Ivan D. Hristov

Short Story

THE OUTLAW

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MANOLE MACRELATA

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VALCHAN’S SWING

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DESTINY

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THE CROSS SIGN

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THE ORDEAL

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THE ORDEAL

THE CHURCH

Translated by: Росица Шопска

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Once I asked the old priest, Father Konstantin, why our church was built in such a hidden place and near the gully - at the very bottom of the village, and only when one gets near it they can see it well.

He stroked his white beard, his blue eyes glowing like living coals under his thick eyebrows. He invited me if I hadn’t been in a hurry to sit down next to him on the bench in front of the courtyard of his house. Father Konstantin stretched his body shrunk by the old age. His wrinkled face beamed and slowly, in a soft voice, as if reading the gospel from the pulpit, he started telling his story.

It was still in Turkish times. In a field village beyond the river Maritza a lively young man lived. Gencho, as he was called, was a shepherd. Turks used to visit his pen far too often. Day after day some of them would come and say: “Give us milk!” Then others would arrive: “Give us the lambs!” It was not enough, but they started to beat him with dogwood sticks. Day after day all the same - so he was tired of suffering. One evening, when two Turkish ruffians, who harassed him the most, came in, he saw red. He took the ax and he hit the one, then hit the other –he cut them off. He dug a hole in the bushes and buried them. He hid the tracks around and went home.

He told his relatives what he had done and that he could not stay in the village anymore. He ordered his crying mother not to look for him. He would give a sign to them when he found a good moment and if God had decided he should stay alive.

Gencho was hiding for a while in Plovdiv. He worked here and there as an apprentice, but he could not make a living and one day he came to our village. He found work as a farmhand for Ibryam Bey. Gencho served at the old Bey’s farmhouse, surrounded from all corners by shady gardens. Near the farm, at that time, a mosque rose, with a high minaret, under which the old Turkish café was hiding. When there was a holiday, the farmhand-stranger used to visit it.

Gencho rounded the year and hired himself for the second, and then for the third one. The farmhand did not mate with his peers, but he used to look for a talk with the elderly people in the square. From word to word, he began to urge the Bulgarians to build a church that he had already seen in the city. He found followers among the more progressive villagers. One night, a lot of men gathered in a newly built house at the lower part of the village – pretending that the owner had invited them as guests. The case was to share their miserable destiny and common misfortute.

The young farmhand went there, and from word to word he spoke to them again about a church and a school.

“Let’s do it, but how?” asked the gathered people. “We know that the Bey won’t allow even to wisper a word about this.”

“I’ll tell you how,” said Gencho. “I’ve been thinking many nights, and I know how to trick the Bey.”

“How’s that g

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