Zadig, by Voltaire

Chapter VII.

The Force of Jealousy.

The Misfortunes that attended Zadig proceeded, in a great Measure, from his Preferment; but more from his intrinsic Merit. Every Day he had familiar Converse with the King, his Royal Master, and his august Consort, Astarte. And the Pleasure arising from thence was greatly enhanc’d from an innate Ambition of pleasing, which, in regard to Wit, is the same, as Dress is to Beauty. His Youth, and graceful Deportment, had a greater Influence on Astarte, than she was at first aware of. Tho’ her Affection for him daily encreas’d; yet she was perfectly innocent. Astarte would say, without the least Reserve or Apprehension of Fear, that she was extreamly pleas’d with the Company of one, who was, not only a Favourite of her Husband, but the Darling of the whole Empire. She was continually speaking in his Commendation before the King: He was the Subject of her whole Discourse amongst her Ladies of Honour, who were as lavish of their Praises as herself. Such repeated Discourses, however innocent, made a deeper Impression on her Heart, than she at that Time apprehended. She would every now and then send Zadig some little Present or another; which he construed as the Result of a greater Value for him than she intended. She said no more of him, as she thought, than a Queen might innocently do, who was perfectly assur’d of his Attachment to her Husband; sometimes, indeed, she would express her self with an Air of Tenderness and Affection.

Astarte was much handsomer than either his Mistress Semira, who had such a natural Antipathy to a one-eyed Lord, or Azora, his late loving Spouse, that would innocently have cut his Nose off. The Freedoms which Astarte took, her tender Expressions, at which she began to blush, the Glances of her Eye, which she would turn away, if perceiv’d, and which she fix’d upon his, kindled in the Heart of Zadig a Fire, which struck him with Amazement. He did all he could to smother it; he call’d up all the Philosophy he was Master of to his Aid; but all in vain, for no Consolation arose from those Reflections.

Duty, Gratitude, and an injur’d Monarch, presented themselves before his Eyes, as avenging Deities: He bravely struggled; he triumph’d indeed; but this Conquest over his Passions, which he was oblig’d to check every Moment, cost him many a deep Sigh and Tear. He durst not talk with the Queen any more, with that Freedom which was too engaging on both Sides; his Eyes were obnubilated; his Discourse was forc’d and unconnected; he turn’d his Eyes another Way; and when, against his Inclination, they met with those of the Queen, he found, that tho’ drown’d in Tears, they darted Flames of Fire: They seem’d in Silence to intimate, that they were afraid of being in love with each other; and that both burn’d with a Fire which both condemn’d.

Zadig flew from her Presence, like one beside himself, and in Despair; his Heart was over-charg’d with a Burthen, too great for him to bear: In the Heat of his Conflicts, he disclos’d the Secrets of his Heart to his trusty Friend Cador, as one, who, having long groan’d under the Weight of an inexpressible Anguish of Mind, at once makes known the Cause of his Torments by the Groans, as it were, extorted from him, and by the Drops of a cold Sweat, that trickled down his Cheeks.

Cador said to him; ’tis now some considerable Time since, I have discover’d that secret Passion which you have foster’d in your Bosom, and yet endeavour’d to conceal even from your self. The Passions carry along with them such strong Impressions, that they cannot be conceal’d. Tell me ingenuously Zadig; and be your own Accuser, whether or no, since I have made this Discovery, the King has not shewn some visible Marks of his Resentment. He has no other Foible, but that of being the most jealous Mortal breathing. You take more Pains to check the Violence of your Passion, than the Queen herself does; because you are a Philosopher; because, in short, you are Zadig; Astarte is but a weak Woman; and tho’ her Eyes speak too visibly, and with too much Imprudence; yet she does not think her self blame-worthy. Being conscious of her Innocence, to her own Misfortune, as well as yours, she is too unguarded. I tremble for her; because I am sensible her Conscience acquits her. Were you both agreed, you might conceal your Regard for each other from all the World: A rising Passion, that is smother’d, breaks out into a Flame; Love, when once gratified, knows how to conceal itself with Art. Zadig shudder’d at the Proposition of ungratefully violating the Bed of his Royal Benefactor; and never was there a more loyal Subject to a Prince, tho’ guilty of an involuntary Crime. The Queen, however, repeated the Name of Zadig so often, and her Cheeks glow’d with such a red, when ever she utter’d it; she was one while so transported, and at another, so dejected, when the Discourse turn’d upon him in the King’s Presence; she was in such a Reverie, so confus’d and stupid, when he went out of the Presence, that her Deportment made the King extremely uneasy. He was convinc’d of every Thing he saw, and form’d in his Mind an Idea of a thousand Things he did not see. He observ’d, particularly, that Astarte’s Sandals were blue; so Zadig’s were blue likewise; that as the Queen wore yellow Ribbands, Zadig’s Turbet was of the same Colour: These were shocking Circumstances for a Monarch of his Cast of Mind to reflect on! To a Mind, in short, so distemper’d as his was, Suspicions were converted into real Facts.

All Court Slaves, and Sycophants, are so many Spies on Kings and Queens: They soon discover’d that Astarte was fond, and Moabdar jealous. Arimazius, his envious Foe, who was as incorrigible as ever; for Flints will never soften; and Creatures, that are by Nature venemous, forever retain their Poison. Arimazius, I say, wrote an anonymous Letter to Moabdar, the infamous Recourse of sordid Spirits, who are the Objects of universal Contempt; but in this Case, an Affair of the last Importance; because this Letter tallied with the baneful Suggestions that Monarch had conceiv’d. In short, his Thoughts were now wholly bent upon Revenge. He determin’d to poison Astarte on a certain Night, and to have Zadig strangled by Break of Day. Orders for that Purpose were expressly given to a merciless, inhuman Eunuch, the ready Executioner of his Vengeance. At that critical Conjuncture, there happen’d to be a Dwarf, who was dumb, but not deaf, in the King’s Apartment. Nobody regarded him: He was an Eye and Ear-witness of all that pass’d, and yet no more suspected than any irrational Domestic Animal. This little Dwarf had conceiv’d a peculiar Regard for Astarte and Zadig: He heard, with equal Horror and Surprize, the King’s Orders to destroy them both. But how to prevent those Orders from being put into Execution, as the Time was so short, was all his Concern. He could not write, ’tis true, but he had luckily learnt to draw, and take a Likeness. He spent a good Part of the Night in delineating with Crayons, on a Piece of Paper, the imminent Danger that thus attended the Queen. In one Corner, he represented the King highly incens’d, and giving his cruel Eunuch the fatal Orders; in another, a Bowl and a Cord upon a Table; in the Center was the Queen, expiring in the Arms of her Maids of Honour, with Zadig strangled, and laid dead at her Feet. In the Horizon was the rising Sun, to denote, that this execrable Scene was to be exhibited by Break of Day. No sooner was his Design finish’d, but he ran with it to one of Astarte’s Female Favourites, then in waiting, call’d her up, and gave her to understand, that she must carry the Draught to Astarte that very Moment.

In the mean Time, the Queen’s Attendants, tho’ it was Dead of Night, knock’d at the Door of Zadig’s Apartment, wak’d him, and deliver’d into his Hands a Billet from the Queen. At first he could not well tell whether he was only in a Dream or not, but soon read the Letter, with a trembling Hand, and a heavy Heart: Words can’t express his Surprise, and the Agonies of Despair which he was in upon his perusal of the Contents. Fly, said she, Dear Zadig, this very Moment; for your Life’s in the utmost Danger: Fly, Dear Zadig, I conjure you, in the Name of that fatal Passion, with which I have long struggled, and which I now venture to discover, as I am to make Atonement for it, in a few Moments, by the Loss of my Life. Tho’ I am conscious to myself of my Innocence, I find I am to feel the Weight of my Husband’s Resentment, and die the Death of a Traitor.

Zadig was scarce able to speak. He order’d his Friend Cador to be instantly call’d, and gave him the Letter the Moment he came, without opening his Lips. Cador press’d him to regard the Contents, and to make the best of his Way to Memphis. If you presume, said he, to have an Interview with her Majesty first, you inevitably hasten her Execution; or if you wait upon the King, the fatal Consequence will be the same: I’ll prevent her unhappy Fate, if possible; you follow but your own: I’ll give it out, that you are gone to the Indies: I’ll wait on you as soon as the Hurricane is blown over, and I’ll let you know all that occurs material in Babylon.

Cador, that Instant, order’d two of the fleetest Dromedaries that could be got, to be in readiness at a private Back–Door belonging to the Court; he help’d Zadig to mount his Beast, tho’ ready to drop into the Earth. He had but one trusty Servant to attend him, and Cador, overwhelm’d with Grief, soon lost Sight of his dearly beloved Friend.

This illustrious Fugitive soon reach’d the Summit of a little Hill, that afforded him a fair Prospect of the whole City of Babylon: But turning his Eyes back towards the Queen’s Palace, he fainted away; and when he had recover’d his Senses, he drown’d his Eyes in a Flood of Tears, and with Impatience wish’d for Death. To conclude, after he had reflected, with Horror, on the deplorable Fate of the most amiable Creature in the Universe, and of the most meritorious Queen that ever liv’d; he for a Moment commanded his Passion, and with a Sigh, made the following Exclamations: What is this mortal Life! O Virtue, Virtue, of what Service hast thou been to me! Two young Ladies, a Mistress, and a Wife, have prov’d false to me; a third, who is perfectly innocent, and ten thousand Times handsomer than either of them, has suffer’d Death, ’tis probable, before this, on my Account! All the Acts of Benevolence which I have shewn, have been the Foundation of my Sorrows, and I have been only rais’d to the highest Spoke of Fortune’s Wheel, for no other Purpose than to be tumbled down with the greater Force. Had I been as abandon’d as some Miscreants are, I had like them been happy. His Head thus overwhelm’d with these melancholy Reflections, his Eyes thus sunk in his Head, and his meagre Cheeks all pale and languid; and, in a Word, his very Soul thus plung’d in the Abyss of deep Despair, he pursu’d his Journey towards Egypt.

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