The Canterbury Pilgrims by M. Sturt and E. C. OakdenBeing Chaucers Canterbury tales retold for children

E-text prepared by Roy Brown THE CANTERBURY PILGRIMS Being Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales Retold for Children By M. Sturt, BA and E.C. Oaken, MA INTRODUCTION Geoffrey Chaucer lived mere than five hundred years ago, when Edward II. waged war in France, and the peasants rebelled in England against his son, Richard II, Yet for all this,
This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
  • 1937
Buy it on Amazon FREE Audible 30 days

E-text prepared by Roy Brown


Being Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales Retold for Children

By M. Sturt, BA and E.C. Oaken, MA


Geoffrey Chaucer lived mere than five hundred years ago, when Edward II. waged war in France, and the peasants rebelled in England against his son, Richard II, Yet for all this, England was then “Merrie England.” Her trade prospered, men laughed and sang and delighted in tales, in art, end in out-door life.

Chaucer was not a poet who lived apart from his fellows, but one who dealt constantly with men and affairs, and loved his fellow-men. He was an important person in his time. He began life as a page boy at Court, where he saw great ladies and gallant courtiers, and heard music and took part in pageants and processions. He fought for the king in France and was taken prisoner by the enemy; but the king sixteen pounds for his ransom and he returned to England. He went to France again and to as ambassador on the king’s business. Thus he met famous men in foreign lands and saw the beautiful land of Italy, where in his day lived two Italian poets whose names are as famous as Chaucer’s own, one of whom he makes his Clerk mention–Petrarch of Padua. He saw, too, the fine buildings and paintings which Italian artists were making, whose fame has spread abroad throughout world. Chaucer loved all this colour and beauty, and carried it in his mind, so that when he again came to London he remembered it and wrote of it.

He was a member of Parliament, and a civil servant too, whose work it was to collect the customs. He had to make long records of his accounts all day; but at night returned with joy to his house above the Aldgate in the walls of London. There he pored over his books, and “dumb as any stone,” he tells us, he read, and dreamed, and wrote.

But when spring came, no more indoors for him! Away he went, out to the fields, which then came to the edge of the Thames and to the very walls of the city. There in the bright sunshine he sought his favourite flower, the daisy, and met men in the open roads and lanes, and because he liked men and respected them, they talked to him very freely of their lives and doings. Often in April he saw motley companies of men and women riding out of the stuffy narrow streets of the town, away along country roads by hedgerow and meadow, to some distant shrine, where they would pray to the saints for prosperity and help.

Chaucer one day went with such a company, and he has left us his record of it. The Canterbury Tales describe better than any history book the people of Chaucer’s time. You will find that in their dress and manners they are often strangely different from ourselves; but in much we are very like to them. All kinds and conditions of men are there, good and bad. There is love for honour and beauty, laughter for a jest, impatience for a dreary tale, ridicule for a worn-out one, good-fellowship and joy in the open air, loose tongues and travellers’ stories, drinking by the way, and mishaps by the road. Travelling was difficult, for the roads were full of holes and very muddy and dirty, and a man must either walk or go on horseback. Some of the party had bad horses and some were anything but expert riders, so that it took four days to ride the fifty-six miles from London to Canterbury. The nights were spent at inns where many shared one room, and beds were not as clean as they might have been. But the pilgrims made a happy party, as you will see, for they beguiled the way with stories. Chaucer tells these stories in his account of his pilgrimage. He never completed the account, however, but left some gaps in the story. The general plan of the work is clear enough, and in this little book the gaps have been bridged in a manner consistent with Chaucer’s account of the journey.

Chaucer’s language is different from ours of today, and although easy to read when one is used to it, is difficult at first. Therefore these tales are retold in this little book in our present-day language and in prose instead of verse. They lose much of Chaucer’s vivacity and spirit by this translation, but try and read the originals for yourself one day, and learn to love one who has been dear for his humanity, kindliness and humour to poets and ordinary folk alike, from 1370 to now.






The Knight’s Tale of Palamon and Arcite Talk between the Host and the Miller
The Miller’s Tale of a Carpenter Outwitted The Reeve talks
The Reeve’s Tale of the Miller of Trumpington The Cook begins his Tale


The Man of Law’s Tale of the Miraculous Journeyings of Constance The Shipman tells his Tale
The Prioress’s Tale of a Little Christian Martyr Talk between the Host and Chaucer
Chaucer’s Rime of Sir Thopas
Chaucer’s Rime is stopped
Talk between the Host and the Monk
The Monk’s Tales of Diverse Men who fell into Misfortune Talk between the Host and the Monk whose Tale is stopped The Nun’s Priest’s Tale of Chanticleer


The Doctor tells his Tale
The Pardoner’s speech
The Pardoner’s Tale of the Men who would slay Death Talk between the pardoner and the Host
The Wife of Bath’s Speech
The Wife of Bath’s Tale of the Queen’s Riddle The Friar’s Tale of the Wicked Summoner
The Summoner talks
The Clerk’s Tale of the Patient Wife The Clerk sings
The Merchant tells his Tale
The Yeoman’s Tale of Gamelyn


The Squire’s Tale of Cambuskan and Canacee Talk between the Host and the Franklin
The Franklin’s Tale of Three Generous Souls The Nun’s Tale of St. Cecilia
The Canon and his Yeoman join he Pilgrims and introduce themselves. The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale of a cunning Alchemist The Steward tells his Tale
The Parson’s Homily on Penitence
The Entry into Canterbury
The Author takes Leave of his Readers




When April comes, and with her gentle showers has banished the dreary month of March, when in every copse, and valley the young trees bud and flowers show their heads, when birds make melody in the fresh morning time, then men’s hearts long for the wide air and joys of the open roads. It is the time for pilgrims. Forth they ride through wood and lane, by, stream and meadow, to seek the shrines of saints and worship God in distant fanes. Many journey to Canterbury to do honour to the tomb of the great St. Thomas and to enjoy the fields and sunshine along the roads of Kent. As they go they make merry their journey with songs, tales, and joking.

It chanced, as it was also my intention to ride thither, that I lay one night at the Tabard Inn, in Southwark, ready to start on my way next morning. Towards nightfall a company of twenty-nine other pilgrims arrived. They had met by chance and were people of all sorts and kinds. The inn is large with roomy apartments and good fare, so that all the guests were soon in friendly mood, and I talked with them all.

There was a Knight and his son a Squire, not yet entered into the full glory of knighthood, but yet experienced in war–for he had fought in Flanders and in Picardy. He was about twenty years of age, with fair curly hair so neatly dressed that you would have said it had been waxed. He could make songs and poetry, draw, write and dance. All day he sang or played his flute. Yet for all his grace and cleverness he was lowly, and carved at table for his father. His tunic matched his gaiety of heart, for it was embroidered all over, as full of red and white flowers as is a meadow.

With the Knight and Squire was their servant, a Yeoman Forester. He was dressed in hood and cloak of green, with a green baldric for his horn. His sheaf was full of arrows feathered with gay peacock plumes, and in addition he carried a sword and buckler and a sharp dagger. He was a fine figure, with skin browned by life in the woods. He was skilled too, owing all the secrets of woodcraft.

A Prioress was of the company. She spoke in soft coy tones, and smiled gently on all; but Madame Eglantine was chiefly attractive because of her charming manners. No morsel ever fell from her lips, neither did she dip her fingers too deeply in the sauce, nor drop her meat as her dainty fingers carried it from her plate to her mouth. She seemed ever at pains to show her courtly behaviour, and may have kept a small school, for she spoke French (as they speak it in London, however, not as they speak it in Paris). She had brought her small dogs with her and fed them carefully on best wheaten bread and roasted meat. If anyone smote one of them Madame Eglantine wept bitterly, for she was full of tenderness and pity, and had been known to cry if a mouse were caught in a trap. With her were a nun, and her three priests.

As you would expect, many other members of the Church were among our company. The Monk was a manly fellow who loved hunting and good living. Many a horse he had in his stables, and many greyhounds for hunting the hare. A fat swan was his favourite dish. His looks told of his ample fare, for he was fat and rosy, and rode merrily along with his bridle bells jingling clearly in the wind. “Some say that hunters can’t be holy men,” he said, “but I can’t agree with those that would make monks madden themselves with study and tire themselves with labour. What good comes of it all?” “What good indeed?” said I.

The Friar, Hubert, was a gay fellow too. I daresay that in all the Four Orders of Friars you would not find a more pleasing talker–especially in matters of love. He sang lustily, played the harp, and kept us merry with his jesting.

Not so the Clerk from Oxford. He was a serious student. For many years he had devoted himself to logic and philosophy, yet little gold had got thereby! His horse was lean as a rake, and he himself was by no means fat. His threadbare cloak hung limply on his shoulders. Had he been more worldly-minded, he might have gained a rich benefice; but all his treasure was in the twenty red and black books at his bedside, where he found the rich thought of Aristotle–more satisfying to the Clerk than gold, or robes or sweet music. All the money he was given he spent on books, praying eagerly for the souls of them that helped him to buy more. He spoke but little. His speech then was quick and packed with thought, and he loved best to talk of moral virtue. Glad he was to learn, and glad to teach.

One man among the company was terrible to look upon. His face was fiery red with black brows and scabbed skin. He had crowned himself with a great garland. It was no wonder that even children were afraid of him. This man, I learned, was a Summoner, who brought up offenders before the Church courts.

His friend was the Pardoner–just arrived from the court of Rome with his wallet packed full of pardons and relics. You shall hear what he did with these later. He had long straight oily yellow hair, spread thinly around his shoulders. He had packed his hood in his wallet, for it seemed more festive to him to ride bare-headed. His eyes shone like a hare’s. He had no beard, and his small, piping, goat-like voice made him seem very youthful.

He was said to be a very successful Pardoner; for he could not only read and sing delightfully (especially when asking for the offertory), but his manner was so persuasive that in one day he could win more silver than the parson earned in two or three months. A fine Pardoner, this! No wonder he sang so merrily and loud!

A poor Parish Priest was there also. He was too occupied in holy works, in teaching and diligently tending the sick to have time to hunt for high positions in London. To him, all that mattered was that his parishioners should know the true Gospel, and never, for rain, thunder, sickness, nor danger did he to visit his people, scattered as they were over the wide country-side. Often he gave them of his own poor substance, for he was the true shepherd who gives all for his sheep. A better priest, I warrant, could nowhere be found. He taught Christ’s lore, but first he followed it himself that his followers might find an example in him, and learn by his practices, as well as by his words.

This Priest had brought his brother, a strong good-hearted Ploughman. He too was a true Christian. Many a time had he dug and threshed for a poor widow to help her pay her rent, and would take no reward for it. He wore a loose tabard, and rode on a mare.

The workers from the town included a Weaver, a Carpenter, a Haberdasher, a Dyer, and an Upholsterer. All prosperous men they were, as indeed you could tell from the silver trappings on their pouches and knives, and fit to be aldermen of their boroughs. Their wives would have liked it, I know! These men had brought their Cook with them.

Some of the pilgrims had come from far afield. The Pardoner’s home was in Roncivale, while the Shipman hailed from Dartmouth. There lay his little barque, “The Magdalene.” His dagger hung on his lanyard and he rode unsteadily, in sailor fashion, on a nag.

From Bath we had a buxom Wife–a champion cloth-weaver. I daresay her Sunday head-dress weighed ten pounds. Even her riding-hat was as broad as a shield. Her stockings were scarlet. Her shoes were cut in the latest fashion and had sharp spurs attached. She had travelled far, even to Jerusalem, and gossipped amusingly of herself and her numerous adventures.

The Reeve of the company came from Baldeswelle in Norfolk.

A Miller, a Steward, a Doctor, a solemn Merchant, a Franklin and myself completed the company The Doctor was one of the best of his profession. He knew exactly when to make his images of wax, and under what moon he should gather his herbs. He was very learned; I could not tell you of all the authors he had read. He was rich too, for the Black Death had brought him no little gain.

Now let me tell what happened at the inn.

At supper we made a merry party, for the wine was strong, and Harry Bailey, our host, a jovial soul. Seeing us in good humour, he addressed us thus “My friends, you are welcome here. Tomorrow you depart; but surely it will be very dull if you ride silent and morose. I have a plan to keep you merry all the way. What say you, shall I tell it?” We held up our hands at once to vote that he should tell on. “This is my plan, then. As you journey to Canterbury every one of you shall tell a tale, and as you return every one shall tell another tale. He who tells the best shall be given a supper at the expense of the rest of us–here at this inn, when we come back. What say you? And indeed, to make you the jollier, I myself will go with you, to be your guide and governor!” We heartily agreed, begged him to be the judge of the tales, and promised to obey him in all things. So with laughter and jollity we went to bed betimes to rise early on the morrow;

Our host was as good as his word, and at day-break he roused us all and gathered us together. Off we rode at a gentle pace, with the Miller playing his bagpipes and the Summoner singing a loud bass to the Pardoner’s tenor. At St. Thomas’s watering-place our host stopped and called out, “Let’s see now if you agree to last night’s plan! Before we go further, come, draw lots who shall tell the first tale. Come hither Sir Knight, my Lady-Prioress, and you, you modest Clerk.” He held out to them grasses of different lengths, hiding the ends in his hands so that they could not see which was the longest; and the Knight drew the longest grass, and so had to begin the game. He was a worthy man, this Knight, and loved truth and honour, freedom and courtesy. Although he had won great praise in many foreign wars, he was gentle and modest as a maid, perfect in manners and goodness. His clothes might have deceived you as to his rank. His habergeoun was bespattered with the mud of his latest journey, and his gipoun was but of fustian, yet his horse was a fine one. As you would expect, his tale was of chivalry and knighthood.



Long ago, as old stories say, there was a great duke named Theseus, renowned in fight and perfect in all chivalry. One day, as he was returning from one of his most glorious battles, a great company of women met him, weeping and wringing their hands in grief. They besought Theseus that he would help them. “We are from Thebes,” they said, “and in the days of our prosperity were ladies of rank; but alas, Creon, our foe, has sacked our city, slain our husbands and sons, and now denies us even the right to bury our dead.”

Theseus was moved to anger at their story, and swore that he would punish Creon. Without more ado, he turned his horse and led his men to Thebes. There he killed Creon and his followers, and the mournful ladies were able to wash the bodies of their lords and give them honourable burial. Now it chanced that among those whom Theseus fought were two young knights, Palamon and Arcite. They were sorely wounded in the fight and had been I left for dead; but after the battle they were discovered wounded, and taken back to Athens as Theseus’ prisoners.

For many a day they were shut up in a room in a high tower overlooking Theseus’ garden. Very woeful were they, until one May morning Palamon looked through his barred window and saw a lovely maid walking in the garden below. It was early morning, with the dew still on the flowers and the first beams of the sun glistening on all things. The maid was as fair as the flowers that she gathered to make her garland. Her hair was golden and hung in a long plait, and the blossoms she gathered for her garland were red and white. For very joy she sang so sweet a song that Palamon beholding her loved her with all his heart, yet thought she was too beautiful to be a maid of earth. He looked long, and sighed, “O goddess, if thou wilt but help me to be free, I will be always thy trusty servant.” Hearing him thus speak, Arcite also looked out, and he too at once loved the wondrous beauty of the maid. “May I die unless I have her,” he said, and sighed too. At this Palamon was angry. “Traitor,” he said, “do you now break the vow we made each other long ago–never to betray each other, and never to cross each other in love? I saw and loved the maid first. She must be _mine_.”

“No,” answered Arcite. “You thought she was a goddess; I loved her first as a woman. She must be _mine._” So they fell to quarrelling loudly and cruelly. At last Arcite said, “We waste our time to quarrel thus. Neither of us can ever win her. Poor prisoners we are, and doomed to die here without a thought from happier men. Some rich lord will carry her away. Ours she cannot be.” And they were very sad.

Now it chanced that a certain duke who was a friend of Arcite came to visit Theseus, and persuaded him to set young Arcite free. Theseus did so, but only on condition that Arcite should leave Athens for ever. “If from this time forth you are found in this land,” he said, “your head will be forfeit.” So Arcite went to Thebes, very heavy-hearted, because although he was now free, he might never more see the maid of the garden. Palamon’s case was equally hard, for although he might see his beloved, never might he speak to her nor woo her, for he must remain a poor neglected prisoner, high up in the castle tower. Now tell me, you lovers, if you can, whose lot was the worse? Is it better to be free and never see one’s lady, or to be a prisoner and see her every day?–Judge for yourselves. I must go on with my story.

Arcite lived in Thebes, so sorrowfully that he fell a-weeping whenever music was played, and soon grief had so changed his countenance that no man would have recognised him. At last he could bear this state no longer, but made up his mind to go to Athens, and there seek his lady. He came therefore to the palace of Theseus and hired himself as a servant. He was strong and able to draw water and hew wood. In course of time he was made a chamberlain, and at length, since he was always mannerly and courteous and obedient, Theseus promoted him, and he became a squire and one of his best beloved followers.

Meanwhile Palamon languished in prison, till, made desperate by despair, he one night drugged his jailer and escaped. When day came he sought refuge in a wood, intending to wait there for the dark to cover his escape. As Fortune willed it, that very morning, Arcite (now calling himself Philostratus) rode out into the wood to enjoy the fresh sweet air of the May morning, and dismounted from his horse near the very bush where Palamon lay hid. There he paced up and down, restless, and spoke aloud to himself of all his sorrows. “I am royally born,” he said, “yet I must pretend to serve Theseus, my mortal enemy. Palamon my brother is a captive. Unhappy are we both–better to die of love for my lady than live this miserable life.” At this mention of his love, Palamon’s heart was stirred to wrath, and forth he rushed from his hiding-place. “Traitor Arcite,” he cried, “do you still dare to love my lady? Will you still break our vow of fealty, one to the other? Now you have deceived Theseus! But beware! I am Palamon! You must give up your love or die!” Saying this he rushed at Arcite. As it happened Arcite was armed, and drew his sword, but seeing that Palamon had no weapon, he stayed his hand and said, “If you will do combat for your love, wait here till tomorrow. I cannot fight you unarmed as you are. At dawn I will bring you armour, and a sword, and food. Then let the best warrior have the fair lady of the garden!” And so they parted.

Arcite kept his word and brought the armour at daybreak. As soon as it was light those two armed themselves in the wood, and fell on each other like a lion and a tiger when they wage mortal combat in the thick forest. Neither shrank himself nor spared his adversary. Their shields were dinted, sparks flew from their helmets, and down their breastplates many a stream of blood flowed.

Amid the din of their blows on the armour and the fury of combat, they did not hear the hunting horn nor the baying of the hounds, and so, before they knew it, Theseus and all his court were around them, and had called on them to cease their clamour and explain why they strove so fiercely together. They dropped their weapons in amazement, and saw that with Theseus were his queen, and the lady for whose love they fought, Emily the Fair, the niece of Theseus. She was dressed in green, as befitted a huntress on so bright a morning. Palamon spoke at once. “Show us no mercy, Lord Theseus. Better it is that we should both die, for well have we deserved death. I, Palamon, am your captive, escaped from prison but yesterday, and this man here is Arcite, who for many years has deceived you. This our quarrel is for the love of Emily, the bright maid at your side. Slay us both, and let our sorrow have an end.” Theseus was wroth, and would indeed have slain them, but the queen and Emily pleaded so well for their lives that the duke relented. “You art foolish, both of you,” he said; “but lovers are ever thus. This is my judgment. For fifty weeks you shall be free, and then shall you appear, each with a hundred knights, to do battle for Emily in a tournament. Whoso wins that day shall have her for his bride.” Palamon and Arcite leapt up with joy at this; and all the court praised Theseus for his chivalrous behaviour and knightly courtesy.

Those fifty weeks were busy times in Athens. The lists prepared for the tournament were the most wonderful ever seen. The walls were circular and a mile round. At the east and west ends were marble gateways over which were temples. On the east gate was a temple to Venus, the Goddess of Love, and on the west gate a temple to Mars, God of War. On the north side was a temple in honour of Diana, the Goddess of Maidens. Every man in the kingdom who could carve or paint or build had been summoned to work on these lists and make them beautiful. I wish I could describe to you all their magnificence. On the walls of the temple of Venus were painted the stories of the great lovers of fable and history. The statue of the goddess herself seemed to float in a grass-green sea, and on her head she wore a garland of roses. Mars’ temple was dark and gloomy, with pictures of battle and murder on the walls. The statue of Mars himself was guarded by a wolf of stone. In Diana’s temple was the statue of the goddess riding upon a hart, with small hounds about her feet. Her dress was green and she carried a bow and quiver of arrows. A waxing moon, her symbol, was painted below her statue.

On the Sunday appointed for their meeting, Arcite and Palamon entered Athens with their companies. Bold knights and noble princes were assembled from every land to do battle in honour of so fair a maid. With Palamon came the great King of Thrace, wearing a crown of gold set with rubies and diamonds. His armour was covered with a coal-black bear-skin, and he was carried in a chair of gold.

The other knights were all famous and goodly to look upon. Each was armed according to his liking, with mace or spear, breastplate and shield. Some had greaves, some a Prussian shield; no fashion was too old or too new to be seen there.

With Arcite came the great King of India, whose horse was decked with cloth of gold, while he himself had coat-armour studded with pearls, a saddle of beaten gold, and a mantle of sparkling rubies. On his head was a green wreath of laurel, and he carried a tame white eagle on his hand. Many a tame lion and leopard ran about his horse’s feet. With him came many a goodly knight equipped for the fray.

The entertainment was princely. I cannot tell you of the feasts, and the minstrelsy, nor of the great gifts to high and low; neither can I describe to you the fairness of the ladies and their graceful dancing; nor the hounds that lay upon the floor, and the hawks who perched aloft. It was all wondrous indeed. Such feasting and splendour had ne’er been known before.

At last the great day of the tournament came. At dawn Palamon arose and went to sacrifice to Venus in her temple, and ask her help. “I care not, goddess, whether in fight I win the laurels,” he said. “For me it is enough if she whom I love, the lady Emily, look on me kindly and grant me her love. Help me, great goddess, help me. Never shalt thou have a truer servant than I.” Great was his joy when after some delay the statue of Venus shook, for by this sign Palamon understood that his prayer would be answered.

With the uprising of the sun, Emily herself also arose, bathed herself in clear cool water, and went to ask Diana’s help. “I would rather be a maid all my life, and run and leap in the fields and woods,” she said, “but if the gods will that I be given to one of these knights who desire me, O grant that I be given to him who loves me most!” Thereat a marvellous thing happened; for one of the two fires on the altar suddenly died down, but quickly leaped up in flame again, while the other as suddenly died down and drops of blood oozed from the dying embers. The statue of Diana shook and rattled the arrows in its quiver, while the goddess herself appeared. “It is the will of the gods you marry one of these men,” she said, “but I may not as yet declare which.” And so she vanished.

“I am in thy hands, Diana!” cried Emily. “Grant me at least thy protection.”

An hour later Arcite’ went to the temple of the terrible God of War. “O Mars,” he prayed, “grant me victory in the fight this day, and evermore I will serve thee.” At this the rings of the temple doors clanged, the very walls rang, while the fire on the altar blazed bright in the gloom. From the earth rose a sweet savour. The statue of Mars itself shook, and murmured “Victory.” The walls and armour re-echoed, “Victory.”

Arcite rose up from his prayer glad and confident, and went to prepare for the fight.

Never was such excitement before. On every hand was noise of bolting of armour, buckling of helms, bridling of horses, sounding of trumpets, pawing of steeds; rushing here to see a fine prince and his retinue, rushing there to see a fine new banner and shield; and over all the bright sun of a fresh May morning. Some were sure Arcite would win, some favoured Palamon, but whatever the event of the day, all knew that ere the sun set many a deed of valour would be done, and many a gallant knight show his prowess.

At an early hour Theseus himself in all his royal robes appeared at his palace window, and all the folk hastened thither to see him and hear his will. The royal herald mounted a high scaffold. “Ho! Ho!” he cried. “Hear the will of Theseus the great duke! For inasmuch as it were destructive to gentle blood to fight a mortal battle this day, he that shall be overcome shall not be slain, but shall be brought to the stakes which are at either end of the lists. There, brought by force, shall he abide, nor take any further part in fighting. If and when the chieftain on either side be taken, then shall we declare the tourney over and award the prize. Go forth, good people, go forth! This is my lord’s will!” Loud were the people’s cheers, and at once the processions began. Theseus with his queen and Emily and all his royal court led the way. Palamon followed with his hundred knights in battle array, with white plumes and banners waving in the wind. Next came Arcite with his knights under red pennons. Oh! it was a sight to gladden the heart of a man! Such colour, such workmanship in arms, such skill in riding, such knightly bearing, and to crown all, such beauty!

And now the companies enter the lists and are lined up two deep, facing one another. The heralds’ trumpets sound, the names of the combatants are read and the gates closed.

Once more the trumpets blare, the heralds call “To your places, knights,” and the fight begins. The combatants rush together. Swords flash, spears are set in rest. Here one is borne from his horse, here another is pierced through the breast. Here a knight swings his mace and crashes through helm and bone. Nor armour nor skill can ward off such mighty blows, and horses and their riders fall. One is taken captive to the stake. Another shares his fate. Thick rises the dust, loud rings the battle din, and on all sides fierce confusion reigns and cruel war.

Throughout the mele rage Palamon and Arcite; Arcite like a tiger that has lost her whelp, Palamon like a ravening lion athirst for blood. Through the long day they fight, until at last Palamon is set upon by Arcite and the Indian king at once, with twenty more knights to help them. Then, not all the great strength of his arm and sword can avail him, but, o’erborne by the weight of numbers, he is dragged, resisting still, to the shameful stake.

When Theseus saw this he stopped the fight.

“Ho–no more,” he said. “All is done. Emily is the bride of Arcite of Thebes.” Sad was Palamon, but Arcite, with helm unlaced, rode proudly on his courser towards Emily. All the trumpets sang loud of his victory. Thousands of voices acclaimed him. Mars had fulfilled his prophecy. What then could Venus be doing, for had she not promised success to Palamon?

A moment! My story is not ended. As Arcite rode thus joyously to claim his prize, it chanced that an adder suddenly started from the ground before the horse’s feet; The charger reared and swerved, and Arcite was thrown against the pommel of his saddle with such violence that his breast-bone was broken, and he fell down in a swoon. He was carried quickly away; but all that night, while feasting and merry-making reigned in the palace, poor Arcite lay dying. “Alas!” he cried. “Farewell to you, my lady, my love, my wife won by my prowess. Farewell to the world and merry company. I go where man must be alone and cold. Farewell again, my fairest Emily!” And so with his lady’s name on his lips, he died.

Great was the mourning throughout Athens for so noble a warrior and so true a lover. His funeral pyre was heaped high with all sweet woods and spices. All famous Greeks came thither to play in his funeral games.

Men mourned for Arcite for many a long year. But at last their sorrow spent itself,–one day Palamon came again to the court of Theseus.

There, with gentle patient wooing, he won at length the hand of Emily, and gained thus his heart’s desire and the reward of his true love of her.

They lived long in richness and health. Never was fairer wife than Emily; never was knight more faithful than Palamon. There I leave them. God bless them, and grant His grace and loving-kindness to this fair company. Amen.

* * * * *

When the Knight had finished his tale, the whole company, young and old, praised it. The Host was delighted; he burst out laughing. “The play goes finely,” he cried. “Now we have started the ball rolling, who will tell the next tale? Will you, Sir Monk, give us a worthy follower to the Knight?” Before the Monk had time to answer, the Miller interrupted. He was a broad, thick-set fellow with a red beard, a great wide mouth, and a wart on his nose. He wore a white coat and blue hood, and was armed with a sword and buckler. By this time he was so overcome by riding and drinking that he could hardly sit his horse, and what manners he possessed had left him. “I can tell a fine tale,” he shouted, “a good match for the Knight’s.” The Host saw that he was in no fit state to tell a tale. “Good friend Robin, take thy turn,” he said. “Let a better man than thee speak first.” “Not I,” said the Miller. “I tell my tale when I like, or leave the party.” “Well,” said the Host, “tell if thou must, but thou art making a fool of thyself.”

“Now hearken!” began the Miller. “I begin my tale with a declaration. I am drunk. I know it, and I bid you excuse any mistakes I make for that very reason. It’s the fault of Southwark ale, not mine, and my tale is about a carpenter and how a scholar deceived him.” “Forbear!” cried Oswald the Reeve. “I am a carpenter. Beware how you tell your jibing tales of my craft.” But the Miller could not be silenced and began his tale.

Kind reader, if you do not like the tale please excuse me and turn to another and harmless one. I am merely the chronicler of this journey and must tell the truth.


There was a rich carpenter who lived at Oxford and took in students to board with him. Among them was one named Nicholas, as proper a man as one could wish to see. He kept his room all strewed with sweet herbs. At his bed’s head, neatly arranged on shelves, were his books and calculating pebbles, for he studied astrology and could foretell the weather. A red cloth covered his press and on the wall hung his little harp. He was a gay fellow and loved merry-making, yet looked as gentle and dainty as a maiden. The carpenter was an old man, and had just married a wife of eighteen, named Alisoun. She was as pretty a woman as you could find in the whole country-side. Dressed up in all her finery she was as gay as a bird. Her girdle was silk and her apron as white as snow. Her smock was white and broidered with black silk, and her brooch as large as the base of a shield. The ribbon of her cap matched her embroidery, and her eyebrows were black and arched. But the most tempting thing about her was the way she looked at one. A very primrose she was, on my faith; as fair as an apple tree in blossom. Nicholas loved her well enough, and others too; but her husband would let her go nowhere but to church and never allowed her to take part in any festivities.

All went smoothly, however, till the time for the yearly plays came round, when the stories of Adam, Joseph and Herod, and many another Bible hero, are performed in the market-place. Such times are holidays for all. Everybody goes to the plays, and all the young people take part in them. Alisoun longed to go, but she knew it was no good asking her, tyrannical husband.

One day, while her husband was away at Osney, she told Nicholas of her desire, and cried to him because she was kept so strictly at home. Nicholas was sorry for her. “What is the good of being a scholar if I cannot outwit a carpenter?” he said. “I will find a way out.” They made their plan between them and carried up into Nicholas’s room enough food for two or three days. Neither, that day nor the next did Nicholas come down to meals, until at last the carpenter began to get anxious. “Have you called Nicholas?” he said to his wife. “Why, yes!” she said. “I have sent my maid to knock and there is no answer.” “Perhaps he is ill,” answered the carpenter. “Life is very uncertain these days. Why, but yesterday I saw a corpse carried to the churchyard, and another last week. I do hope no harm has befallen the young man.” Then he sent his man to see what he could do. The man knocked but got no answer. Then he noticed a hole in the bottom of the door by which the cat used to go in and out, and stooping down he looked through. Nicholas was sitting in a chair with his head back, staring at something. Down went the man and told what he had seen. “Alas!” said the carpenter, “he is certainly mad. This is what comes of his studies. I have heard tell of another astronomer who was so busy looking at the stars that he fell into a clay pit. I fear something like that has happened to Nicholas. I will go and see about it.” He took the servant with him, and together they lifted the door right off its hinges, and down it fell with a bang on the floor.

Nicholas never moved and seemed to hear nothing. “Dear me!” said the carpenter, “he is certainly mad.” He went up and touched him; still Nicholas did not move. Then the carpenter began to utter a spell:

“Christ and Benedict the saint,
Keep us safe from elves quaint,
From witches and fairies of the night, Peter’s sister, guard us quite.”

As he finished Nicholas began to groan and to ‘move about. “Ah, he is better,” said the carpenter. “But what ails you now?” “It is a terrible thing that I have learnt!” said Nicholas. “Send away your man and I will tell you all as far as I may.” So with many lamentations he began. “By my art I have learnt that the end of mankind is at hand. Once more there will be a flood such as there was in the days of Noah, and this flood will begin no later than the day after tomorrow.” The carpenter began to wail. “Oh, what will become of us! Must we all drown? Alas, alas!” “There is one way to be saved,” said the scholar, “which I will tell you as it was revealed to me. Get a tub and hang it from the rafters in the barn, then put in food and drink for a day. That will be enough, for the flood will be short. Break open the gable at the end so that you can sail out, and wait there for the water.” “But must I be saved alone?” cried the carpenter. “What of my wife? What of my servants?” “Your wife I can save,” answered the other, “and myself too; but your servants must perish–such is the will of heaven. Now go. Get three tubs, one for each of us, hang them well apart, and make the other preparations; but be sure of this:–not one word of what is coming must pass your lips to anyone save your wife. Such is heaven’s decree.”

Away went the carpenter to tell his wife, and she, though she was in the plot, feigned great fear and wept and wailed, till her husband went off to make his preparations. He bought three tubs and hung them up high from the rafters, put in each of them bread, meat, and ale, and even made three ladders to climb up by. Then on the day that Nicholas had named, before it was light, they all three climbed up to their tubs. Said Nicholas, “Have you a knife by you so that when this water comes you may cut your tub loose and float away?” “I have,” said the carpenter. “Then from this time on we must keep absolute silence,” said Nicholas.

By and by the carpenter, for all his fear, fell asleep. As soon as they heard him snoring Nicholas and Alisoun crept down and went to the fair.

In the market-place the waggons on which the plays are acted were already drawn up. The actors were there in all their finery. There was Abraham with his rich robe, and Pilate and Herod appeared in their crowns and shining jewels, and roared out their speeches to the delighted audience. The flames gushed out from “hell’s mouth,” and eerie-looking demons romped and capered, now on the stage, now among the spectators. The minstrels were there too. Never was such frivolity. Alisoun danced with Nicholas, and all the company said they were the best pair there.

At last, long after dusk, they went home. Just as they drew near the carpenter’s house, Nicholas bethought him of a new dance. He was so merry that he whirled and capered to show off his steps to Alisoun, quite forgetful of the lighted torch he was carrying, until the flame blew aside in the wind and caught one of Alisoun’s ribbons which began to burn. “Water, water!” cried the wife. “Water!” called Nicholas, and others near, thinking that a thatch must be afire, called loudly; “Water, water!”

The din was so loud that it waked the carpenter in his tub, where he had slumbered heavily the whole day through. Hearing the shout he thought the flood had come at last. With a cry of fear, he quickly took out his knife and cut through the cords. Down fell the tub to the floor, with such a crash that the poor old man broke his arm and fainted.

The neighbours all gathered to see what had happened, but the carpenter got no sympathy. “He is mad!” said Nicholas and Alisoun; “mad with fear of Noah’s flood!” The neighbours laughed as they looked at the tubs. “What a stupid old man!” they said. “He must be mad indeed!”

So for all his care the carpenter got a broken arm, and Nicholas and Alisoun had a jolly day at the plays.

* * * * *

This tale of Nicholas and the carpenter made us all laugh, except Oswald the Reeve. He was annoyed, of course, since a carpenter was befooled in the Miller’s story. He looked sourly on us now, with his spare pinched face. His hair was shaved close and his legs were long and thin. All his dress was poor, even his sword was rusty, and generally he rode the hindermost of our party. Yet for all his uncouthness he kept his master’s property well, although some said the tenants dreaded him as the plague. He had told me that his house was built fairly upon a wide heath, yet shaded with green trees.

“If I liked,” he said, “I could tell a tale against your craft, and show how a miller was tricked and fared worse than your carpenter. But I am old, and my term of life is nearly done. Quarrelling and scorn befit not white hairs, yet little is left us old men but envy, malice, and all uncharitableness.”

At that Harry Bailey interrupted him. “Why all this grumbling and sermoning?” he said in his lordliest tones. “What has a reeve to do with texts? Tell your tale, my man, and don’t waste time. Look, there is Deptford, and half our morning’s gone! Yonder is Greenwich! Come, we have no time to listen to your moralising. Begin!”

“Forgive me then,” said Oswald, “if I tell you a tale to cap the Miller’s. Such drunken scoundrels deserve quittance. Here is my story.”


At Trumpington, a hamlet not far from Cambridge, there runs a brook; over it is a bridge. On this brook there stands a mill, and there a miller had his dwelling many a year. He was proud as a peacock, handy with the pipes, a good man at fishing and at wrestling or in an archery match. He always went armed; at his side a claymore–and sharp he kept the blade–a poignard in his pouch and a dirk in his stocking. It would be a brave man that dare touch him. In looks he had a round face and a snub nose, and his head was as bald as an ape’s. He was a swaggerer in the market-place, a practised thief in the corn and meal that came to be ground, and he was called proud Simpkin. His wife was gentry-born and her father chief man in the town. She had been reared in a nunnery. A shrewish woman she was and proud. ‘Twas a fine sight to see the two of them wending their way to church on Sundays. Simpkin walked first in his cape and red stockings, and she came behind in a dress of the same hue. To have made a jest to her would have been to court death at Simpkin’s hands, for Simpkin was jealous of his honour. They bad two children, a daughter aged twenty and a baby son. The girl was a fine strapping wench, taking after her father in looks. Some day she was to inherit all the property and be married to a lord.

The miller had no lack of customers. From all around, grist came to his mill. One of his chief customers was the great college Soler Hall at Cambridge. He ground their wheat and their malt too. One day it chanced that the bursar fell ill and was like to die. The miller did not let this opportunity slip, but stole a hundred times more than before, changing from cautious pilfering to barefaced robbery. When the head of the college accused him he was impudent and denied the charge lustily.

There were at the college two poor scholars, John and Aleyn. In sheer joy at a chance to trick the miller, they went to the warden and asked to be allowed to take the corn to be ground. “We wager,” they said, “that the miller shall not steal a grain while we are there to watch.” At last they persuaded the warden to let them pit their wits against the miller’s. Aleyn made the preparations, threw the sack of corn on the horse, took his sword and buckler, and the two set off together. John knew the way and presently they arrived at the mill.

Aleyn began: “Good-day to you, Symond How are your wife and pretty daughter?” “Ah! Aleyn,” said the miller, “I’m pleased to see you, and John too. What is your business?” “Symond,” answered John, “necessity is a hard master. A manless man must needs be his own servant. Our bursar is so ill, that I hear he will die, so Aleyn and I have come to get the corn ground and take it home again.” “Right,” said Simpkin, “I will do it. But how will you spend the time till it is ready?” “As for me,” answered John, “I have never seen corn ground in my life. I will stand by the hopper and watch how the corn goes in.” “And I,” Aleyn took up, “know as little of milling as John does, so I will stand down below and watch the meal run into the trough.”

The miller knew well enough what they were thinking of, but he said nothing, meaning to get the better of them later. When the two scholars were all intent on watching the corn, the miller chose his time aid crept out softly. He found their horse standing tied under a bush and untied his bridle. Away ran the horse to the fen, tossing his head and whinnying, and splashing through mud and water. The miller returned without a word, but when the meal was put in the sack and they were ready to be gone, John discovered the loss. “Aleyn,” he cried, “look, our horse is gone!” “Which way? Which way?” cried Aleyn. “Come, hurry and see what a dreadful thing has happened!” The corn was forgotten “Oh, where can he have gone to?” they asked. Up came the miller’s wife. “Your horse is gone to the fen,” she said, “running as fast as he can.” “Throw down your sword, Aleyn,” cried John, “and let’s off after him. Between us we should catch him. Why ever did we not put the beast in a shed! You’re a fool, Aleyn, I’m afraid.” Away they went and spent all the day whooping and holloaing to the horse, but he was too wild for them. Just on nightfall, however, they drove him into a ditch and caught him there. Meanwhile the miller had helped himself to half a bushel of meal and bade his wife make a cake of it. “It’s not always learning that makes the cutest man!” he said. “A miller has little trouble in upsetting the tricks of a mere clerk.”

When at last John and Aleyn came back to the mill, they were wet and dirty. It was too late for them to make their journey home that night. A very crest-fallen couple humbly begged the miller to give them a night’s lodging. “Mine is a poor house and small,” answered the miller. “But you are scholars and doubtless have the power to turn a hovel into a palace by your arguments. Be content with this, therefore, or enlarge it as you like.” “You are a merry man,” replied John, “and we are contented with the house. There is money to pay for our supper.” So they all fell to and ate their meal and drank good strong ale, till the miller sat himself down in the corner of the settle and began to doze.

Aleyn had been looking at the daughter all through supper, and now, when the father was asleep and the mother gone about some household business, he went and sat by her side, and presently, before she knew what he was doing, put his arm round her and kissed her. Just at this moment in came the mother. “Sir,” she cried, “how dare you behave like that to my daughter! Help, husband, help! Wake up! This wretched scholar is kissing my daughter.” Up woke the miler in a fury and ran at Aleyn. In a minute the two were fighting as hard as they could. John looked round for a weapon with which to defend his friend, but the miller’s wife was quicker. Up she took a heavy stick that stood in the corner and struck at Aleyn, but, as luck would have it, there came a gust of wind down the chimney so strong that it nearly blew the lamp out. In the flickering light, the blow intended for Aleyn fell on the miller’s bald pate. Down he went like a log, down beside him went his wife, wringing her hands and crying out that she had killed him. “No,” said John, “he’s too tough to die like that. Come, I’ll give you a hand and we will take him up to bed.” Aleyn and the daughter were not sorry to be left alone. “I like you very well” she said. “Shall I tell you what father did with your meal?” “Do,” answered Aleyn eagerly, “and some day, when I’m rich, I will come back and marry you.” “I shall be ready!” she answered. So the next morning, when they rode away, John and Aleyn not only had all their meal, despite the miller’s knavery, but Aleyn had won a bride as well, while the miller had had a well-deserved beating and lost his daughter to a clerk!

* * * * *

While the Reeve was speaking, the Cook was chuckling to himself, and at the end of the tale he laughed loud and long. He was as good a cook as you would find within the walls of London. His pies, I have heard, were works of art. “I’ll tell you my tale now,” he said, “a rollicking story of an apprentice in our town.” “Well, say on, Roger!” answered the Host. “You’re a fine lad, I’ll be bound.”

So the Cook began his tale; but I had only heard a few sentences when we came upon a bad stretch of road where the water from the previous week’s rains lay in great puddles, and in many places the soft mud gave under our horses’ feet. We therefore had to ride slowly and in a straggling line, picking our way carefully.

Being near the end of the party, I heard no more of the Cook’s story, nor of the tales that followed it that day.

When we at last reached the inn at Dartford, where we were to spend the night, I heard that the craftsmen from the town had told their tales that afternoon.


The next day, the 18th of April, the Host suddenly turned his horse about and faced the company. “Lordlings,” said he, “what with oversleeping and late starting we waste our precious time. It’s ten o’clock, by my faith, and no tale told yet this day. Come, you learned Man of Law, begin and let’s have no more dallying!” “Host,” said the Lawyer, “I never break my agreements; a man must obey that law which he himself has made. But it is difficult for me to find a tale. Geoffrey Chaucer, our poet, has told them all in his rhymes. There is not a love story left to tell, and I have no taste for rude jests. You will make fun of my plain unpoetical speech, I have no doubt, for a lawyer’s language is none of the prettiest. Yet I will do my best. This is my story.” So, with his silver girdle jingling as he rode, he began:


There was in Syria a great sultan. His’ merchants travelled far overseas and brought him back news and great riches. One company reported to him the events in Rome. They had noticed especially the wonderful beauty of the Emperor of Rome’s daughter, Constance. They never wearied of telling of her loveliness, her goodness and her courtesy, until the sultan’s heart burned for love of her, and he knew that unless she became his bride he would die.

Now Constance was a Christian, and the sultan a Mohammedan; yet to win the lady of his love the sultan was converted, and he and many of his followers were baptised. At last the emperor consented that his. daughter should marry the sultan. She set sail for Syria very woefully. “Father,” she said, “must I, thy darling daughter, set forth on this perilous journey, and live in a far land, a Christian among unbelievers? Must I never see my dear parents again? Alas, woman has no power of her own! In youth her father rules her; when she is old her husband is her lord. But Christ and Christ’s Mother will preserve me. In them is my trust.” So with tears she started, and her maidens wept with her. None the less, when the ship came to land she put away her grief and bore herself as became a bride.

The sultan in splendid array, with all his court in attendance, came and met her at the water-side, and received her with all solemnity. Amid revelling and noble pageantry he led her to the palace.

But under the flowers there lurked a scorpion, the queen-mother. Ah! root of wickedness, filled full of guile, fierce worshipper of false gods! She had plotted death to all Christians, and at the feast slew every Roman except Constance herself. Not even the sultan, her own son, escaped, but, because he had changed his faith, she slew him among the others.

Pity now fair Constance left alone among her foes! She has no help nor succour save the Lord God in Whom she trusts, and Who will never fail those that put their faith in Him. The queen-mother had devised a fate worse than death for her hated daughter-in-law. Alone, without company, she was placed on a ship which was cut loose to sail the sea. Yet in men’s hearts there is some pity, and not without food or raiment did Constance set forth. Truly the arm of the Lord is mighty to save. He that guarded Daniel among the lions guarded Constance in her open boat. Far and wide, for three years and more, she drifted; but amid storm and calm, cold and heat, she was kept safe; neither did her food nor drink fail her. The arms of God were around her. He, Who fed five thousand in the wilderness, preserved this lone woman for His own honour.

At last, guided by His hand, the bark drifted northwards through the vast ocean till it came to the shores of Northumbria. There the governor of the district found her with her ship and hearkened to her prayer for help, though she was a stranger, and he could scarce understand the Latin she spoke. In his home she had rest, and bore herself so gently that the governor and his wife, Hermengild, loved her as their own daughter. Never did she cease to preach Christ’s gospel, and such was her holy life that many believed through her.

Yet even here a cruel fate pursued her. There was a young knight who hated Constance because she would not love him. One night he crept through the window of the room where she slept with Hermengild, and, approaching the bed, killed Hermengild, and left the blood-stained knife lying by Constance’s side. What grief was there when day came! Constance, whom all loved, stood accused of murder and must be tried before Alla, the king of the land. Foremost among her accusers was this false knight, but when all spoke in her favour save he alone, Alla bethought him to test his witness. The Bible was brought and the knight asked to swear that what he said was true. He took the book and with his hand on it swore in the name of God that Constance had done this thing. She, all pale, as one who sees death before his eyes, prayed that at her need help might be granted to her from on high.

Then indeed the hand of God smote down the perjurer. With a cry he fell on his face, and a voice from heaven rang out, “Thou hast slandered the guiltless and yet I hold my peace.” Thereat wonder fell on all men, and Alla, moved to wrath, condemned the traitor knight, but Constance appeared so fair and holy in his eyes that after no long time he wedded her. Lo, now! Constance is become a queen, and seems to all men’s sight at last favoured of Heaven.

But even so Providence had yet more trials in store for her. She who had been so constant and so true must bear more sorrow for the glory of God.

No long time after the wedding Alla went forth to fight the Scots and left his queen in charge of the governor who had found her at first. Once more a queen-mother plotted her doom, Donegild, King Alla’s mother. Constance bore the king a son, a lovely boy, whom they named Mauricius. This seemed the very crown of bliss, yet through this joy Heaven meant to try Constance still further.

The governor wrote letters to the king to tell him the glad news, and gave them to a messenger to carry with all haste. But the queen-mother was jealous of Constance, and, when the messenger passed, called him in and made him drunk with wine. Then, while he slept, she opened his pouch, took out his letters and changed them, so that when he came to the king the letters that he delivered were false ones written by the queen, which said: “Your wife is an elf, and has borne a baby so ugly and horrible that all are afraid of it.” The king was sad at this news, but he so loved Constance that he wrote back: “Keep the child till I return; I would obey the will of God.”

Again, as the messenger passed the palace of the king’s mother, she called him in and made him drunk with wine. Then, while he slept, she opened his pouch, took out the letters and changed them, so that the letters which the governor received were false ones and said: “Constance must not abide in this land longer than three days. It is my will and decree that she be placed in an open boat with her young son, and left to the mercy of the winds and waves.”

The governor wept, and so did all the townsfolk, for they loved Constance. Yet, as the letter bore the king’s seal, they could not but obey it, thinking it true.

On the fourth day Constance, with deadly pale face, went towards her little boat. Her baby cried piteously, but she lulled it to sleep, and placed her kerchief over its face to protect it from the sun. When she was afloat she prayed: “O Mary, Mother of God, help me now, a poor mother with her little child, alone, at sea.”

On went the boat; but again, amid storm and calm, wind and rain, it was unhurt. For five years it drifted, now north, now south, now east, now west, about the wide ocean. God’s hand guided it, and God protected it, so that Constance and her child were fed and happy.

Now when the emperor heard of the treachery of the Syrians, he sent a great army in ships to punish them, and as this army was returning to Rome the captain suddenly saw a little boat travelling without oar or sail. As it came nearer he saw that it contained a woman, and when he took her aboard, he quickly perceived that she was noble. Her baby boy was in her arms. The captain in pity took her to his home, but the woman would not say who she was, though she lived with his family and served them well. _You_ have guessed by now that the woman was Constance.

Some years afterwards the good God put it into Alla’s heart to go to Rome. His host there was the very captain with whom Constance was living. When she heard of his coming she hid herself, but arranged that her boy should stand before Alla at the feast. The child was very like his mother, and at once the king asked his history. The captain told him of the coming of these two sea wanderers. Alla eagerly asked to see the mother.

At last Constance came, though unwillingly, for she was still deeply grieved, believing that her husband had really sent that cruel letter. When Alla saw her he embraced her tenderly, and for a long time they talked until the past was made clear. Alla, it seemed, had punished the wicked old queen with death, and had mourned for Constance ever since. Great was their joy then, and very pleasant was it to see their reunion after so many years of danger and separation. Soon they went all three to the emperor, and his happiness at finding again his long-lost daughter knew no bounds.

The ways of God are wonderful indeed! Who would have dreamed that after such sorrows such happiness was possible for all? May Jesus Christ of His mercy send us like joy after woe, and keep us all in health and goodness. Amen.

* * * * *

“That was indeed a virtuous tale!” said our Host. “Sir Parish Priest, I swear ’tis your turn now, by heaven! Tell us your tale. By my halidom, I am eager to hear your story.” “What ails the man that he swears so?” answered the Parson. “Ho, ho!” laughed Harry Bailey. “Have we a Lollard here? A man who would teach us our manners and save our souls? Would you _preach_ us somewhat, Sir Priest?” “That he shall not!” answered the Ship-man; “no sermons for me. I’ve known adventures in my time, sailing the seas from Jutland to Cape Finisterre. I know all the harbours of Brittany and Spain, and many’s the cask of good Bordeaux wine I have landed while the coastguard slept. Oh; a good life is that of the sea, with the wind a-blowing a man’s beard and tanning his skin, and storms to brave and pirates to fight. I’ve seen men walk the plank, I have. No mercy to the prisoner on the high seas! Home they go by water as soon as may be! No landlubber am I! Let me tell my yarn; a jolly one, I promise you.”

So as we jogged along the Shipman told his tale of a merchant who sailed afar in search of wealth, and whose home meantime was robbed, for his wife was not true to him and let false priests trick him. It was a coarse vulgar tale, as sailors’ stories often are. It amused some of the company, for indeed men’s tastes are different and are pleased in different ways.

As the Shipman finished, Harry Bailey’s blustering manner changed. Courteously and meekly he rode up to the Prioress, and in his politest voice addressed her.

“My Lady Prioress, if you please, and if you are sure it will not grieve you, I would propose that you tell a tale next. Will you deign to do so, lady dear?” “Gladly,” she answered.

She was a pleasant figure to look upon. Her wimple was snow-white, and her black cloak fell in graceful folds from her shoulders, while now and then her red coral rosary, with its green gaudies, showed as she moved the arm on which it hung. Her features were very beautiful, with a straight sensitive nose, clear grey eyes, and a full small mouth. She told her tale in a cultured voice, which pleased us all greatly. This was her tale:


O Lord, our Lord, Thy marvellous name resounds Through all the earth. To Thee do children cry “Hosanna to the King of kings!” E’en I
Will add my voice in honour of the Maid, That Lily Flower, Thy Mother, loved of Thee. Grant me Thy grace and pity, deign to hear My prayer, and take of all I do, the praise.

In a great city of Asia, among the Christian folk, many Jews once dwelt, gathered there by the lord of the land for villainous usury, and through their street, year in year out, passed children on their way to school. Among these children went a widow’s son, a little chorister seven years of age, and as he went to school never did he fail to kneel and do reverence to the statue of the Virgin and sing the _Ave Maria_.

One day at school the elder children were singing the anthem _Alma Redemptions_, and the little child, looking up from his primer, drew as near to them as he dared, and listened till he knew by heart the first verse. However, he was too young to know what the Latin meant, so he besought his friend to explain, even going down on his knees to beg him to tell it all correctly. The friend was willing to teach him. “They say,” he said, “that it is in honour of Our Lady, and it is to Her we sing it, but I can tell you no more. I know the song, but not enough Latin grammar to translate it.” Then the child was even more eager to learn, and daily his friend taught him till he could sing it perfectly, words and music: and as he went to and from school each day, he sang it merrily as he passed through the street of the Jews. But Satan, who first led mankind astray, whispered to the Jews to be revenged on one who dared to praise the Mother of Jesus so boldly in their streets. And they plotted with a murderer, who one day seized the child, killed him, and cast away the body in a pit.

(“O cursed folk!” then cried the Prioress, “your secret is in vain. Murder will out whatever men may do. But thou, O blessed martyr, thou shalt sing pure songs among the choirs that John of Patmos saw in his vision as he stood before the great White Lamb.”)

The poor widow waited all that night, and in the morning, pale from anxious thought, she sought the child at school and everywhere through the town.

Distraught with a mother’s grief, she cried piteously throughout the town, until she learnt that her son was last seen in the Jewry. Then by Jesus’ help she came to the very place where her young son lay, and though he was dead already, as she drew near he began to sing the _Alma Redemptions_ so loud and clear that all the Christian folk passing through the street gathered together. Seeing how things were, they sent for the provost, who arrested the Jews. Their guilt was clear, and he dealt with them according to the law, praising Christ and His Virgin Mother for this marvellous revelation.

The little child, they bore to the abbey, singing sad songs of lamentation. His mother swooned by the bier. When mass had been said over him the abbot sprinkled him with holy water and made ready to bear him out to burial. Yet when the drops of blessed water touched him, once again the child sang his _Alma Redemptoris Mater_. At this the abbot, all amazed, charged him to say why, when to all seeming he was already dead, he still sang in this fashion. Then said the child, “When I should have died, the Mother of God came to me and placed a grain on my tongue, and by her grace I sing thus happily in her honour until the grain be taken from me, and then in heaven she will receive my soul, never leaving me, because in life I loved and worshipped her always.”

The abbot and his cloister marvelled to hear this miracle. Then the abbot took away the grain, and they bore the little body and laid it in a clear marble tomb with honour befitting so noble a martyr.

O blessed Hugh, whom wicked Jews also slew, pray for us weak people that Mary, Mother of God, may grant us grace. Amen.

* * * * *

The effect of the Prioress’s tale was to make the whole company silent and wondrously solemn for a while, so feelingly had she told the story of the miracle; but at length our Host began his joking again. He looked round the party and caught sight of me. “What man are you?” he asked. “You look nowhere but upon the ground as though you would find a hare there. Come here, good sir, be cheerful. Make way!” he cried to the others, “let this man pass. I swear he is no stripling, his waist is as large as mine. He ought to be a gallant man and fond of company, but he rides alone, and is so silent that I suspect the elves have bewitched him.” The company laughed. “Tell us your tale,” said Harry Bailey to me again, “and let it be a merry one.” “Good host,” I answered humbly, “I know few tales. All that I can offer is a ballad I learned long ago.” “That’s good!” said the Host. “Begin. It’s a jolly tale, I’ll wager.” This is the tale I told:


[Footnote: The ballad that Chaucer tells is a parody of the worn-out poems of chivalrous adventure, in which the knight rides on endless quests. These poems were still popular in Chaucer’s day.]

Listen, lords and ladies gay,
I will sing my roundelay,
A song both gay and witty.
Sir Thopas was the knight yclept,
As bold a wight as ever stept,
The hero of my ditty.

Now he was born in Poperhinge,
The child of many a fond longing,
Upon a summer’s day.
His father’s house was in the square, And he a powerful lordling there
In Flanders, miles away.

His skin was white as white could be, Like lilies from the deep valley,
His lips were blushing roses.
His cheeks were pink and fair to see, And (on my troth) possessed he,
The seemliest of noses.

Golden as saffron was his hair,
Golden his beard that stretched so fair Down to his girdle strong.
From Cordova his shoes they name,
His hosen brown from Brugge came,
Of silk his robe full long.

In hunting none might by him stand,
And oft he rode with hawk on hand,
For him did maidens sigh.
But of their longing they took no good, Forth he rode to the green wood
His fortune to espy.

And it befell upon a day,
The flowers sprang in the woods so gay, The birds their lays were singing.
His steed was of the dapple grey,
His bridle, like the Milky Way,
With silver bells was ringing.

Then pricked he through the verdant wood, He rode as softly as he could
For high adventure thirsting.
Green grass below, green leaves above, Filled full his heart with ardent love,
Till it was nigh to bursting.

Then tired he lay upon the grass
To give his horse a breathing space, And dreamed of love’s sweet sway.
“An elf queen must my lady be,
No other worthy is of me
In all the land, I say.”

Now is he risen and got to horse,
For he would seek his love perforce, Where’er she may be kept.
Then over hill and over down,
Through meadows green and moorlands brown, His peerless charger stept.

The birds sang loud, there is no doubt, Some sang in tune and some sang out;
The throstle and the jay.
The flowerets sprang about his feet, Arrayed in their garb so neat,
With every colour gay.

When the birdies thus did sing,
Sir Thopas fell in love-longing,
And spurred his gallant steed.
The sweat ran down his sides amain, To any gentle heart ’twas pain
To see him thus to bleed.

The larks on high trilled out their song, And some sang right and some sang—-

“Stop, for Heaven’s sake!” cried the Host at this point. “I’m tired out by this story. Never in my life did I hear worse doggerel.”

I must say I was offended by this remark. “Well,” I said, “you have let everyone else finish. Why should _I_ be prevented from going on? I’m doing the best I can.” “Are you?” said Harry Bailey. “Then I think you had better try some other sort of story. Perhaps in prose you might manage to be improving, even if you could not amuse us. _This_ is sheer waste of time.” “All right,” I answered, “I will tell you a prose tale. It is an old one and told with variations, but just as we do not accuse the evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, of untruth because their accounts of Christ’s life differ, so you must not blame _me_ if my tale is not like other versions.” Then I told my tale. It was a very virtuous one about Melibeus and his good wife Prudence. It was full of quotations from the classics, and I fear it was rather long, for I noticed that towards the end many of the company began to yawn, and the Shipman started whispering to his neighbour and tittering. So perhaps, as it was not exactly a success, I will not repeat it here.

As I finished, the Host, who alone had seemed pleased with it, said, “I would give a barrel of ale that my wife had heard this tale. She has none of the patience that Prudence showed. Alas! she is a regular termagant. If I have occasion to beat one of the servants, out she comes with a great clubbed stick, crying, ‘Break all the rascal’s bones. Kill the dog!’ Then, when she goes to church, if everyone does not bow to her, home she comes in a rage and vents it on me. ‘Coward!’ she says. ‘Go and take vengeance on those despiteful neighbours. Will you see your wife insulted and not move a finger in her defence? Ah! that I should have married a milksop and a coward.’ And so she goes on, till I am really afraid I shall do murder, for I am a dangerous man with a knife, though I cannot stand up to _her_.–Well, enough of this. Lo! Rochester is not far off. Monk, come, tell us a tale. It is your turn now. Your tale should be a cheerful one, for you look a merry soul, well fed and lusty. I guess you are no penitent, but cellarer or sexton or some other officer in your monastery. Well, take no offence. Many a true word is spoken in jest!”

The Monk took his jibing with patience, and answered him soberly. “I will tell such a tale as I can with honesty. It shall be a life of St. Edward, or else some tragedies; that is to say, the stories of men who fell from great prosperity into misfortune. I have more than a hundred at home in my cell, all composed in hexameters. I will tell some that I can remember, and excuse me if I tell them somewhat out of order.” So he began, half chanting as if in church.


In tragic manner will I now lament
The fate of those who fell from high degree Into the depth of woe. For Fortune is
A fickle goddess found, and none may hold Her favour for himself, when she would list To flee. Trust not to blind prosperity,
If old examples yet may make us wise.


With Lucifer, though he an angel is
And not a man, I will at first begin. Fortune may not an angel smite, but through His sin he fell to deepest Hell from Light. O Lucifer, thou brightest angel form,
Now art thou Satan plunged in Hell’s black night.


All in Damascus God has Adam made,
From dust to human shape, and given him rule In Paradise, to lord it and enjoy
All bounty, save that single tree alone. But to temptation is he fallen a prey,
And driven forth to labour and to death.


Of Hugelino, Pisa’s lord, no tongue
For pity may his sorrow well declare. For he with his three sons, poor babes as yet, Immured in a tower, was left to die.
Alas! to keep such birds in such a cage Was cruel sport.
In prison is he now condemned to die, On a false charge, that one assoiled him of, And stirred the people’s wrath to doom him thus. But up to now his food at least had he,
Though scant and poor, yet it might him suffice. Upon a day befell it at the hour
When his jailer was wont to bring his food He heard the gate shut, but none came him near, And in his heart the thought upgrew that they Would starve and bring him foully to his death. “Alas,” he cried, “that ever I was born!” And from his eyelids fell the heavy tears. His little son, that was three years of age, Cried unto him, “O father, will they bring Our dinner? Father, give me food, I die.” And so he cried and wept thus day by day, Till at the last, within his father’s arms He lay and died. The father all distraught Began to bite his arms and gnaw his hands, And rail on Fortune for her cruel deed.
His children thinking that for hunger he Thus bit his flesh, said to him, “Eat of us. Thou gavest us life, take thou that life again.” Yet they ere ever many days were sped,
Lay down within his arms and breathed their last. Himself, bereft of all, of hunger died,
Cast to such doom from fortune’s high estate. If you would further read of all this tale, Go look to Dante, for he will not fail.


Never did captain, servant of a king, Subdue in battle kingdoms more and great, Nor more prevail in the fierce shock of fight, Nor win from all his age more high renown, Than did great Holofernes. Fortune blest His steps, and led him up the steep of fame, Till suddenly he fell and lost his life, Ere yet he wist that danger threatened him. Not for the loss of life and wealth alone Did men him dread, but throughout every land He would make folk their own true god deny. “Nebuchadnezzar is God,” did he proclaim, “No other God may here adored be.”
So in the land none dared his wrath provoke Save where Eliachim the priest held rule. Heed now what death befell this captain proud. Amid his host he drunk and sleeping lay
Within his tent, large hung as is a barn, And yet for all his pomp and all his might, Came Judith secretly, and from his neck
Smote off his head and bore it to her town. And none of all the guards knew what befell.—-

“Ho! stop!” cried the Knight. “Good sir, I beg you no more of this. A little of sorrow suffices. It is as wearisome, Sir Monk, to hear the stories of those who from great prosperity have fallen to poverty and death, as it is cheering to hear of those who from poor estate rise to greatness and fame. Of the latter I pray you tell.” “Yes, indeed,” shouted the Host. “By St. Paul’s great bell, you say right, Sir Knight. The Monk must stop this doleful talk. It’s not worth a fly. Your tale annoys all the company, Sir Monk, Dan Piers, or whatever your name may be. I assure you it is only the tinkling of your bridle bells that has kept me awake this last half-hour. What’s the good of a tale if the audience is all asleep? Come, tell us a tale of hunting.” “No,” answered the Monk with dignity. “I take no pleasure in mere frivolity. Let another tell a tale. I have said my say.” At that the Host turned to the Nun’s Priest. “Come near, Sir John. You tell a tale to cheer us. What though your horse be a sorry jade, all bone and mud, you have a merry heart, I know.” “I have indeed,” laughed the Priest, “and here is my tale.”


Once upon a time there lived in a cottage an old widow with her two daughters. She made her living as best she could by keeping pigs and a cow, and by growing a few vegetables. Her cottage was small, and all sooty from the smoke of the fire. The cocks and hens roosted for the night on the rafters.

Now among the fowls was a wonderful cock whose name was Chanticleer. The whole country-side admired him. His comb was so red, his bill so black, his plumage such a magnificent colour, that his like had never been seen; and, moreover, he was a very wise bird. One might almost say that he was an expert astronomer. Every morning, just as the sun rose, he crowed, never making the least mistake whatever the time of year. He had seven hens who walked behind him in the yard. The fairest of them, and the one he loved best, was called Pertelot. She was so beautiful that Chanticleer had loved her ever since she was a week old, and now every night he roosted by her side. Every morning when it was time to go out he sang her a little song beginning, “My love is to the meadows gone.”

One morning, as Pertelot slept by Chanticleer’s side, she heard him begin to sigh and groan and murmur in his sleep. “What is it?” she asked. “In truth you seem to groan like a man in pain.” “Alas!” said Chanticleer, waking up; “may fortune guard me. I have had a horrible dream. Never in all my life was I so frightened. I dreamed that I saw a terrible beast ready to gobble me up. It was as big as a dog, and had a tawny coat with black on his ears and on the tip of his tail, and, though I have never seen such an animal, the minute it turned its eyes on me I was all of a tremble with fright.” “Shame on you!” cried Pertelot. “You a man, and frightened by a dream! Do you think any woman will respect you if you do not show yourself more courageous? We like our husbands to be something of heroes. Besides, dreams are nonsense. They are no guide to the future, unless it be to tell you what medicine you need. For if a man be over-choleric, then he dreams of fires and red beasts, and if melancholy, of black bears. I will undertake to prescribe for you as there is no doctor in the town. Groundsel grows in our yard and hellebore. Peck them up, and take a few worms, and that will be the end of your dreams.” “Peace, wife!” returned Chanticleer. “What do you know of such things? Would you go against the authority of Holy Writ? Did not Joseph dream dreams? Was not Pharaoh instructed by them? Look at classical authors, Cato, Seneca, Cicero. Dreams were ever revered. Do you not know how by a dream a foul murder was discovered? Shame on you, to talk of medicines and groundsel! But still, though my dream is surely prophetic, I can forget it when I look upon your beauty, my love. ‘Tis gone from my mind at a glance of your eye. So now let us out of doors.”

With these words he flew down from the beam and went out into the yard, and all the hens followed him. There he stalked up and down trying to forget the terrors of the night. He was so proud he could scarce set foot to earth. All his wives ran after him to eat the grains of corn he found. When the sun rose higher Chanticleer sang his morning carol, and his wives settled down to have dust baths in the warmth.

Suddenly Chanticleer caught sight of an animal lying among the grass by the side of the yard. It was Russel the fox, who had lived for three years in the wood near by, and now had grown bold enough to break through the hedge and make his way into the farmyard. The moment Chanticleer saw him he jumped back in terror, quite forgetting his song. It was the creature of his dream! The fox was ready to calm his fear. He got up from the grass and advanced politely to Chanticleer. “Do not be alarmed at my appearance,” he said. “I have come with the best intentions. I am, in fact, a friend of the family. Both your father and mother spent some time in my house–to my great satisfaction. I was listening to your singing. You have a marvellous voice, and it is doubtless inherited. I remember your father had a way of standing on his toes, shutting his eyes and stretching his neck. When he did that his top notes were really wonderful. Do you do the same?” Chanticleer was delighted with this flattery, and at once began to crow his best, shutting his eyes and stretching his neck as the fox had described. Then, as soon as his eyes were shut, the fox sprang forward, caught him by the neck, threw him over his back and was off to the wood. Alas! poor Chanticleer, what a fate is thine! True are dreams and men should heed their warnings!

Would I had the tongue to curse that day! That star-cursed day, that black Friday on which the noble Chanticleer was borne away by the foul deceiver! The hens, in terror, set up such a clamour, cackling and wailing, that out ran the widow and her daughters to see what was the matter. Out came the neighbours, out the dogs, out the very cows and pigs, and joined in the chase. All cry, “Out! harrow! Stop thief!” Like fiends in hell they scream. The geese in fear fly over the tree-tops, the swarming bees stream from their hive. Verily, not a mob of rioters seeking to destroy the heretic in their midst ever raised half so fearful a din and clamour as did these pursuers; but in spite of them all the fox reached the very edge of the wood in safety.

There Chanticleer recovered from his terror and said, “You have me fast. If I were you I would call these base pursuers churls to their faces.” “Why, so I shall!” said the fox. But, as he opened his mouth to speak, away flew the cock and perched on the branch of a tree. “Come down,” cried the fox, “I mean you no harm. If you will but come down I will explain all my intentions towards you.” “No,” said the cock. “I have been deceived once; twice is too much. Never again will I be caught by flattery.” “And I,” said the fox, “will never speak when I should keep my mouth shut.”

Sirs, if you think this tale mere foolishness, then look deeper for the moral, for, I assure you, there is one. Do you find it! Are not all things written for our instruction? Now God make us all good men and bring us to happiness at last. Amen.

As he finished the Host praised him. “Excellent, Sir Priest,” he said. “Your tale is like yourself, all wit and laughter, but with some seriousness too, I’ll be bound. I knew by the twinkle in that sharp grey eye of yours that you could joke on occasion. Let’s see now if your fellow-priests can match you.”

Then the other two priests took their turns. They told us no tales, however, but spoke to us of morals and the great power of Holy Church. Their words were full of high meaning, but my poor wit cannot remember all they said. Also the Wife of Bath had grown confidential towards evening, and, amid her talk of husbands and clothes, pilgrimages and cloth measures, I could hear little of the priests.

Their solemn talk was a fitting conclusion to our second day’s riding, and that night we lay at Rochester.


The Doctor began the story-telling of the third day with a tale about a wicked judge who caused the death of a fair maid in Rome. During the telling of it Harry Bailey grew more and more excited with pity for the girl, and anger against the judge. At the end he burst out, “This was a false churl, I say! A shameful death befall all such treacherous men! The maid paid dearly for her beauty, did she not, good Doctor? Truly, it was so pitiful a tale that unless I have a draught of cool corny ale to cheer my spirits, or else hear a merry tale at once, I shall weep for sorrow! Come, Sir Pardoner,” he called, “tell us of mirth and quips and cranks!” “That shall be done,” answered the Pardoner, stopping the love song which he had been singing all the morning; “but first I must drink at this inn here, and eat a cake.” The gentlefolk of our company looked suspicious. “We want no vulgar tales,” they said. “Let him tell us of morals that we may learn good, or let him hold his peace.” “That shall be as you wish, good folk,” the Pardoner replied. “I will think of something virtuous while I quaff my ale.”

As we left the inn he began thus:

“Gentles all, you should hear my voice when I preach in church! It rings loud and clear like a bell, and I never falter, for I know all I have to say by heart. My text is always the same: ‘Greed is the root of all evils’–only you must know I speak it in Latin to my congregation, for Latin gives a learned tone to my speech, whether the audience understands it or not.

“Would you care to know my procedure? Here it is:

“First, I announce whence I have come, then show all my bulls, with the seals of my liege lord the Pope attached, then my letters of authority from cardinals and bishops and patriarchs, so that everybody believes in me and none dare interrupt me in my holy work.

“Then I produce my long crystal tubes, packed full of rags and bones which the ignorant are pleased to think are sacred relics. See,” he said, opening his wallet, “here is a pillow-case made of Our Lady’s veil, and here a piece of the sail from the ship in which Peter sailed before he walked on the Sea of Galilee. I have also a fine shoulder-blade made of brass, fashioned by a Jew. That’s a very profitable possession, I can assure you.

“When I have roused people’s curiosity and awe in these ways, I begin my speech.

“‘Brethren all,’ I say in my fullest voice, ‘behold this bone. It has great powers. If it be washed in the water of a well, any cow, calf, sheep or ox that drinks of that well will be cured at once of any disorder that affects him. No matter if he have eaten, poisonous insects or plants, or been stung by poisonous flies, or suffer from scab or sores, the water in which this wonderful bone has been washed will cure him. Listen carefully to what I say. This bone has never been known to fail. Why, if a man drink every morning of water it has touched, not only himself but his cattle will prosper, his goods will multiply, he will grow rich and famous. This bone can help a woman too! If her husband is jealous, all she need do is to wash this bone in the man’s broth, and at once all his suspicions will vanish.

“‘Here now is a mitten, as powerful as the bone. Of a truth, if a man puts his hand in this mitten all his grain will yield, some sixty, some a hundred fold. No matter whether he owns wheat or oats, he that but touches this mitten will grow wealthy indeed.

“‘But, of course, he must offer groats and pence to Holy Church! For such benefits surely any man would give of his goods!

“‘Of one thing I must warn you. Only those who are free from deadly sin can get help from my relics. If here be any here that have sinned great sins, let them not approach. Yet by my power as a Pardoner, I can forgive and pardon such sins as be not deadly. Draw near! Only those who have deep sin in their hearts will hold back. Come then, those who know themselves to be pure and innocent, receive the good that awaits you, offer of your substance to the Church, and be blessed!’

“By such speeches and such conduct I have earned a hundred marks a year since I was Pardoner. But I think that verily I deserve it. Why, my gestures in the pulpit are a joy to behold! I stretch forth my neck, looking now this way, now that, like a pigeon in a barn. My head and my hand keep time with my voice, and I sing better than anyone I know in my profession.”

I could well believe this of the Pardoner. He looked like a man who could please a congregation. He had long straight yellow hair hanging about his shoulders and bright shining eyes. He wore no hood, but rode according to the latest fashion, bare-headed except for a small cap.

“Oh, I can preach, good folk,” he continued. “It’s a pity, of course, that I am the greatest sinner against my own text, for I own that all I do is for my own gain. But there, while I can talk so well, and tell merry and comforting tales, why should I live in poverty and make baskets for a living? I like money, woollen clothes to wear, and cheese and wheaten bread to eat. I cannot follow the Apostles’ lead. This life offers too many enjoyments for me, even though widows starve to enrich me!

“But you asked for a tale; and now I’ve loosed my tongue with a drink I’ll tell you one. Although I’m none too good myself, my tale shall be virtuous, and one that I tell from the pulpit.”

With this introduction he began the following tale in a rich musical voice:


“There dwelt once in Flanders a band of young men who indulged in every kind of folly and wickedness. They practised drinking, dicing, swearing, harping and dancing day and night, and in this unhallowed way of life they never thought how they racked anew the poor tortured limbs of our dear Lord Jesus. Brethren, there are many great and grievous sins, but among the most deadly are drunkenness and gluttony, for the glutton makes his belly his God and bows down to that, enslaving the whole world to his appetite. Doth not the scripture say, ‘There walk many enemies of Christ’s cross, whose end is death, because they have made their appetite as their God’? How foul and loathsome a sight is a drunkard! He who is mastered by this horrible habit of drink loses both reason and sense, and all that distinguishes a man from a brute. My dear brethren, keep you from wine, from red wine and white. Remember the teaching of Holy Church; remember how in the days of the Old Testament all great victories were won by men who abstained from strong wines. Remember what history tells of the sad end of those who, overcome by drink, have been foully done to death. Read, mark and learn, my brethren, hear and abstain.

“Beware of gambling and dice and false swearing. How many good men have been undone by these! Doth not the scripture say, ‘Swear not at all’? Yet alas! how many befoul their mouths with blasphemy and besmirch their souls with false oaths. Do you not so, good people. Keep your mouths free from such pollution, look to your lips that they speak no guile.

“And now to my story.

“These three revellers I told you of were one morning early sitting in a tavern when they heard a bell tinkling before a corpse as it was carried out to burial. At this one of them bade his servant go and ask whose it was. But the boy knew already. ‘Sir, it is an old companion of yours and he has been destroyed by a false thief Death, who came upon him as he sat drunk and pierced him through the heart. Indeed, he slays all the people in this district–a good thousand have perished. I would bid you beware.’

“”Tis true,’ said one of them. ‘In a village near he has slain this year all sorts and conditions of men. His habitation is there most likely, we had best beware.’ ‘No,’ said another. ‘It were better to set forth ourselves and slay him. We three will take an oath never to rest, as God will aid us, till we have destroyed Death.’ Then they took this oath and set forth to seek the enemy. They had not gone far along their way when at a stile they met a very old man. He greeted them courteously. ‘Good sir, why are you so old and wretched?’ cried one. ‘Why?’ said the old man. ‘No youth will take on my age in exchange for his youth, nor will my mother earth open to receive me, though I for ever knock on her with my staff.’ Then they asked news of him of Death and he told them that he had left Death just there by the oak tree in the road, and that he surely would abide their coming. On they hurried till they came to the oak tree, and there they found on the ground a pile of bright golden florins, eight bushels or more, it appeared to them. At once they forgot their quest of Death, turned all their thoughts to this wealth and sat them down beside it. The first to speak was the worst scoundrel of the three. ‘Who would have thought that we should have met with such fortune as this? Why, we have here the means of living our whole lives long in enjoyment, if only we can convey this treasure to my house or to one of yours. But we must do it secretly by night, otherwise we shall be accounted thieves and hung for what is our own. My plan is that we draw lots and that he on whom the lot falls go to the city and bring us bread and wine, and the other two keep watch here till nightfall.’

“They drew lots and it fell on the youngest, who leaped up and ran to the town for food and wine. When the other two were left alone together, the one at once began tempting the other. ‘What a life we could live if all this money were divided between us two only,’ he said; ‘and so it could be if you would give me your promise to keep secret the plan I tell you.’ The other agreed. Then said the first, ‘We two are stronger than our comrade. When he returns, make as if to struggle with him in sport and I will run him through with my dagger.’

“Meanwhile, as their friend went to the city, he thought ever and again of the coins and longed to possess the whole pile. At last the Devil sent him an evil idea. He went to the shop of an apothecary. ‘Sir,’ he said,’ I pray you give me some poison for rats. I am overrun with them, and there is also a polecat in my yard that kills my chickens.’ The chemist gave him poison and told him it was so strong that no more than a grain would kill any animal. At this the rascal went and bought three bottles and put poison in two of them. The third he kept clean for his own use, and then he filled up the bottles with wine and made his way back to the others. When he drew near they carried out their plan and stabbed him; but, chancing to take and drink from one of the poisoned bottles, they were killed in their turn.

“O cursed sin, foul ending to lust! Even so do gluttony and avarice lead on to the dread crime of murder. O ye that hear, turn before it is too late from cursing and swearing, dice and covetousness. Think of our Lord who bought us with His precious blood and of whom the world was not worthy; think and repent. Here if you repent and turn from avarice may you buy pardon. Bring up your offerings, crowns, or silver brooches and spoons or rings. Housewives, bring your wool and the High Power will grant you pardon. Here in my roll I write your names as pure as on the day you were born!

“But, gentlemen, there was one point I forgot to mention. I have in my pack as fine pardons and relics as any in England. They bear the Pope’s seal upon them, and if any of you will kneel down and give me your offerings then you may kiss the relics and I will grant you absolution, or, if you prefer, you may buy a fresh pardon at every mile’s end, only, of course, you must make a fresh offering every time!

“It’s really very fortunate for this company that such an experienced pardoner is among you. The risks of the road are so great that at any moment anyone may fall and break his neck, and on such occasions it’s a great help to have had one’s sins adequately pardoned.

“Come, gentle people all. Let the Host begin. His sins enwrap him round. Stand forth, good Host, make your offering and kiss my relics! Why, for a groat you may kiss them all. Unbuckle your purse anon and begin!”

“Go to,” said the Host. “We know your relics! You would have me kiss your dirty old rags. Were they in my hand, I’d fling them into a pig-trough!”

The Pardoner went white with rage, and could not answer a word; but the Host went on, “I’ll have no more dealings with you, nor with any angry man.” We all burst out laughing, for it was obvious that the Pardoner was furious with himself for forgetting that he had exposed himself before telling his tale, and so had lost the chance of reaping money from us for his false relics.

The gentle Knight interposed. “Sir Pardoner,” he said, “no more of this. You were fairly answered. And you, Sir Host, my dear friend, I pray you kiss the Pardoner, and, Pardoner, kiss him in your turn, and let us laugh and go gaily on as we did before.” So they two kissed and were friends again, and we went on our way.

The Wife of Bath had been talking to the Monk in an undertone. Seeing her opportunity in the pause following the Host’s and Pardoner’s quarrel, she addressed the company at large.

“Even if there was no authority to back me, my own experience, I can tell you, would give me the right to speak of the trials of marriage. Why, since I was twelve I have had five wedded husbands, and now I am a widow again I am quite ready to welcome the sixth. God meant me to marry and I shall do my duty; but I shall always rule my husband.”

Here the Pardoner broke in. “I was thinking of taking a wife myself,” he said, “but if the wife is to be master I must think more of the matter.” “Oh! there is worse to come,” she returned. “There is a bitterer draught ere you get to the bottom of this cup.” “Well, tell us your story all the same,” he answered, “and spare no man!” “Why, so I will,” she said, “but let no man be offended. I speak in jest, you know, though the jest may be rather sharp. Well, as I was saying, five husbands have I had, and three were good and two bad. By good, I mean that they were old and rich, and gave themselves up to me body and soul, for they loved me well, and had given me all their property.

“Now for the two of them that were bad. The first bad one was my fourth husband. He was gay; but I tell you I could be gayer, and between us things came to a pretty pass. However, in the end I went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and when I came back it pleased God that he should die, and I buried him as he deserved, and God rest his soul. My fifth was a scholar. He had studied at one time at Oxford and then came to live with a neighbour of mine. I had met him before, but I first really loved him at the funeral. I was weeping, or doing my best to pretend to, and had my handkerchief over my face, but looking out under it I noticed his legs and feet as he was walking along in the procession, and prettier legs, I swear, I never saw. ‘Tis true he was only twenty and I forty, but I was buxom enough and had money and looks. At the end of the month we were married. O dear me, what a life I led with him! It was I who was infatuated this time, alas! I made over to him all my property, and much I repented that. Not one thing would he do that I wished, and worse, he once boxed my ears so hard that I became quite deaf. At the same time I would not give in to him, and though he threatened to leave me and quoted the authority of the ancient Romans for doing so, I stuck to my own way of life.

“And now I’ll tell you why I tore the pages out of his book. He had a book he was always reading and laughing at. A great many authors’ works were bound up in it–Valerius and Theophrastus and a cardinal of Rome named St. Jerome, and other bishops, and Tertullian, also the parables of Solomon and Ovid’s ‘Art of Love.’ They were all tales of wicked wives, and he knew them better than all the stories of virtuous women in the Bible. And of course this is how it would be! All these tales are written by men and scholars. Now if women wrote them, very different they would be.

“Well, as I was saying, one evening he read these to me, Eve and Delilah and the death of Hercules and countless more till I could bear it no longer, so I snatched his book and tore out the pages. Then up he jumped and gave me that blow on the head that I told you of, that made me deaf, and I fell down on the floor as if I was dead. Then he was terrified till I woke a little out of my swoon, when he came near and kneeled down by me and said, ‘Dear sister Alison, forgive me; before God I will never smite thee again. This time it was your own fault as you know.’

“Well, to make a long story short, though it took us a long time, we made an agreement. He gave the management of all the affairs into my hands, and he even burnt his book and was very polite when I was there. So when I had my wish we had no more quarrels, and you would never find a better wife than I made him if you were to search from Denmark to India. Now I will tell my tale.”


In the days of good King Arthur fairies yet danced in England. As yet there were no priests with their blessings to drive them from hall and kitchen, bush and fairy ring. But now, where the elf walked, wanders the begging friar, and women can go out o’ nights and expect no harm.

In those old days a goodly knight once fell into sin through the charms of a lady, and was tried for his crime and condemned to death. But the queen and her ladies begged him from the king, to give him life or death as might seem to them most fitting. After much thought and discussion the queen spoke to him thus: “Sir knight, you know your life is in my hands to save or take as I will. To you I will grant life if you can answer me one question and answer it aright: ‘What is it that woman most desires?’ A year will I give you to find your answer, and at the year’s end you must return to me and suffer the penalty if you fail to answer correctly.”