All the way along, the Friar had been scowling at the Summoner. So far he had said nothing, but as the Wife of Bath finished her tale he began, “Dame, yours was a good tale, but in some matters it went rather deep. We only want amusement on this journey, not scoffing. If the party would like I would tell a story about a summoner. You can be sure it will be a gay one. No one could tell an edifying story about such a man.” The Host interrupted, “You ought to be polite, Sir Friar. Leave the Summoner alone and get on with your story.” “All is well,” said the Summoner. “Let him say what he likes; I will get my own back presently.” So the Friar began:
THE FRIAR’S TALE OF THE WICKED SUMMONER
“There was a summoner who served an archdeacon and went round the country smelling out offences and summoning the culprits before the court. Fines he collected and bribes, but it was on the latter that he most grew fat. Day by day he sent his spies abroad and pounced now on the rich, now on the poor, and, not seldom, he terrorised the innocent and robbed them of their all——” “Stay!” cried the Host, “this is too violent, get on with your story.” “I am only telling the truth,” said the Friar. “The truth is not always courteous,” returned the other. “Well, I will go on,” said the Friar. “This summoner was one day riding to accuse a certain old widow. She was innocent, but he meant to have a bribe from her before he let her go. As he was riding through a green wood he saw another man dressed as a yeoman just in front of him. When they met they greeted each other. ’Good day,’ said the summoner. ‘Good day,’ answered the other; ’dost thou ride far?’ ‘No,’ answered the summoner, ’tis but to the next town to collect a debt due to my master.’ ‘Art thou then a bailiff as I am?’ ‘That is so,’ answered the summoner; for shame prevented his owning his true calling. ‘Then we be brothers,’ replied the yeoman. So they shook hands on it, and agreed to ride together.
“Never for a minute did the summoner stop talking, he was as full of prying questions as a dog’s skin of hairs. ‘Tell me,’ he said, ’where do you dwell?’ ‘Away in the north country,’ answered the yeoman, ‘where I hope I shall see you one of these days.’ ’What is the way thither?’ the summoner went on. ‘Ere we part,’ was the answer, ’I will make it all clear to you.’ ‘Tell me,’ said the summoner again, ’since we be two of a trade, have you any tricks that might be of service to me in my work? I am not a man to stick at trifles, so if you know of any ruses, even if they are not quite honest, I should be glad to hear them,’ ‘We are alike again,’ replied the yeoman. ’My master is a niggard and I have to make what I can my own way; I must say I do not do so badly out of it.’ ’You are a man after my own heart,’ continued the summoner. ‘Come, tell me your name.’ At this the yeoman began to smile. ’Do you really wish to know? Well, then, I am a fiend