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1265 This worthy lymytour, this noble Frere,
1266 He made alwey a maner louryng chiere
1267 Upon the Somonour, but for honestee
1268 No vileyns word as yet to hym spak he.
1269 But atte laste he seyde unto the wyf,
1270 “Dame,” quod he, “God yeve yow right good lyf!
1271 Ye han heer touched, also moot I thee,
1272 In scole-matere greet difficultee.
1273 Ye han seyd muche thyng right wel, I seye;
1274 But, dame, heere as we ryde by the weye,
1275 Us nedeth nat to speken but of game,
1276 And lete auctoritees, on Goddes name,
1277 To prechyng and to scoles of clergye.
1278 But if it lyke to this compaignye,
1279 I wol yow of a somonour telle a game.
1280 Pardee, ye may wel knowe by the name
1281 That of a somonour may no good be sayd;
1282 I praye that noon of you be yvele apayd.
1283 A somonour is a rennere up and doun
1284 With mandementz for fornicacioun,
1285 And is ybet at every townes ende.”
1286 Oure Hoost tho spak, ” A, sire, ye sholde be hende
1287 And curteys, as a man of youre estaat;
1288 In compaignye we wol have no debaat.
1289 Telleth youre tale, and lat the Somonour be.”
1290 “Nay,” quod the Somonour, “lat hym seye to me
1291 What so hym list; whan it comth to my lot,
1292 By God, I shal hym quiten every grot.
1293 I shal hym tellen which a greet honour
1294 It is to be a flaterynge lymytour,
1295 And of many another manere cryme
1296 Which nedeth nat rehercen at this tyme;
1297 And his office I shal hym telle, ywis.”
1298 Oure Hoost answerde, “Pees, namoore of this!”
1299 And after this he seyde unto the Frere,
1300 “Tel forth youre tale, leeve maister deere.”

The Tale

1301 Whilom ther was dwellynge in my contree
1302 An erchedeken, a man of heigh degree,
1303 That boldely dide execucioun
1304 In punysshynge of fornicacioun,
1305 Of wicchecraft, and eek of bawderye,
1306 Of diffamacioun, and avowtrye,
1307 Of chirche reves, and of testamentz,
1308 Of contractes and of lakke of sacramentz,
1309 Of usure, and of symonye also.
1310 But certes, lecchours dide he grettest wo;
1311 They sholde syngen if that they were hent;
1312 And smale tytheres weren foule yshent,
1313 If any persoun wolde upon hem pleyne.
1314 Ther myghte asterte hym no pecunyal peyne.
1315 For smale tithes and for smal offrynge
1316 He made the peple pitously to synge,
1317 For er the bisshop caughte hem with his hook,
1318 They weren in the erchedeknes book.
1319 Thanne hadde he, thurgh his jurisdiccioun,
1320 Power to doon on hem correccioun.
1321 He hadde a somonour redy to his hond;
1322 A slyer boye nas noon in Engelond;
1323 For subtilly he hadde his espiaille,
1324 That taughte hym wel wher that hym myghte availle.
1325 He koude spare of lecchours oon or two,
1326 To techen hym to foure and twenty mo.
1327 For thogh this Somonour wood were as an hare,
1328 To telle his harlotrye I wol nat spare;
1329 For we been out of his correccioun.
1330 They han of us no jurisdiccioun,
1331 Ne nevere shullen, terme of alle hir lyves.
1332 “Peter! so been wommen of the styves,”
1333 Quod the Somonour, “yput out of oure cure!”
1334 “Pees! with myschance and with mysaventure!”
1335 Thus seyde oure Hoost, “and lat hym telle his tale.
1336 Now telleth forth, thogh that the Somonour gale;
1337 Ne spareth nat, myn owene maister deere.”
1338 This false theef, this somonour, quod the Frere,
1339 Hadde alwey bawdes redy to his hond,
1340 As any hauk to lure in Engelond,
1341 That tolde hym al the secree that they knewe,
1342 For hire acqueyntance was nat come of newe.
1343 They weren his approwours prively.
1344 He took hymself a greet profit therby;
1345 His maister knew nat alwey what he wan.
1346 Withouten mandement a lewed man
1347 He koude somne, on peyne of Cristes curs,
1348 And they were glade for to fille his purs
1349 And make hym grete feestes atte nale.
1350 And right as Judas hadde purses smale,
1351 And was a theef, right swich a theef was he;
1352 His maister hadde but half his duetee.
1353 He was, if I shal yeven hym his laude,
1354 A theef, and eek a somnour, and a baude.
1355 He hadde eek wenches at his retenue,
1356 That, wheither that sir Robert or sir Huwe,
1357 Or Jakke, or Rauf, or whoso that it were
1358 That lay by hem, they tolde it in his ere.
1359 Thus was the wenche and he of oon assent,
1360 And he wolde fecche a feyned mandement,
1361 And somne hem to chapitre bothe two,
1362 And pile the man, and lete the wenche go.
1363 Thanne wolde he seye, “Freend, I shal for thy sake
1364 Do striken hire out of oure lettres blake;
1365 Thee thar namoore as in this cas travaille.
1366 I am thy freend, ther I thee may availle.”
1367 Certeyn he knew of briberyes mo
1368 Than possible is to telle in yeres two.
1369 For in this world nys dogge for the bowe
1370 That kan an hurt deer from an hool yknowe
1371 Bet than this somnour knew a sly lecchour,
1372 Or an avowtier, or a paramour.
1373 And for that was the fruyt of al his rente,
1374 Therfore on it he sette al his entente.
1375 And so bifel that ones on a day
1376 This somnour, evere waityng on his pray,
1377 Rood for to somne an old wydwe, a ribibe,
1378 Feynynge a cause, for he wolde brybe.
1379 And happed that he saugh bifore hym ryde
1380 A gay yeman, under a forest syde.
1381 A bowe he bar, and arwes brighte and kene;
1382 He hadde upon a courtepy of grene,
1383 An hat upon his heed with frenges blake.
1384 “Sire,” quod this somnour, “hayl, and wel atake!”
1385 “Welcome,” quod he, “and every good felawe!
1386 Wher rydestow, under this grene-wode shawe?”
1387 Seyde this yeman, “Wiltow fer to day?”
1388 This somnour hym answerde and seyde, “Nay;
1389 Heere faste by,” quod he, “is myn entente
1390 To ryden, for to reysen up a rente
1391 That longeth to my lordes duetee.”
1392 ” Artow thanne a bailly?” “Ye,” quod he.
1393 He dorste nat, for verray filthe and shame
1394 Seye that he was a somonour, for the name.
1395 “Depardieux,” quod this yeman, “deere broother,
1396 Thou art a bailly, and I am another.
1397 I am unknowen as in this contree;
1398 Of thyn aqueyntance I wolde praye thee,
1399 And eek of bretherhede, if that yow leste.
1400 I have gold and silver in my cheste;
1401 If that thee happe to comen in oure shire,
1402 Al shal be thyn, right as thou wolt desire.”
1403 “Grant mercy,” quod this somonour, “by my feith!”
1404 Everych in ootheres hand his trouthe leith,
1405 For to be sworne bretheren til they deye.
1406 In daliance they ryden forth and pleye.
1407 This somonour, which that was as ful of jangles
1408 As ful of venym been thise waryangles
1409 And evere enqueryng upon every thyng,
1410 “Brother,” quod he, “where is now youre dwellyng
1411 Another day if that I sholde yow seche?”
1412 This yeman hym answerde in softe speche,
1413 “Brother,” quod he, “fer in the north contree,
1414 Whereas I hope som tyme I shal thee see.
1415 Er we departe, I shal thee so wel wisse
1416 That of myn hous ne shaltow nevere mysse.”
1417 “Now, brother,” quod this somonour, “I yow preye,
1418 Teche me, whil that we ryden by the weye,
1419 Syn that ye been a baillif as am I,
1420 Som subtiltee, and tel me feithfully
1421 In myn office how that I may moost wynne;
1422 And spareth nat for conscience ne synne,
1423 But as my brother tel me, how do ye.”
1424 “Now, by my trouthe, brother deere,” seyde he,
1425 ” As I shal tellen thee a feithful tale,
1426 My wages been ful streite and ful smale.
1427 My lord is hard to me and daungerous,
1428 And myn office is ful laborous,
1429 And therfore by extorcions I lyve.
1430 For sothe, I take al that men wol me yive.
1431 Algate, by sleyghte or by violence,
1432 Fro yeer to yeer I wynne al my dispence.
1433 I kan no bettre telle, feithfully.”
1434 “Now certes,” quod this Somonour, “so fare I.
1435 I spare nat to taken, God it woot,
1436 But if it be to hevy or to hoot.
1437 What I may gete in conseil prively,
1438 No maner conscience of that have I.
1439 Nere myn extorcioun, I myghte nat lyven,
1440 Ne of swiche japes wol I nat be shryven.
1441 Stomak ne conscience ne knowe I noon;
1442 I shrewe thise shrifte-fadres everychoon.
1443 Wel be we met, by God and by Seint Jame!
1444 But, leeve brother, tel me thanne thy name,”
1445 Quod this somonour. In this meene while
1446 This yeman gan a litel for to smyle.
1447 “Brother,” quod he, “wiltow that I thee telle?
1448 I am a feend; my dwellyng is in helle,
1449 And heere I ryde aboute my purchasyng,
1450 To wite wher men wol yeve me any thyng.
1451 My purchas is th’ effect of al my rente.
1452 Looke how thou rydest for the same entente,
1453 To wynne good, thou rekkest nevere how;
1454 Right so fare I, for ryde wolde I now
1455 Unto the worldes ende for a preye.”
1456 ” A!” quod this somonour, “benedicite! What sey ye?
1457 I wende ye were a yeman trewely.
1458 Ye han a mannes shap as wel as I;
1459 Han ye a figure thanne determinat
1460 In helle, ther ye been in youre estat?”
1461 “Nay, certeinly,” quod he, “ther have we noon;
1462 But whan us liketh we kan take us oon,
1463 Or elles make yow seme we been shape;
1464 Somtyme lyk a man, or lyk an ape,
1465 Or lyk an angel kan I ryde or go.
1466 It is no wonder thyng thogh it be so;
1467 A lowsy jogelour kan deceyve thee,
1468 And pardee, yet kan I moore craft than he.”
1469 “Why,” quod this somonour, “ryde ye thanne or goon
1470 In sondry shap, and nat alwey in oon?”
1471 “For we,” quod he, “wol us swiche formes make
1472 As moost able is oure preyes for to take.”
1473 “What maketh yow to han al this labour?”
1474 “Ful many a cause, leeve sire somonour,”
1475 Seyde this feend, “but alle thyng hath tyme.
1476 The day is short, and it is passed pryme,
1477 And yet ne wan I nothyng in this day.
1478 I wol entende to wynnyng, if I may,
1479 And nat entende oure wittes to declare.
1480 For, brother myn, thy wit is al to bare
1481 To understonde, althogh I tolde hem thee.
1482 But, for thou axest why labouren we —
1483 For somtyme we been Goddes instrumentz
1484 And meenes to doon his comandementz,
1485 Whan that hym list, upon his creatures,
1486 In divers art and in diverse figures.
1487 Withouten hym we have no myght, certayn,
1488 If that hym list to stonden ther-agayn.
1489 And somtyme, at oure prayere, han we leve
1490 Oonly the body and nat the soule greve;
1491 Witnesse on Job, whom that we diden wo.
1492 And somtyme han we myght of bothe two —
1493 This is to seyn, of soule and body eke.
1494 And somtyme be we suffred for to seke
1495 Upon a man and doon his soule unreste
1496 And nat his body, and al is for the beste.
1497 Whan he withstandeth oure temptacioun,
1498 It is a cause of his savacioun,
1499 Al be it that it was nat oure entente
1500 He sholde be sauf, but that we wolde hym hente.
1501 And somtyme be we servant unto man,
1502 As to the erchebisshop Seint Dunstan,
1503 And to the apostles servant eek was I.”
1504 “Yet tel me,” quod the somonour, “feithfully,
1505 Make ye yow newe bodies thus alway
1506 Of elementz?” The feend answerde, “Nay.
1507 Somtyme we feyne, and somtyme we aryse
1508 With dede bodyes, in ful sondry wyse,
1509 And speke as renably and faire and wel
1510 As to the Phitonissa dide Samuel.
1511 ( And yet wol som men seye it was nat he;
1512 I do no fors of youre dyvynytee.)
1513 But o thyng warne I thee, I wol nat jape:
1514 Thou wolt algates wite how we been shape;
1515 Thou shalt herafterward, my brother deere,
1516 Come there thee nedeth nat of me to leere,
1517 For thou shalt, by thyn owene experience,
1518 Konne in a chayer rede of this sentence
1519 Bet than Virgile, while he was on lyve,
1520 Or Dant also. Now lat us ryde blyve,
1521 For I wole holde compaignye with thee
1522 Til it be so that thou forsake me.”
1523 “Nay,” quod this somonour, “that shal nat bityde!
1524 I am a yeman, knowen is ful wyde;
1525 My trouthe wol I holde, as in this cas.
1526 For though thou were the devel Sathanas,
1527 My trouthe wol I holde to my brother,
1528 As I am sworn, and ech of us til oother,
1529 For to be trewe brother in this cas;
1530 And bothe we goon abouten oure purchas.
1531 Taak thou thy part, what that men wol thee yive,
1532 And I shal myn; thus may we bothe lyve.
1533 And if that any of us have moore than oother,
1534 Lat hym be trewe and parte it with his brother.”
1535 “I graunte,” quod the devel, “by my fey.”
1536 And with that word they ryden forth hir wey.
1537 And right at the entryng of the townes ende,
1538 To which this somonour shoop hym for to wende,
1539 They saugh a cart that charged was with hey,
1540 Which that a cartere droof forth in his wey.
1541 Deep was the wey, for which the carte stood.
1542 The cartere smoot and cryde as he were wood,
1543 “Hayt, Brok! Hayt, Scot! What spare ye for the stones?
1544 The feend,” quod he, “yow fecche, body and bones,
1545 As ferforthly as evere were ye foled,
1546 So muche wo as I have with yow tholed!
1547 The devel have al, bothe hors and cart and hey!”
1548 This somonour seyde, “Heere shal we have a pley.”
1549 And neer the feend he drough, as noght ne were,
1550 Ful prively, and rowned in his ere:
1551 “Herkne, my brother, herkne, by thy feith!
1552 Herestow nat how that the cartere seith?
1553 Hent it anon, for he hath yeve it thee,
1554 Bothe hey and cart, and eek his caples thre.”
1555 “Nay,” quod the devel, “God woot, never a deel!
1556 It is nat his entente, trust me weel.
1557 Axe hym thyself, if thou nat trowest me;
1558 Or elles stynt a while, and thou shalt see.”
1559 This cartere thakketh his hors upon the croupe,
1560 And they bigonne to drawen and to stoupe.
1561 “Heyt! Now,” quod he, “ther Jhesu Crist yow blesse,
1562 And al his handwerk, bothe moore and lesse!
1563 That was wel twight, myn owene lyard boy.
1564 I pray God save thee, and Seinte Loy!
1565 Now is my cart out of the slow, pardee!”
1566 “Lo, brother,” quod the feend, “what tolde I thee?
1567 Heere may ye se, myn owene deere brother,
1568 The carl spak oo thing, but he thoghte another.
1569 Lat us go forth abouten oure viage;
1570 Heere wynne I nothyng upon cariage.”
1571 Whan that they coomen somwhat out of towne,
1572 This somonour to his brother gan to rowne:
1573 “Brother,” quod he, “heere woneth an old rebekke
1574 That hadde almoost as lief to lese hire nekke
1575 As for to yeve a peny of hir good.
1576 I wole han twelf pens, though that she be wood,
1577 Or I wol sompne hire unto oure office;
1578 And yet, God woot, of hire knowe I no vice.
1579 But for thou kanst nat, as in this contree,
1580 Wynne thy cost, taak heer ensample of me.”
1581 This somonour clappeth at the wydwes gate.
1582 “Com out,” quod he, “thou olde virytrate!
1583 I trowe thou hast som frere or preest with thee.”
1584 “Who clappeth?” seyde this wyf, “benedicitee!
1585 God save you, sire, what is youre sweete wille?”
1586 “I have,” quod he, “of somonce here a bille;
1587 Up peyne of cursyng, looke that thou be
1588 Tomorn bifore the erchedeknes knee
1589 T’ answere to the court of certeyn thynges.”
1590 “Now, Lord,” quod she, “Crist Jhesu, kyng of kynges,
1591 So wisly helpe me, as I ne may.
1592 I have been syk, and that ful many a day.
1593 I may nat go so fer,” quod she, “ne ryde,
1594 But I be deed, so priketh it in my syde.
1595 May I nat axe a libel, sire somonour,
1596 And answere there by my procuratour
1597 To swich thyng as men wole opposen me?”
1598 “Yis,” quod this somonour, “pay anon — lat se —
1599 Twelf pens to me, and I wol thee acquite.
1600 I shal no profit han therby but lite;
1601 My maister hath the profit and nat I.
1602 Com of, and lat me ryden hastily;
1603 Yif me twelf pens, I may no lenger tarye.”
1604 “Twelf pens!” quod she, “Now, lady Seinte Marie
1605 So wisly help me out of care and synne,
1606 This wyde world thogh that I sholde wynne,
1607 Ne have I nat twelf pens withinne myn hoold.
1608 Ye knowen wel that I am povre and oold;
1609 Kithe youre almesse on me, povre wrecche.”
1610 “Nay thanne,” quod he, “the foule feend me fecche
1611 If I th’ excuse, though thou shul be spilt!”
1612 ” Allas!” quod she, “God woot, I have no gilt.”
1613 “Pay me,” quod he, “or by the sweete Seinte Anne,
1614 As I wol bere awey thy newe panne
1615 For dette which thou owest me of old.
1616 Whan that thou madest thyn housbonde cokewold,
1617 I payde at hoom for thy correccioun.”
1618 “Thou lixt!” quod she, “by my savacioun,
1619 Ne was I nevere er now, wydwe ne wyf,
1620 Somoned unto youre court in al my lyf;
1621 Ne nevere I nas but of my body trewe!
1622 Unto the devel blak and rough of hewe
1623 Yeve I thy body and my panne also!”
1624 And whan the devel herde hire cursen so
1625 Upon hir knees, he seyde in this manere,
1626 “Now, Mabely, myn owene mooder deere,
1627 Is this youre wyl in ernest that ye seye?”
1628 “The devel,” quod she, “so fecche hym er he deye,
1629 And panne and al, but he wol hym repente!”
1630 “Nay, olde stot, that is nat myn entente,”
1631 Quod this somonour, “for to repente me
1632 For any thyng that I have had of thee.
1633 I wolde I hadde thy smok and every clooth!”
1634 “Now, brother,” quod the devel, “be nat wrooth;
1635 Thy body and this panne been myne by right.
1636 Thou shalt with me to helle yet tonyght,
1637 Where thou shalt knowen of oure privetee
1638 Moore than a maister of dyvynytee.”
1639 And with that word this foule feend hym hente;
1640 Body and soule he with the devel wente
1641 Where as that somonours han hir heritage.
1642 And God, that maked after his ymage
1643 Mankynde, save and gyde us, alle and some,
1644 And leve thise somonours goode men bicome!
1645 Lordynges, I koude han toold yow, quod this Frere,
1646 Hadde I had leyser for this Somnour heere,
1647 After the text of Crist, Poul, and John,
1648 And of oure othere doctours many oon,
1649 Swiche peynes that youre hertes myghte agryse,
1650 Al be it so no tonge may it devyse,
1651 Thogh that I myghte a thousand wynter telle
1652 The peynes of thilke cursed hous of helle.
1653 But for to kepe us fro that cursed place,
1654 Waketh and preyeth Jhesu for his grace
1655 So kepe us fro the temptour Sathanas.
1656 Herketh this word! Beth war, as in this cas:
1657 “The leoun sit in his awayt alway
1658 To sle the innocent, if that he may.”
1659 Disposeth ay youre hertes to withstonde
1660 The feend, that yow wolde make thral and bonde.
1661 He may nat tempte yow over youre myght,
1662 For Crist wol be youre champion and knyght.
1663 And prayeth that thise somonours hem repente
1664 Of hir mysdedes, er that the feend hem hente!

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