After returning from the visit to my military friends at Rosenau, I was told I must not omit to make some excursions to the celebrated mineral watering-places of Transylvania. The chief baths in this locality are Elopatak and Tusnad. The first named is four hours' drive from Kronstadt. The waters contain a great deal of protoxide of iron, stronger even than those of Schwalbach, which they resemble. Tusnad, I was told, is pleasantly situated on the river Aluta, an excellent stream for fishing. The post goes daily in eight hours from Kronstadt. The season is very short, being over in August. Tusnad is said to contain one hundred springs of different kinds of water. I am not a water-totaller, so I did not taste all of them when I visited the place later on; but undoubtedly alum, iodine, and iron do severally impregnate the various springs.
I remembered reading long ago Dr Daubeny's work on "Volcanoes," in which he says that Hungary is one of the most remarkable countries in Europe for the scale on which volcanic operation has taken place. There are, it is stated, seven well-marked mountain groups of volcanic rocks, and two of these are in Transylvania. The most interesting in many respects is the chain of hills separating Szeklerland from Transylvania Proper. It is within this district that most of the mineral springs are found.
These volcanic rocks are of undoubted Tertiary origin, say the geologists. The whole range is for the most part composed of various kinds of trachytic conglomerate. "From the midst of these vast tufaceous deposits, the tops of the hills, composed of trachyte, a rock which forms all the loftiest eminences, here and there emerge.... The trachyte is ordinarily reddish, greyish, or blackish; it mostly contains mica. In the southern parts, as near Csik Szereda, the trachyte encloses large masses, sometimes forming even small hillocks, of that variety of which millstones are made, having quartz crystals disseminated through it, and in general indurated by silicious matter in so fine a state of division that the parts are nearly invisible. The latter substance seems to be the result of a kind of sublimation which took place at the moment of the formation of the trachyte.... Distinct craters are only seen at the southern extremity of the chain. One of the finest observed by Dr Bone was to the south of Tusnad. It was of great size and well characterised, surrounded by pretty steep and lofty hills composed of trachyte. The bottom of the hollow was full of water. The ground near has a very strong sulphureous odour. A mile to the SSE. direction from this point there are on the tableland two large and distinct maars like those of the Eifel—that is to say, old craters, which have been lakes, and are now covered with a thick coat of marsh plants. The cattle dare not graze upon them for fear of sinking in. Some miles farther in the same direction is the well-known hill of Budoshegy (or hill of bad smell), a trachytic mountain, near the summit of which is a distinct rent, exhaling very hot sulphureous vapours.... The craters here described have thrown out a vast quantity of pumice, which now forms a deposit of greater or less thickness along the Aluta and the Marosch from Tusnad to Toplitza. Impressions of plants and some silicious wood are likewise to be found in it."
Since Dr Daubeny's time there have been many observers over the same ground, the most distinguished being the Hungarian geologist Szabo, professor at the University of Buda-Pest. A countryman of our own has also taken up the subject of the ancient volcanoes of Hungary, and has recently published a paper on the subject. Professor Judd has confined his remarks principally to the Schemnitz district in the north of Hungary. But the following passage refers to the general character of the formation. Professor Judd says: "The most interesting fact with regard to the constitution of these Hungarian lavas, which in the central parts of their masses are often found to assume a very coarsely crystalline and almost granitic character, while their outer portions present a strikingly scoriaceous or slaggy appearance, remains to be noticed. It is, that though the predominant felspar in them is always of the basic type, yet they not unfrequently contain free quartz, sometimes in very large proportion. This free quartz is in some cases found to constitute large irregular crystalline grains in the mass, just like those of the ordinary orthoclase quartz-trachytes; but at other times its presence can only be detected by the microscope in thin sections. These quartziferous andesites were by Stache, who first clearly pointed out their true character, styled 'Dacites,' from the circumstance of their prevalence in Transylvania (the ancient Dacia)."
In concluding this highly instructive and interesting memoir of the volcanic rocks of Hungary, Professor Judd says: "The mineral veins of Hungary and Transylvania, with their rich deposits of gold and silver, cannot be of older date than the Miocene, while some of them are certainly more recent than the Pliocene. Hence these deposits of ore must all have been formed at a later period than the clays and sands on which London stands; while in some cases they appear to be of even younger date than the gravelly beds of our crags!"
For any one who desires to geologise in Hungary and Transylvania there is abundant assistance to be obtained in the maps which have been issued by the Imperial Geological Institute of Vienna, under the successive direction of Haidinger and Von Hauer. "These are geologically-coloured copies of the whole of the 165 sheets of the military map of the empire; and these have been accompanied by most valuable memoirs on the different districts, published in the well-known 'Jahrbuch' of the Institute. Franz von Hauer has further completed a reduction of these large-scale maps to a general map consisting of twelve sheets, with a memoir descriptive of each, and has finally in his most valuable and useful work, 'Die Geologie und ihre Anwendung auf die Kenntniss der Bodenbeschaffenheit der Osterrungar. Monarchie,' which is accompanied by a single-sheet map of the whole country, summarised in a most able manner the entire mass of information hitherto obtained concerning the geology of the empire."
I have given this passage from Mr Judd's paper because there exists a good deal of misapprehension amongst English travellers as to what has really been done with regard to the geological survey of Austro-Hungary.
[Footnote 18: A Description of Active and Extinct Volcanoes, by C. Daubeny, p. 133. 1848.]
[Footnote 19: 'On the Ancient Volcano of the District of Schemnitz, Hungary,' Quarterly Journal, Geo. Soc., August 1876.]
A ride through Szeklerland—Warnings about robbers—Bueksad—A look at the sulphur deposits on Mount Buedos—A lonely lake—An invitation to Tusnad.
Feeling curious not only about the geology of the Szeklerland, but interested also in the inhabitants, I resolved to pursue my journey by going through what is called the Csik. I made all my arrangements to start, but wet weather set in, and I remained against my inclination at Kronstadt, for I was impatient now to be moving onwards.
When I was in Hungary Proper they told me that travelling in Transylvania was very dangerous, and that it was a mad notion to think of going about there alone. Now that I was in Transylvania, I was amused at finding myself most seriously warned against the risk of riding alone through the Szeklerland. Every one told some fresh story of the insecurity of the roads. Curiously enough, foreigners get off better than the natives themselves; people of indifferent honesty have been known to say, "One would not rob a stranger." It happened to me that one day when riding along—in this very Szeklerland of ill-repute—I dropped my Scotch plaid, and did not discover my loss till I arrived at the next village, where I was going to sleep. I was much vexed, not thinking for a moment that I should ever see my useful plaid again. However, before the evening was over, a peasant brought it into the inn, saying he had found it on the road, and it must belong to the Englishman who was travelling about the country. The finder would not accept any reward!
There was a fair in the town the day I left Kronstadt. The field where it is held is right opposite Hotel "No. 1," and the whole place was crowded with country-folks in quaint costumes—spruce, gaily-dressed people mixed up with Wallack cattle-drivers and other picturesque rascals, such as gipsies and Jews, and here and there a Turk, and, more ragged than all, a sprinkling of refugee Bulgarians. Though it was a scene of strange incongruities—a very jumble of races—yet it was by no means a crowd of roughs; on the contrary, the well-dressed, well-to-do element prevailed. The thrifty Saxon was very much there, intent on making a good bargain; the neatly-dressed Szekler walked about holding his head on his shoulders with an air of resolute self-respect—they are unmistakable, are these proud rustics. Many a fair-haired Saxon maiden too tripped along, eyeing askance the peculiar "get-up" of the Englishman as he was about to mount his noble steed and ride forth into the wilds. If I was amused by the crowd, I believe the crowd was greatly amused at my proceedings. Mine own familiar friend, I verily believe, would have passed me by on the other side, I cut so queer a figure. As usual on these occasions, I had sent forward my portmanteau, this time to Maros Vasarhely; but everything else I possessed I carried round about me and my horse somehow, and I am not a man "who wants but little here below."
Besides my toilette de voyage, I had my cooking apparatus, a small jar of Liebig's meat, and some compressed tea, and other little odds and ends of comforts. I had also provided myself with some bacon and slivovitz for barter, a couple of bottles of the spirit being turned into a big flask slung alongside of my lesser flask for wine. Nor was this all, for having duly secured my saddle-bags, I had the plaid and mackintosh rolled up neatly and strapped in front of the saddle; then my gun, field-glass, and roll of three maps were slung across my shoulders. Nota bene my pockets were full to repletion. In my leathern belt was stuck a revolver, handy, and a bowie-knife not far off.
But the portrait of this Englishman as he appeared to the Kronstadt people on that day is not yet complete. His legs were encased in Hessian boots; his shooting-jacket was somewhat the worse for wear; and his hat, which had been eminently respectable at first starting, had acquired a sort of brigandish air; and to add to the drollery of his general appearance, the excellent little Servian horse he rode was not high enough for a man of his inches.
With my weapons of offence and defence I must have appeared a "caution" to robbers, and it seems that the business of the fair was suspended to witness my departure. I was profoundly unconscious at the time of the public interest taken in my humble self, but later I heard a very humorous account of the whole proceeding from some relatives who visited Kronstadt about three weeks afterwards. I believe I am held in remembrance in the town as a typical Englishman!
Well, to take up the thread of my narrative—like Don Quixote, "I travelled all that day." If any reader can remember Gustave Dore's illustration of the good knight on that occasion, he will have some idea of how the sky looked on this very ride of mine. As evening approached, the settled grey clouds, which had hung overhead like a pall all the afternoon, were driven about by a rough wind, which went on rising steadily. The grim phantom-haunted clouds came closer and closer round about me as darkness grew apace, and now and then the gust brought with it a vicious "spate" of rain. With no immediate prospect of shelter, my position became less and less lively. I had not bargained for a night on the highroad, or lodgings in a dry ditch or under a tree. Indeed those luxuries were not at hand; for trees there were none bordering the road, or in the open fields which stretched away on either side; and as for a dry ditch, I heard the streams gurgling along the watercourses, which were full to overflowing, as well they might be, seeing that it had rained for three days.
My object was to reach the village of Bueksad, but where was Bueksad now in reference to myself? I had no idea it was such a devil of a way off when I started. I had foolishly omitted to consult the map for myself, and had just relied on what I was told, though I might have remembered how loosely country-people all the world over speak of time and space.
When at length the darkness had become perplexing—entre chien et loup, as the saying is—I met a peasant with a fierce-looking sheep-dog by his side. The brute barked savagely round me as if he meant mischief, and I soon told the peasant if he did not call off his dog directly I would shoot him. He called his dog back, which proved he understood German, so I then asked if I was anywhere near Bueksad. To my dismay he informed me that it was a long way off; how long he would not say, for without further parley he strode on, and he and his dog were soon lost to view in the thick misty darkness.
Not a furlong farther, I came suddenly upon a house by the roadside, and a man coming out of the door with a light at the same moment enabled me to see "Vendeglo" on a small signboard. Good-luck: here, then, was an inn, where at least shelter was possible; and shelter was much to be desired, seeing that the rain was now a steady downpour. On making inquiries, I found that I was already in Bueksad. The peasant had played off a joke at my expense, or perhaps dealt me a Roland for an Oliver, for threatening to shoot his dog. A paprika handl was soon prepared for me. In all parts of the country where travellers are possible, the invariable reply to a demand for something to eat is the query, "Would the gentleman like paprika handl?" and he had better like it, for his chances are small of getting anything else. While I was seeing after my horse, the woman of the inn caught a miserable chicken, which I am sure could have had nothing to regret in this life; and in a marvellously short time the bird was stewed in red pepper, and called paprika handl.
I was aware that Count M—— owned a good deal of property in the neighbourhood of Bueksad, and as I had a letter of introduction to his bailiff, I set off the next morning to find him. My object in coming to this particular part of the country was principally to explore that curious place Mount Buedos, mentioned by Dr Daubeny and others. I wanted to see for myself what amount of sulphur deposits were really to be found there. Count M——'s bailiff was very ready to be obliging, and he provided me with a guide, and further provided the guide with a horse, so that I had no difficulty in arranging an expedition to the mount of evil smell.
Having arranged the commissariat as usual, I started one fine morning with my guide. We rode for about two hours through a forest of majestic beech-trees, and then came almost suddenly, without any preparation, upon a beautiful mountain lake, called St Anna's Lake. It lies in a hollow; the hills around, forming cup-like sides, are clothed with thick woods down to its very edge. Looking down from above, I saw the green reflection of the foliage penetrating the pellucid water till it met the other heaven reflected below. The effect was very singular, and gave one the idea of a lovely bit of world and sky turned upside down; it produced, moreover, a sort of fascination, as if one must dive down into its luring depths. No human sight or sound disturbed the weird beauty of this lonely spot. I longed at last to break the oppressive silence, and I fired off my revolver. This brought down a perfect volley of echoes, and at the same time, from the highest crags, out flew some half-dozen vultures; they wheeled round for a few moments, then disappeared behind the nearest crest of wood.
My guide soon set about making a fire; and while dinner was being cooked, I bethought me I would have a bath. I took a header from a projecting rock, but I very soon made the best of my way out of the water again. It was icy cold; I hardly ever recollect feeling any water so cold—I suppose because the lake is so much in shadow. After the meal we pushed on to Buedos, another two hours of riding; this time through a forest so dense that we could scarcely make our way. At last we reached a path, and this brought us before long to a roughly-constructed log-hut. This, I was told, was the "summer hotel." Further on there were a few more log-huts, the "dependence" of the hotel itself. The bathing season was over, so hosts and guests had alike departed. This must be "roughing it" with a vengeance, I should say; but my guide told me that very "high-born" people came here to be cured.
It is a favourite place, too, for some who desire the last cure of all for life's ills; a single breath of the gaseous exhalations is death. One cleft in the hill is called the "Murderer;" so fatal are the fumes that even birds flying over it are often known to drop dead! The elevation of Mount Buedos is only 3800 feet; there are several caves immediately below the highest point. The principal cave is ten feet high and forty feet long, the interior being lower than the opening. A mixture of gases is exhaled, which, being heavier than the atmosphere, fills it up to the level of the entrance; and when the sun is shining into the cave, one can see the gaseous fumes swaying to and fro, owing to the difference of refraction.
I experienced a sensation which has often been noticed here before. On entering the cave, and standing for some minutes immersed in the gas, but with my head above it, I had the feeling of warmth pervading the lower limbs. I might have believed myself to be in a warm bath up to the chest. This is a delusion, however, for the gaseous exhalation is pronounced by experimenters to be cooler, if anything, than the air; I suppose they mean the air of an ordinary summer day. The walls of the cave arc covered with a deposit of sulphur, and at the extreme end drops of liquid are continually falling. This moisture is esteemed very highly for disease of the eyes; it is collected by the peasants. The gas-baths are resorted to by persons suffering from gout or rheumatism. They are taken in this manner: The patient wears a loose dress over nothing else, and arriving at the mouth of the cave, he must take one long breath. Instantly he runs into the dread cavern, remaining only as long as he can hold his breath; he then rushes back again. One single inhalation, and he would be as dead as a door-nail! How the halt and lame folk manage I don't know, but my guide was eloquent about the wonderful cures that are made here every year.
There are a variety of mineral springs in different parts of the mountain. At the source some have the appearance of boiling, from the quantity of carbonic acid gas given off; but it is only in appearance, for the water is very cold.
The springs which yield iron and carbonic acid are much used for drinking. There are also some primitive arrangements for bathing near by. A square hole is cut in the ground; this is boarded round, and a simple wooden shed, like a gigantic dish-cover, is put over it. Here again my guide said that miraculous cures are wrought annually. It is a wonder that anybody is left with an ache or a pain in a country which has such wonderful waters. I think my guide thought I was a doctor, who was searching for a new health-resort, and he was quite ready to do his share of the puffing.
On Mount Buedos itself, in other parts than the cave, there occurs a good deal of sulphur; specimens are often found distributed which are very rich indeed. The place certainly deserves a thorough exploration, with a view to utilising the sulphur deposits; but it is so overgrown with vegetation that the search would involve considerable trouble and expense.
There is a fine view from Mount Buedos towards Moldavia. I was fortunate in having good lights and shades, and therefore enjoyed the prospect most thoroughly. I should like to have remained longer on the summit, but not being prepared for camping out it was not possible; so very reluctantly we set about returning.
My guide led me back to Bueksad by another route, a rough road, with deep ruts and big stones that must make driving in any vehicle, except for the honour and glory of it, a very doubtful blessing. But bad roads never do seem to matter in Hungary. Everybody drives everywhere; they would drive over a glacier if they had one. Occasionally we came upon some charming bits of forest scenery. The trees were grand, especially the beech; they were of greater girth than any I had yet seen in Transylvania. I noticed many mineral springs by the roadside; one could distinguish them by the deposit of oxide of iron on the stones near by.
When I got back to Bueksad, I found the bailiff waiting to tell me that Count M—— and Baron A—— desired their compliments, and would be pleased to see me at Tusnad, if I would go over there. I had no introduction to these noblemen, and mention the invitation as an instance of Hungarian hospitality. They had simply heard that an Englishman was travelling about the country.
I rode over to Tusnad the following day, and found it, as I had been led to expect, a very picturesque little place, a number of Swiss cottages dropped down in the clearing of the forest, with a good "restauration," built by Count M—— himself. When I was there the season was over; but I am told that it is full of fashionables in June and July, and that the waters have an increasing reputation. My attention was drawn to the singular fact of two springs bubbling up within six feet of each other, which are proved by chemical analysis to be distinctly different in composition. I fancy Count M—— was much amused at the fact of an English gentleman travelling about alone on horseback, without any servants or other impedimenta. I remember a friend of mine telling me that once in Italy, when he declined to hire a carriage from a peasant at a perfectly exorbitant price, and said he preferred walking, the fellow called after him, saying, "We all know you English are mad enough for anything!"
I don't know whether the Hungarian Count drew the same conclusion in my case, but I could see he was very much amused; I don't think any other people understand the Englishman's love of adventure.
The baths of Tusnad—The state of affairs before 1848—Inequality of taxation—Reform—The existing land laws—Communal property—Complete registration of titles to estates—Question of entail.
I mixed exclusively in Hungarian society during my stay at the baths of Tusnad. With Baron —— and Herr von —— I talked politics by the hour. The Hungarians have the natural gift of eloquence. They pour forth their words like the waters of a mill-race, no matter in what language. My principal companion at Tusnad spoke French. The true Magyar will always employ that language in preference to German when speaking with a foreigner; but as often as not the Hungarians of good society speak English perfectly well. The younger generation, almost without exception, understand our language, and are extremely well read in English literature.
I had so recently left Saxonland, where public opinion is opposed to everything that has the faintest shade of Magyarism, that I felt in the state of Victor Hugo's hero, of whom he said, "Son orientation etait changee, ce qui avait ete le couchant etait le levant. Il s'etait retourne." The transition was certainly curious, but I confess to getting rather tired of the mutual recriminations of political parties; respecting each other's good qualities, they are simply colour-blind.
After the Saxons had been allowed to drop out of the conversation, I led my Magyar friend to talk of the state of things before 1848, and to enlighten me as to the existing condition of laws of property. My Hungarian—who, by the way, is a man well qualified to speak about legal matters—showered down upon me a perfect avalanche of facts. Leaving out a few patriotic flashes, the substance of what he told me was much as follows. I had especially asked about the recent legislation on the land question.
"In the old time, before '48, the State, the Church, and the Nobles were the sole landowners. The holding of land was strictly prohibited to all who were not noble; but to the peasants were allotted certain tracts, called for distinction 'session-lands.' For this privilege the peasant had to give up a tenth part of the produce to the lord, and besides he had to work for him two, and in some cases even three, days in the week. The robot, or forced labour, varied in different localities. The lord was judge over his tenants, and even his bailiff had the right of administering twenty-five lashes to insubordinate peasants. The time of the forced labour was at the option of the lord, who might oblige his tenant to give his term of labour consecutively during seed-sowing or harvest, at the very time that the peasant's own land required his attendance. It may easily be imagined that this was a fruitful cause of dispute between the lord and his serfs.
"But the most glaring act of injustice under the old system was that all the taxes were paid by the session-holding peasantry, while the nobles were privileged and tax-free. They absolutely contributed nothing to the revenue of the country in the way of direct taxes!
"This peculiarity of the Constitution made it the interest of the Crown to preserve the area of the tax-paying peasant-land against the encroachments of the tax-free landlord. It often happened that on the death or removal of a peasant-holder the lord would choose to absorb the session-land into the allodium, which, being tax-free, resulted in a loss to the imperial revenue. To prevent this absorption of session-lands by the landlord, and also to accommodate the burdens of the peasantry, which had become almost intolerable in the last century, owing to the tyranny of the feudal superiors—to prevent this, I repeat, a general memorial survey with a view to readjustment took place in 1767 by command of Maria Theresa.
"This very important settlement, which came to be known as the 'URBARIAL CONSCRIPTION,' laid down and defined the rights and services of the peasants, and the amount of land to be held by them. The nobles henceforth were obliged to find new tenants of the peasant class in the event of the 'session-lands' becoming vacant. Likewise their unjust impositions on the serfs were restricted, and the rights of the latter, in respect to wood-cutting and pasturage on the lord's lands, were established by law.
"This was all very well as far as it went," said my friend; "but the inequality of taxation and the forced labour were crying evils not to be endured in the nineteenth century. Our people who travelled in England and elsewhere came back imbued with new ideas. We in Transylvania assume the credit of taking the lead in liberal politics. Baron Wesselenyi was one of the first to advise a radical reform, and others—Count Bethlen, Baron Kemeny, and Count Teleki—were all agreed as to the necessity of bringing about the manumission of the serfs. It is an old story now. I am speaking of the third and fourth decades of the century, and political excitement was at white-heat. The extreme views of Wesselenyi raised a host of opponents among his own class, who regarded the prospect of reform as nothing short of class suicide. Everything else might go to the devil as long as they retained their privileges; the devil, however, is apt to make a clean sweep of the board when he has got the game in his own hands, but these noble wiseacres could not see that. In other parts of the country good men and true were working up the leaven of reform. The great patriot Szechenyi, as long ago as 1830, when he published his work on 'Credit,' had shown his countrymen their shortcomings. He had proved to them that their laws and their institutions were not marching with the spirit of the age; that, in short, the 'rights of humanity' called for justice. What this truly great man did for the material improvement of his country could hardly be told between sunrise and sundown. You practical English were our teachers and our helpers in those days, when bridges had to be built, roads to be made, and steam navigation set up in our rivers. English horses were brought over to improve the breed in Hungary, and English agricultural machinery still turns out treasure-trove from our fields. But beyond all this, what we saw and admired in England's history was her constitutional struggles for liberty; the efforts made by freedom within the pale of the law; her capacity, in short, for self-reform. You see how it is, my dear sir, that everything English is so popular with us in Hungary."
I bowed my acknowledgments, and begged my friend to proceed with his narrative of events.
"Well, to go back to our own history," he continued, in a tone which had in it a shade of melancholy, "you see from 1823 to the eve of 1848 the Diet had been tinkering at reform in a half-hearted sort of way, but the Paris revolution let loose the whirlwind, and events were precipitated. I need not tell you there was a standing quarrel between us and the reactionary rulers in Vienna. It was the deceitful policy of Austria to bring about a temporary show of agreement between us. The Archduke Stephen was appointed Viceroy, assisted by a council composed entirely of Hungarians. Now mark this turning-point in our history. The first Act of this Diet, presided over by Count Batthyanyi, was to abolish at one sweep the class privileges of the nobility. Roundly speaking, eight millions of serfs received their freedom by that Act! Nor was this all, the important part remains to be told—and I do not think foreigners always realise it—the Act further enforced that the session-lands held by the peasants became henceforth their freehold property. Half, or nearly half, the kingdom thus, by the voluntary concession of the nobles, became converted from a feudal tenure, burdened with duties, into an absolute freehold.
"Like every sudden change, the result was not unmixed good. The Wallacks especially were not prepared for their emancipation; they thought equality before the law meant equality of goods."
I now inquired how the working of the land laws was carried out, and to this my friend replied:—
"As a lawyer I can give you an exact statement in a few words. The disturbed state of the country after the war of independence, which followed immediately upon the emancipation of the serfs, prevented for a while the effective realisation of the great reform of '48. However, in 1853 several imperial decrees were promulgated, by means of which the changed system was worked out in detail. 'Urbarial courts' were instituted to inquire into the amount of compensation due to the lords of the manors who had lost the tithes and the 'forced labour' of the former serfs. To meet this compensation 'State urbarial bonds' were created and apportioned; they bear five per cent. interest, and are redeemable within eighty years, with two drawings annually. The fund for this compensation is raised by a special tax on every Hungarian subject; not only the freed peasant pays towards the fund, but the lord himself, and those who never had any feudal tenants.
"The peasants had also to receive their compensation for the loss of pasturage and the right of cutting wood on the lord's demesne. In lieu of these privileges they received allotments of forest and pasturage as absolute property. The land thus acquired by the peasants is in fact parish property, or in other words, communal property. This is the only instance in which the parish appears as landowner, for all other peasant property, with the exception of the parish buildings, such as the school, is the property of the respective peasants. The parish authorities regulate the usage of the common pasturage and common forest. The sale or cutting down of the latter is subject to the permission of the county authorities."
I now proceeded to question my friend about the laws respecting the transfer of land, and especially about the registration of titles of estate. To these inquiries he replied as follows:—
"Land in Hungary is the absolute property of that person, or corporate body, who appears as owner in the registry. A limitation of claim to ownership does not exist with us; indeed it is contrary to the law. The Avitische Patent of 1854 prescribed further that every one should be regarded as the rightful owner who actually held the property in 1848—i.e., the status quo of 1848 to be accepted as the basis. The Urbarium of Maria Theresa was, in short, the stand-point in all these arrangements, whether it was the sessional lands of tenants formerly held in hereditary use, now freehold, or the allodium of the noble. Immediately succeeding the Avitische Patent, the registration of land was made law, in conformity with which all estates had been surveyed and entered on the registry as belonging to those owners who possessed the same in consequence of the above-named patent."
"But how about disputed inheritance-lands held by mortgagees, and other contingencies always arising in regard to estates?" I asked.
"I am sorry to say that dreadful cases of injustice were caused by this enactment. Whole families were reduced to beggary, and the greatest rascals obtained possession by this law of enormous estates, simply because they happened to hold the land in 1848, and the rightful owner did not advance his claim within the prescribed time. The evil could not be redressed, and in 1861, when the Hungarian Constitution was reinstated, the Diet of that year was obliged to accept and confirm the Avitische Patent, and the registration of land as directly following it. The grievances are past, but the benefit remains to us and our children. In Hungary at the present time the transfer of land is as simple as buying or selling the registered shares of a railway company. The registry forms the basis of every transaction connected with landed property, and, as we lawyers say, what is not entered there non est in mundo. Mortgages must be set down against the registered title. Contracts of leases are also entered, and in the case of farms being taken, caution-money, amounting generally to a quarter's rent, must be deposited with the authorities."
"One more question. Are there no entailed estates amongst your aristocracy?"
"Very few, indeed, even among the richest aristocracy. An Act of entailment can, it is true, be founded, but it is rarely permitted, being looked upon with disfavour for reasons of political economy. Such an Act would require in any case the special permission of the sovereign and of Government; and then the estate is placed under a special court. Without special permission from this court neither an alteration of the Act can take place, nor is sale or mortgage allowed. Hungarian law also interposes some restrictions in the case of a testator, who must leave by will at least half his property to his children. And with regard to women, the law with us is specially careful to preserve a woman's legal existence after marriage."
Fine scenery in Szeklerland—Csik Szent Marton—Absence of inns—The Szekler's love of lawsuits—Csik Szereda—Hospitality along the, road—Wallack atrocities in 1848—The Wallacks not Panslavists.
The charming scenery of the Szeklerland, and the kindly hospitality of the people, induced me to linger on. I had many a ride through those glorious primeval forests, where the girth of the grand old oak-trees and their widespreading branches are in themselves a sight to see: the beech, too, are very fine. Climbing farther, the deciduous woods give place to sombre pine-trees—the greybeards of the mountain. A great charm in this part of the country, at least from a picturesque point of view, is the affluence of water. Every rocky glen has its gurgling rill, every ravine its stream, which, at an hour's notice almost, may become a mountain torrent, should a storm break over the watershed. A plague of waters is no unfrequent occurrence, as the farmer in the valley knows to his cost. Fields are laid under water, and the turbulent streams often bring down great masses of earth and rock in a way that becomes "monotonous" for the man who has to clear his land or his roads of the debris. Mr Judd remarks that the volcanic rocks of Hungary have "suffered enormously from denuding causes." Every fresh storm reminds one that the process is in active operation.
After finally leaving Tusnad, I rode on to Csik Szent Marton, where, as there was no inn, I had to present myself at the best house in the place and crave their hospitality. My request was taken as a matter of course, and they received me with the greatest kindness; in fact it was with great difficulty that I could get away the next day. My host entreated me to remain longer, and when he found that I was really bent on departing, he gave me several letters of introduction to friends of his along the road I was likely to travel. It was a very acceptable act of kindness, for there are hardly any inns in this part of the country. "If Transylvania is an odd corner of Europe," then is the Csik or Szeklerland a still more odd corner; by no possibility can it ever be the highroad to anywhere else. I am not surprised that my lawyer friend said that there were still some lawsuits pending in connection with the allotments of forest and pasturage in this part of Hungary, though everything was definitely settled elsewhere. The Szekler is as troublesome and turbulent in some respects as his own mountain streams; added to which he dearly loves a lawsuit: it is in the eyes of the peasant a patent of respectability, as keeping a gig formerly was in England.
"Why do you go to law about such a trifle?" observed a friend of mine to his neighbour.
"Well, you see I have never had a lawsuit, as all my neighbours have had about something or another; so, now there is the chance, I had better have one myself!"
It is well for the lawyers that there is "a good deal of human nature" everywhere, especially in Hungary, otherwise they would have a bad time of it, where the legal expenses of "transfer" are a few florins, whether it be for an acre of vineyard or for half a comitat. I must observe, however, that in the sale of lands or houses, Government intervenes with a heavy tax on the transaction.
Leaving my hospitable entertainers at Csik Szent Marton, I went on to Csik Szereda, where I was kindly taken in by the postmaster. In this case I was provided with a letter; but a stranger would naturally go to the postmaster or the clergyman to ask for a night's lodging. At first I felt diffident on this score; but I soon got over my shyness, for in Szeklerland they make a stranger so heartily welcome that he ceases to regard himself as an intruder. In out-of-the-way places one is looked upon as a sort of heaven-sent "special correspondent." There is a story told of Baron ——, one of the nearly extinct old-fashioned people, who regularly, an hour or so before the dinner-hour, rides along the nearest highroad to try and catch a guest. It has even been whispered that on one occasion a couple of intelligent-looking travellers, who declined to be "retained" for dinner, were severely beaten for their recalcitrant behaviour, by order of the hospitable Baron. The story is well founded, and I daresay took place before '48, when anything might have happened.
I can bear witness that I have never myself been ill-treated for declining Hungarian hospitality, but when in Saxonland something very much the reverse occurred to me. I once entered a village at the end of a long day's ride, and stopping at the first house, asked for a night's lodging, whereupon I was told to ask at the next house. They said they could not take me in, excusing themselves on the score of an important domestic event being expected. I went on a little farther, though the "shades of night were falling fast," and repeated my request at the next house. I give you my word, there were more domestic events—always the same excuse. I began to calculate that the population must be rapidly on the increase in that place. It was too much. I entered the last house of that straggling village with a stern resolve that not even new-born twins should bar my claim to hospitality!
I found the postmaster at Csik Szereda a very intelligent man, with a fund of anecdotes and recollections, which generally centred in the troubles of '48. As I mentioned before, the Szeklers rose en masse against the Austrians. One of their officers, Colonel Alexander Gal, proved himself a very distinguished leader. Corps after corps were organised and sent to aid General Bem. "It was a terrible time; the men had to fight the enemy in the plain while our old men and women defended their homesteads against the jealous Saxons and the brutal Wallacks."
It was not in one place, or from one person, but from every one with whom I spoke on the subject, that I heard frightful stories of Wallack atrocities. In one instance a noble family—in all, thirteen persons, including a new-born infant—were slaughtered under circumstances of horrible barbarity within the walls of their castle. The name I think was Bardi; it is matter of history.
Amongst other horrors, the Wallacks on several occasions buried their victims alive, except the head, which they left above ground; they would then hurl stones at the unfortunate creatures, or cut off the heads with a scythe. It was not a war of classes but of race, for the poor peasants amongst the Magyars and Szeklers fared just as badly at the hands of the infuriated Wallacks as the nobles.
The belief is still held that the Vienna Government instigated the outbreak. Certainly arms had been put into the hands of these uncivilised hordes under the pretence of organising a sort of militia. Metternich knew the character of these irregulars, as he had known and proved the character of the Slovacks in Galicia in the terrible rising of the serfs in 1846. His complicity on that occasion has never been disproved.
The winter of 1848-49 must have been a time of unexampled misery to the Magyars of Transylvania. The nobles generally dared not remain in their lonely chateaux; it was not a question of bravery, for how could the feeble members who remained home from the war guard the castle from the torches of a hundred frantic, yelling wretches, who, with arms in their hands, spared neither age nor sex? For the time they were mad—these Eastern people are subject to terrible epidemics of frenzy!
The Szekler town of Maros Vasarhely, which was strong enough to keep the Wallacks at bay, was the sanctuary of the noble ladies and children of that part of Transylvania. It was so full of fugitives that the overcrowding was most distressing. A lady, the bearer of an historic name, told me herself that she and seven of her family passed the whole winter in one small room in Maros Yasarhely. Added to the discomfort and insalubrity of this crowding, they were almost penniless, having nothing but "Kossuth money." For the time the sources of their income were entirely arrested. In this instance one of the children died—succumbed to bad air and privation. Another patrician dame kept her family through the winter by selling the vegetables from her garden; this together with seventeen florins in silver was all they had to depend upon. Add to this the misery of not hearing for weeks, perhaps even for months, from their husbands or sons, who were with the armies of Goergey or Bem.
The Magyars were not always safe in the towns, for at Nagy Enyed, a rather considerable place, the Wallacks succeeded in setting fire to it, and butchered all the inhabitants who were not fortunate enough to escape their fury. In the neighbourhood of Reps the castles of the nobility suffered very severely. Grim incidents were told me, things that were too horrible not to be true—infants spiked and women tortured. One cannot dwell upon the details! What struck me as very remarkable was the fact that Magyars and Wallacks are now dwelling together again in peace side by side. It reminds one of the people who plant their vines again on Vesuvius directly an eruption is over. In the last century, in 1784, there was a dreadful outbreak of the Wallacks. Individually they are really not bad fellows—so it seemed to me—and one hears of fewer murders among them than perhaps in Ireland. The danger exists of leaders arising who may stir up the nationality fever—the idea of the great Roumain nation that looms big in their imagination!
They love neither Croatians, Slavonians, nor Austrians, and they are no longer a safe card to play off against the Magyars; but indeed I would fain believe that better and wiser counsels now prevail. Austria is not the Austria of '48, any more than the England of to-day is the same as England before the Reform Bill.
The autumn evenings were getting long, and after supper, as I sat smoking my pipe by the stove in the simple but scrupulously neat apartment of my host, he, in his turn, asked me about England. It is very touching the warmth with which these people in the far-off "land beyond the forest" speak of us. "We never can forget how kindly England received our patriots." This, or words like it, were said to me many times, and always the name of Palmerston came to the fore. "He cordially hated the Austrians." What better ground of sympathy?
Ride to Szent Domokos—Difficulty about quarters—Interesting host—Jewish question in Hungary—Taxation—Financial matters.
From Szereda I went to Szent Domokos. It was a long ride, and I was again nearly benighted. However, I reached my destination this time just as the last streak of daylight had departed.
I had some difficulty in making the people I met understand that I wanted the postmaster's house. No one, it appeared, could speak a word of German. At length I found the place; but a new difficulty arose. The postmaster, it seemed, was away, as far as I could make out from his wife. She seemed greatly puzzled, not to say alarmed, at seeing an armed horseman ride up, who demanded hospitality; and I daresay she was the more puzzled at not being able "to place me," as the Yankees say, for she asked me if I was a Saxon, an Austrian, or a Turk? My appearance, I suppose, was rather uncouth and alarming. She was young and very pretty—an Armenian, I learned afterwards. These women are apt to have Oriental notions about men, and she was evidently afraid to ask me in.
There was I, with my tired horse, completely up a tree. I thought to myself, I cannot stay in the street, so pushing my way through a sort of courtyard, I found out what appeared to be the stable. This I took possession of, all the time making the most polite bows and gestures, for we hardly understood a word of each other's language. There was no help for it, I must make myself at home. I put the horse up, I relieved him of his saddle and saddle-bags, and seeing a bucket and a well not far off, I fetched some water. By this time the young woman had called in some neighbours, and I could see them watching me from behind the half-closed doors and windows. I must observe I had lighted my own lantern that I always carried with me, so that my proceedings were made quite visible to the cautious spectators. They never attempted to interfere with me, and I went on doing my work quietly and unostentatiously. The position was ludicrous in the highest degree!
While I was yet foraging for my horse's supper, by good-luck in came the postmaster. He spoke German, and I was soon able to make all square. He was as civil as possible, offering me at once the hospitality of his roof, which in fact I had already assumed. I saw he was very anxious to remove the unpleasant impression of his wife's mistake. He bade me welcome many times over, he thanked me for the honour I did him in offering to sleep under his humble roof, and further persisted in calling me "Herr Lord." It was in vain that I corrected him on this point. "I was an Englishman, therefore I must be a 'Herr Lord,' and there was an end of it."
When Mr Boner was travelling in Szeklerland he was also, nolens volens, raised to the peerage, so I suppose it is a settled conviction of the people that we are all lords in Great Britain.
We had for supper a capital filet d'ours from a bear that had been shot only two days before. I enjoyed my supper immensely; the wine was as good as the food. My pretty hostess laughed a good deal over the false alarm my appearance had created. Her husband interpreted between us, but I promised to learn Hungarian before I paid them another visit. My host proved himself to be a very intelligent man; I had an exceedingly interesting conversation with him after supper. He complained bitterly of the heavy pressure of taxation, saying that Government ought to manage things more economically, for that every year now there was a deficit.
"Yet your country is rich in natural resources, as rich almost as France, barring her advantages of seaboard."
"Yes, we have wealth under the soil," he replied, "and what we want is capital to develop our resources. Herein Austria has stood in our way; you know the old policy of Austria, as far back as Maria Theresa's time, which was to make Hungary Catholic, to make her poor, and to turn her people into Germans. This last they will never do; but they have succeeded in their second project only too well. They have made us poor enough, they have discouraged manufactures and industries of every kind. We wish for free trade, but Austria is opposed to it. The manufactures of Bohemia must be nursed, and accordingly we are made to suffer. We want to be brought into contact with our customers in Western Europe; we want, in fact, to get our trade out of the hands of the Jews."
"I wish to ask you your candid opinion about the Jews. Some people say they are the curse of the country; others again, that Hungarian commerce would be nowhere without them."
"I will tell you what happens," replied my friend, evading a direct answer to my latter observation. "A wretched Jew comes into this village, or some other place—it does not matter, it is always the same story. He comes probably from Galicia as poor as a rat, he settles himself in the village, and sells slivovitz on credit to the foolish peasant, who, besotted with drink and debt, gets into his meshes; in the end, the Jew having sucked the blood of his victims, possesses himself of their little property, finds himself the object of universal hatred, and then he moves on. He makes a fresh start in some other place, beginning on a higher rung of the ladder; and you will find him sitting in the highest seats before he has done."
"If your people were less of spendthrifts and managed their affairs themselves, then the Jews would cease to find a harvest amongst you."
"Yes, that is true," he answered; "but we are not practical; we do not organise well. The Jew always manages to be the middle-man between ourselves and the consumers."
"But without the Jew you would perhaps not even get so near to the consumer," I observed quietly.
My host puffed out a volume of smoke, and after a pause observed, before he placed his pipe again between his lips, "In this part of the country, in the Szeklerland, the better class of merchants are nearly all Armenians."
Apropos of the tax question, I have looked into the matter since, and I am rather surprised to find the proportion not so heavy as I thought; on the whole population it is about L1 a-head—certainly less than is borne by many other states. In England, I believe, we are taxed at over L2 a-head. Then, again, it is true that since 1870 there has been an annual deficit, and the equilibrium of income and expenditure can hardly be counted upon just yet; still things are moving in the right direction. The Hungarians have been reproached for managing their finances badly since the compromise with Austria in 1867, when the revenue came exclusively under their own control. But in answer they say, that having so lately entered the community of states, they found themselves in the position of a minor who comes into house and lands that have need of every sort of radical repair and improvement. Hungary has had to spend heavily upon road-making, bridges, railroads, sanatory and other economic improvements, and very heavily for rectification of the course of the Danube; in fact they have ambitiously set themselves too much to do in the time. They have rendered Buda-Pest, with its magnificent river embankments, one of the finest capitals in Europe. The Magyar does everything with a degree of splendour that savours of the Oriental. They know not the meaning of the homely adage which tells a man to "cut his coat according to his cloth."
Added to the pressure of accumulated expenses, Hungary has had a succession of bad harvests—she has been passing through the seven lean years. The last season has shown, however, a decided improvement, so we may hope the bad corner is turned. I am informed that this year the schedule for unpaid—viz., arrears of—taxes is completely wiped off. Then, again, the income-tax in the space of five years ending 1874 increased from 5,684,000 florins to 27,650,000 florins!
The financial account of the current year is reassuring. At the sitting of the Hungarian Diet on the 30th October, the minister, in presenting the estimates for 1878, said that in 1876 and 1877 the expenditure had been reduced by L1,250,000. It was not possible to continue at the same rate, and the net reduction next year would be L360,000. It is true the deficit of 1877 is L1,600,000, a sufficiently grave sum; but to judge the position fairly it is necessary to look at the budgets of former years. In 1874, "in consequence of rather too hasty investment of money in railways and other public works," the deficit was L6,000,700; in 1876 it had fallen to L3,100,000. The present year, therefore, shows a steady reduction of those ugly figures at the wrong side of the national account.
[Footnote 20: 'Hungarian Finances,' the Times, October 31, 1877.]
Copper mine of Balanbanya—Miners in the wine-shop—Ride to St Miklos—Visit to an Armenian family—Capture of a robber—Cold ride to the baths of Borsek.
Having expressed a wish to see the copper mine at Balanbanya, which is some five miles from Szent Domokos, my host proposed to drive me over the next morning. When the morning came the weather looked most unpromising; there was a steady downpour, without any perceptible break in the clouds in any quarter. I had made up my mind to go, and as after the noonday meal it cleared slightly, we started. The mud was nearly up to the axletree of our cart. After driving some time we reached a wild and rather picturesque valley, in which rises the Alt, or, as it is called when it reaches Roumania, the Aluta. The course of this stream is singularly tortuous, winding about through rocks and defiles, often changing its direction, and finally making a way for itself through the Carpathian range.
As we approached the copper mine it had all the appearance of a volcano, for a heavy cloud of smoke hung over the spot like a canopy. This mine has been worked for many years; formerly it paid well, but now it is in the hands of a company, who are working at a loss, if I could believe what I was told.
I have repeatedly noticed in Hungary that people commit themselves to works of this kind without the technical knowledge necessary to carry them on successfully. The necessary capital, too, is generally wanting to bring these mining operations to a successful issue; added to this the managers are often not conspicuous for their honesty.
I went over these works, and gave particular attention to the refinery. Some of the processes for collecting the metal are ingeniously simple and effective. The copper-ore is remarkably pure, being, it is said, free from arsenic and antimony. The concern ought to pay, for the copper is so well esteemed that it obtains the best price in the market.
After inspecting the place, we went into the inn to have some supper, and while there, several miners came in. I had heard that they were renowned for their mining songs down in these parts, so I made friends with the men and begged them to sing. After a little persuasion and a refilling of glasses they began.
The music of their songs was very mournful, and the words equally so, descriptive of the dangers the poor miner had to encounter in searching for ore in the gloomy depths of the earth. I believe my companion, the postmaster, was very puzzled to understand what could interest me in these rough miners. The scene was exceedingly picturesque; for some six or eight of these stalwart fellows, with skin and clothes reddened by the earth, sat by a long table, each with his flask of wine before him, while the flicker of an oil-lamp threw its yellow light over the group. One of the men spoke German, and with him I talked. He had elicited from me the fact of my being an Englishman, whereupon he asked me a variety of questions about our mines and our forests. Finally he inquired whether our bears were as large as theirs. When I told him we had none he could not credit it, saying, "But you must have bears on the frontier?" When I explained that we lived upon an island he seemed much surprised. I saw that his natural politeness prevented his saying what was in his mind, but it was evident he thought that if the English lived in an island they could not be such a great people after all.
Not wishing to put my host to expense, more especially as the expedition was undertaken solely for my benefit and at my suggestion, I paid the score at the Balanbanya Inn without saying anything. I was very vexed to find, however, that by doing so I had offended my companion very much. He reminded me that I was a stranger in Szeklerland and his guest, and it was contrary to all his ideas of hospitality that I should be the paymaster. Instead of starting homewards, as we were ready to do, he ordered more wine and some sardines, being the greatest delicacy the house afforded. I was obliged to make a show of partaking of something more, though I had amply supped. For these extras of course my friend paid, but he was only half appeased, and was never quite the same again.
The following morning I left the house of my too-hospitable entertainers. My destination now was St Miklos. My road thither lay through a pine-forest, as lonely a tract as could well be imagined, for there were no signs whatever of human habitations. Certainly the weird solitude of a pine-wood is more impressive than any other kind of forest scenery. Under the impervious shade and the long grey vistas, one moves forward with something of a superstitious feeling, as though one were intruding into the sanctuary of unseen spirits. I cannot say that I was a prey to such idle fancies, for the spirits I was likely to meet would be very tangible enemies. This district had a bad reputation, owing to several robberies having been committed in the neighbourhood; in fact the whole country was just then under martial law. I was well armed, and being alone I kept my weather-eye open; but I saw not even the ghost of a brigand, and reached St Miklos in safety.
It is usual when incendiary fires or robberies have been rife in any district to place that part of the country under the Statorium, so that if any person or persons are caught in flagrante delicto, they are summarily tried and hung before a week is over. When I was in Transylvania in the autumn of '75, the whole of the north-eastern corner was under the Statorium.
At St Miklos I put up at the house of an Armenian, who received me with a most frank and kindly welcome, conducting me to the guest-chamber himself after giving orders to the servants to attend to my horse. St Miklos is charmingly situated in the valley of Gyergyo, at an elevation of nearly 3000 feet above the sea-level. Here one is right in amongst the mountains, the higher summits rising grandly around. The scenery is very fine. There are interminable forests on every side, broken by ravines and valleys, with strips of green pasture-land. In former times these primeval woods were tenanted by the wild aurochs, but now one sees only the long-horned white cattle and the wiry little horses belonging to the villages that nestle about in unexpected places. St Miklos is almost entirely inhabited by Armenians. There is a market here, and it is considered the central place of the district. The year before my visit the town was nearly destroyed by fire. Upwards of three hundred houses were burned down in less than three hours. The loss of property was considerable, including stores of hay and kukoricz (Indian corn). Since this conflagration, which caused such widespread distress in the place, they have established a volunteer fire brigade. This ought to exist in every village. Prompt action would often arrest the serious proportions of a fire. It would be a good thing if some substitute could be found for the wooden tiles used for roofing; in course of time they become like tinder, and a spark will fire the roof. The houses in Hungary are not, as a rule, constructed of wood, as in Upper Austria and Styria, nor are they nearly so picturesque as in that part of the world. In some Hungarian villages the cottages are painted partly blue and partly yellow, which has a very odd effect; and throughout the country they are built with the gable-end to the road.
When I was at St Miklos there was great excitement over the recent capture of a famous robber chief, whose band had kept the country-side in a state of alarm for some months past. I was asked if I would like to go and see him, and of course I was glad to get a sight at last of one of the robbers of whom I had heard so much in my travels. I was never more surprised than, on arriving in front of a very shaky wooden building, to be told that this was the prison. A few resolute fellows might have easily broken in and effected the rescue of their chief.
There was no romance about the appearance of the miserable wretch that we found within, stretched on a rough bed with wrists and feet heavily ironed. These manacles were hardly needed, for he was severely wounded, and seemed incapable of rising from his pallet. I never saw so repulsive a countenance; and the flatness of the head was quite remarkable. His eyes were very prominent, and had the restless look of a hunted animal, which was painful in the extreme; but there was absolutely no redeeming expression of human feeling in the dark coarse face. Well, there was something human about him though. I was told he had been photographed that morning, and that he had expressed considerable satisfaction at the idea of his portrait being preserved. He was under sentence of death! There were various stories told of his capture, but I think the following is the true account. It appears that he and his gang made their appearance from time to time in the forest round the well-known watering-place of Borsek. When visitors were on their way to the baths, they were frequently stopped by the robbers in a mountain pass, in the immediate neighbourhood of a dense forest that stretches far away for miles and miles over the frontier. It was the custom of the robbers to demand all the money, and they would relieve the travellers of their fur cloaks and overcoats, and other useful articles; but if they did not offer any resistance, they were permitted to go on uninjured, to take their cure at the baths. I should doubt, however, that anybody would be welcome there without a well-filled purse; at least I judge so from what I heard of the eminently commercial character of the place.
The robbers had the game in their own hands for a long while, but they made a mistake one fine day. They stopped a handsome equipage, which seemed to promise a good haul; but lo, behold, it was the Obergespannirz, the lord-lieutenant of the county! He had four good horses, and so saved himself by flight. But the authorities now really bestirred themselves, and the soldiers were called out to exterminate this troublesome brood. They were accompanied by a renowned bear-slayer who knew the forest well. It was with great difficulty that they succeeded at last in tracking the robbers, or rather robber, for it was only the chief who was trapped after all. It appears that the soldiers and their guide came upon a small hut surrounded by almost impenetrable thickets. The hunter crept on in advance of the rest, and looking into the interior through the chinks of timbers, he saw a man drying his clothes by a small fire. He quietly said, "Good-day." The robber started up, and seizing his gun, flung open the door and fired his fowling-piece at once at his visitor. Fortunately the powder proved to be damp, or he must have received the full charge. The bear-slayer was now in close quarters, and fired off his revolver within a short distance of the other's head. The shot took effect, and he fell in a heap stunned and senseless. At first they thought he was dead, and it is marvellous that the well-aimed discharge did not kill him. His skull must have been uncommonly thick. This fellow was known to be the leader. The rest of the gang had probably escaped into Moldavia, from whence they came.
My friends at St Miklos were kind enough to promise to get up a bear-hunt for me, and it was arranged that I should go and see the baths of Borsek, and return on Saturday night, so as to be ready for the bear-hunt on Sunday. The "better observance of the Sabbath" is always associated with bear-hunting in these parts.
I left St Miklos in a snowstorm, though it was only the 16th of September—very early for such signs of winter. I was not prepared for wintry weather. It frustrated my plans and expectations a good deal. I was disappointed, too, in the climate, for I had always heard that the late autumn is about the finest time for Transylvania.
I have invariably remarked that whenever I go to a new country it is the signal for "abnormal meteorological disturbances," as they call bad weather in the newspapers. My own notion is that weather is a very mixed affair everywhere.
For three mortal hours I rode on through a blinding snowstorm. At length I espied the ruin of an unfinished cottage by the wayside, and here I bethought me I would take shelter and see after my dinner; for whatever happens, I can be hungry directly afterwards—I think an earthquake would give me an appetite.
My unfurnished lodgings were in as wild a spot as imagination could picture. No wonder that the builder had abandoned the construction of this solitary dwelling; why it had ever been commenced passes my comprehension. It was just at the entrance of a mountain valley, treeless, stony, and rugged, through which there were at intervals the semblance of a track—a desolate, God-forgotten-looking place. On consulting the map I found that the "road" led to Moldavia. I resolved it should not lead me there. Here then, in this dreary spot, with its gable-end to the road, and turning away from the prospect—and no wonder—stood the carcass of a cottage. My horse and I scrambled over the breach in the wall, where a garden never had smiled, and got into the roofless house. It was with considerable difficulty that I found sticks enough for my kitchen fire. I had to try back on the route I had passed, for I remembered not far in the rear a group of firs standing sentinels in the pass. I always took care to have an end of rope in my pocket; with this I tied up my fagot, shouldered it, and returned to the house of entertainment. The result of my trouble was a blazing fire, whereat I cooked an excellent robber-steak. I made myself some tea, and afterwards enjoyed—yes, actually enjoyed—my pipe. There is a pleasure in battling with circumstances, even in such a small affair as getting one's dinner under difficulties.
After washing-up (by good-luck there was a stream near by), I packed up my belongings, and giving a last look around to see that I had left nothing, I departed without as much as a pourboire for "service," one of the advantages of self-help.
The prospect for the rest of my ride was not lively, a good ten miles yet to be done on a bad road. It had ceased to snow, but the clouds kept driving down into the valley as if the very heavens themselves were in a state of mobilisation. It is curious to notice sometimes in the higher Carpathians how the clouds march continuously through the winding valleys; always moving and driving on, these compact masses of vapour are impelled by the currents of air in the defiles which seam the mountains.
My way was now through an interminable pine-forest, the road stretching in a perfectly straight line and at a perceptible rise. Indeed it was uphill work altogether. The ceaseless dripping of the rain made the whole scene as cheerless as it well could be. The snow had turned to cold dull rain, which was far more depressing. I wished the mineral springs at Borsek had never been discovered. It was too late to turn back to St Miklos, where I devoutly wished myself, so I had nothing to do but plod on with my waterproof tight round me. It was impossible to go fast, for in places the mud was very deep and the road was beset with big stones.
It was dark when I reached Borsek, and again I wished I had never come. The inn was very uncomfortable; there was no fireplace in any of the rooms. The baths are only used in the height of summer, and if it turns cold, as it does sometimes at this elevation, people I suppose must freeze till it gets warm again. I had come a fortnight too late; the world of fashion departs from Borsek at the end of August. Ten or twelve springs rise within a short area, and vary curiously in quality and temperature. The source which is principally used for exportation is remarkable for the quantity of carbonic acid it contains. About 12,000 bottles are filled every day; some 1500 on an average break soon after corking, owing partly to the bad quality of the bottles. There is a glass manufactory in the place, and though they have good material they turn out the work badly.
The export trade in the mineral waters is very large. They are much valued for long sea voyages, as the water keeps for years without losing its gaseous qualities.
The baths of Borsek belong to two different parishes, and they are by no means agreed as to the management. Some years ago the principal spring was struck by lightning and entirely lost for a time, but after much digging it was found again. The situation of Borsek is extremely romantic, and in the height of summer it must be very delightful; but in summer only—let no one follow my example and go there out of season. Of course the place is surrounded by magnificent forests, but it is a crying shame to see how they have been treated. In every direction there is evidence of the ravages of fire. You may see in a morning's walk the blackened stems of thousands of trees, the results of Wallack incendiarism. If the Wallacks go on destroying the forests in this way, they will end in injuring the value of the place as a health resort; for the efficacy of the perfumed air of the pine-woods is well known, especially for all nervous diseases.
The houses are badly built at Borsek, and the arrangements for comfort are very incomplete. Most of the habitations appear to have been run up with green wood; the result may be pleasant and airy in summer, when the balmy breeze comes in from cracks in the doors and window-frames, but except in great heat, a perforated house is a mistake. People have to bring their own servants and other effects. I should say a portable stove would not be a bad item amongst the luggage.
The Borsek waters are very much drunk throughout Hungary, especially mixed with wine. Everywhere I noticed that eight people out of ten would take water with their wine at meals. In the district round there is splendid pasturage for cattle. Large numbers of cattle fed in these parts are now sent to Buda-Pest and Vienna. The serious drawback to Borsek is its great distance from a railway. The nearest station is Maros Vasarhely, which is nearly ninety miles away. The drive between the two places is very fine—that is, the scenery is fine, but the road itself is execrable. A telegraph wire connects Borsek with the outside world, but the post only comes twice a-week.
[Footnote 21: The waters of Borsek are much taken as an "after-cure."]
Moldavian frontier—Toelgyes—Excitement about robbers—Attempt at extortion—A ride over the mountains—Return to St Miklos.
Instead of going back to St Miklos by the same route, I resolved to diverge a little if the weather permitted. I wanted to visit Toelgyes, a village on the frontier of Moldavia, which is said to be very pretty. The weather decidedly improved, so I rode off in that direction. The road, owing to the late rains, was in a dreadful state. All the mountain summits were covered with fresh snow; it was a lovely sight. The dazzling whiteness of these peaks rising above the zone of dark fir-trees was singularly striking and beautiful. The effect of sunshine was exhilarating in the highest degree, and the contrast with my recent experience gave it a keener relish.
At Toelgyes there is a considerable trade with Moldavia in wood. Quite a fresh human interest was imparted to the scene by this industry. By the side of the stream small rafts were in course of construction, and the trunks of the trees were being placed in position to make the descent of the stream. The woodman's axe was heard in the forest, and many a picturesque hut or group of huts were to be seen by the roadside, where the woodmen and their families live, to be near their work. The labour of getting the timber along these tortuous mountain streams is very great. A ready market is found at Galatz, where a great deal of this wood is sent.
I remained the night at Toelgyes. The whole place was in a state of excitement about brigands; every one had some fresh rumour to help swell the general panic. A company of soldiers were kept constantly patrolling the roads in the neighbourhood. I should say they were pretty safe not to encounter the robbers, who are always well informed under those circumstances.
In studying my pocket-map, I found that there was clearly a short cut over the mountains to St Miklos. On inquiry I extracted the confirmation of the fact with difficulty, and I had still more difficulty in inducing anybody to go with me as a guide. At length I secured the services of a fellow who was willing to go for a tolerably substantial "consideration." I was afraid to work my way entirely by the map, for roads are apt to be vague in these parts. Ten chances to one whether you know a road when you see it; it might be a green sward, or the rubbly dry bed of a mountain torrent, or a cattle-track; it may lead somewhere or nowhere. Unassisted you may wander all manner of ways.
I made my start very early in the morning, for I had a long way to go, and my guide was on foot; there was not much use in being mounted, considering the pace that the roughness of the road forced us to take. Before leaving Toelgyes I had a row with the innkeeper. He made a most exorbitant demand upon me, at least three times over what was properly due. I told him at once that I declined to pay the full amount he asked. I knew perfectly well what the charge ought to be, and I said I should pay that and no more. Hereupon he got very angry, and informed me that he should not saddle my horse or let me go till I had paid him in full. I immediately went into the stable and saddled the horse myself; I then put down on the window-seat the money which I considered was due to him, giving a fair and liberal margin, but I was not going to be "done" because I was a foreigner. I ordered my guide to proceed, and I myself quickly rode out of the place. The innkeeper worked himself up into a tremendous rage, and declared he would have me back, or at least he would have his cold meat and bread back that I had ordered for the journey. I gave my horse the rein, and left the fellow uttering his blessings both loud and deep.
We had ten miles of as bad a road as any I had yet seen in my travels. The mud in some places was two feet deep. We followed the windings of a stream called the Putna Patak, and came presently to a wayside inn frequented by foresters. Here we made a short halt, got a bottle of decent wine and a crust of bread. Immediately on quitting this place we turned into a less frequented path, and began a stiffish ascent. It was a superb day, and I enjoyed it immensely, not having been much favoured by weather lately. Our route was through a thick forest, the trees, as usual in these, magnificent, with their gigantic girth, and widespreading branches. At times I got a glimpse of the snowy mountain summits standing out against the intensely blue sky.
At mid-day I told the guide to look out for the next spring, for there we would dine. We did not find a spring for some time, at least not by the wayside, and I was reluctant to lose time by wandering about. At length when we had secured a water-tap—viz., a little trickling rill flowing between some stones and spongy moss—we found ourselves in a difficulty about the fire. There was plenty of wood, but it was all soaking wet and would not burn. Luckily a fir-tree was spied out, which provided us with a good quantity of turpentine, and with this we persuaded the fire to blaze up a bit. We cooked the dinner, had a smoke, a short rest, and then en avant—always through the forest.
Later in the afternoon, emerging from the wood, we came upon a grassy plateau which commanded a glorious view of the Transylvanian side of the Carpathians. I was glad to see the familiar valley of Gyergyo away westward, with its numerous villages and green pasturage. The same physical peculiarity pervades the whole of Hungary. Whenever you get a vale of any extent, it is as flat as if it were a bit of the great plain. Everywhere you have the impression that formerly the waters of a lake must have covered the level verdure of the valley. As soon as I caught sight of St Miklos I dismissed my guide, for his services were no longer required, and I could get on quicker without him. I had still a long distance to go, for I was not far below the summit. I was extremely anxious to get into safe quarters before dark, so I made the best of the way, leading my horse down the steep bits, and mounting again for a short trot where it was possible.
On arriving at the house of my Armenian friends at St Miklos, happily before sundown, I was greatly disappointed to find that there would be no bear-hunt the next day. Those detestable robbers had turned up again, and the people who were to have formed part of the sporting expedition were obliged to go robber-hunting, a sport not much to their taste I fancy.
It appeared that the fellows had entered an out-of-the-way inn, or rather wine-shop, and boldly ordered the owner to procure for them a certain amount of gunpowder, which they required should be ready for them the next day, and failing to carry out their orders, they threatened to shoot him. He was obliged to promise, for there were five of them, and except women he was alone in the house. They drank a quantity of his wine, and asked for no reckoning, saying they would pay for it the next day along with the gunpowder.
Directly they had left the premises, the innkeeper set off as fast as his legs could carry him to St Miklos to ask for help. The robbers seemed to be such bunglers that one would judge them to be new to the business; but the innkeeper's terror knew no bounds, and he declared they were awful-looking cut-throats. Two of the men were caught the next day. I saw them brought into the village heavily manacled; they were harmless-looking Wallacks, not very different in appearance from my guide over the mountain. Though armed with guns, they made no resistance; and when they were discovered they had called out lustily to the soldiers not to fire, for they would give themselves up. I expect they were let off with imprisonment, but I never heard the end of the story. I owed them a grudge for spoiling my bear-hunt, which I missed altogether, for I could not wait until the following Sunday.
I left St Miklos with an introduction to some rich Armenians at Toplicza, where I intended making my next halt.
Toplicza—Armenian hospitality—A bear-hunt—A ride over to the frontier of Bukovina—Destruction of timber—Maladministration of State property—An unpleasant night on the mountain—Snowstorm.
At Toplicza I was very hospitably received by the family to whom I took the letter of introduction from my friends at the last place. Unfortunately I could not converse with the elders of the family, for they spoke no German, and my Hungarian was limited. However, there was a charming young lady with whom I found no difficulty in getting on; she understood not only the language but the literature of Germany.
A bear-hunt was soon proposed in my honour. The headman of the village was brought into our council, and he quickly sent round orders that everybody was to appear the following day—which conveniently happened to be fete day—for a hunt. Those who had guns would be placed at different "stands," and those who had no guns were expected to act as beaters.
The Richter, or headman, was a fine specimen of a Wallack; he was six feet three, broad chested, with flowing black hair—a handsome fellow of that type. I told him I should not like to fight him if he knew how to use his fists. He was pleased at the little compliment. The next day the Wallacks came pouring in from all the outlying parts of the village. It was really a very picturesque sight. The men wore thongs of leather round their feet in place of boots; and those who had no guns were armed with the usual long staff surmounted by the formidable axe-head.
A great deal of time was wasted in preparations. The Wallacks are the most dilatory people in the whole world. It was nearly three o'clock before we got to the forests where we hoped to give Bruin a rendezvous. The guns that some of the party carried were "a caution"—more fit for a museum of armoury than for anything else. The Wallacks try to remedy the inefficiency of their guns by cramming in very large charges of powder, at least two bullets, and some buckshot besides. I often thought the danger was greater to themselves than to the bear. They never fire over twenty-five yards, and in fact generally allow the bear to come within twelve yards, when they pepper away at him.
At last we were in position. It is usual to have a second gun, but I had only my rifle and revolver; unfortunately my gun was with my baggage at Maros Vasarhely. After waiting for some time without hearing anything but the creaking of the pine-trees in the wind, the advance of the beaters was at length audible. You hear repeated thuds with their axes on the trees, and you know that they are beating up your way. All at once I heard the unmistakable tread of some heavy four-footed beast. I held my breath, fearing to betray my presence. Nearer and nearer came the heavy tread, the branches cracking as the animal broke its way through the thicket. It must be a bear of the largest size, thought I, with a glow of delight warming up my whole frame at this supreme moment. I had just raised the rifle to my shoulder, when—judge my disgust—when emerging from the thicket I saw a stray ox make his appearance! I could hardly resist putting a bullet into the stupid brute's carcass, but I remembered that I should have to pay for that little game.
We moved on to another part of the forest, and the same programme of taking our positions and arranging the course of the beaters was gone through; but we met with no success. This was the more provoking, because on our return we found the fresh slot of a bear. He had evidently just saved himself in time; the marks of his claws were quite visible in the soft mud.
These footprints were all we were destined to see, for evening was drawing on, and it was impossible to pursue the sport any farther. Of course we commenced operations far too late in the day; it was simply ridiculous to begin at such a late hour in the autumn afternoon. It was very disappointing; but there is so much of mere chance in bear-hunting, that where one man has the luck to kill four or five in a season, another may go on for two years following without getting as much as a shot.
The sportsman will be glad to hear, though the farmer is of quite another mind, that bears, wolves, and wild-boar are increasing very much in the Carpathians generally. I have mentioned this fact before, but I allude to it again because it was everywhere corroborated. On all sides this increase is attributed to the tax on firearms, which deters the peasants from keeping them down. They are often too poor to pay for a shooting licence and the gun-tax.
Toplicza has some warm mineral springs. Warm water seems to be turned on everywhere in Hungary. One of these springs is situated close to the river, where a simple kind of bath-house has been constructed. The water contains iodine. While at Toplicza I heard that somewhere up in the mountains on the Bukovina side there is a large deposit of sulphur. The accounts were very vague, but I thought I should like to have a look at the place. The district was pronounced to be so unsafe, and so many robbers had appeared on the scene lately, that I thought proper to take two men with me; one as a guide, for he had been there before, and a forester armed with a gun.
My friends the Armenians kindly insisted on providing me with everything necessary in the shape of food; and one day, the weather being fine, I started at noon on this expedition along with my attendants. We soon got into the forest again. The size of the trees was almost beyond belief; but, alas! many of them had been destroyed in the same ruthless manner that I have so often alluded to in my travels. Here were half-burned trunks of splendid oak-trees lying rotting on the ground in every direction, showing clearly that the forest had been fired. The attempt at a clearing, if that was the object, was utterly abortive; for when the trees are down a thick undercover grows up, more impervious by far, and there is less chance of obtaining pasturage than ever, but the Wallack never reasons upon this. The State reckons the value of its "forests" at something like 27,000,000 florins, and yet there is no efficient supervision of this property, which, from the increasing scarcity of wood in Europe, must become in time more and more valuable. The mines of Hungary are estimated in round numbers at 210,000,000 florins, and here again there is a lamentable absence of wise administration. The mining laws, I understand, are at present under revision. Foreign enterprise is not discouraged, but I cannot go so far as to say that the adventure would not meet with difficulties from local obstructions of an official or semi-official nature.
We had started from Toplicza in beautiful weather, but before sunset a complete change came on, and heavy rain set in. This was a very uncomfortable look-out, for we could see nothing that offered us anything like a decent shelter for the night. The guide urged us to go on, for he said there was a hut at the top of the mountain; so we beat our way along through the driving rain, and eventually came to the top. We soon found the hut, but it was a mere ruin; it might have been in Chancery for any number of years, indeed one end had tumbled in. It was as uninviting a place to spend a night in as could well be imagined. Fortunately one corner was still weather-proof, the fir bark of the roof yet remaining intact. We had to be careful, however, about the roof, which consisted of stems of trees supported longitudinally. It was easy to see that a very little incautious vivacity on our part would bring the whole structure down on our heads. Water was found not far off, and we soon had a fire, which blazed up cheerfully. Its warmth was very necessary, for it was bitterly cold and damp. I had brought with me a hammock made of twine; this I slung in the driest corner, and after supper I turned in and was soon asleep. The faculty of sleep is an immense comfort. A man may put it high up on the credit side in striking the balance of good and evil in his lot.
When I awoke the next morning, I found that the weather was worse than ever. The mist was so dense that the Wallack guide said it was perfectly impossible to go on, in fact we might consider ourselves lucky if we were able to get back without mischance. Not to be daunted, I waited till nearly noon, thinking it was possible that the mist might rise, and restore to us the bright skies of yesterday. A change came, but not the one we hoped for. The cold rain turned into snow, so it would have been sheer madness to think of going on.
We were in a wretched plight, crowded together in the corner of the ruined hut, and snow as well as "light" came in "through the chinks that time had made." Owing to a change in the wind, the smoke of the fire outside drifted in; and there was evidence of a worse drift—that of the snow, which before nightfall I daresay may have buried the cottage out of sight.
I now gave orders for returning, and just as I stepped out of the hut, or was in the act of leaving, one of the heavy beams from the roof fell upon me; it caught me on the back of my head—a pretty close shave! The ride back, with the consciousness of having failed to attain the object I had in view, was depressing. Nothing could be more unlovely than these once glorious forests. In parts we had to pass through a mere morass, into which my horse kept sinking.
At last we got back to Toplicza. The forester and the Wallack thought themselves amply compensated by a few paper florins. I daresay they kept off the rheumatism by extra potations of slivovitz. As for myself, having been dipped, yea, having even undergone total immersion in the morass, I felt like those extinct animals who have left their interesting bones nice and dry in the blue lias, but who in daily life must have been "mud all over." I presented such a spectacle on my return, that I consider it was an instance of the greatest kindness—indeed it must have been a severe strain on the hospitality of my friends to give me house-room.
As my garments had not the durability of those of the Israelites in the wilderness, it became a very desirable object to effect a junction with my portmanteau, which was sitting all this time at Maros Vasarhely. The weather, too, had calmed my ardour for the mountains, and I resolved to strike into the interior of Transylvania, and see something of the towns.
Visits at Transylvanian chateaux—Society—Dogs—Amusements at Klausenburg—Magyar poets—Count Istvan Szechenyi—Baron Eoetvos—'The Village Notary'—Hungarian self-criticism—Literary taste.