A grand sunset. The west is covered in pink hues, and the forests look as if they were engulfed in flames of most vivid colours.
Đorđe read until dusk, and then he went out to the garden to rest and enjoy in the most beautiful time of day.
He recalled Turgenev’s descriptions of nature’s wonders, so he started observing each little cloud, each nuance of the magical colours of the sunset, the forest, the sky showing here and there through the trees, and the rays of the sun piercing through as if there were a red-hot mass of blood flowing behind the forest. He looked at the branches lightly trembling, and the leaves fluttering in the wind.
It seemed to him as if the whole nature possesses a soul, boundless and magnificent, and that his soul had blended with it, and surrendered to silent, sweet longing, and mysterious, grandiose serenity.
Suddenly he heard hooves stomping and he looked up the road. Two horsemen rushed towards him in a cloud of dust, and dismounted before his house.
Another scribe from the county seat, accompanied by a gendarme.
– Good afternoon! – muttered the scribe through his teeth, all dignified and pompous, looking almost over Đorđe’s shoulder, and not even waiting for him to greet them back, he asked in a sharper, more official tone:
– Are you Đorđe Andrić, the philosopher?
– I am – said Đorđe, looking astounded at the scribe and the gendarme strolling back and forth by his side, frowning seriously.
– Are you the one distributing books that are against the current state of affairs and the government?! – asked the scribe, full of authority.
– Me?! – asked Đorđe, shocked by such an unexpected question, and he just could not believe what was going on.
Gendarme made a slight cough, but with such an air of importance as if he were saying: “Beware, I am also standing before you in this uniform, in all my power and might!”
– Kindly come inside the house! – ordered the scribe. Gendarme approached him with his chest forward.
– But I don’t know what it is you want, I don’t even know who you are!…
– Now you’ll get to know who I am! – shouted the scribe as he nodded at the gendarme.
Gendarme grabbed his arm, pushing him forwards, and uttering in an even sterner tone:
– Get in when you’re spoken to, quit playing the fool! – pointing at the door.
Đorđe went in.
Only his mother and his three-year old nephew were in the house, while others had gone to work in the fields, where they will stay the whole night.
When the scribe entered, the poor lady bowed, and approached meekly to greet them, but he didn’t even look at her, he just followed Đorđe into the room.
Gendarme followed them inside with the same important air.
The search started. They collected all the books and papers. Night fell. They lit a candle and ransacked the house and the basement, they even raised the icons from the walls to check if there was something behind them.
The moon was shining and the stars were alight. Windmills are clattering and work songs were echoing in the air. It would’ve been such a pleasure just to stand and watch all the beauty surrounding them.
The old woman sat alone in front of the house and cried, praying to God, while young Ivica was sitting on the doorstep playing, unwinding a ball of yarn from his grandma’s basket.
At the same time, far away from home, Đorđe was walking in front of the gendarme.
Deep in thought and shaken by the strange event, he could not enjoy hearing his favourite work song:
Shine, oh moon, shine, cold light!
Only a young dreamer could have felt the weight of Đorđe’s thoughts and emotions.
In front of them a farmer was driving a cart full of wheat. Cowbells on the oxen were clanking in the rhythm of their gait, and the farmer was singing out loud:
Oh, dark night, cold till the morrow,
Oh, my heart so filled with sorrow!
Never before has Đorđe felt and understood so vividly and so strongly this song that was forged by suffering from the hearts of the common folk.
The next day, having spent the night under surveillance in the tavern, by the mercy of the chief inspector, Đorđe was now standing before him bareheaded, pale, and tired of the sleepless night and strange thoughts.
Chief inspector started interrogating, and an apprentice clerk was taking notes.
– What is your name?
– Đorđe Andrić.
– What is your occupation?
– I am a student.
Chief inspector must have counted this to be an aggravating circumstance.
– How old are you?
– Twenty one.
– Have you ever been convicted?
– I was put in detention during my first year in grammar school.
– What for?
– For calling a friend ‘beanpole’!
Chief inspector thought about something for a second, searched through the books and muttered to himself:
– Right, defamation! Who sentenced you?
– Class teacher did!
Chief inspector winced, and it looked as if he were ashamed of himself.
– Have you ever been convicted by a civil court?
– How could I’ve been when I’m still a student?!
Chief inspector fell silent, mulling something over, and at long last he mumbled:
– This is an urgent matter – he coughed and continued the interrogation after having finished a whole cigarette and drinking a glass of water, just like a man preparing to embark on a serious undertaking.
– What did you read yesterday?
– The “Demon”!
– Write that down! – shrieked the chief inspector. – Did you read it to anyone else?
– No, but I could recommend it to anyone as very nice reading.
– You are standing before authority, think well before you repeat that it is nice, very nice reading!
– Very nice!
– You dare say so?! Write that down, he read it, and contrary to civil laws still claims that a forbidden thing is nice.
– In the name of God, Sir, what is so horrible in saying that Lermontov’s “Demon” is a nice thing? Do the laws forbid that?
– Who are you trying to deceive? Who’s asking you about Lermontov? Don’t tempt your fate by trying to play tricks with the chief inspector!
– That’s what you’re asking me about!
– About what?!
– Well, the Lermontov’s “Demon”, whether it is a nice thing!
– So I’m saying that the poet is a genius and rightfully celebrated.
– Don’t give me this nonsense, tell me what is it you like in that book, that is what I want, understand! – shouted the chief inspector thumping his feet which made the whole building trembled.
Đorđe was astounded, but he had to quote, so he chose verses randomly:
By the first day of our creation
I swear, and by its final night
I swear by evil’s condemnation
And by the triumph of the right!
– Enough! Don’t you make a fool of me with this nonsense! – shouted the chief inspector slamming his hand on the table angrily.
– Well you asked for it!
– I know what I’m asking for, speak up before I show you what I can do!
The clerk was picking his teeth, eyeing the chief inspector and the student, dumbfounded by the proceedings.
– But I assure you that is the “Demon”! – said Đorđe, all sweating from anger.
Chief inspector sat still for a moment, and then he asked:
– So, it’s in a poem?!
– Yes, Lermontov is a poet!
– Don’t you mislead me!
– Well he wrote it!
– Who did?
Chief inspector rang his bell, and ordered to have Lermontov looked up in the Police Herald.
– It’s Zmaj’s translation!
– What translation?
– Of the book.
– Who is that Lermontov?
– A-ha, so he is Russian?! – said the chief inspector, gawking at him, lost for words.
The clerk returned and said that there is no such thing in the Police Herald.
It took a lot of explanation for the chief inspector to come to his senses, to understand that poets are not photographed for warrants in the Police Herald, and that this is a book publicly available to anyone.
He even ordered a copy of Zmaj’s “Poems” to be brought from the bookstore, to make sure it is in there.
Eventually his tone softened, and became almost cordial:
– Alright, alright, sir, we will see about this; I will keep, you know, just in case, that Russian book, until I’ve inspected it! Our job is hard, you see. We step on people’s toes, and all that because of our work. And people do not understand, they think it’s all my whim!
– Farewell, give my regards to your family, we did put you on a bit of a rough spot, haven’t we?
This may have happened somewhere once, some time ago in some strange land, and it may not have even occurred on Earth, if perchance there are people inhabiting the Moon. It is most likely to believe this to be a dream of mine. Dreaming feels so sweet, and I do not want to become disappointed like Đorđe. Already he thinks somewhat differently now, and he stopped dreaming only about poems.
Belgrade, 16th September 1898
Published in “Novi Odjek” (New Echo) on 20th September 1898
For the “Radoje Domanović” Project, translated by Vladimir Živanović, proofread by Linda Hopkins.
English translation of Lermontov’s verses taken from: Narrative Poems by Alexander Pushkin and by Mikhail Lermontov, Random House, New York 1983, translated by Charles Johnston.
Remark: Although the author states that events from this short story had most probably only occurred in his dream, they also would not be entirely unlikely. The end of the XIX century saw Serbia under an oppressive, reactionary regime of the Obrenović dynasty. After a defeat in war with Bulgaria and serious domestic difficulties, in 1889, King Milan abdicated in favour of his only son, Aleksandar, and left Serbia for Paris where he joined his then mistress. However, during certain periods of his son’s reign, he still exerted a significant influence over domestic politics.
In October 1897, Milan returned to Serbia and was appointed by his son to be commander-in-chief of the Serbian Army. Sometime after this appointment (late 1897 or early 1898), a young Belgrade lawyer Ljubomir Živković wrote a 20-page pamphlet against the ex-king, called “The Demon of Serbia”, which was printed abroad in 50,000 copies, and circulated illegally in Serbia, describing the ex-king as a gambler and a philanderer, full of hatred towards the Serbs, and willing to ruin the army and the whole country for his own personal gain. Although the pamphlet was banned and destroyed by the government, a couple of copies of are still extant.
It is also interesting to note that this story is the first satirical work written and published by Radoje Domanović, who had just moved to Belgrade around that time, having been dismissed from his teaching post in Leskovac in July 1898 due to his membership in the opposition People’s Radical Party, and further diminishing any possibility of working in the public sector after proposing a resolution against the government on the Tenth Assembly of the Teachers’ Society in August 1898.
Sweet are the days of childhood; sweet are the dreams of youth. Blessed is he who had never woken up to feel all the bitterness of life and its waking moments.
Our days pass fleetly, time flies, events speed by us so quickly, and in this weird whirlwind of events, one cannot even dream; you have to wake up, even if you haven’t slept through the sweetest dreams of the happiest days of your youth.
Our hero had grasped the reality of life when he was twenty-one years old, during his studies at the Grande École.
The school was on holiday, so Đorđe went back home to spend the summer and enjoy the lovely forests of his birthplace, in the loving embrace of his parents.
The first morning upon his arrival, he took the narrow path through the forest, which leads to a spring on top of the hill. From the top, there is a beautiful view of the whole surroundings.
He sat on the bench he made himself under the linden tree by the spring, listened to the murmuring of water, and quaffed the fragrance and the fresh breath of the summer morning. He watched the forests, pathways and meadows he used to run along so many times in his childhood. He watched the white houses of his neighbours, standing out among the orchards and forested hills; countless childhood memories awakening in his mind.
He feels as though everything in this land knows him, everything loves him, even the sun warms him more kindly, and wind caresses him more gently, as if the whole nature greets him through the silent whisper of the stream, and rustling of the leaves: “Welcome home!”
Thousands of the most beautiful verses circled through his mind, and he recited them out loud passionately as if he was looking for help expressing his emotions.
He returned home fresh and merry, his face shining from inner happiness and pleasure.
After breakfast, he lay on the couch, and took a book – Lermontov. That is his most loved poet, maybe because he just started reading his books, or generally his best of all.
His father was sitting in the kitchen with two-three other farmers, discussing the prices of wheat and other crops.
Đorđe was reading, without listening to them, although the door to the kitchen was by chance left open.
The conversation stopped, so Đorđe also stopped reading and looked that way.
Someone greeted the room, and he could hear a saber rattling.
The farmers stood up and removed their hats.
“Must be the county scribe,” Đorđe thought to himself disinterestedly and continued reading.
Old Jakov, Đorđe’s father, immediately boasted to the scribe that his son had returned from studies, and he led him into the room filled of pride and joy.
It didn’t feel right for Đorđe to be interrupted, but he stopped reading, and greeted the scribe.
– You were reading, and we disturbed you! – said the scribe sitting down, taking off his service cap, and smoothing his hair.
– Never mind, never mind! I love to read, but I love company even more! – said Đorđe.
– Well, yes, that’s what we educated people enjoy! I read a lot myself, I must have read, truth be told, a basket of books that big! – said the scribe proudly, pointing at the laundry basket under the table.
Old man Jakov stood by the door, holding his breath, absorbed in the pleasure of seeing that his son knows how to talk to high-ranking people.
The farmers stood by the door in the kitchen, listening attentively, as if they were expecting to hear something new and good for themselves, about the taxes or something else.
Đorđe started browsing through the book idly.
— What is the young master reading, if I may ask? — The scribe interrupted the silence.
— Lermontov — Đorđe replied.
—Ri…i…i…ght! Very nice to hear that, it is a wonderful novel, I did read it somewhere before. Which volume are you reading?
— He is a poet! — said Đorđe.
— Yes, yes, a poem, what was I thinking! Oh, such a famous piece! — said the scribe vividly slapping his knee, and then he smiled, tapped himself on the head and waved his arm in a gesture of ridiculing himself as if he had forgotten something so familiar to him as his own name.
— Which volume is out now, you were saying?… I think I kept buying until the fifth volume!
— These are collected works, it does not come out in volumes!
— Oh, yeah, yeah, right, that’s right, I must’ve been thinking about a play by Branko Radičević, that’ll be it… What part were you reading just now?
— I’m just reading the “Demon”. Extraordinary piece, and verses so melodic that they couldn’t be more beautiful! – exclaimed Đorđe.
Scribe fell silent suddenly, and started rubbing his forehead, frowning, as if he were recollecting something.
“Seems like that’s one of those forbidden books!” – He thought, and suddenly postured himself as a person of authority. He wanted to jump up, grab the book, and shout at Đorđe: “Forwards, in the name of the law!” He had to restrain himself, because he was not yet entirely certain that is the case, so he decided to interrogate him skillfully, making sure that Đorđe will not notice as he leads him on, and then he will immediately go and report about his important finding.
So he smiled again and said in his most courteous tone:
– Young master would be so kind to read a nice segment to me. I enjoy listening to such things!
– With pleasure, – said Đorđe, glad to get to read, just to stop the conversation he was getting fed up with. He remembered that the scribe cannot speak Russian, so he didn’t even ask him, but took Zmaj’s translation of the “Demon” and started from the beginning.
A Demon, soul of all the banished,
Sadly above the sinful world
Floated, and thoughts of days now vanished
Before him crowdingly unfurled.
This felt somehow obscure to the scribe, and he thought that therein lay the danger.
“Wait, let me dupe him like this a bit”, he said to himself, and interrupted Đorđe saying:
– Quite a beautiful piece!
– Extraordinary! – said Đorđe.
– But just as long as it is not somehow against the current state of affairs in the country!
Đorđe didn’t even listen to him, and had no idea what he wanted to say. He kept reading, and the scribe listened, and as he listened, one word or another evocated terrible images in his mind.
“That’s it, that’s it!” he thought to himself, but still there was something suspicious about Tamara!
“Which Tamara might that be…? A-ha!” he thought, explaining it to himself in his own way, “I know which one it is!”
Oh, soul of evil, soul unsleeping,
In midnight gloom, what tryst is keeping?
None of your votaries are here…
“Well, that’s that!” the scribe thought to himself and stood up. His belief was now stronger than suspicion.
– Nice, nice piece, really beautiful! – He said, smiling, and in a sweet tone apologized that he had to leave, which is a pity because he had had such a pleasant time.
“Now you’ll see your joy, you little fish!” he thought maliciously after he had left the house.
 Branko Radičević (1824–1853) was one of the most influential Romantic poets in modern Serbian literature, especially since he was the first poet to use the simple language of the common people in his works. During his lifetime he published two collections of poems (in 1847 and 1851), and his remaining poems were collected in a third book that was published posthumously (1862); he did not write any plays.
 Jovan Jovanović (1833–1904), best known in Serbia mononymously by his nickname “Zmaj”, was one of the most prolific Serbian poets and translators of the XIX century. He translated from Hungarian, German and Russian, and he made it possible for Serbian audiences to enjoy works of Goethe, Heine, Tennyson, Petőfi, Lermontov and many others.