“Far, far from here,
The Adriatic breaks in a warm bay
Among the green Illyrian hills.”
THE CEMETERY OF FOUR EMPIRES
We stood on the forward deck of the Sirio as she slipped southward, through the placid waters of the Adriatic, at twenty knots an hour. Less than a league away the Balkan mountains, savage, mysterious, forbidding, rose in a rocky rampart against the eastern sky.
“Did it ever occur to you,” remarked the Italian officer who stood beside me, a noted historian in his own land, “that four great empires have died as a result of their lust for domination over the wretched lands which lie beyond those mountains? Austria coveted Serbia—and the empire of the Hapsburgs is in fragments now. Russia, seeing her influence in the peninsula imperiled, hastened to the support of her fellow Slavs—but Russia has gone down in red ruin, and the Romanoffs are dead. Germany, seeking a gateway to the warm water, and a highway to the East, seized on the excuse thus offered to launch her waiting armies—and the empire reared by the Hohenzollerns is bankrupt and broken. Turkey fought to retain her hold on such European territory as still remained under the crescent banner. To-day a postmortem is about to be held on the Turkish Empire and the House of Osman. Think of it! Four great empires, four ancient dynasties, lie buried over there in the Balkans. It is something more than a range of mountains at which we are looking; it is the wall of a cemetery.”
Rada di Antivari is a U-shaped bay, the color of a turquoise, from whose shores the Montenegrin mountains rise in tiers, like the seats of an arena. We put in there unexpectedly because a bora, sweeping suddenly down from the northwest, had lashed the Adriatic into an ugly mood and our destroyer, whose decks were almost as near the water as those of a submarine running awash, was not a craft that one would choose for comfort in such weather. Nor was our feeling of security increased by the knowledge that we were skirting the edges of one of the largest mine-fields in the Adriatic. But the Sirio had scarcely poked her sharp nose around the end of the breakwater which provides the excuse for dignifying the exposed roadstead of Antivari (with the accent on the second syllable, so that it rhymes with “discovery”) by the name of harbor before I saw what we had stumbled upon some form of trouble. There were three other Italian destroyers in the harbor but, instead of being moored snugly alongside the quay, they were strung out in a semblance of battle formation, so that their deck-guns, from which the canvas muzzle-covers had been removed, could sweep the rocky heights above and around them. A string of signal-flags broke out from our masthead and was answered in like fashion by the flag-ship of the flotilla, after which formal exchange of greetings our wireless began to crackle and splutter in an animated explanation of our unexpected appearance. Our hawsers had scarcely been made fast before a launch left the flag-ship and came plowing toward us, a knot of white-uniformed officers in the stern. From the blue rug with the Italian arms, which, as I could see through my glasses, was draped over the stern-sheets, I deduced that the commander of the flotilla was paying us a visit.