Chapters 20-21 Summary
Bear walks quickly, the bells of his hat ringing in time with his steps. Crispin, who is stuck carrying Bear’s heavy bag, struggles to keep up. His mind is reeling; he simply cannot absorb the fact that he is stuck with a new tyrannical master just days after running away from the old one.
Crispin considers dropping Bear’s bag and fleeing, but he truly believes that God would strike him dead. Moreover, Crispin knows that Great Wexly is a city, and that cities are where people gain liberty. He decides to stick to his vow of servitude for now and hope that he can somehow gain freedom later.
For the rest of the day, Crispin and Bear walk without seeing anyone. After a while, Crispin works up the courage to ask a question. Addressing Bear as “sir,” Crispin ask why nobody is around. Bear explains that the Plague devastated this area of England. He adds that Crispin should not say “sir” because that is how servants speak. Crispin protests that he is a servant, and Bear growls in apparent frustration.
When the pair stops to rest, Bear gives Crispin half of the remaining bread and then begins telling a story about his life. When he was twelve years old, his father bound him to a monastery to make him a priest. Bear never saw his father again, but over the next seven years he learned to read Latin, French, and English. He is grateful for this because his knowledge protects him. Anyone who can read and write is considered a priest under the law, which means that he cannot be executed.
Continuing his story, Bear explains that he expected to become a priest as his father intended, but one day when he was about eighteen, he met a group of traveling performers. He had never met people who laughed so much before, and he was amazed. He ran away from the abbey and joined them in their travels. He became friends with the group, but eventually they broke up. Now Bear travels alone, preferring solitude to company. Hearing this last bit, Crispin tentatively asks why Bear wants a servant.
Instead of answering, Bear begins teaching Crispin to juggle. Crispin does not understand the purpose of this, but Bear tells him that it will become clear later. Crispin works at tossing one ball, and then two, back and forth between his hands until he develops a rhythm.
When Bear is satisfied with Crispin’s progress, they pack up the balls and walk on. As they walk, Bear gets out a pipe and begins to play a tune. He sings some lyrics and makes Crispin practice singing them, too—but he refuses to explain why. This mystifies Crispin, who begins to wonder if his new master is insane.