Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 12

How Pantagruel passed by the land of Pettifogging, and of the strange way of living among the Catchpoles.

Steering our course forwards the next day, we passed through Pettifogging, a country all blurred and blotted, so that I could hardly tell what to make on’t. There we saw some pettifoggers and catchpoles, rogues that will hang their father for a groat. They neither invited us to eat or drink; but, with a multiplied train of scrapes and cringes, said they were all at our service for the Legem pone.

One of our droggermen related to Pantagruel their strange way of living, diametrically opposed to that of our modern Romans; for at Rome a world of folks get an honest livelihood by poisoning, drubbing, lambasting, stabbing, and murthering; but the catchpoles earn theirs by being thrashed; so that if they were long without a tight lambasting, the poor dogs with their wives and children would be starved. This is just, quoth Panurge, like those who, as Galen tells us, cannot erect the cavernous nerve towards the equinoctial circle unless they are soundly flogged. By St. Patrick’s slipper, whoever should jerk me so, would soon, instead of setting me right, throw me off the saddle, in the devil’s name.

The way is this, said the interpreter. When a monk, levite, close-fisted usurer, or lawyer owes a grudge to some neighbouring gentleman, he sends to him one of those catchpoles or apparitors, who nabs, or at least cites him, serves a writ or warrant upon him, thumps, abuses, and affronts him impudently by natural instinct, and according to his pious instructions; insomuch, that if the gentleman hath but any guts in his brains, and is not more stupid than a gyrin frog, he will find himself obliged either to apply a faggot-stick or his sword to the rascal’s jobbernowl, give him the gentle lash, or make him cut a caper out at the window, by way of correction. This done, Catchpole is rich for four months at least, as if bastinadoes were his real harvest; for the monk, levite, usurer, or lawyer will reward him roundly; and my gentleman must pay him such swingeing damages that his acres must bleed for it, and he be in danger of miserably rotting within a stone doublet, as if he had struck the king.

Quoth Panurge, I know an excellent remedy against this used by the Lord of Basche. What is it? said Pantagruel. The Lord of Basche, said Panurge, was a brave, honest, noble-spirited gentleman, who, at his return from the long war in which the Duke of Ferrara, with the help of the French, bravely defended himself against the fury of Pope Julius the Second, was every day cited, warned, and prosecuted at the suit and for the sport and fancy of the fat prior of St. Louant.

One morning, as he was at breakfast with some of his domestics (for he loved to be sometimes among them) he sent for one Loire, his baker, and his spouse, and for one Oudart, the vicar of his parish, who was also his butler, as the custom was then in France; then said to them before his gentlemen and other servants: You all see how I am daily plagued with these rascally catchpoles. Truly, if you do not lend me your helping hand, I am finally resolved to leave the country, and go fight for the sultan, or the devil, rather than be thus eternally teased. Therefore, to be rid of their damned visits, hereafter, when any of them come here, be ready, you baker and your wife, to make your personal appearance in my great hall, in your wedding clothes, as if you were going to be affianced. Here, take these ducats, which I give you to keep you in a fitting garb. As for you, Sir Oudart, be sure you make your personal appearance there in your fine surplice and stole, not forgetting your holy water, as if you were to wed them. Be you there also, Trudon, said he to his drummer, with your pipe and tabor. The form of matrimony must be read, and the bride kissed; then all of you, as the witnesses used to do in this country, shall give one another the remembrance of the wedding, which you know is to be a blow with your fist, bidding the party struck remember the nuptials by that token. This will but make you have the better stomach to your supper; but when you come to the catchpole’s turn, thrash him thrice the threefold, as you would a sheaf of green corn; do not spare him; maul him, drub him, lambast him, swinge him off, I pray you. Here, take these steel gauntlets, covered with kid. Head, back, belly, and sides, give him blows innumerable; he that gives him most shall be my best friend. Fear not to be called to an account about it; I will stand by you; for the blows must seem to be given in jest, as it is customary among us at all weddings.

Messire Oudart.

Ay, but how shall we know the catchpole? said the man of God. All sorts of people daily resort to this castle. I have taken care of that, replied the lord. When some fellow, either on foot, or on a scurvy jade, with a large broad silver ring on his thumb, comes to the door, he is certainly a catchpole; the porter having civilly let him in, shall ring the bell; then be all ready, and come into the hall, to act the tragi-comedy whose plot I have now laid for you.

That numerical day, as chance would have it, came an old fat ruddy catchpole. Having knocked at the gate, and then pissed, as most men will do, the porter soon found him out, by his large greasy spatterdashes, his jaded hollow-flanked mare, his bagful of writs and informations dangling at his girdle, but, above all, by the large silver hoop on his left thumb.

The porter was civil to him, admitted him in kindly, and rung the bell briskly. As soon as the baker and his wife heard it, they clapped on their best clothes, and made their personal appearance in the hall, keeping their gravities like a new-made judge. The dominie put on his surplice and stole, and as he came out of his office, met the catchpole, had him in there, and made him suck his face a good while, while the gauntlets were drawing on all hands; and then told him, You are come just in pudding-time; my lord is in his right cue. We shall feast like kings anon; here is to be swingeing doings; we have a wedding in the house; here, drink and cheer up; pull away.

While these two were at it hand-to-fist, Basche, seeing all his people in the hall in their proper equipage, sends for the vicar. Oudart comes with the holy-water pot, followed by the catchpole, who, as he came into the hall, did not forget to make good store of awkward cringes, and then served Basche with a writ. Basche gave him grimace for grimace, slipped an angel into his mutton-fist, and prayed him to assist at the contract and ceremony; which he did. When it was ended, thumps and fisticuffs began to fly about among the assistants; but when it came to the catchpole’s turn, they all laid on him so unmercifully with their gauntlets that they at last settled him, all stunned and battered, bruised and mortified, with one of his eyes black and blue, eight ribs bruised, his brisket sunk in, his omoplates in four quarters, his under jawbone in three pieces; and all this in jest, and no harm done. God wot how the levite belaboured him, hiding within the long sleeve of his canonical shirt his huge steel gauntlet lined with ermine; for he was a strong-built ball, and an old dog at fisticuffs. The catchpole, all of a bloody tiger-like stripe, with much ado crawled home to L’Isle Bouchart, well pleased and edified, however, with Basche’s kind reception; and, with the help of the good surgeons of the place, lived as long as you would have him. From that time to this, not a word of the business; the memory of it was lost with the sound of the bells that rung with joy at his funeral.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59