Geoffrey Chaucer included the story in his “Canterbury Tales” where it is told by the Nun’s Priest. In fact, it is his only “animal story.” The rooster and his favourite wife have very definite personalities. They like to quote the classics for one thing. The result is a story that is as funny as it is wise.
Read by Natasha. Adapted from Chaucer by Bertie. Proofread by Claire Deakin.
The Rooster and the Fox
An aged widow lived with her two daughters in a simple cottage. They kept three pigs, three cows, and a sheep with a sooty head. This widow was never sick from overeating or drinking. Her meals were slender, and her table was mostly black and white – covered with milk and brown bread. Sometimes she had a little bacon, or an egg or two, because she also kept hens in the barnyard.
Her yard was well defended by a fence and a ditch. It was ruled over by a rooster called Chanticleer. He was the best crower in the land. When he stood on his toes, clapped his wings, and sang out, his voice was merrier than an organ on a church day. In fact, you could rely on him for his wake up call better than any clock. And what a proud, fine looking bird he was too! The comb on his head was redder than rare coral. His bill was as black as jet. His legs shone like azure. His toe nails were whiter than lilies – and his body was burnished like gold.
Chanticleer had seven wives in his harem, but his favourite by far was a damsel called Pertelote. She was polite and carefree, and not to mention a good companion and very sociable.
One night, Chanticleer sat among his wives on his perch in the hall of his palace – which was in fact a barn. Next to him sat fair Pertelote. Just towards dawn he began to sigh as if with his dying breath. Then he let out the most piteous moan, “AHHHHHHH!”
Pertelote awoke with a start. “My dear heart,” she said to her husband, “What is the matter with you? Normally you sleep so soundly.”
Chanticleer shook himself awake, “My wife,” he said, “I dreamed of trouble and mischief, and my heart was afraid. I dreamed that in our yard I saw a beast, something like a hound, and he was about to seize my body and kill me. I have never seen a dog quite like him. His colour was between yellow and red. His tail and his ears were tipped with black. He walked with a cunning, low kind of swagger. He was evil, I tell you, evil! A robber and a murderer here in our yard!”
“Alas!” Replied his wife. “For you have lost all your courage and all my love in one go! We women want husbands who are hardy, wise and free. How dare you say to your love that anything makes you afraid? Have you no man’s heart? No beard? Can you be afraid of a mere dream? The things we see in dreams are the result of drinking and eating too much. It is greed that disturbs your sleep.”
But this ticking-off did nothing to settle the flap of her normally proud husband. He stretched his neck and called out, “Murder! Murder! I saw it in a dream. Dreams come true I tell you!”
“Tish, tish,” his wife told him. “Have you not heard what the wise Roman Cato wrote about dreams? Do not hold any store by them. Do not believe in dreams, they never come true – that’s what he said. Now my dear, what you need is a good laxative to clear you out. I will find some herbs for you in the morning; Laurel, centaury, fumeterere, and berries – and we shall worm you and cleanse you of all this nonsense. Be merry, my husband. Sleep soundly. For your dear departed father’s sake, dread no dream.”
Chanticleer the rooster recovered some of his normal pride. He drew himself up, puffed out his golden chest, and lifted up his black bill.
“Madam,” he said, “Cato was a wise Roman, but there are many old books that oppose him. One author tells of two men who were about to set to sea to seek their fortune. On the night before they were due to leave, one of these fellows dreamed that a sailor stood by his bed and warned, “If you set sail tomorrow your ship will go down beneath the waves.” In the morning he told this dream to his friend who laughed at him. “No dream makes my heart afraid,” he said, no doubt citing Cato too. He went on his way alone, and before his ship was half way to its destination, it hit a rock and sank.”
“It’s just a silly old sailor’s story,” said his wife.
“Well, what about the Old Testament in the Bible?” Chanticleer demanded. “Read the story of Joseph and his Coat of Many Colours, and there you will see whether dreams are to be trusted or not. And King Croesus of Lydia, did he not correctly dream that an empire would fall? And read your Homer, my dear. High up on the battlements of Troy, did not Andromache, Hector’s wife, warn him not to go out to fight Achilles? He did not listen, and look what happened to him. Besides, I do not hold store by laxatives – they are poisonous and of no value.”
His wife, who believed in the power of laxatives above all else, was put out by this remark. But the sun was coming up now, and the gloom was lifting from the barn. Her husband spoke to her tenderly saying, “My dear, when I see the beauty of your face and your scarlet eyes, I cannot feel anything but happiness and bliss.”
Then he flew down from his perch, because it was day, and he called out to his hens, “Cock a doodle-doo!”
When he roamed up and down the yard like a lion on his toes, all his wives ran up to him. Proud Chanticleer soon forgot all about his troublesome dream.
But in the woods there lived a fox, full of sly plans. It was the very fox that Chanticleer had imagined in his dream. Indeed, he had foretold it all too, too correctly. That very night, the fox slipped through the hedges, across the ditch, through a hole in the fence, and into the yard where Chanticleer slept with his wives. He lay down in a bed of herbs and cabbages, plotting to murder the ruler of the roost, crouching, lurking – the new Iscariot.
Oh Chanticleer! What a cursed morning it was when you flew down into the yard from the rafters. Were you not warned enough by your dream of the dangers that awaited you? That day you sang merrier than a mermaid.
Little did you know… For our hero flew down as usual into the yard. It was a lovely morning in May. Chanticleer cast his eye upon a butterfly, and watched it flutter over the cabbages. Then he saw the fox. He was rightly afraid, and would have fled, but the fox said, “Gentle sir, will you be off so soon? I have not come here to spy on you. Truly I came to hear you sing. Your voice is as merry as heaven. Indeed you have a true feeling for music. I have never heard any crowing so delightful since your father was alive. Yes, it is true, I knew your father. Nobody around these parts could beat him for wisdom and good judgement. Now pray, sing for me like your good father.”
Alas, our hero was overcome by this false flattery. Treachery it was indeed. He stood high on his toes, stretched his neck, closed his eyes, and began to crow. The moment he sang the first note, Dan Russel, the fox, jumped up and seized him by the throat. He slung him over his back and started to run back to the woods.
Seeing this tragedy take place, the hens in the yard began to cluck and sing out,
“Alas that Chanticleer flew down from the beams Alas that his wife thought naught of dreams!”
Dame Pertelote called out louder than the queen of Carthage when the Romans burned her city. Louder than the senators’ wives when Nero set alight to Rome. She was so full of torment and rage. There was such a noise that it seemed like Heaven would fall.
The widow and her two daughters heard the commotion – they came out of their cottage and saw the fox carrying away Chanticleer and they ran after him. Col the dog gave chase, and the cow and the calf, and the family of pigs joined in. Only the geese flew up to the trees in fright and took no part in the desperate pursuit of that criminal, the fox.
But surely it was too late. That wicked fox had almost reached the safety of the woods. Just then, although he was full of fright and terror, Chanticleer managed to speak to his abductor.
“Sir, if I were you, I would tell that pack of fools that they are chasing you in vain. They will never catch you. I would say, “Fi, a pestilence on you all! Na-Na-Na-Na! And words of that sort, for you are an eloquent creature.”
The fox answered, “In faith you are right, it shall be done!”
But our hero Chanticleer was no fool. As soon as the fox opened his mouth to speak, he was free. In an instant the rooster had flown up to the branch of a tree. Seeing that he had been tricked, the fox called out, “Chanticleer, this is all a big misunderstanding. I did not intend to do anything wicked when I brought you out of the yard. Come down here and I shall explain what I mean! Come down I say – or I shall be offended.”
“Nay,” said Chanticleer, “You won’t fox me more than once. You shall flatter me no more. For I have learned my lesson – that pride comes before the fall.”
And that was the tale of the Rooster and the Fox, adapted from Chaucer by Bertie. In the original it is known as the Nun Priest’s Tale. I think it’s little like an Aesop fable, except there are some long and quite funny speeches in it by farmyard animals who like to sound clever. Chaucer wrote his Canterbury Tales in medieval English that is quite difficult for us to understand now. But his style is always lively and ironic. Bertie has tried to keep some of the original flavour in our modern version. Don’t forget, we have many more stories like this one from all over the world, so do drop by soon.
If you like Aesop’s fables, you will probably enjoy this. It is the lively story of a fox who tries to trick a farmyard rooster. There are plenty of good morals; “pride comes before the fall,” and “do not fall for false flattery,” are a couple examples.