Zadig, by Voltaire

Chapter XIII.

The Free-Booter.

Zadig, arriving at the Frontiers which separate Arabia Petræa from Syria, and passing by a very strong Castle, several arm’d Arabians rush’d out upon him, and surrounding him, cried out: Whatever you have belonging to you is our Property, but as for your Person, that is entirely at our Sovereign’s Disposal. Zadig, instead of making any Reply, drew his Sword, and as his Attendant was a very couragious Fellow, he drew likewise. Those who laid hold on them, first fell a Sacrifice to their Fury: Their Numbers redoubled: Yet still, Both dauntless, determin’d to conquer or to die. When two Men defend themselves against a whole Gang, the Contest, doubtless, cannot last long. The Master of the Castle, one Arbogad by Name, having been an Eye–Witness from his Window, of the Intrepidity and surprising Exploits of Zadig, took a Fancy to him. He ran down therefore in Haste, and giving Orders himself to his Vassals to desist, deliver’d the two Travellers out of their Hands. Whatever Goods or Chattels, said he, come upon my Territories, are my Effects; and whatever I find likewise that is valuable upon the Premises of others, is my free Booty; but, as you appear, Sir, to me to be a Gentleman of uncommon Courage, you shall prove an Exception to my general Rule. Upon this, he invited Zadig into his magnificent Mansion, giving his inferior Officers strict Orders to use him with all due Respect; and at Night Arbogad was desirous of supping with Zadig. The Lord of the Mansion was one of those Arabians, that are call’d Free-booters; but a Man who now and then did good Actions amongst a Thousand bad ones. He plunder’d without Mercy; but was liberal in his Benefactions. When in Action, intrepid; but in Traffick, easy enough; a perfect Epicure in his Eating and Drinking, an absolute Debauchee, but very frank and open. Zadig pleas’d him extremely; his Conversation being very lively, prolong’d their Repast: At last, Arbogad said to him; I would advise you, Sir, to enlist yourself in my Troop; you cannot possibly do a better Thing: My Profession is none of the worst; and in Time, you may become perhaps as great a Man as myself. May I presume, Sir, to ask you one Question; how long may you have follow’d this honourable Calling? From my Youth upwards, replied his Host, I was only a Valet at first to an Arabian, who indeed was courteous enough; but Servitude was a State of Life I could not brook. It made me stark-mad to see, in a wide World, which ought to be divided fairly between Mankind, that Fate had reserv’d for me so scanty a Portion. I communicated my Grievance to an old Sage Arabian. Son, said he, never despair; once upon a Time, there was a Grain of Sand, that bemoan’d itself, as being nothing more than a worthless Atom of the Deserts. At the Expiration, however, of a few Years, it became that inestimable Diamond, which at this very Hour, is the richest, and most admir’d Ornament of the Indian Crown. The old Man’s Discourse fir’d me with some Ambition; I was conscious to myself that I was at that Time the Atom he mention’d, but was determin’d, if possible, to become the Diamond. At my first setting out, I stole two Horses; then I got into a Gang; where we play’d at small Game, and stopp’d the small Caravans; thus I gradually lessen’d the wide Disproportion, which there was at first between me and the rest of Mankind: I enjoy’d not only my full Share of the good Things of this Life, but enjoy’d them with Usury. I was look’d upon as a Man of Consequence, and I procur’d this Castle by my military Atchievements. The Satrap of Syria had Thoughts of dispossessing me; but I was then too rich to be any Ways afraid of him; I gave the Satrap a certain Sum of Money, upon Condition that I kept quiet Possession of my Castle. And, moreover, I aggrandiz’d my Domains; for he constituted me, at the same Time, Treasurer of the Imports that Arabia Petræa paid to the King of Kings. I executed my Trust, in every Respect, as I ought, in the Capacity of a Collector; but I never did, nor never intended to balance my Accounts.

The grand Desterham of Babylon sent hither, in the Name of the King Moabdar, a petty Satrap, with a Commission to strangle me. He and his Attendants arriv’d here with his Royal Warrant. I was appriz’d of the whole Affair, and, accordingly, order’d his whole Retinue, consisting of four inferior Officers, to be strangled before his Face, after the same Manner as was intended for my Execution. After this, I ask’d him what he thought the Commission with which he was entrusted, might reasonably be valued at; he answer’d, that he presum’d his Premium (had he succeeded) might have amounted to about three Hundred Pieces of Gold. I made him sensible, that it would be for his Interest to be a commission’d Officer under me; I made him accordingly Deputy Free-booter. He is at this very Day not only the best Officer, but the richest I have in all my Court. If my Word may be credited, I’ll raise your Fortune as I have done his. Never was Trade brisker in our Way; for Moabdar, is knock’d on the Head, and all Babylon in the utmost Confusion. Moabdar kill’d, said you! cry’d Zadig, and pray, Sir, what is become of his Royal Consort, Astarte? I know nothing at all of that Affair, replied Arbogad, all that I have to say, is, that Moabdar became a perfect Madman, and had his Brains beat out; that all the People in Babylon are cutting one another’s Throats, and that the whole Empire is laid waste; that there is still an Opportunity for making several bold Pushes; and let me tell you, Sir, I have done my Part, and made the most on’t. But the Queen, Sir, said Zadig; pray favour me so far, as to inform me, if you know any Thing of the Queen. I have heard great Talk, said he, of a certain Prince of Hyrcania; ’tis very possible, she may have listed herself amongst his Concubines, if she had the good Fortune to escape the Resentment of those popular Tumults; but my Head, Sir, is better turn’d for the Highway than for News; I have taken several Ladies Prisoners in the Course of my Excursions; I keep none of them for my Part; and as to such as are handsomer than ordinary, I make the best Market I can of them, without enquiring who they are. Their Quality or Titles will fetch no Price at all; a Queen, if she be homely, is worth nothing. ’Tis probable, Sir, I have dispos’d of the Lady myself; and ’tis possible, likewise, she may be dead; ’tis no Concern of mine; and to my thinking, it should be an Affair of no Manner of Importance to you. After this Declaration, he drank so hard, and confounded his Ideas in such a Manner, that Zadig was not one whit the wiser. Upon which he was struck dumb, confounded, and stood as motionless as a Statue. Arbogad, in the mean while, swill’d down whole Bumpers, told a Hundred merry Tales, and swore a thousand Times over, that he was the happiest Creature upon God’s Earth; persuading Zadig to be as merry, and thoughtless as himself. At last, being gradually overcome by the Fumes of his Liquor, he fell fast asleep. Zadig spent the Remainder of the Night in deep Contemplation, and in all the Uneasiness of Mind imaginable. What, said he, the King first became crazy, and then was murder’d. I think I have just Grounds for Complaint. The whole Empire is in Confusion, and torn to Pieces, and this Free-booter is as happy as a King. O Fortune! O Fate! a Highwayman as happy as a Monarch! and the most amiable Creature that Nature ever fram’d has suffer’d perhaps, an ignominious Death, or perhaps, is in a State of Life a thousand Times worse than Death itself! O Astarte! Astarte! What art thou become?

As soon as it was Break of Day he went out, and ask’d every one he saw if they knew any Thing of her: But the whole Gang were too intent upon other Matters, to return him any Answer. By Virtue of their Night’s Excursions, they had brought in some fresh Booty, and were busy in dividing the Spoil. All the Favour he could procure, in their Hurry and Tumult, was, to go away without the least Examination. He took the Advantage of their Remissness, and mov’d off the Premises, but more overwhelm’d with Grief and deep Reflection than ever.

Zadig, in his March, was very restless and uneasy. His Thoughts were forever rolling on the unfortunate Astarte, the King of Babylon, his Bosom–Friend Cador, the happy Free-booter, Arbogad, the fair Coquet, that was taken Prisoner on the Confines of Egypt, by the Babylonish Courier; in a Word, on the various Scenes of Misfortunes and Disappointments, which he had successively met with.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:25