The Pardoner's Tale:
The Revelers who Went out to Meet Death
My story is a truly moral tale about three of these revelers who sat together in a tavern one morning. It was not yet nine o'clock, but these young rioters did not even await the coming of night for their orgies, and though it was so early, they had already emptied many cups. The tinkling of a bell was heard from the street.
"What's that?" one asked, and another replied, "Nothing but the jingling of a bell before a corpse."
"Boy," the first called tipsily to the waiter, "do you go and ask the corpse's name, and see that you don't forget it on the way back."
"Sir, there is no need of asking," the boy replied, "for I knew two hours and more ago who was to be buried this morning, and surely there is no need of telling you, for he was an old companion of yours. He was sitting on a bench dead drunk last night, and a sly old thief that they call Death came upon him suddenly and thrust a spear through his heart, and the man fell over dead. That old fellow kills all the people in the country hereabouts; he struck down a thousand the last time of pestilence. My mother used to tell me to see to it well that I was ready to meet him."
"The boy tells the truth," declared the tavern-keeper. "Why, in the great village over yonder, only a mile from here, Death has slain man, woman, child, page, and hind within this one year. I believe he lives there. My word upon it, it needs a pretty wise man to be on his guard against him."
"And you call it such a peril to meet him?" said one of the revelers. "I tell you I'll go to seek him by street and by lane; I vow I will. Listen to me, fellows: we are all agreed. Let us each hold up his hand and swear that we will stand by one another like brothers and kill this traitor Death. He has slain many, but before night he'll be dead himself, he will."
So the three, all of them half drunk, swore tipsily that they would be as true to one another as born brothers, and then they staggered toward the village that the tavern-keeper had pointed out to them, and as they walked, they swore many dreadful oaths that if they could only catch this Death, they would surely kill him.
Before they had gone half a mile, they came to a stile, and on the other side of the stile was an old man in poor and worn-out garments. He tottered out of their way and said meekly, "God keep you, gentlemen."
The proudest of the revelers glanced at him and laughed scornfully. "Old fellow," he said, "why do you keep yourself all wrapped up except your face? Why do you keep on living any longer when you are so old?"
Next: The Revelers (cont.)