Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 13

How, like Master Francis Villon, the Lord of Basche commended his servants.

The catchpole being packed off on blind Sorrel — so he called his one-eyed mare — Basche sent for his lady, her women, and all his servants, into the arbour of his garden; had wine brought, attended with good store of pasties, hams, fruit, and other table-ammunition, for a nunchion; drank with them joyfully, and then told them this story:

Master Francis Villon in his old age retired to St. Maxent in Poitou, under the patronage of a good honest abbot of the place. There to make sport for the mob, he undertook to get the Passion acted, after the way, and in the dialect of the country. The parts being distributed, the play having been rehearsed, and the stage prepared, he told the mayor and aldermen that the mystery might be ready after Niort fair, and that there only wanted properties and necessaries, but chiefly clothes fit for the parts; so the mayor and his brethren took care to get them.

Villon, to dress an old clownish father greybeard, who was to represent God the father, begged of Friar Stephen Tickletoby, sacristan to the Franciscan friars of the place, to lend him a cope and a stole. Tickletoby refused him, alleging that by their provincial statutes it was rigorously forbidden to give or lend anything to players. Villon replied that the statute reached no farther than farces, drolls, antics, loose and dissolute games, and that he asked no more than what he had seen allowed at Brussels and other places. Tickletoby notwithstanding peremptorily bid him provide himself elsewhere if he would, and not to hope for anything out of his monastical wardrobe. Villon gave an account of this to the players, as of a most abominable action; adding, that God would shortly revenge himself, and make an example of Tickletoby.

The Saturday following he had notice given him that Tickletoby, upon the filly of the convent — so they call a young mare that was never leaped yet — was gone a-mumping to St. Ligarius, and would be back about two in the afternoon. Knowing this, he made a cavalcade of his devils of the Passion through the town. They were all rigged with wolves’, calves’, and rams’ skins, laced and trimmed with sheep’s heads, bull’s feathers, and large kitchen tenterhooks, girt with broad leathern girdles, whereat hanged dangling huge cow-bells and horse-bells, which made a horrid din. Some held in their claws black sticks full of squibs and crackers; others had long lighted pieces of wood, upon which, at the corner of every street, they flung whole handfuls of rosin-dust, that made a terrible fire and smoke. Having thus led them about, to the great diversion of the mob and the dreadful fear of little children, he finally carried them to an entertainment at a summer-house without the gate that leads to St. Ligarius.

As they came near to the place, he espied Tickletoby afar off, coming home from mumping, and told them in macaronic verse:

Hic est de patria, natus, de gente belistra,

Qui solet antiqua bribas portare bisacco.

[Motteux reads:

‘Hic est mumpator natus de gente Cucowli,

Qui solet antiquo Scrappas portare bisacco.’

A plague on his friarship, said the devils then; the lousy beggar would not lend a poor cope to the fatherly father; let us fright him. Well said, cried Villon; but let us hide ourselves till he comes by, and then charge him home briskly with your squibs and burning sticks. Tickletoby being come to the place, they all rushed on a sudden into the road to meet him, and in a frightful manner threw fire from all sides upon him and his filly foal, ringing and tingling their bells, and howling like so many real devils, Hho, hho, hho, hho, brrou, rrou, rrourrs, rrrourrs, hoo, hou, hou hho, hho, hhoi. Friar Stephen, don’t we play the devils rarely? The filly was soon scared out of her seven senses, and began to start, to funk it, to squirt it, to trot it, to fart it, to bound it, to gallop it, to kick it, to spurn it, to calcitrate it, to wince it, to frisk it, to leap it, to curvet it, with double jerks, and bum-motions; insomuch that she threw down Tickletoby, though he held fast by the tree of the pack-saddle with might and main. Now his straps and stirrups were of cord; and on the right side his sandals were so entangled and twisted that he could not for the heart’s blood of him get out his foot. Thus he was dragged about by the filly through the road, scratching his bare breech all the way; she still multiplying her kicks against him, and straying for fear over hedge and ditch, insomuch that she trepanned his thick skull so that his cockle brains were dashed out near the Osanna or high-cross. Then his arms fell to pieces, one this way and the other that way; and even so were his legs served at the same time. Then she made a bloody havoc with his puddings; and being got to the convent, brought back only his right foot and twisted sandal, leaving them to guess what was become of the rest.

Villon, seeing that things had succeeded as he intended, said to his devils, You will act rarely, gentlemen devils, you will act rarely; I dare engage you’ll top your parts. I defy the devils of Saumur, Douay, Montmorillon, Langez, St. Espain, Angers; nay, by gad, even those of Poictiers, for all their bragging and vapouring, to match you.

Thus, friends, said Basche, I foresee that hereafter you will act rarely this tragical farce, since the very first time you have so skilfully hampered, bethwacked, belammed, and bebumped the catchpole. From this day I double your wages. As for you, my dear, said he to his lady, make your gratifications as you please; you are my treasurer, you know. For my part, first and foremost, I drink to you all. Come on, box it about; it is good and cool. In the second place, you, Mr. Steward, take this silver basin; I give it you freely. Then you, my gentlemen of the horse, take these two silver-gilt cups, and let not the pages be horsewhipped these three months. My dear, let them have my best white plumes of feathers, with the gold buckles to them. Sir Oudart, this silver flagon falls to your share; this other I give to the cooks. To the valets de chambre I give this silver basket; to the grooms, this silver-gilt boat; to the porter, these two plates; to the hostlers, these ten porringers. Trudon, take you these silver spoons and this sugar-box. You, footman, take this large salt. Serve me well, and I will remember you. For, on the word of a gentleman, I had rather bear in war one hundred blows on my helmet in the service of my country than be once cited by these knavish catchpoles merely to humour this same gorbellied prior.

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