The Fool Errant sat by the highway of life
And his gaze wandered up and his gaze wandered down,
A vigorous youth, but with no wish to walk,
Yet his longing was great for the distant town.
He whistled a little frivolous tune
Which he felt to be pulsing with ecstasy,
For he thought that success always followed desire,
Such a very superlative fool was he.
A maiden came by on an ambling mule,
Her gown was rose-red and her kerchief blue,
On her lap she carried a basket of eggs.
Thought the fool, “There is certainly room for two.”
So he jauntily swaggered towards the maid
And put out his hand to the bridle-rein.
“My pretty girl,” quoth the fool, “take me up,
For to ride with you to the town I am fain.”
But the maiden struck at his upraised arm
And pelted him hotly with eggs, a score.
The mule, lashed into a fury, ran;
The fool went back to his stone and swore.
Then out of the cloud of settling dust
The burly form of an abbot appeared,
Reading his office he rode to the town.
And the fool got up, for his heart was cheered.
He stood in the midst of the long, white road
And swept off his cap till it touched the ground.
“Ah, Reverent Sir, well met,” said the fool,
“A worthier transport never was found.
“I pray you allow me to mount with you,
Your palfrey seems both sturdy and young.”
The abbot looked up from the holy book
And cried out in anger, “Hold your tongue!
“How dare you obstruct the King’s highroad,
You saucy varlet, get out of my way.”
Then he gave the fool a cut with his whip
And leaving him smarting, he rode away.
The fool was angry, the fool was sore,
And he cursed the folly of monks and maids.
“If I could but meet with a man,” sighed the fool,
“For a woman fears, and a friar upbraids.”
Then he saw a flashing of distant steel
And the clanking of harness greeted his ears,
And up the road journeyed knights-at-arms,
With waving plumes and glittering spears.
The fool took notice and slowly arose,
Not quite so sure was his foolish heart.
If priests and women would none of him
Was it likely a knight would take his part?
They sang as they rode, these lusty boys,
When one chanced to turn toward the highway’s side,
“There’s a sorry figure of fun,” jested he,
“Well, Sirrah! move back, there is scarce room to ride.”
“Good Sirs, Kind Sirs,” begged the crestfallen
“I pray of your courtesy speech with you,
I’m for yonder town, and have no horse to ride,
Have you never a charger will carry two?”
Then the company halted and laughed out loud.
“Was such a request ever made to a knight?”
“And where are your legs,” asked one, “if you start,
You may be inside the town gates to-night.”
“‘T is a lazy fellow, let him alone,
They’ve no room in the town for such idlers as he.”
But one bent from his saddle and said, “My man,
Art thou not ashamed to beg charity!
“Thou art well set up, and thy legs are strong,
But it much misgives me lest thou’rt a fool;
For beggars get only a beggar’s crust,
Wise men are reared in a different school.”
Then they clattered away in the dust and the wind,
And the fool slunk back to his lonely stone;
He began to see that the man who asks
Must likewise give and not ask alone.
Purple tree-shadows crept over the road,
The level sun flung an orange light,
And the fool laid his head on the hard, gray stone
And wept as he realized advancing night.
A great, round moon rose over a hill
And the steady wind blew yet more cool;
And crouched on a stone a wayfarer sobbed,
For at last he knew he was only a fool.