For the greater part of its course the river Drina flows through narrow gorges between steep mountains or through deep ravines with precipitous banks. In a few places only the river banks spread out to form valleys with level or rolling stretches of fertile land suitable for cultivation and settlement on both sides. Such a place exists here at Višegrad, where the Drina breaks out in a sudden curve from the deep and narrow ravine formed by the Drina makes here is is particularly sharp and the mountains on both sides are so steep and so close together that they look like a solid mass out of which the river flows directly as from a dark wall. Then the mountains suddenly widen into an irregular amphitheatre whose widest extent is not more than about ten miles as the crow flies.
Here, where the Drina flows with the whole force of its green and foaming waters from the apparently closed mass of the dark steep mountains, stands a great clean-cut stone bridge with eleven wide sweeping arches. From this bridge spreads fanlike the whole rolling valley with the little oriental town of Višegrad and all its surroundings, with hamlets nestling in the folds of the hills, covered with meadows, pastures and plum-orchards, and criss-crossed with walls and fences and dotted with shaws and occasional clumps of evergreenes. Looked at from a distance through the broad arches of the white bridge it seems as if one can see not only the green Drina, but all that fertile and cultivated countryside and the southern sky above.
On the right bank of the river, starting from the bridge itself, lay and partly on the hillside. On the other side of teh bridge itself, along the left bank, stretched the Maluhino Polje, with a few scattered haouses along the road wich led to Sarajevo. Thus the bridge, uniting the two parts of the Sarajevo road, linked the town with its surrounding villages.
Actually, to say 'linked' was just as true as to say that the sun rises in the morning so that men may see around them and finish their dayly tasks, and sets in the veningthat they may be able to sleep and rest from the labours of the day. For this great stone bridge, a rare structure of unique beauty, such as many richer and busier towns do not possess (There are only two others such as this in the whole Empire, they used to say in old times) was the one real and permanent crossing in the whole middle und upper course of the Drina and an indispensanble link on the road between Bosnia and Serbia and further, beyond Serbia, with other parts of the Turkish Empire, all the way to Stambul. The town and its outskirts were only the settlements wcich always and inevitably grow up around an important centre of communications and on either side of great and important bridges.
Here also in time the houses crowded together and the settlemnts multiplied at both ends of the bridge. The town owned its existence to the bridge and grew out of it as if from an imperishable root.
In order to see a picture of the town and understand it and its relation to the bridge clearly, it must be said that there was another bridge in the town and another river. This was the river Rzav, with a wooden bridge across it. At the very end of the town the Rzav flows into the Drina, so that the centr and at the same time the main part of the town lay on a sandy tongue of land between two rivers, the great and the samll, which met there and its scattered outskirts streched out from the both sides of the bridges, along the left bank of the Drina and the right bank of the Rzav. It was a town on the water. But even though another river existed and another bridge, the words 'on the bridge' never meant on the Rzav bridge., a simple wooden structure without beaty and without history, that had no reason for its existence save to serve the townspeople and their animals as a crossing, but only uniqeuly the stone bridge over the Drina.
The bridge was about two hundred and fifty paces long and about ten paces wide save in the middle where it widened out into two compeletely equal terraces placed symmetrically on either side of the roadway and making it twice its normal width. This was the part of the bridge known as the kapia. Two buttresses had been built on each side of the central pier which had been splayed out towards the top, so that to right and left of the roadway there were two terraces daringly and harmoniously projecting outwards from the straight line of the bridge over the noisy green waters far below. The two terraces were about five paces long and the same in width and were bordered, as was the whole length of the bridge, by a stone parapet. Otherwise, they were open and uncovered. That on the right as one came from the town was called the sofa. It was raised by two steps and bordered by benches for which the parapet served as a back steps, benches and parapet were all made of the same shining stone. That on the left, opposite the sofa, was similar but without benches. In the middle of the parapet, the stone rose higher than a man and in it, near the top, was inserted a plaque of white marble with a rich Turkish inscription, a tarih, with a carved chronogram which told in thirthen verses the name of the man who built the bridge and the year in which it was built. Near the foot of this stone was a fountain, a thin stream of water flowing from the mouth of a stone snake. On this part of the terrace a coffee-maker had installed himself with his copper vessels and Turkish cups and ever-lighted charcoal brazier, and an apprentice who took the coffee over the way to the guests on the sofa. Such was the kapia.
On teh bridge and its kapia, about it or in connection with it, flowed and developed, as we shall see, the life of the townsmen. In all tales about personal, family or public events the words 'on the bridge' could always be heard. Indeed on the bridge over the Drina were the first steps of childhood and the first games of boyhood.
The Christian children, born on the left bank of the Drina, crossed the bridge at once in the first days of their lives, for they were always taken across in their first week to be christened. But all the other children, those who were born on the right bank and the Moslem children who who were not christened at all, passed, as had once their fathers and their grandfathers, the main part of their childhood on or around the bridge. They fished around it or hunted doves under its arches. From their very earliest years, their eyes grew accustomed to the lovely lines of this great stone structure built of shining porous stone, regularly and faultlessy cut. They knew all the bosses and concavities of the masons, as well as all the tales and legends associated with the existence and building of the bridge, in which reality and imagination, waking and dream, were wondrefully and inextricably mingled. They had always known these things as if they had come into the world with them, even as they knew their prayers, but could not remember from whom they had learnt them nor when they had first heard them.
They knew that the bridge had been built by the Grand Vezir, Mehmaed Pasha, who had been born in the nearby village of Sokolovići, just on the far side of one of those mountains which encircled the bridge and the town. Only a Vezir could have given all that was needed to build this lasting wonder of stone (a Vezir – to the children’s minds that was something fabulous, immense, terrible and far from clear). It was built by Rade the Mason, who must have lived for hundreds of years to have been able to build all that was lovely and lasting in Serbian lands, that legendary and in fact nameless master whom all people desire and dream of, since they do not want to have remember or be indebted to too many, even in memory. They knew that the vila of the boatmen had hindered its building, as always and everywhere there is someone to hinder building, destroying by night what had been built by day, until ‘something’ had whispered from the waters and counselled Rade the Mason to find two infant children, twins, brother and sister, named Stoja and Ostoja, and wall them into central pier of the bridge. A reward was promised to whoever found them and brought them hither.
At last the guards found such twins, still at the breast, in a distant village and the Vezir’s men took them away by force; but when they were taking them away, their mother would not be parted from them and, weeping and wailing insensible to blows and to curses, stumbled after them as far as Višegrad itself, where she succeeded in forcing her way to Rade the Mason.
The children were walled into the pier, for it could not be otherwise, but Rade, they say, had pity on them and left openings in the pier through which the unhappy mother could feed her sacrificed children. Those are the finely carved blind windows, narrow as loopholes, in which the wild doves now nest. In memory of that, the mother’s milk has flowed from those walls for hundreds of years. That is the thin white stream which, at certain times of year, flows from that faultless masonry and leaves an indelible mark of the stone. (The idea of woman’s milk stirs in the childish mind a feeling at once too intimate and too close, yet at the same time vague and mysterious like Vezirs and masons, which disturbs and repulses them.) Men scrape those milky traces off the piers and sell them as medical powder to women who have no milk after giving birth.
In the central pier of the bridge, below the kapia, there is a larger opening, a long narrow gateway without gates, like a gigantic loophole. In that pier, they say, is a great room, a gloomy hall, in which a black Arab lives. All the children know this. In their dreams and in their fancies he plays a great role. If he should appear to anyone, that man must die. But Hamid, the asthmatic porter, with bloodshot eyes, continually drunk or suffering from a hangover, saw him one night and that very same night he died, over there by the wall. It is true that he was blind drunk at the time and passed the night on the bridge under the open sky in a temperature of –15 °C. The children used to gaze from the bank into the dark opening as into a gulf which is both terrible and fascinating. They would agree to look at it without blinking and whoever first saw anything should cry out. Open-mouthed they would peer into that deep dark hole, quivering with curiosity and fear, until it seemed to some anemic child that the opening began to sway and to move like a black curtain, or until one of them, mocking and inconsiderate (there is always at least one such), shouted ‘The Arab” and pretended to run away. That spoilt the game and aroused disillusion and indignation amongst those who loved the play of imagination, hated irony and believed that by looking intently they could actually see and feel something. At night, in their sleep, many of them would toss and fight with the Arab from the bridge as with fate until their mother woke them and so freed them from this nightmare. Then she would give them cold water to drink ‘to chase away the fear’ and make them say the name of God, and the child, overtaxed with daytime childish games, would fall asleep again into the deep sleep of childhood where terrors can no longer take shape or last for long.
Up river from the bridge, in the steep banks of gray chalk, on both sides of the river, can be seen rounded hollows, always in pairs at regular intervals, as if cut in the stone were the hoof prints of some horse of supernatural size; they led downwards from the Old Fortress, descended the scarp towards the river and then appeared again on the farther bank, where they were lost in the dark earth and undergrowth.
The children who fished for tiddlers all day in the summer along these stony banks knew that these were hoofprints of ancient days and long dead warriors. Great heroes lived on earth in those days, when the stone had not yet hardened and was soft as the earth and the horses, like the warriors, were of colossal growth. Only for the Serbian children these were the prints of the hooves of Šarac, the horse of Kraljević Marko, which had remained there from the time when Kraljević Marko himself was in prison up there in the Old Fortress and escaped, flying down the slope and leaping the Drina, for at that time there was no bridge. But the Turkish knew that it had not been Kraljević Marko, nor could it have been (for whence could a bastard Christian dog have had such strength or a horse!) any but Djerzelez Alija on his winged charger which, as everyone knew, despised ferries and ferrymen and leapt over rivers as if they were watercourses. They did not even squabble about this, so convinced were both sides in their own belief. And there was never an instance of any one of them being able to convince another, or that any one had changed his belief.
In these depressions which were round and as wide and deep as rather large soup-bowls, water still remained long after rain, as though in stone vessels. The children called these pits, filled withtepid rainwater, wells and, without distinction of faith, kept the tiddlers there which they caught on their lines.
On the left bank, standing alone, immediately above the road, there was a fairly great earthen barrow, formed of some kind of hard earth grey and almost like stone. On it nothing grew or blossomed save some short grass, hard and prickly as barbed wire. That tumulus was the end and frontier of all the children's gamnes around the bridge. That wasc the spot which at one time was called Radisav's tomb. They used to tell that he was some sort of Serbian hero, a man of power. When the Vezir, Mehmed Pasha, had first thought of building the bridge on the Drina and sent his men here, everyone submitted and was summoned to forced labour. Only this man, radisav, stirred up the people to revolt and told the Vezir not to continue with this work for he would meet with great difficulties in building a bridge across the Drina. And the Vezir had many troubles before he succeeded in overcoming Radisav for he was a man greater then other men; there was no rifle or sword that could harm him, nor was there rope or chain that could bind him. He broke all of them like thread, so great was the power of the talisman that he had with him. And who knows what might have happened and whether the Vezir would ever have been able to build the bridge, had he not found some of his men who were wise and skilful, who bribed and questioned Radisav's servant. Then they took Radisav by surprise and drowned him while he was asleep, binding him with silken ropes for against silk his talisman could not help him. The Serbian women believe that there is one night of the year when a strong white light can be seen falling on that tumulus direct from heaven; and that takes place sometime in autumn between belief and unbelief, remained on vigil by the windows overlooking Radisav's tomb have never managed to see this heavenly fire, for they were all overcome by sleep before midnight came. But there had been travellers, who knew nothing of this, who had seen a white light falling on the tumulus above the bridge as they returned to the town by night.
The Turks in the town, on the other hand, have long told that on that spot a certain dervish, by name Sheik Turhanija, died as a martyr to the faith. He was a great hero and defended on this spot the crossing of the Drina against an infidel army. And that on this spot there is neither memorial nor tomb, for such was the wish of the dervish himslef , for he wanted to be buried without mark or sign, so that no one should know who was there. For, if ever again some infidel army should invade by this route, then he would arise from under his tumulus and hold them in check, as he had once done, so they should be able to advance no farther than the bridge at Viđegrad. And therefore heaven now and again shed its light upon his tomb.
Thus the life of the children of the town was played out under and about the bridge in innocent games and childish fancies. With the first years of maturity, when life’s cares and struggles and duties had already begun, this life was transffered to the bridge itself, right to the kapia, where youthful imagination found other food and new fields.
At and around the kapia were the first stirrings of love, the first passing glances, flirtations and whisperings. There too were the first deals and bargains, quarrels and reconciliations, meetings and waitings. There, on the stone parapet of the bridge, were laid out for sale the first cherries and melons, the early morning salep and hot rolls. There too gathered the beggars, the maimed and the lepers, as well as the young and healthy who wanted to see and be seen, and all those who had something remarkable to show in produce, clothes or weapons. There too the elders of the town often sat to discuss public matters and common troubles, but even more often young men who only knew how to sing and joke. There, on great occasions or times of change, were posted proclamations and public notices (on the raised wall below the marble plaque with the Turkish inscription and above the fountain), but there too, right up to 1878, hung or were exposed on stakes the heads of all those who for whatever reason had been executed in that frontier town, especially in years of unrest, were frequent and in some years, as we shall see, almost of daily occurrence.
Weddings or funerals could not cross the bridge without stopping at the kapia. There the wedding guests would usually preen themselves and get into their ranks before entering the market-place. If the times were peaceful and carefree they would hand the plum-brendy around, sing, dance the kolo and often delay there far longer than they had intended. And for funerals, those who carried the bier would put it down to rest for a little there on the kapia where the dead man had in any case passed a good part of his life.
The kapia was the most important part of the bridge, even as the bridge was the most important part of the town, or as a Turkish traveler, to whom the people of Višegrad had been very hospitable, wrote in his account of his travels: ‘their kapia is the heart of the bridge, which is the heart of the town, which must remain in everyone’s heart’. It showed that the old masons, who according to the old tales had struggled with vilas and every sort of wonder and had been compelled to wall up living children, had a feeling not only for permanence and beauty of their work but also for the benefit and convenience which the most distant generations were to derive from it. When one knows well everyday life here in the town and thinks it over carefully, then one must say to oneself that there are really only a very small number of people in this Bosnia of ours who have so much pleasure and enjoyment as does each and every townsman on the kapia.
Naturally winter should not be taken into account, for then only whoever was forced to do so would cross the bridge, and then he would lengthen his pace and bend his head before the chill wind that blew uninterruptedly over the river. Then, it was understood, there was no loitering on the open terraces of the kapia. But at every other time of the year the kapia was a real boon for great and small. Then every citizen could, at any time of day or night, go out to the kapia and sit on the sofa, or hang about it on business or in conversation. Suspended some fifteen metres above the green boisterous waters, this stone sofa, floated in space over the water, with dark green hills on three sides, the heavens, filled with clouds and stars, above and the open view down river like a narrow amphitheatre bounded by the dark green hills on three sides, the heavens, filled with clouds or stars, above and the open view down river like a narrow amphitheatre bounded by the dark blue mountains behind.
How many Vezirs or rich men are there in the world who could indulge their joy or their cares, their moods or their delights in such a spot? Few, very few. But how many of our townsmen have, in the course of centuries and the passage of generations, sat here in the dawn or twilight or evening hours and unconsciously measured the whole starry vault above! Many and many of us have sat there, eternally the same yet eternally tangled in some new manner. Someone affirmed long ago (it is true that he was a foreigner and spoke in jest) that this kapia had had an influence on the fate of the town and even on the character of its citizens. In those endless sessions, the stranger, the stranger said, one must search for the key to the inclination of many of our townsmen to reflection and dreaming and one of the main reasons for that melancholic serenity for which the inhabitants of the town are renewed.
In any case, it cannot be denied that the people of Višegrad have from olden times been considered, in comparison with the people of other towns, as easy-going men, prone to pleasure and free with their money. Their town is well placed, the villages around it are rich and fertile, and money, it is true, passes in abundance through Višegrad, but it does not stay there long. If one finds there some thrifty and economical citizen without any sort of vices, then he is certainly some newcomer; but the waters and the air of Višegrad are such that his children grow up with open hands and widespread fingers and fall victims to the general contagion of the spendthrift and carefree life of the town with its motto: ‘Another day another gain.’
They tell the tale that Starina Novak, when he felt his strength failing and was compelled to give up his role a highwayman in the Romania Mountains, thus taught the young man Grujić who was to succeed him:
‘When you are sitting in ambush look well at the traveler who comes. If you see that he rides proudly and that he wears a red corselet and silver bosses and white gaiters, then he is from Foča. Strike at once, for he has wealth both on him and in his saddlebags. If you see a poorly dressed traveler, with bowed head, hunched on his horse as if we were going out to beg, then strike freely, for he is a man from Rogatica. They are all alike, misers and tight-fisted but as full of money as a pomegranate. But if you see some mad fellow, with legs crossed over the saddlebow, beating on a drum and singing at the top of his voice, don’t strike and do not soil your hands for nothing. Let the rascal go his way. He is from Višegrad and he has nothing, for money does not stick to such men.’
All this goes to confirm the opinion of that foreigner. But none the less it would be hard to say with certainty that this opinion is correct. As in so many other things, here too it is easy to determine what is cause and what effect. Has the kapia made them what they are, or on the contrary was it imagined in their souls and understandings and built for them according to their needs and customs? It is a vain and superfluous question. There are no buildings that have been built by chance, remote from the human society where they have grown and its needs, hopes and understandings, even as there are no arbitrary lines and motiveless forms in the work of the masons. The life and existence of every great, beautiful and useful building, as well as its relation to the place where it has been built, often bears within itself complex and mysterious drama and history. However, one thing is clear; that between the life of the townsmen and that bridge, there existed a centuries-old bond. Their fates were so intertwined that they could not be imagined separately and could not be told separately. Therefore the story of the foundation and destiny of the bridge is at the same time the story of the life of the town and of its people, from generation to generation, even as through all the tales about the town stretches the line of the stone bridge with its eleven arches and the kapia in the middle, like a crown.
XXIV (the last) Chapter
So be it, thought the hodja. If they destroy here, then somewhere else someone else is building. Surely there are still peaceful countries and men of good sense who know of God’s love? If God had abandoned this unlucky town on the Drina, he had surely not abandoned the whole world that was beneath the skies? They would not do this forever. But who knows? (Oh, if only he could breath a little more deeply, get a little more air!) Who knows? Perhaps this impure infidel faith that puts everything in order, cleans everything up, repairs and embellishes everything only in order suddenly and violently to demolish and destroy, might spread through the whole world; it might make of all God’s world an empty field for its senseless building and criminal destruction, a pasturage for its insatiable hunger and incomprehensible demands? Anything might happen. But one thing could not happen: it could not be that great and wise men of exalted soul who would raise lasting buildings for the love of God, so that the world should be more beautiful and man live in it better and more easily, should everywhere and for all time vanish from this earth. Should they too vanish, it would mean that the love of God was extinguished and had disappeared from the world. That could not be.
Filled with his thoughts, the hodja walked more heavily and slowly.
Now they could clearly be heard singing in the market-place. If only he had been able to breath in more air, if only the road were less steep, if only he were able to reach home, lie down on his divan and see and hear someone of his own about him! That was all that he wanted now. But he could not. He could no longer maintain that fine balance between his breathing and his heartbeats; his heart had now completely stifled his breath, as had sometimes happened to him in dreams. Only from this dream there was no awakening to bring relief. He opened his mouth wide and felt his eyes bulging in his head. The slope which until then had been growing steeper and steeper was now quite close to his face. His whole field of vision was filled by that dry, rough road which became darkness and enveloped him.
On the slope which led upwards to Mejdan lay Alihodja and breathed out his life in short gasps.
For as long as anyone can remember, the little café known as "Lutovo's" has stood at the far end of the Travnik bazaar, below the shady, clamorous source of the "Rushing Brook". Not even the oldest people can remember Lutvo, its first proprietor. He has lain for at least a hundred years in one of the cemeteries scattered throughout Travnik, but everyone goes to Lutovo's for coffee and his name is still recalled and mentioned while so many sultans, viziers and beys have been long forgotten. In the garden of this little café, at a foot of a hill, a gentle secluded slope rises up against a cliff, in the shade of an old lime tree. Low benches of irregular shapes have been fitted together around the tree, among boulders and tufts of grass, making a place where it is pleasant to sit for a while and always hard to leave. The benches are weather-worn and warped by the years and long use- they have merged completely with the tree, earth and rock around them.
During the summer months, from the beginning of May to the end of October, this was by ancient tradition the place where the Travnik beys and other notables admitted to their company gathered, about the time of the afternoon prayer. At the time of day, none of the other townspeople would presume to sit and drink coffee here. The spot was known as "The Sofa". For generations this word had a clear social and political meaning in the popular speech of Travnik, because whatever was said, discussed and decided "on the Sofa" had almost the weight of a resolution of the counsellors at the Vizier's Divan.
On the last Friday of October 1806, some dozen beys were sitting there, although the sky was already overcast and a wind was getting up, which always meant rain at this time of year. Each in his own set place, the beys were talking in low voices. Most of them pensively watching the plat of sun and clouds, smoking chibouks and coughing tetchily. They were discussing an important piece of news.
One of them, a certain Suleiman Bey Ajvaz, had recently travelled to Livno on business. While he had met a man from Split,a reliable person, he said, who had told him the news he was now recounting to the others. They could not make it out and kept asking for details and making him repeat what he had already said.
Given the circumstances - the French army had already been in Dalmatia for a year and Serbia was in a state of constant rebellion - a vague rumor like this was enough to upset and confuse the beys, who were already very worried. They brooded and fretted over what they had heard, although no one would have known it from their faces and their tranquil smoking. Speaking slowly and indecisively, in turn, they tried to guess what it could all mean, weighing how much of it was a lie and what might be true, wondering what they should do to find out more about the matter and perhaps put a stop to it at the outset.
Some of them thought the whole thing had been made up or exaggerated to alarm them. Others commented, with some bitterness, that it was a sign of the times: there were such goings-on now in Istanbul, in Bosnia and the whole world, that nothing should surprise anyone and you had to be prepared for anything. Yet others consoled themselves by saying that this was Travnik - Travnik! - and not just any little provincial town, and that what happened to others need not, could not, happen here.
Everyone said something, just for the sake of speaking, but no one said anything very definite, because they were all waiting to hear what the oldest among them would have to say. This was Hamdi Bey Teskeredžić, a heavily built old man, whose movements were slow but whose gigantic body was still strong. He had fought in several wars, been wounded and captured. He had fathered eleven sons and eight daughters and had innumerable descendants. His beard and moustache were sparse and the whole of his sharp, regular face was sunburnt, covered with scars and blue marks from an old gunpowder explosion. He had heavy, drooping eyelids the colour of lead. His speech was slow but clear.
At last, Hamdi Bey put an end to the conjecture, foreboding and fear by saying, in his surprisingly youthful voice: "Come now, there's no sense trying to cross our bridges before we come to them, as the saying goes, or alarming people for no reason. You must listen and pay attention to everything, but you needn't believe every word straight away. Who knows what will happen with these consuls? Maybe they'll come and maybe they won't. And even if they do, the Lašva won't start flowing backwards: it'll keep on going the same old way. We're our own ground here, and anyone else who comes have come here intending to stay, but so far we've seen back of there's not even any sign of them yet. That fellow may well have sent a request to Istanbul, but that doesn't mean it's decided. A lot of people ask for a lot of things, but you don't always get what you ask for..."
Hamdi Bey uttered these last words angrily then paused, and, in the complete silence, exhaled the smoke from his pipe before continuing: "And if it does happen! We shall have to see how it turns out and how long it lasts. No man's star shines forever, and it won't be any different with that...that..."
Here Hamdi Bey started to cough, choking with suppressed anger, and so he never did pronounce the name of "bunaparta" which was in everyone's thouhgts and on everyone's lips.
No one else said anything, and that was how the discussion of the latest news was concluded.
Soon the clouds completely covered the sun and there was a strong, cold gust of wind. The leaves on the poplars by the watre's edge rustled with metallic sound. The icy tremor passing through the whole valley of Travnik was a sign that for this year the meetings and conversations on the Sofa had come to an end. One by one the beys began to rise and disperse to their homes with a silent gesture of farewell.
At the beginning of the new tear, tyhe Vizier unobtrusively despatched his more valuable belongings and then, with his Mamelukes, he left Travnik himself. The joyful, vindictive whisper which began to spread among the Travnik Turks could no longer reach him. The only person who knew the date of his departure and went to see him off was Daville.
The parting of the Vizier and the Consul was cordial. On a sunny January day, Daville rode with d'Avenant four miles outside Travnik. In front of an isolated wayside inn, under a bower weighed down by snow, the Vizier and the Consul exchanged their last warm words and messages.
The Vizier rubbed his chilled hands, striving not to let his smile fade.
"Send my greetings to General Marmont," he said in that distinctive cordial tone which resembles sincerity as one drop of water does another and which leaves a convincing and soothing impression on even the most sceptical listener. "Pray tell him too, as well as anyone else who ought to know, that I shall remain a friend of your noble country, and a sincere admirer of the great Napoleon, wherever fate and circumstances cast me."
"I shall not fail to do so, I shall not fail," said Daville, genuinely moved.
"And to you, dear friend, I wish good health, fortune and success, regretting that I shall not be able to be at your side in the difficulties which you will always have with the uncultured and barbaric people of Bosnia. I have commended your affairs to Suleiman Pasha who will be deputsing for me temporarily. You may rely on him.
He is simple, uncouth man, like all Bosnians, but honourable and trustworthy. Let me say once more that it is only because of you that I regret leaving. But so it must be. Had I wished to be a scourge and a tyrant, I could have remained in this post and subdued those empty-headed arrogant beys forever, but I am not like that, nor do I wish to be. That is why I am leaving."
Shivering with cold and ashen pale, in his black cape which reached to the ground, d'Avenat translated mechanically and rapidly as though he knew it all already.
Daville knew very well that what the Vizier was saying was not and could not be entirely accurate and yet every word touched him. Every parting arouses in us a double illusion. The person we are parting from, more or less forever, seems to us far worthier and more deserving of our attention, and we ourselves feel far more capable of generous and selfless friendship than we actually are.
Then the Vizier mounted his big sorrel horse, disguising his lameness with quick, sharp movements. His large retinue set off after him. And when the two groups, the Vizier's large one and the Consul's small one, had moved a little more than half a mile from each other, one of the Vizier's horsemen detached himself, like an arrow from a bow, swiftly reaching Daville and his escort who had halted. There he reined in his galloping hours and proclaimed loudly: "My fortunate master, Husref Mehmed Pasha, sends once more his respectful greetings to the esteemed representative of the great French Empire, and may his good wishes accompany your every step.
Daville rode with the feeling that he was returning from a funeral.
He tough of the Vizier from whom he had only just parted, as though he were something long since irretrievably lost. he recalled details from their many conversations. He imagined he could see his smile, the mask of light which played all day over his lips and eyes, extinguished presumably only when he was asleep.
He remembered the Vizier's assurances, right up to the last moment, of his love of France and regard for the French. And now, in the light of this parting, he analysed their sincerity. He seemed to understand the Vizier's impulse clearly, as quite distinct from routine professional flattery. Altogether he felt that he now understood why and how foreigners admired France, the French way of life and looking at things. They admired her according to the law of opposites. They admired in her everything they could not find in their own country and for which their spirit had an irresistible craving. They admired France rightly, as an image of universal beauty and harmonies, rational living, which no momentary obscurity could alter or disfigure, and which after every inundation or eclipse reappears as an indestructible force and eternal joy. They admired France even when they knew her only superficially, slightly or even without knowing her at all. And she would be admired by many, always, often for the most contradictory reasons and motives, because people would never stop seeking a better life and wanting more than fate had granted them. And here he was himself thinking about France, not as his native land which he knew well and had always known and where he saw both good and ill, but about France as the kind of wondreful, distant land of harmony and perfection one always dreamed about in rough, wild surroundings. As long as Europe existed there would be a France and it could not disappear, unless in a certain sense (that is, that is in the sense of bright harmony and perfection) the whole of Europe were to become a France. But that was not possible. People were just too different, alien and distant from one another.
Then for some reason Daville recalled an experience with the Vizier from that summer. The lively and inquisitive Pasha had always enquired about the French theatre and would like at least to hear something of what was performed in France, since he could not see the real theatre.
Delighted with this request, Daville had arrived the very next day with the second volume of Racine's works under his arm, resolved to read the Vizier a few scenes from Bajazet. After coffee and chibouks had been brought, all the servants withdrew, apart from d'Avenat who was to translate. The consul explained to the Vizier, as best he could, what a theatre was, what it looked like and what was the aim and meaning of acting. Then he began to read from the scene which showed Bajazet entrusting Amurat with the listening to d'Avenat colourless translation and the Consul's impassioned reading. But when he reached the discussion between the Sultan and the Grand Vizier, Mehmed Pasha interrupted the reading, laughing heartily and waving his hand.
"Why, the man doesn't know what he's talking about! said the Vizier reprovingly, but at the same time mockingly. "Ever since the world began, it has never happened that the Grand Vizier burst into the Harem and conversed with the Sultanas! It just couldn't happen!"
The Vizier had gone on laughing loudly and sincerely for a long time, not hiding the fact that he was disappointed and did not understand the purpose or value of such intellectual entertainment. And he said so openly, almost rudely, with the inconsiderateness of someone from a different civilisation.
Cut to the quick, Daville tried in vain to explain the meaning of tragedy and the aim of poetry.
The vizier waved him away implacably with his hand: "Ah yes, we too have all sorts of dervishes and pious folk who recite sonorous verses. We give them alms, but we never dream of treating them like people with a position and reputation. No, no, I don't understand."
It was only the old acquaintances Brother Julian and Des Fossés who took themselves to one side and embarked on a somewhat livelier discussion.
Since that very first meeting at Kupres, the Bosnian friar and the young Frenchman clearly understood and respected one another. Their later meeting in Gu~a Gora had only brought them closer. Both of them young, serene, robust men, they engaged in conversation and then in a friendly argument, with pleasure, and no ulterior motives or personal vanity.
Sitting a little to one side and looking through the misted window at the bare trees sprinkled with fine snow they talked of Bosnia and Bosnians. Des Fossés asked for information about the Catholic population and the work of the friars. And then he himself outlined his impressions and experience up to then honestly and calmly.
The friar saw immediately that the "Young Consul" had not wasted his time in Travnik, but had gathered a great deal of information about the country and the people and the work of the friars.
Both men agreed that the life in Bosnia was exceptionally hard and the people of all faiths wretched and backward from every point of view. Seeking reasons for this, the friar attributed everything to Turkish rule, arguing that there could be no improvement until this land was freed from turkish power and until Turkish authority was replaced by Christian rule. Des Fossés would not be satisfied with this interpretation, but sought reasons also in the Christians themselves. He maintained the Turkish rule had created in all its Christian subjects certain characteristic traits, such as hypocrisy, obstinacy, distrust, laziness of mind and fear of any innovation, any action or movement. These characteristics, the consequence of centuries of unequal struggle and constant self-defence, had passed into the nature of the local people and become permanent features of their character. They had sprung from necessity and under pressure. But they were now, and would continue in the future to be a great obstacle to progress, the negative heritage of difficult past, which must be eradicated.
Des Fossés did not conceal the fact that he was surprised at the obstinacy with which in Bosnia not only the Turks but people of all the other faiths too, resisted every influence, even the best, opposed every innovation, every advance, even what was possible in the present circumstances and depended on no one but themselves. he pointed out all the harm done by this "Chinese" rigidity, the way they cut themselves off from life.
"How is it possible", asked Des Fossés, "for this country to become stable and orderly and adopt at least as great a degree of civilisaton as its closest neighbours, if its people are divided as nowhere else in Europe? Four faiths live in this narrow, mountainous one meagre strip of land. Each of them is exclusive and strictly separate from others. You all live under one sky and from the same soil, but the centre of the spiritual life of each of these four groups is far away, in a foreign land, in Rome, Moscow, Istanbul, Mecca, Jerusalem, and God alone knows where, but at any rate not here where the people are born and die. And each group considers that its well-being is conditioned by the disadvantage of each of the other three faiths, and that they can make progress only at their cost. And each of them has made intolerance the greatest virtue. And each one of them is expecting salvation from somewhere outside, each from the opposite direction."
The friar listened to him with the smile of a man who believed that he knew how things were and had no need to have his knowledge confirmed orbroadened. Evidently determined to contradict Des Fossés at all costs, he pointed out that in view of the circumstances, his people could survive only the way they were, if they did not want to degenerate, to be estranged and destroyed.
Des Fossés replied that just because a people begins to adopt a healthier and more rational way of life, it needed not necessarily renounce its own faith and its own sacred objects. In his opinion it was precisely the friars who could and should be working in this direction.
"Ah, my dear young man," said brother Julian, with the affectation characteristic of people defending conservative views, "it's easy for you to talk about the need for material progress, healthy influences and 'Chinese' rigidity, but if we had been less rigid and opened our doors to all sorts of 'healthy influences', my parishioners Petar and Anton would today be called Muhammed and Hussein."
"With respect, there's no need to exaggerate or to be so obstinate."
"What can you do? We Bosnians are pig-headed people. That's what we're famous for," said brother Julian with the same pomposity.
"But, forgive me, why are you concerned about how you look to others and what people think of you? As if that were important! What is important is how much a man has of this life, what he makes of himself and his enviroment and leaves for his descendants."
"We maintain our standpoint, and no one can boast that he has forced us to alert it."
"But, Father Julian, standpoints do not matter, life does! A standpoint is in the service of life. And what does your life, here amount to?
"Brother Julian was just on the point of pronouncing some quotation, as was his habit, when their host interrupted their conversation. Brother Ivo had stood up. red from his good meal, he offered his heavy hand, plump as a small cushion, to all in turn like a bishop, and, breathing heavily and hissing as he spoke, he pointed out that it was snowing, that it was a long way to Dolac and they ought to set out, if they wanted to arrive by daylight.
The young man and the friar were sorry to part.
It was already the third week that the weather had been settled. As every year, the beys had begun to come out to talk together on the Sofa at Lutvo's. But their conversations were restrained and sombre. A silent agreement to rebel against the intolerable government of Ali Pasha was being reached throughout the whole country. This matter had been quite decided in people's hearts and now it was maturing process by his actions.
It was the last Friday of Nay, 1814. All the beys were present and the discussion was lively and serious. They had all heard the news of the defeats of Napoleon's armies and his abdication; now they were simply exchanging, comparing and extending their information. One of the beys, who had been speaking with people from the Residence that morning, said that everything was arranged for the departure of the French Consul and his family, and it was known for certain that the Austrian Consul would soon be following him, since he was in Travnik solely on account of the French. So it could be safely estimated that by autumn the Consuls and Consulates and all that they had brought with them would disappear from Travnik.
They all receive this news like the announcement of a victory. For, although over the years they had become to a large extent accustomed to the presence of the foreign Consuls, they were all nevertheless glad that these foreigners were going, with their different and unusual way of life, and their brazen meddling in Bosnian affairs. They were discussing the question of who would take over the "Dubrovnik Khan" where the French Consulate was now, and what would happen to Hafzadi}'s big house when the Austrian Consul left Travnik too. They were all speaking a little more loudly than usual, so that Hamdi Bey Teskered`i}, who was sitting in his place, would be able to hear what was going on. He had grown very old and decrepit, collapsed into himself like a dilapidated building. His hearing was giving out. He could not raise his eyelids, which were even heavier now; instead he had to throw his head back if he wanted to see someone better. His lips were blue and they stuck together as he spoke. The old man raised his head and asked the person who had last spoken: "When was it that those ... consuls came?
People began to look at one another and make guesses. Some replied that it was six years ago. Some that it was more. After a brief argument and calculation they agreed that the first consul had arrived more than seven years earlier, three days before the Ramadan Bairam.
"Seven years," said Hamdi Bey thoughtfully, drawing out the words, "seven years! And do you remember how much noise and excitement there was because of those consuls and that...that...Bunaparta? Bunaparta this, Bunaparta that. He's going to do this, he won't do that... The world is too small for him; there's no limit to his power. And our Christian pigs had raised their heads like barren corn. Some were hanging on to the French Consul's coat-tails, other clung to the Austrian, while yet others were waiting for the one from Moscow. Our rayah quite lost their wits. Andit came and it passed the Emperors rose up and they smashed Bunaparta. The consuls will clear out of Travnik. People will refer to them for another year or so. The children will play consuls and khavazes on the river bank, riding on sticks, and then they too will be forgotten as though they had never existed. And everything will be as it always has been, by God's will.
Hamdi Bey stopped, for his breath had given out, and the others said nothing in anticipation of what else the old man might say. And as they smoked they all savoured the good, triumphant silence.
The governor of this strange and terrible institution was Latif-Aga, known as Karagöz. This nickname had long since become his real name, the only name he was known by, not just here but far beyond the walls of the Damned Yard. It exactly suited his appearance and everything about him.
His father had been a teacher in a military school; a quiet, pensive man who loved books, who married quite late in life and had only one child, a boy. The child was lively and bright. He liked reading, but particularly music and all kinds of games. Up until his fourteenth year the boy did well at school and seemed set to follow in his father's footsteps, but then his liveliness began to change into rage and his quick wits to take him in the wrong direction. The boy began to change, even physically. He became suddenly thickset and unnaturally heavy. His clever brown eyes began shifting rapidly around. He left school and started to associate with café musicians and conjurors, although he did not have any particular gift for such skills, and with gamblers, drunks and opium smokers, without himself having a real passion for gambling and drink. But he was attracted to those people and everything connected with them, just as he was repelled by everything that belonged to the world of quiet, ordinary pursuits, steady habits and normal responsibilities.
Unruly and still inexperienced , the young man soon became involved in the dubious activities and foolhardy exploits of his companions and came into conflict with the law. And more than once. His father got him out of prison several times, relying on his reputation and his acquaintance with important people, particularly the Chief of Police, an old school friend. 'It is possible that a son of mine should break into houses, rob merchants and abduct girls?' the desperate father wondered. And the old, seasoned Police chief answered calmly but truthfully: it was not that he himself broke in, or robbed merchants, nor he abduct girls, but wherever these things were happening, you could be sure you would find him somewhere nearby. And if nothing were done about it, he would himself soon drift into crime. A solution had to be found in time. And the Chief of Police had found a 'solution', which he believed was the only one possible, therefore the best: to take the young man who had begun to go wrong into his service. And so, as often happens, the young man who had already taken up with gamblers and rich layouts became a good, zealous Stamboul policeman.
This did not happen overnight. For the first few years he was uncertain, trying to find his place, but then he found it where it could least have been expected, working against his former companions. He turned implacably on tramps, drunks, pick-pockets, smugglers and all kinds of wretches and idlers from the dark quarters of Stamboul. He worked with passion, with inexplicable hatred, but also with skill, with a knowledge of that environment that only he could have had. His old contacts enabled him to extend the range of his activity, because petty criminals betray the big ones. Information about people accumulated, his network of informers spread and was strengthened. Ten years later his exceptional zeal and success brought him to the position of assistant governor of this large remand centre. And when the old governor died of a heart attack, he was the only person who could take over. That was when his rule over Damned Yard began. And it had been going on now for twenty years.
The former governor, a hard man with years of experience, had an inflexible, conventional method of control. For him the most important thing had been that the world of vice and lawlessness should be identified as such as clearly as possible and separated as far as possible from the world of order and law. He was not particularly interested in the individual or his crime. In the course of many years he had looked on the Damned Yard as a quarantine and saw all its inhabitants as dangerous patients whom it was hard to cure, but who must be kept away, in physical and moral isolation, from so-called healthy, honest people by various measures, punishments and fear. Apart from that, they could be left entirely to their own devices. They must not be allowed to break out of their circle, but they should not be interfered with unduly, because nothing good or sensible could ever come of such contact.
The new governor immediately adopted quite different methods: in his whole attitude and his actions.
The first year , when his father died, Latif sold his fine, spacious family house in the New Mahala and bought a large neglected estate just above the Courtyard itself. Overgrown with cypress trees, it looked like an abandoned island or an ancient cemetery. It was separated from the Courtyard by a shady gorge full of fine trees and a whole system of various fences and high walls. Here, beside abundant running water, among the old trees he built a beautiful house, which faced the opposite side of the slope and so was protected from the south wind and the unhealthy stench from the arsenal and docks. The house had the great advantage being both very remote from the Damned Yard and very close to it. Its whole appearance, its calm and cleanliness, made it seem another world, thousands of miles away, and yet it was right next to the Courtyard , invisibly connected with it. Using shortcuts accessible only to him, Karagöz was able at any time of day to enter the Courtyard, straight from his house, unobserved. (As a result no one could ever know for certain whether he was there, or where he might suddenly appear.) The governor made frequent use of this situation. He watched over both the prisoners and their guards personally. And, as he knew most of the inmates, their past and their present crimes, he could say with some justification that he knew 'how the Courtyard breathed'. And if he did not know an individual personally, he knew his vagrant's or criminal's soul and at any moment he could stop in front of him and continue the discussion of his or someone else's crime. And in the same way, and even more closely, he knew every guard and his good and bad, public and secret traits and inclinations.
At least that is what he himself boasted. And so he remained his whole life in close touch with the underworld of crime which he had abandoned forever in his youth. But at the same time he was above it and remote from it, separated by his position, his overgrown gardens and by iron fences and gates inaccessible to others.
From the very beginning Karagöz 'worked from inside'. This unusual method made him both far more difficult and dangerous, and in certain sense, sometimes more humane than the earlier governors. Out of the impenetrable intertwining of these opposites was forged his individual attitude to the Courtyard and to all those human beings who passed through it like murky, sluggish river. Not even the oldest and wiliest guests of the Damned Yard could ever quite grasp the rhyme or reason of this game Karagöz played, a game that was entirely personal, full of unexpected, daring twists and inventions, very often the opposite of all rules of police work and procedure and social customs in general. It was in his very first year that he acquired his nickname - 'Karagöz'. And really this Courtyard, and everything that lived in it and happened there was a great theatre in which Karagöz acted out his life.
Dark-skinned, with abundant hair, he had put on weight and aged early, at least apparently. But his appearance could be deceptive. For all his bulk he could be as swift and agile as a fox when he wanted, and than his heavy, flabby body would develop a bull's strength. His sleepy, lifeless face and closed eyes concealed constant alterness and a fiendishly restless and inventive mind. No one had ever seen a smile on his dark olive-coloured face, not even when the whole Karagöz's body shook with inner laughter. This face could stretch and contact, altering from an expression of absolute revulsion and terrible threat to deep understanding and genuine sympathy. The movement of his eyes was one of Karagöz's great skills. The left eye was usually almost completely closed, but between the closed lashes one was aware of a watchful gaze, sharp as a razor. And his right eye was wide open, huge. It lived a life of its own, sweeping around like a searchlight; it could have its socket to an unbelievable extent and just as quickly retreat back into it. It attacked, provoked, and confused its victim, pinning him down, penetrating into the most hidden corners of his thoughts, hopes and plans. This gave the whole hideously cross-eyed face the appearance of a grotesque mask - at one moment alarming, the next comic.
When they talked about Karagöz, discussing every detail about him, the prisoners always spoke most about those eyes. Some maintained that he saw nothing with his left eye, others that it was in fact with the right, wide-open one that could not see. And in twenty years they could not agree, but they all shuddered at the gaze of those eyes, avoiding it as far as possible.
There was nothing of heavy dignity of an Ottoman high official in Karagöz, in his speech or movements. In each individual case, with each suspect, he would play a different game. He showed no shame or consideration, no respect for the other man or for himself. Whatever he did was unexpected, inspired. He would burst in at various times of day or night, approaching an individual or a whole group of prisoners.
'Pshee, pshee, pshee, psheeee!'
He pronounced these sounds in a varying pitch and intonation, always differently and always sounding as though he was amazed and disguised by this person, by himself and by the whole 'affair' between them.
'What is it? You are still here? Pshee! So, come on, what happened?'
That is how the conversation would begin, but it was never clear what was coming next. It could have been a long interrogation, in which every detail was known, with grave threats which were often only threats, but one of which could at any minute be transformed into a terrible reality. It might take the form of tenacious, ominous and irresistible coercion, but also of heartless clowning with no obvious sense or purpose.
If, in his anxiety to be free at least for a moment from Karagöz's pressure, the cornered, tormented man began to beg and assure him of his innocence, with either genuine or feigned tears, Karagöz could all at once change his behavior, smacking his palm against his brow.
What are you saying, you're completely innocent? Ah, why are you telling me now, for god's sake, man. Pshee... If you'd told me you were guilty, I could have let you go, because there are a lot of guilty people here. They're all guilty. But it's precisely an innocent man that we need. So I can't let you go. If you hadn't said so yourself, something could have been done. But as it is, now you'll have to say here until I find another innocent man somewhere, someone like you, to take your place. Now, sit still and keep quiet!'
And moving on through the Courtyard, accompanied by a few guards, Karagöz continued his game, for his own sake now, shouting so that everything around echoed, unable to stop.
Just don't let anyone tell me someone's innocent. Not that. Because there's no one innocent here. No one's here by chance. If he's crossed the threshold of the Courtyard, he's not innocent. He's done something wrong, even if it was in his sleep. If nothing else, then his mother had evil thoughts when she was carrying him. Of course, everyone says he's not guilty, but in all the years I've been here, I still haven't found anyone who's been brought here without any reason or without some fault. Whoever comes here is guilty, or has at least brushed up against a guilty person. Pshee! I've let enough of them go, both on instruction and on my own authority, certainly. But each one of them was guilty. There's no one innocent here. But there are thousands of guilty people who're not here yet and who never will come, because if all the people who're in any way guilty were to come here, this Courtyard would have to stretch from one ocean to the next. I know people, they're all guilty, only it's not written that all of them should eat their bread here.'
Bit-by-bit this whole monologue, spoken as he walked, grew increasingly animated, until it became a mad shout, cursing everyone the Courtyard enclosed and all who lived outside it. In his voice, under all its surliness and revulsion towards everything, there trembled, barely perceptibly, something like a tearful twinge and sorrow that this was the way the things had to be.
And the 'innocent' man now knew that he would have to sit here for weeks more without Karagöz so much as glancing at him again.
It happened that a week or so after this event, a group of prominent people from the city arrived to plead with Karagöz. They were the relatives of a wealthy young man arrested together with the bad company he kept. They asked Karagöz to release him because he was innocent. All of a sudden the governor changed completely, as though he had remembered something. He became thoughtful and serious, closed both his eyes for a moment, so that his face grew longer and his expression changed, and bent politely down towards the petitioners, to say in a thin voice:
Did you tell the people who arrested him he was innocent?'
Yes, of course we did, but...
Ah, now that was a mistake. Pshee, pshee, psheee! That's bad. Because right now they're catching innocent people and letting the guilty ones go. That's the new procedure. But as you have yourselves declared to the authorities that he hasn't committed any crime, he'll have to stay here.'
The people looked at his calm mask, puzzled, expecting Karagöz to laugh and turn the whole thing into joke. They even began half smiling themselves. But he remained implacably serious, cold and polite. And sent them away. It took them a long time to get over it. They told their friends the whole story, they went to complain to complain to influential acquaintances who shrugged their shoulders dismissively, like people who firmly believed that the devil himself, or perhaps more than one, lived in Karagöz and spoke through him.
But perhaps as soon as the next day, on his way across the Courtyard, Karagöz would come across that first 'innocent' man and suddenly take up the conversation of three weeks before. He would stride right up to him, pressing up against him as though he were going to devour him.
Pshee! What's got into you, how much longer are you going to stink the place out? Get out of here this minute, d'you here? Collect your bits and pieces and get out of my sight. If I see you again I'll have you whipped like a dog.'
At first rigid with amazement, the man would then suddenly gather his strength and just slip out of the Courtyard, leaving his few belongings for the guards and prisoners to fight over.
In this 'game' Karagöz could spend hours with a man accused of robbery or embezzlement, of rape, grievous injury or murder, he could act the fool, yell or whisper, play an idiot or bloodthirsty executioner, or a man of feeling and understanding, all in turn and all with the same sincerity and conviction. He would sometimes wrestle with such a man and sometimes embrace him, hit him or caress him, and keep thrusting his face into the other man's: 'Confess, damn your eyes! Confess and save your skin, otherwise you can see you'll end up on the gallows. Confess!'
And when he had achieved his aim, dragged a confession out of the prisoner and information about accomplices or the place where the stolen money was hidden, he would simply rub his hands together, like a man who had finally completed an unpleasant dirty task. Then he would throw off all those masks and let the affair take a normal course. But even then he did not completely abandon the man who had confessed, but spoke up for him, making things easier.
The endless, strange game of his was unfathomable. It seemed, in fact, that he did not ever believe anyone. Not merely the accused or witnesses but not even himself. And that was why he needed a confession as the only at least partially fixed point from which it was possible in this world, where everyone was guilty, to maintain at least the semblance of some kind of justice and order. And he sought a confession, hunted it, squeezed it out of a man with a desperate effort, as though he were fighting for his own life, squaring his inextricable accounts with vice and crime, cunning and disorder.
In most cases the game looked unnecessary and undignified, it was so twisted and distorted, but in fact it was carefully calculated and regularly achieved its aim. There was no repetition or routine in it, it was always new, growing of its own accord, so that it confused even the most hardened and frequent guests of the Damned Yard. At times it perplexed even those who had been working with Karagöz for years. Stories were told about it all over Stamboul, his behavior seemed at times so inhuman and mad, and then at others unaccountably considerate.
This all led to frequent complaints against Karagöz, of the most varied kinds; at one point there was even a possibility of his being dismissed; the viziers discussed him at the Divan, more than once. But in the end, nothing changed. They all knew that Karagöz was an arbitrary, idiosyncratic governor, but they also knew that Karagöz that it was not easy to find a man who would spend his life, day and night, with a whole underworld of criminals, vagrants and degenerates of all kinds and keep them in his Yard in some kind of discipline and order. So Karagöz remained in his position, governing the Damned Yard in his own way.
Everyone felt that this was the most natural solution. Everyone, including the inmates of the Yard. Here Karagöz was a constant topic of conversation, gossip, mockery, curses, hatred, sometimes even of physical attack. (Oaths involving the name of Karagöz's daughter on every possible occasion were an established custom in the Courtyard.) All the inmates followed and interpreted Karagöz's every action and glance, his every word, as though bewitched. They were afraid of him, and avoided him as far as they could. But these same people spoke of him and recounted his exploits with unacknowledged admiration. They were all accustomed to Karagöz , somehow adapted to him. They cursed him, but in the way one curses the life one loves and one's wretched fate. He was part of their damnation. In their constant fear and hatred, they had become one with him and it was hard to imagine life without him. And since there had to be a Damned Yard with governor, than this one, the way he was, was the best they could hope for. His way of working was monstrous and sometimes, for the individual concerned, terrible, but there was always the possibility of surprise, in a bad but also in a positive sense, it was like a kind of endless lottery and constant suspense for the inmates. This made everything, including Karagöz himself more bearable, or at least that was how it seemed, for the prisoners all liked gambling: certainly always weighed heavily on them. This whole metropolitan underworld of vice and disorder regarded Karagöz as their own; he was their 'swine', their 'bloodsucker' and 'scum', their 'bastard and son of a bitch', but their own.
That, then, was Latifaga, known as Karagöz.
At the beginning of November, chief Bogdan Zimonjić arrived in Sarajevo with four other leaders from eastern Herzegovina. These five men had led the company which defeated Pivodić, the commander of Alipasha’s force at Zijevnje, having first rejected an invitation to join him and move against Omer Pasha’s army. The Seraskier had now invited them to thank them for their royalty and give them further instructions for the maintenance of peace and order. But Omer Pasha had another, and much more important reason for seeing these men personally and talking to them. He knew that in the campaign to stamp out all centers of resistance and unrest, after Bosnia it would probably be the turn of Montenegro, and that that task would almost certainly be entrusted to him. And in the greatest secrecy, he was preparing himself for that eventuality. It was important for such a campaign in Montenegro that peace should reign on the border with Herzegovina, and that he should have, amongst the Serbs there, several of the more prominent men on whom he could rely at least to some extent. Therefore he reckoned that, with promises and gifts, he could gain the allegiance of one these chiefs (preferably Zimonjić, if possible), to find out from him about the situation on the border, and to see to what extent he could count on his help in the future.
Omer Pasha received first of all chief Bogdan Zionjić by himself, as the most important and most prominent of these men, while the rest were detained downstairs in the large adjutant’s room. The wooden staircase creaked and groaned under the tall and heavy Zimonjić, as he was being led upstairs to the large reception room. When he found himself in front of Omer pasha in that brightly lit, carpeted room, into which the clear November daylight poured through all the windows, the chief paused, like a mountaineer in a clearing, blinked his eyes, and threw his head back slightly in order to see around himself more clearly and find his bearings. Omer allowed him a moment to do this, and then cordially and simply offered him a seat.
'Here, beside me.'
(When he had occasion to speak in private like this with influential men from the people, Omer would adopta special tone and adjust the colour of his voice. He dig up that tone and that voicefrom somewhere in the deeply buried memories of conversations among the Likans and the Bosnians which he had overheard as a child at various fairgrounds. He was convinced that this “kinsman-like” way of speaking made him irresistible and able to move and win over everyone. But he was a victim of self-deception and an exaggerated opinion of himself in this respect, as often happens to men who, because of their exceptional success in life, have to much confidence in their power and their intellect, and too little respect for anyone else’s. In trying to speak intimately, directly and in broad dialect, he was forgetting to what extent the passage of many years and his great rise in Stamboul had distanced him from ordinary people, to whom he had in any case never been particularly close. Self-confident and sure of himself, he was unable to feel how a false note emerged from under his affected speech and behavior, which everyone except himself could detect and feel, and which had an effect exactly opposite to that intended. So, at least in this respect, he gave himself away by the very kind of behavior which he hoped would mislead and deceive others.)
‘Here, beside me!’
Omer repeated his invitation and, unexpectedly, grasped with both hands the chief’s right hand. That hand was white and strangely flabby, but huge and heavy like a half-bread loaf; and yet one somehow felt the dormant striking power emanating from it; the hand was so large that the Pasha’s two hands, strong but thin, beautifully shaped and dark-skinned, could not cover it completely, and seemed on it small and dried out, as if charred.
Without apparent resistance, Zimonjić still hesitated to sit down; motionless, he blinked his eyes lightly, and finally spoke. His voice, which was also hesitant, was paler in colour and higher in pitch than might have been expected from such a powerful body and such a masculine face.
‘If we had … invited my companions also … so that we could all be present at these talks. If you … have no objection?’
As he spoke, he paused approximately at those places where Omer’s name or his titles should have been inserted, but which he, for some reason, obviously would not or could not utter.
‘I have no objection, but I think that it would be better for the two of us, as the two leaders, to talk together first, and they could come later. I too have my companions, but as you see I have not invited any of them. You can’t do a job of work in company.”
Autumn. The grey and deserted valley of Donje Polje, and traversing it, as if sketched in, the thin rivulet winding its unpredictable course and the well-trodden road to Gacko. And he was again riding along that road, and again, as at this time last year, on the eve of Saint Dimitri’s day, a wicked Turkish bully, Dervo Smajević, intercepts him and, in blind fury, rushes straight at him on his horse.
Before they had time to draw any weapons, they had grabbed each other with their arms and, locked together, fallen from their horses, ripping off the tangled reins. Gripping each other firmly and inseparably, they wrestled and threw each other about, until they began to roll down a steep incline overgrown with dead autumn grass, and – like a single huge ball of convulsively straining muscles and bones – rolled into a narrow deep hole beside the road. Only then did he succeed in pulling himself together and separating himself from the big Dervo, who lay unconscious beneath him. Quickly, he stripped Dervo of his weapons and, bruised as he was, scrambled, he himself did not know how, on to the road where his horse was waiting for him as if rooted to the spot.
And now, once again locked up in a showdown with an invisible adversary, as a single body, he was falling continuously, for a long, terribly long time, down a slope into a kind of bottomless pit.
All this lasted only an instant, and when, with a supreme effort, he rid himself of that sensation of falling, composed himself and felt his legs beneath him, now again on the multicoloured carpet of the Seraskier’s room, Omer Pasha was standing in front of him, with his hands still on his chest, and asking him loudly (probably for the second time):
“Can I trust you, Bogdan?’
“Yes … you can,’ he finally stammered, absently and mechanically, as if with paralyzed tongue.
‘Well then, understand that before you stands not Omer Pasha, but Mićo Latas from Janja Gora. And if you do not believe my words, believe this…’
Omer took his hands away from his chest, briskly removed the heavy fez with its blue tassel and threw it theatrically onto the white divan, and then, joining three fingers of his right hand together – crossed himself without a word, with lowered eyes, and with humble, quick and practiced gestures.
Zimonjić had seen many strange things in the forty years of his life, both from the Turks and from his own people, and had heard within his family, who had traditionally been chieftans, a great deal about all that had been happening in the past and could happen again. He knew well that one could expect anything from any man and, in time, would see even what one had thought could never happen, but this was too incredible and too unexpected.
They stopped before cell number 38. The guard opened it, carefully inspected the little barred window up high, the pitcher and the empty shelf, then without a word slammed the door behind the young man who stood for a while in the middle of the cell, still holding his things.
It was a small cell, but it had two beds with barely enough room to pass between them and two chairs made of unpainted fir.
The time passed rather quickly until lunchtime. He measured the length and width of the cell, examined the meager items in it and the small piece of gray wall that could be seen through the high window. Then he sat and thought about who would be put with him in the other bed. These thoughts were filled with fear and hope, but they all ended with fear. Prison hopes are quickly kindled, but quickly die out.
When lunch was over and the dishes had been removed, his first afternoon in solitary confinement began. After his attention had rapidly and greedily picked up and consumed everything this shabby cell had to offer, he began to examine and consume his own self.
He listened to the humming in his ears for a long time. This buzzing seemed to get louder, grow, and at times he had the impression it would turn into a specific sound, maybe a human word. He concentrated his attention more and more, his expectations grew brighter and just when it seemed the crucial point had been reached and the word would appear, the humming suddenly dropped back to a monotonous, hopeless buzzing that said nothing. This painful rise and fall of his titillated hearing repeated every once in a while. But the miracle did not happen.
His other senses started to enter the game. His eyes in particular. They dropped to his hands resting on his knees. He observed the blood vessels, nails, wrinkles, particularly those going around the wrist like double, tightly knit little chains. The emptiness started the same game with his eyesight that the silence had with his hearing. Staring at those hands resting on his knees, he began to think that they belonged to someone else and hoped they would become detached and fill the space in front of his eyes with new, extraordinary, delightful movements, thus dispelling the loneliness and tedium. He looked at them in fascination, they seemed to move slowly, detaching themselves. His hopes rose wildly. There, now the hands of another human being were going to move of their own accord! But just when his imagination was about to make it happen, his captivated gaze returned to reality: all that lay before him were his familiar hands, attached to him and imprisoned with him. He moved his fingers weakly, like half dead insects. The very next moment his eyes stared fixedly and fogged over, and once again the brief illusion would begin, condemned in advance to hopeless failure.
The prisoner first caught sight of the sun on these motionless hands. Not the sun itself, since it never reached his cell, but its rosy, distant, indirect reflection. The great African sun rising above the Mediterranean Sea, which he had watched as a free man three months ago, was nothing compared to this barely perceptible glow. He spread his fingers a little. He raised his face towards the window, as though that window were the invisible sun.
“There is only one sun. It is the same everywhere.”
He said it to himself, enthralled, and his words immediately turned into song, his face transforming into the delighted, smiling grimace of a man inundated and blinded by bright, unbearable sunlight, leaning on the railing of a ship, singing.
He could not see the sea and towns, the mountains and fields. But this was not necessary. He had everything, everything was close, familiar and feasible, because he had glimpsed the sun. This sun was no longer the large, bright disc that had accompanied him through the city streets to the prison door. No, what he knew to be the sun now and called the sun was this invisible and quotidian, restless and trembling flow that filled and set in motion each little part of his body and everything around him, even lifeless things. The sun – liquid and sound and breath all at the same time, tasting like wine and fruit, constantly in movement with the heat of fire and the freshness of water, and most important of all, inexhaustible and bountiful – the sun.
“Only the sun exists,” he said to himself as though drunk, thinking these words could be sung like a song.
Yes, indeed, only the sun exists, and everything that lives, breathes, crawls, flies, glows or blossoms is only a reflection of that sun, only one of the forms of its existence. All beings and all things exist only to the extent to which their cells carry a reserve of the sun’s breath. The sun is shape and equilibrium; it is consciousness and thought, voice, movement, name.
He knew this clearly and without any doubt now, better than anything he had known before in his life. That is what he found at the bottom of the dark and humid cell in which he was imprisoned, even though innocent. And this made him quiver like a string and feel the need to sing always the same thought and the same melody, but he didn’t know whether out loud or inaudibly.
Oh, universe, what is found in your lofty heights, unknown, free and spacious beyond that heavenly blue membrane, when such a treasure of knowledge is hidden in a wretched human prison! And what do the celestial nebulae and comets that cross the sky hold inside, when this wretched, starving human body in dank shadows, beaten and afraid, can develop such passion and ecstatic joy!
The greatest wonder, indeed, was that this body, burdened by great illusions and tremendous passion, remained fairly balanced and was able to overcome the irresistible need to fly and scream; instead of screaming, by means of some strange and also sunny counterbalance, it kept itself from dispersing in a soundless explosion like the sunny gold dust that disappears in the sunlight.
From time to time he felt the entire sun burning and shining in his bowels and his diaphragm rising and undulating like a flame, this internal radiance streaming out of his eyes, his nostrils, all his pores. Then he had painful and wonderful moments of great irrepressible, flowing laughter that bubbled out of him like molten gold, so powerful that he opened his mouth wide like a singer, lest he suffocate or burst. And the sun continued to shine inside him, almighty and unparalleled, inexhaustible, bountiful.
He was roused from this rapturous state by rattling keys and the click of the lock. Water was being distributed to the cells. It was time to sleep. He had not even noticed that his cell was already dark. Just then, high above him on the ceiling, the light bulb in its wire netting suddenly turned on as though all by itself. He quickly undressed and lay down in the left bed. Everything looked gentle and good. He slept soundly, dreaming endlessly of the shining sun and some powerful, strangely dressed people bowing to the sun. Around them was a vast herd and heavy loaded wagons, sagging and creaking under the weight of the rich harvest.
The next day at dawn, the cold and gloomy dawn, when he was wakened by the sharp, cold sound of the prison bells, he wondered without pain and bitterness why the night was full of the sun and opulence and the morning was gray, poor, without sunrays and daylight.
In this joyless room Miss Raika spends most of her time, for it is the only part of the house that is heated. Here she sleeps and passes the day, here she works, and here, on the small stove, she cooks her frugal lunch which is also her supper. She doesn't spend much time on chores such as tidying up or cooking. Above all, she dislikes spending money; the very word - spending- in any shape or connection, fills her with repugnance. A different thing altogether is the work she is doing at the moment - mending. This is pleasant, useful work: it uses up much time and strains the eyes, it is true, but it helps to save all the rest; for time and eyes are things one has an abundance of, which can hardly be said of "all the rest." A stitch in time saves nine, she tells herself as she sits down by the window. Then, picking up her old stockings which have been mending several times, she repeats the saying over and over again in her mind - a stitch in time...! - just as young girls at work feel impelled to hum the words and melody of a love song which, though meaningless in itself and picked up God knows where and how, nevertheless provides a vivid picture and an exact expression of their own deepest longings.
Mending! What a delight that is! True, it is an endless and wearying struggle to outwit a powerful unseen enemy. In this struggle there are many dull, trying, and seemingly frustrating moments: defeat and faintheartedness are not infrequent; but there are also, more numerous by far, bright moments of devoted, holy service and victorious elation. It happens sometimes that a pair of old slippers or a piece of underwear becomes threadbare or torn at some spot or other, so that the whole thing is rendered useless, fit neither to be worn nor to be thrown out. And here, where any other woman might throw up her hands and give in to the irresistible power that frays and wears away all possessions, and dogs every human life and every moment, like the curse hurled down on human existence because of man's original sin, here, as far as Miss Raika is concerned, is where the real struggle only just begins, where the prospect of victory begins to open up, arduous and remote but potentially rewarding. With her quiet and invisible, her great and obstinate virgin's strength, she pounces on this object and will not let it out of her hands and sight until it is mended and patched for another long spell of wear.
"Every other woman in my place would have thrown this away, but I throw nothing away." This is how Miss Raika talks to herself as she gazes, with a kind of loving elation, at the slipper that has been saved and snatched from the jaws of that hostile power which gnaws, bores, eats away, and tears everything that people wear or touch. True, the slipper is no longer pleasing to the eye and his in fact shrunk and lost its shape, so that it is bound to pinch and scratch and make sores on the skin of the foot. Still, what is all that compared to the satisfaction she gets from such a victory over waste. Let it rub and draw blood, the discomfort is all the sweeter. She is willing to put up with much more than that.
As for beauty, she could not care less. Beauty is an expensive thing - madly expensive, yet worthless and deceptive. There is no greater prodigal, no greater mirage than beauty. Miss Raika never cared for it, she always shied away from it, and her experience so far has only confirmed her in this attitude. She never could quite understand why people make such a distinction between something that is beautiful and something that is not, and what it is that enthuses and enraptures them to a point where what they call beauty causes them to lose their health and spend their money, sacred and mighty Money that is above all things and against which no beauty of any kind can ever be adequately measured. And now that she is getting on in years, now that the vast and unimagined loveliness and joy of thrift grows more apparent and clearer to her, she is beginning to feel a stronger and more decisive hatred for Beauty - that heresy, as it were, which is like an evil heathen idol that leads people into lamentable ways and turns their faces from the one and only true deity, thrift. "A stitch in time" - this is the silent, fitting way to worship the deity. Stitching and darning means fighting against decay, means helping eternity perpetuate itself. That is why her petty and humble chore is actually holy and momentous, why it fills her soul with peace and contentment. It is something worth slaving over, it justifies all kinds of hardships and sufferings.
"Drudgery!" This, too, is a form of delight. She knows it very well, for she has endured many things in her life for its sake, and has got much satisfaction out of it. And why shouldn't a person suffer here and there when he knows that by virtue of it he is sparing himself much greater evil and paying for something infinitely more worthwhile? Man would not be a rational being if he could not see that this course is advantageous and safe. When all is said and done, how can we compare our small inconveniences and self-denials in the service of thrift with all that thrift gives us and all it can save us from? Thrift preserves life and stability around us, it constantly makes us richer and perpetuates, so to speak, what we already have; it protects us from expenses, losses, and chaos, from penury, from the misery that lies in wait for us at the end, which is darker and more infamous than death itself, indeed a true hell while we are still alive here on earth. If a person only remembered how everything around him steadily and imperceptibly dwindles and wanes, breaks, shrinks, and fritters away, how puny and ineffectual are measures he can and does take in his struggle against it, he would willingly accept every hardship and privation only to ward off this evil, and he would feel ashamed for every moment of rest and inaction, and for every morsel of food he eats and for spending unwisely and indulging in luxuries. In this unequal fight, one must endure everything with the fanatical courage of a martyr.
Lost in these reveries, Miss Raika feels a chill coming on. She sticks her needle into the stocking and, feeling stiff and heavy all over, gets up and goes to the stove to look at the fire. It is a fire in name only; actually it is no more than a feeble little flame that can barely ever warm up the room, and yet Miss Raika seems to feel it is a flame that consumes wood and coal like Mt. Vesuvius and Mt. Etna combined, or like that American volcano whose name she can no longer remember but whose flame is known to devour and burn up more than all of the European volcanoes put together. She is about to toss in a few lumps of coal, but flinches back at the same instant, almost as if she were on the verge of committing a great and irreparable sin, then grits her teeth and resolutely goes back to her seat. Here she continues to darn her stockings. She is pleased with herself and content with the world, in which evidently there is always room and always another opportunity for extra thrift. (she remembers having read in a newspaper at one time that the regulation temperature in the military barracks during the winter moths is fifty-eight degrees Fahrenheit.) Thinking about it she feels the cold much less. She is warmed by the thought of the shovelful of coal she had denied herself. At the same time, her hands are blue from cold, her lips gray, her nose red. Now and then her whole body is racked by a deep inner shudder of cold. And yet Miss Raika refuses to give in and does not leave her chair. She is like one of those trained and seasoned soldiers who can't help a brief shiver in moments of danger, but manage to overcome it and march forward undaunted.
And so Miss Raika goes on mending and suffering but does not surrender or complain. Cramped and stiff with cold, she darns the threadbare spot on the stockings, carefully weaving the cotton through the yarn filaments that have slackened and pulled apart, looping the needle under one thread and skipping the next, securing one and omitting the other, back and forth, one after another, until at last the worn patch is mended and secured.
And afterwards, as she looks at it, her whole being expands in the knowledge that one more housekeeping item has been set down in the asset column of her consolidated balance sheet of losses and gains. And even more: that in the formidable and unceasing battle against waste, spillage, and costs, another victory has been won against odds, that on the great galleon of the universe, constantly threatened from every quarter, one more insidious leak has been plugged up. Frequently, in her moments of happiness, that knowledge swells to a sense of victorious exhilaration.
Then it is time for another hole, on the same stocking or perhaps a different one. And each one seems hopeless and beyond repair at the outset. Yet, each, in the end, yields to victory. Hour after hour goes by in the seemingly monotonous and dreary task. But the monotony is deceptive. For as she guides her needle and thread through the wrap and woof of the stocking, Miss Raika lets her mind wander between daydreams and memories, dwelling now on one, now on the other, from stitch to stitch, from memory to memory, as if the needle were rethreading the whole fabric of her life.
Farther away, in the semi-darkness, Djerzelez was lunging after the last of the Gypsy woman and trying to corner Zemka. He forced himself to run as fast as his legs would carry him and was already gaining on her when she suddenly wheeled left and vanished on the path that led down between the ploughed fields. Djerzelez had not expected so sudden a turn heavy, rigid and drunk as he was, having started running he could not stop. He went over the rounded edge of the slope and ran down the high steep bank toward the brook. At first he managed to stay on his feet, but as the incline grew steeper he lost his balance and tumbled like a log all the way down and into the brook. Feeling wet stones and silt under his hands, he began to pick himself up right away. The glare of the blaze was still in his eyes, but down here it was dark. He scooped some water and cooled his hands and forehead. He sat like this for a long while. The night was wearing on.
After a time he felt chilly and was seized by an unpleasant shiver; collecting himself, he resolved in his fuzzy head to drag himself out of the brook. He clambered up the slope, holding on to grass and bushes, using his knees, bearing more and more to the left where the bank was less steep; and all this he did as in a dream.
After a lengthy and strenuous effort, he found himself on the edge of the meadow, which for some time now had been utterly deserted. It was dark up there. He felt the even, hard ground underfoot and only then gave in to exhaustion. He dropped to his knees, broke his fall with his hands, and felt something warm and soft under him; he had landed on the spot where the haystack had burned down. Nausea stirred in his gorge. Under him, in the heap of black soot, a spark glowed here and there. One could hear the dogs snarling and gnawing at the leftover bones. From one of the pines, a cone tumbled down and rolled toward him. He grinned.
"Stop pelting me, Zemka, you, wildcat-come 'ere!"
Try as he might, he could not collect himself. He remembered he'd wanted to fight someone; he wanted to ask what happened... The night was late, the sky overcast; and there wasn't a soul around him: there was no one to ask, no one to fight with.
As always when he came face to face with womanly beauty, he at once lost all sense of time and proportion, as well as all understanding of his reality that separated people one from another. Seeing her so young and full like a bunch of grape, he never for an instant doubted his rights; all he had to do was stretch out his hand!
With his right eye screwed his legs apart, he looked on for a second, then chuckled softly and, opening his arms and all but skipping, started toward her. The girl saw him in time, tugged the old man's sleeve and pulled her into the doorway. The lithe and ample movements of the ripe lass filled Djerzelez's eyes with dazzle-then, there was a bang and he saw nothing more except, before his very nose, the broad white surface of the outer door, behind which the lock clicked and the stanchion made a grating sound. And there he stood. On his face remained a ghost of a smile, by then quite meaningless. He turned around.
In helpless wonderment, he repeated the foolish word several times, like a man who had accidentally bumped into something.
Her name was Katinka and she was the doughter of Andrew Poljaš. About her beauty songs were sung all over Bosnia, but to her it was a source of unhappiness. Because of it, men besieged her house, and she dared not to go out. On holidays, she would be led at daybreak to the early mass in the Latin Quarter, shrouded in a big shawl like a Turkish woman so that no one should recognize her. She seldom ventured even into her own courtyard, for right next to it was the military academy, towering above their own house by a whole floor, and the cadets, young men poorly fed and much whipped, spent long hours on the windows, wan with desire, hungrily watching her as she moved around. And whenever she did go down, she would see behind a certain window the leering face of the mad Ali, a yellow-skinned half-wit with missing front teeth, who was a janitor in the academy.
It happened sometimes, after a stormy evening, when the soldier and local lads had whooped and coughed pointedly under her windows and banged on the front door, that her mother would scold her, blameless and upright though she was, and wonder aloud whom she'd "taken after" that the whole town should lose its wits over her and their home invite so much harassment, and the girl would listen to her, buttoning the waistcoat over her breast, without a ray of comprehension in her big eyes. Often she wept all day long, not knowing what to do with her life and with her wicked beauty. She cursed herself and fretted, and struggled vainly in her great innocence to fathom that "brazen and Turkish thing" about her that turned the heads of men and made the soldiers and tramps rut and prowl around her house, and because of which she had to hide and feel ashamed, and her own folk had to live in fear. And she grew more lovely by the day.
From then on, Djerzelez spent all his afternoons in the halvah shop. Several local men began to congregate there too. The young Bakarević also came, and so did Derviš Beg from Širokača, red-haired and bloated with drink, and now, because of the fast, bad-tempered like a lynx to boot; and Advik Krdalija, frail, haggard, and keen like a tongue of fire, a notorious manslayer and lady-killer. Here in the twilit halvah shop where every single thing had tarnished and become sticky from sugar and sweet vapors, they would wait for the cannon shot that announced the breaking of the fast, and would carry on long conversations about women in order to forget their thirst and still their craving tobacco. Djerzelez listened to them, while his parched mouth felt bitter and every muscle twitched with a kind of aching restlessness; he laughed and sometimes joined in their chatter, but was apt to maunder and could not articulate his feelings. And in all that time Katinka's house, with its padlocked door and empty windows, loomed silently before him.
Djerzelez had known her for some time.
She was taken aback by being visited in broad daylight; she rose to her feet, and he said quietly from the door:
"Yekaterina, here I am."
"Good, good-welcome," she said, meekly setting the bolsters for him.
He lowered himself onto a short cushion, while she remained on her feet, bending a little. Without another word, he began and unbuckle and loosen his clothing.
Afterwards he lay with his head on her lap, while she stroked his sunburned neck. He pressed his face into the thin fabric of her pantaloons; behind his lids there was a steady throbbing of red rings sent up by his hapless blood and a shimmer of countless memories, now blamed and distant.
And this hand he felt on his body, was it the hand of the woman? Of the Venetian wrapped in fur and velvet, whose body, slender and aristocratic, was past imagining? Of the Gypsy Zemka, the bare-faced and crafty yet also loving animal? Of the fat widow? Of the passionate and devious Jewess? Of Katinka, the fruit ripening in the shade? No, it was the hand of Yekatreina. Just Yekaterina's! Yekaterina was the only one a man reached in a straight line!
And once more he pondered a thought with which he'd gone to sleep a hundred times, an unclear thought, never pursued to the end, yet humiliating and depressing: Why was the path to a woman so tortuous and mystifying, and why was he, with all his fame and strength, unable to traverse it, when so many men worse than him did? So many-yet only he, in his vigorous and laughable prime, for ever held out his arms as in a dream. What was it women were after?
The tiny hand did not stop caressing him, deftly and expertly, up and down the spine. And the nightmare thought faded again, settling heavy and unsolved within him. He spoke absently, not moving.
"What a lot of the world I've seen, Yekaterina! How far I've wandered!"
He didn't know whether he meant this as a complaint or a boast; and he caught himself short. He lay quietly in the dreamy silence, in which the days and events of the past overlapped, blended, and made peace with each other. He forced himself to close his eyes, wishing to prolong this moment that was free of thought and desire, to rest as well as he could, like a man for whom a day was only a short pause and who had to resume his journey.
The judge despaired over the mounting costs and the loafing. After a vexing and exasperating day at the courthouse, he would shut himself in his home and threaten not to come out again until the camp was moved; but next morning fear and impatience would drive him out once again. His house was in the center of the little town; the only occupants of the large dwelling were he and his wife and the servants, whom they changed frequently. The old curmudgeon's home was crammed to the rafters; the cellars, granaries, and barns were piled high with stores. The rooms, in which a wintry silence always reigned, were smothered in carpets, spreads, embroideries, boxes and chests of aromatic wood. But every where and over everything there lay that chilly spotlessness so often found in Bosnian homes that was intimidating and forbidding, that neither cheered nor served anyone. This wealth and cleanliness were guarded and protected all day long by the judge's wife, a flat-chested woman with missing teeth, contorted and rumpled from so much fussing around the rooms, from bickering with the servants, and from her excessive thrift. It was in this house that the girl refugee from Trebinje was sheltered.
She had been kidnapped from her father's estate by the rebel-brigand Špaljo Montenegrin, who then took her to the Tara monastery with the idea of having her baptized so that he could marry her. As the Turkish police were close on his heels, he had to flee with her from monastery to monastery, from accomplice to accomplice; he would leave her in hiding for a few days and go away to do his raiding, and then, without warning, in the middle of the day or in the dead of the night, come back and drag her away again. Eventually, a superior Turkish force had routed him on the highway between Gorade and Sokolac, and retaken the girl. They brought her to Višegrad, where the town elders decided to send her back to her father at the first opportunity, and until then to put her up in a home where there were no children. And so she was allotted to the judge.
This tall girl was quite deranged by her terrible and disastrous experiences. She had lost her power of speech and now started dully and fixedly in front of her, incapable of recognizing or comprehending anything.
The dreadful Špaljo, who had swooped down on her family's manor like lightning and killed everyone and dragged her away with him, had been all skin and gristle, cold and hard. Then there had been those peasants huts full of smoke and goat droppings. Then the icy monasteries that smelled of pork fat and incense, and gray-haired monks with sepulchral voices and beards yellowed by tobacco. And betweentimes, those head-long night flights when under the blackness of the mountains one's will and wits crumbled and tree branches whipped one's eyes. In that terror, hardness, and cold, she had lost all sense of herself. Since they had brought her to the judge's house, she had calmed down a little. She still did not open her mouth but did not weep either, and spent the whole day sitting in the small garden that was enclosed by high walls; it was damp there and full of fiercely tangled undergrowth. As soon as they led her indoors, she would back into a corner of a room and crouch there with her hands pressed between her knees. Days passed and the judge waited in vain till the Pasha sent for her as he had promised. Supplies had still not arrived. The army camped on.
It was only toward the end of the second week that everything suddenly took a turn for the better. To begin with, the temperature dropped sharply on Friday evening and streams of cold air soughed loudly into the valley and broke the stagnation. The sky shook with thunderclaps; bolts of lightening vaulted across the slopes one after another. When night fell, there was a heavy cloudburst. Sheets of water hit the ground with such force that they turned to vapor, swept this way and that by the wind. All things vanished and lost their voice, save for the downpour that fell all night like a dream and a respite.
Next morning, the greater part of supplies arrived in town. The day was damp and clean-washed; the views acquired new depth, the horizons were clear. The forests on the high slopes looked like new. It was decided to break camp at dawn next morning, to move out and send a detachment for the balance of the supply train, which was then to proceed directly to Srebrenica. The Pasha summoned the judge again; the girl was moved from the latter's house to a furnished inner room at the Suleiman Beg blockhouse. Mullah Yusuf took upon himself the responsibility of sending her that evening to Sarajevo in the company of old Avdaga and some mounted men, and from there, through his friend Munir Effendi, who was a dispatcher of mails, to deliver her to her father at Trebinje.
The camp echoed with noise, preparations, and livelier singing. After a brilliant day the dusk was gathering fast, with only a fleeting afterglow, when Mullah Yusuf came down to the blockhouse to see the girl.
The old woman Fatima had gone home. The girl sat in a corner, wrapped in a shawl. He addressed her gently, hastening to assure her that he would say a prayer over her in order to cure her and send her home; but for that she would have to take off the wrap. She rose for a moment, as if wavering.
"Better take it off, daughter. Go on."
She threw off the shawl and stood tall and motionless before him, somehow bigger and handsomer now that she was set fully against the small, low-ceilinged room; surprising and dumbfounding him with her good looks and well-shaped body. Her neck shone palely; darkened neither by hair nor shadows, it looked extraordinarily smooth and white.
"You must take off the jacket too. Yes, the jacket. Otherwise it can't be done."
His voice quavered and he smiled fixedly.
With a meek air of helplessness, the girl raised her arms (as if about to be crucified) and peeled off her short sleeveless jacket. The movements of those arms, white and ample and yet drained of all strength and will, overpowered and shattered the trembling mullah, and he came up to her to untie the sash of her pantaloons.
"This, too, daughter. Off with everything, everything!"
She resisted weakly, with gestures that were stunted and mechanical as in a dream.
Here the hand could wander at leisure , over those things and hips. No end to it, ever! It was warm there, and smooth like ice. His mouth twisted and gathered in a pucker, as if from raspberries; he felt weak-kneed and the muscles of his left cheek twitched visibly. The girl stood there absently and permitted everything with an air of grave, dull apathy that brought the lecher back to his senses and spurred a desire to prolong and sharpen the thrill, to draw forth some protest and movement. He reached up to a low shelf for a barber's razor. He was breathing hard and felt chilly from head to heels: yet kept slavering and using his hands.
"I have to shave you first."
At that point, however, the girl unexpectedly slipped away, gave a stifled shriek, and began to dash around the room. She was only in her shirt, and now that she was in motion it seemed as if every part of her had swelled and was brimming and spilling. She fought back, stumbled and fluttered across the room like an unfurled banner, while the mullah, thin and darkly flushed, lunged at her and sprang after her, keeping up a disjointed mutter and brandishing the razor.
"Stop! A shave first, stop...!
Her shirt split on the right side and the shoulder gleamed up, once more white, round and plump beyond belief. In the tussle and struggle, he accidentally grazed the naked shoulder with razor, and the shallow cut filled with blood.
The mullah stopped short, his head lolling, the face ashen; his dark-blue lids came down low. A pair of teeth flashed through his parted lips. He remained like this for a second, then shivered and hurled himself furiously at the girl. She screamed, but in a choked and thin voice (a mute animal), waiting for him and repulsing him like a battlement, hard, white, and naked. She pounded the walls and rattled the locked door. And through the stampede of their feet and through their panting this sound of her big strong body could still be heard-clear, resonant, almost metallic. Disfigured beyond recognition, the mullah raged on. His turban slipped all the way to the back of his head and his breath came in an exultant rasp.
There was blood on her again, now on the other shoulder, and presently it gushed out of her throat in a spate. She doubled over, slopped to the floor and filled the corner of the room, while the mullah dropped alongside and mingled with her indistinguishably.
Morning overtook him on the heights above Sarajevo, while he was trying to find his way through some plum orchards. The horse faltered at every step, his ribs fallen in, his shanks torn in bloody. The whole sky was aglow and the sun kindled the thin clouds. The town lay under a blanket of fog, pierced only here and there by minarets that resembled the masts of sunken ships. He passed a hand over his dew-moist face. In vain he swatted at a pair of dark orbs through which the radiance of the day and the town beneath it appeared to him dimly. He rubbed his temples, and turned left and right, but the orbs shifted together with his moving glance and, through those orbs, everything before him appeared misty, shivering, and dusky. The silence was deep, and in it he could hear his blood rearing and breaking and crashing with a dull roar against the nape of his neck. He could not remember where he was, or what day it was. He thought the town below might be Sarajevo, but his mind swirled and confused it with certain towns in the Caucasus that had minarets just like these. At times his sight gave out completely.
He had enormous trouble finding his way through the maze of fences and plum orchards, and as he climbed down to the nearest Muslim quarter he stopped the hours in front of a coffeehouse where, on a wide and green terrace beside a fountain and a cemetery, some Turks were already sitting over black coffee. He dismounted and went in. Rumpled, muddied, he steeped gingerly through the twilight that hovered before his eyes. He observed the faces around him, but in the next instant they had melted away unaccountably, only to reappear again greatly multiplied and jumbled. He sat down. Through the hum of blood in his ears he listened to their talk, yet couldn't make head to tail of their words. They were talking about the repression carried out by Sultan's emissary, Lutfi Beg.
After many protracted wars, the number of loafers and drunkards had multiplied to a point where there was a marked increase in plunder, killing, and violence of every type, not only in Sarajevo but throughout the rest of Bosnia as well. Unable to ignore the complaints of the people any longer, the Sultan had dispatched a special envoy with unlimited powers. This tall man, who rode through the streets like a hermit pale-faced and stooped-shouldered, with thin, drooping mustaches, was implacable, cunning, and swift. Never had the severity of government been felt so strongly. If anyone was caught drunk or loitering, or denounced as a killer or looter, the emissary had him thrown into the Yellow Dungeon where his Anatolian hangmen strangled him with a hard leather cord, without examination or trial. There were times when up to sixty felons were done away with in the course of a single night. The Christian populace rejoiced secretly, but the Turks were beginning to grumble at his harshness. He retorted by ordering the arrest and strangulation of two Sarajevo merchants who criticized him publicly, before anyone could intercede for them. In the streets one could see the corpses of those who, in drunkenness or wrath, had perished defending themselves against the envoy's constables. Blood was seen everywhere and people were terror-stricken. At no time before had death been so easy to come by.
Now these Turks in the coffeehouse were discussing the envoy's campaign of repression. Not daring to say aloud what was really on their minds, they kept lamenting the fact that so many Turks had lost their lives, among them some famous soldiers and noted fighters. One of the men at the table said ruefully:
"The Christians will swamp us, by Allah! Our own kind is dying and the baptized scum are breeding like rabbits; there's no end to them!"
As the words reached Mustapha, they seemed in an addled way to be connected with his own thoughts. he made a great effort to concentrate.
"Baptized and circumcised, both," he said. "The world is full of scum."
They all turned in the direction of the voice, which was uncommonly hoarse and raspy, like a magnified whisper. Looking him over, they noticed his disheveled appearance and the streaks of dried mud and greenish-yellow stains of wet grass on his clothes. His face was puffed up and dark. They observed, too, that his eyes were completely bloodshot and his pupils mere pinpricks in the center, that he clenched and unclenched his hands, that his neck, uncollared and bare, was swollen, and his left mustache gnawed off and noticeably shorter. They glanced at one another and then back at him.
Behind his curtain of blood, Mustapha was dimly aware of the faces craning in his direction and he got the idea that they were getting ready to attack him. He reached for his saber. They all sprang up; the older men backed to the wall, while two younger ones, brandishing knives, came toward him. He cut down the first one, but then, almost blinded, missed the second. He upset the mortar in which coffee was pounded. Defending himself, he staggered blindly into the street; the Turks charged after him. Passers-by stopped to watch. Some thought that the scramble was caused by the envoy's constables trying to run down a drunken bully, others that the crowd was turning the tables on the envoy's men. In recent weeks they had gotten used to daily commotions such as this, and they all took part in them with a kind of blood-thirsty alacrity, no matter on whose side they were.
Unseeing, Mustapha stumbled between some door posts, and the Turks from the coffeehouse and those from the street cornered him all at once. They stripped him of his tunic, down to his shirt. His turban fell, his shirt tore and gave way. Struggling frantically, he did not let go of his saber. The weight of so many bodies pressing against the thin door boards caused it to give way with a loud crash; the human mass rocked and fell, and Mustapha wrenched himself free. With his sword raised, he darted down the steep incline of the street, the mob hard on his heels.
He ran on, unable to see in front of him, bald-headed, naked to his waist, and hairy. The mob yelled after him.
"Get him!" He's mad!"
"He killed a man!"
"Grab him, don't let him escape!"
A few passers-by tried to stop him, but in vain. He struck down a constable who tried to intercept him. Many didn't know why they were chasing him, why they were chasing him, but the pack kept growing; newcomers ran out of doorways and joined. The crowd was egged on by the shopkeepers along the way, who also joined in the chase with clubs and chains. Frightened dogs scampered beside Mustapha, chickens fluttered and screeched. Heads poked out of windows of the houses along the streets.
Assaulted and buffeted from all sides, Mustapha's darkening mind cleared for one more fleeting moment: The scum have overrun the earth! They're everywhere!
And although he was no longer master of his strength and life, he withstood the blows and ran much faster than any of them. He was already coming closer to the wooded cemetery at the far end of the street, when out of a smithy came a Gypsy who, seeing a half-naked man pursued by a mob, threw himself at the man with a rusty poker, caught him on the temple, and felled him on the spot.
A huge comet streaked across the dark, narrow sky and the smaller stars withered in its wake. In another second the last one was snuffed out. There was darkness and hard ground beneath. Hardening. That was his last sensation. The pack was closing in.
The Turk had fallen silent; his closed eyelids occasionally twitched. Brother Marko had leaned right over him. He was observing him closely but was unable to make out what he was thinking. His face was just as it always was - thin and oval, with pouting lips like a defiant boy's.
'Just say: Saviour be a help into us. Say it, Osmo,' whispered Brother Marko to him as softly and sweetly as he could. The Turk was silent. From him came only heavy breathing and the bobbing of his Adam's apple.
Thinking that perhaps he was unable to speak, Brother Marko took the little crucifix on the rosary which hung at his waist and brought it to the Turk's lips.
'Kiss it, Osmo, this is your Saviour and mine. Kiss it and He will forgive your sins and receive you into Him.'
The Turk's face moved almost imperceptibly, his eyelids began to tremble and he moved his lips as if he wanted to say something. Then he pursed his lips tightly and with a great effort - he spat. The spittle filtered down through his beard.
Swiftly Brother Marko pulled away the cross, leapt up, and ran outside growling.
That vast monotonous hum of a summer night. Only towards the end of summer are the stars so big and the sky so low. He gripped the fence with his hands, clenching his fingers. The blood rushed to his head from anger and would not quiet down but rather kept throbbing up again. He gazed though the dark tree trunks, far away into the depths of the sky where the stars were starting to appear and spoke as usual, to himself: 'There's not a brother who's worse than me, nor a Turk that's filthier than that Osmo. I try to baptise him, and he - oooohhh!'
He shook the fence in torment.
But gradually he calmed down. He began to lose himself in the quiet night, in the gaze of innumerable stars. He slowly forgot himself. Waves from him trebling body carried over onto everything around him and he felt as though he were sailing swiftly over an ocean in the dark. The sky above him rocked perceptibly. There were sounds all around. He clasped the railings tightly.
Everything was on this great moving ship of God's: the village and the fields, the monastery and the guest-house.
'I know that You do not forget anyone, not even stuttering Marko or that sinful Osmo Mameledija. If someone does spit on Your cross, it is only like a bad dream. There is still room for everyone on Your ship. Even for that crazy Kezmo, if he hadn't gone away...'
In the fourth year of his term as Grand Vizier, Yusuf committed a political indiscretion and, falling victim to a dangerous intrigue, unexpectedly fell into disfavor. The struggle lasted a whole winter and spring. It was a wicked and cold spring, which refused to let the summer begin. But in May, Yusuf emerged from banishment as victor. And so life went on as before, glorious, peaceful, and undisturbed. But from those winter months, when the margin between life and death, glory and ruin, amounted to little more than the sharp edge of a knife, there remained in the victorious Vizier a sense of something fretful and subdued. It was something that could not be expressed, something that men of experience who have suffered harbor inside them like a hidden treasure, and which unconsciously, and only at times, is reflected in a look, a movement, or in speech.
While he had lived in confinement, in solitude and in disgrace, the Vizier's memories of his origins and of his old country had grown more vivid, for disappointment and pain always turn the mind back to the past. He recalled his mother and his father. (They had both died while he was still a modest assistant to the Sultan's Master of the Horse; he had since ordered their graves to be edged with stone coping and marked by white tombstones.) He recalled Bosnia and the village of epa, from which he had been taken when he was nine.
It was pleasant in his unhappiness to think of that distant country and the scattered village, where tales of his success and glory in Istambul were told in every house, and where nobody knew or even suspected the reverse side of the medal of glory, or the price at which success was to be attained.
That very summer he had had an opportunity to talk to people coming from Bosnia. He questioned them, and they told him what they knew. After many rebellions and wars, the country had been convulsed by riots, scarcity, starvation, and all kinds of epidemics. He ordered substantial help for all his relatives who were still at epa, and at the same time instructed the officials to find out what was most needed in the way of building work. He was told that the family Šetkić still had four houses and were the wealthiest in the village, but that both the village and surrounding countryside had become impoverished, that the mosque had fallen into disrepair and become damaged by fire, and that the wells had gone dry; but their worst predicament was that there was no bridge over the river epa. The village stands on a hill right above the confluence. No matter what kind of plank bridge they threw across, it was always swept away by the waters; for either the epa would rise quickly and unexpectedly, as mountain streams are wont to do, and weaken the bridge and sweep away the logs, or else it was the Drina that swelled suddenly and rushed into the channel of the epa and backed its flow, so that its level rose and bore the bridge away as it had never been. Then again, in the winter the planks became iced and slippery, so that both men and beasts of burden came to grief. Thus, were anybody to built them a bridge, he would do them the greatest service.
The Vizier gave six rugs for the mosque and as much money as was needed to built a fountain with three spouts in front of it. At the same time he decided to built the villagers a bridge.
In Istanbul at that time there lived an Italian master builder who had put up several bridges near the city, and so had made a name for himself. He was now engaged by the Vizier's treasurer and sent to Bosnia with two men from the Court.
They arrived at Višegrad before the last snows of winter had melted. For several days afterwards the astonished people of Višegrad watched the master builder as, stooping and grayhaired but with a pink and youthful face, he inspected the great stone bridge there, knocking on it, crumbling the joints' mortar between his fingers and tasting it on his tongue, measuring the arches with his steps. Then he went to spend a few days at Bania, at the quarry from which the stone for the Višegrad bridge had come. He hired day laborers to clear out the quarry, which had become partially filled with earth and overgrown with bushes and hemlock saplings. They went on digging until they found a wide, deep vein of stone that was harder and whiter than that which had been used for the Višegrad bridge. Then the master builder walked down the bank of the Drina as far as the epa and determined the spot where the stone would be ferried across the river. Whereupon one of the Vizier's men went back to Istanbul with an estimate and plans.
The Italian remained behind to await their return, but he did not want to stay either at Višegrad or in any of the Christian houses overlooking the epa. He built himself a log cabin on a rise in the triangle between the Drina and the epa-the remaining Vizier's man and a Višegrad clerk acting as his interpreters-and there he lodged. he cooked for himself, buying eggs, cream, onions, and dried fruit from the peasants. He never once bought meat, it was said. All day long he dressed sample blocks of stone, made drawings, experimented with various kinds of rock, and studied the course and the currents of the epa.
In the meantime, the other official returned from Istanbul with the Vizier's approval and one third of the necessary funds.
Work on the bridge started. The people's wonder at the unusual spectacle knew no bounds. What was happening before their eyes in no way resembled a bridge. The man sank massive pine trunks diagonally across the epa, and between them a double row of piling, plaited together with brushwood and reinforced with clay, so that the whole thing looked like a trench. In this way the river diverted and one half of the river bed was drained. But one day, just when this work was completed, there was a cloudburst somewhere in the mountains and in no time at all the epa changed color and rose. That same night it broke the middle of the newly finished dam. By dawn the following morning the water had receded, but the wattle was broken through, the piles torn up, and the beams knocked askew. Among the workers and the people it was whispered that the epa did not want a bridge thrown over itself. But three days later the master builder ordered new piles to be driven in, this time deeper, and the remaining beams to be repaired and secured. Once more the rocky bottom of the river bed echoed to the din of the mallets and workmen's cries and rhythmical blows.
Only when everything had been set and made ready, and the stone from Bania delivered, did the stone cutters and masons arrive-men from Herzegovina and Dalmatia. They built themselves wooden huts, in front of which they chipped away at the stone, coated with dust and as white as millers. The master builder went from one to another, bent down over them, constantly checking their work with a drafting triangle of yellow tin and a lead plumb bob on a green thread. When the steep and rocky banks had been cut through on a both sides, the money suddenly ran out. The workmen began to grumble and rumor arose among the local people that nothing would come of this bridge. Some men who had just arrived from Istanbul reported having heard that the Vizier had had a change of heart. No one knew what was the matter with him, whether he was ill or beset by other troubles, but he was becoming more and more inaccessible and was neglecting or abandoning public works which he had begun in Istanbul itself. Yet a few days later one of the Vizier's men arrived with the remainder of the money, and the work went on.
A fortnight before St. Demetrius' Day, the people crossing the epa by the plank bridge a little distance above the new works noticed for the first time a white, smooth wall of hewn stone, decked with scaffolding like a spider's web, and jutting out of the dark-gray slate on both banks of the river. From then on it grew every day. Before long, however, the first frosts began, and work was suspended. The masons went home for the winter, while the master builder ensconced himself in his log cabin, from which he hardly ever emerged. All day long he pored over his plans and expense ledgers, and went out from time to time to inspect the bridge works. When, just before the spring, the river ice began to crack, he was often seen puttering around scaffolding and the dams, a worried look on his face. Sometimes he would even do this at night, with a torch in his hand.
Just before St. George's Day, the masons returned and work was resumed. And exactly at midsummer the bridge was finished. Gaily the workers took down the scaffolding, and from behind the maze of beams and boards there appeared a white and slender bridge, spanning the two rocky banks in a single soaring arch.
Few things would have been harder to imagine than such a wonderful structure in so ravaged and bleak a place. It seemed as if the two banks had each spurted a foaming jet of water toward one another, and these had collided, formed an arch, and remained thus for a moment, hovering above the chasm. Through the arch, at the farthest point of vision, one could see a small blue stretch of the Drina, and deep down beneath it was gurgling epa, now tamed and froth-speckled. For a long time one's eyes could not get used to the slender and beautifully conceived line of that arch, which looked as if in its flight it had momentarily got caught on that prickly and harsh landscape full of bramble and hemlock, and that at the first opportunity it would take off again and disappear.
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