ferocity of their kind.
There is another statue by Mestrovitch in Kalemegdan. It is the war memorial of Yugoslavia itself, the glorious naked figure. It can be seen only imperfectly, it stands on the very top of a column, at the prow of the promontory, high up above the waters, which it faces; on the park it turns its back, and that is all the observer can see. This is not according to the intention of the sculptor, nor is it a sacrifice made to symbolism, though it is very apt that the Yugoslavian military spirit should look out in vigilance and warning towards Hungary and Austria. It happens that the statue is recognizably male, so the municipality of Belgrade refused to set it up in the streets of the town, on the ground that it would offend female modesty. But the Serb is not only a peasant in prudery, he is an artist, he has some knowledge of handicrafts, so he saw that it was natural for a man cutting out the shape of a man to cut out the true shape of a man; the councillors felt therefore no Puritan hatred of the statue, and their peasant thrift told them that it would be wicked waste to throw away a statue well carved in expensive material by an acknowledged master. So up it went, buttocks to the fore.
And beautiful it looked, outlined against the landscape, which lay under the floods as a human being in a bath; the face of the land, its trees and houses, were above the water, but the body was wholly submerged. These floods were even threatening the low platform that lies below the slope which drops, purple with lilacs, from the prow of Kalemegdan. But the low grey barracks down there were still occupied; on the nacreous surface of an exercise-ground there walked in twos and threes a number of soldiers wearing round Cossack caps and long fullslcirted coats opening over scarlet breeches. The scene had the air of the beginning of a ballet, because each body was so tautly sprung in its trained perfection. There were two dovecotes in the compound, one a pleasant faded jade-green, the other earth-brown. Sometimes some soldiers would halt underneath one of these cotes and cry out or clap their hands so that the doves whirred out and travelled a low arc to a corrugated iron roof. But for the most part these young men strolled about talking with a peculiar intensity that was untinged by homosexuality but spoke of male friendships more acute and adventurous than anything we know in the West. To look at them was to understand the military conspiracies that have been the special difficulty of Serbia during the last fifty years.
By now the surface of the floods was hacked into choppy waves, which became a coarse trembling silver where the sunlight pierced the grey-violet clouds. We shuddered and took refuge in the fortress. It is immense. It is shaped by the Oriental tradition which obliged a ruler to symbolize his greatness by the size of his habitation. Some of it the Yugoslav Government has not yet had time or money to take in hand. A labyrinth of corridors and cells is as the Turks left it seventy years ago; but in other parts there are arsenals, barracks, offices, tennis-courts, and a museum which holds, as a grisly and suspicious exhibit, the automobile in which King Alexander was assassinated at Marseille. It is not to be comprehended why the French authorities let it leave the country. It is an old-fashioned vehicle—seven years old in 1934 and clumsily refitted with new coachwork after a smash—which had actually been used for the transport of better-class criminals. The French chauffeur is known to have protested against being made to drive a king in such a piece of old iron. It is right that the automobile should be in Belgrade, for it beautifully symbolizes the way the Western powers have dealt with the Balkans. There also, in the landward ramparts, is a charming zoo of the Whipsnade sort. Grey skies bring out the colour of flowers and animals: a lion and lioness drinking at a stream shone like topazes. But it was no use, the day was growing colder, we went back to our hotel.
We ate too large a lunch, as is apt to be one’s habit in Belgrade, if one is man enough to stand up to peasant food made luxurious by urban lavishness of supply and a Turkish tradition of subtle and positive flavour. The soups and stews and risottos here are as good as any I know. And the people at the tables round about one come from the same kitchen: rich feeding, not too digestible, but not at all insipid. Some of them, indeed, are definitely indigestible, beings of ambiguous life, never engaged in any enterprise that is crystalline in quality. It is said that Belgrade is the centre of the European spy system, and it may be that some of these people are spies. One about whom such a doubt might be harboured came up to me while we were eating our chicken liver risotto, an Italian whom I had last seen at a night club in Vienna. I remembered our meeting because of his answer to my inquiry as to what he was doing in Austria. ‘I come from Spain, but I have never good fortune,’ he said. ‘I hoped to bring here a bull-fight, but the bull, he will not come.’ This did not, of course, refer to a startling example of animal sagacity, but to the change noticeable in the attitude of the customs officials as the animal passed from territories where bull-fighting is done to where it is not. The unhappy beast had started on its journey as a symbol of life, glorious in the prospect of meeting a sacrificial death, and ended it as something like a fallen girl, to be rescued by bloodless humanitarians. Today when I asked the Italian a like question about his presence he made a more optimistic answer. ‘I am about to take up very, very great concessions,’ he said. ‘A pyrites mine in Bosnia.’ ‘But,’ I thought, ‘the pyrites, he will not come.’
This man was an adventurer for the reason that most Westerners turn adventurers: he was too weak and silly to fit into the grooves of ordinary life, to be accepted in the company of the really important business men, the industrialists and financiers who would take up the concessions in Bosnia if they were worth anything, and who are also to be seen lunching at this hotel. But the native Yugoslavs who are offering them their country’s resources over the table seem also to be adventurers, though for another reason. They would deviate from the strict pathway drawn by business necessity not because they were too negative but too positive for daily life. They are robust men who speak and laugh and eat and drink a great deal, so that by early middle life they have the lined faces of actors and are full-bodied. The vitality of these Yugoslavs to be seen at midday in this or any other big Belgrade hotel is in astounding contrast to any English gathering of the sort. Englishmen, if they happen to be physically dynamic, usually disclaim it by their manners. These Yugoslavs have never had an ache or pain in their lives. Yet all the historical factors involved should by rights have produced an opposite effect; for all the Yugoslavs over forty must have taken part in a military campaign of the most appalling nature, and all adults who were below that age had undergone as boys privations and dangers such as never threatened French or English or German children.
I could understand why English diplomats, too often the most delicate of a delicate class, hated being en poste among the Balkan peoples; but I could guess also at another reason why they should hate it. These Yugoslavs were not only very well, they were certain in any circumstances to act vigorously; and it would be impossible to foresee what form that action would take. In the Yugoslavian villages one felt certain of the peasants’ vigour and the predictability of their conduct. They might be intensely individual in their emotions and their expression of them, but they would follow a tested tradition. Here one had no such certainty. These men in the hotel dining-room were not united by the acceptance of any common formula. This gave them the alien and enigmatic character of wild animals: the lion and lioness, drinking at the stream in the Kalemegdan were not more sealed from one in their feeling and thinking than these jolly, healthy men. I asked myself in vain, ‘What will they do?’ And I asked myself also the more important question, ‘What would they feel that they could not do?’ I remembered what English people who had lived in the Balkans had told me of dishonesty and punctilio, of grossness and delicacy, avarice and handsomeness, co-existent in the same person, of statesmen who had practised extremes in patriotism and in peculation not at different times in their career but on the same day, of brutality that took torture and bloodshed in its stride and suddenly turned to the tenderest charity. Surely this meant that not only I, but the Yugoslavs, were unable to answer the question. They were not yet familiar with the circumstances of urban life. It could hardly be otherwise, since thirty-five years ago there was not a town in Serbia the size of Rockford, Illinois. The Yugoslavs could not be blamed, therefore, if they had not worked out a tradition of conduct to fit those circumstances.
Urban life takes a deal of learning. We saw further evidence of that when we went out to see the procession of children that always on this day, April the twenty-fourth, marches through the street along the ridge of Belgrade, to receive the blessing of the Patriarch at the Cathedral, which is near the park. We took up our places near the central square among a mob of infatuated. parents, and languidly kind big brothers and sisters who were too old to walk in the procession, and bubbling and dancing little brothers and sisters who were too young, and had for the most part been given balloons for compensation.. There was a great deal of apprehension about, for every child had had new clothes bought for this occasion, and this worst of springs ranged drably overhead, sometimes spilling great heavy pennies of rain; and the procession was forty minutes late.
All that was forgotten, however, every time one of the children in the crowd lost grip of its balloon, and we all saw it rise slowly, as if debating the advantages of freedom, over the wide trench of the cleared street. Then we all laughed, and laughed louder when, as usually happened, since the wind was short of breath, the balloon wobbled and fell on the heads of the crowd on the other side of the road, and was fetched back by its baby owner. There was one such recovery which caused great amusement. A red balloon was blown higher than any of the others, as high as the first-floor windows, and then travelled across the street very slowly, with jerks and hesitations, while its owner, a little boy in a sky-blue serge coat, staggered exactly beneath it, his anxious body expressing all the consternation a man might feel when the stock market is breaking. ‘It’s going. It’s gone. No, it isn’t. See, it’s going to be all right. No, there isn’t a chance.’ The puce-faced old soldier who held the line in front of us shook and heaved, producing laughter from some place one would never keep it unless one was in the habit of packing things away as safely as possible. Three schoolgirls who had been stiff in adolescent affectation laughed as comfortably as if they were women already.
But in spite of all this good-humour the occasion was not as pretty as we had hoped, because the little children were so remarkably fragile and pasty-faced. ‘It is perhaps because they have been waiting so long in the cold,’ suggested my husband. But that was not the reason, for the children who were walking briskly in the procession were just as pallid and dull of eye and hair. ‘I cannot understand it!’ I said. ‘Why should the Serbs, who are so superbly healthy when they grow up, be such weakly children?’ A Frenchwoman standing beside us in the crowd said primly, with that air of having put in her thumb and taken out a plum which we in England have not used with ease since the days of Maria Edgeworth, ‘It is because they keep their children indoors all winter. You would not believe how little they understand the importance of giving the little ones plenty of air and exercise.’ After a moment’s complacent pause, she added, ‘And vegetables too. That is another thing of which they are ignorant. The children are given enormous quantities of meat, and some salad, yes, but green vegetables they hardly eat at all.’
That was to say, in fact, that the Serbs had not mastered the technique of bringing up children in town, which indeed is hard enough to learn so far as winter is concerned. For in the country a peasant’s child must go out into the cold, whatever the day be like, to help with the crops or the livestock. It gets air and exercise without ever having the need for them propounded. But a great deal of information has to be stated and realized before a man and woman living in town see that it is their duty to commit the obvious unkindness of sending a child out into the cold for no reason at all. The matter of food is perhaps not so urgent as the Frenchwoman alleged; for it is said that the paprika, with which the Serb flavours his soups and his stews, compensates for the lack of green vegetables. But the excess of meat is also a real injury to the child, which it is very hard for its parents to avoid inflicting. For in the country a peasant can eat a great deal of meat and profit by it, and it is not easy for him when he comes to town to realize that this source of his strength has suddenly become a danger to him.
They are learning a new technique, and the conditions of their education are not ideal. ‘What a calamity it is that the Serbs consider it of such importance to have a great capital,’ I said to my husband; ‘think of all the new ministries, and look at these poor teachers.’ ‘Unfortunately the Serbs are perfectly right,’ said my husband. ‘The old prewar Belgrade was in no way discreditable to any Serbs except those who five hundred and fifty years ago were beaten on the field of Kossovo, and let the Turks stream north. But it was always being brought up against her in every German or Austrian or French or English book on the Balkans, and it was perpetually alluded to by diplomats. But I agree with you, these teachers are a most unhappy sight.’ For just as remarkable as the pallor and fragility of the children was the neediness of the schoolmasters and schoolmistresses who were in charge of them.
They bore themselves with dignity, and their faces were for the most part thoughtful and dedicated. This was to be expected, for the profession of teacher offers not the steady job which the peasant longs for above all else when he leaves the soil, but has a special heroic prestige. Before the Balkan wars all the young bloods of both sexes with a turn for letters took teaching diplomas and went down to Old Serbia and Macedonia, which were still Turkish provinces. The great powers had forced Turkey to permit the establishment of schools with foreign staffs for the benefit of the Christians among their subjects; but the result was hardly what could have been expected from such a benevolent intervention. No area since the world began can have been at once so highly educated and so wildly uncivilized. Macedonia was important to all Europe, because a power that got a foothold there had a chance of falling heir, by actual occupation or by economic influence, to the territories of the dying Ottoman Empire. So the land was covered with schools staffed by nationalist propagandists, who, when they hailed from the neighbouring Balkan powers, took their duties with more than normal pedagogic ferocity. Macedonia had a large population of Christian Slavs, who were mainly of Serb or Bulgarian or Greek character, though they often exchanged characters if they shifted or their districts fell under different domination. Serbia and Bulgaria and Greece therefore all founded schools which aimed at making the Macedonian infants into Serbs or Bulgars or Greeks who could be counted on to demand the transfer of the province to whatever state had secured their adherence. Quite a number of the schoolmasters and schoolmistresses in these competitive establishments were shot, or were not shot only because they shot first. This situation was not wholly ended by the war. Until a few years ago the I.M.R.O. or Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, which wished to take Macedonia from Yugoslavia and make it Bulgarian, often attacked Yugoslav schools and murdered the staff, and yet many Serbian teachers volunteered to put in some years of duty in the South before they settled down at home. So the teacher in Yugoslavia is often a hero and fanatic as well as a servant of the mind; but as they walked along the Belgrade streets it could easily be seen that none of them had quite enough to eat or warm enough clothing or handsome lodgings or all the books they needed.
It must be admitted that this city, with its starved professional classes, its lavish governmental display, and its pullulation of an exploiting class, sometimes presents an unattractive appearance. I did not like Belgrade that evening when I sat in the hotel lounge and watched the bar fill up with high-coloured, thick-necked, stocky little men whose black moustaches were lustrelless as apes’ hair. There had been some sort of conference upstairs in a private room, with two foreign visitors, one pale and featureless and round, like an enormous Dutch cheese, the other a Jew as Hitler sees Jews. I think the dreams raised at that conference would never be realized in all their rosiness. No party was going to be left, as the others hoped, with the horns and the hooves as his share of the carcass. But everybody would do pretty well, except the general public here and in the rest of Europe, which was going to provide the carcass. And the rest of Europe can look after itself. It has had its opportunities, and if it has never used them to tidy up its financial system, so much the worse for it. The heavier offence is against Yugoslavia, a new country that has to make its body and soul.
The extent of the damage that is done to the state by these financial and industrial adventurers is not easy to compute. I do not believe that it is nearly so much in terms of money as the Yugoslavs outside Belgrade allege. The great fortunes in Yugoslavia come from shipping and timber, and are as legitimate as such riches are in England or America. For the rest, there are only sporadic and unimpressive evidences of wealth, however gained. There may be some large villas in Belgrade whose owners could not explain how they came to be able to build them; but then there are very few large villas in Belgrade. Nor are there many large cars, or expensive restaurants, or jewellers, or furriers. It looks to me as if all the city’s speculators absorb a much smaller proportion of their country’s goods than England and the United States cede as a matter of course to the City and to Wall Street. But to a community of peasants it may well seem that such rewards for the middleman are altogether exorbitant; and indeed the political consequences of such a privateering strain in society are altogether disastrous for a new country.
If the politicians of a state are dominated by ideas, then few parties form. There are certain natural classifications which establish themselves: those who are for repression and those who are for freedom, those who are for the townpeople and those who are for the peasants, those who are for the army and those who are for finance and industry, and so on. Sometimes these groups stand sharply defined and sometimes they coalesce into fewer and larger groups. But there is only a limited number of such classifications, and of the combinations that can be formed from them. But if there are a thousand financiers and industrialists in a country, they can, especially when they are Slavs, turn political life into a multiplicity of small slippery bodies like a school of white-bait. In the ten years after the granting of the Yugoslavian constitution in 1921 twenty-five different governments held office. There is nothing more necessary for the country than a steady agrarian policy; there have been as many as five Ministers of Agriculture in thirteen months.
It was to end this gangsterish tumult that King Alexander took the disastrous step of proclaiming a dictatorship in 1929. This introduced what seemed to be a change for the better, but most Yugoslavs would say that it produced no change at all, for it ultimately put into the saddle Stoyadinovitch, who was hated throughout the length and breadth of the country. That hatred was extraordinarily widespread. I have literally never heard any Yugoslav, except Constantine and a very simple-minded judge from a Dalmatian town, express admiration for him. He was hated chiefly because he was said to be a tyrant and enemy of freedom. He was said to have suppressed freedom of speech and freedom of the press by throwing his opponents into jail, where they were often starved and beaten. It is extremely difficult to weigh the justice of these accusations. It must be conceded at once that if a man is imprisoned in Yugoslavia he is likely to be maltreated. A bad penal tradition has been inherited both from Turkey and from Austria. I have known a most enlightened Serb official who had had the greatest difficulty in persuading his subordinates that it was not good form to use torture for the purpose of extracting confessions. It added to the complexity of the situation that when they were not torturing their prisoners they would treat them with a fatherly kindness unknown in our Western prisons.
Whether Stoyadinovitch imprisoned many people or not was hard for a stranger to tell. My impression was that the regime was far more indulgent than German Nazism or Italian Fascism. I have heard malcontents loudly abuse the government freely when sitting in a café or by an open window giving on. a lane, and I have often received through the ordinary post letters in which my Yugoslav friends abused the Prime Minister and signed their names. I have been told several stories of atrocities which on investigation turned out to be either completely untrue or exaggerated. For example, I was told in Croatia of a Croat who had been exiled to a Macedonian town and was forced to report to the gendarmerie every two hours; but a pro-Croat anti-Government Macedonian living in that town could not trace him, and had never heard of anybody undergoing that peculiar punishment. I was also told of a man who had been given a long term of imprisonment for having abused Stoyadinovitch to his companion as they sat at dinner in a restaurant; but actually the magistrate had done no more than advise him not to talk so loud next time.
But sometimes the hand of Stoyadinovitch fell very heavily indeed. It sometimes fell vexatiously on the intellectuals. I have known of a provincial lawyer of the highest character who was sent to prison for two months for treasonable conversation on the evidence of an ignoble personage who had before the war been an Austrian spy in Belgrade. The real damage done to the intellectuals lay not in the number of such cases or the severity of the sentences but in the insecurity arising from the knowledge that they could happen at all. But I believe that the hand fell with a murderous heaviness on the working classes. An English friend of mine once came on a tragic party of young men being sent down from a Bosnian manufacturing town to Sarajevo by a night train. All were in irons. The gendarmes told him that they were Communists. I expect they were nothing of the sort. Real Marxian Communism is rare in Yugoslavia, for it is not attractive to a nation of peasant proprietors and the Comintern wastes little time and energy in this field, but the word is extended to cover the mildest of left activities. These young men had probably done nothing worse than try to form a trade union. It was against such as these, I believe, that the Stoyadinovitch regime brought up its full forces.
Consideration of this bias brought one to the reason that the more serious-minded among the Yugoslavs gave for their hatred of Stoyadinovitch. They knew that their abominable prison system could not be reformed in a moment, they knew that they were often difficult and ungracious under government. But they could not forgive him for representing the thick-necked, plundering little men in the bar. Those men were his allies, and they were united against the rest of Yugoslavia. They were against the peasants, against the starving schoolmasters, against the workmen who had been brought to town and poverty like lambs to the slaughter.
It is plausible, yet I do not think it is true. Certainly Stoyadinovitch represented the financial and industrial interests of Belgrade, but he may not have meant to be his country’s enemy. I have known Englishmen and Frenchmen who have done business with him, and they all received honest, even handsome treatment at his hands, which seemed to be part of a certain Augustan attitude, hardly consonant with carelessness for his country’s interest. The truth was, I suspect, that he was astonishingly naive, and that his naïveté was cut to an old-fashioned pattern. The clue to that was supplied every evening to anybody who would listen to it by the radio. The Yugoslavian news bulletins had in 1937 certain peculiarities. There was very little given out about the boy King and his mother, Queen Mariya: there was far more to be heard about the Regent, Prince Paul, and his family. This was a great mistake. I believe that it was the result of a very proper desire to give young King Peter some sort of unpublicized boyhood, but it was misinterpreted by the rural and provincial population who considered it was a sign that Prince Paul was ambitious and might wish to usurp the throne. But there was never nearly so much about any member of the royal family as there was about Mr Stoyadinovitch. I have never turned on the radio in Yugoslavia without hearing a full account of everything the Prime Minister had done on the previous day, delivered in accents that would have been appropriate had he been a Commander-in-chief that had just driven an invading army over the frontier.
That might be taken as just another manifestation of the sham Cæsarism which is a commonplace of our age; and, indeed, towards the end of Stoyadinovitch’s regime he had the unhappy notion of packing his meetings with youths who chanted, in a concert that was most uncharacteristic of the Slav, ‘Vodyu! Vodyu! Vodyu!‘ as it might be, ’Führer! Führer! Führer!‘ But there was a difference. Here we had a relic of the pre-Cæsarean age that has passed from the rest of Europe. ’Mr Stoyadinovitch,‘ Constantine once said to me, ’admires capitalism.‘ ’Admires capitalism?’ I echoed. ’Why, how can he do that? Capitalism is an attempt at solving the problem of how man shall get a steady living off an earth that does not care a jot for him, and it may be said, until some Communist state has worked out its theory with better results than Russia, that we know of none more successful. But surely it is nothing like as good as what we want for ourselves, surely it can only be regarded with disappointment, not admiration.‘ ’So you think,‘ said Constantine, ’but so does not Mr Stoyadinovitch. He knows that we are a poor country, since the Turks have taken all for five centuries, and he thinks it would be beautiful if much foreign money came here and bred more money, and if we had many factories such as they have in America, splendid white palaces full of machinery so intricate that when it moves it is like symphonies being played in steel, pouring out new and clean things for our people, pouring out golden streams of wages that all could be bought.‘ ’But sometimes money does not breed,’ I said, ’sometimes it dies in childbirth, and the community is left with a whole lot of corpses on hand. And as for such factories, they may look like palaces but the people who work inside could never be taken for princes and princesses, and the stream of wages, which is golden in the same sense that the Danube is blue, often washes them back in the evenings to filthy slums.‘ ’You are a woman, you want all to be pretty,’ said Constantine, ’you do not see the beauty of ruthlessness, and as for money, Mr Stoyadinovitch is a very clever man. He would see that there are no depressions as there have been in America.‘
There is something here, touching in its inexperience, which is very different from Fascism or Nazism. Mussolini and Hitler came to power because they offered the victims of capitalism a promise of relief by a magical rite of regimentation. But this is an innocent who does not know that such victims can ever be numerous enough to exercise a determining force in society. He thinks of them as failures, as weak and impotent, and so they may be in their personal lives; but if they form a seething and desperate mass they may develop a dynamic power surpassing that engendered by success. Under this delusion he conducts himself with an extraordinary imprudence. He does not understand that it is wise to allow as many of the failures as possible to convert themselves by organization to something more like success, and so he fails—and in this he resembles many members of the propertied classes both in England and in America—to understand that trade unionism is not a disintegrating but a stabilizing force.
How should such men as these in the bar know otherwise? When the Industrial Revolution had dawned on the Western powers, the Serbs were Turkish slaves; to this day eighty-seven per cent of Yugoslavs are agricultural workers; Leskovats is called the Manchester of Yugoslavia and is no such thing, but a pleasant good-weathered little town of under twenty thousand inhabitants who have no difficulty in keeping their faces clean; never has Belgrade known a time when, from the uplifting windows of sky-scraper hotels it does not possess, ruined bankers dropped like the gentle dew from heaven upon the place beneath. It may be asked why these adventurers might not have learned of the inconveniences of capitalism from books and newspapers. Certain mistakes the printed word never kept anyone from committing. Manon Lescaut never deterred a man from loving a whore, no ageing woman sent away a young lover because she had read Bel Ami. There exists a mountain of economic publications which prove that in our modern world of shrinking markets and increasing production it would be impossible to found John Company; the Germans plan to draw such wealth from colonial expansion.
I felt a rush of dislike towards the men in the bar who were instruments of this error. I detected in them a strong physical resemblance to certain types found in Western cities during the last century, to pictures representing the financial adventurers who dominated Paris under the Second Empire, to the photographs of City men which can be seen in the illustrated papers of the nineties, named as founders of enterprises not now extant. Idiotically, they were not only copying a system that was far from ideal, they were themselves imitating those who had proved incapable of grasping such success as the system offers. I could imagine the hotel making the same error. It would repudiate its good fat risottos, its stews would be guiltless of the spreading red oil of paprika, it would employ chambermaids who would not howl by the beds of ailing clients and whose muzzles would not twitch in animal certainty before a Greek, in doubt before a Finn. It would not then resemble a good French hotel, it would become international, a tethered wagon-lit, like the large Spanish hotels.
Belgrade, I thought, had made the same error. It had till recently been a Balkan village. That has its character, of resistance, of determined survival, of martyred penury. This was a very sacred Balkan village; the promontory on which it stood had been sanctified by the blood of men who had died making the simple demand that, since their kind had been created, it might have leave to live. Modern Belgrade has striped that promontory with streets that had already been built elsewhere much better. I felt a sudden abatement of my infatuation for Yugoslavia. I had been enchanted on my first visit with the lovely nature and artifice of Bosnia, and I had recognized in Macedonia a uniquely beautiful life of the people. When the Macedonians loved or sang or worshipped God or watched their sheep, they brought to the business in hand poetic minds that would not believe in appearances and probed them for reality, that possessed as a birthright that quality which Keats believed to be above all others in forming a ‘Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously.’ ‘Negative Capability,’ he called it, and it made a man ‘capable of being in uncertainties, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.’ But Macedonia had been under the Ottoman Empire until 1913; it had till then been stabilized by Turkish misgovernment in precisely those medieval conditions which had existed when it was isolated by its defeat at Kossovo in 1389. Macedonia should perhaps be looked on as a museum not typical of the life outside it. It had had only twenty-five years of contact with the modern world. Serbia had known no such seclusion. It was liberated in 1815. For a century it had been exposed to the peculiar poisons of the nineteenth century. I had perhaps come a long way to see a sunset which was fading under my eyes before a night of dirty weather.
But some of this threatened degeneration was still a long way from consummation. This hotel may have longed to slip off its robust character and emulate the Savoy and the Crillon and the Plaza; but its attempt was not well under way as yet. A newcomer had arrived in the bar; the stocky little men were now greeting with cries of love and trust another of the kind who would have betrayed them for about the sum that would have made them betray him, lifting their glasses to him and slapping him on the back with the exaggeration of children playing the game ‘In the Manner of the Word.’ That I might have seen in London or Paris or New York. But in none of those great cities have I seen hotel doors slowly swing open to admit, unhurried and at ease, a peasant holding a black lamb in his arms. He took up his place beside the news-stand where they sold Pravda and Politika, the Continental Daily Mail, Paris Soir, the New York Herald Tribune. He was a well-built young man with straight fair hair, high cheekbones, and a look of clear sight. His suit was in the Western fashion, but he wore also a sheepskin jacket, a round black cap, and leather sandals with upturned toes; and to his ready-made shirt his mother had added some embroidery. He looked about him as if in search of someone. Twice he went to the door of the bar and peered at the faces of the stocky little men, so it was plain that he was waiting for one of their kind; and indeed the middle class in Yugoslavia is so near to its peasant origin that any of them might have had such a cousin or nephew. But the one he sought was not there, so he went back to his place by the news-stand. He stood still as a Byzantine king in a fresco, while the black lamb twisted and writhed in the firm cradle of his arms, its eyes sometimes catching the light as it turned and shining like small luminous plates.
As arranged, we called the next morning at Constantine’s house ready to go with Gerda to see the half-finished Monument to the Unknown Soldier on the hill of Avala, twelve miles from Belgrade, and the Karageorgevitch Mausoleum on the hill of Oplenats. The expedition began badly. Gerda opened the door in trim, fresh clothes and was formally welcoming us in the hall when Constantine’s old mother slipped in. Her mouth had suddenly watered for some kind of food, so she had tied a kerchief round her head and gone along to the market in her wrapper and slippers, and she had hoped to get back into the house without anybody being the wiser. But here we all were, being hochwohlgeboren in the passage. So Gerda looked at the floor with the air of blushing for shame, though her skin did not in fact show any alteration at all, and the poor old mother hung her Beethovenish head. This was all quite wrong, for she was really a magnificent pianist, and Balzac’s dressing-gown is the one garment all artists have in common. One cannot create without a little sluttishness packed away somewhere. Neatness and order are delicious in themselves, but permissible only to the surgeon or the nurse. Schiller knew that when he kept rotting apples in his writing-desk, and opened the drawer when he needed inspiration, so that he could look on their brownness, inhale the breath of over-ripeness.
But Gerda had not been able to coerce Constantine. Shamelessly he called us into his study, and we found him fat and round and curly in his candy-striped pyjamas and dressing-gown, with little bouquets of black hair showing between his jacket buttons. ‘Ah, she is your girl too,’ said my husband, pointing to the photograph over Constantine’s desk, which represented the Ludovisi triptych of Venus rising from the foam. ‘And why not?’ said Constantine. ‘She is perfect, for what she is and what she is not. There is nothing in her pose of patriotism or propaganda or philosophy or religion, simply she says, “I am rising to delight.”’ His little fat hands paddled in the air, lifting him through the same tide as Venus, to the same sweet enamoured air. He, who is one of the ugliest of human beings, knows intuitively all that it is to be the goddess of beauty. ‘That sculpture is the very opposite of the frescoes that you have seen in South Serbia, that your husband will see in the mosaic copies that King Alexander made for the mausoleum at Oplenats. For there is no delight, it is all patriotism and propaganda and philosophy and religion, but all the same there is rising, there is floating, there is an ecstasy, but it is a terrible one.’ His mouth was full of bread and coffee, but his hands paddled, and he rose up a beam of white light to a light that was whiter.
‘You are an intelligent man, though you are a banker,’ he said to my husband, ‘so you will make no error at Oplenats, you will take these mosaics as an indication of what you will see in Macedonia, in South Serbia, not for themselves. All the Macedonian frescoes are painted, and these have been copied in mosaic. A painted fresco is a painted fresco and a mosaic fresco is a mosaic fresco, and a fresco that is meant to be painted and is worked in mosaic is a mongrel, and mongrels should be gay little dogs, not very large works of art. I suffered the tortures of the damned when I was in Germany and must arrange all for our King with the German manufacturer of mosaics, but I must own it was not only because of my artistic conscience, it was also because the manufacturer was the slowest man in the world. A tall, fat man he was with a great beard, and he spoke so ... and so ... and so ... and once I could not help myself; I cried out, “Mein Herr, will you not speak a little faster, for I have many things to do,” and he answered, very angrily, but still very slowly, “No, I cannot speak fast, for in the mosaic business we do all things very slowly, we make for eternity.” But you will see what he made. I am not sure that it was for eternity, I think it was only for ever, which is not at all the same.’
On the porch he said, ‘It is fine weather, and it will be fine weather tomorrow, I am so glad that tomorrow we go to the Frushka Gora. That I have not told you about: there are some old monasteries of our people on some hills by the Danube, that are called the Frushka Gora, that is the Frankish Hills; they are very pretty in themselves, and they explain Belgrade and all that you will see today.’ So we drove off along the boulevards, which were crowded with leisurely people, for it was Sunday, and even those who had come to the market were taking it easy. For the same reason there were boys lolling at the open windows of the University Students’ Hostel, in the lovely cat-like laziness only possible to highly exercised youth. From one window a boy, darker and more fiery than the rest, was leaning forward and making a burlesque harangue to a laughing group, who raised their hands and cried in mock-hatred, ‘Long live Stoyadinovitch!’ Of such are the students whom the newspapers often describe as Communists, and a number of them would claim that title. Yet to Westerners nothing could be less accurate. These people are peasants who have in a sense enjoyed an unusual amount of class freedom. They were serfs only to the Turks, who were alien conquerors, and have not for centuries been subordinate to large landowners of their own blood, so they find it natural to criticize such of themselves as set up to be governors. Since they are South Slavs, they have never had a Peter the Great or Catherine the Great to teach them obedience to a centralized power. If they were to rebel against the Government they would act in small independent groups, as Princip and Chabrinovitch did, they would never joyously become subordinate atoms in a vast Marxist system. When they say they are Communists they mean that they are for the country against the town, for the village against Belgrade, for the peasant against the industrialist; and for that reason they one and all loathed Stoyadinovitch.
We were out of Belgrade, we were driving to the dark cone of distant Avala across a rolling countryside that was the spit and image of Lowland Scotland, though richer to the eye by reason of the redness of the earth. It bears signs of comfortable peasant proprietorship, and there came into my mind the verdict my Provençal cook had passed on a certain village on the Cote des Maures: ‘C‘est un bon pays; personne n’est riche là-bas mais tout le monde a des biens.‘ Fairer words cannot be spoken of a country, in my opinion; and I felt in great good humour. So, too, I was delighted to find, did Gerda. Her face was serene and she was making conventional German small-talk with my husband, and she was plainly passing through a specifically German experience which has always struck me as charming. Its simplest form is often displayed in old-fashioned German children’s books. Little girls arrive in a coach at a Cologne hotel, with their hearts singing like birds within them: ’Our papa,‘ rises their carol, ’is a Herr Geheimrath from Hanover, our mamma is everything a Frau Geheimrath should be, we are two well-behaved little girls, wearing beautiful new travelling ulsters, and we are going to see the Rhineland, which everybody knows is one of the most beautiful sights in the world, and all, all is heavenly.‘ Neither the French nor the English ever get quite the same naive, unpresumptuous joy in what one is and what one does, when both are unremarkable. We may rejoice in what we do, but we are too Augustinian not to detest what we are, or not to pretend such detestation. It pleased me enormously that Gerda was saying to herself as she drove along, ’I come of an old family of Lutheran pastors, I am the wife of a Yugoslavian official, I am accompanying an Englishman, a cultured person and graduate of Oxford University and a banker, and his wife, who is a writer, and we are going to see two interesting Denkmals, and it is a fine day.‘
The road swung round and round the cone of Avala, running between woodlands, green with their first leaves and bronze with buds and carpeted with blue periwinkles. We got out and climbed to the summit over the unfinished gauntness of the engineering construction which is to support the vast Mestrovitch memorial. At the very top we halted, embarrassed by an unusual view of the fighting male. On the descending slope beyond stood two rows of soldiers, one facing the other, every man of them holding in his hand something that flashed. An officer cried out a word of command, which roared from his throat like a spell designed for the instant precipitation of an ocean of blood. The soldiers raised to their lips the things that flashed, which were tin mugs, and we heard a strange sound which might have been made by birds singing underground. Then the officer cried out for atrocity again, and a jet of liquid, silver in the sunlight, spurted from each soldier’s lips. They were doing gargling drill against influenza. They saw us, but showed no signs of self-consciousness. If the Serbian heroes of old had been ordered by their Tsars to gargle in front of female tourists they would have obeyed. Military service appears to be the only thing that makes a Slav calm. The difference between the students we had seen at the windows of the University Hostel and these soldiers was that which might be remarked in France between the girl pupils of a lycée, gadding and gossiping their way home through the streets of a provincial town, and the still and stylized products of an extremely expensive convent school.
We went down the hill again and paused beside a model of the Mestrovitch memorial which was mounted on a truck. The roof of the tomb is to be supported by immense calm caryatides, Serbian peasant women, the mothers of these calm boys. We looked at the existing memorial, which is rough and small, cut by some simple mason, and out of curiosity I put my head into a little hut beside it. I wished I had not. It housed the wreaths that had been laid on the memorial by various official bodies. Through its gloom immortelles and ribbons lettered with gold and striped with crude national colours emitted the nostril-stopping smell of dust. By reason of the words spelled out by gold letters and the combinations of the national colours, the spectacle was horrifying. These wreaths were displeasing in any case because they were official, and had been ordered by preoccupied functionaries and supplied as articles of commerce for a minor state occasion that would provoke no wave of real feeling in the people, but their provenance reminded one that the quality of Balkan history, and indeed of all history, is disgusting.
One wreath had been given by Nazi Germany, which had now absorbed the body of Austria, and which had been absorbed by the spirit of Austria; Vienna is speaking again, through Hitler as through Lueger and Schoenerer and Conrad von HÖtzendorf, a message of self-infatuation and a quiver of hatreds for all but the chosen Teutonic people, the most poisonous being dedicated to the Slav. Another had been given by Italy, who had incessantly harried Dalmatia by her greed, who gave the assassins of King Alexander arms and the knowledge how to use them. It was a kind of filthy buffoonery almost unmatched in private life which had made these powers lay their wreaths on a grave sacred to a people whom they meant to send to its grave as soon as possible. It was an indictment of man that this people was forced to stand by when their enemies came to defile their holy place, simply because no political arrangement has been discovered which annuls the dangers arising out of Yugoslavia’s proximity to Central Europe and Italy.
I became filled with feminist rage. I would have liked to deface the model of Mestrovitch’s monument, which represented peasant women without contrition. Since men are liberated from the toil of childbirth and child-rearing, they might reasonably be expected to provide an environment which would give children the possibility to survive and test the potentialities of humanity. The degree of failure to realize that expectation revealed in this disgusting little room could not be matched by women unless ninety per cent of all births were miscarriages. Gerda, however, liked the wreaths. ‘Our father is a Herr Geheimrath....’ I put out my hand and touched the Italian offering, and murmured my distaste, but Gerda only wrinkled her nose and laughed slyly, like a little girl who sees something that her nurse has told her is dirty.
We drove away from Avala by a pleasant road that runs among water-meadows where willows mark the constant stream, and orchards with plump foliage smothering the last of the blossom, and vineyards naked and unpromising as graveyards, with their poles stripped bare for spring. Like the Pas de Calais, this Serbian countryside presents inconsistently neat cultivations and sluttish villages. The villages here are very large., for except in the neighbourhood of the big towns there are no scattered farmsteads. Wherever the peasant’s land may be he lives in the village and drives his livestock home at night and out again in the morning. This custom proved its convenience during the Turkish occupation, for it enabled the Christians to put up a combined defence against night raids by irregular troops or bandits, but it had its origin further back than that. The basis of the Slav social system was the Zadruga, the family whose members shared equally in the labours and profits of a jointly owned estate, which was governed by an elected Elder, who was usually the oldest man in the group but might sometimes be a younger man who had shown exceptional ability, or might even be a woman. The Elder and his wife lived in a central house and the others inhabited either rooms joined to it or adjacent houses. The Zadruga naturally split up when the number of descendants began to press too heavily on the resources of the estate, but it usually included at least three generations and often numbered a hundred persons or more. The dreary identification between country life and solitude has therefore never depressed Serbia as it has other lands; and even quite insignificant villages run long main streets down a hill and over a stream and up the hill on the other side, where the cultivators of the trim orchards and vineyards loll outside tumbledown cafés, looking anything but trim themselves.
They were, indeed, not out to look trim. Ferocity was this district’s line. They would have preferred to curdle the blood, just a little, by their manifest kinship with the Haiduks, with the great chief Karageorge himself. For we were already on the stage where that first liberator of Serbia had unveiled his violence and power. At a turn of the road we stopped to see the place where Karageorge was one day riding with his herdsmen behind his swine, just after the Janizaries had come back to power and murdered the pro-Serb Mustapha Pasha and were massacring every important Serb that they could find. Through the dust he saw the flashing weapons of a party of Turkish soldiers and without an instant’s hesitation he and his herdsmen turned their horses’ heads into the oak forests that bordered the road, leaving the swine to take care of themselves. Later we came to the village where Karageorge had met with two Serbian chiefs and five hundred of the rank and file, and had been chosen their Commander-in-chief in the first insurrection of 1804. This moody and valiant giant, who was no mere springing tiger but possessed real military genius, did not wish to accept that office, for curious reasons which have been reported for us by an actual witness. He said, ‘I want to go with you, but not before you,’ and when they pressed him for a reason he told them, ‘For one thing, you’ve not learned soldiering, and because of that, after some days, you will surrender to the Turks, then you know what will happen! And for another, if I accepted I certainly would do much not to your liking. If one of you were taken in the smallest treachery—the least faltering—I would kill him, hang him, punish him in the most fearful manner.’
This was not a mere threat of disciplinary firmness; it was a confessional allusion to the violences which he had already committed under the stress of patriotism. Years before, when he was a youth, he had taken part in an uprising and had had to flee with his stepfather and their cattle towards the Austrian frontier. But when they came to the river Sava his stepfather’s nerve failed him, and he announced he would turn back and seek pardon from the Turks. Karageorge did not believe that he would receive anything from the Turks but torture, so in desperation he took out his pistol and shot the old man dead. Then he went on to the next village and asked the headman to give the corpse burial, and left him all his cattle in payment. That Karageorge should at the moment of being chosen leader by his people have referred to their characteristic faults and his own, not in comfortable tones of conventional modesty but with an unimpassioned accuracy, is characteristically Slav. But East can meet West. The house where the three chiefs met has been pulled down and replaced by a towered school, closely resembling a small suburban public library.
We passed by a spa almost as unlike Bath or Vichy or Baden-Baden as the spa we had seen in Bosnia: no fine ladies and gentlemen were here in search of undefined recuperation, peasants were striding down a chestnut avenue towards the spring, solemnly conscious of what they expected its waters to do to their bowels, solemnly conscious of what their forefathers had known, that in water there are gods. There was a solid yet naive Kurhaus, built by somebody who had gone to the West to see how these things were done, and had gaped at his model as well as studying. Since it was Sunday there were little boys offering trays of scones and rolls, for the Serbs love breadstuffs almost as much as the Scots; and others were selling miniature leather sandals of the type worn throughout Yugoslavia, with the upturned toe, which is useless though appropriate as a symbol of the x which is added to the usual human characteristics in the Slav. The evaluation of that x became an increasingly interesting problem as we drove along the lanes into Karageorge’s village, Topola (which is one of the two Serb words for poplar), for there his kind stood in the mud, all with these cockspur points to their sandals, all with that Slav mystery heavy on their dark forelocks, across their scowling brows, hanging round a playground that had been Karageorge’s stableyard. The main street took us to a village green, running uphill alongside a church with dome and walls battered and pitted with rifle-fire, and a galleried farmhouse that had been Karageorge’s home and now bore the emblems of a Sokol headquarters. On a seat beneath some trees sat two parent wolves, an old man and woman, their ferocity silvered down to gentle and amiable dignity, emitting fire from the nostrils only now and then, finely dressed in the sheepskin and embroidered homespun of peasant costume. The unknown quantity was not what one might have thought, for mere lawlessness and savagery do not age in majesty, with accumulated goods about them.
An old man came and took us into the church, which was full of the dark magic of the Orthodox rite, and told us that here Karageorge had come to take communion, and here his bones had rested ever since they had been laid there several years after his death, till they had been moved to the great new mausoleum on the hill of Oplenats half a mile away. ‘Where had they been in the meantime?’ I asked. ‘In the ground,’ said the old man, ‘in a valley not far from here. He had come back from exile after Obrenovitch had become the leader of the Serbs, and Obrenovitch sent a man to kill him, that he might placate the Sultan by sending him his head. But later Obrenovitch’s wife grew alarmed, because one of the children in her family grew ill, and she had the bones of Karageorge dug up and sent back to us here.’ Behind us in the darkness Gerda tittered. We turned in surprise and found her looking surprisingly fair. ‘They are such savages,’ she explained. The old man gazed at her perplexed, as if she might perhaps be ill or unhappy, and went on slowly with doubtful, kindly glances at her, to show us the screen that divides the whole altar.from the church, the iconostasis. It was carved with artless sculptures of holy stories seen through peasant eyes, after the fashion of the fourteenth century, although the wood was new. ‘They were carved for us by three brothers,’ he said, ‘descendants of the three brothers who did the famous iconostasis and pulpit at the Church of the Holy Saviour in Skoplje, two hundred years ago. They have carried on the craft from father to son. Eight years they lived here, making this screen. Now they have been for many years at Nish, working on a screen that will be greater than this, but not more beautiful. For the Karageorgevitches they did their best.’ He opened the royal door in the iconostasis, that opens on the altar, and his face folded with grief. ‘Here once God gave us a great mercy. When our King Alexander went to Bulgaria we said mass here day and night during all the three days he was in Sofia, and although there are many Bulgarians who hate us and have evil hearts, nothing happened to him, he came back to us in safety. But, God forgive us, when he went to France we did not say mass for him at all, for we thought he was among friends.’ Again history emitted its stench, which was here particularly noisome. Nothing a wolf can do is quite so unpleasant as what can be done to a wolf in zoos and circuses, by those who are assumed not to be wolfish, to be the civilized curators of wolfdom.
Before we got back into the car we stood for a minute on the green, looking at the fierce little church, at the fierce little farmhouse out of which some fierce boys were issuing, fresh from gymnastic exercises dynamized by patriotic fury, at the fierce and handsome ancients on the seat. ‘Now I see the truth of the old saying that there are more ways of killing a cat than by choking it with cream,’ said my husband. ‘Observe that in Bosnia the Slavs did choke the Turk with cream, they glutted him with their wholesale conversions and kept him outside of Sarajevo. But here cream just did not come into the question. The Serbs fought the Turks, and then they fought them, and then they fought them. What we see in these people is the normal expression to be looked for in a fighting army that has just come out of the trenches after a long hand-to-hand fight, and thinks it may yet be ambushed.’ But later, as we walked to the mausoleum where it lifts its white cupolas in a wooded park, as we passed under the dry grainy gold of its mosaic vaults, he said, ‘This, however, is something else. Has it anything to do with these people, this extraordinary place? Or is it just a fantasy of these Karageorgevitches?’
The church, which is dedicated to St George, is quite new, and externally it is very beautiful. Fidelity to the Byzantine tradition is responsible for quite a number of very ugly small churches, for its reliance on pure form shows up any defects in the way of bad machine cutting and ugly stone; but it automatically imposes a certain majesty and restraint on a church which is given good material and skilled workmanship. Oplenats was built by old King Peter in 1912, but it was reduced to ruins during the Great War. In 1922 King Alexander rebuilt it, and added two features which had, apparently, not been in his father’s mind when he originally planned it. King Alexander brought up the bones of Karageorge from the village church at Topola, and buried them under a plain block of marble in the right apse: that is to say, beside the royal throne which stands in any Orthodox church of dignity, which is here an impressive matter of green marble surmounted by a white-and-gold eagle. The only other Karageorgevitch whom King Alexander thought worthy to be buried in the church itself, and not in the crypt, was King Peter, who lies under another plain block of marble in the left apse. This indicates a critical attitude which ruling monarchs do not usually adopt towards their dynasty: for there was another Karageorgevitch ruler, Alexander the son of Karageorge, but he was not a success.
The other contribution of King Alexander was the mosaics; King Peter planned no other decoration than the shot-riddled regimental banners, borne in the Balkan wars and the Great War, which hang from the marble pillars. These mosaics are indeed at first extremely disconcerting in their artistic impropriety. It is not mere pedantry to object to mosaic as a medium for copying painted frescoes, for the eye is perpetually distracted by its failure to find the conditions which the original design was framed to satisfy. These frescoes are Byzantine in origin: their proper title in the histories of art is Serbo-Byzantine. The flame-like forms that should have been fixed in appropriate tenuity by colours flame-like in their smoothness and transparency were falsified in their absence because they were represented in a material opaque and heterogeneous as sand. The man who ordered these mosaics to be made must have been lacking in any fine aesthetic perception. But they compose an extremely ably prepared encyclopædia of medieval Serbian art. Looking up at them one can say, ‘That Dormition of the Virgin comes from Grachanitsa, that sequence of the life of St George comes from Dechani, that Flight into Egypt from Petch,’ and without receiving the intense pleasure which is given by the actual sight of these works of art, one is afforded useful information as to what sort of pleasure that is going to be.
‘But why did this man want to hold up an encyclopaedia of medieval Serbian art over his family vault?’ asked my husband. ‘It seems to me as if an English king should build a mausoleum full of allusions to Richard Cœur de Lion.’ ‘Well, that is all the remote past they have,’ I said, ‘and they came straight out of that glory into the misery of Turkish conquest.’ ‘But is there any real continuity between the medieval Serbian Empire and these Serbs?’ asked my husband. ‘Of course there is,’ I said; ‘you will see that once you get away from Belgrade.’ ‘But these frescoes are so beautiful,’ said my husband, ‘this is a true legacy from Byzantium. It is too patently sensitive for the great period of Byzantine art, but there is the right hieratic quality, the true desire to arrange all things in an order that shall disclose a relationship between the lowest and the highest, even God Himself.’ Then a thought struck him. ‘But where are these Serbo-Byzantine frescoes?’ he asked. ‘In monasteries,’ I said, ‘some in Serbia; some of the most beautiful are in Studenitsa and Mileshevo and Zhitcha, but many are in Old Serbia and in South Serbia.’ ‘All on strictly Serb territory,’ said my husband, ‘so this building with its enormously costly mosaics can mean nothing whatsoever to any Croatians or Dalmatians or Slovenes. Yet it is the mausoleum of their King, and superbly appropriate to him. I see that though Yugoslavia is a necessity it is not a predestined harmony.’
We went towards the crypt where King Alexander himself is buried, but the beauty of one of the frescoes caught my husband back. ‘But you never told me of this extraordinary thing,’ said my husband. ‘Here is a man whom I know only as a Balkan king with an unfortunate tendency to dictatorship. He appears to have conceived a gloriously poetic idea, such as only the greatest men of the world have ever had. He recovered the ancient lands of his people in the Balkan wars and tried—what was it Constantine once said?—’to graft his dynasty’ on the stock of their ancient emperors so that what was dead lived again. It is quite a different idea from mere conquest. Those frescoes say to his people, ‘This is what you were, so this is what you are.’ But, tell me, was it anything more than a pedagogic fancy? Can those toughs we have seen outside really respond to such an idea?‘ ’I am not sure,‘ I said, ’but I think he got it from them.‘ ’Nonsense,‘ said my husband. ’I refuse to believe that those young ruffians fret for lack of the Byzantine frescoes their ancestors enjoyed in the fourteenth century.‘ ’Well, I assure you they knew they had lost something,‘ I said, ’they all know by heart a lot of poetry.‘ ’They do not look as if they did,‘ said my husband. ’Oh, not Arthur Hugh Clough,‘ I said, with a bitterness that referred to an attempt made by my husband to read me a poem by that writer which he had declared was tolerable, ’but they know thousands of lines of folk-poetry about the defeat of the Serbs at Kossovo, and it gives an impression of a great civilization. I know that they tested the patients in the Serbian military hospitals during the war to see how many knew it, and it was something like ninety per cent.‘ ’Maybe,’ said my husband.
In the crypt lamps hanging above the tombs illumined long arcades. Mosaics on the walls and vaults shook with a feeble pulse in this uncertain light. There are numbers of Karageorgevitch dead lying here, and though it is only a hundred and twenty years since Karageorge died, not a few have lain here for many times the length of their lives. This family, though so potent, was physically fragile. There are children, lads, young wives in their twenties, their names all trembling with that suggestion of weakness, headache, fever, which is given by tremulous lamplight. A stronger brightness was shed by the candles which blazed in an iron stand beside the grave of King Alexander, which lies at the altar end of the crypt, under slabs of onyx. Half a dozen men and women were lighting fresh candles and putting them in the stand, were crossing themselves and murmuring and kneeling and bringing their roughness down to kiss the shining onyx; such passion, I have heard, is shown by Lenin’s tomb. The King lies beside his mother, as his will directed: she died of tuberculosis when he was fifteen months old. In this crypt, the foundation of this immense mass of marble erected to a parricide by his descendants, the core of this countryside on which defensive resentments grew like thick forests, all was plaintive and wistful, tender and nostalgic.
Above us the day was blue and golden, as it had rarely been during this lachrymose spring. Around us it may have been so also, but we did not know. We were shut up in the courtyard of an inn. There was nothing remarkable about this courtyard. It was quite large; the rooms round it had a certain cosy quality, not at all Slav, as if they were built for a congestion which would not be at all contentious, but warm and animal and agreeable; on a line across the courtyard hung scarlet blankets and white sheets and towels embroidered in red cross-stitch; in flower-beds running by the walls primroses and tulips grew with an amusing stiffness. All that was worth seeing there could be seen in ten seconds.
Nor was this inn set in an interesting place. Outside there was a village consisting of one very broad and muddy street, lined with one storied houses and shops. Sometimes a light cart passed, drawn by a mare with her foal running alongside, harnessed outside the poles; so do they accustom horses to the traffic from the beginning. Sometimes a herd of dirty and ill-tailored pigs roamed by, apparently free from all governance. There was really no reason to pay a visit to such a village, particularly on a Monday afternoon, when none of the population was visible to display such interesting characteristics as they possessed.
Nor was it for the food that we had come to this inn. On the table in front of the four of us, Gerda, Constantine, my husband, and myself, there were stacked platefuls of long undulant sausages that can never have been good specimens of their kind, that were particularly unpleasant at the moment, for they were neither quite warm nor quite cold. The liver sausage was peculiarly horrible, and left a layer of grease on the lips and palate.
My husband and I were not even there because we had made a mistake, and had been deceived by our ignorance of the country into believing that this village was interesting. We had not wished to come at all. It had been announced to us that we should. The evening before, on our return from Topola, we had been sitting at dinner in our hotel, uneasily discussing Gerda. During the day’s expedition she had shown that she was disappointed with us. When we showed admiration or curiosity about Serbian things she behaved as if we were letting her down and betraying some standards which we should have held in common: as an exceptionally stupid Englishman might behave in India to tourists who showed an interest in native art or philosophy. ‘But she is worse than that,’ said my husband. ‘She said something to me this afternoon when you were making a sketch of the church at Topola which seemed to me profoundly shocking. She told me that the Serbs hold that the Austrians had no right to bombard Belgrade, as it was an unfortified town, and I could not understand whether this was just an attitude of the people or a serious opinion of informed men. So I asked, ’Does your husband think so?‘ She gave a queer, sly smile and said, ’Yes, he would say so, but then he is a good official.’ That seemed to me the most utterly undisciplined and disloyal thing that the foreign-born wife of an official could possibly say.’ It was then that a waiter came to announce a telephone call from Constantine. When my husband came back he said, ‘Constantine tells me we will not be going to the Frushka Gora tomorrow, but the day after. Tomorrow he wants us to go and have lunch at a place called Franzstal.’ ‘Franzstal? Why Franzstal?’ I said. ‘It is a suburb inhabited by the Swabs, the Germans who were settled here by Maria Theresa to colonize the lands that had been neglected by the Turks. But we will not see them if we go there by day, they will all be out at work in Belgrade or in the fields. Is there anything specially interesting there?’ ‘That is what I asked Constantine,’ said my husband, ‘but he only said, as one who is doing his best, that the Swab girls wore from ten to twenty petticoats.’
Next day we learned that the second part of our conversation was explained by the first, as we crossed the Danube and found our way to Zemun, which used to be the first town over the Hungarian frontier, and is now remarkable only for its enormous population of storks. Gerda wore an expression of sleepy satisfaction which increased as we drew nearer to Franzstal. Now, as she sat at this table in the courtyard, eating her tepid sausages, her face was soft with complete contentment. Constantine watched her and broke into a tender laugh. ‘Is it not extraordinary, the patriotism of Germans?’ he asked us. ‘My wife is quite happy, because this little village is quite German and she feels she is surrounded by what is German.’ It was difficult to make a helpful response. I am fond of England myself, but I trust that if I lived in Rome I would not insist that some French or German visitors who happened to be in my power should cancel a trip to Tivoli or Frascati in order to spend the day in an English tea-room. ‘Would you believe it,’ continued Constantine fondly, ‘she would not consent to be my wife until I had admitted to her that Charlemagne was a German. They are like rocks, these Germans.’ A silence fell. My husband and I were both reflecting that in the Nazis’ opinion Charlemagne was not a German but an oppressor of Germans. Since we dared not make a frivolous comment and could not make a serious one, our eyes grew vacant. Above us the misused day was glorious. We heard doors banging in the inn, somewhere a parrot began to scream. A girl in bunchy skirts came into the courtyard, put down a ewer, and pulled up an iron plate in the paving and drew herself some water from a well. ‘Look,’ said poor Constantine timidly, ‘she is wearing very many petticoats, it might be as many as ten or twenty.’
We stood in the disordered rooms of some sort of society called ‘The Serbian Queen Bee,’ and I had difficulty in fixing my attention on Constantine and the officials of the society as they explained to us precisely what it was. We had started at seven from Belgrade and had travelled for two hours to Novi Sad, a journey which might have been pleasant, for the train ran beside the hallucinatory landscape of the misted Danube floods, but which was not, because it became apparent that Gerda had decided to detest us. Every word and movement of hers, and even in some mysterious way her complete inaction, implied that she was noble, patient, industrious, modest, and self-effacing, whereas we were materialist, unstable, idle, extravagant, and aggressive. She was at that moment standing in the corner of the room behind the men who were talking to me, silently exuding this libellous charade.
The town, I understood they were telling me, had been founded by the Patriarch Arsenius III at the end of the seventeenth century. When the Serbians revolted against the Turks in 1689 and failed, the Emperor Leopold of Austria offered them asylum on his territories, with full rights of religious worship and a certain degree of self-government. There were already a number of Serb settlers there who had been introduced by the Turks when Hungary was theirs. The Patriarch accepted the offer and led across the Danube thirty thousand Serbian families, from all parts of the land, as far south as Macedonia and Old Serbia. Some of them had settled here in Neuestadt, as it had been called. A good many of them had fled back to Turkish territory, for the Emperor broke his promises, and the Austrians and Hungarians bled them white with financial and military levies and forbade them the use of the Orthodox rite. Only for a little time, under Maria Theresa’s liberal son, the Emperor Joseph, did the refugee Serbs enjoy honest treatment. But they never forgot their language and their culture, and in 1823 they founded this literary society, ‘The Serbian Queen Bee.’ It was unfortunate that we had come to visit its headquarters just when it had been handed over to the house painter, they said anxiously.
We could get some idea of what the society had preserved, we replied; and pulled out some of the pictures that were stacked against the wall. We came again and again on typical portraits of the sort that pullulated on the whole of nineteenth-century Europe except France, where there were too many good eighteenth-century portrait-painters for artlessness to take the country by storm. Men who were nothing but moustaches and sloping shoulders, women who were nothing but smoothly parted coiffures and stiffly caged bodices, had their Slav characteristics contracted down to a liverish look. ‘They did not migrate here,’ murmured my husband, ‘until three hundred years after the destruction of the Serbo-Byzantine civilization. I expect the continuity was quite thoroughly broken, and that King Alexander was simply a doctrinaire acting on nationalist—’ His voice broke. ‘Theory,’ he added, uncertainly. He had turned to the light a Byzantine Madonna, vast-eyed, rigid in the climax of an exalted rhythm. The Serbs had, indeed, not lost all their baggage on their way here.
‘I will show you all,’ said Constantine, ‘all I will show you. Therefore we must hurry, for I will show you the Patriarchate at Karlovtsi, which has been the headquarters of the Serbian Church since the great migration of Arsenius, before we go to the monasteries of the Frushka Gora.’ So we soon left this town, which was very agreeable and recalled my own Edinburgh in its trim consciousness of its own distinction. Our road took us into pretty country, green and rolling, at the river’s edge. Once we paused at a church that had the remarried look of a building that has changed its faith. It had been a mosque during the hundred and fifty years the Turks held Hungary; it has since the early eighteenth century been a Roman Catholic Church. The clublike atmosphere of a mosque still hung round it: it had a wide terrace overlooking the waters, where there should have been sitting impassive and contented men in fezes, drawing on some immense secret fund of leisure. We stood there for a moment, soothed by the miles of water, pale as light itself, on which stranded willows impressed dark emblems, garlands and true-lover’s knots and cat‘s-cradles. We went back to our contest with mud, with the dark Central European ooze that is never completely mastered save by a drought so extreme as to be a still greater affliction, that rose now in thick waves before our wheels, that kept the upper hand even in the main street of Karlovtsi, though that was a handsome little town.
The Patriarchate was a nineteenth-century stone palace, built in the Byzantine style with Austrian solidity, rich in arch and balcony. We went up a flight of steps to the florid entrance and rang the bell, and looked round us at the gardens, which were very ornate in the formal style, with many flower-beds laid out in intricate shapes and surrounded with low box hedges, and numbers of lilac bushes bearing peculiarly heavy purple flowers. The door did not open. We rang the bell again, we knocked with our fists, we went back to the car and sounded the hooter. Nothing happened, so we went into the gardens, Constantine clapping his hands and crying ‘Holla! Holla!’ to the unresponsive palace. The gardens were mystifying, inside the beautifully tended box hedges the flower-beds were choked with weeds, a single garden chair, made of white painted wire in the Victorian fashion, was set quite alone on a wide gravel space, with an air of deluded sociability, as if it had gone mad and thought that there were about it many other garden chairs. Children came in from the street and followed us about. We could find no gardener, and the only door we could find opened into a large room with stone shelves used for storing an immense quantity of jam. We had given up all hope of entering, and had paused to inhale the scent of the prodigious purple lilacs, when an old man carrying an orange came out of a door we had not seen and told us that the Patriarch was in Belgrade, but there were some priests working at the printing-press near by, and he would fetch us one of them.
There came to us a tall monk, nobly beautiful, wearing a cloak of complicated design and majestic effect: all the garments worn in the Eastern Church are inherited from Byzantium and recall its glory. He had perfect manners, and was warm in his greeting to Constantine and Gerda, but his eyes lay on us with a certain coldness and reproach. I was surprised at this, for I had always found Orthodox ecclesiastics disposed to treat English people as if they were members of the same Church; but I supposed that here, at headquarters, they might be stricter in their interpretation of schism and heresy. But he was courteous, and told us that he would take us over the Patriarchate, and would like also to show us the printing-press, in which he took a special interest as he was head of Propaganda.
It lay behind the gardens, in a no-man‘s-land of alleys and outhouses, countryish and clean, with here and there more of those prodigious lilacs, and little streams running down to the Danube. From a courtyard filled with green light by a gnarled old fruit tree we went into a dusty office, where an old priest and a young one sat at rickety desks furnished with ink-wells and pens and blotting-paper that all belonged to the very dawn of stationery. Pamphlets of artless appearance, incompetently tied up in bales, were lying about not in disarray but in only amateurish array. We went down a step or two to the composing-room, where a man stood before the sloping trays and set up print in the fantastic Old Slavonic type used in Orthodox missals and in no secular writings whatsoever. We went up a step or two into a room where young girls bound the pamphlets, not very skilfully but most devoutly. Then in another room, either two steps up or two steps down but certainly not on the same level, we found a lovely twisted old man, deformed by the upward spiral of his spirit, as EI Greco loved to paint his holy kind. He fed the printing machine with sheets as if he had to school himself to remember that the poor mindless thing could do its sacred work only at a certain pace. We might have been visiting the office of some small, fantastic cult carried on by a few pure and obstinate and unworldly people in some English town. Indeed, I know a shop in a Sussex village, owned by a sect which believes that the way to please God is by ritual water-drinking, which was the precise analogue of this modest and fanatic establishment. Yet this was the analogue of a printing-press owned by the Church of England and housed by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the grounds of Lambeth Palace.
We had still to wait for some minutes before the front door of the Patriarchate, though the priest had gone through the kitchen to send up a servant to open it. Then it slowly swung open, and a withered little major-domo looked out at us. It seemed to me that he pursed his lips when he saw my husband and myself. ‘Good morning,’ said Constantine, stepping inside, ‘and how is life going with you?’ ‘Polako, polako,’ answered the little man, that is, ‘Only so-so.’ ‘Why, he speaks like a Russian,’ said Constantine, and talked to him for a little. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘he was a Russian officer, and he is very pious and he would like to be a monk, but he has a wife, so they have made him major-domo here.’ He was at least somewhere which might have reminded him of his home. I have never been to Russia, but I have visited states which formed part of Tsarist Russia, Finland and Estonia and Latvia, and I am familiar with villas that have belonged to rich Russians in France and Italy and Germany, and I can recognize a certain complex of decoration and architecture as Romanoff and nothing else.
It has elements that can be matched in other countries. Something like it can be seen in the older mansions built by the nineteenth-century barons on Riverside Drive and in the Middle West and the West; there is the same profusion of busy and perforate woodwork in the interior. There is a suggestion also of the photograph-frames and boxes made of shells which are to be bought at English seaside towns; and- they recall also the presents that people give each other in German provincial shops, such as umbrellas with pink marble tops cut into stags’ heads. There is a suggestion, in fact, of every kind of bad taste known to Western civilization, down to the most naive and the most plebeian; and there is a curious absence of any trace of the classical and moderating influence which France has exercised on the rest of Europe, though it has suffered the gilt infection spread by the Roi Soleil. Yet there is also from time to time the revelation of a taste so superb that it puts the West to shame. There is here a passion which is the root of our love for beauty, and therefore of our effort for art; the passion for beautiful substances, for coloured gems, for shining stone, for silver and gold and crystal. There is not only this basis for art, there is art, there is a creative imagination that conceives vast and simple visions, as a nomad would see them, who, lifting his eyes from the plains, looks on the huge procession of the clouds. There is also a feeling for craft; this nomad was accustomed to pick up soft metal and twist it into the semblance of horses and wild beasts, shapes he could criticize, since he rode the one and hunted the other, so much that he knew their bodies as his own.
We are perhaps looking not at a manifestation of bad taste at all, but at the bewilderment of a powerful person with perfect taste who has been suddenly transported from a world in which there are only a few materials, and those in a pure state, to be shaped by that taste or ignored, into another world, crammed with small manufactured objects, the product of other people’s tastes, which are so different from his that he cannot form any just estimate of their value. The powerful Russian people were kept from Western art by the Tartar occupation. They have never made full contact with it. This is no more than a giant’s stupendous innocence; yet it is also a giant’s stupendous vulgarity. He has resolved his doubts in too many cases by consideration of the money value of objects, or of the standards of people who may be of rank but who are historically ridiculous. But he is a giant, and it is something to be above the dwarfish ordinary stature.
There was, indeed, one room in the Patriarchate that was magnificent, a conference chamber with a superb throne and crimson curtains which might have been taken from one of the finest Viennese palaces, but was derived from a larger and more dramatic inspiration. The rest was faintly bizarre and sometimes that not faintly. We sat down in a small drawing-room, while Constantine talked to the priest and the major-domo; and I remarked that the furniture was not what would have been found in an English archbishop’s palace. It was a suite made from black wood, including chairs and tables and bookcases, all decorated with gilt carvings, three or four inches long, representing women nude to the waist, with their breasts strongly defined. They were placed prominently on the pilasters of the bookcases, on the central legs of the round tables, on the arms of the chairs. They were a proof, of course, of the attitude of the Orthodox Church regarding sexual matters, which it takes without excitement, and I am sure nobody had ever cast on them a pornographic eye. But for all that they were naively chosen as ornaments for an ecclesiastical home.
‘But why,’ I said to Constantine, ‘are both the priest and the major-domo looking at me and my husband as if they hated us?’ ‘Oh, it is nothing personal,’ said Constantine, ‘but they both hate the English.’ ‘Ha, ha, ha!’ said Gerda, laughing like somebody acting in an all-star revival of Sheridan. ‘That I suppose you find very odd, that anybody should hate the English.’ ‘But what do they know about the English?’ asked my husband. ‘The old officer hates very much the English,’ explained Constantine, ‘because he says that it was Sir George Buchanan who started the Russian Revolution.’ We had to think for a minute before we remembered that Sir George Buchanan had been our Ambassador at St Petersburg in 1917. ‘But does he not think that perhaps Kerensky and Lenin had a little to do with it?’ asked my husband. When it was put to him the major-domo shook his head and emitted an impatient flood of liquid consonants. ‘He says,’ translated Constantine, ‘that that is nonsense. How could unimportant people like Kerensky and Lenin do anything like starting a revolution? It must have been someone of real influence like Sir George Buchanan.’
‘Now, ask the priest why he hates the English,’ I said. ‘It is because he believes that Lloyd George could have saved the Romanoff dynasty,’ said Constantine, ‘but I do not understand what he means.’ ‘I know what he means,’ I said; ‘he has heard the story that the Bolsheviks would have allowed the Tsar and Tsarina and their family to come to England, and Lloyd George would not let them. But you can tell him that there was not a word of truth in that story, that Lloyd George’s worst enemies have never been able to confirm it. The Bolsheviks never offered to turn the poor souls over to us and there is no shred of evidence that they would ever have done so if they had been asked.’ But the priest only shook his head, his beautiful brown eyes showing him as inaccessible to argument as if he were a stag. ‘It is no use talking to these good people,’ said Constantine, ‘for this house is all for White Russia. The Patriarch is mad against the Bolsheviks, and he thinks that all European problems would be solved and that we would enter a Golden Age if only the Romanoffs were restored, and he cannot see why England has not done it.’ I thought apprehensively of the stacks of pamphlets in the printing-press, with their rough biscuit-coloured paper and their pale sticky type, and I wondered what astonishing information they gave out when they were designed, as they sometimes are, to instruct the Orthodox laity in political matters.
But before we left for the Frushka Gora, the priest in the grand cloak would have us see the Patriarchate church, which is next door to the palace; and once we were there all the ineffectiveness and artlessness that we had seen, the clutching at broken toys and the kindergarten assurance that life was simple when it was in fact most complicated, fell into its place and appeared legitimate. In the white-and-gold theatre of a baroque church the students of the theological seminary attached to the Patriarchate were assisting at a Lenten mass. The priests passed in and out of the royal door in the great iconostasis, which framed in gilt the richness of the holy pictures. As they came and went there could be seen for an instant the shining glory of the altar, so sacred that it must be hidden lest the people look at it so long that they forget its nature, as those who stare at the sun see in time not the source of light but a black circle. The students’ voices affirmed the glory of the hidden altar, and declared what it is that makes the adorable, what loveliness is and harmony. The unfolding of the rite brought us all down on our knees in true prostration, with the forehead bent to the floor. ‘it is only necessary to do this during Holy Week,’ gasped Constantine apologetically in my ear. ‘I am so very sorry.’ He thought that English dignity would be affronted by the necessity to adopt this attitude. But there could have been nothing more agreeable than to be given the opportunity to join in this ceremony, which, if nothing in the Christian legend were true, would still be uplifting and fortifying, since it proclaims that certain elements in experience are supremely beautiful, and that we should grudge them nothing of our love and service. It inoculated man against his constant and disgusting madness, his preference for the disagreeable over the agreeable. Here was the unique accomplishment of the Eastern Church. It was the child of Byzantium, a civilization which had preferred the visual arts to literature, and had been divided from the intellectualized West by a widening gulf for fifteen hundred years. It was therefore not tempted to use the doctrines of the primitive Church as the foundation of a philosophical and ethical system unbridled in its claim to read the thoughts of God; and it devoted all its forces to the achievement of the mass, the communal form of art which might enable man from time to time to apprehend why it is believed that there may be a God. In view of the perfection of this achievement, the ecclesiastics of the Eastern Church should be forgiven if they show the incompetence in practical matters and the lack of general information which we take for granted in painters and musicians. They are keeping their own order, we cannot blame them if they do not keep ours.
The Frushka Gora, that is to say the Frankish Hills, which are called by that name for a historical reason incapable of interesting anybody, lie to the south of the Danube; and we had to drive across the range to find the monasteries founded by the seventeenth-century migrants, for they lie scattered on the southern slopes, looking back towards Siberia. Once we were over the crest we found ourselves in the most entrancing rounded hills, clothed with woods now golden rather than green with the springtime, which ran down to vast green and purple plains, patterned with shadows shed by a tremendous cloudscape, slowly sailing now on its way to Asia. We stopped to eat at a hotel high above a valley that fell in a golden spiral to the plains; and it should have been agreeable, for this is a centre for walking-tours, and we had around us many young people, probably teachers freed from their duty because it was near Easter, and there is nothing so pretty as the enjoyment people get out of simple outings in countries that have been liberated by the Great War. It is so in all the Habsburg succession states, and it is so in the Baltic provinces that once were Russia, Finland and Estonia and Latvia. But we did not enjoy our outing so much as we might have, because Gerda had been on the wrong side of the peace treaties.
Constantine was saying, ‘And much, much did we Serbs owe to those Serbs who were in Hungary, who were able to bring here the bodies of their kings and their treasure and keep alive their culture,’ when Gerda crossly interrupted him. ‘But why were the Serbs allowed to stay here?’ ‘It is not a question of being allowed to stay here,’ said Constantine, ‘they were invited here by the Austrian Empire.’ ‘Nonsense,’ said Gerda; ‘one does not invite people to come and live in one’s country.’ ‘But sometimes one does,’ said Constantine; ‘the Austrian Emperor wanted the Serb soldiers to protect his lands against the Turks, so in exchange he promised them homes.’ ‘But if the Austrians gave the Serbs homes then it was most ungrateful for the Yugoslavs to turn the Hungarians out of this part of the country,’ said Gerda, ‘it should still be a part of Hungary.’ ‘But we owe nothing to Hungary, for they broke all their promises to the Serbs,’ said Constantine, ‘and since the Austro-Hungarian Empire has ceased to exist and we reconstituted it according to the principle of self-determination and there were more Slavs here than any other people, this certainly had to become Yugoslavia.’
To change the subject Constantine went on, ‘But there are Slavs everywhere, God help the world. You have the Wends in Germany, many of them, and some distinguished ones, for the great Lessing was a Wend. They are Slavs.’ ‘But surely none of them remember that,’ said my husband. ‘Indeed they do,’ said Constantine; ‘there was a Wendish separatist movement before the war and for some time after the war, with its headquarters in Saxony. I know that well, for in 1913 I went with a friend to stay in Dresden, and when we described ourselves as Serbs the hotel porter would not have it at all. He said, “I know what you mean, and I have sympathy with all who stand with their race, but you will get me into trouble with the police if you say you are Serbs,” and he would hardly believe it when he looked at our passports and saw that there was a country called Serbia.’ ‘But if all the Wends are Slavs,’ said Gerda, ‘why do we not send them out of Germany into the Slav countries, and give the land that they are taking up to true Germans?’ ‘Then the Slavs,’ I said, ‘might begin to think about sending back into Germany all the German colonists that live in places like Franzstal.’ ‘Why, so they might,’ said Gerda, looking miserable, since an obstacle had arisen in the way of her ideal programme for making Europe clean and pure and Germanic by coercion and expulsion. She said in Serbian to her husband, ‘How this woman lacks tact.’ ‘I know, my dear,’ he answered gently, ‘but do not mind it, enjoy the scenery.’
She could not. Her eyes filled with angry tears, the lower part of her face became podgy with sullenness. We none of us knew what to say or do, but just at that moment someone turned on the radio and the restaurant was flooded with a symphony by Mozart, and we all forgot Gerda. Constantine began to hum the theme, and his plump little hands followed the flight of Mozart’s spirit as at Yaitse they had followed the motion of the bird at the waterfall. We all drew on the comfort which is given out by the major works of Mozart, which is as real and material as the warmth given by a glass of brandy, and I wondered, seeing its efficacy, what its nature might be. It is in part, no doubt, the work of the technical trick by which Mozart eliminates the idea of haste from life. His airs could not lag as they make their journey through the listener’s attention; they are not the right shape for loitering. But it is as true that they never rush, they are never headlong or helterskelter, they splash no mud, they raise no dust. It is, indeed, inadequate to call the means of creating such an effect a mere technical device. For it changes the content of the work in which it is used., it presents a vision of a world where man is no longer the harassed victim of time but accepts its discipline and establishes a harmony with it. This is not a little thing, for our struggle with time is one of the most distressing of our fundamental conflicts; it holds us back from the achievement and comprehension that should be the justification of our life. How heavily this struggle weighs on us may be judged from certain of our preferences. Whatever our belief in the supernatural may be, we all feel that Christ was something that St Paul was not; and it is impossible to imagine Christ hurrying, while it is impossible to imagine St Paul doing anything else.
But that was not all there was in the music; it was not merely the indication of a heavenly mode. The movement closed. It was manifest that an argument too subtle and profound to be put into words—for music can deal with more than literature—had been stated and had been resolved in some true conclusion. If those of us who listened should encounter the circumstances which provoke this argument we would know the answer, we would not have to agonize to find it for ourselves if we had been sensitive enough to recognize it. But as the eardrums were taken over by the ordinary sounds of a restaurant, by chatter and clatter, it became apparent how little as well as how much the music had done for us. A particular problem had been solved for us, but in a way that made it completely unserviceable to those millions of people who do not like music, and that indeed was not as clear to all of us as it should have been if we were to get on with the business of living. To comprehend this solution we had all had to learn to listen to music for years, and when we wanted to recall it in time of need we had to exercise both our memories and our powers of interpretation. A tool should not make such demands on those that handle it. And of such solutions Mozart had found only a number, which was large when one considered how great the genius required for their finding, but small compared to the number of problems that vex mankind; and he was unique in his powers, none has excelled him. Art covers not even a corner of life, only a knot or two here and there, far apart and without relation to the pattern. How could we hope that it would ever bring order and beauty to the whole of that vast and intractable fabric, that sail flapping in the contrary winds of the universe? Yet the music had promised us, as it welled forth from the magic box in the wall over our heads, that all should yet be well with us, that sometime our life should be as lovely as itself. But perhaps no such promise had been given; perhaps it was only true that had a human voice spoken in such tones it would have been to express tender and protective love. If the musician used them in the course of his composition it might be only because he found they fitted in some entertaining arrangement of the scale.
At a point on the plains there was now heaped up a drift of dark cloud; and through this there ran a shaft of lightning. A storm was on us, and it was in alternate blackness and greenish crystal light that we began our journey to four of the monasteries of the Frushka Gora, a journey which was astonishing in the directness of its contact with the past. It was as if one should drive along the South Downs, turning off the main road and following by-roads in to the downlands at Sullington and Washington and Steyning, and should find buildings where persons involved in the tragedy of Richard II had but newly cast aside their garments in mourning, where the sound of their weeping was hardly stilled. It made for a strangeness which immediately caught the eye that all these monasteries, so far from Byzantium, are built in the Byzantine fashion, with the quarters for the monks or nuns and pilgrims built in a square round and open space with the church in the middle. Though some have been burned down and rebuilt in the style of the Austrian baroque, they keep to the original ground plan, and cannot be confused with anything of recent or Western inspiration.
The first monastery we visited had been rebuilt in Austrian fashion. It raised above its quadrangle roofs a cupola as ornate as a piece of white coral, dazzling now in the strange stormlight against an inky sky; and it lay among orchards, their tree-trunks ghostly with spray. It might have been in the Helenenthal, an hour from Vienna. But within we found that the Eastern idea was still in government, that a wall had been built before the altar to damn the flow of light, to store up a reservoir of darkness where mystery could engender its sacred power. It possessed some relics of a saint, a Herzegovinian soldier who had wandered hither and thither fighting against the Turk, first under a Serbian despot and then under a Hungarian king. The legend ran that the Turks took the town where he was buried and were terrified because rays of light proceeded from his grave, and went to their emir, who was overcome at finding who the dead man had been and gave his body to the monks of this monastery. For this emir was a renegade who had been taken prisoner by the Turks and had bought his life by renouncing his faith; and he was not only a Herzegovinian, he was actually kin to the dead man. The news of this wonder came to the Saint’s widow, who was a refugee in Germany, and she sought out this monastery, in defiance of the Turks, and became a hermit near by, till she died and was buried here, near to her husband.
This might have happened yesterday, indeed it might have happened today, for the monastery is in the care of White Russian nuns, wearing a melancholy head-dress of a close black cap fitting over a black veil that falls about the shoulders, and still preoccupied by the distress of their exile. It was hard to keep their misfortunes distinct in our minds from those of the founders of the monastery, and indeed others had failed to do so. Constantine halted by a grave in the quadrangle to tell me that it housed an abbess who had been stricken down during the seventeenth-century migration; and two young novices who were standing by, girls who had been born after their parents’ flight from their fatherland and had been drawn here by an inborn Tsarist nostalgia, exclaimed in surprise. They had thought her one of their own community who had died on her way from Russia.
The black sky was pressing lower, the cloisters gleamed at us through an untimely dusk. Constantine thought that if we were to be storm-bound it had better be in a monastery where there was more to see, and we hurried back to the car under the first heavy pennies of rain. Thunder and lightning broke on us as we ran into Krushedol, another monastery which has been burned and given an Austrian exterior while keeping its ancient core. But this was older than the others. When the leader of the Slav forces at the battle of Kossovo, the Tsar Lazar, was killed on the field, the rags of his power were inherited by his kin, and there was one unhappy heir, named Stephen, whose fate was lamentable even for that age. His father, forced to seal a treaty by giving the Sultan Murad his daughter as a bride, sent his son to bear her company; but in time the Sultan fell into war with his wife’s father and put out the young man’s eyes lest he should take up arms in the fight. In his private darkness he reeled across the Balkan Peninsula, sometimes a captive dragged from prison to prison, then, released, back to his father’s camp on the Danube, then away with his father again to wander in exile. His father died; his two brothers, one blinded like himself by the Sultan, engaged in fratricidal war; his mother also died, it is thought of poison; his blind brother fled and became a monk on Mount Athos; his victorious brother died. Though this dead usurper had named an heir, a party of the nobles took Stephen, and, spinning him round as in the game of blind-man‘s-buff, made him declare himself Despot of Serbia. The Serbians, seeing themselves threatened with civil war in the face of their Hungarian and Turkish enemies, rushed on him and sent him out of their land, bound and under guard. Again he stumbled about the Balkan Peninsula, sometimes pushed back into Serbia by his heartless supporters and beaten out again by his reluctant subjects, always preserving his gentle, patient fortitude. At one time he seemed to find a lasting refuge in Albania, where the great hero Skanderbeg took a great liking to him and gave him his own daughter, the Duchess Angelina, for wife. But the Turks came to Albania also, and the blind man was homeless again, and was in Italy when death took him. Then his widow and his two sons, now penniless, started to wander afresh, and Hungarian charity maintained them here. One of the sons became a priest, and he founded this monastery, and in time all three of them were laid in the same tomb before the altar. In the dark church, that blazed with light because of the profligate but mellow gilding on the iconostasis, we were shown the Duchess Angelina’s narrow and elegant hand, black and mummified, loaded with the inalienable rings of her rank.
But there was other royalty here. Under a round red stone on the floor was buried King Milan Obrenovitch, the king who was so little of a success that he was forced to abdicate in 1889. Who wandered almost as much as Stephen, but on more comfortable routes, from Belgrade to Vienna and Paris, harried not by the Turks without but by the Turk within. Nor was his grave all we saw of him at Krushedol. There is a memorial to him in the church wall, erected by the Emperor Franz Josef. ‘Why not?’ said Constantine. ‘Milan was all for Austria, he governed our country as an Austrian dependency.’ Later, in the treasury, which was not in the church but in the monastery, a flash of lightning dispersed the unnatural dusk and showed us the contorted trees of the wind-flogged woods outside, and inside a medley of Byzantine church vestments, medieval chalices and crosses, ancient manuscripts, and the cups and saucers, prettily painted with pale flowers in the Slav fashion, the silver teapots and coffee-pots, the wine-glasses and decanters, of King Milan’s last establishment. These had been sent here by the Emperor Franz Josef, to whom, by an act of testamentary whimsy, King Milan had left the entire contents of his home.
‘It would be, quite simply, that he would hardly notice to whom he left them, so long as it was not to his wife, Natalia,’ said Constantine. ‘Is she buried here?’ I asked. ‘No, not at all,’ said Constantine. The negative he used sounded delightful in this connexion. ‘She is not dead, she is living in Paris, very poor.10 Only the other day the Government was obliged to prevent a German company from making a film about the Obrenovitches and she wrote a letter about it.’ ‘And she will never be buried here,’ said the Abbot, a grave person who had been a priest and had become a monk ten years ago, after the death of his beloved wife. ‘That is, unless she is granted the light before she dies, for she was converted to Roman Catholicism about thirty years ago. It was a strange thing to do, for our people had been kind to her, and had taken her part when her husband dealt wickedly with her.’
In another room there was arranged all the furniture from King Milan’s drawing-room; a salon of the eighties sat there in its stuffy and shiny richness, and from its walls there stared the portraits of the doomed family—King Milan, with the wide cat-grin of a tormented buffoon, the excessively, grossly beautiful Queen Natalia, their fat son Alexander, who was like his father in resembling a cat, though this time the cat had been doctored, and Queen Draga, who was so prosaic that even now, when we can recognize her expression as fear and know what she feared, her face remains completely uninteresting. ‘Our Mrs Simpson,’ said Constantine, pointing to her picture. ‘Yes! yes! Our Mrs Simpson,’ cried the Abbot, going into fits of laughter. There was also King Milan’s bedroom, furnished in rosewood, and more portraits of these unhappy people, preserved in tragedy like flies in amber.
Before we went away I went into the treasury again to take a last look at the embroideries and caught sight of two photographs which showed Serb peasants and soldiers and priests walking through the snow, with expressions of extreme anguish, bringing the body of King Milan to his grave. ‘But how could they feel so passionately about Milan Obrenovitch?’ I asked Constantine. ‘He had done ill by his country and ill in his personal life. I noticed that even the Abbot spoke of him as behaving wickedly.’ ‘It does not matter what Milan Obrenovitch was in himself,’ said Constantine. ‘He was our first-crowned king after the Turkish conquest. When we were free our power flamed like a torch in the hands of our Emperor Stephen Dushan, but afterwards it grew dim, and in the poor wretch who was the husband of the Duchess Angelina it guttered and went out. The dead torch was lit again by Karageorge, and it grew bright in the hand of his successor, Prince Michael Obrenovitch, and when Milan made himself King its light grew steady, though his was not the hand that was to bear it, and it was the same torch that our ancient dynasty of the Nemanyas had carried. So why should we care what else he had done? It was not Milan but their king whom these Serbs were following through the snow, it was the incarnation of Serbian power.‘
When the storm had lifted we drove out again on the plains, now lying under a purged and crystal air, in which all things were more than visible, in which each blade piercing the rich spring earth could be seen for miles in its green sharpness, in which the pools outside the villages carried not reflections but solid paintings of the blue sky and silver clouds. Then we turned back to the range of downs and entered it by a little valley, which presently ran into a cache of apple orchards, a lovely coomb as sweet as anything Devonshire or Normandy can show. Behind a white wall shielded by fruit trees and Judas trees we found a monastery enclosing an astonishing church, that had been built after the emigration had done its work on the migrated craftsmen’s imagination; it was a fusion, lovely but miscegenic, of the Byzantine and the baroque styles, of fourteenth-century Eastern and seventeenth-century Western styles. While we gaped there came up to us a Russian monk, a young man who, like the nuns we had seen at the first monastery, must have been born after his parents had left Russia. He was beautiful, with the eyes seen only in Russians so far as I know, which look dangerous as naked lights carried on the stage, by reason of their extraordinary lambency. He told us with smiling remoteness that the Abbot was away; and we were disappointed, for the Abbot is a Pribitchevitch, one of a family that has been dominant in this Serb colony ever since the migration, and is the brother of a famous democratic politician who died in exile during the dictatorship of King Alexander. ‘That is a pity,’ said Constantine; ‘however, we can still show these English people what is interesting here.’ ‘But there is nothing interesting here,’ said the Russian monk, ‘we have only the body of a Serbian emperor.’ He spoke without insolence, his remark proceeded from a complete failure to form any sort of relationship with his surroundings, however hospitable they might have been, which is characteristic of a certain kind of White Russian émigré.
We said that we found that interesting enough; and he went with us into the exquisite mongrel church, and we found it glowing and beautiful within. There were two handsome girls on step-ladders cleaning the windows, and they clattered down and followed us, smiling in welcome and at the same time murmuring in piety, as we went towards the sarcophagus of the Emperor. The Russian monk lifted its lid and showed us the body under a square of tarnished cloth of silver, but would not uncover it for us. He shrugged his shoulders and said that it was only done on the Emperor’s day; he would have seemed on a par with a girl in a milliner’s shop refusing to take a hat out of the window had it not been quite plain that, while he was flagrantly frivolous, religious ecstasy was not only within the range of his experience, it was never very far from him. But the two girls behind us sighed deeply in their disappointment.
‘This is Urosh, the son of Stephen Dushan,’ said Constantine; ‘he was a poor weakling, and lost all his father’s empire in a few years.’ ‘Yet he is venerated,’ I said. ‘But certainly,’ said Constantine. ‘But do the people who venerate him know what he did?’ I asked. ‘Do these girls, for instance, know that he destroyed the Serbian Empire and paved the way to Kossovo?’ ‘Well, I would not say they could pass an examination in the facts,’ said Constantine, ‘but certainly they know that he was weak and he failed. That, however, is not of the smallest importance. He was of our ancient dynasty, he was a Nemanya, and the Nemanyas were sacred. Not only were they the instruments of our national power, they have a religious significance to us. Some of them are described on their graves as “saintement né,” born in sanctity; and this Urosh, though he was quite simply killed by a usurper of his secular power, is called by our Church the martyr. This is not mere nationalist piety. It is due to the historical fact that the Nemanyas simultaneously enforced on us Serbs Christianity and unity. We were Christians before, of course, but we had not a living church of our own. Then this extraordinary family of little, little princelings from an obscure village below Montenegro on the Adriatic came and did in a few years as much as Rome has done for any state in centuries. The first Nemanya to rule Serbia, Stephen Nemanya, became a monk, when he abdicated in favour of his son Stephen, and is known as St Simeon, and he is a true saint: the oil from his grave at Studenitsa does many miracles; and one of his sons became our St Sava, and was a monk on Mount Athos, and left his monastery when his brother’s throne seemed insecure and organized Serbia into such a close-knit fabric of church and state that, though the heirs of the throne were incompetent for sixty years afterwards, nothing could unravel it. But as well as a statesman Sava was a saint, and was a pilgrim and visited the monks of Thebaid. And his brother, too, King Stephen II, he also was a saint. When he lay dying he sent for St Sava to make him a monk, but St Sava came too late; but God vouchsafed that he should be raised from the dead to take his vows as a monk and so his corpse stood up and was consecrated. I tell you no people could be expected to forget the identification between saint and king, between religion and nationalism, which was made by our early history.’
‘Good-bye,’ said the Russian monk at the gateway, ‘the Abbot will be sorry not to have seen you, particularly as you are English. He has gone to the post-office now to complain because some English books have not arrived; I think they were sent to him by something called the Left Book Club.’ We left the hills and went back into the plains, which were again threatened by storm, and then returned to the hills by another valley, which was astounding in its likeness to a corner in the Wiltshire downs. Twisted thorn trees guard austere channels of turf; but the hillside that closed our road was broken by the fine-drawn iron-mongery of a pithead, and we came into a mining village, as monotonous as such are in every country and continent, but here radiant with whitewash. Among its right angles we got lost, and stopped to ask our way to the Vrdnik monastery from a group of boys. One of them got on the footboards to guide us, and brought us down to a morass in the middle of the village, which we had to skirt carefully, for it was involved with a railway line. ‘Look up, look up,’ said the boy, pointing up to the hillside before us, ‘there stands Vrdnik, see how great its walls are, see how rich it is, with all its vineyards and orchards.’ As we walked up a gold-green avenue of poplars to the gateway he told us that he was going to be a monk, and so were all the boys with whom he had been walking when we found him. ‘Why is that?’ asked Constantine. ‘Did your mothers promise you to God when you were born?’ ‘No, no,’ he said. ‘It is our own idea. We love this monastery, we come to it whenever we can and we are always happy here, and we want to serve it all our lives.’
Vrdnik is larger than the other monasteries, which is natural, since its unique possessions attract many pilgrims; and because of the wealth drawn from these pilgrimages the large two-storied quadrangle is in good repair, handsomely whitewashed, and laid out like a garden with plum trees and Japanese quinces. The church is also different from the others. It seems to reject the Byzantine prescription that magic must be made in darkness. Direct light shines on the gilded iconostasis and on the multicoloured thrones, and shines back amber from the polished marble pavement. It can be so, for there is no need to manufacture magic here. That already exists in the coffin lying before the iconostasis, which contains the body of the Tsar Lazar who fell at Kossovo.
He lies in a robe of faded red and gold brocade. A dark cloth hides his head and the gap between it and his shoulders. His mummified brown hands, nearly black, are crossed above his loins, still wearing the bright rings of his rank. His dwindled feet have been thrust into modern stockings, and over them have been pulled soft medieval boots of blue silk interwoven with a gold thread. He is shrunken beyond belief; his hip-bones and his shoulders raise the brocade in sharp points. He is piteous as a knot of men standing at a street-corner in Jarrow or a Welsh mining town. Like them he means failure, the disappointment of hopes, the waste of powers. He means death also, but that is not so important. Who would resent death if it came when all hopes had been realized and all powers turned to use? There is an ideal point at which the fulfilment of life must pass into the acceptance of death. But defeat is defeat, and bitter; not only for the sake of pride, but because it blunts the sword of the will, which is the sole instrument man has been given to protect himself from the hostile universe and to impose on it his vision of redemption. When this man met defeat it was not only he whose will was frustrated, it was a whole people, a whole faith, a wide movement of the human spirit. This is told by the splendid rings on the Tsar Lazar’s black and leathery hands; and the refinement of the pomp which presents him in his death, the beauty and gravity of the enfolding ritual, show the worth of what was destroyed with him. I put out a finger and stroked those hard dry hands, that had been nerveless for five hundred years. It is written here that the lot of man is pitiful, since the odds are against him, and he can command the success he deserves only if an infinite number of circumstances work in his favour; and existence shows no trace of such a bias.
In a dark and cramped treasury are some untidy ancient manuscripts, on which a Tauchnitz edition of The Hound of the Baskervilles has curiously intruded, and certain possessions of the Tsar Lazar: the icon on which he swore his nobles to loyalty before the battle, the beaker from which he drank, the model of one of his cities. There is no reason to doubt that any of these are genuine. The Turks let Lazar’s widow take his corpse and all his private treasures, and in the course of time she placed them in the monastery of Ravanitsa, which he himself had founded, in Serbia, far south of Belgrade on the way to Nish. It was often attacked and damaged by the Turks, and the migrants of 1683 took away its relics and built this new monastery, which for this reason is often also called Ravanitsa, to house them. I went down on my knees to peer at the precious objects through the glass case of the cupboard. The icon was damaged but enormously beautiful: in the background was a soaring close-pressed assembly of saints, conceived by an imagination disciplined and formalized by experience of ceremonial. There was also a panel of velvet, once crimson, now maroon, which was embroidered in silver-gilt thread with words, many words, a prayer, a poem.
It was sewn by the Princess Euphemia, the widow of a Serbian prince killed by the Turks, who had found refuge at the court of the Tsar Lazar. After Lazar had fallen at Kossovo she went with his widow Militza to the monastery of Lyubostinya, where they both became nuns. She was an embroideress of great genius. Two of the most famous pieces of early embroidery in Europe are her work: the curtain for the sanctuary doors in the church of Hilandar, the Serbian monastery on Mount Athos, and a cloth for laying on the altar during Lent, now in the monastery of Putna in Roumania. In the silence of the monastery she worked a pall to cover the severed head of the Tsar Lazar, and on it she wrote him a letter with her needle.
‘You were brought up among all the good things of this earth, O Prince Lazar, O new-made martyr,’ she begins. ‘The power of the Lord made you strong and famous among all the kings of the world. You ruled over the land of your fathers and in all right ways did you give happiness to the Christian folk who were laid in your hands. In courage and piety did you go out to do battle against the snake Murad, the enemy of God’s church, because your heart could not bear to see the hosts of Ismail ruling in Christian lands. You were determined that if you failed you would quit this crumbling fortress of earthly power and, red in your own blood, be one with the hosts of the Heavenly King.
‘You had both your desires fulfilled. You slew the snake and you won from God the martyr’s crown. So do not now forget your beloved children, who are left desolate by your death, while you are enjoying the everlasting delights of Heaven. Many troubles and sufferings have fallen on your beloved children, and their lives are passed in sorrow, for the sons of Ismail rule over them, and we sorely need your help. Therefore we beg you to pray the Ruler of Mankind for your beloved children and all who serve them in love and faith. For your children are girt about with many ills, and have forgotten, O martyr, your goodness to them. But though you have quitted this life, you know the troubles and sufferings of your children, and since you are a martyr, you can take certain freedoms with the Lord.
‘So bow your knee before the Heavenly King who bestowed on you the martyr’s crown; beg Him that your beloved children may live long and be happy and do His will; beg Him that the Orthodox Church may stand firm in the land of our fathers; beg Him, who is the Conqueror of All, that He give your beloved sons, Prince Stephen and Prince Vuk, the victory over all their enemies, seen and unseen. If the Lord gives us His help, we shall give you praise and thanks for it. Gather together the company of your fellows, the Holy Martyrs, and with them pray to the God that glorified you. Call St George, rouse St Demetrius, persuade the saintly Theodores, take with you St Mercurius and St Procopius; forget not the forty martyrs of Sebaste, in which town your beloved sons, Prince Stephen and Prince Vuk, are now vassals in the army of the Sultan. Pray that they may be given help from God, come, you, too, to our aid, wherever you may be.
‘Look on my humble offerings and magnify them with your regard, for the praise I offer is not worthy of you, but is only the little that I can do. But as you, my dear Ruler and Holy Martyr, were ever generous of temporal and passing things, how much more freely so will you give us of those great and everlasting things which you have received from God. You abundantly gave me what my body needed when I came to you as a stranger in exile, and now I pray you both that you will save me and that you will calm the wild storm in my soul and in my body. Euphemia offers this from her heart, O blessed saint!’
What has made modern Belgrade, though no one could guess it by looking at the town, is a conscious attempt to restore the glories of the medieval Serbian Empire. The nostalgic frescoes of Oplenats truly reveal the dominating fantasy not only of the Karageorgevitches but of the Serbian people. The memory of the Nemanyas and their wealth and culture was kept alive among the peasants, partly by the Orthodox Church, which very properly never ceased to remind them that they had once formed a free and Christian state, and also by the national ballads. These poems are not quite so artless as they seem. They were composed by the Serbs, more or less collectively, quite a century after the battle of Kossovo, on the model of the chansons de geste, which reached the Balkan Peninsula through Dalmatia at a very early date. Thereafter the full force of the artistic genius of the nation, denied all other outlet, poured into this medium; and the late eighteenth century, which marked the decline of folk-song in the West, here brought it new strength, for the nationalist and liberal ideas popularized by the French Revolution found their perfect expression ready-made in the laments of this enslaved people. The Serbs who took part in the first rising against the Turks in 1804 were, therefore, nothing like primitives who were simply revolting against an immediate injustice. That revolt they were making; but also they were the heirs of a highly developed civilization, which they intended from the first to create anew.
It is possible that the monasteries of the Frushka Gora, the blackened body of the Tsar Lazar, exerted a direct influence on this rising. Karageorge, after the flight from Serbia during which he killed his stepfather, joined the Austrian Army; and though he deserted for a time and became a Haiduk in the mountains, because he believed that he was unfairly neglected in a distribution of medals, he ultimately rejoined his regiment and was accepted by his colonel, who was greatly impressed by his personality, and got him employment after the end of the Turco-Austrian War as a forest ranger in the Frushka Gora. He was there for some years before the mildness of the new Pasha of Belgrade, Hadji Mustapha, ‘the Mother of Serbia,’ tempted him to return to Serbia. He had therefore an ideological experience which is not conveyed in the usual description of him as a swine-herd; and indeed even his material circumstances are not what the term suggests. He was a dealer in swine on such a large scale that his income was probably equivalent to about a thousand pounds a year at the time when he was chosen as the Commandant of Serbia. Though the common lot of the Christian inhabitants of the Ottoman provinces was poverty-stricken, a certain number of exceptions enjoyed quite a handsome degree of prosperity; and according to the usual paradox of revolutions it was these exceptions and not the oppressed multitude who revolted.
It is not clear why the Serbs chose Karageorge for this office. He was over forty. Though he had served in the Austrian Army he does not seem to have won any particular distinction. He was of definitely unstable temperament: he was subject to fits of abstraction that lasted for days, and to gusts of violence caused by flimsy suspicion. But he had a superb physique. He was tall even for a race of tall men, with burning eyes, wild coal-black hair, a face that was still handsome though deeply scared, and a strange vibrant voice. He was a born warrior, and war was the breath of life in his nostrils. More than all else he liked to take part in a cavalry charge, spring from his horse at the climactic moment, and use his rifle in close combat; he shot with his left hand because his right had been smashed to pieces in one of his early campaigns. He had the prestige of high courage, and also that other strange, almost mystical prestige which is accorded to a wealthy man who renounces the more obvious enjoyments that his money might buy. It was the habit of these prosperous Serb rebels to practise a certain imitation of the Turkish pashas, to dress in silks and use gold harness and chased arms, and keep a certain degree of state in their homes. Karageorge dressed and lived and worked with his hand like a peasant.
These were intimations of a certain distinction, but not of the degree or kind which Karageorge afterwards manifested. He showed himself for nine years as one of the most remarkable men in European history. He was brilliant not only as a fighting soldier but as a strategist; his use of his forces to harass an enemy that outnumbered them sometimes by three to one is among the most amazing triumphs of military genius, and it is the more amazing since he had seen the inside of no staff college. He was also a skilful diplomatist, both in dealing with his own people, whom he had to educate in the primal idea of unity, and in playing off Austria and Russia against Turkey without compromising Serbian independence. In the task of setting up some sort of governmental system to oust Turkish maladministration he acted like a farseeing statesman. There, indeed, he showed the first and most unexpected qualities of his genius.
It was evident that the strong individualities of the rebels threatened the country with another form of the anarchy they were seeking to correct. There was every possibility that it might be split up under regional military chiefs, who would wrangle among themselves and reduce the Balkan Christians to the same state of disunity that had left them helpless before the Turks four hundred years before. To control this situation Karageorge founded a Skupshtina or Parliament, of Chiefs, which met each New Year to settle all military matters, tactical, strategic, political, financial, and disciplinary. But this was obviously not a complete government, and shortly after a visit of certain Serbian chiefs to the Tsar led to the formation of another body. In the course of their journey they went to Kharkov, in Poland, and there they met a lawyer named Filipovitch, who was a native of Novi Sad, a descendant of the seventeenth-century Serb migrants. He suggested that he should accompany them home and found a legislative and judicial system in Serbia. They agreed, and took him back with them to Karageorge, who, loyal to the influences of the Frushka Gora, made him welcome and told him to get on with the job.
Filipovitch then sat down and drafted a constitution for the Serbian state. He invented a Soviet, or Council, of twelve persons elected and paid by different districts to manage the general affairs of the country. He inaugurated it, and became its Secretary. There is extant the correspondence in which he made financial provision for the Army by selling the houses and land owned by Turks in Serbian territory, fixed the taxes, organized a system of magistrates, and instructed the Soviet delegates in the exact nature of their rights while warning them against corruption. He also promulgated a legal code based on the Code Napoleon. It is difficult to think of any man in all history who undertook a more comprehensive labour single-handed; and it is interesting to find that Filipovitch was never a vociferous patriot. He appears to have accepted the post largely to escape the climate of Kharkov, which he found extremely disagreeable. But he had a truly legalist mind, in the highest sense, and he delighted in the task of imposing order on a disorderly society for order’s sake; and it is quite apparent that that delight found a response in Karageorge’s very different nature.
He supported Filipovitch enthusiastically in his educational schemes, which were ambitious. Till that time the only schools in Serbia were held in the monasteries, and attendance at them involved great inconvenience, for the monks could not afford to house pupils who did not help in the cultivation of their lands, and a scanty education took several years. The Soviet was instructed by Filipovitch to found an elementary school in every big town, and a secondary school of ambitious curriculum in Belgrade. This greatly pleased Karageorge, for though he himself could not read or write he was a great believer in education, and he was always impressing on his followers, who were for the most part as illiterate as himself, the advantages of having all business recorded in writing.
Even after Filipovitch’s premature death Karageorge continued to work on his high plans. It became obvious as time went on that the Senate did not counterbalance the Skupshtina as had been hoped. The power of the rebel chiefs was, in fact, the only real power in the land, and soon it controlled the Soviet indirectly just as it directly controlled the Skupshtina. They seemed likely not only to split up the country so that it would be helpless before external aggression, but also to become greedy and oppressive despots not to be distinguished from the Turkish pashas. Karageorge met this threat by deposing two of the most powerful chiefs, and by using his prestige as national Commandant to dominate the Soviet and force on it regard for the interests of the whole people. He took this attitude partly, no doubt, because the democratic tradition of the Slavs was working in him, but chiefly because he knew as a soldier the importance of national unity to a country perpetually threatened by foreign dominance.
Karageorge kept at his task with unremitting grimness; and indeed he must have seemed a grim figure, for the essence of his struggle was austerity. He was fighting against the Turks, the practitioners of pagan luxury; and in the first part of his struggle he engaged those among the Turks who were the most skilful in that practice, the rebellious Janizaries who had given Sarajevo its intoxicating air of pleasure, and were rebelling against the reformist Sultan Selim because he was endeavouring to brace them to a new and Spartan dispensation. One of his followers has left us an account of a night the Serbian Army spent during the campaign of 1805 on the heights above the town of Parachin, which was occupied by the Turks. When the trenches had been dug and Karageorge had inspected them and seen that all was prepared for the morrow’s battle, he sat down on a cannon and asked his officers if there was any plum brandy about. They fetched him a flask of plum brandy and some corn-pone, and he drank and passed the flask to them, and shared the corn-pone out. They looked down on Parachin, which was blazing with light in the darkness below. It seemed almost to be in flames, such was the brightness. Light was streaming out from the Pasha’s palace, and they could hear the sound of pipes and flutes and drums. One of Karageorge’s suite, a man who was called Stephen the Scribe and was kept simply as a secretary, being notoriously no good as a soldier, looked down on the town and said, ‘Do let me fire off this gun at the Turks!’ Karageorge laughed at him, but he went on begging. ‘Do let me take one shot—just one—at the palace!’ Karageorge jeered, ‘But you might kill the Pasha!’ ‘Well, why not?’ asked Stephen the Scribe. ‘Well,’ said Karageorge, ‘you mustn’t do that. You might make his children orphans, and they’d have nobody to buy them shoes, and then they might catch cold running round barefoot and die of fever.’ But Stephen the Scribe teased him till he got his way, and very unskilfully pointed the gun and fired it. The ball cut through the air like lightning, and went straight for the Pasha’s palace. In one instant the flutes and pipes and drums came to a stop, the lights went out, and there was darkness and silence. Very often Karageorge’s rebellion must have seemed just such a murderous cannon-ball, that put an end to brightness and music, and established the night.
His end was not to be deduced from his beginning. After a time the war he had to conduct changed its form. The Serbs had begun their insurrection to rid themselves of the Dahis, the rebel Janizaries who had set themselves up as independent despots in defiance of the Sultan; but when they had beheaded the four chiefs they began to dream of freeing themselves from Turkey. Indeed, the treachery with which the Sultans treated them in spite of their services made them realize this as a necessity. This raised a problem which differed from year to year according to the situation of Europe. When Napoleon defeated Austria and the Turks were harried by Britain and Russia, then Serbia had reason for hope. But Napoleon’s star waned, Russia was a preoccupied and often disloyal ally, and Turkey was reorganized by the great Sultan Mohammed II. Finally in 1813 a Serbian army of fifty thousand faced an army of treble that number. Defeat was certain, but the Serbians knew what it was to be outnumbered and could quite well have put up enough resistance to gain them a negotiated peace, had not Karageorge, quite simply and shamefully, run away. He fell back, when he should have been bringing up reinforcements to support a harassed body of troops who were making a magnificent stand before the main Turkish army. His officers suddenly found he had deserted them without a word of explanation. For a time he wandered about the country, and then fled over the Danube back to Novi Sad and the Frushka Gora.
Nobody knows the reason for Karageorge’s conduct. He never published any justification of it. Till then his worst enemies had never charged him with cowardice or lack of care for his country. It is possible that fatigue had released that unstable element which had caused his early fits of melancholy and abstraction. His family life had been tragic. The murder of his stepfather had not been the only act of violence which he had been obliged to commit against his family. He had a ne‘er-do-well brother who had crowned his career by committing rape. This was an offence which was regarded as being at least as serious as murder; it was so often committed by Moslems on Christians that for a Christian to rape a Christian was not only a sexual crime, it had a renegade flavour. So Karageorge ordered his brother to be hanged at the door of his house, and forbade his mother to mourn her son. This was the appointed procedure, and there was nothing remarkable about it, but the relationship of brother and brother among Slavs is peculiarly close, and even if his individual sensibility was calloused his racial self must have been appalled.
He had also led as extravagantly busy a life as, say, Napoleon, if one takes his illiteracy into account and considers what it would mean to be Commander-in-chief and Prime Minister under that handicap; and he was now fifty-one. He had added to his routine considerable demands on his detective capacities and a perpetual burden of apprehension. He had all the time to scan the rebel chiefs who were the medium through which he had to work, and judge whether they were loyal or disloyal, and if the latter, decide when he had best strike against them. Again and again he had to smother conspiracies, not only to save himself, but to protect the state. It would be no wonder if after nine years of this hagridden life he should forget his nature and sink into apathy. But it is perhaps also relevant that the dominant figure of the Kossovo legend which shaped him as all other Serbians was the Tsar Lazar, who was not victorious, who did not preserve his people, who lay a blackened and much-travelled mummy in the exile of the Frushka Gora. That dominance perhaps explains why the Serbs always respect Karageorge as the founder of their liberty, withdrawing no part of their homage because of his failure.
There is a yet a pendant to this mysterious eclipse of a great man. Four years later Karageorge returned to Serbia. Since the country was then ruled by Milosh Obrenovitch, his deadly enemy, who hated him because he suspected him of the murder of his half-brother, he cannot but have anticipated that he would meet his death. And the trip proves to be even more suicidal than it appears at first sight if his ostensible reason for returning is examined. Though the Greeks were, like the Serbs, in revolt against the Turks, the Serbs had never trusted them. Since the Turks had abolished the Serbian Patriarchate and put the Serbs under Greek priests there were too many old scores about to make for a successful alliance. Karageorge knew this and during his domination of Serbia he had for this reason held his country free of all entanglements with the Greek rebels. But in 1817, at a time when Milosh Obrenovitch was engaged in the most delicate negotiations with the Sultan, Karageorge came back to Serbia as an agent of the Greek revolutionary society, the Ethniké Hetairia, to induce the Serbians to stage a rising at the same time as a Greek revolt. He must have known that Milosh Obrenovitch would have to silence him, not for his own interest but for the sake of the country. He must have known how Milosh Obrenovitch was likely to silence him. He was killed by an unknown assassin while he lay asleep in a cave.
But that suicidal streak was not peculiar to him. It showed, against all expectation, in Milosh Obrenovitch also, though the two men were utterly different in character. His palace still stands in Belgrade; it is a Turkish house, with a projecting upper story, full of air and light with many water conduits. In Belgrade there may be seen, on the first floor of the Museum of Prince Paul, the robes worn by him and his wife. Richer far than the gear of the Karageorges, which is shown alongside, they might have been worn by a Turkish pasha and the flower of his harem. And indeed he gave his audiences like a pasha, seated crosslegged on silk cushions, wearing the turban. Milosh had his eye set on the quality that Karageorge had seemed likely to drive out of Serbia, the luxury and pleasure which had made Sarajevo, which had lit the lights at Parachin. He meant not to expel it but to transfer it from the possession of the Moslems to the Christians.
He was capable of arranging the transference. He had only to follow where Karageorge led, but he brought genius to his following. When Karageorge fled across the Danube in 1813, and most of the chiefs who had owned him as leader fled into exile like lost sheep, Milosh stood his ground and calmly awaited the horror which he knew would burst on the country once the Turks returned. There was a preliminary massacre, with impalements and mutilations and roastings on spits; then there was systematic banditry, the worst of it under a legalistic guise. All sorts of Turks appeared, passing themselves off as landowners and merchants driven out by the rebel Serbs, who claimed land and wealth which had certainly never been theirs; and all those claims were allowed. The Serb population was beggared.
Milosh waited by, smiling and bland. He ingratiated himself with Suleiman, the new Pasha of Belgrade, who had been wounded by him on the battlefield and therefore respected him, and who trusted him because of his known enmity to Karageorge. Suleiman made him Governor of three large districts, and he repaid this honour by apparent subjection of the most absolute kind. He constantly exhorted the Serbians to lay down their arms and think no more of resistance to the Turks. When some rebels collected in one of his own districts, he went at once and persuaded them to surrender on a promise from Suleiman that they should be pardoned. That promise was broken. One hundred and fifty of them were beheaded, and nearly forty impaled; and Milosh himself was sent to Belgrade and kept in captivity. He bribed his way out. The resources on which all these rebels could draw were far larger than the modern reader would imagine. He returned to his home and found the people frantic with rage and terror, persuaded that there was again about to be a general massacre. Then he judged it well to act, and he put himself at their head. In six months he had driven out the Turks.
It must be owned that Milosh never faced such huge odds as Karageorge, and that he gained one of his most inexplicable victories because the Turkish Commander made a sudden flight, just as inexplicable as Karageorge’s great defection. But Milosh showed military genius of the same impressive order as his rival, and later he showed himself a far greater diplomat and, by one supremely important act, at least as great a statesman. After his victory he made a technical avowal of subjection to the Sultan and then sat down to negotiate the independence of his country, with infinite guile and patience. He knew just how to play on Turkey’s fear of Russia; and he never let himself forget that, in actual fact, it would not be easy for the Russian Army to come to Serbia’s aid. He threatened to adhere to one or other of the great powers when Turkey was at ease in her foreign relations, but when she was perturbed he proffered the most soothing assurances of neutrality. He had an infallible nose for the right moment to bribe a pasha or roll a threatening eye on a vizier. It took him eighteen years to wring Serbian independence from the Porte, when not a soul in Europe had thought the Porte would give way to him till the Turkish Empire had dissolved. True, it was not complete independence that he gained. Turkey insisted on her right to garrison certain towns, notably Belgrade, and refused to promise not to poke her nose into Serbian affairs. But it was practical independence. Turkish officials and regular and irregular troops no longer roamed at large in the land.
Milosh’s supreme act of statesmanship followed that victory. The Treaty of Adrianople which gave Serbia its effective freedom, burdened only by a few irksome but not serious restrictions, also handed over to Milosh extensive crown lands. He might have distributed them as baksheesh to his followers and founded a large class of landowners on whose power he could have relied. Instead he gave the lands to the people as small-holdings, and guaranteed Serbia as a peasant state, thereby giving her her happiness and her distinctive genius. This great service, as the culmination of a career so full of military and diplomatic gifts to his country, might have made him the most beloved ruler in Europe, had he not seen to it that his fame was far otherwise. He had for years been practising a highly offensive and unnecessary despotism. He was certainly responsible for the death of two of his political opponents; and even if a light hand with murder was not to be harshly judged on territory demoralized by Turkish occupation, there was no excuse for seizing a fellow-Serb’s house and fields without a shadow of justification, or forcing peasants to labour for him at his will, or enclosing common forestland as pasture for his own swine.
As he became more and more powerful, he behaved with more and more fantastic improbity. It might have sobered him that the Sultan had appointed him first Prince of Serbia; but it only seemed to intoxicate him. He made his subjects pay their Turkish tribute in Austrian currency, but forwarded it in Turkish currency and pocketed the difference. He insisted on his right to punish his officers by beating. He enraged his subjects by establishing a monopoly on salt, a commodity which was scarce in Serbia and had to be imported from Wallachia, and by investing his ill-gotten profits in a Wallachian estate, to which he proposed to retire if he was deposed. This, surely, was putting the words into the people’s mouth. He had a remarkable wife, Princess Lyubitsa, who had in her youth stood beside many a battlefield and urged on the warriors with heroic invective, who cooked her husband’s meals and waited on him at table all her days, who was reputed to chastise any lady who caught her husband’s eye with such terrible effect that some had been known to die. It is fairly plain that his absolutism made her think he had gone mad, and that she begged his friends to warn him that he was running his head into a noose.
But the noose was where he wanted his head to be. In 1838 a constitution was thrust upon him, in the course of a farce played out by the great powers. Russia and Turkey believed that if Serbia had a constitution they could in practice guarantee and interpret it; so the Tsar Nicholas and the Sultan Mohammed, the two great despots of Europe, forced constitutionalism on Serbia. Hence Palmerston and Louis Philippe, the two apostles of liberalism and Parliamentary control, found themselves forced to urge Milosh to become an absolute monarch. The fuss seems quite nonsensical; why it should be easier for an external power to influence a constitutional monarch than an absolute one is not clear, and the whole dispute was probably conjured up by some silly young man in one of the foreign offices. But Russia and Turkey won, and a constitution was presented to the delighted Serbian people.
Milosh refused to execute it. He tried, indeed, to suppress it altogether, but the opposition knew of it. A group of determined men gathered under a chief called Vutchitch, who had been one of Milosh’s bravest and most devoted aides till his loyalty had been broken by the cruel and imbecile caprices of his master. One day they surrounded Milosh’s house and sent away his guards of honour, and also those who were detailed to wait on The Princess Lyubitsa. She went to her husband to be by his side, and when he saw her he said, ‘Well, you see it was no use your siding with my enemies. They have taken away your guard of honour too.’ She burst into tears.
There was a long discussion concerning Milosh’s fate. Some of the chiefs maintained that he should be put to death for the sake of national peace and unity. But he was the first prince Serbia had had since Kossovo, and the profound, even superstitious sense of dynasty which had been inherited by these Serbians made them regard him as by that token sacred. They decided he must abdicate in favour of his eldest son Milan, and go into exile. When they told Milosh he said, ‘If they no longer desire to have me, it is well, I will not intrude on them,’ and he signed the deed of abdication. Two days after, he crossed the Sava to Austrian territory. Many people, even Vutchitch, wept to see him. Nevertheless Vutchitch flung a stone into the river and cried out to Milosh, ‘When this stone floats you will come back to Serbia.’ ‘I shall die as Serbia’s ruler,’ answered Milosh, and the boatmen rowed on, bearing him to his strange, imbecile, unsanctified renunciation.
The action of Vutchitch and his followers in accepting Milosh’s princedom as hereditary was more bizarre, more a matter of totem and taboo, than appears. For his heir was totally unsuited to be a ruler, at least at that moment. Always delicate, he was now so ill that he could not be told of his father’s fall, and he died after some weeks without ever having learned that he was Prince of Serbia. His younger brother, Michael, was still a boy, and his accession involved the inconveniences bound to arise out of the appointment of counsellors who were practically regents. Quite suddenly Turkey insisted on appointing these counsellors, and named Vutchitch and a chief called Petronievitch, who was on good terms with the Turk and was strongly anti-Milosh. The Serbians disliked these counsellors because they were named by Turkey and held Turkish sympathies; Michael resented their existence because he wished to govern by himself, and had a personal grudge against them for their hostility to his father. A further complication existed because a conspiracy to remove Michael from the throne was being organized in an unexpected quarter. The other members of the Obrenovitch family marshalled themselves against him with a unity that sprang from an unusual and fascinating diversity of opinion. Two of Milosh’s brothers had remained in Serbia; one of these was all in favour of deposing Michael because he himself had not been made a cabinet minister, another wanted to expel his nephew because he thought the boy would make a mess of it and one fine day all Obrenovitches would be massacred. And abroad the Princess Lyubitsa was deeply involved in the conspiracy, for the reason that, if there had to be shooting, she preferred her husband rather than her son to be the target.
The boy met this complicated situation with spirit. Actually he had inherited all his father’s genius and brought a much better character to the using of it. He faced the pestilential Vutchitch, who had rebelled against Milosh with courage and patriotic passion, but now discounted that achievement by showing that rebellion was his only reaction to every circumstance; and he drove him into exile. But this very spirit raised the suspicions of the peasants, particularly as about that time it became necessary to depreciate Serbian currency and to raise the taxes, which Vutchitch had disingenuously lowered when he drove out Milosh in order to make the step popular. They feared that he was going to rob them of their money and their rights as impudently as his father, and when Vutchitch returned to Serbia in the guise of a defender of the constitution they took up arms and followed him. Michael knew Vutchitch was inspired by the Sultan and went out to fight him, confident that he would free his country from the last traces of Turkish suzerainty, and that his people must applaud him for it. He was amazed when the deluded peasants followed Vutchitch, and his own army, itself disaffected, ran away. With a certain significant dignity, he disbanded such of his troops as remained loyal and sent home all peasants who had come from the provinces to support him, and passed over to Austrian territory. It is one of the paradoxes of Balkan history that though the Serbians who rejected Michael were moved by ignorance and stupidity and negativism, later events proved they were performing an enormous service to their country.
Vutchitch then entered Belgrade in triumph and was acclaimed as ‘Leader of the Nation,’ but his profound instinct against simplicity prevented him from putting himself forward as Prince. It seemed good to him, for what reason it cannot be imagined, to force on the Skupshtina Alexander Karageorgevitch, the son of Karageorge, a man of thirty-six, upright and sensible and not contentious, but not impressive in personality. This set in motion the strange oscillation of Serbian sovereignty between the Obrenovitches and the Karageorgevitches which has been so misconceived in the West. It has been thought of as a sanguinary conflict between the two families. Even H. W. Temperley writes in his History of Serbia, ‘For a century the ghastly struggle was continued by the partisans of both houses, until the last living Obrenovitch was assassinated in our own day’; and elsewhere he deplores ‘this terrible blood feud.’ But in actual fact when Milosh Obrenovitch murdered Karageorge he committed the last crime that either family was to inflict on the other. Only one Karageorgevitch was ever to die by violence, and that was King Alexander of Yugoslavia; and he can hardly have been killed at Marseille by an Obrenovitch, for by then the breed was extinct. Two Obrenovitches died by violence, but there is no evidence that any Karageorgevitch was responsible. One Karageorgevitch was deposed and one Obrenovitch was forced to abdicate, but in neither case could the other family be blamed. Indeed the abdicating Obrenovitch handed over his throne to his son.
It may be doubted whether there was any effective enmity between the families till late in the second half of the nineteenth century. Certainly there was little at this time. Milosh Obrenovitch had persuaded Karageorge’s widow that he was guiltless of her husband’s death; and at his invitation she had brought her children back from Hungary to Serbia, and had accepted a pension to keep them. During the reign of young Prince Michael, Alexander Karageorgevitch had cheerfully and loyally acted as the boy’s Adjutant. He certainly did not rise to princedom by any attacks he had made on the Obrenovitches, and it needed no effort on their part to account for his expulsion seventeen years later in 1859. His reign began tediously with a great deal of hubbub caused by Russia and Turkey. Dynastic Russia was shocked because Serbia had cast aside a hereditary prince and thought that she ought to have been consulted. Turkey had already recognized Alexander and told Russia so. In the end Russia grumpily consented to recognize Alexander, though only after he had been chosen by a free election, on condition that the abominable Vutchitch and his colleague Petronievitch, both pro-Turks, were sent into exile. Vutchitch had therefore gained nothing by his continual intrigues and mischief-making. But when these excitements settled down it was only to disclose a situation in which Alexander’s failure was inevitable.
The historians call him weak. It would be far more true to say that in his reign Serbia discovered its weakness. It had come to life again not as a great empire, but as a small nation; and it was to learn, what was to become tragically clear in the twentieth century, that modern conditions make the independence of a small nation a bad joke. In 1848 Alexander and Serbia suffered a deep and inevitable humiliation. The Magyars of Hungary rose against the Austrian Government; and as their nationalist movement, under the leadership of the renegade Slav Kossuth, showed the most bitter hostility to all Slavs, the Serbs of Novi Sad and the Frushka Gora made haste to revolt against Hungary. It was then that the Croats took the same resolve and marched into Hungary under Yellatchitch. It was a shame and an agony to the Serbians that their brothers, the descendants of the seventeenth-century migrants, the guardians of the blackened body of the Tsar Lazar, should be in danger, and that they should not go to help them. But Russia would not have it so, lest Austria should defeat the Slavs and draw a conquered Serbia into her orbit. So Alexander Karageorgevitch had to sit with folded hands while the Danubian Serbs fought for life and lost. Twelve thousand Serbian volunteers went to their aid, but Serbia as a state had to behave like a coward.
Six years later it again seemed to his people that he had humiliated them. The Crimean War broke out and Serbia longed to take sides with Russia against Turkey. Serbia’s incubus, Vutchitch, who had been exiled as pro-Turk and anti-Russian, had now got back to the country as anti-Turk and pro-Russian, and he persuaded the country to elect him as Prime Minister. Needless to say, he did nothing whatsoever to further its cause. He was a pure negativist. A Turkish army advanced towards Serbia on the south and an Austrian army confronted her across the river at Belgrade. Again Alexander had to remain inactive and frustrate national feeling.
The peasants could not understand that he was bowing to the inevitable. They only saw that he did not resist their ancient enemy, Turkey, and that he had shown complete subservience to Austria, whom they now hated almost as much as Turkey, and quite rightly. For though the Serbs of Novi Sad had helped Austria to defeat the Magyar revolt, Franz Josef had betrayed them as he betrayed the Croats who had shown him a like loyalty. He had after a few years handed them back to the Hungarians, who were now taking their revenge by a merciless process of Magyarization, which denied the Serbs their language, their religion, and their culture. The infuriated Serbians lost patience, and, needless to say, Vutchitch skipped forward to organize their discontent, and there was a conspiracy of Senators to murder Alexander. It failed, but it was made unnecessary by a meeting of the Skupshtina, which without a dissentient called on him to resign and demanded the recall of Milosh Obrenovitch.
Alexander Karageorgevitch obeyed without a shadow of resistance, and Milosh returned with his son Michael. The old man was now seventy-eight years of age, and the records show that he thoroughly enjoyed the day of his return. The Austrians refused to let him cross the river in their steamers, so he came over in a rowing-boat, just as on that day when he told Vutchitch that he would die the ruler of Serbia. On landing he made a deft speech which made it quite clear that he intended to disregard the Turkish pretension that the princedom of Serbia was not to be hereditary. ‘My only care,’ he said to the cheering crowds, ‘will be to make you happy, you and your children, whom I love as well as my only son, the heir to your throne, Prince Michael.’ That established the issue so firmly that the Turks could hardly care to dispute it. The old man then took up the routine where he had laid it down twenty years before, with all his characteristic zest. It is impossible not to feel pleasure in recording that one of his first actions was to throw Vutchitch into prison. There, very shortly, he died. The Turks wished to examine his body, but Milosh explained that it was better that they should not.
His reign lasted only twenty months, during which he gave himself great amusement and pleased his people by using his old insolent skill in diplomacy to inflict some important defeats on the Turks. It is as well that he ruled so short a time, for he had nothing to offer but that skill. If he had lived longer he must have been faced by that hard fact, the helplessness of the small nation, which had vanquished Alexander Karageorgevitch, and he must have been vanquished too, for he had no resources to meet it. But it was very different with his son Michael, who on his accession to the throne showed how well the tricksters and simpletons responsible for his exile in 1842 had worked for their country. For he had spent the intervening years in improving his education and visiting the Western capitals of Europe, in pursuit of the definite end of fitting himself for monarchy. The specific problem before him was the transformation of a medieval state into a state which would be modern enough to defend itself against modern empires. He attacked it with a genius that never failed until his death.
First, Michael gave Serbia internal order. He impressed on it the conception of law as a code planned to respect the rights of all which must be obeyed by all. No longer was the ruler to bring his enemies before judges who touched their hats and gave the desired sentence. He and all his subjects had to face a blindfold justice. He reorganized the political constitution, laying it down that the members of the Soviet were no longer to be responsible to the Sultan but to their own national authority, and that the Soviet was to be subordinate to the democratic Skupshtina. He also took a powerful step towards the establishment of order by setting up a regular army under French instructors. Till then the Serbian military forces had been a synthesis of private armies led by chiefs who submitted only fitfully to the discipline of a central command, and were always favourable material for a meddler like Vutchitch. This Michael did against the violent opposition of Austria, who wanted to annex Serbia, Turkey, who wanted to recover her, and Great Britain, who was Turcophile. Only Russia and France befriended her.
Second, he drove the Turks out of Serbia. For they were still in the fortresses of the principal towns. Two years after his accession there occurred the famous incident when the population of Belgrade were not unnaturally moved to demonstrations at the murder of two Serbians by two Turks, and the Pasha in command of Kalemegdan fortress thought fit to bombard the open town for five hours, until he was forcibly restrained by the foreign consuls. Michael was able to use this to prove just how intolerable it was for a vigorous and developing country to have to submit to these fantastical vestiges of an ill-regulated authority, and to represent the outrage in terms comprehensible to the Western powers. He followed this up by sending his beautiful and able wife, Julia Hunyadi, to London to influence British public opinion, which she was able to do through Cobden and Palmerston. Soon he had Great Britain, France, Russia, and even Austria lined up behind him in his demand that the Turks should withdraw their garrison; and he showed his father’s diplomatic skill by making the demand in terms that enabled Turkey to grant it without lack of dignity.
Third, he found a new foreign policy. He knew he was his father’s son and better, and that he could get everything he wanted from the great powers by wheedling and threatening. But that was not enough, for he knew it would hold good only so long as the empires were in a state of quiescence. When they should be moved by a real need for expansion his guile would be unavailing, they would sweep down on his little principality like robbers on a child. For that, however, his period of exile had suggested a remedy. After he had lost his throne in his boyhood he had first gone to live with his father among the Serbs of Hungary. He had visited the shrines of the Frushka Gora and had seen the relics of his people’s ancient glory. Among the Serb scholars of Novi Sad and Budapest and Vienna he had learned how real these glories had been, how certainly the medieval Serbian Empire had been begotten by Byzantine civilization, and how near it had come to being heir and transmitter of that civilization, prevented only by the coming of the Turks. He learned enough to know that in the past the struggle for power in the Balkans had swung from east to west, and from west to east, and victory had rested now with the Serbs, now with the Bulgarians. The Bulgarians were a people of other than Slav origin, being akin to the Turks and Hungarians and Finns, but they were interpenetrated with Slav blood and spoke a Slav language. Now they had another bond with the Serbs, they had been conquered by the Turks; and they were still enslaved. Michael believed that it would be a glorious thing to unite the South Slav peoples. The independent state of Montenegro would certainly be his ally; and since he could not join hands with the Croatians and Dalmatians and Hungarian Serbs, because they were under the vigorous tyranny of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it would perhaps be wiser to link up with the Bulgarians, who would be more accessible than the others because of the inefficiency of the Turkish administration, and for the same reason more eager for emancipating friends. Then again should there be a vast area, solidly Slav, magnificently free.
This dream, which was born of poetic and historical imagination, was immediately expanded by Michael’s practical sense. Why should not past and present experience of Turkish oppression bind together small states, even though they were not Slav, into an effective union that should destroy the Turk? He planned a Balkan League that should join Serbia and Montenegro with Greece, which indeed was full of Slav blood, and Roumania, and should receive the Bulgarians, the Bosnians and Herzegovinians, the Macedonians and the Hungarian Serbs, as soon as these revolted against their oppressors. He actually came to an understanding with Greece and Roumania, and sent Serbian propagandists to work among all the enslaved Slav peoples, while he increased his military strength at home. A check was sharply applied to his plan when England and France, with incredible fatuity, joined Austria-Hungary in rebuking him. It is difficult to imagine why they did this, for a young and prosperous Balkan League able to defend itself must have been a most powerful factor for European peace. The Great War of 1914 could never have happened if Austria had had on her east a solid wall of people able to protect themselves, and had therefore had to accept her limitations. But so it was, and Michael had to neglect obvious opportunities for fulfilling his programme. He was about to fill in the time by revising his constitution and making it more democratic when, on the tenth of June 1868, he went for a walk in the Topchider, the delightful park outside Belgrade that looks across the river Sava at the town on its great ridge of rock. He was accompanied by his cousin and her daughter Katarina, a lame girl of brilliant intellect, with whom, it is said, he was in love, but whom he could not marry because the kinship was within the degree prohibited by the Orthodox Church. He had some time before been divorced, for reasons which are still mysterious, from his Hungarian wife, Julia Hunyadi, who subsequently married the Duke of Ahremberg and died in Vienna fifty-one years later, in 1919. Three men came up to the party and attacked all three with knives. Katarina was wounded, her mother and Prince Michael were killed. Again the Great War was brought nearer to us, another wall between us and that catastrophe was pulled down.
It has been alleged that this assassination was the work of Alexander Karageorgevitch, and indeed he was tried in absentia by a Serbian court and condemned. But no evidence was called which was worth a straw. It is not easy to believe that this man, who was now sixty-one, and who had never been ambitious and was completely aware of his own unpopularity, decided to kill his successor, whom he knew to be adored by his people, and reclaim the throne at a time when a vast and exacting programme had been begun and would have to be triumphantly accomplished by any prince who wanted to save his neck. It is still more difficult to believe that Alexander Karageorgevitch arranged the assassination yet took no steps to seize the power of the murdered man, and, indeed, never left his estate in Hungary before or after the crime.
Alexander followed this up by an even stranger omission. Michael’s marriage had been childless, and the Serbian Cabinet was forced into proclaiming as ruler young Milan, a boy of thirteen, the grandson of one of Milosh’s brothers. The relationship was uninspiring in its remoteness, and indeed there were suspicions that it was actually nonexistent. But Alexander Karageorgevitch never appeared to take advantage of the countless opportunities offered him or any other malcontent during the boy’s minority. The assassins may have called themselves partisans of the Karageorgevitches; and the Karageorgevitches certainly had partisans. Everybody at odds with Michael’s administration, which was far too efficient to satisfy everybody, used to take trips to see Alexander Karageorgevitch and grumble over endless black coffees. But they were most likely to do this if they were old and remembered the good old days of corruption. The assassins of Michael Obrenovitch were young and vigorous; they were known to have relations with the Austrian police, and it was Austria who profited by Michael’s death.
Every Slav heart grieved at Michael’s death; and apparently the powers that are not to be seen were also perturbed. At noon on the ninth of June 1868, a peasant called Mata, or Matthew, ran through the streets of a town called Uzhitse crying out: ‘Brothers! Brothers! Rise up and save our Prince! They are cruelly murdering him! Look, they are slashing him with yataghans! Look, look, the blood! Help him, help him!’ The police thought he had gone mad and arrested him; but his position looked more serious when next day there reached Uzhitse the news that Michael had been stabbed to death in Topchider. Matthew was examined by the Mayor on the assumption that he must have been concerned in the conspiracy; but he was able to prove that nothing was less probable, and the whole countryside came forward to bear witness that he was a seer and often foretold events that had not yet happened or were happening far away. The Mayor then told Mata to say what he saw of the future, and had a secretary to take it down in writing; and he was so impressed that he sent the notes up to the Minister of the Interior. The Minister also was impressed. He ordered Matthew to be brought to Belgrade, and for some days the man sat in a room in the Foreign Office dictating to an official. The notes were filed in the archives, and only disclosed gradually to persons connected with the court or Cabinet. But the notes taken by the Mayor of Uzhitse were not so well guarded. They became common knowledge and were finally published and sold all over the country.
Mata foresaw all of Balkan history for the next fifty years. He said: ‘Michael will be succeeded by a child, and for a time the country will be governed by three Regents. When he comes of age all will go ill. He is clever but unstable, and he will be a torment to Serbia, which will know nothing of peace or security so long as he is on the throne. He will lead several wars, will enlarge the country; and will be more than a Prince, he will be a King. But there will always be trouble. Finally he will abdicate and die in exile before he is old. He will leave but one son, born of a detested wife. This son will mean even more suffering to Serbia. His rule will plunge the country into disorder, and he too will make a disastrous marriage. Before the thirtieth year he will be dead, and his family will die with him. Another family will come to reign in Serbia; but the new King will disappear after three years and then there will be agony unspeakable for our people. There will be revolts and bloodshed, and then a foreign power will invade our country. That foreign power will torture us. There will come such sad and hard times that those who are living will say when they pass a churchyard, “O graves, open that we may lie down and rest. Oh, how happy are you who have died and are saved from our troubles and misfortunes!” But a better time will come....’
He said other things, not yet fulfilled, which explain why nowadays one cannot buy the prophecies of Mata of Krema. It is no wonder that those who are threatened by them are apprehensive, for all that he said of Milan and his son came true. Milan was an unqualified disaster to his country. It is possible that he was not an Obrenovitch at all. His mother was a noble and beautiful and indecorous Roumanian, and there was some doubt as to whether his father also was not Roumanian, and the Obrenovitches in no way involved. When Milan was presented to the Skupshtina on coming of age, one of the deputies stayed in his seat and explained that he did not intend to rise till he had seen the young man’s birth certificate. In any case, even had Milan been an Obrenovitch his upbringing would have prevented him from behaving like one. Their courage and vitality and craft were theirs only because they had lived the life of peasant soldiers. But Milan spent his childhood in not quite the best palace hotels of Paris and Vienna and Belgrade and Bucharest, alternately petted and neglected by parents who detested each other. Although it must have been realized how likely it was that he should succeed Michael, nobody seems to have regarded his education as a matter of any importance. He grew up with no virtue except an extreme aesthetic sensibility, which would have been revolted could he have caught sight of himself. In mind and body he was the perfect rastaquouère.
His marriage was indeed as disastrous as Mata had foretold. When he was nineteen, while his Ministers were negotiating with St Petersburg to secure him the hand of a young Russian princess, he announced his engagement to Mademoiselle Natalia Keshko, the daughter of a Russian colonel belonging to the lesser ranks of the Moldavian nobility, who was a strange mixture of Slav and Roumanian and Levantine. As the couple left the Cathedral after their wedding a thunderstorm broke over Belgrade and the horses of the state carriage reared and bolted. The omen was not excessive. Natalia was a detestable child, and cruel to the child she had married. When he showed her the peculiar best of himself she answered with a sneer. Because he once heard her say she liked lilies of the valley he had a whole field planted with them, which is a gesture a rastaquouèremight make if stirred to his depths. When he took her to see them at the perfect moment of their flowering she was puzzled and annoyed by this extravagance. A whole field of lilies of the valley! This coldness she manifested in all phases of their common life. Violently aphrodisiac in appearance, with the immense liquid leaf-shaped eyes and the voluptuous smoothness of the ideal odalisque, she bore within her the conventionality of the kind of Russian provincial society that is described in some of Tolstoy and much of Tchekov, and she deeply resented her husband’s passion. They had but one child, Alexander, born when its father was twenty-one and its mother twenty. Thereafter Milan took a mistress, an ugly and intelligent Levantine Greek ten years older than himself, who was perhaps a Russian agent. Natalia, who was at once narrow and loose, knew no restraint in her public resentment of this situation, particularly when this mistress gave birth to a son. Belgrade was startled and shocked by the public brawls of their Prince and his wife. These were not peasant manners, but they were not fine manners either.
As a ruler Milan was not less a failure than as a husband. When the Bosnians and Herzegovinians revolted against Turkey he marched against the Turks from the north while Prince Nicholas of Montenegro marched on them from the south-west. Prince Nicholas made a brilliant success, and wrung an advantageous peace treaty out of them. Milan failed, and had to be saved from disaster by Russian intervention. That started a movement in Serbia for the dethronement of Milan in favour of Prince Nicholas, which soon lost its vigour owing to the flaws that were evident in the Montenegrin’s character whenever he stopped fighting; and it started a much more lively and lasting movement in favour of recalling Peter Karageorgevitch, who had fought with the Bosnian rebels and shown himself remarkable as a soldier and as a man. It is hard to blame Milan either for his defeat or for the steps he took to remedy it. He was only twenty-one when he led out his troops against Turkey; and in a modern and orderly state genius has no chance to be precocious. If he had lived in the Old Serbia of Karageorge and Milosh he would have been fighting since he was fifteen or sixteen, and would have known that to keep his throne he had to placate or outwit a dozen wily old chiefs, and in either case earn their respect as well. That was the training Michael Obrenovitch had had; it was ironic that it had enabled him to sweep away such barbaric conditions, which as it proved were apparently necessary to equip a Serbian ruler, his heir not excepted, for the difficult task of modernizing his state.
A later campaign against the Turks was more satisfactory. But at treaty-making Milan was pitifully incompetent. He let the Treaty of San Stefano, which was signed between the Russians and Turks in 1878, take a form which inevitably was to destroy Michael Obrenovitch’s dream of a union of the South Slavs for many years and perhaps for ever; for he did not prevent Russia’s giving her vassal state, Bulgaria, extended boundaries to which not only the Serbs but the Greeks could legitimately object. The Balkan League was split in three before it was founded. Then came the infamous Congress of Berlin, which was called for no other reason than to frame a treaty which should deprive the democratic Slavs of their freedom and thrust them into subjection under the imperialism of Turkey and Austria-Hungary. Without the Balkan League to use as a counter Milan was utterly helpless, he was back in the position of poor Alexander Karageorgevitch.
It is not to be wondered at that in 1881 Milan signed a secret convention with Austria which handed over his country to be an Austrian dependency. He promised not to make any effort to redeem the Bosnians and Herzegovinians, in return for a vague promise of support for a war, which he was not likely ever to declare, against the Turks in Macedonia, and he agreed to submit his policy day by day to Austrian control. The Austrian military attaché in Belgrade used to call at the palace and give Milan his orders. It is suspected that Milan received, directly or indirectly, financial recompense for this treachery. This increased the dishonour of the transaction; but it would be superficial to take it as proof that Milan’s motives were simply mercenary. There can be no doubt that he was chiefly moved by his sense that the great aggressive empires of Turkey, Russia, and Austria made it impossible for him to give his country that independence which it thought it his duty to guarantee.
A year after Milan sold his country down the river, down the Danube, he proclaimed himself King, and had himself anointed in the ancient church of Zhitcha, where all the Nemanyan dynasty had been crowned. It is a crimson church which stands among land like the fairest parts of the Lake District, solemnly dedicated to its royal ritual. A new door was pierced in the wall for each king to come to his coronation, and on his going out it was bricked up again. The people were not placated by Milan’s elevation. He was notoriously given to drunkenness, he was spendthrift to the point of mania, his relations with his wife were already scandalous; and owing to his secret convention with Austria-Hungary his political conduct looked like the caprice of a lunatic. Most of his Ministers and all of the public had no idea of the agreement, and they were therefore completely mystified when, as constantly happened, their King suddenly abandoned a project which he had fully approved and which was indeed plainly in the interests of Serbia, or when he put forward a plan which appeared meaningless because its context was known only in the Ballplatz. It is typical of Austrian Schlamperei that those who gave Milan his orders took no trouble whatsoever to make them such as he could obey without coming to loggerheads with his people. In 1883 certain districts rose in rebellion which was savagely suppressed.
When little Alexander was nine years old his father and mother separated with the utmost indecency. Their venomous hatred and bad manners were such as Strindberg describes in his play Divorce. Natalia on one occasion abominably kidnapped the child and took him to Wiesbaden, and Milan equally abominably had him brought back by the German police. The only respite in these brawls was due to Milan’s imbecile declaration of war against Bulgaria, which led to a disgraceful defeat in 1886. By 1888 Milan had exhausted all other means of persecuting his wife and conceived the idea that he must divorce her, though he had no grounds whatsoever, for she was entirely virtuous. He persuaded the Serbian Primate to regard as precedents certain cases of Russian Tsars who had been divorced by simple edicts of the Metropolitans. This deeply shocked his people, who now knew that their king was a thoroughly bad lot. His treasury was incessantly faced with cheques he had cashed in nearly every capital in Europe and with dunning letters from money-lenders; and his military defeat meant even more in a Balkan country than it would have in the West. It was apparent that even if Milan was contented with the situation his backers were not. In January 1890 he tried placating his subjects by giving them a liberal constitution, but three months afterwards, abruptly and without explanation, he abdicated in favour of his son, who was only twelve years old. It is probable that the new constitution and the abdication were Austrian attempts at coping with the steadily increasing interest that Serbia felt in the sober personality of Peter Karageorgevitch, who would certainly never be amenable to foreign influence if he ascended the throne.
The boy Alexander ruled until his majority, through three Regents, two of whom were military men known as ‘the tarnished generals’ since certain unlucky incidents in the war against Bulgaria, while the third was a political boss who had always been Milan’s henchman. They were hardly ideal substitutes for a father and a mother, as they very soon had to be. For Milan insisted when he left his son in their care that he should never be allowed to see his mother or hold any communication with her. This was probably not purely an act of domestic hatred. The quarrels between the two seem, particularly towards the end of their dreadful marriage, to have had some sort of political basis. Natalia was strongly Russophile, and it is probable that she found out the existence of the secret convention with Austria. Indeed some of her recorded utterances make it almost certain that she had. It may be that Milan feared she would impart this knowledge to the boy before he had the discretion to realize its full consequences.
Whatever the cause of this prohibition, Natalia turned it to the vulgarest account. She came to Belgrade and used to stand with her face pressed against the gates, looking up at the windows to see her adored son, whom she had done little or nothing to protect. She took a house near by and hung from a balcony when the young King went by on his daily drive. She also distributed secretly to the foreign newspaper correspondents information damaging to Serbia which she had learned in her position as Queen. Finally the Regents rushed through Parliament a bill providing that neither King Milan nor Queen Natalia should be allowed to reside even temporarily in Serbia. The inclusion of both parents enabled the Regents to avoid the accusation of partiality; and indeed they were probably feeling none too fond of Milan, who had been sent abroad with a handsome allowance but was running up enormous debts in Paris and Vienna. Once the Act was passed the Government asked Natalia to leave Belgrade, and when she refused they sent a police commissioner and his men to put her on a Danube steamer. She locked her door and the men had to climb over the roof to get into her house. They drove her away in a cab, and her beautiful grief inspired a mob of young men to make an attempt at rescue. After several of them had been killed and many wounded, she addressed the mob and begged them to disperse, declaring that to prevent any more of this dreadful bloodshed she would leave Belgrade at once.
When Alexander was seventeen, and a weak-kneed, stout, spectacled boy, he asked the Regents and the principal Ministers of the Cabinet to dine with him at the palace. They came to dinner in high spirits, for they were all Liberals, which is to say in this confusing country that they were not liberals at all, but Tammany politicians with a great deal more machine than ideology, and they had just pulled off a smart manoeuvre against the Radicals, who here are not radicals at all but anti-Western, nationalist, democrat conservatives who base their programme on the ancient Slav communist tendencies growing out of the Zadruga system. But before they had finished dining the palace aide-de-camp entered and spoke in a low voice to the boy, who nodded, rose to his feet, and said, ‘Gentlemen, it is announced to all the garrisons in Serbia, to all the authorities, and to the people, and I announce it here to you, that I declare myself of full age, and that I now take the government of the country into my own hands. I thank you, my Regents, for your services, of which I now relieve you. I thank you also, gentlemen of the Cabinet, for your services, of which you are relieved also. You will not be allowed to leave this palace tonight. You can remain here as my guests, but if not, then as my prisoners.’
For a second the men were silent, then they jumped up and hurried round the table towards the boy, crying out threats and protests. The aide-de-camp drew his sword and stopped them, then went silently to the folding doors on one side of the room and threw them open. Bayonets glittered on the rifles of a company of soldiers. ‘I leave you in charge of Lieutenant-colonel Tyirich, whose orders you will have implicitly to obey, while I go to give the oath of fidelity to the Army,’ said the King, and he left the hall. Next morning the Regents and the Ministers were released, and went home through streets placarded with royal proclamations stating that King Alexander had watched the illegal actions of the Liberal Government, and feared that if they had been suffered to continue the country would drift into civil war, and therefore had declared himself of age and taken the reins of power into his hands. The people came out of their houses, read the proclamation, ran back and hung out their flags, and then rushed to the courtyard before the palace to cheer the Obrenovitch who after all had shown himself an Obrenovitch.
There is but one explanation of this incident and the anticlimax that followed it; there can be only one reason why Alexander made this superb gesture and then never another, why he afterwards only acted as if he wished to surpass his father in caprice and cruelty towards his subjects. The clue is given by an utterance he made concerning this secret convention with Austria, and by certain of his actions which are apparently conflicting. There seems to be no doubt that later he spoke of his father’s signature to the convention as ‘an act of treason.’ At the time of his coup d‘état he called the nationalist, democratic, anti-Western radicals to power. But only a year later he illegally removed the radicals from power, and later he annulled the constitutional reforms of the past twenty years, suppressed the freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and governed with the Parliamentary help of an insignificant pro-Austrian party called the Progressives. Yet all this time Alexander was on the most affectionate terms with his mother, Natalia, who was pro-Radical and pro-Russian, and he frequently left the country to spend holidays with her. which were apparently not marred by any differences of opinion. Finally, to the country’s amazement and rage, he recalled his father from his scandalous life abroad and made him Commander-in-chief. This was not altogether a disaster. Milan was far from being a fool. In between his orgies in Paris he had acquired a superb collection of pictures by the yet unrecognized masters of the nineteenth century; some of the finest Cézannes once belonged to him. And though he had not been a successful general on the field, his sense of style made him an excellent organizer of a peace-time army. But he took his fun in persecuting the Radicals and pro-Russians, many of whom he did to death. Serbia had never sunk lower since its foundation as a state.
These incidents fall into a comprehensible pattern if certain assumptions are made for which there is some independent evidence. It happened that in 1892 a copy of the secret convention had fallen into the hands of a Serbian nationalist and patriot, Prince Lazarovitch Hrbelianovitch, a descendant of the Tsar Lazar, and he had communicated it to the European press. Its existence was explicitly denied, both by the Serbian Regents and by the Austro-Hungarian Empire through the Parliaments of both Vienna and Budapest. If Alexander had discovered, perhaps by some secret communication from Natalia, that the convention indeed existed, it might well be that his young idealism revolted and he decided to appear before his country as their deliverer from the hidden tyrant. That would explain why he drove out his Regents and assumed power a year before the proper time, and why he favoured the anti-Austrian Radicals. But his first conversation with the Austrian Minister would show him the reality of the fear that had paralysed Alexander Karageorgevitch and disintegrated his own father. He was probably told that any public disclosure and repudiation of the convention would be treated as an unfriendly act by Austria and would be followed by an invasion, or by his murder and replacement by a Karageorgevitch. The boy, sobered, would try to compromise. He would keep silent about the convention, but he would continue his support of the Radicals. Austrian pressure slowly increased. Every year that Alexander reigned without disclosing the convention to his people put him in a worse position to assert his independence. He could not turn to his country and demand its support in his war against the foreign oppressor when it could be proved that he had for long been acting as the oppressor’s agent. So he was forced backwards along a dark corridor, a pistol at his breast, to meet an unknown and horrid end, till suddenly he stopped. He struck the pistol away from the hand that held it, careless whether it might be picked up again or not. He had fallen in love with a woman who was Serbian and pro-Russian.
By now the Serbians were deeply unhappy. They were a people who had lived by a tradition that had never failed them for five hundred years, that had never let them forget how much fairer than all the conquering might of Islam their Christian knightliness had been. They had lived by St Sava and Stephen Dushan, by the King Marko and the Tsar Lazar. But Milan and Alexander Obrenovitch, who were perhaps not Obrenovitches at all, nor even Serbians, and who were entirely and essentially nineteenth-century, to such a degree that they both might have been minor characters in Proust, cannot possibly have been even faintly interested in these medieval personages. Milan was infatuated with the modern West, and he had surrounded himself with people who shared his infatuation and expressed it in ways less admirable than the purchase of Cézannes. His favourite Foreign Minister, Chedomil Miyatovitch, who supported him in the signature of the secret convention with Austria, once wrote a book on Serbia in which he speaks very ill of the Serbian Church. In shocked accents he tells how he took some ‘distinguished English gentlemen’ to an ancient monastery and found there the Bishop of Nish, who bade him tell his friends ’that it would be much better if, instead of sending us Bibles, they were to send us some guns and cannons.‘ This was an answer which, of course, might have come from any bishop of the early Church. Leave to us the instruction of the people, it says, and help us to wage war against the heathen that sell the baptized into captivity. There were many such captives over the Serbian frontiers, in the hands of the Turks, not possibly to be redeemed until there was again a strong Christian power in the Balkans. Men like Miyatovitch wanted the Serbians to lay aside this grandiose subject matter which their destiny had given them for their genius to work upon; and instead they offered them, as an alternative, to be clean and briskly bureaucratic and capitalist like the West. It was as if the Mayflowerand Red Indians and George Washington and the pioneer West were taken from the United States, and there was nothing left but the Bronx and Park Avenue.
The Serbian tradition was not killed. The Serbians did not forget the field of Kossovo. Simply they felt that every day Kossovo was desecrated by the indifference of the father and son who governed them in this curious unconstitutional partnership. They were also conscious, though they did not openly admit it, that they could not even flatter themselves that they were really governed by this pair. It is impossible that the interpretation of Alexander’s capricious and terrified despotism should have escaped a people so subtle, so politically experienced, and so suspicious. But to admit it would have involved recognition that Serbia could never be independent, that though it had freed itself from Turkey now it must fall under the tutelage of Austria or Russia: and that was to insult the Tsar Lazar, to leave the defeat of Kossovo unredeemed for ever. The Serbians became moody, hallucinated, creative; and the real persecution they suffered at the hands of the anti-Russian and anti-Radical agents sent out by Milan tinged their fantasies with a certain colour, a certain brooding, cryptic violence.
When Alexander Obrenovitch was a little boy he and his tutor had often walked in the Royal Park outside Belgrade with an American newspaper correspondent named Stephen Bonsai and an English military attaché named Douglas Dawson, who was later to be the Controller of the Household of King George V. One day the two foreigners talked of the delights of swimming in the Danube, and they were shocked to find that the little boy could not swim. So they found him a pool among the trees, and in spite of the tutor’s protests they gave him his first swimming lesson. They were distressed to see how badly the boy stripped. He was misshapen and top-heavy, with clumsy shoulders and long arms, meagre loins and thighs, and knock-knees. As soon as he could cross the pool, which was about thirty feet wide, he said proudly to his unhappy tutor, ‘Now you need not worry about telling the Regents that I am being given swimming lessons by these gentlemen, who are my friends. You can tell them that the King can swim.’
Alexander never lost his delight in swimming. When he visited his mother at her home in Biarritz, as he did regularly after his dismissal of the Regents, he spent much of his time in the sea or lying on the sands in the sunshine. One of his companions was Queen Natalia’s chief lady-in-waiting, a very pretty widow, ten years older than himself, named Draga Mashin. With her, as time went on, he fell deeply in love. She was the first woman in whom he had shown any interest. His reluctance to marry and his distaste for feminine society had led it to be generally believed that he was physiologically defective. But some time between the years 1894 and 1897 his passion for her became so overwhelming that he forced his way into her bedroom at night. She, however, took him by the shoulders, turned him out, and locked the door. This is regarded by her enemies as proof of her subtle guile, but according to the King’s own account she used a degree of muscular strength far greater than a designing woman would risk. Alexander came near to being in a position where he could say, ‘Perhaps you were right to dissemble your love, but why did you kick me downstairs?’
After this the story becomes obscure. Some time in the autumn of 1897 Queen Natalia discovered a letter from Alexander to Draga, and flew into a rage most curious in a middle-aged woman of great social experience. It is not clear why she was angry with Draga, who, however indiscreet she had been to evoke the letter, had answered it with the extreme discretion of staying where she was instead of going to Belgrade. But Natalia at once dismissed Draga, turned her out of the house, and sat down to write to all her friends that her lady-in-waiting had behaved to her like a traitress and a wanton. This at once threw Draga on her own resources, which amounted to about a hundred pounds a year, and closed to her the only circle where she might have found fresh employment. She was therefore obliged to return to her family in Belgrade. Queen Natalia, in fact, had made inevitable the relationship which she affected to loathe. For this-reason some have suspected her of finding an ingenious device for planting a pro-Russian agent in her son’s court and looking as if she were doing no such thing. But the suspicion is unfounded, for she evidently conceived a real resentment against her son, and never saw him again. There is no reason to see anything here but the tropisms of a stupid and vulgar woman.
It is hard to imagine a life more complicated than young Alexander’s in the winter of 1897. His father, to whom he had become more attached since his quarrel with his mother, and who had only lately returned to the country as Commander-in-chief, had already begun to embarrass him as a Serbian patriot by pro-Austrian activities. Alexander went for a holiday to Merano, where Draga was staying, though she was still, according to his later and convincing accounts, not yet his mistress; and there he was visited by the Russian diplomat Isvolsky, then en poste in Bavaria, who fully realized the extent to which he was anti-Austrian and might become pro-Russian, and reported to his superiors that, although Draga had caused a breach between the young King and his pro-Russian mother, she was herself a pro-Russian influence. It seems probable that he arranged for certain transactions to be carried on through the mediation of Draga, in order to shield them from the observation of Alexander’s father. This extreme intricacy of relationship was just what might have stirred the interest and sympathy of the Serbian people, but it had to be kept secret. So Alexander and Draga went back to Belgrade, to all appearances in the excessively simple characters of a tyrannous king and his venal mistress.
It is still not known when the reality came to correspond with the popular belief. Alexander declared it was three years after the night when she had turned him out of her bedroom at Biarritz, but that scene may have occurred any time between 1894 and 1897. It is possible that she did not surrender to him till long after her return to Belgrade, perhaps only a short time before their marriage in the summer of 1900. But the people had no reason to guess at the unexpected purity of their relationship. Draga lived in a pretty little house near the palace in a style which was plainly not within the reach of her own resources, and she was constantly visited by the King. They naturally concluded that she was his mistress; but the feeling aroused by their conclusion was not natural. Before long she was hated as few women since the beginning of time, as no cruel mother, as no murderess, has ever been loathed. I have heard of a Serbian scholar, born beyond the Danube, in Hungary, whose great work was crowned by the Belgrade Academy. Though he was a passionate patriot and free Serbia was sacred soil to him, he would not come to claim his honour. To him Belgrade was utterly polluted by the presence of Draga.
All over Europe spread this campaign of defamation; when the King married her not a country but looked down its nose. She was supposed to be a woman of low origin who had led a vicious life, and this impression was confirmed by the current photographs of her, which showed a bloated face, coarsening around the jaw. But there are other things than dissipation that thicken the features. Tears, for example. Certainly the first part of the story was not true, for she was by birth the equal of the Obrenovitches. Her grandfather, Nikola Lunyevitza, was a friend of Milosh Obrenovitch, a very prosperous cattle-breeder, who had ruined himself financing the rebellions against the Turks. Her more immediate antecedents had been painful, but quite respectable. Her father had died in a lunatic asylum, but till he went mad he had been an efficient and popular Prefect of Shabats. His collapse had left a large family poorly provided for, and Draga, who was one of the elder children, married at seventeen a mining engineer and civil servant. He was himself a worthless and depraved person, but he came of a quite successful family; his father was a noted doctor and one of his brothers had risen high in the Army.
There is an overwhelming consensus of opinion that there is no defence possible in the second part of the story. It is still held by the mass of people today in Serbia that she unquestionably had had many lovers before Alexander, and that she might fairly be called a woman of loose life. Though it is always rash to challenge such unanimous certainties, the student must wonder where and when Draga Mashin was able to live loosely. She was born in 1866. She married her husband some time before her eighteenth birthday in 1884. He immediately fell ill with a disorder due to alcoholism, and she nursed him, except during periods when she had to flee from his ill-treatment, till his death in 1885. When she became a widow she was left badly off, but not so badly off that she could not buy food and shelter; and her unfortunate position attracted the attention of Queen Natalia, who had her taught foreign languages and prepared for her duties as a lady-in-waiting. She was so constantly in attendance at the palace during this time that it was rumoured she was King Milan’s mistress, although in fact King Milan hated her. In 1889 she began to travel about with Queen Natalia, and from 1890 lived under her roof at Biarritz. Her bad reputation can be taken as deserved only if it is accepted that from 1885 to 1889, between the ages of nineteen and twenty-three, she conducted herself so licentiously in Belgrade that it was still remembered in 1897. But Queen Natalia was chaster than snow, she was as chaste as sleet, and she was no more likely than Queen Victoria to have a woman of damaged reputation as her personal attendant. She was also noted for knowing everything that went on in Belgrade. If there existed in 1885 stories about Draga so rich and strange that they survived eight years of absence, it seems odd that Queen Natalia never heard them. It seems odder still that a young woman who had spent her youth in the arms of innumerable lovers should at the age of twenty-three be willing to take up her quarters for the rest of her life in what was virtually the nunnery of Queen Natalia’s court, particularly when she was so beautiful that she could have set up as a cocotte in any capital of Europe.
There are discrepancies here which cannot be reconciled. We may be warned by the puerility of the case against her. Vladan Georgevitch, the Jewish scoundrel who was Progressivist Prime Minister and specialized in terrorism, theft of state papers, and blackmail, was driven to denouncing her for lending one of his family an immoral book by a Russian Nihilist: it was Mr. Gladstone’s favourite, the Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff. It seems as if it might be wiser to pay heed to the curiously sober and lethargic expression noticeable even in the earliest photographs of Draga, and accept their indication that a woman who has known at the age of nineteen what it is to have an insane father and an alcoholic husband may develop a certain caution about the exploration of life. Her bad reputation had probably two sources: one limited though effective in a highly important sphere, the other unconfined as a comet, the poetry in the heart of the people, catching fire from a fiery destiny.
It has already been said that Draga Mashin had a brother-in-law in the Army: Colonel Alexander Mashin. He and most of his family hated her. It is hard to believe that this hatred can have been justified. A girl of seventeen cannot have offended greatly against a husband, much older than herself, who during their brief year of married life was suffering from the effects of alcoholic excess. It is likely that this emotion sprung from the reluctance of obstinate people to humble themselves before a stranger to whom one of their kind has done an injury. To Colonel Mashin this hatred was bound to seem justified when she became Alexander’s mistress, for he was a partisan of the Karageorgevitches, though he had also received great kindness from King Milan. There is no doubt that Colonel Mashin, who was a good soldier and very popular in the Army, widely disseminated his sincere belief that she was abominable.
For the rest, the people hated Alexander Obrenovitch because he had taken from them their dream of avenging Kossovo, because he had destroyed the integrity of their free state, because he was laying low the representatives of their ancient ways, because he was vulgarizing their style, their austere Byzantine splendour, which made their men gaunt and minatory, their women still and patient, like the ancient kings and holy personages in the frescoes. Because the woman a man loves is in a sense his soul, or at any rate the answer to the call it makes, they thought of Draga as Alexander’s soul, and therefore their enemy, and therefore utterly evil, as all of us in our simplicity conceive our enemies.
It is certain that she was aware of the people’s hatred and was full of fear. It looks as if, with a not unnatural cynicism, she thought that her lover’s passion would pass and that she would then be free. It is said that he gave her twenty thousand pounds; and it is probable that she hoped to spend the rest of her life quietly in some French watering-place, where there was a casino at the end of an esplanade planted with palms, and pink villas with jalousies. This vision might well seem heavenly, for Balkan politics were thickening round her to a nightmare. In February 1899 the Austrian influence in the court, of which the chief representative was King Milan, insisted on a suspension of relations with Russia. In July of the same year King Milan was driving from the Belgrade fortress to the palace when a young man stepped forward and fired a revolver at him. The assassin was a revolutionary Russophile Bosnian. Like all his kind save Princip, he missed. King Milan used the event as a pretext for throwing many of his personal and political enemies into jail, but he, and several of the Ministers who were in the best position to form an opinion, believed that it was his son Alexander who had employed the assassin.
It is not easy to visualize family life as it was Lived in the palace at Belgrade during this period. However, calm was apparently restored, and Alexander shuffled along quietly enough under instructions from Vienna until March 1900, when Count Goluchowsky, the Austrian Foreign Minister, was unfortunately inspired to send him a peremptory demand that he should marry a German princess without delay. This was typical of the extraordinary incompetence which the Austro-Hungarian Empire always showed in its dealings with Serbia. It was notorious that Alexander was still passionately in love with his mistress, and as he was not yet twenty-four years of age there was no reason whatsoever to hurry him into marriage. But Alexander’s Ministers obeyed the orders from Vienna and extracted from him a promise that he would marry before the year was out. They lacked the sound common sense of the Chief of the Belgrade Police, a simple peasant who believed that Draga owed her power over Alexander to magic potions. When he heard of the promise he blurted out, ‘Here, what’s this? We all know that this creature has bewitched the King so thoroughly that he firmly believes that he couldn’t even be a husband to another woman. If he has promised you to marry within the year, he means to marry Draga Mashin.’
He was right. On July the eighth Alexander announced to the world his intention of marrying his mistress. He chose a moment when both his father and his Prime Minister were on holiday in different parts of the Continent. As he had taken the precaution of ordering them to be supplied with different code books, they wasted a great deal of time after hearing the news in sending each other incomprehensible messages. But at home he had immediately to face a flood of opposition not to be deflected by such easy means. We know how he met it in one case. He addressed one of his Ministers in terms which were drawn from the common language of lovers, which we may even recognize as having been used in our own times by other lips.
‘You know, Vukashin,’ he said, ‘that I have had neither childhood nor youth like other men.... I have never had any ambition, not even the ambition to reign as a King. I wear the crown, not because I love it, but because it is my duty to do so. You must have noticed that yourself.... There now exists a woman whom I love more than anyone or anything in this world, the only woman with whom I can be perfectly happy, and only then can I consecrate my whole life to the interests of the people if she becomes my wife. In the whole world there is only one woman who can make me forget the bitterness of my past life, and make me feel happy. This woman has been hitherto my good angel, who gave me strength to bear patiently all that I had to bear. That woman is—Madame Draga, the daughter of Panta Lunyevitza.... I am inflexibly resolved to marry her. Don’t insult me by attacks on her.... She is a pure and honourable woman, and only her enemies speak badly of her. ... Only after she received proof that without her and her love I could not live, did she sacrifice herself to me. Yes, I am passionately in love with her, and without her I cannot live. There is now no power on earth which could prevent my marrying Draga, whatever the consequences may be. I would prefer to give up my crown and live with Draga, on an income of three hundred and sixty pounds a year, than have the throne and an apanage of forty-eight thousand pounds a year. I knew that my marriage with her would meet with extraordinary difficulties, therefore I have surrendered myself to her, body and soul, and therefore I have made it impossible for her to leave me. You ought to know that she persistently refused to become Queen. I alone know what difficulties I have had to gain her consent. And now, after I have at last broken down her resistance, you come and make difficulties! Have you no pity for me? Do you wish to force me to go away for ever? Because you ought to realize that if I cannot marry Draga as King, I will leave Serbia for ever, and marry her as a private individual.’
His Ministers were unmoved by his eloquence. The whole country was filled by the news of the approaching marriage, by a black horror such as they would not have felt at a threat of invasion by the Turks. On the day the King proclaimed his betrothal to his people the Cabinet resigned, and sent two of their number to Draga Mashin with the message that she must leave the country without delay. It was in their minds that if she refused she must be kidnapped; and it must have been in her mind that her life was no longer safe. She consented at once to their demand, but she not unnaturally asked if she might not wait till her maid had packed up her clothes and papers, provided that meanwhile she went to a friend’s house where the King would not be likely to seek her. Once she had her possessions, she said, she would gladly cross the river to Hungary. To this the two Ministers agreed.
But it was then that her tragic origins put out a hand to drag her down to her doom. She had two younger brothers who were Army officers. Both seem to have inherited the mental instability of their father. They were flighty, garrulous, arrogant, extremely indiscreet, and not at all abashed by their sister’s curious position. There is no doubt that their behaviour had contributed largely to Draga’s unpopularity. It was unfortunate that that very morning the worse of the two was with his sister, and that as she got into her carriage she whispered to him the name of the friend with whom she was going to take shelter while her maid packed for her. This was a natural enough precaution for one who knew herself to be in danger of kidnapping or death. It was not natural for her brother to give this name to the King when he called on his mistress two hours later. He drove at once to Draga’s hiding-place and brought her home in his own carriage, and there and then put on her finger a diamond engagement ring, and left her under a strong armed guard.
For four days the capital was in a turmoil. It is indicative of the curious standards of this people that deputation after deputation visited the palace, urging the King not to marry the woman whom he adored, on the ground that she was old, his mistress, and of depraved habits, and that they were permitted to depart in impunity. This is not what one would have expected in a country where freedom of speech and the press had long been violated. But the Slavs are so inherently democratic that even under an autocracy there was an admitted right for the common man to discuss his ruler’s affairs once they entered a phase of supreme importance. These deputations went away and formed various schemes for meeting the situation. Some wanted King Milan to be recalled and put in his son’s place, others wanted Peter Karageorgevitch, others reverted to the original plan of exiling Draga, with the added precaution of putting Alexander under arrest till she was out of the country. There was no question but that the Army was to prevent the marriage by a rebellion. It only remained to settle how they were to do it.
Without any doubt a plan would have been devised which would have found general support, but on the fifth day an announcement was issued which hamstrung all opposition to the King’s marriage. The Tsar Nicholas declared his approval of the engagement and sent an emissary to congratulate not only Alexander but Draga. More than that, the Tsar expressed his readiness to be ‘Kum’ at their wedding; the Kum is the chief witness, who plays a more important part in a marriage celebrated according to the Orthodox rite than any equivalent figure we know in the West, who is as it were the godparent of the marital tie. The enemies of Alexander were almost all pro-Russian. They could no longer oppose him now that he was obviously transferring his allegiance from Austria to Russia; and the marriage showed in quite a different light now that the Tsar was going to lend it his spiritual authority. A silence fell on Belgrade, not the less profound because it proceeded from bewilderment rather than from satisfaction. It had some chance to settle, for King Milan never returned to Serbia. The Continental press published a letter which he was supposed to have sent his son concerning his marriage, but which appears to have been written for journalistic use; and he helped the Austrian authorities in a campaign of libel against Belgrade. His son directed his generals that if his father attempted to re-enter Serbia he was to be shot like a mad dog. But this scene, which would indeed have been not at all a surprising climax to the family life of the Obrenovitches, was rendered impossible by Milan’s death in Vienna in 1901. Nothing could have been more ironical than that his corpse and household possessions should have been sent to Krushedol on the Frushka Gora, among the holy Serbian things which had never interested him. But it can well be understood why the Emperor Franz Josef sent them there. ’Put them with the rest of the Slav rubbish,‘ he may have said. For Milan had failed in his duty of keeping Serbia as an Austrian dependency, and henceforth he and all Serbs were hateful and worthless in Habsburg eyes.
But the silence in Belgrade broke. The public loathing of Draga had to find words to lift its corroding bitterness out of the heart. There is no indication that Draga was not an admirable wife to Alexander. She seems always to have treated him with an ungrudging maternal tenderness. There is no record of her having sided with the world against him by showing consciousness of his lack of dignity or physical repulsiveness. But though certain Ministers recognized her virtues this did not improve her popularity, for there were other counteracting forces. There was a mysterious event which touched the primitive instincts of the people. It was commonly believed that Draga was sterile as a result of a surgical operation. This does not seem probable. If she had had such an operation while she was in France it seems unlikely that anybody would hear about it except her immediate family, who would hardly have broadcast it. This was the nineteenth century, in Belgrade as anywhere else. But it is still more unlikely that it was performed before she went to France, for it is rarely required by very young women. It is a little difficult to believe that if it had ever been performed Draga would have ventured to announce shortly after her marriage that she was expecting a child, for the doctors and the nurses who had attended on her would have become potential dangers, threatening even her life. Furthermore, a famous French gynæcologist examined her and confirmed her opinion. Careless as fashionable doctors become, it is hard to imagine one failing to notice that an expectant mother lacked a womb; and it is not likely that he would have accepted a bribe, or that Alexander, who was in difficulties with his exchequer, could have raised one.
In the spring of 1901 there were rumours that Draga had been mistaken or had lied. The Tsar of Russia offered to lend the court two of his own physicians. Because he had been Kum at the wedding he would have had to be godparent to the first child, and it is possible that he had heard the gossip from Belgrade, thought he had been rash in backing the unpopular pair, and wanted to keep clear of any dubious proceedings. These two Russian doctors declared that Draga was not pregnant, but they explained clearly enough that this was not the result of a surgical operation but of a malady that might necessitate one. They also explicitly stated that the symptoms of this malady might easily have misled Draga into believing herself pregnant, and that the French gynæcologist’s diagnosis might have been justified at the time when it was made.
The mischief was done. The people’s mind was nursing an image that it always likes to hate and dandle in its hatred, the woman who is death, who is a whore and barren. They were moved to new folk-lore by this story, which troubled them by allusions to all sorts of dangers specially feared by the blood, to threats against kingship, to pollution of the race. Before long it was believed that Draga had been frustrated by the Tsar in an attempt to palm off as heir to the throne a child belonging to a sister of hers named Petrovitch. It is quite true that Madame Petrovitch was pregnant; and it may be true that in panic, finding her own hopes of pregnancy were false, Draga had thought of a ‘warming-pan baby.’ If that were so, only those who have never felt fear can blame her. Her situation was daily made more perilous by the conduct of her wretched brothers, who were certainly insane. The Serbian habit of expressing high spirits by discharging firearms into the air has alarmed many travellers, but these two young men indulged in it in a manner that alarmed even the Serbians. They also insisted that when they entered a café or restaurant the band should play the national anthem. If they did not start the rumour that one or other of them was to be adopted as heir to the throne, they at least behaved in a way that supported it and made it seem the beginning of anarchy.
From Draga’s photographs it can be seen that she grew rapidly stout, old, wooden. A hostile newspaper published a serial written round the prophecies of Mata of Krema, and she brooded on the fate that had been foretold for her. She must have been aware, for she was not a fool, that her husband’s reign was a tragic catastrophe. The change from dependence on Austria had done Serbia no whit of good. If Austria gave Alexander bad advice Russia gave him none at all, and that was worse, for though he had been on the throne ten years he had no knowledge of how to govern independently. The constitutional routine that steadied Russian absolutism was utterly unknown to him. For too long he had defended his crown and his very existence by alternate cringing and terrorism, and he could conceive no other procedure.
In 1901 he promulgated a new and democratic constitution, and almost immediately quarrelled with the Radicals whom the country elected to work it. Very soon he swept it out of existence and appointed a military dictatorship under General Tsintsar-Markovitch. The task of the Government was not to be performed. The finances of the country were in ruins, largely through the rogueries of Milan. The Army and Government officials were irregularly paid. Graft tainted every service. Nobody’s liberty was safe. And both interior and foreign policy, owing to the long period of Austrian tutelage and Alexander’s inability to profit by its termination, presented a completely bewildering spectacle to the people.
In April 1903 rioters were shot down in the streets of Belgrade. In May there was a General Election, with all returns grossly falsified by the Government. On the night of June the eleventh General Tsintsar-Markovitch went to King Alexander and told him that he could no longer face the task of ruling the country when the people were so solidly against him. This news distressed and angered the King, and he covered him with bitter abuse. But later he became calmer and admitted the reasonableness of the resignation, and asked only that his Prime Minister should carry on in office till a successor could be found. About ten o‘clock the interview ended, and the King and Queen committed a last imprudence. Every evening a military band played in the gardens in front of the palace, while the crowds walked to and fro. The King and Queen went out on a balcony and sat there surrounded by Draga’s sisters, including the one who was supposed to have assisted her in a plot to foist a false heir on the throne, and her two insanely ambitious brothers. Through the gathering darkness the people looked at the royal party with hatred that was strangling in its intensity, that had need to come to a climax. Meanwhile Tsintsar-Markovitch had gone to his home and sat up talking to his wife over a glass of wine. There were two reasons why they did not go to bed. Their eldest daughter, a girl of twenty-one, was married to a young officer named Milkovitch, who was that night on guard at the palace, and she was expected to give birth to her first child at any moment at her own home, which was in a neighbouring house. Also both Tsintsar-Markovitch and his wife felt sorrow over his resignation, and concern lest it should lead to royal disfavour.
In the cafés and garden-restaurants the usual summer crowds were sitting listening to the gipsy bands and watching the fireflies among the trees. There stands by Kalemegdan Park a hotel called the ‘Serbian Crown,’ which is distinguished by a certain romantic, haunted grace, as if the shutters had been flung back by ghosts keeping trysts made in a past and more passionate age. It has a long veranda which on warm nights is thrown open to the air, and there, on this night of June the eleventh, which was the anniversary of the murder of Prince Michael Obrenovitch thirty-five years before, sat a party of officers who attracted a great deal of attention. One of them was ‘Apis,’ Dragutin Dimitriyevitch, who ten years later was to give out guns and bombs to the lads from Sarajevo who wanted to kill Franz Ferdinand. They were drinking an enormous amount of plum brandy, and they called repeatedly for the tune which was played in honour of the Queen when she appeared in public, ‘Queen Draga’s Kolo.’ Once at least they got up and danced the kolo, the Serbian national dance, forming a circle with their arms on each other’s shoulders and their feet shuffling in an intricate rhythm. It was not extraordinary that they should dance the kolo. To this day soldiers will do that at any minute, outside their barracks or when they have to wait in a public place, say at a railway station. But it was extraordinary that these officers should dance Queen Draga’s kolo, considering her unpopularity. It was explained for many of the onlookers by their drunkenness. A number of them were visibly drunk by eleven o‘clock.
Shortly after that hour they left and walked towards the palace. They were joined by certain other parties of officers who had been spending their evening at various cafés and the Officers’ Club. Some of them also were flushed and riotous, but some were quite sober and well able to play their appointed parts in the conspiracy. One of these was Draga’s brother-in-law, Colonel Mashin. His motive in leading these soldiers against the palace may be taken as largely base. He had received large gifts of money from King Milan, who had often sent him on interesting missions; with exquisite inappropriateness he had been one of Serbia’s representatives at The Hague International Peace Conference of 1899. All these benefits had stopped at the marriage of Alexander and Draga, when Milan left the country to die. This must have inflamed to fever-point his resentment against Draga for her failure to appreciate his brother’s delirium tremens. Of Mashin nothing noble has ever been disclosed. But other leaders of the conspiracy were of a quite different sort. One lived to be a great man, of proven courage and wisdom, incorruptible in a time of temptation, never forgetful of his peasant origin, and always loyal to the peasants. His family speak of him as selfless, austere to himself, and tender with all others. Their followers also were of different qualities. Some were going to the palace in the expectation of murder and loot. Others went to demand the abdication of Alexander and to promise him and his wife a safe conduct over the frontiers on condition he did not name either of the Lunyevitza brothers as his successor. And of the eighty-six conspirators twenty-six had come up that day from scattered garrisons in answer to telegrams from Mashin telling them to get leave on any pretext and hurry to Belgrade, and were still not quite sure what was going to happen.
From the restaurant some went to the barracks of certain regiments to keep them from leaving for the defence of the palace when the alarm was given. Others went to the palace and gave the previously arranged signal, which was to bring them the King’s equerry to open the outer door and lead them to the royal bedroom. But he had already repented of his consent to the conspiracy and had reacted to repentance in the manner of a Dostoievsky character. He had not betrayed his comrades to the King, he had simply sat in a chair in the entrance-hall and drunk himself into a state of unconsciousness, so that he would be unable to hear them when they came. Eventually they had to explode the locked door with a dynamite cartridge. This gave the alarm inside the palace and out. The King’s aide-de-camp ran to the telephone but found the wires cut. Then the electric lights went out, either because the system had been damaged by the explosion or, some say, because the aide-de-camp turned off the central switch. Outside some gendarmes ran out of the neighbouring police station, saw a mob in the street, and began to fire. But what they thought was a mob was the Sixth Regiment, who had been brought out of barracks by one of the conspirators, and the soldiers answered fire. For a quarter of an hour there was a battle, but then the lie which had brought the Sixth Regiment to the palace spread to the police. They were told that King Alexander was turning Queen Draga out of the palace and that they had been sent for to keep peace in the town while she and her family were sent off to the frontier; and at once they ceased action. The same lie had disarmed the palace guard. All stood silent, bemused, cataleptic, because of their hatred of this woman.
The King’s equerry was shocked out of his drunken sleep and staggered to the door. The conspirators cried out that he had betrayed them and ‘Apis’ shot him dead. There is no record that this inveterate plotter of attentats, who dreamed all his life long of murdering crowned heads, ever killed anyone with his own hands except this dazed and unimportant man. Terrified, with the din of the street-fighting in their ears, they sent over to the house of a doctor near by and asked for candles. Since the doctor was told the story of Draga’s expulsion, he gladly gave them. With these feeble lights the conspirators hurried into the palace, not knowing how long they had left for their work, and blundered about amongst the shifting shadows and the litter of furniture. The palace was a fine example of the school of interior decoration to which the dynasties of Europe seem irresistibly drawn, and they had to find their way among objects including many bead portières, a huge black bear that someone had shot during the Bulgarian War, marble fountains removed from old Turkish palaces, an immense number of occasional tables covered with bric-à-brac, tom-toms, and Turkish hookahs. They stumbled about, knocking things over, and tried to find their way to the royal bedroom. Sometimes enemies detached themselves from the shadows, loyal members of the palace guard, who were instantly killed. One was Milkovitch, husband of Tsintsar-Markovitch’s eldest daughter, who was that night in childbirth.
Concerning these loyalists a divergence of opinion soon appeared. Some were merely for overpowering the King and Queen, others were for outright murder and did it. There must have been a certain amount of mutual distrust among the conspirators themselves by the time they struggled through the darkness to the royal bedroom and found that the King and Queen had gone. There was no question but that they had just left, for the bed was still warm, and a French novel had been thrown down on the bed-table, open and face-down. Now the conspirators had reason to feel real fear. If the King had got away and roused those soldiers who were still faithful, they would all lose their lives. They ordered the aide-de-camp, whom they had wounded in the shooting downstairs, to be brought upstairs and they questioned him. Though he was weak and in pain he lied glibly and sensibly to gain time. First he persuaded them to go down and search the cellars, which they did for an hour. When they were satisfied that there was nobody there they ran upstairs and ransacked the rooms again, some holding candles while the others drew their swords and poked them under sofas and pierced curtains with them, and beat them on the walls to detect secret doors. Their situation was becoming more and more desperate.
Meanwhile two officers had been sent with a company of soldiers to the house of Tsintsar-Markovitch. When they knocked at the door the General and his wife thought a messenger had come from their daughter’s house. But owing to the conversation that they had been having about the results of his resignation, he was not surprised and he received them courteously and tranquilly. The senior officer told him that they had been sent to place him under arrest in his own house until it was time for him to go to the palace to hand over the seals of office. The General still showed no surprise and treated them as soldiers doing their duty, bidding them sit down while he gave them cigarettes. They smoked for a while. The senior officer showed signs of agitation which puzzled his junior, who did not know that they had been sent to kill the General. After a time the General rose and said, ‘I will go and order some coffee,’ and as soon as he turned his back on his guests the senior officer lifted his revolver and shot him three times. The assassin stood in great distress, crying out that he had been ordered to do this thing, while the junior officer knelt down and took the dying man in his arms. ‘Your Majesty, Your Majesty,’ Tsintsar-Markovitch said with his last breath, ‘I have been faithful to you. I did not deserve that you should do this thing to me.’ And in this error he died.
At the palace, King Alexander and Queen Draga were hiding in a little room that opened off their bedroom, scarcely more than a wardrobe, where her dresses were hung and her maid did her sewing and ironing. There had been a secret passage specially built by King Milan to meet just such an occasion as this, but Alexander had scornfully had it bricked up. The door to this wardrobe room was covered by the same wallpaper as the bedroom walls, and it completely deceived the conspirators, perhaps because they searched by candlelight. The King and Queen kept silent till they heard their enemies question their aide-de-camp and then go stumbling down to the cellars. Then the King went to the window and cried to the soldiers whom he saw dimly standing about in the gardens about the palace. But they were all some way off, and he was leaning from a dark window, and they had been told that the officers of the palace guard were protecting their King against a conspiracy started by Draga and her family. They stood silent and immovable. The hatred of Draga had become a wandering spell, an enchantment that played about the city, sealing the mouths and paralysing the bodies of all its inhabitants.
The royal pair seem to have given up the attempt to save themselves for a time and to have tried to clothe themselves decently. The King was wearing trousers and a red silk shirt, and Draga had found lying about a pair of white silk stays, a petticoat, and yellow stockings. She did not dare to open a cupboard to get out a dress, for fear of making a noise, and they were in darkness. Their torture lasted for about two hours. Then the Queen, who was standing at the window, saw an officer come into the gardens just below, and recognized him by his walk as the Commander of the Royal Guard. She leaned out and cried to him, ‘Come and save your King! He is in danger!’ The Commander halted, looked up, and made sure that it was she. He raised his revolver and fired at her: or rather at the Austrian Empire, at our evil earth, at our polluted species, at sin. A wide shot, for she was in fact none of these things. It was no wonder he missed her.
This Commander went round to the entrance-hall and found the conspirators, with their drawn swords in their hands, wrangling with the dying aide-de-camp, who was on the point of persuading them to search another building near by. He told them that he had seen the Queen at a window near the royal bedroom. They ran back to it at once, but still could not find the wardrobe room. An axe was fetched from a woodshed in the palace courtyard, and one of the officers struck the walls till he came on the door. It was locked, and there is no evidence whether it was broken open or whether the King and Queen unbolted it under promise of safety. All that is known is that at the last they stood in their bedroom, the flabby spectacled young man and the stout and bloated middle-aged woman, fantastically dressed, and faced a group of officers whose shaking hands held guttering candles and drawn swords and revolvers.
Mashin was there, but so was a leader of the highest character. This man asked the King if he would abdicate, and was answered with the bitterest words a son ever spoke. ‘No; I am not King Milan, I am not to be overawed by a handful of officers.’ Then all the revolvers in the room fired at once, and Alexander fell into Draga’s arms. He cried, ‘Mito! Mito! How could you do this thing to me?’ Mito was the familiar name of Tsintsar-Markovitch. Alexander died in the belief that he had been assassinated by order of the man who had died an hour before, in the belief that he had been assassinated by order of Alexander. Then the revolvers fired again, and Draga dropped to the floor. A madness came on most of the men in the room. They stripped the bodies and hacked them with their swords, gashing the faces, opening their bellies. Some of them who did not run amuck shouted to them that they must all go away now that the deed was done, now that partisans of the King and Queen might come in and arrest them. This, however, did not do anything to restore decency to the scene. For with a dreadful sanity the men who had been stripping and slashing tumbled the naked corpses out of the window into the gardens below. This was sound common sense and guaranteed their own safety, for it showed that both King and Queen were dead and there was now no one to protect or be protected by, since there were no Obrenovitches left to succeed to the throne. But it added another indecency to the scene. Alexander’s arms had always been much more developed than the rest of his body; and as there was a spark of life in him he clung to the balcony with one hand as he went over, and an officer had to sever his fingers with a sword before he would let go. When he had been cast down on the lawn his other hand closed on some blades of grass.
The morning broke; and although it was June some rain fell about four o‘clock. That brought the Russian Minister out of his Legation, which looked across a chestnut avenue at the palace. He had been watching the tragedy all night through the slits in his shutters. Though he could certainly have taken steps to rescue the King and Queen, he had intervened neither then nor when he had been informed of the conspiracy, which had happened two or three days earlier. For a great number of people had known of it beforehand. Mr. Miyatovitch, who was then Serbian Minister in London, received a full description of it at a spiritualist seance held by Mr. W. T. Stead three months before. The medium, Mrs. Burchell, had visualized the scene with singular fidelity. Such at least was the opinion of everybody present who came from Finsbury Park, though a gentleman from Hounslow heard nothing. Other persons, however, received intimations later and from more materialistic sources. The Austrian Government knew of it, and certain movements of troops on its frontiers could be explained only by that foreknowledge. But it would not issue a warning to Alexander, its enemy. And the Russian Legation would not issue a warning to its highly unsatisfactory friend, who was so unpopular, so awkward, and, above all, so unlucky. But there is a point at which a gentleman must draw the line. Entering the garden, the Russian Minister went up to the officers who were standing about and pointed to the corpses. ’For God’s sake,‘ he said, ’carry them into the palace. Do not leave them here in the rain exposed to the gaze of the public.‘ This sentence may well be preserved as a symbol of the kind and degree in which the great powers have acted as a civilizing influence in the Balkans.
Thereafter the city blossomed like the rose. Serbia was young again, it was refreshed, it tossed its head and threw off its sleep and faced the morning in its strength, because Draga was dead, because the bad woman had been killed. The actual ills that Alexander Obrenovitch had committed, or at any rate consented to, the imprisonments and floggings, the corruption and fraud, were quickly forgotten. For long the people have spoken as if he had been murdered because he was Draga’s husband, and as if his murder were secondary to hers, and as if the murders were purgations of a plague, which was nothing but Draga.
This is a mystery. For Draga was insignificant. She is one of the most negative people who appear in history. At no point in her career does she seem to have said or done anything that could be remembered five minutes later. She represents prose in its defective sense, in its limitation to factual statement, in its lack of evocation and illumination. Her enemies found it difficult to make a case against her, because she provided them with no material from which any deduction could be made; and for the same reason her friends could build up no defence. When she went into a room she did nothing that was noble and nothing that was base, she stood up if standing was good, and she sat down if sitting was better. No man except Alexander seems to have loved her, and although a few women felt a protective kindness towards her they do not talk of her as in any way interesting.
Such a woman could not have committed a great crime, and indeed she never was accused of any. To plan the substitution of an heir to the throne would have been disgraceful, had she ever truly done so; but that can be left on one side, for Serbia’s hatred of Draga was mature before she ever became Queen. It was ostensibly based on the immorality of her life as a young widow in Belgrade; and let us visualize exactly what that meant if it were real. A beautiful and dull young woman lived in a small room somewhere in Belgrade; on the walls there would be hung many family photographs and a poor bright rug or two, and on the wooden floor there would be one or two others of these poor rugs. There would come to her sometimes men who would perhaps be comely and young like herself, for she was not so poor as to need to take lovers against her inclination. There would follow some conversation, agonizing in its banality had one had to listen to it, but not criminal, not threatening to anyone’s peace or life. It would not be unnatural if the couple soon abandoned the use of words, and turned to embraces, which would as like as not be purely animal in inspiration. Then, if the worst of what the Queen’s enemies said was true, they went into another room, in which there was a bed, and lay down on it. Once they were there nature limited them to the performance of a certain number of movements which except to the neurotic are not abhorrent, which some people find agreeable and others disagreeable, which by common consent have to be judged ethically solely by their results, since they themselves carry hardly any but a momentary and sensational significance.
Now, this is admittedly not what one would hope to find in the past of a royal personage. A queen should know only the love that lasts, as a king should know only the courage that never fails. But it must be reiterated that Draga was hated before there was any probability that she should become Queen: and that makes the power of the scene over the popular imagination remarkable. It might have led to the birth of an illegitimate child, but it did not. It might have led to the transmission of venereal disease, but it did not. Still, the potentiality shadows it. But even so it is extraordinary that the Serbs should have been distraught and frenzied by a scene that was darkened by only the shadow of horror when they were so familiar with scenes that were black with its substance. They were used to murder, to the bullet that sped from the forest branches, to the rope that strangled the captive who the next day would be pronounced a suicide. They were used to the fraudulent trial, the lying witnesses, the bribed judge, the undeserved imprisonment, and the thieving fine. Yet it was Draga who sent their blood rushing to blind their eyes, who made them draw their swords in a completely supererogatory murder. For there was no reason whatsoever to kill Draga. Alexander it would perhaps have been impossible to leave alive, for his obstinacy and his sense of grandiose destiny would have made him cling to power if it meant wrecking his country’s peace. But Draga could safely have been put on a train and sent off to spend the rest of her days between Passy and Nice. There was no reason at all why the conspirators should have spent that night of panic in the palace staggering about among the occasional tables and the bead portières,accumulating damnable guilt.
But it would be fatuous to deny the dynamic effect of the deed. There was at first the movement towards demoralization that would have been expected. The conspirators murdered not only the King and Queen and the Prime Minister, but also the Minister of War, and Draga’s two brothers. These two young men were brought to the barracks of the regiment and confronted by the Commander of the Royal Guard, the same who had shot at Draga from her garden. ‘Their Majesties are now dead,’ he said to them with ferocious irony. ‘The moment has come for your Royal Highnesses to command. Do not hesitate. We are your faithful subjects. Pray give your orders. But if I may presume to advise you, you will not ask for more than a glass of water and a cigarette.’ They were then taken out into a courtyard and shot by a firing-party commanded by Lieutenant Tankositch, the friend of ‘Apis,’ who eleven years later was to aid him in giving arms to Princip and his friends for the Sarajevo attentat. After such a blood bath there was bound to be disorder and there was some looting of the palace and the houses of the murdered Ministers. But in a day the Army was brought to heel, and the business of government was competently carried on. A provisional Government was formed, and after a peculiar religious service, of a kind not prescribed in any missal, attended by the Ministers and conspirators, a deputation set off to Geneva to offer the throne to Peter Karageorgevitch.
It is incontestable that Peter Karageorgevitch had known nothing about the murders before hand. His worst enemies never seriously alleged that he had been consulted, and several of the conspirators admitted that they never dared tell him. He was a man of fifty-seven, with an upright character and a complete incapacity for pliancy, and they were well aware that had he known of their intentions he would have stiffly denounced them to the proper authorities. For a royal pretender he had had a curious career. He was the grandson of the great Karageorge and the son of the Alexander Karageorgevitch who had ruled without zest from 1842 to 1858. Because of his father’s democratic principles he had been brought up as much like a peasant child as possible, and had gone out from the palace to the national school every morning. At the time of his father’s abdication he was sent to a boarding-school in Geneva, which was singularly successful in marking him for life. To the end of his days there was grafted on the essential Serb in him an industrious, conscientious, Puritan Swiss. He spent his holidays on his father’s estate in Transylvanian Hungary and learned the elements of farming; but he elected to become a soldier, and at seventeen went to France and passed through the Military Academies of Saint-Cyr and Metz. He fought in the Franco-Prussian War, and was wounded and decorated, and laid the foundations of the rheumatism that was to cripple him in later life by swimming the Loire in midwinter to escape capture. We have an odd vignette of him bursting into a house in a French town one quiet evening during the campaign, explaining that he had heard from the streets the tones of a harmonium and begging that he might be allowed to play on it. He then spent a happy hour wheezing out Serbian national airs.
He remained inveterately serious and simple. It is doubtful whether he ever learned that a harmonium is not chic. But the rest of his family established itself in Paris and could have taught him that the right thing was a grand piano covered with a Japanese embroidery. His younger brother, Arsenius, became a dashing Russian officer, and later a well-known boulevardier; of his young cousins, Alexis and Bozhidar, much can be read in Marie Bashkirtseff’s Journal. Indeed, one of the most interesting exhibits in Prince Paul’s Museum at Belgrade, though it has some fine Corots and Degases and Van Goghs and Matisses, is a charming picture by Marie of the bearded young Bozhidar, leaning from a balcony threaded with orange nasturtiums, looking down on a Paris silvery with autumn. This boy grew to be a water-colourist of some merit and wrote several Loti-like books about travel in the East which consisted almost entirely of colour-adjectives; he was a close friend of Sarah Bernhardt, and was in much demand for masquerades because of his capacity for Arielesque gaiety. Alexis and he both spent money like water on highly amusing and refined objects. They were conspicuously not what would be expected of the grandchildren of a Serb pig-breeder and rebel chief. But all the genes characteristic of Karageorge seemed to have been transmitted in almost uncomfortable purity to Peter.
He spent some time in France after he left the Army, and studied the elements of law and social science. It was at this time that he translated John Stuart Mill’s Essay on Liberty into Serbian. In 1875 he went to Bosnia and fought in the revolt against Turkey, and was unremittingly in command of a company of comitadji throughout the whole three years of the campaign. After the settlement he went to Serbia, not to advocate his claim to the throne but to see his native country again. He was soon expelled by the police. Five years later he went to Montenegro to help Prince Nicholas reorganize his army, and married one of his daughters. In 1889 his wife died of consumption, leaving him with three children, two boys and a girl. By this time he had taken an intense dislike to his father-in-law, whom he rightly considered dishonest and dishonourable, so he moved with his family to Geneva.
There he lived in great poverty. There was barely enough money to feed the family, and some people in Switzerland believe that Peter added to his income by some such work as the copying of legal documents. He also took his full share in his family responsibilities. He had taken furnished rooms, and an elderly cousin acted as nurse to the children, but there were three of them, and presently four; for his brother Arsenius had married in Russia a member of the plebeian but wealthy family of Demidoff, and they had separated, leaving a little boy (now Prince Paul) without a home. Peter brought them up with a tender, anxious, austere care. He gave them their first lessons, and he watched over their manners and morals with an unrelenting eye. A Serb and a Swiss, he thought that one must be a soldier, and that one must be good. The training that this faith brought on the four children is not altogether agreeable to contemplate. They were all over-worked. They had to attend the ordinary Swiss elementary school during the day, which was supposed to be a whole-time education, and in the evening they had to learn the Serbian language and history and literature from a Serbian governess and their father. They were also subjected to ferocious discipline. In 1896 their mother’s sister Helen married the Crown Prince of Italy, and invited the children, of whom she was very fond, to the wedding at Rome. The little daughter was not allowed to go because her marks at school had been bad.
But he was kind and loving. To understand his severity towards his children it must be remembered that he intensely disapproved of his own family. He thought Arsenius might probably be saved in so far as he was a good soldier, but his Swiss side found much to disapprove of in his brother considered as a dashing Russian officer and the divorced husband of Aurora Demidoff. As for Bozhidar and Alexis, he thought they were degeneration itself. Alexis had married a very rich American lady, and to please her had tried to get Peter to stand back and let him assume the role of pretender, pointing out that he at least had the money to finance his claim. This had struck Peter as a most unholy proposal, and he coldly continued to instruct his children in the legend of Kossovo and deprive them of their meals if they were not in time for them, trusting that by such means he would prevent them from resembling their relatives. But it could not escape his notice that his elder son, George, showed undoubted signs of the unstable charm which he disliked in Alexis and Bozhidar, and, what was perhaps more serious, the moody violence that had darkened the genius of Karageorge.
It was perhaps for this reason that in 1898 Peter accepted an offer made by the Tsar to receive all three of his children in St Petersburg, give them the freedom of the palaces, and educate them at the best Russian schools. It is certain that his liberal tendencies would have been better pleased if the children had been educated in Switzerland or France; but he could no longer face the responsibility of bringing them up on scanty food, in uncomfortable lodgings, and without advice, when there was this handsome alternative. But though this improved his family’s lot it initiated a most uncomfortable routine for him. The little Paul could not at first be taken to Russia for reasons connected with his parents’ troubles, and he remained in Geneva under the care of Prince Peter and his cousin till later. But Prince Peter had to take care that his children remained good Serbs and were not Russified, so he visited them in Russia in the holidays, travelling as cheaply as possible. These journeys were not wasted. His second son, Alexander, remained curiously impervious to Romanoff luxury, practised his father’s frugality and chastity, and cultivated Serb circles in St. Petersburg. The Roman virtue of this man was real, and had its emanations.
The news of the Belgrade murders must have been unspeakably disgusting to Peter Karageorgevitch. He had never supported his claim to the Serbian throne by the most faintly dubious action. He had announced that he believed himself to be the rightful ruler of Serbia and that he was willing to take up the sceptre whenever the Serbian people demanded it; and there he had left it. Now he was faced with what is the nastiest thing in the world from an Army officer’s point of view: an Army conspiracy. He was faced with what is the next nastiest thing from a soldier’s point of view: the slaughter of unarmed civilians. Also one victim had been a woman, and there had been a great deal of drunkenness. It must have been the bitterest moment in his life when he went to his café to read the morning newspapers and found them black with this blot on his country, which—as it must have struck him after the first second’s shock—was also a blot on his own name. When the Skupshtina elected him King he was faced with one of the most unpleasant dilemmas that has ever faced a decent man. He knew that if he accepted the throne the whole world would suspect him of complicity in the murders, he would be ostracized by all other reigning sovereigns, and he would be in the deadliest personal danger, since mutiny is no exception to the rule that the appetite grows by what it feeds on. But he knew that Serbia needed a good king and that there was nobody else likely to rule well except himself. He knew too that there were many people in Serbia who trusted him to save them from misgovernment. It is also possible that the Tsar had given his children their education on the understanding that he would go to Belgrade when the opportunity served and protect the country from the Austrian devourer of the Obrenovitches.
When the twenty-four delegates from the Skupshtina arrived in Geneva and offered Peter Karageorgevitch the Serbian crown, he stiffly accepted. Without temporizing, without waiting till European excitement had subsided, he took the train to Belgrade and got there thirteen days after the assassination. By that time all powers except Austria and Russia had withdrawn their diplomatic representatives as a mark of scorn. Peter greeted his people with a gravity which made it plain that it was for him to approve them rather than for them to approve him. His first legislative act was to remove the censorship on the foreign press. No newspapers from abroad were to be seized or blacked. ‘Serbia,’ said Peter, without explaining himself further, ‘shall henceforth know what other countries think of it.’
His immediate problem was how to deal with the regicides. He never dealt with them in the complete and clear-cut way suggested by the over-zealous apologists of the Karageorgevitches. It is said in one history that he removed them all within three years. This is not true. Peter recognized that there were differences in guilt among the conspirators, and that some were high-minded men who had conceived the crime out of public spirit and had never intended it to be so bloody. Even under strong foreign pressure he refused to expel these men from office. One was the famous General Mishitch, who showed himself a great soldier in the Balkan wars and still greater in the World War. But others he recognized as base and sooner or later excluded from official favour: Mashin was one. And Peter would not persecute those who denounced the crime. When he was reviewing a regiment four months after his arrival a lieutenant left the ranks and shouted in his face that the blood of Alexander was still crying out for vengeance; the young man was removed from the Army but was not otherwise punished. Soon the baser regicides banded together to protect themselves, and in 1907 they assassinated the head of the anti-regicide group. Peter used that assassination, in conjunction with an Austrian attempt to eject him and give the Serbian throne to an Anglo-German, to sober public opinion. He told his people that if they insisted on behaving like wild beasts they must expect to be caged and put in charge of a keeper. But he himself was well aware that though he had thereby cleansed public opinion he had not succeeded in rounding up all the conspirators of dangerous character. Chief among these was Dragutin Dimitriyevitch, who was protected by the extraordinary personal fascination which made him a popular figure in the Army.
But the question of the regicides mattered far less than can be supposed. Incredible as it may seem, it was dwarfed by the astonishing achievements of which the people, refreshed by their sacrifice of Draga, found themselves easily and happily capable. Peter began a programme of reforms in the simplest, most Genevese spirit. When his major-domo came to him on the day of his arrival to inquire what sort of menus he preferred, he exclaimed, ‘Menus! Menus! I have no time for menus! Never speak of such things to me again.’ He can indeed have had very little time, for he started to reform Serbia on foot and by hand. He would walk without military escort to a hospital, and if he found all the doctors out, as was not unlikely to happen in those Arcadian days, he wrote in the visitors’ book, ‘King Peter has been here.’ He would visit a school, and if he found the children playing and the teachers gloomily discussing their grievances, he wrote on the blackboard, ‘King Peter has been here.’ He went on, however, to deal with the grievance which most afflicted doctors and teachers, and indeed many civil servants and soldiers in Serbia, and explained a great deal of disordered conduct: he saw that they were paid regularly. Swiss honesty, which in the place of its origin sometimes seems too much of a good thing, affected the Serbians, after thirty-five years of Milan and Alexander, as picturesque and exotic. It was to them what their national costume is to us. They stood gaping, while by continuous probity Peter brought his own state to financial order and even won the respect of international financiers. Alexander had been unable to raise a loan in Vienna even by pledging the entire railway system of Servia, but Peter was cheerfully lent nine times the sum his predecessor had vainly importuned.
The Serbs rose to their dawn. They followed him along the new path that Serbia had not trodden for five hundred years, to the world where success, and golden, luxuriant success at that, was won not only by the sword but by the plough, the loom, the pen, the brush, the balance. For the first time since the Turkish conquest the lost civilization of Byzantium showed signs of revival, and at last it seemed as if the monotonous reciprocal process of tyranny and resistance were to be displaced by a truly polymorphous life. The Serbians spread their wings, they soared up to the sun. When Austria saw them it was enraged. It contrived a snare to get Serbia back under its tutelage. When King Peter reorganized his army, under the commandership of his brother, Arsenius Karageorgevitch, he proposed to buy some big guns from France; he also arranged a customs agreement of a most brotherly sort with Bulgaria. Vienna rapped him sharply over the knuckles. The agreement with Bulgaria must be cancelled, and the guns must be ordered from Austria. King Peter refused; so did his Prime Minister, Nicholas Pashitch, the Lloyd George of Serbia, a crafty idealist; so did the intoxicated Serbians. ‘The Obrenovitches are gone, the Karageorgevitches are here, we are no longer slaves,’ they said.
Austria then declared economic warfare on the Serbians. It looked as if it must conquer, and that easily. Serbia had only one industry, pig-breeding, and there was nothing simpler than raising the tariff against their livestock to prohibitive heights. That killed at one blow nine-tenths of their trade. However, the Serbians tightened their belts, and very soon found new markets in France, Egypt, and even England, while the price of meat mounted to preposterous heights in Austria. The ‘pig war’ lingered on for five years, from 1905 to 1910. As its failure became manifest, Austria made it clear she had not accepted defeat. In 1908 the abominable Aehrenthal chose to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina; which, once annexed, were a threat to every state between Austria and the Black Sea. It meant that the Habsburgs, having failed to subdue Serbia by economic warfare, meant some day to settle the score by the use of arms. Again the Serbians spread their wings and soared up to the sun. ’If there is Austria,‘ they said, ’there is also Russia. We have no need to cringe before any state; we are a strong people whose strength will buy us allies.‘ And this indeed was true, now that they had a king who could not be bought and would not let his Ministers sell themselves.
This moment must have found King Peter at his happiest and his most sorrowful. The contrast between the disorganized and dishonoured Serbia which he had taken over from the Obrenovitches and the proud and virile state which was now making its own terms with the great power was, indeed, the sign of one of the most dramatic personal achievements in modern history. But it is quite possible that he was not altogether pleased by the company his triumph had brought on him. He had had to accept Russian upbringing for his children in his days of exile; now he had to accept Russian protection for his subjects. But the democratic Serb, the liberal Swiss, the translator of John Stuart Mill’s Essay on Liberty, could not but disapprove of Russian absolutism; his frugality must have been repelled by the luxury of the Romanoffs; and he knew that the South Slavs had every reason to fear the Russian movement known as Pan-Slavism. That had become evident in the seventies, when the Turks had tried to kill Greek and Serb influence in Macedonia by founding of the Bulgarian Exarchate, which was to make the government of the Macedonian churches independent of the Greek Patriarchate. This Exarchate was inevitably anti-Serb, as Serbs wanted self-government for their own churches; and Russia lent her support to the Exarchate, because it feared the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its dominance of Serbia and therefore wished to have no Serbs in Macedonia. Hence it put up the money for Bulgarian churches, schools, and newspapers, which had no other object than to turn Serbs into Bulgarians. In fact Russia had, in the name of Pan-Slavism, destroyed the unity between the Serbs and the Bulgarians which was necessary if the South Slavs were ever to maintain themselves against the Turks and the Austrians. Later Russia sometimes retrieved her position, but she often backslid. This was no stable ally of the sort that King Peter, King Rock, would have chosen.
He had another and more personal sorrow. His elder son, the Crown Prince George, took a prominent part in politics and became the leader and idol of the violent pro-war party. Of his charm and courage and ability there was no doubt; and he was even sound in judgment. When the rest of Europe still held blind faith in the efficiency of the Austrian Army he predicted its collapse under the first prolonged strain. But the fantastic strain in him which had grieved his father in the old days at Geneva was flowering into a monstrosity not to be ignored. King Peter could not deal with him in the summary manner that would have been best; his popularity with the Army, and particularly among those officers who had formed the more disreputable part of the regicidal conspirators, would have made it dangerous to seclude him. But in 1909 he fell into trouble. He killed his valet in an attack of rage. The most charitable account has it that he found the man reading his letters and kicked him downstairs with no intention of inflicting on him any serious injury. The King then inflexibly required that the Crown Prince should resign his claim to the succession in favour of his brother Alexander, though he felt obliged to let him retain his commission in the Army. It has been said by envenomed critics of the dynasty that this was the result of Alexander’s intrigues; but he was then a silent boy of twenty-one, who was still a student at the Military Academy in St. Petersburg, and had paid only a few brief visits to Serbia during the six years since his father’s accession. King Peter, who was now sixty-five, cannot have been altogether certain of the quality of the boy he now recalled from Russia to help him against his internal and external enemies.
Now destiny took charge of his kingdom. The Austrian provocation became more and more insolent. In January 1909 there had been a spectacular trial in Zagreb where fifty-three Serb subjects of the Austrian Empire had been charged with conspiring against their country with the connivance of the Serbian Government, and thirty-one of them had been convicted on obviously forged or frivolous evidence. In March 1909 the Austrian Foreign Office handed the official historian of the Habsburg family, one Dr. Friedjung, forged documents which purported to prove the existence of a new conspiracy against the Empire not only directed but financed by certain members of the Serbian Government. King Peter and his Ministers issued a statement roundly calling the Austrians liars, and over fifty Serbian politicians backed up that statement by filing actions for libel against Dr. Friedjung in Vienna. The subsequent trial showed beyond a doubt that all his evidence was fabricated. Smiling, the Serbs went home, and prepared themselves for the war that must come. They believed that it would not come at once. Russia had been greatly annoyed by the annexation of Bosnia, and her annoyance was a fortress wall behind the Serbians, clearly visible to the Austrians.
There was work they could do in the meantime. Macedonia was still unredeemed, a Christian province in the hands of the Ottoman Empire: a hell of misgovernment, that had known no respite for five hundred years, save for a brief period of international control at the beginning of the twentieth century, which had been terminated by the Austro-Hungarian and German Empires for no other reason than the Teutonic hatred of the Slav. It was now in the deeper darkness that follows a false dawn. The Young Turk movement had suddenly swept away the Sultanate, and established a constitution promising liberty to all its subjects of whatever race. Very soon it appeared that the Young Turk was simply the son of the Old Turk, with a Prussian military training, and there was set on foot a ferocious scheme for denationalizing the Macedonian Christians. Serbia and Bulgaria not only abhorred this spectacle from the bottom of their Balkan souls, but were touched by it in their self-interest. If the Austrians were to have an empire stretching to the Black Sea they would first go down the valley of the Vardar through Serbia and get command of the Ægean at Salonika, and Serbia and Bulgaria would be impeded in their resistance to his invasion, because Macedonia, a strip of disordered country in the hands of their enemies, the Turks, would lie between them and their allies, the Greeks. There was no question but they must drive out the Turks; and with that resolution there came to the Serbs an extraordinary happiness. There is nothing like the peculiar gratification which fills us when we find ourselves able to satisfy the claims of reality by enacting a fantasy that has long warmed our imagination. The Serbians, to live in modern Serbia, must realize the poem that was written in the monasteries of the Frushka Gora, that was embodied in the dark body of the Tsar Lazar. They had not to choose whether they would make a day-dream into fact: they were under the necessity of choosing between life with that day-dream and death without it.
There has been no fighting in our time that has had the romantic quality of the Balkan wars that broke out in 1912. The Serbians rode southwards radiant as lovers. The whole West thought them barbarous swash-bucklers, and fools at that, advancing on an enemy who had never been defeated, and had found some magic prescription for undeserved survival. That mattered nothing to these dedicated troops, wrapped in their rich and tragic dream. They were determined to offer themselves to the horrors of war in a barren land where the climate is bearable for only four months in the year, where there were dust-storms and malaria and men who had been turned by art to something more savage than savagery. Those horrors accepted them. The summer burned them, the winter buried them in snow; on the vile Turkish roads their commissariat often broke down for days and they had to live on roots and berries; the wounded and malarial lay contorted among the untender rocks; they suffered atrocities and committed them. But they were not perturbed. In their minds there lay the splendid image of Slav empire, potent in spite of time and defeat, like the Tsar Lazar in his coffin. It can be conceived as filling with a special glory, altogether Byzantine in its rigidity of forms and intense incandescence, the mind of the Crown Prince Alexander, for the Karageorgevitches permitted themselves no other poetry.
In three months the poem had completed itself. By December 1912 the Ottoman Empire, as Europe had known it for six hundred years, had been destroyed. The Serbians and Bulgarians and Greeks laughed in the astonished faces of the West. All should have gone magically well, had it not been that the quality that the West has shown in its dealings with the Balkans was too pervasive and enduring not to tarnish even the purest metal of achievement. It may be remembered that the Slavs had won this same victory once before, in 1876; and had been diddled out of their victory first by Russia’s incompetence, which made them sign the unsatisfactory Treaty of San Stefano, and then by the criminal idiocy of all the great powers combined, and of England in particular, which replaced it by the infinitely more mischievous Treaty of Berlin, designed for the maintenance of Turkey in Europe. This had left all sorts of unsettled issues for the Serbians and Bulgarians to quarrel about; and the intrigues it engendered had placed upon the Bulgarian throne in 1887 a being of tortuous impulses and unlovely life called Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. During his reign he watered and tended corruption as if it were a flower. The disorder of Bulgarian politics, which is often cited as a reproach to the Balkans, was very largely an importation of this detestable princeling. He was always a tool of Austria, although his bias towards treachery makes all statements about his character difficult to frame; and after the Karageorgevitches had freed Serbia from the Austrian yoke he became one of Austria’s most useful instruments in its increasingly frenetic anti-Russian and anti-Serbian policy. He had been forced to join with Serbia in the Balkan wars by the will of his people, and indeed his Austrian masters told him that there was no objection against it, provided he was ready to do a Judas-trick at the end. And this he did.
Ferdinand assured the Serbians and the Greeks that he had shifted his allegiance from Austria to Russia, signed pacts with them, and went to war at their side, though not as the most satisfactory ally imaginable. With money and munitions he was extremely stingy, but he was generous to a fault in the manufacture of ‘incidents’ which faced too simply the problem of rousing public sympathy. A staff of his blackguards distributed bombs among trained bandits who exploded them in mosques, which not unnaturally inspired the infuriated Moslems to rush out and massacre Christians. This pleased neither the Christians who were massacred nor the Serbs and Greeks, who found themselves regarded with suspicion by neutral observers. Such, however, was the melodic line traced by Ferdinand’s soul. Then, when the peace came he saw to it that discord between the Serbians and the Bulgarians should be its first result. The Treaty of San Stefano had awarded Bulgaria territory that gave her a position in the Balkans only to be justified if she had been the real liberator of the Peninsula, and the three peoples had gone into the war with a loose understanding that the Treaty might at last be carried into effect if Bulgaria provided that justification. But in that she failed. Ferdinand had mismanaged his gallant army so that they had in fact not even done their share of the fighting; and the decisive battle of the campaign, Kumanovo, had been won by the Serbians alone. It was natural that Serbia should demand some recognition of her special services in the peace treaties, which should take the form of a common frontier with her ally Greece and access to the sea at Salonika. This was an absolute necessity to her existence, as Austria had recently created out of the wreckage of Turkish territory a puppet state of Albania, which was to be an Austrian stronghold that should control Serbia and Greece.
But Ferdinand impudently resisted these reasonable demands. The Judas-trick he had been asked to perform by Austria was the sowing of deep dissension between the Serbians and Bulgarians at the end of the war, if need be by the betrayal of his own subjects’ good name. During the summer of 1913, while the peace treaties were being discussed, he spread among his troops all manner of lies about the Serbians. Then on June twenty-eighth, St. Vitus’s Day, which was the anniversary of the defeat of the Christians on the field of Kossovo, which was to see the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie Chotek, he issued certain orders which even his own kept Government was not allowed to know. Many Bulgarian officers dined with Serbian officers to celebrate the recovery of Kossovo; when they returned to their trenches they were told that the discovery of a conspiracy made it necessary for them to make a surprise attack on the Serbian regiments in the early morning. This is one of the vilest episodes in Balkan history; and it was not committed by a Slav. It was not a vestige of Balkan medievalism. It cannot be laid at the door of the Turk. It was the fruit of nineteenth-century Teutonism.
But the Serbians, knifed in the back, continued within their dream, to achieve their poem. The powerful magic of that dream, that incantatory poem, blunted the knife. They beat back the Bulgarians. The Greeks, the Turks, the Roumanians, closed in on Ferdinand, who was unperturbed. He believed his time was yet to come. He made a secret pact with the Emperor Franz Josef towards the end of 1913, that he should place all the resources of Bulgaria at the disposal of Austria and Germany, provided he was given a large portion of Serbian and Greek and Roumanian territory if he kept his throne, and a fat pension if his subjects expelled him. He then set to work to thrall Bulgaria to Germany by a loan, to which the assent of Parliament was given during a most peculiar scene. Ferdinand’s Prime Minister faced the assembly with a revolver in his hand, but all the same the opposition deputies did considerable damage on the Ministerial Front Bench by using inkstands and books as missiles. The angels must have been greatly perplexed by the determination of European statesmen to civilize the Balkans by sowing them with German princelings; for in Belgrade, the only capital in the Peninsula ruled by a Slav, things were going better. It would be light-minded to deny that the second Balkan War cast for a time a red shadow of barbarism across Serbian life. That treacherous early-morning attack on the trenches, though the guilt lay on the Bulgarian crown and not on the people, engendered a hatred that met atrocity with atrocity; and the first Serbian official who went to settle the newly acquired territories behaved as if they were conquerors and not liberators. But the liberalism of King Peter was quietly attending to these natural inflammations of a national spirit which had suffered war; it is typical of the difficulties of his task and of the infinite incalculabilities of Balkan history that by far his most sagacious aide in dealing with the problem of the tyrannous and dishonest officials in Macedonia was one of the regicides. The tiger, blood on its claws, crossed itself; the golden beast became a golden youth; church and state, love and violence, life and death, were to be fused again as in Byzantium.
Hardly had the transformation been made when it was threatened; and the threat shocked and startled. It was known to all Europe, and to Serbia best of all, that the Central powers were preparing for an aggressive war, but it was not generally expected that they meant to act in 1914. What the intelligence services of the great powers had reported in these years has never yet been published, though this would be far more enlightening than any amount of diplomatic correspondence. But it is said that both France and Russia were for some reason convinced that Germany and Austria would not make war until 1916, and certainly that alone would explain the freedom with which Russia announced to various interested parties in the early months of 1914 that she herself was not ready to fight. So Serbia was in a trance of amazement when Franz Ferdinand and Sophie Chotek were killed at Sarajevo, and it became certain that the enemy was going to use the murder as a pretext for instant attack. There could have been no more hopeless moment. The Serbian peasant army had been fighting since 1912, and every soldier had either already gone home or was homesick. The arsenals were empty of arms, the treasury was empty of money to buy them. There was a difficult internal situation. King Peter was now completely crippled by the rheumatism he had contracted in swimming the Loire to escape capture during the Franco-Prussian War, and only ten days before he had appointed his younger son, Alexander, already recognized as Crown Prince in place of his elder brother George, as Regent; and since George had acquitted himself well in the Balkan wars his partisans were excited and angered. It looked as if the history of resurrected Serbia was to end in the same moment as it began.
Such was the authority of Russia that some Serbs were incredulous. Nicholas Pashitch, the Prime Minister, did not believe that Austria’s outcry was serious, and was half-way to Athens on a visit to Venizelos when he had to be recalled to Belgrade, to deal with Count Berchtold’s famous ultimatum. This had been framed in defiance of the report of a high official of the Austrian Foreign Office who had been sent to Sarajevo to investigate the crime and had come to the conclusion that it was ‘out of the question’ to suppose a connexion between the Serbian Government and the assassins. The ultimatum made eleven demands. The Serbian Government was required:
(1)To admit a policy of incitement to the crime, and publish a confession of this and a promise of future good conduct which should be dictated from Vienna, and both published in the official journal at Belgrade and read to the Serbian Army by King Peter.
(2)To suppress all publications inciting to hatred of Austria-Hungary and directed against her territorial integrity.
(3) To dissolve the Society of National Defence (a perfectly respectable society which had no connexion whatsoever with the crimes), and to suppress all other societies engaged in propaganda against Austria-Hungary.
(4) To eliminate from the Serbian educational system anything which might foment such propaganda.
(5) To dismiss all officers and officials guilty of such propaganda, whose names might be communicated, then or later, by Vienna.
(6)To accept ’the collaboration in Serbia’ of Austro-Hungarian officials in suppressing this propaganda.
(7) To open a judicial inquiry concerning those implicated in the crime, and to allow Austro-Hungarian delegates to take part.
(8)To arrest without delay Major Tankositch and Milan Tsiganovitch, the Serbians who had supplied the Sarajevo assassins with arms.
(9) To supervise the Serbian frontier so that no arms and explosives might pass, and to dismiss the customs officials who had helped the assassins.
(10)To give explanations regarding the ‘unjustifiable’ language used by high Serbian officials after the crime.
(11)To notify Vienna without delay of the execution of all the above measures.
Serbia was given only forty-eight hours to accept or reject this ultimatum.
It was not easy to accept. The fifth and sixth demands meant that Serbia must become a spiritual vassal of the Austrian Empire, in conditions that were bound before long to produce provocative incidents, with a sequel of bloodshed and annexation. Yet the Serbian Government accepted that ultimatum, with only three reservations. It pointed out that the constitution of the country made it impossible to comply with certain of the Austrian demands, such as interference with the freedom of the press, without legislative changes impossible to enact during the time-limit; but it was willing to submit these points to the arbitration of The Hague Tribunal. Pashitch took the humiliating document of his country’s submission to the Austrian Legation a few moments before six o‘clock on the evening of July the twenty-sixth; though the Legation was a quarter of an hour from the station the Austrian Minister and his staff were in the train on their way to the frontier by half-past six, a sign that the acceptance had been rejected. The three reservations were better than he had hoped; though it would not have mattered if there had been none at all, for the legal adviser of the Austrian Foreign Office had already handed in a memorandum as to how war could be declared on Serbia no matter what her reply to the ultimatum. ’If Serbia announces her acceptance of our demands en gros, without any protest, we can still object that she did not within a prescribed time provide proofs that she carried out those provisions which had to be executed “at once” or with all speed, and whose execution she had to notify to us “without delay.” ‘
By such means Serbia was trapped, and the whole of Europe doomed. Count Berchtold and his friend Conrad von Hötzendorf, who were resolved upon hostilities, persuaded the Hungarian Minister, Count Tisza, to withdraw his opposition, and gained the consent of the old Emperor Franz Josef by a totally false statement that Serbian troops had fired on the Austrian garrison of a Danubian port; and the final declaration of war was dispatched on July twenty-eighth. The consequences were clearly foreseen by all these plotters against peace. If Austria attacked Serbia and stretched out its hand to the Black Sea, Russia was bound to intervene; for Russia did not want, for reasons that may seem far from frivolous in view of what has already been written in this volume, to have the Austrian Empire as a neighbour on another front, and it could not like to see Slavs subject to Teutons. Germany must join in on the pretext of aiding Austria, because it had its own appetite for Russian territory, having long hankered after the Baltic, and because it could now find a pretext for attacking France, who was Russia’s ally and was showing dangerous signs of having recovered its strength after the defeat of 1870. Immediately millions of people were delivered over to the powers of darkness, and nowhere were those powers more cruel than in Serbia.
Belgrade was at once bombarded. An army of three hundred and fifty thousand men fought a rearguard action, without big guns to answer their enemy’s artillery, with so few arms that some regiments had but one rifle to two men. They gave up Belgrade, their only town, their earnest that they were Byzantium reborn materially as well as spiritually, and pressed back, bitter and amazed. But Belgrade did not fall. It was left to be defended by a single division commanded by a colonel, who blew up the iron bridge across the Danube so that it blocked the river against Austrian traffic, and dressed the customs officials and such townsfolk as remained in extemporized uniforms so that Austrian spies reported a large garrison; and by a miracle it remained intact when the Serbian Army turned on its tracks, and, to the world’s amazement, sprang at the Austrians’ throats and drove them out of the country in less than a month. They even invaded Austrian territory and set foot in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Serb parts of Hungary, and the Frushka Gora itself.
But the Austrian Empire had numbers. It had at this moment little else; it had so little virtue or wisdom or even common sense that again and again the student must marvel that this was the same state as eighteenth-century Austria. But what it had it used, and it sent back its armies in September. This time they enjoyed a certain disgraceful advantage. During the first invasion they had laid waste the country, pillaging the crops, burning the houses, murdering the civil population: at least three hundred and six women are known to have been executed, as well as many people over eighty and children under five. So the Serbian Army had this time to retreat over a devastated countryside which could give it no food and offered it much discouragement, not diminished by the floods of civilian refugees, some Serbian, some from the Slav parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, all hungry and footsore and with tales to tell of the enemy’s malign brutality. There might have been panic had it not been for the spirit of the Karageorgevitches and the higher command. King Peter hobbled up to some troops that were wavering under artillery fire to which their army had no answer, and said to them, after the manner of a Homeric general, ‘Heroes, you have taken two oaths: one to me, your king, and one to your country. From the first I release you, from the second no man can release you. But if you decide to return to your homes, and if we should be victorious, you shall not be made to suffer.’
They did not go. To lead them General Mishitch, the grave and reluctant regicide whom King Peter had refused to dismiss, now appointed fourteen hundred young students as non-commissioned officers. Of these boys, who before the war had been studying at Belgrade, Vienna, Prague, Berlin, and Paris, one hundred and forty survived the war. Arms came suddenly to this army, sent from England. These men who were so spent that they no longer lived by their experience but by what is known to our common human stock, these boys who had no experience at all and therefore were also thrown back on that same primitive knowledge, alike they forgot the usual prudent opinion that dying is disagreeable, and valued death and life and honour as if they were heroes who had died a thousand years before or gods who were under no necessity to die. They flung themselves again on the Austrians. By the end of December they had retaken Belgrade. They took down the Hungarian flag that had floated above the palace and laid it on the steps of the Cathedral when King Peter went with his generals to the mass of thanksgiving for victory. They had to thank the Lord for a real suspension of natural law; for when the Austrians had withdrawn over the frontiers there remained behind rather more Austrian prisoners of war than there were Serbian soldiers.
It is not known what King Peter thought of the future. In his old age he had become more of a Serb, and the Genevan mark was not so strong as it had been. He was now wholly a warrior king, a Nemanya reborn. But it is said that the Crown Prince Alexander, the pale and pedantic graduate of St Petersburg Military Academy, knew that the victory was no more than a breathing-space, and that there must follow another assault, which would mean defeat. This certainly must have become a growing horror when it was manifest that the country had received a wound deeper than any that could be inflicted by military action. Some of the Austrian troops had come from parts of Galicia where typhus was endemic, and they had brought the germs with them. Where food was scarce, water was polluted, and vast districts were littered with dead men and animals far beyond the power of scavenging, the fever spread. The hospital system, particularly in the recovered Turkish provinces, was utterly unable to cope with this inundation of disease, and indeed it killed a third of all Serbian doctors. There came out several foreign sanitary units, of which Dr Elsie Inglis’s Scottish Women’s Hospital left an imperishably glorious name. Alexander, himself sickening of an internal malady, spent his days travelling up and down the country organizing a medical service.
In the summer of 1915 Austria approached Serbia with proposals for a separate peace. The Skupshtina rejected them one blazing day, at Nish, and expressed its resolution to continue the war till all Slavs were liberated from the Austrian yoke. This meant that Peter and Alexander and Pashitch had come to believe that the life of their nation was not worth preserving unless the tyrannical power that had threatened them throughout their entire existence were disarmed and disintegrated. They thought it better for the nation to go down into death for a time on the chance they might live again, if France and England and Russia destroyed the might of the Central powers.
In the heat and dust they waited. About them refugees wandered over a famined land; the soldiers who waited by their guns were worn out by three years of fighting in medieval conditions of sanitation and commissariat; and on the near frontiers massed enemies which their Allies, the British and the French, would not allow them to disperse. Incredible as it may seem, though Great Britain and France were fighting Germany, they still accepted the legend that Bulgaria was the most civilized and powerful of the Balkan states, though the only evidence ever adduced for such an estimate was that it is the most Germanized among them; and the Allies formed the curious notion that it would be the easiest thing in the world to persuade the Bulgarians to fight against the Germans in defence of the Serbians, who had beaten and humiliated them only two years before. They therefore forbade the Serbians to attack the Bulgarian armies which were massing on the border, and which could have been easily defeated, and when Serbia asked for a quarter of a million men to repel the impending invasion, they made the astonishing reply that they were arranging for the Bulgarians to supply these troops. This they attempted to do by offering Bulgaria territories which Roumania, Greece, and Serbia had acquired in the Balkan wars. This naturally turned Roumania and Greece against the Allies, and filled the hearts of the Serbians with perplexity and bitterness.
In September the invasion began. By October the Serbian Army, which now numbered a quarter of a million men, was faced with three hundred thousand Austro-German troops, under the great strategist Mackensen, and as many Bulgarians. It was now necessary for the country to die. The soldiers retreated slowly, fighting a rearguard action, leaving the civil population, that is to say their parents, wives, and children, in the night of an oppression that they knew to be frightful. Monks came out of the monasteries and followed the soldiers, carrying on bullock-carts, and on their shoulders where the roads were too bad, the coffined bodies of the medieval Serbian kings, the sacred Nemanyas, which must not be defiled. So was carried King Peter, whose rheumatic limbs were wholly paralysed by the cold of autumn; and so too, before the retreat was long on its way, was Prince Alexander. The internal pain that had vexed him all year grew so fierce that he could no longer ride his horse. Doctors took him into a cottage and he was operated on for appendicitis. Then he was packed in bandages wound close as a shroud, and put on a stretcher and carried in the procession of the troops. It is like some fantastic detail in a Byzantine fresco, improbable, nearly impossible, yet a valid symbol of a truth, that a country which was about to die should bear with it on its journey to death, its kings, living and dead, all prostrate, immobile.
The retreating army made its last stand on the field of Kossovo, where a short time before, in a different dream of the Creator, it had known victory: where the Tsar Lazarevitch had proved that defeat can last five hundred years. Above them circled enemy aeroplanes, evil’s newest instrument. After a last rearguard action to shake off the Bulgarians, they turned to the wall of Montenegrin and Albanian mountains that rises between Kossovo and the Adriatic. Rather than face that icy path into exile, many of the soldiers and the civilian refugees turned and fled back towards Serbia and were butchered by the Moslem Albanians, who had been the favoured subjects of the Turks and bitterly resented the Serbian conquests in the Balkan wars. The rest of the Army obeyed the order that they must take this desperate step in the hope that some might survive and be reorganized on the Adriatic shore with the help of the British and French. When they came to the foot of the mountains the weeping gunners destroyed their guns with hand grenades and burning petrol. The motor-drivers drove their cars and lorries up to a corner where the road became a horse-trail on the edge of the precipice, jumped out, and sent them spinning into space. Then all set out on foot to cross the five-thousand-foot peaks that lay between them and the sea. Some took other routes, but on any of the roads their fate was the same. They trudged in mud and snow over the mountain passes, the December wind piercing their ragged uniforms. Many fell dead, some died of hunger. They were passing through one of the poorest parts of Europe, and the inhabitants had little to sell them, and in any case were instructed to withhold what they had by the King of Montenegro, who, though he was Serbia’s ally and King Peter’s father-in-law, had come to a treacherous understanding with Austria. The Serbians ate the raw flesh of the animals which fell dead by the track, they ate their boots. Some died of dysentery. Some were shot by Albanian snipers. Of the quarter of a million Serbian soldiers, one hundred thousand met such deaths. Of thirty-six thousand boys nearing military age who had joined the retreat to escape the Austrians, over twenty thousand perished on this road. Of fifty thousand Austrian and German prisoners, who had had to follow the Serbians because their own military authorities had refused to exchange them, the greater part never came down from the mountains.
When the survivors reached the coast they found that the Allies again had failed them. The port they arrived at was blocked with shipping sunk by Austrian submarines and it was impossible either to bring them food or to ship them away. They had to trudge southwards, still hungry. Too much of the responsibility for their safety rested on the Italians, who had already signed the Treaty of London, and knew that if the Serbian nation should by a miracle reconstitute itself it would certainly dispute the allocations of Slav territory made by that imbecile document. At last the French and the British settled that the Serbians should be sent to the Greek island of Corfu, since Greece was under obligations to the Allies which not even their diplomacy could wholly annul. Still hungry, they were put on boats to be taken out to the transports. It happened, that when the first boatloads pushed off, not many hours had passed since a food ship had been torpedoed in the channel outside the harbour, and loaves of bread were still floating on the waves. Many of the Serbians had never seen deeper water than a fordable stream, and these jumped out of the boats to wade towards the bread, and sank immediately. Others, who knew the northern rivers or the lakes of Ochrid or Presba, tried to hold back those who wanted to jump, and there were struggles which overturned some of the boats. Thus many were drowned.
On Corfu the Serbian Army fell down and slept. Some never awoke. For quite a long time there was still not enough food, and there was a shortage of fuel. Every night for weeks boats put out to sea weighed down with those who had been too famished and diseased to recover. The others stirred as soon as the spring warmed them, stretched, and looked up into the sunshine, and were again golden and young and victorious, golden and ancient and crafty, as they had been in the Balkan wars. Alexander, restored to health, travelled to Paris, Rome, and London, and urged on the Allies the value of an expeditionary force that would use Salonika as a base and would strike up at the forces the Central powers were maintaining in Serbia. He carried his case, and his troops were drilled, equipped again, inspired again. In summer they embarked for Salonika. A year after they had been driven out of Serbia they were back on Serbian soil, fighting the Bulgars. In November 1916 they put forth their strength and took Kaimakshalan, the Butter-churn, the mountain that dominates the southern plains of Macedonia and the road to the north, and had been thought impregnable. In effect the Near Eastern campaign was over. But the war was not sufficiently mature in its other theatres to make it safe to harvest the victory, so the Serbian Army sat in Macedonia and waited. In the summer of 1917 the Serbian Government and a committee of South Slavs issued a manifesto proclaiming a ‘Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, a democratic and Parliamentary monarchy under the Karageorgevitch dynasty, giving equality of treatment to the three religions, Orthodox, Catholic, and Mussulman, and in the use of the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets.’ They announced, in fact, that the Austro-Hungarian Empire was destroyed and that out of its ruins they were making a kingdom of the South Slavs, such as had inherited the glory of Byzantium eight hundred years before. The poem was now written. In the autumn of 1918 the Serbian armies, as the spear-head of the Allied forces, drove into the enemy forces and scattered the Bulgars back to Bulgaria, the Austrians and Germans back to a land which was no land, which had lost all institutions, even all its characteristics, save that discontent which springs of conceiving poems too formless and violent ever to be written. The more poetic nation was in Belgrade thirteen days before the Armistice.
What sequel to this story would not be an anticlimax? There are heights which the corporate life has never surpassed and which it attains only at rare intervals. It is not so with the personal life, for the mind, in its infinite creativeness, can always transcend any external event. To King Peter, it may be, the war was only prelude to a greater experience. He had taken no part in the campaign of 1918, since by that time he could only hobble. He went to Greece, and did not leave it even when victory was achieved. The state entry into Belgrade took place without him. He lingered where he was till late in 1919, and then went north, but no further than Arandzhlovats, the simple and even shabby spa near the Karageorgevitches’ old home at Topola. One day, without warning, he returned to Belgrade, which did not recognize him, for while he was in Greece he had grown a long white beard like a priest’s. The Prince Regent and his people welcomed him, and begged him to take up residence in the palace, but that he would not do, for he said it would be wrong, since he was no longer King. It is proof of the strangeness of the Karageorgevitches, and their ambivalent attitude to their own royalty, that Alexander also would not move into the palace, though it was new and comfortable. He made his home in a simple one-storied house in the main street of the town, which he furnished hardly more comfortably than if it had been his staff headquarters in time of war.
Peter went to live in a villa overlooking Topchider, the park where Prince Michael of Serbia was murdered and little Alexander Obrenovitch learned to swim, and he became more and more of a recluse. He was not indifferent to his people; he cut off his beard because they complained that it disguised their beloved King from them. But all his forces were devoted to a relationship which it is hard to imagine. The Karageorgevitches were not now a united family. Alexander was busy forging the new state of Yugoslavia into a reality, and was working all day and half the night. Peter’s brother, Arsenius, was not without the strain of frivolity that had made his cousins, Alexis and Bozhidar, such wellknown boulevardiers, and he had returned to Paris, where he was to prove that there are many paths to a serene old age. The son of Arsenius and Aurora Demidoff, Prince Paul, was virtually secretary to the Prince Regent, and worked as hard as his chief. A cloud had fallen between Peter’s only daughter, Yelena, and her relatives. She, having married the Grand Duke Constantine, had been caught up in the Russian Revolution. Her husband had been killed and she had been put in prison, from which she was released only through the intervention of a Serbian officer who had joined the Bolsheviks. On her return to Belgrade it began to be whispered that the Karageorgevitches were greatly angered by some circumstance connected with her flight from Russia. Either they thought, the story ran, that she had accepted her freedom on dishonourable terms or that she had not honourably observed those terms. These were probably fantasies spun by outsiders to explain a quarrel that for insiders had some more prosaic significance. But the fact remains that the Grand Duchess soon left Yugoslavia for ever and settled in Switzerland. There were no others in the family except Peter’s elder son, George.
Peter had dispossessed George of his birthright and given his crown to his younger brother; and daily George’s mind was growing wilder and more restless. It might have been judged dangerous that the father and son should live together in the quiet villa at Topchider. But they were very happy. Peter treated his son with a gentle devotion which guided him away from tragedy. The old King was no longer what Geneva and France had made him, he had lost the Western sense that a man’s life ought to describe a comprehensible pattern. He was not appalled when George laughed or wept louder than was reasonable, or sent a bullet without cause out into the night. If his handsome son’s spirit was wandering where it could not be followed, it might be that he too was seeking wisdom. They lived together in perfect love, and when the old man lost his wits and fell mortally ill in the summer of 1921, George upheld him with his patient kindness. At the time of the death the Prince Regent was in Paris, and the news threw him into a state of collapse so complete that his doctor forbade him to travel back to Belgrade for the funeral. So George was his father’s chief mourner, and performed his duties with great dignity. Thereafter he was seen no more among ordinary men. Enemies of Alexander say that this was due to fraternal hate, but that is not the opinion of foreigners who came in accidental contact with the elder brother.
Alexander was not permitted by his duties to cultivate the personal life. He must struggle with the external world, so anticlimax was his lot; and he resented it, for he was perhaps the last ruler in the world to be inspired by a Homeric conception of life. The day should always be at the dawn, all men should be heroes, the sword should decide rightly. He found himself, on the contrary, smothered with small mean difficulties. These were the harder to bear because he had foreseen them and would have avoided them if it had not been for the blindness of others. He was unable to proceed with the real business of state-making because, do what he would, he could not secure unity among the Croats and Slovenes and Serbs; but he himself had never wished to include the Croats and Slovenes in his kingdom. He had hoped, at the beginning of the war, not for a Yugoslavia, not for a union of all South Slavs, but for a Greater Serbia that should add to the kingdom of Serbia all the Austro-Hungarian territories in which the majority of the inhabitants were Serbs, that is Slavs who were members of the Orthodox Church. The school of thought to which he belonged rightly considered the difference between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches so great that it transcended racial or linguistic unity.
It cannot be doubted that this Greater Serbia would have been a far more convenient entity than Yugoslavia, but it could exist only on two conditions: it must be supported on the east by the Russian Empire, and divided on the west from German-speaking countries by Catholic Slav states. In 1917, however, the Tsardom fell in ruins, and of all the Slav subjects of the Austrian Empire the Czechs alone were sufficiently highly organized to convince the peacemakers that they could be entrusted with the governance of an independent state. So Serbia had need of the Catholic Slavs and they had need of her; and the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, as Yugoslavia was then called, became inevitable. But that did not annul the temperamental incompatibilities of the Serbs and the Croats, which faced the King with a sea of troubles.
It is likely that Alexander was the less able to bear these dissensions with equanimity because of the personal tragedy that had befallen him during the war. We now know that while he was a student at the Military Academy in St. Petersburg he had fallen in love with one of the Tsar’s daughters, though she was still a schoolgirl. He had mentioned it to his father, who had asked the Tsar if Alexander would be allowed to present himself as a suitor when the girl was of a proper age, and had received an encouraging answer. In January 1914 Mr Pashitch, the Serbian Prime Minister, visited Russia to inquire whether, now that the Balkan wars were over, Alexander might begin his courtship, and the permission was given. It is probable that Alexander would have gone on this errand shortly after he had been declared Regent, had not the war broken out.
We cannot be certain that this courtship would have been successful, for we know that the Tsar’s daughters were allowed to choose for themselves in such matters, and that the Tsarina wished none of them to marry outside Russia. But it is beyond doubt that this was for Alexander a real affair of the heart. He did not merely want to be the husband of one of the Tsar’s daughters. He wanted to have this particular daughter as his wife. In March 1917 the news came that the Tsar had abdicated and that he and his family were in the hands of the revolutionaries. Some time in July 1918, while Alexander was in the sweltering heat of the Macedonian plains, all of them were put to death at Ekaterinburg. It seems reasonable to ascribe Alexander’s hatred of Bolshevism at least as much to this event as to temperamental bias or political prejudices.
For a very long time no other woman seems to have convinced him that she existed. After his father’s death he looked about for a wife, but plainly only for dynastic reasons; and though the Princess Marie of Roumania was very beautiful, he probably chose her rather for her English connexions and her Romanoff blood. But he became devoted to her, and derived very great happiness from his life with her and their three sons. She was indeed an excellent wife for him, as she had inherited from her mother, the famous Queen Marie, a great deal of the fluency and brilliance that he lacked. She liked driving a high-powered automobile over mountains down to the Adriatic, she was fond of flying. She had also an instinct for comfort which was welcome in the Balkans. Between the Karageorgevitches’ barbarous and glorious old home at Topola and the tremendous Byzantine assertion of majesty and death at Oplenats there lies, set among orchards and vineyards, a cottage planned by the Queen, where she and Alexander and the children lived the kind of home life, uncultured but civilized and amiable, that Queen Victoria made common form for European royalty. it is as if the Karageorgevitches, usually immersed in the tide of their terrible and splendid experience, had for a moment come to the surface to breathe.
The King had his marriage to console him, and, perhaps, his ambition. For he was still ambitious. He had come a very long way in his thirty-odd years. He had spent his childhood as the son of a pretender almost comic in his destitution, in a poky flat in Geneva, as a youth he had been lifted to a step of the Romanoff throne, and as a young man he had overthrown an imperial dominance that had pressed on his people for five hundred years, and before he was yet a ripe man had driven back another empire, the most formidable of Continental powers, and thereby reincarnated the glory of the Emperor Stephen Dushan. It is said that he meant to travel still further. He would never consent to be crowned. Though he was so resolute that the Karageorgevitch stock should be grafted on the Nemanya dynasty, no fresh door was ever opened for him in the crimson wall of Zhitcha Cathedral and walled up when he left it an anointed king, according to ancient custom. There is reason to suspect that he was postponing the ceremony till he might be crowned not king but emperor, and that of an empire greater than Stephen Dushan ever knew.
Alexander took a great interest in the internal condition of Russia, and he was convinced that the Bolshevik regime would not last more than twenty or thirty years. During this time he hoped to make a Balkan Federation, a real union of South Slavs, which might go in and rescue the North Slavs when Bolshevism had collapsed. Then he would be crowned in Zhitcha as King of Serbia and Emperor of all the Russias.
This dream was not as insane as it sounds to Western readers. The South Slav loves the Russian, White or Red, but he does not think him as efficient as himself, and the task of overthrowing Bolshevism would not seem to him any greater than his conquest of the Turk. Nor was it purely aggressive. The King believed, and was right in his belief, that the Slavs needed to protect themselves against Italy, Hungary, and the German-speaking peoples; and the firmer they were in unity the better. But whatever his plans and their justification, they involved Herculean labours. His heart, however, approved of Herculean labours; what afflicted him beyond bearing was the business which fell to him in the meantime, of settling the small differences of small men.
The primary disease of Yugoslavia was the same that was wasting every European country which had taken part in the war: a shortage of young and middle-aged men. Three-fifths of Serbia’s man-power had been lost, and nine-tenths of the university students who had been made non-commissioned officers. The Croats had suffered terribly fighting for the Austrian Empire. It was, as it always is in war, the flowers that had fallen. There were no young and able leaders coming up, the pre-war politicians were worn out with age and responsibility, second-rate adventurers were taking advantage of the dearth of better men to obtain office for the sake of profit, and the distracted rank and file wrangled over these unsatisfactory leaders. The King suffered at all times from the professional soldier’s inability to distinguish between an argument and a mutiny; but now he had some real excuse for finding the political controversies of his subjects disquieting.
There was another element in the situation which was common to all combatant countries at this time; the old liberalism was faced with problems for which it had no solution. Although the King had been tempted in his youth into a flirtation with his brother’s Praetorian Guard type of Fascism, he had been educated as an old-fashioned liberal and probably would have remained one had circumstances allowed it. But they did not. It is extremely difficult to maintain the freedom of the press, when that is used by different parties to advocate the assassination of each other’s leaders. It is extremely difficult not to throw people into prison without trial if disorder is so great that the law courts dare not convict the most guilty disturbers of the peace. And the King could not discuss his difficulties with his liberal subjects, because he was incapable of understanding intellectuals.
Artists he might have understood better. He had grown up in contemplation of a historic poem, and was passionately fond of music, and his cousin and closest friend, Prince Paul, was a lover of great painting. But with intellectuals he had nothing in common. He could not—and perhaps this was because he was something of an artist—understand why they could not suppress their faculty of criticism in order to follow a common purpose. Underneath the great mountain of Durmitor in Montenegro there lies a dark and glassy lake, mirroring many snow peaks, which are doubly pure in their reflection, with the purity of their own snow, with the purity of its black crystal waters. By this lake the King once camped for thirteen days. To one of the secretaries who brought state papers to his tent he said, his prim voice trembling, ‘If those intellectuals in Belgrade could come here and look at this lake as I have done they would not... they would not...’ This is an idiotic remark from the point of view of those intellectuals who were defending the rights of man, who were protesting against innocent people being thrown into prison and the suppression of free speech. But it is not an idiotic remark from the point of view of a man who had realized the vision of the Frushka Gora.
The King was further handicapped by his inability, which was greater than one would have expected in a man of his age, to understand anything at all about the post-war left wing. He thought it sheer wickedness that many of his subjects should sympathize with Bolshevik Russia and that some should join the Communist Party. He asked why the very people who were most shocked if he used force against the Croats, no matter how mildly, should accept the Red massacres without a murmur, and he put the question without the capacity to listen to the answer, for he was thinking of a murdered girl. When he was told that this attitude was part of a revolt against poverty, he replied that there was no need for such a revolt, since people in his kingdom were much better off than they used to be, and if the country were allowed to settle down there was every hope that this might continue. In this he was perfectly accurate, yet quite irrelevant. A man who is hungry is suffering from an absolute discomfort, and cannot be comforted by the statement, or even believe it, that he was often hungrier when he was a boy, and that his father had been hungrier still.
Nor could the King understand why the intellectuals kept on talking about peace. In Belgrade there was once held an exhibition of German pictures which had been selected by a Serbian official in the Yugoslav Legation at Berlin. When the King visited it he made a conscientious inspection of the pictures, and then sent for this official. Instead of congratulating him he coldly censured him for including certain canvases by Käthe Kollwitz which were designed to expose the horrors of warfare. This and other manifestations of his distaste for pacifism were regarded by the left wing as proof of the bloodthirstiness of the man, but in that they were wholly mistaken. Few generals in modern history have experienced the horrors of warfare as fully as he had, and his was not the temperament which intoxicates itself with action. But he believed that it might be necessary again for Yugoslavia to fight for its life, and he therefore saw the discouragement of the fighting spirit as a step towards national suicide. He entirely forgot that it is the proper function of the intellectual to hold up certain moral values before the eyes of the people, even if it is not possible to realize them in action at the moment. But it must be conceded that his situation made that forgetfulness inevitable.
The King was, of course, entirely right in his assumption that Yugoslavia might have to fight for her life. Recent years, by bringing so many ill-favoured personalities to the fore, have made Mussolini seem by contrast genial and almost inoffensive, but we must not forget that he owes that character entirely to contrast. A face which might seem reassuringly normal in a criminal lunatic asylum might repel and terrify in a railway carriage. The part that Mussolini played in Yugoslavian affairs as soon as he had acceded to power was purely evil. He screamed insults at them for their possession of Dalmatia and constantly provoked riots and disorder; but that was the most innocent side of his relations with the country. There were two main centres of disaffection in Yugoslavia, Croatia and Macedonia, and in these Mussolini attempted to establish himself as a murderous enemy of civil peace. In Croatia he found it at first difficult to get a footing, for the rebels were for the most part men of high principle who had their wits about them and knew what happens when the lamb asks the fox for aid against the wolf. But the Macedonians were at once more criminal and more innocent. Their case was pitiful, for it was the result of ancient virtues running to waste in an altered world. The Macedonians, a magnificent people, had prepared the way for the Balkan wars by a perpetual revolt, sometimes open, sometimes covert, against the Turk. This was organized by the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization—known as I.M.R.O.—which was formed in 1893 by Bulgarian Macedonians, bloodthirsty men who were nevertheless great heroes and pitiable victims.
When the Turks were driven out as a result of the Balkan wars Macedonia was divided between Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria; and Bulgaria greatly resented the terms of the division. Some Bulgars wanted a purely Bulgarian Macedonia; others wanted an independent Macedonia, a dream state which was to be entirely free, though it would have had to be financed and to a large extent repopulated from abroad; others again wanted a federated state, similar to a Swiss canton. All these parties consisted of those who had been revolutionaries all their born days and who could no more have taken to a conforming way of life than an elderly seamstress could become a ballet dancer. They were also subjected to great provocation by the harshness of the Yugoslavs in forcing the many Bulgarian inhabitants of their newly acquired territory to speak Serbian and alter their names to Serbian forms, and the incompetence of many of the Yugoslav officials, which was, indeed, no greater than that which had been shown by the Turks or would have been shown by the Bulgarians, but was none the less (and very naturally) resented. They therefore reconstituted I.M.R.O. as an anti-Yugoslav organization.
In no time they formed a guerrilla army which had its headquarters near the frontier and repeatedly crossed it on raids into Yugoslav Macedonia, burning and looting and killing just as in the old Turkish days. Of the damage done there can be no accurate estimate, for the peasantry was too terrorized to report its losses to the officials; but it is said that over a thousand violent deaths are known to have occurred between the years 1924 and 1934. This reign of horror might have gone unchronicled, for the government of neither Yugoslavia nor Bulgaria wished to publish the shameful inability to keep order, had it not been that passengers on the Athens Express gazed astonished, since they knew that Europe was theoretically at peace, on the unbroken line of barbed wire entanglements, block-houses, redoubts, and searchlight posts which followed the Yugoslav-Bulgarian frontier. Every bridge and tunnel and station was guarded by soldiers in full battle kit; and even so the passenger on the Athens Express sometimes ceased abruptly to gaze and wonder, for I.M.R.O. liked to get bombs aboard the international trains, since explosions were reported in newspapers all over the world, and gave their cause publicity. But if the passenger was spared to continue his thoughts he might well have asked himself how I.M.R.O. could afford to maintain the standing army whose assaults made necessary this vigilant and elaborate defence, for the Macedonian peasantry was notoriously among the poorest in Europe.
There was, indeed, more reason for this question than even the prodigious view from the carriage window. I.M.R.O. published newspapers and pamphlets in Bulgaria and abroad. It maintained propaganda offices in all the Western capitals. It specialized in curious slow-motion assassinations that cost a great deal of money; a member would be sent to a distant place to murder an enemy of the cause and would be ordered not to do it at once, but to live beside him for some months before striking the blow. It also ran an expensive and efficient machine in Sofia which for many years dominated Bulgarian politics; indeed, I.M.R.O. became the Fascist Party of Bulgaria, murdering Stambulisky, the great leader of the Peasant Party, and routing the Communist Party, though that numbered a fourth of the electorate. In this last feat they were aided by the indecisiveness of the General Secretary of the Bulgarian Communist Party, one Dimitrov, later to be famous for his not at all indecisive part in the Reichstag trial. But that and all their other feats cost money. Some of this was given gladly by Macedonian supporters. Some of it was filched from Macedonians, whether supporters or not, by an efficient system of illegal taxation. The tax-collector who, whether he was a believer in a Bulgarian Macedonia or not, had kin in the country whose safety he valued produced two tax demands, one to be paid to the Bulgarian Government, and the other, amounting to ten per cent of the first, to be paid through him to I.M.R.O. But for a great part its funds were provided by Italy.
If Alexander sometimes acted brutally towards the insurgents he saw conspiring with foreign powers against the safety of his people, and towards the intellectuals who showed themselves so blind to the implications of these conspiracies, he cannot be altogether blamed. The situation was too confusing. It cannot have clarified it that no hostile act against a malcontent ever cost the King so dearly as the act of reconciliation he made with his arch-enemy, which seemed for long a great political triumph and was certainly his greatest moral triumph. This was the root of all the troubles that darkened the last six years of his life. From the first the leader of the Croat Peasant Party, Stefan Raditch, had been a thorn in the King’s side. Not even Gandhi had a more magnetic effect on his followers, and though he guided them in all sorts of different directions he could claim consistency, for he never took them down a road that did not lead away from Serbia. Before the war he had been anti-Hungarian but fiercely pro-Austrian, with a deep veneration for the Habsburgs, and he had advocated the creation of a triune kingdom comprising Austria, Hungary, and a Greater Croatia which should include a conquered Serbia. After the war he preached an independent Croatia in the form of a republic where no taxes would be collected from peasants, prevented the Croat deputies from going to Belgrade and taking their seats in the Skupshtina, and attacked the Government in terms that, not at all inexplicably, led every now and then to his imprisonment.
In 1923 this situation should have been materially changed. He went to London and Mr Wickham Steed, the former editor of The Times, one of the few Englishmen who understood Balkan conditions, urged him to give up his republicanism, and work to shear the Yugoslavian constitution of certain undemocratic features and convert it into a constitutional monarchy on the English pattern. Raditch afterwards said he was convinced. But he omitted to mention this change of heart when he returned to Yugoslavia, and he was imprisoned and his party was declared illegal, largely because he had come back by way of Russia. This punitive action of the King and his Government was unwise and ill-tempered, but was not as silly as it seems. Raditch’s own account was that he had called on Lenin to advise him to abandon Bolshevism and set up a peasant republic. It seems certain that he was moved to this trip partly by his love of travel, which was inordinate. But detached observers among the Bolsheviks believed he came to Moscow in order to blackmail Belgrade with the fear of social revolution, and it appears that while there he joined the Peasant International. Once he found himself in prison, however, he sent for his nephew and dictated to him a confession of his belief in the monarchy and the constitution.
Immediately the King was told of this declaration he appointed Raditch Minister of Education and gave ministerial posts to three leading members of his illegal party. It is proof of the strange political nature of the Croats that, though this was the first indication Raditch’s followers had received that he had completely changed his programme, they do not seem to have been disconcerted for more than a short time. Raditch went straight from prison to the King’s palace, and there the two enemies sat down, talked for hours, and fell into an instant friendship. This was unbroken for five years. The royal household became very fond of him, and he constantly came to the palace simply as a familiar. He was a fine linguist, and the Queen liked speaking English with him. As his sight was failing she used to take his plate at meal-times and cut up his food for him. The King learned to like him better than he had liked any politician since the war.
In 1928 there fell the catastrophe. The country was in a disturbed state, and complained of many troubles. Some of these were inevitable: it had been necessary to unify the currencies of the country into a single unit, and a certain amount of inflation had followed. Some of these might easily have been avoided: the political parties were perpetually disintegrating into smaller and smaller factions, and this made it almost impossible for any government to maintain itself in power over any period sufficient for effective action. In ten years twenty-one political parties came forward to save Yugoslavia, and there were twenty-five changes of government. Raditch was still a Minister. It must be confessed that he had brought nothing new into political life, and that he had done little to distinguish himself from the Serbian Ministers he had for so long attacked. At this point, though he was theoretically left, he suddenly demanded a military dictatorship. ‘Our national army,’ he told the King, ‘which is our national shrine in its finest form, can perhaps alone provide a generally recognized leader, strong enough to drive away corruption unmercifully, as well as lawlessness, to destroy partisanship in administration, and to overcome the political terrorism which is turning our entire country into a huge penitentiary.’ This infuriated alike the political parasites and the sincere democrats of Yugoslavia, and to justify himself he carried on a campaign against corruption, defining the abuses which he thought made a dictatorship imperative, and named their perpetrators.
The baser newspapers called for his blood, desiring quite literally that someone should shed it. But it must be admitted that he himself conducted this campaign with less than perfect wisdom. He was violently provocative in a situation where the most pressing need was calm; and his violence was unrestrained. He was capable of standing up in Parliament and calling his fellow-Ministers swine. It was also unfortunate that the Germanic bias he derived from Austria made him speak contemptuously of all races outside the sphere of German influence. With difficulty, and only under the influence of the King and Queen, he had learned to accept the Serbians, but the remoter peoples of wilder Yugoslavia were hardly better than Negroes seen through the eyes of Southerners. He used the term ‘Tsintsar’ as an insult, as if it meant a kind of human mongrel, although the Tsintsari are a race of shepherds who have gone respectably about their business on the Macedonian uplands since the days of Byzantium. He was completely insensible to the poetry of the Yugoslavian idea, to the charity that inspired it in spite of its blunders and brutalities. It meant nothing to him, and to most Croats, that people had been rescued from the power of Islam and were restored to Christian civilization in the shelter of this state.
June is not a favourable month in Serbian history. On the twentieth of June 1928 a Montenegrin deputy named Punisha Rachitch, who was among those charged with corruption, entered the Skupshtina and fired five shots from a revolver. With these he killed outright a Croat deputy named Basarichek, a brilliant and beloved man, and Raditch’s nephew Paul, he slightly wounded two other Croat deputies, and he mortally wounded Raditch himself. Six weeks afterwards this strange and inconclusive genius died. The King was constantly at his bedside, pale and trembling with grief. The wounded man gripped his hand when the pain was worst. During those weeks there went on a pathetic wrangle, which later events were to make bitterly ironical. ‘When you are well,’ the King said, ‘you must be Prime Minister.’ ‘No, no,’ answered Raditch, ‘it must be a general.’ He had already picked a general for the job, one Zhikovitch. But the others could see that all such talk was idle, and soon he was taken home to Zagreb to die. On his deathbed he uttered many wishes, which were also to be made bitterly ironical in later years, that none of his followers should seek to avenge his death, and that the Croats and the Serbs were to come to the fullest and most ungrudging reconciliation.
It is almost incredible that King Alexander should have been blamed for Raditch’s death. He had much to lose by it and nothing whatsoever to gain. But there was brought up against him what is true enough, that a sinister association binds the name of Karageorgevitch to murder. Prince Michael of Serbia, King Alexander Obrenovitch and Queen Draga, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie Chotek, all had been murdered and all had been enemies of the Karageorgevitches. It was also recalled that during the war, at Salonika, the famous ‘Apis,’ Dragutin Dimitriyevitch, had been found guilty of an attempt on Alexander’s life, on what seemed strangely slight evidence, and had been shot. Slavs like telling each other bloodcurdling stories, and in the pleasure of these recitals it was forgotten that Raditch for five years had ceased to be the King’s enemy.
All these suspicions of the King were held to be confirmed by the sentence passed on Punisha Rachitch. He was adjudged insane and sent to a lunatic asylum. This was regarded as a ruse adopted to evade the plain duty of exacting the death penalty. But many murders have been committed by rebels, including Croats, who have suffered nothing worse than imprisonment and it is just possible that Punisha Rachitch was insane. He was a man of outstanding ability who, in spite of having studied law in Paris, had remained essentially the chief of a primitive tribe, and he had done valuable work in establishing order on the new Yugoslav-Albanian frontier. This involved a certain amount of savage suppression, for the Albanians and pro-Austrian Montenegrins were raiding Serb villages, murdering travellers, and cutting down telephone wires. The educated comitadji often cracked. They saw more horrors and felt more fear than the subtilized mind can endure. In 1919, when Punisha Rachitch arrested an English captain who was touring the country on the business of an allied commission, his recorded proceedings suggest a certain degree of hallucinated arrogance.
But whether Rachitch was sane or mad hardly mattered; it mattered so much more that in either case it would have been extremely difficult for the King and the Government to inflict on him the death penalty. He was adored by the Montenegrin tribesmen who were his constituents. He was a man of superb physique, which always counts for much among virile communities, and of undoubted courage; and he had a high reputation as a shrewd and impartial judge of local disputes. In the eyes of these tribesmen he must have been perfectly justified in the murder he committed, for Raditch had attacked his honour. If Rachitch had been tried on charges of corruption by a legal tribunal they would have recognized another victory for the new state which was invading their lives and which, whether for better or worse, was proving irresistible. But the Government (of which, it must be remembered, Raditch was a member) never had prosecuted Rachitch. So there was, for the tribesmen, simply an old and familiar situation: two chiefs undermined each other’s credit by abuse till the only way of finding the better man was by murder. The Government might be crotchety about such matters as graft, though that seemed unreasonable enough, since the tribesmen accepted the payment of tribute to strong individuals as a natural practice; but when it came to a large classic situation like murder among chiefs it was no use putting up new-fangled ideas. Because of this attitude the execution of Rachitch might have caused serious unrest among the Montenegrins: and here we are faced again with the early, pre-genial Mussolini. He was financing a large number of Montenegrin insurgents in order to further his designs on Albania, and would certainly have used the death of Rachitch to stir up well-armed revolt. It would so greatly have profited the King to tamper with justice and save Rachitch from his proper punishment on a false plea of madness that most people took it for granted that he took that course. There is no possible means, short of the appearance of Punisha Rachitch before an independent medical board, by which we can tell whether this is the case or not.
After that catastrophe nothing went right. The King was left alone on the political stage. The obvious step was to form a Coalition Ministry. It was impossible to appoint a Serb. Since a Roman Catholic had been killed by a member of the Orthodox Church, the whole faith must perform an act of penance. It proved impossible to appoint a Croat, for Raditch’s successor, Matchek, and all Croat deputies except a few freaks, withdrew to Zagreb and refused to take their seats again in the Skupshtina. It is hard to understand why they did this. It was contrary to Raditch’s wishes; they cannot have thought that they owed it to their loyalty to him to flout the Serbs, for he had been murdered by a Montenegrin, and the Serbs were on notoriously bad terms with the Montenegrins; and had they collaborated with the Serbs at this time they could have extracted from them every concession they wanted short of actual home rule. These were the realities of the situation. But the Croat Peasant Party preferred to react to the baser newspapers, which continued to attack Raditch after his death, and to the Serbian political bosses who inspired them, though with the King against them these had little chance of survival.
There remained only the Slovenes, and their leader, Father Koroshets, was appointed Prime Minister. The Slovenes are a sensible and unexcitable people who had had better opportunities than their compatriots to live at peace. Much of the trouble between the Croats and the Serbs had arisen because their language was identical and Serb officials could be sent to administer Croat territory. But the Slovene tongue differs greatly from Serbo-Croat, and the Slovenes had been left to govern themselves in peace. It is only fair to the Serbs to recognize that the Slovenes are not of the same oppositionist temperament as the Croats and therefore can be trusted with self-government. But the Church had supplied the Slovenes with a leader not up to the standard of his followers. Anton Koroshets had been the confessor of the last Empress of Hungary, Zita, and he represented the sombre and reactionary type of Catholicism cultivated by the Habsburgs. His spirit was therefore blind to the fundamental problems presented by the ancient and the modern world and moved busily in an etiquette-ridden bourgeois nineteenth-century limbo which had no correspondence with reality. This made him a past master of political intrigue, and a calamitous and irritating statesman. It was his imbecile custom to respond to the challenge of troubled times by using manifestos which ascribed all his country’s ills to revolutionary movements engendered by Communists, Jews, and Freemasons. But there are very few Communists in Yugoslavia; the Jews are a stable body of traders producing few intellectuals; there are practically no Freemasons in Croatia and Slovenia, and Serbia is the only place in the world where Freemasonry gathers together the forces of reaction. It happened that under Alexander Obrenovitch a pro-Austrian and anti-democratic politician was Grand Master of the Belgrade Lodge and used it as a centre of intrigue with the lodges of Vienna and Budapest, and at that time all masons of progressive sympathies resigned and have never rejoined. All Koroshets’s interventions in Yugoslav politics were on this level, and it is not surprising that in this crisis he proved unable to lead the country.
His failure left the King with only one course to follow: to obey Raditch’s advice and establish a military dictatorship. In January 1929, after six months’ turmoil, he dissolved Parliament, and made General Zhikovitch his Prime Minister, to be responsible to the Crown and not to the deputies. This was a complete breach with the Karageorgevitch tradition, for it involved the infringement of the constitution and the dynasty had always been defenders of constitutionalism. The King, with his narrow and intense concentration on the idea of his royalty, must have known that he had put an axe to the root of his power the minute he decided to exercise it absolutely: and General Zhikovitch could do nothing to repair this injury. It is proof of the essential capriciousness of Raditch’s character that he should have advised the King to entrust himself and his country to this obscure man. His respectable but undistinguished military career had brought him no prestige, and, while he had a passion for political intrigue, he was completely ignorant of political principles.
He was, however, a perfect instrument for the King. It is said that Raditch had proposed him as dictator only to expose his inefficiency and emptiness; and such tortuousness can be believed of Raditch. Completely at a loss, Zhikovitch had to obey the King. For a time there was a superficial improvement in Yugoslavian affairs, because the dictatorship put into effect various necessary reforms—many concerning public utilities—which had been held up in the Skupshtina by regional and personal rivalries. In the preceding ten years Parliament had passed only 110 laws. The King and Zhikovitch passed 118 laws and 535 minor decrees in twelve months, and most of these were in accordance with the people’s wishes. They also promulgated new penal and civil codes. Then the Nemesis of dictatorship laid its paralysing hand on the King’s shoulder. The dictator seizes power, and it is yielded to him, because Parliament has failed to solve certain fundamental problems which are vexing the people. But Parliament has failed in that task only because the human mind has not yet discovered the solution of those problems. Other minor problems can be deliberately left unsolved by individuals, classes, or regions which find that the status quo favours their interests. But nobody would be able to suppress the solution of a major problem, such as war or poverty, if only because the existence of an enormously complicated idea—such as the solution of a complicated problem must be—could not be kept a secret, since it must be the product of the spirit of the age acting on a number of intellectually active people. It is not possible that one man alone could have conceived such a solution, because the range of variation in our species is extremely small, particularly at the top of the scale. A dictator might have an idea that was not shared by the village idiot; but it is extremely unlikely that a dictator would have an idea which had not already occurred in some comparable form to an elected assembly of men, some of whom, since the intellect is of some use in competition, must be of intellectual eminence. The chief problems of Yugoslavia were its proverty and the antagonisms felt by sections of the population which had different cultures. When the King had cleared up the arrears of work that could be settled by a firm and legible signature, he looked these problems in the face and realized that he could solve them no better than the Skupshtina.
He made some gallant attempts. To tackle the economic problem, he tried to develop the country’s industries, but luck was against him, for the world slump began in the autumn of 1929. In any case Yugoslavia is primarily an agricultural country, and cannot know prosperity until an answer is found to man’s world-wide refusal to pay a fair price for the food he eats. He also took steps to heal the antagonisms among his subjects, which showed him a very strange man, pedantic, doctrinaire, morally earnest, intellectually naive, and, at that moment, desperate and alone. The problem was enormously intricate. It sprang from the inclusion in the same state of two kinds of Slavs: Slavs who were the inheritors of the Byzantine tradition of culture and the primitive Christianity of the Orthodox Church, and had been informed with the tragic conception of life by the defeat of Kossovo and the ensuing five hundred years of slavery; and Slavs who had been incorporated in the Western bourgeois system by Austrian influence and were spiritually governed by the Roman Catholic Church, which owes its tone to a Renaissance unknown to the other Slavs, and were experienced in discomfort but not in tragedy. To reconcile these two elements, which were different as the panther and the lynx, the King enforced certain measures which bring tears to the eyes by their simplicity.
He changed the name of his state from the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes to Yugoslavia, the country of the South Slavs; and, forbidding the use of the old regional names such as Serbia, Bosnia, and the rest, he cut it up into nine provinces, called after the rivers which ran through them, except for Dalmatia, which was called the Littoral. He forbade the existence of the old regional political parties. Thus he disclosed the innocent hope that if Croatia were called the Savska Banovina the inhabitants would forget that they were Croats, would cease to wish to vote for Matchek, and would learn to respect the Macedonians, since they had become the inhabitants of the Vardarska Banovina; and thus he committed a terrible wrong towards his own people. It was a shameful thing that Serbia, with its glorious history of revolt against the Turks, should cease to be an entity, and that the Serbian regiments which had amazed the world by their heroism should have to send their colours to the museums and march under the new, and as yet meaningless, flag of Yugoslavia. There is no doubt that at this time the King went too far in his desire to conciliate the Croats. He relaxed his devotion to the Orthodox Church, so that he should not seem too alien from his Roman Catholic subjects. He also took a step that was offensive not only to the Serbs but to common sense when he tried to abolish the use of the Cyrillic script in the Serb districts and replace it by the Latin script used by the Croats and in Western Europe. This Cyrillic script has a great historical significance for the Serbs, for it is a modification of the Greek alphabet made by St Cyril and St Methodius for the use of their converts when they came to evangelize the Slavs in the ninth century. But it is also much better suited than the Latin script to render the consonants peculiar to the Slav languages, it is virtually the same that is used in neighbouring Bulgaria, and is almost the same as that used in Russia, and it can be mastered by any intelligent person in a couple of days.
While these measures widened the gulf between the King and his Serb subjects they did not bring him an inch nearer the Croats. Strangely enough, though it was Raditch himself who had urged the establishment of a military dictatorship, nobody was so hostile to it as his followers. It was then that Italy found an opportunity to get her foot into Croatia and play the same part there that she had played in Macedonia. She had an advantage in finding a willing ally in this enterprise in Hungary, who had lost Croatia and the rich Danubian territory of the Voivodina to Yugoslavia and longed for revenge, but otherwise the soil was more difficult. The Croats had practised a steady policy of resistance to Hungarian rule, but it was mainly passive; and their rulers had not, like the Turks, accustomed them to the idea of murder. Hence the terrorists hired by Italy and Hungary to organize a movement on I.M.R.O. lines had, at first, little success. Neither then nor later did they win over the main body of the Croat Peasant Party, or indeed of any Croat political party. It is said that after a year’s work there were not more than thirty active adherents of the new organization; and though it established training camps in Italy and Hungary these could not be filled. At enormous expense agents were sent everywhere where Croats were seeking their fortunes, France, Belgium, South America, the United States, and recruited them with cock-and-bull stories of how the Serbs were massacring their brothers by the thousands. Even this was not too successful, and the Hungarian camp was driven to decoying Yugoslav peasants over the frontier and kidnapping them.
But the Croat terrorists had their successes. They were far from inefficient. They distributed treasonable newspapers and pamphlets all over the world, many most persuasively written. They started an able and unscrupulous propaganda office in Vienna, which wounded the King’s feelings bitterly and succeeded in poisoning European opinion; and they practised here no less successfully than on the Bulgarian frontier the art of placing bombs on international trains. This caused the Yugoslavian Government endless trouble. It was usually foreigners who were injured, and that made trouble with their governments; and the foreigners who were not injured showed themselves curiously irritating in their reaction to the measures that were taken for their protection. An English or French liberal, asked to leave his carriage while a police officer searched under the seats and on the racks, was apt to write home attacking the tyranny of the King’s regime, and to add comments on the glumness of the searcher, although men are apt to look glum when doing a job that may cost them their lives. There were also, as in Macedonia, constant deliveries of arms to the rebels on a vast scale. Bombs, grenades, rifles, machine-guns, were brought in by smugglers who frequently murdered Yugoslav frontier guards, and were deposited in arsenals from which they were drawn by terrorists, who used them for such purposes as the blowing up of an Orthodox church in Zagreb during a service and the firing of a barracks dormitory full of conscripts.
Nobody came forward to help the King. There was one man, Svetozar Pribitchevitch, the greatest liberal journalist and politician in post-war Yugoslavia, who might have been expected to furnish him with a policy. He was one of a great family, descendants of the emigrants who had been led to Hungary by the holy Arsenius in the seventeenth century, and he had played a fearless part in the movement for Slav independence within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. All he had to suggest was, however, that the King should abdicate and the kingdom be converted into a republic. This was, in fact, an impractical suggestion. The Orthodox Church gave the King a stable position as the God-appointed head of the state in the minds of his Serb subjects; and no possible president had emerged from the Yugoslavian politics of that time who could have supplied by his own qualities any substitute for even that amount of unifying force. But the King reacted to the blunder with an excessive rage. Pribitchevitch’s newspaper was suppressed and he was placed under arrest in his own home. Later he became ill and the Yugoslavs were humiliated by a request from President Masaryk that he might be allowed to harbour the rebel in Czechoslovakia.
Everybody failed him. Zhikovitch resigned, hurting the King intolerably by a frank admission that together they had made a great mess of Yugoslavia. Father Koroshets demanded home rule for the Croats and the Slovenes, and again the King showed excessive rage, and ordered him to be interned in Dalmatia. There was some excuse for his resentment. Koroshets had always been treated handsomely by Yugoslavia, and his famous respect for institutions, which was the card with which he always trumped the democratic ace, might well have been extended to the Karageorgevitch dynasty. Then Matchek, Raditch’s successor, put in a claim for the Croat right of self-determination, and was arrested and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. At this both Croats and Serbs were outraged, but the King was implacable. It must be remembered in his defence that these programmes were completely unfeasible. The Catholic Slavs of the kingdom, who numbered five and a half million, had no sort of chance of maintaining their existence as an independent state. Inevitably some would have been absorbed by Italy and others by Hungary, and we have the spectacle of the four hundred thousand Slovenes at present in Italy and the memory of what the Croats and Serbs of the Voivodina suffered from Hungarian oppression before the war, to tell us exactly what such absorption would mean. These annexations would not only have meant misery for the annexed but would have brought enemy powers up to the hearthstone of the Serbian people, who would have been as badly off as they were in the middle of the nineteenth century. There remained the solution of federation. But it is asking a great deal of a sovereign to apply that to a region which has lent itself to insurrection financed and organized by a hostile foreign power.
So the King dealt with Croatia by the light of his own wisdom, which proved insufficient. He could not send an army to deal with the unrest. It would have ruined the national prestige to have admitted the existence of civil war, and indeed the actual state of affairs was a good deal short of that. Many people travelled through Croatia at this time without observing any disruption, and the bulk of the population never ran any physical risks whatsoever. So instead of soldiers the Government sent Serbian or pro-Serb gendarmerie, who without any doubt treated the Croats with hideous brutality. There were many reasons for this. For one, they were sincere believers in the Yugoslav idea, and thought that Slavs who wanted to desert their brother Slavs and forgather with non-Slavs were very wicked people, who would be the better for a beating. For another, the Croats met them with a hostility that terrified them, strangers as they were and far away from home, and they felt justified in using any methods that would disarm their enemies. It must be remembered that when they came to grips with the terrorists financed by Italy they were dealing with men who habitually practised mutilation and had been known to torture a man for three days before they killed him. Since a Serbian policeman in Croatia was faced with many different types of Croat dissidents and usually had no means of distinguishing between them, it is not surprising that very often mild and inoffensive liberals were subjected to treatment that would have been appropriate, and then only according to Mosaic law, when applied to professional assassins and torturers. This meant that a great many people, some of whom were entirely innocent, were beaten and ill-treated in Croatian police stations.
Yet another reason for the brutality of the police lay in the difficulty of maintaining discipline in a police force, which is always less easy to control than an army, since it works in smaller and more scattered groups. No order could be issued in Belgrade which would make it certain that Belgrade’s orders were being obeyed in Croatia. There was also, as a disturbing factor, the appalling police tradition which lingered in a form that was bad enough in all territories which had once been Habsburg, and in a far worse form in all territories which had been Turkish. The police were regarded as a body that had to get results satisfactory to the supreme power in the state, and that had better not be questioned by lower powers on how it got those results lest it take its revenge. This encouraged a spirit of enterprise that was usually regrettable in its manifestations; that was notably regrettable in Croatia when the police themselves started murdering Croatian politicians whose removal they thought likely to facilitate their tasks, and organized bands of gangsters called chetnitsi who went about assaulting Croat patriots and breaking up their meetings as they themselves could not do in uniform for fear of being reported to the highest authorities.
It would be easy to exaggerate the extent of this situation. Atrocities did not happen everywhere, or every day. It would not be easy to exaggerate the degree to which Raditch and Matchek, by the mindlessness and emotionalism of their leadership and their failure to turn the political situation to their advantage, were responsible for the suffering of their followers. But it was a detestable situation, and though the King did not hear the whole truth about it, owing to the independence of the police, he heard at least enough to make him realize that the policy of suppression was a mistake, and that he must make another attempt at a policy of reconciliation, since even if that failed it would smell better than the other. But he was strangely obstinate in his persistence. It has been suggested that there was an international explanation for his obstinacy, and that he had mistaken the personal affection felt for him by Sir Nevile Henderson, then British Minister in Belgrade, for approval of his political actions. According to this story he made the pathetic error of believing that his dictatorship won him favour in English eyes and was worth maintaining if for that reason alone.
Every independent mind in Croatia was now anti-Serb, and had been thrown into the arms of the foreign terrorists. In September 1931 the King had had the unhappy idea of proclaiming a new constitution which virtually annulled the principle of popular representation. A Senate was established with eighty-seven members, no less than forty-one of whom were to be nominated by the King. Ministers were responsible to the King and not to Parliament, and were to be nominated by the King. The ballot was no longer secret and voluntary, but open and obligatory. With a free Parliament thus abolished, and freedom of speech and freedom of the press long ago become mere memories, the Croats had to take what means they could to defend themselves by secret arming and appeals to foreign opinion. This was precisely what Mussolini had designed, yet the King showed no signs of retraction.
He had lost the Croats, and he had not kept the Serbs. The new constitution struck the Serbians as an act horrible in itself, since democracy is as essential a part of their social structure as Christianity or agriculture, and doubly horrible because it had been perpetrated by a Karageorgevitch. A man who worked for many years with the King on a scheme for developing the education of the recovered territories, and who greatly loved him, told me that when he went to see him at the palace during this time he could hardly speak to him. ‘My voice kept on breaking, I could do nothing but stare at him, as if I were asking him, “Is it really you who have done this thing?” And though he must have noticed my distress and was, I think, quite fond of me, he said nothing about it, but went on talking, pleasantly and calmly, like a teacher who has upset a child by doing something which it cannot understand and which she cannot yet explain to it.’ It is possible that there was an explanation. The King told certain people that he intended to give his country a constitution which would actually be more democratic than any previous one, as soon as circumstances convinced him that this step could be taken in safety, and he seems to have spoken as if he meant what he said. Though there are no grounds for supposing him to be a lover of democracy for its own sake, there are none for supposing him to have hated it. What seem political principles in a country which has established its right to existence may seem expedients in a country where the nationalist issue has not yet been settled. The King may have believed that democracy had its value as a national and dynastic tradition, and might well be restored when he had gathered the results of his foreign policy, and had built so strong a wall of peace on his threatened frontiers that he could afford a measure of internal conflict.
For the King was far more successful in settling his affairs abroad than at home. In the international sphere his naivete did not betray him but inspired him. It sent him forward to offer his hand to ancient enemies, whose surprise disarmed them, so that they found the friendliness in them awakening and answering. He laid the foundations of a most necessary structure that might have subserved the peace not only of his people but of all Europe when he repudiated the hostility between Bulgaria and Yugoslavia that had been encouraged by Russia and envenomed by King Ferdinand. Here he was helped by the recent decline in the fortunes of I.M.R.O. This body had virtually lost its cause in Macedonia, because the Yugoslavian administration was rapidly improving, and the Yugoslav Macedonians, who are no fools, saw that they might live far from disagreeably if only they were not harried by perpetual guerrilla attacks and forced to pay extortionate illegal taxes. This is not to say that the Bulgarians in Yugoslav Macedonia gave up their desire that the territory in which they lived should be handed over to Bulgaria. Many have never been reconciled to Yugoslav rule. But most of them grew heartily sick of I.M.R.O., and joined their Serb neighbours in picking up rifles whenever a raiding party appeared and giving as good as they got.
I.M.R.O., thus repulsed, then turned its whole attention to its work in Bulgaria, where it had for long fulfilled the functions of a Fascist Party, and strengthened that party till it was a state within the state. Its financial resources were enormous, for it had foreign aid and levied illegal taxes on Bulgarian Macedonia as in Yugoslavian Macedonia; from the tobacco industry alone it raised over a million pounds in six years. But its chief resource was its ruthlessness, which, as time went on, made Bulgarian political life into a shambles. Sofia, which is a city full of delightful people, beautiful and extravagantly literate, lay in the power of a savage gang as if enslaved by sorcerers, and stared glassily at the assassinations that occurred nearly every day in the open streets. The whole of life was infected with fear and squalor. No shops could open without paying a tax to I.M.R.O., and all had to supply its followers with goods on the production of an official requisition. Every hotel-keeper had to reserve five rooms for I.M.R.O., two on the first floor for the leaders, three on higher levels for the rank and file. An ancient heroism took on itself the likeness of Al Capone. King Boris of Bulgaria, and indeed most Bulgarians, were deeply ashamed. Because I.M.R.O. had no hold on its followers other than its claim to liberate Yugoslavian Macedonia, King Boris decided to spike the movement’s guns by declaring a new and unalterable policy of friendship with Yugoslavia. Henceforward the parasite state would have to fight its host to keep its life. The plundered peasants and shopkeepers, to say nothing of the tobacco industry, were deeply sensible of the conveniences offered by the friendship, even though they may have felt no sentimental attachment for Yugoslavia whatsoever. The leaders of I.M.R.O. were executed, imprisoned, or driven to flight, while their followers were beaten and disbanded; and Bulgaria turned towards a more normal way of life.
This reconciliation would not have been possible without King Alexander’s eager acceptance of King Boris’s advances. He did much to sweeten Bulgarian feeling by his visits to Sofia and Varna, which, indeed, were among the most fearless acts recorded of any sovereign. All the Balkan peoples like a man with courage. And when King Boris delayed to give proper diplomatic expression to the new friendship, owing to the influence of Italy on some Bulgarian politicians and the tropism of lifelong hatreds in others, King Alexander paid other visits that were designed to hurry him up. It was his aim to keep Italy at bay by uniting his neighbour states into a bloc resolved to keep the South-East of Europe inviolate. He went to Constantinople to see Mustapha Kemal, who smiled at him with eyes which revealed that the Balkans had once more played their trick on the Turk, and had been conquered only to rule; for those eyes were blue, and Ataturk, like some sultans, several viziers, and the flower of the Janizaries, was at least half Slav. He went to Greece, and set going negotiations that were ultimately consummated, in spite of the peculiarly unconcordant character of Greek politicians. Greece, Turkey, and Yugoslavia signed the Balkan Pact in 1933, and once Bulgaria found herself one against three she changed her mind and joined them in 1934.
But even these achievements cannot have convinced King Alexander that the world was as pleasant as he had believed it to be twenty years before, when he was a young man, at the end of the Balkan War: as pleasant as it must be if it is worth while lavishing on it the luxury of poetry, of such dreams as the vision of the Frushka Gora. It was not only that the path of his successes must inevitably lead him to a pact with Soviet Russia. That Mustapha Kemal had told him; and he could see that the support of Russia, no matter whether it was White or Red, was absolutely necessary to the Balkans if they were to make a stand against Western aggression. But there were more disagreeable aspects of his situation than that, which must have struck him at the very beginning of his diplomatic pilgrimage and made him conscious that certain glories had left the world, that nothing was now simple in shape and bright like a sword.
His very first meeting with the King of Bulgaria showed a certain dimming of the monarchic tradition, a certain muting of martial music as it had been heard through history. It happened that in 1930 King Boris had married Princess Giovanna of Italy, who was cousin to King Alexander, as their mothers had been sister princesses of Montenegro. The first meeting of the kings had to take place timidly, under the shelter of this cousinly relationship. It was represented that, on a return journey to Sofia from Paris and London, Queen Giovanna was overcome by her sense that blood was thicker than water, and felt that she must see King Alexander, whom in fact she cannot possibly have laid eyes upon since 1913 when he was twenty-five and she was six. In response King Alexander came down to the railway station and drank coffee with them in a waiting-room, specially decorated in the gloomy fashion habitual on such occasions, during the hour’s halt the Orient Express always made at Belgrade. There had been some dealings between the two countries, but King Boris had not dared to make the more definite overtures which would have justified King Alexander in proposing a visit to the palace. But once they were all standing on the platform Queen Giovanna forced the diplomatic pace by kissing King Alexander as if she really meant it, putting her arms on his shoulders as if there were a strong good-will between them all which might do great things for them if they let it. King Alexander was stirred out of his usual formality into responsiveness, and in the waiting-room they talked and laughed together with the warmth of real loyalty. But there was defiance in their laughter. This meeting sprang from the revolt of one of the Italian royal family against Mussolini. Three heirs to the blood of kings were conspiring, not without trepidation, to give the people peace in spite of a blacksmith’s son.
Such a spectacle could not have been imagined by the priests and emperors of Byzantium, nor by the Nemanyan kings, nor even by the Serbian peasants who raised Karageorge and Milosh Obrenovitch to be princes over them. Surely, they would have said, a king must be all-powerful; others might snatch his sceptre, but so long as he held it power was his. And surely, they and their subjects would have agreed, the people would never give birth to its own enemy. But now there was a new factor to confound all their certainties. There were two sorts of people. There was the people as it had been since the beginning of time, that worked in the villages, small towns, and capitals. But there was also a new people, begotten by the new towns which the industrial and financial developments of the nineteenth century had raised all over Europe: towns so vast and intricate that, in coping with the problems of their own organization, they lost all relationship to the country round them, so that even though they were called capitals they were not, for a head should have some connexion with its body; towns planned in the biological interest of only the rich, and careless of the souls and bodies of the poor. The new sort of people have been defrauded of their racial tradition, they enjoyed no inheritance of wisdom; brought up without gardens, to work on machines, all but a few lacked the education which is given by craftsmanship; and they needed this wisdom and this education as never before, because they were living in conditions of unprecedented frustration and insecurity. A man without tradition and craft is lost, and book learning is of little help to him, for he lacks the shrewdness to winnow what he reads.
Some among this new people, by a miracle that may be called grace, resist all these assaults on their stock, and are as the best of the old people. But there are those who succumb, never ripen, and are infantile, and so react to their frustration and necessity, as infants react to hunger, by screaming and beating out at what is nearest. One such, named Luccheni, had killed Elizabeth of Austria in 1898. But his kind had grown in power since then. This is not to say that they had become wiser, or had discovered a formula that would medicine their distress; it was only that there were more of them, and that, conscious of their numbers, they had learned to scream orders as well as complaints. So when King Alexander, having achieved the Balkan entente, visited France to discuss the new power’s future relationship, he was struck down at Marseille not by a hungry vagrant, but by a ruler who was in a position to tyrannize over the royal blood of his country as he had tyrannized over its peasants and workmen. A form of government had arisen which was far more disgusting than any of the governments of the immediate past, though they had been nasty enough. The great powers had perpetuated Balkan misery by the Treaty of Berlin. They had been responsible for many ugly deaths in high places—Prince Michael of Serbia had been killed by Austrian conspiracy, Queen Draga and King Alexander Obrenovitch might have lived to old age had it not been for Austrian intrigue, Franz Ferdinand and Sophie Chotek were doomed by Austrian maladministration. They had been responsible for many ugly births in low places: Luccheni and Mussolini would never have come to be in a just economic system. But at least they knew when they had sinned that there was sin, at least they were aware that there was good and there was evil. But this the new rulers of the world did not know. ‘Violence,’ said Mussolini in the unmistakable accents of moral imbecility, ‘is profoundly moral, more moral than compromises and transactions.’ Time had rolled backward. It seemed likely that man was to lose his knowledge that it is wiser being good than bad, it is safer being meek than fierce, it is fitter being sane than mad. He was not only ignoring the Sermon on the Mount, he was forgetting what the Psalmist had known. And since these things are true it was certain that, once man had forgotten them, he would be obliged, with pains that must be immense, to rediscover them.
Belgrade knows all this, and looks forward to her future with apprehension. For, to tell the truth, it is a mournful city. Even in spring, when the young lovers walk among the flowers in Kalemegdan, and their elders sit in the restaurants talking politics with a new and rosy vehemence, because their nostrils are filled with the savour of roasting lamb and piglet, its underlying mood is an autumnal doubtfulness. The winter is going to be very long and hard. Is it going to be worth while living through it for the sake of what lies beyond? And those who wonder are not ignorant of what winter is, nor are they cowards. This mood is one of the deep traces left on the capital by Alexander Karageorgevitch’s personality. It is still his city. If one of the medieval Serbians who painted the frescoes in the monasteries came to life and covered a wall with Belgrade, he would certainly show the murdered king floating on his bier above the city; and if the picture were to be a valid symbol it would show the King’s tenacious and reserved face changed by doubtfulness, its reserve breaking to betray a doubt whether its tenacity had been of any avail.
Each Serbian ruler has proved something by his reign. More than once it was proved by this curious sovereignty, newer than the United States and as old as Byzantium, that a small state could defeat a vast empire; always it was proved that it is terrible, even in victory, to be a small state among great empires. It was given to Alexander to give new proof of these arguments, and to prove others also. By the expansion of his state beyond the limits of his people’s culture, Serbia had been forced into guilt. It was, evidently, a moral necessity that small peoples should form small states, and the price exacted for the defence of morality looked to be more than men’s bodies can afford to pay. This the King had known well as he drove stiffly through the streets of Belgrade. A dictator himself, he was the first ruler in Europe to learn how inimical dictatorship must be to all true order. He knows it still better as he floats over the city on his bier. For his murder went virtually unpunished. France hardly dared to try his assassins, and the League of Nations murmured timid words of censure, such as would offend no one.
We grew eager to leave Belgrade, and start on the trip we were to take with Constantine through Macedonia and Old Serbia, though nothing unpleasant was happening to us here. There were indeed two disconcerting moments when we turned a corner too smartly and came on Constantine and Gerda in complete emotional disarray, Gerda weeping in disregard of the passers’ frank Slav stares, Constantine red with misery. But we had taken it for granted that Constantine’s life would cover the whole range of oddity, and would be painfully odd as well as pleasantly odd, so we were hardly even surprised. It was no personal experience that depressed us in the city, but the pervading air of anticlimax. Nothing real had happened here since King Alexander died. That was indeed more of a miracle than an anticlimax. His murderers had put him out of the way in order that the country should be left without a head and would be unable to defend itself when it was attacked, yet the attack was never made.
This inaction is still mysterious, though there are one or two obvious factors which must have recommended it. The first was the reaction of Yugoslavia to the King’s death. It was not split asunder, but on the contrary drew closer in a unity it had not known since King Peter’s abdication. Every part of the country, even Croatia, abandoned itself to grief. No state not fallen into animal sloth can lose its head, whether that be king or president, without some amount of visceral anguish, and the Slavs, being analytical, knew that though Alexander had committed many harsh and foolish acts he had been fundamentally the priest of his people. There are not only good men and bad men, there are bad good men and there are good bad men. A bad good man complies in each individual act with accepted ethical standards, but his whole life describes a pattern that cannot be pleasing to God. A good bad man may commit all manner of faults and crimes, but at bottom he lets nothing come before the duty of subjecting experience to the highest law; and the Yugoslavs knew that King Alexander belonged to this order. They were aware that though he had sent too many of them to prison, he had sought to give Yugoslavia an honourable destiny that would preserve its genius. So there was no revolt of the Croats, and the foreign royalties and statesmen who followed the King’s bier through the streets of Belgrade were amazed by the strange, soft sound of a whole city weeping.
The other factor that preserved Yugoslavia from the long-planned assault was the secret attitude of the great powers, which was more audacious than their public showing. Immediately after the assassination the British Mediterranean Fleet took up its position in the Adriatic; and it is possible that the French found out more than they were meant to about the crime, and that they were able to demand a quid pro quo for erecting the scaffolding of obfuscation that surrounded the trial of the murderers at Aix-en-Provence. That their policy preserved peace at the moment does not exculpate it, for a war then would have been far less dangerous than later; and meanwhile every totalitarian ruffian in Europe rejoiced to see one of their kind strike down a foreign king in peace-time and go scot-free, and all honest men lost heart.
Here in Belgrade that shadow did not lift by an inch. For all the vehemence and intelligence of life it was at a deadlock. There were plenty of people daring to think, but no one acted, except perhaps the group of financial and industrial adventurers who are supposed to be represented by Stoyadinovitch, who ‘admire’ capitalism, who are inspired by the myth that the capitalism which is dying all over Europe will revive for their benefit. Error often stimulates the organism more violently than the truth, as cancer produces a more spectacular reaction in its host than the healthy cell. Those who had truer foundations to their thought were simply waiting for their scepticism to be resolved. They used to draw their strength from France and England and Russia. But they were so deeply shocked by the failure of France and England to speak honestly before the League of Nations concerning King Alexander’s murder that they no longer thought of those two countries, they only wondered. They could not derive any refreshment from us in the West till we should give them new proof of our value. They still thought much of Russia, but not as they did when the Balkans were perpetually fecundated by Russian mysticism or revolutionary theory, for Russia was by then so remote behind its Chinese wall of exclusiveness and secretiveness, it was like thinking of Paradise, or, as it may seem to others, of Hell.
Sometimes it seemed as if their inactivity was in part due to the mythic quality of the popular imagination. It is as if the people were saying to themselves, ‘A state must have a head, but we have none till our king is a man, so we cannot live like a state, we must hold our peace till young Peter can rule us.’ That is a wise enough decision; but where the popular mind holds too firmly to its primitive entertainments, its first fairy-tales, it strikes into folly. King Alexander left three Regents to rule Yugoslavia till his son came to maturity: his cousin Prince Paul, his doctor, and the Governor of Croatia (himself a Croat), with a general in reserve. None of the non-royal Regents was outstanding in character or influence, so if they wished to oppose Prince Paul it would have been impossible. The country felt, therefore, that Prince Paul exerted the only effective power under the Regency; and this was probably true. So far as strangers could see, he had acquitted himself very creditably within the limits set by his distaste for his position. For he had an exclusive interest in art which is very odd in a pure Slav, and it is generally known that he would far rather have led the life of a connoisseur in Florence than be tied to a tedious administrative job in almost pictureless Belgrade. Perhaps because of this desire to be doing something else somewhere else, perhaps because of the prudence which enabled him in the past to live calmly among the disturbed Karageorgevitches, he always responded to the forces working in Yugoslavia rather than governed them. He was amiable to Stoyadinovitch, and bowed and smiled to all the powers that Stoyadinovitch led up to him, even to Italy and Germany.
This was not at all a foolish policy for a man who knows himself not naturally a ruler, in an extravagantly perilous time of history. But the myth-making mind of the people saw him as the Regent of the fairy-stories, the Uncle of the Babes in the Wood, who longs to usurp his charge’s throne, who is in sympathy with usurpers at their crassest, with Mussolini and Hitler. There was ascribed to him a savage spirit of reaction, fired from an anti-Bolshevism that regrets the Romanoffs and is loyal to the Demidoffs. Yet it seems unlikely that a lover of Western painting, whose law of life is obviously taste, should have felt such passionate nostalgia for the Philistine court of Nicholas III, and the circumstances of the separation between Arsenius Karageorgevitch and Aurora Demidoff must have forbidden the unity that a son might normally feel with his mother’s family. From all appearances Prince Paul’s political ideas are derived not from Russia but from the upper-and middle-class England he learned to know when he was at Oxford. This is not to say that they were ideally applicable to the Balkan situation, but their inapplicability was of a different sort from Tsarist obscurantism. There were no times when the liberalism of Belgrade failed to be inspiring, for it is a robust tree with roots deep in the nature of the Slav race; but there were times when it seemed as if this Liberalism could never come into effective action again, because it had broken from the peasant tradition of sound sense and preferred those urban opinions which are only clever guesses.
‘But you will see that all must go well here,’ I said to my husband, as I sat in front of my dressing-table in the hotel bedroom, putting on my hat to go out to tea with Gerda and Constantine, ‘as soon as we get to Macedonia. You will see that there is a Balkan genius so strong that its peoples can never perish, that they can take refuge from material death, and even intellectual or moral death, in its spiritual life.’ ‘That seems so strange to me,’ said my husband, ‘when I have all my life heard of Macedonia as a symbol of age-long misgovernment and ruin. I used to hear of it when I was a child, as a place where men butchered other men, whom they should have thought of as their brothers.’ ‘But that was not age-long,’ I said. ‘I remember that too. We heard our elders talking of the squalid disputes in Macedonia when we were somewhere about nine or ten, and I realize now that it was after the Mürzsteg agreement between Turkey and the great powers was signed in 1903. That was a terrible business. It provided for the policing of Macedonia by military forces sent out by the great powers, and it was drawn up by the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Foreign Ministers, Goluchowski and Lansdorff, at one of Franz Josef’s hunting lodges. It happened that Goluchowski, who was a clever man, loved shooting above all things, and that Lansdorff, who was a stupid man, loved writing above all things. So Goluchowski went out with his gun every day and all day, and left Lansdorff to draft the agreement. Apparently he came back too tired to read it, and apparently all the other diplomats in Europe were equally fond of shooting, for they all passed an imbecile clause by which it was announced that as soon as Macedonia could be restored to order the Turkish administrative districts were to be delimited anew so that they might correspond with ethnographical districts. This automatically provoked civil war of the bloodiest character. For this clause terrified the Bulgars, Serbs, and Greeks in Macedonia, who knew that there are hardly any districts which are ethnographically pure in that part of the world, and saw themselves handed over to whatever race was in the majority, by however small a figure. Each group therefore attacked both the others, and killed off as many of them as possible, with the object of reducing them to unquestionable minorities. This went on for three years, till an Englishwoman called Lady Grogan visited Macedonia and informed the Foreign Office of the reason for the massacres, and the great powers drowsily collected themselves and withdrew the clause. But, of course, there had been endless pain and misery for five centuries before. It is astonishing that there should be anything waiting for us in Macedonia, but last time I was there I had the impression that there was more there than anywhere else.’
We started early for our tea-party, because we wanted to visit the Prince Paul Museum and have a last look at the pictures and antiquities with which the Regent had filled one wing of the New Palace on the main street. Some he himself had collected, others were the remains of a collection which the Serbian state had gathered since 1842 but which was pillaged and damaged in the war. There were a lovely gold vessel found in Macedonia, relic of a pre-Mycenæan civilization not recorded in history, some beautiful gold work and enamels from Byzantium and medieval Serbia, some robes and furniture and arms of the earlier Karageorgevitches and Obrenovitches; some bad paintings by the Germans and Austrians, some very good paintings by the French and goodish paintings by the English, and some Slav paintings that had little individuality and were echoes of the German and Austrian and French work; and some Slav sculpture that had great individuality, but was contorted with its struggle to lay hold of a sound tradition. The serene certainty of the medieval work and the uncertainty of the modern work might have been distressing had we not recognized some friends who were manifesting the continuity of Serbian national life, which would doubtless make itself felt in time. During our stay in Belgrade we had sometimes visited a café for wine and hot spiced sausages towards mid-night, and there had listened to the singing of two Roumanian sisters, fine girls, plump as table birds, who had a habit of putting their heads together and smiling widely, just as Phyllis and Zena Dare used to be photographed in my childhood. The night before, we had watched a young man, neatly dressed and confident yet manifestly no townsman, probably the son of the wealthiest peasant in some big village, fall under the charms of both these sisters, with a perfect impartiality which struck us as psychologically curious, but which was apparently accepted by the two girls without resentment. We had no doubt that his passion for them was of a practical nature; but here in the museum we found the three, in front of some medieval icons and reliquaries, and the young man was explaining to the two girls, with violent gestures and proud cries, that the first King of the Nemanyas was the father of St. Simeon, who had founded the monastery of Hilander on Mount Athos. They appeared to be interested and impressed.
When we came to Constantine’s house he opened the door to us, a happy little Buddha, as he always is when he is dispensing hospitality, and Gerda waited for us behind her tea-table, composed and gracious in a neat grey silk dress, with not a trace of tears. The two children played about the table, miraculous little creatures, since they reconciled and yet obstinately maintained apart the different elements in them. They can flash a glance which is at once German in its romantic activism, Jewish in its shrewd and swift calculation of probabilities, and Slav in its analytic penetration. They have an amusing coolness, of which I learned the very first time I ever met Constantine. I was taken to call on him at his office in connexion with the work I was doing on my first visit to Yugoslavia, so late in the morning that to finish our discussion we had to lunch together. So Constantine telephoned to his house and said, ‘Is that you, my little son? Tell your mother that I will not be home to lunch because I have run away with an Englishwoman.’ Sitting at the opposite side of the table, I heard the child’s reply in the unknown language, cold as ice-water. ‘Do you think,’ he asked, ‘that the Englishwoman has any stamps?’ That was the older boy, but the younger also had an air of being seriously aware of the necessity for imposing form on the extravagances of nature; and it could be seen, now the whole family was united, that they regarded Constantine and his mother as conduits of that extravagance. They were sage about this opinion. They were willing to admit that the prodigiousness of the pair was beneficent and entertaining, but they would not blind themselves to its need for control.
I grieved a little at their attitude, knowing them wrong, with an error that they had inherited from Gerda, with her Western tradition. Constantine may need control, owing to his circumstances, the most unfavourable of which is his surrender to the West; but Constantine’s mother has shown herself able to endure so much that there can be no question of better adapting her to life. In her youth her beauty, which must have been superb, presented her with a gifted and loving husband, her son Constantine, and a daughter. Just before the war the scourge of the Balkans, tuberculosis, took the daughter. Then her husband and son went to the war; her husband died of typhus, and her son was sent to Russia and disappeared. Meantime her home was occupied by the Germans, she was without means, and though she found work as a nurse that ended with the war, she nearly starved till life became more normal and she succeeded in getting pupils for music lessons; and even then she was in misery, for not until three years after the peace did she hear that Constantine still lived. All this might conceivably have been borne by a peasant woman, disciplined from birth to silence under frustration. But this woman was a musician, an interpretative artist, whose discipline was all directed towards the public demonstration of what she felt. What might have been expected was that she would feel a transcendent kind of grief and die of it, a special death that would have been a fulfilment. But here she was, her face certainly tortured, but not so much because of her sufferings as because of the impossibility of finding out the exact truth about humanity, which is to say, the impossibility of finding a stable foundation for artistic endeavour.
‘Then you can tell me something!’ she exclaimed, when we told her that since I had last seen her we had been to Canada. ‘Is it possible that Scriabin is really the favourite musician of all Canadians?’ We replied that nothing we had seen of Montreal and Toronto had prepared us for this conclusion. ‘For myself, I cannot really believe it,’ she explained, ‘but there came to Belgrade this winter a Canadian professor, and he assured me that in his country the favourite composer of all was not Beethoven or Mozart or Wagner but Scriabin, and that there existed a great society to popularize his works, called the Scriabin Society. But it is not possible, for Scriabin himself would have admitted that if he was anybody’s favourite composer that person would not have been able to appreciate him. A people which ate lobster and champagne at every meal could never claim to be fins gourmets of lobster and champagne. Also, Scriabin is too difficult.’ Her fingers stood up, stiffly apart, each registering discomfiture before a technical problem. ‘Not enough people could play him, not enough people could listen to him, to become truly familiar with him. Besides, how absurd to think of a great country, largely covered with snow, many of whose inhabitants earn their living trapping wild animals, having Scriabin as its favourite composer.’
‘Yes, Mamma,’ said Constantine, ‘but are you not forgetting that Scriabin himself was the child of a great country covered with snow, where there was a good deal of trapping wild animals?’ ‘Yes, yes,’ said the old lady, ‘but I do not believe that in the whole of Russia you would find one man who would claim that Scriabin was the favourite composer of Russians!’ ‘But, perhaps, Mamma,’ said Constantine, ‘it is a different sort of animal that they trap in Canada.’ ‘A different sort of animal? But what would that matter?’ exclaimed his mother in stupefaction, knitting her fine mind against this puzzle till she saw Constantine winking at us, and then she cried out, laughing, ‘Ah, wait till you are old, you will see what it is like when everybody mocks you, even your poor little idiot son!’
Very soon we had an idea that Gerda thought that this was not the proper way to entertain us. She thought the less of us for liking this wild talk about music, which could not really be of any value, because it made no references to the Ideal or the History of Music. It would have been better if we had made statements about specific musical occasions and had evoked them from her, and had thus established our common enjoyment of culture: if we had, for example, spoken of hearing a Beethoven symphony in Toronto or Montreal, and had asked her where she had heard it. She spoke presently of her surroundings as lacking precisely that kind of sophistication, when the conversation turned to food and the amount of cooking that was done in Yugoslavian households. Contemptuously she told us that when a Serbian family expected guests to tea, the housewife would put herself about to bake cakes and biscuits; but, as we would see, she said with a shrug of the shoulders, indicating the food on her table, which had been obviously bought from a shop, she was not so. Her cool tone drew a picture of how she would like to dispense hospitality. One would go down, well dressed, with a full purse, and all one’s debts paid, to Kranzler if one lived in Berlin, to Dehmel if one lived in Vienna, to Gerbeaud if one lived in Budapest, and would greet the assistant, who would be very respectful because of one’s credit, and would choose exquisite pastries and petits fours, which would not only be delightful when crushed against one’s friends’ palates, but would also be recognizably from Kranzler, or from Dehmel, or from Gerbeaud.
She was assuming that my husband and I would share her feeling, that we would be with her in upholding this cool, powerful, unhurried ideal against the Serbian barbarians who liked a woman to get hot over a stove, as if she could not afford to pay other women to work for her, which indeed was probably the case. It would have been difficult for us to explain how wrong we thought her. We like the Apfelkuchen of Kranzler, we have never gone to Vienna without buying the Nusstorte of Dehmel, we have shamefully been late for a friend’s lunch in Budapest for the reason that we had turned into Gerbeaud’s to eat meringues filled with cream and strawberries. But we knew that when one goes into a shop and buys a cake one gets nothing but a cake, which may be very good, but is only a cake; whereas if one goes into the kitchen and makes a cake because some people one respects and probably likes are coming to eat at one’s table, one is striking a low note on a scale that is struck higher up by Beethoven and Mozart. We believed it better to create than to pay. In fact, England had had a bourgeoisie long before Germany, and we had found out that the bourgeois loses more than he gains by giving up the use of his own hands; but there is no wider gulf in the universe than yawns between those on the hither and thither side of vital experience.
As Gerda spoke Constantine watched her with slightly excessive approval, nodding and smiling. He so obviously meant to reassure her and to recommend her to us that there came back to us the spectacle they had twice presented to us lately in the streets of Belgrade, dishevelled and disunited. It was astonishing to think that between such scenes these people should enjoy the glowing contentment with each other which now warmed this room; but of course there are millions of kinds of happy marriages. Only when we rose to go and Constantine told us that he would walk a little way back with us did we see that he was smiling not only at her but at us, and that his smile bore the same relation to a real smile as false teeth do to real teeth; it performed the function of indicating good-will, but the organism had failed in its normal spontaneous action. I could feel him still smiling through the darkness, as we strolled away from the cache of simple streets in which his pretty little house found itself, into the boulevard where grey concrete cakes of institutions and ministries shone with a blindish brightness behind the electric standards. When we came to the centre of the town, and looked across a circus where people were hurrying in and out of the yellow-lit cafés, at the slow and dark yet gay procession of the corso, he said, still with this undue facial cheerfulness, with the corners of his mouth turned up, ‘I must go back now.’ But he did not take the hand my husband offered him, but stared across the street at the Corso. Two gipsies, lean and dark as Sikhs, with red rags tied round their heads, padded past, wheeling a handcart in which there lay a bundle. It stirred, it sat up, it was an elderly and beautiful woman in richly coloured garments who looked at us with wild eyes that filled with solemn recognition, who swept out her arm in the gesture of a prophet, and cried out some words in Roumanian, which twanged with the spirit of revelation. For a second it seemed a supreme calamity that we could not understand her. But she softened, and fell back, and was a bundle again; she was simply drunk. Constantine said absently, as if his soul were entirely with the march of the Corso, ‘You know, my wife has made up her mind to come with us to Macedonia.’
I stood transfixed with horror. Tears began to run down my cheeks. Macedonia was the most beautiful place that I had ever seen in my life, I had looked forward to showing it to my husband, and now we were to be accompanied by this disagreeable woman who liked neither of us. It was like having to take a censorious enemy on one’s honeymoon. Not only was this proposal an outrage to a reasonable sentiment, it raised endless practical difficulties. The cars and cabs we could rely on in Macedonia would be small, too small for four, though comfortable enough for three. Gerda would have to be our guest, as Constantine was to be, and the relationship between host and guest is not easy for people who feel a strong mutual antipathy. And her contempt for everything Slav and non-German would be at its most peevish in Macedonia, which is the most Slav part of Yugoslavia, and which is not only non-German but non-Occidental, being strongly Byzantine and even Asiatic. ‘But she will not like it!’ I exclaimed. ‘So I have told her many, many times!’ wailed Constantine. My husband bent down over him, his spectacles shining with a light that looked menacing, that was in fact panic-stricken. ‘Your wife cannot come with us,’ he said. ‘But she will, she will!’ cried Constantine. ‘All night she cries, because I will not take her, and I get no sleep. And she says she will suicide herself if I go without her! And I cannot let you go alone, for my Ministry wishes me to go with you! I tell you, she must come with us!’ And he turned and left us, walking very fast. My husband and I stood staring at each other, feeling like the people in Kafka’s books who are sentenced by an invisible and nameless authority for some unnamed sin to a fantastic and ineluctable punishment. It was not a thing that happens to one in adult life, being obliged to go on a journey with someone whom one dislikes and who has no sort of hold over one, sentimental or patriotic or economic.
So, at eight o‘clock on the morning of Good Friday (according to the Orthodox calendar) the four of us started for Macedonia from Belgrade station. My husband and I had driven down from the hotel, past a corner of Kalemegdan Park that drops a steep bank towards the river, claret-coloured with tamarisk bloom. The early light lay as a happy presence on the wide grey floods round the city, and it shone on the Obrenovitch villa on the hill-top, which, like all Turkish villas, was exquisitely appropriate to everything freshest in nature, to spring and the morning. At the station we found that Gerda and Constantine had not arrived, and we sat down at the café on the platform and ate beautiful Palestinian oranges, their flesh gleaming like golden crystal. There appeared presently a young doctor of philosophy, a colleague of Constantine’s, with whom I had had some official business, who came to say good-bye and bring me a bunch of red roses. He sat down with us and had some coffee, and we talked until it became evident that Constantine and Gerda were very late indeed, and we began to walk up and down, alarmed and exasperated.
They came at the last possible moment, and we had to jump into the train just as it went, the doctor of philosophy handing up the roses to the window after we had started. My husband and I busied ourselves packing away our baggage and putting out cushions and books, for we were to be nearly twelve hours in the train. But soon we became aware that Gerda was standing quite still, looking down at the roses with a resentful expression, and Constantine, with his arm round her, was attempting to console her. ‘Yes, it is very bad,’ he was saying, ‘certainly he should have brought you flowers also.’ My husband and I stared at him aghast, for it was obvious that the yong doctor had come down to give me the roses as an impersonal and official act, and that he had refrained from bringing any to Gerda for the precise reason that she had some personal value for him. ‘But I am afraid,’ said Constantine, ‘that this young man really does not know how to behave so well as I had hoped, for look, these are not the flowers he should have given our friend.’ ‘Nein, ganz gewiss nicht!’ agreed Gerda hotly, and they gazed down at the roses, shaking their heads.
‘Tell me,’ said Constantine, turning to my husband, ‘what sort of flowers would it be considered right in your country for a man to give to a lady whom he does not know very well when he sees her off at a station?’ My husband guffawed and said, ‘In our country he would go to a florist and ask for some nice flowers.’ Gerda looked disgusted, sat down, and stared out of the window. Constantine said in shocked and bewildered accents, ‘O! Ilyades règles!’ ‘What are they?’ asked my husband, laughing coarsely. From Constantine’s explanations I learned that it was not by ill luck that I had been dogged through Central Europe by carnations, which I detest; I had brought them on myself by my marriage to a banker. Pains had been taken, which I had never perceived, to keep me from getting above myself, for it was ruled that the flowers which I received on my arrival in a town, and during my stay in it, should be modest. ‘It is only on departure,’ said Constantine, ‘that the bouquet should be really large. And there remains the question of colour, which is what disturbs us at this moment. There are certain colors, particularly in roses, which are purely personal, which are not suitable for gifts of ceremony. It is here that our young friend has offended. These roses are nearly crimson.’ My husband turned to me with an air of suspicion, but Constantine did not laugh. There was doubt in his eyes, as if he were wondering whether his wife were not right, and he had greatly exaggerated the degree of our refinement.
The lovely Serbian country, here like a fusion of Lowland Scotland and New England, with many willows rising golden green, and meadows white with daisies, and nymphean woods, ran past us for some hours. Then there was the call for lunch, and we went along to the restaurant car, to eat one of those pungent and homely meals that are served on the Balkan trains. As we sat down, a middle-aged man in a grey lounge suit stood up in his place and shouted at an elderly man in a braided purple peasant costume who went on with his meal. ‘It is nothing,’ said the waiter who was taking our order; ‘they are only two members of Parliament.’ ‘Yes,’ said Constantine, ‘the one in peasant costume in a well-known supporter of Mr. Stoyadinovitch, and the other is an opposition man.’ At this point the opposition man bent down to look at his opponent’s plate, straightened himself, and cried, ‘I see you are eating an enormous amount of fish. No wonder you take no interest in measures for controlling the floods, I suppose you like floods because they bring us quantities of fish.’ He then sat down, but sprang up immediately to shout, ‘If you don’t make better roads we in our banovina will become separatists. We’ve got a fine regiment, and one will be enough, for only the riff-raff of the Army would march for your lot.’ That was the end, and we all went on with our meal.
As we went back along the corridor a man ran out of his carriage and grasped Constantine by both hands. ‘Look at him well,’ said Constantine, ‘he is a typical old Serbian patriotic man.’ He was short and thickset, overweight but nimble, with a great deal of coarse black hair on his head and face. ‘See, he has not a grey hair on his head,’ Constantine went on, ‘and he is nearly an old man. I will get him to come and sit with us, for he likes me very much, and you can observe him.’ He remained with us for quite a time, bouncing up and down on his seat, as he passionately attacked the Stoyadinovitch Government, not for its reaction, but for its innovations. ‘The country has gone to the dogs,’ he cried, ‘now that there are so many non-Serbs in the Army! Think of it, there are Croat colonels. A Croat colonel, that is something ridiculous to think of, like a woman preacher! I tell you, the Croats are spoiled for ever by the Austrian influence, they are like fallen women, they cannot be raised.’ Every now and then he stopped to show my husband and myself some point in the landscape, which he thought strangers should not miss. ‘They look good people,’ he said of us; but sighed and added gloomily, ‘But after all they are from the West, they’re Europeans, no doubt they are in sympathy with this horrible age when everything is questioned.’
‘Of course he is not at home in the present,’ Constantine explained to us, ‘he is one of our medieval heroes reborn.’ Though he was very rich and he had much to see to in his own district, all his youth he used to rush backwards and forwards between his home and Macedonia, where he was a comitadji and killed many Turks. He fought like a lion in the Balkan wars and the Great War, and after the peace he was made Ban of South Serbia (which is the administrative title of Macedonia) as a reward. ‘But,’ said Constantine, ‘his ideas were not modern enough for his position. He was splendidly brave, of course, and that was a great qualification, for there could not have been a more dangerous job, what with the I.M.R.O. and the wild Montenegrins and the Albanians. But in other ways he was too simple and too large, too Homeric. He wished to remake Macedonia as it had been five hundred years ago, and whenever he saw a ruined church or a castle that had-belonged to the Serbs and had been destroyed by the Turks, he would take Turks and Moslem Albanians away from where they lived until he had enough labour to rebuild them, and then he made them work under armed guards. And when people said, ’But you must not do that,‘ he answered, ’But why not? They knocked them down, didn’t they?‘
‘But King Alexander was very kind about it, and though he did not keep him there for long, since these things will now not do, he gave him other work that he could do better. And now this man is very happy building many churches, since he is very pious, and the Church and the state to him are one. He aims to make more foundations than our medieval King Milutin, who built thirty-seven monasteries.’ He bent across and asked the patriot what his record was, and the old man stroked his coal-black moustache with a flourish and announced, ‘Forty-six.’ ‘The one he loves most,’ said Constantine, ‘is a chapel near the field of Kossovo, where he has really let himself go. It cost two hundred pounds, and it is ornamented with frescoes, which gratify him in an old quarrel he has with the Church. You see, our medieval kings, the Nemanyas, were recognized as saints, except for the one who was a flagrant sinner and defied the Church, who was that same Milutin who built the thirty-seven monasteries. They were saints because they were heads of a theocratic society on the Byzantine model, and because they defended Christianity against the pagan Turks. So he cannot see why Karageorge and the Karageorgevitches, who also united the Church and state and who actually drove out the Turks, should not be recognized as saints too. But of course the Church of today will have nothing to do with such an idea, they think it is profane, and they tell him not to be so impious. However, down there his chapel is far away from everywhere, so he has had frescoes painted showing Karageorge himself, and Alexander Karageorgevitch and old King Peter, yes, and King Alexander, all with immense haloes like golden soup-plates. He had quite a well-known artist to paint them, and he knew it was wrong and did not want to do it, but this one roared at him like a bull, and snatched so at his belt as if he were finding his pistol, and the artist said, ’Oh, certainly they shall be saints, they shall all be saints!‘ Then when the Patriarch came down to consecrate the chapel this one covered all the frescoes that showed the new royal saints with banners, and all went well. But his mother, who is very dévote, she spends many hours lying on the floors of chapels praying these sins of his will be forgiven.’
‘Now tell your friends that we are coming to the heart of Serbia,’ the patriot bade Constantine. ‘This town we are coming into is Kraguyevats,’ Constantine explained, ‘and it was the big town of the Shumadiya, that is to say the wooded district, where the most Serbian Serbs came from, the ones that were foremost in the revolt against the Turks. Now there are great munition works here.’ ‘Tell them to look over there at the memorial to King Alexander,’ said the patriot; ‘it is a good thing for foreigners to see, it makes him quite stout and broad as a king should be, though God knows the poor man was thin as a student. But now make them look out of the other window, for God’s sake.’ ‘Why?’ asked Constantine. ‘If they do that they won’t see the memorial to the Serbian dead.’ ‘That’s just what I am hoping,’ said the patriot. ‘But why?’ asked Constantine again. ‘The figure of the Serbian mother is considered very fine.’ ‘It’s just that figure I don’t want them to see,’ insisted the other. ‘Serbian women have got good breasts, this creature they have put up looks like a toothpick.’ ‘Never would he think of a woman’s breasts except from a patriotic point of view,’ explained Constantine. ‘His country is all to him. He is as pure as a good monk.’
A little further on he got out at his own station. A peasant in a sheep-skin jacket, a much younger man, was waiting for him and took his baggage, and watched him as he said goodbye to us, with a loving and loyal and condescending smile. ‘I am glad to be back!’ cried the patriot. ‘This is a beautiful part of the country, you know! Some day you must all come and see me!’ He smiled up at his local sky, and looked into the branches of one of the lindens that grew all along the platform, and was convulsed with pride. ‘These lindens! Fine, aren’t they? I planted them all ten years ago!’ ‘Ten? It is not possible!’ exclaimed Constantine. ‘You must mean twenty!’ ‘No, I mean ten,’ said the patriot, and turned to his servant. ‘It is not more than ten years since I planted these trees, is it, Sasha?’ ‘It is twenty-two,’ said Sasha. ‘Sasha, you are a fool and the son of a fool!’ cried the patriot. ‘It is twenty-two years since you planted these trees!’ the peasant answered, his voice rising. ‘How can that be so,’ the patriot screamed, ‘when—’ The train moved on and we re-established ourselves for another long session. ‘Would you not like to sit in this corner?’ I asked Gerda. ‘I think you will see most from the window on this side.’ ‘That would be interesting, no doubt,’ said Gerda, ‘if one had the slightest intention of looking out of the window.’ The train ran on into the afternoon, into the evening, into the night, into Macedonia.