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PEDRO DE ALARCON

The Enigmas

Library Of The World's Best Mystery And Detective Stories

An Uncomfortable Bed
Fear
Ghosts
Introduction To Zadig The Babylonian
Jealousy
Melmoth Reconciled
Pliny The Younger
The Adventure Of The Three Robbers
The Basilisk
The Blind Of One Eye
The Combats
The Confession
The Conscript
The Deposition
The Disputes And The Audiences
The Dog And The Horse
The Enigmas
The Envious Man
The Fisherman
The Funeral Pile
The Generous
The Hermit
The Horla Or Modern Ghosts
The Invisible Eye
The Minister
The Miracle Of Zobeide
The Nail
The Necklace
The Nose
The Owl's Ear
The Robber
The Stone
The Supper
The Torture By Hope
The Waters Of Death
The Woman Beaten



The Enigmas








Zadig, entranced, as it were, and like a man about whose head the
thunder had burst, walked at random. He entered Babylon on the very day
when those who had fought at the tournaments were assembled in the
grand vestibule of the palace to explain the enigmas and to answer the
questions of the grand magi. All the knights were already arrived,
except the knight in green armor. As soon as Zadig appeared in the city
the people crowded round him; every eye was fixed on him; every mouth
blessed him, and every heart wished him the empire. The envious man saw
him pass; he frowned and turned aside. The people conducted him to the
place where the assembly was held. The queen, who was informed of his
arrival, became a prey to the most violent agitations of hope and fear.
She was filled with anxiety and apprehension. She could not comprehend
why Zadig was without arms, nor why Itobad wore the white armor. A
confused murmur arose at the sight of Zadig. They were equally
surprised and charmed to see him; but none but the knights who had
fought were permitted to appear in the assembly.

"I have fought as well as the other knights," said Zadig, "but another
here wears my arms; and while I wait for the honor of proving the truth
of my assertion, I demand the liberty of presenting myself to explain
the enigmas." The question was put to the vote, and his reputation for
probity was still so deeply impressed in their minds, that they
admitted him without scruple.

The first question proposed by the grand magi was: "What, of all things
in the world, is the longest and the shortest, the swiftest and the
slowest, the most divisible and the most extended, the most neglected
and the most regretted, without which nothing can be done, which
devours all that is little, and enlivens all that is great?"

Itobad was to speak. He replied that so great a man as he did not
understand enigmas, and that it was sufficient for him to have
conquered by his strength and valor. Some said that the meaning of the
enigmas was Fortune; some, the Earth; and others the Light. Zadig said
that it was Time. "Nothing," added he, "is longer, since it is the
measure of eternity; nothing is shorter, since it is insufficient for
the accomplishment of our projects; nothing more slow to him that
expects, nothing more rapid to him that enjoys; in greatness, it
extends to infinity; in smallness, it is infinitely divisible; all men
neglect it; all regret the loss of it; nothing can be done without it;
it consigns to oblivion whatever is unworthy of being transmitted to
posterity, and it immortalizes such actions as are truly great." The
assembly acknowledged that Zadig was in the right.

The next question was: "What is the thing which we receive without
thanks, which we enjoy without knowing how, which we give to others
when we know not where we are, and which we lose without perceiving
it?"

Everyone gave his own explanation. Zadig alone guessed that it was
Life, and explained all the other enigmas with the same facility.
Itobad always said that nothing was more easy, and that he could have
answered them with the same readiness had he chosen to have given
himself the trouble. Questions were then proposed on justice, on the
sovereign good, and on the art of government. Zadig's answers were
judged to be the most solid. "What a pity is it," said they, "that such
a great genius should be so bad a knight!"

"Illustrious lords," said Zadig, "I have had the honor of conquering in
the tournaments. It is to me that the white armor belongs. Lord Itobad
took possession of it during my sleep. He probably thought that it
would fit him better than the green. I am now ready to prove in your
presence, with my gown and sword, against all that beautiful white
armor which he took from me, that it is I who have had the honor of
conquering the brave Otamus."

Itobad accepted the challenge with the greatest confidence. He never
doubted but what, armed as he was, with a helmet, a cuirass, and
brassarts, he would obtain an easy victory over a champion in a cap and
nightgown. Zadig drew his sword, saluting the queen, who looked at him
with a mixture of fear and joy. Itobad drew his without saluting
anyone. He rushed upon Zadig, like a man who had nothing to fear; he
was ready to cleave him in two. Zadig knew how to ward off his blows,
by opposing the strongest part of his sword to the weakest of that of
his adversary, in such a manner that Itobad's sword was broken. Upon
which Zadig, seizing his enemy by the waist, threw him on the ground;
and fixing the point of his sword at the breastplate, "Suffer thyself
to be disarmed," said he, "or thou art a dead man."

Itobad, always surprised at the disgraces that happened to such a man
as he, was obliged to yield to Zadig, who took from him with great
composure his magnificent helmet, his superb cuirass, his fine
brassarts, his shining cuishes; clothed himself with them, and in this
dress ran to throw himself at the feet of Astarte. Cador easily proved
that the armor belonged to Zadig. He was acknowledged king by the
unanimous consent of the whole nation, and especially by that of
Astarte, who, after so many calamities, now tasted the exquisite
pleasure of seeing her lover worthy, in the eyes of all the world, to
be her husband. Itobad went home to be called lord in his own house.
Zadig was king, and was happy. The queen and Zadig adored Providence.
He sent in search of the robber Arbogad, to whom he gave an honorable
post in his army, promising to advance him to the first dignities if he
behaved like a true warrior, and threatening to hang him if he followed
the profession of a robber.

Setoc, with the fair Almona, was called from the heart of Arabia and
placed at the head of the commerce of Babylon. Cador was preferred and
distinguished according to his great services. He was the friend of the
king; and the king was then the only monarch on earth that had a
friend. The little mute was not forgotten.

But neither could the beautiful Semira be comforted for having believed
that Zadig would be blind of an eye; nor did Azora cease to lament her
having attempted to cut off his nose. Their griefs, however, he
softened by his presents. The envious man died of rage and shame. The
empire enjoyed peace, glory, and plenty. This was the happiest age of
the earth; it was governed by love and justice. The people blessed
Zadig, and Zadig blessed Heaven.





Next: The Nail

Previous: The Hermit



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