The Beckov Monastery by Jaroslav Hašek

The Beckov Monastery by Jaroslav Hašek

This story is taken from The Man Without a Transit Pass, a collection by the Czech writer Jaroslav Hašek (1883–1923), in a translation by Dustin Stalnaker. It's our first book. Your can order it here.

Some four years ago, I became acquainted with the friars of Beckov Monastery. They were jovial Franciscans, and I wish to recount what it was like to be in their company.

I arrived at Beckov via the Váh River, for the purpose of searching, among the locals, for traces of the Kipchak peoples. It is unnecessary to go further into these particular details; mostly I used this as a pretense to gain admission to the monastery by means of subterfuge—in short, to dupe the venerable abbot.

I knocked on the monastery gate and presented my visitor’s card, on which was written “Your Reverence, I turn to you for the sake of research on the Kipchaks, whose traces I seek in the Váh River Valley.” Below this was stated simply “I request accommodations and permission to conduct research in the monastery archive.” The father who had admitted me escorted me at once through the cloister, to inform Abbot Eusebius of my arrival.

After some time, Abbot Eusebius appeared. He shook my hand, admitting with embarrassment that he knew nothing of the Kipchaks. So he was equally as knowledgeable as I! As far as the archive was concerned, he told me it stood at my disposal, and I could stay at the monastery for so long as I might desire. He then led me into the refectory, where the friars sat playing chess.

He introduced me to them, and Father Liberatus showed me to my room, from which one had a marvelous view of the Váh River. He opened the window and pointed to the surrounding landscape: “All of this is ours!” Far and wide there were fertile fields in which golden grain glistened. The verdant meadows, the blue forests, all of it belonged to the Franciscans of Beckov!

As he spoke with me about the blessings of God, ecstasy was plainly discernible in his eyes—and in the fat of his cheeks.

Inviting me into his chamber, where the fragrance of roses and basil wafted through the windows, he removed from a cabinet a can of sardines that he opened and offered to me, as he produced, from another cabinet, a bottle of cognac.

We then drank, smoked cigars, and discussed all sorts of things: flooding, which people feared needlessly, because it was averted by means of fervent prayer; the merciful summer; the harvest; how God Almighty saw to the prosperity of the crops; the bountiful yield of hay; and the beauty of clover.

He led me up the tower of the monastery, and pointing to a cluster of buildings below, said that what I beheld was the monastery homestead, which housed some four hundred cows and three hundred pigs, and they had a chicken farm besides. Farther in the distance was to be found a sheep farm with four hundred sheep and, farther still, towards the forest, a fenced enclosure for the rearing of pheasants.

In the surrounding forests worked eight gamekeepers and two woodsmen. There was game in abundance: big game, roe deer and fallow deer, rabbit, partridge, and wild boar.

As he described this all to me in vivid detail, the dear Father Liberatus folded his hands humbly and exclaimed: “God is gracious!”

Meanwhile, we were already being sought after; dinnertime had arrived.

The twelve of us sat around a long table, and as we arose and said a brief prayer—that God might be so gracious as to grant us a good appetite—the friars proceeded to dole out steaming dishes.

The dignified monastery cuisine! God, the Almighty, had conferred a providential hand upon the brother chef of the Beckov Monastery, and in his endless benevolence, he bestowed upon us a chicken soup with finely chopped chicken innards and chicken breast, a glass of Madeira wine and—shortly thereafter—pheasant stuffed with chestnuts.

The mercy of God was proven further still upon the serving of roast gosling with salad.

Raw delight shone in the eyes of the friars, and before the baked trout was served, we thanked the dear Lord once more for a short interval. The trout tasted exquisite. We comprehended the benevolence of God, who had created all these magnificent things so the Franciscans might fare well upon the Earth.

God had also created wine. And what wine they had at the Beckov Monastery!

It was so splendid and superb a wine that one could not drink enough of it, and the glasses had to be refilled continuously.

The hours passed in a state of convivial fellowship. We smoked cigars, and the Abbot told lovely stories.

The friars spoke one after another. Soon Father Fortunatus took the floor, then once again Father Liberatus, and they began to tell unseemly tales, which they took care to introduce in the following manner: “It is hard to believe how profligate the world is nowadays. As I rode to a feast at the monastery in Trenčín, a coachman recounted to me a lewd story that some man had told to him. I do not exaggerate in saying that the scoundrel committed sin with his words, as the following story demonstrates.”

And so the story was told. Much was only insinuated through gestures. Then we were offered the finest cognac. The sun was already rising over Trenčín.

Confound it! I felt no desire to sleep. As the lord fathers retired to their chambers, I stepped out of the monastery and strolled through the fields.

The workday was already in full swing in the meadows. Amid the gray dawn, grass was being reaped for the monastery’s cows. At the edge of the forest, a little old man was sharpening a scythe. “God’s blessings!” he said.

“How fare ye?” I asked in response.

“In truth, I mean not to commit sin, but how well can I fare, really?” the old man replied.

“How well can I fare?” he repeated, in a melancholy tone, “I work all day long for the gracious lords of the monastery, and they pay only twelve kreuzer per day, with no rations, because they must be frugal for the Pope.”

With this, he made the sign of the cross and continued to sharpen his scythe in the still of the morning, as a mist dispersed gently over the Váh and twelve Franciscan friars lay snoring in the Beckov Monastery.

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