Zadig, by Voltaire

Chapter VIII.

The Thrash’d Wife.

Zadig steer’d his Course by the Stars that shone over his Head. The Constellation of Orion, and the radiant Dog-star directed him towards the Pole of Canope. He reflected with Admiration on those immense Globes of Light, which appear’d to the naked Eye no more than little twinkling Lights; whereas the Earth he was then traversing, which, in Reality, is no more than an imperceptible Point in Nature, seem’d, according to the selfish Idea we generally entertain of it, something very immense, and very magnificent. He then reflected on the whole Race of Mankind, and look’d upon them, as they are in Fact, a Parcel of Insects, or Reptiles, devouring one another on a small Atom of Clay. This just Idea of them greatly alleviated his Misfortunes, recollecting the Nothingness, if we may be allow’d the Expression, of his own Being, and even of Babylon itself. His capacious Soul now soar’d into Infinity, and he contemplated, with the same Freedom, as if she was disencumber’d from her earthly Partner, on the immutable Order of the Universe. But as soon as she cower’d her Wings, and resumed her native Seat, he began to consider that Astarte might possibly have lost her Life for his Sake; upon which, his Thoughts of the Universe vanish’d all at once, and no other Objects appear’d before his distemper’d Eyes, but his Astarte giving up the Ghost, and himself overwhelm’d with a Sea of Troubles: As he gave himself up to this Flux and Reflux of sublime Philosophy and Anxiety of Mind, he was insensibly arriv’d on the Frontiers of Egypt: And his trusty Attendant had, unknown to him, stept into the first Village, and sought out for a proper Apartment for his Master and himself. Zadig in the mean Time made the best of his Way to the adjacent Gardens; where he saw, not far distant from the High-way, a young Lady, all drown’d in Tears, calling upon Heaven and Earth for Succour in her Distress, and a Man, fir’d with Rage and Resentment, in pursuit after her. He had now just overtaken her, and she fell prostrate at his Feet imploring his Forgiveness. He loaded her with a thousand Reproaches; nor did he spare to chastise her in the most outrageous Manner. By the Egyptian’s cruel Deportment towards her, he concluded that the Man was a jealous Husband, and that the Lady was an Inconstant, and had defil’d his Bed: But when he reflected, that the Woman was a perfect Beauty, and to his thinking something like the unfortunate Astarte, he perceiv’d his Heart yearn with Compassion towards the Lady, and swell with Indignation against her Tyrant. For Heaven’s sake, Sir, assist me, said she, to Zadig, sobbing as if her Heart would break, Oh! deliver me out of the Hands of this Barbarian: Save, Sir, O save my Life. Upon these her shocking Outcries, Zadig threw himself between the injur’d Lady and the inexorable Brute. And as he had some smattering of the Egyptian Tongue, he expostulated with him in his own Dialect, and said: Dear Sir, if you are endow’d with the least Spark of Humanity, let me conjure you to have some Pity and Remorse for so beautiful a Creature; have some Regard, Sir, to the Weakness of her Sex. How can you treat a Lady, who is one of Nature’s Master-pieces, in such a rude and outrageous Manner, one who lies weeping at your Feet for Forgiveness, and one who has no other Recourse than her Tears for her Defence? Oh! Oh! said the jealous-pated Fellow in a Fury to Zadig, What! You are one of her Gallants, I suppose. I’ll be reveng’d of thee, thou Villain, this Moment. No sooner were the Words out of his Mouth, but he quits hold of the Lady, in whose Hair he had twisted his Fingers before, takes up his Lance in a Fury, and endeavours to the utmost of his Pow’r to plunge it in the Stranger’s Heart: Zadig, however, being cool, warded the intended Blow with Ease. He laid fast hold of his Lance towards the Point. One strove to recover it, and the other to snatch it away by Force. They broke it between them. Whereupon the Egyptian drew his Sword. Zadig drew his: They fought: The former made a hundred rash Passes one after another, which the latter parried with the utmost Dexterity. The Lady sat herself upon a Grass-plat, adjusting her Head-dress, and looking on the Combatants. The Egyptian was too strong for Zadig, but Zadig was more nimble and active. The latter fought as a Man whose Hand was guided by his Head; the former as a Mad-man who dealt about his Blows at random. Zadig took the Advantage, made a Plunge at him, and disarm’d him. And forasmuch as he found that the Egyptian was hotter than ever, and endeavour’d all he could to throw him down by Dint of Strength, Zadig laid fast hold of him, flew upon him, and tripp’d up his Heels: After that, holding the Point of his Sword to his Breast, like a Man of Honour, gave him his Life. The Egyptian, fir’d with Rage, and having no Command of his Passion, drew his Dagger, and wounded Zadig like a Coward, whilst the Victor generously forgave him. Upon that unexpected Action, Zadig, being incens’d to the last Degree, plung’d his Sword deep into his Bosom. The Egyptian fetch’d a hideous Groan, and died upon the Spot. Zadig then approach’d the Lady, and with a kind of Concern, in the softest Terms told her, that he was oblig’d to kill her Insulter, tho’ against his Inclinations. I have aveng’d your Cause, and deliver’d you out of the merciless Hands of the most outrageous Man I ever saw. Now, Madam, let me know your farther Will and Pleasure with me. You shall die, you Villain! You have murder’d my Love. Oh! I could tear your Heart out. Indeed, Madam, said Zadig, you had one of the most hot-headed, oddest Lovers I ever saw. He beat you most unmercifully, and would have taken away my Life because you call’d me in to your Assistance. Would to God he was but alive to beat me again, said she, blubbering and roaring; I deserv’d to be beat. I gave him too just Occasion to be jealous of me. Would to God that he had beat me, and you had died in his Stead! Zadig more astonish’d, and more exasperated than ever he was in all his Life, said to her: Really, Madam, you put on such extravagant Airs, that you tempt me, pretty as you are, to thresh you most cordially in my Turn; but I scorn to concern my self any more about you. Upon this, he remounted his Dromedary, and made the best of his Way towards the Village: But before he had got near a hundred Yards, he return’d upon an Out-cry that was made by four Couriers from Babylon. They rode full Speed. One of them, spying the young Widow, cried out. There she is, That’s she. She answers in every Respect to the Description we had of her. They never took the least Notice of her dead Gallant, but secur’d her directly. Oh! Sir, cried she to Zadig, again and again, dear Sir, most generous Stranger, once more deliver me from a Pack of Villains. I most humbly beg your Pardon for my late Conduct and unjust Complaint of you. Do but stand my Friend, at this critical Conjuncture, and I’ll be your most obedient Vassal till Death. Zadig had now no Inclination to fight for one so undeserving any more. Find some other to be your Fool now, Madam; you shan’t impose upon me a second Time. I’ll assure you, Madam, I know better Things. Besides he was wounded; and bled so fast that he wanted Assistance himself: And ’tis very probable, that the Sight of the Babylonian Couriers, who were dispatch’d from King Moabdar, might discompose him very much. He made all the Haste he could towards the Village, not being able to conceive what should be the real Cause of the young Lady’s being secur’d by those Babylonish Officers, and as much at a Loss, at the same Time, what to think of such a Termagant and a Coquet.

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