There is a Fourteenth century story of a Bailiff–the hated town collector of rents and enforcer of labor services—who, while riding to a village one day to collect rents, met the Devil himself in human form. “Where are you going,” asked the Devil? “To the next village on my master’s business,” replied the Bailiff.
Upon introducing himself, the Devil asked the Bailiff if he would take whatever was freely offered him. “Yes,” replied the Bailiff who then asked the same question of the Devil. The Devil replied that, although also in quest of gain, he would not be willing to take whatever men would give him, but only what they would gladly bestow “with their whole heart and soul.”
As they approached the village, they saw a plowman angrily commending to the Devil his oxen which had repeatedly strayed off course. The Bailiff said to the Devil, “Behold, they are surely yours!” “No,” responded the Devil.” “They were in no wise given from the heart.”
As they entered the town, they heard a child wailing and its mother wishing it to the Devil. Said the Bailiff, “This is yours, indeed!” “Not at all,” said the Devil, “for she has no desire to lose her son.”
Reaching the end of the village, a poverty stricken widow whose only cow the Bailiff had seized the previous day, saw him coming and falling to her knees with arms outstretched, shrieked at him “To all the Devils in Hell I commend thee!”
Whereupon the Devil exclaimed, “To be sure, this is mine.” “Because thus cordially you have been bestowed upon me, I am willing to have you.” And snatching up the Bailiff, he bore him away to Hell.
Though we can’t know what house Barack Obama might inhabit after the election, if there be any truth in the Tale of the Bailiff, we can be quite certain where he will be taking up residence later on.
The Bailiff’s tale from “Life in a Medieval Castle” by Joseph and Frances Gies, 1974
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