Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 35

How Gymnast very souply and cunningly killed Captain Tripet and others of Picrochole’s men.

When they heard these words, some amongst them began to be afraid, and blessed themselves with both hands, thinking indeed that he had been a devil disguised, insomuch that one of them, named Good John, captain of the trained bands of the country bumpkins, took his psalter out of his codpiece, and cried out aloud, Hagios ho theos. If thou be of God, speak; if thou be of the other spirit, avoid hence, and get thee going. Yet he went not away. Which words being heard by all the soldiers that were there, divers of them being a little inwardly terrified, departed from the place. All this did Gymnast very well remark and consider, and therefore making as if he would have alighted from off his horse, as he was poising himself on the mounting side, he most nimbly, with his short sword by his thigh, shifting his foot in the stirrup, performed the stirrup-leather feat, whereby, after the inclining of his body downwards, he forthwith launched himself aloft in the air, and placed both his feet together on the saddle, standing upright with his back turned towards the horse’s head. Now, said he, my case goes backward. Then suddenly in the same very posture wherein he was, he fetched a gambol upon one foot, and, turning to the left hand, failed not to carry his body perfectly round, just into its former stance, without missing one jot. Ha, said Tripet, I will not do that at this time, and not without cause. Well, said Gymnast, I have failed, I will undo this leap. Then with a marvellous strength and agility, turning towards the right hand, he fetched another frisking gambol as before, which done, he set his right-hand thumb upon the hind-bow of the saddle, raised himself up, and sprung in the air, poising and upholding his whole body upon the muscle and nerve of the said thumb, and so turned and whirled himself about three times. At the fourth, reversing his body, and overturning it upside down, and foreside back, without touching anything, he brought himself betwixt the horse’s two ears, springing with all his body into the air, upon the thumb of his left hand, and in that posture, turning like a windmill, did most actively do that trick which is called the miller’s pass. After this, clapping his right hand flat upon the middle of the saddle, he gave himself such a jerking swing that he thereby seated himself upon the crupper, after the manner of gentlewomen sitting on horseback. This done, he easily passed his right leg over the saddle, and placed himself like one that rides in croup. But, said he, it were better for me to get into the saddle; then putting the thumbs of both hands upon the crupper before him, and thereupon leaning himself, as upon the only supporters of his body, he incontinently turned heels over head in the air, and straight found himself betwixt the bow of the saddle in a good settlement. Then with a somersault springing into the air again, he fell to stand with both his feet close together upon the saddle, and there made above a hundred frisks, turns, and demipommads, with his arms held out across, and in so doing cried out aloud, I rage, I rage, devils, I am stark mad, devils, I am mad, hold me, devils, hold me, hold, devils, hold, hold!

Whilst he was thus vaulting, the rogues in great astonishment said to one another, By cock’s death, he is a goblin or a devil thus disguised. Ab hoste maligno libera nos, Domine, and ran away in a full flight, as if they had been routed, looking now and then behind them, like a dog that carrieth away a goose-wing in his mouth. Then Gymnast, spying his advantage, alighted from his horse, drew his sword, and laid on great blows upon the thickset and highest crested among them, and overthrew them in great heaps, hurt, wounded, and bruised, being resisted by nobody, they thinking he had been a starved devil, as well in regard of his wonderful feats in vaulting, which they had seen, as for the talk Tripet had with him, calling him poor devil. Only Tripet would have traitorously cleft his head with his horseman’s sword, or lance-knight falchion; but he was well armed, and felt nothing of the blow but the weight of the stroke. Whereupon, turning suddenly about, his gave Tripet a home-thrust, and upon the back of that, whilst he was about to ward his head from a slash, he ran him in at the breast with a hit, which at once cut his stomach, the fifth gut called the colon, and the half of his liver, wherewith he fell to the ground, and in falling gushed forth above four pottles of pottage, and his soul mingled with the pottage.

This done, Gymnast withdrew himself, very wisely considering that a case of great adventure and hazard should not be pursued unto its utmost period, and that it becomes all cavaliers modestly to use their good fortune, without troubling or stretching it too far. Wherefore, getting to horse, he gave him the spur, taking the right way unto Vauguyon, and Prelinguand with him.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33