There was once an apprenticein our city who was learning the grocery trade. He strutted merrily about like a goldfinch in a wood, as brown as a berry, quite a short little fellow with black hair that was always well combed. He danced so energetically and so enthusiastically that he was called Perkin the reveller, and he was as full of love and having his wicked way with young ladies as a beehive is of honey. Lucky was the young wench who met up with him!
He was at every wedding, singing and dancing, and he much preferred to be in a tavern than in the shop. Whenever horses rode in royal procession down Cheapside on the way to the Tower of London, or in the opposite direction towards the Palace of Westminster, or if knights were jousting on the tournament field nearby, he would run out of the shop to watch and to sing and dance with all his friends, until the festivities were over. He and his mates would arrange times to meet in some street or other to play at dice, and there was no apprentice in the whole of London who could cast a pair of dice as well as Perkin could, although he liked to be generous to his friends whether he won or lost. His master was well aware of all this, and he often found that the shop’s takings were gone.
Certainly the master of an apprentice who engages in dice, revelry, riot and wenches, quickly finds himself subsidising a lifestyle in which he takes no active part himself. Riotous living inevitably leads to theft, regardless of how skilfully a man can play the guitar or the lute. Exuberance and honesty, among the lower orders, do not sit comfortably together.
This jolly apprentice lived with his master until he was nearly ready to practice the trade himself, although he was often reprimanded and sometimes led a merry jig to the local prison at Newgate. But at last, his master, going through the books of account, recalled the old proverb: “Get rid of a rotten apple before it sends everything else bad.” Perkin had to go. Better to lose his services than to risk corrupting all the other servants through his bad influence.
So this grocer sacked Perkin the reveller, annulled his apprenticeship and sent him away with a kick up the backside. This young man can revel all night if he wants to, now, but not at the grocer’s expense.
Because there is nothief who does not have companions who are just as dishonest as he is, Perkin was able to send his bed and his possessions to a friend who was just as fond of gambling and revelling as he was and who had a wife who, though ostensibly keeping a shop, supported herself and her husband by prostitution… …
Translation and retelling of Chaucer's Cook's Tale copyright © Richard Scott-Robinson, 2016