VALLEY OF THE WAAG.
Valley of the Waag.—Hungarian Travelling Waggons.—Freystadtl.—Country Houses.—Erdüdy Horses.—Vorspann : its origin — advantages and disadvantages. — Haiduk. -- The River Waag.—Pillory.—Pistjan.-Numbering the Houses and Kaiser Joseph. — Csejta. — Murders of Elizabeth Bathori.— Betzko: its origin.—The Fate of Stibor.—Trentsin.—Stephan: his virtues and vices.—St. Stephen's day.—Peasant Costumes.
BEFORE We enter upon any of those interesting
but weighty questions which Presburg and the Diet
naturally suggest, I invite the reader to accompany
me in another country excursion, in order that we
may become better acquainted with the face and
form of this noble land, and thereby prepare our-
For some miles before it falls into the Danube at Komorn, the Waag winds slowly over a rich plain, presenting no object more interesting than a continued corn-field, extending almost as far as the eve can reach. Omitting, therefore, this part of its course, we shall transport ourselves direct from Presburg to Freystadtl, where the beauties of the valley and our tour commence.
We may remark, however, in passing, the kind
of travelling equipage common to the middle and
lower classes in Hungary, of which we met a great
number on our road. It is a low four-wheeled waggon, exceedingly light, sometimes furnished with a
seat hung on leathern springs, at others stuffed only
with a heap of straw, on which the master sits with
an air of considerable dignity, and always smoking.
The hinder part of the waggon is commonly filled
Freystadtl presented an imposing appearance as we approached it. After passing a stately wooden bridge over the Waag, we entered a long avenue of poplars, with pleasure-grounds, laid out in the old-fashioned park style, on either side ; while above us stood the Chateau of the Erdödys, with its woods and gardens extending a considerable distance in every direction. Though itself a square barrack-looking building, roofed with bright red tiles, and far from ornamental, Freystadtl possesses an advantage exceedingly rare in Hungarian country houses—its situation is most beautiful. Placed on an open platform, crowning a hill high above the Waag, and backed by still higher mountains, sheltered from the cold, yet commanding a view up and down the valley of rare beauty, it has all the advantages one could desire. I notice this circumstance the more from its excessive rarity in Hungary. It is wonderful, in some instances, with what perversity a poor low site has been chosen, from which nothing can be seen, and where neither health, comfort, beauty, nor any other cause can be assigned for the selection, while perhaps, only a few hundred yards off, nature has formed the most lovely position imaginable,—the very spot which an architect of taste would search a whole country for.
And then the sort of country houses they commonly build ! long, one-storied, high-roofed places,
only one room deep,—as uncomfortable and inconvenient as possible. As for the luxuries of halls
and passages, they are rarely to be met with ; a long
suite of apartments communicating by folding doors,
with a very large entrance room,—which serves as
dining-room and ball-room when required,—form
the general plan of the building. On one side is,
perhaps, a drawing-room ; beyond that, the lady's
room, dressing-room, children's room, &c. On the
opposite side to the drawing-room are the gentleman's apartments ; among which is always a smoking-room : and, beyond these, the strangers' rooms,
of which there are often a great number. As
there are no passages, one is either obliged to pass
through other rooms, in going from one part of the
house to another, or to cross the court exposed to all
the inclemencies of weather. The kitchen is almost
always separate from the house, to avoid the smell
of cooking; a great refinement, though inimical to
hot dishes. What becomes of the servants I never
could make out satisfactorily; the grooms, I know,
always sleep in the stable, for an Hungarian does
not believe that his horses would live through the
night if the groom were not there to take care of
them. Fire-places are rare, except, perhaps, in the
billiard- or smoking-room ; the whole house being
heated by stoves, or, in new houses, by warm air.
The high rooms and folding doors of the Hungarians
I do not know why I should have been led to speak of Hungarian houses just now, because these general remarks are by no means applicable to Freystadtl, which is a well-arranged house, two stories high, and furnished with passages in abundance, —in fact, a very comfortable residence for a very grand seigneur.
The wonders of the house are the fine library, the collection of engravings, and the chapel, with its miracle-working altar-piece. This altar-piece is a fine specimen of the wood-carving of the old German school, and contains a considerable number of figures painted in imitation of nature ; among others, is one of the Virgin as large as life, ornamented with pearls and brilliants in profusion. The altar-piece was a present to a Count Erdödy from Mathias Corvinus, and is in great repute among the superstitious Sclavacks. The whole chapel is hung round with silver offerings in the forms of legs, arms, and eyes, in gratitude for cures performed on similar parts of the bodies of those who have solicited Our Lady of Freystadtl's good offices.
To me, however, the stables were more interesting than books, pictures, saints, and all: thirty
black horses, of the size and form which we may
imagine our knights of old to have mounted, were
I must not omit to notice a sign of the times which the little town of Freystadtl presents. The inhabitants are all Sclavacks, but the names of the one or two streets it boasts of are conspicuously painted up in Hungarian, by order of the Diet, as we were told in hopes of thus Magyarising the Sclavacks.
We had ordered the horses to be ready for starting early the next morning, but we were doomed to wait much longer than we had expected. This waiting for horses is so important a feature in Hungarian travelling, and will occur so frequently in the course of these volumes, that I may as well at once explain the causes thereof.
We were now travelling with what is called Vorspann. It has long been one of the Hungarian, peasant's duties to furnish horses to the government officers, civil as well as military, when travelling on duty through Hungary, at a certain rate fixed by law. A stage of about ten English miles, with four horses, is paid for at the rate of five kreutzers, c. m.12 (two pence English) a horse, which amounts to just eight pence for four horses the ten miles. An order or " assignation," signed by the Vice Ispan, or some other authorized officer, gives the right to demand relays of these peasants' horses at certain indicated places, and, on showing it, it becomes the duty of the village officers to see that the demand is attended to.
So convenient an arrangement, in a country where in many parts no regular post is established, was very often extended to others besides those for whom it was originally intended. In fact, almost
12Sixty kreutzers, c. in. (Conventions Munze) make one florin, c. m. or silver florin, which is worth two shillings English. The florin, w. w. (Wiener Wahrung) or paper, or se/win, florin, is worth only about ten pence English, and the kreutzer schein bears the same proportion.
Although four horses may sound rather grand
to the English reader, I must warn him against
the idea that there is any superfluity in it ; for, with
a light carriage even, it is quite as much as they
can do to get over five miles within the hour on good
roads. Whether from early starvation or from peculiarity of race, the horses of the Hungarian peasants are among the smallest, and lightest, of any in
Europe. They seem to have little life, poor things!
If tiresome to the impatient, however, Vorspann is not without its conveniences, especially to lazy, sketching, geologizing travellers like ourselves. If the peasant makes us wait for him, he never objects to waiting for us in return. He will remain quietly for a whole morning, if we oversleep ourselves, without more grumbling than a feed of corn, and a glass of slivovitz—Hungarian whisky—will satisfy; and should we wish to sketch a ruin or hammer a rock, his horses doze away for an hour or so without the slightest objection.
To those afflicted with delicate noses, the proximity into which that organ is brought with the
not overclean peasant, as he is seated on the box,
It not unfrequently happens that the Vorspann money is taken by the Haiduk before starting; for the peasant is generally behíndhand with his taxes, and, except in this way, it is difficult to get bard cash from him.It would not be right to conclude a notice of the Vorspann without mentioning the Haiduk ; at least
We had been fortunate enough to obtain an assignation for the whole of Hungary, and thought that all further trouble about horses was off our shoulders. At Freystadtl, however, we were undeceived. The servant presented the assignation to the Haiduk, who called his assistant, and after some colloquy, informed us that he would send off immediately, and he doubted not, that, in two or three hours, horses would be forthcoming.
At last the horses came, and we started on our journey up the valley. The fortress of Leopoldstadt, which is intended to command something or other, which those who pretend to know say it does not command, was passed without stopping, and, continuing our route through a forest of wild pear-trees, we followed the Waag on to Pistjan.
This Waag is a strange inconstant wandering
stream,—as its name Vaqus implies,—fantastically
changing its bed at every instant, and resisting
man's best efforts to restrain its lawless course.
The depth of water is in many places not more than one foot and a half, so that this river is of little use for navigation, although valuable for the transport of the wood, of which we shall say more hereafter. Taking its rise in the valleys of the Krivain, it becomes first navigable for small floats at Hradek, from which place to Komorn, where it falls into the Danube, is a distance of about one hundred and eighty English miles.
It was in the centre of some village, the name of
which I have now forgotten, but which we passed
Pistjan is a collection of small houses, with a large hotel, a large coffee-house, and large baths—excrescences, as it were, rather than the natural growth of the simple valley of the Waag. The waters are derived from springs which rise near the river, and are so hot as to require cooling before they can be used. Some of the springs are situated in the bed of the river itself, and are sufficiently warm to prevent its freezing at this place. The water contains a variety of salts,13 and is in very high
13The temperature of the water is from 44° to 49° of Reaumur. In 26.50 grains of the salt deposited on cooling, are found 10.00 of sulphate of soda, 3.00 sulphate of magnesia, 7.00 sulphate of lime, 1.54 muriate of soda, 2.20 carbonate of lime, 2.00 carbonate of magnesia, 0.50 silex. It is particularly recommended in cases of gout, chronic ulcer, and certain other chronic affections.
Every little cottage in Pistjan is distinguished by
a sign over the door. Some of them are droll enough,
but not more so than the reason our Cicerone assigned for their presence,
"That is because Hungary is a free country," said he, "and won't allow the
Emperor to number the houses ; so the visitors, instead of saying, ' I live at No. 10, or No. 20,' say ` 1
live at the Blue Hussar, or the Golden Duck.' Oh!
that would have been a terrible thing if Kaiser
Joseph had numbered the houses as in Austria." It
was not till some time after, that I received an explanation of this constitutional privilege. Joseph, it
appeared, as the groundwork of his reforms, required
the destruction of the municipal constitution of the
Hungarian counties, and their re-organization on
an entirely new principle ; for while they remained
self-governed, he found it impossible to carry out
his police and taxation systems. The numbering of
About two hours from Pistjan (that is, by the road our peasant coachman took us, across the ploughed fields) lies the castle of Csejta, a place so celebrated in the history of the horrible, that we willingly deviated a few miles from our tract to visit it. I know not why, but one always feels less incredulous of the marvellous when one has visited the scene of action and made oneself at home in the whereabouts of dark deeds — as though stone walls had not only the ears so often attributed to them, but tongues also to testify to the things they had witnessed. The history of Csejta, however, requires no such aid to prove its credibility ; legal documents exist to attest its truth.15
The ruins of a once strong castle still remain on the summit of a hill which can be ascended only on one side ; for, like many old Hungarian castles,
14I have seen it hinted somewhere, that the more ignorant were made to believe that the red streaks on the houses were to mark those families who should be sent to some foreign country, while foreigners were to be brought to Hungary in their stead.
15For fear I should be suspected for a moment of appropriating what does not belong to me, I must again acknowledge how much I am indebted to Meduyánsky for the history, authentic as well as legendary, of the valley of the Waag.
Elizabeth, however, was wary as she was cruel. At the foot of the rock on which Csejta stands, was a small cottage inhabited by two old women, and between the cellar of this cottage and the castle was a subterranean passage, known only to one or two persons, and never used but in times of danger. With the aid of these crones and her steward, the poor girl was led through the secret passage to the cottage, where the horrid deed was accomplished, and the body of the murderess washed in virgin's blood ! Not satisfied with the first essay, at different intervals, by the aid of these accomplices and the secret passage, no less than three hundred maidens were sacrificed at the shrine of vanity and superstition. Several years had been occupied in this pitiless slaughter, and no suspicion of the truth was excited, though the greatest amazement pervaded the country at the disappearance of so many persons.
At last, however, Elizabeth called into play
against her, two passions stronger even than vanity
or cunning--love and revenge became interested
in the discovery of the mystery. Among the victims of Csejta was a beautiful maiden who was
beloved by and betrothed to a young man of the
neighbourhood. In despair at the loss of his
mistress, he followed her traces with such perseverance, that, in spite of the hitherto successful
So grave an accusation, so openly preferred against an individual of such high rank, demanded the most serious attention, and George Thurzo, the then Palatine, undertook to investigate the affair in person. Proceeding immediately to Csejta, before the murderess or her accomplices had any idea of the accusation, he discovered the still warm body of a young girl whom they had been destroying as the Palatine approached, , and had not had time to dispose of before he apprehended them. The rank of Elizabeth mitigated her punishment to imprisonment for life, but her assistants were burned at the stake.
With this tale fresh in our minds we ascended
the long hill, gained the castle, and wandered over
its deserted ruins. The shades of evening were just
spreading over the valley, the bare grey walls stood
up against the red sky, the solemn stillness of evening reigned over the scene, and as two ravens which
had made their nest on the castle's highest towers
came towards it., winging their heavy flight, and
wheeling once round, each cawing a hoarse welcome to the other, alighted on their favourite turret, I could have fancied them the spirits of the
two crones condemned to haunt the scene of their
The castle, though once strong, particularly towards the village, is now fast falling to decay. It is loosely built of unhewn stone, held together by mortar, and crumbles away with every shower and blast.
As we returned to the village we visited the cellar in which the horrid butcheries took place, now bearing no marks but of the simple peasant's toil. It was sleep night before we reached our quarters at Neustadtl, a small and poor town on the Waag.
The next day we had a beautiful drive along the
valley i-- which we now continued. About half way
between Neustadtl and Trentsin, we passed the village and castle of Betzko. Situated on the summit
Like almost every castle in this valley,—for the Waag is the favourite region of legendary lore,— Betzko has its tale of mystery and wonder. It is said to owe its name and origin to a fool. Stibor, a Polish knight of great bravery, who had (lone good service in the cause of Hungary, received from King Sigismund large gifts of lands and castles, among which was included a great part of the valley of the Waag. In one of those intervals of peace which left the knight of the middle ages without his wonted occupation and excitement, Stibor was one day trying to while away the tedium of his hours in the company of his household, when Betzko, his favourite jester, succeeded so happily in his sallies of wit, that his delighted master offered him a wish. " Build a castle on that great rock before us, and give it to me." "'Truly a fool's wish, to ask an impossibility," said those who stood round, in mockery of the jester's ambition.
"Who says it is impossible ?" cried the knight "what Stibor wills, Stibor does; ere the year be told a castle shall be there, and Betzko shall be its name."
From every side workmen now crowded up the steep ascent ; and one after another the rugged crags bore walls and towers. Still more aid was needed, and according to the rude law that might is right, all travellers who passed the valley were stopped by Stibor's order, and their horses and servants made to afford a week's labour to the building. The year elapsed and Stibor kept his word, for the bare rock was crowned with as proud a castle as any in the land. It has ever since borne the name of the jester, who in lieu of the castle received a good estate from his wealthy master.
From the steep precipice which overlooks the
valley, the same Stibor is said to have met his
death. Enraged that a favourite hound had been
injured by an old servant, he ordered the grey
Beyond this the valley became wider and less interesting till we approached Trentsin, where the mountains assume a bolder character, and that glorious castle is seen towering above the little town. As we passed the bridge and gained the outer walls, — for Trentsin was once fortified, — we observed a mark on the corner-stone recording the extraordinary height to which the Waag had once risen, at least twenty feet above its ordinary elevation.
The entrance to Trentsin promises little, but its narrow double gates with "barbican and tower" once passed, and a wide long street opened before us composed of good houses with colonnades and parapets, which reminded me of Italy.
As Stephan was carefully preparing our beds
while we were at supper, an extra glass of wine,
Such an obstinate fellow as old Stephan I never saw in any land; he would listen with the utmost patience to my directions, and then without caring for a word I had said, coolly follow his own devices ; and if perchance I remonstrated, he would as coolly assure me that he was an old man, had travelled much, and knew what was best. For personal service few men could be more uncouth ; S used to compare his assistance to that of the friendly bear who scratched his master's eye out, in knocking a fly from his nose. As a valet, Stephan knew his deficiency, and till he had learned that 1 did not require him to aid in putting on my clothes, and that I did require much water for lavation he was obedient, but that once learnt, and the laws of the Medes and Persians were not more fixed than Stephan in his routine. In all other matters he thought himself decidedly a better judge than his master.
An Hungarian servant in travelling has a very
difficult task to perform. It is his dirty to watch
One evening, before arriving at the village where we had determined to pass the night, we had lost the road in coming over the corn-fields, and found ourselves on the wrong side of the river. and some miles from a bridge. Stephan got down to reconnoitre, and without informing me of the danger locked the wheels, hung on by the steps, and told the peasant to drive forward ; but even lie was frightened, when the carriage rushed down the steep and nearly perpendicular banks into the shallow bed of the river. For my part I could see nothing but the horses' tails, and I fully expected to roll over them; nor can I tell yet by what miracle we escaped.
I believe Stephan looked upon us as a packet of
goods of which he had taken charge and was bound
to deliver safe, but of whose will he thought as little
Grinning a grim smile as he saw us rather struck by his reflections on the various fortunes of the rich and poor, and perceiving that he had caught our attention, Stephan turned the conversation to a subject of more immediate interest, and told us that we 'must positively remain at Trentsin for the morrow ; it was the fate of St. Stephen, the patron saint of Hungary, and the peasants would come in from all the country round ; there would be a great procession to the church, and every one as gay as possible. Warning the old fellow to keep himself sober in the early part of the day,—I never like to interfere with any one's scruples of conscience, and as I once had an Irishman in my service I know how conscientiously a man may get drunk on his patron saint's day, — I agreed to stay and leave Stephan to have as glorious a night as he chose.
The next morning the firing of the guns and the
ringing of the bells warned us that the festival had
commenced, and roused us up just in time to see
the long procession of priests and choristers chanting their hymns, preceded by those emblems of
ecclesiastical pomp, the floating banner, the robed
attendants, and the rich ornaments of gold and
silver which the Church of Rome so well knows
how to employ, entering the large church, followed
by a train of town's people and peasants, of whom
Stephan persuaded two very modest and goodtempered girls to come and stand to us for a sketch. They were evidently quite as much satisfied with the attention their appearance excited as the vainest of their sex in Paris or London.
The men have less variety in their costume.
It usually consists of thick, white cloth pantaloons, often embroidered with black worsted lace ;
short woollen boots of the same colour, and ornamented in the same manner, slit at the sides and
As we are now fairly in the land of the Mclavacks, and are likely to continue among them some time longer, it may be as well to let the reader more fully into the light as to who and what these Sclavacks are before we proceed any further.
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