« السابقةمتابعة »
MAURUS JOKAI, a popular Hungarian novelist, born at Komorn, Feb. 19, 1825. He attended school at Papa and Kecskemet, and studied law at Pesth. In 1846 he was editor of the Wochenblatt. He was present at the surrender of Villagos in August, 1849, and made his way through the Russian lines and reached Pesth. Jokai then turned to fiction. He has published twenty-five romances, three hundred and twenty novelettes, and six dramas. Among his romances are “ The Good Old Assessors;” “A Modern Midas;” “A Hungarian Nabob," and its sequel, “Zoltan Karpathy;” “Sad Times;” “Oceania ; " "The White Rose;" “ Transylvania's Golden Age;" “ The Turks of Hungary;” “The Last Days of the Janissaries; “ Poor Rich Men;" “ The World Turned Upside Down;" “ Madhouse Management; " « The New Landlord ;
" " The Romance of the Next Century;" “ Black Diamonds;” and “ Beloved to the Scaffold.”
THE IRON GATE OF THE DANUBE.
(From "A Modern Midas.") A MOUNTAIN chain cleft asunder from summit to base, mak. ing a gorge four miles in length. This chasm is called “The Iron Gate.” Perpendicular rocky cliffs, from 600 to 3,000 feet in height, form the sides of this wild pass, through which flows that great river which was called Ister by the Romans, but now bears the name of the Danube. This mighty stream, rising in the distant eastern confines of Germany, pours its floods into Austria and Hungary, thence through the Iron Gate into the Turkish dominions, and finally, through three mouths, into the Black Sea.
Have the tumultuous floods cut a way for themselves, or have volcanic fires burst through the mountain chain? Was it Neptune or Vulcan who did this work? It is indeed a work of the gods. Traces of the handicraft of Neptune still remain in the “ Truska Gora," in the form of petrified mussel-shells, strewn about everywhere, as well as in the “fossil remains of oceandwelling Saurians in the Veterani cave.” The work of Vulcan is seen in the basalt on the “ Piatra Detonata.” But the ruined pillars of a massive stone bridge, and a long gallery hewn in the cliffs on the shore (making an overarched highway) tell of the labors of men as plainly as do the tablets in bas-relief set in the rocky walls.
In the river, the deep canal (a hundred feet wide), through which the largest ship can pass, is also an evidence of human skill and toil. The Iron Gate has a history two thousand years old; and four nations - the Romans, the Turks, the Roumanians, and the Hungarians — have each bestowed upon it a distinctive name.
Within it the cliffs seem to form giant-built temples, in which, with their massive columns and friezes, the fancy almost expects to find the statues of Saints. This temple-like formation extends through a stretch of four miles with many a turn and winding - ever revealing new forms and new configurations. The sheer face of one precipice is as smooth as polished granite. Red and white veins, like the letters of some ancient book of the gods, penetrate its whole length. In another part of the cliff there is a rusty red surface like molten iron. Here and there lie huge granite blocks, as if flung about by the Titans. A fresh turn brings one before what seems the door of a Gothic cathedral, with its graceful spires, and closely set pillars of basalt. On the rust-colored wall shines a golden spot, like the tablet of the Ark of the Covenant. That is a mineral blossom; it is sulphur. But also living flowers adorn the walls. From the crevices of the cornice they drop like green garlands, placed there by pious hands. They are the giant larches and pinetrees, whose somber masses are diversified with the golden and red colors of the sunburned underbrush. Now and then this double-walled cliff opens into an enticing cañon, and gives a glimpse into a hidden paradise uninhabited by man.
Here, between the two precipitous walls, brood dusky shadows; and, in the half daylight, a sunny valley smiles like a fairy world, with forests of wild grape vines, whose ripe, red berries lend color to the trees, and whose falling leaves spread like a carpet over the ground. There is no human habitation to be seen in the valley. A little brook dances along, where the deer fearlessly come to quench their thirst. Then, a little farther on, this streamlet — with a silvery gleam - plunges over the precipice.
Once again the mountain gorge is reformed, and other temple. like domes are seen — larger and more awe-inspiring than before. These precipices are separated by less than 900 feet, while they rise to the height of 3,000. Yonder stands a sharp peak called the “Gropa lui Petro,” “ the Sarcophagus of St. Peter.” Other Titanlike stone formations near this mountain summit are named for St. Peter's apostolic companions. Opposite this colossal rock is the “ Babile.” Yonder cliff, shutting off further outlook, is the “Dove's Rock.” The gray summit beyond, surmounting the “Robber's Peak," is the “Rasbognik Veli ” – visible for miles away. Between these rocky walls flows — far below in its wild bed - the Danube.
This majestic primeval stream, sweeping through the smooth plains of Hungary in a bed 6,000 feet in width, quietly rippling under the willows which droop over it from the shore, and reflecting the meadows rich in blossoms, or murmuring with softly humming mill wheels, is here suddenly imprisoned in a rocky channel only 800 feet wide.
Ah, with what scorn the river plunges through! One who had marked its former gentle current would no longer know the wild torrent. The old and gray giant has become a young and lusty hero. The waves leap up in fierce foam against their rocky bed — for in the very midst of the channel rises a great mass of stone like a Druidical altar. It is the huge “Babagag" in the Cassan rock. Against this rock breaks the wild torrent with unconquerable scorn – leaping over it, and whirling in fierce currents which scoop out fathomless abysses from the stony river-bed. Then, roaring and foaming, the waters sweep over the crags which lie between the overhanging cliffs. In other places, where the barriers are too strong, the river has eaten its way under the overhanging rocks. Here and there it brings earth formations to cover the bowlders in its path, making new islands, not to be found on the map. These in time became overgrown with wild shrubs and underbrush. They belong to none of the bordering kingdoms - neither to the Hungarian, Turkish, nor Servian Government. They are a true No Man's Land. They pay no taxes, they know no rulers, they lie outside of the world, they have not even a name.
Now and then the same river which formed them tears one of them away from its foundations, and sweeps off the island with its woods and its fields — blotting it forever from a right to a place on the map of the world.
Through these cliffs and islands the Danube flows in a
various bed, with a swift current of ten miles an hour; and the shipmasters must know the narrow channel well between Ogradina and Plessvissovicza. The hands of man have made a canal in the rocky bottom of the river-bed, through which large ships can pass; but near the shore there are places where only small craft can find a way.
Following the coast-line of the smaller islands, between the narrowing banks of the stream, some signs of the works of men are seen amid the great creations of Nature - double palisades of strong tree-trunks, which come together in the form of the letter V, with the opening up-stream. These are sturgeontraps. These fishy travelers from the sea swim up the stream, rubbing their heads against any obstruction, in order to get rid of parasites. They enter into the tree-traps ; and, as it is not their habit to turn, they push on to the ever-narrowing snares, until at last they drop into the death-chamber at the end of the V, from which there is no escape.
There is here an eternal roaring. As the swift river rushes over its stony bed, as it surges against the island altars, as it lashes the lofty cliffs, as it thunders like a cataract, its noise is ever ropated in a perpetual echo by the resounding crags, making an altogether unearthly music, like a medley of organ-tones, clashing bells, and dying thunder-peals. Man trembles, and is dumb at the sound, ashamed to intrude his voice in this Titanic u; roar. Sailors communicate with each other only by signs. Superstition forbids the fisherman to utter a word in this place. A consciousness of the danger of the channel naturally leads to silence, or to an inwardly whispered prayer. For, indeed, he who passes through this rocky gorge, so long as the cliffs frown down upon him, may well feel that he is stirring along the walls of his own sepulcher.
And what if to the terror of the sailors is added the “ Bora!” This is a wind which sometimes blows for a week at a time, and which makes the Danube impassable through the Iron Gate.
If there were but one wall of mountains this wall would be a protection against the Bora. But the current of air which is pressed in between the two rocky walls is as capricious as is the vagrant wind in the streets of a great city. It blows first from one quarter, then from another. It seizes the ship, wrenches off the rudder, gives work for every hand, plays havoc with the tow-horses and tow-ropes; and then suddenly the wind changes, and both ship and waves are blown backward up the stream, like the dust in a city street. At such times the organ-like tones of the tempest sound like the trumpet of the last judgment. The death-shrieks of the shipwrecked and drowning mariners are lost in the terrific roar of the howling, re-echoing winds.