Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 15

How Friar John talks of rooting out the Furred Law-cats.

Virtue of the frock, quoth Friar John, what kind of voyage are we making? A shitten one, o’ my word; the devil of anything we do but fizzling, farting, funking, squattering, dozing, raving, and doing nothing. Ods-belly, ’tisn’t in my nature to lie idle; I mortally hate it. Unless I am doing some heroic feat every foot, I can’t sleep one wink o’ nights. Damn it, did you then take me along with you for your chaplain, to sing mass and shrive you? By Maundy Thursday, the first of ye all that comes to me on such an account shall be fitted; for the only penance I’ll enjoin shall be, that he immediately throw himself headlong overboard into the sea like a base cowhearted son of ten fathers. This in deduction of the pains of purgatory.

What made Hercules such a famous fellow, d’ye think? Nothing but that while he travelled he still made it his business to rid the world of tyrannies, errors, dangers, and drudgeries; he still put to death all robbers, all monsters, all venomous serpents and hurtful creatures. Why then do we not follow his example, doing as he did in the countries through which we pass? He destroyed the Stymphalides, and Lernaean hydra, Cacus, Antheus, the Centaurs, and what not; I am no clericus, those that are such tell me so.

In imitation of that noble by-blow, let’s destroy and root out these wicked Furred Law-cats, that are a kind of ravenous devils; thus we shall remove all manner of tyranny out of the land. Mawmet’s tutor swallow me body and soul, tripes and guts, if I would stay to ask your help or advice in the matter were I but as strong as he was. Come, he that would be thought a gentleman, let him storm a town; well, then, shall we go? I dare swear we’ll do their business for them with a wet finger; they’ll bear it, never fear; since they could swallow down more foul language that came from us than ten sows and their babies could swill hogwash. Damn ‘em, they don’t value all the ill words or dishonour in the world at a rush, so they but get the coin into their purses, though they were to have it in a shitten clout. Come, we may chance to kill ‘em all, as Hercules would have done had they lived in his time. We only want to be set to work by another Eurystheus, and nothing else for the present, unless it be what I heartily wish them, that Jupiter may give ‘em a short visit, only some two or three hours long, and walk among their lordships in the same equipage that attended him when he came last to his Miss Semele, jolly Bacchus’s mother.

’Tis a very great mercy, quoth Panurge, that you have got out of their clutches. For my part, I have no stomach to go there again; I’m hardly come to myself yet, so scared and appalled I was. My hair still stands up an end when I think on’t; and most damnably troubled I was there, for three very weighty reasons. First, because I was troubled. Secondly, because I was troubled. Thirdly and lastly, because I was troubled. Hearken to me a little on thy right side, Friar John, my left cod, since thou’lt not hear at the other. Whenever the maggot bites thee to take a trip down to hell and visit the tribunal of Minos, Aeacus, Rhadamanthus, (and Dis,) do but tell me, and I’ll be sure to bear thee company, and never leave thee as long as my name’s Panurge, but will wade over Acheron, Styx, and Cocytus, drink whole bumpers of Lethe’s water — though I mortally hate that element — and even pay thy passage to that bawling, cross-grained ferryman, Charon. But as for the damned wicket, if thou art so weary of thy life as to go thither again, thou mayst e’en look for somebody else to bear thee company, for I’ll not move one step that way; e’en rest satisfied with this positive answer. By my good will I’ll not stir a foot to go thither as long as I live, any more than Calpe will come over to Abyla [Here Motteux adds the following note: ‘Calpe is a mountain in Spain that faces another, called Abyla, in Mauritania, both said to have been severed by Hercules.’]. Was Ulysses so mad as to go back into the Cyclop’s cave to fetch his sword? No, marry was he not. Now I have left nothing behind me at the wicket through forgetfulness; why then should I think of going thither?

Well, quoth Friar John, as good sit still as rise up and fall; what cannot be cured must be endured. But, prithee, let’s hear one another speak. Come, wert thou not a wise doctor to fling away a whole purse of gold on those mangy scoundrels? Ha! A squinsy choke thee! we were too rich, were we? Had it not been enough to have thrown the hell-hounds a few cropped pieces of white cash?

How could I help it? returned Panurge. Did you not see how Gripe-men-all held his gaping velvet pouch, and every moment roared and bellowed, By gold, give me out of hand; by gold, give, give, give me presently? Now, thought I to myself, we shall never come off scot-free. I’ll e’en stop their mouths with gold, that the wicket may be opened, and we may get out; the sooner the better. And I judged that lousy silver would not do the business; for, d’ye see, velvet pouches do not use to gape for little paltry clipt silver and small cash; no, they are made for gold, my friend John; that they are, my dainty cod. Ah! when thou hast been larded, basted, and roasted, as I was, thou wilt hardly talk at this rate, I doubt. But now what is to be done? We are enjoined by them to go forwards.

The scabby slabberdegullions still waited for us at the port, expecting to be greased in the fist as well as their masters. Now when they perceived that we were ready to put to sea, they came to Friar John and begged that we would not forget to gratify the apparitors before we went off, according to the assessment for the fees at our discharge. Hell and damnation! cried Friar John; are ye here still, ye bloodhounds, ye citing, scribbling imps of Satan? Rot you, am I not vexed enough already, but you must have the impudence to come and plague me, ye scurvy fly-catchers you? By cob’s-body, I’ll gratify your ruffianships as you deserve; I’ll apparitorize you presently with a wannion, that I will. With this, he lugged out his slashing cutlass, and in a mighty heat came out of the ship to cut the cozening varlets into steaks, but they scampered away and got out of sight in a trice.

However, there was somewhat more to do, for some of our sailors, having got leave of Pantagruel to go ashore while we were had before Gripe-men-all, had been at a tavern near the haven to make much of themselves, and roar it, as seamen will do when they come into some port. Now I don’t know whether they had paid their reckoning to the full or no, but, however it was, an old fat hostess, meeting Friar John on the quay, was making a woeful complaint before a sergeant, son-in-law to one of the furred law-cats, and a brace of bums, his assistants.

The friar, who did not much care to be tired with their impertinent prating, said to them, Harkee me, ye lubberly gnat-snappers! do ye presume to say that our seamen are not honest men? I’ll maintain they are, ye dotterels, and will prove it to your brazen faces, by justice — I mean, this trusty piece of cold iron by my side. With this he lugged it out and flourished with it. The forlorn lobcocks soon showed him their backs, betaking themselves to their heels; but the old fusty landlady kept her ground, swearing like any butter-whore that the tarpaulins were very honest cods, but that they only forgot to pay for the bed on which they had lain after dinner, and she asked fivepence, French money, for the said bed. May I never sup, said the friar, if it be not dog-cheap; they are sorry guests and unkind customers, that they are; they do not know when they have a pennyworth, and will not always meet with such bargains. Come, I myself will pay you the money, but I would willingly see it first.

The hostess immediately took him home with her, and showed him the bed, and having praised it for all its good qualifications, said that she thought as times went she was not out of the way in asking fivepence for it. Friar John then gave her the fivepence; and she no sooner turned her back but he presently began to rip up the ticking of the feather-bed and bolster, and threw all the feathers out at the window. In the meantime the old hag came down and roared out for help, crying out murder to set all the neighbourhood in an uproar. Yet she also fell to gathering the feathers that flew up and down in the air, being scattered by the wind. Friar John let her bawl on, and, without any further ado, marched off with the blanker, quilt, and both the sheets, which he brought aboard undiscovered, for the air was darkened with the feathers, as it uses sometimes to be with snow. He gave them away to the sailors; then said to Pantagruel that beds were much cheaper at that place than in Chinnonois, though we have there the famous geese of Pautile; for the old beldam had asked him but fivepence for a bed which in Chinnonois had been worth about twelve francs. (As soon as Friar John and the rest of the company were embarked, Pantagruel set sail. But there arose a south-east wind, which blew so vehemently they lost their way, and in a manner going back to the country of the Furred Law-cats, they entered into a huge gulf, where the sea ran so high and terrible that the shipboy on the top of the mast cried out he again saw the habitation of Gripe-men-all; upon which Panurge, frightened almost out of his wits, roared out, Dear master, in spite of the wind and waves, change your course, and turn the ship’s head about. O my friend, let us come no more into that cursed country where I left my purse. So the wind carried them near an island, where however they did not dare at first to land, but entered about a mile off. [Motteux omitted this passage altogether in the edition of 1694. It was restored by Ozell in the edition of 1738.]

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