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´╗┐Title: My Country
Author: Rumania, Queen of, Marie, de France, 12th cent.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "My Country" ***

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                              MY COUNTRY


                           _HER MAJESTY THE
                           QUEEN OF RUMANIA_

                        _The Stealers of Light_
                Illustrated in Colour by EDMUND DULAC.
                            Price 6/- net.

                        _The Dreamer of Dreams_
                Illustrated in Colour by EDMUND DULAC.
                            Price 6/- net.

                          _The Lily of Life_
               Illustrated in Colour by HELEN STRATTON.
                            Price 6/- net.

                     HODDER AND STOUGHTON, LONDON

[Illustration]



                              MY COUNTRY


                                  BY
                                 MARIE
                           QUEEN OF RUMANIA

                            [Illustration]


                   ALL PROFITS FROM THE SALE OF THIS
                 BOOK WILL BE PAID TO THE BRITISH RED
                   CROSS SOCIETY FOR WORK IN RUMANIA


                        PUBLISHED FOR The Times
                                  BY
                         HODDER AND STOUGHTON
                        LONDON NEW YORK TORONTO
                                MCMXVI



ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                                  PAGE

  "The thatched roofs are replaced by roofs of shingle that shine
  like silver in the sun"                                            6

  "Very different are the mountain villages from those of the
  plain. The cottages are less miserable"                            6

  "Many a hearty welcome has been given me in these little
  villages"                                                          7

  "Square, high buildings with an open gallery round the top"        7

  "It is especially in the Dobrudja that these different
  nationalities jostle together"                                    10

  "It had kept the delightful appearance of having been modelled
  by a potter's thumb"                                              14

  "Primitive strongholds, half tower, half peasant-house"           14

  "Richer and more varied are the peasants' costumes"               14

  "With an open gallery round the top formed by stout short
  columns"                                                          15

  "Composed of a double colonnade.... Behind these colonnades
  are the nuns' small cells: tiny domes, little chambers"           15

  "A convent ... white and lonely, hidden away in wooded regions
  greener and sweeter than any other in the land"                   18

  "This porch is decorated all over with frescoes"                  22

  "Some were so old, so bent, that they could no more raise their
  heads to look up at the sky above"                                23

  "Strange old monks inhabited it"                                  23

  "Silent recluses, buried away from the world"                     23

  "An indescribable harmony makes its lines beautiful"              26

  "A lonely little cemetery, filled with crosses of wood"           30

  "On lonely mountain-sides"                                        30

  "Guarded by a few hoary old monks"                                30

  "There lies a tiny wee church"                                    30

  "Tall and upright, with the pale, ascetic face of a saint"        30

  "Creatures so old and decrepit that they seem to have
  gathered moss like stones lying for ever in the same place"       30

  "When found in such numbers they are mostly hewn out of
  wood"                                                             31

  "These strange old crosses ... they stand by the wayside"         31

  "Mostly they stand beside wells"                                  34

  "Quaint of shape, they attract the eye from far"                  38

  "Sometimes they are of quaintly carved stone"                     38

  "Strange old crosses that on all roads I have come upon"          38

  "Their forms and sizes are varied"                                38

  "None of the greater buildings attract me so strongly as
  those little village churches"                                    39

  "The altar is shut off from the rest of the building by a
  carved and painted screen"                                        39

  "The roofs are always of shingle"                                 42

  "Varied indeed are the shapes of these peasant churches"          46

  "Their principal feature being the stout columns that support
  the porch in front"                                               46

  "But with some the belfry stands by itself"                       47

  "The columns have beautiful carved capitals of rarest design
  ... whitewashed like the rest of the church"                      47

  "Quaint indeed are the buildings that some simple-hearted
  artist has painted"                                               47

  "These lonely mountain-dwellers"                                  50

  "These shaggy garments give them a wild appearance"               54

  "Their only refuges are dug-outs"                                 54

  "Even tiny boys wear these extraordinary coats"                   54

  "Here, in company with their dogs, they spend the long summer
  months"                                                           54

  "On juicy pastures near clear-flowing stream"                     55

  "Silent watchers leaning on their staffs"                         55

  "Wherever I have met them, be it on the mountains or in the
  plains, ... these silent shepherds have seemed to me the very
  personification of solitude"                                      55

  "On the burning plains of the Dobrudja where for miles around
  no tree is to be seen"                                            58

  "Stifled by the overwhelming temperature, they had massed
  themselves together"                                              58

  "Mothers and children, and old grannies"                          62

  "Small bronze statues with curly, tousled heads"                  62

  "Occasionally a torn shirt barely covers them"                    62

  "Most beautiful of all are the young girls"                       63

  "Inconceivably picturesque"                                       63

  "These are the respected members of the tribes"                   63

  "I have often met old couples wandering together"                 63

  "A bare field where the soldiers exercised"                       66



MY COUNTRY


The Queen of a small Country!

Those who are accustomed to see rulers of greater lands can little
understand what it means.

It means work and anxiety and hope, and great toiling for small
results. But the field is large, and, if the heart be willing, great is
the work.

When young I thought it all work, uphill work; but the passing years
brought another knowledge, a blessed knowledge, and now I know.

This is a small country, a new country, but it is a country I love. I
want others to love it also; therefore listen to a few words about it.
Let me paint a few pictures, draw a few sketches as I have seen them,
first with my eyes, then with my heart.

       *       *       *       *       *

Once I was a stranger to this people; now I am one of them, and,
because I came from so far, better was I able to see them with their
good qualities and with their defects.

Their country is a fruitful country, a country of vast plains, of
waving corn, of deep forests, of rocky mountains, of rivers that in
spring-time are turbulent with foaming waters, that in summer are
but sluggish streams lost amongst stones. A country where peasants
toil 'neath scorching suns, a country untouched by the squalor of
manufactories, a country of extremes where the winters are icy and the
summers burning hot.

A link between East and West.

At first it was an alien country, its roads too dusty, too endless its
plains. I had to learn to see its beauties--to feel its needs with my
heart.

Little by little the stranger became one of them, and now she would
like the country of her birth to see this other country through the
eyes of its Queen.

Yes, little by little I learnt to understand this people, and little by
little it learned to understand me.

Now we trust each other, and so, if God wills, together we shall go
towards a greater future!

My love of freedom and vast horizons, my love of open air and
unexplored paths led to many a discovery. Alone I would ride for hours
to reach a forlorn village, to see a crumbling church standing amongst
its rustic crosses at a river's edge, or to be at a certain spot at
sunset when sky and earth would be drenched with flaming red.

Oh! the Rumanian sunsets, how wondrous they are!

[Illustration: "THE THATCHED ROOFS ARE REPLACED BY ROOFS OF SHINGLE
THAT SHINE LIKE SILVER IN THE SUN" (p. 13).]

[Illustration: "VERY DIFFERENT ARE THE MOUNTAIN VILLAGES FROM THOSE OF
THE PLAIN. THE COTTAGES ARE LESS MISERABLE" (p. 13).]

[Illustration: "MANY A HEARTY WELCOME HAS BEEN GIVEN ME IN THESE LITTLE
VILLAGES" (p. 13).]

[Illustration: "SQUARE, HIGH BUILDINGS WITH AN OPEN GALLERY ROUND THE
TOP" (p. 21).]

Once I was riding slowly homewards.

The day had been torrid, the air was heavy with dust. In oceans of
burnished gold the corn-fields spread before me. No breath of wind
stirred their ripeness; they seemed waiting for the hour of harvest,
proud of being the wealth of the land.

As far as my eye could reach, corn-fields, corn-fields, dwindling away
towards the horizon in a vapoury line. A blue haze lay over the world,
and with it a smell of dew and ripening seed was slowly rising out of
the ground.

At the end of the road stood a well, its long pole like a giant finger
pointing eternally to the sky. Beside it an old stone cross leaning on
one side as though tired, a cross erected with the well in remembrance
of some one who was dead....

Peace enveloped me--my horse made no movement, it also was under the
evening spell.

From afar a herd of buffaloes came slowly towards me over the long
straight road: an ungainly procession of beasts that might have
belonged to antediluvian times.

One by one they advanced--mud-covered, patient, swinging their ugly
bodies, carrying stiffly their heavily-horned heads, their vacant eyes
staring at nothing, though here and there with raised faces they seemed
to be seeking something from the skies.

From under their hoofs rose clouds of dust accompanying their every
stride. The sinking sun caught hold of it, turning it into fiery
smoke. It was as a veil of light spread over these beasts of burden, a
glorious radiance advancing with them towards their rest.

I stood quite still and looked upon them as they passed me one by
one.... And that evening a curtain seemed to have been drawn away from
many a mystery. I had understood the meaning of the vast and fertile
plain.

       *       *       *       *       *

Twenty-three years have I now spent in this country, each day bringing
its joy or its sorrow, its light or its shade; with each year my
interests widened, my understanding deepened; I knew where I was needed
to help.

I am not going to talk of my country's institutions, of its politics,
of names known to the world. Others have done this more cleverly than I
ever could. I want only to speak of its soul, of its atmosphere, of its
peasants and soldiers, of things that made me love this country, that
made my heart beat with its heart.

I have moved amongst the most humble. I have entered their cottages,
asked them questions, taken their new-born in my arms.

I talked their language awkwardly, making many a mistake; but,
although a stranger, nowhere amongst the peasants did I meet with
distrust or suspicion. They were ready to converse with me, ready to
let me enter their cottages, and especially ready to speak of their
woes. It is always of their woes that the poor have to relate, but
these did it with singular dignity, speaking of death and misery with
stoic resignation, counting the graves of their children as another
would count the trees planted round his house.

They are poor, they are ignorant, these peasants. They are neglected
and superstitious, but there is a grand nobility in their race. They
are frugal and sober, their wants are few, their desires limited; but
one great dream each man cherishes in the depth of his heart: he wishes
to be a landowner, to possess the ground that he tills; he wishes to
call it his own. This they one and all told me; it was the monotonous
refrain of all their talk.

       *       *       *       *       *

When first I saw a Rumanian village, with its tiny huts hidden amongst
trees, the only green spots on the immense plains, I could hardly
believe that families could inhabit houses so small.

They resembled the houses we used to draw as children, with a door in
the middle, a tiny window on each side, and smoke curling somewhere
out of the heavily thatched roof. Often these roofs seem too heavy for
the cottages; they seem to crush them, and the wide-open doors make
them look as if they were screaming for help.

In the evening the women sit with their distaffs spinning on the
doorsteps, whilst the herds come tramping home through the dust, and
the dogs bark furiously, filling the air with their clamour.

Nowhere have I seen so many dogs as in a Rumanian village--a sore trial
to the rider on a frisky horse.

All night long the dogs bark, answering each other. They are never
still; it is a sound inseparable from the Rumanian night.

I always loved to wander through these villages. I have done so at each
season, and every month has its charm.

In spring-time they are half-buried in fruit-trees, a foamy ocean of
blossoms out of which the round roofs of the huts rise like large grey
clouds.

Chickens, geese, and newly born pigs sport hither and thither over the
doorsteps; early hyacinths and golden daffodils run loose in the untidy
courtyards, where strangely shaped pots and bright rags of carpets lie
about in picturesque disorder.

Amongst all this the half-naked black-eyed children crawl about in
happy freedom.

[Illustration: "IT IS ESPECIALLY IN THE DOBRUDJA THAT THESE DIFFERENT
NATIONALITIES JOSTLE TOGETHER" (p. 16).]

Never was I able to understand how such large families, without
counting fowls and many a four-footed friend, could find room in the
two minute chambers of which these huts are composed.

In winter these villages are covered with snow; each hut is a white
padded heap; all corners are rounded off so that every cottage has the
aspect of being packed in cotton-wool.

No efforts are made to clear away the drifts. The snow lies there where
it has fallen; the small sledges bump over its inequalities, forming
roads as wavy as a storm-beaten sea!

The Rumanian peasant is never in a hurry. Time plays no part in his
scheme of life. Accustomed to limitless horizons, he does not expect to
reach the end of his way in a day.

In summer the carts, in winter the sledges, move along those endless
roads, slowly, resignedly, with untiring patience.

Drawn by tiny, lean horses, the wooden sledges bump over the uneven
snow, the peasant sits half-hidden amongst his stacks of wood, hay,
or maize-stalks, according to the freight he may be transporting
from place to place. Picturesque in his rough sheep-skin coat, he is
just as picturesque in summer in his white shirt and broad felt hat,
contentedly lying upon his stacked-up corn, whilst his long-suffering
oxen trudge away, seemingly as indifferent as their master to the
length of the road. They are stone-grey, these oxen-lean, strong, with
large-spread horns; their eyes are beautiful, with almost human look.

The Rumanian road is a characteristic feature of the country. It is
wide, it is dusty, generally it is straight, few trees shading its
borders; mostly it is badly kept. But, like all things upon which
civilisation has not yet laid too heavy a hand, it has an indefinite
charm--the charm of immensity, something dreamy, something infinite,
something that need never come to an end....

And along these roads the peasants' carts crawl, one after another in
an endless file, enveloped in clouds of dust. If night overtake them on
the way the oxen are unyoked, the carts are drawn up beside the ditch,
till the rising dawn reminds them that there are still many miles to
their goal....

When it rains the dust turns to mud; the road becomes then a river of
mud!

Rumania is not a country of violent colours. There is a curious unity
in its large horizons, its dusty roads, its white-clad peasants, its
rough wooden carts. Even oxen and horses seem to have toned down to
grey or dun, so as to become one with a sort of dreamy haziness that
lies over the whole.

It is only the sunsets that turn all these shadowy tints into a sudden
marvel of colour, flooding earth and sky with wondrous gold. I have
seen hay-stacks change into fiery pyramids, rivers into burning
ribbons, and pale, tired faces light up with a marvellous glow.

A fleeting hour this hour of sunset, but each time it bursts upon me as
an eternally renewed promise sent by God above.

Perchance 'tis in winter and autumn that these sunsets are most
glorious, when the earth is tired, when its year's labour is done, or
when it is sleeping 'neath its shimmering shroud of snow, guarding in
its bosom the harvest that is to come.

       *       *       *       *       *

Very different are the mountain villages from those of the plain.
The cottages are less miserable, less small, the thatched roofs are
replaced by roofs of shingle that shine like silver in the sun. Richer
and more varied are the peasants' costumes; the colours are brighter,
and often a tiny flower-filled garden surrounds the house.

Autumn is the season to visit these villages amongst the hills; autumn,
when the trees are a flaming glory, when the dying year sends out a
last effort of beauty before being vanquished by frost and snow.

Many a hearty welcome has been given me in these little villages, the
peasants receiving me with flower-filled hands. At the first sign of my
carriage, troops of rustic riders gallop out to meet me, scampering
helter-skelter on their shaggy little horses, bearing banners or
flowering branches, shouting with delight. Full tilt they fly after my
carriage, raising clouds of dust. Like their masters, the ponies are
wild with excitement; all is noise, colour, movement; joy runs wild
over the earth.

The bells of the village ring, their voices are full of gladness, they
too cry out their welcome. Crowds of gaily clad women and children
flock out of the houses, having plundered their gardens so as to strew
flowers before the feet of their Queen.

The church generally stands in the middle of the village; here the
sovereign must leave her carriage, and, surrounded by an eager, happy
crowd, she is led towards the sanctuary, where the priest receives her
at the door, cross in hand.

Wherever she moves the crowd moves with her; there is no awkwardness,
no shyness, but neither is there any pushing or crushing. The Rumanian
peasants remain dignified; they are seldom rowdy in their joy. They
want to look at one, to touch one, to hear one's voice; but they show
no astonishment and little curiosity. Mostly their expression remains
serious, and their children stare at one with grave faces and huge,
impressive eyes.

It is only the galloping riders who become loud in their joy.

[Illustration: "IT HAD KEPT THE DELIGHTFUL APPEARANCE OF HAVING BEEN
MODELLED BY A POTTER'S THUMB" (p. 21).]

[Illustration: "PRIMITIVE STRONGHOLDS, HALF TOWER, HALF PEASANT-HOUSE"
(p. 21).]

[Illustration: "RICHER AND MORE VARIED ARE THE PEASANTS' COSTUMES" (p.
13).]

[Illustration: "WITH AN OPEN GALLERY ROUND THE TOP FORMED BY STOUT
SHORT COLUMNS" (p. 21).]

[Illustration: "COMPOSED OF A DOUBLE COLONNADE.... BEHIND THESE
COLONNADES ARE THE NUNS' SMALL CELLS: TINY DOMES, LITTLE CHAMBERS" (p.
26).]

There are some strange customs amongst the peasants, curious
superstitions. Rumania being a dry country, it is lucky to arrive with
rain: it means abundance, fertility, the hope of a fine harvest--wealth.

Sometimes as I went through the villages, the peasant women would put
large wooden buckets full of water before their threshold; a full
vessel is a sign of Good-luck. They will even sprinkle water before
one's feet, always because of that strange superstition, that water is
abundance, and, when the great one comes amongst them, honour must be
done unto her in every way.

I have seen tall, handsome girls step out of their houses to meet me
with overflowing water-jars on their heads; on my approach they stood
quite still, the drops splashing over their faces so as well to prove
that their pitchers were full.

It is lucky to meet a cart full of corn or straw coming towards one;
but an empty cart is a sure sign of Ill-luck!

Many a time, in places I came to, the inhabitants have crowded around
me, kissing my hands, the hem of my dress, falling down to kiss my
feet, and more than once have they brought me their children, who made
the Sign of the Cross before me as though I had been the holy Image in
a church.

At first it was difficult unblushingly to accept such homage, but
little by little I got accustomed to these loyal manifestations; half
humble, half proud, I would advance amongst them, happy to be in their
midst.

       *       *       *       *       *

It were impossible to describe all I have seen, heard, or felt whilst
moving amongst these simple, warm-hearted people; so many vivid
pictures, so many touching scenes have remained imprinted on my heart.
I have wandered through villages lost in forsaken spots, upon burning
plains; I have climbed up to humble little houses clustering together
on mountain-sides. I have come upon lovely little places hidden amongst
giant pines. On forlorn seashores I have discovered humble hamlets
where Turks dwelt in solitary aloofness; near the broad Danube I have
strayed amongst tiny boroughs inhabited by Russian fisher-folk, whose
type is so different from that of the Rumanian peasant. At first sight
one recognises their nationality--tall, fair-bearded giants, with blue
eyes, their red shirts visible from a great way off.

It is especially in the Dobrudja that these different nationalities
jostle together: besides Rumanians, Bulgarians, Turks, Tartars,
Russians, in places even Germans, live peacefully side by side.

I have been to a village in the Dobrudja which was part Rumanian, part
Russian, part German, part Turkish. I went from one side to another,
visiting many a cottage, entering each church, ending my round in
the tiny rustic mosque hung with faded carpets, and there amongst a
crowd of lowly Turks I listened to their curious service, of which I
understood naught. A woman who is not veiled has no right to enter the
holy precinct; but a royal name opens many a door, and many a severe
rule is broken in the joy of receiving so unusual a guest.

On a burning summer's day I came to a tiny town almost entirely
inhabited by Turks. I was distributing money amongst the poor and
forsaken, and had been moving from place to place. Now it was the turn
of the Mussulman population, therefore did I visit the most wretched
quarters, my hands filled with many a coin.

Such was their joy at my coming that the real object of my visit was
almost forgotten. I found myself surrounded by a swarm of excited women
in strange attire, prattling a language I could not understand.

They called me Sultana, and each one wanted to touch me; they fingered
my clothes, patted me on the back, one old hag even chucked me under
the chin. They drew me with them from hut to hut, from court to court.
I found myself separated from my companions, wandering in a world
I had never known. Amongst a labyrinth of tiny mud-built huts, of
ridiculously small gardens, of hidden little courts, did they drag
me with them, making me enter their hovels, put my hand on their
children, sit down on their stools. Like a swarm of crows they
jabbered and fought over me, asking me questions, overwhelming me with
kind wishes, to all of which I could answer but with a shrug of the
shoulders and with smiles.

The poorer Mussulman women are not really veiled. They wear wide
cotton trousers, and over these a sort of mantle which they hold
together under the nose. The shape of these mantles gives them that
indescribable line, so agreeable to the eye, and which alone belongs to
the East. Also the colours they choose are always harmonious; besides,
they are toned down to their surroundings by sun and dust. They wear
strange dull blues and mauves--even their blacks are not really black,
but have taken rusty tints that mingle pleasingly with the mud-coloured
environment in which they dwell.

When attired for longer excursions, their garb is generally black,
with a snow-white cloth on their heads, wrapped in such manner that it
conceals the entire face, except the eyes.

Indescribably picturesque and mysterious are these dusky figures when
they come towards one, grazing the walls, generally carrying a heavy
staff in their hands; there is something biblical about them, something
that takes one back to far-away times!

On this hot summer's morn of which I am relating, I managed to escape
for a moment from my over-amiable assailants, so as to steal into a
tiny hut of which the door stood wide open.

[Illustration: "A CONVENT ... WHITE AND LONELY, HIDDEN AWAY IN WOODED
REGIONS GREENER AND SWEETER THAN ANY OTHER IN THE LAND" (p. 25).]

Irresistibly attracted by its mysterious shade, I penetrated into the
mud-made hovel, finding myself in almost complete darkness. At the
farther end a wee window let in a small ray of light.

Groping my way, I came upon a pallet of rags, and upon that couch of
misery I discovered an old, old woman--so old, so old, that she might
have existed in the time of fairies and witches, times no more in touch
with the bustle and noise of to-day.

Bending over her, I gazed into her shrunken face, and all the legends
of my youth seemed to rise up before me, all the stories that as a
child, entranced, I had listened to, stories one never forgets....

Above her, hanging from a rusty nail within reach of her hand, was a
curiously shaped black earthenware pot. Everything around this old hag
was the colour of the earth: her face, her dwelling, the rags that
covered her, the floor on which I stood. The only touch of light in
this hovel was a white lamb, crouching quite undisturbed at the foot of
her bed.

Pressing some money between her crooked bony fingers, I left this
strange old mortal to her snowy companion, and, stepping back into the
sunshine, I had the sensation that for an instant it had been given me
to stray through unnumbered ages into the days of yore.

From the beginning of time Rumania was a land subjected to invasions.
One tyrannical master after another laid heavy hands upon its people;
it was accustomed to be dominated, crushed, maltreated. Seldom was it
allowed to affirm itself, to raise its head, to be independent, happy,
or free; nevertheless, in spite of struggles and slavery, it was not a
people destined to disappear. It overcame every hardship, stood every
misery, endured every subjugation, could not be crushed out of being;
but the result is that the Rumanian folk are not gay.

Their songs are sad, their dances slow, their amusements are seldom
boisterous, rarely are their voices loud. On festive days they don
their gayest apparel and, crowded together in the dust of the road,
they will dance in groups or in wide circles, tirelessly, for many
an hour; but even then they are not often joyful or loud, they are
solemn and dignified, seeming to take their amusement demurely, without
passion, without haste.

Their love-songs are long complaints; the tunes they play on their
flutes wail out endlessly their longing and desire that appear to
remain eternally unsatisfied, to contain no hope, no fulfilment.

For the same reason few very old houses exist; there is hardly a castle
or a great monument remaining from out the past. What was the use of
building fine habitations if any day the enemy might sweep over the
country and burn everything to the ground?

One or two strange old constructions have been preserved from those
times of invasion: square, high buildings with an open gallery round
the top formed by stout short columns, and here and there, in the
immense thickness of the walls, tiny windows as look-outs. Primitive
strongholds, half tower, half peasant-house, they generally stand
somewhat isolated and resemble nothing I have seen in other lands.

I have lived in one of these strange houses. The gallery, that once was
a buttress, had been turned into a balcony, and from between the squat
pillars a lovely view was to be had over hill and plain. The rooms
beneath were small, low, irregular, behind great thick walls; a wooded
staircase as steep as a ladder led to these chambers.

Both outside and inside the building was whitewashed, and so primitive
was its construction, that it had kept the delightful appearance of
having been modelled by a potter's thumb. There were no sharp angles,
but something rounded and uneven about its corners that no modern
dwelling can possess. The whole was crowned by a broad roof of shingle,
grey, with silver lights.

But it is the old convents and monasteries of this country that have
above all guarded treasure from out the past.

From the very first these secluded spots of beauty attracted me more
than anything else; indescribable is the spell that they throw over
me, almost inexplicable the delight with which they fill my soul!

As in many other countries, the Rumanian monks and nuns knew how to
select the most enchanting places for their homes of peace.

I have wandered from one to another, discovering many a hidden
treasure, visiting the richest and the poorest, those easy of access
and those hidden away in mountain valleys, where the traveller's foot
but rarely strays.

Some I was only able to reach on horseback, having climbed over hill
and dale, up or down stony passes, followed by troops of white-clad
peasants, mounted on shaggy, dishevelled ponies, sure-footed as
mountain-goats.

Once at dusk, after a whole day's riding over the mountains, I came
quite suddenly upon one of these far-away sanctuaries, whitewashed,
strangely picturesque, half-hidden amongst pines and venerable
beech-trees with trunks like giants turned suddenly to stone--giants
that in their last agony are twisting their arms in useless despair.

On my approach the bells began ringing--their clear and strident voices
proclaiming their joy to the skies.

I rode through the covered portal into the walled-in court. Before I
could dismount I was surrounded by a dark swarm of nuns making humble
gestures of greeting, crossing themselves, falling to their knees, and
pressing their foreheads against the stones on the ground, catching
hold of my hands or part of my garment, which they kissed, whilst they
cried and murmured, mumbling many a prayer.

[Illustration: "THIS PORCH IS DECORATED ALL OVER WITH FRESCOES" (p.
26).]

[Illustration: "SOME WERE SO OLD, SO BENT, THAT THEY COULD NO MORE
RAISE THEIR HEADS TO LOOK UP AT THE SKY ABOVE" (p. 28).]

[Illustration: "STRANGE OLD MONKS INHABITED IT" (p. 27).]

[Illustration: "SILENT RECLUSES, BURIED AWAY FROM THE WORLD" (p. 27).]

Dazed by such a welcome, I was seized under the elbow by the mother
abbess, a venerable, tottering old woman, whose face was seared by age
as a field is furrowed by the plough.

Half leading me, half hanging on to me for support, she conducted me
towards the open church-door. From time to time she would furtively
kiss my shoulder, and in a sort of lowly ecstasy press her old, old
face close to mine.

All the other nuns trooped after us like a flock of black-plumed birds,
their dark veils waving about in the wind, the bells still ringing in
peals of delight!

Within the dim sanctuary the lighted tapers were as swarms of
fire-flies in a dusk-filled forest; the nuns grouped themselves along
the walls, their dark dresses becoming one with the shadow, so that
alone their faces stood out, rendered almost ethereal by the wavering
candle-light.

They were chanting--fain would I say that their singing was beautiful,
but that were scarcely the truth! Not as in Russia, the chanting in
the Rumanian churches is far from melodious--they drone through the
nose longdrawn, oft-repeated chants, anything but harmonious, and which
seemingly have no reason ever to come to an end.

But somehow, that evening, in the forlorn mountain convent far from
the homes of men, there, in the low-domed chapel, filled with those
sable-clad figures whose earnest faces were almost angelic in the
mystical light, the weird sounds that rose towards the roof were not
out of place. There was something old-time about them, something
archaic, primitive, in keeping with the somewhat barbaric paintings and
images, something that seemed to have strayed down from past ages into
the busier world of to-day....

More pompous were the receptions I received in the larger monasteries.

Here all the monks would file out to meet me--a procession of
black-robed, long-bearded beings, austere of appearance, sombre of face.

Taking me by the arm, the Father Superior would solemnly lead me
towards the gaily decorated church, whilst many little children would
throw flowers before me as I passed.

Not over-severe are the monastic rules in Rumania. The convent-doors
are open to all visitors; in former days they were houses of rest for
travellers wandering from place to place.

Three days' hospitality did the holy walls offer to those passing that
way; this was the ancient custom, and now in many places monks or nuns
are allowed to let their little houses to those in need of a summer's
rest. This, however, is only possible where the convents are real
little villages, where more or less each recluse possesses his own
small house.

There are two kinds of convents in this country: either a large
building where all the monks or nuns are united beneath the same roof,
or a quantity of tiny houses grouped in a large square round the
central church.

The former alone are architecturally interesting, and some I have
visited are exquisitely perfect in proportion and shape.

One of these convents above all others draws me towards it, for
irresistible indeed is its charm.

A convent ... white and lonely, hidden away in wooded regions greener
and sweeter than any other in the land. Perfect is the form of its
church, snow-white the colonnades that surround its tranquil court.
A charm and a mystery envelop it, such as nowhere else have I felt.
Sober are its sculptures, but an indescribable harmony makes its lines
beautiful, and such a peace pervades the place that here I felt as
though I had truly found the house of rest....

Whenever I go there the nuns receive me with touching delight, half
astonished that one so high should care about so simple a place. I go
there often, whenever I can, for it has thrown a strange spell over me,
and often again must I return to its whitewashed walls.

The building forms a quadrangle round the church, three sides of which
are composed of a double colonnade, built one above the other, the
upper one forming an open gallery running round the whole. Behind these
colonnades are the nuns' small cells: tiny domes, little chambers,
whitewashed, humble, and still....

Large is the church, noble of line, rich of sculpture, fronted by a
large, covered porch supported by stone pillars richly carved. Like
the interior of the building, this porch is decorated all over with
frescoes, artless of conception, archaic of design, and harmonious, the
colour having been toned down by the hand of time.

Within, the church is high, dim, mystical, entirely painted with
strange-faced saints, who stare at one as though astonished to be
disturbed out of their lonely silence and peace.

Many a treasure lies within these walls: ancient images, crumbling
tombstones, a marvellously carved altar-screen, gilt and painted with
incomparable skill, all the colours faded and blended together by the
master of all arts--Time.

In shadowy corners, heavily chased lamps, hanging on chains from above,
shed a mysterious light upon silver-framed icons, polished by many a
pious kiss. In truth a holy sanctuary, inducing the spirit to soar
above the things of this earth....

[Illustration: "AN INDESCRIBABLE HARMONY MAKES ITS LINES BEAUTIFUL"
(p. 25).]

The fourth side of the quadrangle is shut in by a high wall, with a
door in the centre opening upon a narrow path that leads towards a
second smaller temple, as perfect in shape as the greater building of
the inner court. Here the nuns are buried; an idyllic spot enclosed by
crumbling walls that wild rose-bushes, covered with delicate blooms,
hold together by their long thorny arms. The strangely shaped wooden
crosses that mark the graves stand amidst high, waving grass and
venerable apple-trees that age seems to incline tenderly towards those
slumbering beneath the sod at their feet.

All round--beech forests upon low, undulating hills; as background to
these, mountains--blue, hazy, unreachable, forming a barrier against
the outside world....

A place of beauty, a place of rest, a place of peace....

Many sites of beauty rise before my eyes when I think of these hidden
houses of prayer. Countless is the number I have visited in all four
corners of the land, and again I turn my feet towards them whenever I
can.

Hard were it to say which are the more picturesque, the convents or the
monasteries; both are equally interesting, equally quaint.

I remember a small monastery, nestling beneath the sides of a frowning
mountain, surrounded by pine forests, dark and mysterious. The way
leading there was tortuous, stony, difficult of access, yet the place
itself was a small meadow-encircled paradise of tranquillity, green and
reposeful as a dream of rest.

Strange old monks inhabited it--silent recluses, buried away from
the world, shadowy spectres, almost sinister in their aloofness,
their eyes having taken the look of forest-dwellers who are no more
accustomed to look into the eyes of men.

Noiselessly they followed me wherever I went, heads bent, but their
eyes watching me from beneath shaggy brows, their hands concealed
within their wide hanging sleeves; it was as though dark shadows were
dogging my every step.

I turned round and looked into their obscure faces--how far-away they
seemed! Who were they? What was their story? what had been their
childhood, their hopes, their loves? For the most part, I think, they
were but humble, ignorant beings, with no wider ideals, no far-away
visions of higher things. Some were so old, so bent that they could no
more raise their heads to look up at the sky above; their long, grey
beards had taken on the appearance of lichens growing upon fallen trees.

But one there was amongst them, tall and upright, with the pale,
ascetic face of a saint. I know not his name, naught of his past; but
he had a noble visage, and meseemed that in his eyes I could read
dreams that were not only the dreams of this earth.

I cannot, alas! speak of all the convents I have seen, but one I must
still mention, for indeed it is a rare little spot upon earth.

Hidden within the mouth of a cavern, lost in the wildest mountain
region, there lies a tiny wee church, so small, so small that one must
bend one's head to step over the threshold; it appears to be a toy,
dropped there by some giant hand and forgotten. Only a tiny little
wooden chapel guarded by a few hoary old monks, creatures so old and
decrepit that they seem to have gathered moss like stones lying for
ever in the same place....

No road leads to this sanctuary; one must seek one's way to it on foot
or horseback, over mountain steeps and precipitous rocks. There it lies
in the dark cave entry, solitary, grey, and ancient, like a hidden
secret waiting to be found out.

Behind the wee church the hollow stretches, dark and tortuous, running
in mysterious obscurity right into the heart of the earth. When the end
is reached a gurgling of water is heard--a spring, ice-cold, bubbles
there out of the earth, pure and fresh as the sources in the Garden of
Eden....

I have known of passionate lovers coming to be married in this church,
defying the hardships of the road, defying nature's frowning barriers,
so as to be bound together for life in this far-away spot where crowds
cannot gather.

On the way to this church, not far from the mouth of the cave, stands
a lonely little cemetery, filled with crosses of wood. Here the monks
who have lived out their solitary lives are finally laid to eternal
rest. Dark are those crosses, standing like spectres against the naked
rock. The summer suns scorch them, the winds of autumn beat them
about, and ofttimes the snows of winter fell them to the ground. But in
spring-time early crocuses and delicate anemones cluster around them,
gathering in fragrant bunches about their feet.

Meseems that, in spite of its solitude, it would not be sad to be
buried in such a spot....

       *       *       *       *       *

Once I was riding through the melting snow. The road I was following,
like all Rumanian roads, was long, long, endlessly long, dwindling away
in the distance, becoming one with the colourless sky.

It was a day of depression, a day of thaw, when the world is at its
worst.

All around me the flat plains lay waiting for something that did not
come. The landscape appeared to be without horizon, to possess no
frontiers: all was dully uniform, without life, without light, without
joy. Silence lay over the earth--silence and dismal repose.

With loose reins and hanging heads my horse and I trudged along through
the slush. We were going nowhere in particular; a sort of torpor of
indifference had come over us, well in keeping with the melancholy of
the day.

A damp fog hung like a faded veil close over the earth; it was not a
dense fog, but wavered about like steam.

[Illustration: "A LONELY LITTLE CEMETERY, FILLED WITH CROSSES OF WOOD"
(p. 29).]

[Illustration: "ON LONELY MOUNTAIN-SIDES" (p. 35).]

[Illustration: "GUARDED BY A FEW HOARY OLD MONKS" (p. 29).]

[Illustration: "THERE LIES A TINY WEE CHURCH" (p. 28).]

[Illustration: "TALL AND UPRIGHT, WITH THE PALE, ASCETIC FACE OF A
SAINT" (p. 28).]

[Illustration: "CREATURES SO OLD AND DECREPIT THAT THEY SEEM TO HAVE
GATHERED MOSS LIKE STONES LYING FOR EVER IN THE SAME PLACE" (p. 29).]

[Illustration: "WHEN FOUND IN SUCH NUMBERS THEY ARE MOSTLY HEWN OUT OF
WOOD" (p. 34).]

[Illustration: "THESE STRANGE OLD CROSSES.... THEY STAND BY THE
WAY-SIDE" (p. 33).]

All of a sudden, I heard a weird sound coming towards me out of the
distance, something the like of which I had never heard before....

Drawing in my reins, I stood still at the edge of the road wondering
what I was to see.

Unexpected indeed was the procession that, like a strange dream, was
coming towards me from out the mist!

Wading through the melting snow advanced two small boys, carrying
between them a round tin platter on which lay a flat cake; behind them
came an old priest carrying a cross in his hand, gaudily attired in
faded finery--red, gold and blue. His heavy vestment was all splashed
and soiled, his long hair and unkempt beard were dirty-grey, like the
road upon which he walked. A sad old man, with no expression but that
of misery upon his yellow shrunken face.

Close behind his heels followed a rough wooden cart drawn by oxen whose
noses almost touched the ground; their breath formed small clouds about
their heads, through which their eyes shone with patient anxiety.

It was from this cart that the weird sound was rising. What could it
be? Then all at once I understood!

A plain deal coffin had been placed in the middle of the cart; seated
around it were a number of old women, wailing and weeping, raising
their voices in a dismal chant, that rang like a lament through the
air. Their white hair was dishevelled, and their black veils floated
around them like thin wisps of smoke.

Behind the cart walked four old gipsies playing doleful tunes upon
their squeaky violins, whilst the women's voices took up the refrain in
another key. Never had I heard dirge more mournful, nor more lugubrious
a noise. Pressing after the gipsies came a knot of barefooted
relatives, holding lighted tapers in their hands. The tiny flames
looked almost ashamed of burning so dimly in the melancholy daylight.

In passing, these weary mortals raised pale faces, looking at me with
mournful eyes that expressed no astonishment. Through the gloomy mist
they appeared to be so many ghosts, come from nowhere, going towards
I know not what. Like shadows they passed and were gone; ... but
through the gathering fog the wailing came back to haunt me, curiously
persistent, as though the dead from his narrow coffin were calling for
help....

Long after this strange vision had disappeared, I stood gazing at the
road where traces of their feet had remained imprinted upon the melted
snow. Had it all been but an hallucination, created by the melancholy
of the day?

As I turned my horse I was confronted by a shadow looming large at a
little distance down the road. What could it be? Was this a day of
weird apparitions?

It was not without difficulty that I induced my horse to approach the
spot; verily, I think that sometimes horses see ghosts!...

On nearing, I perceived that what had frightened my mount was naught
but a tall stone cross. Monumental, moss-grown, and mysterious, it
stood all alone like a guardian keeping eternal watch over the road.
From its outstretched arms great drops were falling to the ground like
heavy tears....

Was the old cross weeping--weeping because a lovely funeral had passed
that way?...

       *       *       *       *       *

I must talk a little about these strange old crosses that on all roads
I have come upon, that I have met with in every part of the country.

As yet I have not quite fathomed their meaning--but I love them, they
seem so well in keeping with the somewhat melancholy character of the
land.

Generally they stand by the wayside, sometimes in stately solitude,
sometimes in groups; sometimes they are of quaintly carved stone,
sometimes they are of wood, crudely painted with figures of archaic
saints.

No doubt these pious monuments have been raised to mark the places of
some event; perhaps the death of some hero, or only the murder of a
lonely traveller who was not destined to reach the end of his road....

Mostly they stand beside wells, bearing the names of those who, having
thought of the thirsty, erected these watering-places in far-away spots.

Quaint of shape, they attract the eye from far; the peasant uncovers
his head before them, murmuring a prayer for the dead.

At cross-roads I have sometimes come upon them ten in a row; when found
in such numbers they are mostly hewn out of wood. Their forms and sizes
are varied: some are immensely high and solid, covered by queer shingle
roofs; often their design is intricate, several crosses, growing one
out of another, forming a curious pattern, the whole painted in the
crudest colours that sun and rain soon tone down to pleasant harmony.

Protected by their greater companions, many little crosses crowd
alongside: round crosses and square crosses, crosses that are slim and
upright, crosses that seem humbly to bend towards the ground....

On lonely roads these rustic testimonies of Faith are curiously
fascinating. One wonders what vows were made when they were placed
there by pious hands and believing hearts.

But, above all, the carved crosses of stone attract me. I have
discovered them in all sorts of places; some are of rare beauty,
covered with inscriptions entangled in wonderful designs.

[Illustration: "MOSTLY THEY STAND BESIDE WELLS" (p. 34).]

I have come upon them on bare fields, on the edges of dusty roads, on
the borders of dark forests, on lonely mountain-sides. I have found
them on forsaken waters by the sea, where the gulls circled around them
caressing them gently with the tips of their wings.

Many a mile have I ridden so as to have another look at these
mysterious symbols, for always anew they fill my soul with an intense
desire for tranquillity; they are so solemnly impressive, so silent, so
still....

One especially was dear to my heart. It stood all alone in dignified
solitude upon a barren field, frowning down upon a tangle of thistles
that twisted their thorny stems beneath the shade of its arms.

I know not its history, nor why it was watching over so lonely a place;
it appeared to have been there from the beginning of time. Tired of its
useless vigil, it was leaning slightly on one side, and at dusk its
shadow strangely resembled the shadow of a man.

       *       *       *       *       *

Nothing is more touchingly picturesque than the village cemeteries: the
humbler they are the more do they delight the artist's eye.

Often they are placed round the village church, but sometimes they lie
quite apart. I always seek them out, loving to wander through their
poetical desolation--feeling so far, so far from the noise and haste
of our turbulent world.

Certainly these little burial-grounds are not tended and cared for
as in tidier lands. The graves are scattered about amidst weeds and
nettles, sometimes thistles grow so thickly about the crosses that they
half hide them from sight. But in spring-time, before the grass is
high, I have found some of them nearly buried in daffodils and irises
running riot all over the place. The shadowy crosses look down upon all
that wealth of colour as though wondering if God Himself had adorned
their forsaken graves.

The Rumanian peasant is averse from any unnecessary effort. What must
happen happens, what must fall falls. Therefore, if a cross is broken,
why try to set it up again?--let it lie! the grass will cover it, the
flowers will cluster in its place.

On Good Friday morning I was roaming through one of these village
churchyards. To my astonishment I found that nearly every grave was
lighted with a tiny thin taper, the flame of which burnt palely,
incapable of vying with the light of the sun. Lying beside these
ghostly little lights were broken fragments of pottery filled with
smouldering ashes, that sent thin spirals of blue smoke into the
tranquil spring air. On this day of mourning the living come to do
honour to their dead according to their customs, according to their
Faith.

A strange sight indeed! all those wavering little flames amongst the
crumbling graves. Often did I find a candle standing on a spot where
all vestige of the grave itself had been entirely effaced; but it stood
there burning bravely--some one remembering that just beneath that very
inch of ground a heart had been laid to rest.

An old woman I found that morning standing quite still beside one of
those tapers--a taper so humble and thin that it could scarcely remain
upright--but with crossed arms the old mother was watching it, as
though silently accomplishing some rite.

Approaching her, I looked to see of what size was the grave she was
guarding, but could perceive no grave at all! The yellow little taper
was humbly standing beside a bunch of anemones. All that once had been
a tomb had long since been trodden into the ground.

The cloth round the old woman's head was white, white as the blossoming
cherry-trees that made gay this little garden of God; white were also
the flowers that grew beside the old woman's offering of love.

"Who is buried there?" I asked.

"One of my own," was her answer. "She was my daughter's little
daughter; now she is at rest."

"Why is the grave no more to be seen?" was my next inquiry.

For all answer a shrug of the shoulders, and the dim eyes looked into
mine; complete resignation was what I read in their depths.

"What is the use of keeping a grave tidy if the priest of the village
allows his oxen to graze about amidst the tombs?"

I looked at her in astonishment. "Could not such disorder be put a stop
to?"

Again a shrug of the shoulders. "Who is there to put a stop to it? The
cattle must have somewhere to feed!"

I saw that she considered it quite natural, and that which lay beneath
the ground could verily be indifferent to those passing hoofs, as long
as on Good Friday some one remembered to burn a taper over her heart!

On Good Friday night, long services are celebrated in every church or
chapel in the land.

Full of mystical charm are those peasant gatherings round their humble
houses of prayer. Men, women, and children flock together, each one
bearing a light. Those who find no place within stand outside in
patient crowds.

A lovely picture indeed.

From each church window the light streams forth, whilst weird chants
float out to those waiting beyond. In front of the sanctuary hundreds
of wavering little flames, lighting up the visages of those who, with
ecstatic faces, are hearkening for sounds of the service that is being
celebrated within.

Custom will have it that, on Good Friday nights, flowers shall be
brought by the worshippers--flowers that are reverently laid upon an
embroidered effigy of the crucified Christ which is placed on a table
in the centre of the church.

[Illustration: "QUAINT OF SHAPE, THEY ATTRACT THE EYE FROM FAR" (p.
34).]

[Illustration: "SOMETIMES THEY ARE OF QUAINTLY CARVED STONE" (p. 33).]

[Illustration: "STRANGE OLD CROSSES THAT ON ALL ROADS I HAVE COME UPON"
(p. 33).]

[Illustration: "THEIR FORMS AND SIZES ARE VARIED" (p. 34).]

[Illustration: "NONE OF THE GREATER BUILDINGS ATTRACT ME SO STRONGLY AS
THOSE LITTLE VILLAGE CHURCHES" (p. 40).]

[Illustration: "THE ALTAR IS SHUT OFF FROM THE REST OF THE BUILDING BY
A CARVED AND PAINTED SCREEN" (p. 42).]

Each believer brings what he can: a scrap of green, a branch of
blossoms, a handful of hyacinths, making the night sweet with their
perfume, or a bunch of simple violets gathered along the wayside--first
dear messengers of spring.

When the service is over, in long processions the worshippers return to
their homes, one and all carefully shading the tapers, for it is lucky
to bring them lighted back to the house.

No more light shines now from the church windows; all is swathed in
darkness; the church itself stands out a huge mass of shade against the
sky.

But the graveyard beyond is a garden of light! Have all the stars
fallen from the heavens to console those lying beneath the sod? or is
it only the tiny tapers still bravely burning, burning for the dead?...

       *       *       *       *       *

There are some wonderful old churches in the country, stately
buildings, rich and venerable, full of treasures carefully preserved
from out the past.

I have visited all these churches, inquiring into their history,
admiring their perfect proportions, closely examining their costly
embroideries, their carvings, their silver lamps, their enamelled
crosses, their Bibles bound in gold.

But, in spite of their beauty, none of the greater buildings attract me
so strongly as those little village churches I have hunted up in the
far-away corners of the land.

One part of the country is especially rich in these quaint little
buildings: it is a part I dearly love. No railway desecrates its
tranquil valleys, no modern improvement has destroyed its simple
charm. Here the hand of civilisation has marred no original beauty;
no well-meaning painter has touched up the faded frescoes on ancient
walls. A corner of the earth that has preserved its personality; being
difficult to reach, it has remained unchanged, unspoilt.

The axe has not felled its glorious forests, the enterprising
speculator has built no hideous hotels, no places of entertainment;
no monstrous advertisements disfigure its green meadows, its fertile
inclines.

Therefore, also, have the tiniest little churches been preserved.
They lie scattered about in quite unlikely places; perched on steep
hill-tops, hidden in wooded valleys, often reflecting their quaint
silhouettes in rivers flowing at their base.

Seen from afar, tall fir-trees, planted like sentinels before their
porches, are the sign-posts marking the sites where they stand. The
churches behind are so diminutive that from a distance the trees alone
are to be seen.

These fir-trees seemed to beckon to me, promising that I should find
treasures hidden at their feet--they stand out darkly distinct in the
landscape, for it is a region where the forests are of beeches, not of
pines.

Often I wandered miles to reach them, over stony paths, over muddy
ground, through turbulent little streams and endless inclines, and
never was I disappointed; the dark sentinels never called me in vain.
The most lovely little buildings have I discovered in these far-away
places.

Some were all of wood, warm in colour, like newly baked brown bread,
their enormous roofs giving them the appearance of giant mushrooms
growing in fertile ground.

There is generally a belfry on the top, but with some the belfry stands
by itself in front of the church, and is mostly deliciously quaint of
shape.

Indescribable is the colour the old wood takes on. It is always in
harmony with its background, with its surroundings; be it on a green
meadow, or against dark pines, be it in spring-time half concealed
behind apple-trees in full bloom, be it in autumn when the trees that
enclose it are all golden and russet and red.

The wood is dark-brown, with grey lights that are sometimes silver.
Green moss often pads the chinks between the beams, giving the whole a
soft velvety appearance that satisfies the eye.

Within, these rustic sanctuaries are toy copies of larger models;
everything is tiny, but disposed in the same way. In orthodox churches
the altar is shut off from the rest of the building by a carved and
painted screen that nearly touches the roof, and is generally crowned
by an enormous cross. At the lower part of these separations are the
pictures of the most venerated saints. There are three small doors in
these screens; during part of the service these doors remain closed.

Women have no right to penetrate within the Holy of Holies behind the
screen.

Beautiful icons have I sometimes found in these forsaken little
churches, carried there no doubt from greater ones when so-called
improvements banished from their renovated walls the old-time treasures
forthwith considered too shabby or too defaced.

Well do I remember one evening, after having climbed an endless way,
I came at last to the foot of the pine-trees that had beckoned to me
from afar, and how I reached the open door of the sanctuary at the very
moment when the sun was going down.

The day had been wet, but this last hour before dusk was trying by its
beauty to make up for earlier frowns.

The villagers, having guessed my intentions, had sent an old peasant
to open the church. As I approached, the sound of a bell reached me,
tolling its greeting into the evening air.

[Illustration: "THE ROOFS ARE ALWAYS OF SHINGLE" (p. 44).]

The last rays of the sun were lying golden on the building as I reached
the door. Like dancing flames they had penetrated inside, spreading
their glorious light over the humble interior, surrounding the saints'
painted effigies with luminous haloes.

It was a wondrous sight!

On the threshold stood an old peasant, all in white, his hands full of
flowering cherry-branches, which he offered me as he bent down to kiss
the hem of my gown.

Within, the old man's loving fingers had lit many lights, and the same
blossoms had been piously laid around the holiest of the icons, the one
that each believer must kiss on entering the church.

The sunlight outshone the little tapers, but they seemed to promise to
continue its glory to the best of their ability when the great parent
should have gone to rest.... Sitting down in a shadowy corner, I let
the marvellous peace of the place penetrate my soul, let the charm of
this holy house envelop me like a veil of rest.

The sun had disappeared; now the little lights stood out, sharp points
of brightness against the invading dusk.

Hard it was indeed to tear myself away; but time, being no respecter of
human emotions, moves on!

Outside the door an enormous stone cross stood like a ghost, its head
lost amongst the snowy branches of a tree in full bloom. This cross was
almost as high as the church....

Varied indeed are the shapes of these peasant churches. When they
are not of wood, like those I have just described, they are mostly
whitewashed, their principal feature being the stout columns that
support the porch in front. There is hardly a Rumanian church without
this front porch; it gives character to the whole; it is the principal
source of decoration. Sometimes the columns have beautiful carved
capitals of rarest design; sometimes they are but solid pillars,
whitewashed like the rest of the church.

Quaint indeed are the buildings that some simple-hearted artist has
painted all over with emaciated, brightly robed saints. I have seen
the strangest decorations of this sort: whole processions of archaic
figures in stiff attitudes illustrating events out of their holy lives.
Then the front columns are also painted, often with quite lovely
designs, closely resembling Persian patterns in old blues and reds and
browns.

The roofs are always of shingle, with broad advancing eaves of most
characteristic shape.

A church have I seen in the middle of a maize field. The roof had
fallen in, the walls were cracked, in places crumbling away, tall
sunflowers peeped in at its paneless windows, and the birds built their
nests amongst the beams of its ruined vaults. Pitiable it was, indeed,
to contemplate such desolation; yet never had I seen a more magical
sight.

The walls were still covered with frescoes, the colours almost
unspoilt; the richly carved altar-screen still showed signs of gilding;
hardly defaced were its many little pictures of saints. The stalwart
pillars separating one part from the other stood strong and untouched
except that in parts their plaster coating had crumbled away.

Quite unique was the charm of that ruin. The blue sky above was its
roof, and the solemn saints stared down from the walls as if demanding
why no kindly hand was raised to protect their fragile beauty from
storm and rain.

I know not why such a treasure was allowed to fall to pieces--perchance
there is no time to look after old ruins in a country where so much
has still to be done! Indeed, the church was rarely fascinating, thus
exposed to the light of the day, yet distressing was the thought that,
if not soon covered in, the lovely frescoes would entirely fall away.

There was a figure of the Holy Virgin that especially attracted my
attention; she stared at me from her golden background with large,
pathetic eyes. Upon her knees the Child Christ sat, stiffly upright,
one hand raised in blessing; the child was tiny, with a strange pale
countenance and eyes much too large for its face.

I could not tear myself away from this forsaken place of prayer; again
and again I made the round of it, absorbing into my soul the picture it
made.

At last I left it, but many times did I turn round to have a last look.

The sunflowers stood in tall groups, their heads bent towards the
church as though trying to look inside; a flight of snow-white doves
circled about it, their spotless wings flashing in the light. It was
the last I saw of it--the ruined walls, and, floating above them, those
snow-white doves.

       *       *       *       *       *

Much more would I delight to relate about these little churches. For me
the topic is full of unending charm; but there are many things that I
must still talk about, so regretfully I turn away to other scenes.

The most lonely inhabitants of Rumania are the shepherds--more lonely
even than the monks in their cells, for the monks are gathered together
in congregations, whilst the shepherds spend whole months alone with
their dogs upon desolate mountain-tops.

Often when roaming on horseback on the summits have I come upon these
silent watchers leaning on their staffs, standing so still that they
might have been figures carved out of stone.

[Illustration: "VARIED INDEED ARE THE SHAPES OF THESE PEASANT CHURCHES"
(p. 44).]

[Illustration: "THEIR PRINCIPAL FEATURE BEING THE STOUT COLUMNS THAT
SUPPORT THE PORCH IN FRONT" (p. 44).]

[Illustration: "BUT WITH SOME THE BELFRY STANDS BY ITSELF" (p. 41).]

[Illustration: "THE COLUMNS HAVE BEAUTIFUL CARVED CAPITALS OF RAREST
DESIGN ... WHITEWASHED LIKE THE REST OF THE CHURCH" (p. 44).]

[Illustration: "QUAINT INDEED ARE THE BUILDINGS THAT SOME
SIMPLE-HEARTED ARTIST HAS PAINTED" (p. 44).]

The great blue sky was theirs, and the marvellous view over limitless
horizons; theirs were the shifting clouds, floating sometimes above
their heads, sometimes rising like steam out of the chasms at their
feet; theirs were also the silence and the sunsets, the sunrise and the
little mountain flowers with their marvellous tints. But also the storm
was theirs, and the rain, and the days of impenetrable mist; theirs was
the wordless solitude unrelieved by human voice.

These lonely mountain-dwellers become almost one in colour with the
rocks and earth by which they are surrounded.

Enormous mantles do they wear, made of skins taken from sheep of their
flock, fallen by the way. These shaggy garments give them a wild
appearance resembling nothing I have ever seen; even tiny boys wear
these extraordinary coats that cover them from head to foot, sheltering
them from rain and storm, and even from the too ardent rays of the sun.
Their only refuges are dug-outs, half beneath the earth, of which the
roofs are covered with turf, so that even at a short distance they can
hardly be seen. Here, in company with their dogs, they spend the long
summer months, till the frosts of autumn send them and their flocks
back to the plains.

Fierce-looking creatures are these shepherds, almost as unkempt as
their dogs. Solitude seems to have crept into their eyes, that look at
you without sympathy, as though they had lost the habit of focusing
them to the faces of men.

A sore danger to the wanderer are those savage dogs, and often will
their masters look on at the attacks they make upon the unfortunate
intruder, without moving a finger in his defence.

No doubt sometimes a poet's soul is to be found amongst these
highland-watchers. He will then tell tales worth listening to, for
Nature will have been his teacher, the voices of the wilds have entered
his heart.

Less unsociable is the shepherd tending his flock in greener pastures.
He is less lonely; even when not living with a companion he receives
the visits of passers-by--his expression is less grim, his eyes less
hard, and the tunes he plays on his flute have a softer note.

Here the great-coat is discarded, but the "cioban's" attitude is always
the same: be he on bare mountain pinnacles, or on juicy pastures near
clear-flowing stream, or on the burning plains of the Dobrudja where
for miles around no tree is to be seen, the "cioban" stands, for hours
at a time, both hands under his chin, leaning on his staff. He keeps no
record of time; he stares before him, and slowly the hours pass over
his head.

Once I had a curious impression. I was riding over some endless
downs near the sea. Nothing could be flatter than the landscape that
stretched before me; the sea was a dead calm, resembling a mirror of
spangled blue; the sand was white and dazzling; waves of heat rose
from the ground, scorching my face; the entire world seemed to be
gasping for breath. I alone was moving upon this immensity; sky, sea,
and sand belonged to me.

In spite of the suffocating temperature, my horse was galloping
briskly, happy to feel the soft sand beneath his hoofs. I had the
sensation of moving through the desert.

All at once the animal became restive; he snorted through dilated
nostrils, I felt him tremble beneath me; sweat broke out all over his
body; suddenly he stopped short, and, swerving round unexpectedly,
refused to advance! Nothing was to be seen but a series of flat,
curving sand-hills, with here and there a tuft of hard grass, or sprays
of sea-lavender, bending beneath the overpowering heat, yet I also had
an uncanny sensation, the curious feeling that something was breathing,
as though the ground itself were throbbing beneath our feet. In a way I
shared my horse's apprehension. What could it be?

In spite of his reluctance, I pushed him forward, keeping a firm grip
on the reins, as at each moment he tried to swing round.

Then I saw something strange appear on the horizon; a mysterious line
undulating across one of the mounds, something that was alive. I had
the keen perception that it was breathing, that it was even gasping for
breath.

All at once a man rose from somewhere and stood, a dark splotch,
against the brooding heat of the sky. The man was a shepherd! Then I
understood the meaning of that weirdly palpitating line--it was his
flock of sheep!

Stifled by the overwhelming temperature, they had massed themselves
together, heads turned inwards, seeking shelter one from the other.
Finding no relief, they were panting out their silent distress.

The "cioban" stood quite still, staring at me with stupefied
indifference.

I think that never before and never since have I had an acuter
sensation of intolerable heat....

Wherever I have met them, be it on the mountains or in the plains, on
green pastures or on arid wastes, these silent shepherds have seemed to
me the very personification of solitude, of mystery, of things unsaid.

Because of their lonely vigils amongst voiceless wilds, they have
surely returned to a nearer comprehension of nature; perchance they
have discovered strange secrets that none of us know!

In autumn and early spring the shepherds lead their flocks back from
the mountains. One meets them trudging slowly along the high-roads--a
silent mass with a weather-beaten leader at their head, man and beast
the colour of dust; foot-sore, weary, passive, knowing that their way
is not yet at an end.

[Illustration: "THESE LONELY MOUNTAIN-DWELLERS" (p. 47).]

Fleeting visions of the wilds, wraiths come back from solitudes of
which we know naught. The men with brooding faces and far-seeing eyes,
the animals with hanging heads, come towards one out of the distance,
pass, move away, and are gone ... leaving behind them on the road
thousands and thousands of tiny traces that wind or rain soon efface....

       *       *       *       *       *

There is a wandering people known in every land--a people surrounded by
mystery, whose origin has never been clearly established, a people that
even in our days are nomads, moving, always moving from place to place.
Wherever they stray, the gipsies are looked upon with mistrust and
suspicion; they are known to be thieves; their dark faces and flashing
teeth at once attract and repel. There is a nameless charm about them,
and yet aliens they are wherever they go. Every man's hand is against
them; nowhere are they welcome, ever must they move on and on homeless,
despised, and restless, wanderers indeed on the face of the earth.

Yet there are places in Rumania where those gipsies have settled down
on the outskirts of villages or towns.

There, in the midst of indescribable filth and disorder, they are
massed together in tumble-down huts and dug-outs, half-naked,
surrounded by squabbling children and savage dogs. Their hovels are
covered with whatever they can lay hand upon: old tins, broken boards,
rags, clods of earth, torn strips of carpets; no words can render the
squalor that surrounds them, the abject misery in which they swarm.

I have never been able to discover if always the same gipsies live in
these places, or if, after a time, they move on, leaving their nameless
hovels to other wanderers, who for a time settle down and then depart,
making place for those who still will come.

I am inclined to think that in some cases these settlements are refuges
where the wandering hordes seek shelter in winter, when snow-drifts and
bitter frosts make the high-roads impracticable. Yet also in summer
have I seen families grovelling about in these sordid suburbs.

Infinitely more picturesque are the gipsy-camps. These strange people
will pitch their tents in all sorts of places. On large fields used for
pasture, on the edge of streams, sometimes on islands in the midst of
river-beds, or on the border of woods.

Along the road they come, not in covered vans as we see them in tamer
countries, but in dilapidated carts, drawn by lean, half-starved
horses, sometimes by mules or patient grey donkeys.

On these carts, amidst an indescribable jumble of poles, carpets,
tent-covers, pots, pans, and other implements, whole families find
place--mothers and children, old grannies and greybeards, little boys
and bigger youths, regardless of the unfortunate animals that half
succumb beneath the burden.

They stop where they can, sometimes where they must--for many places
are prohibited, and no one desires to have the thieving rascals too
near their home.

To me these camps have always been an unending source of interest.
Whenever, from afar, I have perceived the silhouettes of gipsy-tents,
I have never failed to go there, and no end of impressions have I
gathered amongst these wandering aliens. Often have I watched the carts
being unloaded; with much noise and strife the tent-poles are fixed in
the ground, discoloured rags of every description are spread over them,
each family erecting the roof beneath which it will shelter for awhile
its eternal unrest.

Many and many a time have I roamed about amidst the tents of these
jabbering, squabbling hordes of beggars, beset by hundreds of brown
hands asking for pennies, surrounded by dark faces with brilliant eyes
and snow-white teeth. Half cringing, half haughty, they would demand
money, laughing the while and shrugging their shoulders, fingering
my clothes, slipping their fingers into my pockets; sometimes I have
almost had the sensation of being assailed by a troop of apes.

When on horseback they have nearly pulled me from the saddle,
overwhelming me with strange blessings that often sounded more like
curses or imprecations.

But one wish that they cried after me was always gratefully accepted
by my heart; it was the wish of "Good luck" to my horse. Being nomads,
they appreciate the value of a good mount, and as from all time my
horse has been my friend, such an invocation could not leave me
unmoved; on those days, the pennies I scattered amongst them were given
with a readier hand.

The most beautiful types have I discovered amongst these people; at
all ages they are inconceivably picturesque, so much so indeed that
occasionally they seemed to have got themselves up with a view to
effect.

Old hags have I seen crouching beneath their tents, bending over
steaming pots, stirring mysterious messes with pieces of broken sticks.
No old witch out of Andersen's fairy-tales or the "Arabian Nights"
could be compared to these weird old beings draped in faded rags that
once had been bright, but that now were as sordid and ancient as the
old creatures they only half clothed.

 Gaudy bands of stuff were wound turban-wise round their heads, from
 beneath which strands of grey hair hung in dishevelled disorder over
 their eyes. Generally a white-clay pipe was stuck in the corner
 of their mouths, for both the men and women smoke; in fact, smoke
 pervades the atmosphere about them, fumes of tobacco mixing with the
 more pungent smell of the fires lighted all over the camp.

[Illustration: "THESE SHAGGY GARMENTS GIVE THEM A WILD APPEARANCE" (p.
47).]

[Illustration: "THEIR ONLY REFUGES ARE DUG-OUTS" (p. 47).]

[Illustration: "EVEN TINY BOYS WEAR THESE EXTRAORDINARY COATS" (p. 47).]

[Illustration: "HERE, IN COMPANY WITH THEIR DOGS, THEY SPEND THE LONG
SUMMER MONTHS" (p. 47).]

[Illustration: "ON JUICY PASTURES NEAR CLEAR-FLOWING STREAM" (p. 48).]

[Illustration: "SILENT WATCHERS LEANING ON THEIR STAFFS" (p. 46).]

[Illustration: "WHEREVER I HAVE MET THEM, BE IT ON THE MOUNTAINS OR
IN THE PLAINS, ... THESE SILENT SHEPHERDS HAVE SEEMED TO ME THE VERY
PERSONIFICATION OF SOLITUDE" (p. 50).]

These old crones are the respected members of the tribes. Their loud
curses call order to the young ones, throw a certain awe amongst the
rowdy quarrelling children, who run about almost naked clamouring for
alms, turning summersaults in the dust, tumbling about between one's
feet. A sore trial to one's patience are these scamps, but at the same
time a source of infinite delight to the eye, for extraordinarily
beautiful are some of these grinning, screeching little savages, one
with the colour of the earth; small bronze statues with curly, tousled
heads, large eyes bordered by indescribable lashes, sometimes so long
and curling that they appear to be black feathers at their lids.

Occasionally a torn shirt barely covers them, or their arms have been
thrust into coats much too large, the sleeves dangling limply over
their hands, giving them the appearance of small scarecrows come to
life. Never more enchanting are they than when gambolling about as God
made them, for all attire a string of bright beads round their necks!

These earth-coloured little waifs will run for miles beside one's
carriage or horse, begging for coins with extended palms, whining over
and over again the same complaint.

Most beautiful of all are the young girls: upright, well grown, with
narrow hips and delicate hands and feet. Whatever rag they twist about
their graceful limbs turns into a becoming apparel. They will deck
themselves with any discarded finery they may pick up by the way.
Sometimes valuable old pieces of embroidery will end their days upon
the bodies of these attractive creatures, enhancing their charm, giving
them the air of beggared queens. Bright girdles wound round hips and
waist keep all these rags in place, giving the wearer the look of
Egyptians such as we see painted on the frescoes of temple-walls.

Beneath the gaudy scarves which they tie on their heads plaits of hair
hang down on both sides of their faces--plaits that are decorated with
every sort of coin, with little splinters of coloured glass or metal,
or strange-shaped charms or holy medals that jingle as they move about.
Round their necks hang long strings of gaudy beads that shine and
glisten on their bronze-tinted skins.

Little modesty do these maidens show. They are loud and forward,
shameless beggars, quite indifferent if their torn shirts leave neck
and bosom half naked to the rays of the sun.

With flashing white teeth they will smile at you, arms akimbo, head
thrown back, a white pipe impudently stuck at the corner of their
mouths.

Indescribably graceful are these girls coming back to the camp at
evening, carrying large wooden water-pots on their heads. Over the
distance they advance, upright, with swinging stride, whilst the water
splashes in large drops over their cheeks. The sinking sun behind them
gives them the appearance of shadows coming from very far out of the
desert where the paths have neither beginning nor end....

The men are no less picturesque than the women; they are covered with
filthy rags, and are mostly barefooted. But tribes have I encountered
less sordid, where the men wore high boots, baggy trousers, and shirts
with wide-hanging sleeves. These belonged to more prosperous clans, the
men particularly good-looking, with long curling hair hanging on both
sides of their faces. Evil-looking creatures no doubt, but uncannily
handsome nevertheless.

Most gipsies are tinkers by profession, by instinct they are thieves.
Leaving their women-folk to look after the tents, the men will set out
towards the villages, there to patch up pots and pans; often one meets
them several in file carrying bright copper vessels on their backs.
They grin at you, and never forget to stretch out a begging hand.

Others have studied the gipsies' habits, morals, and ways; I have only
looked upon them with an artist's eye, and in that way they are an
unending source of joy.

Inconceivable is the bustle and noise when a camp breaks up. The
tent-poles are pulled out of the ground, the miserable horses that
have been seeking scarce nourishment from the withered wayside grass
are caught by the screeching children, who have easy work, as the
unfortunate creatures are hobbled and cannot escape. Resignedly they
let themselves be attached to the carts, the tent-poles, carpets, pots
and pans are once more transferred from the ground to the vehicles that
will transport them to another place, and thus onwards ... without
end....

The old crones are stowed away beneath all this baggage, and with them
the children too small to walk, the feeble old men, the invalids, and
those too foot-sore to tramp the weary way.

A delightful picture did I once perceive. Upon the back of a patient
donkey numerous tent-poles had been tied; how so small a beast could
carry them remains a mystery. Between these poles several small naked
babies had been fastened, their black eyes staring at me from beneath
mops of tousled, unkempt curls.

The donkey moved from place to place, grazing, the heavy poles bobbed
about, one or the other touching the ground, raising little clouds of
dust like smoke.

No concern was to be read on the faces of the babies; this mode of
transport was no doubt the usual thing. They looked like little brown
monkeys brought from warmer climes....

[Illustration: "ON THE BURNING PLAINS OF THE DOBRUDJA WHERE FOR MILES
AROUND NO TREE IS TO BE SEEN" (p. 48).]

[Illustration: "STIFLED BY THE OVERWHELMING TEMPERATURE, THEY HAD
MASSED THEMSELVES TOGETHER" (p. 50).]

I have often met old couples wandering together--men and women bent
with age, weary, dusty, covered with rags, with pipes in their mouths;
wretched vagrants, but always perfectly picturesque. No doubt they were
going to tinker in some villages, for the men carried on their backs
the inevitable copper pots, whilst the old hags had heavy sacks slung
over their shoulders, a thick staff in their hands. Along the sides
of their earth-coloured checks grey plaits of hair hung limply down,
swinging as they went. It was to me as though I had often met them
before; I seemed to recognise their eyes, their weary look, even the
shell, sign of the fortune-teller, that the women wore hanging from a
string at their girdles; yet no doubt they were but samples of the many
wanderers among this people who, homeless and foot-sore, are for ever
roaming over the earth....

       *       *       *       *       *

One art above all others belongs to the gipsies. They are born
musicians, and the violin is their instrument; even the smallest boy
will be able to make it sing. Some are musicians by profession. In
groups of three and four they will wander from village to village,
always where music is needed, patiently, tirelessly playing for hours
and hours, in sun or rain, night or day, at marriages, funerals, or on
feast-days.

When in bands these wandering minstrels have other instruments besides
violins. Strange-shaped lutes, well known in Rumanian literature as the
"cobsa," and a flute composed of several reeds, the classical flute
used in ages past by old father Pan.

Mostly they are bronze-coloured old vagrants with melancholy eyes
and bent backs, who are accustomed to cringe, and whose lean brown
hands are accustomed to beg. Discarding their picturesque rags, these
wandering minstrels have adopted hideous old clothes that others have
cast off. Infinitely more mean-looking are they in this accoutrement;
they have lost that indefinite charm that generally surrounds them;
they are naught but sad old men clothed in ugly tatters, and are no
more a delight to the eyes. Welcome they are, nevertheless, for their
music is both sweet and melancholy, strident and weird; there is a
strange longing in every note, and the gayer the tunes become the more
is one inclined to weep!

An inexplicable cry of yearning lies in their every melody--is it a
remembrance of far-off lands that once were theirs, and that they have
never seen? Or is it only an expression of the eternal nostalgia that
drives them restlessly from place to place?

One summer's evening I met a gipsy youth, coming towards me from out of
the dust of the road. Seated with bare, dangling legs on the back of
a donkey, his violin under his chin, regardless of all else, he was
playing ... playing to the sky above, to the stars that were coming out
one by one, peeping down with pale wonder upon this lonely vagabond to
whom all the road belonged.... Playing because it was his nature to
play ... playing to his heart that had not yet awakened ... playing to
his soul that he could not fathom.

       *       *       *       *       *

In towns the gipsies are used as masons. One finds them in groups
wherever a house is being built, men, women, and children bringing with
them their nameless disorder and their picturesque filth.

Of an evening, the work being done, they will prepare their supper,
when, seated round the steaming pot, their many-coloured rags become
radiant beneath the rays of the setting sun.

Often a mangy donkey is attached not far off, and in a basket, amidst
a medley of metal pots of all sizes and shapes, lies a sleeping infant
wrapped in a torn cloth.

The donkey patiently bears his burden, flicking away the flies with his
meagre tail.

In the month of lilies handsome gipsy-girls will wander through the
streets, carrying wooden vessels filled with snow-white flowers, the
purity of the lilies strangely in contrast with their sun-tanned faces.
In long, fragrant bunches they sell these flowers to the passers-by.
At every corner one meets them, either crouching in picturesque
attitudes on the pavement or standing upright beneath the shadowy angle
of a roof, beautiful creatures with dark faces readily breaking into
smiles that make their black eyes glisten and their white teeth flash.

Figures full of unconscious pride, visages at which one must look and
always look again ... for they contain all the mystery of the many
roads their feet have left behind!

       *       *       *       *       *

It is the season of harvest that shows Rumania in all her glory, that
season when the labour of man meets its reward, when, the earth having
given her utmost, man, woman, and child go forth to gather in the
wealth that makes this country what it is.

Sometimes, indeed, it is an hour of disappointment, for rain, hail, or
drought ofttimes undoes man's weary work. Sometimes the earth has not
responded to his dearest hopes, has not been able to bring forth her
fruit.

[Illustration: "MOTHERS AND CHILDREN, AND OLD GRANNIES" (p. 53).]

[Illustration: "SMALL BRONZE STATUES WITH CURLY, TOUSLED HEADS" (p.
55).]

[Illustration: "OCCASIONALLY A TORN SHIRT BARELY COVERS THEM" (p. 55).]

[Illustration: "MOST BEAUTIFUL OF ALL ARE THE YOUNG GIRLS" (p. 55).]

[Illustration: "INCONCEIVABLY PICTURESQUE" (p. 54).]

[Illustration: "THESE ARE THE RESPECTED MEMBERS OF THE TRIBES" (p. 55).]

[Illustration: "I HAVE OFTEN MET OLD COUPLES WANDERING TOGETHER" (p.
58).]

Years have I known when, for months at a time, no drop of rain has
fallen, when, like the people of old, we watched the sky in the ardent
hope that the cloud as large as a man's hand would spread and burst
into the showerso sorely needed--but the cloud passed and gave not the
rain it promised; years when all that had been confided to the bosom of
the earth withered and dried away because from April to September no
drop had fallen, so that numbers of wretched cattle died for want of
pasturage upon which to graze.

Terrible months of straining anxiety, of hopeless waiting that seemed
to dry up the blood in one's veins, as the earth was parched from the
want of rain.

The rivers had no more water; the land of plenty becomes a land of
sighs, the dust covering all things as with a shroud of failure....

But grand indeed are the years of plenty, when man's effort bears fruit.

In oceans of ripe gold the corn lies beneath the immense face of the
sun, proud of its plenty, a glorious hope fulfilled!

And, from that vast plain of fertility, man's hand it is that reaps
the ripe ears, that binds the sheaves, that gathers in the grain. Ever
again and again must I marvel at the patience of man's labour, marvel
at his extraordinary conquest over the earth.

In groups the peasants work from early dawn to sunset, unaffected by
the pulsing heat beating down upon their heads. The men's snowy shirts
contrast with the women's coloured aprons that stain the tawny plain
with vivid spots of blue, red, or orange, for at the season of harvest
no one remains idle--the very old and the disabled alone are left
behind to guard the house.

From hour to hour ceaselessly they toil, till midday gathers them
round their carts for frugal repast of polenta and onions. Pictures
of labour, of healthy effort, of simple content! How often have I
contemplated them with emotion, realising how dear this country had
grown to my heart.

Watchful dogs guard the carts and those of the children too small to
work; beneath the shade of these vehicles the labourers take a short
hour's rest, alongside of their grey bullocks that in placid content
lie chewing the cud, their enormous horns sending back the rays of the
sun. Lazily they swish their tails from side to side, keeping off the
too busy flies that gather on their lean flanks and round their large,
dreamy eyes. With slow turns of their heads they follow their masters'
movements, well aware that their own effort must be taken up again at
the hour of sunset when the labourers go home.

Only on rich estates is machinery used, and then mostly for threshing
the corn; nearly all the cutting is done by hand. Small gatherings of
busy labourers crowd around the iron monster, whose humming voice can
be heard from afar, and always rises the heap of grain till it stands,
a burnished pyramid of gold, beneath the great blue sky.

At sunset the peasants return home, their scythes over their
shoulders, walking beside their carts heaped up with bright yellow
straw. Along the road they crawl, those carts, in a haze of dust. On
wind-still evenings the dust remains suspended in the air, covering
the world with a silvery gauze, enveloping the dying day in a haze of
mystery that floats over man and beast, wiping out the horizon, toning
down all colours, softening every outline.

Often the sinking sun sets this haze aflame; then the atmosphere
becomes strangely luminous, as though a tremendous fire were burning
somewhere behind fumes of smoke. Indescribable is that hour; full
of beauty, full of peace, full of the infinite satisfaction of work
faithfully accomplished, the hour when all feet are turned homewards,
turned towards rest.

In never-ending file the carts follow each other, drawn by those
grey-white oxen with the wondrous horns--along the road they come as
though moving in a dream, that slowly passes in a cloud of dust and
is gone; ... but the dust remains suspended like a veil drawn over a
vision that is no more....

The maize-harvest comes later in the year, much later; sometimes in
October the peasants are still gathering the ripe fruit. The days are
short, and in the evening dampness rises out of the vast plain, and
hovers like smoke beneath the glowing sky. An indescribable melancholy
floats over the world, the melancholy of things come to an end. A
great effort seems completed, and now the year has no more to do but to
fall slowly to sleep.... Yet nothing is more glorious than the Rumanian
autumn; Nature desires to deck herself in a last mantle of beauty
before confessing herself vanquished by the advancing of the winter
season.

The sky becomes intensely blue; all that stands up against it appears
to acquire a new value. The trees dress themselves in wondrous colours,
sometimes golden, sometimes russet, sometimes flaming red. Amongst the
man-high maize-plants, giant sunflowers stand bending their heads,
heavy with the weight of the seeded centres; like prodigious stars
their saffron petals shine against the azure vault.

Whole fields have I seen of these giant plants, real armies of
sun-shaped flowers, triumphantly yellow beneath the rays of the great
light they so bravely mimic. But often it seems to me that ashamedly
they turn their faces away, sadly aware that they are but a sorry
imitation of the one whose name they bear. Oil is made out of the seeds
of these flowers; therefore do the peasants cultivate them in such
numbers.

Often beneath the shade of those giant plants have I seen peasants
seated in circles round piles of maize, separating the fruit from the
leaves. In dwarf pyramids of orange, the ripe cobs lie scattered about
the wilting fields, their glorious colour attracting the eye from afar;
often the women's kerchiefs are of the very same tint.

[Illustration: "A BARE FIELD WHERE THE SOLDIERS EXERCISED"]

I love these flaming touches of colour amongst the arid immensities of
reaped fields--lovingly the eye of the artist lingers to look at them,
only unwillingly turning away.

A pretty sight is also that of the peasant meetings, either in large
barns or courtyards, to unsheathe the grain of maize from its cob.
These are occasions of great rejoicing, when the young folk flock
together, when laughter and work mingle joyously, when long yarns are
told and love-songs are sung. The old crones sit around spinning or
weaving, their heads nodding together over delectable gossip, one eye
upon the youths and maidens, who, dressed in their brightest, with a
flaring flower stuck behind the ear, ogle each other, and joke and kiss
and are happy.

The old gipsy "Lautar," or wander-minstrel, is never absent from these
meetings. From somewhere he is sure to come limping along, shabby,
disreputable, a sordid figure with his violin or his "cobsa" under his
arm; but his music is wonderful, making all hearts laugh, or dance, or
weep.

       *       *       *       *       *

Too many pictures would I evoke, too many visions rise before my
brain--both time and talent fail me--so grudgingly must I turn away and
leave these simple people to their work and their play, to their joys
and their pains, their hopes and their fears. I leave them to their
peaceful homes--a veil of dust lying over.


                                THE END



POSTSCRIPT


Rumania, like the other small nations, is paying a bloody price for her
vindication of the principles of Right--the bedrock of the Allied cause.

Her plucky intervention in the Great War, notwithstanding what had
befallen Belgium, Serbia and Montenegro; the implicit faith of her
people in the righteousness of the Allied cause; and the gallantry of
her troops excite the admiration of all the Free Races.

The British Red Cross Society and Order of St. John has rendered great
assistance on the battlefields of Rumania with hospitals well staffed
and medical supplies.

We owe a debt to Rumania. Every copy of MY COUNTRY sold adds
to _The Times_ Fund for Sick and Wounded, for which purpose this
tribute by Queen Marie to the little-known natural and architectural
beauties of her country is published. Should any reader, as a result of
this book, desire to send a further contribution, this may be addressed
to the publishers, Messrs. Hodder & Stoughton, St. Paul's House,
Warwick Square, London, E.C., _marked_ MY COUNTRY, and will be
duly acknowledged in the columns of _The Times_.

_December 1916._



                       PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN
                   BY HAZELL, WATSON AND VINEY, LD.,
                         LONDON AND AYLESBURY.



                          TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE

-Plain print and punctuation errors fixed.





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