Title


A Coin of Trajan
"A Coin of Trajan"

CHAPTER III

THE LAND BEYOND THE FOREST. 1

As the grey of the dawn gradually disappeared, the growing brightness of the sky and the invigorating freshness of the morning gave evidence that another pleasant day was to be added to the many I had already enjoyed. The road was good, and on we went at a brave rate. In Austria the high-roads are all good, but here especially, on the military frontier, they were really admirable. At short intervals along the wayside stood neat well-built cottages with the words "Weg Einräumer, No. 9," on the walls. Here lived the men who had to keep the road in order, all being numbered and regulated with military precision.

On this autumnal morning troops of peasantry were going into town,-for there was a market and fair at Karansebes, and, early as it was, life and activity were seen all along our route. We now changed horses for the last time, and with four little animal started off again. A merry youth drove them, and the delicious elasticity of the air seemed to have inspired and made him happy and buoyant. By Jove! how we whirled along with that young charioteer! Hark how he shouts to his horses, and they answer to his voice! Before the lash of his long whip, flying through the air, can enliven the off or near leader, they spring forward as if in a race, and as though another, panting for victory, were close behind them. In wonderful circles that whip is now playing about, then it is caught up with a jerk, and the wheelers are double-thonged in most approved style. Again a loud shout, which bespeaks exuberance of youth and joy more than anything else, and again those wiry little animals spring forward at their utmost speed. How that boy enjoys his drive ! And how I enjoy it too! For the whole distance he never ceased calling to his team; and thus, the bells merrily jingling, the whip whirling round his head, and with loud and noisy shouts, in we came to Karansebes as though ac were an express with the intelligence that the whole frontier was up in arms, that the Servians had crossed the Danube and were marching onwards to destroy with fire and sword, or some other equally momentous and astounding piece of news.

I went at once to an inn, whose exterior with neatly-painted green blinds seemed to promise decent accommodation. But what dirt and disorder! It required good practice to breakfast in such a place; however, I was not unused to similar trials, and the meal was soon well over.2 And now for a conveyance to Hátzeg ! My man is already at the door with a little four-wheeled waggon crammed full of hay, with carpets spread on the top on which I was to enthrone myself. But those miserable rats of ponies! Why, they will never got to Hátzeg by the evening! "Won't they, though?" said my blackguard-looking Jew driver; " they are in prime condition," (they were skin and bone, I beg to observe,) "and you'll see how they can run."

And away we go,-I on my hay throne, and my little shaggy team springing along at a good gallop. For awhile we passed a whole population all streaming into town. There were troops of women and cart-loads of peasants and young girls in holiday attire, nearly all in snow-white shifts with broad stripes of embroidery, red or blue, over the shoulders and round the sleeves; and large silver medals hanging from their necks over their bosom. Some wore around their head a large white kerchief, but so full and long that it fell over them like a veil and flowed low down behind. There is something very graceful and feminine in this spotless head-gear, with its many and waving folds. Others had brighter-hued kerchiefs, but purple seemed to be the favorite colour. Anon came a chattering company in bran-new jackets of sheepskin without sleeves, all embroidered with red and green and blue leather, and having a very holiday air. Then others with a sort of scarlet fez upon their heads; and some with a covering having two horn-like corners rising in front, reminding you of Aaron's budding ornament. Now a gipsy passed, dark as a Hindoo; and though most of the wayfarers were clean and in their Sunday clothes, there were some who, it was evident, had no thought of merry-making, and everything about their persons was blackened, coarse, and dirty. Pleasing and picturesque as the simple clothing of these women is when fresh and tidy, in the contrary state it has an air of perfectly savage life. The "obrescha," being then almost black with dirt, and torn and entangled, looks like horsehair hanging and flying about, and has a most strange, uncomely appearance.3 Now in the distance a whole bevy of young girls come stepping on, with shifts and head-gear white as the daisies of the field; and as they breast the morning breeze, the bright red "obrescha" streaming and fluttering in the wind, might almost make you think a flock of flamingos was moving over the plain. Most of them had distaffs stuck in their girdle, and one with arms distended was winding off red yarn; the sun, too, was shining, and lighted up the bright figures, which quite illumined the sober-coloured autumn landscape. It is astonishing how they can spin as they walk, for they advance at a brisk rate, and their feet and merry tongue keep pace with each others.

What busts you see here, where stays are unknown, and there is nothing to cramp the full development of the figure ! The linen covering does not conceal the beautiful outline of the bosom, but rather serves to define it; marking now an oval bud and vow a full-rounded form. And the drapery falls over this loveliest feminine feature in a sharp angular line, as though beneath were firmest marble; and marble it is, but glowing with passionate life.

On our road my driver pointed out to me a point in the mountains where one evening be had seen "a gold fire."-"And what is that?" I asked. "' 'Tis a light which hovers over the spot where gold is buried."-" Of course you went and took possession of it," I said, laughing. "Yes, but being so far I could not find the exact spot, and therefore got nothing."

His two horses, which still went along bravely, had, he told me, cost him forty florins. We met a peasant who had bought a cow and her calf and was now driving them home. For both he had paid only eight florins ; each was the effect of the dearth and drought in Hungary.

The road was even all the way, with wooded hills at a little distance on either side. The villages were neatly built, the houses good and solid-looking, and, if I remember rightly, often standing separate. They stood in a row far back from the roadside, so that an immense breadth was thus given to the street. Owing to this mode of building, a village spread to a considerable length. The neatness and regularity all gave evidence of former military supervision, and the road, too, was broad and smooth as a billiard-table.

"You'll see the difference when we get to Transylvania," said my man to me; "directly we get there, all is bad,--roads, bridges, everything." I observed here, as well as later elsewhere, that the people of a military frontier always piqued themselves on their superior condition, seeming to appreciate their orderly state after they had been once broken in and got accustomed to it. W e stopped at a hovel which the driver called an inn,-a wretched place, with dirt, dirt, dirt in abundance. Wallachian peasants were lying asleep on benches, and the whole place looked miserable and broken down, Like Dr. Johnson in a similar predicament, I had recourse to eggs, superintending the frying of them myself. The people were Germans; they said that all the innkeepers along the road were so. And even here in this miserable hole there were two crinolines hanging on the w all of the dirty room; the second being a miniature one, for a little child. This product of civilization was a droll contrast to a group of gipsies a little further on. A boy was leaping about perfectly naked. One little girl among them had a cape fastened at the neck just covering the shoulders; but for this she was- to use a penny-a-liner term- as "nude" as her companion. They were like little saver, and so were those other children who had a few rage on.

We are so accustomed to see the place where our dead repose protected and tended with evident care, and the graves marked by what, however humble, has some pretension to artistic skill, that it produced quite a strange and jarring sensation to observe a churchyard fenced in by hurdles, and opposite it, close to the roadside, another unenclosed, the mounds which were in it marked with mere sticks from the hedge.

Presently my little Jew, pointing to a broken bridge with an air of satisfaction, exclaimed, "Here is Transylvania ! Look how bad the road is !" which I felt in all my limbs was true enough. "You see the difference between this and the frontier." This road leading on to Hátzeg was not a high-road, however; for in Transylvania also these are excellently kept.

We were now approaching the Eiserne Thor Pass. On the right were dense woods, on the left, hills without any forest. Gradually the ridges before you sink down, and you see a dip where you can pass through. Just this spot is the Pass. You now descend somewhat, and presently the whole Hátzeg valley is outspread before yon.

This vale is the pride of the Transylvania. The question if I had seen it was always put to me when it was known I was travelling through the country. The road passes over a fertile plain covered with maize-fields, and on your right are mountains, whose peaks were just catching the last rays of the sun as we hastened onwards. On the slopes of the hillsides stand villages, with their simple churches; and in all directions, from the foot of the mountains up towards their summits, are rustic dwellings dotting the grand declivity. It is very like the valley of the Inn between Innsbruck and Kufstein, except that here the vale itself is very much broader.

It was near Hátzeg that some years ago a handsome Roman pavement (mosaic) was discovered. Unfortunately nothing is now left; every visitor having carried away a portion till at last none remained. Here, too, on the road to Deva is the ruin of the famous castle of the Hunyadys. In its perfect state it must have been a most imposing edifice, with its picturesque towers and turrets rising above the Cserna and Zalasd, whoso waters I play at the foot of the steep limestone rock on which the strong fortress was built.

At eight we arrived at Hátzeg, and though we had been travelling all day, my driver immediately turned his horses' heads about, to return part of the way that same evening. The inn here is good, and there were no fleas. The apothecary being a sportsman, I immediately made his acquaintance, and found him most willing to oblige me and give me every information about the chase. In his pretty and neat house I saw the skin of a magnificent bear, which he had shot the year before. There was soon to be a bear hunt, but as my time was measured, instead of waiting for it, I begged him to let me know as soon as it was over what had been the result. In the letter he was good enough to send later, he told me that there had been four bears in one drive, but owing to the carelessness of the beaters they had all escaped. The animal whose skin I saw was shot in the head. He rose on his hind legs when the bullet struck him, put his paws over his head as s man might do on feeling violent pain, and fell forward dead.

Once on the highway again leading to Broos, the road is excellent. You enter now upon a broad valley with green pasture-land extending to the banks of the Maros, and on the other side the river are white cottages on the upland, and a village is seen glittering in the sun on the hill slope. Here and there along the river's banks are groups of trees forming large masses of shade, and dotting the plain and breaking its uniformity. It was a pleasant sight,-a picture of peace and calm and beauty. A little further on the road turns somewhat, and another plain, long and broad, filled with cornfields and maize, opens before you. The Maros goes winding on its way, and on its many serpentine bends the sun sparkles, so that yon see the dancing light glittering from afar. This is one of the pleasing characteristics of Transylvanian scenery,-there is a constantly recurring change. The traveller passes from one valley to another, and new sights are continually opening before him. The view is almost invariably bounded by wooded hills or peaks of higher range, and you have your little or your larger world all before you. But now a low hill is ascended, or the road winds round a jutting promontory in the landscape, and your world of just now is left behind, and another smiling scene unlike the last appears. Thus there is a never-ending succession of surprises, of discoveries of fresh tracts come upon suddenly, but which at last you get accustomed to and anticipate. The mind is kept on the alert with the gentle excitement of expectation; with expectation, too, that will rarely know disappointment.

Broos is a Saxon town, not very neat, with good well-built houses. A large new inn is here, called " Count Zéchenyi." It was in Broos that I first tasted Transylvanian wine, which later I enjoyed so much and learned fully to appreciate. Half a bottle, very good and palatable, cost seven and a half kreutzers- not quite twopence. Of the peasant who grew the wine this was brought for twenty kreutzers, fourpence, a quart. That for which thirty or forty kreutzers are paid is excellent, and when some years old is as generous as sherry or Madeira. From Broos to Mühlbach are hills overhanging the Maros, the vineyards are good all the way; but those near Broos-so an old gentleman told me-were the best. There in summer it is as hot as in Italy; and hence the excellence of the wine.

From here with the stage to Hermannstadt. We had five horses, and the diligence, as indeed it does throughout Austria, went well ; but a great deal of time was lost at the different stations, with the formalities required in delivering the letter-bags, parcels, etc., as well as through the slowness of the postilions, who are never ready, come when one may.

The Wallachian villages always reminded me of Robinson Crusoe's settlement, so coarsely were they built, and as if in their construction the various appliances of civilized life had been entirely wanting, which was in reality the case. The ground round the house is generally enclosed with hurdles, and is divided into numerous partitions like so many pounds. In one are pigs, in another a cow, and a third contains a rick of maize straw. Here and there is a conical shed, thatched with stalks and the broad leaves of maize; but this is not done neatly, or with anything like finish. These hang about or stick up in wild disorder, and it looks as if a gust of wind would blow the whole litter away. In every courtyard is a large wicker receptacle raised on four poles-a huge basket, in short,-and into it is put the peasant's store of Indian corn. This is his granary. The whole together- conical roofs, the wattled fences, the uncivilized thatching- invariably called to mind the pictures which Bernaz has given of the dwellings in Abyssinia. The two have a great resemblance to each other. The cottages are first built up of logs or coarse wicker-work, and then plastered over with clay mixed with straw. There is no chimney, and the smoke finds its own way through the roof. Of better-built houses only one or two might be seen.

The Wallachian villages in the south of Transylvania seem to me to be far behind those in the north of the province. I do not think that this opinion arose from the circumstance that the southern villages were the first I saw, and that later I grew more accustomed to their peculiarities. In comparing, from memory, those since seen in different parts of the country, the villages in the south still appear the most miserable.

1Trans, sylva. 2 All the rooms being engaged, I was allowed to go into the bedchamber of the landlord and landlady to make my morning toilette. But filthy and untidy as the place was, there was still a long coil of steel hoop hanging up there to make a crinoline for mine hostess. The charms of crinoline seem to be everywhere irresistible. 3* The "obrescha" is the girdle worn by the women over the shift, and consists of a broad band of plaited twine-like cord, from which, before and behind, hangs a fringe reaching nearly to the ankle. It is much the same thing as that which savage tribes wear as their sole covering. It is of a bright red, and contrasts greatly with the white linen beneath.

Chapters 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38


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