Heathen Master Filcsik
by Kalman Mikszath
Heathen Master Filcsik
Cleveland Ohio mdccccx
Heathen Master Filcsik, From the Magyar of Kálmán Mikszáth:
Translated by William N. Loew.
Cleveland Ohio: Printed at The Clerk's Private Pressmcmx
Through the kindness of William N. Loew, Esq., of the New York Bar,
who has generously placed the manuscript at our disposal, we are able
to offer a translation of one of the shorter stories by a living
The Magyar literature offers a mine of gold to the translator, but
on account of the difficulties of the language very few have explored
it. With the exception of the great novelist, Maurus Jókai, the works
of the majority of the first class authors are unknown to the average
The difficulties of the Magyar tongue have been referred to. It is
the one great literary language of Europe that is of non-Aryan origin.
It is syllabic agglutinative, that is, the word inflections are made up
by adding syllables to the root word that is never lost. The verb is
particularly flexible and many of the tenses cannot be rendered
adequately in English because they are constructed after a different
system. The fine distinctions possible for the Magyar verb can only be
felt, and not translated. This will explain the seeming inconsistency
of the tenses in our story, where presents, futures, and perfects
appear to be used indiscriminately, and yet the whole action has taken
place in the more or less remote past. In this way the translator has
endeavored to convey the vivid action of the original so far as the
English verb system would allow him.
The author, Kálmán Mikszáth, is a follower of Jókai, but without the
great master's originality. He has been called the Mark Twain of
Magyar literature, and is looked upon by his compatriots as their
leading humorist. He is a prolific writer of the feuilliton,
that peculiar institution of the continental newspaper, and several
collections of these have been published. Some of his works have been
translated into English, but so far as could be learned, not this story
of Heathen Master Filcsik. His subjects are drawn generally from
scenes relating to North Hungarian peasant life, and are told with a
directness that makes the action move along rapidly. He also uses the
folk lore in his works, the present tale being founded upon older
material current in the country districts. Many of the details of his
stories are left to the reader's imagination; he touches only the high
lights, the shadows must be given form by the reader himself. His humor
manifests itself in the most unexpected ways, even in this grim story
of the unforgiving cobbler, there are touches of a sly, suggestive
humor that brighten the otherwise sombre narrative.
March 17th, 1910.
Heathen Master Filcsik.
There is a foolish rumor current all over Csolt, Majornok and Bodok,
that the famous fur cloak of old Filcsik is only a figment of his
imagination. He speaks constantly of it; he boasts about it; he claims
to wear it somewhere, but, as a matter of fact (so it is said) he has
no fur cloak, and in all likelihood never had one.
Yet he did have one. The people of Gozon (he moved into our midst
from beyond the Bágy) and especially the older ones recollect it well.
It was a long yellow cloak, with a wide collar of black lambskin
from the two ends of which two lamb's feet were hung, hoofs and all, in
their natural state. It was buckled in front by two beautiful silver
clasps and in the corners below each clasp were embroidered two large
green tulips. In addition it was ornamented by the needle worker's art
with many kinds of birds in bright colors, while on the back you
discovered the city of Miskolcz with its rows of houses and many
churches. You could even see plainly a Calvinistic chanticleer on one
of the church towers! It was perfecta masterpiece of furrier's work,
on which its maker had spared no labor or material.
True, it was not Master Mocsik, the furrier of Gozon, who made it,
but it was the most famous furrier in the city of Miskolcz who had been
entrusted with its construction.
Even if Filcsik picked up half a yard of it in buttoning it, the
train of this ninth wonder of the world still swept the ground, and all
who saw it said that, compared to this fur cloak, that of the muscovite
Czar was but a swaddling garment.
Nonetheless, wonderful though the fur cloak was and however much
Stephen Filcsik prided himself upon its possession, the iron teeth of
time had no respect for it. They dealt it the same scant consideration
that they accorded the winter-coat of the poor young law student, the
son of the village notary. Its brightly colored embroideries faded and
its needlework grew ragged, while its yellow background became soiled
and greasy. Moths ate their share of it and caused dire destruction,
especially in the lining and the collar.
But Filcsik, like the lover-husband who never notices how the rosy
bloom fades from his wife's face, never took notice of its sad
transformation; he only saw his good old fur cloak when he looked at
its remnants; and when he said, I will put my fur cloak on, he said
it without the loss of a particle of his characteristic old pride.
It hung on a big bright nail all the year round, just opposite his
working stool, so that, even while at his work, he could look up and
But it is true that he sat very little on his stool, and he was
called for that reason the bootmaker to God because he had
practically no customers at all. The old fellow was lazy. If he
occasionally did make a pair of boots for someone, he acted as though
he were doing an act of charity. What dost thou wish to walk in boots
for? he would ask his customers. Thou art a peasant and to walk
bare-footed is good for thee.
A callous man, he loved nobody, and nothing in this world except
that fur cloak.
No cruelty ever cried louder to heaven than his, and he directed it
mainly upon his only child, his daughter Therese.
And yet, what was it that she had done? She had refused to marry the
lame miller of Csoltó when her father commanded. He had wanted to plant
in one jar the rezeda flower and the thistle!
Is it any wonder that the melancholy Therese, embittered and
bewildered by her father's treatment, escaped at the first opportunity
and eloped with the young County Justice? It was an almost unheard of
indiscretion, but youth is often guilty of much folly. Yet, though all
the world condemned her, her father should have been the first to
Old Filcsik became ruder and more austere, and when Therese came
home to see him and tearfully begged his forgiveness, he turned away
and said he did not know the hussy; took his fur cloak from its big
nail and left the house and returned only when Therese was gone.
Therese never ventured near him again. She saw him only on one other
occasion, while driving through the village with the County Justice.
They saw old Filcsik on his way to the tavern of The Linen Shirt.
Oh, father, father, dear! the girl cried passionately.
Old Filcsik looked up, ceremoniously tipped his hat, and silently
turned and entered the tavern. Surely, there must have been a stone in
the place of the heart of this old man!
Those of the people of Majornok who had an occasion to go to the
home of the Judge could not but envy the lot in life that had fallen to
Therese Filcsik. Why, they would all exclaim, she is a gracious
lady. She has learned all the manners of the nobility. And how the
neighborhood has improved since she became the Judge's wife!
The administration of Justice of Majornok is far better than that in
all the surrounding villages.
Old Filcsik was informed by his neighbors of the messages she had
indirectly sent to him: her father should call on her; she would send a
wagon for him; she would place downy, silk cushions on the seat of the
wagon; that whenever he desired, day and night, he could have honeyed
whiskey, and that he would be honoredthe Judge himself would first
bow to him, but only that he should come to her and forgive her because
she was afraid herself to go to him.
But all this seemed to produce no impression on old Filcsik. Yet had
he been but just to her, he could have helped not only his own lot, but
he could have secured forever the prosperity of the noble village
Because (and this is written to you in strict confidence) Majornok
is the most impoverished village of the entire country thereabout. Her
people are poor and the village itself is neglected. It has not a
single paved streetnot a bridge, nor a Town Hall to give it dignity.
This is, it is true, in no wise remarkable. None of the county
officers had chanced upon a sweetheart in Majornok, and they therefore
built the country roads and paved the village streets only in that
portion of the county where they frequently went.
There is, for instance, the county road of Csoltó. It is as smooth
as a polished floor and the people of Bágy have pretty Eliza Bitro to
thank for it, while the paved roads of Karancsalja call for blessings
upon the beautiful head of Mistress John Vér.
Well, such is the way of the world. The face of a beautiful woman
glorifies the appearance of an entire neighborhood. But it did not
beautify Majornok. There it was commonly said that the deputy county
engineer, who prepared the maps for the road commissioners from those
at the county seat, had intentionally left the place out, and even that
the honorable representatives and the electors of the county had
offered one hundred and eighty paper gulden to the neighboring county
of Hont, if it would claim Majornok as its own, but Hont county would
not have the place even for money. Why should they have her, that all
the fun poked at, and all disgrace coming from Majornok should revert
upon the honorable county?
But if Filcsik had wanted it, there would have been a country road
leading to and from Majornok, if need be, one constructed of red
marble. All of them would be happy now. But he repelled the good
intentions of his Honor the Squire, though he needed some kind of help
badly enough, for the bootmaker of God was very meagerly provided
with worldly goods. One day last week the silver clasps from his fur
cloak wandered into the coffers of Mistress Sadie, the landlady of the
inn of The Linen Shirt.
But he was not in vain the bootmaker of God, otherwise He, his
only customer, would not have come to his rescue at a time of his
greatest need. All at once letters began to come to him by mail
containing ten, twenty, or even fifty gulden. Usually it was the letter
of some old customer who informed him that having become well-to-do he
now wished, with expressions of great gratitude, to repay to Master
Filcsik some old debt. There are, after all, many honest men living in
For a time he believed that if the debtors did not owe him anything,
it must have been to his father, whose name too was Steve. The only
thing that was remarkable was, how could his father have given so much
away on credit?
As soon as his suspicion was aroused, so soon did he solve the
riddle. One by one he returned the money letters to the Judge. How does
he dare to send presents to Steve Filcsik? Does not the Judge know that
his grandmother is descended from the famous Becsky family and the
The money letters ceased to come thereafter but there came many sad
tidings. Beautiful Therese Filcsik had become mortally ill. All wherein
she had heretofore found pleasure she now rejected; pomp and luxury,
the fine various and delicious meats she turned away from; refused her
medicines and expressed a wish to see her father. Poor Therese! she was
after all not such a bad girl!
And the wish of Therese was so pressing that in the end the Judge
himself was bound to call for old Filcsik. Well, old man, now you come
with me, you must whether you want to or not; don't deny this request
of your very sick daughter
I have no daughter!
You come with me! that is settled!
It cannot be: I beg of you respectfully, do not press me; it cannot
be, I have very urgent work.
Do please, come with me for my sake! said the Judge amicably.
Filcsik sighed. Probably this was the first occasion in all his life
that he had done so.
You refuse to come? You discard your only child?
Yes, sir, if you please!
You! the outcast of society?
Well, sir, that is not impossible, such a plain common old
bootmaker like myself is capable of doing anything.
The honorable young Justice now began to use sweet words of
persuasion and promise, but they all rebounded from the marble heart
just as did the threatening words.
Why don't your grace, he said, have me arrested and put me in
irons? Then I will have to go along wherever you may wish to take me.
After all, the mighty judge who ruled over all the county, was
compelled to return without the bootmaker.
But the judge had not in vain a hoary veteran Michael Suska, for his
body servant, who concocted a shrewd plan to attain the end desired.
Gracious Sir! I know this man Filcsik. He would run after us just
as a little pig will run after a sack from which corn is dropping,
Well, what? speak up!
If we would steal his fur cloak. His life and death depend upon
that cloak. He is a very peculiar man
Well, then, see to it that his cloak is stolen away!
The hoary veteran could not be trusted with a better job. Ever since
the revolution he had no more important task on hand. Oh, well, in
those daysbut wherefore speak of his deeds then? No one would believe
In the meantime the sick lady was restless on her couch amidst
silken pillows, shuddering whenever she heard the noise of approaching
wheels. She half leaned on her arms listening, burying her emaciated
hands in her long black hair which flowed down over her white night
She is provided with all that her longing can desire, yet she is the
poorest being in the world, for she lacks health, and something
That love that burned within her for husband is naught to the love
that warms the heart, the filial love for parents, and she never felt
as cold as now.
Nothing does her any good; the voice of the man whom she loved is
painful to her; it were better he were not walking at her side and
would leave her to herself; the bed is hard; in vain it is made of silk
and soft feathers, in vain do the servants fix it and repeatedly put it
How well would it be if she could lie at home beneath the paternal
roof, however poor that home, beside the capacious stove, and she could
hear at the open window the voice of the evening bells of Majornok, and
if her cold feet were covered with the famous fur cloak of her father.
Of this she spoke, of this she dreamed last night and beholdin the
morning, fate had fulfilled her wish, when she awoke, over the
beautiful red quilt, there lay spread out her old acquaintance the fur
And those roses and red tulips which render its collar so pretty,
throw their shades over the deathly pale face of Therese. This last
enjoyed pleasure is as sweet as long ago the first might have been.
Michael Suska redeemed his promise soon enough and he speculated
well. When old Filcsik came home in the night time from the tavern of
The Linen Shirt he found his house burglariously entered, and his fur
cloak gone. The big nail was empty, bereft and bare of its ornament. It
was then towards the end of October. The winter stood on the threshold
of the season.
Filcsik roamed about in the village with lowering brows, his hat
pulled down sullenly over his eyes. He did not drink; he uttered no
word. His misfortune completely broke him down. He was afraid to look
into the eyes of men, because he feared that from the lips of all would
come the malicious question, What has become of your famous fur
But hope did not forsake him. He felt it that the dear treasure
would ere long come back to him. It could not be lost; whoever stole it
could not use it. The whole county knew it to be his.
And he was not mistaken. The news came that the thieves were caught
and the stolen property recovered and was by that time in the hands of
the County Judge. Within four days the rightful owner could recover it,
or else it would be auctioned off as property found or recovered whose
owner could not be identified.
Immediately he started on his way to the castle to reclaim it; he
did not hesitate a second, he went to demand his own.
The County Judge made no objections, he admitted that the fur cloak
was there and silently beckoned him to follow. Through many bright
rooms on the floors of which fine carpets were spread, Filcsik trod
with his muddy boots behind the Judge until at last they arrived at a
There is your fur cloak, the Judge said with trembling voice and
pointed to a corner, take it!
The old eyes became but slowly accustomed to the darkness, but he
found his way to the corner whence groans and moans came.
The Judge stepped up and withdrew the bed-curtain, Filcsik staggered
Therese lay there, pale as a broken stemmed lily, her long black
eyelashes closed, her feet covered with the famous tulip embroidered
She was beautiful even though now dying, an angel saying good-bye to
this world. Where is she hurrying? To the heaven from which she once
It may be that she will never again open those charming eyes of
hers, which could glance so archly, or those lips of hers which to kiss
was such supreme bliss.
Filcsik stood mute, motionless, as if in thought, but only for a
minute; then he boldly stepped up to the dying, and took off that cloak
for which she had pined so much. It may be that she would have no use
for it any more.
The dying angel did not even move. Filcsik's hand did not even
tremble. He did not even cast a last glance on his dying daughter.
Mute, without uttering a syllable, he went out as if nothing could pain
He did not even turn back when the Judge, as he was crossing the
threshold, savagely addressed to him the epithet, Heathen!
Outside, he hung his rightful property around his neck, and
notwithstanding that it had become dark, he started for home by an
unused route. He did not want to meet with men just then. He probably
felt that he was no longer a man.
From his face naught could be read; seemingly it was calm. Probably
it even expressed some satisfaction on account of the regained fur
cloak. Truly there must be a stone in the place of the heart of this
When he reached the rivulet at the foot of the Majornok mountain
opening, (just there where, it is said, the soul of Mistress Gebyi
rides nightly on frightened horses) he stumbled over something in the
It was a beggar's bag filled with pieces of dry bread. Its owner
must have prayed successfullythere was enough of the daily bread
there even for tomorrow.
But lo! there lies the owner thereof beneath a tree, a ragged beggar
woman, in her lap a child.
He placed the bag at their side and then lit a match to see better
whether or not they were dead.
Their heavy breathing revealed that both were alive, mother and
child; exhausting fatigue alone could have sent them into such profound
slumber. The cold weather, the bitter wind and the ragged dress are not
favorable to such sleep. Only they can sleep as these do, who are
exhausted. Their faces, especially that of the child, are already blue
from cold and the tiny limbs tremble like frozen jelly.
Filcsik took out his pipe from the pocket of his coat, filled and
lit it, and then sat down on the ground beside the sleepers.
He looked at them a long time. He could see very well; the sky was
full of stars. The stars looked at him and perhaps beckoned to him
All at once he bent lower over the sleepers; his forehead was
perspiring, his head was bowed down and the famous fur cloak slipped
off his shoulders. It was well, for he was warm anyhow. And then the
fur cloak never burdened him as much as now; it had never been as heavy
as at present.
When it slipped down, he suddenly picked it up and spread it over
the two sleepers.
Then he jumped up and slowly and thoughtfully began to walk towards
home. Once he stood still, then retraced his steps. Did he intend to go
back for it?
No, no! what would those million eyes looking at him from above say
Now he hurried; he almost ran towards home.
The night was quiet but cold. The old man was without his fur cloak
and yet he felt no cold.
One thought warmed him within, in that place where other men have
their hearts but where, according to general belief, providence had
substituted in him a stone.
Since that time he has had no fur cloak. But for all that he speaks
of it as if he still possessed it. He brags of it, he bets on it.
Men know the fact already and were they not afraid of his
vituperative proclivities they would laugh at him; as it is, they don't
concern themselves about him. God, men, have turned from him because he
is a godless, unchristian fellow. If one of these days he dies on a
heap of straw, a raven or a crow will act as mourner, the ditch of the
churchyard will be his resting place.
Here endeth this Veracious History of Heathen Master Filcsik
Wherein is evidently shown that no matter howsoever hard a man's heart
may be there are times and occasions When, ruled by a Higher Power, he
is moved to do a kindly act. Written originally in the Magyar language
by Kálmán Mikszáth, and translated by Wm. N. Loew. Done into Type by
me, Charles Clinch Chubb, Clerk in Holy Orders, and one hundred Copies
printed at our Press in the Parish of Grace Church, Cleveland, Ohio
this seventeenth day of March, in the year of our Lord, mcmx.