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The Pobratim: A Slav Novel

P. Jones

  Produced by Catherine B. Krusberg









  [_All Rights Reserved._]

  _Printed and Published by_








  TRIESTE,17_th June_, 1895.




























  There was quite a bustle at Budua, because Janko Markovic and MilosBellacic had just come back from Cattaro that very morning, and--whatwas really surprising--they were both getting shaved.

  Now, it has always been a most uncommon occurrence amongst us for aman to get shaved on a Friday.

  Mind, I do not mean to say that I consider this operation as being inany way unlucky if performed on that day. We, of course, cut our hairduring the new moon; but there is no special time for shaving.Cutting one's nails on a Saturday brings on illnesses, as we allknow; and I, without being superstitious, can name you lots of peoplewho fell ill simply out of disregard to the wisdom of their elders.Nay, I myself once suffered a dreadful toothache for havingthoughtlessly pared my nails on the last Saturday of the year.

  Shaving on Saturday, however, cannot be considered as harmfuleither to the body or to the soul. Still, as we all go to thebarber's once a week, on Sunday morning, it has hitherto beenregarded as part of our dominical duties.

  There was, therefore, some particular reason that made theseprominent citizens shave on a Friday; could the reason be anotherchange in the Government?

  Quite a little crowd had gathered, by ones and by twos, round thehairdresser's shop; some were standing, others sitting, some smoking,others eating dried melon seeds--all were gravely looking at thebarber, who was holding Bellacic by the tip of his nose and wasscraping his cheek with a razor which kept making a sharp, stridulousnoise as it cut down the crisp, wiry stubble hair of almost a week'sgrowth. Then the shaver left the nose, for, as a tuft of hair in ahollow spot under the cheek-bone was renitent to the steel blade, hepoked his thumb in his customer's mouth, swelled out the sunken spotand cleaned it beautifully. He was a real artist, who took a pride indoing his work neatly. He then wiped the ends on his finger, cast thesoap to the ground with a jerk and a snap, then he rubbed his hand onthe head of an urchin standing by.

  The barber, who was as inquisitive and as loquacious as all theFigaros of larger towns, had tried craftily and with many an ambageto get at the information we were all so anxious to know; butnothing seemed to induce our clients to speak.

  "I suppose," said he, with a pleasant smile, "I'll soon have newcustomers to shave?"

  "Yes? Who?" quoth Markovic.

  "Why, your sons, Uros and Milenko."

  "No, not yet; they'll not be back before some months."

  All conjectures and guesses, all suppositions and surmises were atlast at an end. The barber, although he had been a long time aboutit, had finished shaving Bellacic; Markovic was now sitting down withthe towel tied round his neck.

  "This afternoon we start for Cettinje," said Bellacic, wiping himself.

  An "Ah!" of satisfaction and expectation was followed by a momentof breathless silence. The barber stopped soaping his client's faceand turned to look at Bellacic.

  "On a diplomatic mission, of course?" he asked, in a hollow whisper.

  "On a diplomatic mission."

  "To the Vladika, eh?"

  Everyone looked significantly at his neighbor, some twisted theirlong moustaches, others instinctively lifted their hands to the haftsof their knives. They all seemed to say: "It is what we have beensuspecting from the very beginning. Montenegro will take back Cattaroand Budua." Thereupon every face brightened.

  It was natural to surmise such a thing in those times, inasmuch as inthe course of a few years we had been shifting from hand to hand. TheFrench had taken us from the Venetians; then we became Russians; theEnglish drove the Cossacks away, and gave us over to the Austrians,our present masters.

  "Of course, nobody goes to Cettinje without doing homage to theVladika. Still, our mission is not to the Prince."

  We all looked at Bellacic and at Markovic in blank astonishment.

  "You might as well tell them," said one of the friends to the other."Besides, it is a thing that all the town will know in a few days."

  "Well," quoth Markovic, "our mission is not a political one. We aredeputed by Radonic----"

  "By Radonic?" interrupted the shaver. "But he is not in Budua."

  "No, he is at Perasto with his ship. We saw him at Cattaro."


  "And he is going to get married."


  "But he is too old," said a youth, without thinking.

  "We have only the age we look," retorted an elderly man, snappishly.

  "Well, but Radonic looks old," answered the young man.

  "But to whom is he going to be married?"

  "To Milena."

  "What! Milena Zwillievic?"

  "Exactly; to the prettiest girl of Montenegro!"

  Many a young face fell, more than one brow grew cloudy, and a brighteye got dim.

  "It is an impossible marriage," said someone.

  "A rich husband, a horned bull," quoth another.

  "But he is much older than she is."

  "We marry our sons when we like, and our daughters when we can,"added Figaro, sententiously.

  "Still, how could Zwillievic consent to take for his son-in-law aman as old as himself?"

  "A hero of the _Kolo_."

  "And yet Zwillievic is a man with a gold head, a wise man."

  "Yes, but he has also gold hands," replied Markovic.

  "He did not follow the proverb--" added Bellacic, "'Consult yourpurse, then buy.' His passion for arms ruined him; debts must bepaid."

  "We were once on board the same ship with Radonic," said one of thefriends; "so he asked me to be the _Stari-Svat_."

  "And I," added the other, "as Zwillievic is a kinsman of mine, Imust be _voivoda_."

  "Ah, poor Milena! the year will be a black one to her."

  "After all, she'll henceforth be able to sit in flour."

  "And we all have our Black Fridays."

  By this time Markovic had been shaved, the two friends wended theirway homewards, and the crowd dispersed.

  "And now," you evidently ask, "who is this Milos Bellacic and hisfriend, Janko Markovic?"

  Two well-to-do citizens of Budua, the last of all Austrian towns, two_gospodje_, but, unlike most of the Buduans and the other Dalmatians,they were real Iugo-Slavs, Illyrians of the great Serbian stock.

  As children they had clung to one another on acc
ount of thefriendship that existed between their fathers; as they grew olderthis feeling, of almost kinship, was strengthened by the many trialsthey had to undergo in common, for Fate seemed to have spun theirlives out of the selfsame yarn. At fourteen they had left home, on aschooner bound for distant coasts; later, they got shipwrecked, andswam--or rather they were washed--ashore, clinging to the same plank.Thus they suffered cold, hunger, "the whips and scorns of time"together.

  From America, where they had been cast by the waves, they worked theirway to Trieste, hoping from thence to return to their native place,ever dear to their hearts. This ill wind, so fatal, not only to theship, but to the remainder of the crew, proved to be the young men'sfortune. Trieste was, at the time, in the very beginning of itsmushroom growth, before that host of adventurers had flocked thitherfrom every part of the world with the hopes of making money.

  It is not to be wondered that, after the hard life these young menhad undergone, they understood the full strength of the Italianproverb--"Praise the sea, but keep to the shore." Sober andhard-working as they were, they made up their minds to try andacquire by trade what they could hardly get by a rough seafaringlife--their daily bread and a little money for their old age.

  Strongly built, they started life as porters. Like beasts of burden,they were harnessed to a cart the whole of the long summer days, orelse they helped to unload the ships that came in port.

  Having managed to scrape a little money together, they began to tradeon their own account. They imported from Dalmatia, wine, sardines,carobs, and _castradina_, or smoked mutton; they exported cottongoods. They got to be shareholders, and then owners, of a bark, a_trabacolo_. The times were good; there was, as yet, little or nocompetition; therefore money begot money, and, though they couldneither read nor write, still they soon found themselves the ownersof a sum of money which--to them--was unlimited wealth. Had theyremained in Trieste, they might have got to be millionaires, butthey loved their birthplace even more than they did riches.

  Once again in Budua, they added a good many acres of vineyards and ofolive-trees to their paternal farms, and, from that time, they livedthere in all the contentment this world can afford. They married,but, strange to say, they were not blessed with many children; eachof them had only one son. Janko's son was, after his friend, namedMilenko; the other infant was christened Uros.

  These two children are the _pobratim_ of our story.

  "But what is the meaning of this strange word?" you ask.

  Have but a little patience, and it will be explained to you in duetime.

  Uros and Milenko had inherited with their blood that friendshipwhich had bound their fathers and forefathers before them. Aschildren, they belonged to either mother, and they often slepttogether in the same trough-like cradle scooped out of the trunkof a tree; they ate out of the same _zdila_--the huge woodenporringer which served the family as table dish and plates; theydrank out of the same _bukara_, or wooden bottle, for, being richand having vineyards of their own, wine was never wanting at theirmeals.

  At fourteen they, like their fathers, went off to sea, for lads mustknow something of the world. Happily, however, they both came back toBudua after a cruise of some months. Though they met with manysqualls, still they never came to any grief.

  As a rule they staid away cruising about the Adriatic and the Levantfrom November to the month of August; but when the harvest-time drewnigh, they returned home, where hands were wanted to reap and garnersuch fruits as the rich soil had yielded. After the vintage was overand the olives gathered, the earth was left bare; then they set offwith the swallows, though not always for warmer climes. It was thetime when sudden gales blow fiercely, when the crested waves begin toroll and the sea is most stormy.

  A few months after that memorable Friday upon which Bellacic andMarkovic had got shaved, exciting thereby everybody's astonishment,they themselves were surprised to see their sons return unexpectedly.The fact was that, upon reaching Cattaro, the ship on which they hadembarked was sold and all the crew were paid off. As they did notthink it worth their while to look for another ship, they seized thisopportunity to go and spend the 24th of May at home, for St. John'sis "the maddest, merriest day of all the glad New Year." Moreover,they were lucky, for the year before had been a plentiful one, whilstthe new crops promised, even now, to make the _pojata_ groan undertheir weight; for whilst an empty and a scanty larder can afford buta sorry welcome, a hospitable man becomes even lavish when his casksare full of wine, his bins are heaped with corn, his jars overflowwith oil; when, added to this, there is a prospect of more.

  Uros and Milenko had but just arrived home when a little boy--theyoungest son of a wealthy neighbour, whose name's day was on themorrow--appeared on the threshold of their door, and, taking off hislittle cap demurely, said, in a solemn voice:

  "Yours is the house of God. My father greets you, and asks you tocome and drink a glass of wine with him. We'll chat to while away theevening hours, and we'll not withhold from you the good things St.John, our patron saint, has sent us."

  Having recited his invitation, the little herald bowed and went offto bear his message elsewhere.

  The family, who knew that this invitation was forthcoming, set off atonce for their friend's house. Upon reaching the gate of their host'sgarden, all the men fired off their pistols as a sign of joy, amongstthe shouts of "_Zivio_"; then, upon entering, they went up to the_Starescina_, the master of the house, and wished him, in God's name,many happy returns of the day.

  A goodly crowd of people had now gathered together, all bent uponmerry-making, and a fine evening they had of it; though, according tothe old men, this was but moping compared to the festivities they hadbeen used to in their youth. Then, hosts and guests being jollytogether, they quite forgot that time had wings, and eight days wouldsometimes pass before anybody thought of leave-taking.

  On that mystic evening almost all the amusements had an allegorical orweird character. In every game there was an attempt at divination.Thus the first one that was played consisted in throwing a garlandamidst the branches of a tree. If it remained caught at the firstthrow, the owner was to get married during the year; if not, thenumber of times the wreath was tossed upwards corresponded with asmany years of patient waiting. It was considered a bad omen if thegarland came to pieces.

  When Uros threw his chaplet of flowers up it came at once down again,bringing an old wreath that the wind and the winter storms hadrespected.

  "Why," said the _Starescina_, turning to Milena, who had come towitness the game, "surely it is your husband's wreath!"

  "Yes, I remember," added Markovic; "last year Radonic was with us,and his garland remained in the tree the first time he flung it up."

  "Oh, Uros, fie! you'll bring Radonic ill-luck yet."

  Uros turned round, and his eyes met those of Milena for the firsttime. Both blushed. There were a few moments of awkward silence, andthen the young man, touching his cap, said:

  "I am sorry, _gospa_, but, of course, I did not do it on purpose."

  "No, surely not, and, besides, it had to come down sooner or later."

  He tossed his wreath up again, but whether he felt nervous because hehad been laughed at, or because the beautiful eyes of the youngMontenegrine woman paralysed his arm, he felt himself so clumsy andawkward that he tossed up his garland several times, but he onlysucceeded to batter it as it came down again.

  "Just let me try once," said Milenko to his friend, as he cast hiswreath up in the branches of the tree, where it nestled.

  Uros made another attempt; down came his garland, bringing hisfriend's together with it, amid the general laughter.

  "Uros is like the dog in the manger," said one of the bystanders; "hewill not marry, nor does he wish other people to do so."

  "Bad luck and a bad omen!" whispered an old crony to Milenko. "Bewareof your friend; nor, if I were Radonic, should I trust my pretty wifewith him. Bad luck and a bad omen!"

  After garland throwing, huge bonfires were kindled
, and thesurrounding mountains gleamed with many lights. It was, indeed, afine sight to see the high, heaven-kissing flames reflected by thedark waters of the blue Adriatic.

  But of all the bonfires in the neighbourhood, the _Starescina_'s wasthe biggest, for he was one of the richest men of the town. It wasthus no easy matter to jump scathless over it. Still, young and olddid manage to do so, either when the flames--chasing one another--leapt up to the sky, or else when the fire began to burn low. Thestillness of the night was interrupted by prolonged shouts of"_Zivio!_" repeated again and again by the echoes of the neighbouringmountains; but amidst the shouting of "Long life!" you could hear thehooting of some owl scared by this unusual glimmering light, andevery now and then the shrill cry of some witch or some other ghostlywanderer of the night, and the suppressed groaning and gnashing ofteeth of evil spirits, disappointed to think that so many sturdy ladsand winsome lassies should escape their clutches for a whole year;for they have no power against all those who jump over these hallowedbonfires on the eve of the mystic saint's day.

  "There, did you hear?" said one of the young girls, shuddering.Thereupon we all crossed ourselves devoutly.

  "It is better not to think of them, they cannot come near us," saidthe _Starescina_.

  "It is not long ago that we saw three witches burnt at Zavojane. Whenwas it, Bellacic?"

  "It was in 1823, in the month of August, on the 3rd, if I rememberrightly."

  "Oh! then they were real witches?"

  "Of course."

  "Were they very ugly? Had they beards?"

  "Oh, no! they were very much like all the other elderly women of theplace."

  "And what had they done?"

  "No end of mischief. One of them had eaten a child alive. Another hadtaken a young man's heart out of his body whilst he was asleep. He, onawaking--not knowing what had happened to him--felt a great void inhis chest."

  "Poor fellow!" said Milena, compassionately, whilst her glances fellon Uros, and he actually felt like the young man who had lost hisheart.

  "But what was she going to do with it?"

  "Why, roast and eat it."

  "A friar who had witnessed the whole thing, but who had been deprivedof all power of rendering assistance, accused her of witchcraft, andshe was made to give back the heart before she had had time to devour it."

  "How wonderful!"

  "The third had rendered all the balls of the guns aimless, and allweapons blunt and useless. But these are only some of the many evilsthey had done."

  "And you saw them burnt?"

  "Yes, in the presence of the Catholic parish priest, two friars andall the local authorities."

  The bonfires were now over, and nothing but the glowing embersremained. All then went in the house to partake of the many goodthings that St. John, or his namesake, had prepared for them.

  There was for supper: first, whole lambs, roasted on the spit, thenfish, _castradina_, and many other dishes, all more or less stuffedwith garlic--a condiment which never fails anywhere. It is said thatthe gods, having been asked if this bulb was to rank amongst eatables,decreed that no dish should ever remain without it; and the Slavshave faithfully followed out their decree.

  When all had eaten till they were crop full, and had drunk theirfill, they all raught after their meat as seemly as Madame Eglentine;then, loosening their belts, they remained seated on their stools, orsquatted on the ground, chatting, punning, telling anecdotes, orlistening to the grave discourses of the old men about St. John.

  "Fancy," said a deacon of a neighbouring church, "when we have fastedfor a day or two, we think we have done much. St. John, instead,fasted for forty days and forty nights, without even taking a sip ofwater."

  "But why did he fast so long?"

  "Because he had committed a great sin; and on account of this sin healways walked with his head bent down. When the people said to him,'John, why do you not lift up your head?' he always replied demurely,'Because I am not worthy to lift up my eyes heavenwards; and I shallonly do so when an infant, that cannot yet speak, will bid me do it.'Now, it happened that one day John met a young woman carrying alittle child, and when the infant saw John, he said: 'John, lift upthine eyes heavenward; my Father has forgiven thee.' The saint, ingreat joy, knowing that the babe was Jesus Christ, went at once home;and with a red-hot iron he burnt the initials of the Saviour on hisside, so that he might never forget his name."

  "And now let's have a story," said the host.

  As Milos Bellacic was noted for his skill in relating a good story, hewas asked by everybody to tell them one of his very best tales.

  Being a man who had travelled, he knew how to treat women with moredeference than the remainder of the Buduans. So turning towards hishost's wife:

  "Which will you have?" said he.

  "Any one you like."

  "'Hussein and Ayesha'?"

  "No," said some. "Yes," added the others, without waiting for thelady of the house to have her choice.

  "Then 'The Death of Fair Jurecevic's Lovers'?"

  "No, that was an old story."

  "Perhaps, 'The Loves of Adelin the Turk and Mary the Christian'?"

  "They all knew it."

  "Or, 'Marko Kraglievic and the Vila'?"

  "No, leave Marko to the _guzlari_."

  "Well, then, it must be 'The Story of Jella and the Macic.'"

  "Oh!" said the _gospodina_, "I once heard it in my childhood, and nowI only remember its name. Still, I have always had a longing to hearit again; therefore, do tell it."

  Milos Bellacic swallowed another glass of _slivovitz_, leaving,however, a few drops at the bottom of his glass, which he spilt onthe floor as a compliment to the _Starescina_, showing thereby thatin his house there was not only enough and to spare, but even to bewasted. He then took a long pull at the amber mouthpiece of his longMarasca cherry pipe, let the smoke rise quietly and curl about hisnose, and, after clearing his throat, began as follows:


  Once upon a time there lived in a village of Crivoscie an old manand his wife; they had one fair daughter and no more. This girl wasbeyond all doubt the prettiest maiden of the place. She was asbeautiful as the rising sun, or the new moon, or as a _Vila_; sonothing more need be said about her good looks. All the young men ofthe village and of the neighbouring country were madly in love withher, though she never gave them the slightest encouragement.

  Being now of a marriageable age, she was, of course, asked to everyfestivity. Still, being very demure, she would not go anywhere, asneither her father nor her mother, who were a sullen couple ofstingy, covetous old fogeys, would accompany her.

  At last her parents, fearing lest she might remain an old maid, andbe a thorn rather than a comfort to them, insisted upon her being alittle more sociable, and go out of an evening like the other girls."Moreover, if some rich young man comes courting you, be civil tohim," said the mother. "For there are still fools who will marry agirl for her pretty face," quoth the father. It was, therefore,decided that the very next time some neighbours gathered together tomake merry, Jella should take part in the festivity. "For how was sheever to find the husband of her choice if she always remained shut upat home?" said the mother.

  Soon afterwards, a feast in honour of some saint or other happened tobe given at the house of one of their wealthy neighbours, so Jelladecked herself out in her finest dress and went. She was reallybeautiful that evening, for she wore a gown of white wool, allembroidered in front with a wreath of gay flowers, then an over-dressof the same material, the sleeves of which were likewise richlystitched in silks of many colours. Her belt was of some costlyByzantine stuff, all purfled with gold threads. On her head she worea red cap, the headgear of the young Crivosciane.

  As she entered the room, all the young men flocked around her toinvite her to dance the _Kolo_ with them, and to whisper all kinds ofpretty things to her. But she, blushing, refused them all, declaringthat she would not dance, elbowed her way to a corner of the
room,where she sat down quite alone. All the young men soon came buzzingaround her, like moths round a candle, each one hoping to befortunate enough to become her partner. Anyhow, when the music struckup, and the _Kolo_ began, their toes were now itching, and one by onethey slunk away, and she, to her great joy, and the still greaterjoy of the other girls, was left quite by herself.

  While she was looking at the evolutions of the _Kolo_, she saw ayoung stranger enter the room. Although he wore the dress of theKotor, he evidently was from some distant part of the country. Hisclothes--made out of the finest stuffs, richly braided andembroidered in gold--were trimmed with filigree buttons and bugles.The _pas_, or sash, he wore round his waist was of crimson silk,woven with gold threads; the wide morocco girdle--the _pripasnjaca_--was purfled with lovely arabesques; his princely weapons, studdedwith precious stones and damaskened, were numerous and costly. Hispipe, stuck not in his girdle like his arms, but 'twixt his bluesatin waistcoat--_jacerma_--and his shirt, had the hugest ambermouthpiece that man had ever seen; aye, the Czar himself could notpossibly have a finer pipe. What young man, seeing that pipe with itssilver mounting, adorned with coral and turquoises, could helpbreaking the Tenth Commandment? He was, moreover, as handsome as a_Macic_, aye, as winsome as Puck.

  He came in the room, doffed his cap to greet the company like awell-bred young man, then set it pertly on his head again. Afterthat, he went about chatting with the lads, flirting with thelassies, as if he had long been acquainted with them, like a youthaccustomed to good company. He did not notice, however, poor Jella inher corner. He took no part in the dances, probably because, everyJack having found his Jill, there was nobody with whom he coulddance.

  The girls all looked slily at him, and many a one wished in her heartthat she had not been so hasty in choosing her partner, nay, that shehad remained a wallflower for that night.

  At last the young stranger wended his steps towards that corner whereJella was sitting alone, moping. He no sooner caught sight of herthan he went gracefully up, and, looking at her with a merry twinklein his eyes, and a most mischievous smile upon his lips:

  "And you, my pretty one? Don't you dance this evening?" he asked.

  "I never dance, either this evening or any other."

  "And why not?"

  "Because there is not a single young man I care to dance with."

  "Oh, Jella!" whispered the girls, "dance with him if he asks you; weshould so much like to see how he dances."

  "Then it would be useless asking you to dance the _Kolo_ with me, Isuppose?"

  "Oh, Jella! dance with him," whispered the young men; "it would be anunheard-of rudeness to refuse dancing with a stranger who has nopartner."

  "Even if I did not care about dancing, I should do so for the sake ofour village."

  "Then you only dance with me that it might not be said: 'He waswelcomed with the sour lees of wine'?"

  "I dance with you because I choose to do so."

  "Thank you, pretty one."

  The two thereupon began to go through the maze of the _Kolo_, and, ashe twisted her round, they both moved so gracefully, keeping time tothe music, that they looked like feathery boughs swayed by the summerbreeze.

  About ten o'clock the dances came to an end, and every youth, havinggone to thank his host for the pleasant evening he had passed, wentoff with his partner, laughing and chatting all the way.

  "And you, my lovely one, where do you live?" asked the stranger ofJella.

  "In one of the very last houses of the village, quite at the end ofthe lane."

  "Will you allow me to see you home?"

  "If I am not taking you out of your way."

  "Even if it were, it would be a pleasure for me."

  Jella blushed, not knowing what to answer to so polite a youth.

  They, therefore, went off together, and in no time they reached herhouse. Jella then bid the stranger good-bye, and, standing on thedoor-step, she saw him disappear in the darkness of the night.

  Whither had he gone? Which turning had he taken? She did not know.

  A feeling of deep sadness came over her; for the first time in herlife she felt a sense of bereavement and loneliness.

  Would this handsome young man come back again? She almost felt likerunning after the stranger to ask him if they would meet on themorrow, or, at least, after some days. Being a modest girl, she, ofcourse, could not do so; moreover, the youth had alreadydisappeared.

  "Did you bring me any cakes?" was the mother's first question,peevish at being awakened in her first sleep.

  "Oh, no! _mati_; I never ate a crumb of a cake myself."

  "And you enjoyed yourself?"

  "Oh! very much so; far more than I ever thought."

  Thereupon she began to relate all that had happened, and would havemade a long description of the young man who had danced with her, buther father woke in the midst of a tough snore and bade her hold hertongue.

  On the morrow there was again a party in the village, for it wascarnival, the time of the year when good folks make merry. When nightcame on, Jella went to the dance without needing to be much pressedby her parents. She was anxious to know if the young stranger wouldbe there, and, also, if he would dance with her or with some othergirl.

  "Remember," said her mother to her as she was going off, "do notdance with him 'like a fly without a head'; but measure him from topto toe, and think how lucky it would be if he, being well off, wouldmarry a dowerless girl like you. The whole village speaks of him, ofhis weapons and his pipe; still, he might be 'like a drop of watersuspended on a leaf,' without house or home. Therefore, remember toquestion him as to his land, his castle, and so forth; try and findout if he is an only son and from where he comes, for 'Marry withyour ears and not with your eyes,' as the saying is."

  "Anyhow, take this tobacco-pouch," added the old man, "and offer it tohim before he leaves you."

  "Why?" asked Jella, guilelessly.

  "Because it is made out of a musk-rat, and so it will be easy tofollow him whithersoever he goes, even in the darkness of the night."

  Jella, being a simple kind of a girl, did not like the idea ofentrapping a young man; moreover, if she admired the stranger, it wasfor his good looks and his wit rather than for his rich clothes; butbeing frightened both of her father and her mother, who had never hada kind word for her, she promised to do as she was bidden. She thenwent to the party, and there everything happened as upon thepreceding evening.

  The girls all waited for the handsome young man to make hisappearance, and put off accepting partners till the last moment, eachone hoping that she might be the chosen one. The hour upon which hehad come the evening before was now past, and still they all waitedin vain. The music had begun, and the young men, impatient to be upand doing, were heavily beating time with their feet. At last the_Kolo_ began. They had just taken their places, and all except Jellahad forgotten the stranger, when he all at once stepped into theroom, bringing with him a number of bottles of maraschino, and cakesoverflowing with honey and stuffed with pistachios.

  He, as upon the evening before, went round the room, talking with theyoung men and teazing the prettiest girls. Then he stepped up toJella, and asked her to dance with him.

  The _Kolo_ at last came to an end, the boys went off with the girls,the old folks hobbled after them, and the unknown youth, putting hisarm round his partner's waist, as if he had been engaged to her,accompanied her home.

  They soon reached her house; Jella then gave the stranger thetobacco-pouch, and, having bid him good-night, she stood forlorn onthe door-step, to see him go off. No sooner had he turned his back,than the father, who was holding the door ajar and listening to everyword they said, slipped out, like a weasel, and followed him by thesmell of his musk pouch.

  The night was as still as it was dark, the moon had not yet risen, ahushed silence seemed to have fallen over nature, and not theslightest animal was heard stirring abroad.

  The young fellow, after following the road for about a hundred pac
es,left the highway and took a short cut across the fields. The old manwas astounded to see that, though a stranger, he was quite familiarwith the country, for he knew not only what lane to take, but alsowhat path to follow in the darkness of the night, almost better thanhe did himself. He climbed over walls, slipped through the gaps inthe hedges, leapt over ditches, just as if it had been broaddaylight.

  Jella's father had a great ado to follow him; still, he managed tohobble along, like an ungainly, bow-legged setter, as fast as theother one capered. They crossed a wood, where the boles of the treeshad weird and fantastic shapes, where thorny twigs clutched him byhis clothes; then they came out on a plain covered with sharp flints,where huge scorpions lurked under every stone. Afterwards theyreached a blasted heath, where nothing grew but gnarled, knotty, andtwisted roots of trees, which, by the dusky light of the stars,looked like huge snakes and fantastical reptiles; there, in theclumps of rank grass, the horned vipers curled themselves. After thisthey crossed a morass, amidst the croaking of the toads and thehooting of owls, where unhallowed will-o'-the-wisps flitted aroundhim.

  The old man was now sorely frightened; the country they were crossingwas quite unknown to him, and besides, it looked like a spot cursedby God, and leading to a worse place still. He began to lag. What washe to do?--go back?--he would only flounder in the mire. He crossedhimself, shut his eyes tightly, and followed the smell of the musk.He thus walked on for some time, shivering with fear as he felt aflapping of wings near him, and ever and anon a draught of cold airmade him lose the scent he was following.

  At last he stopped, hearing a loud creaking sound, a gratingstridulous noise, like that of the rusty hinges of some heavy irongate which was being closed just behind him.

  A gate in the midst of a morass! thought he; where the devil couldhe have come to? As he uttered the ominous word of _Kudic_ he heardthe earth groan under his feet.

  It is a terrible thing to hear the earth groan; it does so justbefore an earthquake!

  He did not dare to open his eyes; he listened, awed, and then thefaint sound of a distant bell fell upon his ears.

  It was midnight, and that bell seemed to be slowly tolling--aye,tolling for the dead, the dead that groan in the bosom of the earth.

  A shiver came over him, big drops of cold sweat gathered on hisforehead. He sniffed the cold night air; it smelt earthy and damp,the scent of musk had quite passed away.

  At last he half-opened his eyes, to see if he could perceive anythingof the young stranger. The moon, rising behind a hillock, looked likea weird eye peeping on a ghastly scene. What did he see--what werethose uncouth shapes looming in the distance, amidst the surroundingmist?

  Why was the earth newly dug at his feet, shedding a smell of clay andmildew?

  He felt his head spinning, and everything about him seemed to whirl.

  What was that dark object dangling down, as from a huge gallows?

  Whither was he to go?--back across the wide morass, where the earth,soft and miry, sank under his feet, where the unhallowed lights leadthe wanderers into bottomless quagmires?

  He opened his eyes widely, and began to stare around. He saw strangeshapes flit through the fog, figures darker than the fog itself rise,mist-like, from the earth. Were they night-birds or human beings? Hecould not tell.

  All at once he bethought himself that they were witches and wizards,_carovnitsi_ and _viestitche_, the _morine_ or nightmares, and allthe creatures of hell gathering together for their nightly frolic.

  Fear prompted him to run off as fast as he possibly could, but hugepits were yawning all around him; moreover, curiosity held him back,for he would have liked to see where the damned store away theirgold; so, between these two feelings, he stood there rooted to theearth.

  At last, when fear prevailed over covetousness, he was about to flee;he felt the ground shiver under his feet, a grave slowly opened onthe spot where he stood, for--as you surely must have understood--hewas in the very midst of a burying-ground. At midnight in aburying-ground, when the tombs gape and give out their dead! His hairstood on end, his blood was curdling within his veins, his very heartstopped beating.

  Can you fancy his terror in seeing a _voukoudlak_, a horrid vampireall bloated with the blood it nightly sucks. Slowly he saw them riseone after the other, each one looking like a drowsy man awaking fromdeep slumbers. Soon they began to shake off their sluggishness, andleap and jump and frolic around, and as the mist cleared he could seeall the other uncouth figures whirl about in a mazy dance, likemidges on a rainy day.

  It was too late to run away now, for as soon as these blood-suckerssaw him, they surrounded him, capering and yelling, twisting theirboneless and leech-like bodies, grinning at him with delight, at thethought of the good cheer awaiting them, telling him that it was byno means a painful kind of death, and that afterwards he himselfwould become a vampire and have a jolly time of it.

  At the sight of these dead-and-alive kind of ghosts, the poor manwished he had either a pentacle, a bit of consecrated candle, oreven a medal of the Virgin; but he had nothing, he was at the mercyof the fiends; therefore, overpowered by fear, he fell down in afainting-fit.

  That night, and the whole of the following day, Jella and her motherwaited for the old man to come back; but they waited in vain. Whenthe evening came on, her mother persuaded her to go to thedancing-party and see if the young stranger would come again.

  "Perhaps," said she, "he might tell you something about your father;if not, ask no questions. Anyhow, take this ball of thread, which Ihave spun myself, and on bidding him good-bye, manage to cast thisloop on one of his buttons, drop the ball on the ground, and leaveeverything to me. Very likely your father has lost the scent of themusk, and is still wandering about the country. This thread, which isas strong as wire, is a much surer guide to go by."

  Jella did as she was bid. She went to the house where the _Kolo_ wasbeing danced; she spent the whole evening with the young stranger,who never said a word about her father, and when the moment ofparting on the threshold of the door arrived, she deftly fastened theend of the thread to one of his buttons, and then stood watching himgo off.

  The ball having slowly unwound itself, the old woman darted out andcaught hold of the other end of the string. Then she followed theyouth in the darkness, through thorns and thickets, through bramblesand briars, as well as her tottering legs could carry her, much inthe same way her husband had done the evening before.

  That night and the day afterwards, Jella waited for her father andmother, but neither of them returned. When evening came on, afraid ofremaining alone, she again went to dance the _Kolo_.

  The evening passed very quickly, and the rustic ball came to an end.The youth accompanied her home as he had done the evening before, andon their way he whispered words of love in her ear, that made herheart beat faster, and her head grow quite giddy, words that made herforget her father and mother, and the dreaded night she was to passquite alone. Still, as they got in sight of the house, Jella, who wasvery frightened, grew all at once quite thoughtful and gloomy. Seeingher so sorrowful, the young stranger put again his arm round herwaist, and looking deep into her dark blue eyes, he asked her why shewas so sad.

  She thereupon told him the cause of all her troubles.

  "Never mind, my darling," said the youth, "come along with me."

  "But," faltered Jella, hesitatingly, "do you go far?"

  "No, not so very far either."

  "Still, where do you go?"

  "Come and see, dear."

  Jella did not exactly know what to do. She fain would go with him,and yet she was afraid of what people might say about her, and againshe shuddered at the thought of having to remain at home quite alone.

  "You are not afraid to come with me," he asked; "are you?"

  "Afraid? No, why should I be? you surely would take care of me?"

  "Of course; why do you not come, then?"

  "Because the old women might say that it is improper."

  "Oh," quoth h
e, laughing, "only old women who have daughters of theirown to marry, say such things!"

  Thereupon he offered her his arm, and off they went.

  Soon leaving the village behind them, they were in the open fields,beyond the vineyards and the orchards, in the untilled land where theagaves shoot their gaunt stalks up towards the sky, where the air isredolent with the scent of thyme, sage and the flowering Agnus castusbushes; then again they went through leafy lanes of myrtle andpomegranate-trees and meadows where orchis bloomed and sparklingbrooks were babbling in their pebbly beds.

  Though they had been walking for hours, Jella did not feel in theleast tired; it seemed as if she had been borne on the wings of thewind. Moreover, all sense of gloom and sadness was over, and she wasas blithe and as merry as she had ever been.

  At last--towards dawn--they reached a dense wood, where stately oaksand fine beech-trees formed fretted domes high up in the air. Therenightingales warbled erotic songs, and the merle's throat burst withlove; there the crickets chirped with such glee that you could hardlyhelp feeling how pleasant life was. The moon on its wane cast amellow, silvery light through the shivering leaves, whilst in theeast the sky was of the pale saffron tint of early dawn.

  "Stop!" said the young girl, laying her hand on the stranger's arm."Do you not see there some beautiful ladies dancing under the trees,swinging on the long pendant branches and combing the pearly drops ofdew from their black locks?"

  "I see them quite well."

  "They must be _Vile_?"

  "I am sure they are."

  "Fairies should not be seen by mortal eyes against their wish. Thendo not let us seek their wrath."

  "Do not be afraid, sweet child; we are no ordinary mortals, you andI."

  "You, perhaps, are not; but as for me, I am only a poor peasantgirl."

  "No, my love, you are much better than you think. Look there! thefairies have seen you, and they are beckoning you to go to them."

  "But, then, tell me first what I am."

  "You are a foundling; the old man and woman with whom you lived werenot your parents. They stole you when you were an infant for yourbeauty and the rich clothes you wore."

  "And you, who are you, _gospod_?"

  "I?" said the young man, laughing. "I am _Macic_, the merry, themischievous sprite. I have known you since a long time. I loved youfrom the first moment I saw you, and I always hoped that, 'as likematches with like,' you yourself might perhaps some day get to likeme and marry me. Tell me, was I right?" said he, looking at hermischievously.

  Jella told him he was a saucy fellow to speak so lightly about such agrave subject, but then--woman-like--she added that he was not wrong.

  They were forthwith welcomed by the _Vile_ with much glee, and, soonafterwards, their wedding was celebrated with great pomp andmerriment.

  "But what became of the old man and his wife?" asked an interestedlistener.

  "They met with the punishment their curiosity deserved. They werefound a long time afterwards locked up in an old disusedburying-ground. They were both of them quite dead, for when theyfainted at the terrible sights they saw, the vampires availedthemselves of their helplessness to suck up the little blood therewas in them."

  "May St. John preserve us all from such a fate," said Milos Bellacic,crossing himself devoutly.

  The story having come to an end, toasts were drunk, songs were sungto the accompaniment of the _guzla_, the young people flirted, theirelders talked gravely about politics and the crops, whilst the womenhuddled together in a corner and chatted about household matters.

  After a while, an old ladle having been brought out, lead was meltedand then thrown into a bucket of water, and the fanciful arborescentsilvery mass it formed was used as a means of divination.

  Most of the girls were clever in reading those molten hieroglyphics,but none was so versed in occult lore as an old woman, an aunt of the_Starescina_'s, who was also skilled in the art of curing withsimples.

  Uros and Milenko, therefore, begged the good old woman to foretellthem their future; and she, looking at the glittering maze, said tothem:

  "See here, these two are the paths of your life; see how smoothlythey run, how they meet with the same incidents. These little needlesthat rise almost at marked distances are the milestones of the road;each one is a year. Count them, and you will see that for a length oftime nothing ruffles the course of your life. But here a catastrophe,then both paths branch out in different directions; your lives fromthen have separate ends." The two young men heaved a deep sigh.

  "Anyhow, you have several years of happiness in store for you. Makegood use of your time while it is yours, for time is fleeting."

  Then, as she was rather given to speak in proverbs, she said to Uros:

  "Let your friend be to you even as a brother. Remember that one day,not very far off either, you will owe your life to him."

  Drinking and carousing, singing and chatting, the evening came to anend. In the early hours the guests took leave of their host, wishinghim a long and happy life, firing their pistols, not only as acompliment to him, but also as a means of scaring away the evilspirits. Upon reaching their houses, they bathed and washed with dew,they rubbed themselves with virgin oil, so as to be strong andhealthy, besides being proof against witchcraft, for a whole year.