The Canterbury Pilgrims eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 138 pages of information about The Canterbury Pilgrims.
to them all had vanished save a hideous old hag sitting on the ground.  “This way lies no road,” said she, “but come, tell me your business.  It may profit you, for old folks are oft-times wise.”  Then he told her of the question he must answer and begged her to give him an answer if she knew one.  The old dame was ready enough to do so.  “But,” she said, “in return you must promise that you will grant me the first thing I ask of you after you are pardoned.”  The knight pledged his word, and when things were thus concluded between them, they rode their way together to the court of King Arthur.

All the chief ladies of the realm were assembled, and the queen herself was sitting as judge.  The knight did not hesitate for his answer, but boldly said, “In all cases, what a woman most desires is to have the full trust and faithful love of her husband.  Let any of you deny it who can.”  Then thro’ the hall there was silence, and no wife or widow of all those assembled there dare deny that this was what she most desired, but all admitted that the knight had answered truly and deserved his life.

Then up rose the old woman.  “Lady,” she said, “I taught the knight this answer, and in return he promised to grant my first request if it lay in his power.  Now I ask him to take me for his wife.  Have I not deserved it by saving his life?” The knight was aghast and prayed the old woman to take his gold or land if only she would not make him her husband.  But prayers were of no avail, and whether he would or no, the knight must wed her and take her to his home.  Yet he put no good face upon the wedding, but with sighs and gloomy looks he went through the ceremony.

When they were alone together his wife chid him.  “Is this the courtesy that King Arthur’s knights show to their brides?  Have I not saved your life, and can you not welcome me in better fashion to your home?” The knight answered, “How could I welcome you when you are so ugly, so poor and of such low birth?” “If that be all your complaint,” said she, “I can prove that I am in no way to blame for it.  How is a man noble save by noble deeds?  Though a man can bequeath his wealth to his heirs he cannot leave them his own virtuous way of life.  Each man makes his nobility for himself.  And as to poverty—­did not our Lord Jesus choose the life of a poor man, and can you blame that which God Himself chose?  Poverty cheerfully borne is a noble thing and no disgrace.  What we do matters!  ’Gentle is as gentle does!’ You say I am old and ugly!  Would you rather have me as I am and your dutiful and obedient wife, or so young and gay that you are disregarded?  Choose which you wish, you can have your choice!” Then the knight did not know what to say, but bade his wife choose herself.  “Then you trust me,” she said.  “Why yes, truly, dear wife,” he answered.  At that she laughed and said, “Husband, I have my wish.  Kiss me and you shall find me, by to-morrow’s dawn, as fair as any woman in all the length and breadth of the land, and moreover, I will be to you a true and loving wife and obedient all my life long."...  So it fell out, and never was there a happier couple in all the land.  Now, I say, may fate send us all young and handsome husbands who will love us and trust us, but as for morose, perverse old greybeards, a plague on them!

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The Canterbury Pilgrims from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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