One time in Saint Denis a merchant dwelled
And he was well to do, for which men held
Him wise. He had a beauteous wife, and she
Was sociable and fond of revelry–
The kind of thing that creates more expense 5
Than justified by all the reverence
That men show women at their feasts and dances;
Their courtly gestures in such circumstances
Pass like a shadow on the wall. And woe
To him who has to finance all the show! 10
The simple husband, always he must pay;
He has to clothe us, keep us in array
(His honor served, although expensively),
In which array we dance with jollity;
And if he can’t, by some course of events, 15
Or doesn’t wish to go to such expense
Because he thinks it’s money wasted, lost,
Then must another take care of our cost
Or lend us gold, and that’s a dangerous road.
This noble merchant had a fine abode, 20
To which some folks so often would repair
(Because of his largess and wife so fair)
It was a wonder. Listen to my tale.
Among his guests, who ranged the social scale,
There was a monk, a fair man and a bold– 25
He was, I think, then thirty winters old–
Who was forever visiting the place.
This youthful monk who was so fair of face
Had grown so well acquainted with the man
That since the day their friendship first began 30
He was as much a frequent sight to see
In this man’s house as any friend could be.
And inasmuch as both this worthy man
And this young monk of whom I’ve told began
Their lives in the same village, cause therein 35
The monk had found to claim that they were kin;
This made the merchant, far from saying “Nay,”
As glad as any fowl is come the day;
For it gave to his heart great pleasure, pride,
To be so knit, eternally allied, 40
And each one strove the other to assure
Of brotherhood while their lives may endure.
Don John the monk was free about expense
There in that house, for with all diligence
He sought to please, whatever cost begotten. 45
Whenever he would visit, not forgotten
Would be the lowest page, by their degree
He’d give the lord and all his company,
When he would come, some proper gift. For this,
His visits made them all as full of bliss 50
As is the fowl to see the rising sun.
No more of this, enough is said and done.
This merchant, it befell, one certain day
Made plans to travel, readied his array;
Toward the town of Bruges he was to fare 55
Where he would buy a portion of his ware.
And so he sent to Paris right away
A servant to Don John the monk, to pray
He come to Saint Denis, a day or more
To sport there with him and his wife before 60
The merchant would to Bruges be starting out.
This noble monk whom I have told about
Got from his abbot the desired permission
In view of his discretion and position
(An officer whose job it was to ride 65
About the barns and granges far and wide),
And so he came at once to Saint Denis.
A kinder welcome there could never be
Than that for our Don John, dear kinsman! Wine
The monk had brought–Italian sweet and fine, 70
Also a jug of malmsey–on his jaunt,
And fowls he brought as well, as was his wont.
To food and drink and play I let them go,
This merchant and this monk, a day or so.
This merchant on the third day then arose; 75
Reflecting on finances, up he goes
Into his counting house, where all alone
He calculates how well the year has gone–
Where at the time stood his financial health,
How he had spent what portion of his wealth, 80
If his accounts showed some increase or none.
His books and bags (and he had many a one)
He laid before him on his counting board,
So rich the treasure he had there to hoard
That he securely shut the chamber door, 85
That not one man might interrupt his chore
While he was counting there behind the lock.
That’s how he sat till after nine o’clock.
Don John, that morning up early as well,
Was in the garden, strolling there a spell 90
And saying his devotions decorously.
Now this good wife came walking quietly
Into the garden; there upon their meeting,
As she had often done, she gave him greeting.
There was a maiden walking by her side 95
Of whom she was the governess and guide;
She was a child still subject to the rod.
“Dear cousin John,” this good wife said, “my God,
What’s ailing you, so early to arise?”
“Niece, it’s enough,” said he, “to realize 100
A good five hours’ sleep on any night–
Unless a person’s old with little might,
Like many a cowering husband lying there
As in a burrow sits a weary hare,
Distraught, hounds big and little on his tail. 105
But why, dear niece, have you become so pale?
I would believe for sure that our good man
So labored with you since the night began
You’d need to have a rest, and hastily!”
And with those words the monk laughed merrily, 110
His own thoughts having left him blushing red.
But this fair wife began to shake her head
And gave a sigh. “Aye, God knows all,” said she.
“My cousin, no, it stands not so with me;
For by that God who gave me soul and life, 115
In all the realm of France there is no wife
Who gets less pleasure from that sorry play.
Though I may sing ‘Alas, alack the day
That I was born,’ there is no one,” said she,
“To whom I dare tell how it stands with me. 120
That’s why I think at times to leave this land
Or else to end it all by my own hand,
So filled I am with dread, so full of care.”
The monk then gave this wife a startled stare.
“Alas, my niece, now God forbid,” he said, 125
“That you should for some sorrow or for dread
Destroy yourself! Explain to me your grief;
Perhaps I may suggest then some relief,
Give help or counsel. Therefore let me know,
I won’t repeat a thing about your woe; 130
Upon this breviary I now swear
That never in my life for foul or fair
Shall any of your secrets I betray.”
“The same to you,” she answered, “shall I say.
By God and by that breviary I swear 135
That though to bits my body men may tear
I never shall, though I may go to hell,
Betray a word of anything you tell–
Not just because we’re allied or related,
But truly in good faith and love,” she stated. 140
And so the two had sworn, and kissed each other,
And told just what they pleased to one another.
She said, “My cousin, if I had the space
(Which time I do not have, not in this place),
I’d tell you the sad story of my life, 145
What I have suffered since I’ve been a wife
Here with my spouse, although he’s kin to you.”
“By God and by Saint Martin, that’s not true,”
The monk replied, “he’s no more kin to me
Than is a leaf that hangs here on the tree! 150
I’ve called him that, by Saint Denis of France,
That I might thereby have a better chance
To know you, whom I’ve loved especially
Above all other women, truthfully.
To that I swear upon my sacred vow. 155
Before he comes, tell me your grievance now,
Then be off on your way immediately.”
“O my Don John, my dear love,” answered she,
“How willingly this counsel I would hide,
But it must out, I can no more abide. 160
My husband has been to me the worst man
That ever was since first the world began.
But since I am a wife, I shouldn’t be
Telling a soul about our privacy,
Not that in bed nor in whatever place. 165
The Lord forbid I tell it, for his grace!
A wife should always say about her mate
Nothing but good, as I appreciate–
Except to you this much I dare to say:
God help me, he’s not worth in any way 170
The value of a fly, not one degree.
And yet what grieves me most? He’s niggardly.
For women, as you know, by natural bent
Desire six things and I’m no different;
We’d all have every husband be for us 175
Hardy and wise and rich and generous
And pliant to his wife and good in bed.
But by that very Lord who for us bled,
To honor him and purchase my array
This coming Sunday I will have to pay 180
A hundred francs or else I am forlorn.
Yet I would rather never have been born
Than be involved in scandal or disgrace,
And if my husband saw such taking place
I’d be but lost. And so to you I pray, 185
Lend me this sum, or else I die today.
Don John, I beg, lend me these hundred francs;
I will not fail to render you my thanks
If you will do for me that which I ask.
I’ll pay you back someday–whatever task 190
You may require, whatever service, pleasure
That I may do, I’ll let you set the measure.
If I do not, God’s vengeance on me, John,
As foul as that of France’s Ganelon.”
This gentle monk then answered in this fashion: 195
“Now truly, my dear lady, such compassion
I feel for you,” he said, “so great a ruth,
That I now swear, I promise you in truth,
That when your spouse to Flanders starts to fare,
That’s when I shall deliver you from care, 200
For I will bring to you the hundred francs.”
And with that word he caught her by the flanks,
Embraced her hard, and kisses on her rained.
“Now go your way,” he said, “but be restrained,
Don’t make a sound. And see that soon we dine; 205
The sundial says that it’s already nine.
Go now, and be as true as I shall be.”
“Naught else or God forbid, sir,” answered she.
As jolly as a magpie, off she bustled
To bid the cooks make haste, to see they hustled, 210
So that the folks might dine without delay.
Up to her husband then she made her way,
She knocked upon the locked door hardily.
“Qui lа?” he asked. “By Peter! it is me,”
She answered. “What, sir! How long will you fast? 215
How long must all your calculations last,
Such tallying of sums and books and things?
The devil take,” she said, “such reckonings!
For sure you have enough gifts from the Lord;
Come down today, let be the bags you hoard. 220
Do you not feel ashamed that dear Don John,
From fasting all the day, grows weak and wan?
Now let’s go hear a mass and then we dine.”
“Wife,” said the man, “you little can divine
The care and trouble of this occupation. 225
Among us merchants–God be my salvation,
As I swear by the lord they call Saint Ive–
Of any twelve there’s scarcely two who thrive
Into their latter years. We should with grace
Then look our best, put on a happy face, 230
Pass through this world however rough it be,
And manage our affairs in privacy
Until we’re dead–or else as pilgrims go
Somewhere to get away from folks we owe.
To keep right up-to-date, then, is for me, 235
In this strange world, a great necessity;
We merchants have to keep a cautious eye
On chance and fortune as we sell and buy.
“At dawn I head for Flanders, and I plan
To come back home as quickly as I can. 240
And therefore, my dear wife, I pray that you
Will gracious be to all, show meekness, too,
And take good care of all our property,
And govern well our house and honorably.
In every shape and form you’ll have the stuff 245
That for a thrifty household is enough;
You’ll lack no clothes or food of any sort,
The silver in your purse will not run short.”
With that he shut the counting house’s door
And went downstairs, he didn’t linger more. 250
A mass was said, a hasty celebration,
Then tables set without procrastination,
And they sat down at once to break the bread.
This monk was by this merchant richly fed.
After dinner, Don John with gravity 255
This merchant took aside, and privately
He said to him, “My cousin, well I know,
The way things stand, to Bruges you have to go.
God and Saint Austin speed you there and guide!
I pray that wisely, cousin, you will ride; 260
Watch carefully your diet, when you eat
Be temperate, especially in this heat–
No need that we be formal, as if strangers.
Farewell, my cousin, God shield you from dangers!
And if there’s anything by day or night, 265
If it lies in my power and my might,
That you would have me do in any way,
It shall be done exactly as you say.
“One thing before you go, if it may be,
I’d ask of you: that you might lend to me 270
A hundred francs for just a week or so,
For certain beasts I have to buy, to go
And stock a place that’s one we now possess.
So help me God, would it were yours, no less!
I will not fail when time comes to repay, 275
Not for a thousand francs would I delay.
But let’s keep this a secret if we might,
For I must buy these beasts this very night.
Farewell, my cousin, one to me so dear,
And thanks for all the entertainment here.” 280
This noble merchant then with courtesy
Replied at once: “My cousin, truthfully
It is a small request, Don John, you make.
My gold is yours; when you desire to, take
Not just my gold but any merchandise 285
You wish, and God forbid you minimize.
“One thing, though, you know well enough by now
About us merchants: money is our plow.
We may have credit while we have good names,
But being goldless is no fun and games. 290
Repayment of the loan is at your leisure;
Within my means I’m gladly at your pleasure.”
He fetched the hundred francs immediately
And took them to Don John in secrecy;
No one in all the world knew of the loan 295
Except this merchant and Don John alone.
They drank and talked, they roamed awhile, disported,
Till to his abbey John again reported.
The next day dawned, the merchant left to ride
For Flanders. Well his prentice served as guide 300
And into Bruges he brought him merrily.
This merchant now went fast and busily
About his needs, he borrowed and he bought.
To dancing, playing dice, he gave no thought,
For like a merchant, briefly I will say, 305
Is how he lives, and there I’ll let him stay.
On that next Sunday, with the merchant gone,
To Saint Denis has come again Don John,
With cleancut crown, his beard fresh from a shave.
In all the house there was no boy or knave 310
Or anyone who wasn’t glad to see
Don John had come again. But now that we
Might to the point go quickly pressing on,
This fair wife made agreement with Don John
That for the hundred francs he have the right 315
To take her in his arms for all the night,
Which deed was then performed for all its worth.
That night they led a merry life, in mirth,
Till it was light, when Don John went his way
And bade the household “Farewell” and “Good day.” 320
None there and none in town had any call
To be suspicious of Don John at all.
So forth he rode home to his abbey, or
To where he wished, of him I’ll say no more.
After the fair, back home to Saint Denis 325
The merchant went, and there his wife and he
Made merry with a feast. He told her, since
He’d bought his merchandise at such expense,
He had to get a loan and right away,
For he was bound in writing to repay 330
Some twenty thousand ecus that he owed.
And so this merchant off to Paris rode
To borrow francs from certain friends he had;
He brought some francs along but hoped to add.
When he arrived in town, he first of all, 335
Because of great affection, went to call
Upon Don John, to have a little sport;
It wasn’t for a loan of any sort
But just to find out how his friend was doing
And tell him of the deals he’d been pursuing, 340
As friends will do when they are met. With zest
A merry time Don John showed to his guest,
Who told him once again especially
How well he’d purchased and how favorably,
Thanks be to God, all of his merchandise– 345
Except that he must, in whatever wise,
Arrange a loan the best way that he could,
In joy then to relax the way he should.
Don John replied, “I’m glad, most certainly,
That you’ve come home as whole as you can be. 350
If I were rich, as I may hope for bliss,
Those twenty thousand you would never miss;
For you so kindly, just the other day,
Lent gold to me–and as I can and may,
I thank you, by Saint James and in God’s name. 355
But I’ve already paid back to our dame,
Your wife at home, that same gold, every bit
Upon your bench. She’s well aware of it,
By certain tokens of which I can tell.
Now, by your leave, on this I cannot dwell; 360
Our abbot’s leaving town right presently
And I must go along in company.
Greet well our dame, that niece of mine so sweet,
And farewell, my dear cousin, till we meet.”
This merchant, who was wise and wary, when 365
He had obtained his credit, handed then
To certain Lombards there the quantity
Of gold required to pay his debt. Then he
Went home as merry as a popinjay,
For well he knew things stood in such a way 370
That gain would be his journey’s consequence,
A thousand francs above all his expense.
His wife was ready, met him at the gate
Where always she would go to greet her mate;
All night they spent in mirth, without a fret, 375
For he was rich and clearly out of debt.
When it was day he started to embrace
His wife again, he kissed her on the face,
Then up he went and really showed his stuff.
“No more,” she said, “by God, you’ve had enough!” 380
Than wantonly again with him she played,
Till he at last these comments to her made:
“By God, I must say I’m a bit upset
With you, my wife, although to my regret.
Do you know why? By God, it’s that I guess 385
You have created something of a mess
Between me and my relative Don John.
You should have cautioned me before I’d gone
That he had paid, with ready evidence,
A hundred francs; the fellow took offense 390
When I spoke of my need to borrow money–
Or so it seemed, he looked a little funny.
But nonetheless, by God, high heaven’s King,
My thought was not to ask him for a thing.
No more of such from now on, wife, I pray; 395
Always tell me before I go away
If any debtor has in my absence
Paid you, lest I should through your negligence
Request of him a thing that he has paid.”
This wife was neither fretful nor afraid 400
But right away replied to him with spunk:
“Sweet Mary, I defy Don John, false monk!
For all his proofs I do not care a whit.
He brought some gold, I’m well aware of it.
May bad luck hit that monk right in the snout! 405
For, as God knows, I thought without a doubt
You were the reason he gave it to me,
That it was for my use, my dignity,
Because of kinship and the friendly cheer
That he so often has enjoyed here. 410
But as I see I got things out of joint,
I’ll answer you in short, right to the point:
You have much slacker debtors, sir, than me!
For I will pay you well and readily
Each day. And if I fail or dilly-dally, 415
I am your wife: score it upon my tally
And I shall pay as quickly as I may.
For by my oath, it was for my array,
And not for waste, that I spent every bit;
So you can see I made good use of it, 420
All for your honor. For God’s sake, I say,
Do not be angry, let us laugh and play.
You’ve got my jolly body pledged instead;
By God, the way I’ll pay you is in bed.
So let me be forgiven, husband dear; 425
Turn here to me and show some better cheer.”
This merchant saw there was no remedy
And that to chide would only folly be,
There was no way the deed they might undo.
“Wife, I’ll forgive,” he said, “I’ll pardon you; 430
But, on your life, no more so free a hand,
Take more care of my goods, that’s my command.”
And so my tale is ended. May God send
Tallies enough to our lives’ very end. Amen.
One time in Saint Denis a merchant dwelled