In Oxford there used to be a remote lodging, owned by a well-off old carpenter who accommodated lodgers among them a brilliant but destitute scholar called Nicholas who, though knowledgeable enough, wanted to be an expert in Astronomy (Chaucer 12). Nicholas’ room in the lodging was modest by any standards, but alone up there was where the young clerk undertook his foray into Astronomy. The room was ornamented by tantalizing perfumes which Nicholas also wore. He had an Almagest and an assortment of books, an astrolabe, and abacus with its counting stones all arranged nicely on a shelf. In a drawer at the head of his bed, Nicholas kept a beautiful violin which he used to make music make sweet tunes every night. He sang with a lovely voice so much that he used his music to support himself apart from contributions by friends.
It happened that the carpenter married a young wife, only eighteen while he was an old geezer. He kept her close, knowing she was spruce and virile while he was ancient and tired, the old carpenter was headed over heels over his young newly-wed wife. Like all men with beautiful women he had to deal with the attention, she was going to get from other men. The lady was truly a beauty, and she had a unique fashion sense, accessorizing clothes such as scarves and hats as only she could pull off. She could sing and dance as well, and any man would have been grateful to be her husband (Longenecker 33).
One day when the carpenter was away in Oseneye, the brilliant scholar Nicholas ran into the aforementioned young wife and flirted with her and tried to seduce her. She vowed aloud to Nicholas that he would never woo her. Nicholas, with soft words and a gentle voice, wooed her successfully and over time she fell for him and loved him even though she was married. They had an affair kept secret from her husband the carpenter. The carpenter’s wife went the local parish and met a parish clerk- tall, dark and handsome and who could play the fiddle as well as a flute. He was called Absalom and was a womanizer, taking a liking to the carpenter’s wife. One night when the full moon was out, Absalon carried his flute and guitar to the carpenter’s house, his intention to serenade another man’s wife. He sang, played the flute and guitar so lovely that he woke the carpenter. The carpenter on looking out at the window woke his wife and asked her “Allison, is that not Absalom, the parish clerk?” Allison, the wife, replied, “Yes John it is him.”
From that day onwards and many days afterward Absalom did all the tricks in the book to woo Allison. Allison refused to be wowed by all of Absalon’s advances for she loved Nicholas. One Saturday when John the carpenter was off to Osenay, she and Absalon hooked up and slept together, and this became their Saturday plan. This went on until one day Nicholas was found by a servant in a weak state in his room. The carpenter, when informed of this state of affairs, became worried for the young clerk. He thought that the sickness that Nicholas had was a result of wanting to know the secrets of God. Nicholas remained in a weak state till John himself went to shake up the still young man who feigned waking up- the sickness had been a ruse all along. John was a Christian and when Nicholas announce that God had shown him a vision he was all ears.
Nicholas fed John stories that he foresaw a great flood in a week or so which would wipe out the whole world. Like Noah in the Bible, the carpenter was convinced to build a boat to save his wife and only her (Darian-Smith, 148). Nicholas made plans and created conditions for the building of the boat which John the carpenter immediately started working on, gathering timber. He found a way to separate the carpenter and his wife making John act as if he was saving the life of Allison. Unbeknownst to the two plot hatches, Absalon had started on Monday to investigate the whereabouts of his paramour the Lady Allison. He was accompanied by a song and dance party and Absalon found a monk who informed Absalon that John the carpenter had been sent for timber by the abbot.
Absalon saw his opportunity to approach Allison without being bothered by John, the carpenter. On the stroke of midnight, Absalon started towards the carpenter’s house, well-groomed and dressed to impress. He stood under the bedroom window and started whispering sweet nothings to Allison. Allison shouted at him to go away, informing him that she loved another. Absalon was unmoved saying he would only go after getting a kiss and so Allison assured her lover, Nicholas, that all was well and invited Absalon up to the bedroom. Absalon kissed a bearded face in the darkness- a face belonging to none other than Nicholas. He made haste to get away from that compromising situation but not before he heard the clear male voice of Nicholas. Forgetting his love, he went to the smithy down the street where he got a plow blade and went back to the carpenter’s house. He called out to Allison once again and told her he had a gold present for her, and Nicholas hears this thought to bear out his bare buttocks at the window for the hapless Absalon to kiss. Absalon plunged the hot blade right in the middle of Nicholas’ behind, making the latter cry out for water. The Carpenter thought the floods were coming already and he cried out in the street, finding his wife and very much naked Nicholas in their moment of despair. Everybody street laughed at the delusional calendar and the odd couple. And there ended the Miller’s tale.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The miller’s tale. Eds. Peter Mack, and Chris Walton. Oxford University Press, 1995.
Darian-Smith, Kate. “Books worth (re) reading.” International Journal of Play2.2 (2013): 147-149.
Longenecker, Richard N. Paul, Apostle of Liberty. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2015.;