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Anthology of Modern Slavonic Literature in Prose and Verse/The Latin Boy

< Anthology of Modern Slavonic Literature in Prose and Verse

SERBIAN:

 

SIMO MATAVULJ: THE LATIN BOY.
A TALE FROM MONTENEGRO.

 

On St. Peter's Day, towards sunset, the serdar Jovan Kněžević, betook himself to his large threshing-floor, which lay behind his house. He was a small, dark man, with a rosy face and a beard which had slightly turned gray. He had donned festive attire. Over his green dolama[1] he had flung his toka,[2] while two silver-mounted pistols and a long knife were thrust into his belt. With his chibuk flung across his shoulders, he was stamping and tripping about on the threshing-floor. From time to time he came to a standstill and then turned once more around his shadow, in which he examined the end of the blade that projected from his belt af the upper part of his thigh.

Suddenly someone of the community called out:

"Serdar, we have come to have a chat with you for an hour or so."

"You are welcome!" he replied and sat down on one of the two round stones which lay on top of each other in the middle of the threshing floor, where the threshing animals were tethered.

While he was filling his pipe, four men came up, all without vests. They sat down on the paving which lies beneath the stone enclosure of the threshing-floor.

"What a heat!" exclaimed the oldest amonng the arrivals. He had a huge moustache, and with his sleeve he wiped the sweat from his forehead.

The three other fellows were also panting, and they too were wiping the sweat away, which was oozing from them as if they had come up at the double, although they had really been walking quite slowly.

The serdar adjusted the tinder on the flint, and as he lighted his pipe, he exclaimed:

"Yes, a heat such as we have every year about this time."

"And you, cousin, have put on your jacket into the bargain. . . It is a marvel that you do not melt beneath it!" added one of the younger men.

The serdar frowned, and his eyebrows were drawn together; he seemed to have become angry at this remark. He blew some clouds of smoke into the air, and then, turning to the speaker, he exclaimed:

"I have been used to that from my childhood, and have kept it up to this very day. You could go about even without trousers, if you wished, but we old Montenegrins do not consider what is most pleasant, but what is more becoming. Melt? As if I were made of sugar! What braggarts the youth of to-day are, and how feeble they have grown. . ."

The little fellow flushed as if glowing coals had been scattered over him. His comrades looked at him with reproachful glances. But the one with the big moustache exclaimed soothingly:

"Do not chide him, serdar, it is no great matter. He did not mean to affront you. Go, Lale, ask pardon of your cousin!"

Lale kissed Jovan's hand. The latter gave a kindly smile and fondled his head. This was his answer; he was gracious in a trice,—a true "old Montenegrin."

The serdar had not a big family. Besides his wife he had only a grandson named Ivan, and a daughter, Dunja. She was a girl as sturdy as her father, but she was taller than he. She had great dark eyes and splendid long hair. The lads often crept secretly into the serdar's courtyard, to watch the girl as she was combing her hair. The plaits came down below her waist. And when she ran barefoot in her chemise across the courtyard, the ground fairly shook beneath her tread. Little Ivan was scarcely two months old when his father fell in battle at the time of Dervish Pasha. His mother died soon afterwards.

In this fashion it had come about that the serdar's house, which was once so famous, had remained almost without male successors. Now all the old man's hopes were centred upon the five-year-old boy and a good husband for his daughter, if God willed it so.

Silence continued on all sides. The younger men were waiting for the serdar to speak, but he was gazing abstractedly at the light of his pipe.

Suddenly steps were heard in the distance. About twenty more members of the family now came up. They greeted each other and sat down, some on the flagstones, the others with their feet crossed upon the enclosure of the threshing-floor.

As there were also some older men among the new-comers, the conversation resumed its course. The serdar himself was now in the best of humours. He began to banter first one and then the other, in turn. This pleased them all very much, for he was a wit, the like of whom could not be found far and wide. He had just overwhelmed a distant relative with the whole power of his wit, when someone among those present exclaimed.

"Stop, stop, wedding guests are coming to us!"

Everyone turned round and general laughter ensued. About twenty of the more distant townsfolk were approaching as wedding guests, one after another. But that was as much as to say that they were coming to pay a visit toa chieftain. The serdar again stared angrily in front of him, for he was vexed with the man who had mocked at the arrivals by the name in question.

"Let them come, and make room for the people!" he cried, and rose up from his seat. The others present also rose up on one side when the first guests had advanced closer.

"Just look, by God, the little Latin boy is among them too, and not among the last ones, either!" exclaimed the same waggish lad who had given them all the name of wedding guests.

"Do not speak so, my children!" the serdar suddenly burst forth. "If he is among them, it is fitting for him to be among them. Surely you know whose son he is?"

"By God, he is a handsome lad, too," exclaimed the man with the big moustache, "and we only tease him because we like him. . . But we will stop doing it."

"Welcome!" exclaimed the serdar. "Come, brothers, and the best of thanks for your visit!"

They all embraced and then sat down. About forty of them were now sitting down together on the threshing-floor. Dunja, her mother, and little Ivan watched the company from the threshold of the kitchen door. Women were leaning against the enclosure, and even little children stopped in their play for a moment, to feast their eyes on the sight of the grown-ups.

As long aS man could remember, the assembly of the people had been held on the same spot where the serdar's threshing-floor was now. Jovan's father, the serdar Mićun, had paved the place with flag-stones and provided it with an enclosure, and such an assembly-place was not to be found far and near.

After each had questioned the other as to how it fared with him, his family and his distant relatives, the serdar turned to the "little Latin boy."

He had been given the nickname of "Latin" because his face was fair and tender,—just like a Latin boy. But his real name was Luka Lipovac. He was the orphan son of the famous hero Kosta Lipovac.

He was sitting directly opposite the serdar.

"Well, how fares it with you, Luka?"

"Well, God be thanked!" replied the latter, blushing slightly.

"And tell me, pray, do these lads tease you, at all?"

"A little," answered Luka with a forced laugh.

"But from to-day onwards they have no more right to do so! observed one of the Kněžević family.

"Oh, why from to-day onwards?" came a shout from several sides.

"Because early to-day he surpassed all in stone-throwing, with the exception of Kićun!"

"Is it possible?" exclaimed the serdar in astonishment.

"Yes, by God, it is!" cried several with one accord.

"Then come hither, that I may embrace you!"

And the serdar gave the youth a kiss upon the forehead. "The latter was so abashed at this, that he did not know what he should do with his hands. He drew them across his upper lip, upon which, however, not even the down of a moustache was so far to be observed; at the same time his eyes were beaming with clear fire, and he was splendid to look upon in his beauty.

The rest of the people were not altogether pleased with this, and someone called out:

"First of all we must make sure whether we were contending in sober earnest, or whether it was only in play."

"Don't make any pretence," cried the others. "There were close on thirty of us lads who saw it. Each one of you did his level best to beat him, but he beat you all, Kićun alone excepted."

There was a silence after these words. The older men thought it would be best to broach another subject. Then one of the Lipova men stood up and cried:

"You would hardly believe, serdar, all the things that Luka does in order to appear more of a man. The whole livelong day he roves about in this heat, and why? To get a brown tan! But he cannot succeed. It is true that he will not admit it, but finds an excuse of one sort or another; but I know only too well what makes him do it. We laugh at him. The young women envy him for his milky face. Besides that, he rarely practises stone-throwing, jumping, and running. . ."

"That is all to his credit," the serdar interrupted him. "A stalwart lad! He will take after his heroic father. Like father like son!"

"May God grant it," cried some of the Lipova men.

"And now we will moisten our dry throats," cried the serdar.

"There is no need! Not on our account, pray!" was the cry on all sides.

"But we shall, though{{...} DunjA, bring the jug and the gusla, do you hear?"

All were now silent.

The girl brought a jug and a glass; little Milan took the gusla in his arms. The girl stood aloof in a shy and shamefaced manner. She would not venture among so many men, and wished to hand the jug with the brandy over to a female relative who stood closest to her.

But the young men shouted: "Either you alone shall serve us, or nobody shall do it."

And the serdar cried sternly:

"Serve us, my child!"

In order to give her time to gain her composure, they took little Ivan amongst them, and fondled him and asked him questions, Dunja, red as a rose, how went from one to the other, handing the jug first to those older in years and pedigree. Each one drank the serdar's health, and each one's eyes strayed towards the beautiful girl as he did so.

When the young Latin boy's turn came. . . (I know you will not credit it). . . all were silent, he alone raised his voice and cried aloud:

"And even though it were poison, I would drink it from your hand!"

All stood mute with amazement. Who was it dared to say such a thing in the presence of her father? The bashful little Latin boy! However could such a daring notion have entered his mind? Heaven alone knew. Certain it was that these words had passed his lips merely by the way. He, however, seemed to have observed nothing; he emptied his glass and was about to hand it back to the girl, but she had escaped. It was in vain that the serdar called her back. She had already vanished in the house.

Not until then did the Latin boy look round about him in bewilderment.

"You seem to look upon our Dunja with favour," was the sullen remark of a relative who was the same age as Dunja.

The Latin boy felt aS if someone had boxed his ears. He answered in the same tone: "And why should I not look upon her with favour?"

"Because she could thrust you into her girdle and then climb this hill at full speed; do you understand me!"

"She might do that with you, but not with me; do you understand me?" cried the Latin boy.

The people feared that the quarrel might take an ugly turn, and began to pacify the two. The serdar turned the whole thing into a joke. But there was one who cried: "Calm down, both of you. Such a buxom girl as that could overcome the two of you, if she wanted!"

"That she could not!" exclaimed the Latin boy, and stood up.

"We can easily make sure. We will call the girl in, and you shall match yourself against her, to see who is the Stronger," cried the other.

Noise and laughter now arose.

"Stop now, you young scamps, we will now hear the serdar play on the gusla!" shouted the older men. But the younger ones were fairly bursting with laughter as they saw how haughtily the Latin boy bore himself. Some shouted: "Call Dunja here. . . Call Dunja! The serdar will allow it. Why should he not? That is no disgrace, God forbid. . . Will you, Luka? Say so and then you will see!"

He beckoned with his hand as a sign that they should keep quiet. Then he cried:

"I will!"

When they saw that the serdar was laughing, full ten of them leaped into the house to fetch Dunja. She struggled, she waved her powerful arms, and pushed several of the men a couple of yards away from her. But the rascals fell upon her and at last managed to get her out.

"Do not let me, father!" she exclaimed with a ringing laugh.

"You must!" cried her father, also laughing. "You must, and why not, since we desire it? Bear yourself firmly, my darling. You are the daughter of Jovan Kněžević!"

The girl now grew serious, looked her father straight in the eyes, and then, rolling up her sleeves, she said:

"Let him come, then!"

The young Latin boy now drew his weapons from his girdle, threw them to the ground with his cap, and ran up to the girl who was awaiting him on the free space in the threshing-floor.

They clutched each other by the arms.

She lifted him up in the air like a feather, but he stood alertly on his feet again.

"Now you lift her up!" his kinsmen shouted to him.

"Dunja, our champion!" shouted the Kněžević men to the girl.

This Luka would not do, but let her have the mastery. Again the girl lifted him up to the right, then again to the left. But each time he regained his foothold as alertly as a roebuck.

"He is artful," cried some. "He is waiting till she is tired, and then he will begin!"

"On, on, Dunja!" cried all her kinsmen with one accord,

"Come, Luka, our champion. Do not disgrace us!" cried the Lipova men.

"Stop, Dunja!"

"Stop, Luka!"

"Stop, stop!"

He pressed her to him as hard as he could, with the intention of letting her go, or else to confuse her. But at the same moment she sprang alertly sideways, waved her arms and fell to the ground on top of him.

You can imagine what now took place. Such din and laughter arose, that not a word could be understood. The Lipova men made the best of a bad bargain and joined in the laughter. Dunja's relatives embraced and kissed one another. But the Latin boy, pale in the face, walked up to the assembly and eyed them narrowly in turn. The serdar was afraid that it might lead to something awkward, and so he took up the gusla and drew the bow once or twice across the strings. In an instant there was complete silence, for everybody understood what the old man's object was in so doing.

"You sit down with us as well, Luka! Do not be vexed, for it was only a joke!" spoke the serdar to him in a fatherly tone.

"I will obey you, serdar, but I only ask your leave for one word more."

"Good, what is it?" asked the serdar, giving him an encouraging glance.

"Brother!" began the Latin boy, "a girl has overcome me, has she not?"

"Truly!" exclaimed several through their teeth.

"But I tell you it was not so. Rather was it the girl's blood by which I was overcome. If anyone does not believe it, I am at his service!"

"Come, Luka, stop your foolish talk!" cried his kinsmen.

"I have said nothing evil. I only ask whether there is one among you who would venture to enter the lists with me now, although I have been overcome by a girl?"

"Stop, that is folly!"

"Whichever one of you Kněžević men pleases, and there are real heroes among you, I am sure."

"I accept the challenge," cried Kićun, angrily, "but from the knee upwards!"

"Have no fear, we shall strive together like men."

They seized one another.

Kićun was the strongest lad among the Gradjani.

"Don't break him in two, Kićun," jeered the kinsmen of the latter.

And, by Heaven, Kićun did not spare the young Latin boy, he strained every muscle, in his endeavour to throw him to the ground. They swayed to and fro, they scuffled, until the Latin boy suddenly lifted Kićun up and threw him sideways to the ground.

"Was there no foul play about it?" asked the serdar, sternly.

"No, by God, serdar, what is true, is true. He has thrown me like a hero, and all honour to him!"

"If that is so, kiss him!"

"I will and gladly."

"And you others will also?"

"Very gladly."

"Listen to me, then. Whoever from this time onward calls this lad the little Latin boy will pay a fine of 50 florins, in addition I will lay about his back with this chibuk, as true as I live. But you, my dear boy, come to me."

And embracing Luka, he said to him:

"Do you know that your father was my dearest friend?"

"I know it, and I am glad of it."

"Do you know that among the townsfolk there was no better fellow than your father? And. . . and therefore"—he cleared his throat—"brother, even though it is against the Montenegrin custom, you must not take it amiss if I now do. . . say something that was not known hitherto. . . Listen, Luka, will you have my DunjA for your wife?"

"Yes!" he exclaimed, beside himself with delight.

"Then send your uncle to me to-morrow with the betrothal ring."

"Good luck!" said all in agreement.

"Only you must not reproach me later with having forced her upon you. Do not quarrel with her and do not pit your strength against her as you have against Kićun!"

The Lipova men thereupon fired off their rifles in token of their joy. The whole neighbourhood hastened up; in a trice a great ring was formed and the kolo[3] began. The festivities came to an end only with the approach of night.

At the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, Dunja and Luka were wedded.

 
  1. Long under garment.
  2. Kind of silver breastplate.
  3. Serbian dance.
 
Copyright.svg PD-icon.svg This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.
Original:

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

 
Translation:

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1970, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 30 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.