“Beware of gambling and dice and false swearing. How many good men have been undone by these! Doth not the scripture say, ’Swear not at all’? Yet alas! how many befoul their mouths with blasphemy and besmirch their souls with false oaths. Do you not so, good people. Keep your mouths free from such pollution, look to your lips that they speak no guile.
“And now to my story.
“These three revellers I told you of were one morning early sitting in a tavern when they heard a bell tinkling before a corpse as it was carried out to burial. At this one of them bade his servant go and ask whose it was. But the boy knew already. ’Sir, it is an old companion of yours and he has been destroyed by a false thief Death, who came upon him as he sat drunk and pierced him through the heart. Indeed, he slays all the people in this district—a good thousand have perished. I would bid you beware.’
“‘’Tis true,’ said one of them. ’In a village near he has slain this year all sorts and conditions of men. His habitation is there most likely, we had best beware.’ ‘No,’ said another. ’It were better to set forth ourselves and slay him. We three will take an oath never to rest, as God will aid us, till we have destroyed Death.’ Then they took this oath and set forth to seek the enemy. They had not gone far along their way when at a stile they met a very old man. He greeted them courteously. ‘Good sir, why are you so old and wretched?’ cried one. ‘Why?’ said the old man. ’No youth will take on my age in exchange for his youth, nor will my mother earth open to receive me, though I for ever knock on her with my staff.’ Then they asked news of him of Death and he told them that he had left Death just there by the oak tree in the road, and that he surely would abide their coming. On they hurried till they came to the oak tree, and there they found on the ground a pile of bright golden florins, eight bushels or more, it appeared to them. At once they forgot their quest of Death, turned all their thoughts to this wealth and sat them down beside it. The first to speak was the worst scoundrel of the three. ’Who would have thought that we should have met with such fortune as this? Why, we have here the means of living our whole lives long in enjoyment, if only we can convey this treasure to my house or to one of yours. But we must do it secretly by night, otherwise we shall be accounted thieves and hung for what is our own. My plan is that we draw lots and that he on whom the lot falls go to the city and bring us bread and wine, and the other two keep watch here till nightfall.’
“They drew lots and it fell on the youngest, who leaped up and ran to the town for food and wine. When the other two were left alone together, the one at once began tempting the other. ’What a life we could live if all this money were divided between us two only,’ he said; ’and so it could be if you would give me your promise to keep secret the plan I tell you.’ The other agreed. Then said the first, ’We two are stronger than our comrade. When he returns, make as if to struggle with him in sport and I will run him through with my dagger.’