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THIS particular Zadruga1 was surrounded by an immense, strong wall which no doubt, in times past, had helped protect it from the Turks. Inside this palisade was a large expanse of fields, with many fruit trees, particularly plum trees, surrounding the houses, which consisted of one large, well-built house of brick, encompassed by numerous small, wooden houses.
This large house was the home of the stareshina, or elder, who regulated all the work of the community. He was elected by the members, and then was always obeyed without question. Besides the elder's room and a guest chamber-- for, to the Servian, a guest chamber is a matter of vital importance--it contained the rooms common to all: the kitchen, the dining-hall and family room. The small houses served merely as sleeping-rooms for the married sons and nephews and their wives.
There was something delightfully cordial in the way in which the guests were welcomed at the place. It was evening when they arrived and after supper, which consisted of potatoes with milk and cheese, corn bread and a flat wheat cake called pogacha, Yovan and Dushan were invited by some of the children into the big kitchen.
"We're going to find out whether evil or good is waiting in store for you," said one of the older boys, placing his hands on the shoulders of Yovan and Dushan, and leading them to a table.
Here there was some game that had been killed that afternoon, and all the children crowded around to examine the entrails, and, amid much laughter, read what these prophesied for their guests. Tiring at last of this, all made their way to the family hall, where sixty or seventy persons were gathered for their usual social evening, the women spinning or sewing, the men repairing tools and telling stories, the smaller children playing, and all listening.
Dushan and his party were not to be the only guests, however. They had hardly settled themselves for a long, comfortable evening when the stareshina, who had not yet joined them, came in and, with uplifted finger, enforced an expectant silence. Then, going again to the door, he ushered in a blind minstrel (Guslar). There were loud and repeated expressions of pleasure at this unexpected arrival, for the Guslar was no stranger to the members of this settlement. He was of an interesting appearance, tall and broad-shouldered, his hair perfectly white. There was something unusually calm and dignified in the sightless face. He was followed by a boy of about twelve years, who acted as his guide as he made his way from village to village, reciting the great national songs and accompanying them on the musical instrument (Gusle) which he carried with him.
The children clamored at once for songs; but this was not permitted until the singer had partaken of food and drink. After these were placed before him and the youth with him, the young married women of the Zadruga continued to hover near, to anticipate any wishes and thus show him honor.
Servians Listening to a Guslar.
When he had concluded, he told something of his journeying and then began the welcome evening entertainment with one of the never-old stories of the same Kralyevich Marco, who had a vila for his adopted sister; of his wonderful mace, made of sixty pounds of iron, thirty pounds of silver and nine pounds of gold; of his charger (Sharats) whom Marco treated as his best friend, the strongest, quickest, and most intelligent horse in the world; and of Marco's unfailing love and respect for his mother, the wise and good Yevrossima (Euphrosyme).
He could not have desired a more attentive audience, as he slowly chanted a couple of lines, then paused, and gave a few strokes on the Gusle from which he got his name, then proceeded. This Gusle, like all of its kind, was a very primitive instrument, made of maple, the cavity covered by a tightly stretched skin, and the strings formed of horse hair. Its dull tone had something strangely pathetic about it, and added a particular emphasis to the words chanted.
When he finished, and had had time for rest, he proved his wonderful memory by giving the long Servian poem- considered by many the finest in the language--of Ban Strahinya and another wonderful horse, and the victory of the two over the terrible Turk, Vlah-Ali.
"But the just God was with Ban Strahinya;
His grey horse was trained well for the combat;
Such a war steed to-day there is nowhere;
Neither the Servians nor Turks now possess such!"
This last poem contained over eight hundred lines, and the old minstrel was plainly exhausted at the end. As the last line was said all arose and expressed their hearty thanks, one or two almost reverently kissing the old Guslar's hands, and then all separated for the night, Dushan and Yovan to whisper long of the heroes of old, whom they desired above all things to emulate.
It seemed to the boys very early next morning when Yovan's father bade them make ready for departure. Breakfast was awaiting them in the big dining hall where, to their surprise, the boys found the other members of the community already assembled. The breakfast was a hearty one, and at its conclusion the women who had waited on the table kissed their guests' hands with the quaint adieu: "Go with fortune and forgive us." The oxen were then brought out and harnessed to the wagon, the stareshina walking to the gate with them.
When they had passed out, and had proceeded a short distance down the road, Yovan's father fired a gun which he had with him and cried out, "God be with you!" This was answered by "Good luck to you!" from the Zadruga, and the firing of another gun.
Nothing of importance occurred on the home trip although, in passing near a village, they heard many rifle and pistol shots. Instead of being alarmed, all smiled, for they knew that this only showed that a wedding party was near, or that some young couple had just become engaged.
1A form of cooperative village association which is now disappearing in Servia.
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