So Dorigen set forth and on the way she met with Aurelius. “Where goest thou, lady?” he asked. “To meet you,” she answered, half mad with grief. “My husband has sent me so that I may not break my plighted word.” At this Aurelius’ heart was filled with pity. He saw how sad she looked and was at once filled with admiration for the noble knight who would give up his greatest joy so that his wife might keep her promise. “Nay, lady,” he said at length. “Freely your husband sent you, freely I send you back to him, nor from this day forth will I strive to stir up strife between you twain.” Dorigen went back glad to her husband and told him what had passed, nor shall I stay to tell you of their great joy and contentment, nor how happy they lived till their lives’ end.
Poor Aurelius took his way home sad at heart. Now his promise of a thousand pounds to the scholar began to weigh on his mind. “Truly,” he thought, “if I pay him all I must sell my inheritance, shame my family, and go forth a beggar from my native town. Perhaps he may pity me and let me pay by degrees in a year or two.”
From his chest he took five hundred pounds in gold, and went and sought the scholar to make his request. “Have I kept full faith with you?” asked the scholar. “Yea, truly,” said Aurelius. “Then have you won the love of your lady?” Aurelius told him “No,” and recounted all the story I have told you here. “Then,” said the scholar, “nobly the knight acted to you and nobly you acted in your turn. I too will be as generous as I may. Put up your money, sir squire, I will require nought of you. You are free of debt to me—so fare you well.”
Lords, this is my tale, and at the end I ask you this question: “Who of all three was the noblest man and did the greatest act of generosity?”
* * * * *
“Well spoken, Franklin,” said the Knight. “It would be hard, I trow, for any man fairly to judge whose conduct showed the best. They were honourable all three, and worthy of great praise! Who tells the next tale, Sir Host?” “That shall the Nun do, if she is willing,” answered Harry Bailey; “for her lady the Prioress charmed us with her tale of the little martyr. That story will long stay in my memory. Now, madam, if you please, begin. We wait to hear your tale.”
In serious tones the Nun began thus:
“Of all sins there is, if I may so describe it, one foster-mother, and that is idleness. If we but keep our hands and minds engaged in some virtuous occupation, we may avoid the snares of the Devil and walk in righteousness. For this reason I have devoted some of my leisure to a work which I esteem suitable to my calling and in conformity with my vows, the translation of the life of St. Cecilia. My translation is in verse. I will recite it to you if I may.”