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A SPINNING BEE
WHEN the time came that there was no apple to be found on a tree, no late autumn flowers brightening the fields, and no stork hovering above the tree-tops or standing on house-chimneys; when the air began to feel as if an invisible snow was present, then spinning bees became a subject of conversation in the village.
To Militza's and Dushan's joy it was decided that the very first was to be held at their house. So it came to pass that one Saturday the people of the village began to assemble there. All brought refreshments with them, this sensible custom of the place relieving any one family from the expense of providing for so many. The men came, as well as the women, for they were necessary to the full enjoyment of the evening. All were in their Sunday finery. A big fire was burning in the wide-mouthed fireplace, above which a pot of water was boiling. The young girls, distinguished by red feathers in their hair, formed the first circle around the fire, never speaking, except to whisper together, unless spoken to by their elders; but giggling often in girl fashion among themselves, and now and then glancing shyly at the young men who sat furthest away.
There was a gladsome, care-free, childlike spirit in the gathering, not often found in such gatherings in other lands. While the spinning was going on there were little witty ballads improvised in which the men and women disputed, the latter generally winning. Now and then a woman chanted a beautiful lyric song, which, unlike most Slavonic songs, was full of a serene, cheerful spirit. At last came the story hour, in which all sorts of quaint folk tales were told, an effort being apparently made to see who could think of the most ridiculous things. At last it fell to the turn of the oldest woman present to relate something, and, after a few preliminary coughs, she began a story of
THE LITTLE COW BARULA
"There was once a man," the story teller began, looking very important, "who had a son called Péra. This son's mother died, and the father, hoping to make it easier for the child, married again. But the stepmother took a dislike to the lad and mistreated him, at last not even allowing him to live in the house.
"The boy offered no resistance, and so came to spend most of his time in the cow stalls, where he devoted himself to cleaning and caring for his one possession, a cow left him by his own mother.
"After a while his stepmother noticed it, and resolved that she would take away this comfort. She complained to her husband of being ill, and insisted that nothing but meat from the cow, Barula, would cure her. Her husband, believing her, promised that the cow should be killed. When Péra heard this he burst into tears and ran to Barula. When the little cow saw his tear-stained face she inquired what was the matter.
"When Péra had told her, she said: ' Do not cry; they won't do it, for they can't catch me. When they find they can't, they will order you to try. Do so, and I'll let you; then grab hold of my right horn, jump on my back, and we'll run away together.'
"It happened as the cow foretold. No one could catch Barula, so Péra was called. He did so at once, and, grabbing hold of her right horn? leaped on her back. In a flash they had started away, and were soon out of sight.
"After a long run they stopped at a deer meadow. Péra jumped down and, while the cow pastured, he lay in the grass. At noon the cow let Péra have a drink of milk, and then again left him in order to pasture. At night she fed him again, and then lay down beside him.
"Thus the days passed, until one morning, after the cow, Barula, had left him, Péra found himself confronted by a big, fat stag.
"'Good morning, Péra,' said the stag.
"'God be with you,' answered Péra.
"'Where is Barula?'
"'As early as this? Well, I intend showing her on whose meadow she's been feeding so gayly for more than a year. I am going to kill her.' And the deer ran away, leaving Péra in tears.
"When noon came, Péra related all to Barula.
"'Pay no attention to it,' she answered, 'I know him. I am stronger than he.'
"The next day the stag came and at once ran at the cow, who simply bent down her head and caught him on her horns.
"Péra rejoiced, but not for long. The very next day another stag came, bigger and fatter than the first, and swore to kill Barula, not only because she had been pasturing on their meadow, but also because she had killed his brother. Péra began to cry; but, when he told Barula, she again comforted him.
"When the stag came the cow caught him on her horns, just as she had his brother.
"The third day still another stag came. He bore little resemblance to the other two, for he was so thin that every rib was visible. He also threatened to kill the cow; but his frail appearance gave Péra no anxiety. He sang and played on his pipe until Barula came, then he merrily told her how a stag who could hardly stand on his feet had threatened her.
"To his surprise the little cow gave a deep sigh. ' Ah, Péra, he will kill me, for he's lighter than I. You must watch us carefully as we fight, and, when you see tears come into my eyes, catch hold of my right horn. It will come off, and you must run with it wherever your eyes lead and your feet carry you.'
"There was no help, loud although Péra complained. Tile next day the thin stag and Barula fought from early morning till evening. As it began to grow dusk Péra saw the tears, and caught hold of the cow's right horn as he had been requested. It came off, and Péra ran away with it. At last, tired out, he rested.
"Hardly had his weariness passed than he began to wonder what was in the horn. At last his curiosity caused him to open it, when all kinds of domestic animals dashed out; horses. cattle, pigs, sheep, geese, ducks, and chickens.
"Péra would have liked to drive them back; but he found this impossible. It seemed that the more he tried to do so, the more came out. Suddenly, a dragon stood before him, and offered to get all back if he would promise to give him his wife to devour the night after his wedding.
"Knowing no other way out of the difficulty, and having no thought yet of marrying, Péra agreed, and the dragon drove all the cattle into the horn, closed it, and gave it to Péra.
"When dawn came Péra started home. As soon as he had entered the gates he opened the horn, and the domestic creatures trooped out until the yard was filled.
"When his stepmother saw this she could not behave graciously enough. Soon the news of his wealth spread, and the boy was urged to marry. He refused again and again, until at last the daughter of the Czar was offered him. But Péra remembered his promise to the dragon, and would not consent for a long time. At last, tired of entreaties, he agreed, and the ceremony was performed.
"No sooner was the act done, however, than Péra was overcome with grief. He refused to taste a morsel of food. At night his stepmother thrust a sweetened raisin roll into his hand, and this he placed untasted under his pillow.
"At midnight he heard a knock at the window, followed by the dragon's voice, 'Péra, Péra, fulfill your promise!"
"Before he could answer the wheaten roll under his pillow answered for him.
"'I will,' it said, 'but first you must hear what has happened to me. First they buried me in the ground; I mourn for that, and yet do not mourn. Then they cut me down; but for that I mourn, and yet do not mourn. Then they bound me; and I mourn, and yet do not mourn for it. Then they threshed me; and I mourn for it, and yet do not mourn. Then they rolled me; and I mourn for it, and yet do not mourn. Then they ground me; and I mourn for it, and yet do not mourn for it. Then they kneaded me; and I mourn for it, and yet do not mourn. But, that they baked me, and then tore me apart, has made both my eyes run out.'
"As the roll finished speaking the cock crowed, and the dragon was so amazed that he flew away, never to return.
"Thus Péra lived happily with his wife and, after his father-in-law's death, he became the ruling Czar."
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