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
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
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
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
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 fulfillment.
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
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.