Geoffrey Chaucer.

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soon pass." And you will answer, " Hail, Master Nick ! Good
morrow, I see you well, it is daylight now ! ' And then we
shall be lords over all the world till we die, even as Noah and
his wife !

c But one thing I warn you of strictly. Be well avised on
that night when we be entered aboard ship that none of us
speaks a word, nor calls nor cries, but we must be in our prayers.
For that is God's own precious command. And your wife and
you must hang far apart, that there be no folly betwixt you, any
more in looking than in act. Now all this device is told you ;
go, and God speed you ! To-morrow at night, when folks are
all abed, we will creep into our kneading-tubs and sit there, await-
ing God's grace. Go your way now, I have no time to make
longer sermoning of this. Men say thus : " Send the wise and
say nothing." You are so wise it needs not teach you. Go,
save our lives, I entreat.'

This simple carpenter went his way with full many an
* alack ! ' and c alas ! ', and told the secret to his wife. And she
was wary, and knew better than he what all this quaint device
was about. But nevertheless she fared as if she should die, and
said, ' Alas ! go your way at once and help us to escape, else we
are all lost ; I am your true, faithful wedded wife. Go, dear
spouse, and help to save us ! '

Lo, how great a thing is feeling ! Men may die of imagina-
tion, so deep may the impression be. This simple fellow began
to quake ; he thought verily he could hear Noah's flood come
wallowing like the sea to drown Alison his honey sweeting; he
wept, wailed and made sorry cheer, and sighed with many a
sorry gust. He went and got him a kneading-trough, and
after that a tub and a cask, sent them privily to his house and


hung them in the roof. With his own hand he made three
ladders, to climb by the rungs and uprights into the tubs hanging
amongst the beams ; and victualed tub and trough and cask
with bread and cheese, and good ale in a great vessel, right
sufficient for a day. But ere he had made all this gear, he sent
his boy and eke his wench to London about his business. And
as it drew toward night on the Monday, he lit no candle, but
shut the door and ordered all things as they should be ; and, in
brief, up they all three climbed, and sat still whilst a man could
walk a furlong.

'Now mum, and say a pater noster!' said Nick; and
( Mum ! ' quoth John, and c Mum ! ' Alison. This carpenter
sat still and said his prayers, ever listening for the rain, if he
could hear it.

The dead sleep, for very weariness and apprehension, fell on
this carpenter even about curfew-time or a little later, as I sup-
pose ; he groaned sorely in the travail of his spirit, and eke
snored, for his head lay uneasily. Down the ladder stalked
Nicholas, and Alison sped down full softly ; and they were in
mirth and glee, till the bells began to sound for lauds, and friars
in the chancel began to sing.

This parish-clerk, amorous Absalom, alway so woe-begone
for love, was at Oseney upon that Monday to divert him and
make merry, with a party ; and by chance he privily asked a
cloister-monk after John the carpenter. The monk drew him
aside out of the church. ' I wot not,' he said; ' I have not seen
him work here since Saturday ; I trow he be gone where our
abbot has sent him for timber. For he is wont to go for timber
and remain at the grange a day or two. Or else he is at home,
certainly. In sooth I cannot say where he is.'

This Absalom waxed full merry of heart, and thought, ( Now
is the time to wake all night, for certainly since daybreak I have
not seen him stirring about his door. On my soul, at cockcrow
I shall knock full privily at his casement which stands low upon
his chamber-wall. To Alison now will I tell the whole of my
love-longing, and now I shall not fail at the least to have a kiss
from her. I shall have some sort of comfort, in faith. My
mouth has itched all day long; that is a sign of kissing at least.
All night eke I dreamed I was at a festival. Therefore I wil]


go sleep an hour or two, and then I will wake all night in

When the first cock had crowed, up rose this frisky lover,
and arrayed him in his gayest with all nicety. But first he
chewed cardamoms and licorice to smell sweetly, ere he had
combed his hair, and put a true-love charm under his tongue,
for thereby he hoped to find favor. He rambled to the carpen-
ter's house, and stood still under the casement, which was so low
it reached to his breast. He gave a soft half-cough, ' What do
you, sweet Alison, honeycomb ? My fair bird, my darling !
Awake, sweet cinnamon, and speak to me. You think right
little upon my sorrow, who sweat for your love wherever I go !
No wonder though I languish and sweat ! I mourn like a lamb
after the dug. In faith, darling, I have such love-longing that
I mourn like the true turtle-dove. I cannot eat, no more than
a maiden.'

' Go from the window, Jack-fool,' quoth she. * On my soul,
there will be no singing

" Come buss me now."

I love another better than you, by heaven, Absalom, and else I
were at fault. Go your ways, or I will cast a stone at you, and
let me sleep, in the Devil's name ! '

c Alas ! ' quoth he. ' Alackaday that true love was ever so ill
bestowed ! '

j* I !j- 5j If* Sjt Jj!

This Absalom walked slowly across the street to a smith
men called Master Gervase, who smithied plough-instruments at
his forge. He was busily sharpening coulter and share when
Absalom knocked full gently and said, ' Undo, Gervase, and
that anon.'

' What ! Who are you ? '

1 It is me, Absalom.'

f What, Absalom ! By the rood, why rise ye so early ?
Eh, beneditite ! What ails you? Some gay girl, God wot, has
brought you so early astir. By Saint Neot, you wot well what
I mean ! '

This Absalom recked not a peascod for all his mocking, and
returned not a word in kind. He had more tow on his distaff


than Gervase knew, and said, c Dear friend, that hot coulter in
the chimney lend it me, I have somewhat to do with it ;
and I will bring it you straightway again.'

' Certes,' answered Gervase, c were it gold or nobles in a poke
all uncounted, you should have it, as I am a faithful smith ! Eh,
the Devil, what will ye do with it ? '

{ That is as it may be,' quoth Absalom. * I shall tell you
to-morrow-day ; ' and he caught the coulter by the cool handle.

Full softly he stole out at the door and went to the wall of
the carpenter's house. He coughed first, and knocked withal
upon the window, as he did before.

( Who is there that knocks so ? ' Alison answered. ' I
warrant it a thief! '

' Why nay,' quoth he, c God wot, my sweeting, I am your
Absalom, my sweetheart. I have brought you a ring of gold ;
my mother gave it me, on my life ! It is full fine and well
graven withal. This I will give you if you kiss me ! '

This Nicholas thought he would amend all the sport ; he
should kiss him ere he escaped ! Back he put the window in
haste, and out he put himself. Thereupon spoke this clerk
Absalom, ' Speak, sweet bird, I wot not where thou art ; ' and
then he was ready with his hot iron and smote Nicholas there-

Off went the skin a hand-breadth about, the hot coulter so
burned him, and for the pain he thought he should die. ' Help!
Water, water ! Help, help, for God's sake ! ' he cried like one

The carpenter started out of his slumber ; he heard one cry
wildly ' Water ! ', and thought, c Alas ! now comes Nowell's flood ! '
He sat up without a word, and with his axe smote the cord a-two,
and down went tub and all ; they stopped for nothing till they
came to the floor, and there he lay in a swoon.

Up started Alison and Nick, and cried c Help ! ' and ' Alack!'
in the street. The neighbors young and old ran to stare upon him
as he lay yet in a swoon, for with the fall he had broken his arm.
But he must even digest his own trouble, for when he spoke he was
overborne by Alison and gentle Nicholas. They told every
man he was mad, he was aghast so of ' Nowell's flood ' in his
fantasy, that of his folly he had bought him three kneading-tubs


and had hung them above in the roof; and had prayed them for
God's sake to sit with him in the roof, par compagnie. Folks
laughed at his odd quirk ; into the roof they peered and gaped,
and turned all his trouble into mirth. For whatsoever the car-
penter answered, it was all for naught ; no man heard his speeches,
he was so sworn down by the great oaths of the others that in
all the city he was held as mad. Every clerk anon held with
every other clerk : ' the man is mad, my dear brother ! ' And
every wight laughed over this contention.

Thus the carpenter lost his wife, for all his watching and
jealousy ; and Nicholas was sore burned. This tale is done, and
God save all the company !

Here endeth the Miller his Tale.

The Prologue of the Reeve's Tale.

When folks had laughed at this plight of Absalom and of
gentle Nicholas, sundry folk said sundry things, but for the
more part they laughed and made merry over the tale, nor saw I
any man take it ill except only Oswald the Reeve. Because he
was of his trade a carpenter, a little ire was yet lingering in his
heart, and he began to grumble and to censure it a little.

' By my soul, I could pay 'ee back full well,' quoth he, f with
a tale about the hoodwinking of a bold miller, if I would speak
of ribaldry. But I be old, I list not make sport ; grass-time is
over, all my fodder now is hay ; this white pate writes me down
an old man, and my heart is as dried up as my hair, if I be
not like a medlar, that ever grows softer and worse till it lie
rotten amongst muck or straw. We old men, I doubt, we fare
even so, we cannot ripen till we be rotten. We hop ever whilst
the world will pipe to us, for ever it sticks in our desire
to have a hoar head and a green tail, as has a leek. Though
our might be gone, ever alike our will hankers after folly, for
when we cannot do it yet will we talk of it. Still is the fire
there, raked over in our old ashes. We have four burning coals,
boasting, lying, anger and covetousness ; these four sparks
belong to age. In very deed, for all that our old limbs may be


feeble, our desire fails us not. Ever I have kept my colt's-tooth,
many a year as is passed since my tap of life began to run.
Verily, when I was born, Death drew out the tap of life and let
it run, and ever since has it so run till now the cask is wellnigh
empty. The stream of life now trickles in upon the rim. The
poor old tongue may well chime and ring of wretchedness long
past ; with old folk naught is left save dotage.'

When our Host had heard this homily, he began to speak
as lordly as a king. ' Why all this wisdom ? ' he said. ' Are
we to talk all day of Holy Writ? Dally not with the time;
the Devil made a shipman or a doctor out of a cobbler, and the
Devil made a reeve to preach. Tell forth your tale. Lo Dept-
ford, and it is half-way prime ; lo Greenwich, where is many a
rascal ! It were fully time to begin your tale.'

f Now, sirs, I pray you all not to take it ill,' quoth this Os-
wald the Reeve, ' though I answer this Miller with a gibe or
flout. For it is lawful for a man to shove off force with force.
This drunken Miller has told us here how a carpenter was be-
guiled, peradventure in mockery, because I am one. And by
your leave I shall forthwith requite him, even in his own churl's
language. I pray God, may his neck break ! He can well see
a stick in mine eye, but cannot see a beam in his own.'

Here beginneth the Reeve's Tale.

At Trumpington, not far from Cambridge, there goes a brook
over which stand a bridge and a mill ; and this is very truth that
I tell you. Long time there dwelt there a miller, as proud and
gay as any peacock. He could fish and mend nets and turn
cups on a lathe, pipe and wrestle well and shoot ; he wore by his
belt a full sharp-bladed sword, and a long cutlass, and in his
pouch he carried a jolly dagger. There was no man durst touch
him for the peril ! And eke in his hose he carried a Sheffield
knife. His skull was as bald as an ape's, round was his face and
his nose a pug. He was a notable swaggerer at markets ; there
durst no wight lay hand on him but he swore he should pay
dear for it. He was a thief of corn and meal, and that a sly and
unwearying, in very sooth. His name was called Bully Simkin.


He had a wife, of gentle blood ; the parson of the town was her
father, who gave as her dowry many a brazen pan, that Simkin
might marry into his kin. She had been brought up in a nun-
nery ; Simkin would have no wife, he affirmed, but she were well
nurtured and a maiden, for the sake of his honor as a yeoman. And
she was proud and pert as a magpie. A full fair sight were the
two together on holy days ; he would walk before her with the
tail of his hood wound about his head, and she came after in a
scarlet petticoat, and Simkin wore hose of the like. No wight
durst call her aught but { dame ' ; no man so bold walked by the
way that durst once trifle or dally with her, unless he would be
slain by Simkin with cutlass or knife or dagger. For jealous
folk are evermore perilous; leastways they would have their
wives believe so. And eke, because she was somewhat smirched
in her name, she was as repellent as water in a ditch, and full of
disdain and of insolence. She thought ladies should treat her
with respect, what with her gentle kin and her elegance that she
had learned in the nunnery.

They had betwixt them a daughter twenty years old, and
no other children save one of six months ; it lay in a cradle, and
was a proper lad. This wench was stout and well grown, with
broad hips and round high breast, and a pug-nose and eyes gray
as glass. Right pretty was her hair, I will not deny it. Because
she was comely, the parson of the town purposed to make her
his heir, both of his movable property and his house, and full
nice and captious he was about her marriage ; his purpose was
to bestow her well, into some family of exalted lineage and blood.
For Holy Church's goods must be spent on the blood that is
descended from Holy Church; therefore he meant to dignify
his holy blood, though to do so he should devour Holy

A great toll, of a surety, did this miller collect on the wheat
and malt from all the land round about. And chiefest there was
a great college that men call King's Hall at Cambridge, all the
wheat and malt for which were ground by him. It happened on
a day that the manciple of the college fell sick of some malady ;
men deemed that surely he could never recover. Wherefore
this miller stole of the meal and corn a hundred times more than
aforetime ; of old he stole but courteously, but now he was an


outrageous plunderer. Thereat the warden chid and made much
ado, but the miller recked not a straw, and blustered and said it
was not so.

Now there dwelt in this Hall that I tell of two young poor
clerks ; bold and headstrong they were, and lusty in sport, and
only for the frolic of it they begged eagerly of the warden to
grant them a leave for but a little while to go to the mill and
see their corn ground ; and verily they would wager their heads
the miller should not steal half a peck of corn from them by
cunning, nor plunder from them by force. And at last the
warden gave them leave. John one of them was named, and the
second Alan. They were born in the same town, that was
called Strother, far in the north, I cannot tell where.

This Alan, the clerk, made ready all that he must take, cast
the sack of corn over a horse, and forth he went with John, and
good swords and bucklers by their thighs. John knew the way,
they needed no guide, and at the mill door he laid down the sack.
Alan spoke first : ' All hail, Simon, in faith ! How fares your
wife, and your fair daughter ? '

'Alan, welcome, by my head!' quoth Simkin. 'And John
too ! How now, what do you at Trumpington ? '

' Simon,' replied John, 'by God, need has na peer. It be-
hooves him serve himself that has na swain, as clerks say, or
else he is a fool. I trow our manciple will die anon, so the
jaws waggle in his head. And therefore I is come with Alan to
grind our corn and carry it home. I pray you speed us hence
as fast as you may.'

' In faith it shall be done,' quoth Simkin. ' What will you
do whilst it is in hand ? '

' By God, I will be here right by the hopper,' quoth John,
'and see how that the corn gaes in. By my father's soul, I
never yet saw how that the hopper wags till and fra.'

' And will you swa ? ' answered Alan. ' Then by my pate I
will be beneath, and see how that the meal falls down into the
trough ; that sail be my disport. In faith, John, I must be of
your class, I is as ill a miller as you.'

This miller smiled at their simplicity. 'All this is but done
for a fetch,' he thought ; ' they deem no man can beguile them.
But I vow by my trade, for all the craft in their philosophy, I


shall blear their eyes yet. The more cunning wiles they put on,
the more I will take when I steal. I shall give them bran yet in
the place of flour.

"The greatest clerks be not the wisest men,"

as the mare once said to the wolf. I care not a peascod for their

Out at the door he privily went when he saw his time. He
looked up and down till he found the clerks' horse where he
stood tied undei an arbor behind the mill ; and went softly to
the horse and anon stripped off the bridle. And when the horse
was loose, forth he started with a < Wehee ! ' through thick and
thin toward the fen, where wild mares were running.

This miller went back; not a word he said, but did his busi-
ness and chaffed with the clerks till their corn was ground all
fair and well. And when the meal was sacked and fastened, this
John went out and found his horse gone, and began to cry,

* Help ! Alackaday, our horse is lost ! Alan, for God's sake, man,
step on your feet, come out at once ! Alas, our warden has lost
his palfrey ! '

This Alan forgot all his thrifty mood ; clean out of his mind
went meal and corn and all, and he began to cry, ' What ! whilk
way is he gane ? '

The goodwife came leaping in with a run. ' Alas ! ' she said,

* your horse is going to the fen with wild mares, as fast as he can
gallop. Bad luck on his hand that bound him so ill, and should
have knit the rein better.'

4 Alas ! ' quoth John. c By the rood, Alan, lay down your
sword, and I will mind alswa. I is full nimble, God wot, as a
deer. By God ! he sail not escape us baith. Why had you not
pit the nag in the barn? Ill luck to thee, Alan, thou is a

These poor clerks ran full hard toward the fen, both Alan
and John. And when the miller saw they were off, he took half a
bushel of their flour, and bade his wife go and knead it in a loaf.
' I trow the clerks were afeared what I might do. Yet can a mil-
ler,' he said, ' trim a clerk's beard for all his art ; now let them
go where they will. Lo where they go ! By my pate, they get
him not so lightly. Yea, let the children play ! '


poor clerks ran up and down, with Whoa, whoa ! Gee !

Stop ? to P ' "^ a ' ^^ out behind ! Gae whistle you whilst
I head ^ im ^ here ' But in brief, till it was dark night, with

all thef r P ower ^ey cou ld not catcn tne i r na g> he ran alway so
fast til^ at ^ en gth they caught him in a ditch.

'w e :t an d weary, like a beast in the rain, came poor John and
Alan v' 1 ^ ki m - 'Alack the day I was born!' quoth John.
< N ow we are brought till mockery and derision. Our corn is
stolen men W ^ Ca ^ us ^^ s ' baith the warden and all our friends,
and ch'i e ^ est t ^ ie m ^ en Alack the day ! ' Thus John lamented
as he w a ^ ec ^ a ^ on S the road toward the mill, leading Bayard by
the brif^ 6 ' ^ e ^ oun< ^ t h miller sitting by the fire, for it was

i They could go no further then, but besought him for
nignt. r r* j i i i /-

the lov e t0 & lve them lodging and entertainment, for

their nce '

t jY there be any,' the miller replied, ' such as it is, you shall
have v? ur P art * n ' ltm ^^ house is strait; but you have
studied book-learning, you know how to make twenty foot of
space a i 71 ^ 6 ^ roa< ^ ty arguments. Let see now if this house may
suffice P r ma k- e ^ bigger by talking, as you clerks do.'

< ]y c )W > Simon,' said John, ' thou is ever merry, by Saint

Cuthber tj an< ^ t ^ lat was ^ r ^Y a nswered. I have heard say a
n take ane of the twa, such-like as he finds or such-like as

Illctn ball i, 11 T i

he brinp 8 ' specially 1 pray thee, dear host, get us some

meat an ^" n ^ an< ^ ma ^ e us some cheer, and we will pay faith-
fully an? f u ^y- M en lure no hawks with empty hand ; lo here

/ M sr all ready to spend ! '
our silv< -11 j u j L- j i r

q-i ? miller despatched his daughter into town for ale and

bread a nc * roaste< ^ a g oose for them, and secured their horse so
that it s h u ld go astray no more. He made them a bed in his
own ch/ m ^ er> ^" r ty dight with sheets and blankets, only eight
foot or t' en ^ rom ^^ S own ^ ec ^' ^^ s ^ au ghter had a bed to her-
self ngn*" ^ n t ' ie same chamber and full near ; it could be no other,
and rea< 50n w ^' because there was no more room in the place.
Thev si l PP ec * anc ^ ta ^ ec ^ an d disported them, and drank ever
deeper c t ^ le stron a ^ e > an< ^ a bout midnight went to rest.

^ WeP ^ ac * t hi miller varnished his head with the beer, and
had drui^ himself all pale when he went to bed. He hiccoughed
and spor e t h rou gh his nose as if he had a rheum or a hoarse-


ness. To bed went his wife eke, as light and frisky as any jay,
so well had she wet her jolly whistle. The cradle was put at
her bed's foot, that she might rock it and nurse the child. And
when all that was in the crock had been drunk, anon the daughter
went to bed ; and to bed went Alan and John. None of them
took aught else, they needed no opiate ! Verily, so had the miller
bibbed his ale that he snorted in his sleep as a horse. His wife
bore him the bass, a full strong one ; men might have heard their
snoring two furlongs away. The wench snored eke, par

Alan the clerk, hearing all this tunefulness, poked John and
said, ' Sleeps thou ? Heard thou ever such-like a sang ere this ?
Lo, whilk a compline they are singing amongst them, Saint
Antony's fire fall on their bodies ! Wha hearkened ever to such-
like a marvellous thing ? Yea, may they come to the worst of
bad ends! This lang night I sail get na sleep; but yet na
matter, all sail be for the best. For, John, swa may I ever
thrive, some easement the law allows us. For, John, there is a
law says that gif a man be harmed in ane point, he sail be
relieved in another. Our corn is stolen, without a doubt, and
all day we have had an ill fit ; and since all that cannot be
remedied, I sail have some easement to countervail my loss.
By my sawl, it sail be nane otherwise ! '

' Have a care, Alan,' John answered. The miller is a
parlous man, and gif he started out of his sleep he might do
us baith a shrewd turn.'

* I count him not a fly,' Alan replied, and up he rose.

John lay still whilst a man might walk a furlong or two ;
then he arose and went softly unto the cradle, took it in his hands
and bore it quietly unto his bed's foot.

About dawn, when the third cock began to sing, the miller's
daughter said to Alan, * One thing I will tell you. When you
pass the mill going homeward, even at the entrance behind the
door you will find a loaf that was made of half a bushel of your
own meal, which I helped my father to take. And now, good


friend, God save and keep you ! ' And with that word she
wellnigh wept.

Alan thought, c Ere it be day I will go creep in by my
fellow; ' and anon his hand touched the cradle. ' By God,' he
thought, c I have misgone all wrangly ; my head is all giddy
to-night, and therefore I walk not straight. I wot well by the
cradle, here lie the miller and his wife, and I have misgone.'

And with the Devil's own luck, forth he went to the bed
where the miller lay. He thought to have crept in by his
fellow John, and he crept in by the miller and caught him by
the neck, and said softly, ' Thou John, thou swine's-head, awake,
and hear a noble sport, for thy father's soul ! '

'Yea, false knave!' quoth the miller. 'Ah, false traitor,
false clerk ! You shall die, by God's dignity ! ' And he caught
Alan by the throat. Alan caught him in turn furiously, and

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