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SMN ancient story I'll tell you anon
Of a notable prince, that was called king John ;
And he ruled England with main and with
For he did great wrong, and maintain'd little
And I'll tell you a story, a story so merry,
Concerning the Abbot of Canterbury;
How for his house-keeping, and high renown,
They rode post for him to fair London town.
An hundred men, the king did hear say,
The abbot kept in his house every day;
And fifty gold chains, without any doubt,
In velvet coats waited the abbot about.
How now, father abbot, I hear it of thee,
Thou keepest a far better house than me,
And for thy house-keeping and high renown,
I fear thou work'st treason against my crown.
My liege, quoth the abbot, I would it were known,
I never spend nothing, but what is my own;
And I trust, your grace will do me no deer,*
For spending of my own true-gotten gear.
Yes, yes, father abbot, thy fault it is high,
And now for the same thou needest must die;
For except thou canst answer me questions three,
Thy head shall be smitten from thy body.
And first, quoth the king, when I'm in this stead,
With my crown of gold so fair on my head,
Among all my liege-men so noble of birth,
Thou must tell me to one penny what I am worth.
Secondly, tell me, without any doubt,
How soon I may ride the whole world about.
And at the third question thou must not shrink,
But tell me here truly what I do think.
O, these are hard questions for my shallow wit,
Nor I cannot answer your grace as yet :
But if you will give me but three weeks' space,
I'll do my endeavour to answer your grace.
Now three weeks' space to thee will I give,
And that is the longest time thou hast to live ;
For if thou dost not answer my questions three,
Thy lands and thy livings are forfeit to me.
Away rode the abbot all sad at that word,
And he rode to Cambridge, and Oxenford ;
But never a doctor there was so wise,
That could with his learning an answer devise.
Then home rode the abbot of comfort so cold,
And he met his shepherd a going to fold :
How now, my lord abbot, you are welcome home;
What news do you bring us from good king John !
Sad news, sad news, shepherd, I must give;
That I have but three days more to live :
For if I do not answer him questions three,
My head will be smitten from my body.