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The Farmer and the Devil on Island of the Popefigs

François Rabelais

Pantagruel ... was told that for the last three years there had raged in the island a pestilence so horrible, that the half or more of the country had remained desolate, and the lands without occupiers. When the pestilence had gone by, this man ... was plowing a large and fertile piece of ground and sowing it with wheat at the very day and hour that a small devil (one who did not know how to thunder or hail except only on parsley and cabbages, and moreover could not yet read or write) had obtained leave from Lucifer to go for a holiday and recreation in this Island of the Popefigs, wherein the devils were very familiar with the men and women, and often went there to pass their time.

Devil as illustrated in a medieval manuscript. A red devil with claws and a tail wears a crown and sits atop a blue beast.Devil as illustrated in a medieval manuscript

This devil, having got to the place, addressed himself to the laborer, and asked him what he was doing. The poor man answered him that he was sowing this field with wheat, to help him to live the following year.

"Nay, but this field is none of thine," said the devil. "It is mine, and belongs to me; for ... all this country was adjudged, proscribed and given up to us. To sow corn, however, is not my province; wherefore I leave thee the field, but on condition that we share the profit."

"I am willing," answered the laborer.

"I mean," said the devil, "that we are to make two lots of the profit that results. One shall be that which grows above the earth, the other that which shall be covered by the earth. The right of choosing belongs to me, for I am a devil, born of a noble and ancient race; thou art but a clown. I make choice of that which shall be in the earth. Thou shall have that which is above. At what time shall be the in-gathering?"

"About the middle of July," answered the laborer.

"Very well," said the devil, "I will not fail to be here. Meantime do as is thy duty to do. Work, villain, work. I am off to tempt to the gallant sin of luxury, the noble nuns of Pette-sec, also the cowled hypocrites and gluttons. Of their desires I am more than assured. They have but to meet, and the combat takes place."

When mid July had come, the devil presented himself at the place, accompanied by a troop of little devilkins of the choir. There, finding the laborer, he said, "Now, villain, how hast thou done since my departure? It is fitting now that we should make out our shares."

"It is but reason," answered the laborer. Then the laborer and his men began to reap the corn. The devilkins likewise pulled up the stubble from the earth. The laborer threshed his corn on the threshing floor, winnowed it, put it in sacks and carried it to market to sell. The imps did the same, and set themselves down at the marketplace, near the laborer, to sell their stubble.

The laborer sold his corn very well, and with the money filled an old half-buskin, which he carried at his girdle. The devils sold nothing. Nay, on the contrary, the peasants jeered at them in open market.

When the market was over, the devil said to the laborer, "Villain, thou hast cheated me this time. Next time thou shall not do so."

"Master Devil," said the laborer, "how could I have cheated you, when you had the first choice? The truth is, that in this choice you thought to cheat me, expecting that nothing would come out of the earth for my share, and that you would find below the whole of the grain which I had sown, intending therewith to tempt the poor and needy, the hypocrites, or the misers, and by temptation to make them fall into your snares. But you are mighty young at your trade. The grain which you see in the earth is dead and rotten. The corruption of that has caused the generation of the other, which you saw me sell. So you do choose the worse. That is why you are cursed in the Gospel."

"Let us leave this subject," said the devil. "What canst thou sow our field with next year? "

"To make a profit like a good husbandman," said the laborer, "the proper thing would be to sow turnips."

"Well," said the devil, "thou art an honest clown. Sow turnips in abundance. I will guard them from the storm, and will not hail upon them. But understand thoroughly: I retain for my share that which shall be above ground. Thou shall have all that is below. Work, villain, work. I am off to tempt the heretics. Their souls are dainty morsels when broiled on the coals. My lord Lucifer has the colic; they will make a tid-bit for him."

When the time of gathering was come, the devil appeared on the ground with a squadron of waiting devilkins. There, finding the laborer and his men, he began to cut and gather the leaves of the turnips. After him the laborer dug and pulled up the big turnips, and put them into sacks. So they all go off together to market. The laborer sold his turnips very well. The devil sold nothing, and, what was worse, they jeered at him publicly.

"I see very well, villain," said the devil, "that I have been cheated by thee. I will make an end of the business between thee and me.


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