Pestera, August 1.
The task which has been set Mr. Baring and Mr. Schuyler is not an enviable one. They have both gone to work in the most earnest manner, and are visiting all the principal towns and villages that were burnt by the Bashi-Bazouks, in order to see with their own eyes the ruin that has been worked, and to hear with their own ears the stories of the villagers. This necessitates travelling from five to fifteen hours a day over roads the best of which are nearly impassable for carriages, beneath a burning sun, rendered almost insupportable by the close sultry atmosphere of August. Mr. Baring has already been ill twice, owing to over-exertion, hard work, and the overpowering heat; and even Mr. Schuyler, inured to the fatigue of this kind of work by his long journey through Turkestan, seemed to find it as much as he could stand.
But the hard work and the heat, and the wearisome round of. investigation, of questions repeated over and over again, of listening to the same sort of stories told a hundred times over, of sifting and comparing evidence, would be nothing, and might be easily borne. It is the heart-rending cries of despair that shake you, the crowds of weeping women and children that meet and follow us everywhere—women and children, poor trembling creatures, who are homeless and starving—widows and orphans who are weeping for husbands and fathers slain, and who have not a roof to shelter them, nor bread for the morrow. It is this that makes the task that has been set Mr. Baring and Mr. Schuyler one which they will hardly care to ever undertake again.
We have just passed through the village of Raddovo on our way here, where we stop for the night before continuing to-morrow to Batak. Raddovo was apparently a very flourishing little place, and, to tell the truth, it has suffered less, perhaps, than the majority of the towns that were left to the tender care of the Bashi-Bazouks. It was a village of 160 houses, of which not one is left standing, and the inhabitants are now living under sheds of straw, constructed in nooks and corners of the black and crumbling walls. They gathered around us when we stopped in the middle of the once flourishing place, and timidly told us their story. They had offered no resistance at all to the Bashi-Bazouks, but simply ran away when they heard the Turks were coming. Having received timely notice, they had nearly all escaped, and only twenty-two men had been killed in all. The women and children had all been saved. Of the twenty-two killed, eight had been arrested after the inhabitants returned to the village, and were brutally slaughtered in cold blood while being taken to Philippopolis to prison. We had heard that eight bodies were found one day on the road near Philippopolis long after the affair was over, and had been told by the Turks that these were bodies of people killed during the insurrection, which had been transported there by some unknown means. When the people returned to their smoking homes, they found themselves completely ruined. There was not a stick of furniture nor a cooking utensil left, and all their cattle, sheep, and horses had been driven off. Their harvests were still standing in the fields, and they are unable to gather and save them without their cattle, which the Turks refuse to restore. Each family had on an average two pairs of oxen, making about 320 pairs in the whole village. Of these only thirty-three pairs were returned, which are utterly inadequate for gathering and saving the harvest. They besides will have to rebuild their houses, and for this purpose it will be necessary to draw wood a long distance from the mountains, and it will be impossible for them to do this before winter. Unless the poor people can get back their cattle, gather their harvests, and rebuild their houses, they will be in a state of destitution by next winter fearful to think of. The Turkish authorities have informed Mr. Schuyler everywhere that the cattle were being restored to the burnt villages, and that help would be given the people to rebuild their houses, and everywhere the people tell him that the cattle are not restored, and that no help of any kind is given them. I am convinced that not the slightest reliance can be placed in the promises of the Turkish authorities, and that they have no intention of fulfilling their promises when they make them. They are simply made to throw dust in the eyes of Europe, for although they have not patriotism enough to know or care whether they themselves ruin the country or not, they have a very lively fear of a European intervention, and are ready to promise anything to avert it. As for the execution of these promises they know that can be avoided. As though in very contempt for the promises and assurances given to Mr. Baring and Mr. Schuyler, they are everywhere sending out at this moment, and demanding the payment of taxes in the burnt and ruined villages, just as though nothing had happened. On this village of Raddovo, for instance, a tax of four hundred pounds has been levied, which it is utterly impossible for the poor people to pay. The pretext for the burning of this village was the killing of two zaptiehs, or rural policemen, here. The inhabitants flatly deny that any zaptieh was killed in or about the village, or that they ever raised a hand against the Turks. As in other villages where Turks have been killed, the people always confess it, I believe that here they tell the truth, and that there was no other cause for the attack than the desire for plunder on the part of the Turks. This is also, I believe, Mr. Schuyler's opinion. We walked through the village, which presented a sad spectacle of ruin.
Many of the people seemed to have returned, each family, to the blackened walls of their former homes, where they had constructed in the corner of the walls a sort of shelter with the aid of a few poles and a little straw. Some had a coverlet or two, others straw to sleep on, and many seemed to sleep on the bare ground. I saw one sick woman groaning with pain, lying with only a thin coverlet between her and the damp ground, while a little girl sat beside her and continually bathed her head with cold water. In some places the chimneys were still standing, and here were some cooking their meals, though God knows they had little enough to cook. Taking leave of the village, we continued our road to Pestera, where we had decided to pass the night, and after an hour's drive over a very bad road, and an upset in which one of our party narrowly escaped being killed, we arrived at the village. We were shown to the house of a Bulgarian, who offered us his hospitality, and in half an hour we received the visit of the Mudir of the village, accompanied by two officials from Tatar Bazardjik. After the interchange of various compliments, it turned out that one of these officials had been sent by the Kaimakam of Tatar Bazardjik to accompany us to Batak. To this Mr. Schuyler decidedly objected, and a long discussion ensued, at the end of which he informed them in the most peremptory manner that he would allow no official to accompany him, and this ended the matter. The Bulgarian was delighted to entertain us and gave us an excellent supper, to which we did ample justice, but I cannot say so much for the sleeping accommodations he offered us. We all occupied the same room, and slept on divans extended around the walls, which were anything but downy ; but the hospitality shown us was so hearty and cordial that we scarcely thought of beds.
The poor people were only too glad to receive our party of five, and to offer us the best they had, for they looked to us, strangers as we were, for encouragement and protection against their Mussulman rulers. As soon as the Mudir went away, what appeared to be the whole population of the town seemed to flock into the court-yard of our house, anxious to shake hands with us, or to tell us their tales of woe. The people who had these stories to tell us we soon found were not the people of the place, but of Batak, the town to which we were bound on the morrow, who had come here to beg a little assistance from their more lucky neighbours, and who now flocked around us with their plaints. They were mostly women who had lost their husbands, and in many cases their children, whose houses had been burnt, and who, from a condition of ease and independence, had been reduced to starvation and widowhood. They were of all ages, from eighteen up to eighty ; young mothers with children in their arms and two or three hanging to their skirts; middle-aged women who had grown-up sons and daughters that had fallen under the sharp edge of the sword ; old grandmothers with children and grandchildren all swept away at one fell swoop. They all told their stories with sobs and tears, beating their heads and wringing their hands in despair. And they were starving and houseless. We could not relieve their misery. We could only listen to their stories with saddened faces, and tell them to hope for better times, and promise to do something for them, if possible, when we should return to Constantinople. Vain hopes, and, I fear, vainer promises.