Part 1 out of 2
E-text prepared by Roy Brown
THE CANTERBURY PILGRIMS
Being Chaucer's Canterbury Tales Retold for Children
By M. Sturt, BA and E.C. Oaken, MA
Geoffrey Chaucer lived mere than five hundred years ago, when Edward
II. waged war in France, and the peasants rebelled in England
against his son, Richard II, Yet for all this, England was then
"Merrie England." Her trade prospered, men laughed and sang and
delighted in tales, in art, end in out-door life.
Chaucer was not a poet who lived apart from his fellows, but one who
dealt constantly with men and affairs, and loved his fellow-men. He
was an important person in his time. He began life as a page boy at
Court, where he saw great ladies and gallant courtiers, and heard
music and took part in pageants and processions. He fought for the
king in France and was taken prisoner by the enemy; but the king
sixteen pounds for his ransom and he returned to England. He went to
France again and to as ambassador on the king's business. Thus he met
famous men in foreign lands and saw the beautiful land of Italy,
where in his day lived two Italian poets whose names are as famous
as Chaucer's own, one of whom he makes his Clerk mention--Petrarch
of Padua. He saw, too, the fine buildings and paintings which Italian
artists were making, whose fame has spread abroad throughout world.
Chaucer loved all this colour and beauty, and carried it in his mind,
so that when he again came to London he remembered it and wrote of
He was a member of Parliament, and a civil servant too, whose work it
was to collect the customs. He had to make long records of his
accounts all day; but at night returned with joy to his house above
the Aldgate in the walls of London. There he pored over his books,
and "dumb as any stone," he tells us, he read, and dreamed, and
But when spring came, no more indoors for him! Away he went, out to
the fields, which then came to the edge of the Thames and to the very
walls of the city. There in the bright sunshine he sought his
favourite flower, the daisy, and met men in the open roads and lanes,
and because he liked men and respected them, they talked to him very
freely of their lives and doings. Often in April he saw motley
companies of men and women riding out of the stuffy narrow streets of
the town, away along country roads by hedgerow and meadow, to some
distant shrine, where they would pray to the saints for prosperity
Chaucer one day went with such a company, and he has left us his
record of it. The Canterbury Tales describe better than any history
book the people of Chaucer's time. You will find that in their dress
and manners they are often strangely different from ourselves; but in
much we are very like to them. All kinds and conditions of men are
there, good and bad. There is love for honour and beauty, laughter
for a jest, impatience for a dreary tale, ridicule for a worn-out
one, good-fellowship and joy in the open air, loose tongues and
travellers' stories, drinking by the way, and mishaps by the road.
Travelling was difficult, for the roads were full of holes and very
muddy and dirty, and a man must either walk or go on horseback. Some
of the party had bad horses and some were anything but expert riders,
so that it took four days to ride the fifty-six miles from London to
Canterbury. The nights were spent at inns where many shared one room,
and beds were not as clean as they might have been. But the pilgrims
made a happy party, as you will see, for they beguiled the way with
stories. Chaucer tells these stories in his account of his
pilgrimage. He never completed the account, however, but left some
gaps in the story. The general plan of the work is clear enough, and
in this little book the gaps have been bridged in a manner consistent
with Chaucer's account of the journey.
Chaucer's language is different from ours of today, and although easy
to read when one is used to it, is difficult at first. Therefore
these tales are retold in this little book in our present-day
language and in prose instead of verse. They lose much of Chaucer's
vivacity and spirit by this translation, but try and read the
originals for yourself one day, and learn to love one who has been
dear for his humanity, kindliness and humour to poets and ordinary
folk alike, from 1370 to now.
THE CANTERBURY PILGRIMS
TALES OF THE FIRST DAY
The Knight's Tale of Palamon and Arcite
Talk between the Host and the Miller
The Miller's Tale of a Carpenter Outwitted
The Reeve talks
The Reeve's Tale of the Miller of Trumpington
The Cook begins his Tale
TALES OF THE SECOND DAY
The Man of Law's Tale of the Miraculous Journeyings of Constance
The Shipman tells his Tale
The Prioress's Tale of a Little Christian Martyr
Talk between the Host and Chaucer
Chaucer's Rime of Sir Thopas
Chaucer's Rime is stopped
Talk between the Host and the Monk
The Monk's Tales of Diverse Men who fell into Misfortune
Talk between the Host and the Monk whose Tale is stopped
The Nun's Priest's Tale of Chanticleer
TALES OF THE THIRD DAY
The Doctor tells his Tale
The Pardoner's speech
The Pardoner's Tale of the Men who would slay Death
Talk between the pardoner and the Host
The Wife of Bath's Speech
The Wife of Bath's Tale of the Queen's Riddle
The Friar's Tale of the Wicked Summoner
The Summoner talks
The Clerk's Tale of the Patient Wife
The Clerk sings
The Merchant tells his Tale
The Yeoman's Tale of Gamelyn
TALES OF THE FOURTH DAY
The Squire's Tale of Cambuskan and Canacee
Talk between the Host and the Franklin
The Franklin's Tale of Three Generous Souls
The Nun's Tale of St. Cecilia
The Canon and his Yeoman join he Pilgrims and introduce themselves.
The Canon's Yeoman's Tale of a cunning Alchemist
The Steward tells his Tale
The Parson's Homily on Penitence
The Entry into Canterbury
The Author takes Leave of his Readers
MAP SHOWING THE COURSE OF THE PILGRIMAGE
THE CANTERBURY PILGRIMS
When April comes, and with her gentle showers has banished the dreary
month of March, when in every copse, and valley the young trees bud
and flowers show their heads, when birds make melody in the fresh
morning time, then men's hearts long for the wide air and joys of
the open roads. It is the time for pilgrims. Forth they ride through
wood and lane, by, stream and meadow, to seek the shrines of saints
and worship God in distant fanes. Many journey to Canterbury to do
honour to the tomb of the great St. Thomas and to enjoy the fields
and sunshine along the roads of Kent. As they go they make merry
their journey with songs, tales, and joking.
It chanced, as it was also my intention to ride thither, that I lay
one night at the Tabard Inn, in Southwark, ready to start on my way
next morning. Towards nightfall a company of twenty-nine other
pilgrims arrived. They had met by chance and were people of all
sorts and kinds. The inn is large with roomy apartments and good
fare, so that all the guests were soon in friendly mood, and I
talked with them all.
There was a Knight and his son a Squire, not yet entered into the
full glory of knighthood, but yet experienced in war--for he had
fought in Flanders and in Picardy. He was about twenty years of age,
with fair curly hair so neatly dressed that you would have said it
had been waxed. He could make songs and poetry, draw, write and
dance. All day he sang or played his flute. Yet for all his grace and
cleverness he was lowly, and carved at table for his father. His
tunic matched his gaiety of heart, for it was embroidered all over,
as full of red and white flowers as is a meadow.
With the Knight and Squire was their servant, a Yeoman Forester.
He was dressed in hood and cloak of green, with a green baldric for
his horn. His sheaf was full of arrows feathered with gay peacock
plumes, and in addition he carried a sword and buckler and a sharp
dagger. He was a fine figure, with skin browned by life in the woods.
He was skilled too, owing all the secrets of woodcraft.
A Prioress was of the company. She spoke in soft coy tones, and
smiled gently on all; but Madame Eglantine was chiefly attractive
because of her charming manners. No morsel ever fell from her lips,
neither did she dip her fingers too deeply in the sauce, nor drop
her meat as her dainty fingers carried it from her plate to her
mouth. She seemed ever at pains to show her courtly behaviour, and
may have kept a small school, for she spoke French (as they speak it
in London, however, not as they speak it in Paris). She had brought
her small dogs with her and fed them carefully on best wheaten bread
and roasted meat. If anyone smote one of them Madame Eglantine wept
bitterly, for she was full of tenderness and pity, and had been known
to cry if a mouse were caught in a trap. With her were a nun, and her
As you would expect, many other members of the Church were among our
company. The Monk was a manly fellow who loved hunting and good
living. Many a horse he had in his stables, and many greyhounds for
hunting the hare. A fat swan was his favourite dish. His looks told
of his ample fare, for he was fat and rosy, and rode merrily along
with his bridle bells jingling clearly in the wind. "Some say that
hunters can't be holy men," he said, "but I can't agree with those
that would make monks madden themselves with study and tire
themselves with labour. What good comes of it all?" "What good
indeed?" said I.
The Friar, Hubert, was a gay fellow too. I daresay that in all
the Four Orders of Friars you would not find a more pleasing
talker--especially in matters of love. He sang lustily, played the
harp, and kept us merry with his jesting.
Not so the Clerk from Oxford. He was a serious student. For many
years he had devoted himself to logic and philosophy, yet little gold
had got thereby! His horse was lean as a rake, and he himself was by
no means fat. His threadbare cloak hung limply on his shoulders. Had
he been more worldly-minded, he might have gained a rich benefice;
but all his treasure was in the twenty red and black books at his
bedside, where he found the rich thought of Aristotle--more
satisfying to the Clerk than gold, or robes or sweet music. All the
money he was given he spent on books, praying eagerly for the souls
of them that helped him to buy more. He spoke but little. His speech
then was quick and packed with thought, and he loved best to talk of
moral virtue. Glad he was to learn, and glad to teach.
One man among the company was terrible to look upon. His face was
fiery red with black brows and scabbed skin. He had crowned himself
with a great garland. It was no wonder that even children were afraid
of him. This man, I learned, was a Summoner, who brought up
offenders before the Church courts.
His friend was the Pardoner--just arrived from the court of Rome
with his wallet packed full of pardons and relics. You shall hear
what he did with these later. He had long straight oily yellow hair,
spread thinly around his shoulders. He had packed his hood in his
wallet, for it seemed more festive to him to ride bare-headed. His
eyes shone like a hare's. He had no beard, and his small, piping,
goat-like voice made him seem very youthful.
He was said to be a very successful Pardoner; for he could not only
read and sing delightfully (especially when asking for the
offertory), but his manner was so persuasive that in one day he
could win more silver than the parson earned in two or three months.
A fine Pardoner, this! No wonder he sang so merrily and loud!
A poor Parish Priest was there also. He was too occupied in holy
works, in teaching and diligently tending the sick to have time to
hunt for high positions in London. To him, all that mattered was that
his parishioners should know the true Gospel, and never, for rain,
thunder, sickness, nor danger did he to visit his people, scattered
as they were over the wide country-side. Often he gave them of his
own poor substance, for he was the true shepherd who gives all for
his sheep. A better priest, I warrant, could nowhere be found. He
taught Christ's lore, but first he followed it himself that his
followers might find an example in him, and learn by his practices,
as well as by his words.
This Priest had brought his brother, a strong good-hearted
Ploughman. He too was a true Christian. Many a time had he dug and
threshed for a poor widow to help her pay her rent, and would take
no reward for it. He wore a loose tabard, and rode on a mare.
The workers from the town included a Weaver, a Carpenter, a
Haberdasher, a Dyer, and an Upholsterer. All prosperous men
they were, as indeed you could tell from the silver trappings on
their pouches and knives, and fit to be aldermen of their boroughs.
Their wives would have liked it, I know! These men had brought their
Cook with them.
Some of the pilgrims had come from far afield. The Pardoner's home
was in Roncivale, while the Shipman hailed from Dartmouth. There lay
his little barque, "The Magdalene." His dagger hung on his lanyard
and he rode unsteadily, in sailor fashion, on a nag.
From Bath we had a buxom Wife--a champion cloth-weaver. I daresay her
Sunday head-dress weighed ten pounds. Even her riding-hat was as
broad as a shield. Her stockings were scarlet. Her shoes were cut in
the latest fashion and had sharp spurs attached. She had travelled
far, even to Jerusalem, and gossipped amusingly of herself and her
The Reeve of the company came from Baldeswelle in Norfolk.
A Miller, a Steward, a Doctor, a solemn Merchant, a Franklin and
myself completed the company The Doctor was one of the best of his
profession. He knew exactly when to make his images of wax, and under
what moon he should gather his herbs. He was very learned; I could
not tell you of all the authors he had read. He was rich too, for the
Black Death had brought him no little gain.
Now let me tell what happened at the inn.
At supper we made a merry party, for the wine was strong, and Harry
Bailey, our host, a jovial soul. Seeing us in good humour, he
addressed us thus "My friends, you are welcome here. Tomorrow you
depart; but surely it will be very dull if you ride silent and
morose. I have a plan to keep you merry all the way. What say you,
shall I tell it?" We held up our hands at once to vote that he should
tell on. "This is my plan, then. As you journey to Canterbury every
one of you shall tell a tale, and as you return every one shall tell
another tale. He who tells the best shall be given a supper at the
expense of the rest of us--here at this inn, when we come back. What
say you? And indeed, to make you the jollier, I myself will go with
you, to be your guide and governor!" We heartily agreed, begged him
to be the judge of the tales, and promised to obey him in all things.
So with laughter and jollity we went to bed betimes to rise early on
Our host was as good as his word, and at day-break he roused us all
and gathered us together. Off we rode at a gentle pace, with the
Miller playing his bagpipes and the Summoner singing a loud bass to
the Pardoner's tenor. At St. Thomas's watering-place our host stopped
and called out, "Let's see now if you agree to last night's plan!
Before we go further, come, draw lots who shall tell the first tale.
Come hither Sir Knight, my Lady-Prioress, and you, you modest Clerk."
He held out to them grasses of different lengths, hiding the ends in
his hands so that they could not see which was the longest; and the
Knight drew the longest grass, and so had to begin the game. He was a
worthy man, this Knight, and loved truth and honour, freedom and
courtesy. Although he had won great praise in many foreign wars, he
was gentle and modest as a maid, perfect in manners and goodness. His
clothes might have deceived you as to his rank. His habergeoun was
bespattered with the mud of his latest journey, and his gipoun was
but of fustian, yet his horse was a fine one. As you would expect,
his tale was of chivalry and knighthood.
TALES OF THE FIRST DAY
THE KNIGHT'S TALE OF PALAMON AND ARCITE
Long ago, as old stories say, there was a great duke named Theseus,
renowned in fight and perfect in all chivalry. One day, as he was
returning from one of his most glorious battles, a great company of
women met him, weeping and wringing their hands in grief. They
besought Theseus that he would help them. "We are from Thebes," they
said, "and in the days of our prosperity were ladies of rank; but
alas, Creon, our foe, has sacked our city, slain our husbands and
sons, and now denies us even the right to bury our dead."
Theseus was moved to anger at their story, and swore that he would
punish Creon. Without more ado, he turned his horse and led his men
to Thebes. There he killed Creon and his followers, and the mournful
ladies were able to wash the bodies of their lords and give them
honourable burial. Now it chanced that among those whom Theseus
fought were two young knights, Palamon and Arcite. They were sorely
wounded in the fight and had been I left for dead; but after the
battle they were discovered wounded, and taken back to Athens as
For many a day they were shut up in a room in a high tower
overlooking Theseus' garden. Very woeful were they, until one May
morning Palamon looked through his barred window and saw a lovely
maid walking in the garden below. It was early morning, with the dew
still on the flowers and the first beams of the sun glistening on all
things. The maid was as fair as the flowers that she gathered to make
her garland. Her hair was golden and hung in a long plait, and the
blossoms she gathered for her garland were red and white. For very
joy she sang so sweet a song that Palamon beholding her loved her
with all his heart, yet thought she was too beautiful to be a maid of
earth. He looked long, and sighed, "O goddess, if thou wilt but help
me to be free, I will be always thy trusty servant." Hearing him thus
speak, Arcite also looked out, and he too at once loved the wondrous
beauty of the maid. "May I die unless I have her," he said, and
sighed too. At this Palamon was angry. "Traitor," he said, "do you
now break the vow we made each other long ago--never to betray each
other, and never to cross each other in love? I saw and loved the
maid first. She must be _mine_."
"No," answered Arcite. "You thought she was a goddess; I loved her
first as a woman. She must be _mine._" So they fell to quarrelling
loudly and cruelly. At last Arcite said, "We waste our time to
quarrel thus. Neither of us can ever win her. Poor prisoners we are,
and doomed to die here without a thought from happier men. Some rich
lord will carry her away. Ours she cannot be." And they were very
Now it chanced that a certain duke who was a friend of Arcite came to
visit Theseus, and persuaded him to set young Arcite free. Theseus
did so, but only on condition that Arcite should leave Athens for
ever. "If from this time forth you are found in this land," he said,
"your head will be forfeit." So Arcite went to Thebes, very
heavy-hearted, because although he was now free, he might never more
see the maid of the garden. Palamon's case was equally hard, for
although he might see his beloved, never might he speak to her nor
woo her, for he must remain a poor neglected prisoner, high up in the
castle tower. Now tell me, you lovers, if you can, whose lot was the
worse? Is it better to be free and never see one's lady, or to be a
prisoner and see her every day?--Judge for yourselves. I must go on
with my story.
Arcite lived in Thebes, so sorrowfully that he fell a-weeping
whenever music was played, and soon grief had so changed his
countenance that no man would have recognised him. At last he could
bear this state no longer, but made up his mind to go to Athens, and
there seek his lady. He came therefore to the palace of Theseus and
hired himself as a servant. He was strong and able to draw water and
hew wood. In course of time he was made a chamberlain, and at length,
since he was always mannerly and courteous and obedient, Theseus
promoted him, and he became a squire and one of his best beloved
Meanwhile Palamon languished in prison, till, made desperate by
despair, he one night drugged his jailer and escaped. When day came
he sought refuge in a wood, intending to wait there for the dark to
cover his escape. As Fortune willed it, that very morning, Arcite
(now calling himself Philostratus) rode out into the wood to enjoy
the fresh sweet air of the May morning, and dismounted from his horse
near the very bush where Palamon lay hid. There he paced up and down,
restless, and spoke aloud to himself of all his sorrows. "I am
royally born," he said, "yet I must pretend to serve Theseus, my
mortal enemy. Palamon my brother is a captive. Unhappy are we
both--better to die of love for my lady than live this miserable
life." At this mention of his love, Palamon's heart was stirred to
wrath, and forth he rushed from his hiding-place. "Traitor Arcite,"
he cried, "do you still dare to love my lady? Will you still break
our vow of fealty, one to the other? Now you have deceived Theseus!
But beware! I am Palamon! You must give up your love or die!" Saying
this he rushed at Arcite. As it happened Arcite was armed, and drew
his sword, but seeing that Palamon had no weapon, he stayed his hand
and said, "If you will do combat for your love, wait here till
tomorrow. I cannot fight you unarmed as you are. At dawn I will
bring you armour, and a sword, and food. Then let the best warrior
have the fair lady of the garden!" And so they parted.
Arcite kept his word and brought the armour at daybreak. As soon as
it was light those two armed themselves in the wood, and fell on each
other like a lion and a tiger when they wage mortal combat in the
thick forest. Neither shrank himself nor spared his adversary. Their
shields were dinted, sparks flew from their helmets, and down their
breastplates many a stream of blood flowed.
Amid the din of their blows on the armour and the fury of combat,
they did not hear the hunting horn nor the baying of the hounds, and
so, before they knew it, Theseus and all his court were around them,
and had called on them to cease their clamour and explain why they
strove so fiercely together. They dropped their weapons in amazement,
and saw that with Theseus were his queen, and the lady for whose love
they fought, Emily the Fair, the niece of Theseus. She was dressed in
green, as befitted a huntress on so bright a morning. Palamon spoke
at once. "Show us no mercy, Lord Theseus. Better it is that we should
both die, for well have we deserved death. I, Palamon, am your
captive, escaped from prison but yesterday, and this man here is
Arcite, who for many years has deceived you. This our quarrel is for
the love of Emily, the bright maid at your side. Slay us both, and
let our sorrow have an end." Theseus was wroth, and would indeed have
slain them, but the queen and Emily pleaded so well for their lives
that the duke relented. "You art foolish, both of you," he said; "but
lovers are ever thus. This is my judgment. For fifty weeks you shall
be free, and then shall you appear, each with a hundred knights, to
do battle for Emily in a tournament. Whoso wins that day shall have
her for his bride." Palamon and Arcite leapt up with joy at this; and
all the court praised Theseus for his chivalrous behaviour and
Those fifty weeks were busy times in Athens. The lists prepared for
the tournament were the most wonderful ever seen. The walls were
circular and a mile round. At the east and west ends were marble
gateways over which were temples. On the east gate was a temple to
Venus, the Goddess of Love, and on the west gate a temple to Mars,
God of War. On the north side was a temple in honour of Diana, the
Goddess of Maidens. Every man in the kingdom who could carve or paint
or build had been summoned to work on these lists and make them
beautiful. I wish I could describe to you all their magnificence. On
the walls of the temple of Venus were painted the stories of the
great lovers of fable and history. The statue of the goddess herself
seemed to float in a grass-green sea, and on her head she wore a
garland of roses. Mars' temple was dark and gloomy, with pictures of
battle and murder on the walls. The statue of Mars himself was
guarded by a wolf of stone. In Diana's temple was the statue of the
goddess riding upon a hart, with small hounds about her feet. Her
dress was green and she carried a bow and quiver of arrows. A waxing
moon, her symbol, was painted below her statue.
On the Sunday appointed for their meeting, Arcite and Palamon entered
Athens with their companies. Bold knights and noble princes were
assembled from every land to do battle in honour of so fair a maid.
With Palamon came the great King of Thrace, wearing a crown of gold
set with rubies and diamonds. His armour was covered with a
coal-black bear-skin, and he was carried in a chair of gold.
The other knights were all famous and goodly to look upon. Each was
armed according to his liking, with mace or spear, breastplate and
shield. Some had greaves, some a Prussian shield; no fashion was too
old or too new to be seen there.
With Arcite came the great King of India, whose horse was decked with
cloth of gold, while he himself had coat-armour studded with pearls,
a saddle of beaten gold, and a mantle of sparkling rubies. On his
head was a green wreath of laurel, and he carried a tame white eagle
on his hand. Many a tame lion and leopard ran about his horse's feet.
With him came many a goodly knight equipped for the fray.
The entertainment was princely. I cannot tell you of the feasts, and
the minstrelsy, nor of the great gifts to high and low; neither can I
describe to you the fairness of the ladies and their graceful
dancing; nor the hounds that lay upon the floor, and the hawks who
perched aloft. It was all wondrous indeed. Such feasting and
splendour had ne'er been known before.
At last the great day of the tournament came. At dawn Palamon arose
and went to sacrifice to Venus in her temple, and ask her help. "I
care not, goddess, whether in fight I win the laurels," he said. "For
me it is enough if she whom I love, the lady Emily, look on me kindly
and grant me her love. Help me, great goddess, help me. Never shalt
thou have a truer servant than I." Great was his joy when after some
delay the statue of Venus shook, for by this sign Palamon understood
that his prayer would be answered.
With the uprising of the sun, Emily herself also arose, bathed
herself in clear cool water, and went to ask Diana's help. "I would
rather be a maid all my life, and run and leap in the fields and
woods," she said, "but if the gods will that I be given to one of
these knights who desire me, O grant that I be given to him who loves
me most!" Thereat a marvellous thing happened; for one of the two
fires on the altar suddenly died down, but quickly leaped up in flame
again, while the other as suddenly died down and drops of blood oozed
from the dying embers. The statue of Diana shook and rattled the
arrows in its quiver, while the goddess herself appeared. "It is the
will of the gods you marry one of these men," she said, "but I may
not as yet declare which." And so she vanished.
"I am in thy hands, Diana!" cried Emily. "Grant me at least thy
An hour later Arcite' went to the temple of the terrible God of War.
"O Mars," he prayed, "grant me victory in the fight this day, and
evermore I will serve thee." At this the rings of the temple doors
clanged, the very walls rang, while the fire on the altar blazed
bright in the gloom. From the earth rose a sweet savour. The statue
of Mars itself shook, and murmured "Victory." The walls and armour
Arcite rose up from his prayer glad and confident, and went to
prepare for the fight.
Never was such excitement before. On every hand was noise of bolting
of armour, buckling of helms, bridling of horses, sounding of
trumpets, pawing of steeds; rushing here to see a fine prince and his
retinue, rushing there to see a fine new banner and shield; and over
all the bright sun of a fresh May morning. Some were sure Arcite
would win, some favoured Palamon, but whatever the event of the day,
all knew that ere the sun set many a deed of valour would be done,
and many a gallant knight show his prowess.
At an early hour Theseus himself in all his royal robes appeared at
his palace window, and all the folk hastened thither to see him and
hear his will. The royal herald mounted a high scaffold. "Ho! Ho!" he
cried. "Hear the will of Theseus the great duke! For inasmuch as it
were destructive to gentle blood to fight a mortal battle this day,
he that shall be overcome shall not be slain, but shall be brought to
the stakes which are at either end of the lists. There, brought by
force, shall he abide, nor take any further part in fighting. If and
when the chieftain on either side be taken, then shall we declare the
tourney over and award the prize. Go forth, good people, go forth!
This is my lord's will!" Loud were the people's cheers, and at once
the processions began. Theseus with his queen and Emily and all his
royal court led the way. Palamon followed with his hundred knights
in battle array, with white plumes and banners waving in the wind.
Next came Arcite with his knights under red pennons. Oh! it was a
sight to gladden the heart of a man! Such colour, such workmanship
in arms, such skill in riding, such knightly bearing, and to crown
all, such beauty!
And now the companies enter the lists and are lined up two deep,
facing one another. The heralds' trumpets sound, the names of the
combatants are read and the gates closed.
Once more the trumpets blare, the heralds call "To your places,
knights," and the fight begins. The combatants rush together. Swords
flash, spears are set in rest. Here one is borne from his horse, here
another is pierced through the breast. Here a knight swings his mace
and crashes through helm and bone. Nor armour nor skill can ward off
such mighty blows, and horses and their riders fall. One is taken
captive to the stake. Another shares his fate. Thick rises the dust,
loud rings the battle din, and on all sides fierce confusion reigns
and cruel war.
Throughout the mele rage Palamon and Arcite; Arcite like a tiger that
has lost her whelp, Palamon like a ravening lion athirst for blood.
Through the long day they fight, until at last Palamon is set upon by
Arcite and the Indian king at once, with twenty more knights to help
them. Then, not all the great strength of his arm and sword can avail
him, but, o'erborne by the weight of numbers, he is dragged,
resisting still, to the shameful stake.
When Theseus saw this he stopped the fight.
"Ho--no more," he said. "All is done. Emily is the bride of Arcite of
Thebes." Sad was Palamon, but Arcite, with helm unlaced, rode proudly
on his courser towards Emily. All the trumpets sang loud of his
victory. Thousands of voices acclaimed him. Mars had fulfilled his
prophecy. What then could Venus be doing, for had she not promised
success to Palamon?
A moment! My story is not ended. As Arcite rode thus joyously to
claim his prize, it chanced that an adder suddenly started from the
ground before the horse's feet; The charger reared and swerved, and
Arcite was thrown against the pommel of his saddle with such violence
that his breast-bone was broken, and he fell down in a swoon. He was
carried quickly away; but all that night, while feasting and
merry-making reigned in the palace, poor Arcite lay dying. "Alas!" he
cried. "Farewell to you, my lady, my love, my wife won by my prowess.
Farewell to the world and merry company. I go where man must be alone
and cold. Farewell again, my fairest Emily!" And so with his lady's
name on his lips, he died.
Great was the mourning throughout Athens for so noble a warrior and
so true a lover. His funeral pyre was heaped high with all sweet
woods and spices. All famous Greeks came thither to play in his
Men mourned for Arcite for many a long year. But at last their sorrow
spent itself,--one day Palamon came again to the court of Theseus.
There, with gentle patient wooing, he won at length the hand of
Emily, and gained thus his heart's desire and the reward of his true
love of her.
They lived long in richness and health. Never was fairer wife than
Emily; never was knight more faithful than Palamon. There I leave
them. God bless them, and grant His grace and loving-kindness to this
fair company. Amen.
* * * * *
When the Knight had finished his tale, the whole company, young and
old, praised it. The Host was delighted; he burst out laughing. "The
play goes finely," he cried. "Now we have started the ball rolling,
who will tell the next tale? Will you, Sir Monk, give us a worthy
follower to the Knight?" Before the Monk had time to answer, the
Miller interrupted. He was a broad, thick-set fellow with a red
beard, a great wide mouth, and a wart on his nose. He wore a white
coat and blue hood, and was armed with a sword and buckler. By this
time he was so overcome by riding and drinking that he could hardly
sit his horse, and what manners he possessed had left him. "I can
tell a fine tale," he shouted, "a good match for the Knight's." The
Host saw that he was in no fit state to tell a tale. "Good friend
Robin, take thy turn," he said. "Let a better man than thee speak
first." "Not I," said the Miller. "I tell my tale when I like, or
leave the party." "Well," said the Host, "tell if thou must, but thou
art making a fool of thyself."
"Now hearken!" began the Miller. "I begin my tale with a declaration.
I am drunk. I know it, and I bid you excuse any mistakes I make for
that very reason. It's the fault of Southwark ale, not mine, and my
tale is about a carpenter and how a scholar deceived him." "Forbear!"
cried Oswald the Reeve. "I am a carpenter. Beware how you tell your
jibing tales of my craft." But the Miller could not be silenced and
began his tale.
Kind reader, if you do not like the tale please excuse me and turn to
another and harmless one. I am merely the chronicler of this journey
and must tell the truth.
THE MILLER'S TALE OF A CARPENTER OUTWITTED
There was a rich carpenter who lived at Oxford and took in students
to board with him. Among them was one named Nicholas, as proper a man
as one could wish to see. He kept his room all strewed with sweet
herbs. At his bed's head, neatly arranged on shelves, were his books
and calculating pebbles, for he studied astrology and could foretell
the weather. A red cloth covered his press and on the wall hung his
little harp. He was a gay fellow and loved merry-making, yet looked
as gentle and dainty as a maiden. The carpenter was an old man, and
had just married a wife of eighteen, named Alisoun. She was as pretty
a woman as you could find in the whole country-side. Dressed up in
all her finery she was as gay as a bird. Her girdle was silk and her
apron as white as snow. Her smock was white and broidered with black
silk, and her brooch as large as the base of a shield. The ribbon of
her cap matched her embroidery, and her eyebrows were black and
arched. But the most tempting thing about her was the way she looked
at one. A very primrose she was, on my faith; as fair as an apple
tree in blossom. Nicholas loved her well enough, and others too; but
her husband would let her go nowhere but to church and never allowed
her to take part in any festivities.
All went smoothly, however, till the time for the yearly plays came
round, when the stories of Adam, Joseph and Herod, and many another
Bible hero, are performed in the market-place. Such times are
holidays for all. Everybody goes to the plays, and all the young
people take part in them. Alisoun longed to go, but she knew it was
no good asking her, tyrannical husband.
One day, while her husband was away at Osney, she told Nicholas of
her desire, and cried to him because she was kept so strictly at
home. Nicholas was sorry for her. "What is the good of being a
scholar if I cannot outwit a carpenter?" he said. "I will find a way
out." They made their plan between them and carried up into
Nicholas's room enough food for two or three days. Neither, that day
nor the next did Nicholas come down to meals, until at last the
carpenter began to get anxious. "Have you called Nicholas?" he said
to his wife. "Why, yes!" she said. "I have sent my maid to knock and
there is no answer." "Perhaps he is ill," answered the carpenter.
"Life is very uncertain these days. Why, but yesterday I saw a corpse
carried to the churchyard, and another last week. I do hope no harm
has befallen the young man." Then he sent his man to see what he
could do. The man knocked but got no answer. Then he noticed a hole
in the bottom of the door by which the cat used to go in and out, and
stooping down he looked through. Nicholas was sitting in a chair with
his head back, staring at something. Down went the man and told what
he had seen. "Alas!" said the carpenter, "he is certainly mad. This
is what comes of his studies. I have heard tell of another astronomer
who was so busy looking at the stars that he fell into a clay pit. I
fear something like that has happened to Nicholas. I will go and see
about it." He took the servant with him, and together they lifted the
door right off its hinges, and down it fell with a bang on the floor.
Nicholas never moved and seemed to hear nothing. "Dear me!" said the
carpenter, "he is certainly mad." He went up and touched him; still
Nicholas did not move. Then the carpenter began to utter a spell:
"Christ and Benedict the saint,
Keep us safe from elves quaint,
From witches and fairies of the night,
Peter's sister, guard us quite."
As he finished Nicholas began to groan and to 'move about. "Ah, he is
better," said the carpenter. "But what ails you now?" "It is a
terrible thing that I have learnt!" said Nicholas. "Send away your
man and I will tell you all as far as I may." So with many
lamentations he began. "By my art I have learnt that the end of
mankind is at hand. Once more there will be a flood such as there was
in the days of Noah, and this flood will begin no later than the day
after tomorrow." The carpenter began to wail. "Oh, what will become
of us! Must we all drown? Alas, alas!" "There is one way to be
saved," said the scholar, "which I will tell you as it was revealed
to me. Get a tub and hang it from the rafters in the barn, then put
in food and drink for a day. That will be enough, for the flood will
be short. Break open the gable at the end so that you can sail out,
and wait there for the water." "But must I be saved alone?" cried the
carpenter. "What of my wife? What of my servants?" "Your wife I can
save," answered the other, "and myself too; but your servants must
perish--such is the will of heaven. Now go. Get three tubs, one for
each of us, hang them well apart, and make the other preparations;
but be sure of this:--not one word of what is coming must pass your
lips to anyone save your wife. Such is heaven's decree."
Away went the carpenter to tell his wife, and she, though she was in
the plot, feigned great fear and wept and wailed, till her husband
went off to make his preparations. He bought three tubs and hung them
up high from the rafters, put in each of them bread, meat, and ale,
and even made three ladders to climb up by. Then on the day that
Nicholas had named, before it was light, they all three climbed up to
their tubs. Said Nicholas, "Have you a knife by you so that when this
water comes you may cut your tub loose and float away?" "I have,"
said the carpenter. "Then from this time on we must keep absolute
silence," said Nicholas.
By and by the carpenter, for all his fear, fell asleep. As soon as
they heard him snoring Nicholas and Alisoun crept down and went to
In the market-place the waggons on which the plays are acted were
already drawn up. The actors were there in all their finery. There
was Abraham with his rich robe, and Pilate and Herod appeared in
their crowns and shining jewels, and roared out their speeches to the
delighted audience. The flames gushed out from "hell's mouth," and
eerie-looking demons romped and capered, now on the stage, now among
the spectators. The minstrels were there too. Never was such
frivolity. Alisoun danced with Nicholas, and all the company said
they were the best pair there.
At last, long after dusk, they went home. Just as they drew near the
carpenter's house, Nicholas bethought him of a new dance. He was so
merry that he whirled and capered to show off his steps to Alisoun,
quite forgetful of the lighted torch he was carrying, until the flame
blew aside in the wind and caught one of Alisoun's ribbons which
began to burn. "Water, water!" cried the wife. "Water!" called
Nicholas, and others near, thinking that a thatch must be afire,
called loudly; "Water, water!"
The din was so loud that it waked the carpenter in his tub, where he
had slumbered heavily the whole day through. Hearing the shout he
thought the flood had come at last. With a cry of fear, he quickly
took out his knife and cut through the cords. Down fell the tub to
the floor, with such a crash that the poor old man broke his arm and
The neighbours all gathered to see what had happened, but the
carpenter got no sympathy. "He is mad!" said Nicholas and Alisoun;
"mad with fear of Noah's flood!" The neighbours laughed as they
looked at the tubs. "What a stupid old man!" they said. "He must be
So for all his care the carpenter got a broken arm, and Nicholas and
Alisoun had a jolly day at the plays.
* * * * *
This tale of Nicholas and the carpenter made us all laugh, except
Oswald the Reeve. He was annoyed, of course, since a carpenter was
befooled in the Miller's story. He looked sourly on us now, with his
spare pinched face. His hair was shaved close and his legs were long
and thin. All his dress was poor, even his sword was rusty, and
generally he rode the hindermost of our party. Yet for all his
uncouthness he kept his master's property well, although some said
the tenants dreaded him as the plague. He had told me that his house
was built fairly upon a wide heath, yet shaded with green trees.
"If I liked," he said, "I could tell a tale against your craft, and
show how a miller was tricked and fared worse than your carpenter.
But I am old, and my term of life is nearly done. Quarrelling and
scorn befit not white hairs, yet little is left us old men but envy,
malice, and all uncharitableness."
At that Harry Bailey interrupted him. "Why all this grumbling and
sermoning?" he said in his lordliest tones. "What has a reeve to do
with texts? Tell your tale, my man, and don't waste time. Look, there
is Deptford, and half our morning's gone! Yonder is Greenwich! Come,
we have no time to listen to your moralising. Begin!"
"Forgive me then," said Oswald, "if I tell you a tale to cap the
Miller's. Such drunken scoundrels deserve quittance. Here is my
THE REEVE'S TALE OF THE MILLER OF TRUMPINGTON
At Trumpington, a hamlet not far from Cambridge, there runs a brook;
over it is a bridge. On this brook there stands a mill, and there a
miller had his dwelling many a year. He was proud as a peacock, handy
with the pipes, a good man at fishing and at wrestling or in an
archery match. He always went armed; at his side a claymore--and
sharp he kept the blade--a poignard in his pouch and a dirk in his
stocking. It would be a brave man that dare touch him. In looks he
had a round face and a snub nose, and his head was as bald as an
ape's. He was a swaggerer in the market-place, a practised thief in
the corn and meal that came to be ground, and he was called proud
Simpkin. His wife was gentry-born and her father chief man in the
town. She had been reared in a nunnery. A shrewish woman she was and
proud. 'Twas a fine sight to see the two of them wending their way to
church on Sundays. Simpkin walked first in his cape and red
stockings, and she came behind in a dress of the same hue. To have
made a jest to her would have been to court death at Simpkin's hands,
for Simpkin was jealous of his honour. They bad two children, a
daughter aged twenty and a baby son. The girl was a fine strapping
wench, taking after her father in looks. Some day she was to inherit
all the property and be married to a lord.
The miller had no lack of customers. From all around, grist came to
his mill. One of his chief customers was the great college Soler Hall
at Cambridge. He ground their wheat and their malt too. One day it
chanced that the bursar fell ill and was like to die. The miller did
not let this opportunity slip, but stole a hundred times more than
before, changing from cautious pilfering to barefaced robbery. When
the head of the college accused him he was impudent and denied the
There were at the college two poor scholars, John and Aleyn. In sheer
joy at a chance to trick the miller, they went to the warden and
asked to be allowed to take the corn to be ground. "We wager," they
said, "that the miller shall not steal a grain while we are there to
watch." At last they persuaded the warden to let them pit their wits
against the miller's. Aleyn made the preparations, threw the sack of
corn on the horse, took his sword and buckler, and the two set off
together. John knew the way and presently they arrived at the mill.
Aleyn began: "Good-day to you, Symond How are your wife and pretty
daughter?" "Ah! Aleyn," said the miller, "I'm pleased to see you, and
John too. What is your business?" "Symond," answered John, "necessity
is a hard master. A manless man must needs be his own servant. Our
bursar is so ill, that I hear he will die, so Aleyn and I have come
to get the corn ground and take it home again." "Right," said
Simpkin, "I will do it. But how will you spend the time till it is
ready?" "As for me," answered John, "I have never seen corn ground in
my life. I will stand by the hopper and watch how the corn goes in."
"And I," Aleyn took up, "know as little of milling as John does, so I
will stand down below and watch the meal run into the trough."
The miller knew well enough what they were thinking of, but he said
nothing, meaning to get the better of them later. When the two
scholars were all intent on watching the corn, the miller chose his
time aid crept out softly. He found their horse standing tied under a
bush and untied his bridle. Away ran the horse to the fen, tossing
his head and whinnying, and splashing through mud and water. The
miller returned without a word, but when the meal was put in the
sack and they were ready to be gone, John discovered the loss.
"Aleyn," he cried, "look, our horse is gone!" "Which way? Which
way?" cried Aleyn. "Come, hurry and see what a dreadful thing has
happened!" The corn was forgotten "Oh, where can he have gone to?"
they asked. Up came the miller's wife. "Your horse is gone to the
fen," she said, "running as fast as he can." "Throw down your sword,
Aleyn," cried John, "and let's off after him. Between us we should
catch him. Why ever did we not put the beast in a shed! You're a
fool, Aleyn, I'm afraid." Away they went and spent all the day
whooping and holloaing to the horse, but he was too wild for them.
Just on nightfall, however, they drove him into a ditch and caught
him there. Meanwhile the miller had helped himself to half a bushel
of meal and bade his wife make a cake of it. "It's not always
learning that makes the cutest man!" he said. "A miller has little
trouble in upsetting the tricks of a mere clerk."
When at last John and Aleyn came back to the mill, they were wet and
dirty. It was too late for them to make their journey home that
night. A very crest-fallen couple humbly begged the miller to give
them a night's lodging. "Mine is a poor house and small," answered
the miller. "But you are scholars and doubtless have the power to
turn a hovel into a palace by your arguments. Be content with this,
therefore, or enlarge it as you like." "You are a merry man," replied
John, "and we are contented with the house. There is money to pay for
our supper." So they all fell to and ate their meal and drank good
strong ale, till the miller sat himself down in the corner of the
settle and began to doze.
Aleyn had been looking at the daughter all through supper, and now,
when the father was asleep and the mother gone about some household
business, he went and sat by her side, and presently, before she knew
what he was doing, put his arm round her and kissed her. Just at this
moment in came the mother. "Sir," she cried, "how dare you behave
like that to my daughter! Help, husband, help! Wake up! This wretched
scholar is kissing my daughter." Up woke the miler in a fury and ran
at Aleyn. In a minute the two were fighting as hard as they could.
John looked round for a weapon with which to defend his friend, but
the miller's wife was quicker. Up she took a heavy stick that stood
in the corner and struck at Aleyn, but, as luck would have it, there
came a gust of wind down the chimney so strong that it nearly blew
the lamp out. In the flickering light, the blow intended for Aleyn
fell on the miller's bald pate. Down he went like a log, down beside
him went his wife, wringing her hands and crying out that she had
killed him. "No," said John, "he's too tough to die like that. Come,
I'll give you a hand and we will take him up to bed." Aleyn and the
daughter were not sorry to be left alone. "I like you very well" she
said. "Shall I tell you what father did with your meal?" "Do,"
answered Aleyn eagerly, "and some day, when I'm rich, I will come
back and marry you." "I shall be ready!" she answered. So the next
morning, when they rode away, John and Aleyn not only had all their
meal, despite the miller's knavery, but Aleyn had won a bride as
well, while the miller had had a well-deserved beating and lost his
daughter to a clerk!
* * * * *
While the Reeve was speaking, the Cook was chuckling to himself, and
at the end of the tale he laughed loud and long. He was as good a
cook as you would find within the walls of London. His pies, I have
heard, were works of art. "I'll tell you my tale now," he said, "a
rollicking story of an apprentice in our town." "Well, say on,
Roger!" answered the Host. "You're a fine lad, I'll be bound."
So the Cook began his tale; but I had only heard a few sentences when
we came upon a bad stretch of road where the water from the previous
week's rains lay in great puddles, and in many places the soft mud
gave under our horses' feet. We therefore had to ride slowly and in a
straggling line, picking our way carefully.
Being near the end of the party, I heard no more of the Cook's story,
nor of the tales that followed it that day.
When we at last reached the inn at Dartford, where we were to spend
the night, I heard that the craftsmen from the town had told their
tales that afternoon.
TALES OF THE SECOND DAY
The next day, the 18th of April, the Host suddenly turned his horse
about and faced the company. "Lordlings," said he, "what with
oversleeping and late starting we waste our precious time. It's ten
o'clock, by my faith, and no tale told yet this day. Come, you
learned Man of Law, begin and let's have no more dallying!" "Host,"
said the Lawyer, "I never break my agreements; a man must obey that
law which he himself has made. But it is difficult for me to find a
tale. Geoffrey Chaucer, our poet, has told them all in his rhymes.
There is not a love story left to tell, and I have no taste for rude
jests. You will make fun of my plain unpoetical speech, I have no
doubt, for a lawyer's language is none of the prettiest. Yet I will
do my best. This is my story." So, with his silver girdle jingling as
he rode, he began:
THE MAN OF LAW'S TALE OF THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEYINGS OF CONSTANCE
There was in Syria a great sultan. His' merchants travelled far
overseas and brought him back news and great riches. One company
reported to him the events in Rome. They had noticed especially the
wonderful beauty of the Emperor of Rome's daughter, Constance. They
never wearied of telling of her loveliness, her goodness and her
courtesy, until the sultan's heart burned for love of her, and he
knew that unless she became his bride he would die.
Now Constance was a Christian, and the sultan a Mohammedan; yet to
win the lady of his love the sultan was converted, and he and many of
his followers were baptised. At last the emperor consented that his.
daughter should marry the sultan. She set sail for Syria very
woefully. "Father," she said, "must I, thy darling daughter, set
forth on this perilous journey, and live in a far land, a Christian
among unbelievers? Must I never see my dear parents again? Alas,
woman has no power of her own! In youth her father rules her; when
she is old her husband is her lord. But Christ and Christ's Mother
will preserve me. In them is my trust." So with tears she started,
and her maidens wept with her. None the less, when the ship came to
land she put away her grief and bore herself as became a bride.
The sultan in splendid array, with all his court in attendance, came
and met her at the water-side, and received her with all solemnity.
Amid revelling and noble pageantry he led her to the palace.
But under the flowers there lurked a scorpion, the queen-mother. Ah!
root of wickedness, filled full of guile, fierce worshipper of false
gods! She had plotted death to all Christians, and at the feast slew
every Roman except Constance herself. Not even the sultan, her own
son, escaped, but, because he had changed his faith, she slew him
among the others.
Pity now fair Constance left alone among her foes! She has no help
nor succour save the Lord God in Whom she trusts, and Who will never
fail those that put their faith in Him. The queen-mother had devised
a fate worse than death for her hated daughter-in-law. Alone, without
company, she was placed on a ship which was cut loose to sail the
sea. Yet in men's hearts there is some pity, and not without food or
raiment did Constance set forth. Truly the arm of the Lord is mighty
to save. He that guarded Daniel among the lions guarded Constance in
her open boat. Far and wide, for three years and more, she drifted;
but amid storm and calm, cold and heat, she was kept safe; neither
did her food nor drink fail her. The arms of God were around her. He,
Who fed five thousand in the wilderness, preserved this lone woman
for His own honour.
At last, guided by His hand, the bark drifted northwards through the
vast ocean till it came to the shores of Northumbria. There the
governor of the district found her with her ship and hearkened to her
prayer for help, though she was a stranger, and he could scarce
understand the Latin she spoke. In his home she had rest, and bore
herself so gently that the governor and his wife, Hermengild, loved
her as their own daughter. Never did she cease to preach Christ's
gospel, and such was her holy life that many believed through her.
Yet even here a cruel fate pursued her. There was a young knight who
hated Constance because she would not love him. One night he crept
through the window of the room where she slept with Hermengild, and,
approaching the bed, killed Hermengild, and left the blood-stained
knife lying by Constance's side. What grief was there when day came!
Constance, whom all loved, stood accused of murder and must be tried
before Alla, the king of the land. Foremost among her accusers was
this false knight, but when all spoke in her favour save he alone,
Alla bethought him to test his witness. The Bible was brought and the
knight asked to swear that what he said was true. He took the book
and with his hand on it swore in the name of God that Constance had
done this thing. She, all pale, as one who sees death before his
eyes, prayed that at her need help might be granted to her from on
Then indeed the hand of God smote down the perjurer. With a cry he
fell on his face, and a voice from heaven rang out, "Thou hast
slandered the guiltless and yet I hold my peace." Thereat wonder fell
on all men, and Alla, moved to wrath, condemned the traitor knight,
but Constance appeared so fair and holy in his eyes that after no
long time he wedded her. Lo, now! Constance is become a queen, and
seems to all men's sight at last favoured of Heaven.
But even so Providence had yet more trials in store for her. She who
had been so constant and so true must bear more sorrow for the glory
No long time after the wedding Alla went forth to fight the Scots and
left his queen in charge of the governor who had found her at first.
Once more a queen-mother plotted her doom, Donegild, King Alla's
mother. Constance bore the king a son, a lovely boy, whom they named
Mauricius. This seemed the very crown of bliss, yet through this joy
Heaven meant to try Constance still further.
The governor wrote letters to the king to tell him the glad news, and
gave them to a messenger to carry with all haste. But the
queen-mother was jealous of Constance, and, when the messenger
passed, called him in and made him drunk with wine. Then, while he
slept, she opened his pouch, took out his letters and changed them,
so that when he came to the king the letters that he delivered were
false ones written by the queen, which said: "Your wife is an elf,
and has borne a baby so ugly and horrible that all are afraid of it."
The king was sad at this news, but he so loved Constance that he
wrote back: "Keep the child till I return; I would obey the will of
Again, as the messenger passed the palace of the king's mother, she
called him in and made him drunk with wine. Then, while he slept, she
opened his pouch, took out the letters and changed them, so that the
letters which the governor received were false ones and said:
"Constance must not abide in this land longer than three days. It is
my will and decree that she be placed in an open boat with her young
son, and left to the mercy of the winds and waves."
The governor wept, and so did all the townsfolk, for they loved
Constance. Yet, as the letter bore the king's seal, they could not
but obey it, thinking it true.
On the fourth day Constance, with deadly pale face, went towards her
little boat. Her baby cried piteously, but she lulled it to sleep,
and placed her kerchief over its face to protect it from the sun.
When she was afloat she prayed: "O Mary, Mother of God, help me now,
a poor mother with her little child, alone, at sea."
On went the boat; but again, amid storm and calm, wind and rain, it
was unhurt. For five years it drifted, now north, now south, now
east, now west, about the wide ocean. God's hand guided it, and God
protected it, so that Constance and her child were fed and happy.
Now when the emperor heard of the treachery of the Syrians, he sent a
great army in ships to punish them, and as this army was returning to
Rome the captain suddenly saw a little boat travelling without oar or
sail. As it came nearer he saw that it contained a woman, and when he
took her aboard, he quickly perceived that she was noble. Her baby
boy was in her arms. The captain in pity took her to his home, but
the woman would not say who she was, though she lived with his family
and served them well. _You_ have guessed by now that the woman was
Some years afterwards the good God put it into Alla's heart to go to
Rome. His host there was the very captain with whom Constance was
living. When she heard of his coming she hid herself, but arranged
that her boy should stand before Alla at the feast. The child was
very like his mother, and at once the king asked his history. The
captain told him of the coming of these two sea wanderers. Alla
eagerly asked to see the mother.
At last Constance came, though unwillingly, for she was still deeply
grieved, believing that her husband had really sent that cruel
letter. When Alla saw her he embraced her tenderly, and for a long
time they talked until the past was made clear. Alla, it seemed, had
punished the wicked old queen with death, and had mourned for
Constance ever since. Great was their joy then, and very pleasant was
it to see their reunion after so many years of danger and separation.
Soon they went all three to the emperor, and his happiness at finding
again his long-lost daughter knew no bounds.
The ways of God are wonderful indeed! Who would have dreamed that
after such sorrows such happiness was possible for all? May Jesus
Christ of His mercy send us like joy after woe, and keep us all in
health and goodness. Amen.
* * * * *
"That was indeed a virtuous tale!" said our Host. "Sir Parish Priest,
I swear 'tis your turn now, by heaven! Tell us your tale. By my
halidom, I am eager to hear your story." "What ails the man that he
swears so?" answered the Parson. "Ho, ho!" laughed Harry Bailey.
"Have we a Lollard here? A man who would teach us our manners and
save our souls? Would you _preach_ us somewhat, Sir Priest?" "That
he shall not!" answered the Ship-man; "no sermons for me. I've known
adventures in my time, sailing the seas from Jutland to Cape
Finisterre. I know all the harbours of Brittany and Spain, and many's
the cask of good Bordeaux wine I have landed while the coastguard
slept. Oh; a good life is that of the sea, with the wind a-blowing a
man's beard and tanning his skin, and storms to brave and pirates to
fight. I've seen men walk the plank, I have. No mercy to the prisoner
on the high seas! Home they go by water as soon as may be! No
landlubber am I! Let me tell my yarn; a jolly one, I promise you."
So as we jogged along the Shipman told his tale of a merchant who
sailed afar in search of wealth, and whose home meantime was robbed,
for his wife was not true to him and let false priests trick him. It
was a coarse vulgar tale, as sailors' stories often are. It amused
some of the company, for indeed men's tastes are different and are
pleased in different ways.
As the Shipman finished, Harry Bailey's blustering manner changed.
Courteously and meekly he rode up to the Prioress, and in his
politest voice addressed her.
"My Lady Prioress, if you please, and if you are sure it will not
grieve you, I would propose that you tell a tale next. Will you deign
to do so, lady dear?" "Gladly," she answered.
She was a pleasant figure to look upon. Her wimple was snow-white,
and her black cloak fell in graceful folds from her shoulders, while
now and then her red coral rosary, with its green gaudies, showed as
she moved the arm on which it hung. Her features were very beautiful,
with a straight sensitive nose, clear grey eyes, and a full small
mouth. She told her tale in a cultured voice, which pleased us all
greatly. This was her tale:
THE PRIORESS'S TALE OF A LITTLE CHRISTIAN MARTYR
O Lord, our Lord, Thy marvellous name resounds
Through all the earth. To Thee do children cry
"Hosanna to the King of kings!" E'en I
Will add my voice in honour of the Maid,
That Lily Flower, Thy Mother, loved of Thee.
Grant me Thy grace and pity, deign to hear
My prayer, and take of all I do, the praise.
In a great city of Asia, among the Christian folk, many Jews once
dwelt, gathered there by the lord of the land for villainous usury,
and through their street, year in year out, passed children on their
way to school. Among these children went a widow's son, a little
chorister seven years of age, and as he went to school never did he
fail to kneel and do reverence to the statue of the Virgin and sing
the _Ave Maria_.
One day at school the elder children were singing the anthem _Alma
Redemptions_, and the little child, looking up from his primer, drew
as near to them as he dared, and listened till he knew by heart the
first verse. However, he was too young to know what the Latin meant,
so he besought his friend to explain, even going down on his knees to
beg him to tell it all correctly. The friend was willing to teach
him. "They say," he said, "that it is in honour of Our Lady, and it
is to Her we sing it, but I can tell you no more. I know the song,
but not enough Latin grammar to translate it." Then the child was
even more eager to learn, and daily his friend taught him till he
could sing it perfectly, words and music: and as he went to and from
school each day, he sang it merrily as he passed through the street
of the Jews. But Satan, who first led mankind astray, whispered to
the Jews to be revenged on one who dared to praise the Mother of
Jesus so boldly in their streets. And they plotted with a murderer,
who one day seized the child, killed him, and cast away the body in
("O cursed folk!" then cried the Prioress, "your secret is in vain.
Murder will out whatever men may do. But thou, O blessed martyr, thou
shalt sing pure songs among the choirs that John of Patmos saw in his
vision as he stood before the great White Lamb.")
The poor widow waited all that night, and in the morning, pale from
anxious thought, she sought the child at school and everywhere
through the town.
Distraught with a mother's grief, she cried piteously throughout the
town, until she learnt that her son was last seen in the Jewry. Then
by Jesus' help she came to the very place where her young son lay,
and though he was dead already, as she drew near he began to sing the
_Alma Redemptions_ so loud and clear that all the Christian folk
passing through the street gathered together. Seeing how things were,
they sent for the provost, who arrested the Jews. Their guilt was
clear, and he dealt with them according to the law, praising Christ
and His Virgin Mother for this marvellous revelation.
The little child, they bore to the abbey, singing sad songs of
lamentation. His mother swooned by the bier. When mass had been said
over him the abbot sprinkled him with holy water and made ready to
bear him out to burial. Yet when the drops of blessed water touched
him, once again the child sang his _Alma Redemptoris Mater_. At this
the abbot, all amazed, charged him to say why, when to all seeming
he was already dead, he still sang in this fashion. Then said the
child, "When I should have died, the Mother of God came to me and
placed a grain on my tongue, and by her grace I sing thus happily in
her honour until the grain be taken from me, and then in heaven she
will receive my soul, never leaving me, because in life I loved and
worshipped her always."
The abbot and his cloister marvelled to hear this miracle. Then the
abbot took away the grain, and they bore the little body and laid it
in a clear marble tomb with honour befitting so noble a martyr.
O blessed Hugh, whom wicked Jews also slew, pray for us weak people
that Mary, Mother of God, may grant us grace. Amen.
* * * * *
The effect of the Prioress's tale was to make the whole company
silent and wondrously solemn for a while, so feelingly had she told
the story of the miracle; but at length our Host began his joking
again. He looked round the party and caught sight of me. "What man
are you?" he asked. "You look nowhere but upon the ground as though
you would find a hare there. Come here, good sir, be cheerful. Make
way!" he cried to the others, "let this man pass. I swear he is no
stripling, his waist is as large as mine. He ought to be a gallant
man and fond of company, but he rides alone, and is so silent that I
suspect the elves have bewitched him." The company laughed. "Tell us
your tale," said Harry Bailey to me again, "and let it be a merry
one." "Good host," I answered humbly, "I know few tales. All that I
can offer is a ballad I learned long ago." "That's good!" said the
Host. "Begin. It's a jolly tale, I'll wager." This is the tale I
CHAUCER'S RIME OF SIR THOPAS [*]
[Footnote: The ballad that Chaucer tells is a parody of the worn-out
poems of chivalrous adventure, in which the knight rides on endless
quests. These poems were still popular in Chaucer's day.]
Listen, lords and ladies gay,
I will sing my roundelay,
A song both gay and witty.
Sir Thopas was the knight yclept,
As bold a wight as ever stept,
The hero of my ditty.
Now he was born in Poperhinge,
The child of many a fond longing,
Upon a summer's day.
His father's house was in the square,
And he a powerful lordling there
In Flanders, miles away.
His skin was white as white could be,
Like lilies from the deep valley,
His lips were blushing roses.
His cheeks were pink and fair to see,
And (on my troth) possessed he,
The seemliest of noses.
Golden as saffron was his hair,
Golden his beard that stretched so fair
Down to his girdle strong.
From Cordova his shoes they name,
His hosen brown from Brugge came,
Of silk his robe full long.
In hunting none might by him stand,
And oft he rode with hawk on hand,
For him did maidens sigh.
But of their longing they took no good,
Forth he rode to the green wood
His fortune to espy.
And it befell upon a day,
The flowers sprang in the woods so gay,
The birds their lays were singing.
His steed was of the dapple grey,
His bridle, like the Milky Way,
With silver bells was ringing.
Then pricked he through the verdant wood,
He rode as softly as he could
For high adventure thirsting.
Green grass below, green leaves above,
Filled full his heart with ardent love,
Till it was nigh to bursting.
Then tired he lay upon the grass
To give his horse a breathing space,
And dreamed of love's sweet sway.
"An elf queen must my lady be,
No other worthy is of me
In all the land, I say."
Now is he risen and got to horse,
For he would seek his love perforce,
Where'er she may be kept.
Then over hill and over down,
Through meadows green and moorlands brown,
His peerless charger stept.
The birds sang loud, there is no doubt,
Some sang in tune and some sang out;
The throstle and the jay.
The flowerets sprang about his feet,
Arrayed in their garb so neat,
With every colour gay.
When the birdies thus did sing,
Sir Thopas fell in love-longing,
And spurred his gallant steed.
The sweat ran down his sides amain,
To any gentle heart 'twas pain
To see him thus to bleed.
The larks on high trilled out their song,
And some sang right and some sang----
"Stop, for Heaven's sake!" cried the Host at this point. "I'm tired
out by this story. Never in my life did I hear worse doggerel."
I must say I was offended by this remark. "Well," I said, "you have
let everyone else finish. Why should _I_ be prevented from going on?
I'm doing the best I can." "Are you?" said Harry Bailey. "Then I
think you had better try some other sort of story. Perhaps in prose
you might manage to be improving, even if you could not amuse us.
_This_ is sheer waste of time." "All right," I answered, "I will tell
you a prose tale. It is an old one and told with variations, but just
as we do not accuse the evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, of
untruth because their accounts of Christ's life differ, so you must
not blame _me_ if my tale is not like other versions." Then I told my
tale. It was a very virtuous one about Melibeus and his good wife
Prudence. It was full of quotations from the classics, and I fear it
was rather long, for I noticed that towards the end many of the
company began to yawn, and the Shipman started whispering to his
neighbour and tittering. So perhaps, as it was not exactly a success,
I will not repeat it here.
As I finished, the Host, who alone had seemed pleased with it, said,
"I would give a barrel of ale that my wife had heard this tale. She
has none of the patience that Prudence showed. Alas! she is a regular
termagant. If I have occasion to beat one of the servants, out she
comes with a great clubbed stick, crying, 'Break all the rascal's
bones. Kill the dog!' Then, when she goes to church, if everyone does
not bow to her, home she comes in a rage and vents it on me.
'Coward!' she says. 'Go and take vengeance on those despiteful
neighbours. Will you see your wife insulted and not move a finger in
her defence? Ah! that I should have married a milksop and a coward.'
And so she goes on, till I am really afraid I shall do murder, for I
am a dangerous man with a knife, though I cannot stand up to
_her_.--Well, enough of this. Lo! Rochester is not far off. Monk,
come, tell us a tale. It is your turn now. Your tale should be a
cheerful one, for you look a merry soul, well fed and lusty. I guess
you are no penitent, but cellarer or sexton or some other officer in
your monastery. Well, take no offence. Many a true word is spoken in
The Monk took his jibing with patience, and answered him soberly. "I
will tell such a tale as I can with honesty. It shall be a life of
St. Edward, or else some tragedies; that is to say, the stories of
men who fell from great prosperity into misfortune. I have more than
a hundred at home in my cell, all composed in hexameters. I will tell
some that I can remember, and excuse me if I tell them somewhat out
of order." So he began, half chanting as if in church.
THE MONK'S TALE OF DIVERSE MEN WHO FELL INTO MISFORTUNE
In tragic manner will I now lament
The fate of those who fell from high degree
Into the depth of woe. For Fortune is
A fickle goddess found, and none may hold
Her favour for himself, when she would list
To flee. Trust not to blind prosperity,
If old examples yet may make us wise.
With Lucifer, though he an angel is
And not a man, I will at first begin.
Fortune may not an angel smite, but through
His sin he fell to deepest Hell from Light.
O Lucifer, thou brightest angel form,
Now art thou Satan plunged in Hell's black night.
All in Damascus God has Adam made,
From dust to human shape, and given him rule
In Paradise, to lord it and enjoy
All bounty, save that single tree alone.
But to temptation is he fallen a prey,
And driven forth to labour and to death.
HUGELINO, COUNT OF PISA
Of Hugelino, Pisa's lord, no tongue
For pity may his sorrow well declare.
For he with his three sons, poor babes as yet,
Immured in a tower, was left to die.
Alas! to keep such birds in such a cage
Was cruel sport.
In prison is he now condemned to die,
On a false charge, that one assoiled him of,
And stirred the people's wrath to doom him thus.
But up to now his food at least had he,
Though scant and poor, yet it might him suffice.
Upon a day befell it at the hour
When his jailer was wont to bring his food
He heard the gate shut, but none came him near,
And in his heart the thought upgrew that they
Would starve and bring him foully to his death.
"Alas," he cried, "that ever I was born!"
And from his eyelids fell the heavy tears.
His little son, that was three years of age,
Cried unto him, "O father, will they bring
Our dinner? Father, give me food, I die."
And so he cried and wept thus day by day,
Till at the last, within his father's arms
He lay and died. The father all distraught
Began to bite his arms and gnaw his hands,
And rail on Fortune for her cruel deed.
His children thinking that for hunger he
Thus bit his flesh, said to him, "Eat of us.
Thou gavest us life, take thou that life again."
Yet they ere ever many days were sped,
Lay down within his arms and breathed their last.
Himself, bereft of all, of hunger died,
Cast to such doom from fortune's high estate.
If you would further read of all this tale,
Go look to Dante, for he will not fail.
Never did captain, servant of a king,
Subdue in battle kingdoms more and great,
Nor more prevail in the fierce shock of fight,
Nor win from all his age more high renown,
Than did great Holofernes. Fortune blest
His steps, and led him up the steep of fame,
Till suddenly he fell and lost his life,
Ere yet he wist that danger threatened him.
Not for the loss of life and wealth alone
Did men him dread, but throughout every land
He would make folk their own true god deny.
"Nebuchadnezzar is God," did he proclaim,
"No other God may here adored be."
So in the land none dared his wrath provoke
Save where Eliachim the priest held rule.
Heed now what death befell this captain proud.
Amid his host he drunk and sleeping lay
Within his tent, large hung as is a barn,
And yet for all his pomp and all his might,
Came Judith secretly, and from his neck
Smote off his head and bore it to her town.
And none of all the guards knew what befell.----
"Ho! stop!" cried the Knight. "Good sir, I beg you no more of this. A
little of sorrow suffices. It is as wearisome, Sir Monk, to hear the
stories of those who from great prosperity have fallen to poverty and
death, as it is cheering to hear of those who from poor estate rise
to greatness and fame. Of the latter I pray you tell." "Yes, indeed,"
shouted the Host. "By St. Paul's great bell, you say right, Sir
Knight. The Monk must stop this doleful talk. It's not worth a fly.
Your tale annoys all the company, Sir Monk, Dan Piers, or whatever
your name may be. I assure you it is only the tinkling of your bridle
bells that has kept me awake this last half-hour. What's the good of
a tale if the audience is all asleep? Come, tell us a tale of
hunting." "No," answered the Monk with dignity. "I take no pleasure
in mere frivolity. Let another tell a tale. I have said my say." At
that the Host turned to the Nun's Priest. "Come near, Sir John. You
tell a tale to cheer us. What though your horse be a sorry jade, all
bone and mud, you have a merry heart, I know." "I have indeed,"
laughed the Priest, "and here is my tale."
THE NUN'S PRIEST'S TALE OF CHANTICLEER
Once upon a time there lived in a cottage an old widow with her two
daughters. She made her living as best she could by keeping pigs and
a cow, and by growing a few vegetables. Her cottage was small, and
all sooty from the smoke of the fire. The cocks and hens roosted for
the night on the rafters.
Now among the fowls was a wonderful cock whose name was Chanticleer.
The whole country-side admired him. His comb was so red, his bill so
black, his plumage such a magnificent colour, that his like had never
been seen; and, moreover, he was a very wise bird. One might almost
say that he was an expert astronomer. Every morning, just as the sun
rose, he crowed, never making the least mistake whatever the time of
year. He had seven hens who walked behind him in the yard. The
fairest of them, and the one he loved best, was called Pertelot. She
was so beautiful that Chanticleer had loved her ever since she was a
week old, and now every night he roosted by her side. Every morning
when it was time to go out he sang her a little song beginning, "My
love is to the meadows gone."
One morning, as Pertelot slept by Chanticleer's side, she heard him
begin to sigh and groan and murmur in his sleep. "What is it?" she
asked. "In truth you seem to groan like a man in pain." "Alas!" said
Chanticleer, waking up; "may fortune guard me. I have had a horrible
dream. Never in all my life was I so frightened. I dreamed that I saw
a terrible beast ready to gobble me up. It was as big as a dog, and
had a tawny coat with black on his ears and on the tip of his tail,
and, though I have never seen such an animal, the minute it turned
its eyes on me I was all of a tremble with fright." "Shame on you!"
cried Pertelot. "You a man, and frightened by a dream! Do you think
any woman will respect you if you do not show yourself more
courageous? We like our husbands to be something of heroes. Besides,
dreams are nonsense. They are no guide to the future, unless it be to
tell you what medicine you need. For if a man be over-choleric, then
he dreams of fires and red beasts, and if melancholy, of black bears.
I will undertake to prescribe for you as there is no doctor in the
town. Groundsel grows in our yard and hellebore. Peck them up, and
take a few worms, and that will be the end of your dreams." "Peace,
wife!" returned Chanticleer. "What do you know of such things? Would
you go against the authority of Holy Writ? Did not Joseph dream
dreams? Was not Pharaoh instructed by them? Look at classical
authors, Cato, Seneca, Cicero. Dreams were ever revered. Do you not
know how by a dream a foul murder was discovered? Shame on you, to
talk of medicines and groundsel! But still, though my dream is
surely prophetic, I can forget it when I look upon your beauty, my
love. 'Tis gone from my mind at a glance of your eye. So now let us
out of doors."
With these words he flew down from the beam and went out into the
yard, and all the hens followed him. There he stalked up and down
trying to forget the terrors of the night. He was so proud he could
scarce set foot to earth. All his wives ran after him to eat the
grains of corn he found. When the sun rose higher Chanticleer sang
his morning carol, and his wives settled down to have dust baths in
Suddenly Chanticleer caught sight of an animal lying among the grass
by the side of the yard. It was Russel the fox, who had lived for
three years in the wood near by, and now had grown bold enough to
break through the hedge and make his way into the farmyard. The
moment Chanticleer saw him he jumped back in terror, quite forgetting
his song. It was the creature of his dream! The fox was ready to calm
his fear. He got up from the grass and advanced politely to
Chanticleer. "Do not be alarmed at my appearance," he said. "I have
come with the best intentions. I am, in fact, a friend of the family.
Both your father and mother spent some time in my house--to my great
satisfaction. I was listening to your singing. You have a marvellous
voice, and it is doubtless inherited. I remember your father had a
way of standing on his toes, shutting his eyes and stretching his
neck. When he did that his top notes were really wonderful. Do you do
the same?" Chanticleer was delighted with this flattery, and at once
began to crow his best, shutting his eyes and stretching his neck as
the fox had described. Then, as soon as his eyes were shut, the fox
sprang forward, caught him by the neck, threw him over his back and
was off to the wood. Alas! poor Chanticleer, what a fate is thine!
True are dreams and men should heed their warnings!
Would I had the tongue to curse that day! That star-cursed day, that
black Friday on which the noble Chanticleer was borne away by the
foul deceiver! The hens, in terror, set up such a clamour, cackling
and wailing, that out ran the widow and her daughters to see what was
the matter. Out came the neighbours, out the dogs, out the very cows
and pigs, and joined in the chase. All cry, "Out! harrow! Stop
thief!" Like fiends in hell they scream. The geese in fear fly over
the tree-tops, the swarming bees stream from their hive. Verily, not
a mob of rioters seeking to destroy the heretic in their midst ever
raised half so fearful a din and clamour as did these pursuers; but
in spite of them all the fox reached the very edge of the wood in
There Chanticleer recovered from his terror and said, "You have me
fast. If I were you I would call these base pursuers churls to their
faces." "Why, so I shall!" said the fox. But, as he opened his mouth
to speak, away flew the cock and perched on the branch of a tree.
"Come down," cried the fox, "I mean you no harm. If you will but come
down I will explain all my intentions towards you." "No," said the
cock. "I have been deceived once; twice is too much. Never again will
I be caught by flattery." "And I," said the fox, "will never speak
when I should keep my mouth shut."
Sirs, if you think this tale mere foolishness, then look deeper for
the moral, for, I assure you, there is one. Do you find it! Are not
all things written for our instruction? Now God make us all good men
and bring us to happiness at last. Amen.
As he finished the Host praised him. "Excellent, Sir Priest," he
said. "Your tale is like yourself, all wit and laughter, but with
some seriousness too, I'll be bound. I knew by the twinkle in that
sharp grey eye of yours that you could joke on occasion. Let's see
now if your fellow-priests can match you."
Then the other two priests took their turns. They told us no tales,
however, but spoke to us of morals and the great power of Holy
Church. Their words were full of high meaning, but my poor wit cannot
remember all they said. Also the Wife of Bath had grown confidential
towards evening, and, amid her talk of husbands and clothes,
pilgrimages and cloth measures, I could hear little of the priests.
Their solemn talk was a fitting conclusion to our second day's
riding, and that night we lay at Rochester.
TALES OF THE THIRD DAY
The Doctor began the story-telling of the third day with a tale about
a wicked judge who caused the death of a fair maid in Rome. During
the telling of it Harry Bailey grew more and more excited with pity
for the girl, and anger against the judge. At the end he burst out,
"This was a false churl, I say! A shameful death befall all such
treacherous men! The maid paid dearly for her beauty, did she not,
good Doctor? Truly, it was so pitiful a tale that unless I have a
draught of cool corny ale to cheer my spirits, or else hear a merry
tale at once, I shall weep for sorrow! Come, Sir Pardoner," he
called, "tell us of mirth and quips and cranks!" "That shall be
done," answered the Pardoner, stopping the love song which he had
been singing all the morning; "but first I must drink at this inn
here, and eat a cake." The gentlefolk of our company looked
suspicious. "We want no vulgar tales," they said. "Let him tell us
of morals that we may learn good, or let him hold his peace." "That
shall be as you wish, good folk," the Pardoner replied. "I will
think of something virtuous while I quaff my ale."
As we left the inn he began thus:
"Gentles all, you should hear my voice when I preach in church! It
rings loud and clear like a bell, and I never falter, for I know all
I have to say by heart. My text is always the same: 'Greed is the
root of all evils'--only you must know I speak it in Latin to my
congregation, for Latin gives a learned tone to my speech, whether
the audience understands it or not.
"Would you care to know my procedure? Here it is:
"First, I announce whence I have come, then show all my bulls, with
the seals of my liege lord the Pope attached, then my letters of
authority from cardinals and bishops and patriarchs, so that
everybody believes in me and none dare interrupt me in my holy work.
"Then I produce my long crystal tubes, packed full of rags and bones
which the ignorant are pleased to think are sacred relics. See," he
said, opening his wallet, "here is a pillow-case made of Our Lady's
veil, and here a piece of the sail from the ship in which Peter
sailed before he walked on the Sea of Galilee. I have also a fine
shoulder-blade made of brass, fashioned by a Jew. That's a very
profitable possession, I can assure you.
"When I have roused people's curiosity and awe in these ways, I begin
"'Brethren all,' I say in my fullest voice, 'behold this bone. It has
great powers. If it be washed in the water of a well, any cow, calf,
sheep or ox that drinks of that well will be cured at once of any
disorder that affects him. No matter if he have eaten, poisonous
insects or plants, or been stung by poisonous flies, or suffer from
scab or sores, the water in which this wonderful bone has been washed
will cure him. Listen carefully to what I say. This bone has never
been known to fail. Why, if a man drink every morning of water it has
touched, not only himself but his cattle will prosper, his goods will
multiply, he will grow rich and famous. This bone can help a woman
too! If her husband is jealous, all she need do is to wash this bone
in the man's broth, and at once all his suspicions will vanish.
"'Here now is a mitten, as powerful as the bone. Of a truth, if a man
puts his hand in this mitten all his grain will yield, some sixty,
some a hundred fold. No matter whether he owns wheat or oats, he that
but touches this mitten will grow wealthy indeed.
"'But, of course, he must offer groats and pence to Holy Church! For
such benefits surely any man would give of his goods!
"'Of one thing I must warn you. Only those who are free from deadly
sin can get help from my relics. If here be any here that have sinned
great sins, let them not approach. Yet by my power as a Pardoner, I
can forgive and pardon such sins as be not deadly. Draw near! Only
those who have deep sin in their hearts will hold back. Come then,
those who know themselves to be pure and innocent, receive the good
that awaits you, offer of your substance to the Church, and be
"By such speeches and such conduct I have earned a hundred marks a
year since I was Pardoner. But I think that verily I deserve it. Why,
my gestures in the pulpit are a joy to behold! I stretch forth my
neck, looking now this way, now that, like a pigeon in a barn. My
head and my hand keep time with my voice, and I sing better than
anyone I know in my profession."
I could well believe this of the Pardoner. He looked like a man who
could please a congregation. He had long straight yellow hair hanging
about his shoulders and bright shining eyes. He wore no hood, but
rode according to the latest fashion, bare-headed except for a small
"Oh, I can preach, good folk," he continued. "It's a pity, of course,
that I am the greatest sinner against my own text, for I own that all
I do is for my own gain. But there, while I can talk so well, and
tell merry and comforting tales, why should I live in poverty and
make baskets for a living? I like money, woollen clothes to wear,
and cheese and wheaten bread to eat. I cannot follow the Apostles'
lead. This life offers too many enjoyments for me, even though widows
starve to enrich me!
"But you asked for a tale; and now I've loosed my tongue with a drink
I'll tell you one. Although I'm none too good myself, my tale shall
be virtuous, and one that I tell from the pulpit."
With this introduction he began the following tale in a rich musical
THE PARDONER'S TALE OF THE MEN WHO WOULD SLAY DEATH
"There dwelt once in Flanders a band of young men who indulged in
every kind of folly and wickedness. They practised drinking, dicing,
swearing, harping and dancing day and night, and in this unhallowed
way of life they never thought how they racked anew the poor tortured
limbs of our dear Lord Jesus. Brethren, there are many great and
grievous sins, but among the most deadly are drunkenness and
gluttony, for the glutton makes his belly his God and bows down to
that, enslaving the whole world to his appetite. Doth not the
scripture say, 'There walk many enemies of Christ's cross, whose end
is death, because they have made their appetite as their God'? How
foul and loathsome a sight is a drunkard! He who is mastered by this
horrible habit of drink loses both reason and sense, and all that
distinguishes a man from a brute. My dear brethren, keep you from
wine, from red wine and white. Remember the teaching of Holy Church;
remember how in the days of the Old Testament all great victories
were won by men who abstained from strong wines. Remember what
history tells of the sad end of those who, overcome by drink, have
been foully done to death. Read, mark and learn, my brethren, hear
"Beware of gambling and dice and false swearing. How many good men
have been undone by these! Doth not the scripture say, 'Swear not at
all'? Yet alas! how many befoul their mouths with blasphemy and
besmirch their souls with false oaths. Do you not so, good people.
Keep your mouths free from such pollution, look to your lips that
they speak no guile.
"And now to my story.
"These three revellers I told you of were one morning early sitting
in a tavern when they heard a bell tinkling before a corpse as it was
carried out to burial. At this one of them bade his servant go and
ask whose it was. But the boy knew already. 'Sir, it is an old
companion of yours and he has been destroyed by a false thief Death,
who came upon him as he sat drunk and pierced him through the heart.
Indeed, he slays all the people in this district--a good thousand
have perished. I would bid you beware.'
"''Tis true,' said one of them. 'In a village near he has slain this
year all sorts and conditions of men. His habitation is there most
likely, we had best beware.' 'No,' said another. 'It were better to
set forth ourselves and slay him. We three will take an oath never to
rest, as God will aid us, till we have destroyed Death.' Then they
took this oath and set forth to seek the enemy. They had not gone far
along their way when at a stile they met a very old man. He greeted
them courteously. 'Good sir, why are you so old and wretched?' cried
one. 'Why?' said the old man. 'No youth will take on my age in
exchange for his youth, nor will my mother earth open to receive me,
though I for ever knock on her with my staff.' Then they asked news
of him of Death and he told them that he had left Death just there by
the oak tree in the road, and that he surely would abide their
coming. On they hurried till they came to the oak tree, and there
they found on the ground a pile of bright golden florins, eight
bushels or more, it appeared to them. At once they forgot their quest
of Death, turned all their thoughts to this wealth and sat them down
beside it. The first to speak was the worst scoundrel of the three.
'Who would have thought that we should have met with such fortune as
this? Why, we have here the means of living our whole lives long in
enjoyment, if only we can convey this treasure to my house or to one
of yours. But we must do it secretly by night, otherwise we shall be
accounted thieves and hung for what is our own. My plan is that we
draw lots and that he on whom the lot falls go to the city and bring
us bread and wine, and the other two keep watch here till nightfall.'
"They drew lots and it fell on the youngest, who leaped up and ran to
the town for food and wine. When the other two were left alone
together, the one at once began tempting the other. 'What a life we
could live if all this money were divided between us two only,' he
said; 'and so it could be if you would give me your promise to keep
secret the plan I tell you.' The other agreed. Then said the first,
'We two are stronger than our comrade. When he returns, make as if to
struggle with him in sport and I will run him through with my
"Meanwhile, as their friend went to the city, he thought ever and
again of the coins and longed to possess the whole pile. At last the
Devil sent him an evil idea. He went to the shop of an apothecary.
'Sir,' he said,' I pray you give me some poison for rats. I am
overrun with them, and there is also a polecat in my yard that kills
my chickens.' The chemist gave him poison and told him it was so
strong that no more than a grain would kill any animal. At this the
rascal went and bought three bottles and put poison in two of them.
The third he kept clean for his own use, and then he filled up the
bottles with wine and made his way back to the others. When he drew
near they carried out their plan and stabbed him; but, chancing to
take and drink from one of the poisoned bottles, they were killed in
"O cursed sin, foul ending to lust! Even so do gluttony and avarice
lead on to the dread crime of murder. O ye that hear, turn before it
is too late from cursing and swearing, dice and covetousness. Think
of our Lord who bought us with His precious blood and of whom the
world was not worthy; think and repent. Here if you repent and turn
from avarice may you buy pardon. Bring up your offerings, crowns, or
silver brooches and spoons or rings. Housewives, bring your wool and
the High Power will grant you pardon. Here in my roll I write your
names as pure as on the day you were born!
"But, gentlemen, there was one point I forgot to mention. I have in
my pack as fine pardons and relics as any in England. They bear the
Pope's seal upon them, and if any of you will kneel down and give me
your offerings then you may kiss the relics and I will grant you
absolution, or, if you prefer, you may buy a fresh pardon at every
mile's end, only, of course, you must make a fresh offering every
"It's really very fortunate for this company that such an experienced
pardoner is among you. The risks of the road are so great that at any
moment anyone may fall and break his neck, and on such occasions it's
a great help to have had one's sins adequately pardoned.
"Come, gentle people all. Let the Host begin. His sins enwrap him
round. Stand forth, good Host, make your offering and kiss my relics!
Why, for a groat you may kiss them all. Unbuckle your purse anon and
"Go to," said the Host. "We know your relics! You would have me kiss
your dirty old rags. Were they in my hand, I'd fling them into a
The Pardoner went white with rage, and could not answer a word; but
the Host went on, "I'll have no more dealings with you, nor with any
angry man." We all burst out laughing, for it was obvious that the
Pardoner was furious with himself for forgetting that he had exposed
himself before telling his tale, and so had lost the chance of
reaping money from us for his false relics.
The gentle Knight interposed. "Sir Pardoner," he said, "no more of
this. You were fairly answered. And you, Sir Host, my dear friend, I
pray you kiss the Pardoner, and, Pardoner, kiss him in your turn, and
let us laugh and go gaily on as we did before." So they two kissed
and were friends again, and we went on our way.
The Wife of Bath had been talking to the Monk in an undertone. Seeing
her opportunity in the pause following the Host's and Pardoner's
quarrel, she addressed the company at large.
"Even if there was no authority to back me, my own experience, I can
tell you, would give me the right to speak of the trials of marriage.
Why, since I was twelve I have had five wedded husbands, and now I am
a widow again I am quite ready to welcome the sixth. God meant me to
marry and I shall do my duty; but I shall always rule my husband."
Here the Pardoner broke in. "I was thinking of taking a wife myself,"
he said, "but if the wife is to be master I must think more of the
matter." "Oh! there is worse to come," she returned. "There is a
bitterer draught ere you get to the bottom of this cup." "Well, tell
us your story all the same," he answered, "and spare no man!" "Why,
so I will," she said, "but let no man be offended. I speak in jest,
you know, though the jest may be rather sharp. Well, as I was saying,
five husbands have I had, and three were good and two bad. By good, I
mean that they were old and rich, and gave themselves up to me body
and soul, for they loved me well, and had given me all their
"Now for the two of them that were bad. The first bad one was my
fourth husband. He was gay; but I tell you I could be gayer, and
between us things came to a pretty pass. However, in the end I went
on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and when I came back it pleased God
that he should die, and I buried him as he deserved, and God rest his
soul. My fifth was a scholar. He had studied at one time at Oxford
and then came to live with a neighbour of mine. I had met him before,
but I first really loved him at the funeral. I was weeping, or doing
my best to pretend to, and had my handkerchief over my face, but
looking out under it I noticed his legs and feet as he was walking
along in the procession, and prettier legs, I swear, I never saw.
'Tis true he was only twenty and I forty, but I was buxom enough and
had money and looks. At the end of the month we were married. O dear
me, what a life I led with him! It was I who was infatuated this
time, alas! I made over to him all my property, and much I repented
that. Not one thing would he do that I wished, and worse, he once
boxed my ears so hard that I became quite deaf. At the same time I
would not give in to him, and though he threatened to leave me and
quoted the authority of the ancient Romans for doing so, I stuck to
my own way of life.
"And now I'll tell you why I tore the pages out of his book. He had a
book he was always reading and laughing at. A great many authors'
works were bound up in it--Valerius and Theophrastus and a cardinal
of Rome named St. Jerome, and other bishops, and Tertullian, also the
parables of Solomon and Ovid's 'Art of Love.' They were all tales of
wicked wives, and he knew them better than all the stories of
virtuous women in the Bible. And of course this is how it would be!
All these tales are written by men and scholars. Now if women wrote
them, very different they would be.
"Well, as I was saying, one evening he read these to me, Eve and
Delilah and the death of Hercules and countless more till I could
bear it no longer, so I snatched his book and tore out the pages.
Then up he jumped and gave me that blow on the head that I told you
of, that made me deaf, and I fell down on the floor as if I was dead.
Then he was terrified till I woke a little out of my swoon, when he
came near and kneeled down by me and said, 'Dear sister Alison,
forgive me; before God I will never smite thee again. This time it
was your own fault as you know.'
"Well, to make a long story short, though it took us a long time, we
made an agreement. He gave the management of all the affairs into my
hands, and he even burnt his book and was very polite when I was
there. So when I had my wish we had no more quarrels, and you would
never find a better wife than I made him if you were to search from
Denmark to India. Now I will tell my tale."
THE WIFE OF BATH'S TALE OF THE QUEEN'S RIDDLE
In the days of good King Arthur fairies yet danced in England. As yet
there were no priests with their blessings to drive them from hall
and kitchen, bush and fairy ring. But now, where the elf walked,
wanders the begging friar, and women can go out o' nights and expect
In those old days a goodly knight once fell into sin through the
charms of a lady, and was tried for his crime and condemned to death.
But the queen and her ladies begged him from the king, to give him
life or death as might seem to them most fitting. After much thought
and discussion the queen spoke to him thus: "Sir knight, you know
your life is in my hands to save or take as I will. To you I will
grant life if you can answer me one question and answer it aright:
'What is it that woman most desires?' A year will I give you to find
your answer, and at the year's end you must return to me and suffer
the penalty if you fail to answer correctly."