The Butcher of Abbeville

by Eustache d'Amiens

(French fabliau, 13th Century)




























































Lords, listen to this marvel,
For you have never heard the like
Of what I shall tell and relate to you.
Now set your minds on listening.
A word that is not heard,
Know it well, is lost.

At Abbeville, there was a butcher,
Much beloved by his neighbors.
He was not cruel or evil-tongued,
But wise, courteous, and of good qualities,
And a man loyal to his trade
Who had often been of great service
To his unfortunate poor neighbors.
He was not avaricious or covetous.

About the time of the Feast of All Saints
It happened that this butcher went to the market
At Oisement to purchase some livestock;
But he did nothing but waste his time,
For he found the livestock too dear there,
The young pigs poor and tough,
Poorly-raised and in bad state.
He could not bargain for them.
He had spent his time to no purpose,
Not a penny did he spend there.

After this thin marketing was over,
Indeed as soon as he could, he turned back.
He carried his coat over his shoulders
For it was almost evening.
Listen to what happened:
Right by Bailluel night fell
When he was still but halfway home.
Because it was late and had become very dark,
He decided he would go no further
And would lodge in the village;
He greatly feared that robbers
Would relieve him of his money,
Of which he had a good store.

At the doorway to a house
He found a poor woman standing.
He saluted her and spoke thus:
"Is there an inn in this town,
Or any place where a man can pay
His money to rest his limbs?
For I never like to burden another."

The good woman answered him:
"Sir, by God who made the world,
As my lord, Sir Miles, says,
There is no wine in this village
Except at the house of Sir Walter, our priest;
He has two barrels in his cellar
That he brought from Nogentel.
He always has wine in barrels,
Go take your lodging from him."

"Lady, I am going there without delay,"
Says the butcher, "and God save you."

"In faith, Sir, may God guide you."

He left immediately; he had no desire to stay.
He came to the house of the priest.
The parson sat at his door;
He was filled with great pride.
The butcher saluted him and then he spoke:
"Good Sir, may God be with you.
Give me lodging here in charity,
For thus you will do honor and goodness."

"Bold Sir," he said, "let God grant you lodging,
For, by the faith I owe to Saint Herbert,
A layman will not spend the night here.
There will be someone who will lodge you
Down there in the village.
Seek high and low
To see if you can find lodging,
For I assure you,
You will not sleep in this household.
Other people have taken lodging here,
And it is not proper for a priest
To allow a churlish person to sleep in his house."

"Churlish? Sir, what have you said?
Do you hold laymen in contempt?"

"Yes," he said, "and I am right.
Get away from my house.
It seems to me that this is insulting."

"Not at all, sir; rather it would be an alms-deed
To take me as a guest for this night,
For I can find nothing else.
I know well how to spend my money;
If you will offer me anything,
I will gladly pay for it,
And very good thanks I will give you for it,
For I do not want to cost you anything."

"You may as well beat your head
On this hard stone,"
Said the priest then. "By Saint Peter,
You will not sleep in my house!"

"Let devils stay there,"
Says the butcher, "false priest,
You are a churl and a rascal."

Straightway he left; he would say no more;
He was filled with great bitterness and anger.

Listen to what happened to him:
When he came out of the village
In front of an abandoned house
Whose rafters were fallen down,
He encountered a great flock of sheep.
By God, now hear a wonder!

He said to the shepherd,
Who many a cow and many a bull
Had guarded in his youth:
"Shepherd, may God give you joy;
Whose wealth is this?" "My lord the priest's."
"In the name of God," he said, "can this be?"
Now listen to what the butcher did.
So slyly he snatched a sheep
That the shepherd did not see a thing.
He completely tricked and deceived him.
Then he threw it on his shoulders.
By another road
He returns to the door of the priest
Who was so cruel and so haughty;
Just as he was about to close the door,
He who carries the sheep
Says to him: "Sir, may you be saved by God
Who governs and judges all men."

The parson returns his greeting
And then quickly asks him:
"Where do you come from?"
"I am from Abbeville;
I have been at the market in Oisement;
I have bought nothing except this sheep,
But it has good fat flanks.
If you will lodge me tonight,
You will be rewarded for it,
For I am not avaricious or miserly;
Tonight the flesh of this sheep
Will be eaten, if it pleases you,
For I have had difficulty carrying it."

The parson thought that he spoke the truth,
And he was eager to have another sheep;
He liked one dead one better than four living.
Thus he said, as I have heard:
"Yes, certainly, very willingly.
If there were three of you,
You would have the lodging you want.
Never has a man found me slow
In doing him courtesy and honor.
You seem to me an excellent sort;
Tell me, what is your name?"

"Sir, by God and by His name,
I am called David in true baptism,
Which I received with oil and chrism.
How I have worked on this trip!
May the Lord God not look on him,
In faith, whose beast this was.
It is high time it went to the fire."

They went directly into the house,
Where the fire was ready.
Then he threw down the beast,
And he looked up and down;
He asked for a hatchet,
And it was brought to him quickly.
He killed his animal and then skinned it;
He threw the pelt on a bench,
Then he hung it up, as their eyes watched.
"Sir, by God, come forth;
For the love of God, now consider
How well this sheep is grown.
See how fat and fresh it is.
But he has been a heavy burden for me,
And I carried it a very long way.
Now do what you will with it;
Dress the shoulders for a roast;
Fill up the pot with it
As a stew for the household.
I tell you no lie,
There was never more beautiful meat.
Put it to cook on the fire;
See how tender and fine it is;
Before the sauce is ready,
It will be well cooked."

"Good guest, do as you wish;
Compared to you, I don't know how to go about this."

"Then have the table set up."

"It is ready, there is nothing to do but to wash
And light the candles."

Gentlemen, I will not lie to you.
The parson had a mistress
Of whom he was so very jealous
That each night he had a guest
He made her stay in her room.
But this evening he had her come dine
Joyfully with his guest.
They were richly served
With good meat and good wine.
With white sheets, which were linen,
The butcher's bed was prepared;
He took delight therein.

The parson calls his servant girl:
"I command you," said he, "dear girl
To see that our guest is well at ease,
So that there is nothing to displease him."

Then they went to bed together,
He and his lady, as I have heard,
And the butcher remained by the fire.
He was never so comfortable.
He had a good lodging and good treatment.
"Dear girl," he said, "come here;
Get in here and talk to me,
And if you will make me your lover,
You will have for it a good reward indeed."

"Guest, be quiet; don't speak of 'reward';
I know nothing of such business."

"By God, now you would do well to do it
For this promise that I will make to you."

"Say it then, and I will listen."

"If you will do my pleasure
And all my wish and desire,
By God, who judges the true heart,
You will have the pelt of my sheep."

"Good guest, say nothing more of that.
You are not well endowed with brains
To ask such a thing of me;
You are badly mistaken.
My God, how foolish you are!
I would do as you wish, but I don't dare;
Tomorrow you would tell my lady about it."

"My girl, as God has an interest in my soul,
Never in my life will I tell her
Nor ever accuse you of this."

She was so completely convinced
That she did his will
All the night until it was day.
Then she arose and made the fire,
Prepared her utensils, and tended the animals.

At prime the priest arose;
He and his clerk went to the church
To sing and perform their office,
And his lady remained sleeping.
And the guest straightway
Put on his clothes and shoes without delay,
For indeed the time was right.
To the bedroom, without waiting longer,
He came to the lady to take his leave.
He drew the latch, opened the door;
And the lady awoke.
She opened her eyes, saw her guest
Right by the bed.
Then she asked him why he came there
And what it was he wanted.
"Lady," he said, "I thank you;
You have lodged me very comfortably
And you have been very kind to me."
He stepped to the head of the bed,
Put his hand on the bolster,
And drew back the cover.
He sees her white and lovely throat
And her bosom and breasts.
"Ah, God!" he says, "I see miracles!
Saint Mary! Saint Romacles!
What good luck it is for the parson
Who sleeps with such a lady naked!
As Saint Honorius may aid me,
A king would be well honored by this!
If I had enough time
To lie there but a moment
I would be healed and made new!"

"Good guest, it is not much
That you are asking! By Saint Germain,
Go away, and take your hands off me!
My lord will already have sung his Mass.
He would be terribly upset
If he found you in his bedroom.
He would never love me again.
You would have me ruined and destroyed."
But he very sweetly reassured her:
"Lady," he said, "by the mercy of God,
I shall never move from here
For any living man.
Even if the parson comes here,
If he should say one word
That is outrageous or foolish,
I shall kill him outright.
But now if you will do my command,
And do what I wish,
I will give you my sheepskin
And a great sum of money."

"Sir, I will not do that at all,
For I think that you are so indiscreet
That tomorrow you would tell it everywhere."

"Lady," he said, "take my pledge:
As ever I have face or nose,
I shall not tell it to woman or man
For all the saints in Rome."

He said so much and promised so much
That the lady put herself at his mercy.
And the butcher enjoyed himself well.
And when he had fulfilled his desire,
He went away; he would stay no longer;
And he came to the church where the priest
Had begun the lesson
Between him and his clerk,
And as he said: "Jube Domine,"
Behold -- the butcher entered the church.
"Sir," he said, "God give you grace.
I have had a lodging to my taste;
I am greatly honored by your kindness,
But one thing I would ask of you --
And I pray that you will do it --
That you buy from me my sheepskin;
That would relieve me of trouble.
There are a good three pounds of wool on it;
It is a very good one, so help me God;
It is worth three pounds; you can have it for two,
And you will have a good bargain in it."

"Good guest, I will do it
Willingly for the love of you.
You are a good and loyal companion;
Come back and see me often."

He sold him his own pelt,
Took his leave, and went away.

And then arose the lady,
Who was very lovely and delicate.
She dresses herself in a green mantel,
Beautifully pressed in folded pleats.
The lady had tightly pinched her waist
With her belt, out of pride.
Clear and shining were her eyes,
Beautiful and pleasing as can be.
She is seated in her chair.
And the servant girl, without waiting,
Came to the sheepskin; she was going to take it
When the lady forbade her.
"Say now," she said, "tell me
What right you have to carry off that sheepskin."

"Lady, I am about my own business;
I want to carry it into the sun
In order to clean the hide."

"Don't do that; let it be.
It would hang too near the road.
Now get on with your own work."

"My lady, I have nothing else to do;
I got up earlier than you;
In faith, in spite of what may be wrong with you,
You should speak politely."

"Go away; let the hide be;
Watch that you do not set your hand on it again,
And that you meddle in this no more."

"In the name of God, lady, I will do so;
I will concern myself with it;
I will do so, since it is mine."

"You say that it is yours?"

"Yes, I tell you so truly."

"Put down that hide; go hang yourself,
Or go purge yourself;
It drives me to great anger
When you become so proud.
Whore, low-life, syphilitic,
Go quickly, get out of my house!"

"Lady, you speak foolishly,
And insult me about what is mine,
You may swear by the best saints,
And still it is mine." "Nevertheless,
Get out of this house, go drown yourself;
I have no need of your services.
You are too debauched and stupid;
If my lord himself had sworn it,
That could not keep you here,
I have taken such a hatred toward you."

"Curses be on the neck
Of whomever serves you again!
I will wait only until the priest comes home,
And then I am going away.
I will complain to him."

"Complain? Whore! Old good-for-nothing!
Prostitute! Debauched bastard!"

"Bastard? Lady, there you are insulting!
Are your children as good,
Those you have had by the priest?"

"By the passion of God, put down
That pelt, or you will pay for it!"

"It would be better for you to be in Arras,
By the saints of God, indeed in Cologne."

Then the lady seized her distaff
And struck a blow, and the other cried:
"By the virtue of Saint Mary,
You are wrong to beat me!
You will buy that pelt dearly,
Though I die for it."
Then she cried and raised a great clamor.

At the noise of this quarrel
The priest came into the house:
"What is this," he said, "what is going on?"

"It is my lady, sir, for I've done nothing wrong."

"Nothing at all?" he said, "never before
Has she treated you so badly."

"By God, sir, it was for the pelt
That hangs there next to the fire.
Good sir, you commanded me,
Last night, when you went to bed,
That our guest, Master David,
Should be made comfortable in every way,
And I did as you commanded,
And he truly gave me
The sheepskin; I will swear on the saints
That I well deserved it."

The parson heard and understood
From the words that she spoke
That his guest had laid her
And for that he had given her the pelt.
He was enraged by this and filled with wrath,
But he did not dare say what he thought.

"Lady, he said, "as God saves me,
You have done a churlish trick;
You think too little of me and fear me too little,
You who have beaten my servants."

"Bah! And she wants to have my sheepskin!
Sir, if you knew the truth
About the shame that she said to me,
You would reward me for it;
She reproved me about your children.
You will suffer for it
If you allow her to insult me
And to shame all with her jangling.
I don't know what will happen
If my sheepskin does not remain here;
I say that it is mine alone!"

"What's this?" "In faith, mine!"

"Yours, indeed? Why is that?"

"Our guest stayed in our house,
On my mattress, on my blanket,
And St. Aceus will have the blame for it
If now you want to know all."

"Dear lady, now tell me the truth;
By that faith that you pledged to me
When you first came here,
Should this sheepskin be yours?"

"Yes, by the Holy Pater Noster,"

The servant girl then said:
"Good Sir, never believe it,
It was given to me first."

"Ha, whore! It was a bad day when you were born!
You were given a sore belly.
Get quickly out of my house;
May some shameful evil befall you!"

"By the Holy Image of Compiègne,
Lady," he said, "you are wrong."

"I am not, and I will scratch her to death,
For she is a liar,
This debauched thief!"

"Lady, what have I robbed you of?"

"Debauched creature! My barley, my wheat,
My peas, my salt pork, my bread-you took everything.
Certainly, you are too weak
To have put up with her for so long.
Sir, pay her what she has coming;
By God, you will be free of her!"

Lady," he said, "now listen to me;
By Saint Denis, I want to know
Who should have this sheepskin.
This sheepskin -- who gave it to you?"

"Our guest, when he went away."

"Indeed! By the sides of Saint Martin
He went away early this morning,
Before the sun had risen.
God, how disloyal you are
To swear so shamelessly."

"But he very sweetly took his leave
Before he had to leave."

"Was he there when you got up?"

"No, I was lying down then;
I took no notice of him
When I saw him standing by my bed ...
I must explain. . . ."

"And what did he say when he took his leave?

"Sir, you are trying to trick me!
He said, 'I commend you to Jesus.'
And then he went away.
Not another word did he say,
Nor did he ask for anything
That would bring shame on you.
But you want to sniff out some folly;
You have never trusted me,
As if you have seen something wrong in me,
When, thank God, there is nothing wrong at all,
But you want to hunt out some treachery.
You have kept me so like a prisoner
That my flesh is grown pale and weak;
I never step outside your house;
You have shut me in a cage;
I have been too much in your power
For your drink, for your food."

"Aha!" he said, "crazy slut,
I have nourished you too well;
It is a near thing that I don't beat and kill you.
I can see clearly that he screwed you.
Tell me, why didn't you cry out?
You should have broken off the conversation.
Go, leave my house immediately,
And I will go to my altar;
I will swear that from this moment on
I will never sleep in your bed."

He sits down in great wrath,
Enraged, sad and pensive.
When the lady saw him angered,
It strongly weighed on her that she had
Argued and striven against him.
She greatly feared he would harm her.
She went straightway to her bedroom,
And the shepherd came running in,
For he had just counted his sheep.
Yesterday evening one of them was stolen,
He does not know what has become of it;
With great haste he came,
Rubbing his thighs, into the house.
The priest was at his reading,
Much heated with anger.
"What is this? You come at a bad time,
Damned rogue! Where do you come from,
What has happened? You are tricking me,
Whoreson, rude churl,
You had better watch your animals;
It is a near thing I don't beat you with a stick."

"Sir, I never had a better sheep in all our flock.
I don't know who stole him."

"Have you then lost a sheep?
Now you should be hanged;
You have guarded them badly."

"Sir, now listen to me;
Last night, when I came to the village,
A strange man met me there,
One whom I have never seen before,
In the fields, or in the village, or on the road.
And he looked very carefully at my animals,
And he inquired closely and asked me
Whose handsome belongings these were,
And I said to him 'Our lord, the priest's.'
He stole it from me; that's what I think."

"By the saints of God, that was David,
Our guest, who stayed here last night;
He has well tricked and deceived me,
And screwed my whole household;
He sold me my own sheepskin!
'He has wiped my nose with my own sleeve';
I was born in an evil hour.
O, that I had known how to guard myself from him!
Everyday one can learn something more.
'He has made me a cake with my own dough.'
Would you recognize the skin?"

"Yes, sir, by the faith that I owe you,
I would know it well, if I saw it.
I have kept watch over it for seven years."

He took the pelt, he looked at it,
At the ears and at the head,
And he knew well the pelt of his animal.

"Harrow! Alas!" said the shepherd.
"By God, sir, it is Old Horny,
The animal that I love best;
There is none so docile in my flock;
By the faith that I owe to Saint Vincent
There is not so fat a sheep in a hundred;
There could not be a better one than he."

"Come here, lady," said the priest,"
And you, servant girl, come forward,
Speak to me, I command you
Answer me when I ask:
What part of this sheepskin is yours?"

"Sir, I claim all the pelt,"
Said the girl to the priest.

"And you, what do you say, good lady?"

"Sir, as God has a claim on my soul,
Rightfully it should be mine."

"It will not be yours or hers.
I bought it with my own money;
Indeed it must remain in my keeping.
He came to ask me about it at the church,
Where I was reading my psalter.
By Saint Peter, the true apostle,
It will not be hers or yours,
Unless you have it by legal judgment."

Gentlemen, you who know well,
Eustache of Amiens asks you
And prays in the name of love and requests
That you render this judgment;
Indeed, both truly and loyally,
Let each one say his will in this matter:
Which should best have the pelt --
The priest, or Mrs. Priest,
Or the tricky servant girl?

Here ends The Butcher of Abbeville.

From Larry D. Benson and Theodore M. Andersson, The Literary Context of Chaucer's Fabliaux. Indianapolis and New York, 1971. Pp. 283-311.