2784204Short Stories from the Balkans — JagicaEdna W. UnderwoodKsaver Šandor Gjalski


I HAD worked for a long time with the day laborers. As I started to go home night had already come. It was an inspiring warm night of summer; I chose the longest way, so enchanted was I with the beauty of the evening. In the moonlight the mountains seemed to tremble; from the trees slanted long, black shadows, and the scent of an unknown flower perfumed the air. The voices of nightingales resounded from trees within the forest, out of thickets along the hills, and from the deep grass, insects called.

On a night like this, the gentleness of slumbering nature, the sweet mystery of shadows, pour a warmth of happiness into the heart. A sort of divine unrest took possession of me. Every once in a while I paused and looked with delight upon the bright mist-veiled distance. Dreams of youth came back, long buried desires came to life again, and I longed passionately for something which I was unable clearly to define for myself. The beauty of the summer night had intoxicated me. Across the deep, sweet silence rang out upon a sudden a song, sung by a voice of youth. At first the echo of the mountains brought the song to me, and I could not be sure whether it was a song or an interrupted voice that called. Then it drew nearer and nearer. There was no doubt now but that it was a song. Borne on the clean, soft air it reached me, and the melody was that of an old folk song. I wanted to hear it better, to be near it, and strangely moved, I followed the voice of song.

A tall, young peasant, barefooted, was hastening past. In one hand he held a twig which he moved nimbly to and fro. The round shabby hat rested on the back of his neck, and the night wind played with the hair upon his forehead. He bore his head erect, as if, with his song, he were striving to reach the limpid, air-swept heights. Faster he walked. I followed him. His song lured me on. There was a longing in his onward leaps and in the words which celebrated love. When he was near the village he changed his song, and the new song was merry and mocking:

Shove the bolt, the door fling wide,
Soon, sweetheart, I'm by your side.

Out of the valley the echo came back, and in the echo there was something defiant, fawn-like.

Now the peasant boy left the highway and turned toward the hills. Above, between the fruit trees—one half of it pallid-white from the moonlight,—the other half black with shadows, peeped out a peasant’s home. On the shadowed side, one tiny window shone fiery red from a lamp.

When the peasant reached the foot of the hill, the light was extinguished. A door within the house was heard to open, and a figure slipped across the moonlighted courtyard.

“Ah, ha!” I said to myself, not without envy. “I thought it must be a lover’s rendezvous.” In the meantime he had slowly climbed the hill. A woman’s form came toward him a hundred steps away. From my place of concealment, behind the thick trunk of an old apple tree, I recognized in the girl—Jagica, the prettiest peasant girl in the country. A shiver touched me. “She!—And how prim she always appears,” I added between my teeth.

The boy paused beside her but they did not shake hands, nor kiss, nor embrace. They stood and looked and greeted each other in the name of God and the Holy Virgin. He looked about for something to lean against, and seeing a tree stump, propped himself against it with the right half of his body.

“I walked too fast,” he exclaimed, and drew one shirt sleeve across his face to wipe the sweat from his forehead. The girl drew a bottle from concealment, and held it out toward him. “Today father went to the wine-dresser’s house and brought back a cask of wine. We drank some of it, too,” she explained, turning aside a little. She stood resting her weight on one foot; with one hand she held a grass stalk, one end of which she was chewing.

The boy took the bottle and shook it softly. Then he lifted it to the light, nodded, rubbed the neck of the bottle energetically with one hand, coughed, spat, threw his head back and lifted the bottle slowly. For a long time one heard only the regular gurgle—gurgle—gurgle.

“I heard you a long way off. You came through the woods, didn’t you?” began the girl, turning toward him again, as the hand with the bottle fell slowly to his knee.

“I sang to pass away the time. I’m not so afraid either—in the night—when I sing. The witches don’t dare come near then.”

“I was really worried. I was afraid you’d gone too far toward Banovica. Old people say that once—there, a man was murdered. The witches choked him to death.”

“Nothing like that will ever happen to me.”

“Keep still! Keep still! Tell me the truth—didn’t you go too near the horse herdsmen? What if they had seen you? Heavens!”

“They didn’t see me, and if they did—what do I care? I’m not doing anything wrong.”

“But, God in Heaven, you know what sort of fellows they are. They are all mad because you come from another parish—to see me. They might do something to you and, as it falls out, to-night Mihalčic’ Tono is with them—on the meadow. He’s the devil.”

“Ah—shut-up with that. Did you get through in the vineyard today?”

“Only a little hoeing left to do. Early tomorrow I go with my sister to finish thework.”

“Is the hoeing heavy? The ground—is hard and lots of weeds? That’s the way it is with us. Everyone is complaining. I worked hard today, too. Early I went to the mountains for the wooden pegs which were cut the week before last. Then I hoed some and later I went to the river for water. If it hadn’t been for that I should have reached here earlier.”

“I thought you were not coming any more. And then I thought again: it is far; it takes two hours at least. So I waited.”

“What have you done?”

“I have spun. Mother and sister made fun of me. But—good—you see you have come."

“Did your mother know I was coming?”

“I told her.”

“Your father, too?”

“No. Why should I? He would be mad. He says it is not right for you to come so often, because the Zadruga[1] had not been settled. Father says in your house they quarrel all the time, and he wouldn’t like to have me go there.”

“That’s true. The devil knows what they mean. Ten times I have been to the city for the land settlement. Since the indznir[2] measured it, not a thing has been done.”

“Oh! I wish it was settled. Do you know my father is acting—queer! And every week old Mihalčic’ comes and asks for me to marry his Tono.”

“He better look out! I’ve served in the army and I know how to handle a gun. I’ll kill anyone who tries to take me away from you. You are mine—and nobody else’s.”

“Be quiet, Janko! I don’t like Tono. I’d rather jump into the water. I want only you. I won’t break my word to you. But tell me, did they have a good time at the church festival at St. Peter’s?”

“Fine it was, I say. I looked for you and the girls and you didn’t come! I was mad about it although Toljagič Pavo treated one in great shape. Later—under the linden tree—Loncar’s Katica tried to flirt with me. She teased me because I was sad. I yelled and turned loose at her, seized her round the waist, and danced around and around with her. I tell you they all laughed.”

“Did you stay long?”

“Yes, the “hail Mary” was over when I turned home. I wish you’d been there!”

“I couldn’t go on account of my sister. She fell sick. They sent me to the meadow to gather rib-wart. We boiled it and in the late evening she was better. It was either the rib-wart or old Zefa who came to rub her.”

“Yes—listen, Jagica! This fool of a Tono—he better look out for me. Does he think because he is better off than I—I don’t dare to think. Don’t you say a single word to him!”

“Ha, ha—ha! Must I quarrel with him?”

“Don’t joke about such things! I will not and I will not— If he comes near you he’ll lose his head.”

“Have you drunk it all? Give me the bottle! How you talk about Tono! I’ve promised you. Look at the Reaper[3]—what a way it has travelled. You’ve got two hours’ walk.”

“I wish Jagica you knew how easy the walk is for me now. I’d walk five hours to see you.” He grabbed her hand, then let it drop. “God grant—and the Holy Mother of God—that we marry soon. Please—please—go quick to the city and see about the land settlements. Tell the gentlemen that you want to marry. Fall is not far off.”

“What do gentlemen care about peasant weddings! Well, I’ll try anyway. Tomorrow early I’ll go.”

A cry rang over the meadow. In the quiet air of night it was something mighty, and three times, four times, the hill-tops answered back.

“The horse herdsmen,” said the girl trembling. “Hide, Janko—quick! They are coming home. Day is near now.”

He obeyed and they hid together in the bushes beside the apple tree. For a time they whispered. When the hoofs came nearer, they stopped. She gestured with one hand, for him not to stick his head out, but she followed the herdsmen eagerly with her eyes. Loud laughter, merry jokes, and the tramp, tramp of horses’ feet, as they swept past.

“Is Tono there?”

“Wait. Pst!—yes—I hear his voice.”

“Is he looking this way?”

“Keep still! A—h— they are gone. Thank God! and now Janko, you must go!”

“Yes, I’ll go! Goodbye. I’ll come again.”

They did not shake hands when they said goodbye. Jagica stood long where he left her and looked after him. He walked away with long, swinging strides. His shadow hopped along beside him. Soon the white moonlight and the mist blotted him out. Then his song rang clear—a song of youth and love. Astonished I said: was this a meeting of lovers? To me it was incomprehensible. With difficulty could I believe that such peasant hearts could love.

Soon I had an opportunity to be convinced. I heard about Janko’s affair. The Zadruga was to be settled. To him fell the largest share of the land, but just on that account, no argument could be reached with the rest of the family. They knew how to impel the lawyers to some new subterfuge to hinder the allotment. Janko was all but crazy. He was especially upset because Jagica’s father favored Tono, and reproached him with the delay of the allotment.

“Well, can’t you rely upon the Zadruga?”

“No, it doesn't progress. They can't carry it through—always something is wrong, and the old man won’t give me the girl, until I am safely written down in the land-book.”

“Are you really so much in love with her?” I ask.

“Of course, I love her. She is good. She can do all kinds of work.”

“The affair can drag itself out even when the proclamation of the division has been made. After that comes the appellation. That can last months and months, and even when that is finished there can be another delay in handing over the land to you. Say that you will take less. Perhaps it will expedite matters.”

The boy looked at me suspiciously. I knew how the peasants cling to every inch of ground. “If you are so much in love with the girl—and if you know by taking less the settlement can be hastened—then do it.”

The boy looked down upon the ground for a long time as if he were estimating every bit of dirt, and replied: “Very good! I’ll do it then!”

That very day he went to the city.

But even now the affair was not hastened. Janko’s house-companions tried to slip out of the agreement, and when the engineer made the division they found a hundred mistakes. Poor Janko was miserable. He was in torture for fear he would lose Jagica, and on top of this the constant quarrels with the household and the delay over the division.

The autumn was drawing nearer and nearer. Jagica’s father said frankly he would not forgive Janko for giving up so much land.

Tono was a regular visitor at the house. Jagica wept and begged Janko to hurry with the land. Almost every day he went to the city, where every day he heard the same thing: it was necessary—first—to do this, to do that. There are only four weeks now to St. Catherine’s day, which is the time when peasant weddings are celebrated, and he has heard nothing definite about the division. Then the report came to his ear that Tono and Jagica were to be married. And a proof of it seemed to be that he could not meet Jagica as of old. In vain, night after night, he stood by the apple tree and waited. He sang all his songs. With Tono he had frequently quarreled and come to blows. If they had not been forcibly separated, one or the other would have been killed.

“If I could only speak with her! I want to hear her say that she has been unfaithful to me. The gentlemen in the city are the cause of this. The last days he did not go near the house. Without sleep, he ran about the highways, across the meadows, into the city, without any plan. His clothes were torn, his hair disheveled and uncombed.

“I will murder him! I will murder him! Jagica is mine and nobody else’s,” he shrieked, running through forest and field, then breaking into sobs—or trilling shrilly one of his old songs.

On the evening before St. Catherine’s Day—which was the wedding day, he disappeared. People said he had gone into the city. There was a sigh of relief, because they feared trouble on the wedding day.

The next morning the wedding procession started from Jagica’s house. The bride was pale and her eyes showed she had been weeping. With difficulty she held erect upon her head the crown, trimmed with gold-paper flowers. She wrapped her wedding mantle about her as if she shivered. When the procession reached the highway, the musicians blew a ringing blast. Suddenly Janko leaped upon them. He was ragged, barefooted, without coat or hat. In his hand he carried a club. He swung it toward Tono. But in the same moment he let it fall, burst into wild laughter and turned and ran away. Far, far-echoing among the hills they heard his laughter.

He was mad.

  1. Zadruga—measuring and division of land.
  2. Indznir—engineer.
  3. Reaper—the stars forming the constellation of the Great Bear.

 This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1935, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 88 years or less. This work may 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.

Public domainPublic domainfalsefalse


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1961, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 62 years or less. This work may 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.

Public domainPublic domainfalsefalse