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Candide, by Voltaire: Continuation of the misfortunes of the old woman

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Astonished and delighted to hear the language of my country, and no less surprised at the words uttered by this man, I replied that there were greater misfortunes than that of which he complained; I informed him in a few words of the horrors I had sustained, and fell into weakness. He took me to a neighboring house, made me go to bed, gave me food, served me, consoled me, flattered me, told me that he had seen nothing so beautiful as me, and that he never had so regretted what no one could give back to him.

“I was born at Naples,” he said. “Two or three thousand children are castrated every year; some of them die, others acquire a voice more beautiful than that of women, others will govern states. [Farinelli, an Italian singer, born in Naples in 1705, without being a minister, governed Spain under Ferdinand VI; he died in 1782. Voltaire reiterates this Farinelli in the Conversation de l’Intendant des menus en exercice: see the Mélanges, year 1761.] This operation was carried out with great success, and I was a musician in the chapel of the Princess of Palestrina.

“Of my mother!” I cried.

“Of your mother!” ge cried, weeping. “What! You would be that young princess I had brought up to the age of six, and who was already promising to be as beautiful as you are?”

“It’s me; my mother is four hundred paces from here cut into quarters under a pile of dead…”

I told him everything that had happened to me; he told me his adventures, and told me how he had been sent to the king of Morocco by a Christian power, to conclude with this monarch a treaty by which will provide to him powder, cannons, and ships, to help him to exterminate the trade of other Christians.

“My mission is done,” said the honest eunuch; I shall embark at Ceuta, and I will bring you back to Italy. Ma che sciagura of essere senza coglioni!”

I thanked him with tears of tenderness; and instead of taking me to Italy, he conducted me to Algiers, and sold me to the dey of that province. Scarcely was I sold, when this pestilence, which made the tour of Africa, Asia, and Europe, declared itself in Algiers with fury. You have seen earthquakes; but, Miss, have you ever had the plague?”

“Never,” replied the Baroness.

“If you had,” said the old woman, “you would confess that she is far above an earthquake.”

It is very common in Africa; I was attacked. Imagine the situation for the daughter of a pope, aged fifteen, who in three months had experienced poverty, slavery, had been raped almost every day, had seen her mother cut in four, wiped out hunger and war, and died plagued in Algiers! I did not die, however; But my eunuch and the dey, and almost the whole seraglio of Algiers perished.

When the first ravages of this terrible plague were over, the slaves of the dey were sold. A merchant bought me, and took me to Tunis. He sold me to another merchant who sold me to Tripoli; of Tripoli I was sold to Alexandria, of Alexandria resold to Smyrna; from Smyrna to Constantinople. At last I belonged to an aga of the Janissaries, who was soon commanded to defend Azof against the Russians who besieged him.

The aga, who was a very gallant man, took with him his whole seraglio, and lodged us in a small fort on the Palus-Meotides, guarded by two black eunuchs and twenty soldiers. They killed prodigiously Russians, but they did us good: Azof were put to death with fire and blood [The Russians took Azof under Peter the Great in 1696, and restored it to peace in 1711; retaken it in 1739, fortified it; but at the peace of 1789 they restored it after dismantling it. The capture of Azof, under Catherine II., is ten years later from Candide], and neither sex nor age was forgiven; there remained only our little fort; the enemies wanted to take us by famine. The twenty Janissaries had sworn never to surrender. The extremities of hunger, where they were reduced, compelled them to eat our two eunuchs, for fear of violating their oath. After a few days they decided to eat the women.

We had a very pious and compassionate iman, who gave them a fine sermon, by which he persuaded them not to kill us altogether.

“Cut off,” he said, “only one buttock to each of these ladies, you will make very good food; if we must return, you will have as much in a few days; Heaven will be grateful to you for such charitable action, and you will be helped.”

He had much eloquence; he persuaded them; this horrible operation was done to us; the iman applied to us the same balm that we put on the children whom we have just circumcised: we were all at death.

Scarcely had the Janissaries made the repast we had furnished them, than the Russians arrived on flat boats; not a Janissary escaped. The Russians paid no attention to the state in which we were. There are French surgeons everywhere; one of them, who was very skillful, took care of us; he cured us; and I will remember all my life, that when my wounds were closed, he made me proposals. Besides, he told us all to console us; he assured us that in many places such a thing had happened, and that it was the law of war.

As soon as my companions could march, they were sent to Moscow; I fell to a boyard, who made me his gardener, and who gave me twenty lashes a day; but this lord having been wily at the end of two years with about thirty boyards for some harassment of court, I took advantage of this adventure; I fled; I crossed all Russia; I was for a long time a cabaret-maid at Riga, then at Rostock, at Vismar, at Leipsic, at Cassel, at Utrecht, at Leyden, at the Hague, at Rotterdam: I grew old in misery and opprobrium, having only half a behind, always remembering that I was the daughter of a pope; I wanted a hundred times to kill myself, but I still loved life. This ridiculous weakness is perhaps one of our most fatal inclinations; for is there anything more foolish than to want to carry continually a burden which one always wishes to throw on the ground; to have his being in horror, and to hold to his being; finally, to caress the serpent that devours us, until he has eaten our hearts?

I have seen in countries that fate has caused me to travel, and in the cabarets where I have served, a prodigious number of persons who had their existence in execration; but I saw only twelve who had voluntarily put an end to their misery, three Negroes, four Englishmen, four Genevans, and a German professor named Robeck [Robeck (Jean), born at Calmar, Sweden, in 1672, drowned Voluntarily in 1739. J.-J. Rousseau speaks of Robeck in his Nouvelle Héloïse, letter twenty-first of the third part]. I ended up being a servant to the Jew Don Issachar; he placed me beside you, my fair lady; I have attached myself to your destiny, and have been more occupied with your adventures than with mine. I would never have spoken to you of my misfortunes, if you had not bitten me a little, and if it were not customary in a ship to tell stories to get bored. At last, Miss, I have experience, I know the world; give yourself a pleasure, engage each passenger to tell you his story, and if there is one who has often cursed his life, who has often said to himself that he was the most ynhappy men, throw me into the sea first.

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