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

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 (cont.)

The priest was ready to do whatever the canon commanded. He told his servant to go, and he shut the door after him so closely that no one could possibly peep in, and then they went to work in earnest.

"I shall treat you as a dear friend," declared the canon, "and so I am going to let you do everything yourself. Then you will fully learn the work and understand it, for you will have done it all with your own hands." So under his directions the priest set the crucible upon the coals and blew the fire. The canon cast into the crucible a powder, perhaps made of chalk, perhaps of glass — at any rate not worth a fly.

"Blow up the coals," he cried, "and heap them up high above the crucible."

The priest obeyed every order with delight, for was he not learning to be a philosopher? But while he was blowing the fire and heaping up the coals, the rascally canon seized the opportunity to get a beechen coal of his own out from his bosom. This was no common coal, but one that the treacherous canon had prepared. He had carefully bored a hole in it and filled it with an ounce of silver filings. Then he had stopped up the hole with wax. This coal he kept hidden in his hand.

When the priest had heaped up the coal over the crucible, the canon looked at it somewhat doubtfully. Then he said, "Your pardon, friend, but that is not laid quite as it should be. Let me meddle with your work for but a moment and I will build it up for you. But how hard you are working! You are heated almost as hot as the crucible, and how you sweat! Here, take this cloth and wipe your face."

The priest took the cloth and wiped his face, and at the instant when his eyes were covered, what did that wicked canon do but crowd the coals together around the crucible, and directly over the middle of it he laid his beechen coal! Then he took the bellows and blew with all his might till the fire was all aglow.

Now I am thirsty," said the canon. "Let us have a drink. Everything is right and will come out well, I promise you. Let us sit down and make ourselves merry." So they sat down, and while they rested and drank, the fire burned, and before long the canon's beechen coal had burned also, and of course all the silver filings had melted and dropped down into the crucible. The simple priest knew nothing of the trick; he supposed all the coals were alike.

When the canon was sure that the silver was in the crucible, he said to the priest, "Rise up, sir priest. Come and stand beside me. I suppose that of course you have no mould, have you? Then will you go and bring a chalk stone, and I can perhaps shape that like a mould. Oh yes, and bring with you also a bowl or a pan of water, and then you shall see how our business gets on. Stop a moment. After I am gone, I don't want you to fancy that some trick was played you while you were out of the room, and so I will go with you and come back when you return." They opened the door and passed through it. Then they shut it, and locked it behind them, and went their way, carrying the key with them.

But there is no need of making so long a story of it. When they had brought back the chalk, the canon made it into the shape of a mould. He took out of his sleeve a thin plate of silver which weighed exactly one ounce, and he shaped his mould just as long and as wide as this. He made it so quickly and so slyly that the priest had not a suspicion of what he was doing. He hid the silver plate in his sleeve again and said cheerfully, "Now watch closely, for we shall surely succeed."

He poured out the melted matter from the crucible into the mould and cast it into the vessel of water. Then he said to the priest, "Put your hand in and feel around. I certainly hope you will find silver." What else could it be, indeed? Silver shavings are silver, in faith.

The priest put his hand into the water and felt around, and in a minute he brought up a plate of fine silver. Then he was certainly the happiest priest in all London town. "The blessings of all the saints be upon you, sir canon," he exclaimed joyfully, "and their curse light upon me if I do not obey you in everything, provided you will vouchsafe to teach me this noble craft."


(800 words)











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