Chapter 3 of Voltaire, Zadig, ou, La destinée, histoire orientale
(original title Memnon, histoire orientale (London [i.e., Amsterdam?] 1747).
Eng. trans. The Whole Prose Romances of François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire, trans. William Walton, 3 vols. (London 1900), 2:226–29:
One day, as he [Zadig] was walking near a little wood, he saw one of the queen’s eunuchs running toward him, followed by several officers, who appeared to be in the greatest perplexity, and who ran to and fro like men distracted, eagerly searching for something they had lost of the greatest value. “Young man,” said the first eunuch to him, “have you seen the queen’s dog?”
[Illustrations by H. R. Millar, in anonymous, “Forerunners of Sherlock Holmes,” The Strand Magazine 32 (1906) 187 (August 1906), 50– 56, here 51, 53:]
Zadig replied, modestly: “It is a bitch, and not a dog.” “You are right,” returned the first eunuch. “It is a very small she-spaniel,” added Zadig; “she has lately whelped; she limps on the left forefoot, and has very long ears.” “You have seen her,” said the first eunuch, quite out of breath. “No,” replied Zadig, “I have not seen her, nor did I so much as know that the queen had a bitch.”
Exactly at the same time, by one of the common freaks of fortune, the finest horse in the king’s stable had escaped from the hands of a groom in the plains of Babylon. The principal huntsman, and all the other officers, ran after him with as much anxiety as the first eunuch had done after the bitch. The principal huntsman addressed himself to Zadig, and asked him if he had not seen the king’s horse passing by. “He is the horse that gallops the best,” replied Zadig; “he is five feet high, with very small hoofs, and a tail three feet and a half in length; the bosses of his bit are gold of twentythree carats, and his shoes are silver of eleven pennyweights.” “What way did he take? where is he?” demanded the chief huntsman. “I have not seen him,” replied Zadig, “and never heard talk of him before.”
The principal huntsman and the first eunuch never doubted but that Zadig had stolen the king’s horse and the queen’s bitch. They therefore had him conducted before the assembly of the grand desterham, who condemned him to the knout, and to spend the rest of his days in Siberia. Hardly was the sentence passed when the horse and the bitch were both found. The judges were reduced to the disagreeable necessity of reversing their sentence; but they condemned Zadig to pay four hundred ounces of gold, for having said that he had not seen what he had seen. This fine he was obliged to pay, after which he was permitted to plead his cause before the counsel of the grand desterham. He spoke to the following effect:
“O stars of justice, abysses of knowledge, mirrors of truth, who have the weight of lead, the hardness of iron, the splendor of the diamond, and many of the properties of gold; — since I am permitted to speak before this august assembly, I swear to you by Ormuzd, that I have never seen the queen’s respectable bitch, nor the sacred horse of the king of kings. The truth of the matter is as follows: I was walking toward the little wood, where I afterward met the venerable eunuch, and the most illustrious chief huntsman. I observed on the sand the traces of an animal, and could easily perceive them to be those of a little dog. The light and long furrows, impressed on little eminences of sand between the marks of the paws, plainly discovered that it was a bitch, whose dugs were hanging down, and that therefore she must have whelped a few days before. Other traces of a different kind, that always appeared to have gently brushed the surface of the sand near the marks of the forefeet, showed me that she had very long ears; and as I remarked that there was always a slighter impression made on the sand by one foot than by the other three, I judged that the bitch of our august queen was a little lame, if I may be allowed the expression.
“With regard to the horse of the king of kings, you will know, that, walking in the lanes of this wood, I observed the marks of a horse’s shoes, all at equal distances. ‘This must be a horse,’ said I to myself, ‘that gallops excellently.’ The dust on the trees in a narrow road that was but seven feet wide was a little brushed off at the distance of three feet and a half from the middle of the road. ‘This horse,’ said I, ‘has a tail three feet and a half long, which, being whisked to the right and left, has swept away this dust.’ I observed under the trees, that formed an arbor five feet in height, that the leaves of the branches were newly fallen; from which I inferred that the horse had touched them, and that he must therefore be five feet high. As to his bit, it must be gold of twenty-three carats, for he had rubbed its bosses against a stone which I knew to be a touchstone, and which I have tried. Finally, from the marks made by his shoes on the flints of another kind, I concluded that he was shod with silver eleven pennyweights fine.”
All the judges admired the acute and profound discernment of Zadig. The news of this speech was carried even to the king and queen. Nothing was talked of but Zadig in the antechambers, the chambers, and the cabinet; and though many of the magi were of the opinion that he should be burned as a sorcerer, the king ordered that the four hundred ounces of gold which he had been obliged to pay should be restored to him. The register, the ushers, the bailiffs, went to his house in great state, to carry him back his four hundred ounces; they retained only three hundred and ninety-eight to defray the expenses of justice, and their servants demanded their fees.
Zadig saw how dangerous it sometimes is to be too knowing, and promised himself that on the next occasion he would not tell what he had seen.
Such an opportunity soon offered. A prisoner of state made his escape; he passed under the windows of Zadig’s house. Zadig was examined, and made no answer. But it was proved that he had looked at the prisoner from his window. For this crime he was condemned to pay five hundred ounces of gold; and, according to the custom of Babylon, he thanked his judges for their indulgence. “Great God !” said he to himself, “what a misfortune it is to walk in a wood through which the queen’s bitch or the king’s horse has passed! how dangerous to look out at a window! and how difficult to be happy in this life!”