The Divided Horsecloth
by translated by Eugene Mason
Each owes it to his fellows to tell as best he may, or, better still, to
write with fair enticing words, such deeds and adventures as are good
and profitable for us to know. For as men come and go about their
business in the world, many things are told them which it is seemly to
keep in remembrance. Therefore, it becomes those who say and relate,
diligently and with fair intent to keep such matters in thought and study,
even as did our fathers before us. Theirs is the school to which we all
should pass, and he who would prove an apt scholar, and live beyond his
day, must not be idle at his task. But the world dims our fine gold: the
minstrel is slothful, and singers forget to sing, because of the pain and
travail which go to the finding of their songs. So without waiting for any
to-morrow, I will bring before you a certain adventure which chanced,
even as it was told to me.
Some seven years ago it befell that a rich burgess of Abbeville
departed from the town, together with his wife, his only son, and all his
wealth, his goods and plenishing. This he did like a prudent man, since
he found himself at enmity with men who were stronger and of more
substance than he. So, fearing lest a worse thing should bechance him,
from Abbeville he went up to Paris. There he sought a shop and
dwelling, and paying his service, made himself vassal and burgess of the
King. The merchant was diligent and courteous, his wife smiling and
gracious, and their son was not given over to folly, but went soberly,
even as his parents taught him. Much were they praised of their
neighbours, and those who lived in the same street often set foot in their
dwelling. For very greatly are those loved and esteemed by their fellows
who are courteous in speech and address. He who has fair words in his
mouth receives again sweet words in his ear, and foul words and foul
deeds bring naught but bitterness and railing. Thus was it with this
prudent merchant. For more than seven years he went about his
business, buying and selling, concerning himself with matters of which he
had full knowledge, putting by of his earnings a little every day, like a
wise and worthy citizen. So this wealthy merchant lived a happy
blameless life, till, by the will of God, his wife was taken from him, who
had been his companion for some thirty years. Now these parents had
but one only child, a son, even as I have told you before. Very grievously
did he mourn the death of her who had cherished him so softly, and
lamented his mother with many tears, till he came nigh to swoon. Then,
to put a little comfort in his heart, his father said to him—
"Fair son, thy mother is dead, and we will pray to God that He grant
her mercy in that day. But dry now thine eyes and thy face, for tears can
profit thee nothing. By that road we all must go, neither can any man
pass Death upon the way, nor return to bring us any word. Fair son, for
thee there is goodly comfort. Thou art a young bachelor, and it is time to
take thee a wife. I am full of years, and so I may find thee a fair marriage
in an honourable house I will endow thee with my substance. I will now
seek a bride for thee of birth and breeding—one of family and descent,
one come of ancient race, with relations and friends a gracious company,
a wife from honest folk and from an honest home. There, where it is
good and profitable to be, I will set thee gladly, nor of wealth and
moneys shalt thou find a lack."
Now in that place were three brethren, knights of high lineage,
cousins to mighty lords of peerage, bearing rich and honourable blazons
on their shields. But these knights had no heritage, since they had
pawned all that they owned of woods and houses and lands, the better
to take their pleasure at the tourney. Passing heavy and tormented were
these brethren because in no wise might they redeem their pledge. The
eldest of these brothers had a daughter, but the mother of the maid was
dead. Now this damsel owned in Paris a certain fair house, over against
the mansion of the wealthy merchant. The house was not of her father's
heritage, but came to her from her mother, who had put the maid in
ward to guardians, so that the house was free from pledge. She received
in rent therefrom the sum of twenty Paris pounds every year, and her
dues were paid her right willingly. So the merchant, esteeming her a lady
of family and estate, demanded her hand in marriage of her father and
of all her friends. The knight inquired in his turn of the means and
substance of the merchant, who answered very frankly
"In merchandise and in moneys I have near upon fifteen hundred
pounds. Should I tell you that I had more, I should lie, and speak not the
truth. I have besides one hundred Paris pounds, which I have gained in
honest dealings. Of all this I will give my son the half."
"Fair sir," made answer the knight, "in no wise can this be agreed to.
Had you become a Templar, or a White or a Black monk you would have
granted the whole of your wealth either to the Temple or your Abbey.
By my faith, we cannot consent to so grudging an offer, certes, sir
"Tell me then what you would have me do."
"Very willingly, fair, dear sir. We would that you grant to your son
the sum and total of your substance, so that he be seized of all your
wealth, and this in such fashion that neither you, nor any in your name,
may claim return of any part thereof. If you consent to this the marriage
can be made, but otherwise he shall never wed our child and niece."
The merchant turned this over for a while, now looking upon his son,
now deep in thought. But very badly he was served of all his thought
and pondering. For at the last he made reply to him and said—
"Lord, it shall even be done according to your will. This is our
covenant and bargain, that so your daughter is given to my son I will
grant him all that I have of worth. I take this company as witness that
here I strip myself of everything I own, so that naught is mine, but all is
his, of what I once was seized and possessed."
Thus before the witnesses he divested himself utterly of all his
wealth, and became naked as a peeled wand in the eyes of the world, for
this merchant now had neither purse nor penny, nor wherewithal to
break his fast, save it were given him by his son. So when the words
were spoken and the merchant altogether spoiled, then the knight took
his daughter by the hand and handfasted her with the bachelor, and she
became his wife.
For two years after this marriage the husband and the dame lived a
quiet and peaceful life. Then a fair son was born to the bachelor, and the
lady cherished and guarded him fondly. With them dwelt the merchant
in the same lodging, but very soon he perceived that he had given
himself a mortal blow in despoiling himself of his substance to live on the
charity of others. But perforce he remained of their household for more
than twelve years, until the lad had grown up tall, and began to take
notice, and to remember that which often he heard of the making of his
father's marriage And well he promised himself that it should never go
The merchant was full of years. He leaned upon his staff, and went
bent with age, as one who searches for his lost youth. His son was weary
of his presence, and would gladly have paid for the spinning of his
shroud. The dame, who was proud and disdainful, held him in utter
despite, for greatly he was against her heart. Never was she silent, but
always was she saying to her lord—
"Husband, for love of me, send your father upon his business. I lose
all appetite just for the sight of him about the house."
"Wife," answered he, "this shall be done according to your wish."
So because of his wife's anger and importunity, he sought out his
father straightway, and said—
"Father, father, get you gone from here. I tell you that you must do
the best you can, for we may no longer concern ourselves with you and
your lodging. For twelve years and more we have given you food and
raiment in our house. Now all is done, so rise and depart forthwith, and
fend for yourself, as fend you must."
When the father heard these words he wept bitterly, and often he
cursed the day and the hour in which he found he had lived too long.
"Ah, fair, sweet son, what is this thou sayest to me! For the love of
God turn me not from thy door. I lie so close that thou canst not want
my room. I require of thee neither seat in the chimney corner, nor soft
bed of feathers, no, nor carpet on the floor; but only the attic, where I
may bide on a little straw. Throw me not from thy house because I eat of
thy bread, but feed me without grudging for the short while I have to
live. In the eyes of God this charity will cover all thy sins better than if
thou went in haircloth next the flesh."
"Fair father," replied the bachelor, "preach me no preachings, but get
you forth at once, for reason that my wife would have you gone."
"Fair son, where then shall I go, who am esteemed of nothing
"Get you gone to the town, for amongst ten thousand others very
easily you may light on good fortune. Very unlucky you will be if there
you cannot find a way to live. Seek your fortune bravely. Perchance some
of your friends and acquaintance will receive you into their houses."
"Son, how then shall men take me to their lodging, when you turn me
from the house which I have given you? Why should the stranger
welcome that guest whom the son chases from his door? Why should I be
received gladly by him to whom I have given naught, when I am evilly
entreated of the rich man for whose sake I go naked?"
"Father," said he, "right or wrong, I take the blame upon my own
head; but go you must because it is according to my will."
Then the father grieved so bitterly that for a little his very heart
would have broken. Weak as he was, he raised himself to his feet and
went forth from the house, weeping.
"Son," said he, "I commend thee to God; but since thou wilt that I go,
for the love of Him give me at least a portion of packing cloth to shelter
me against the wind. I am asking no great matter; nothing but a little
cloth to wrap about me, because I am but lightly clad, and fear to die for
reason of the cold."
Then he who shrank from any grace of charity made reply
"Father, I have no cloth, so neither can I bestow, nor have it taken
"Fair, sweet son, my heart trembles within me, so greatly do I dread
the cold. Give me, then, the cloth you spread upon your horse, so that I
come to no evil."
So he, seeing that he might not rid himself of his father save by the
granting of a gift, and being desirous above all that he should part, bade
his son to fetch this horsecloth. When the lad heard his father's call he
sprang to him, saying—
"Father, what is your pleasure?"
"Fair son," said he, "get you to the stable, and if you find it open give
my father the covering that is upon my horse. Give him the best cloth in
the stable, so that he may make himself a mantle or a habit, or any other
sort of cloak that pleases him."
Then the lad, who was thoughtful beyond his years, made answer—
"Grandsire, come now with me."
So the merchant went with him to the stable, exceedingly heavy and
wrathful. The lad chose the best horsecloth he might find in the stable,
the newest, the largest, and the most fair; this he folded in two, and
drawing forth his knife, divided the cloth in two portions. Then he
bestowed on his grandfather one half of the sundered horsecloth.
"Fair child," said the old man, "what have you done? Why have you
cut the cloth that your father has given me? Very cruelly have you
treated me, for you were bidden to give me the horsecloth whole. I shall
return and complain to my son thereof."
"Go where you will," replied the boy, "for certainly you shall have
nothing more from me."
The merchant went forth from the stable.
"Son," said he, "chastise now thy child, since he counts thy word as
nothing but an idle tale, and fears not to disobey thy commandment.
Dost thou not see that he keeps one half of the horsecloth?"
"Plague take thee!" cried the father; "give him all the cloth."
"Certes," replied the boy, "that will I never do, for how then shall
you be paid? Rather will I keep the half until I am grown a man, and then
give it to you. For just as you have chased him from your house, so I will
put you from my door. Even as he has bestowed on you all his wealth,
so, in my turn, will I require you all your substance. Naught from me
shall you carry away, save that only which you have granted to him. If
you leave him to die in his misery, I wait my day, and surely will leave
you to perish in yours."
The father listened to these words, and at the end sighed heavily. He
repented him of the evil that he purposed, and from the parable that his
child had spoken took heed and warning. Turning himself about towards
the merchant, he said—
"Father, return to my house. Sin and the Enemy thought to have
caught me in the snare, but, please God, I have escaped from the fowler.
You are master and lord, and I render all that I have received into your
hands. If my wife cannot live with you in quiet, then you shall be served
and cherished elsewhere. Chimney corner, and carpet, pillow and bed of
feathers, at your ease you shall have pleasure in them all. I take St.
Martin to witness that never will I drink stoup of wine, never carve
morsel from dish, but that yours shall be the richer portion. Henceforth
you shall live softly in the ceiled chamber, near by a blazing fire, clad
warmly in your furred robe, even as I. And all this is not of charity, but
of your right, for, fair sweet father, if I am rich it is because of your
Thus the brave witness and the open remonstrance of a child freed
his father from the bad thoughts that he harboured. And deeply should
this adventure be considered of those who are about to marry their
children. Let them not strip themselves so bare as to have nothing left.
For he who gives all, and depends upon the charity of others, prepares a
rod for his own back.