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THE school of the little village was in a small, whitewashed, one-story building near the outskirts. The boys and girls, all under twelve years of age, that assembled there, when the fall term opened, were filled with curiosity, for a new teacher had been appointed, a teacher who had arrived at the village only the night before, and had not yet been seen by any of them. It is true that Peter Markovic asserted with considerable vagueness that he had heard that he was rather tall, and rather thin, and had either grey eyes or brown. At first Peter attracted some attention, but soon was listened to by the smaller children only.
The pupils' curiosity was satisfied when a man of medium height, but vigorous and energetic in build, strode into their midst. He greeted them pleasantly and invited them at once into the schoolhouse. The master of the school who had preceded him had been elderly, fond of politics, and, though not without talent, rather long-winded in his discussions and explanations to his class. So it was with an unconscious relief that the boys and girls came in contact with a new vigor and clear-sightedness.
The discipline, rather strict the first few days, gradually relaxed; but, although no great formality reigned in the school, there was never any lack of respect for the teacher.
With Dushan history was a favorite study, and he always rejoiced that considerable time was devoted in school to that of their native land. Even the youngest children, however, knew more of their history than is usual with the children of other lands, for they had imbibed it since babyhood through ballads and folk stories.
Now, although Dushan was unusually bright in oral recitation, he had a great dislike for written work. The trouble was partly that his thoughts came more rapidly than he could put them down, and, in consequence, he was apt to make great haste and so express himself very poorly.
The teacher often called his attention to a Servian proverb which he had written on the blackboard: "A wise man walks slowly; but reaches his goal quickly," carefully explaining each time just what was meant.
Dushan appreciated the teacher's interest in his efforts, and did his best to please him, until, at .last, he produced the following creditable essay: --
A GLIMPSE INTO OUR HISTORY
If Servia is not as great now as we could wish, it has its past glories to cheer our hearts, and to give renewed hope of what the future may bring.
In thinking of our famous rulers, some of us go back to the renowned Emperor Justinian, born in Northwestern Macedonia, who ascended the throne of Constantinople in 527, and became the ruler of Rome, and of a great part of the Christian world.
Our greatest glory was achieved under the Emperor Stephan Dushan Nemanyich, who lived in the fourteenth century, when Macedonia, Albania, Thessaly, Northern Greece and Bulgaria, our neighbors, were annexed. This emperor was a famous law-maker and a renowned patron of literature and learning. But, alas, under the reign of his son, the empire rapidly went into dissolution. In I389, on the field of Kossovo, the Turks defeated the Servians, who made a valiant resistance, and practically ended Servian independence.
From then to the beginning of the nineteenth century, the people of the entire Servian nation, with the exception of the brave mountaineers of Montenegro, were changed into Rayahs, which is Turkish for "conquered infidels." They lost all rights and privileges, were compelled to pay one-tenth of the product of their labor to the Sultan, and lived in wretched fear of Turkish landlords, officials, and soldiers. For nearly four centuries our people had no means of redress for the injustice and indescribable wrongs committed by their heartless masters, except through their Hyduks, bands of armed Servians whom the Turks called brigands, but whom we reverence as the greatest of all of our heroes.
It was through a leader of the Hyduks, through Kara George, or the Black George, that our freedom was won. We had then no schoolhouses, and our churches were ready to fall into ruins, for the Turks forbade our repairing them. We were restless, many of us hopeless. But, after a particularly horrible massacre by the Turkish Janissaries stationed in our capital, in which our leading men were slain, Kara George, a violent man, but a great 'leader, rallied the Servians together and drove the Turks from the country.
Kara George was proclaimed king, and for nine years kept the Turks at bay. In 1813 Turkey proclaimed a Holy War and succeeded in reconquering the country, forcing Kara George to flee to his mountain home. A new revolt broke out under Milosh Obrenovich, who had been a general under Kara George. This again was successful and the grateful people proclaimed Milosh a hero.
When, later, Kara George returned and was murdered, people became divided in their allegiance to the two houses, that of Kara George and that of Obrenovich, a fact that has led to many disgraceful feuds in our history.
It was scarcely a week after Dushan had had the honor of reading this essay to the class, that not only the whole school, but the whole village, were thrown into a state of violent excitement by a report that war with Turkey was about to break out. The feeling against this enemy, through whom they had suffered such grievous wrongs, rose so high that even the youngest children were affected and it became necessary to close the school temporarily. Whole families gathered together daily and almost hourly in the village square to listen to extemporaneous speeches and to sing patriotic songs.
After four or five days of this life of passionate excitement it became plain that the news had been at least premature. An alliance, it was learned, had been formed with Montenegro, Bulgaria, and Greece. Although this seemed to indicate war in the future, no one could say when that future was to be.
It was a considerable time after the scenes of our story that this alliance did lead, finally, to the war which began in October, 1912, in which the Balkan allies utterly defeated their old enemy Turkey. Unfortunately some of the good results of this war were nullified by the dissensions which broke out later regarding a propel division of the conquered territory. Whether these dissensions were encouraged by Austria, who has never looked with favor on the growth of the Balkan states, is a mooted question.1
King Peter Karageorgevitch of Servia.
1 See Editor's note, page 99.
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