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The Manciple's Puzzle


The Manciple was an officer who had the care of buying victuals for an Inn of Court—like the Temple. The particular individual who accompanied the party was a wily man who had more than thirty masters, and made fools of them all. Yet he was a man "whom purchasers might take as an example How to be wise in buying of their victual."

It happened that at a certain stage of the journey the Miller and the Weaver sat down to a light repast. The Miller produced five loaves and the Weaver three. The Manciple coming upon the scene asked permission to eat with them, to which they agreed. When the Manciple had fed he laid down eight pieces of money and said with a sly smile, "Settle betwixt yourselves how the money shall be fairly divided. 'Tis a riddle for thy wits."

A discussion followed, and many of the pilgrims joined in it. The Reve and the Sompnour held that the Miller should receive five pieces and the Weaver three, the simple Ploughman was ridiculed for suggesting that the Miller should receive seven and the Weaver only one, while the Carpenter, the Monk, and the Cook insisted that the money should be divided equally between the two men. Various other opinions were urged with considerable vigour, until it was finally decided that the Manciple, as an expert in such matters, should himself settle the point. His decision was quite correct. What was it? Of course, all three are supposed to have eaten equal shares of the bread.

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