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PARAPHRASE OF THE PROLOGUE.
IN the sweet spring-time, when the hard dry
winds of March have been succeeded by gentle south-west breezes; when April showers have softened the ground; and when the sun,” though as yet he is somewhat feeble, has passed through the first month of his annual round, so that the young lambs are frisking in the meads, the sap is rising in every stalk, making the buds" “brisk in primrose season,” both in forest and on moor, and the birds " in the joy of their little hearts are singing all day long to their mates, and even, during the night, grudge each moment spent in sleep, so intent are they on business, at such a time it is fitting that men should begin the active year by visiting the shrines of the holy saints, both at home and in far-off lands, and there piously pay the vows they have taken upon themselves, in return for the benefits they have received in their season of adversity — most of those in England who are so inclined finding their way to the grave of St Thomas at Canterbury, the saint who sacrificed his life for the sake of Holy Church, and who has, ever since, been a friend indeed to those in distress. Like many others I also, on a certain day * in spring, resolved to proceed to the sacred shrine, and there, in all solemnity and devotion, fulfil the holy vows under which I had come ; and, in prosecution of my design, I betook myself to a certain well-known hostel, called The Tabard, situated in * The tendre croppés. * And smalé fowlés maken melodie, That slepen al the night with open eye.
* The yongé sonne,
the High Street of the Borough of Southwark, on the Surrey side of the Thames—a place where I knew that pilgrims like myself were wont to congregate. And sure enough, on the evening of the day on which I rested there, I found a goodly company" of about thirty folk assembled, all bound for Canterbury, and resolved to make the most of their holiday. The place was a well-appointed one ; the accommodation was ample and stately; the viands were good; and the host, Harry Bailly by name, did all he could to make us comfortable and at home. It is ever my desire to make friends of those I meet, if they are at all inclined to be sociable; and so it was not long before I had held pleasant conversation with every one of the company, and was “hail fellow, well met,” with the whole of them. We talked over plans for our mutual comfort on the journey; and I was so well pleased with these and with the company itself, that I resolved to set down in order the incidents that might befall us on the way, feeling assured that they would prove interesting both to myself and other people. But before doing so, it seemed to me to be a necessary and business-like thing to give an account of the character and surroundings of each of the company, and this I shall now proceed to do. The highest in rank amongst us was a KNIGHT, for whom we all felt the most profound respect—a respect which was due to him, both on account of the nobility of his nature, and the many brave deeds he had done. He had just returned from one of the numerous arduous expeditions in which he had been engaged ; and although he rode an excellent horse, which, like a good cavalier, he kept in the best possible condition, yet he himself was far from being in gala attire." He wore an old battered coat of mail, and I noticed that the fustian tunic which was over it was soiled with the rust, all of which indicated that he had very recently been engaged in rough fighting, and that he had come with all possible despatch to fulfil the pious vows which he had made when he was hard bestead. Like a true knight, he was reticent as to his achievements,” but we came to know that he had fought in as many as fifteen great battles; that he had been engaged in the sieges of Alexandria, Algesiras, Lieys, and Satalie; that he had fought against the infidel in Belmarie, and three times in the lists at Tramassene, killing his man each time, and thereby gaining much renown; that he had ever been the earliest in the field, and the readiest to welcome his comrades when they came to any port on the Levant* to fight in the common cause; that, as one of the Teutonic knights, he had oftener led expeditions against the Tartars in Russia and Lithuania than any of the others, and had thus become entitled to take the highest place” at all the assemblies of that august body, all this we learned; and then, when we came to know the man, the soul of honour, the perfection of kindliness and consideration for others, brave in war, prudent in counsel, modest in demeanour, and dignified in speech and action,” we one and all of us decided that there could be no more honoured representative of the glory of England than he, and that he was indeed “a verray perfight gentil knight.” He had his son with him, a young SQUIRE, a worthy son of so noble a sire. He was tall and handsome, well proportioned and erect in bearing,” strong in limb, and vigorous in movement. He was in his twentieth year, the age when healthy
* Wel nyne and twenty in a compainye, Of sondry folk.