Part 2 out of 2
Away rode the knight sad at heart, and all the year he wandered
seeking an answer to the question. Some told him that women love
riches best, and some honour, some mirth and merry-making, but no two
told him the same thing. Some said that we love flattery and, to my
mind, they were not far wrong! Some said that we like to be thought
able to keep a secret and trustworthy. Ovid in his tale of Midas's
wife has shown that this is wrong, for she could not endure her
secret, but must tell the water--if no living man--that her husband
had two ass's ears.
Now the knight, when he found that he could not learn the answer to
his question, took his way homeward full sad at heart, for the time
was come when he must appear before the queen and pay his forfeit. As
he journeyed in this mood, he came at length to a forest glade and
there he saw four-and-twenty fair ladies all dancing on the green. Up
to them he went, eager to ask his question, but before he could come
to them all had vanished save a hideous old hag sitting on the
ground. "This way lies no road," said she, "but come, tell me your
business. It may profit you, for old folks are oft-times wise." Then
he told her of the question he must answer and begged her to give him
an answer if she knew one. The old dame was ready enough to do so.
"But," she said, "in return you must promise that you will grant me
the first thing I ask of you after you are pardoned." The knight
pledged his word, and when things were thus concluded between them,
they rode their way together to the court of King Arthur.
All the chief ladies of the realm were assembled, and the queen
herself was sitting as judge. The knight did not hesitate for his
answer, but boldly said, "In all cases, what a woman most desires is
to have the full trust and faithful love of her husband. Let any of
you deny it who can." Then thro' the hall there was silence, and no
wife or widow of all those assembled there dare deny that this was
what she most desired, but all admitted that the knight had answered
truly and deserved his life.
Then up rose the old woman. "Lady," she said, "I taught the knight
this answer, and in return he promised to grant my first request if
it lay in his power. Now I ask him to take me for his wife. Have I
not deserved it by saving his life?" The knight was aghast and prayed
the old woman to take his gold or land if only she would not make him
her husband. But prayers were of no avail, and whether he would or
no, the knight must wed her and take her to his home. Yet he put no
good face upon the wedding, but with sighs and gloomy looks he went
through the ceremony.
When they were alone together his wife chid him. "Is this the
courtesy that King Arthur's knights show to their brides? Have I not
saved your life, and can you not welcome me in better fashion to your
home?" The knight answered, "How could I welcome you when you are so
ugly, so poor and of such low birth?" "If that be all your
complaint," said she, "I can prove that I am in no way to blame for
it. How is a man noble save by noble deeds? Though a man can bequeath
his wealth to his heirs he cannot leave them his own virtuous way of
life. Each man makes his nobility for himself. And as to poverty--did
not our Lord Jesus choose the life of a poor man, and can you blame
that which God Himself chose? Poverty cheerfully borne is a noble
thing and no disgrace. What we _do_ matters! 'Gentle is as gentle
does!' You say I am old and ugly! Would you rather have me as I am
and your dutiful and obedient wife, or so young and gay that you are
disregarded? Choose which you wish, you can have your choice!" Then
the knight did not know what to say, but bade his wife choose
herself. "Then you trust me," she said. "Why yes, truly, dear wife,"
he answered. At that she laughed and said, "Husband, I have my wish.
Kiss me and you shall find me, by to-morrow's dawn, as fair as any
woman in all the length and breadth of the land, and moreover, I will
be to you a true and loving wife and obedient all my life long."...
So it fell out, and never was there a happier couple in all the land.
Now, I say, may fate send us all young and handsome husbands who will
love us and trust us, but as for morose, perverse old greybeards, a
plague on them!
All the way along, the Friar had been scowling at the Summoner. So
far he had said nothing, but as the Wife of Bath finished her tale he
began, "Dame, yours was a good tale, but in some matters it went
rather deep. We only want amusement on this journey, not scoffing. If
the party would like I would tell a story about a summoner. You can
be sure it will be a gay one. No one could tell an edifying story
about such a man." The Host interrupted, "You ought to be polite, Sir
Friar. Leave the Summoner alone and get on with your story." "All is
well," said the Summoner. "Let him say what he likes; I will get my
own back presently." So the Friar began:
THE FRIAR'S TALE OF THE WICKED SUMMONER
"There was a summoner who served an archdeacon and went round the
country smelling out offences and summoning the culprits before the
court. Fines he collected and bribes, but it was on the latter that
he most grew fat. Day by day he sent his spies abroad and pounced now
on the rich, now on the poor, and, not seldom, he terrorised the
innocent and robbed them of their all----" "Stay!" cried the Host,
"this is too violent, get on with your story." "I am only telling the
truth," said the Friar. "The truth is not always courteous," returned
the other. "Well, I will go on," said the Friar. "This summoner was
one day riding to accuse a certain old widow. She was innocent, but
he meant to have a bribe from her before he let her go. As he was
riding through a green wood he saw another man dressed as a yeoman
just in front of him. When they met they greeted each other. 'Good
day,' said the summoner. 'Good day,' answered the other; 'dost thou
ride far?' 'No,' answered the summoner, 'tis but to the next town to
collect a debt due to my master.' 'Art thou then a bailiff as I am?'
'That is so,' answered the summoner; for shame prevented his owning
his true calling. 'Then we be brothers,' replied the yeoman. So they
shook hands on it, and agreed to ride together.
"Never for a minute did the summoner stop talking, he was as full of
prying questions as a dog's skin of hairs. 'Tell me,' he said, 'where
do you dwell?' 'Away in the north country,' answered the yeoman,
'where I hope I shall see you one of these days.' 'What is the way
thither?' the summoner went on. 'Ere we part,' was the answer, 'I
will make it all clear to you.' 'Tell me,' said the summoner again,
'since we be two of a trade, have you any tricks that might be of
service to me in my work? I am not a man to stick at trifles, so if
you know of any ruses, even if they are not _quite_ honest, I should
be glad to hear them,' 'We are alike again,' replied the yeoman. 'My
master is a niggard and I have to make what I can my own way; I must
say I do not do so badly out of it.' 'You are a man after my own
heart,' continued the summoner. 'Come, tell me your name.' At this
the yeoman began to smile. 'Do you really wish to know? Well, then, I
am a fiend from Hell and I range the world seeking what men will give
me,' 'Is that truly so?' said the summoner. 'I thought you a man as I
am. Can you change your shape at will?' 'Yes, truly,' the other
answered. 'In whatever guise we may best accomplish our purpose--that
we wear. We go on all errands, God's and the Devil's, and some we
torment for their soul's good, as we did Job, but some we take body
and soul together,'
"By this time they were quite close to the town for which they were
bound. In the muddy road was a carter with a waggon of hay. The wain
had sunk in down to the axle-trees and the three horses had not the
strength to drag it out of the mire. The carter was yelling at his
horses, 'Gee-up, Jock! Gee-up, Bessy! Pull, my beauties, pull!' And
when they failed to move the cart, 'The demons take you, cart and
all! Pull away, or the fiend catch you!' When he heard the carter
swearing like this, the summoner began to nudge the other. 'There is
something for you,' he said; 'that carter is giving you horses and
waggon. Why don't you take them?' 'Wait,' said the yeoman, 'he does
not mean what he says,' Just at this moment the horses by a great
effort pulled the waggon free. 'God bless you, my good horses!' said
the carter. 'Gee-up! Heaven be praised, we are clear.' 'There,' said
the yeoman, 'you see men do not always mean what they say. We have to
"Before long they came to the cottage where the widow lived. 'Just
watch how _I_ manage affairs,' said the summoner, and he began to
knock on the gate and shout, 'Come out, come out, you wicked old
woman!' The widow opened the door at length and came hobbling out.
'What witchcraft were you doing inside?' asked the summoner. 'I swear
it was nothing good. I have here an order for you to answer in the
archdeacon's court for your manner of life. To-morrow you must appear
and answer for your sins.' The poor old woman fell on her knees. 'How
can I come?' she said--'and I just risen from a bed of sickness. Let
me send someone to answer for me.' 'Not so.' said the summoner.
'Either you appear yourself or you give me twelve pence to get the
charge withdrawn. I should be doing you a _great_ favour, for the
archdeacon is no mild man to such hardened sinners as you.' The old
woman began to cry. 'I cannot give you twelve pence, nor six, I am
too poor. I am innocent of any crime; I practise no witchcraft. I
cannot come to court, I am too weak.' 'Stop that!' said the summoner;
'if you do not pay what I ask I will take your brass pan. You owe it
me already for crimes of long standing.' At this the woman wept more
and more. 'A curse on you.' cried she, 'may the fiend fly away with
you and the pan too!'
"At this, the yeoman, who had been standing by, said, 'Dame, do you
mean this? Would you give the summoner over to the fiend?' 'Yea, that
I would.' she answered, 'and my pan too, so that I might be rid of
him.' At this the devil laughed. 'Now you are fairly mine!' he said
to the summoner, and with that he tucked him under his arm and
carried him off to Hell.
"So may we all be kept from wicked deeds, and Heaven shield us from
the power of wicked men! Amen."
* * * * *
This story naturally made the Summoner furious. He glared at the
Friar, and trembled with anger. "Let me have my say," he cried. "I'll
show what sort of stories are told concerning friars. They naturally
know all about the fiend. Just look at their names! What is the
difference between 'friar' and 'fiend'? Why, there was once a friar
that was taken by an angel to look at Hell, and at first as they went
down he saw never a friar, though many thousands of other people.
'How comes this?' asked the friar of the angel. 'Are all friars so
holy that not one of them is in Hell?' 'Wait,' said the angel, and he
led the friar down to the lowest pit where are chained all the
dreadful monsters. 'Look you now!' said the angel, and there, sure
enough, were thousands and thousands of friars all suffering the
vilest torments. That's the kind of men friars are!" Here the Host
interrupted. "Is this the kind of tale you mean to tell?" he asked.
"Yes," said the Summoner, "and worse. The friar is an extortioner and
a dupe and a hypocrite." "If that is so," said the Host, "we will not
hear it. You ecclesiastics can wrangle somewhere else. We want good
temper in _this_ party." The rest of us agreed with his sentence and
the Summoner had to swallow his rage as best he could.
Harry Bailey turned to the Clerk of Oxford. "Sir Clerk," he said,
"you ride and look as coyly as a newly-married bride at her
marriage-feast. Let be your studies, sir. Don't think your
philosophies here--a time for everything, say I! Tell us your tale,
sir, for you must play your part in the game; and make it amusing.
None of your high-falutin style! Keep that for your state
letters;--and, I tell you, don't preach as the friars do, we want to
be amused, and we want to understand what you say." Gently answered
the Clerk, "Host, I am in your hands, for you are the governor of
this party. Indeed, sir, I will tell you my tale. It is one I heard
in Padua. Petrarch told it me--Francesco Petrarch, now dead, alas!
whose verse is dear to Italy, who in learning and sweet speech
surpassed all his fellows. I would I could tell it as he did; but my
wit is not great enough. He would describe in full to you the country
where my story took place, Salucia, and Mt. Vesulus. I can tell but
the bare story. This is it."
THE CLERK'S TALE OF THE PATIENT WIFE
The country of Salucia is a pleasant land; it is a valley sheltered
by Mt. Vesulus, and open to the west. A duke ruled it once, named
Walter. He was beloved of his liegemen, for he was brave and young,
courteous, and delighted in the hunt. All his thought, however, was
for his present pleasure, and little care he took for the morrow.
Only in one thing did he displease his people: he would not wed. At
this they were so grieved that one day they sent certain of their
number to plead with him. The eldest among them was the spokesman. "O
noble lord," he said, "in your pity and mercy spare us, your
servants, and do not punish us because we come to you with our
request. Long have we lived the servants of your house, and always
have found happiness in your service. Nowhere is greater felicity
than in this goodly land. One thing only irks us: you have no wife,
and may die without an heir and the land pass to a stranger. Then woe
to us! Time creeps on unnoticed, and before you are aware your youth
will have given place to age. For our sakes, great lord, take you a
wife. Let us choose you one; the noblest and fairest should be your
bride. Relent; grant us this request, that everywhere may be perfect
happiness beneath your sway."
Duke Walter was moved by their earnest speaking. "I will grant you
this," he said, "although I had thought to live unmarried and free
all my days. But you must fulfil my conditions. I will choose my own
bride when and where I please, and you must promise to reverence and
obey her whoever she may be; poor or rich, beautiful or ugly, she
must be regarded as though she were an emperor's daughter. Promise
this, and I will wed as you desire." They promised gladly, but to
make sure that the duke would indeed fulfil his word, they asked him
to appoint a day when the marriage should be. This he did, and
forthwith great preparations were made.
Squires and knights from all parts came to Salucia to do honour to
this marriage. The feast was ordered, brooches and necklaces for the
bride were made by the best craftsmen in the town, and all the court
prepared to wear its most splendid robes. Yet, strange to say, when
the day of the wedding came, no one knew who the bride would be. Some
were afraid lest Duke Walter should again change his mind and not
marry after all. Some still hoped and trusted, for surely their duke
would not fail them after so many preparations had been made!
On the day appointed for the marriage, Duke Walter and his court
assembled at the palace in all their magnificence, with music and
gaiety, shining armour and jewellery. To everyone's surprise the duke
led them in procession from the palace to a little village adjoining
the town, and here dismounted near a poor hovel. This was the home of
Janicula, a poor old man, who would have starved had not his daughter
earned a living for them both by gathering herbs and keeping a few
sheep on the common. Griselda was not only beautiful, but renowned
throughout the village for her gentleness and patience and for the
love she bore her father.
When the duke and his company arrived in the village she was just
returning from the well, thinking that if she could finish her work
in time she would go to see this royal wedding. Great was her
surprise, therefore, to see the procession stop and the duke dismount
near her home. Still greater was her amazement when she heard him
call her by name. In haste she set down her pitcher in the ox-stall
and ran towards him, then knelt to receive his commands. The duke's
voice was gentle, "Where is your father, Griselda?" he asked. "Lord,"
she said, "he is within," and at once led the duke to Janicula. He
took the trembling old man by the hand and said, "Be not surprised at
my visit. To-day I must marry, and have come here to find my bride.
Often when hunting I have seen and admired your daughter, Griselda,
and now I would take her as my wife to live with her to my life's
end. Do you consent to this, my man? Tell me: will you take me for
your son-in-law?" The old man grew red with excitement, and trembled
so that he could hardly speak. "Indeed, my dear lord, I wish only
what is pleasing to you. In nothing would I oppose you." "Then call
Griselda," said the duke, "for I would talk with her here in your
presence." So, while all the court and the villagers wondered and
gossiped outside, the duke told Griselda of his plan, and asked her
"Will you," he said, "always obey me in everything? Will you promise
to accept readily all I desire for you? Whether I hurt you or please
you, make you cry or laugh, will you always keep steadfast your love
and reverence for me? Promise me this, and we will wed at once!"
Griselda answered, "All unworthy, my lord, am I, that this honour
should be done me. Willingly I promise to bear all things. Let your
treatment be kind or cruel, my reverence and obedience will not
Then Duke Walter took Griselda by the hand and led her to the door of
the cottage. There he called to the people and said, "This is my
wife. Honour and worship her according to your word!" Then fine court
ladies waited on Griselda, took off all her old ragged clothes, and
dressed her in lovely garments which the duke had prepared for her.
They combed her hair, and placed a shining crown upon her head, so
that when she again appeared before the people they hardly knew her,
she had become so radiantly fair. Her husband then set her upon a
white horse, and with great rejoicing the procession rode back to the
The duke and Griselda lived in great happiness. Griselda behaved so
beautifully that men would not believe that she had been reared in a
poor cottage. Everyone loved her for her gentleness and justice, and
even folk in far lands heard of her goodness and came to see her and
talk with her. She could even handle state affairs, and many times by
her tact brought men to peace and prevented war. When her husband was
away, she ruled the land wisely in his stead.
By and by she had a baby daughter, much to the joy of the duke and
his people. Griselda was indeed happy; but alas! when the baby was
two years old a strange thing happened. The duke was suddenly seized
by an irresistible desire to test the patience and love of his wife.
The desire was stupid, as it seems to me, for it might have destroyed
the happiness of them both; but Duke Walter could not resist it, do
what he would, so one day he said to his wife, "Griselda, you cannot
have forgotten how poor you were before our marriage. Now, although I
love you dearly, my courtiers are aggrieved that they must obey and
serve one who is really only the daughter of a peasant. Their
discontent has increased since your baby came, and therefore, to
quell this grumbling, I must take away your child. See now if your
patience and obedience are indeed as steadfast as you promised they
Poor Griselda felt cold at heart, but showed no sign of her grief and
fear to her husband. "My child and I are yours, my lord," she said.
"Work your pleasure upon us. My love and obedience shall not change."
Duke Walter was glad at this, but could not bring himself to change
his cruel plan. He sent to Griselda a fierce-looking soldier, who
seized her baby roughly, as though he would kill it at once. Griselda
bore all meekly. She asked that she might kiss her baby once before
it was put to death. The soldier allowed this, and as she gave it
back she said, "Receive again this little maid. She should have had a
tenderer nurse, but my lord's will must be done. One thing only I
ask, if you kill the child, bury its little body safe from beasts and
birds." She said no more, and her manner showed no anger or
The soldier told all to the duke. "Take the child secretly," he said,
"to my sister, the Countess of Boulogne. I will give you letters to
ask her to tend and rear it carefully; yet the child must never know
its birth and parentage, and Griselda, my wife, must think her babe
is dead." The soldier obeyed.
For many months Duke Walter watched to see if he could find in
Griselda any signs of impatience and grief, but she was humble as
ever, and never even mentioned her baby nor asked after it.
After four years a baby boy was born to her, and again she was happy,
and the people rejoiced greatly; but when the baby was two years old,
again Duke Walter was possessed with the desire to torment and try
his wife. Again he said that the courtiers disliked the child because
the mother was a peasant's daughter, and again he sent the rough
sergeant to seize the child and act as though he would kill it. Again
Griselda kissed her baby farewell, and begged the soldier to bury its
little body carefully; but still her manner was meek and gentle and
showed no resistance to the cruel decrees of her husband and lord.
The duke as before sent the baby secretly to Boulogne, and there
sister and brother grew into fine handsome children, yet no one knew
who they were.
If Duke Walter had not known for sure how dearly Griselda loved her
children, he might have thought from her manner that she did not care
for them at all; for neither by word nor deed did she ever swerve
from her wifely love and reverence for him. Yet his people were
amazed and angry that their lord should show such cruelty towards his
When the daughter was twelve years old, the duke's mind was again
filled with this strange desire to try Griselda still further. This
time he sent to the Pope, asking for letters to declare his marriage
with Griselda annulled, and when these came, he proclaimed to the
world that he was about to marry a fair young girl, the descendant of
a noble house. He spoke roughly of the matter to Griselda. "You
know," he said, "I may neither speak nor act as does a ploughman or a
peasant. My will must be that of my people, who now demand that I
take a high-born maid to wife, and leave you. I am sorry, but it must
needs be that we part. Therefore, I charge you, leave your fine robes
and your jewels, and with such possessions as you brought here,
return again to your father's house. Let's see now whether your fine
promises of meek obedience and patience hold." Griselda, though
grieved in heart, answered gently, "I well remember, my lord, that
from my father's house I brought you nothing except my true love and
faith. My poor clothes were all taken from me when fine women dressed
me for my wedding. Ah me! how kind you seemed to me that day! I will
obey you always, and go humbly and willingly. Your word is my law,
but grant that I may take my smock at least, to cover me when I go."
The duke assented gruffly, and away went poor Griselda, with bare
head and feet, clad only in one plain garment, till she came to her
father's house. Many followed her, weeping, for they loved her
dearly, but none except her poor old father dared help her or plead
She had lived in her lowly hovel for some days, tending her sheep and
caring for her father as of old, when the duke's messenger came to
summon her again to the palace.
She went readily and greeted her former husband with all humility. "I
wish my marriage with my young bride to be magnificently celebrated,"
said the duke. "You, Griselda, know all my tastes, as well as the
customs and the appurtenances of the palace. It is my will that you
take charge of the household matters for this wedding. Arrange the
rooms, order the banquet, and see that all things are done well and
Griselda obeyed gladly. Not one look of envy or jealousy did she
give, not one impatient angry word did she speak, but managed the
servants, arranged the rooms, and looked to the cooking so carefully
that all the duke's guests marvelled at the excellence of the
preparations. Many wondered who this poor woman in tattered clothing
At last the new bride arrived. Her rich dress, polished manners, and
beautiful face won all men's hearts at once. "Indeed," they said,
"our master is no fool. This maid is younger and fairer than
Griselda, and she is, moreover, highly born." Yet no one knew from
whence this maid had come, or who her parents were. With her had come
her younger brother, a gallant youth, as handsome as she. The company
entered the palace. Griselda grew busier, for the feast must be
prepared, and guests accommodated, and all must be prompt and fair to
please the duke.
When all had taken their places for the feast, the duke called
Griselda and said, "How do you like my new bride? Is she not fair?"
"I have never seen a fairer," answered Griselda; "yet, my lord, she
is young and tender too. Treat her more gently than you have treated
others; she, reared so richly, cannot endure hardness like one who
has known no softness nor luxury in her life."
When the duke heard her gentle and kindly answer, his heart relented
at last. "Enough of this, my wife," he cried. "Indeed I have proved
your loyalty and patience to the uttermost! Come now, my noble, true
Griselda," and he took her in his arms and kissed her before them
all. Griselda was amazed, but the duke went on: "See now--these are
your two children. This fair maid is your daughter and mine. She was
said to be my bride but to try and tempt you. And this fine youth is
your son and mine." Griselda could not speak for joy and surprise.
She seized her children and kissed them eagerly again and again.
"Thank God and your kind father you are safe," she said; "how my
heart has grieved for you!" And with pity and love and joy she
swooned, still holding her children so tightly that only with
difficulty could they disentwine her fingers from their hands. The
ladies of the court took her to her room, and there restored her, and
arrayed her in a wonderful dress of gold, setting a crown on her
head. Thus she appeared again before the duke and his court, and all
men said they had never seen her look so lovely before.
Never again did Duke Walter seek to try his wife, and for many years
they lived happily together with their two children. The pretty
daughter married the most powerful prince in Italy, and the son
succeeded his father when he died, and ruled Salucia well for many a
Such is the story of Griselda. The Wife of Bath looks as though she
doesn't believe that a wife would suffer so humbly, and indeed, I
expect that if you sought through a whole town nowadays you wouldn't
find above two or three Griseldas: but I tell my tale, not to suggest
that men should copy the duke and seek, like him, to prove their
wives' patience, but to show you all how woes and trials should be
borne. For if a frail woman could bear with such meekness the rough
assaults of a husband, should not we bear with resignation and
meekness the sufferings sent by Almighty God to chasten us?
* * * * *
Thus spoke the Clerk; but, seeing us all look a little sad for the
trials of patient Griselda, he suddenly burst into a merry song:
Griselda's dead, alack the day,
And buried in Italy far away,
O! men beware.
And do not dare
To test your wives in spiteful play.
For patience, in these times more crude,
By modern matrons is eschewed,
And wives to-day
Are sterner clay,
And know the art of being rude.
You, wife, who would your husband rule,
Be not a weak obedient fool;
By force or guile
Or crafty wile,
O make him your subservient tool.
If you his purpose would deflect
In all your gayest raiment decked.
Throughout the town
Walk up and down,
Till he your beauty will respect.
We joined in the Clerk's song, and felt much cheered by its merry
Then the Merchant told a tale of a wife who was the exact opposite of
Griselda, and much more akin to the Wife of Bath. Many of the company
enjoyed it, and of a truth it was a good contrast to the Clerk's
After the Merchant's tale we talked lightly to one another of men and
matters until we reached the inn at Ospringe where we were lodged for
the third night of our pilgrimage.
After supper the Yeoman told a tale [*] of the adventures of a lad
named Gamelyn, and how at last he got the better of his unjust
[Footnote: The text of this tale was found amongst Chaucer's papers.
It seems most suitable for the Yeoman to tell it, and as there is
nothing in Chaucer to contradict this, we give it to the Yeoman
THE YEOMAN'S TALE OF GAMELYN
A knight lay dying. He summoned his neighbours to consult about the
division of his property between his three sons. The neighbours
debated together and decided to give all to the two eldest sons, and
nothing to Gamelyn the youngest, who was still a mere boy. This
division did not please the knight; so, rousing himself weak as he
was, he gave his own decision in the matter.
"John, my eldest son, shall have as much land as he can plough with
five ploughs. Such was my father's bequest to me. My second son shall
have five plough-lands too, for so much have I won with my own right
hand. But all my other possessions of land, of servants, and of
goodly steeds, I bequeath to Gamelyn. I beseech you, good neighbours
all, see my wishes fulfilled!" Saying this, he died, but, as Gamelyn
was too young to have the management of his property, all was given
into the charge of his elder brother till Gamelyn was grown up.
This brother, however, was no true knight, and let all Gamelyn's
property fall into decay, and kept Gamelyn himself in his house
rather as a servant than a brother, though in time Gamelyn grew so
tall and strong that the man who dared to anger him was brave indeed.
One day it chanced that Gamelyn stood in his brother's yard and
thought of all his good cornfields left unsown, and all his houses in
ruins and his noble oaks cut down through his brother's
mismanagement. As he stood and pondered thus, his brother John came
by and asked in a surly voice if dinner was ready. Gamelyn became
furious at this treatment. "Go," he cried to his brother, "and cook
it yourself! I'll be your servant no longer." His brother was amazed
at this boldness. "How now, Gamelyn!" he said; "you have never spoken
like this before. What ails you?" "By my faith," answered Gamelyn,
"never before did I think of all the wrongs I have suffered at your
hands. My parks are broken up, my fields lie unsown, my houses are in
ruins. All the goods my father left me are wasted through you. A
curse on you, brother!" His brother was angry at this answer, yet he
feared Gamelyn's strength too much to face him alone, so he called to
his men, "Here, my men, beat this proud rascal for me and teach him
to behave himself to his betters."
Down came the servants armed with staves. Gamelyn looked around for
something with which to defend himself and found a pestle standing by
the wall. This he snatched up and wielded so vigorously that the men
fled this way and that, and his brother ran for safety up into a
tower. Looking down from the window he was seen by Gamelyn. "Come
down, brother," Gamelyn called up to him, "and I will treat you as I
treated your men." "Not so whilst you hold that pestle," answered his
brother, "but if you will lay it aside I will come down and grant you
whatever you ask." Gamelyn was ready enough to believe his brother.
He laid aside his pestle and answered, "All I ask is the land that my
father left me." "That you shall have," his brother replied, "and all
the damage it has suffered these many years I will make good." So the
two kissed, and peace was made for a season.
No long time after the news came that a wrestling-bout was arranged,
with a ram and a ring as prizes for the winner. Gamelyn thought that
he would enter as a competitor. He asked his brother for a horse and
set off. John hoped that he would never come back and barred the gate
Gamelyn came to the fair and alighted from his horse. Just by him
stood a franklin mourning the death of his two sons. "How did that
befall?" asked Gamelyn. "It was the champion wrestler who threw them
both and slew them. Great reward would I give to any man who would
avenge them." "I am ready," answered Gamelyn. "Do you hold my horse
and guard my clothes while I wrestle, and I will promise to make the
champion pay dearly for your sons' deaths." "Thanks be," answered the
franklin, "I shall be avenged. Never fear for your horse and clothes,
I will guard them safely for you." Gamelyn pulled off his shoes,
stript off his coat and went barefooted into the ring. There stood
the champion boasting of his successes. "Who art thou, poor fool," he
cried, "that comest here courting destruction? Better men than thou
have perished here to-day!"
Nothing daunted, Gamelyn replied, "You know my name and my father's.
Sir John of Boundys he was, a good knight, and I am Gamelyn his son.
Come on, do your worst and let's see whose arm proves the stronger!"
"I know you, Gamelyn," cried the champion. "Young as you are, you are
impudent and proud. But come, we'll soon settle this account."
With that the fight began, and fierce was the struggle. But Gamelyn
stood firm against all his opponent's efforts. At last Gamelyn said,
"Come, you have done your best to throw me; try now if you can defend
yourself against one of my tricks."
With that Gamelyn rushed at the champion, and with one rapid twist he
threw him so heavily on his left side that his arm snapped and three
ribs were broken. "Now," cried Gamelyn, "shall we count that a throw,
or will you have another try?" "Not I," said the champion. "Never in
all my life have I met so fierce a wrestler. So far as I am concerned
the prize is yours."
Gamelyn stood in the ring to see if anyone else wished to dispute the
prize, but no one came forward. At last the stewards of the ring
declared Gamelyn victor and he took his prizes and rode home, the
crowd following him in admiration.
His brother saw the return from his castle. "Shut the gate, porter,"
he cried. "We will never have Gamelyn inside this house again." The
porter went about the business unwillingly enough, but when Gamelyn
knocked at the door he refused to open, and bade him be gone. "Not
yet," answered Gamelyn, "I have friends to feast. Stay," he said to
the others, "yesterday there were five tuns of wine in my brother's
cellar, we will not part till we have drank them all dry."
At that, without more ado, he kicked the wicket till the bolt broke.
The porter fled, but Gamelyn ran after him, struck him a mighty blow
and threw him into the well. All the servants when they saw this were
terror-stricken, and not one dared to disobey Gamelyn's orders. A
feast was prepared, wine brought, and for seven days and nights
Gamelyn and his friends held revel in the hall; but his brother
stayed in fear and trembling in his turret, never daring to show his
At last his companions had had enough of feasting and would go home.
In vain Gamelyn begged them to stay; one by one they departed and he
was left alone. Yet even so his brother did not dare to attack him
"That you have wasted my goods I will forgive, but I have one thing
on my conscience. When I saw you throw my porter into the well, I
swore that I never would forgive you till I had placed you in bonds
as a punishment. Now, when I forgive you freely, let me not be
forsworn. I will bind you to satisfy my oath and then we can live
together in love again."
Gamelyn thought no evil of his brother. "Do as you will," he said.
"Never for my sake shall you be forsworn." Then his crafty brother
called to his men, and while Gamelyn stood still they bound him hand
and foot in fetters and fastened him to a post outside the door of
the hall, where everyone going in or out could see him. Two days he
stood there and his brother gave him no food, but told all those that
came that Gamelyn was mad and must be kept bound, lest he should do
someone a mischief.
At last Gamelyn realised that his brother had played him false, and
began to wonder how he might free himself from his present plight.
Now in the house there was an old steward named Adam, and on the
second day Gamelyn said to him, "Methinks, Adam, I have fasted
over-long. If you can get the keys and set me free, you shall have
half of all my lands." Adam hesitated, for he feared his master; but
pity for Gamelyn was too strong for him. At night, when all were
asleep, he crept into his master's room, took his bunch of keys and
set Gamelyn free. "They shall not bind me so easily again," said
When he had eaten food and drunk wine, he declared himself ready to
take vengeance on his brother immediately. But Adam restrained him.
"I know a trick worth two of that," he said. "Next Sunday there is to
be a great feast in the hall. Many abbots and other churchmen will
come to it. You shall stand against the post in your fetters, but I
will leave them unlocked so that you can free yourself whenever you
wish. When they are feasting, ask each one of them to take pity on
you and release you. If one of them does so, then you will be free
and I shall escape blame; but if they all refuse, I will provide a
good staff for you and another for myself, and we two will fight
them all. When I give the signal, cast away the fetters and come to
me, and I will have the staves ready." Gamelyn agreed very heartily.
When Sunday came, Gamelyn was standing fettered against the post. The
guests arrived and were served with a sumptuous feast, but Gamelyn
was given no food or drink. When the meal was nearly over, he called
to them to release him, but to all his pleadings they returned only
rough words and curses. Then Adam looked at Gamelyn and saw that he
was furious at their unkindness, so he brought the staves to the door
and beckoned to Gamelyn, who at once rushed to his side, and both
laid about them heartily. Abbots and priors, monks and canons fell
right and left before their blows. Some fell under the table, some in
the fire, and many bones were broken. The guests who had come there
riding merrily on horses were taken home that night in carts and
When he had finished with all the others, Gamelyn went to his
brother, who had been standing helpless in his place, felled him with
the staff so that his backbone was injured, and put him in the
fetters where he himself had been.
The servants, either for love or fear, did all that Gamelyn and Adam
commanded them, and brought them the best the house could provide.
When the sheriff near by heard of all this beating and wounding, he
determined to take Gamelyn and to make him pay the penalty. He sent
to Gamelyn's castle four-and-twenty young men, who were only too glad
to have the opportunity of showing their valour. They demanded
admission to the house, but the porter would not let them in. He
rushed to Gamelyn and told him that the sheriff's men were outside.
Gamelyn and Adam slipped out by a side door and, before anyone knew
what was happening, Adam had felled two and Gamelyn three of them.
The rest were too frightened to resist, and took to their heels.
Soon, however, the sheriff gathered a great number of men, and
himself set out to take Gamelyn. "My counsel is this," said Adam.
"Let us go to the forest before they come. It is better to be
homeless in the woods than to be shut up in prison." They agreed to
go together and, having pledged each other in a cup of wine, they
took good horses and rode away as fast as they might.
Gamelyn and Adam went all day through the forest until they began to
grow hungry and weary with pushing through the thick bushes, which
scratched them and tore their clothes, when suddenly they heard a
noise as of many men talking. They went nearer to it and, peering
through the leaves, Gamelyn perceived a great company of men, about
seven score in number, who were sitting down to a feast. "Here's good
luck," he whispered, "for I think I see meat and drink." "God grant
we get some of it," said Adam, "for I am famished and in need of a
good meal." As he said this the chief of the men saw them as they
stood among the bushes, and cried out, "By the rood, here are some
guests to our feast! Yonder are two young men, and perhaps more
behind them, Go and fetch them to me." Up then started seven outlaws
and came to Gamelyn and the steward. "Yield up your bows and arrows,"
they commanded. "That will I never do," replied Gamelyn boldly, "even
if there were a dozen of you, I would fight you all." When they saw
he was not afraid they did not attempt to harm him, but asked him
civilly to come before their master. "Who is your master?" said
Gamelyn, and they all answered, "Our master is the crowned king of
the outlaws." "Adam, let us go to him," said Gamelyn. "This man is
probably courteous and of gentle birth; he will not, for shame,
refuse us food and drink." So they went together to the outlaw king.
"Who are you and what do you seek here?" he asked. "We come here
because, like you, we dare not stay at home. We shall do no harm
except perhaps to shoot a deer or two for food." "You shall have
enough to eat," said the king. "Sit down and eat and drink of our
best." So they stayed with the outlaws that night.
In the morning the outlaws began to talk amongst themselves, and at
last one of them told the king that his guest was Gamelyn, whose
deeds were well known amongst them. So the king honoured Gamelyn and
made him a chief of the outlaws, next in rank to himself.
Three weeks went by, and the two led a merry life amongst the
outlaws. Then the king heard to his great delight that his offences
were pardoned, and he could go home to live in peace. The outlaws had
to appoint a new king. They wasted no time in electing Gamelyn, and
for some time he led all their expeditions.
Meanwhile the false knight, his brother, was made sheriff of the
county, in spite of his injured back, and immediately he set a price
on his young brother's head, and declared him outlawed. He sent out
all his men to search for Gamelyn and to bring him to trial; but,
though they would have been glad to earn the reward, they were sorry
for Gamelyn's sake. At last some of them were lucky enough to meet
Gamelyn in the woods, but, instead of arresting him, they fell on
their knees and told him of his brother's treachery. "I ought to have
broken his neck outright," he said. "Go back to your master. I will
see him again if I die for it."
So one day, when the sheriff was sitting among his council in the
great moot-hall, in stalked Gamelyn, and, throwing back his hood,
showed his face to them all. "God be with you all," he said, "except
with you, hunch-backed sheriff! Why have you shamed me and our
father's house by declaring me outlawed?" The false knight did not
reply but called in his men, and in spite of his struggles Gamelyn
was overwhelmed and cast into prison.
Now Gamelyn had another brother, the second son of their father,
named Sir Ote, as good a knight as ever wore spurs. When he heard all
the disgrace that had fallen on Gamelyn for no cause, he was wroth,
and taking his horse he rode to the town. "Brother," he said to the
sheriff, "there are only three of us, and you have imprisoned the
best of us all. Evil befall such brothers as you! Let Gamelyn out of
prison till the justices come to try him, and I will be his
"Take him, but if he fails to appear on the day of trial, you shall
bear the sentence for him," answered the eldest brother.
"Be it so," said Sir Ote. "Bring him to me." So Gamelyn was delivered
to his brother, and stayed with him that night, but, in the morning,
announced that he must go to the woods to see how his men fared.
"That will be evil for me," said Sir Ote. "Unless you return in time
for the trial I shall be made prisoner instead of you." "Brother,"
replied Gamelyn, "do not be afraid. If God spares my life and wits I
will come back." "God shield you," said the other. "Go, and return
when you think fit."
The outlaws were right glad to see their leader again and had many
tales of adventure to tell him. Once more he led them on their
expeditions against rich abbots and priors and such haughty men. But
the poor loved him, for he never touched their goods. While Gamelyn
and his men made merry in the forest, the false knight, his brother,
was busy riding through the country to collect the jury for the
trial. He took care to have only those men who, for money, would
promise to have Gamelyn hanged, and, sad to say, it did not take long
to find a sufficient number of rascals who would do what he wanted.
When the time for the trial drew nigh, Gamelyn prepared to appear
before the magistrate. "Make ready," he said to his men. "When the
justice holds his court, we must all be there. For I am bound to go,
or my brother will be sent to prison instead of me." The outlaws were
not unwilling, and they set out in a body, with their weapons ready
for any emergency.
Adam was sent ahead to see how matters stood. He ran on and looked in
the hall. There sat the justice with his jury, and before them stood
Sir Ote in heavy fetters. When Adam returned and reported what he had
seen, Gamelyn turned and cried, "Hear this, my men, Sir Ote stands
bound in the court. With God's help we will make my brother pay for
"A curse on them all," said Adam. "If you take my advice, not one of
all that company shall keep his head." "No," said Gamelyn, "we will
punish the guilty, but the others shall go free. I will go and talk
with this justice. Let none escape through the door, for I will be
judge and hold my court here to-day."
In went Gamelyn amongst the crowd and stood before them all. In
dismay the court saw the doors filled with Gamelyn's men, all armed,
and was sore afraid. Gamelyn went up to Sir Ote and loosed him. "You
have come almost too late," said Sir Ote, "for the verdict is given
that I must hang." "If God be with us," replied Gamelyn, "the jury
that condemned you shall hang, and the sheriff and judge too." With
that he went up to the magistrate and threw him out of his seat. Then
he sat there himself, and had his false brother and the justice put
in the prisoners' dock together with the jury. A new jury of his own
men was called and a fresh trial was held. The prisoners were found
guilty of having conspired to kill Gamelyn and Sir Ote, and the
outlaws took them out and hung them. So was the treachery of the
false knight ended at last.
Later Sir Ote and Gamelyn went to the king of the land to make their
peace with him. He knew the wrong that they had suffered, and forgave
them readily. Sir Ote was made a justice, Gamelyn became ruler of all
the king's forests, obtained, pardon for his woodland followers,
married a fair wife, and lived long and happily.
So ends my tale. God save this company and bring us safe at last to
His rest. Amen.
* * * * *
Thus the tale ended, and we went to bed to sleep soundly till the
TALES OF THE FOURTH DAY
The fourth day of our journey dawned bright and clear, and we were on
the road early. The sun shone brilliantly, the warm air was full of
the songs of larks. We were all in the mood for a tale of romance,
and were glad when the Host called on the handsome young Squire to
tell us his tale. "For certain," said Harry Bailey, "you know more of
love than any man." "No, good sir," replied the Squire, laughing and
blushing a little; "but I will do my best. If I fail, pray have me
excused." And as he rode along gracefully, with his long sleeves
fluttering gaily behind him, he told us this story:
THE SQUIRE'S TALE OF CAMBUSKAN AND CANACEE
The land of Tartary in the East was ruled by a great king, Cambuskan,
brave and just, honourable and wise, and the possessor of wealth
untold. He had made war on his enemies and established his kingdom
firm and secure. Yet he was not old, but fresh and strong, rejoicing
in life and very handsome. This great king had two sons, Algarsyf and
Cambalo, and a daughter Canacee. She was exceedingly fair; but alas!
neither my language nor my wit is sufficient to describe her
beauty--only one skilled in speech could do that, and such I am not.
When Cambuskan had ruled for twenty years he proclaimed that on his
birthday that year a great feast would be held.
When the day came many flocked to do honour to the king. Outside the
birds sang gaily in the fresh spring weather; inside the palace,
Cambuskan, dressed in his magnificent royal robes, with a shining
crown on his head, sat high on the dais, while his courtiers and
guests assembled in the splendid banquet hall. It would take a
summer's day to tell you of the strange dishes they ate, and Eastern
meats are unknown to me; but I know there were roasted swans and
heron stews, and that whatever a man desired was given him. During
the feast the minstrels played sweet melodies.
When the third course had been served, suddenly the door at the end
of the hall opened, and a knight entered. He was fully armed save for
his head, and rode upon a horse of brass. He carried in his hand a
broad mirror, and at his side hung a naked sword. As he came nearer,
Cambuskan could see that he wore a bright ring on his thumb. He rode
in stately manner straight up the hall till he came to the king, and
there saluted him with all knightly courtesy. Then he bowed to each
of the courtiers in order, and spoke words of greeting to them all.
His speech and bearing were so gracious that it was clear that he was
a knight of noble birth, and came from a great court. The guests sat
silent in sheer amazement. When he had saluted everyone he began to
explain his coming. I would I could command the flowing speech and
polished utterance that he had; but alas! I am but a squire, and he a
knight surpassing even those of the old Table Round, yet I will tell
you as best I can all that he said to Cambuskan at that great feast
"The King of Arabia and India is my liege lord," he began, "and by me
sends you his greetings and these four presents in honour of your
feast. First, this horse of brass which will carry you wheresoever
you will, merely by the turning of a pin in its ear. Whether you wish
to soar as high as the eagle, or to travel to the ends of the earth,
this horse will carry you there in twenty-four hours. You may sleep
upon his back, he will not fail you. He was made by a magician after
long watching of the stars, and his like can nowhere be found.
"This mirror will show a man all troubles that threaten him. His
friends and foes will show there in dear and true colours, while a
woman can see if her lover be false or true.
"This ring gives to the wearer the power to know the language of all
birds that are, and to answer them again so that they can understand.
It also tells its owner how to use all grasses and herbs--which can
heal wounds and which can cure sickness. This ring and mirror my
liege lord sends to Canacee.
"This naked sword has these special virtues. It can bite through the
thickest and toughest armour, and if a man is hurt by it, the wound
cannot heal until it is touched again with the flat side of the same
sword. It will not fail its wielder. This gift my lord sends to
Cambuskan, together with this same steed of brass."
At the end of his message the knight dismounted and led the horse out
of the hall to the courtyard where it stood still, shining in the
bright sunlight, for it was beyond the power of any to move it. The
sword was carried to the strong tower, and placed amongst the most
precious treasures. The ring and mirror were given to Canacee, where
she sat at the high table.
Great was the talk among high and low, and many the arguments about
these presents. None understood them; each was eager to give his
opinion of how they were made, whence they came, their dangers and
uses. The horse, some said, was like that of Greek legends, Pegasus,
who had wings to fly. "Nay," said others, "it might harbour soldiers,
come to destroy our city, like the great wooden horse of Troy in
which the Greeks hid themselves to enter the city." "It must be a
fairy horse," said others, "made by magic. Have not the minstrels at
the feasts sung of such steeds?" Others spoke of the mirror. "It can
be made by cutting the glass in different ways," said some. "There
was one like it at Rome." "Nay," said others who could read and
wanted to show off their learning, "if you read Vitulon or Aristotle,
you will see that many such mirrors have been made before." "As for
the sword," said some, "Achilles had one like it at Troy." Others
spoke of different ways of hardening metal so that you would have
supposed they knew all about the matter. Others said that Moses and
Solomon had a ring such as Canacee had been given, and tried to
explain how it would tell birds' language. "Cease this jangling,"
said others in a lordly tone. "One cannot explain anything till one
knows the true cause. Why, see how many wondered at the ebb and flow
of the tide, or the thunder, until men knew their causes!" So the
talk went on, till the feast was ended and the king rose from the
Then the dance began to the sound of jolly minstrelsy. Canacee and
the ladies of the court were there, and seldom has such graceful
dancing been seen. The strange knight danced with Canacee for a
partner. I wish I could tell you all the beauty and gaiety of the
revelry, but I cannot. I do not know enough of such matters. Then
came the supper, with wine and spices and plenty for all, for at a
king's feast no man lacks anything. Canacee stayed not to the supper,
but went early to bed, with her maidens, for she wanted to be fresh
and happy the next morning, not heavy with fumes of wine.
After supper the king went to examine the horse of brass. The knight
explained that to go to any place on earth all that was necessary was
to whisper the name of the place in the horse's ear, then turn a
secret pin, and in a few hours the rider would be at his destination.
To stop at any moment another pin must be turned. When standing still
the horse could be moved by no man but only by its owner, who must
turn another secret pin. The horse would then vanish out of sight,
but come again when the owner called it by name in a way the knight
The king was greatly rejoiced at this fine present. He sent the
bridle to the treasure-house to be guarded and kept, and went again
with his guest to the revelry and feasting which lasted until dawn.
Soon after daybreak Canacee awoke to find the sun was streaming in at
her window. She felt she must rise at once to see her presents, and
to walk abroad in the fresh morning wind. She called her women, who
quickly helped her to dress. She was clad lightly for running and
playing, and with six or seven companions was soon walking gaily
through the park and wood. Canacee understood all the birds' songs,
for she wore her magic ring, and she sang with them for very gladness
Suddenly, upon a tree-trunk, dried as white as chalk, she saw a
falcon sitting. The bird's cry was piteous to hear, and as it sat it
so beat itself with its wings and pecked itself with its sharp beak
that the red blood ran down.
Canacee nearly fainted at the sorrowful sight. She went nearer,
however, and saw that the falcon was a princess among birds, with
fine white feathers and perfect shape. For a long time she watched
it, thinking it would fall from the tree in its weakness. At last she
spoke to it. "Why sit you here so sorrowfully?" she said. "Surely it
is for the death of some loved one, or the love of some faithless one
that you weep. Tell me, can I not help you? I know the virtue of all
herbs, and will find a salve for your wounds." The falcon cried yet
louder, and at last fell down in a swoon. Canacee was quick and
caught it as it fell. She laid it in her lap and waited till it
should recover. At length the falcon opened its eyes, and began to
speak. Canacee understood all.
"Long ago," said the falcon, "I lived happily in a tall rock of grey
marble, for I am royally born. Many birds wooed me, but especially
one, who seemed the very flower of chivalry--a tercelet eagle, strong
and famous. For many years I rejected his suit, but at last gave him
all my heart and my love, and thought that I had all his true love
and service in return. Ah me for the faithlessness of men! One day he
must needs go to a far land. We took a loving farewell, yet I was sad
at heart and fearful, I know not why. The pain of death could not be
worse than the pain of parting to true lovers. I watched and waited
for him many a day, but alas! in a far land he saw a kite, and
suddenly loved her so that all love of me died in his heart. I am
lost and hurt beyond all remedy. Ah, woe is me!"
Canacee's pity for the poor deceived falcon was great. She took it
home, and in her own room made a nest for it, draped with blue
velvet, the symbol of constancy in love. She tended it for many a
* * * * *
At this point in the Squire's tale we came to the door of a wayside
inn, where we had our first meal, so the Squire's tale was
interrupted and was never finished in my hearing. I wish I could tell
you the end, for it was a good story I am sure. But whether the
falcon found her mate again, and how Cambuskan used his horse of
brass, and Canacee her mirror, I cannot say. Yet I have heard other
men tell that Cambalo fought gallantly for his sister against two
knights who came to woo her--and I would fain know the end of that
Thus the Squire's tale remains half told. Try, reader, if you can
* * * * *
I have told you that in our company was a wealthy Franklin, an old
man with red face and beard as white as a daisy. He was a great man
in his own country. He had been a sheriff and a knight of the shire,
and he deserved such honour too, for to all and sundry he was ever
generous. His table stood in the hall all day, perpetually supplied
with the best of meat and drink, and any man was welcome to dine
there. Fish, flesh and bread abounded in his house, besides all the
special dainties which the varying seasons brought. His mews were
stocked with many a fat partridge, and his streams with bream and
trout. He was greatly interested in the Squire, and full of
admiration for his modest, gentlemanly bearing. "I have a son
myself," he said, "but he does me no credit. All he cares for is to
play at dice and gossip with page-boys. I would he were as fine a
youth as you, Sir Squire. Do what I will, I cannot teach him
gentleness and manners!" "Fie on such talk!" interrupted our Host.
"You remember our plan, good Franklin? Come, tell us your story now."
"Well I remember my promise," the Franklin answered, "and I gladly
fulfil it now.
"In the old days the ancient Britons invented and sang to the harp
many songs of chivalrous adventure. There is one that I remember
which I will tell as well as I can. But at the beginning I ask you
to pardon the roughness of my speech. I am a common man and cannot
talk as do the nobility. I never learnt rhetoric nor read my
classics, and as for the flowers of speech, as they call them, I
have none. The only flowers I know are those that grow in the
meadows. Still, as I can, I will tell."
THE FRANKLIN'S TALE OF THREE GENEROUS SOULS
In Armorica, the country we now call Brittany, there lived a knight
who served the lady of his love as truly and humbly as any knight
could. He dared not tell her of his love, however, for she was not
only fair but of the highest rank in the land. At last the lady
herself took pity on him and agreed to take him for her husband.
Solemnly they plighted their troth. The knight swore that never, on
his honour as a knight, would he assert his lordship over her. He
would keep it in name only to save his dignity. The lady in her turn
thanked him humbly, and promised to be his true and faithful wife all
her life long, and never to stir up strife between them. Thus they
made agreement together. And, sirs, of this one thing I am sure, that
if love is to abide between two persons both must be free; for love
which is forced and constrained soon dies, yet by patience and
humility we can achieve what force never could attain. So these two
accorded well together, each serving the other in all love and
humility. Two years they dwelt thus together, till the knight, whose
name was Averagus, took ship and sailed to England to win fame in
adventures there. Meanwhile his wife Dorigen made doleful lament,
weeping and wailing, as noble wives do when their husbands leave
them. Her friends gathered about her and tried--now by this means,
now by that--to cheer her. By degrees they won her so far that she
consented to walk with them by the seaside. But, as soon as she saw
all the black rocks which lined the shore, grief descended on her
anew. "Eternal God," she cried, "who didst make all the world and
create each thing for some good, madest Thou these rocks only to
destroy man, the creature made in Thine own image? How many goodly
seamen have perished on these crags! Could but these rocks be driven
down to Hell then might my heart rest, and I need fear nought for my
husband when he sails home again." In this way she lamented till her
friends, seeing that her grief grew no less but rather greater by the
seaside, led her inland to fair gardens and pleasant places.
It happened that on the 6th of May they were all gathered in a
garden. Every leaf and flower shone in the sunlight, washed freshly
by gentle showers. It seemed a veritable paradise for its beauty and
sweet-scented flowers. No one, unless sickness or great sorrow
weighed him down, could be sad on such a day. Dorigen alone did not
join in the merrymaking. Among the others danced a Squire Aurelius,
as gay and fresh as is the month of May; nor were his virtue and
wealth less than his beauty and the good estimation in which he was
held. Yet, unhappily, for these two years he had loved Dorigen with
all his might, but had not dared to tell her of his love. To allay
his grief he had written verses in which he lamented his lady's hard
heart and his own sad plight in that he dared not speak but must die,
even as Echo of her love for Narcissus.
On the day of which I speak it chanced that they two fell talking,
and when Aurelius saw his time, "Madam," said he, "'tis in your power
to save me or to slay me, for I love you better than any woman alive.
If you will not love me then I must die, for without you life is all
pain and woe." When she heard this she answered, "Is this what you
meant, Aurelius, by those sad looks of yours? Never before could I
guess. But your sighs are all in vain. I love my husband, and never
shall I love another man in my life." So much she said, and then in
jest she added, "Yet on my honour, there is one way for you to win my
love. Go, sink all the black rocks that fringe this coast deep
beneath the sea. If you do this, then I may be your love." At this
cruel answer Aurelius went home in deep grief and cast him down and
wept till the glorious sun had set in gloom, and hid his face beneath
the dusky west--(for, gentles, this is how the poets say that night
Then all beside himself with grief, he prayed first to Phoebus that
he would help him, and then to Phoebus' sister the moon. "Lady that
rulest the tides of the sea," he pleaded, "do now this favour for me.
When next thou art at the full, check thy course a little, and travel
no faster than thy brother, the sun. Then shalt thou stay ever at the
full and ever shall there be high tide on this coast. Thus do thou
for two years, and I can show my lady that not a rock is to be seen."
He was still praying madly in this wise when his brother came and
found him, and bore him to bed. Soon after this, Knight Averagus came
home covered with glory, to find his faithful wife Dorigen awaiting
him with joy.
For two years more Aurelius lay in torment on his bed of sickness.
His only comfort was his brother, who tended him as well as he could
and devised all manner of means to rid him of his pain. At last he
remembered how, when he was a student at Orleans, he one day saw a
fellow-student reading secretly a book of magic. This book spoke of
the eight-and-twenty mansions of the moon, and much other such folly
that we do not waste our time on nowadays, for Holy Church keeps us
clear of such delusions. When he remembered this his heart was filled
with joy, and he was sure that by some such means he would be able to
work his brother's cure. "Why," he thought, "conjurers can make all
manner of strange sights appear in a hall. They can bring in barges
and water and lions and make grape-vines spring up, and all this is
but seeming, there is no reality behind it. If at Orleans I found
some of my old companions, they might in the same way make all the
rocks appear to be gone, and then my brother could claim his lady."
Straightway he went to his brother and unfolded his plan. Up rose
Aurelius in all haste from his bed, and together they set off for
Orleans. When they were still about a quarter of a mile from the town
they met a young scholar wandering by himself. He greeted them in
Latin and then told them that he already knew of their coming. They
went with him to his house, where they were received with wonderful
entertainment. First they saw a park full of deer and hunters killing
the beasts. Then they saw men out hawking, and knights jousting on a
plain, and last Aurelius saw his lady at a dance and he himself with
her, holding her hand. Yet all the while they three sat alone in the
scholar's study among his books and none came in to them.
After this they feasted and received good entertainment, nor were
they long in coming to an agreement. The student promised that for a
thousand pounds he would make all the rocks disappear. Aurelius would
have given the whole world if he might have had hope of his lady's
love, so he willingly promised to pay this fee. Back they all three
journeyed together to Brittany. It fell out that they came in the
cold frosty days of December when the sun grows tired and weak amid
the frosts and sleet and rain. Forthwith the scholar began his magic
with centres and arguments and proportionals and other such
paraphernalia of astrology about which I know nothing. At last all
was ready and duly calculated, when lo! the rocks all disappeared,
not one was to be seen.
As soon as Aurelius saw this miracle he went at once and sought till
he found his mistress in Diana's temple, and falling before her on
his knees, said, "Lady, I love you now as well as ever, and would be
your true love or die of longing. For your honour's sake do you have
pity on me, for as you desired so have I done, and every rock has
gone from this coast." Aghast was Dorigen at this news and pale she
stood as she were like to faint, for never had she thought to be
caught in such a trap as this. Home she went, and for long it seemed
that all she could do would be to die by her own hand, for never
would she give her love to any man but her husband. For two days thus
she made her moan, purposing to die, and none knew of her sad plight,
her husband being away from the town, as it chanced, on his knightly
On the third day Averagus came to his home and found his wife pale
with weeping. "What ails you, wife," he said, "that you weep thus?"
At his question her tears fell faster than ever. "Alas!" she said,
"that ever I was born. I have given my word and have promised a thing
which is like to ruin us both"--and then she told him all the tale I
have told you.
Her husband looked very sad, but at the last he said, "If your
promise be given, wife, and your troth plighted, then must you be his
love. Grieved as I am, I would rather lose you than that, for my
sake, you should break your oath." At this he called a squire and
bade him escort Dorigen to a certain place, but he told him not the
reason of her going.
So Dorigen set forth and on the way she met with Aurelius. "Where
goest thou, lady?" he asked. "To meet you," she answered, half mad
with grief. "My husband has sent me so that I may not break my
plighted word." At this Aurelius' heart was filled with pity. He saw
how sad she looked and was at once filled with admiration for the
noble knight who would give up his greatest joy so that his wife
might keep her promise. "Nay, lady," he said at length. "Freely your
husband sent you, freely I send you back to him, nor from this day
forth will I strive to stir up strife between you twain." Dorigen
went back glad to her husband and told him what had passed, nor shall
I stay to tell you of their great joy and contentment, nor how happy
they lived till their lives' end.
Poor Aurelius took his way home sad at heart. Now his promise of a
thousand pounds to the scholar began to weigh on his mind. "Truly,"
he thought, "if I pay him all I must sell my inheritance, shame my
family, and go forth a beggar from my native town. Perhaps he may
pity me and let me pay by degrees in a year or two."
From his chest he took five hundred pounds in gold, and went and
sought the scholar to make his request. "Have I kept full faith with
you?" asked the scholar. "Yea, truly," said Aurelius. "Then have you
won the love of your lady?" Aurelius told him "No," and recounted all
the story I have told you here. "Then," said the scholar, "nobly the
knight acted to you and nobly you acted in your turn. I too will be
as generous as I may. Put up your money, sir squire, I will require
nought of you. You are free of debt to me--so fare you well."
Lords, this is my tale, and at the end I ask you this question: "Who
of all three was the noblest man and did the greatest act of
* * * * *
"Well spoken, Franklin," said the Knight. "It would be hard, I trow,
for any man fairly to judge whose conduct showed the best. They were
honourable all three, and worthy of great praise! Who tells the next
tale, Sir Host?" "That shall the Nun do, if she is willing," answered
Harry Bailey; "for her lady the Prioress charmed us with her tale of
the little martyr. That story will long stay in my memory. Now,
madam, if you please, begin. We wait to hear your tale."
In serious tones the Nun began thus:
"Of all sins there is, if I may so describe it, one foster-mother,
and that is idleness. If we but keep our hands and minds engaged in
some virtuous occupation, we may avoid the snares of the Devil and
walk in righteousness. For this reason I have devoted some of my
leisure to a work which I esteem suitable to my calling and in
conformity with my vows, the translation of the life of St. Cecilia.
My translation is in verse. I will recite it to you if I may."
INVOCATION TO MARY
O Mary maiden, Christe's Mother free,
Fair flower of womanhood, fountain of grace,
Look down upon us. Come and hallow me
Thy humble slave, who worship in this place.
Through thee did God intend mankind to save,
Through thee, and through thy stainless purity
God's Son has rent the tomb, and burst the grave
For those that worship thee in sanctity.
O Mary Mother, for thine own true love,
And for the love thy Child to mankind bore,
And by the Holy Spirit, heavenly dove,
And by the saints that tread the golden floor,
Give me thy grace, and mercy to increase
In all good works until my life shall cease.
THE INTERPRETATION OF THE NAME CECILIA WHICH BROTHER JACOB
GIVES IN THE "GOLDEN LEGEND"
Of St. Cecilia will I now the name,
Ere I my story tell, the sense expound.
In English, "heaven's lily" we may claim
The true equivalent, for in her abound,
As in a lily flower, the white of grace,
The green of conscience, and the savour sweet
Of holiness. Yet in another place
"Wanting in blindness" they the same repeat.
Or yet another meaning they discern,
And "heaven of peoples" is the sense they find--
Since, as towards the stars poor travellers turn
For guidance, so towards her turns mankind.
THE SECOND NUN'S TALE
THE TALE OF THE LIFE OF ST. CECILIA
From childhood was this maiden fair and bright,
In all the love of Christ instructed well,
And lived in holiness in Heaven's sight,
Till as she grew in age it now befell
That she must wed as other maidens use,
Nor might she through unwillingness refuse.
But God's high purpose had she to fulfil;
Through her and her sweet teaching was her mate,
Valerian, to knowledge brought, until
Baptised by holy Urban, recreate
Through Heaven's grace, he power had to see
A holy angel, sent by Heaven's decree.
The angel stood arrayed in shining light,
Bearing two wreaths, of rose and lilies made,
And said, "Though these are hid from all men's sight,
Yet on your heads these flowers shall never fade,
But shed their savour round you every hour.
Decay and death shall o'er them have no power."
Next, to their faith, Tiberius they won,
Valerian's brother, dearest to his heart.
In him also the works of faith were done,
Nor need they ever more asunder part,
But all the three, their minds and souls address
To do God's will in joyful business.
Not long from martyrs is the tyrant's hand
Withheld, not long in peace may virtue bide,
For false Almachius with an armed band
Had seized the brothers, dragged them to his side
That they might incense burn to idols there,
Or else their lives he swore he would not spare.
But never, though the torturers them sought
To move by pains, their God would they deny,
But kneeled them down beneath the axe's stroke,
Glad for the Lord and for His truth to die.
Their death, to Life, one of their jailers won,
And he in turn received the martyr's crown.
Cecilia buried them with tranquil joy
That they so fair an end of life had won,
And she herself in virtuous employ,
In trust of God and of His risen Son,
Worked ever, till the tyrant her also
Had seized for to deal her pain and woe.
Boldly she stood before the judgment seat,
And boldly answered for her faith full free;
With nought of mercy hoped she then to meet,
Never to idols would she bow the knee.
Her at the last Almachius doomed to die
By torture, for she dared his power defy.
They placed her in a bath of boiling heat,
But cold and calm she sat amid the flame,
And never let she fall a drop of sweat,
But preached for ever Christe's holy name,
Until the tyrant foul that wished her dead,
Commanded them straightway smite off her head.
The cruel executioner with his knife
Twice tried in vain her slender neck to sever,
But all for nought, she could not lose her life.
Still crying on the Son of God for ever,
Three days she lived in torment and in pain,
But taught men still, their souls for Christ to gain.
Now at the last has God's bright angel come,
And borne her soul to heavenly bliss above.
Unto His Church she gave her earthly home
With all her wealth, in token of her love.
As she a saint is, so God grant that we
By her ensample pure and good may be. Amen.
When the Nun had ended her life of St. Cecilia, and we had ridden on
a few miles and were just at Boughton-under-Blee, a man began to
overtake us. He was dressed in black with a white surplice
underneath. His horse was grey and so necked with foam that he seemed
to have galloped several miles. His yeoman followed, whose horse was
in little better condition. Across his saddle he had a pack thrown,
but it seemed to contain little. For a long time I could not make out
who the stranger was, but at last I decided from the style of his
dress that he must be a canon. His hat hung down his back on a cord,
for he had been riding fast, and over his head as a protection from
the sun was a dock-leaf. In spite of this the sweat poured off his
forehead in huge drops. As he came near, "Good day to you all, sirs,"
he cried. "I have hurried so because I wished to join you." His
yeoman added, "I saw you start this morning from your inn and told my
master, and he is eager to join you, for he loves merry-making." The
Host was willing enough that he should join us. "For doubtless your
master is a merry fellow too, and can tell us a tale or so," he said.
"Who? My master? I can warrant he will do that," replied the yeoman,
"and let me tell you he is a wonderful man." "What!" said the Host,
"is he a scholar?" "Far greater than a scholar," replied the servant;
"he has a wondrous power. Why, he could turn the whole ground from
here to Canterbury to solid gold!" "Good heavens!" returned the Host,
"you don't say that? Then why on earth does he hide his light under a
bushel like this and go about practically in rags? I should have
expected such a man to have at least a decent coat on his back."
"Ah," said the yeoman, "if you ask that question I will tell you a
secret. My master is wise: of that there is no doubt; but anything
carried to excess, as philosophers say, is a vice, and in him wisdom
has led to folly." "Where do you live?" asked the Host. "In the
suburbs of a town--among the haunts of thieves and malefactors
generally." "What gives your face that strange sallow colour?" asked
the Host. "It is bending over the fire and blowing it. All day long
we are at our work, puffing and blowing, stoking and raking, and as
reward of it all--nothing! We cozen men of their gold in pretence
that we can make one pound into two, and we always fail." All this
while the canon had been edging up to his servant to hear what he was
saying, for like all men with guilty consciences he was always afraid
of being talked about. He now told him to be silent. The Host was too
interested to have the talk cut short. "Go on," said he, "take no
notice of him." "No more I will," said the yeoman. When the canon saw
that his servant was going to disclose his secrets, in very shame he
turned and rode away.
"Now," said the yeoman, "I can speak plainly. The fiend take him, and
him who first introduced me to him! Such a life have I led with him.
For seven years I have dwelt with this canon and I am no whit the
nearer to approving his science. For when I first came I was a bit of
a dandy about my clothes, and now look at me, I might wear a stocking
on my head instead of a cap--and all my complexion is spoilt with
puffing away at his fire. The heat has spoilt my eyesight, and what
reward have I?--A heap of debts I shall never get quit of this side
the grave. I will tell you what we do--and it is a craft in which the
Devil has some share, and the elves more. This is the sort of recipe
we use: 'Take five or six ounces of silver, with piment, [*] bone
ash, and iron filings and grind these into fine powder. Put all
together in an earthen pot, add salt and pepper, cover with a lid and
cement with clay to make all air-tight.' Then, this is what happens.
I blow the fire, and suddenly, bang! the whole thing explodes. 'Now
how did that happen?' everyone asks. The first says it was too long
on the fire, and the next that the pot was badly made (then I
tremble, because that is my job), and another that the real fault lay
with the fire because it was oak wood and not beech, and so the talk
goes on till my master quiets them. 'We must take greater precautions
next time. These misfortunes _will_ occur in the present state of our
knowledge. Well, it's no good crying over spilt milk. Let us sweep
the floor and see if we can recover any of the ingredients, and then
we will make another attempt.'
[Footnote: Trisulphite of arsenic.]
"Such is the charm of the study. Hope springs continually and failure
only means fresh efforts. We would sell the coats off our backs for
the means to carry our work further. The philosopher's stone dances
ever before our eyes, and in rags and with the smell of brimstone
about us, we, its devotees, pursue it. In truth an alchemist has the
odour of his work so strong upon him that you could recognise his
calling a mile off. But it is time I began my tale, and remember,
friends, that in alchemy as elsewhere all that glitters is not gold."
THE CANON'S YEOMAN'S TALE OF A CUNNING ALCHEMIST
In a certain town there lived a canon, a man of religion by
profession, but in reality so full of iniquity that he could corrupt
a whole country-side. In this tale, I will tell you the way in which
he beguiled an honest man, for if I were to tell of all his victims
my tongue would fail me with the telling. But I beg you, friends,
not to misunderstand the drift of my story. I am not out to slander
any type of religion; quite the contrary. I wish rather, by showing
to what lengths wicked men will go, to put you on your guard to
distinguish the knaves from the truly virtuous, lest, if you are
deceived by the former, you may unjustly throw some of the blame on
the latter. But to my story.
In the same town there dwelt a priest, a man of quiet and virtuous
habits, well beloved, and rich enough through the generosity of his
landlady, who never suffered him to pay a penny for food or lodging,
she loved him so well. One day the canon came to him and begged a
loan. "On the third day," he said, "I will return it you, or you may
get me hanged as a thief." The priest gave him what he asked readily
enough, and punctually on the third day the canon repaid the loan in
full. "Truly," said the priest, "thou art an honest man. I should
never fear to lend thee whatsoever thou mightest ask." The canon
replied, "Honest have I ever been, and honest I hope I may remain
till my dying day. In return for your help and kindness I would make
you a small recompense. There is an art which I have deeply studied
and in which I have attained to some small skill. If you wish, you
too shall know somewhat of my philosophy. Say, have you any
quicksilver here, or if not, will you send your man for some? Three
ounces we shall need, and you shall see what I can effect with them."
Off went the servant full speed and brought back his three ounces of
mercury. At once the canon set about his trickery. He drew out a
crucible from his gown, put in an ounce of the mercury and set it on
the fire. "Now," he said, "I have here a powder that I purchased at a
great price. Its virtues are wonderful, for it will turn any metal
into silver! Lo! I scatter some in the crucible. Now for the rest, it
shall be your part: arrange the logs around the pot and blow the
fire. Another time you will understand the ritual." Thus did that
crafty canon, that limb of wickedness, beguile the priest. To those
who knew him not he seemed a friend, those who had tried him knew him
for the fiend he was. I can scarce bring myself to tell the story of
his tricks and wickedness.
While the priest toiled blowing the fire, the sweat running down his
face with the heat, the wily canon drew out of his store a piece of
beech wood. In it he had made a cavity and inserted just an ounce of
silver shavings and stopped up the hole with wax. Now understand,
friends, here and hereafter, that with foresight of what he meant to
do, he had prepared all his cunning tricks and appliances. Then with
feigned solicitude, "Sir priest," he said, "right well have you
toiled, but still the fire burns not quite right as yet. Let me try
what I can do. Wipe your face and rest you." The priest was only too
glad of a rest, and while he wiped his face the canon stirred the
fire and placed his piece of wood fairly over the mouth of the
crucible. Then as soon as the wood grew hot the wax melted--as needs
it must--and the silver fell down into the vessel. "That is right
now," said he; "let us rejoice and take a drink, for all shall now be
The priest was delighted, good innocent man, suspecting nothing of
the craft that was practised against him. At length the canon said,
"Come, let us go out to get some clay, with which to make a mould for
our metal, and a bowl of water. I will go with you, for I would not
like you to think that I had played any tricks with this wonderful
art." They fetched the water and clay, the canon fashioned the mould,
poured in the metal and cast it into the water to cool.
Now what had really happened was this. When mercury is heated in a
crucible--as perhaps all you gentlemen know, though in case you do
not I must tell you to make my story plain--it changes into a vapour
like steam and disappears, but silver only melts and does not change
otherwise. So when the canon poured out the contents of the crucible
into the mould, there was the silver all liquid and ready, but the
mercury was gone. Therefore in the cold water the liquid silver
changed into a lump and was there for the priest to find, but the
mercury had disappeared. The canon knew all about this, but the
priest understood nothing and was just watching in wonder. "Now, sir
priest," said the canon, "put in your hand and see what you can
find." The priest put in his hand and drew out the lump of shining
silver. "Ah," said the canon, "let us make trial yet again. Once is
scarce a complete proof, and I should like you to understand this art
thoroughly before we part."
They took another ounce of the quicksilver and put it in the
crucible. The canon put in the powder and arranged the fire, but this
time he had his silver shavings hidden in a long cane of which the
end was stopped with wax as before. He made pretence to stir the
fire. "It burns not as brightly as it should," he said, "but I will
make the flames leap up." And so, as he poked it, he melted the wax
and let the silver fall into the crucible. Once more they poured the
metal into the mould and again the priest drew out a lump of silver.
"Yet a third time we will try," said the canon, "and this time we
will not use quicksilver but copper. Send your servant for an ounce
Again they heated the crucible, but this time the crafty canon had a
different trick. He knew that the copper would not change as the
quicksilver had done, but would melt and remain in the crucible.
Therefore he did not put the silver into the crucible along with the
copper, for he knew they would mix together. Instead he emptied the
contents of the crucible into the mould and put it into the water to
cool. Then he had to find some way of changing the lump of copper for
one of silver. This is what that crafty man did. When the mould and
the metal were in the water he plunged in his hand. From his sleeve
he drew a lump of silver--just an ounce in weight--and quickly taking
up the copper put the silver in its place. "Come," he said to the
priest, "and help me. Put in your hand and see what you can find."
The priest put in his hand and again found the lump of silver. "Ah!"
said the canon. "We have had success indeed. Let us go to the
goldsmith and find if it be true silver or not." The goldsmith
hammered the metal and put it in the fire, and every way it proved
silver, good and true.
Who could be more delighted now than the priest? "Dear, noble
friend," he said to the canon, "for what price will you part with
that powder which has worked such miracles for us to-day? I would
sell all I have to purchase it, so great are its powers." "Truly,"
answered the canon, "it is dear to buy. Except myself and one hermit
there is no man in England who knows the secret." The priest pressed
him. "Do not fear, name any price you please. However high it may be
I will pay it gladly." "You have stood my friend, and therefore to
you I will sell it for L40," he said. "But be sure you keep the
matter a secret, men are so jealous of knowledge nowadays." The
priest made no demur, paid the money and took the powder. From that
day on he never saw the canon again, and whenever he made trial of
the powder his experiments failed.
Such was the dastard's trick that the false canon played on the
priest, and look you well, sirs, there are many like him, though none
I hope quite so wicked. To my mind there is something contrary to
God's will in such studies as these. Even the greatest philosophers
of old would not disclose the secret. Hear this tale of Plato taken
from an old book I once read. A disciple came to him asking the name
of the philosopher's stone. Said Plato, "It is called Magnesia." "But
that," replied the other, "is to explain one mystery by another yet
greater. Tell me, what is 'Magnesia'?" "It is a water made of
elements four," replied the master. "And what may these four be?"
"Ah!" said Plato. "That may I not tell. All we philosophers were
sworn to reveal it to no man, for God was jealous lest man should
have this knowledge unless it pleased Him to reveal it Himself." So,
friends, if it be God's will that the secret be kept, it is folly in
men to strive against God. Let the matter rest, and God bless all
good men. Amen.
* * * * *
As the canon's yeoman finished his tale of the false alchemist we
entered a little town, Bob-up-and-down, on the Canterbury high-road.
Our Host began at once to joke at the expense of the Cook, who was
lagging behind the party, half asleep on his horse. "Wake him,
somebody," he said. "See how he sleeps! He'll fall into the mud in a
moment! Wake him, and to punish him we'll make him tell an extra
tale. Rouse yourself, Cook--were you awake all last night or are you
The Cook answered thickly, "Sir Host, I do not know why, but my head
feels so heavy that I'd rather go to sleep than be given a gallon of
the best ale in Eastcheap!" At that the Steward spoke up, "Well, Sir
Host, if it will help the Cook, I'll tell a tale now and so let him
off his task. Look at him--he's either ill or very drunk! Just see
how his head wags!" He and the others laughed. The Cook was angry. He
glared at the Steward and tried to answer but could not, and in his
excitement he fell from his horse.
There he lay, stretched on the dirty road, and we had much ado to
lift him up to the saddle again. "You've no right to make game of a
man in that way, sir," said Harry Bailey to the Steward. "You might
need _his_ help one day." "I meant no harm," answered the Steward.
"See here, in token of fellowship let him drink my health and restore
himself with this wine which I have in a gourd." The Steward handed
this to the Cook, who at once put it to his lips and emptied it at
one draught. We all laughed at this eagerness, and at the sudden
change which came over him. He was now all smiles and friendliness.
"Praised be Bacchus," said the Host. "How quickly quarrels are
forgotten when wine appears! But come, Sir Steward, you offered to
tell your tale. Begin now, and let us hear!"
Then the Steward told his tale of how the crow became black and
acquired his hoarse rough voice. The bird once belonged to Phoebus
and was snow-white, and could sing as sweetly as a nightingale. It
could talk too, as wily parrots and jackdaws can now. But one day it
told Phoebus a very unpleasant scandal, and in anger he tore out all
its white feathers and cast a spell over it, so that when its
feathers grew again they were black as pitch, and all the bird could
say, from that day forward, was "Caw--Caw" in an ugly grating voice.
"Good people," concluded the Steward, "take warning from the fate of
the crow, and never spread evil tales, or scandalous gossip. If you
do, people will dislike you and your voice as much as they dislike
* * * * *
By the time the Steward had finished his tale the sun was not more
than twenty-nine degrees above the horizon. My shadow was eleven feet
long, so, considering the season of the year, the time would be about
four o'clock. It happened too that we were just drawing near the
outskirts of a town. At this our Host said, "We have heard tales from
all save one--and that one is you, Sir Parson or Vicar. Come,
whichever you are, and tell us your tale, for I should not like this
game to be spoilt now at the very end."
The Parish Priest gave him a serious answer. "I will tell you no idle
tales. Does not St. Paul in his Epistle to Timothy warn us to leave
fiction and stand firm in the truth? When I might sow good seed in
your hearts, shall I waste the opportunity and scatter tares? Nay, if
you are ready to hear a virtuous discourse I am ready to begin. But
let me warn you I am no Norseman to tell you runes all alliteration
like 'rum, ram, ruff,' nor will I speak in rhyme, for I hold it as
great folly as the other. My tale shall be in sober prose--and
remember that I am no great scholar and my speech is ever subject to
the correction of one who is wiser than I." We all desired him to say
whatever he thought, since we felt it would be well to end with a
homily, that we might enter Canterbury in grave religious mood. So
the Host bade him begin and we composed ourselves to listen.
THE PARSON'S HOMILY ON PENITENCE
Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths,
where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find
rest for your souls.--_Jer. vi._
1. Our sweet Lord, God of Heaven, in His desire that no man should
perish, but that we should all come to knowledge of Him and attain to
life everlasting, admonished us by the mouth of His prophet Jeremiah
and warned us saying, "Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the
old paths" (that means for the wisdom of men of old days), "where is
the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your
souls." Many are the spiritual paths that lead men to knowledge of
our Lord Jesus Christ and His glory, but among them is one which
faileth not to lead aright all men and women to the heavenly
Jerusalem, even though they had before gone astray. This way is named
Penitence, and whoso walketh in it, even though he have sinned many
times and sore, still may hope for God's grace and forgiveness.
2. What then is Penitence? St. Ambrose says, "Penitence is the
lamentation that a man makes for his sins that are past and his
resolution to sin no more." Note here that there are two parts to
Penitence. Penitence is not merely the lamentation of sins that are
past, for that, though necessary for full salvation, is of little
avail if a man fall at once to the same or similar sins. Man must
lament his past sins; but he must also resolve not to sin again, for,
though we have the comfortable assurance of the Gospel that Christ
through His great mercy can save the sinner who falls many times into
sin, yet for him who sins not, but by Penitence keeps in the path of
righteousness, salvation is more certain. Of all that should persuade
us to Penitence, fear of the horrible pains of Hell is the strongest
3. Of Penitence there are three species. The first is solemn; the
second, common; the third, private. Of solemn penances there are two
sorts: the first is to be excommunicated by Holy Church in Lent--as
is done for the murder of a child or some such horrible offence; the
second occurs when the sin to be expiated was openly done and a
matter of public talk. Then the Church decrees a public penance.
Common penance is that which priests regularly enjoin in certain
cases, as for example to go on pilgrimages barefoot. Private penance
is what we do daily for the sins which we confess privately and
receive private absolution.
4. We may liken Penitence to a tree, of which the root is Contrition
and hideth in the heart. From this root springs a stalk that beareth
branches and leaves of Confession and fruit of Satisfaction. This is
what Christ meant when in His gospel He said, "Bring forth worthy
fruit of Penitence," and to this too He referred when He said, "By
their fruits shall ye know them," for as the root is hidden in the
heart so by its fruits alone may you judge of true Penitence. If in
truth we bring forth worthy fruits of Penitence, alms, and prayers,
and bodily pain, whether it be by watching, or fasting, or scourging,
or the wearing of hair garments, borne in cheerfulness--if as I say
in this life we bring forth noble fruits of Penitence, then we may
look for our reward in the life to come, even eternal bliss in the
presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. There shall be no sorrow nor
sighing, for the Lord shall wipe all tears away. On earth have the
righteous sorrow; in Heaven are all at peace. Whereas on earth the
body is dark and full of sin, there is it clear as the sun and clad
in shining raiment; here are we sick and weak and mortal, there shall
we be strong and enjoy the life immortal. There is no hunger nor
thirst, for the grace of God feedeth them; and if we would attain to
this blissful life, then must we here below prepare ourselves by
humility of life and mortification of the flesh, and so win to rest
through toil; to plenty of joy, by hunger and thirst; and eternal
life, by death and the mortification of sin.
* * * * *
As the Parson's droning voice ceased, the sun was setting and we saw
the two tall towers of Canterbury Cathedral flushed with red-gold
light. We rode on silently. Peace hung in the blue-grey mists over
the valleys of the country-side, and calm joy entered our hearts as
we beheld the goal of our journey and the end of all our pilgrimage.
Slowly we entered the tall gates in the wall, solemnly we dismounted
and retired to rest at the inn in the city square, prepared to do
penance on the morrow at the shrine we had come so far to seek.
THE AUTHOR TAKES LEAVE OF HIS READERS
I pray all those that read this little book that for all that pleases
them therein they thank our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom proceedeth
all goodness. If there be anything that displeases them, I pray them
lay the blame therefor on my ignorance, for had I the knowledge I
would willingly have done better.
Also, I humbly beseech you all that you pray for me, asking Christ to
have mercy on my soul and to forgive me my sins, especially the
writing of the many worldly books and love-lays that I made in
thoughtless mood. But for my legends of saints, homilies and moral
books, I thank our Lord Jesus Christ, His Holy Mother and all the
saints of Heaven, beseeching them to give me grace to repent truly
and bring forth the fruits of confession and satisfaction, so that by
the great mercy of Him who is King of kings, and Lord of lords, I may
at the last dread judgment be among them that shall be saved. Amen.