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Chapter 14

The FISHERMAN.


When _Zadig_ had travelled some few Leagues from _Arbogad's_ Castle,
he found himself arriv'd at the Banks of a little River; incessantly
deploring, as he went along, his unhappy Fate, and looking upon
himself as the very Picture of ill Luck. He perceiv'd at a little
Distance a Fisherman, reclin'd on a verdant Bank by the River-side,
trembling, scarce able to hold his Net in his Hand, (which he seem'd
but little to regard) and with uplift Eyes, imploring Heaven's
Assistance. I am, doubtless, said the poor Fisherman, the most
unhappy Wretch that ever liv'd! No Merchant in all _Babylon_, it is
very well known, was ever so noted for selling Cream-Cheeses as
myself; and yet I am ruin'd to all Intents and Purposes. No Man of
my Profession ever had a handsomer, more compleat Housewife, than my
Dame was; but I have been treacherously depriv'd of her. I had still
left a poor, pitiful Cottage, but that I saw plunder'd and
destroy'd. I am cubb'd up here in a Cell; I have nothing to depend
upon but my Fishery, and not one single Fish have I caught. Thou
unfortunate Net! I'll never throw thee into the Water more: Much
sooner will I throw myself in. No sooner were the Words out of his
Mouth, but he started up, and ran to the River-side, like one that
was resolutely bent to plunge in, and get rid of a miserable Life at
once. Is it possible, said _Zadig_? Is there then the Man in Being
more wretched than myself? His Benevolence, and good Will to save
the poor Man's Life, was as quick as the Reflection he had just
made! He ran to his Assistance; he laid hold of him; and ask'd him,
with an Air of Pity and Concern, the Cause of his rash Intention.
'Tis an old saying, that a Person is less unhappy when he sees
himself not singular in Misfortune. But if we will credit
_Zoroaster_, this is not from a Principle of Malignity, but the
Effect of a fatal Necessity. He was attracted, as it were, to any
Person in Distress, as being One in the same unhappy Circumstances.
The Transport of a happy Man, would be a Kind of Insult; but two
Persons in bad Circumstances, are like two weak Shrubs, which, by
propping up each other, are fenc'd against a Storm. Why are you thus
cast down, said _Zadig_ to the Fisherman? Never sink Man, under the
Weight of your Burden. I can't help it, said the poor Fisherman; I
have not the least Prospect of Redress. I was once, Sir, the tip-top
Man of the whole Village of _Derlbach_, near _Babylon_, where I
liv'd, and with the Help of my Wife, made the best Cream-Cheeses
that were ever eaten in the _Persian_ Empire. Her Majesty, the Queen
_Astarte_, and the famous Prime-Minister _Zadig_ were very fond of
them. I serv'd the Court with about six Hundred of them, I went the
other Day in Hopes of being paid; but before I had well got into the
Suburbs of _Babylon_, I was inform'd, that not only the Queen, but
_Zadig_ too had privately left the Court: Whereupon I ran directly
to _Zadig's_ House, tho' I never sat Eye on the Man in all my Life.
There I found the Court-Marshals of the grand _Desterham_,
plundering, by Virtue of his Majesty's Mandate, all his Effects, in
the most loyal Manner. From thence I made the best of my Way to the
Queen's Kitchin; where, applying my self to the Steward of her
Household, and his inferior Officers; one of them told me she was
dead; another, that she was confin'd in Prison; a third, indeed,
said that she had made her Escape by Flight; all in general,
however, assur'd me for my Comfort, that my Cheeses would never be
paid for. From thence I went, with my Wife in my Hand, to Lord
_Orcan's_; who was another of my Court-Customers; of whom we begg'd
for Shelter and Protection: The Favour, I confess, was readily
granted to my Wife; but as for my own Part, I was absolutely
rejected. She was fairer, Sir, than the fairest Cheese I ever sold;
from whence I date all my Misfortunes; and the red that adorn'd her
blushing Cheeks was ten Times more lively than any _Tyrian_ Scarlet.
And between you and I, Sir, that was the main Cause of my Wife's
Reception, and my Disgrace. Whereupon I wrote a doleful Letter to my
Wife, in all the Agonies of one in the deepest Despair: 'Tis very
well, said she, to the Messenger; I have some little Knowledge of
the Man; I have heard say no one sells better Cream-Cheeses than he
does; desire him, next Time he comes, to bring a small Parcel with
him, and let him know, I'll take care he shall be punctually paid.

In the Height of my Misfortunes, I determin'd to seek Redress in a
Court of Equity: I had but six Ounces of Gold left: Two whereof went
for a Fee to my Counsellor; two to my Lawyer, who took my Cause in
Hand, and the other two to the Judge's Clerk. Notwithstanding what I
had done, my Cause was not so much as commenc'd; and I had already
disburs'd more Money than all my Cheeses and my Wife with them were
worth. I return'd therefore to my Native Habitation, with a full
Resolution to sell it for the Ransom of my Wife.

My little Cot, with the Appurtenances, were worth about threescore
Ounces of Gold: But as the Purchasers found I was necessitous, and
drove to my last Shifts; the first whom I apply'd to, offer'd me
thirty Ounces; the second, twenty; and the third, but ten: Just as I
had come to Terms of Accommodation with one of them, the Prince of
_Hyrcania_ came to _Babylon_, and swept all before him. My little
Cottage, with all its Furniture, was first plunder'd of all that was
valuable, and at last reduc'd to Ashes.

Having thus lost my Money, my Wife, and my House, I withdrew to this
Desart, where you see me. I have since endeavour'd to get my Bread
by Fishing; but the Fish, as well as all Mankind, desert me. I
scarce catch one in a Day; I am half starv'd; and had it not been
for your unexpected Benevolence and Generosity, I had been at the
Bottom of the River before this.

This long Detail of Particulars, however, was not deliver'd without
several Interruptions; for, said _Zadig_, with Abundance of Warmth
and Confusion, Have you never heard, Sir, of what is become of the
Queen _Astarte_? No Sir, not I, said the disconsolate Fisherman; but
this I know, to my Sorrow, that neither the Queen, nor _Zadig_, ever
paid me the least Consideration in the World for my Cream Cheeses;
that my dear Spouse is taken from me; and that I am drove to the
very Brink of Despair. I am verily persuaded, said _Zadig_, that you
will not lose all your Money. I have heard much talk of that same
_Zadig_; they say he is very honest, and that if ever he returns to
_Babylon_, as 'tis to be hop'd he will, he'll discharge his Debts
with Interest, like a Man of Honour. But, as for your Wife, who
appears to me, to be no better than a Wag-tail, never take the
Trouble, if you'll take my Advice, to hunt after her any more. Be
rul'd, and make the best of your Way to _Babylon_. I shall be there
before you, as I shall ride, and you will be on Foot. Make your
Applications to the illustrious _Cador_; tell him you met his Friend
upon the Road; and stay there still I come. Observe my Orders, and
'tis very probable it may turn out to your Advantage.

O puissant _Orosmades_, continu'd he, you have made me, 'tis true,
an Instrument of Comfort to this poor Man; but what Friend will you
raise for me, to alleviate my Sorrows? Having utter'd this short
Expostulation, he gave the distrest Fisherman one full Moiety of all
the Money he brought with him out of _Arabia_. The Fisherman,
thunder-struck, and transported with Joy at so unexpected a
Benefaction, kiss'd the Feet of _Cador's_ Friend, and cried out,
sure you are a Messenger of Heaven, sent down to be my Saviour!

In the mean Time, _Zadig_ every now and then ask'd him Questions,
and wept as he ask'd them. What! Sir, said the Fisherman, can you,
who are so bountiful a Benefactor, be in Distress yourself? Alas!
said he, Friend, I am a hundred Times more unhappy than thou art.
But pray, Sir, said the good Man, how can it possibly be, that he,
who is so lavish of his Favours, should be overwhelm'd with greater
Misfortunes than the Man he so generously relieves? Your greatest
Uneasiness, said he, arose from the Narrowness of your Circumstances;
but mine proceeds from an internal, and much deeper Cause. Pray, Sir,
said the Fisherman, has _Orcan_ robb'd you of your Wife? This
Interrogatory put _Zadig_ in a Moment upon a Retrospection of all his
past Adventures. He recollected the whole Series of his Misfortunes;
commencing from that of the Eunuch and the Huntsman, to his Arrival
at the Free-booter's Castle. Alas! said he, to the Fisherman,
_Orcan_, 'tis true, deserves severely to be punish'd: But for the
Generality, we find, such worthless Barbarians are the Favourites of
Fortune. Be that, however, as it will, go as I bade you, to my Friend
_Cador_, and wait there till I come. They took their Leave; the
Fisherman blessing his propitious Stars, and _Zadig_ cursing, every
Step he went, the Hour he was born.

Francois-Marie Arouet Voltaire

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