Canterbury Tales: The Story of the Summoner (cont.)

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

The Story of the Summoner (cont.)

The summoner would have gone on asking question after question, but the fiend gently cut him short. "Hereafter, my dear brother," he said, "you shall come where you will not need to learn of me. Now let us ride on briskly, for you may be sure that I shall stay with you unless you leave me."

"Oh, no," declared the summoner, "that will never come to pass. We have sworn to be brothers, and I will keep my word, even though you were Satan himself. You take all you can get, and I will do the same, and if either of us gets more than the other, then let him share."

"Agreed, by my faith," declared the fiend, and then they rode on together to the edge of the town where the summoner had planned to go. In the road was a cart loaded with hay, and it bade fair to stand in the road for some time to come, for the mud was so deep that, try as they would, the horses could not stir it. The carter beat them and shouted as if he were mad. "Go on, Scot! Get up, Brok! The fiend take you, and the cart and hay, too!"

"Here's somewhat for you," said the summoner softly to the fiend. "Listen, brother, listen! Don't you hear what the carter says? Take it; he has given it all to you, hay and cart and his three good horses."

"No," the fiend responded, "I cannot take that, because he doesn't mean it in earnest. Ask him for yourself if you doubt me, or else wait a little and you will see."

The carter struck his horses another blow, and they began to pull harder than ever. "Get up!" he cried. "There, we are out of it at last. That was well done, old Gray. God save thee, and bless everything that He ever made!"

"Now, brother," said the fiend, "now, you see: I cannot get anything from this wagon, so let us go on farther."

They passed on through the town. When they came near to the end, the summoner whispered to the fiend, "My brother, an old woman lives in yon small house who would about as soon lose her neck as give up a penny. I will have twelve pence out of her, though, if she goes mad, or I will summon her to our court. I don't know any wrong of her, but no matter. Now watch me, brother, and since you do not seem to know how to get what belongs to you in this country, you can follow my example and learn from me."

The summoner knocked loud at the widow's gate. "Come out," he called, "come out."

"Who is that?" asked the woman. "Ah, God save you, sir, what is your will?"

"I have here," replied the summoner, "a bill requiring you to appear at the archdeacon's court tomorrow morning to answer to certain charges made against you."

"I call God to witness," declared the woman, "that I cannot. I have been sick for a long while, and my side pains me so that I can neither ride nor walk. Sir summoner, may not one appear for me at the court and answer there to whatever thing is charged against me?"

"Yes," replied the summoner, "pay me twelve pence, and I will see to the matter. I shall get small gain from it; my master has the profit, not I. Come, give me the twelve pence, and let me ride on. I can't wait here any longer."

"Twelve pence!" cried the widow. "I've not twelve pence to my name. You know right well that I am poor and old. Have pity on me in my trouble."

"Never," declared the summoner. "May the fiend take me if I let you off, even if it ruins you."

"Alas," she wailed, "God knows I have done nothing wrong."

"Pay the twelve pence," growled the summoner, "or I will carry away your new pan for the debt that you owed me before."

"You say false," she shrieked. "Never in all my life was I summoned to your court till now. May the fiend take you, and my pan too."

When the fiend heard this, he drew nearer. "Good mother," he asked gently, "do you really mean what you are saying?"

"May the fiend take him, pan and all, if he does not repent!" repeated the old woman.

"Repent, indeed!" cried the summoner. "I'll not repent of taking anything from you. I wish I had everything that belongs to you."

"Now, brother," said the fiend, "don't be angry, but you and this pan are mine by right, and this very night you shall go to my dwelling in hell with me," and with that the fiend caught him and bore him away, body and soul, to the place where folk like him have heritage prepared.

(800 words)

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