Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 10

How Pantagruel arrived at the island of Sharping.

We left the island of Tools to pursue our voyage, and the next day stood in for the island of Sharping, the true image of Fontainebleau, for the land is so very lean that the bones, that is, the rocks, shoot through its skin. Besides, ’tis sandy, barren, unhealthy, and unpleasant. Our pilot showed us there two little square rocks which had eight equal points in the shape of a cube. They were so white that I might have mistaken them for alabaster or snow, had he not assured us they were made of bone.

He told us that twenty chance devils very much feared in our country dwelt there in six different storeys, and that the biggest twins or braces of them were called sixes, and the smallest ambs-ace; the rest cinques, quatres, treys, and deuces. When they were conjured up, otherwise coupled, they were called either sice cinque, sice quatre, sice trey, sice deuce, and sice ace; or cinque quatre, cinque trey, and so forth. I made there a shrewd observation. Would you know what ’tis, gamesters? ’Tis that there are very few of you in the world but what call upon and invoke the devils. For the dice are no sooner thrown on the board, and the greedy gazing sparks have hardly said, Two sixes, Frank; but Six devils damn it! cry as many of them. If ambs-ace; then, A brace of devils broil me! will they say. Quatre-deuce, Tom; The deuce take it! cries another. And so on to the end of the chapter. Nay, they don’t forget sometimes to call the black cloven-footed gentlemen by their Christian names and surnames; and what is stranger yet, they use them as their greatest cronies, and make them so often the executors of their wills, not only giving themselves, but everybody and everything, to the devil, that there’s no doubt but he takes care to seize, soon or late, what’s so zealously bequeathed him. Indeed, ’tis true Lucifer does not always immediately appear by his lawful attorneys; but, alas! ’tis not for want of goodwill; he is really to be excused for his delay; for what the devil would you have a devil do? He and his black guards are then at some other places, according to the priority of the persons that call on them; therefore, pray let none be so venturesome as to think that the devils are deaf and blind.

He then told us that more wrecks had happened about those square rocks, and a greater loss of body and goods, than about all the Syrtes, Scyllas and Charybdes, Sirens, Strophades, and gulfs in the universe. I had not much ado to believe it, remembering that formerly, among the wise Egyptians, Neptune was described in hieroglyphics for the first cube, Apollo by an ace, Diana by a deuce, Minerva by seven, and so forth.

He also told us that there was a phial of sanc-greal, a most divine thing, and known to a few. Panurge did so sweeten up the syndics of the place that they blessed us with the sight of ’t; but it was with three times more pother and ado, with more formalities and antic tricks, than they show the pandects of Justinian at Florence, or the holy Veronica at Rome. I never saw such a sight of flambeaux, torches, and hagios, sanctified tapers, rush-lights, and farthing candles in my whole life. After all, that which was shown us was only the ill-faced countenance of a roasted coney.

All that we saw there worth speaking of was a good face set upon an ill game, and the shells of the two eggs formerly laid up and hatched by Leda, out of which came Castor and Pollux, fair Helen’s brothers. These same syndics sold us a piece of ‘em for a song, I mean, for a morsel of bread. Before we went we bought a parcel of hats and caps of the manufacture of the place, which, I fear, will turn to no very good account; nor are those who shall take ‘em off our hands more likely to commend their wearing.

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