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THE MOBA AND A JOURNEY
IT was in the early Fall, before the opening of school, that one of the village folks, a rather elderly man, was taken unexpectedly ill. As there was no physician near, the neighbors did all in their power to help his wife, taking turns in caring for the sufferer, and prescribing herb remedies. Various charms also were practised, and, when the man's good constitution brought him through, these charms were of course given the credit.
Harvest time came shortly after, and the women and girls put aside their home work and joined the men out of doors, unconsciously alive, as they worked, to the beauty of the fine grain with its varying shades of green as it bent before the wind. The peasant who had been ill was only just able to be about, and so the work in the fields fell entirely on his wife and two little daughters, and proceeded but slowly. Seeing this, the young men and women of the village agreed that, as soon as their own crops were in, they would go in a body to their help.
"What would the world come to, if we did not help one another?" they said. This assistance was in accordance with an old custom, called Moba, or voluntary cooperation.
Dushan and Yovan, both strong for their age, were allowed, for the first time in their lives, to join in what proved to be a very pleasant and merry pastime, for the afternoon in which the work was done was literally filled with song, laughter, and good-fellowship. From the field all proceeded singing to the peasant's home, several of the girls with field flowers interwoven in their long hair.
Servian Peasant Girl.
They were met at the door by the man, who was still very feeble, and his family, the latter bearing water and snowy towels for hand washing. When this had been done the peasant placed a lit candle before an Ikon, carried burning incense through the house, and then invited his friends to pray, for to invoke God's blessing before eating has been practised by Servians since time immemorial. This ceremony finished, a plentiful supper, consisting of meats, fruit, cakes, nuts and sweets, was served to all.
After supper came, as usual, dancing, singing, and the telling of stories and anecdotes. Several of the latter showed how Servian peasants had outwitted their Turkish masters, often making the latter appear decidedly ridiculous. Some were based on the Austrian occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which Servians do not consider to have been of benefit to those countries.
"How much better off you are now than when under Turkey," an Austrian, in one of these stories, is supposed to say to a native of Bosnia. "Then, when a Turk met you in the road, you had to jump off your donkey and bow low before him."
"Yes," answers the Serb, "I don't have to do that now. I haven't any donkey."
Yovan and Dushan came in for their share of good-natured teasing on their still new relationship of Pobratime.
It was only now and then that the talk at all grew serious, and this was mainly when a tall, fine-looking young man, who had spent several years among the brave people of the neighboring kingdom of Montenegro, Servians like themselves, was questioned. He had much to say about the unexcelled Montenegrin hospitality.
"In 1911," he said, among other things, "while the Albanians were fighting the Turks for liberty, and Montenegro had pledged itself to neutrality, four thousand Albanian women found refuge in the little mountain kingdom.
Fearful though the people were of getting involved in the war, they hadn't the heart to give up these women, knowing that death or dishonor would then be their lot. Poor themselves, they yet fed them daily, thus proving true to the traditions of hospitality, sacred for centuries among them."
There was an impressive silence when he finished, broken finally by the host exclaiming with fervor: "What is to their credit is to the honor of all Servians. May the bond uniting us to our brethren of other lands grow stronger with the years!"
This was greeted with a round of applause, for the Servian cherishes the hope that one day all the Servian countries may be united into one kingdom.
Then the music broke out again and the evening ended in a general dance.
The next morning Dushan felt somewhat disinclined to work, and stopped in the garden to watch Militza rather enviously. She was kneeling under a tree, laboriously trying to build some sort of house out of stones.
"But, Militza," said Dushan, somewhat mischievously, thinking of the superstition practiced by Servians before building, "I am afraid that you forgot to find out if that place is lucky."
"No, indeed, I didn't forget," replied Militza, without looking up. "Last night I placed four stones in the four corners, and this morning I found a big black bug under this one," and she pointed to a corner of the foundation.
Dushan was silenced and, looking around for some excuse to linger, saw a snail come creeping out from under the grass. He ran to it and begged it to put out its horns: "Snail, snail, put out your horns!"
Just then Yovan's merry whistle was heard outside. He came rushing into the garden. "I have been ,looking all over the world for you, Dushan. Father and I are going to visit Ljubitza's folks this afternoon, and father says you may go with us."
Dushan gave a shout. Ljubitza was the wife of Yovan's cousin and, before her marriage, had lived at a Zadruga, several miles distant. Life at a Zadruga was very different from that in their village, where each peasant family was independent of others, and, being different, was sure to prove interesting. Besides, Dushan looked forward to the long ride in his beloved friend's company.
Militza had jumped up when Yovan spoke, and now, at Dushan's request, ran into the house to tell her mother and help in the preparations for Dushan's departure.
The little girl knew what was needed. With her mother's permission, after tidying herself, she took a mixing bowl from one of the shelves, and proceeded to make a plain cake, on the top of which she carefully stamped a flower design.
Her mother, in the meanwhile, was busy making cookies which were to be taken to the children of the Zadruga. Dushan then came in and made himself ready.
When Yovan and his father appeared they had similar gifts, with the addition of numerous small bouquets of flowers, to which small coins were attached by a silken thread. These were for the women.
All called "Sretnj poot" ("a prosperous journey"), as Dushan climbed into the lumbering wagon, and soon they were off.
The journey was fully as enjoyable as Dushan had expected. They drove by many a fine-looking orchard, and waving fields of delicate, blue flax blossoms, and other fields of stubble that a few weeks before had been grain, until they came to a chain of hills covered with a forest of walnut, oak and wild fruit trees. As they passed more deeply into it, the twitter of birds, with which they had been greeted at the entrance, grew less frequent, and there was little to be heard except the monotonous rustling of the leaves and now and then the creaking of a fallen branch under the wheels. This silence turned the conversation to woodland nymphs and fairies, and at last to those mysterious, charming creatures of Servian folk-lore, called vilas.
"I'd like to see them once, dancing in the moonlight," remarked Dushan meditatively. "They must look like angels, with their long, golden hair and white, gauzy wings."
"I don't much believe in them," said Yovan, who was usually more matter-of-fact than his friend, "except when I hear the story of Kralyevich Marco1 and the vila who was his posestrima (adopted sister). Somehow that always sounds true to me."
"I wish your father would tell it to us now," said Dushan.
Yovan's father, who had Slavonic grey eyes, like Yovan's, that always twinkled merrily under his sheep-skin cap, was entirely willing and at once began to relate some of the incidents in the life of one of the most popular of Servian heroes, Kralyevich Marco, who really lived, but about whom many fairy tales have gathered.
THE KRALYEVICH MARCO AND THE VILA RAVIYOYLA
Once upon a time the great Kralyevich Marco was riding in the green mountains of Miroch on his clear-sighted piebald, Sharats, accompanied by his dear adopted brother, the Foyvoda (chief) Milosh. Milosh was not only a great hero, but also the possessor of a wonderful voice, so pleasing that, when the Kralyevich Marco grew drowsy, he begged Milosh to sing to him.
"I dare not sing here," returned Milosh. "We are in the country of the Vila Raviyoyla, and she has threatened to kill me if I ever dare to do so in her domain."
"You need have no fear," said the Kralyerich Marco, "so long as I am with you with my famous piebald and golden mace. Sing, I beg of you."
So Milosh did as the prince wished, and sang of the old Servian kings of Macedonia. Before long his song was echoed by the vila, until she recognized the voice, which was far more beautiful than her own. Filled with envy, she shot arrows into his throat and into his heart.
Then Marco became very angry, and pursued the vila on his swift-footed piebald. At last, in desperation, she flew up to the sky; but the Kralyevich hit her with his golden mace, and she fell back to the earth.
As he stooped over her she begged him not to kill her. "If you will spare me," she pleaded, "I will gather herbs to heal your friend, and ever after be your posestrima."
So Marco let her go, and she cured Milosh with the herbs which she gathered, and afterwards proved several times of great service to the princely brother whom she had adopted.
By the time the story was finished they had passed through the forest and come into sight of their destination.
1 The Royal Prince Marco.
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