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.