Canterbury Tales: The Priest who Learned to be a Philosopher (end)

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

The Priest who Learned to be a Philosopher (end)

The canon nodded his assent, and then said thoughtfully, "It would be better to do this once more, so that you may have a chance to watch even more closely and become expert, and then when I am not here you can try it by yourself. Let us take another ounce of quicksilver and do with it precisely what we did with the first."

The priest needed no urging. He hurried as fast as ever he could to do as the canon commanded and blew the fire with all his might and main. He no more dreamed that the canon had a second trick than that he had already played one. This time the canon held a hollow stick in his hand, in the end of which was one ounce of silver filings kept in by wax, just as the filings were before kept in the coal. While the priest was busy obeying the master's orders, the canon cast more of the powder into the crucible, and with that cheat of a stick he stirred the heaped up coals until the wax had melted and every bit of the silver that was in the stick had fallen into the crucible.

Now this innocent priest was so pleased that he could not express his joy. "I will do anything for you," he said. "I give myself to you, body and goods."

Then said the canon, "I am only a poor man, but I promise you shall find me skillful. I warn you, however, that this is not all; there is yet more to be seen. Is there any copper in the house?"

"Yes, sir," the priest replied, "I believe there is."

"If not, go and buy us some as soon as may be, dear sir; hasten, I pray."

The priest went his way, and soon returned with the copper. The canon took it and weighed out just one ounce. He put this copper into the crucible, set the crucible on the fire, cast his powder into it, and told the priest to blow the coals, and to stoop down low, just as he did before. And this whole thing was nothing but a rascally trick! Afterwards he cast the mixture into the mould and put it into the water. This time he put in his own hand. In his sleeve he had a silver plate, as I have said. The wretch slyly took it out from his sleeve, the priest never dreaming of such cheating, and dropped it down to the bottom of the dish. Then he fumbled around in the water and very secretly slipped out the copper plate and hid it. After this he caught the simple priest by his gown and said merrily, "Stoop down and help me as I helped you a while ago. Put your hand in and see what you can find."

The priest took out the silver plate, and turned it over and over in his hand, and gazed upon it. The canon said, "Let us go now and carry these plates that we have been making to some goldsmith, and find out whether they are really good. I will wager my hood that they are good pure silver, and we will soon prove it."

They went to the goldsmith, and he tested the plates with fire and hammer, and declared that they were pure silver.

Poor, foolish priest, who was happier than he? There never was a bird more eager to greet the daylight or a nightingale more blithe in singing in the month of May; there never was a lady more joyful in carolling or in speaking of love and womanhood; there never was a knight more earnest to do some deed of hardihood that he might stand high in the grace of his lady than was the priest to learn this wonderful art, and he begged of the canon, "For the love of God, and for the sake of whatever I may have deserved of you, what does this recipe cost? Tell me, I pray."

"In faith," the canon replied, "it is dear. In all England there is no one save myself and a friar who know it."

"No matter," cried the priest, "only tell me what I must pay. Tell me, I beg of you."

The shameless canon hesitated. At length he said, "Indeed, it is very costly, as I told you. Still, you have been most friendly to me. You may have it for forty pounds, but it would cost a good deal more to any one but you."

The priest was so afraid the canon would change his mind and refuse to give him the recipe after all that he brought out the forty pounds as quick as ever he could and gave the money to the canon for his worthless recipe.

The canon put the money away carefully; then he said, "Sir priest, I have a favor to ask of you. If people knew what skill I have, they would be so envious of me that they would soon take my life. So if you love me, I pray you keep my secret."

"Never will I give word or hint of it to any living being," answered the priest earnestly. "I would rather give every penny I own than to have you fall into such trouble."

"I thank you kindly, sir priest," said the canon. "May you have good luck in return for your good will. Now fare you well."

And so the canon went his way, and the priest never set eyes upon him again. Before long he made trial of the magical recipe, but, alas, this time there was no silver in the crucible.

(900 words)

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