The Reeve's Tale

The Prologue of the Reeve's Tale.

When folk had laughed at this nice case (3855)
Of Absolon and handy Nicholas,
Diverse folk diversely they said,
But for the most part they laughed and played.
At this tale I saw no man himself grieve,
Except for only Oswald the Reeve. (3860)
Because he was of carpenter's craft,
A little ire was in his heart left;
He began to grouch, and blamed it a little.

"I swear," quoth he, "full well could I you requite
With blearing of a proud miller's eye, (3865)
If I should like to speak of ribaldry.
But I am old; I like not to play for age;
Grass time is done; my fodder is now forage;
This white top writes my old years;
My heart is also molded as my hairs, (3870)
But if I fare as does an open-air vendor -
That the same fruit is ever longer the worse,
Until it be rotten in mullock or in straw.
We old men, I dread, so fare we:
Until we are rotten, we can not be ripe; (3875)
We hop always while the world will pipe.
For in our will there strikes ever a nail,
To have a hoary head and a green tail,
As has a leek; for though our might is gone,
Our will desires folly ever in one. (3880)
For when we may not do, then will we speak;
Yet in our ashes old is a fire over raked.

"Four embers we have, which I shall devise -
Boasting, lying, anger, coveting;
These four sparkle long into age. (3885)
Our old limbs might well be unwieldy,
But will shall not fail, that is truth.
And yet I have always had a colt's tooth,
As many a year as it has passed hence
Since the tap of my life began to run. (3890)
For, truly, when I was born, at once
Death drew the tap of life and let it go on,
And ever since has the tap so run
Until almost all empty is the tonne*. *(cask)
The stream of life now drops on the rim. (3895)
The innocent tongue may well ring and chime
Of wretchedness that is passed long ago;
With old folk, save dotage, there is no more!"

When our Host had heard this sermoning,
He began to speak as highly as a king. (3900)
He said, "What amounts from all this wit?
What shall we speak all day of holy writ?
The devil take a reeve to preach,
Or a cobbler or a shipman or a barber.
Say forth you tale, and tarry not the time.
Lo Deptford, and it is half-way prime!
Lo Greenwich, where many a shrew is in!
It is past time your tale to begin."

"Now, sirs," quoth this Oswald the Reeve,
"I pray you all that you not yourselves grieve, (3910)
Though I answer, and somewhat set his hood;
For it is permissible with force to show force.

"This drunk Miller has told us here
How beguiled was a carpenter,
Maybe in scorn, for I am one. (3915)
And, by your leave, I shall him requite at once;
Right in his churl's terms will I speak.
I pray to God his neck might break;
He can well in my eye see a straw,
But in his own he can not se a beam." (3920)

Here begins the Reeve's Tale.

At Trumpington, not far from Cambridge,
There goes a brook, and over that a bridge,
Upon which brook there stands a mill;
And this honest truth I you tell:
A miller was there dwelling many a day. (3925)
As any peacock he was proud and gay.
He could pipe and fish, and nets mend,
And turn cups, and well wrestle and shoot;
Always by his belt he bore a long rapier,
And of a full sword sharp was the blade. (3930)
A jolly dagger he bore in his pouch;
There was no man, for peril, who dared him touch.
A Sheffield knife he bore in his hose.
Round was his face, with a pug nose;
As bald as an ape was his skull. (3935)
He was a market-beater at full.
There dared no man hand upon him lay,
That he didn't swear he should soon repay.
A thief he was for truth of corn and meal,
And sly at that, and used to stealing. (3940)
His name was called haughty Simkin.
A wife he had, come from noble kin;
The parson of the town her father was.
With her he gave full many a pan of brass,
For Simkin should in his blood ally. (3945)
She was fostered in a nunnery;
For Simkin would have no wife, as he said,
Unless she were well nourished and a maid,
To save his estate of yeomanry.
And she was proud, and impertinent as a magpie. (3950)
A full fair sight it was upon them two;
On holy days before her he would go
With his hood wound about his head,
And she came after in a gown of red;
And Simkin had hose of the same. (3955)
There dared no man to call her but "dame";
Was none so hardy that went by the way
That with her dared rage or once play,
Unless he would be slain by Simkin
With rapier, or with knife, or bodkin. (3960)
For jealous folk are perilous evermore -
At least they would their wives think so.
And also, for she was somewhat sullied,
She was as dignified as water in a ditch,
And full of disdain and scorn. (3965)
She thought that a lady should herself spare,
What for her kindred and her nurture
That she had learned in the nunnery.

A daughter they had between them two
Of twenty years, without any more, (3970)
Saving a child that was of half year age;
In cradle it lay and was a proper boy.
This wench thick and well grown was,
With pug nose and eyes gray as glass,
With buttocks broad and breasts round and high. (3975)
But right fair was her hair; I will not lie.

This parson of the town, for she was fair,
In purpose was to make her as his heir,
Both of his chattel and his house,
And difficult he made it of her marriage. (3980)
His purpose was to bestow her high
Into some worthy blood of ancestry;
For holy church's good must be expended
On holy church's blood, that is descended.
Therefore he would his holy blood honor, (3985)
Though that he holy church should devour.

Great monopoly had this miller, out of doubt,
With wheat and malt of all the land about;
And namely there was a great college
Men called the Solar Hall at Cambridge; (3990)
There was their wheat and also their malt ground.
And on a day it happened, in a time,
Sick lay the manciple on a malady;
Men thought wisely that he should die.
For which this miller stole both meal and corn (3995)
A hundred times more than before;
For before that he stole only courteously,
But now he was a thief outrageously,
For which the warden chided and made fuss.
But thereof set the miller not a weed; (4000)
He blustered fiercely, and swore it was not so.

Then were there young poor scholars two,
That dwelt in this hall, of which I say.
Testy they were, and lusty for play,
And, only for their mirth and revelry, (4005)
Upon the warden busily they cried
To give them leave, but a little time,
To go to the mill and see their corn ground;
And hardily they dared lay their necks
The miller should not steal them half a peck (4010)
Of corn by slight, nor by force them rob;
And at last the warden gave them leave.
John was called one, and Alain called the other;
Of a town they were born, that was called Strother,
Far in the north; I can not tell where. (4015)

This Alain made ready all his gear,
And on a horse the sack he cast at once.
Forth went Alan the clerk, and also John,
With good swords and with shields by their side.
John knew the way - they needed no guide - (4020)
And at the mill the sack down he laid.
Alain spoke first: "All hail, Simon*, in faith! *(Simkin is a nickname for Simon)
How fares your fair daughter and your wife?"

"Alain, welcome," quoth Simkin, "by my life!
And John also, how now, what do you here?" (4025)

"Simon," quoth John, "by God, who has no peer.
He must serve himself that has no swain,
Or else he is a fool, as clerks say.
Our manciple, I think he will be dead,
So ache always the teeth in his head; (4030)
And forth am I come, and also Alain,
To grind our corn and carry it home again;
I pray you speed us hence that you may."

"It shall be done," quoth Simkin, "by my faith!
What will you do while it is in hand?" (4035)

"By God, right by the hopper will I stand,"
Quoth John, "and see how the corn goes in.
Yet saw I never, by my father's kin,
How that the hopper wags to and fro."

Alain answered, "John, and will you so? (4040)
Then I will be beneath, by my crown,
And see how that the meal falls down
Into the trough; that shall be my sport.
For John, in faith, I may be of your sort;
I am as ill a miller as are you." (4045)

The miller smiled at their nicety,
And thought, "All this is nothing but a wile.
They think that no man may them beguile,
But by my thrift, yet shall I blear their eye,
For all the slight in their philosophy. (4050)
The more quaint tricks that they make,
The more will I steal when I take.
Instead of flour yet will I give them bran.
'The greatest clerks are not wisest men,'
As once the wolf thus said to the mare. (4055)
Of all their art I count not a weed."

Out the door he went full privately,
When he saw his time, softly.
He looked up and down until he had found
The clerks' horse, where it stood bound (4060)
Behind the mill, under an arbor;
And to the horse he went fair and well;
He stripped of the bridle right at once.
And when the horse was loose, he began to go
Toward the fen, where the wild mares ran, (4065)
And forth with "wehee," through thick and through thin.

This miller went again, no word he said,
But did his work, and with the clerks played
Until their corn was fair and well ground.
And when the meal was sacked and bound, (4070)
John went out and found his horse away,
And began to cry "Harrow!" and "Wail-away!"
Our horse is lorn, Alain, for God's bones,
Step on your feet! Come of, man, all at once!
Alas, our warden has his palfrey lorn." (4075)
This Alain all forgot, both meal and corn;
All was out of his mind his husbandry.
"What, which way is he gone?" he began to cry.

The wife came leaping inward with a run.
She said, "Alas! your horse goes to the fen (4080)
With wild mares, as fast as he can go.
Curses come on his hand that bound him so,
And he that better should have knit the rein!"

"Alas," quoth John, "Alain, for Christ's pain
Lay down your sword, and I will mine also. (4085)
I am full strong, God knows, as is a roe;
By God's heart, he shall not escape us both!
Why didn't you put the horse in the barn?
Ill hail! By god, Alain, you are a fool!"

These innocent clerks had full fast run (4090)
Toward the fen, both Alain and also John.

And when the miller saw that they were gone,
He half a bushel of their flour had taken,
And bade his wife go knead it in a cake.
He said, "I true the clerks were leery. (4095)
Yet can a miller make a clerk a fool,
For all his art; now let them go their way!
Lo, where he goes! You, let the children play.
They will get him not so lightly, by my crown."

These hapless clerks ran up and down (4100)
With "Keep! Keep! Stand! Stand! Down here, watch behind,
Go whistle you, and I shall keep him here!"
But shortly, until it was truly night,
They could not, though they did all their might,
Their horse catch, he ran always so fast, (4105)
Until in a ditch they caught him at last.

Weary and wet, as a beast is in the rain,
Came poor John, and with him came Alain.
"Alas," quoth John, "the day I was born!
Now are we driven to contempt and to scorn. (4110)
Our corn is stolen; men will us fools call,
Both the warden and our fellows all,
And namely the miller, wail-away!"

Thus complained John as he went by the way
Toward the mill, and Bayard in his hand. (4115)
The miller sitting by the fire he found,
For it was night, and further might they not;
But for the love of God they him besought
Of harboring and of ease, as for their penny.

The miller said again, "If there be any, (4120)
Such as it is, yet you shall have your part.
My house is narrow, but you have learned art;
You can by arguments make a place
A mile broad of twenty feet of space.
Let see now if this place may suffice, (4125)
Or make it room with speech, as is your guise."

"Now, Simon," said John, "by Saint Cuthbert,
Always are you merry, and this is fair answered.
I have heard said, 'Man shall take of two things:
Such as he finds, or take such as he brings.' (4130)
But especially I pray you, host dear,
Get us some meat and drink, and make us cheer,
And we will pay truly at full.
With empty hands men may not hawks lure;
Look, here is our silver, ready to spend." (4135)

This miller into town his daughter sent
For ale and bread, and roasted them a goose,
And bound their horse, it should no more go loose,
And in his own chamber made them a bed,
With sheets and with blankets fair spread (4140)
Not ten or twelve feet from his own bed.
His daughter had a bed, all by herself,
Right in the same chamber by and by.
It might be no better, and why?
There was no roomier harborage in the place. (4145)
They supped and they spoke, them to solace,
And drank ever strong ale at best.
About midnight they went to rest.

Well has this miller varnished his head;
Full pale was he for drunk, and not red. (4150)
He belched, and spoke through the nose
As if he had a hoarse throat, or had a cold.
To bed he went, and with him went his wife.
As any jay was she light and jolly,
So was her jolly whistle wet. (4155)
The cradle at her bed's foot was set,
To rock, and to give the child to suck.
And when that drunken all were in the crock,
To bed the daughter went right at once;
To bed went Alain and also John; (4160)
There was no more, they needed no sleeping draught.
This miller had so surely imbibed ale
That as a horse he snorted in his sleep,
Nor of his tail behind did he take any keep.
His wife bore him a base, one full strong; (4165)
Men might hear her snoring for two furlongs;
The wench snored also, to keep company.

Alain the clerk, who heard this melody,
He poked John, and said, "Do you sleep?
Have you ever heard such a song before now? (4170)
Lo, such a hymn is among them all;
A wild fire upon their bodies fall!
Who heard ever such an amazing thing?
Yea, they shall have the flour of ill ending.
This long night there tides me no rest; (4175)
But yet, no force, all shall be for the best.
For, John," said he, "all ever might I thrive,
If that I may, yonder wench will I shag.
Some ease has law shaped us,
For, John, there is a law that says thus: (4180)
That if a man in a point be aggrieved,
That in another he shall be relieved.
Our corn is stolen, truly, it can't be denied,
And we have had an ill fit all this day;
And since I shall have no amendment (4185)
Against my loss, I will have easement.
By God's sail, it shall not be otherwise!"

This John answered, "Alain, watch yourself!
The miller is a perilous man," he said,
And if that he out of his sleep awoke, (4190)
He might do us both a villainy."

Alain answered, "I count him not a fly."
And up he rose and by the wench he crept.
Until so nigh he was, before she might espy,
That it had been too late to cry, (4195)
And shortly to say, they were conjoined.
Now play, Alain, for I will speak of John.

This John laid full still a moment or two,
And to himself he made pity and woe. (4200)
"Alas," quoth he, "this is a wicked trick;
Now may I say that I am but an ape.
Yet has my fellow something for his harm;
He has the miller's daughter in his arm.
He risked himself, and has his needs sped, (4205)
And I lie as a chaff-sack in my bed;
And when this trick is told another day,
I shall be held daft, a weakling!
I will arise and risk it, by my faith!
'Unhardy is unlucky,' thus men say." (4210)
And up he rose, and softly he went
Unto the cradle, and in his hand took it,
And bore it softly unto his bed's foot.

Soon after this the wife her snoring stopped,
And came awake, and went out to piss, (4215)
And came again, and did her cradle miss,
And groped here and there, but she found none.
"Alas!" quoth she, "I had almost miss-gone;
I had almost gon to the clerk's bed.
Aye, blessings! Then had I foul sped!" (4220)
And forth she went until the cradle she found.
She groped always further with her hand,
And found the bed, and thought nothing but good,
Because the cradle by it stood,
And didn't know where she was, for it was dark; (4225)
But fair and well she crept in to the clerk,
And laid full still, and would have caught a sleep.
Within a while this John the clerk up leaped,
And on this good wife he laid on sore.
So merry a time never had she had for a long time; (4230)
He pricked hard and deep as if he were mad.
This joly life these two clerks led
Until the third cock began to sing.

Alain waxed weary in the dawning,
For he had shagged all the long night, (4235)
And said, "Fare well, Maline, sweet girl!
The day is come; I may no longer bide;
But evermore, where so I go or ride,
I am your won clerk, so have I sworn!"

"Now, dear sweetheart," quoth she, "go, fare well! (4240)
But before you go, one thing I will you tell:
When you wend homeward by the mill,
Right at the entry of the door behind
You shall a cake of half a bushel find
That was made of your own meal, (4245)
Which I helped my sire to steal.
And, good sweetheart, God save you and keep!"
And with that word almost she began to weep.

Alain up rose, and thought, "Before it is dawn,
I will go creep in by my fellow,"
And found the cradle with his hand at once.
"By God," though he, "All wrong have I miss-gone.
My head is dizzy of my shag tonight,
That makes it so I go not right.
I know well by the cradle that I have miss-gone; (4255)
Here lies the miller and his wife also."
And forth he went, in the name of twenty devils,
Unto the bed where the miller lay.
He thought to have crept by his fellow John,
And by the miller in he crept at once, (4260)
And caught him by the neck, and soft he spoke.
He said, "You John, you swine's-head, awake,
For Christ's soul, and hear a noble game.
For by that lord that is called Saint James,
As I have thrice in this short night (4265)
Shagged the miller's daughter bolt upright,
While you have, as a coward been aghast."

"You, false harlot," quoth the miller, "has?
Ah, false traitor! False Clerk!" quoth he,
"You shall be dead, by God's dignity! (4270)
Who dares be so bold as to disparage
My daughter, who is come of such lineage?"
And by the Adam's apple he caught Alain,
And he took him dispiteously again,
And on the nose he smote him with his fist. (4275)
Down ran the bloody stream upon his breast;
And in the floor, with nose and mouth broken,
The wallowed as do two pigs in a poke;
And up they went, and down again at once,
Until that the miller stumbled at a stone, (4280)
And down he fell backward upon his wife,
That knew nothing of this nice strife;
For she was fallen asleep a little while
With John the clerk, who had waked all the night,
And with the fall out of her sleep she started up. (4285)
"Help! holy cross of Bromeholm," she said,
"In manus tuas*! Lord, to thee I call! *(into your hands)
Awake, Simon! The fiend is on me fallen.
My heart is broken; help! I am not but dead!
There lies one upon my womb and on my head. (4290)
Help, Simkin, for the false clerks fight!"

This John stirred up as fast as ever he might,
And grasped by the walls to and fro,
To find a staff; and she stirred up also,
And knew the house better than did this John, (4295)
And by the wall a staff she found at once,
And saw a little shimmering of a light,
For at a hole the moon shone in bright,
And by that light she saw them both two,
But truly she didn't know who was who, (4300)
But as she saw a white thing in her eye.
And when she began this white thing to espy,
She though the clerk had worn a nightcap,
And with the staff she drew always nearer and dearer,
And believed she had hit this Alain at the full, (4305)
And smote this miller on the bald skull,
That down he went, and cried, "Harrow, I die!"
These clerks beat him well and let him lie,
And dressed themselves, and took their horse at once,
And also their meal, and on their way they were gone. (4310)
And at the mill yet they took their cake
Of half a bushel of flour, full well baked.

Thus is the proud miller well beaten,
And has lost the grinding of the wheat,
And payed for the supper every bit (4315)
Of Alain and of John, who beat him well.
His wife is shagged, and his daughter also.
Lo, such it is a miller to be false!
And therefore this proverb is said in full truth,
"He will not win well that evil does." (4320)
A guiler shall himself beguiled be.
And God, who sits in high majesty,
Save all this company, great and small!
Thus have I requited the Miller in my tale.

Here is ended the Reeve's tale.

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