Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 7

How Panurge related to Master Aedituus the fable of the horse and the ass.

When we had crammed and crammed again, Aedituus took us into a chamber that was well furnished, hung with tapestry, and finely gilt. Thither he caused to be brought store of mirobolans, cashou, green ginger preserved, with plenty of hippocras, and delicious wine. With those antidotes, that were like a sweet Lethe, he invited us to forget the hardships of our voyage; and at the same time he sent plenty of provisions on board our ship that rid in the harbour. After this, we e’en jogged to bed for that night; but the devil a bit poor pilgarlic could sleep one wink — the everlasting jingle-jangle of the bells kept me awake whether I would or no.

About midnight Aedituus came to wake us that we might drink. He himself showed us the way, saying: You men of t’other world say that ignorance is the mother of all evil, and so far you are right; yet for all that you do not take the least care to get rid of it, but still plod on, and live in it, with it, and by it; for which a plaguy deal of mischief lights on you every day, and you are right enough served — you are perpetually ailing somewhat, making a moan, and never right. It is what I was ruminating upon just now. And, indeed, ignorance keeps you here fastened in bed, just as that bully-rock Mars was detained by Vulcan’s art; for all the while you do not mind that you ought to spare some of your rest, and be as lavish as you can of the goods of this famous island. Come, come, you should have eaten three breakfasts already; and take this from me for a certain truth, that if you would consume the mouth-ammunition of this island, you must rise betimes; eat them, they multiply; spare them, they diminish.

For example, mow a field in due season, and the grass will grow thicker and better; don’t mow it, and in a short time ’twill be floored with moss. Let’s drink, and drink again, my friends; come, let’s all carouse it. The leanest of our birds are now singing to us all; we’ll drink to them, if you please. Let’s take off one, two, three, nine bumpers. Non zelus, sed caritas.

When day, peeping in the east, made the sky turn from black to red like a boiling lobster, he waked us again to take a dish of monastical brewis. From that time we made but one meal, that only lasted the whole day; so that I cannot well tell how I may call it, whether dinner, supper, nunchion, or after-supper; only, to get a stomach, we took a turn or two in the island, to see and hear the blessed singing-birds.

At night Panurge said to Aedituus: Give me leave, sweet sir, to tell you a merry story of something that happened some three and twenty moons ago in the country of Chastelleraud.

One day in April, a certain gentleman’s groom, Roger by name, was walking his master’s horses in some fallow ground. There ’twas his good fortune to find a pretty shepherdess feeding her bleating sheep and harmless lambkins on the brow of a neighbouring mountain, in the shade of an adjacent grove; near her, some frisking kids tripped it over a green carpet of nature’s own spreading, and, to complete the landscape, there stood an ass. Roger, who was a wag, had a dish of chat with her, and after some ifs, ands, and buts, hems and heighs on her side, got her in the mind to get up behind him, to go and see his stable, and there take a bit by the bye in a civil way. While they were holding a parley, the horse, directing his discourse to the ass (for all brute beasts spoke that year in divers places), whispered these words in his ear: Poor ass, how I pity thee! thou slavest like any hack, I read it on thy crupper. Thou dost well, however, since God has created thee to serve mankind; thou art a very honest ass, but not to be better rubbed down, currycombed, trapped, and fed than thou art, seems to me indeed to be too hard a lot. Alas! thou art all rough-coated, in ill plight, jaded, foundered, crestfallen, and drooping, like a mooting duck, and feedest here on nothing but coarse grass, or briars and thistles. Therefore do but pace it along with me, and thou shalt see how we noble steeds, made by nature for war, are treated. Come, thou’lt lose nothing by coming; I’ll get thee a taste of my fare. I’ troth, sir, I can but love you and thank you, returned the ass; I’ll wait on you, good Mr. Steed. Methinks, gaffer ass, you might as well have said Sir Grandpaw Steed. O! cry mercy, good Sir Grandpaw, returned the ass; we country clowns are somewhat gross, and apt to knock words out of joint. However, an’t please you, I will come after your worship at some distance, lest for taking this run my side should chance to be firked and curried with a vengeance, as it is but too often, the more is my sorrow.

The shepherdess being got behind Roger, the ass followed, fully resolved to bait like a prince with Roger’s steed; but when they got to the stable, the groom, who spied the grave animal, ordered one of his underlings to welcome him with a pitchfork and currycomb him with a cudgel. The ass, who heard this, recommended himself mentally to the god Neptune, and was packing off, thinking and syllogizing within himself thus: Had not I been an ass, I had not come here among great lords, when I must needs be sensible that I was only made for the use of the small vulgar. Aesop had given me a fair warning of this in one of his fables. Well, I must e’en scamper or take what follows. With this he fell a-trotting, and wincing, and yerking, and calcitrating, alias kicking, and farting, and funking, and curvetting, and bounding, and springing, and galloping full drive, as if the devil had come for him in propria persona.

The shepherdess, who saw her ass scour off, told Roger that it was her cattle, and desired he might be kindly used, or else she would not stir her foot over the threshold. Friend Roger no sooner knew this but he ordered him to be fetched in, and that my master’s horses should rather chop straw for a week together than my mistress’s beast should want his bellyful of corn.

The most difficult point was to get him back; for in vain the youngsters complimented and coaxed him to come. I dare not, said the ass; I am bashful. And the more they strove by fair means to bring him with them, the more the stubborn thing was untoward, and flew out at the heels; insomuch that they might have been there to this hour, had not his mistress advised them to toss oats in a sieve or in a blanket, and call him; which was done, and made him wheel about and say, Oats, with a witness! oats shall go to pot. Adveniat; oats will do, there’s evidence in the case; but none of the rubbing down, none of the firking. Thus melodiously singing (for, as you know, that Arcadian bird’s note is very harmonious) he came to the young gentleman of the horse, alias black garb, who brought him to the stable.

When he was there, they placed him next to the great horse his friend, rubbed him down, currycombed him, laid clean straw under him up to the chin, and there he lay at rack and manger, the first stuffed with sweet hay, the latter with oats; which when the horse’s valet-dear-chambre sifted, he clapped down his lugs, to tell them by signs that he could eat it but too well without sifting, and that he did not deserve so great an honour.

When they had well fed, quoth the horse to the ass; Well, poor ass, how is it with thee now? How dost thou like this fare? Thou wert so nice at first, a body had much ado to get thee hither. By the fig, answered the ass, which, one of our ancestors eating, Philemon died laughing, this is all sheer ambrosia, good Sir Grandpaw; but what would you have an ass say? Methinks all this is yet but half cheer. Don’t your worships here now and then use to take a leap? What leaping dost thou mean? asked the horse; the devil leap thee! dost thou take me for an ass? In troth, Sir Grandpaw, quoth the ass, I am somewhat of a blockhead, you know, and cannot, for the heart’s blood of me, learn so fast the court way of speaking of you gentlemen horses; I mean, don’t you stallionize it sometimes here among your mettled fillies? Tush, whispered the horse, speak lower; for, by Bucephalus, if the grooms but hear thee they will maul and belam thee thrice and threefold, so that thou wilt have but little stomach to a leaping bout. Cod so, man, we dare not so much as grow stiff at the tip of the lowermost snout, though it were but to leak or so, for fear of being jerked and paid out of our lechery. As for anything else, we are as happy as our master, and perhaps more. By this packsaddle, my old acquaintance, quoth the ass, I have done with you; a fart for thy litter and hay, and a fart for thy oats; give me the thistles of our fields, since there we leap when we list. Eat less, and leap more, I say; it is meat, drink, and cloth to us. Ah! friend Grandpaw, it would do thy heart good to see us at a fair, when we hold our provincial chapter! Oh! how we leap it, while our mistresses are selling their goslings and other poultry! With this they parted. Dixi; I have done.

Panurge then held his peace. Pantagruel would have had him to have gone on to the end of the chapter; but Aedituus said, A word to the wise is enough; I can pick out the meaning of that fable, and know who is that ass, and who the horse; but you are a bashful youth, I perceive. Well, know that there’s nothing for you here; scatter no words. Yet, returned Panurge, I saw but even now a pretty kind of a cooing abbess-kite as white as a dove, and her I had rather ride than lead. May I never stir if she is not a dainty bit, and very well worth a sin or two. Heaven forgive me! I meant no more harm in it than you; may the harm I meant in it befall me presently.

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