So for all his care the carpenter got a broken arm, and Nicholas and Alisoun had a jolly day at the plays.
* * * * *
This tale of Nicholas and the carpenter made us all laugh, except Oswald the Reeve. He was annoyed, of course, since a carpenter was befooled in the Miller’s story. He looked sourly on us now, with his spare pinched face. His hair was shaved close and his legs were long and thin. All his dress was poor, even his sword was rusty, and generally he rode the hindermost of our party. Yet for all his uncouthness he kept his master’s property well, although some said the tenants dreaded him as the plague. He had told me that his house was built fairly upon a wide heath, yet shaded with green trees.
“If I liked,” he said, “I could tell a tale against your craft, and show how a miller was tricked and fared worse than your carpenter. But I am old, and my term of life is nearly done. Quarrelling and scorn befit not white hairs, yet little is left us old men but envy, malice, and all uncharitableness.”
At that Harry Bailey interrupted him. “Why all this grumbling and sermoning?” he said in his lordliest tones. “What has a reeve to do with texts? Tell your tale, my man, and don’t waste time. Look, there is Deptford, and half our morning’s gone! Yonder is Greenwich! Come, we have no time to listen to your moralising. Begin!”
“Forgive me then,” said Oswald, “if I tell you a tale to cap the Miller’s. Such drunken scoundrels deserve quittance. Here is my story.”
At Trumpington, a hamlet not far from Cambridge, there runs a brook; over it is a bridge. On this brook there stands a mill, and there a miller had his dwelling many a year. He was proud as a peacock, handy with the pipes, a good man at fishing and at wrestling or in an archery match. He always went armed; at his side a claymore—and sharp he kept the blade—a poignard in his pouch and a dirk in his stocking. It would be a brave man that dare touch him. In looks he had a round face and a snub nose, and his head was as bald as an ape’s. He was a swaggerer in the market-place, a practised thief in the corn and meal that came to be ground, and he was called proud Simpkin. His wife was gentry-born and her father chief man in the town. She had been reared in a nunnery. A shrewish woman she was and proud. ’Twas a fine sight to see the two of them wending their way to church on Sundays. Simpkin walked first in his cape and red stockings, and she came behind in a dress of the same hue. To have made a jest to her would have been to court death at Simpkin’s hands, for Simpkin was jealous of his honour. They bad two children, a daughter aged twenty and a baby son. The girl was a fine strapping wench, taking after her father in looks. Some day she was to inherit all the property and be married to a lord.