A group of elder men knelt or squatted on the small open space immediately in front of the High Altar, but the majority of worshippers ranged themselves under the shade of some small trees and on the low surrounding walls.
These same trees bear weekly a strange and incongruous fruit, for they are used as pegs whereon the Albanians hang their rifles during service. All round, the walls are stacked with rifles, for, like the Puritans of old, they come to church fully armed with rifle, handjar, and revolver, and round their waists, the inevitable bandolier of cartridges.
[Illustration: AFTER MASS AT ZATRIJEBAC]
On approaching the altar every man pushed back the cloth which is swathed round his half-shaven head, and kneeling, piously crossed himself. The older men displayed even more reverence, and kissed the earth. The younger men were much the same as their cultured and civilised brothers, lounging through the service, half seated on a wall, and barely crossing themselves.
But the general effect was one of great reverence and striking in the extreme. We watched this strange congregation with great interest, and during the most sacred part of the service, when all, even the blase young men, prostrated themselves, the effect was unique.
Picture a cut-throat, shave half his head, leaving a tuft of hair on the back by which he kindly assists his victor to decapitate him, expecting a like consideration in return, long drooping moustachios, clad in Turkish clothes, a belt full of cartridges, with revolver and murderous-looking yataghan artistically displayed—of such was this congregation. Men who half-an-hour afterwards would shoot an enemy in the course of a vendetta, or otherwise, without any thought of remorse. Yes, and coolly cut off his head and bring it home to his admiring wife and daughters, now so discreetly and respectfully kneeling behind them. This is not an over-drawn picture. It happens often.
Of such consisted the congregation under the green trees, blue sky, brilliant sunshine, in that perfect landscape this Sunday morning. And of such is peopled a part of the vast country of Albania. A people who hold human life as nothing—a reckless and brave nation of devout Roman Catholics.
At the conclusion of the service we came in for a lot of inspection, and going in to dine soon afterwards we chanced to look out of the window overlooking the scene of the morning Mass. Still a great crowd hung about, and on the late High Altar sat men smoking cigarettes. After dinner we bade farewell to our young host, amidst honest regrets on both sides. The Franciscan had given us a new insight into the mysteries of life.
A modern hero, and our sojourn under his roof—Keco’s story—The laws of Vendetta and their incongruity—We return to Podgorica—The Montenegrin telephone—An elopement causes excitement—The Sultan’s birthday—The reverse of the picture—A legal anomaly.