Canterbury Tales: The Revelers (cont.)

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

The Revelers (cont.)

The old man looked him straight in the eyes and replied, "I am old because I cannot find a man who will give me his youth and take my age. Whether I went to city or country or even to far-away India, it would be the same, and so I must keep my age as long as it is God's will. Neither, alas, will Death take my life. That is why I wander about, a restless, miserable wretch. The first thing in the morning and the last thing at night I knock on the ground with my staff, for the ground is the gate to my mother's house, and I cry, 'Dear mother, let me in! See how thin I am! Flesh and skin and blood have withered away. When will my old bones find rest? I would gladly give up to you all that I have if you would but give me a shroud to wrap me in.' She will not do me the favor, and that is why my face is so pale and wrinkled. But, sirs, it is no honor to you to speak so roughly to an old man who has done nothing to harm you. If you stay in this world, you, too, will soon be old, and I counsel you not to do to any old man what you would not wish to have done to you when you are old. Farewell, sirs, and God be with you whether you ride or walk. I must go on my way."

"Hold on, old fellow," cried one of the revelers. "You won't get off so easily as that. You talk about this rascally Death, who is always murdering our friends about here. I believe you are his spy, and now if you don't tell us where to find him, it will be the worse for you, understand that, for I have no doubt at all that you are in league with him to slay us young folk."

The old man replied, "Sirs, if you want to find Death so badly, certainly I can tell you which way to go. Do you see that little winding path that leads into the woods? I saw him there just now, sitting under an oak tree. He will stay, depend upon it. He'll not run away from you for all your boasting. God save you, and make you mend your ways!"

The tipsy revelers hurried to the tree to find Death. He was not to be seen, but on the ground there lay a great heap of golden florins, bushels of them, all bright and shining as if they had just been coined. The three men threw themselves down upon the pile of gold, they felt of it, they let it run through their fingers, they held up handfuls of it to see it glitter in the sunshine. After a while the worst villain among them said, "Brothers, you know that I make merry and jest, but I have some wisdom for all that. Now listen to what I say. Here is this great heap of gold, and it is plain enough that our lucky stars have sent it to us that we might have a jolly time all the rest of our lives. And that we will," he swore by a terrible oath. "Who would ever have dreamed that such a thing as this would have come to us! But now listen! This gold must be taken care of, and we might count ourselves in luck if it were safely stored away in either my house or yours; but how are we going to get it there? We cannot carry it by daylight, for some one would be sure to see us, and then the officers would say we were thieves, and they would hang us for taking care of our own gold. We must carry it in the night, that is sure, and be sly about it at that, and we must keep watch of it all day or else some thief will find it and steal it from us. Now hear my plan. We will draw lots, and the one to whom the lot falls shall run to the town as fast as ever he can and secretly get some bread and wine. While he is gone, the other two shall keep close watch and ward, and then, if all goes well, as soon as night comes, we will carry the treasure wherever we may decide will be the safest place."

(700 words)

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