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BUT if there was considerable play on holidays, the more necessary was it that sufficient work should be done on the other days. Dushan and Militza had their set tasks, when not in school.
The little girl already knew something of spinning, weaving, and embroidering, and was just learning how to knit. The work that she did so early in life was not only for immediate use, but there were many pieces already put away as part of her wedding trousseau. Sometimes, when she became impatient over these tasks, her mother would say, "Ah, ah, child, your angel is weeping that your ears are open only to the evil one." By this she referred to the common belief among the peasants that an angel always sits on our right shoulder, and a little devil on our left, offering contrary counsel.
Militza also worked in the garden, especially at weeding, and sometimes she tended the flocks. When she worked with her mother there were some lessons that the latter never failed to impress on her. One was the beauty of industry, especially in a woman. Another was the kind of modesty most becoming to a girl. There were numerous ways in which she must not try to match herself against boys; she must never cross the street when men do; at certain times it was proper for her to kiss their hands. It was no wonder that healthy Militza sometimes chafed under all these restrictions; but, as they were practised by all the girls she knew, she soon fell in with the general customs and was considered a well-behaved child.
Dushan's work was almost entirely out of doors, and much freer, on the whole. In the fruit season there was work in the orchards, which consisted mainly of plum trees; but also had some apples, pears, and walnuts. Besides the orchards, his father owned several small parcels of land, considerable distances apart. These were planted in vegetables and grain. Dushan helped in all the work of getting these products ready for market.
But, of all his duties, he liked best the tending of the sheep or the swine. The latter were very different creatures from those we know in pens. They had a wide area over which to range, plenty of good clean water to drink, plenty of grass as food, as well as the mast in the near-by forest, particularly the fruit of the beech and oak trees, which gives a very agreeable flavor to their flesh, when killed.
Once, when Dushan was dreamily herding swine, and feeling particularly content with his lot, he received an unexpected shock. Two strangers passed him on horseback. One of them, dressed like a foreign army officer, pointed at him, and said with a sneer in German, which Dushan sufficiently understood: "There you have your typical Servian, a herder of swine and nothing more."
Young as he was, Dushan keenly felt the insult which lay in the tone, even more than in the words, and his brown eyes flashed, and he clenched his hands. When his father joined him during the day, he related the incident. A glow of indignation spread over the broad, bony face of the father as he responded with the one word:
Then, still indignant, he explained matters somewhat to Dushan by saying that, since the customs war with Austria, the latter had endeavored in vain to ruin Servia.
"The trouble is," he continued, sadly, "that Servia stands in the way of Austria's further expansion, and so Austria, being big, dares to act the bully to our little kingdom. She fears too, no doubt, in case of Servia's success and growth, the outcome of the sympathy between the Servian people of Austria1 and those of Servia."
He was silent for a while and then concluded in a voice choked with emotion: "Our situation, so far, has not been an enviable one, standing, as we do, between a greedy Christian nation on the one hand, and an entirely alien one on the other. In any case, we shall sell the liberty we have gained, and any more we are able to gain, very dearly." And, brushing away the tears which had begun to glisten in his eyes, he hastily left his little son to ponder over what he had said.
For a long while, after his father left, Dushan sat on the mossy ground with his back against the stump of an old beech tree, dreaming that he was already a man--a Zmay2--and able to give to Servia all that she so richly deserved, or able to convince Austria of her unfair attitude. These splendid day-dreams were typically ended when he drew from his belt a little musical instrument called the Svirala, which he always carried, and, placing it to his lips, gave expression to his feelings by playing some plaintive national airs. While doing so he quite forgot his surroundings, when suddenly a shrill whistle just back of him made him stop.
"Oh, it's you, is it?" he exclaimed joyfully, jumping up into the arms of a boy not much older than himself, but considerably taller. This was his bosom friend, Yovan, from whom he had been parted for the last ten days. Yovan seemed equally glad to see Dushan, and, arm-in-arm, they began to stroll about while they exchanged news.
Naturally Dushan related the swine herd incident, so fresh in his mind, which Yovan received quite philosophically with a proverb: "It is better to have profit selling bran than to have loss selling gold."
Dushan looked up into his friend's calm face, half indignantly, half admiringly, and wholly surprised.
"Don't be angry with me, little brother," Yovan made haste to say, as he looked down affectionately at Dushan, from his greater height. "There are days when I'd feel as hotly as you do, but not to-day. Besides, let laugh who will! wouldn't we all be beggars if it hadn't been for pork, a delicacy forbidden to the Turks, and so safe from their clutches in their old-time raids?"
Yovan went on to say that he had hastened to look up his friend as soon as he had returned home, but that he must leave him now. So, pledging to meet in the evening, they parted.
Yovan's unexpected coming had brightened the day for Dushan, and he sang snatches of gay song as he kept the pigs from straying.
But the pleasant evening, to which he was looking forward, was to be spoiled in a wholly unexpected way. When he returned to the village he was surprised to see a large gathering of peasants in front of his home. In the midst of these the foreign officer, who had passed him during the day, with a face scarlet with anger, was gesticulating wildly.
"The lad must have found it," Dushan heard him say, as he came up, "and I insist on his being produced and searched and the property returned to me."
"If he found it, he will return it without being searched," Dushan's father answered calmly and disdainfully. "As for being produced, he will produce himself at the proper time. You are, perhaps, mistaking us for your own countrymen; we have different standards of honesty, evidently, than those to which you are accustomed.''
The laugh which this produced and, still more, the lack of respect with which he was treated, seemed to infuriate the officer, who bit his lips savagely. Just then he caught sight of Dushan and, without choosing his words, shouted:
"There is the thief!"
At these words Dushan's father sprang forward with his fists clenched, and would have struck the foreigner had not some of his calmer neighbors held him back.
Then it was explained to Dushan, who had pushed his way forward, that the stranger had accused him of finding and appropriating a valuable hunting-knife that he had had with him.
"Do you remember his passing you this afternoon?" asked one who seemed in authority.
"Yes, indeed," answered Dushan, stoutly. "And I remember, too, that he said: 'There's your typical Servian; a herder of swine and nothing more!'"
At this a murmur of resentment arose. Before it had made any headway, Yovan elbowed his way forward. Quite out of breath, he yet managed to shout: "I found your knife! Here it is! How dare you accuse--"
But, before he could regain enough breath to finish, the stranger had taken the article held out to him, and, with some muttered words, made his way to where his friend held his horse, glad to be away from the crowd, whose increasingly sullen looks and lowering brows betokened no good to him.
"That is what our national distrust of one another leads to," remarked a peasant with a particularly serious cast of countenance.
As those gathered began to disperse, Yovan and Dushan rushed into each other's arms, and embraced in typical Servian fashion.
"Thou shalt be my adopted brother, my pobratime," said Dushan. "Long as I may live, I shall never find friend such as thou!"
Yovan, always the calmer of the two, was nevertheless much touched by his friend's warmth.
"Pobratime!" he repeated slowly. He knew very well all that the term implied, for Dushan referred to an old-time custom, known to every Servian and still practised, though rarely, in which persons, who recognize a kinship of soul, swear to a brotherhood more sacred even than that of blood.
"Ah, Dushan," he exclaimed at length, "you are already my brother; but, if you wish, I will take the vow to-morrow with you, for it is the day of our Holy St. George, the defender of growing things and persons. Until then, sleep well, Dushan dearest," and, kissing each other on the cheeks, the two parted.
Early next morning, had we been in the Servian village, we would have seen the two go hand-in-hand to the little church and, kneeling before the altar, swear, in the name of God and St. John, an eternal friendship whose breech was to be punished by Heaven. The kindly old priest who was present had not tried to dissuade them, young as they were, from following this ancient custom. To him the old institutions were sacred. "' Better let the village perish,'" he would often quote, "'than the old customs of the village.'" He impressed on the boys, however, the sacredness of the promise they had given, and recalled to their memory the heroes of history and the part played by their adopted brethren.
"Be ye faithful unto death," were his parting words, "and always help one another to do the right, even in little things."
It still lacked some minutes to breakfast time, and the boys, uplifted by the ceremony through which they had passed, spent it in discussing future plans and hopes. The difficulties that once seemed insurmountable now looked insignificant in the light of the glorious friendship to which they were pledged.
1. In Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, Dalmatia, etc.
2. The name that Servians give their bravest heroes.
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