Title


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CHAPTER X.

THE SZEKLERS AND THE SZEKLER-LAND.

The Szeklers -- their ancient Eights and modern Position. -- The Mezöség. -- Maros Vásárhely. -- Chancellor Teleki and his Library. -- A Szekler Inn. -- The Szekler Character. -- Salt Rocks at Szováta. -- The Cholera and the spare Bed. -- Miseria cum aceto. -- Glories of Grock. -- Salt-Mines of Parayd. -- Udvarhely. -- St. Pál. -- Excursion to Almás. -- Superstition. -- - The CaverD. -- Sepsi St. György. -- Kesdi Vásárhely. -- The Trench Brewer. -- The Szekler Schools. -- Szekler Hospitality. -- The Budos. -- The Három-Szék.

WHEN next we left Klausenburg, it was to visit the east and south of Transylvania, two districts inhabited by different nations and governed by different laws from those in which we had hitherto sojourned.

I have already said that the Szeklers were found by the Magyars in the country which they now occupy on their first entrance, and on account of similarity of language and origin, were granted favours refused to the original inhabitants of the country. They were allowed the full enjoyment of their freedom on condition of defending the eastern frontier.

Even from this early period the Szeklers claim to [313] have been all equal, all free, all noble; a privileged class and a servile class were alike unknown -- the only difference among the richer of them being derived from the number of men each could bring into the field, -- among the poorer, from the circumstance of their serving on horseback or on foot. Changes, however, have crept in amongst them in the lapse of so many centuries. The richer and more powerful have gradually introduced on their own estates the system in operation in the rest of Transylvania, and the peasant and the seigneur are now found in the Szekler-land as elsewhere. Titles too, and letters of nobility have been freely scattered through the country, and have gradually cast a slur on those who possess them not. Taxation also, and the forcible introduction of the border system, instead of the desultory service of former times, have made great changes in the position of the Szeklers. As almost all these changes, however, have been introduced without the consent of the people, and often by the employment of open force, they are still regarded as illegal by the Szeklers, who are consequently among the most discontented of any portion of the Transylvaniaiis. It would be absurd in me to enter further into the question of their laws and institutions, for even the most learned among themselves, confess that there is so much confusion in them, that even they cannot make them out. This I know, that every Szekler claims to be a noble born, and declares that if he had his right [314] he should neither pay taxes nor serve but when an insurrection of the whole nobility of the country took place. I know also that, in fact, there are among them Counts and Barons who call themselves magnates, nobles by letters patent, and free Szcklers without letters, besides borderers and peasants, and that the free Szeklcrs and nobles, who have not more than two peasants, pay taxes, just like the peasants, though in other respects they have rights like the nobles.

All these circumstances were not known to us when we set out on this expedition. Every Hungarian you speak to is sure to tell you that the Szeklers are all noble, and you consequently expect to find a whole nation with equal rights and privileges, among which freedom from seigneurial oppression, and from government taxation, are both alike included. This was the opinion we were led to form, and of course our curiosity was proportionately raised to observe their influence on the state of the people. It was only when we saw, how much matters seemed to be managed here as in other parts of the country, that we got to the real state of the case, and discovered that though the Szeklers may have been once all equal ami noble, and though they still lay claim to all manner of rights and privileges, they have not in reality enjoyed them, for I know not how many centuries.

Our route lay through one of the most curious parts of Transylvania, the Mezöség. This is a [315] district of considerable extent, characterized by the fertility of its soil, and the extreme misery of its inhabitants. The people are mostly Wallacks, and appear worse clothed, worse lodged, and more uncivilized than the inhabitants of any other part of the country. The aspect of the Mesöség is not less curious than the state of its population. It is the only hilly country I ever saw without a single point of picturesque beauty. As we ascended one hill, and descended another, during a long day's drive, the self-same prospect of hrown sun-burnt pasture, unbroken by trees or water, was ever before us. In so untempting a land, country-houses are extremely rare; indeed, the Mezöség seems to have been altogether a forgotten district, both by nature and man. It is very likely, however, to make itself better known before long. Its extensive pastures begin to acquire a value, now that tlie growth of Merino wool has been introduced, and the coal, of which traces have been found in several places, will probably produce a rich reward to whomsoever shall work it with skill and prudence.

We reached Maros Vásárhely, the capital of the Szekler-land, about twelve o'clock on the second morning, and proceeded at once to call on Professor Dosa, a friend of Baron W------'s, our companion in this journey, who politely offered to show us the town. Although there is nothing very imposing in the wide streets and small houses, of which Maros Vásárhely is mostly composed, it [316]

is rather an important place, and, in winter, many of the gentry in the neighbourhood take up their residence within it. Moreover, both Protestants and Catholics have colleges here; the Protestant contains eight hundred, the Catholic three hundred scholars, and these institutions give something of a literary air to its society. Maros Vásárhely is also the seat of the highest legal tribunal in Transylvania, the Royal table, and it is in consequence the great law school of the country. Almost all the young nobles who desire to take any part in public business, as well as all the lawyers, after having finished the regular course of study, think it necessary, under the name of Juraten, to pass a year or two here in reading law and attending the court.

The great pride of the town is the fine library of the Telekis, founded by the Chancellor Teleki, and left to his family on tho condition of its being always open to the public. It contains about eighty thousand volumes, which arc placed in a very handsome building, and kept in excellent order. A reading-room is attached, which is always open, where books are supplied to any one who demands them. There are funds for its support, and the family still continue to add to it as far as they arc able. It is most rich in choice editions of the Latin and Greek classics. These works were the favourite studies of the Chancellor himself, who was a man of very extensive learning. What renders this the more remarkable is, the fact of his [317] having entirely acquired it after the age of twenty, and that too, during the little leisure afforded him from public business. Among the bibliographical curiosities pointed out to us, was an illuminated Latin Bible, which was said to be written on a vegetable leaf. The substance employed was certainly not papyrus ; I should have taken it for very fine vellum. There was also a MS. copy of a work by Scrvetus, which we were told was unpublished, though, on turning over the fly-leaf, we found a quotation from an edition of the same work printed in London. There was a beautiful MS. of Tacitus from the library of Mathias Corvinus, and splendidly bound, as indeed the whole of that library was.

We were shown the Casino, which seems a flourishing and well-conducted establishment. It numbers two hundred members. As many of the students are too poor to become subscribers to it, and as it is the wish of the professors to give as many as possible an opportunity of becoming acquainted with the utility and conduct of such institutions, free admissions are granted to six of them every month, and such as choose to avail themselves of it, take it in rotation.

In showing us the old Gothic church, which occupies the centre of the former fortress, Professor Dosa observed that it was very nearly being destroyed during the reign of Maria Theresa, because the Protestants were not then allowed to repair their churches; and it was not till Joseph II. broke [318] down the force of the bigots that the Vásárhely Protestants were permitted to new-roof their church.

The next day we passed through a hilly and rather pretty country, with many villages, differing in no respect from hundreds we had seen elsewhere, till we arrived at St. György, a village on the Kis Küküllö --the small Kokel, -- a river we have before mentioned, as celebrated for its wines. We had been told we should find an inn here, and be able to bait our horses, and got a dinner for ourselves. It was true enough, an inn was found, but the poor landlady declared she had nothing to give us but dry bread, and what was still worse, she had not any corn for our horses. The servants, nevertheless, proceeded to take the horses out of the carriages, in spite of this bad prospect, and on my inquiring what was the use of stopping at a place where neither man nor horse could find his profit, thoy only smiled, and said they would try if something could not be done. At one end of tile village there was a large manor-house, and the coachman at once made for that, sure there would be corn there, and hoping that the steward would sell them what they wanted. In coming along too, Miklós had fixed his eyes on some hens which were amusing themselves on the high road, and he soon returned from his forage, bringing with him both the hens and their eggs. Our servants were fortunately good cooks, and while one set to [319] work to compose an omelette, the other produced an egg soup and a couple of roast fowls. There is certainly nothing like having a servant who knows the work he may have to turn his hand to : I wonder how a well-behaved Knglish valet would have got us out of our difficulty !

The plan we had laid down for ourselves in traversing the Szekler-land, was to visit some saltmines at Szováta, pass through Udvarhely, to an estate of our friend's; from thence, make an excursion to visit a celebrated cave in the neighbourhood, and so pass on into the Saxon-land, visiting its two chief towns, Kronstarlt and Hermanstadt, and then return to Klausenburg.

In pursuit of this plan, we followed the little Küküllö nearly to its source, along a very beautiful valley, highly cultivated, and, though naturally far from rich, bearing good crops. The Szeklers inhabit a mountainous country, and are consequently poor; but it was easy to see they are far more industrious than any of the Transylvanians we had before visited. From all I heard of their character, they scorn a good deal to resemble the Scotch. The same pride and poverty, the same industry and enterprise, and if they are not belied, the same sharp regard to their own interests. They speak a dialect of the Magyar, which differs but slightly from that used in other parts of the country, except in the peculiar sing-song intonation in which it is uttered. Like most mountaineers, they [320] are but little distinguished for polished and refined manners; even the wealthier are commonly remarkable for a greater rudeness in their bearing than is seen in other parts of the country. This is more than made up, however, by a greater degree of information, and by a firm adherence to their political principles. Like the Scotch, they seem to have advanced in education to an extraordinary degree, so that there are few villages without their schools, few of the humblest Szeklers who cannot read and write. They are of various religions, and each sect is said to be strongly attached to its own.46 The Unitarians are in greater proportion hero than in any other part of the country; they Lave about one hundred churches in the Szekler-land. Excepting the Jews and Greeks, all religions enjoy equal rights.

46 Among the Catholics are reckoned the members of the Armenian Catholic, and Greek Catholic churches.

We reached Szováta towards evening, and, as there was no possibility of lodging there for the night, we made the best haste we could to find a guide, and see what was to be seen before dark. This was no such easy matter, however; the cholera had just set in, and its first victim had been one of the chief men of the village. His funeral had taken place the day we arrived; and as it is a custom of the Szeklers to get especially drunk on these occasions, to dissipate their grief, we found nearly the whole village as glorious in liquor as their [321] friend could be in sanctity. By some chance, one sober man was found at last, and we followed him beyond the village in the direction of a small green hill, which we could perceive at some distance. Judge of our surprise, as we drew nearer, to see before us a real rock of salt! Yes, our green hill was pure rock salt, when seen near, as white as snow, but covered at the top and in many places on the sides by a layer of clay, on which grass and trees grew abundantly. Refore arriving at the hill itself, we had to cross a little brook which presented a most curious appearance, -- its banks, and the numerous stones which stand out from its shallow bed, arc all encrusted with crystals of salt, and that,-too, so exactly in the form of hoar frost, that, in spite of the warm rays of an autumn sunset, I could scarce persuade myself they were not so till I had tasted them. At this point, a guard, armed with a musket, met us, and accompanied us as long as we remained near. In fact, guards surround the whole of the hill, to prevent the peasants from stealing the salt. This salt-bed, which extends to a considerable distance, is not worked for salt at all; what is required for its immediate neighbourhood, is obtained from Parayd, a few miles off. In spite of all the guards, however, stealing goes on to a considerable extent; indeed, one of the first necessaries of life, so costly if bought, and here in such abundance, and to he had for the trouble of picking up, must offer too strong a temptation for [322] the poor man to withstand. Probably, too, the guards themselves are the greatest robbers. There seems to be no end to the quantity of salt in this neighbourhood; in many places, the peasant has only to scrape away the dirt of his cottage floor to obtain salt beneath it. It is said, that in Transylvania alone, there is sufficient salt to supply all Europe for some thousand years !

As we got nearer, we found the herbage, and the crops of Indian corn, looking as well on the salt rock as on any other soil; nor could we observe any difference in the plants here and in the neighbourhood. We examined several of the cliff's, which were very beautiful. In some, the rain has formed channels and furrows, which again have given rise to pinnacles, covered with bright crystals of salt, something like Gothic minarets in miniature. On the other side, we were told, the cliffs are much higher and finer; but it was at least three miles round, and it was already too dark to allow us to undertake the journey. We made a stout resolution to return the next day, and get a sketch of these wonderful cliffs, but it turned out so wet, that it was impossible.

When we got back to the village, and the tipsy gentry had learned our friend's name, -- one to which all Szekler-land is deeply attached, -- it was with the utmost difficulty we could get away. The dead man's house, as the best in the village, was placed at our disposal, and we were almost [323] forced to accept his spare bed by these hospitable friends. I really do not know what notion the inhabitants of the Szekler-land mean to express by the words, "a comfortable inn;" but I am quite sure it is something very different from what all the rest of the world mean. Twice, to-day, have we found ourselves wofully mistaken in our calculations in consequence; -- this morning, we found a comfortable inn meant an empty room, and nothing to eat; to-night, it seemed to mean no room and nothing to eat either ! Everybody had agreed, that at Parayd we should be splendidly accommodated, and so we declined the dead man's bed and pushed on to this same Parayd with the greatest confidence. Alas! we were doomed to be disappointed. There was only one spare room, and a little closet; and no sooner had we alighted, than they told us the room was taken, and nothing but the closet could we have. Seated at a table, in one corner, we found the happy occupant of the room, just finishing, as we supposed, his supper, with bread and ewe-milk cheese. After the first salutations, the stranger who turned out to be an old officer of the Szckler Borderers, politely offered us the larger room, saying, the closet would be sufficient to contain him ; but, when he heard us ask for supper, the old gentleman shook his head, and pointing to the cheese and bread, and a bottle of pale sour-looking wine, exclaimed, despondingly, miseria cum [324] aceto ! and nothing else to be had ! -- So much for a comfortable inn in the Szeklerland.

I am afraid that, with all their good qualities, the Szeklers are rather behindhand in the comforts -- perhaps they call them superfluous luxuries -- of other parts of Europe. Even in their own houses, the gentry show but little taste for comfort or cleanliness. In many cases, this may be attributable to poverty -- then I have not a word to say; but in others, I have seen an admixture of tawdry splendour with squalid neglect, which presented a contrast highly ridiculous. We avoided private houses as much as possible, for W------had just as great a dislike as we had to ask for hospitality from those he did not know; and, besides, so many Szeklers speak only Magyar, that we could have obtained little, either of amusement or instruction, from the intercourse; hut we were sometimes driven to it in spite of ourselves, and I will mention the result of one such instance. We were introduced into a large handsome house, \vhere the drawing-room and boudoir were filled with fashionable modern furniture, where the lady, who reigned over them, was handsomely, not to say showily, dressed, and where the whole establishment manifested a pretension to style, rarely seen . in these mountains. When we retired to our bed-rooms, however, we got a little behind the scenes, and found the play by no means so imposing. Half-a-dozen panes in the windows were broken ; the furniture was of the [325] shabbiest description; the floor filthy to the last degree; and, as for the beds, it was too evident to admit of a question that the linen ou them had not been refreshed for many a good day. W------ was so excessively disgusted, and so angry that such a circumstance should have occurred before strangers, that I had the greatest possible difficulty to prevent him ordering out the carriages and leaving the house immediately. After soothing him down, however, to a reasonable pitch, he contented him-pelf with directing all the filthy things to be thrown out of the room, and our own bed linen, to be arranged by our servants in their place; nor was it till next morning that we could make him promise to leave the place without abusing our host for his negligent hospitality. But to return to Parayd.

We were fortunately persons not very easily dispirited ; and we accordingly devoured the black bread and turpentine cheese -- for they wrap it in the bark of the pine to give it a turpentine flavour -- with excellent appetite ; and it having entered into Miklós's prolific brain, that the common spirit of the country, if mixed with sugar and hot water, might make something like what the English sailors had taught him to call grock, he came in grinning at this happy thought with a large jug of a most well-smelling liquid compounded on these principles, which, with the aid of our Turkish pipes, made us almost think our Szeklcr inn was comfortable. [326] In the mean time, the servants had transported the greater part of a haystack into the room, and the whole floor was covered over with a thick layer of hay; our carriage cushions and our bed-clothes were disposed in the best fashion to servo for beds; and before our pipes were finished, we had not only the consolation of having supped, but had the prospect of a good night's rest before us. Nothing like good temper, good health, and a servant that knows how to make grock!

The next morning we visited some of the saltmines, which contained nothing sufficiently remarkable to detain us. They work these mines only in winter, and that but to a very small extent. Those of Maros Ujvár, on the banks of the Maros, are so much more conveniently situated for transporting the salt, that these are only used to supply the immediate neighbourhood. This salt-bed is said to be of even greater extent that that of Szováta, though it generally lies deeper. Instead of the bright white colour we had observed yesterday, the salt was here of a dark green hue. Even here, where the whole soil seems to be salt, we were assured that it was often smuggled from Moldavia, and sold in the interior of the country.

At every step we took, the cholera now met us. One of our horses had cast a shoe, and we had to wait some hours before we could get it replaced, for the blacksmith's wife was just taken ill, and he could not be prevailed upon to leave her till she [327] felt better. Nor were these the worst inconveniences ; some of our own party had felt far from well this morning, and wo were naturally rendered exceedingly anxious Jest the ailment should turn out to be cholera. Though no believers in contagion, we were aware that whatever were the causes producing the disease, we were just as much exposed to them as the inhabitants of the country could be, and besides, the very idea of travelling for pleasure where death seemed hovering round our every step was so painful that we hastened on more quickly than we otherwise should have done through this beautiful country.47

47 To those who believe in the antiseptic powers of certain substances and their utility in preventing the spread of epidemic diseases, it may afford matter for reflection, that here, where everything, from the corn you eat to the water you wash in, perhaps the very air you. breathe, is impregnated with salt -- one of the strongest antiseptics -- the cholera raged with as much violence as in the poisoned alleys of a great city.

At Udvarhely, one of the principal towns of the Szekler-land, we had intended to remain the next night, but the inn was so very miserable, and the whole place so far from attractive, that we determined, after baiting our horses, to try if we could not reach St. Pál, a village some fifteen miles further, where W------had a house and small estate. Not that Udvarhely is without interest. As we descended the long hill at the foot of which it lies, its three large churches with their double spires, [328] its ruined castle, its large white college and handsome Town-house, had led us to expect great things; hut then the inn with its dirty room, its unglazed windows, and its beds of dingy hue, put us out of conceit with all the rest. While our horses were baiting W------took us to call on an electioneering friend of his, a merry little radical grocer, one of those men who love good dinners and long speeches -- the latter his own, and the former his friends'. The little grocer took us up to the castle, once one of the strongest places in the land, and which had often been sharply contested hetween the Imperial and Transylvanian forces. We reached St. Pál somewhere about midnight, and though the house was undergoing repairs and was inhabited only by some workmen, we were soon furnished with quarters better than we had met with since we had left Klausenburg.

We remained a couple of days at St. Pál, in part that W------ might arrange some matters of business with his steward, in part to rest our horses. The first was spent in snipe-shooting in a salt marsh just below the village, for here, too, we were still in the country of salt. Though no salt-bed is seen, the brook, the springs, the marsh, and even the herbage are all strongly impregnated with salt. We were obliged to send some miles off to obtain fresh water, for to us the salt water was intolerable, though from habit the people of the country drink it without injury.

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For the next day we had engaged the little grocer of Udvarhely to show us a cave which was at some distance, and he accordingly arrived by good time in the morning with a supply of his own torches, and of bis neighbours' mountain ponies, to show us the wonders of Almas. As it was some distance from St. Pál, two peasants were sent off early in the morning with a waggon and provisions, and we followed at our leisure, a goodly cavalcade, consisting of the grocer, the clergyman, the steward, our three selves and one or two servants -- the latter attending us for no other purpose that I con Id divine, save to fill and light the pipes. Our ride led us through a country of mountains and woods, sometimes, though rarely, varied by a veil-cultivated valley affording subsistence to some neighbouring village. A village, Ilomarod Almás, through which we passed, was one of the largest and most flourishing we had met with in Transylvania. The situation of this place one would have thought as healthy as possible; the country round it was fruitful and lovely as a garden, the inhabitants were evidently well off, and the houses large and airy, yet here the cholera was raging more fiercely than in any other place we had yet visited. The graveyard seemed to have been fresh ploughed up, so completely was it covered with new-made graves, and several were standing open for occupants already prepared to fill them.

As we left the village, we saw a mark of superstition [330] which we should not have expected where education is said to be generally diffused. It was a small piece of coarse linen cloth cut into the shape of a pair of browsers, and suspended over the middle of the road by a string attached to a tree on either side. The peasants believe that in the Cave of Almás which we were about to visit, two fairies are imprisoned in a state of nudity, and that they weep and wail their unhappy captivity without being able to escape. Their cries are said to be often heard, when the wind is high, proceeding from the dark valley of the Almas, and it is to the malice of these imprisoned fairies that the peasants attribute the visitation of the cholera. It appears that the received method of propitiating these gentry is to offer them clothing, and accordingly the browsers at this end of the village, and a shirt exhibited in a similar manner at the other, were Intended to appease them, let them come which road they would. This was all I could learn of the matter from the steward, and I am still not very sure that it is correct, for he was much more anxious to assure mo that he knew it was all nonsense and that he did not believe in such ignorant superstitions, than to satisfy my curiosity on the matter.

VALLEY OF ALMAS
VALLEY OF ALMÁS

On a green hill overlooking a deep valley, -- or rather cleft in the rocks, for it is much deeper than it is wide, -- we found the provision waggon already arrived, a large fire lighted, and preparations for cooking in a state of progress. Here we were to [331] leave our horses in the care of the peasants. Clinging to the trees which cover its sides, we reached the bottom of the valley, which is occupied by a brook : this brook a little farther on is seen to enter an opening in the base of a cliff, and disappear. It is said to come out again on the other side, at some miles' distance. It was a beautiful scene we had now before us; the high steep rocks of limestone, thts hanging woods, the little stream, and its stony bed, [332] were all striking, and the addition of the dark mouths of three or four huge caverns gaping at us on either skle, gave it a character of mysterious beauty to which it would have been strange had not the fancies of the peasants attached a legend. The sorrows of the poor imprisoned fairies would easily find voices here when the winds raged through these narrow passages.

Leaving the smaller caverns, which we were told were of little depth, we stumbled along the stony path to the further end of the valley. On our road we put up a csâszár madár (gelinotte), a kind of grouse,48 very common in the mountains of Transylvania. It was so tame that it did not fly more than a few yards, and continued running on at a short distance before us, apparently without the slightest fear. Man is still almost a stranger here.

48 The black-cock is also found in this country, and I suspect the cock of the woodS too; for they frequently speak of a wild peacock (vad páva), to which they attribute much the same hahits and appearance as characterise the cock of the woods.

The mouth of the great cavern is at a considerable height above the bottom of the valley, and can only be reached by means of wooden steps, which some former visitors have had made for the purpose. It is half closed by a thick wall, now partly broken, but which has evidently been built as a defence from enemies. It is said to have been used by the Szeklers as a retreat during the insurrection of [333] the Wallacks under Hora and Kloska, but Transylvania has known so many periods when a place of refuge was required for the peaceable citizen, from the cruelty of savage enemies both domestic and foreign, that it is more difficult to say when. it may not have been so used, than when it was. This part of the country, from its frontier position^ was peculiarly subject to foreign incursions, and when tbey were made by such nations as the Tartars and Turks, -- they first murdered all they could lay hold on, and the second spared only to drive away into captivity,49 -- it is no wonder a retreat of this kind should have been well defended. Even our friend's house at St. Piil, though never intended as a place of defence, bears marks of precaution attributable to a similar cause. The stables are constructed below the house itself, and can be entered by a secret door and winding staircase, from a room above, so that if the house was attacked by a marauding party in front, the family would have time to mount their horses and escape by a lower room, which opens into the fields on the other side, ere the oak doors and well-stanchioned [334] windows in the front were forced by the attacking party.

49 Bethlen Gábor obtained his election to the throne of Transylvania, with the aid of some Turkish troops ; not that they were required to fight, but their presence gave confidence to the party of Bethlen, and enabled them to depose the weak Báthori Gábor without a struggle. Notwithstanding the peaceahle character of the expedition, the Turks did not retire with less than eighty thousand Transylvanian prisoners, of whom they made slaves.

The entrance to the cavern, which we had now gained, is a vast hall covered with a noble arched roof, and opening on every side to dark passages, which lead into the interior of the mountain. After we had carefully studied a plan of the cavern, lighted our torches, and arranged the order of the procession, the little grocer of Ud-varhely, -- no peasant guide could be found to undertake it, -- put himself at our head and led the way. In faith it was no easy matter to choose the right road, for there were so many openings, and it was so very easy to lose the direction in such a position, that it required all the little grocer's memory and experience to keep us from straying. By the road we took, the cavern seemed to penetrate the mountain to about the distance of an English mile, sometimes in the form of large chambers, sometimes of narrow passages, through which one can scarcely creep. Some of these chambers are high, and ornamented with small stalactites. In one a large mass of rock corrugated like a huge wart, hangs from the roof to within a yard of the floor without touching it. The only difficulty we experienced, except that of finding our way, was in passing a wet bog -- if a mass of soft lime, of about the consistence of mortar can be so called -- which extended for some twenty yards' distance.

[335] At the very end of the cavern, we had been told there was a vein containing precious stones in great abundance, and it was therefore with no small disappointment we found nothing but a mud-lined chamber, from which there was no exit save by a small bole, which it seemed impossible for any of us to pass through! However, the little grocer was not to be balked; be declared the precious stones must be on the other side the hole, and he accordingly laid himself down, and by dint of working away something like a worm when it is returning to the earth, he at last disappeared, and then assuring us that he had come to the precious stones, he made all of us so eager to share the prize, that we too squeezed ourselves through. Here we found an extraordinary formation enough. A slit in the rock, of about a yard in width, had been filled up by a quantity of very fine gravel, composed for the most part, of rounded stones of about the size of peas, generally highly polished, and often of considerable beauty. I really forget now all the various mineral species to which these pebbles have been found to belong, but I know there were upwards of a dozen of the secondary precious stones, among which were jaspers, cornelians, and agates. Geologically, I think, the age of this vein might probably be fixed pretty accurately. That its contents have been deposited by running water, their nature and appearance place beyond a doubt, and as they are now at least a hundred feet above [336] the surface of the valley, it must have been before the valley was formed, and when the water rolled over the upper surface of the mountain a considerable height above. The gravel is now so compact, that it required a hammer to separate any portions of it. We were glad to leave this part of the cavern as quickly as we could, for the air became so confined, that it was scarcely possible to breathe. We had still only investigated one part of this cavern. Another of nearly equal extent lay above this, and was said to open on the other side of the mountain. The entrance, however, could only be reached by the aid of a ladder, and as our curiosity was pretty well satisfied we returned without making any further investigation.

The peasants had got us a good dinner ready by our return, and we were all well inclined to do justice to their cookery. A little before dark, we again mounted our rozinantes, and made the best of our way back to St. Pál.

Our next point was Keszdi Vásárhely,50 but though it lay nearly direct east of St. Pál, we were obliged to make a considerable detour to the south to avoid a chain of mountains which lay between the two places. My notes of this day contain little worthy of remark, save that we could get nothing for dinner except a few eggs; and that at night [337] we were obliged to sleep on tables and chairs, and content ourselves with a supper of six small trout, which the landlord went out and caught for the occasion. I am really ashamed to refer so constantly to the subject of the creature comforts; but I believe it is best to do so, as it perhaps gives the reader almost as good an idea of the circumstances of the country we were travelling through, as a more elaborate description would do. What, for instance, could strike the stranger more forcibly than an occurrence which took place the very next day? Soon after we had started, we passed through a small village, at which we had no intention of stopping, where Miklós's eye fell on the carcass of a fresh-slaughtered calf, hung up iu a peasant's house. Jumping down, he at once made off to this unaccustomed sight, and rlid not return till he had secured a good-looking lump of veal, as a provision against dinner-time.

50 Vásaá, market; hely, place ; a name common to many places in this part of Transylvania.

Before arriving at Foldvár, -- the place of the six fishes, -- we felt a change in the weather, which obliged us to have recourse to our furs. The cause of it was sufficiently explained in the morning. Though we were only in the middle of Sep tembcr, a considerable fall of snow had taken place in the mountains, and their white peaks now glit, tering in the sun, contrasted strongly with the yellow corn-fields and green meadows in the foreground of the picture.

At Sepsi St. György, where we stopped before [338] mid-day to get the above-mentionecl lump of veal converted into an eatable form, we found, instead of the rude villages we had hitherto seen, a smart little town with handsome houses, and large public buildings, apparently very foreign to the position in which tbey existed. Sepsi St. György, however, is the head-quarters of the Szekler border Hussars, and, consequently, the residence of the staff. One of the large buildings is dedicated to the education of the children of the Hussars, and is said to be one of the most flourishing schools in the country.

Before evening, we got on to Keszdi Vásárhely; and though we were told there was no inn, we found very good quarters in the house of a French brewer, who had married an Hungarian wife, and set up his tent here for life. ITc was & good-tempered little fellow; seemed delighted to receive us into his house, and promised us a supper which should amply compensate for our late fastings. Of course he took us over his whole premises of which ho was very proud, as indeed he had good reason to be, for his brewhouse, and all its apparatus, though on a small scale, were in excellent order. He complains sadly of his neighbours doing all they can to injure him, from jealousy of his foreign extraction; and I can readily believe him, for it is a theory of all Hungarians, that every farthing gained in Hungary by a stranger, is robbed from her own children. [339] The high price of hops is another of the poor Frenchman's grievances. He is obliged to get them all the way from Bohemia; and even then they are not too good. However, notwithstanding his grumbling, I suspect our little friend manages to prosper.

We had still time to visit the military school for the education of the children of the Szekler infantry. The institution was founded by the late Emperor, and is supported partly by a royal grant, and partly by the Szeklers themselves. The regulation of it is entirely in the hands of Government. On the foundation, there are one hundred boys, from six to eighteen years of age, who are fed, clothed, and taught free of all expense. As these do not occupy all the room which exists, a few additional scholars are admitted on the payment of about sixteen shillings per month for the enjoyment of the same advantages as the others. The children, when they have finished their education, are drafted into the infantry, and often rise to the rank of officers. The course of education includes writing, reading, arithmetic, geography, mathematics, military drawing, and the German language, besides all the drilling and exercising, which belong to military training. We saw specimens of their writing and drawing, and T must say they were very creditable. They have a small library, mostly composed of amusing books for children, which [340] are lent out to the scholars, and they seem well selected for the purpose of giving them a taste for reading.

It is unfortunate that here, too, in an institution apparently so good, cause for complaint and mistrust against Government should exist. The Szeklers say the whole object of the school is to denationalize their children, and make them forget their native tongue. Tn fact, all the lessons are given in German, all the books are German, and the children are even obliged to speak German to each other. The national language is never heard within the walls of the national school. Tt is certain the poor Szeklers think themselves very ill-treated by the Government. Though submitting now pretty quietly to the Border service, they object very strongly to Some of the innovations it has brought with it. Many of the officers in the Border regiments arc Germans, and of course can have no claim to the rights of Szekler nobility, yet Government has within these last few months claimed for them the right to appear and vote at the county-meetings; and very bitter is the feeling excited among the Szeklers in consequence.

In the mountains somewhere in this neighbourhood, we heard there was an extraordinary cave, of which we had been told some rather marvellous stories. We made all the inquiries we could at Keszdi Vásárhely, but nobody could inform us either of the exact distance, or of the best means [341] of getting there. All agreed, however, that we must pass through Torja, a village which we could perceive just at the foot of the mountains, some ten miles off, where, in all probability, we should find some one who could tell us more about the matter. On this chance we started; but fortunately, before we reached the place, W------recollected that Torja was the name of the residence of an old Szekler friend of bis, and it occurred to him that this might be the Torja in question. The first peasant we met on entering1 the village confirmed his suspicions, and led us straight to the house. Baron A------, who was at borne, was delighted beyond expression to see our friend. Unfortunately for us, the Baron could not speak a word of German, and we could only communicate with him through W------'s interpretation; to say the truth, I doubt if he would have spoken it even if be could, in so great horror did he hold everything German.

After the first greetings were over, and we bad all been taken into the house and presented to his lady, W------ ventured to express our wish to get on as quickly as possible to the cave. I say ventured, for it was not till I bad given him several hints, and even then rather against his will, that he did so, for he knew how high a notion the Szeklers have of the duty of hospitality, and be foresaw no little difficulty in our escaping without spending the wuole day where we were. When once the Baron was made to understand [342] that our engagements rendered it impossible for us to stay, disappointed as he was, he consented to get us a conveyance fit for the roacls, and promised to accompany us himself to the place. While the horses were getting rearly, which I thought occupied rather more time than was absolutely necessary, I had time to look about me, and observe something of the establishment of a Szekler nobleman. As usual, the house was only of one story; and, except in its size, differing but little from those about it. The large mi paved courtyard, surrounded by stables and waggon-sheds, separated it from the road; and, on the other side were a kitchen-garden and orchard. The interior of the house was modestly, perhaps sparingly, furnished, for Baron A------, though boasting a pedigree scarcely to be equalled in the country, was less favoured than many others on the score of fortune; but some old portraits gave an air of dignity to the rooms, and everything was comfortable and well-ordered.

Here, as in every other part of the Szekler-land we had occasion to notice the extraordinary affection and almost veneration with which Baron Wesselényi Miklós was regarded. His portrait was seen in every house, his name was on every lip. The Szeklers look up to him as the great advocate of their rights, the defender of their liberties. So strong was the feeling of indignation and resentment when they knew of his prosecution, that I [343] have heard it said, by those who had good opportunity to know the real state of the case, that had he chosen to have thrown himself among the Szeklers, they would have risen to a man in his defence. How serious an affair the rising of forty or fifty thousand men accustomed to the use of arms might have been in so mountainous a country as this, it was easy to foresee, but Baron Wessclenyi was too true a patriot to throw his country into rebellion, and expose her to all the horrors of a civil war where his own interests would have been the chief cause of quarrel. It requires a very powerful cause to induce an honest patriot to call his countrymen to arms, but when once he has done so, it requires a full assurance for the future ere he consents that they shall be laid down.

When the horses at last arrived, the reason of their long delay came out: the Baroness was determined we should not leave without dining, and though it was only nine when we got there, and was now scarcely eleven, she assured us that dinner was on the table, and that we should have still time to take something before the horses were fed and harnessed. At last we started, and following the course of a narrow valley, where we were frequently obliged to drive along the brook for want of a better road, we arrived in three hours at its far end where the road ceased altogether. As we walked up the hill, the Baron [344] explained to us that we were about to visit some mineral springs, in the first instance, which occupy the summit of this hill, and then go on about a mile further to the Büdös, or stinking cave, of which we were in search. When we reached the summit we were surprised to find three or four log-huts tolerably well constructed, and a quantity of straw and halt-burned wood lying about, as if they had been lately inhabited. In fact, they had been 90, for in spite of the ignorance of the people of Vásárhely upon the subject, the Biidos springs are a very fashionable bathing-place, -- at least among the peasants. They come here in summer, build a hut of branches, line it with straw, and stocking it plentifully with provisions, remain here for a month or six weeks at a time. Without waiting to look further at the springs, we hastened to the cave.

In the face of a rock of magnesism limestone, there was an opening large enough to contain about a dozen persons, the floor of which slanted inwards and downwards from the mouth, A few years ago this cave was much larger, but a great portion of it was destroyed by an earthquake. About the sides of the lower part there was a thin yellow incrustation, which we found to be sulphur deposited from the gases which issue from crevices in the rock. As we got further into the cave we felt a sensation of tingling warmth, unlike anything I ever felt before, creeping as it were up the body, higher [345] and higher in proportion as we descended lower. This extraordinary phenomenon is owing to the concentrated state of the carbonic acid gas (mixed with a very small proportion of sulphuretted hydrogen), which issues from an air-spring in the lower part of the cave, and fills it to a level with the mouth, whence it flows out as regular as water would do. The temperature was not higher in one part of the cave than in another, for in moving the hand from the upper part to the lower not the slightest difference could be at first perceived; hut in a few seconds, as soon as the acid had power to penetrate the skin, the tingling warmth was felt. We descended till the gas reached the chin, when we could raise it in the hand to the lips and distinctly perceive its sour taste. It is commonly supposed that the diluted carbonic acid gas produces death by entering the lungs and excluding all other air, but here it was impossible to respire it; the irritation produced on the glottis contracted it convulsively, and death would therefore occur almost immediately from strangulation. If any of it got into the eyes and nose, it made them smart severely. The peasants ascertain how far they can go with safety by striking their flints, and stopping when they no longer give sparks.

We remained for some time in the cave enjoying the sensation it produced exceedingly. As might be expected, so excellent an air-bath has not been neglected by the peasants of the neighbourhood, [346] and hundreds repair hither to profit by it every year. The common manner of using it is, to repair to the cave early in the morning, and remain for an hour or more, with the whole body subjected to the influence of the gas, till a profuse perspiration is produced, when they proceed to one of the cold baths we had observed as we came up. These baths are impregnated with the same gases as the air of the cavern, but contain apparently rather more sulphur. The cases fur which the Biidos is most celebrated, are those of chronic rheumatism, and complicated mercurial affections. So great is the carelessness of the peasants, that rarely a year passes without some of them perishing in this cave. This season two such accidents had happened. The common name given to the cave is the "Murder-hole" (Gyilkoslyuk).

As we returned, many mineral springs were pointed out to us, with which indeed the whole mountain seems to be covered.

We had intended, after seeing the Büdö's, to visit the ruins of a fine old castle, formerly the residence of .Baron A------'s ancestors, which crowned the summit of the mountain, and then go on to the Lake of St. Anna, about four hours further ; but it set in for so wet a night, that the length of the march and the certainty of being obliged to sleep on the damp ground cooled our ardour. The lake is said to be small, and occupies the summit of a hill. It is believed to be the crater of an old [347] volcano. We now made the hest of our way back, and bidding adieu to Baron A------ at Torja, we got to our snug quarters at the Frenchman's in time for supper.

We bade adieu to the Szekler-land the next day, but not till we had spassed through a part of it, the Három-Szék, forming one of the most beautiful spots this earth can show. The whole district is a gently undulating plain, covered with the richest crops, dotted over with flourishing villages, watered by the meandering Aluta, and bounded on two sides by the most beautiful chains of mountains it is possible to conceive. Time after time did we stop the carriage and turn back to enjoy another last look at this beautiful scene. And then what treasures of unexplored scenery, what hosts of Nature's miracles, do those mountains contain ! We had heard of caverns, cliffs, and ruins, of boiling springs, and streams of naphtha, and I know not what else ; yet every one said that, except to the shepherds, almost all these wonders are known only by name.

We had remarked throughout the Szekler-land, generally, a better state of cultivation and greater signs of industry than in most other parts of Transylvania, but this was nowhere so manifest as in the Három-Szék. The implements were rude, the system of cultivation exceedingly imperfect, but yet the general aspect of the country showed how much application and industry will do to supply [348] the want of knowledge and capital. Property is more equally divided here than elsewhere, the people are consequently more industrious, and I believe, produce more than in other parts, where, although their forces may be better applied, large possessions induce idleness and indifference in the mass of the people.

Chapters 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 P.S.




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