It has been a week since I wrote you last, when I sent you the Inauguration article. Since then I have been having the best time I ever had any place ALONE. I have had more fun with a crowd, but never have been so happy by myself. What I would have been had I taken some other chap with me I cannot imagine. But the people of this part of Greece have been so kind that I cannot say I have been alone. I never met with strangers anywhere who were so hospitable, so confiding and polite. After that slaughter-yard and pest place of Cuba, which is much more terrible to me now than it was when I was there, or before I had seen that war can be conducted like any other evil of civilization, this opera bouffe warfare is like a duel between two gentlemen in the Bois. Cuba is like a slave-holder beating a slave's head in with a whip. I am a war correspondent only by a great stretch of the imagination; I am a peace correspondent really, and all the fighting I have seen was by cannon at long range. (I was at long range, not the cannon.) I am doing this campaign in a personally conducted sense with no regard to the Powers or to the London Times. I did send them an article called "The Piping Times of War." If they do not use it I shall illustrate it with the photos I have taken and sell it, for five times the sum they would give, to the Harpers who are ever with us. As I once said in a noted work, "Greece, Mrs. Morris, restores all your lost illusions." For the last week I have been back in the days of Conrad, the Corsair, and "Oh, Maid of Athens, ere We Part." I have been riding over wind-swept hills and mountains topped with snow, and with sheep and goats and wild flowers of every color spreading for acres, and in a land where every man dresses by choice like a grand opera brigand, and not only for photographic purposes. I have been on the move all the time, chasing in the rear of armies that turn back as soon as I approach and apologize for disappointing me of a battle, or riding to the scene of a battle that never comes off, or hastening to a bombardment that turns out to be an attack on an empty fort.
I live on brown bread and cheese and goat's milk and sleep like a log in shepherds' huts. It is so beautiful that I almost grudge the night. Nora and Mother could take this trip as safely as a regiment and would see things out of fairyland. And such adventures! Late in life I am at last having adventures and honors heaped upon me. I was elected a captain of a band of brigands who had been watching a mountain pass for a month, and as it showed no signs of running away had taken to dancing on the green. I caught them at this innocent pastime and they allowed me to photograph them and give them wine at eight cents a quart which we drank out of a tin stovepipe. They drank about four feet of stovepipe or thirty-six cents' worth, then they danced and sang for me in a circle, old men and boys, then drilled with their carbines, and I showed them my revolver and field-glasses and themselves in the finder of the camera; and when I had to go they took me on their shoulders and marched me around waving their rifles. Then the old men kissed me on the cheek and we all embraced and they wept, and I felt as badly as though I were parting from fifty friends. They told my guide that if I would come back they would get fifty more "as brave as they" and I could be captain. I could not begin to tell you all the amusing things that have happened in this one week. I did not want to come at all, only a stern sense of duty made me. For I wanted to write the play in Charley's gilded halls and get to Paris and London. But I can never cease rejoicing that I took this trip. And it will make the book, "A Year from a Reporter's Diary," as complete as it can be. That was why I came. Now I have the Coronation of the Czar, the Millennial at Hungary, the Inauguration at Washington, the Queen's Jubilee, the War in Cuba, and the Greco-Turkish War. That is a good year's work and I mean to loaf after it. You will laugh and say that that is what I always say, but if you knew how I had to kick myself out of Florence and the Cascine to come here you would believe me. I want a rest and I am cutting this very short.
Don't fail to cut anything Dad and Mother don't like out of the Inauguration article. You will have me with you this winter on my little bicycle and going to dances and not paying board to anyone. Remember how I used to threaten to go to Greece when the coffee was not good. It seems too funny now, for I never was in a better place, or had more fun or saw less of war or the signs of war.
May 7, 1897. 10 East Twenty-Eighth Street-NIT Sponitza. DEAR CHAS.
This is one of the places out of Phroso, but as you never read Phroso I will cut all that-- I hate to say it so soon again but this is the most beautiful country to travel over I have seen-- It is a fairy theatrical grand opera country where everybody dresses in petticoats and gold braided vests and carry carbines to tend sheep with-- I rode from Santa Maura (see map) to a spot opposite Prevesa where they said there was going to be bombarding-- There was not of course but I had I think the most beautiful ride of my life. I was absolutely happy--little lambs bleated and kids butted each other and peasants in fur cloaks without sleeves and in tights like princes sat on rocks and played pipes and the sky was blue, the mountains covered with snow and the fields and hills full of purple bushes and yellow and blue flowers and sheep-- There was a cable station of yellow adobe. It was the only building and it looked across at Prevesa but nobody bombarded. The general gave me cognac and the cable operator played a guitar for me and the preyor sang a fine bass, the corporal not to be out done gave me chocolate and the army stood around in the sun and joined in the conversation correcting the general and each other and taking off their hats to all the noble sentiments we toasted. It was just like a comic opera. After a while when I had finished a fine hunck of cheese and hard eggs and brown bread I took a photograph of the General and the cable operator and the officer with the bass voice and half of the army-- The other half was then sent to escort me to this place. It walked and I rode and there were many halts for drinks and cigarettes. They all ran after a stray colt and were lost for some time but we re-mobilized and advanced with great effect into this town. I was here taken in charge by at least fifty sailors and as many soldiers and comic opera brigands in drawers and white petticoats, who conducted me to a house on the hill where the innkeeper brought me a live chicken to approve of for dinner. Then the mayor of the town turned up in gold clothes and Barrison Sister skirts and said the General had telegraphed about me and that I was his-- The innkeeper wept and said he had seen me first and the chorus of soldiers, sailors and brigands all joined in. I kept out of it but I knew the Mayor would win and he did. Then we went out to a man-of-war the size of the Vagabond and were solemnly assured there would be bombarding of Prevesa to-morrow-- I go to sleep in that hope. We leave here at seven crossing the river and ride after the Greeks who are approaching Prevesa from the land side while the men-of-war bombard it from the river. At least that is what they say. I think it is the mildest war on both sides I ever heard of and I certainly mean to be a Times correspondent next time I play at going to war-- After being insulted and frightened to death all over Cuba, this is the pleasantest picnic I was ever on-- They seriously apologized for not bombarding while I was there and I said not to mention it-- With lots of love, old man, and to the family
FLORENCE May 16, 1897. DEAR FAMILY:
Here I am safe and sound again in the old rooms in Florence. I was gone twenty-three days and was traveling nineteen of them, walking, riding; in sailboats, in the cars, and on steamers. I have had more experiences and adventures than I ever had before in three months and quite enough to last me for years. After my happy ride through Turkey and the retreat of the Greek army in Arta, of which I wrote you last, I have been in Thessaly where I saw the two days' battle of Velestinos from the beginning up to the end. It was the one real battle of the war and the Greeks fought well from the first to the last. I left Athens on the 29th of April with John Bass, a Harvard graduate, and a most charming and attractive youth who is, or was, in charge of the Journal men; Stephen Crane being among the number. He seems a genius with no responsibilities of any sort to anyone, and I and Bass left him at Velestinos after traveling with him for four days. Crane went to Volo, as did every other correspondent, leaving Bass and myself in Velestinos. As the villagers had run away, we burglarized the house of the mayor and made it our habitation while the courier hunted for food. It was like "The Swiss Family Robinson," and we rejoiced over the discovery of soap and tablecloths and stray knives and forks, just as though we had been cast on a desert island. Bass did the cooking and I laid the table and washed up and made the beds, which were full of fleas. But we had been sleeping on chairs and on the floor for a week so we did not mind much.
The second day we were awakened by cannon and you can imagine our joy and excitement. We had it all to ourselves for eight hours, as it took the other correspondents that long to arrive. It was an artillery and infantry battle and about 20,000 men were engaged on both sides. The Greeks fought from little trenches on the hills back of the town and the Turks advanced across a great green prairie. It was very long range and only twice did they get to within a quarter of a mile of our trenches. Bass and I went all over the Greek lines, for you were just as safe in one place as in another, which means that it wasn't safe anywhere, so we gave up considering that and followed the fight as best we could from the first trench, which was the only one that gave an uninterrupted view of the Turkish forces. It was a brilliantly clear day but opened with a hail storm, which enabled the Turks to crawl up half a mile in the sudden darkness. It also gave me the worst attack of sciatica I ever had. Fortunately, it did not come on badly until I reached Volo, when it suddenly took hold of me so that I could not walk. The trenches were wet with the rain and we had no clothes to change to, and two more showers kept us more or less wet all day. We had a fine view of everything and I learned a lot.