When the new priest, young János Bélyi, arrives in Glogova, prospects for an enjoyable life are extremely dim. The little Hungarian town is a forlorn place where impoverished peasants live out their lives trying to get as much as possible out of the poor soil. No provisions are made for the priest’s subsistence, and church property is almost nonexistent. While the priest contemplates the fact that he will have to eat less and pray more, the situation becomes more critical with the arrival of his baby sister. His parents died and somebody decided to send little Veronica to her nearest relative, the priest; thus, a baby in a basket is suddenly put at the doorstep of his modest home. In order to find a solution to his problems, he takes a prayerful walk.
A heavy rain begins to fall. Suddenly he remembers the baby, still lying in front of his house, and he is certain the child will be soaking wet before he can arrive. To his surprise he finds her completely dry, protected by an old red umbrella. The priest cannot imagine who was so kind to his little sister; however, the townspeople soon find all sorts of explanations. Since the only stranger seen lately is an old Jew, the peasants come to the conclusion that St. Peter came to show his mercy for the poor child.
At the next funeral on a rainy day the priest uses the red umbrella. The men carrying the coffin stumble, and the supposedly dead man, who was merely in a trance, becomes very much alive. To the villagers this incident is another sign of the supernatural character of the umbrella. As a result of the umbrella, the priest’s conditions improve rapidly, and all kinds of gifts arrive at his house for the baby who caused St. Peter to come to Glogova. Even Widow Adamecz offers her services as housekeeper free of charge, additional proof of the miraculous power of the umbrella to all who know the money-conscious widow.
In the beginning the priest tries to resist continuous requests for the presence of the umbrella during church ceremonies, but his parishioners feel so offended when he refuses that he finally gives in and uses the umbrella on all occasions. Pilgrims come from far away to look at the umbrella, and brides insist on being married under it. Soon the town feels the need for building an inn that carries the name Miraculous Umbrella. The priest wonders how the umbrella came to Glogova; he waits many years for an answer.
In the town of Besztercebanya lives a wealthy bachelor, Pál Gregorics. A spy during the war, he was seen many times with a red umbrella. Pál is in love with his housekeeper, Anna Wibra, who gives birth to an illegitimate son, Gyury Wibra. The townspeople observe how Pál devotes all of his time to the child. Pál’s two brothers and his sister do not like the possibility that they might someday have to share Pál’s estate with an illegitimate child. For this reason Pál, afraid that his relatives might try to harm young Gyury, decides to trick them by pretending he does not care for the boy, and he sends Gyury to a distant school. To deceive his brothers and sister, he acts as if he invested all of his money in several estates that require inspection from time to time, but in reality he visits his son.
Despite great love for his father, Gyury reproaches Pál for making himself a laughingstock by always carrying the old red umbrella. Pál disregards the complaints and promises his son he will one day inherit the umbrella. When Pál feels he is going to die, he asks his lawyer János Sztolarik to prepare his will. Mysteriously, he asks two masons, under strict order of secrecy, to break a wall in order to place a caldron into the wall and finish the masonry as it was before. Although he tells his housekeeper to notify Gyury of his illness, she fails to do...
(The entire section is 1549 words.)