The Miller and the Two Clerks

Anonymous French Fabliau (13th Cent.)

































Once there were two poor clerks,
Born in the same town and in the same country;
They were fellow deacons.
In the forest where they lived,
Where they had been nourished,
Very hard times assailed them,
As happens so often;
It is a sad situation for poor folk.
The clerks considered their sad state;
They had such heavy hearts
They could not think what to do,
For they did not know how to earn anything,
Neither in their own country nor anywhere else.
They were ashamed to beg for their bread,
As much because of their
Order as for anything else.
They had no possessions at all
With which to support themselves,
And they did not know where to turn.

On Sunday, after dinner,
They went out of their church
And met one another there,
And went out of the town
To speak a bit about their problem.

The one said to the other: "Listen here,
We do not know what to do
Because we don't know how to earn anything;
And see now how this famine afflicts us.
It is a thing that conquers all;
No one can defend himself against it.
We have nothing to draw upon.
Have you set aside anything
With which we can support ourselves?"

The other answered: "By Saint Denis,
I do not know what to say to you,
Except that I do have a good friend;
I advise that we go to him
To fetch a quarter of wheat
At the price it goes for this year,
And he will grant me credit for its cost
For a long time and willingly,
Until the feast of Saint John,
For us to use in this bad year."

The other then answered:
"That is very good for us,
For I have a very good brother indeed,
Who has a fat mare;
I will get her, get the quarter of wheat,
And we will become bakers.
The times will excuse the shameful things
A man must do in this bad year."

Thus they did without delay.
To the mill they carried their grain.
The mill was far away,
More than two leagues it was.
It was a mill at a millstream,
And stood next to a small wood.
There was nothing around there,
Not hut, nor town, nor house,
Except for the house of the miller,
Who knew his trade too well.
The clerks soon opened the gate
And threw their sack of grain inside.
Then they put the mare
In the meadow next to the millstream.
The one stayed to watch everything,
The other went to rouse the miller
So that he would come to help them.
But he had gone into hiding.
He had indeed seen the clerks coming,
And I believe he wanted to separate them.
One came running to the miller's house
And found the wife at her spinning.
"Lady," he said, "by Saint Martin,
Where is the lord of the mill?
He should come to help us."

"Sir Clerk, don't bother me about that;
You could find him in that wood --
If you please to go there --
That is next to the mill."

And the clerk is on his way;
He goes very quickly to seek him.
His companion, who was waiting for him,
Was so bothered by the long delay
That he came running to the house:
"Lady," he said, "for the love of God,
Where has my friend gone?"

"Sir, on my honor,
He has gone to seek my lord,
Who went out just a little while ago."
She knew well the tricks of the trade.
She sent one clerk after the other,
And the miller got on his way
And came running to the mill.
He threw the sack on the mare,
With his wife who helped him,
And carried everything into his house.
As soon as he had hidden it in the house,
He returned to the mill.

And the clerks have wandered so long
That they returned to the mill.
"Miller," they say, "God be with you!
For the love of God, help us."

"My lords," he said, "Help with what?"

"With this grain here, in faith."
But when they go to fetch their grain,
They find neither sack nor mare.
One looked at the other:
"What is this? Have we been robbed?"

"Yes," said one, "that is what I think,
Sin has brought us to ruin!"

Each cried: "Alas, alas!
Save us, Saint Nicholas!"

Said the miller: "What is the matter?
Why are you crying so loud?"

"Miller, we have lost everything;
Evil has fallen upon us,
For now we have not mare nor anything;
Those were all our possessions."

"My lords," he said, "I know nothing about this."

"Sir," they say, "it does not concern you,
Unless you can tell us
Where we should go
To search and seek out our loss."

"My lords," he said, "look in this wood.
I do not know how to advise you,
But you can look in this wood
That is next to this mill."

The clerks set out on their way;
When they had entered the woods,
The miller went on his way.
[They went up and down so long
That the sun had set,]
And one clerk spoke to the other:
"Indeed," he said, "it is truly said
That he is a fool who labors in vain.
Possessions come and go like straw.
Let us go now and stay for the night."

"Us? Where?" "At the miller's,
Where we went to the mill;
God grant us the hostel of Saint Martin!"
They went quickly to the miller's house;
He was not at all happy at their arrival,
But he asked them straightway:
"What has Saint Nicholas done for you?"

"Miller," they said, "not a thing."

"Then go earn some other goods,
For you are too far away from what you lost,
And you will not have it for this business."

"Miller," they said, "that may well be.
Give us lodging, by Saint Sylvester!
We don't know where else to go at this hour."

Then the miller began to think
That he would be worse than a dog
If he did not do something for them
With their own goods, since he could easily do it.

"My lords," he said, "there is only this hall;
You will have that if you have nothing more."

"Miller," they said, "it is enough."

The churl did not have a great establishment;
He had only himself, a quarter of the household,
His daughter, whom one ought to put first,
His wife, and a tiny baby.
The daughter was pretty and agreeable,
And the miller, lest she be too agreeable,
Put her into a bin
Each night, where she slept,
And he locked it from the outside
And through a little opening he gave her
The key, and then went to bed himself.

We must return to our clerks:
At night, when suppertime came,
The miller had brought to them
Bread and milk and eggs and cheese --
This is the food of the countryside.
He gave plenty of it to the two clerks.
One ate with the daughter,
The other with the miller and his wife.

In the fireplace there was a small andiron,
On which there was a little ring
That moved it in and out.
The one who ate with the young girl
Took the little ring from the andiron
And concealed and hid it well.

That night when they were in bed,
That clerk paid close attention
And he saw all that the miller did --
How he put her in the bin
And locked it from the outside,
How he gave her the key,
Threw it through a little window.
[Then he went to bed and loudly snored.
The miller was fast asleep.]

When all were settled down,
He nudged his companion:
"Friend," he said, "I am going to go
Talk to the miller's daughter,
Who is locked up in that bin."

Said the other: "Do you want to raise an uproar
And stir up the household?
It is true, you are a fool;
Evil can soon come to us from this."

"I would rather die
Than not go to find out
If she can do me any good."

He comes quickly to the bin
And scratches lightly, and she hears him.
"Who is out there?" she says.

"It is one who for your body
Is so anguished and tormented
That if you do not have mercy on him,
He will never again have joy.
It is he with whom you dined,
Who has brought to you a little golden ring:
You have never handled such a treasure,
For it is well proven and known
That its stone has such power
That any woman, no matter how easy in virtue,
Nor how often she has whored about
Will yet be chaste and a maiden
If she has this on her finger in the morning.
Take it; I make you a present of it."

Quickly she gives him the key,
And he immediately unlocks the bin.
He gets in, she crouches over,
And now they can take their delight,
For they find no one to bother them.

The miller's wife, before dawn,
Gets up from the side of her lord.
Stark naked she walks into the courtyard.
She passes directly by the bed
Of the clerk who was sleeping in the hall.
The clerk saw her passing by;
When he saw her and considered her well
He thought of his companion,
Who was doing well for himself in the bin.
He greatly desired to do something for himself.
He decided that he would trick her
When she returned, if he could.
Then he thought again he would not do it;
Straightway it would cause some mischief.
He was struck by another idea.
He leaped out of his bed
And went directly to the other bed,
There where the miller was lying,
And carried away the baby in its cradle.
When the lady comes through the doorway,
The clerk pulls the baby's ear,
And the infant wakes and cries.
She was going straight to her bed
When she heard where the baby was,
And she straightway turned
And went toward the baby's cry.
She found the crib and, reassured,
She then lifted the blanket
And laid herself down next to the clerk,
And he immediately seized her,
Turned her toward himself, and stoutly grasped her;
In his pleasure he quite batters her.
She suffers all, she is so amazed.

Then the other clerk got dressed
When he heard the cock crowing,
For he was afraid to delay too long.
He came out of the bin,
[Took his leave of the girl]
And went straight to bed.
He found the crib and he was amazed;
It is no wonder that he was.
He was afraid, but nevertheless,
He came a bit nearer,
And when he found two heads,
He quickly drew back.
He went to the other bed where lay
The miller, and he quickly got in.
He lay down next to him,
Who was not yet awake
And as yet had discovered nothing.
"Friend," said the clerk, "what are you doing?
'He who is always silent gains nothing.'
Now I know well, as God may save me,
That I have had a good night.
That girl is very accommodating,
That daughter of our miller.
It is very hard work to amuse oneself in that way
And to do so much good screwing in the bin.
Friend, now go, if you can keep it quiet,
And get your share of the bacon;
There is enough of it left over;
Seven times tonight I screwed her,
And yet there is enough there to load down an ass.
And she has nothing for it but the ring from the andiron,
I carried on my trade so well!"

When the miller understood the trick,
Straightway he grabbed the clerk by the throat
And the clerk him, when he understood what was happening;
The clerk had him in such an evil plight
That the miller was nearly strangled.

The lady began to nudge
The clerk who lay beside her.
"Sir," she said, "what's to be done?
If you please, let's get right up;
Those clerks are strangling one another over there."

"Don't get excited," he said, "let them be;
Let the rascals kill one another."
(He knew well, and he was not wrong,
That his companion was the stronger.)

When the miller was able to escape,
He went quickly to light the fire,
And when he saw his wife,
Who was lying in bed with the clerk:
"Get up," he said, "you proven whore!
Who has brought you to this?
Indeed, it was all your own doing!"

"Sir," she said, "it is not so;
For if I am a proven whore,
I was brought to it by a trick,
But you are a proven thief,
You who stole from these clerks
Their sack of grain and their mare,
For which you should be hanged on high,
For it is all in your barn!"

The two clerks took the churl
And so kicked and beat him
That he was nearly ground up himself.
And then they went to grind at another mill.
They had the hostel of Saint Martin,
And they carried on their trade so well
That they managed in that bad year.
[To God and to Saint Nicholas
Give thanks both high and low.]


From Larry D. Benson and Theodore M. Andersson, The Literary Context of Chaucer's Fabliaux. New York and Indianapolis, 1971, pp. 101-115.