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Chapter 15

The BASILISK.


As _Zadig_ was traversing a verdant Meadow, he perceiv'd several
young Female _Syrians_, intent on searching for something very
curious, that lay conceal'd, as they imagin'd, in the Grass. He took
the Freedom to approach one of them, and ask her, in the most
courteous Manner, if he might have the Honour to assist her in her
Researches. Have a care, said she. What we are hunting after, Sir,
is an Animal, that will not suffer itself to be touch'd by a Man.
'Tis somewhat surprizing, said _Zadig_. May I be so bold, pray, as
to ask you what you are in Pursuit after, that shuns the Touch of
any Thing but the Hands of the Fair Sex. 'Tis, Sir, said she, the
_Basilisk_: A _Basilisk_, Madam, said he! And pray, if you will be
so good as to inform me, with what View, are you searching after a
Creature so very difficult to be met with? 'Tis, Sir, said she, for
our Lord and Master _Ogul_, whose Castle, you see, situate on the
River-side, at the Bottom of the Meadow. We are all his Vassals.
_Ogul_, you must know, is in a very bad State of Health, and his
first Physician has order'd him, as a Specific, to eat a _Basilisk_,
boil'd in Rose water: And as that Animal is very hard to be catch'd,
and will suffer nothing to approach it, but one of our Sex, our
dying Sovereign _Ogul_ has promis'd to honour her, that shall be so
happy as to catch it for him, so far as to make her his Consort. The
Case, being thus circumstantiated, Sir, I hope you will not
interrupt me any longer, lest my Rivals here in the Field should
happen to circumvent me.

_Zadig_ withdrew, and left the _Syrian_ Ladies in Quest of their
imaginary Booty, in order to pursue his intended Journey. But as he
came to the Banks of a Rivulet, at the remotest part of the Meadow,
he perceiv'd another young Lady, reclin'd on the Grass, and entirely
disengag'd. Her Stature seem'd majestic, but her Face was cover'd
with a Vail; and her Eyes were fixt, as one at her Looking-glass, on
the River. Every now and then a Sigh burst out, as if her Heart were
breaking. In her Hand she held a little Wand or Rod, with which she
was tracing out some Characters on the dry Sand, that lay between
the flow'ry Bank she sat on, and the purling Current. _Zadig's_
Curiosity induc'd him, unperceiv'd, to observe her Operations at
some Distance. But approaching nearer, and perceiving very
distinctly the first Character to be an _Z_. the next an _A_. and
the third a _D_. he started; but when he saw the additional Capitals
of _I_ and _G_. his Astonishment was too great for Words to express.
He stood for some Time perfectly thunder-struck, and as motionless
as a Statue; At last, in a soft, faultring Tone, he broke Silence: O
generous Lady, said he, forgive a Stranger, one overwhelm'd with
Sorrows like yourself, if he asks you, by what amazing Accident he
finds the Name of _Zadig_ delineated by so angelick a Hand. Thus
unexpectedly interrupted, and at the Sound of those Words, she
turn'd her Head; and with a trembling Hand, lifting up her Vail, she
espy'd _Zadig_ himself. Upon which, she shriek'd; and as her Heart
was flutter'd between the two Extreams of Transport and Surprize,
she fainted away, and gently dropp'd into his Arms. 'Twas, it seems
_Astarte_ her self; 'twas the Queen of _Babylon_; 'twas the very
_Goddess_ whom _Zadig_ ador'd; 'twas, in short, the very identical
Lady, whose hard Fate he had so long deplor'd; and for whose sake he
had felt so many agonizing Pains. For a few Minutes he stood
speechless, and depriv'd, as it were, of all his senses, whilst his
Eyes were fixt on his _Astarte_, who began to revive; and cast a
wishful Glance at him, attended with some Confusion. O ye immortal
Powers, cried he, who preside over the Destiny of us frail Mortals!
Ye have restor'd me my _Astarte_; but alas! at what a Conjuncture,
in what a Place, and in what a State and Condition do I view her? He
threw himself prostrate on the Ground, and kiss'd the Dust of her
Feet. The Queen of _Babylon_ rais'd him up, and oblig'd him to sit
by her on the flow'ry Bank whereon she was repos'd. Every now and
then she wip'd her Eyes, as the Tears trickl'd down afresh her
lovely Cheeks. Twenty times she endeavour'd to renew her Discourse;
but was interrupted by her Sighs; she ask'd him over and over to
relate to her the Hardships he had ran thro' since their parting,
and by what Chance he came to traverse that solitary Meadow; but
prevented him at the same Time from returning any Answer, by
repeating Question upon Question. At last, she gave him a particular
Detail of her own Misfortunes, and again requested to know his. Both
of them, in short, having, in some Measure, appeas'd the Tumult of
their Souls; _Zadig_, in a few Words, inform'd her of the Motives
that brought him thither.

But tell me, O unfortunate, tho' ever-venerable Queen, how I came to
find you out, reclining on this verdant Bank, dress'd in this
servile Habit, accompanied by other Female Slaves, who, I find, have
been all Day long in Quest after a _Basilisk_, which, as I
understand, is by Order of a celebrated Physician, to be dissolv'd
in Rose-water, as a specific Medicine for his dying Patient.

Whilst they busy in their fruitless Search, said the beauteous
_Astarte_, I'll tell you the whole Series of Sorrows which I have
undergone since last we parted; and since Heav'n has thus
unexpectedly blest my Eyes once more with the Sight of my dear
_Zadig_, I'll no longer exclaim against my impropitious Stars.

You are not insensible, that the jealous King my Spouse, was
disgusted to find you the most amiable of all Mortals, and that for
no other Reason he determin'd to strangle you, and poison me. You
know very well too, that indulgent Heav'n inspir'd, as it were, my
little Dwarf, with artful Means to give me timely Notice of the rash
Resolutions of the King, my cruel Husband.

No sooner had the faithful _Cador_ oblig'd you to obey my Orders, and
to fly the Court, but he ventur'd to enter my Apartment in the Dead
of Night thro' a private Door. He snatch'd me up, and convey'd me
directly into the Temple of _Orosmades_, where the holy _Magus_, who
was his Brother, lock'd me up in that august and awful Statue, that
stands erect upon the Pavement of the Temple, and _Colossus_-like,
touches the lofty Ceiling with his Head. There I lay conceal'd, or
rather buried for some Time; tho' taken all imaginable Care of, and
furnish'd with all the Necessaries of Life by that venerable, and
loyal Priest. In the mean Time, his Apothecary enter'd at Break of
Day into my Apartment, with a Potion in his Hand, compos'd of Opium,
black Hellebore, Aconite, and other Ingredients still more baneful.
Whilst this mercenary Officer of the King's Vengeance was thus
employ'd, another as inhuman as himself, went to your Lodgings with
the silken Cord. Both, however, were disappointed, as both of us
were fled. _Cador_, very officious, flew to the King, in order the
more artfully to blind him; and in a feign'd Passion, rail'd at us
both, and charg'd us both as perfidious Traitors. As for that
Villain _Zadig_, said he, he has taken his Flight towards _India_;
and your false, ungrateful Consort, Sire, said he, is fled to
_Memphis_. The Guards were order'd that Moment to pursue us both.

The Couriers, who flew after me, knew nothing of me. I had never
expos'd my Face unveil'd to any one but your self, and that too in
the Presence, and by the express Order of my Royal Master. As they
had no other Marks to distinguish me from others but my Stature, as
it had been describ'd, a young Lady, just of my Size, but in all
Probability much more handsome, presented herself to their View, on
the Frontiers of _Egypt_. She was found alone, and in a very
disconsolate Condition. This Lady must, doubtless, said they to
themselves, be the Queen of _Babylon_: And without listning to her
Complaints, convey'd her instantly to my Husband _Moabdar_. Their
gross Blunder at first incens'd his Majesty to the last Degree; but
after he had view'd the Lady with an attentive Eye, he found she was
extremely pretty, and was soon pacify'd. Her Name was _Missouf_. I
have been since inform'd, that her Name in the _Egyptian_ Language
signifies the _Fair Coquet_. And in Effect, she was so: She had as
much Art, however, as Caprice. For she pleas'd the King of Kings: In
short, she had such an Ascendancy over him, that he didn't scruple
in publick to own her as his Wife. When she had secur'd him thus far
in her Toils, she never conceal'd her Power, but play'd the Part of
a perfect Humourist. She indulg'd herself in every Whim that came in
her Head, without Fear of being brow-beat. In the first Place, She
insisted that the Chief Magus, who was old and gouty, should dance a
Saraband before her; and upon his modest Refusal to comply with so
preposterous a Request, she persecuted him without Mercy: Nothing
would serve her Turn, in the next Place, but his Majesty's grand
Master of the Horse must make her a Minc'd-pye. The Gentleman took
the Liberty to let her know, that he was no profess'd Cook; a Tart,
however, he must make for her, and she got him turn'd out of his
Place for being so monstrously careless, as to burn one _Corner_ of
the Crust. Whereupon she gave his Post to her favourite Dwarf, and
made her Fop of a Page the Keeper of his Majesty's great Seal, and
Confidence. Thus she reign'd arbitrary, and was the Female Tyrant of
_Babylon_. All the World deplor'd the Loss of me their former Queen.
The King, who never acted the Part of a Tyrant, till the Moment he
would have imprison'd me, and strangled you, seem'd to have drown'd
all his good Qualities in his Dotage on that capricious Enchantress.
He came to the Temple on the solemn Festival of the sacred Fire. I
saw him prostrate on the Pavement before the Statue, wherein I was
enclos'd, imploring the Gods to show'r down their choicest Blessings
on his beauteous _Missouf_. I, with an audible and distinct, but
hollow Tone, address'd my self thus, like an Oracle, to the King of
Kings. _The Gods reject the Vows of a Monarch, that acts the Tyrant
o'er his Subjects; One, who could think of murdering an innocent
Wife; and admit of a worthless Beauty to supply her Place._
_Moabdar_ was so startled at this unexpected Answer from the God he
ador'd, that he was just at the Point of Distraction. The Oracle
that I had deliver'd, and the tyrannical Proceedings of his new
Spouse _Missouf_, were enough to deprive him of his Senses. In
short, in a few Days he became a perfect Mad-man. Her Caprice, which
seem'd a Judgement from above, portended a sudden Revolution. His
Subjects accordingly revolted, and were instantly up in Arms.
_Babylon_, that had so long indulg'd herself in Indolence and Ease,
became the Seat, or Theatre of a bloody Civil War. Whereupon I was
taken from my magnificent Prison, the Bowels of his God, and set up
at the Head of a very powerful Party. Your Friend _Cador_ flew to
_Memphis_ in hopes to find you there, and bring you back to
_Babylon_. The Prince of _Hyrcania_, hearing of these intestine
Broils, return'd with a powerful Army, in order to form a third
Party, among the _Babylonians_. He attack'd the King, who fled with
his fair, but fickle _Egyptian_ before him. _Moabdar_, however, was
so closely pursu'd, that he dy'd of the Wounds he receiv'd in his
Retreat. _Missouf_ became the fair Victim of the Conqueror. As for
my own Part, I had the Misfortune to be over-power'd likewise, and
taken Prisoner by an _Hyrcanian Party_, who brought me into the
Presence of the young Prince, at the very Juncture when _Missouf_
stood before him. You'll smile, doubtless, when I tell you the
Prince look'd upon me as the most amiable Captive of the two; but
then, I presume you will be sorry to hear, that my hard Fate doom'd
me to be a Vassal in his Seraglio. He told me, in direct Terms, that
as soon as he had put an happy Issue to one Military Expedition,
which would not, he flatter'd himself, be long unexecuted, he would
honour me with a Visit. Judge the dreadful Apprehensions I was
under, upon his making such a peremptory Declaration. My Obligations
to _Moabdar_ were all cancell'd, and I was free to be the Bride of
_Zadig_; but instead of that, I fell into the Toils of a
_Barbarian_. I answer'd him with all the Resentment becoming one of
my high Character and unspotted Virtue. I had always heard say, that
Heav'n bestow'd on Persons of my Rank, such a peculiar Mark of
Majesty and Grandeur, that with a bare Word, or the Glance of an
angry Eye, they could bring down, and abase the Pride of those
audacious Creatures that durst to thwart their Inclinations. I
talk'd as big as a Queen; but I was treated like the most servile
Domestic. The saucy _Hyrcanian_, without so much as vouchsafing me
one Single Word, turn'd to his black Eunuch, and told him that I was
very impertinent; but yet he could not help thinking I was very
pretty. He gave him therefore particular Orders to take care of me,
and put me under the same Regimen, with respect to my Diet, as one
of his Favourites, in order that I might recover my Colour, which
was somewhat too languid; in a Word, that I might become worthy in a
little Time of his Royal Favours, and be duely qualified to receive
him, when he should honour me so far as to fix the Day. I told him,
I would die first: He replied, with a Sneer, that young Ladies, like
me, seldom kill'd themselves, and that they were made for Enjoyment;
and then turn'd upon his Heel, with as careless an Air, as a Man
would part with his Paroquet, when he had shut her up close in her
gilded Cage. What a shocking State was I in for the first Queen of
the Universe! Nay, I'll say more, for a Heart that was wholly
devoted to her _Zadig_!

At these endearing Words, _Zadig_ threw himself at her Feet, and
bath'd them with his Tears. _Astarte_ immediately rais'd him in the
most courteous and engaging Manner, and thus continu'd her
Narration.--I too plainly perceiv'd, that I was subject to the
Tyranny of a _Barbarian_, and the Rival of a Coquet, that was a
Slave like myself. She related to me all her past Adventures in
_Egypt_. From the Description she gave of her Gallant, the Time and
Place, the Dromedary he was mounted on, and from every other minute
Circumstance, I imagin'd it was your self that play'd the Hero in
her Favour. As I made no Doubt but that you resided somewhere in
_Memphis_, I determin'd to go thither my self, but in Disguise.
Beauteous _Missouf_, said I, you are of a much sprightlier
Disposition than I am; you will be able to amuse the gay young
Prince of _Hyrcania_ a thousand Times better than I shall. Find out
some Way therefore for my Escape; by which you will be sole Lady
Regent. You will oblige me to the last Degree, by your friendly
Assistance, and at the same Time get rid of a Rival. _Missouf_,
(cajol'd with the Hint) came into my Measures directly. She took
care to send me packing forthwith, with no other Attendant than an
old _Egyptian_ Slave.

No sooner had I reach'd the Borders of _Arabia_, but a notorious
Free-booter, (one _Arbogad_ by Name) pick'd me up, as I was
strolling along, and sold me to some Merchants, who convey'd me to
yonder Castle, the magnificent Residence of the Emir _Ogul_. He
purchas'd me at all Adventures, without enquiring what, or who I
was. He is a perfect Debauchee; his sole Delight lies in good
Eating, Wine, and Women; and is one, who imagines, that the Almighty
sent him into the World for no other Purpose but to gratify his
unruly Appetites. He is excessively fat, and puffs and blows every
Moment, like one half choak'd. When he has gorg'd himself so
unmercifully that he is ready to burst, his chief Physician can
persuade him to take any Thing for his Relief; tho' he laughs at
him, and despises his Advice when he's well and sober. He has
intimated to him, that at present his Life's in Danger, and nothing
will restore him but a _Basilisk_, boil'd in Rose-Water. Whereupon
the grand _Ogul_ has promis'd his last Favours to that Slave,
whoever she be, that shall be so fortunate as to catch a _Basilisk_,
for him, since it seems they are so seldom to be met with. You see I
have others to struggle for the Honour propos'd, and I never had a
less Inclination to find out this _Basilisk_ than at present, since
I have once more met with my dearest _Zadig_.

After this Declaration, _Astarte_ and _Zadig_ renew'd with Warmth
the virtuous Affection which they had long conceiv'd for each other;
and reciprocally utter'd all the tenderest Expressions that Love in
Distress could possibly devise. And the _Genii_, who preside over
all the soft Passions, wafted their mutual Vows of eternal Constancy
and Truth to the Sphere of _Venus_.

The whole Train of Slaves, after a long fruitless Search, attended
on _Ogul_, to inform him that all their strictest Search was
fruitless. _Zadig_ desired that he might have the Honour to be
introduc'd into his Presence. Accordingly he was, and his Address
was to this or the like Effect. May immortal Health descend from
Heaven to preserve a Life, Sir, so precious as yours is. I am a
Physician by Profession. I flew to your Palace, on the first News of
the dangerous Situation you were in, and have brought a _Basilisk_
with me, distill'd in Rose-Water. I can have no Hopes of the Honour
of your Bed, in Case I succeed in my Application: All the Favour I
request, is, the Release of one of your _Babylonish_ Slaves, who has
been in your Highness's Retinue for some Time. And I am willing to
be your Bond-slave in her Stead, if I fail of restoring the most
illustrious and magnificent _Ogul_ to his pristine State of Health.

The Proposition was readily embrac'd. _Astarte_ was instantly
discharg'd, and set out for _Babylon_, with a proper Attendant,
according to _Zadig's_ Direction; assuring her that she should hear
every Day, by a special Courier, of his Proceedings with his new
Patient. The Farewel which they took of each other, was very
affectionate and tender, expressive of the strongest Obligations to
each other. The Moments of Meeting, and those of Parting, are (as it
is written in the sacred Book of _Zend_) the two most remarkable
_Epochas_ of a Lover's Life. _Zadig's_ repeated Protestations of
Affection for the Queen were perfectly sincere, and the pure
Dictates of his Heart; and the Queen's Love for _Zadig_ had made a
deeper Impression on hers, than she thought proper to discover.

In the mean Time, _Zadig_, again addressing himself to _Ogul_, said;
my _Basilisk_, Sir, as others are, is not to be drest or eaten; but
all its Virtues must penetrate your whole Fabrick, thro' your Pores;
I have inclos'd my never-failing _Sudorific_ in a Bladder,
full-blown and carefully cover'd with the softest Leather. You must
kick this Bladder, Sir, once a Day about your Hall for a whole Hour
together, with all the Vigour and Activity you possibly can. This
Medicine must be repeated every Morning, and I'll attend the
Operation: Upon your due Observance of the Regimen I shall put you
under, I doubt not, but with the Blessing of Heav'n on my honest
Endeavours, I shall give you ample Demonstration of my being an
Adept in Physick. _Ogul_, upon making the first Experiment, was
ready to expire for want of Breath, and thought he should die with
the Fatigue. The second Day did not prove altogether so irksome, and
he slept much better at Night than he had done before. In short, our
Doctor in about eight Days Time, perform'd an absolute Cure. His
Patient was as brisk, active and gay, as One in the Bloom of his
Youth.

Now, Sir, said _Zadig_, I'll be ingenuous with you, and disclose to
you the important Secret. You have play'd at Foot-ball these eight
Days successively; and you have liv'd all that Time, within the
Bounds of Sobriety and Moderation. Know, Sir, that there is no such
Animal in Nature as a _Basilisk_; that Health is to be secur'd by
Temperance and Exercise; and that the Art of making Health
consistent with Luxury, is altogether as impracticable, and an Art,
in all Respects, as idle and chimerical, as those of the
Philosopher's Stone, judicial Astrology, or any other Reveries of
the like airy and fantastic Nature.

_Ogul's_ Head-Physician, apprehensive that this unexpected Cure,
thus wrought by a Stranger, through such an Anti-medicinal
Preparation, might possibly not only render himself the Object of
Contempt in the Eye of his great Master, but cast a Kind of Slur in
general on his whole Fraternity, conven'd a Set of petty Doctors and
Apothecaries, who were his Vassals, and entirely devoted to his
Interest, to find out some sure Ways and Means to cut off in private
his dreadful Rival; but whilst their wicked Plot was hatching,
_Zadig_ receiv'd a Courier from the Queen _Astarte_.

Francois-Marie Arouet Voltaire

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