Canterbury Tales: The Cock, the Hen, and the Fox

This story is part of the Canterbury Tales unit. Story source: The Chaucer Story Book by Eva March Tappan (1908).

Nun's Priest's Tale:
The Cock, the Hen, and the Fox

ONCE upon a time a poor widow, no longer young, lived in a little cottage in a valley not far from a grove. She had two daughters and only a small income, but she was very economical, and so they managed to live. She cared for three pigs, three cows, and a sheep called Mall. Of course her meals were scanty, but she never needed any pungent sauce to give them flavor, and she was never ill from over-eating. If she had wished to dance, the gout would never have prevented her, and surely apoplexy never hurt her head for she drank neither red wine nor white. The two colors that were oftenest seen on her table were black and white, for there were two things of which she had plenty — black bread and milk. She had also a bit of broiled bacon now and then, and sometimes an egg or two.

This poor widow had a henyard, and in it she kept a rooster called Chanticleer. There was not another cock in all the land that could crow as well as he. His voice was merrier than the merry organ that plays in the church on mass-days, and one could tell the hour by his crowing better than by any clock. He seemed to know astronomy by nature, for as soon as the sun had risen exactly fifteen degrees, he crowed, and crowed so well that there was no bettering it. He was handsome, too — by far the handsomest rooster in the place. His comb was redder than the finest coral, and all notched in battlements like a castle wall. His bill was black and shone like jet, his legs and his toes were of a beautiful azure, his nails were whiter than the lily-flower, and his feathers gleamed like burnished gold.

About this cock were seven hens. Their color was much like his, but by far the fairest was Demoiselle Partelote, as she was called. She was so courteous and discreet and such a cheerful companion, and had behaved herself so excellently ever since she was a week old, that Chanticleer loved her with his whole heart and was never happy away from her. They often sang together, and it was the greatest treat that could be imagined to hear them just at sunrise, when their voices chimed in the song, "My love is far away."

It came to pass one morning early, when Chanticleer was sitting on the perch among his seven wives, that he began to groan as if he was troubled by some bad dream. Partelote sat beside him, of course, and when she heard him groan, she cried, "Sweetheart, what troubles you? What makes you groan?"

The cock replied, "Madame, do not be anxious; it was only a dream, but it was such a terrible one that I am frightened even to remember it. I dreamed that I was walking up and down the yard when I saw a dreadful creature somewhat like a dog, and it tried to kill me. It was between yellow and red, its tail and ears were tipped with black, its nose was small, and its eyes glowed like fire. That must have been what made me groan, for I am afraid even now."

Then said Dame Partelote, "Fie upon you for a chicken-hearted cock! Pluck up your courage if you would keep my love, for no woman can admire a coward. We long, every one of us, to have a husband who is bold and brave and generous. He must know how to keep a secret, and he must be wise. He must not be frightened at the sight of a knife, and he must not be a braggart. Are you not ashamed to tell your love that you are afraid of anything? You have a beard; haven't you the heart of a man? Dreams are nothing — and to think that you are afraid of them! Dreams often come from overeating, and sometimes when one has too much red humor. That would make him see visions of arrows and flames of fire, and red creatures that he fears will bite him. That is what the red humor does, just as the black humor, or melancholy, makes many a man cry out in his sleep for fear of black bears and bulls or black devils. I could tell of more humors that trouble men in sleep. Do you not remember that Cato said, 'Pay no heed to dreams'? Now, dearest," she continued, "when we fly down from here, I pray you take some medicine. There are herbs and berries right in our own yard that will cure you. I will point them out to you."


(800 words)











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