Whenas ye plaisaunt Aperille shoures have washed and purged awaye Ye poysons and ye rheums of earth to make a merrie May, Ye shraddy boscage of ye woods ben full of birds that syng Right merrilie a madrigal unto ye waking spring, Ye whiles that when ye face of earth ben washed and wiped ycleane Her peeping posies blink and stare like they had ben her een;
Then, wit ye well, ye harte of man ben turned to thoughts of love, And, tho' it ben a lyon erst, it now ben like a dove! And many a goodly damosel in innocence beguiles Her owne trewe love with sweet discourse and divers plaisaunt wiles. In soche a time ye noblesse liege that ben Kyng Arthure hight Let cry a joust and tournament for evereche errant knyght, And, lo! from distant Joyous-garde and eche adjacent spot A company of noblesse lords fared unto Camelot, Wherein were mighty feastings and passing merrie cheere, And eke a deale of dismal dole, as you shall quickly heare.
It so befell upon a daye when jousts ben had and while Sir Launcelot did ramp around ye ring in gallaunt style, There came an horseman shriking sore and rashing wildly home,-- A mediaeval horseman with ye usual flecks of foame; And he did brast into ye ring, wherein his horse did drop, Upon ye which ye rider did with like abruptness stop, And with fatigue and fearfulness continued in a swound Ye space of half an hour or more before a leech was founde. "Now tell me straight," quod Launcelot, "what varlet knyght you be, Ere that I chine you with my sworde and cleave your harte in three!" Then rolled that knyght his bloudy een, and answered with a groane,-- "By worthy God that hath me made and shope ye sun and mone, There fareth hence an evil thing whose like ben never seene, And tho' he sayeth nony worde, he bode the ill, I ween. So take your parting, evereche one, and gird you for ye fraye, By all that's pure, ye Divell sure doth trend his path this way!" Ye which he quoth and fell again into a deadly swound, And on that spot, perchance (God wot), his bones mought yet be founde.
Then evereche knight girt on his sworde and shield and hied him straight To meet ye straunger sarasen hard by ye city gate; Full sorely moaned ye damosels and tore their beautyse haire For that they feared an hippogriff wolde come to eate them there; But as they moaned and swounded there too numerous to relate, Kyng Arthure and Sir Launcelot stode at ye city gate, And at eche side and round about stode many a noblesse knyght With helm and speare and sworde and shield and mickle valor dight.
Anon there came a straunger, but not a gyaunt grim, Nor yet a draggon,--but a person gangling, long, and slim; Yclad he was in guise that ill-beseemed those knyghtly days, And there ben nony etiquette in his uplandish ways; His raiment was of dusty gray, and perched above his lugs There ben the very latest style of blacke and shiny pluggs; His nose ben like a vulture beake, his blie ben swart of hue, And curly ben ye whiskers through ye which ye zephyrs blewe; Of all ye een that ben yseene in countries far or nigh, None nonywhere colde hold compare unto that straunger's eye; It was an eye of soche a kind as never ben on sleepe, Nor did it gleam with kindly beame, nor did not use to weepe; But soche an eye ye widdow hath,--an hongrey eye and wan, That spyeth for an oder chaunce whereby she may catch on; An eye that winketh of itself, and sayeth by that winke Ye which a maiden sholde not knowe nor never even thinke; Which winke ben more exceeding swift nor human thought ben thunk, And leaveth doubting if so be that winke ben really wunke; And soch an eye ye catte-fysshe hath when that he ben on dead And boyled a goodly time and served with capers on his head; A rayless eye, a bead-like eye, whose famisht aspect shows It hungereth for ye verdant banks whereon ye wild time grows; An eye that hawketh up and down for evereche kind of game, And, when he doth espy ye which, he tumbleth to ye same.
Now when he kenned Sir Launcelot in armor clad, he quod, "Another put-a-nickel-in-and-see-me-work, be god!" But when that he was ware a man ben standing in that suit, Ye straunger threw up both his hands, and asked him not to shoote.
Then spake Kyng Arthure: "If soe be you mind to do no ill, Come, enter into Camelot, and eat and drink your fill; But say me first what you are hight, and what mought be your quest." Ye straunger quod, "I'm five feet ten, and fare me from ye West!" "Sir Fivefeetten," Kyng Arthure said, "I bid you welcome here; So make you merrie as you list with plaisaunt wine and cheere; This very night shall be a feast soche like ben never seene, And you shall be ye honored guest of Arthure and his queene. Now take him, good sir Maligraunce, and entertain him well Until soche time as he becomes our guest, as I you tell."
That night Kyng Arthure's table round with mighty care ben spread, Ye oder knyghts sate all about, and Arthure at ye heade: Oh, 't was a goodly spectacle to ken that noblesse liege Dispensing hospitality from his commanding siege! Ye pheasant and ye meate of boare, ye haunch of velvet doe, Ye canvass hamme he them did serve, and many good things moe. Until at last Kyng Arthure cried: "Let bring my wassail cup, And let ye sound of joy go round,--I'm going to set 'em up! I've pipes of Malmsey, May-wine, sack, metheglon, mead, and sherry, Canary, Malvoisie, and Port, swete Muscadelle and perry; Rochelle, Osey, and Romenay, Tyre, Rhenish, posset too, With kags and pails of foaming ales of brown October brew. To wine and beer and other cheere I pray you now despatch ye, And for ensample, wit ye well, sweet sirs, I'm looking at ye!"
Unto which toast of their liege lord ye oders in ye party Did lout them low in humble wise and bid ye same drink hearty. So then ben merrisome discourse and passing plaisaunt cheere, And Arthure's tales of hippogriffs ben mervaillous to heare; But stranger far than any tale told of those knyghts of old Ben those facetious narratives ye Western straunger told. He told them of a country many leagues beyond ye sea Where evereche forraine nuisance but ye Chinese man ben free, And whiles he span his monstrous yarns, ye ladies of ye court Did deem ye listening thereunto to be right plaisaunt sport; And whiles they listened, often he did squeeze a lily hande, Ye which proceeding ne'er before ben done in Arthure's lande; And often wank a sidelong wink with either roving eye, Whereat ye ladies laughen so that they had like to die. But of ye damosels that sat around Kyng Arthure's table He liked not her that sometime ben ron over by ye cable, Ye which full evil hap had harmed and marked her person so That in a passing wittie jest he dubbeth her ye crow.
But all ye oders of ye girls did please him passing well And they did own him for to be a proper seeming swell; And in especial Guinevere esteemed him wondrous faire, Which had made Arthure and his friend, Sir Launcelot, to sware But that they both ben so far gone with posset, wine, and beer, They colde not see ye carrying-on, nor neither colde not heare; For of eche liquor Arthure quafft, and so did all ye rest, Save only and excepting that smooth straunger from the West. When as these oders drank a toast, he let them have their fun With divers godless mixings, but he stock to willow run, Ye which (and all that reade these words sholde profit by ye warning) Doth never make ye head to feel like it ben swelled next morning. Now, wit ye well, it so befell that when the night grew dim, Ye Kyng was carried from ye hall with a howling jag on him, Whiles Launcelot and all ye rest that to his highness toadied Withdrew them from ye banquet-hall and sought their couches loaded.
Now, lithe and listen, lordings all, whiles I do call it shame That, making cheer with wine and beer, men do abuse ye same; Though eche be well enow alone, ye mixing of ye two Ben soche a piece of foolishness as only ejiots do. Ye wine is plaisaunt bibbing whenas ye gentles dine, And beer will do if one hath not ye wherewithal for wine, But in ye drinking of ye same ye wise are never floored By taking what ye tipplers call too big a jag on board. Right hejeous is it for to see soche dronkonness of wine Whereby some men are used to make themselves to be like swine; And sorely it repenteth them, for when they wake next day Ye fearful paynes they suffer ben soche as none mought say, And soche ye brenning in ye throat and brasting of ye head And soche ye taste within ye mouth like one had been on dead,--Soche be ye foul conditions that these unhappy men Sware they will never drink no drop of nony drinke again. Yet all so frail and vain a thing and weak withal is man That he goeth on an oder tear whenever that he can. And like ye evil quatern or ye hills that skirt ye skies, Ye jag is reproductive and jags on jags arise.
Whenas Aurora from ye east in dewy splendor hied King Arthure dreemed he saw a snaix and ben on fire inside, And waking from this hejeous dreeme he sate him up in bed,-- "What, ho! an absynthe cocktail, knave! and make it strong!" he said; Then, looking down beside him, lo! his lady was not there-- He called, he searched, but, Goddis wounds! he found her nonywhere; And whiles he searched, Sir Maligraunce rashed in, wood wroth, and cried, "Methinketh that ye straunger knyght hath snuck away my bride!" And whiles he spake a motley score of other knyghts brast in And filled ye royall chamber with a mickle fearfull din, For evereche one had lost his wiffe nor colde not spye ye same, Nor colde not spye ye straunger knyght, Sir Fivefeetten of name.
Oh, then and there was grevious lamentation all arounde, For nony dame nor damosel in Camelot ben found,-- Gone, like ye forest leaves that speed afore ye autumn wind. Of all ye ladies of that court not one ben left behind Save only that same damosel ye straunger called ye crow, And she allowed with moche regret she ben too lame to go; And when that she had wept full sore, to Arthure she confess'd That Guinevere had left this word for Arthure and ye rest: "Tell them," she quod, "we shall return to them whenas we've made This little deal we have with ye Chicago Bourde of Trade."