mostly seated on boxes or other fragments of furniture that had been
saved; one and all had their faces turned towards the waste of waters,
where their homes had been. I shall never forget their looks of mute
despair; there was no crying, no noise, their very silence was a gauge
of the utter misery that had befallen them.
The sea of trouble in which we found ourselves was strewn with wreckage
of all kinds, including the bodies of many domestic animals. Doubtless
many lives were lost; it will perhaps never be known how many. It was
unfortunate that no service was organised for saving life at the
bridges. Several lamentable accidents and loss of life took place owing
to the drifting away of boats and barges up stream. A friend of mine saw
a barge with four men on board jammed in between blocks of ice, and
hurried under the suspension bridge and down the stream. No one was able
to respond to the heart-rending appeals of the men, who very probably
might have been saved if simply ropes had been hanging from the bridge.
I myself saw a poor fellow perish in those churning waters; it was
terrible to think of his thus drowning in the presence of thousands of
The amount of wreckage that passed Buda-Pest gave one some idea of the
frightful amount of damage higher up the stream; there were heaps of
barrels, woodstacks, trees, furniture, and even houses with their
The beautiful island of St. Marguerite, just above Buda-Pest, suffered
most severely. It was four feet under water; and the drift ice did
immense damage to the trees, causing abrasions of the bark at eight to
ten feet above the ground.
It may well be imagined that the Charity Organisation Committee had
enough on their hands. Nearly 20,000 people sought the shelter provided
in the public buildings and other places appointed by the authorities,
and for fully a month after the catastrophe thousands had to be fed
daily at the public expense.
Expedition to the Marmaros Mountains - Railways in Hungary - The
train stopping for a rest - The AlfÃ¶ld - Shepherds of the plain - Wild
appearance of the Rusniacks - Slavs of Northern Hungary - Marmaros
Szigeth - Difficulty in slinging a hammock - The Jews of
Karasconfalu - Soda manufactory at Boeska - Romantic scenery - Salt
mines - Subterranean lake.
The spring was already melting into summer - and the melting process is
pretty rapid in Hungary - when an opportunity occurred enabling me to
visit the north-eastern part of the country with a friend who was going
to the Marmaros Mountains on business. Even this wild and remote
district is not without railway communication, and we took our tickets
for Szigeth, in the county of Marmaros, learning at the same time, to
our great satisfaction, that we could go straight on to our destination
without stopping. Though my friend is a Hungarian the route was as new
to him as to myself.
The railway system has been enormously extended in this country during
the last ten years. In Transylvania, in the Tokay Hegyalia, in the
Zipsland, and in the mining district of Schemnitz a whole network of
lines has been opened up. Our route from Debreczin to Szigeth is one of
those recently opened. The railway statistics of Hungary are very
significant of progress. In 1864 only 1903 kilometres were open, whereas
ten years later the figures had risen to 6392 kilometres; and the
extension has been very considerable even subsequently, though
enterprise of every kind received a check in 1873, from which the
country has not yet recovered.
I confess I was very glad to have come in for the days of the iron
horse, for it would be difficult to imagine anything more tiresome than
a drive on ordinary wheels across the vast Hungarian plain. It is so
utterly featureless as to be even without landmarks. Except for the
signs of the heavenly bodies, a man might, in a fit of absence, turn
round and fail to realise whether he was going backwards or forwards.
Right or left, it is all the same monotonous dead level, with scarce an
object on which to rest the eye. Here and there a row of acacia-trees
may be seen marking the boundary of an estate, and near by the sure
indication of a well in the form of a lofty pole balanced transversely;
but even this does not help you, for "grove nods at grove," and what you
have just seen on the right-hand side is sure somehow to be repeated on
the left, so you are all at sea again.
Sometimes a mirage deludes the traveller in the Hungarian plain with the
fair presentment of a lake fringed with forest-trees; but the semblance
fades into nothingness, and he finds himself still in an endless waste,
"without a mark, without a bound." Dreary, inexpressibly dreary to all
save those who are born within its limits; for, strange to say, they
love their level plain as well, every bit as well, as the mountaineer
loves his cloud-capped home.
This plain - the AlfÃ¶ld, as it is called - comprises an area of 37,400
square miles, composed chiefly of rich black soil underlain by
water-worn gravel - a significant fact for geologists. It is worthy of
remark that the Magyar race is here found in its greatest purity. Here
the followers of Arpad settled themselves to the congenial life of
herdsmen. At the railway stations one generally sees a lot of these
shepherds from the _puszta_, each with his axe-headed staff and
sheepskin cloak, worn the woolly side outwards if the weather is hot.
They can be scented from afar, and their scent, of all bad smells, is
one of the worst. The fact is, the shepherds keep their bodies well
covered with grease to prevent injurious effects from the very sudden
changes of temperature so common in all Hungary. This smearing of the
skin with grease is also a defence against insects, which seems
probable, if insects have noses to be offended.
Nowhere does the intrusion of modern art and its appliances strike one
more curiously by force of contrast than in the wilder parts of Hungary.
Just outside the railway station life and manners are what they were two
centuries ago, and yet here are the grappling-irons of civilisation. No
doubt a change will come to all this substratum of humanity, but it
takes time. Even the railways in these wilder parts have not exactly
settled themselves down to the inexorable limits of "time tables." It
occurred on this very journey that we stopped at some small station, for
no particular reason as far as I could see, for nobody got in or out;
but the heat was intense, and so we just made a halt of nearly an hour.
I could not make out what was up at first, but looking out I saw the
stokers, pokers, and engine-driver all calmly enjoying their pipes,
seated on the footboard on the shady side of the train! Some one or two
people remarked that the officials in this part of the world were lazy
fellows, but the passengers generally appeared in no great hurry, and
after a while the train moved on again. At several places on the line we
passed luggage trains waiting on the siding for their turn to be sent on
to Buda-Pest. In many of these open trucks we noticed a considerable
number of those fine Podolian oxen, common in these parts, and lots of
woolly-haired pigs, that look for all the world like sheep at a
The effect of tapping these out-lying districts is already producing its
natural result; the cultivator finds a ready market for his produce, and
the value of land is rising, and "_must_ rise in Hungary," says
Professor Wrightson in his report on the agriculture of the
In approaching Debreczin we noticed frequent instances of the
efflorescence of soda-salts upon the surface of the soil. This
occurrence greatly impairs the fertility of some parts of the AlfÃ¶ld.
Land drainage would probably cure this evil, but I do not fancy any
serious experiments have been tried. Skill and labour have not yet been
brought to bear on the greater part of the land in Hungary. It is a
country where a vast deal has yet to be done, and such are the
prejudices of the common people that improvements cannot be introduced
at once and without some caution; in fact, the material conditions of
the country itself and the climate necessitate considerable experience
on the part of any foreigner who may settle in Hungary and think to
import new fashions in agriculture.
Stopping at Debreczin only long enough to get a little supper at the
station restaurant, we pursued our journey through the night. I do not
imagine that we lost much that was worthy of note owing to the darkness,
for the line continues to traverse a sanely plain utterly devoid of good
scenery. Towards morning we passed two important towns - namely, Nagy
KÃ¡roly and SzathmÃ¡r. The hitter is the seat of a Catholic bishop, and
has no less than 19,000 inhabitants - a good-sized place for Hungary. In
1711 the peace between the Austrians and RÃ¡koczy was signed in this
town. Not far from here are the celebrated gold, silver, and lead mines
of Nagy Banya.
We arrived at the junction station of Kiraly-haza early in the morning,
and there learned the agreeable news that we must wait ten hours, though
only a few miles from our destination. From this place there is a line
to SÃ¡toralja-Uihely, a junction on the main line between Buda-Pest and
Lemberg. The town of Kiraly-haza is situated in a wide valley bounded by
high mountains. The plain is left far behind, and we are once more under
the shadow of the Carpathians. The heat of the day was intense, and
there was not much in the immediate neighbourhood to tempt us out in the
broiling sun, so we just got through the time as best we could. The food
was very bad and the wine execrable, an adulterated mixture not worthy
of the name. This is a rare occurrence in Hungary, and it ought not to
have been the case here, for there are good vineyards close to the town.
It was getting towards evening before our train appeared, and when it
stopped at the station as wild a looking crew turned out of the
carriages as I ever remember to have seen. On inquiry I found that these
people were Rusniacks. Their occupation at this time of the year is to
convey rafts down the Theiss. It seems their work was done, and they
were returning by train. After the halt of ten minutes, and when the
passengers were resuming their seats, I found that these fellows were
all crowded into some empty horse-boxes attached to the train. The
officials treated them as if they were very little better than cattle.
These people, with their shoeless feet encased in thongs of leather,
with garments unconscious of the tailor's art, and in some instances
regardless of the primary object of clothes as a human institution, were
the most uncivilised of any I had yet seen in Hungary.
These Rusniacks, or "Little Russians," as they are called, are tolerably
numerous - not less than 470,000, according to statistical returns. They
are to be found almost exclusively in the north-east of Hungary. They
were fugitives in the old days from Russia, to whom they are intensely
antagonistic, having probably suffered from her persecutions. In
religion they are dissenters from the orthodox Greek Church,
assimilating more with Roman Catholicism. These people are another
variety in the strange mixture of races to be found in Hungary. It is
thought, and it would seem probable, that the very fact of the military
conscription will help to civilise these Rusniacks by drawing them out
of their savage isolation in the wild valleys of the Marmaros Mountains.
There are many peculiarities respecting the races inhabiting the
northern parts of Hungary. It would be a great mistake to put the Slavs
of the north in the same category with the Slavs of the south: the
former are on far better terms with the Magyars; they are for the most
part contented, hard-working people, not troubling themselves at all
about Panslavism. The reason is not far to seek. The Slovacks, as they
are called by way of distinction, numbering about two millions, do not
belong to the Greek Church. The greater proportion are Roman Catholics,
the rest Lutherans and Calvinists. Many of the Catholics are said to be
descended from refugees who fled from the tyranny of the Greek Church in
After leaving Kiraly-haza we got into charming scenery. As we approached
the Carpathians we passed through vast oak-forests, and here and there
had a glimpse of the Theiss rushing along over its stony bed.
Occasionally we caught sight of herds of buffaloes bathing in the river.
It is difficult to imagine that these fierce-looking creatures, with
their massive shaggy heads, can ever be tractable; yet they can be
managed, though only by kindness - "the rod of correction they cannot
bear." At length we reached the end of our railway journey. Marmaros
Szigeth is the present terminus of the line, and I should say will very
probably remain such; for the iron road would hardly meander through the
denies and over the heights of the Carpathians, to descend into the
sparsely-inhabited wilds of the Bukovina. We sought out the principal
inn at Szigeth, a wretched place, with only one room and a single bed at
My friend took possession of the bed at my request, for I told him I was
quite independent of the luxury, having provided myself before I left
England with an excellent hammock made of twine. I had learned to sleep
in these contrivances during my naval volunteer days, but the order to
"sling hammocks" would not have been easy to obey under the present
circumstances. I was forced to put my screws in the floor and hang my
net over some heavy furniture; but when I got in, the table that I had
chiefly depended upon gave way with a crash, and I found myself on the
floor. My friend laughed heartily; he had never seen a hammock before,
and, spite of my representations, I do not think he was properly
impressed by the great utility of the invention. Of course I was not to
be foiled, so I cast about for another method of "fixing." I tried
several dodges, but nothing answered exactly; something always gave way
after a few minutes of repose - either I came down with a bump, or some
abominable, ramshackle chest of drawers got over-turned.
Now my friend was very tired and sleepy, and desired nothing so much as
a little repose. My experiments ceased to interest him, and the noise
caused by my repeated misfortunes irritated him. A large-minded man
would have admired my tenacity of purpose, but he did not. One can never
tell what people are till we travel with them. In a tone of mingled
solicitude and irritation he offered to vacate his bed in my favour. He
declared he would willingly lie on the hard floor, or indeed, if I would
only consent to take his place, he would sit bolt upright in a chair
through the livelong night.
"I will do anything," he added piteously, "if you will only be quiet
and not try to hang yourself any more in that horrible netting."
I would not hear of my friend leaving his bed, and after one or two more
mischances self and hammock were suspended for the night at an angle a
trifle too low for the head. Except for the honour and glory of the
thing, perhaps I might have slept as well on the floor; but one does not
carry a patent contrivance all across Europe to be balked of its use
My friend woke me once during the night by shaking me roughly. He said I
had nightmare, and made "such a devil of a row that he could not sleep."
I have some dreamy recollection of finding myself in a London
drawing-room in the inexpressibly scanty garments of a Rusniack, and
when I turned to leave in all decent haste I found the way barred by an
insolent fellow with the head of a buffalo bull. When I awoke in the
early morning I found my friend already dressed and rather sulky. He
observed that he had never met a man so addicted to nightmare as myself,
adding, that another time if I must sleep in my hammock, it would be
better to see that the head was higher than the feet.
"It does not make any difference to me," I replied cheerfully, "I am as
fresh as a lark."
There was no time for further discussion, for our breakfast was ready (a
very bad breakfast it was, too), and the vehicle we had chartered the
night before was also waiting to convey us some miles into the interior
of the country, to the soda manufactory at Boeska. On our way we passed
through the village of Karasconfalu, inhabited entirely by Polish Jews.
The dirt and squalor of this place beggar description. The dwellings are
not houses, but are simply holes burrowed in the sandbanks, with an
upright stone set up in front to represent a door; windows and chimneys
are unknown. If it were not for a few erections more like ordinary human
habitations, the place might have passed for a gigantic rabbit-warren.
As we drove through we saw some of the villagers engaged in slaughtering
calves and sheep in the middle of the road, the blood running down into
a self-made gutter; it was a sickening sight. The people themselves have
a most peculiar physiognomy, especially the men, who in addition to long
beards wear corkscrew ringlets, which give them a very odd appearance.
Their principal garment is a kind of long brown dressing-gown, which in
its filthy grimness suits the wearer down to the ground. The feet are
bound up in thongs of leather. The shoemaker's trade is apparently
unknown in these parts. The inhabitants of this delightful village have
the reputation of being a set of born cheats and swindlers; if it is
true, then certainly the moral is plain, that dishonesty is not a
thriving trade. The fact is, being all of one sort, the profession is
overcrowded, and the result is that the sharpest amongst them emigrate,
or rather I should say go farther a-field to exercise their craft. I am
told that many of the low Jews, who make themselves a byword and a
reproach by their practices of cheating and usury throughout Hungary,
may be traced back to this foul nest in the Marmaros Mountains. It would
be well for the credit of the Jewish community in Hungary, as well as
elsewhere, if something were done to raise these people out of the utter
degradation which surrounds them from their birth.
Not far beyond Karasconfalu we came upon Boeska, situated in the midst
of the most beautiful and romantic scenery, not at all suggestive of the
neighbourhood of a chemical manufactory. Putting up at the house of the
manager of the works, we remained here two or three days, during which
time we made some excursions into the heart of the mountains. One of our
drives took us some miles along the side of the beautiful river Theiss,
which though a proverbial sluggard when it reaches the plain, is here a
swift and impetuous stream. Our object was to see the timber-rafts pass
over the rapids; it was a very exciting scene, and as this was a
favourable season, owing to the state of the river, we came in just at
the right time. The Rusniacks - the people generally employed in this
perilous work - certainly display great skill and coolness in the
management of their ticklish craft. If by any mischance the timbers come
in contact with the rocks, then the danger is extreme; and hardly a year
passes that some of the poor fellows do not get carried away in the
swirling waters, which have made for themselves deep and treacherous
holes in this part of the stream.
The pine-trees in the forests of the Marmaros Mountains are simply
magnificent; the birch and oak are hardly less remarkable. It is really
grievous to see the amount of ruthless destruction which is allowed to
go on in these valuable forests, more especially in those belonging to
the State. It is the old story - the Rusniack herdsman, to get herbage
for his cattle, will set fire to the forest, and perhaps burn some
hundreds of acres of standing timber. The result brings very little good
to himself; but the blackened trunks of thousands of half-burned trees
bear witness to the peasant's inveterate love of waste, and the utter
inefficiency of the forest laws, or rather of their administration.
Throughout Hungary it is the same, the power of the law does not make
itself felt in the remoter provinces. For example, in the year 1877
there have been scores of incendiary fires in the county of Zemplin;
homesteads, hayricks, and woods have suffered, and yet punishment rarely
falls on the offender. Government should look to this, for lawlessness
is a most infectious disorder.
The Marmaros district is chiefly known for the salt mines, which have
been worked here for centuries. Salt is a Government monopoly in
Hungary, and is sold at the high price of five florins the
hundredweight, forming, in fact, an important source of revenue. The
mines at Slatina, not far from Szigeth, are well worth a visit. One of
the chambers is of immense size; in this a pyramid of salt is left
untouched, and by its downward growth marks the progress of excavation.
At the foot of this pyramid is a little altar, where every year, on the
3d of March, mass is celebrated with great ceremony, that being the day
of Kunigunde, the patron saint of the mines.
One of our expeditions was to visit the mines at Ronasick. Here, too, is
an enormous cave with a dome-shaped roof, one hundred and fifty feet
above the surface of the water, which covers the floor to the amazing
depth, it is said, of three hundred feet. Part of the visitor's
programme is to be paddled about on this subterranean lake. We embarked
on a raft slowly propelled by rowers; a cresset fire burning brightly at
the prow of our craft cast strange lights and shadows on the black
waters, added to which the shimmering reflection of the white-ribbed
walls had a very singular effect. But the sensation was still more weird
when we saw other mystic forms appearing from out the black darkness;
first a mere speck of red light was visible, till nearing us we beheld
other boats freighted with grim-looking figures that glided past into
the further darkness. These phantom-like forms, steering their rafts
through the black and silent waters, were grotesquely lit up from time
to time by the pulsating red firelight. It might have been a scene from
It was with the sense of escape from a living tomb that we emerged from
the depths below into the upper air, and here awaited us a sight never
to be forgotten, more especially for its singular contrast to the horrid
gloom of the under-world. Here, above ground, in the blessed free
expanse of earth and sky, we beheld the heavens ablaze with all the
intensest glory of a magnificent sunset. One's soul in deep gladness
drank in the ineffable loveliness of nature, as if athirst for the
beauty of light and life.
[Footnote 23: Journal of Agricultural Society, vol. x. Part xi. No.
The Tokay district - Visit at Schloss G - - - Wild-boar
hunting - Incidents of the chase.
My first expedition to the Tokay district was in the winter; I was then
the guest of Baron V - - , who has a charming chÃ¢teau, surrounded by an
English garden, in this celebrated place of vineyards.
In the winter there is a very fair amount of good sport in this part of
Hungary. Sometimes one is enabled to go out hare-shooting in sledges; of
course the horses' bells are removed on these occasions. Hares are not
preserved in the Tokay district, but they are pretty numerous. I myself
shot fifty-four in the space of a few weeks, which is nothing compared
to an English battue of a single day; but then this is sport, and there
is immense pleasure in dashing right across country behind a pair of
fleet horses, thinking yourself well repaid if you bag a couple or three
hares in the afternoon's scamper. For wolf and wild-boar hunting one
must penetrate into the forests which extend in the rear of the
southern slopes of this Tokay range of hills.
During my stay at G - - a party was got up for a few days' shooting in
the interior. On this occasion we were to shoot in Baron Beust's
forests, which extend over an area of about forty miles square; as it
may be supposed, the sport is not the easy affair it is in the
well-stocked parks of Bohemia.
There was not snow enough for sledging, so we drove to the rendezvous on
wheels, using the springless carts of the country, the roads being far
too rough for ordinary carriages. Wrapped in our _bundas_, we were proof
against the cold. The wolf-skin collar turned up rises above the head
and forms a capital protection; and very necessary it was on this
occasion, for there was a keen cutting wind the day we started.
I carried a smooth-bore breechloader charged with the largest buck-shot