Under red and white umbrellas in the market place of Zagreb the peasants stood sturdy and square on their feet. The women wore two broad aprons, one covering the front part of the body and one the back, overlapping at the sides, and underneath showed very brave red woolen stockings. They gave the sense of the very opposite of what we mean by the word 'peasant' when we use it in a derogatory sense, thinking of women made doltish by repeated pregnancies and a lifetime spent in the service of oafs in villages that swim in mud to the thresholds every winter. This costume was evolved by women who could stride along if they were eight months gone with child, and who would dance in the mud if they felt like it, no matter what any oaf said.
They all spoke some German, so we were able to ask the prices of what they sold; and we could have bought a sackful of fruit and vegetables, all of the finest, for the equivalent of two shillings—a fifth of what it would have fetched in a Western city. This meant desperate, pinching poverty, for the manufactured goods in the shops are marked at nearly Western prices. But they looked gallant, and nobody spoke of poverty, nobody begged. It was a sign we were out of Central Europe, for in a German and Austrian town where the people were twice as well-off as these they would have perpetually complained. But there were signs that we were near Central Europe. There were stalls covered with fine embroidered handkerchiefs and table linen, which was all of it superbly executed, for Slav women have a captive devil in their flying fingers to work wonders for them. But the design was horrible. It was not like the designs I had seen in other parts of Yugoslavia, in Serbia and Macedonia; it was not even as good as the designs on the dresses of the peasant women who were standing by the stalls, inferior though they were. It was severely naturalistic, and attempted to represent fruit and flowers, and it followed the tradition of Victorian Berlin woodwork. In other words, it showed German influence.
I felt impatient. I was getting no exhilaration out of being here, such as I had hoped for in coming to Yugoslavia. For a rest I went and stood on the steps of the statue in the middle of the square. Looking at the inscription I saw that it was a statue of the Croat patriot, Jellachich. This is one of the strangest statues in the world. It represents Jellachich as leading his troops on horseback and brandishing a sword in the direction of Budapest, in which direction he had indeed led them to victory against the Hungarians in 1848; and this is not a new statue. It stood in the market place, commemorating a Hungarian defeat, in the days when Hungary was master of Croatia, and the explanation does not lie in Hungarian magnanimity. It takes some Croatian history to solve the mystery.
The Croats were originally a Slav tribe who were invited by the Emperor Heraclius to free the Dalmatian coast and the Croatian hinterland from the Avars, one of the most noxious of the pillaging hordes. They stayed on as vassals of the Empire, and when its power dissolved they declared themselves independent; and they had their own kings who acknowledged the suzerainty of the Pope. Very little is known about them in those days, except that they were not a barbarous people, but had inherited much of the elaborate Byzantine ritual. The last of their kings was crowned about the time of the Norman Conquest. He left no kin, and civil war followed among the Croat nobles. For the sake of peace they recognized as their sovereign Coloman, king of Hungary, who asserted the triple claim of conquest, election, and inheritance; the last was doubtful, but the other two were fair enough. It is a thing to be noted, the age of legalism in these parts. It is our weakness to think that distant people became civilized when we looked at them, that in their yesterdays they were brutish.
It is not comfortable to be an inhabitant of this globe; it never has been, except for brief periods. The Croats have been peculiarly uncomfortable. In 1453 the Turks took Constantinople. In 1468 they were threatening the Dalmatian coast. Thereafter the Croats and the Hungarians were engaged in a perpetual guerrilla warfare to defend their lands. In 1526 the Hungarians fought the Turks in the Battle of Mohacs, without calling on the Croats for aid, out of pride and political cantankerousness among the nobles. They were beaten, and the king killed. Now Croatia was quite alone. It had to fall back on Austria, which was then governed by Ferdinand of Hapsburg, and it offered him the throne on a hereditary basis.
The Germans have always hated the Slavs. More than that, they have always acted hatefully towards them. Now the Croats began to learn this lesson. Croatia was ruined economically, because the Turks were to their northeast, their east, and their southeast; so it was at Austria's mercy. Austria used her power to turn them into the famous Military Confines, where the whole male population between the ages of sixteen and sixty were treated as a standing army to defend the Austrian Empire. They were given certain privileges which were chiefly legal fictions, but for the very reason that they were isolated from the rest of Europe they lingered in the legalistic Middle Ages; they were sunk in wretched poverty. Between Austrian tyranny and Turkish raids, they lived submissively until 1670, when a number of the Croat nobles formed a conspiracy against the Hapsburgs. They were discovered, and beheaded, and their lands were given to Austrian and Italian families, to whom the peasants were simply brute beasts for exploitation.
Meanwhile there developed among the Croats one of the most peculiar passions known in history: a burning, indestructible devotion to the Hapsburgs. Because of the historic union with Hungary, they sent their Ban—which is to say their Governor—to sit in the Hungarian Diet while it sat in exile, and, when the Turks were driven out and it could return to Budapest. But they had their independence; they ratified separate treaties, and nobody said them nay. They used this power to put the Hapsburgs firmly on the throne. When Charles VI had no son, he put forward the Pragmatic Sanction, which declared that the House of Hapsburg could inherit through the female line, and gave the succession to his daughter Maria Theresa. If it had been rejected by the highly militarized state of Croatia, other parts of the Empire might have followed suit; but the Croats eagerly accepted. They received a characteristic return. The aristocracy of Hungary were lawless and disobedient, after a hundred and fifty years of demoralization under Turkish rule; Maria Theresa tore up the constitution to please them, and put Croatia under them as a slave state—not as regnum socium, not as a companion state, but as partes adnexae, annexed territory. Since the Croatian nobles had been destroyed, there was now nobody to lead a revolt. The imported aristocracy felt a far greater kinship with the Hungarians of their own class than with the peasants on their lands.
So the eighteenth century went by with the Croats enslaved by Hungary, and their passion for Austria idiotically stable. The increasing incapacity of the Hapsburgs led to the crisis of 1848. Among other follies, Francis I and Metternich had the unhappy idea of closing the Hungarian Diet for fourteen years, an oppressive act which raised Hungarian national feeling to fever point. It oddly happened that inherent in the Hungarians' nationalism were a contempt and loathing for all nationalist sentiments felt by any other people in all conceivable circumstances. This is proved by their extraordinary attitude on the language issue. It infuriated them that they should be forced to speak German and should not be allowed to speak their own language, Magyar; but they were revolted by the idea that any of their neighbors, the Croats, Serbs, or Slovaks, should speak their own language, or indeed anything but Magyar. The famous Hungarian patriot, Lajos Kossuth, showed vehemence on this point that was simply not sane, considering that he had not one drop of Hungarian blood in his veins and was purely Slovak. When he took charge of the Nationalist Party he announced it as part of his program to destroy the identity of Croatia. He declared he would suppress the Croatian language by the sword, and introduced an electoral bill which omitted the name of Croatia and described her departments as Hungarian counties.
The Croats showed their love and trust in Austria once more. They sent a deputation to Vienna to ask the Emperor Ferdinand for divorce from Hungary and direct subordination to the Hapsburgs, and to suggest that a young officer named Jellachich should be appointed Ban of Croatia. The Emperor behaved with the fluttering inefficiency of the German tourists on the train. He was on the eve of a cataclysm in European history. He was surrounded by revolutionary Viennese, by discontented Czechs, by disloyal Hungarians; the only faithful subjects within sight were the Croats. But he hesitated to grant the deputation its requests, and indeed would have refused them had it not been that certain persons in Court circles had taken a liking to Jellachich.
After Jellachich was appointed he spent six months in organizing anti-Hungarian feeling throughout Croatia, and then, in September 1848, he marched across the frontier at the head of fifty thousand Croat soldiers and defeated a Hungarian army that was hurrying to Austria to aid the Viennese revolutionaries against the Hapsburgs. Nobody has ever said that the Hungarians were not magnificent fighters, but this time the Croats were at least as good, and they had the advantage of meeting an adversary under an insane leader. They did not even have to go on holding the Hungarians at bay, for Kossuth was inspired to the supreme idiocy of formally announcing that the Hapsburgs were deposed and he was ruler of Hungary. Up to then the program of the revolutionaries had simply been autonomy within the Austrian Empire. This extension meant that Russia felt bound to intervene. Those who fear Bolshevist Russia because of its interventions in the affairs of other countries, which are so insignificant that they have never been rewarded with success, forget that Tsarist Russia carried foreign intervention to a pitch that has never been equaled by any other power, except the modern Fascist States, and maintained its right to defend the dynastic principle wherever it was threatened. Kossuth's proclamation meant that the Tsar immediately poured a hundred and eighty thousand Russians into Hungary. By summertime in 1849, Kossuth was a fugitive in Turkey.
Jellachich and the Croats had saved the Austrian Empire. They got exactly nothing for this service, except the statue which stands in Zagreb market square. The Hapsburgs were still suicidal. They were bent on procuring the dissolution of their Empire, on raping time and begetting on her the Sarajevo assassination. Instead of giving the Croats the autonomy they demanded, they now made them wholly subject to the central government, and freed them from Magyarization to inflict on them the equal brutality of Germanization. And then, ultimately, they practised on them the supreme treachery. When the Dual Monarchy was framed to placate Hungary, the Croats were handed over to the Hungarians as their chattels. I do not know any nastier act than this in history. [This was written in 1937.—AUTHOR] It has a kind of lowness that is sometimes exhibited in the sexual affairs of very vulgar and shameless people: a man leaves his wife and induces a girl to become his mistress, then is reconciled to his wife and to please her exposes the girl to some public humiliation. But, all the same, Austria did not forget 1848 and Lajos Kossuth. It left the statue there, just as a reminder. So the Croat helots stood and touched their caps to their Hungarian masters in the shadow of the memorial of the Croat General who led them to victory against a Hungarian army. That is the strangest episode of sovereignty I have ever chanced upon in any land.
Well, what did all this story mean to the people in Croatia, the people I was looking at, the people who had been selling me things? I had come to Yugoslavia because I knew that the past has made the present, and I wanted to see how the process works. Let me start now. It is plain that it means an amount of human pain, arranged in an unbroken continuity appalling to any person cradled in the security of the English or American past. Were I to go down into the market place, armed with the powers of witchcraft, and take a peasant by the shoulders and whisper to him, 'In your lifetime, have you known peace?'—wait for his answer, shake his shoulders and transform him into his father, and ask him the same question, and transform him in his turn to his father,—I should never hear the word 'Yes,' if I carried my questioning back for a thousand years, if by my magic I raised four thousand from the dead. I should always hear, 'No, there was fear; there were our enemies without, our rulers within; there was prison, there was torture, there was violent death.'
And they had no compensation in their history, for that never once formed a historic legend of any splendid magnitude. It was a record of individual heroism that no nation could surpass, but it never shaped itself into an indestructible image of triumph that could be turned to as an escape from present failure. The Croats have always been superb soldiers; but their greatest achievements have been merged in the general triumphs of the armies of the Hapsburgs, who were at pains that they should never be extricated and distinguished, and their courage and endurance were shown most prodigious in engagements with the Turks which were too numerous and too indecisive to be named in history or even preserved with any vividness in local tradition. The only outstanding military victory to their credit was the rout of the Hungarians commemorated by Jellachich's statue, and this might as well have been a defeat.
Again we must go for an analogy to the sexual affairs of individuals. As we grow older and see the ends of stories as well as their beginnings, we realize that to the people who take part in them it is almost of greater importance that they should be stories, that they should form a recognizable pattern, than that they should be happy or tragic. The men and women who are withered by their fates, who go down to death reluctantly but without noticeable regrets for life, are not those who have lost their mates prematurely or by perfidy, or who have lost battles or fallen from early promise in circumstances of public shame, but those who have been jilted or the victims of impotent lovers, who have never been summoned to command or been given an opportunity for success or failure. Art is not a plaything, but a necessity; and its essence, form, is not a decorative adjustment, but a cup into which life can be poured and lifted to the lips and be tasted. If one's own existence has no form, if its events do not come handily to mind and disclose their significance, we feel about ourselves as if we were reading a bad book. We can all of us judge the truth of this, for hardly any of us manage to avoid some periods when the main theme of our lives is obscured by details, when we involve ourselves with persons who are insufficiently characterized; and it is possibly true not only of individuals, but of nations.
What would England be like if it had not its immense Valhalla of kings and heroes, if it had not its Elizabethan and Victorian ages, its thousands of incidents which come up in the mind, simple as icons and as miraculous in their suggestion that what England has been it can be again, now and forever? What would the United States be like if it had not those reservoirs of triumphant will power, the historical facts of the War of Independence, of the giant American statesmen, and of the pioneering progress into the West, which every American citizen has at his mental command and into which he can plunge for revivification at any minute? To have a difficult history makes, perhaps, a people who are bound to be difficult in any conditions. 'But perhaps,' said my husband, 'it does not matter very much.'
But it matters. He saw, before we went to bed that night, that what happens to these people matters a great deal. As we stood on the steps of the statue there came towards us a Constantine, treading delicately among the pigeons that cover all the pavement in the market square where there are no stalls. He brought his brows together in censure of two of these pigeons which, in spite of the whirling traffic all around them, had felt the necessity to love. 'Ah, les Croates!' he murmured, shaking his head; and as we laughed he went on, 'Mind I can see that you two also are thinking of committing a misdemeanor of taste. Not so gross, but still a misdemeanor. You are thinking of going up to look at the Old Town, and that is quite wrong. Up there are villas and palaces, which must not be seen in the morning. In the evening, when the dusk is sentimental, we shall go and peer through the gateways and you will see colonnades and pediments more remote than those of Rome, because they are built in the neoclassical style that was the mode in Vienna a hundred to a hundred and fifty years ago; and you will see our little Slav contribution, for in the walled garden before the house we shall see iron chairs and tables with nobody sitting at them, and you will recognize at a glance that the person who is not sitting there is straight out of Turgenev. You cannot look at Austria as it was the day before yesterday, at us Slavs as we were yesterday, by broad daylight. It is like the pigeons. But come to the Cathedral, which is so beautiful that you may see it now or any other time.'
So we went up the steep street into the Cathedral Square, and looked for a time at the Archbishop's palace, with its squat round towers under their candle-extinguisher tops, and then went through the Cathedral's nineteenth-century false front into the dark and stony plant forms of the Gothic interior. It has been cut about as by a country dress maker, but it has kept the meditative integrity of darkness considering light, the mathematical aspiration for some thing above mathematics which had been the core of its original design, and at that moment it housed the same intense faith that had built it. This was Easter Eve; the great cross had been taken down from the altar and lay propped up before the step, the livid and wounded Christ wincing in the light of the candles set at His feet. It was guarded by two soldiers in the olive uniform of the Yugoslavian army, who leaned on their rifles as if this were a dead king of earth lying in state. As I looked at them, admiring the unity enjoyed by a State which fights and believes it has a moral right to fight, and would give up either fighting or religion if it felt the two inconsistent, I saw that they were moved by a deep emotion. Their lips were drawn outward from their clenched teeth; they were green as if they were seasick.
'Are they tired? Do they have to guard the cross for a long time?' I asked cautiously. 'No,' Constantine answered, 'not for more than an hour or two. Then others come.' 'Then they are really looking like that,' I pressed, 'because it is a great thing for them to guard the dead Christ?' 'Certainly,' he replied. 'The Croats are such Catholics as you never did see, not in France, not in Italy; and I think you ask that question because you do not understand the Slavs. If we did not feel intensely about guarding the dead Christ, we should not put our soldiers to do it, and indeed they would not do it if we put them there—they would go away and do something else. The custom would have died if it had not meant a great deal to us.' For a long time we watched the wincing Christ and the two boys with bowed heads, who swayed very slightly backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, like candle flames in a room where the air is nearly still. I had not been wrong. In Yugoslavia there was an intensity of feeling that was not only of immense and exhilarating force, but has an honorable object, proceeding from realist passion, from whole belief.
At eight that evening we went to a restaurant beside the Cathedral to dine with a great editor leader of the Croat party (which is fighting for autonomy under a federal system) and his wife. Valetta was there, but Constantine was not. The editor, though he himself is a Serb by birth, would not have sat down at the same table with an official of the Yugoslavian Government. And Gregorievich was not there, not only for that reason, but because he would not have sat down at the same table with the editor, whom he regarded as evil incarnate. He had come in for a glass of brandy, and on hearing where we were to spend the evening he had sunk into greenish gloom, because of the sins of the world. Yet this editor also would have died for the Slav cause, and had indeed undergone imprisonment for its sake before the war. He is still facing grave danger, for he ran his movement from the point of view of an English pre-war Liberal, who abhorred all violence, and he not only attacked the Yugoslavian Government for the repressive methods it used against Croatia but also attacked those Croats who used violence against the Government and who accepted Hungarian and Italian support for terrorism. Like Bishop Strossmayer, he risks losing his only friends. He is a great gentleman, an intellectual, and a moralist, and has carved himself, working against the grain of the wood, into a man of action.
As we talked of the political situation, there ran to our table a beautiful young Russian woman, who could be with us only half an hour because she was supervising a play of hers about Pushkin which had been put on at the National Theatre a few nights before and was a failure. She brought the news that this amazing Easter had now produced a blizzard. On her golden hair and perfect skin and lithe body, in its black dress, snowflakes were melting, her blood running the better for it; and failure was melting on her like a snowflake also, leaving her glowing. 'They are hard on my play!' she cried, choked with the ecstatic laughter of Russian women. 'Ce n'est pas bien, ce n'est pas mal, c'est mediocre!' The editor, smiling at her beauty and her comet quality, tried to upbraid her for her play. The drama, he said, was a great mystery, one of the most difficult forms of art. All men of genius have tried their hand at a play at some time, and he had read most of them. These people, I realized, could make such universal statements. Both the editor and his wife knew, and knew well,—in addition to their native Serbo-Croat,—English, French, German, Italian, Russian, Latin, and Greek.
Nearly all these dramas, the editor continued, were bad. The drama demanded concentration on themes which, by their very nature tempted to expansion, and only people with a special gift for craftsmanship could handle this problem. And one enormously increased this difficulty if, as she had done, one chose as one's theme a great man, for what could be more obstinately diffused than the soul of a great man? Often, indeed, the soul of a great man refused to be reduced to the terms necessary even for bare comprehension! And especially was this true of Pushkin. Which of us can understand Pushkin? At that the editor and the editor's wife and Valetta and the Russian all began to talk at once, their faces coming close together in a bright square about the middle of the table. The talk had been in French, it swung to Serbo-Croat, it ended it Russian. My husband and I sat tantalized to fury.
There was nothing more indicative of the high level of culture among these people than their capacity to discuss the work of one amongst them with complete detachment. But before the Russian went she made a last defense. For a short time she had found herself united in experience with Pushkin, and even if that union covered only a small part of Pushkin it was worth setting down, it might give a clue to the whole of him. Looking past her at her beauty, in the odd way that men do, the editor said, though only to tease her, 'Experience, indeed! Are you sure you have enough experience? Do you think you have lived enough to write?' She answered with an air of evasion suggesting that she suspected she might some day have a secret but was too innocent to know what it might be, though she was actually a married woman at the end of her twenties if not in her early thirties: 'I will not argue that, because the connection between art and life is not as simple as that!' But then her face crinkled into laughter again: 'Sometimes the connection between art and life is very close! Think of it, there is a woman in the crowd in this last scene whose cries always give a lead to the others and have indeed given the end of the play much of its effect, they are always so sad. The audience cannot hear the words the actors in the crowd are using; they only catch the accent of the whole sentence. And as this woman had caught the very accent of anxious grief, I listened to what she had to say. And she was crying: "O God! O God! Let Pushkin die before the last bus leaves for my suburb!"' She turned from us laughing.
'This is a very delightful place,' said my husband the next morning. It was Easter Sunday, and the waiter had brought in on the breakfast tray dyed Easter eggs as a present from the management, and we were realizing that the day before had been wholly pleasant.
'Of course, Austria did a lot for the place,' said an Englishman, a City friend of my husband, who was staying in the hotel and had come to have breakfast 'I suppose so,' said my husband, and then caught himself up.
'No, what am I saying? It cannot be so, for this is not in the remotest degree like Austria'
There came into the room Constantine and Gregorievich, who was still a little cold to us because of the company we had kept on the previous night. 'What has Austria done for you?' asked my husband. 'Nothing,' said Constantine; 'it has not the means. What can a country without history do for a people with a glorious history like the Serbs?'
'I was talking of Croatia,' said my husband.
Gregorievich said anxiously, as if he had been detecting himself looking in the mirror, 'The answer stands.'
'But the Austrians have their history,' objected my husband.
'No,' said Gregorievich, 'we are its history. We Slavs in general, and we Croats in particular. The Hapsburgs won their victories with Czechs, with Poles, and above all with Croats. Without us the Austrians would have no history and if we had not stood between them and the Turks, Vienna would now be a Moslem city.'
The Englishman laughed, as if a tall story that knew its own height had been told. Gregorievich looked at him as if he had blasphemed. 'Is it a little thing that only yesterday it was decided that Europe should not be Islamized?' he asked.
'What does he mean?' asked the Englishman.
'That the Turks besieged Vienna in 1683 and were turned back,' said my husband, 'and that if that had not been it is possible that they would have swept across the whole of Europe.'
'Is that true?' asked the Englishman.
'Yes,' said my husband.
'But it's not yesterday,' said the Englishman.
'To these people it is,' said my husband, 'and I think they are right. It's uncomfortably recent. The blow would have smashed the whole of our Western culture, and we shouldn't forget that such things happen.'
'But ask them,' said the Englishman, 'if Austria did not do a lot for them in the way of sanitary services.'
Gregorievich looked greenly into the depths of the mirror as if wondering how he showed not signs of gayety but signs of life under the contamination of these unfastidious English. 'Your friend, who showed no emotion at the thought of the spires of Vienna being replaced by minarets, doubtless would expect us to forgive the Austrians for building oubliettes for our heroes so long as they built us chalets for our necessities. Are you sure,' he said, speaking through his teeth, 'that you really wish to go to hear Mass at the village of Shestine? It is perhaps not the kind of expedition that the English find entertaining.'
We drove through a landscape I have often seen in Chinese pictures; wooded hills under snow looked like hedgehogs drenched in icing sugar. On a hill stood a little church, full to the doors, bright inside as a garden, glowing with scarlet and gold and blue and the unique rough warm white of homespun, shaking with song. On the women's heads were red handkerchiefs printed with yellow leaves and peacocks' feathers, and their jackets were solidly embroidered with flowers, and under their white skirts were thick red or white woolen stockings. Their men were just as splendid in sheepskin leather jackets with applique designs in dyed leathers, linen shirts with fronts embroidered in cross-stitch and fastened with buttons of Maria Theresa dollars or lumps of turquoise matrix, and homespun trousers gathered into elaborate boots.
The splendor of these dresses was more impressive because it was not summer. The brocade of a Rajah's costume or the silks of an Ascot crowd are within the confines of prudence, because the Rajah is going to have a golden umbrella held over him and the Ascot crowd are not far from shelter, but these costumes were made for the winter in a land of unmetaled roads, where snow lay till it melted and mud might be knee-deep, and they showed a gorgeous lavishness, for hours and days and even years had been spent on the stuffs and skins and embroideries which were thus put at the mercy of the bad weather. There was lavishness also in the singing that poured out of these magnificently clad bodies, which indeed transformed the very service. Western church music is almost commonly infantile, a petitioning for remedy against sickness or misfortune, combined with a masochist enjoyment in the malady; but this singing spoke of health and fullness.
The men stood on the right of the church and the women on the left. This is the custom also in the Orthodox Church, and it is reasonable enough. At a ceremony which sets out to be the most intense of all contacts with reality, men and women, who see totally different aspects of reality, might as well stand apart. It is inappropriate for them to be mixed as in the unit of the family, where men and women attempt with such notorious difficulty to share their views of reality for social purposes. From this divided congregation came a flood of song which asked for absolutely nothing, which did not ape childhood, which did not pretend that sour is sweet and pain wholesome, but which simply adored. If there be a God who is fount of all goodness, this is the tribute that should logically be paid to Him; if there be only Goodness, it is still a logical tribute. And again the worship, like their costume, was made astonishing by their circumstance. These people, who had neither wealth nor security, nor ever had had them, stood before the Creator and thought not what they might ask for but what they might give. To be among them was like seeing an orchard laden with apples or a field of ripe wheat endowed with a human will and using it in accordance with its own richness.
This was not simply due to these people's faith. There are people who hold precisely the same faith whose worship produces an effect of poverty. When Heine said that Amiens Cathedral could only have been built in the past, because the men of that day had convictions, whereas we moderns have only opinions and something more than opinions are needed for building a cathedral, he put into circulation a half-truth which has done a great deal of harm. It matters supremely what kind of men hold these convictions. This service was impressive because the congregation was composed of people with a unique sort of healthy intensity.
Gregorievich had arranged to take us on Easter Monday into the country, with Constantine and Valetta and some young Croat doctors. It is a sign of the bitterness felt by the Croats against the Serbs that because we were in the company of Constantine and Gregorievich, who were representatives of the Yugoslavian idea, very few Croats would meet us; and Valetta, who came to see us because of an existing friendship with us, was slightly embarrassed by the situation, though he concealed it. These Croat doctors were ready to come with us because it was our intention to visit first a castle belonging to a great Hungarian family who still used it as a residence for a part of the year, and then go on to another castle owned by the same family, which was used as a sanatorium for tuberculosis by a Health Insurance Society. This gave them a professional excuse. But it snowed all through the night of Easter Sunday, and we woke to an Arctic morning, so we telephoned to ask Valetta and these doctors to come all the same, though the expedition would obviously have to be canceled. They came and proved to be delightful young men, graduates of Zagreb University, with hopes of postgraduate work in Vienna and Berlin and Paris, and we were having a pleasant conversation over our coffee and boiled eggs when the door opened and Gregorievich came in, and we saw that we had done wrong.
It is of the highest importance that the reader should understand Gregorievich. If it were not for a small number of Gregorieviches, the Eastern half of Europe (and perhaps the other half as well) would have been Islamized, the tradition of liberty would have died forever under the Hapsburgs, the Romanovs, and the Ottoman Empire, and Bolshevism would have become anarchy and not a system which may yet be turned to many uses. His kind has profoundly affected history, and always for the better. Reproachfully his present manifestation said to us, 'Are you not ready yet? '
We stared up at him, and my husband asked, 'But is not the weather far too bad? '
He answered, 'The sun is not shining, but the countryside will be there all the same, will it not? And the snow is not too deep.'
'Are you sure?' my husband asked doubtfully.
'I am quite sure,' answered Gregorievich. 'I have rung up a friend of mine, a General who has specialized in mechanical transport, and have told him the make of our automobiles, and he is of the opinion that we shall be able to visit both castles.'
There, as often before and after, Gregorievich proved that the essential quality of Slavs is not, as might be thought, imagination. He is characteristically, and in an endearing way, a Slav, but he has no imagination at all. So now he conceived of an expedition to the country as being undertaken for the purpose of observing the physical and political geography of the district, and this could obviously be pursued in any climatic conditions save those involving actual physical discomfort. Nevertheless the Slav quality of passion was there, to disconcert the English or American witness, for it existed in a degree which is found among Westerners only in highly imaginative people. As he stood over us, grey and grooved and severe, he palpitated with the violence of his thought: 'These people will go away without seeing the Croatian country side, and some day they may fail Croatia for the lack of that knowledge.' His love of Croatia was of volcanic ardor, and its fire was not affected by his knowledge that most of the other people who loved Croatia were quite prepared, because he favored union with the Serbs, to kill him without mercy in any time of crisis.
We rose, abashed, and filed out to the automobiles; and indeed at first the weather was not too bad. We went out of the town in a light drizzle, passing a number of women who were hurrying to market. They wore red kerchiefs on their heads, red shawls and white skirts, and carried red umbrellas in one hand, while with the other they pulled their skirts high over their red woolen stockings, so high that some showed their very clean white drawers of coarse linen edged with elaborate broderie anglaise. There was a Breughel-like humor about their movements; their faces showed that there was nothing brutish about them. This was very marked among the old women. Slavs grow old more beautifully than the people of other races, for with the years their flesh clings closer to the bone instead of sagging away from it. This ribbon of laughing peasants ran beside us, in an unbroken comic strip, right out into the country, where they exercised their humor with extreme good temper, for the automobiles raised fans of liquid mud on each side of them and everyone we met had to jump some distance into deep snow to keep her clothes dry and clean. But they all made a joke of it. In one village, where the plaster houses were all painted a deep violet which was given great depth and vibrancy by the snow and the grey sky, a lovely young girl laughingly put her umbrella in front of her and mocked us and herself with clownish gestures that were exquisitely graceful and yet very funny
Then we saw nobody. The snow began to fall thickly. People at the door of a cottage smiled, waved, shivered theatrically, and banged the door. We passed through a broad valley paved with the dark glass of floods. In the driving snow a birchwood looked like a company of dancing naked nymphs; the hills were hidden, and there was nothing but the mist. Sometimes it parted and we saw a gross-towered, butter-colored Schloss. Our companions told us what Austrian or Hungarian family had lived there, and what it was now: a textile factory, a canning plant, a convalescent home.
It grew colder. We stopped in a little town and went into the hotel and warmed ourselves with plum brandy, which is the standard odd-time drink in Yugoslavia. The landlord spoke to us proudly of the place, telling us they had a beautiful memorial to some Croat patriots in the market place, and that not far away they had found the skeleton of a pre-historic man. We said we knew how that had happened. The poor man had been taken for a nice drive in the country by Gregorievich. This delighted Gregorievich; it was pathetic to see how pleased he was because the young Croats could lay aside their hatred of Yugoslavia and joke with him for a little. He was very happy indeed when, because he had pretended to be aggrieved, we drank another round of plum brandies in his honor. Then we started out again, into hillier country, where the snow was still deeper. At the top of a hill our automobile stuck in a snowdrift. Peasants ran out of a cottage near by, shouting with laughter because machinery had made a fool of itself, and dug out the automobile with incredible rapidity. They were doubtless anxious to get back and tell a horse about it.
Now the snow was so thick on the wooded hills that the tree trunks were mere lines and the branches were finer than any lines drawn by a human hand. No detail was visible in the houses of the villages at the base of the hills. They were blocks of soft black shadow edged with the pure white fur of the snow on the roofs. Above the hills there was a line of mist that drew a dull white smudge between this pure black-and-white world and the dark grey sky. There was no color anywhere save certain notes of pale bright gold, made by three things. So late was this snowfall that the willows were well on in bud; their branches were too frail to carry any weight of snow, save in the crook of the branches, and the buds were too small to be discernible, so each tree was a golden-green phantom against the white earth. There were also certain birds flying over the fields, bouncing in the air as if they were thrown by invisible giants at play; their breasts were pale gold. And where the snow had been thickest on the banks of the road it had fallen away in a thick crust, showing primroses. They were the same color as the birds' breasts. Sometimes the road ran over a stream, and we looked down on the willows at its edge. From this aspect, the snow that their green-gold branches supported looked like a white body prostrate in woe, an angel that had leaped down in suicide from the ramparts of the sky.
We passed through a village, still as midnight at midday, and stone blind, every door and window closed. 'Think of it,' said Valetta, 'in all those cottages there are sitting nothing but dukes and duchesses, barons and baronesses.' The peasants here had received an Emperor handsomely when, through the stupidity of his nobles, he had found himself tired and wounded and alone after a day's hunting, and he ennobled the whole village by patents of perfect validity.
And a little farther on was our journey's end. We got out of the automobile and found ourselves at a lodge gateway with what were recognizably 'grounds' behind it, the kind of grounds that were made in England during the nineteenth century after the Georgian and Regency schools of landscape garden, shrubby and expensive and futile; these sloped to the base of an extremely steep sugar-loaf hill which had something like Balliol on the top of it. As we gaped, a mist swooped on us and all was suddenly veiled by the whirling confetti of a gentle snowstorm. Not unnaturally, nobody was about.
'What can have happened to them all?' asked Gregorievich. He went and pounded on the door of the porter's lodge, and when an astonished face appeared at the upper windows he demanded, 'And where is Nikolai? Why is Nikolai not here to meet us?'
'He is up at the castle,' said the porter; 'he did not think you would be coming.'
'Thought we were not coming!' exclaimed Gregorievich. 'What made him think we were not coming?' It had distressed him very much to find that Valetta and the Croats and my husband and I seemed unable to grasp the common-sense point of view that if one wanted to see a castle one went and saw it, no matter what the weather was, since the castle would certainly be there in spite of the weather; but he had excused it because we were by way of being intellectuals and therefore might be expected to be a little fanciful. Here, however, were quite simple people who were talking the same sort of nonsense. He said testily, 'Well, we will go up and find him for ourselves.'
We climbed the sugar-loaf hill by whimsically contrived paths and stone steps, among fir trees that were striped black and white like zebras because of the branches and the layer of white snow that lay on each of them, while the porter, who was now invisible to us through the snow, cried up to the castle, 'Nikolai! Nikolai! They have come!' I was warm, because I was wearing a squirrel coat, but all the men were shaking with cold, and we were all up to our knees in snow. At last we came to a walk running round some ramparts, and Nikolai, who was a very handsome young peasant with golden hair and blue eyes framed by long lashes, dropped the broom with which he had been trying to clear a path for us and ran towards Gregorievich, crying, 'How brave you are to make such a journey in this weather!' 'Lord above us,' said Gregorievich, 'what does everybody mean?'
We passed through a mediaeval portal into a mediaeval courtyard with a well that had been there, probably, ever since there was a castle—which was for about six hundred years—and passed into the nineteenth century. There were ramparts and great halls and galleries and staircases built in the baronial style which owed so much more to literary than to architectural inspiration; and they were covered from floor to ceiling with hunting trophies. It recalled the story of the old Hungarian count who was heard to mutter as he lay dying, 'And then the Lord will say, "Count, what have you done with your life? " and I shall have to say, "Lord, I have shot a great many animals." Oh, dear! Oh, dear! It doesn't seem enough.' Nobody but the fool despises hunting, but as a sole offering to the Lord it was not enough, and it might be doubted if this was the right kind of hunting. These trophies spoke of nineteenth-century sport, which was artificial, a matter of reared beasts procured for the guns by peasants, and so essentially sedentary that the characteristic sportsman of the age, commemorated in photographs, had a beard and a paunch. The whole castle made it seem likely that its inhabitants of the generation that had set its mark on the place had not hunted or indeed done anything else really well.
It was not that they were of poor stock. They had the courage to be Illyrian patriots; and they had other graces too. There were portraits of them which showed people with good strong bones and fully human faces. The loveliest showed a red-haired girl, daughter of another famous Hungarian family, who had come here as a bride in the seventeenth century, slender and witty and proud. A descendant of hers, a hundred and fifty years later, painted by a disciple of Winterhalter, showed the same resilient health of mind and body. But something had happened to these people which had deprived their external lives of meaning, had made them cumberers of the earth. That was their connection with the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Their taste had been, at first, excellent. Testimony to that existed, because by the mercy of God every fool has always known that old china and books are precious; they had some very pretty majolica and Moustiers china, and a number of eighteenth-century books, notably a very pleasing edition of Voltaire. But the rooms, which were themselves often of fine proportions, for parts of the castle had been left as they were within a baronial shell, were cluttered up with the most hideous furniture of the sort that was popular in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the second half of the nineteenth century, walloping stuff bigger than any calculations of use could have suggested, big in accordance with a vulgar idea that bigness is splendid, and afflicted with carving that made even the noble and austere substances of wood ignoble as fluff. It would have been interesting to know where the later inhabitants had put the old furniture that must have been displaced by these horrors.
A malady had fallen on these people, which could be detected in the paintings. Their old family portraits were beautiful. As everybody who has visited the Budapest Museum knows, the Hungarian portrait painters of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were artists of great accomplishment and coherent vision, who saw how great lords and ladies and their robes and jewels fall into a pattern. But having the honor of employing these artists did nothing for the education of these people. For a time they seemed to have learned something, for they had some delicious bizarre pictures of the late eighteenth century, depicting savages as lovely as fireflies, in islands as lovely as branches of flowering shrubs seen at night by a ray of light from an unshuttered window. But thereafter the deterioration had been profound. They bought flushed nudes which would have set a cannibal's mouth watering, and immense and static historical pictures which made it seem as if the wretched human animal had suffered only that there should be tableaus vivants at an eternal charity performance.
And one of the family had indulged in the greedy indelicacy of amateur art. She had been a woman of enormous energy; a fashionable portrait painter had represented her, full of the uproarious shire-horse vitality common to the women admired by Edward VII, standing in a pink satin ball dress and lustily smelling a large bouquet of fat roses in a massive crystal vase, apparently about to draw the flowers actually out of the water by her powerful inhalations. This enormous energy had covered yards of the castle walls with pictures of Italian peasant girls holding tambourines, lemon branches, or amphorae which exactly represented what is meant by the French word niaiserie. They proved that bad art is in fact an evil thing, that it is morally perverse. For they showed a complete indifference as to what an Italian peasant girl was really like; and it could not be doubted that if the painter had had to deal with such a girl on the human plane she must have failed in charity towards the girl, from sheer ignorance of what her needs and appetites would be.
These active and silly pictures, the clumsy furniture, and the lines of rubbishy and justly forgotten books in French and German and English which had been added to the library during the last hundred years, made this castle seem poor with a real poverty that was only mocked by the many evidences of material wealth. In the same room with these Italian girls was a portrait of a male member of the family, a Hungarian general gorgeous in a white and gold uniform, physically superb, and solemnized and uplifted by the belief that he had mastered a ritual that served the double purpose of establishing his personal superiority and preserving the civilization as he knew it. By contrast to the world outside, with its vast tracts of snow and its cold that burned like heat, this place seemed minuscule and drab, and man's obligation to separate himself from nature presented itself as an enforced retreat into tameness and insignificance.
I left my companions and turned back to another bedroom which had an enchanting view of a little lake that lay, now a sheet of snow, among wooded knolls of an artificial grace at the foot of the sugar-loaf hill. I found Gregorievich sitting on the windowsill, with his back to the view, looking about him at the hideous pictures and furniture with a dreamy and absorbed expression. 'It would be very pleasant to live this way,' he said, without envy, but with considerable appetite. This was the first time I had ever heard him say anything indicating that he had ever conceived living any life other than his own, which had been dedicated to pain and danger and austerity; and I could be sure that it was not the money of the people who lived in the castle, not the great fires that warmed them or the ample meals they ate—it was their refinement that he envied, their access to culture. I had never thought before what mischief a people can suffer from domination by their enemies. This man had lived his whole life to free Croatia from Hungarian rule; he had been seduced into exalting Hungarian values above Croatian values by what was an essential part of his rebellion. He had had to tell himself and other people over and over again that the Hungarians were taking the best of everything and leaving the worst to the Croats, which was indeed true so far as material matters were concerned. But the human mind, if it is framing a life of action, cannot draw fine distinctions. He had ended by believing that the Hungarians had had the best of everything in all respects.
On the way to the sanatorium the party was more silent. The young men were hungry, we had all of us wet feet, the sky threatened more snow, and the houses were now few and widely scattered. We could understand enough to realize that it was worrying them a little that if the automobiles broke down we should have a long distance to walk before we found shelter. Nobody, however, seemed to blame Gregorievich. It was felt that he was following his star. But after an hour and a half we arrived at the sanatorium, which was a fine baroque castle set on a hill, abandoned by the Hungarian family that owned the other castle because the lands all round it had been taken away and given to peasant tenants under the very vigorous Agrarian Reform Scheme which the Yugoslavian Government put into effect after the war.
As we came to the gates a horde of people rushed out to meet us, and since my husband, who finds one of his greatest pleasures in inattention, had never grasped that this castle had been converted into a sanatorium, he believed them to be the family retainers, and wondered that such state could be kept up nowadays. But they were only the patients. They rushed out, men and women and children, all mixed together, some wearing ordinary Western clothes and some in peasant costume; some of the men wore the Moslem fez, for the Health Insurance Society which manages the sanatorium draws its members from all over Yugoslavia. They looked strangely unlike hospital patients. There was not the assumption of innocence which is noticeable in all but the wilder inmates of an English institution, the tramps and the eccentrics; not the pretense that they like starched sheets as a boundary to life, that the authority of doctors and nurses is easy to accept and reasonable in action, that they are as Sunday-school children mindful of their teachers. These people stood there dark, inquisitive, critical—our adults.
This was, of course, partly due to their mixed origin. Many of them came from parts of Yugoslavia where there was still no trace of a class system, where there were only peasants. They had, therefore, not the same sense that in going into a hospital a worker places himself in the hands of his superiors and must please them by seeming undangerous. But also, as it appeared when we went into the doctors' room, the theory of illness was not the same as in a Western European hospital. We found that the superintendent—who was a Serb, though long resident in Croatia, and pro-Croat in politics—and his three Croat assistants all had an oddly unmedical air to English eyes. I do not mean that they looked unbusinesslike; on the contrary, each of them had a sturdy air of competence and even power. But there was in their minds no vista of shiny hospital corridors leading to Harley Street and the peerage, with blameless tailoring and courtesy to patients and the handling of committees as subsidiary obligations, such as appears before most English doctors. There was no sense that medical genius must frustrate its own essential quality, which is a fierce concentration on the truth about physical problems, by cultivating a self-restraint and a conventional blankness which are incompatible with any ardent pursuit.
Had I been visiting a sanatorium in England, cold and with wet feet, I should have had to go to the matron's room, and time would have been wasted. Here we shook hands, hurried to the radiators, sat down on them, took off our shoes, and pressed our stocking soles against the warm iron, while the doctors talked around us. Did we know that tuberculosis was the scourge of the Southern Slavs? It had to be so, because the country was being rapidly industrialized. Peasants came to the towns blankly ignorant of hygiene, drawn by wages that looked high on paper and were in fact far too low to buy proper housing or clothing; and there was still so little hospital treatment that a tuberculosis case was as likely as not to remain untreated and spread infection. And this was not because they were Balkans. They said that with a sudden leap of fire to their eyes, which could be understood by anyone who has heard Germans or Austrians use the adjective Balkan, with a hawking excess of gross contempt. We English, they said, had had just as much tuberculosis at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
At the door a lovely nun had been telling them for some time that a meal was ready for us, but they would not listen, not till Constantine asked them if it was as painful to die of tuberculosis as it was to die of starvation. Then we were taken to the doctors' mess, which was curiously adorned with a vast poster of a nude woman who sat half obesely in the shade, half slenderly in the sunlight: it was an advertisement for a German preparation of hormones for middle aged women. There was humor in the choice; the poster was wrapped in mists from the heavy weather of nudism. We were given a great deal of plum brandy and then a platter of cold meat such as I never expect to eat in my life again. There was sucking pig so delicate that it could be spread on bread like butter, and there was veal as remarkable, in an austerer way, and ham and sausage and tongue, cheese and butter and capers, all superb in their class. All the food was raised on the lands round the sanatorium and prepared by the nuns who staffed it.
'The patients eat such food,' said the superintendent, with pride. 'Everything costs so little, we might as well have it. But I am sorry, we expected you at twelve and it is now two; the rest of the dinner will not be ready for some time, so we will take you round the sanatorium.' My husband and I laughed politely, believing him to be joking, and thanked him for the meal. 'No, that was only the hors d'oeuvres,' said the doctor. We could not dispute it, for he had spoken in the tone of one accompanying to the opera a barbarian guest who prepares to leave at the end of the overture.
The place was clean, fanatically clean, clean like a battleship. There at least was something that an English hospital authority would have had to approve; perhaps, however, the only thing it could. The patients within doors were shocking to Western theories, as they had been when they had met us out of doors on our arrival. They were evidently preoccupied with the imaginative realization of their sickness, and no one was attempting to interfere with them in their pleasure. This was a visiting day; and in what had been the grand drawing-room of the ladies of the castle, a large apartment adorned with sugary Italianate late nineteenth-century murals representing the islands of the blest, women sat holding their handkerchiefs to their lips with the plangent pathos of La Dame aux Camelias, and men assumed the sunrise mixed with sunset glamour of the young Keats, while their families made no attempt to distract them from these theatrical impersonations but watched with sympathy, as audiences should.
The patients who had no visitors were resting; and when we went into the wards they were lying on their beds, the quilts drawn over their mouths, the open windows showing a firmament unsteadily yet regularly cleft by the changing stripes of snowfall. Shivering, they stared at us, their eyes enormous over the edges of their quilts, enjoying at its most dramatic the sense of the difference between our health and their disease; and indeed, in the dark beam of their hypnotic and hypnotized gaze, the strangeness of their plight became newly apparent, the paradox of the necessity which obliged them to accept as a savior the cold which their bodies believed to be an enemy, and to reject as death the warmth which was the known temperature of life. The doctors beside us appeared to take for granted this atmosphere of poetic intensity, and made none of the bouncing gestures, none of the hollow invocations to optimism which in England are perpetually inflicted on any of the sick who show consciousness of their state.
The tolerance of these doctors, indeed, was wide. As we passed along a corridor overlooking the courtyard, there trembled, in one of the deep recesses the windows made in the thickness of the wall, a shadow that was almost certainly two shadows, fused by a strong preference. 'Yes,' said the superintendent, 'they sometimes fall in love, and it is a very good thing. It sometimes makes all the difference; they get a new appetite for living, and then they do so well.' That was the answer to all our Western scruples. The patients were doing so well. Allowed to cast themselves for great tragic roles, they were experiencing the exhilaration felt by great tragic actors.
The doctors themselves had chosen good enough roles. They were enjoying the sense of power which comes to the scientist when he applies his knowledge to a primitive people. They talked of the peasants as of beautiful and vigorous animals that have to be coaxed and trapped and bludgeoned into submitting to the treatment which will keep alive the flame in their bodies without which they will have neither beauty nor vigor. So, of course, do any colonial administrators; but these doctors cared for loveliness with the uncorrupted eye of an unmechanized race, and though they were divided from the patients by the gulf that divides a university graduate from a peasant, that gulf was bridged by the consciousness that they all were Slavs and that their forbears had all been peasants together. Each of these doctors was a magician who was working his spells to save his father and his mother.
It is this same situation, I imagine, that is responsible for the peculiar enthusiasm shown by officials engaged in the social services in Soviet Russia, which is often regarded as a specific effect of a Communist regime but which could certainly be matched all over the Balkans, in all the Baltic provinces that were formerly under the Tsardom, and Turkey. These Yugoslavs were intoxicated with their X-ray department and their operating theatre, where they had a pretty record of successful collapses of the lung, and with their plumbing. 'We have to teach them everything—everything, you understand!' said the superintendent, leading us into the men's lavatory as into a workshop where something really interesting was made. He explained how each closet was used only by the inmates of certain beds, so that offenses against cleanliness could be checked, and how they were all taught again and again that excrement which was merely useful manure in the country was a source of deadly danger in town.
I perceived that America's interest in plumbing might not be a sign of artificiality and standardization, but of its recent emergence from a pioneer state. Those who have been brought up in mechanized civilization, the disposal of excrement seems no problem at all, simply because it is so grave that it has had to be efficiently solved. But to people who have just moved from country into town it must be a nightmare which they dispel with the force that yesterday they spent on cutting down trees and damming rivers, and gain thereby, owing to certain identifications our idiot mind makes too easily, a sense of victory over sin. We saw in this Serb's bright eyes this obscure form of romanticism at the moment of its flowering.
'We teach them, and we feed them!' he cried, hurrying us down the corridors, down a staircase of stone so old it was black as iron, and through a door of wood so old that it shone like glass, to a vast kitchen, obscure in its great vaulted roof, glowing near the fires which were roaring like the night wind in a forest. At long tables half as thick as tree trunks, pretty nuns in white robes put the last touches to that state of order which women make twice a day after meals and live only to unmake. The prettiest one of all we found in a store-room half the size of my flat in London, standing by a table covered with the little sweet biscuits made of nuts and meringue and fine pastry which are loved in every Slav country. We caught her eating one. She swallowed it in a gulp, and faced out the men's roar of laughter in the most serene confusion imaginable, smiling with some tiny crumbs caught in the fair down on her upper lip.
It was then that somebody remembered that our dinner was ready for us: our real dinner. Very soon we were back in the officers' mess, drinking a great deal of white wine and eating pancakes stuffed with chopped steak and mushrooms and chickens' livers. 'This is the best dish I have ever eaten in my life,' said my husband, and I could have said the same. Then they brought spring chicken served with a border of rice on a bed of young vegetables, which we could admire only as dramatic critics can admire plays; we knew it was good, but we had eaten too much to enjoy it.
That, at least, was our opinion, but the superintendent urged us on. 'There is no such food as we have here!' he said. 'You must eat a lot. Look, we all do! You must!' We looked round at our companions, and saw that they were sitting in front of plates heaped beyond the demands of any normal appetite. Even Constantine, who is as a rule priggish in his abstinence, was behind a mountain. Valetta said in my ear, 'You really must eat, you know. They will think you dislike their food if you do not. It is our custom to give our guests too much to eat, as a kind of boastfulness, and of course out of good will, and the guests show how strong they are by eating it. We are really a very primitive people, I am afraid.'
I believed him, for I saw there was more on Gregorievich's plate than on anybody else's, and I knew that no grossness of appetite would have persuaded him to overeat unless the act of overeating had been sanctioned by Croatian custom. My husband and I took a second helping of chicken, and once we had accepted the idea that we must throw overboard our Western belief that what one ate should be decided by physiological requirements, we found that the pleasure of taste survived longer than would be expected. 'And mind you,' cried the superintendent, 'this is the same food that we give to the patients. They have just the same as this. It is so cheap we need not skimp it. And that it is fresh and well-cooked costs us nothing extra.' We were by then eating a compote of quinces, cherries, and peaches, with the little biscuits like the one we had found the nun eating. 'We send the patients home,' said another of the doctors, waving his glass at me, 'five and ten and fifteen kilos heavier.'
'We send the patients home five, ten, and fifteen kilos heavier.' That phrase had struck on my ears like a bell, because it referred to the belief which was at the bottom of the Slav way of living, which made all Yugoslav events and institutions so completely different from their Western counterparts. These people held that the way to make life better is to add good things to it, whereas in the West we hold that the way to make life better is to take bad things away from it. It was that contrast which had made every minute of this visit to the sanatorium interesting.
With us, a satisfactory hospital patient is one who, for the time being at least, has been castrated of all adult attributes. With us, an acceptable doctor is one with all asperities characteristic of gifted men rubbed down, by conformity with social standards, to a shining, cornerless blandness. With us, a suitable hospital diet is food from which everything toxic and irritant has been removed, the eunuchized pulp of steamed fish and stewed prunes. Here a patient could be adult, primitive, dusky, defensive; if he chose to foster a poetic fantasy or personal passion to tide him over his crisis, so much the better. It was the tuberculosis germ that the doctor wanted to alter, not the patient. And that doctor himself might be just like another man, provided he possessed also a fierce intention to cure. And to him the best hospital diet would be that which brought the most juices to the mouth; and there was not the obvious flaw in the argument that one might think, for the chicken and the compote were the standard dishes of any nursing home, but these were good to eat. One of the doctors raised his glass to me; I raised my glass to him, enjoying communion with this rich world that added instead of subtracting.
The worshipers at Shestine had come before the altar with a habit of addition, which made them pour out the gift of their adoration on the godhead, which made them add to themselves by imaginative realization the divine qualities which they were contemplating in order to adore. The effect had been of enormous, reassuring natural wealth; and that was what I had found in Yugoslavia on my first visit. I had come on stores of wealth as impressive as the diamonds of Golconda or the gold of Klondike, which took every form except actual material wealth. Now the superintendent was proposing the health of my husband and myself, and when he said, 'We are doing our best here, but we are a poor country,' it seemed to me he was being as funny as rich people who talk to their poor relatives about the large amount they have to pay in income tax.
'But since they have this Slav abundance here and at Shestine,' I wondered, 'why have I had so little enjoyment of it since I arrived?' But my attention was caught by a crack that had suddenly begun to fissure the occasion. The superintendent had been telling my husband and me what pleasure he had in welcoming us to Croatia, when Gregorievich leaned across the table and corrected him. 'To Yugoslavia,' he said in the accents of a tutor anxious to recall his pupil to truth and accuracy. There fell a silence. 'To Yugoslavia,' he repeated. After another silence the superintendent said, 'Yes, I will say that I welcome them to Yugoslavia. Who am I, being a Serb, to refuse this favor to a Croat?'
They all laughed kindly at Gregorievich after that; but there had sounded for an instant the authentic wail of poverty, in its dire extreme, that is caused by a certain kind of politics. Such politics we know very well in Ireland. They grow on a basis of past injustice. A proud people acquire a habit of resistance to foreign oppression, and by the time they have driven out their oppressors they have forgotten that agreement is a pleasure and that a society which has attained tranquillity will be able to pursue many delightful ends. There they continue to wrangle, finding abundant material in the odds and ends of injustices that are left over from the period of tyranny and need to be tidied up in one way or another. Such polities are a leak in the community.
We had spent the morning going round the sights of the town with a Croat lady and Constantine, and over the soup we told Valetta how much we had liked her; and Constantine exploded: 'I did not like her. She is not a true Slav. Did you hear what she told you when you were at the Health Cooperative Society Clinic? She said that all such things were very well looked after in the Austrian times. Yes, and she said it regretfully.'
'Well, it was so,' said Valetta.
'Yes, it was so,' said Constantine, 'but we must not regret it. No true Slav would regret it. That is, no true human being would say it, for if a true human being is a Slav, he knows that to be a Slav is what is important, for that is the shape which God has given him, and he should keep it. The Austrians sometimes pampered you, and sometimes the Hungarians, so that each should play you off against the others. Benefits you get so are filth, and they spoil your shape as a Slav. It is better to have nearly nothing at all, and be a freeman with your brother Slavs.'
He paused, but Valetta was silent and went on eating. 'Do you not think it is better?' Constantine asked. Valetta nodded slightly. 'Well, if you do not feel that strongly, you can feel nothing at all!' said Constantine, a little louder. 'Oh, yes, I feel it strongly,' said Valetta, quite softly; and then, more softly still, 'It would be much better for us to be freemen with our brother Slavs.'
For a moment Constantine was satisfied and went on eating. Then he threw down his knife and fork. 'What is that you are saying? It would be better...you mean it is not so?' 'I mean it is not quite so,' said Valetta. 'How is it not so?' asked Constantine, lowering his head like a bull. Valetta shrugged his shoulders. Constantine collapsed quite suddenly, and asked pathetically, 'But are we not brothers, we Croats and Serbs?'
'Yes,' said Valetta. He was speaking softly, not—as a stranger might have thought—out of guile, but out of intense feeling. He was quite white. 'But in Yugoslavia,' he said painfully, 'it is not so. Or, rather, it is as if the Serbs were the elder brother and we Croats the younger brother, under some law as the English, which gives the elder everything and the younger nothing.'
'Oh, I know what you think!' groaned Constantine. 'You think that all your money goes to Belgrade, and you get hardly anything of it back, and we flood your country with Serb officials, and keep Croats out of all positions of real power. I know it all!'
'You may know it all,' said Valetta, 'but so do we; and it is not a thing we can be expected to overlook.'
'I do not ask you to overlook it,' said Constantine, beginning to roar like a bull; 'I ask you to look at it. You did not have the spending of your money before, when you were under Hungary. All your money was sent to Budapest, to landlords or to tax collectors, and you got some railways, yes, and some hospitals, yes, and some roads, yes, but not costing one half of your money, and you got also Germanization and Magyarization—you got the violation of your soul. But now you are a part of Yugoslavia, you are a part of the kingdom of the South Slavs, which exists to let you keep your soul; and to guard that kingdom we must have an army and a navy to keep Hungary and Italy in their places, and we must drain marshes and build schools and make military roads, and it is all for you as well as for us, but you will not see it!'
'Yes, I see it,' said Valetta, 'but if you want to found a strong and civilized Yugoslavia you should have brought the Serb schools up to the Croat level, instead of bringing the Croat schools down to the Serb level.'
'But now you show you see nothing at all,' wailed Constantine. 'It is a question of money! It is more important that one should have good schools everywhere than that one part of the country should have very good schools. A chain is as strong as its weakest link. What good is it to you in Croatia that your boys and girls can read Hindustani and paint like Raphael if the young men in Macedonia bang-bang indiscriminately all night because they do not know anything else to do?'
'We might feel more confidence that our money went to build schools in Macedonia if it did not go through Belgrade,' said Valetta. 'You must forgive us for fearing that a great deal of it sticks in Belgrade.'
'Of course it sticks in Belgrade!' said Constantine, his voice going high, though it is low by nature. 'We must make a capital. We must make a capital for your sake, because you are a South Slav!'
'If it were only ministries and hotels that were being built in Belgrade, we Croats might approve,' said Valetta, 'but we understand that there are many private houses which are being built for people who have been connected with politics.'
'It is not true—I swear it is not true,' cried Constantine.
'Are you telling me,' asked Valetta, 'that all Serb politicians and officials are honest?'
Constantine rocked in his seat. 'I am all for chonesty,' he said, giving the h its guttural sound; 'I am a very chonest man.' And that is true: during his life he has had the unquestioned administration of much money, and never has one penny stuck to his fingers. 'And I admit,' he continued heavily, 'that in our Serbia there are sometimes people who are not chonest. But what could we do? There are not enough people in our country to take on the administration, so many of us were killed in the war. Ninety per cent,' he wailed, 'ninety per cent of our university students were killed in the war.' That, too, I learned afterwards, is true.
'Then why do you not draw on us Croats for officials?' asked Valetta. 'There are many Croats whom nobody in the world would dare to call untrustworthy.'
'But how can we let you Croats be officials?' spluttered Constantine. 'You are not loyal!'
'And how,' asked Valetta, white to the lips, 'can we be expected to be loyal if you always treat us like this?'
'But I am telling you,' grieved Constantine, 'how can we treat you differently till you are loyal?'
It is an absolute deadlock; and the statement of it filled the heart with desolation. Constantine pushed away his plate and said, 'Valetta, I will tell you what is the matter with you. Here in Croatia you are lawyers as well as soldiers. You have been good lawyers, and you have been lawyers all the time. For eight hundred years you have had your proces against Hungary. You have quibbled over phrases, you have wrangled about the power of your Ban, you have sawed arguments about regna socia and partes adnexae, you have chattered like jackdaws over your rights under the Dual Monarchy, you have covered acres of paper discussing the Hungaro-Croatian compromise. And so it is that you are now more lawyers than soldiers, for it is not since the eighteenth century that you have fought the Turks, and you fought against the Magyars only a little time. But now that we are making Yugoslavia we must feel not like lawyers but like soldiers; we must feel in a large way about the simple matter of saving our lives. You must cast away all your little rights and say that we have a big right, the right of the Slavs to be together, and we must sacrifice all our rights to protect that great right.'
When Valetta had left us Constantine said, 'I do not know why you trouble yourself with that young man. He is not of importance; he is quite simply a Croat, a typical Croat.' After a silence we came to the square in front of the cathedral, and he burst out again: 'They do appalling things and they make us do appalling things, these Croats. When God works through the Croats he works terribly. I will tell you what once happened in the war. There was a hill in Serbia that we were fighting for all night with the Austrian troops. Sometimes we had it, and sometimes they had it, and at the end we wholly had it, and when they charged us we cried to them to surrender, and through the night they answered, "The soldiers of the Emperor do not surrender," and it was in our own tongue they spoke. So we knew they were our brothers the Croats, and because they were our brothers we knew that they meant it, and so they came against us and we had to kill them, and in the morning they all lay dead, and they were all our brothers.'
We went up the hill and looked at the archaic statues on the porch of St. Martin's Church, which is a battered old spiritual keep, rebuilt and rebuilt again and again since the thirteenth century. 'Zagreb is the heart of Croatia,' said Constantine, 'and this old square is the heart of Zagreb. I think that only once did it fall, and then to the Tartars, to whom all fell. But now they have renamed it the square of Stefan Raditch, after the great leader of the Croat peasant party, who was shot in the Belgrade Parliament in 1928. Here in Croatia they say we Serbs did it, they say our King Alexander plotted it,' said Constantine, his voice rising to a wail, 'but it is not so. He was shot by a mad Montenegrin deputy whom he had accused of corruption. The Montenegrins are a Homeric people; they do not understand modern life; they think that if a man attacks your honor you kill him, and it is well. But the Croats do not know that, for they will never travel; they have no idea of going any farther than Dalmatia. And why would King Alexander want to kill Raditch? He knew very well that if Raditch were killed the Croats would go mad and would make with the Italians and the Hungarians to kill him also. And so they did. And that is a thing to remember, when the King is blamed for suspending the Constitution. Always King Alexander knew he would be killed. It is proof of the lack of magnetism of all you English Liberals that you forget that a man's policy is a little different when he knows he is going to be killed.'
Down in the town we sat and drank chocolate in a cafe, till Constantine said, ' Come, you must go. You must not keep Valetta waiting.' Since he was staying in the same hotel as we were, and he looked tired, I said, 'Come back with us.' But he would not. 'I will come later,' he said, and I am sure he was afraid of meeting Valetta in the lounge and having to admit that Valetta wanted to see us but not him. The Serb, though he seems tough and insensitive, is sometimes childishly hurt by Croat coldness.
When we got to our hotel we found Valetta waiting for us, and we took him up to our room and drank plum brandy, pleased to see him again though we had seen him so recently. He stood by the window, pulled the curtains apart, and grimaced at the snow that fell aslant between us and the electric standards. 'What a terrible Easter we have given you!' he laughed, and raised his glass to his lips, smiling on us with the radiance that is usually the gift of traitors, but means nothing in him but kindness and good faith. He went on to apologize for the violence with which he had spoken at lunchtime. 'I could not help it,' he said. 'I know that Constantine is a wonderful man, but he is all for Belgrade, and you will understand how we are bound to feel about that. I am so afraid that, as you are just passing through the country, you will not see what we Croats have to suffer. Of course everything is better since 1931, when the King gave us back some sort of Constitution; and since the King died it has improved still further. But it is still terrible.' And he added sadly, 'Our Clerical Party is very violent.'
The Croat Clerical Party has always worked with a motive power of anti-Serb hatred, which naturally created its material. The Serbs retorted with as bad as they got, and the Orthodox Church showed no example of tolerance to the Roman Catholics. The greatest of nineteenth-century Slav patriots of the pacific sort, Bishop Strossmayer, once announced his intention of visiting Serbia, and the Serbian Government had to make the shameful confession that it could not guarantee his personal safety. But the greatest stimulus to anti-Serb feeling has lain outside Croatia, in the Roman Catholic Church itself. During the last sixty years or so the Vatican has become more and more Ultramontane, more and more predominantly Italian in personnel; and since the war it has become more and more terrified of Communism. Can the Roman Catholic Church really be expected to like Yugoslavia? To like a state in which Croats, who used to be safely amalgamated with Catholic Austrians and Hungarians, are outnumbered by Orthodox Serbs, who are suspected of having no real feelings of enmity towards Bolshevist Russia?
An important indication of the pro-Italian and anti-Slav attitude of the Roman Catholic Church is her callousness towards the unhappy Slovenes who were incorporated in Italy under the Peace Treaty. These six hundred thousand people are one of the worst-treated minorities in Europe. 'Have bugs a nationality when they infest a dwelling? That is the historical and moral position of the Slovenes living within our borders,' once said the Popolo d'Italia. The 1929 Concordat which Pope Pius XI signed with Mussolini did not adequately protect the religious rights of the Slav minority, and the Slovenes no longer enjoy the right, which they prized highly, of using the Slovene liturgy in the Churches. The Slav so loves his language that this was a gesture of hostility to the Slav soul.
It is, therefore, not sensible to trust the Roman Catholic Croat to like and understand the Orthodox Serb, or even to discourage the artificial hatred that has been worked up between them in the past. 'Do you not think, Valetta,' said my husband, 'that the Belgrade Government knows this, and therefore bargains with the Church, giving it assistance in its anti-Communist campaign on condition that it keeps the anti-Serb and Croatian Separatist movements within bounds?'
Valetta hesitated. 'It may be so,' he said, his long fingers fiddling with the fringe of a cushion.
'And there is another thing,' said my husband. 'There is the present Concordat.' He paused. In 1937 all the Serbian parts of Yugoslavia were up in arms because the Government had signed a Concordat with Pope Pius which gave the Roman Catholic Church immense advantages over the Orthodox Church: in any town where the Roman Catholics were in an absolute majority over the Serbs all the schools, without exception, were to be Roman Catholic; the child of a Roman Catholic mother and Orthodox father was to be brought up as a Roman Catholic even if the mother were received into the husband's church; it was to be far easier for Roman Catholic soldiers to practise their religion than for the Orthodox soldiers, and so on. The terms were so grossly favorable to the Roman Catholics that the Government made it very difficult for the Serb public or for foreigners to obtain the text of the Concordat.
'Yes,' sighed Valetta, 'this wretched Concordat. We none of us want it here, in Croatia, you know.'
'Is it not the tragedy of your situation here,' suggested my husband, 'that you Croats are for the first time discovering that your religion and your race run counter to one another, and you are able to evade that discovery by putting the blame on the constitution of Yugoslavia? The Croats, like all Slavs, are a democratic and speculative people. You lived for long under the Hapsburgs, whom you could blame for every interference with individual liberty. Since the great pro-Croat Strossmayer was a bishop, you could even think of the Roman Catholic Church as the arch-opponent of the Hapsburgs, and therefore the protector of liberty. Now the Hapsburgs are swept away you should see the Roman Catholic Church as it is: not at all democratic, not at all in favor of speculative thought; far more alarmed by the vaguest threat of social revolution than by any actual oppression, provided it is of monarchical or totalitarian origin, and wholly unsympathetic with any need for free expression but its own. You should proceed to the difficult task of deciding whether you can reconcile yourself to this bias of the Church for the sake of the spiritual benefits it confers upon you. But you are postponing this task by letting the Church throw the blame for all its suppressions of free speech and free press on Belgrade.'
'It is possible that you are right,' said Valetta. 'Nothing has any form here. Movements that seem obvious to me when I am in Paris or London become completely inconceivable when I am here in Zagreb. Here nothing matters except the Croat-Serb situation. And that, I own, never seems to get any further.'
'But this is something very serious,' said my husband, 'for a movement might rush down on you here, say from Germany, and sweep away the Croat-Serb situation and every other opportunity for debate.'
'You are perfectly right,' said Valetta. 'I know it; I know it very well. But I do not think anything can be done.'
They had got out of bed at an incredibly untimely hour to say good-bye to us at the railway station, the good Gregorievich and Valetta. They stood side by side on the platform, these two enemies, the early morning rain dripping on their turned-up coat collars. Valetta laughed and wriggled as the drops of water trickled down his neck, but Gregorievich merely bowed beneath the torrents. 'Nothing is as it used to be,' he said stoically; 'even the seasons are changed.'
Politics, always politics. In the middle of the night, when there was a rap on our bedroom door, it was politics. 'It may be a telegram,' said my husband, springing up and fumbling for the light. But it was Constantine.
'I am afraid I am late, I am very late. I have been talking in the cafes with these Croats about the political situation of Yugoslavia; someone must tell them, for they are quite impossible. But I must tell you that I shall be leaving tomorrow for Belgrade, very early, earlier than you will go to Sushak, for they have telephoned to me and say that I must go back; they need me, for there is no one who works so well as I. I would have left you a note to tell you that, but there was something I must explain to you. I have spoken not such good things of Raditch who was killed and of Matchek who is alive,—you had better put on your dressing gown for I will be some time explaining this to you,—but I want to make you understand that, though they are not at all clever men and cannot understand that there must be a Yugoslavia, they are honest. They would neither of them take money from the Italians and Hungarians. They and their followers would spit on such men as go to be trained in terrorism at the camps in Italy and Hungary. These were quite other men, let me tell you....'
But for dear Valetta it is not all politics. He is a man of letters, he is a poet. What he could give the world, if there only could be peace in Croatia! But how is there to be peace in Croatia? Easily enough, if the Serbs of Yugoslavia could nerve themselves to grant Federalism on the Swiss model. That would change the twilit character of Croatian history. It would give the Croats a sense of having at last won a success; it would give their national life a proper form. But supposing Croatia got her independence, and the peasants found they were still poor, surely there would be a movement towards some form of social revolution; and surely then the bourgeoisie and the conservatives among the peasants would try to hand their country over to Hungary or Italy for the sake of stability. Surely, too, the Roman Catholic Church would be pleased enough if Croatia left its union with Orthodox Yugoslavia and became part of Italy. And if that happened there would be no more peace in Croatia, for either Gregorievich or Valetta. They are both true Slavs, and they would neither of them be able to tolerate Italian domination, first because it was foreign, and secondly because it was Fascist.
Suddenly they looked to me strange and innocent, like King Alexander of Yugoslavia in the first part of the film, as he was in the boat and on the quay at Marseille.
I pulled down the window so that I could see them better, my two dear friends who were each other's enemies, who might yet be united to each other, far more closely than they could ever be to me, by a common heroic fate. I found myself obliged to pray to God that my friends should continue to be enemies, and as I prayed I canceled my faith, because I was incensed by the disgusting intricacy of life.
Part One: January 1941
Part Three: March 1941
Part Four: April 1941
Part Five: May 1941