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When the Knight had finished his tale, the whole company, young and old, praised it. The Host was delighted; he burst out laughing. “The play goes finely,” he cried. “Now we have started the ball rolling, who will tell the next tale? Will you, Sir Monk, give us a worthy follower to the Knight?” Before the Monk had time to answer, the Miller interrupted. He was a broad, thick-set fellow with a red beard, a great wide mouth, and a wart on his nose. He wore a white coat and blue hood, and was armed with a sword and buckler. By this time he was so overcome by riding and drinking that he could hardly sit his horse, and what manners he possessed had left him. “I can tell a fine tale,” he shouted, “a good match for the Knight’s.” The Host saw that he was in no fit state to tell a tale. “Good friend Robin, take thy turn,” he said. “Let a better man than thee speak first.” “Not I,” said the Miller. “I tell my tale when I like, or leave the party.” “Well,” said the Host, “tell if thou must, but thou art making a fool of thyself.”
“Now hearken!” began the Miller. “I begin my tale with a declaration. I am drunk. I know it, and I bid you excuse any mistakes I make for that very reason. It’s the fault of Southwark ale, not mine, and my tale is about a carpenter and how a scholar deceived him.” “Forbear!” cried Oswald the Reeve. “I am a carpenter. Beware how you tell your jibing tales of my craft.” But the Miller could not be silenced and began his tale.
Kind reader, if you do not like the tale please excuse me and turn to another and harmless one. I am merely the chronicler of this journey and must tell the truth.
There was a rich carpenter who lived at Oxford and took in students to board with him. Among them was one named Nicholas, as proper a man as one could wish to see. He kept his room all strewed with sweet herbs. At his bed’s head, neatly arranged on shelves, were his books and calculating pebbles, for he studied astrology and could foretell the weather. A red cloth covered his press and on the wall hung his little harp. He was a gay fellow and loved merry-making, yet looked as gentle and dainty as a maiden. The carpenter was an old man, and had just married a wife of eighteen, named Alisoun. She was as pretty a woman as you could find in the whole country-side. Dressed up in all her finery she was as gay as a bird. Her girdle was silk and her apron as white as snow. Her smock was white and broidered with black silk, and her brooch as large as the base of a shield. The ribbon of her cap matched her embroidery, and her eyebrows were black and arched. But the most tempting thing about her was the way she looked at one. A very primrose she was, on my faith; as fair as an apple tree in blossom. Nicholas loved her well enough, and others too; but her husband would let her go nowhere but to church and never allowed her to take part in any festivities.