I had pictured Cettinge as a fiercely guarded stronghold, buried in the heart of the mountains a town of frowning arches and dark, precipitous streets, swarming with armed men and bristling with fortifications, for somehow or other Montenegro is a name suggestive of grim places and people. Of course, I was wrong, as usual, for Cettinge stands on a dreary plainsurrounded, it is true, by mountains, but they more resemble hills and some are miles distant. There is no visible sign here of the war-like spirit which has made this little country famous throughout Europe. From the distance the capital resembles a straggling French village, with its one-storied, red-tiled houses clustered around half a dozen larger buildings and a couple of church spires. The place conveys an impression of dulness and a certain amount of agricultural life, and that is all. And yet many a staunch-hearted patriot has left it for the field of battle, never to return.
Cettinge is the smallest capital in Europe, and I should say the bleakest, with the exception, perhaps, of Petersburg. I have seldom felt the cold, even in Arctic Siberia, as I did here, for there was a moist rawness in the air which chilled one to the bone and increased the discomfort of splashing through the muddy streets, or rather rivers of slush. This barren plateau is also a nest of gales, which made matters worse.
Cettinge contains about three thousand souls, and is easily seen in a couple of hours. There are two principal thoroughfares, cobbled and composed of houses of the “door and four windows” type, and a score of smaller streets where wine-shops flourish and the dwellings are even meaner in appearance. The shopssuch as they areare mostly for the sale of clothing, provisions, and saddlery, and there are one or two silversmiths where you may still pick up a bargain in the shape of antique rings, old filigree work, and the heavy leather belts, studded with gems or colored glass, as the case may be, which Montenegrin women still wear on state occasions.
At first sight Cettinge appears to contain only two buildings of any size or importance (one at each extremity of the town) which dwarf the intervening structures into insignificance. The former are truly palatial stone mansions of recent erectionso imposing that they are generally taken for palaces by a stranger. But they are merely the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Legations, whose respective governments have spared no expense in order to impress the natives, which, however, they have entirely failed to do. The new palace (which comes next in size) is a modest, unpretentious edifice, more like some prosperous “bourgeois” residence at Brixton or Asnieres than the home of a ruler. You can see into the Royal apartments from the street or look into the garden at the rear of the house, where Prince Nicholas takes his post-prandial cigar and siesta on summer evenings. A couple of sentry-boxes on either side of the entrance, with red and white stripes (the Montenegrin colors), alone denote that this is not a private house.
With the exception of our own gracious sovereign, there is probably no potentate in the world so universally beloved by his people as Prince Nicholas IT. of Montenegro, and the secret of his popularity lies chiefly in an absolute simplicity of life and manner which appeals to this rugged race of mountaineers. The relations of Nikita (as he is affectionately called) toward his subjects more resemble those of a paternal English squire on the best of terms with his tenants than the head of a State, the occupants of which are angels one minute and devils the next. The ruler of the Black Mountain is what the French call “a good boy,” but one whose shrewdness and tact at home and abroad have earned him the nickname of “The Bismarck of the Balkans.” And it needs a clear brain and steady nerves to keep the helm straight in this little Principality, which, after finally disposing of one powerful enemy, finds herself practically at the mercy of a doubtful friend. .
The Prince is a tall, broad-shouldered man, with swarthy, handsome features and keen, gray eyes; a stately figure, as upright as a gun-barrel, not-withstanding his sixty odd years. When the “Gospodar” walks abroad in national costume he might pass for the humblest of his subjects, for he strolls about without state or ceremony and mixes freely with the people. A regicide could kill him in the street fifty times a day, but it is equally certain that the assassin would be simultaneously torn piecemeal. Nikita is said to know all his subjects personally, and even if this be an exaggeration, His Highness certainly makes no class distinction, and as readily lends his ear to the beggar in rags as to the wealthy noble.
A Parisian education and frequent visits to Europe have not affected this ruler’s life of almost Spartan simplicity; and altho he is a great smoker, generally consuming about a hundred cigarets a day, he is very abstemious in other ways, and can still remove a cigar from a friend’s lips with a dueling pistol at twelve paces. But this is scarcely surprizing in one who was once acknowledged as the deadliest shot and finest horseman in this nation of “Shikaris.” Of recent years, however, Prince Nicholas has abandoned sport for the more serious affairs of state, with the result that at present he is unquestionably the cleverest of the Balkan sovereigns.