THROUGH SLAVONIA AND SERVIA.
The editor of Der Drau, the semi-weekly official organ of the Slavonian capital, and Mr. Freund, being the two citizens of Eszek capable of speaking English, join voices at the supper-table in hoping it will rain enough to compel us to remain over to-morrow, that they may have the pleasure of showing us around Eszek and of inviting us to dinner and supper; and Igali, I am constrained to believe, retires to his couch in full sympathy with them, being possessed of a decided weakness for stopping over and accepting invitations to dine. Their united wish is gratified, for when we rise in the morning it is still raining.
Eszek is a fortified city, and has been in time past an important fortress. It has lost much of its importance since the introduction of modern arms, for it occupies perfectly level ground, and the fortifications consist merely of large trenches that have been excavated and walled, with a view of preventing the city from being taken by storm - not a very overshadowing consideration in these days, when the usual mode of procedure is to stand off and bombard a city into the conviction that further resistance is useless. After dinner the assistant editor of Der Drau comes around and pilots us about the city and its pleasant environments. The worthy assistant editor is a sprightly, versatile Slav, and, as together we promenade the parks and avenues, the number and extent of which appear to be the chief glory of Eszek, the ceaseless flow of language and wellnigh continuous interchange of gesticulations between himself and Igali are quite wonderful, and both of them certainly ought to retire to-night far more enlightened individuals than they found themselves this morning.
The Hungarian seems in a particularly happy and gracious mood to-day, as I instinctively felt certain he would be if the fates decreed against a continuation of our journey. When our companion' s conversation turns on any particularly interesting subject I am graciously given the benefit of it to the extent of some French or German word the meaning of which, Igali has discovered, I understand. During the afternoon we wander through the intricacies of a yew-shrub maze, where a good-sized area of impenetrably thick vegetation has been trained and trimmed into a bewildering net-work of arched walks that almost exclude the light, and Igali pauses to favor me with the information that this maze is the favorite trysting place of Slavonian nymphs and swains, and furthermore expresses his opinion that the spot must be indeed romantic and an appropriate place to "come a-wooin' " on nights when the moonbeams, penetrating through a thousand tiny interspaces, convert the gloomy interior into chambers of dancing light and shadow. All this information and these comments are embodied in the two short words, "Amour, lima" accompanied by a few gesticulations, and is a fair sample of the manner in which conversation is carried on between us. It is quite astonishing how readily two persons constantly together will come to understand each other through the medium of a few words which they know the meaning of in common.
Scores of ladies and gentlemen, the latter chiefly military officers, are enjoying a promenade in the rain-cooled atmosphere, and there is no mistaking the glances of interest with which many of them favor-Igali. His pronounced sportsmanlike make-up attracts universal attention and causes everybody to mistake him for myself - a kindly office which I devoutly wish he would fill until the whole journey is accomplished. In the Casino garden a dozen bearded musicians are playing Slavonian airs, and, by request of the assistant editor, they play and sing the Slavonian national anthem and a popular air or two besides. The national musical instrument of Slavonia is the "tamborica"-a small steel-stringed instrument that is twanged with a chip-like piece of wood. Their singing is excellent in its way, but to the writer's taste there is no comparison between their tamboricas and the gypsy music of Hungary.
There are no bicycles in all Eszek save ours - though Mr. Freund, who has lately returned from Paris, has ordered one, with which he expects to win the admiration of all his countrymen - and Igali and myself are lionized to our hearts' content; but this evening we are quite startled and taken aback by the reappearance of the assistant editor, excitedly announcing the arrival of a tricycle in town. Upon going down, in breathless anticipation of summarily losing the universal admiration of Eszek, we find an itinerant cobbler, who has constructed a machine that would make the rudest bone-shaker of ancient memory seem like the most elegant product of Hartford or Coventry in comparison. The backbone and axle-tree are roughly hewn sticks of wood, ironed equally rough at the village blacksmith's; and as, for a twenty-kreuzer piece, the rider mounts and wobbles all over the sidewalk for a short distance, the spectacle would make a stoic roar with laughter, and the good people of the Lower Danubian provinces are anything but stoical.
Six o'clock next morning finds us travelling southward into the interior of Slavonia; but we are not mounted, for the road presents an unridable surface of mud, stones, and ruts, that causes my companion's favorite ejaculatory expletive to occur with more than its usual frequency. For a portion of the way there is a narrow sidepath that is fairly ridable, but an uninvitingly deep ditch runs unpleasantly near, and no amount of persuasion can induce my companion to attempt wheeling along it. Igali's bump of cautiousness is fully developed, and day by day, as we journey together, I am becoming more and more convinced that he would be an invaluable companion to have accompany one around the world; true, the journey would occupy a decade, or thereabout, but one would be morally certain of coming out safe and sound in the end.
During our progression southward there has been a perceptible softening in the disposition of the natives, this being more noticeably a marked characteristic of the Slavonians; the generous southern sun, shining on the great area of Oriental gentleness, casts a softening influence toward the sterner north, imparting to the people amiable and genial dispositions. It takes but comparatively small deeds to win the admiration and applause of the natives of the Lower Danube, with their childlike manners; and, by slowly meandering along the roadways of Southern Hungary occasionally with his bicycle, Igali has become the pride and admiration of thousands.
For mile after mile we have to trundle our way slowly along the muddy highway as best we can, our road leading through a flat and rather swampy area of broad, waving wheat-fields; we relieve the tedium of the journey by whistling, alternately, "Yankee Doodle," to which Igali has taken quite a fancy since first hearing it played by the gypsy band in the wine-garden at Szekszard three days ago, and the Hungarian national air - this latter, of course, falling to Igali's share of the entertainment. Having been to college in Paris, Igali is also able to contribute the famous Marseillaise hymn, and, not to be outdone, I favor him with " God Save the Queen" and "Britannia Rules the Waves," both of which he thinks very good tunes-the former seeming to strike his Hungarian ear, however, as rather solemn. In the middle of the forenoon we make a brief halt at a rude road-side tavern for some refreshments - a thick, narrow slice of raw, fat bacon, white with salt, and a level pint of red wine, satisfying my companion; but I substitute for the bacon a slice of coarse, black bread, much to Igali's wonderment.
Here are congregated several Slavonian shepherds, in their large, ill-fitting, sheepskin garments, with the long wool turned inward-clothes that apparently serve them alike to keep out the summer's heat and the winter's cold. One of the peasants, with ideas a trifle befuddled with wine, perhaps, and face all aglow with admiration for our bicycles, produces a tattered memorandum and begs us to favor him with our autographs, an act that of itself proves him to be not without a degree of intelligence one would scarcely look for in a sheepskin-clad shepherd of Slavonia. Igali gruffly bids the man "begone," and aims a careless kick at the proffered memorandum; but seeing no harm in the request, and, moreover, being perhaps by nature a trifle more considerate of others, I comply. As he reads aloud, "United States, America," to his comrades, they one and all lift their hats quite reverently and place their brown hands over their hearts, for I suppose they recognize in my ready compliance with the simple request, in comparison with Igali's rude rebuff-which, by the way, no doubt comes natural enough-the difference between the land of the prince and peasant, and the land where "liberty, equality, and fraternity" is not a meaningless motto - a land which I find every down-trodden peasant of Europe has heard of, and looks upward to.
Soon after this incident we are passing a prune-orchard, when, as though for our especial benefit, a couple of peasants working there begin singing aloud, and with evident enthusiasm, some national melody, and as they observe not our presence, at my suggestion we crouch behind a convenient clump of bushes and for several minutes are favored with as fine a duet as I have heard for many a day; but the situation becomes too ridiculous for Igali, and it finally sends him into a roar of laughter that causes the performance to terminate abruptly, and, rising into full view, we doubtless repay the singers by letting them see us mount and ride into their native village, but a few hundred yards distant.
We are to-day passing through villages where a bicycle has never been seen - this being outside the area of Igali's peregrinations - and the whole population invariably turns out en masse, clerks, proprietors, and customers in the shops unceremoniously dropping everything and running to the streets; there is verily a hurrying to and fro of all the citizens; husbands hastening from magazine to dwelling to inform their wives and families, mothers running to call their children, children their parents, and everybody scampering to call the attention of their sisters, cousins, and aunts, ere we are vanished in the distance, and it be everlastingly too late.
We have been worrying along at some sort of pace, with the exception of the usual noontide halt, since six o'clock this morning, and the busy mosquito is making life interesting for belated wayfarers, when we ride into Sarengrad and put up at the only gasthaus in the village. Our bedroom is situated on the ground floor, the only floor in fact the gaathaus boasts, and we are in a fair way of either being lulled to sleep or kept awake, as the case may be, by a howling chorus of wine-bibbers in the public room adjoining; but here, again, Igali shows up to good advantage by peremptorily ordering the singers to stop, and stop instanter. The amiably disposed peasants, notwithstanding the wine they have been drinking, cease their singing and become silent and circumspect, in deference to the wishes of the two strangers with the wonderful machines. We now make a practice of taking our bicycles into our bedroom with us at night, otherwise every right hand in the whole village would busy itself pinching the "gum-elastic" tires and pedal-rubbers, twirling the pedals, feeling spokes, backbone, and forks, and critically examining and commenting upon every visible portion of the mechanism; and who knows but that the latent cupidity of some easy-conscienced villager might be aroused at the unusual sight of so much "silver" standing around loose (the natives hereabout don't even ask whether the nickelled parts of the bicycle are silver or not; they take it for granted to be so), and surreptitiously attempt to chisel off enough to purchase an embroidered coat for Sundays. From what I can understand of their comments among themselves, it is perfectly consistent with their ideas of the average Englishman that he should bestride a bicycle of solid silver, and if their vocabulary embraced no word corresponding to our "millionnaire," and they desired to use one, they would probably pick upon the word "Englander" as the most appropriate. While we are making our toilets in the morning eager faces are peering inquisitively through the bedroom windows; a murmur of voices, criticizing us and our strange vehicles, greets our waking moments, and our privacy is often invaded, in spite of Igali's inconsiderate treatment of them whenever they happen to cross his path.
Many of the inhabitants of this part of Slavonia are Croatians - people who are noted for their fondness of finery; and, as on this sunny Sunday morning we wheel through their villages, the crowds of peasantry who gather about us in all the bravery of their best clothes present, indeed, an appearance gay and picturesque beyond anything hitherto encountered. The garments of the men are covered with braid-work and silk embroidery wherever such ornamentation is thought to be an embellishment, and, to the Croatian mind, that means pretty much everywhere; and the girls and women are arrayed in the gayest of colors; those displaying the brightest hues and the greatest contrasts seem to go tripping along conscious of being irresistible. Many of the Croatian peasants are fine, strapping fellows, and very handsome women are observed in the villages - women with great, dreamy eyes, and faces with an expression of languor that bespeaks their owners to be gentleness personified. Igali shows evidence of more susceptibility to female charms than I should naturally have given him credit for, and shows a decided inclination to linger in these beauty-blessed villages longer than is necessary, and as one dark-eyed damsel after another gathers around us, I usually take the initiative in mounting and clearing out.
Were a man to go suddenly flapping his way through the streets of London on the long-anticipated flying-machine, the average Cockney would scarce betray the unfeigned astonishment that is depicted on the countenances of these Croatian villagers as we nde into their midst and dismount.
This afternoon my bicycle causes the first runaway since the trifling affair at Lembach, Austria. A brown-faced peasant woman and a little girl, driving a small, shaggy pony harnessed to a basket-work, four-wheeled vehicle, are approaching; their humble-looking steed betrays no evidence of restiveness until just as I am turning out to pass him, when, without warning, he gives a swift, sudden bound to the right, nearly upsetting the vehicle, and without more ado bolts down a considerable embankment and goes helter-skelter across a field of standing grain.
The old lady pluckily hangs on to the reins, and finally succeeds in bringing the runaway around into the road again without damaging anything save the corn. It might have ended much less satisfactorily, however, and the incident illustrates one possible source of trouble to a 'cycler travelling alone through countries where the people neither understand, nor can be expected to understand, a wheelman's position; the situation would, of course, be aggravated in a country village where, not speaking the language, one could not make himself understood in his own defence. These people here, if not wise as serpents, are at least harmless as doves; but, in case of the bicycle frightening a team and causing a runaway with the unpleasant sequel of broken limbs, or injured horse, they would scarce know what to do in the premises, since they would have no precedent to govern them, and, in the absence of any intelligent guidance, might conclude to wreak summary vengeance on the bicycle. In such a case, would a wheelman be justified in using his revolver to defend his bicycle?
Such is the reverie into which I fall while reclining beneath a spreading mulberry-tree waiting for Igali to catch up; for he has promised that I shall see the Slavonian national dance sometime to-day, and a village is now visible in the distance. At the Danube-side village of Hamenitz an hour's halt is decided upon to give me the promised opportunity of witnessing the dance in its native land. It is a novel and interesting sight. A round hundred young gallants and maidens are rigged out in finery such as no other people save the Croatian and Slavonian peasants ever wear - the young men braided and embroidered, and the damsels having their hair entwined with a profusion of natural flowers in addition to their costumes of all possible hues. Forming themselves into a large ring, distributed so that the sexes alternate, the young men extend and join their hands in front of the maidens, and the latter join hands behind their partners; the steel-strung tamboricas strike up a lively twanging air, to which the circle of dancers endeavor to shuffle time with their feet, while at the same time moving around in a circle Livelier and faster twang the tamboricas, and more and more animated becomes the scene as the dancing, shuffling ring endeavors to keep pace with it. As the fun progresses into the fast and furious stages the youths' hats have a knack of getting into a jaunty position on the side of their heads, and the wearers' faces assume a reckless, flushed appearance, like men half intoxicated while the maidens' bright eyes and beaming faces betoken unutterable happiness; finally the music and the shuffling of feet terminate with a rapid flourish, everybody kisses everybody - save, of course, mere luckless onlookers like Igali and myself - and the Slavonian national dance is ended.
To-night we reach the strongly fortified town of Peterwardein, opposite which, just across a pontoon bridge spanning the Danube, is the larger city of Neusatz. At Hamenitz we met Professor Zaubaur, the editor of the Uj Videk, who came down the Danube ahead of us by steamboat; and now, after housing our machines at our gasthaus in Peterwardein, he pilots us across the pontoon bridge in the twilight, and into one of those wine- gardens so universal in this part of the world. Here at Neusatz I listen to the genuine Hungarian gypsy music for the last time on the European tour ere bidding the territory of Hungary adieu, for Neusatz is on the Hungarian side of the Danube. The professor has evidently let no grass grow beneath his feet since leaving us scarcely an hour ago at Hamenitz, for he has, in the mean time, ferreted out the only English-speaking person at present in town, the good Frau Schrieber, an Austrian lady, formerly of Vienna, but now at Neusatz with her husband, a well-known advocate. This lady talks English quite fluently. Though not yet twenty-five she is very, very wise, and among other things she informs her admiring friends gathered round about us, listening to the - to them - unintelligible flow of a foreign language, that Englishmen are "very grave beings," a piece of information that wrings from Igali a really sympathetic response- nothing less than the startling announcement that he hasn't seen me smile since we left Budapest together, a week ago. "Having seen the Slavonian, I ought by all means to see the Hungarian national dance," Frau Schrieber says; adding, "It is a nice dance for Englishmen to look at, though it is so very gay that English ladies would neither dance it nor look at it being danced." Ere parting company with this entertaining lady she agrees that, if I will but remain in Hungary permanently, she knows of a very handsome fraulein of sixteen summers, who, having heard of my "wonderful journey," is already predisposed in my favor, and with a little friendly tact and management on her - Frau Schrieber's - part would no doubt be willing to waive the formalities of a long courtship, and yield up hand and heart at my request. I can scarcely think of breaking in twain my trip around the world even for so tempting a prospect, and I recommend the fair Hungarian to Igali; but "the fraulein has never heard of Herr Igali, and he will not do."