Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 18

How our ships were stranded, and we were relieved by some people that were subject to Queen Whims (qui tenoient de la Quinte).

We weighed and set sail with a merry westerly gale. When about seven leagues off (twenty-two miles) some gusts or scuds of wind suddenly arose, and the wind veering and shifting from point to point, was, as they say, like an old woman’s breech, at no certainty; so we first got our starboard tacks aboard, and hauled off our lee-sheets. Then the gusts increased, and by fits blowed all at once from several quarters, yet we neither settled nor braided up close our sails, but only let fly the sheets, not to go against the master of the ship’s direction; and thus having let go amain, lest we should spend our topsails, or the ship’s quick-side should lie in the water and she be overset, we lay by and run adrift; that is, in a landloper’s phrase, we temporized it. For he assured us that, as these gusts and whirlwinds would not do us much good, so they could not do us much harm, considering their easiness and pleasant strife, as also the clearness of the sky and calmness of the current. So that we were to observe the philosopher’s rule, bear and forbear; that is, trim, or go according to the time.

However, these whirlwinds and gusts lasted so long that we persuaded the master to let us go and lie at trie with our main course; that is, to haul the tack aboard, the sheet close aft, the bowline set up, and the helm tied close aboard; so, after a stormy gale of wind, we broke through the whirlwind. But it was like falling into Scylla to avoid Charybdis (out of the frying-pan into the fire). For we had not sailed a league ere our ships were stranded upon some sands such as are the flats of St. Maixent.

All our company seemed mightily disturbed except Friar John, who was not a jot daunted, and with sweet sugar-plum words comforted now one and then another, giving them hopes of speedy assistance from above, and telling them that he had seen Castor at the main-yardarm. Oh! that I were but now ashore, cried Panurge, that is all I wish for myself at present, and that you who like the sea so well had each man of you two hundred thousand crowns. I would fairly let you set up shop on these sands, and would get a fat calf dressed and a hundred of faggots (i.e. bottles of wine) cooled for you against you come ashore. I freely consent never to mount a wife, so you but set me ashore and mount me on a horse, that I may go home. No matter for a servant, I will be contented to serve myself; I am never better treated than when I am without a man. Faith, old Plautus was in the right on’t when he said the more servants the more crosses; for such they are, even supposing they could want what they all have but too much of, a tongue, that most busy, dangerous, and pernicious member of servants. Accordingly, ’twas for their sakes alone that the racks and tortures for confession were invented, though some foreign civilians in our time have drawn alogical and unreasonable consequences from it.

That very moment we spied a sail that made towards us. When it was close by us, we soon knew what was the lading of the ship and who was aboard of her. She was full freighted with drums. I was acquainted with many of the passengers that came in her, who were most of ‘em of good families; among the rest Harry Cotiral, an old toast, who had got a swinging ass’s touch-tripe (penis) fastened to his waist, as the good women’s beads are to their girdle. In his left hand he held an old overgrown greasy foul cap, such as your scald-pated fellows wear, and in the right a huge cabbage-stump.

As soon as he saw me he was overjoyed, and bawled out to me, What cheer, ho? How dost like me now? Behold the true Algamana (this he said showing me the ass’s tickle-gizzard). This doctor’s cap is my true elixir; and this (continued he, shaking the cabbage-stump in his fist) is lunaria major, you old noddy. I have ‘em, old boy, I have ‘em; we’ll make ‘em when thou’rt come back. But pray, father, said I, whence come you? Whither are you bound? What’s your lading? Have you smelt the salt deep? To these four questions he answered, From Queen Whims; for Touraine; alchemy; to the very bottom.

Whom have you got o’ board? said I. Said he, Astrologers, fortune-tellers, alchemists, rhymers, poets, painters, projectors, mathematicians, watchmakers, sing-songs, musicianers, and the devil and all of others that are subject to Queen Whims [Motteux gives the following footnote:—’La Quinte, This means a fantastic Humour, Maggots, or a foolish Giddiness of Brains; and also, a fifth, or the Proportion of Five in music, &c.’]. They have very fair legible patents to show for’t, as anybody may see. Panurge had no sooner heard this but he was upon the high-rope, and began to rail at them like mad. What o’ devil d’ye mean, cried he, to sit idly here like a pack of loitering sneaksbies, and see us stranded, while you may help us, and tow us off into the current? A plague o’ your whims! you can make all things whatsoever, they say, so much as good weather and little children; yet won’t make haste to fasten some hawsers and cables, and get us off. I was just coming to set you afloat, quoth Harry Cotiral; by Trismegistus, I’ll clear you in a trice. With this he caused 7,532,810 huge drums to be unheaded on one side, and set that open side so that it faced the end of the streamers and pendants; and having fastened them to good tacklings and our ship’s head to the stern of theirs, with cables fastened to the bits abaft the manger in the ship’s loof, they towed us off ground at one pull so easily and pleasantly that you’d have wondered at it had you been there. For the dub-a-dub rattling of the drums, with the soft noise of the gravel which murmuring disputed us our way, and the merry cheers and huzzas of the sailors, made an harmony almost as good as that of the heavenly bodies when they roll and are whirled round their spheres, which rattling of the celestial wheels Plato said he heard some nights in his sleep.

We scorned to be behindhand with ‘em in civility, and gratefully gave ‘em store of our sausages and chitterlings, with which we filled their drums; and we were just a-hoisting two-and-sixty hogsheads of wine out of the hold, when two huge whirlpools with great fury made towards their ship, spouting more water than is in the river Vienne (Vigenne) from Chinon to Saumur; to make short, all their drums, all their sails, their concerns, and themselves were soused, and their very hose were watered by the collar.

Panurge was so overjoyed, seeing this, and laughed so heartily, that he was forced to hold his sides, and it set him into a fit of the colic for two hours and more. I had a mind, quoth he, to make the dogs drink, and those honest whirlpools, egad, have saved me that labour and that cost. There’s sauce for them; (Greek). Water is good, saith a poet; let ‘em Pindarize upon’t. They never cared for fresh water but to wash their hands or their glasses. This good salt water will stand ‘em in good stead for want of sal ammoniac and nitre in Geber’s kitchen.

We could not hold any further discourse with ‘em; for the former whirlwind hindered our ship from feeling the helm. The pilot advised us henceforwards to let her run adrift and follow the stream, not busying ourselves with anything, but making much of our carcasses. For our only way to arrive safe at the queendom of Whims was to trust to the whirlwind and be led by the current.

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