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.
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.