Zadig, by Voltaire

Chapter XII.

The Rendezvous.

Whilst Zadig attended his Friend Setoc to Balzora, the Priests of the Stars were determin’d to punish him. As all the costly Jewels, and other valuable Decorations, in which every young Widow that sacrificed her self on her Husband’s Funeral-pile, were their customary Fees, ’tis no great Wonder, indeed, that they were inclin’d to burn poor Zadig, for playing them such a scurvy Trick. Zadig therefore, was accus’d of holding heretical and damnable Tenets, in regard to the Celestial Host: They depos’d, and swore point-blank, that he had been heard to aver, that the Stars never sat in the Sea. This horrid blasphemous Declaration thunder-struck all the Judges, and they were ready to rend their Mantles at the Sound of such an impious Assertion; and they would have made Zadig, had he been a Man of Substance, paid very severely for his heretical Notions. But in the Height of their Pity and Compassion for even such an Infidel, they would lay no Fine upon him; but content themselves with seeing him roasted alive before a slow Fire. Setoc, tho’ without Hopes of Success, us’d all the Interest he had to save his bosom Friend from so shocking a Death; but they turn’d a deaf Ear to all his Remonstrances, and oblig’d him to hold his Tongue. The young Widow Almona, who by this Time was not only reconcil’d to living a little longer, but had some Taste for the Pleasures of Life, and knew that she was entirely indebted to Zadig for it, resolv’d, if possible, to free her Benefactor from being burnt, as he had before convinc’d her of the Folly of it in her Case. She ponder’d upon this weighty Affair very seriously; but said nothing to any one whomsoever. Zadig was to be executed the next Day; and she had only a few Hours left to carry her Project into Execution. Now the Reader shall hear with how much Benevolence and Discretion this amiable Widow behav’d on this emergent Occasion.

In the first Place, she made use of the most costly Perfumes; and drest herself to the utmost Advantage to render her Charms as conspicuous as possible; And thus gaily attir’d, demanded a private Audience of the High Priest of the Stars. Upon her first Admittance into his august and venerable Presence, she address’d herself in the following Terms. O thou first-born and well-beloved Son of the Great Bear, Brother of the Bull, and first Cousin to the Dog, (these you must know were the Pontiff’s high Titles) I come to confess myself before you: My Conscience is my Accuser, and I am terribly afraid I have been guilty of a mortal Sin, by declining the stated Custom of burning my self on my Husband’s Funeral-pile? What could tempt me, in short, to a Prolongation of my Life, I can’t imagine, I, who am grown a perfect Skeleton, all wrinkled and deform’d. She paus’d, and pulling off, with a negligent but artful Air, her long silk Gloves; She display’d a soft, plump, naked Arm, and white as Snow: You see, Sir, said she, that all my Charms are blasted. Blasted, Madam, said the luscious Pontiff; No! Your Charms are still resistless: His Eyes, and his Mouth, with which he kiss’d her Hand, confirm’d their Power: Such an Arm, Madam, by the Great Orasmades, I never saw before. Alas! said the Widow, with a modest Blush; my Arm Sir, ’tis probable, may have the Advantage of any hidden Part; but see, good Father, what a Neck is here; as yellow as Saffron, an Object not worth regarding. Then she display’d such a snowy, panting Bosom, that Nature could not mend it. A Rose–Bud on an Ivory Apple, would, if set in Competition with her spotless Whiteness, make no better Appearance than common Madder upon a Shrub; and the whitest Wool, just out of the Laver, were she but by, would seem but of a light-brown Hue.

Her Neck, her large black, sparkling Eyes, that languishingly roll’d, and seem’d as ’twere, on Fire; her lovely Cheeks, glowing with White and Red, her Nose, that was not unlike the Tower of Mount Lebanon, her Lips, which were like two Borders of Coral, inclosing two Rows of the best Pearls in the Arabian Sea; such a Combination, I say, of Charms, made the old Pontiff judge she was scarce twenty Years of Age; and in a kind of Flutter, to make her a Declaration of his tender Regard for her. Almona, perceiving him enamour’d, begg’d his Interest in Favour of Zadig. Alas! my dear Charmer, my Interest alone, when you request the Favour, would be but a poor Compliment; I’ll take care his Acquittance shall be signed by three more of my Brother Priests. Do you sign first, however, said Almona. With all my Soul, said the amorous Pontiff, provided —— you’ll be kind, my dearest. You do me too much Honour, said Almona; but should you give your self the Trouble to pay me a Visit after Sunset, and as soon as the Star Sheat twinkles on the Horizon, you shall find me, most venerable Father, repos’d upon a rosy-colour’d silver Sopha, where you shall use your Pleasure with your humble Servant. With that she made him a low Courtesy; took up Zadig’s general Release as soon as duely sign’d, and left the old Doatard all over Love, tho’ somewhat diffident of his own Abilities. The Residue of the Day he spent in his Bagnio; he drank large enlivening Draughts of a Water distill’d from the Cinnamon of Ceilan, and the costly Spices of Tidor and Ternate, and waited with the utmost Impatience for the up-rising of the brilliant Sheat.

In the mean time Almona went to the second Pontiff. He assur’d her that the Sun, Moon, and all the starry Host of Heav’n, were but languid Fires to her bright Eyes. He put the Question to her, in short, at once, and agreed to sign upon her Compliance. She suffer’d herself to be over-persuaded, and made an Assignation to meet him at a certain Place, as soon as the Star Algenib should make its Appearance. From him she repair’d to the third and fourth Pontiff, taking care, wherever she went, to see Zadig’s Acquittance duely sign’d, and made fresh Appointments at the Rising of Star after Star.

When she had carried her Point thus far, she sent a proper Message to the Judges of the Court, who had condemn’d Zadig, requesting that they would come to her House, that she might advise with them upon an Affair of the last Importance. They waited on her accordingly; she produc’d Zadig’s Discharge duly sign’d by four several Hands, and told them the Definitive Treaty between all the contracting Parties. Each of the pontifical Gallants observ’d their Summons to a Moment. Each was startled at the Sight of his Rival; but perfectly thunderstruck to see the Judges, before whom the Widow had laid open her Case. Zadig procur’d an absolute Pardon, and Setoc was so charm’d with the artful Address of Almona, that he married her the next Day. Zadig went afterwards to throw himself at the Feet of his fair Benefactress. Setoc and he took their Leave of each other with Tears in their Eyes, and vowing that an eternal mutual Friendship should be preserv’d between them; and, in short, should Fortune at any Time afterwards prove more propitious than could well be expected to either Party; the other should partake of an equal Share of his Success.

Zadig steer’d his Course towards Syria; forever pondering on the hard Fate of the justly-admir’d Astarte, and reflecting on his own Stars that so obstinately darted down their malignant Rays, and continu’d daily to torment him. What, said he! to pay four hundred Ounces of Gold for only seeing a Bitch pass by me; to be condemn’d to be beheaded for four witless Verses in Praise of the King; to be strangled to Death, because a Queen was pleas’d to look upon me; to be made a Prisoner, and sold as a Slave for saving a young Lady from being sorely abus’d by a Brute rather than a Man; and to be upon the Brink of being roasted alive, for no other Offence than saving for the future all the Widows in Arabia from becoming idle Burnt–Offerings, and mingling their Ashes with those of their deceased worthless Husbands.

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