Gombert and the Two Clerks

by Jean Bodel

(French fabliau, 1190-1194)




















This next fabliau tells
About two clerks who were returning from school;
They had spent all their money.
More on foolishness than on wisdom.
They sought lodging at the house of a peasant,
By whose wife, Dame Guile,
One of the clerks, as soon as he came there
Was so overcome that he fell in love.
But he could not help it,
For the lady was beautiful and attractive;
Her eyes were gray as glass.
All day the clerk stared at her
So hard he barely blinked his eyes.
And the other clerk loved the daughter
And continually had his eyes on her.
He chose much the better,
For the daughter was elegant and lovely,
And I say that the love of a girl,
When a courtly heart is set on it,
Compared to all others is as much more noble
As is the hawk to the tercel falcon.

A tiny infant in a cradle
The good wife was feeding by the hearth.
While she was busy feeding him,
One of the clerks slipped by her
And took away from the cooking pan
The little ring by which it hung.
He slipped it quickly on his finger
So quietly that no one noticed it.

The best that Sir Gombert had,
Those guests had in plenty that night:
Boiled milk, cottage cheese, and mixed fruits --
It was more than enough, as usual on a farm.

That evening Dame Guile was closely
Watched by one of the clerks;
His eyes were so fixed on her
He could not take them away.
The husband, who did not know what was going on,
And who thought all was well,
Had their bed placed next to his own;
He put them to bed and covered them up.
Then Sir Gombert went to bed,
After he had warmed himself at the straw
And his daughter slept all alone.
When the people had fallen asleep,
One of the clerks did not let his chance slip by;
His heart beat rapidly and tormented him;
With the ring from the cooking pan
He went to the girl's bed.
Listen to what happened to him:
He lay down by her, drew back the covers.

"Lord! Who is this who uncovers me?"
She said when she felt him;
"Sir, by God Almighty,
What are you doing here at this hour?"

"Sweetheart," he said, "as God may save me,
I only want to go in there beside you.
But be quiet, don't make a sound,
Lest your father should awake,
For he would think this strange indeed;
If he knew that I was in bed here with you
He would think that I had
Made you do my pleasure.
But, if you will consent to my wishes,
Great good will come to you from it,
And you will have my golden ring,
Which is worth more than four besants;
Now feel how heavy it is;
It is too large for my ring finger."

And he pushed the ring
On her finger, so that it passed the joint,
And she pressed herself close to him
And swore that she would never leave him.
Immediately, half by trickery, half openly,
The one became so tender to the other
That the clerk accomplished his foolish desire.
And the more he embraces and kisses her,
The more uncomfortable is his companion,
For it made him think of his lady;
What to the one was paradise
Seemed to the other true hell.

Then Sir Gombert got up;
Stark naked, he went out the door to piss.
The other clerk came to his bed,
Right from in front of the headboard
He took away the cradle with the baby
And carried it to the bed where he lay.
Now Dan Gombert is tricked,
For he always had the habit
At night when he came back from pissing
That he would first grope for the cradle.
Thus, as was his custom,
Sir Gombert soon came groping
To his bed, but there was no cradle there;
When he did not find the cradle,
Then he felt like a real fool.
He supposed indeed that he had lost his way.

"The devil," he said, "afflicts me,
For my guests are sleeping in this bed!"
He came alongside the other bed,
And he found there the cradle and the baby.
And the clerk had crouched down
Next to the bed, so that the peasant did not find him.
Sir Gombert was greatly surprised
When he did not find his wife.
He thought that she had gotten up
To piss and do her business.
The peasant felt the warmth of the bedclothes
And lay down between two sheets;
Slumber pressed upon his eyes
And he straightway fell asleep.
And the clerk did not miss his chance;
He went to get in bed with the lady,
And he did not so much as let her wipe her nose
Before he had attacked her three times.
Now Gombert had a good household
But he ran it with a weak stick.

"Sir Gombert," said Dame Guile,
"For so old and weak a man as you are,
You have been very hot tonight;
I don't know what you are thinking of;
It has been a long time indeed since you have been like this;
Aren't you afraid you will tire me?
You have done as much tonight
As if our salvation depended on it;
You have been a very good worker,
You have not been lazy."
The clerk, who did not make a sound,
Continually did his pleasure
And let her say what she pleased.

And he was no stick of wood,
He who was lying with the daughter;
When he had done enough of his pleasure,
He thought that he would go back to his bed
Before day had dawned.
So he returned to his bed,
There where his host, Gombert, was lying.
He punched him with his fist in the ribs,
A great blow with the fist and with the whole elbow:
"Poor fellow, you have guarded our mattress well,"
He said, "you are not worth a tart,
But before I leave here,
I will tell you a great wonder."

With that Sir Gombert awoke;
He immediately realized
That he had been betrayed and deceived
By those clerks and their tricks.
"Now, tell me," he said, "where are you coming from?"

"Where?" he said, and he announced straight out,
"By God, I come from fucking!
And it was our host's daughter, no less!
I took her from the front and from the side;
I breached her wine barrel,
And gave her the ring
From the iron cooking pan!"

"Ah! Let him be with those in hell!"
He said, "With the hundreds and the thousands!"
With that he grabbed him by the flank
And hit him in the eye with his fist,
And he gave him such a blow
That both his eyes saw stars.
They were so intent upon thrashing
One another that I would say
That one could have put them in a barrel
And carried them through the village.

"Sir Gombert," said Dame Guile,
"Get up quickly, for I believe
Our clerks are fighting each other;
I don't know what they have to fight about."

"Lady, I will go separate them."
Then the clerk went in from the side;
He almost came there too late,
For his companion had been thrown down
Just as he came rushing there.
Dan Gombert had the worst of it,
For both of them set upon him;
The one stomped him and the other punched him.
They so kicked him from one to the other
That, so it seems to me,
His back was as soft as his belly.
And when they had done this,
The two of them fled away,
Leaving the door wide open.

This tale shows us by its example
That a man who has a pretty wife
Should never allow, despite his prayers,
A clerk to sleep in his house,
For he will do this same thing.
The more one trusts them, the more one loses.
There is no more of the fabliau of Gombert.

Here ends Gombert and the Two Clerks.

From Larry D. Benson and Theodore M. Andersson, 

The Literary Context of Chaucer's Fabliaux. 

Indianapolis and New York, 1971. Pp. 89-99.