The Pardoner’s Tale, from The Canterbury Tales
Three Men Look for Death
The pardoner told his story next. But first, he told the other pilgrims about his job.
‘I speak to people in churches,’ he said. ‘I always talk about the same thing. I tell people: “Love of money is a real problem. You do bad things, and bad things happen to you, because of it.” And I sell pardons. I’ve got a lot of things that belonged to saints – bits of cloth and other old things. Well, they didn’t really belong to saints, but people don’t know that! If people buy these things, God will forgive them. And I make a lot of money. I don’t like being poor. Oh no! I must have fine clothes and good food! The poor give me money and I have a good life. I sell them pardons and they’re happy’.
The pardoner was a very bad man but his story was very good. The pilgrims were surprised that a bad man could tell a good tale.
This is the story.
There were three young men who did many bad and stupid things. They drank too much and they did no work.
One morning, they were drinking when they heard a noise outside. People were carrying the body of a dead man.
They asked the boy who brought them more drink, ‘Whose body is that, boy?’
‘He was your friend,’ answered the boy. ‘He was killed last night while he was drinking here. He was killed by that quiet thief, Death. Death kills all the people in this country. He killed your friend and then went away. He’s killed thousands and thousands of people. You should get ready to meet Death.’
‘I’m not afraid to meet him!’ cried one young man, and he quickly jumped up. ‘I’m going to find him! I’ll look for him in every field and wood and town. Listen! Let’s hold up our hands and promise to be brothers. Let’s find Death and kill him!’
‘I’ll come with you,’ said the second man.
‘And me,’ said the third. ‘We’ll kill this dangerous man, Death, before night comes.’
So the three men went to find Death. They walked a little way and saw an old man with a long white beard. He was wearing a lot of old clothes and carrying a stick. When he saw the three men, he spoke to them kindly.
‘God be with you, my young friends.’
But the men shouted at him, ‘You stupid old man! Why are you wearing all those clothes ?’
‘Because I’m very old,’ answered the man. ‘I feel the cold and I can never get warm.’
‘Well, why have you lived for so long then, you ugly old man? You should die more quickly!’ they shouted.
The old man looked at them angrily. ‘I live like this because Death hasn’t taken me. I travel up and down the country, looking for Death. I say to the ground under my feet: “Dear Mother Earth, let me in! Oh, Mother Earth, I want to lie down in you and sleep for ever!” But she isn’t kind to me. That’s why I’m old, young men.’
One of the men laughed loudly. The old man turned to him and said quietly, ‘You’ve spoken very unkindly to me and now you’re laughing at me. But I’ve done nothing to hurt you. You should speak more kindly to an old man. Now, I’ve got nothing more to say to you. I’m going to continue on my journey to meet Death.’
‘No, you can’t do that!’ they shouted. ‘He’s killed all our friends in this country. We’re going to find him and kill him. Quickly, tell us where he is’.
‘If you really want to find Death, I’ll tell you,’ answered the old man. ‘Can you see that little road? Go up there. Not long ago I saw him near a great tree in the wood. But you can’t save men from Death. He won’t be afraid of you. Go now. I hope God will help you to become better men.’
The three young men went up the road and ran towards the great tree, but there was nobody there. They sat down and looked around them. Then suddenly, on the ground, they saw a lot of money. They all got very excited and forgot about Death. But Death was very near and he was thinking about them.
Nobody said anything as they started to count the money. At last one of them spoke.
‘Listen to me,’ he said. ‘This money will bring us happiness for the rest of our lives but we must hide it. One of us must go back to the town for food and drink. The other two can hide in the wood. They must guard the money until night comes.’
This plan sounded sensible. So the youngest man went into town and his two friends waited in the wood with the money. ‘I’ve got an idea,’ said one of the men. ‘We’re like three brothers, but one of us has gone now. If you take half the money, I’ll take the other half. Then we’ll be really rich!’ ‘But how can we do that ?’ asked the other man. ‘Our young brother knows about the money.’
‘I’ll tell you how we can do it. There are two of us. Two men are stronger than one. When he comes back, we’ll play a game with him. You can start a friendly fight with him. I’ll wait and then kill him with my knife. After that, my dear brother, we can take all the money. Half for you and half for me!’ And so they planned their young friend’s death.
But the young friend was bad too. As he walked to the town, his mind was full of the beautiful money. He said to himself, ‘How can I get all that money? If I think of a good plan, I’ll be the happiest, richest man in the world!’
At last he had an idea.
‘I know what I’ll do. I’ll go to a shop and buy some poison. Then I’ll kill the other two and take all the money.’
So he went to a shop in the town and said to the shopkeeper, ‘The cats on my farm are eating all my plants. Can you give me something to kill them?’
The shopkeeper showed him a small bottle of poison.
‘This will kill your cats,’ he said. ‘Put it in their food or drinking water. It’s very strong. It will kill a horse!’
Then the young man went to the next street and bought three bottles of wine. He put the poison into two of the bottles and he kept the third bottle.
‘I’ll need a drink after I’ve killed my two friends. I’ll hide their bodies first and then hide the money. I’ll need a good bottle of wine after all that!’
Then he bought some food and walked back to the wood. When the other two men saw him, they said, ‘Ha! Here he comes! He’s bringing us our supper but he’ll never have another meal again!’
They were hungry and they ate the food immediately. Then the two men asked their young friend to play the fighting game. Their plan went well and they soon killed him.
‘Let’s eat again and drink some of this wine. Then we’ll put his body in the ground,’ they said.
One man got a bottle of wine and drank a lot of it. Then he gave the bottle to the other man.
Both men died slowly in a lot of pain.
They wanted to find Death and kill him. But when Death found them, they were all dead!
And Death laughed loudly for a long time!
‘Well, that’s the end of my story,’ said the pardoner. ‘Now, I’ve got some things here in my bag. They’ll bring you forgiveness and save you all. Only a penny! Hurry! Hurry! Come and buy!’
Happy English learning!!