The Parson and the Clerk

Retold by Gudrun Thorne-Thomsen

There was once a parson who was such a bully that whenever he met anyone driving on the king's highway, he called out, ever so far off—"Out of the way! Out of the way! Here comes the parson!"

One day when he was driving along and behaving so, he met the king. "Out of the way! Out of the way!" he bawled a long way off. But the king drove on and held his own; so it was the parson who had to turn his horse aside that time, and when the king came up beside him, he said, "To-morrow you shall come to me at the palace, and if you can't answer three questions which I shall ask you, you shall lose your office for your pride's sake."

This was something quite different from what the parson was wont to hear. He could bawl and bully, shout and scold. All that he could do, but question and answer were not in his line. So he set off to the clerk, who was said to be worth more than the parson, and told him he had no mind to go to the king. "For one fool can ask more than ten wise men can answer;" and the end was, he got the clerk to go in his place.

Yes, the clerk set off and came to the palace in the parson's clothes. There the king met him out on the porch with crown and sceptre, and he was so grand he fairly glittered and gleamed. "Well, are you there?" said the king.

"Tell me first," said the king, "how far the east is from the west?"

"Just a day's journey," said the clerk.

"How is that?" asked the king.

"Don't you know," said the clerk, "that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and he does it just nicely in a day?"

"Very well!" said the king, "but tell me now what you think I am worth, as you see me stand here?"

"Well," said the clerk, "our Lord was valued at thirty pieces of silver, so I don't think I can set your price higher than twenty-nine."

"All very fine!" said the king, "but, as you are so wise, perhaps you can tell me what I am thinking about now?"

"Oh!" said the clerk, "you are thinking it's the parson who stands before you, but there's where you are mistaken, for I am the clerk."

"Be off home with you," said the king, "and be you parson, and let him be clerk." And so it was.