“’But, of course, he must offer groats and pence to Holy Church! For such benefits surely any man would give of his goods!
“’Of one thing I must warn you. Only those who are free from deadly sin can get help from my relics. If here be any here that have sinned great sins, let them not approach. Yet by my power as a Pardoner, I can forgive and pardon such sins as be not deadly. Draw near! Only those who have deep sin in their hearts will hold back. Come then, those who know themselves to be pure and innocent, receive the good that awaits you, offer of your substance to the Church, and be blessed!’
“By such speeches and such conduct I have earned a hundred marks a year since I was Pardoner. But I think that verily I deserve it. Why, my gestures in the pulpit are a joy to behold! I stretch forth my neck, looking now this way, now that, like a pigeon in a barn. My head and my hand keep time with my voice, and I sing better than anyone I know in my profession.”
I could well believe this of the Pardoner. He looked like a man who could please a congregation. He had long straight yellow hair hanging about his shoulders and bright shining eyes. He wore no hood, but rode according to the latest fashion, bare-headed except for a small cap.
“Oh, I can preach, good folk,” he continued. “It’s a pity, of course, that I am the greatest sinner against my own text, for I own that all I do is for my own gain. But there, while I can talk so well, and tell merry and comforting tales, why should I live in poverty and make baskets for a living? I like money, woollen clothes to wear, and cheese and wheaten bread to eat. I cannot follow the Apostles’ lead. This life offers too many enjoyments for me, even though widows starve to enrich me!
“But you asked for a tale; and now I’ve loosed my tongue with a drink I’ll tell you one. Although I’m none too good myself, my tale shall be virtuous, and one that I tell from the pulpit.”
With this introduction he began the following tale in a rich musical voice:
THE PARDONER’S TALE OF THE MEN WHO WOULD SLAY DEATH
“There dwelt once in Flanders a band of young men who indulged in every kind of folly and wickedness. They practised drinking, dicing, swearing, harping and dancing day and night, and in this unhallowed way of life they never thought how they racked anew the poor tortured limbs of our dear Lord Jesus. Brethren, there are many great and grievous sins, but among the most deadly are drunkenness and gluttony, for the glutton makes his belly his God and bows down to that, enslaving the whole world to his appetite. Doth not the scripture say, ’There walk many enemies of Christ’s cross, whose end is death, because they have made their appetite as their God’? How foul and loathsome a sight is a drunkard! He who is mastered by this horrible habit of drink loses both reason and sense, and all that distinguishes a man from a brute. My dear brethren, keep you from wine, from red wine and white. Remember the teaching of Holy Church; remember how in the days of the Old Testament all great victories were won by men who abstained from strong wines. Remember what history tells of the sad end of those who, overcome by drink, have been foully done to death. Read, mark and learn, my brethren, hear and abstain.