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Chapter 18 – What They Saw in the Country of El Dorado

VoltaireNov 04, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Cacambo vented all his curiosity upon his landlord by a thousand
different questions; the honest man answered him thus, “I am very
ignorant, sir, but I am contented with my ignorance; however, we
have in this neighborhood an old man retired from court, who is the
most learned and communicative person in the whole kingdom.”

He then conducted Cacambo to the old man; Candide acted now only a
second character, and attended his valet. They entered a very plain
house, for the door was nothing but silver, and the ceiling was only
of beaten gold, but wrought in such elegant taste as to vie with the
richest. The antechamber, indeed, was only incrusted with rubies and
emeralds; but the order in which everything was disposed made amends
for this great simplicity.

The old man received the strangers on his sofa, which was stuffed
with hummingbirds’ feathers; and ordered his servants to present
them with liquors in golden goblets, after which he satisfied their
curiosity in the following terms.

“I am now one hundred and seventy-two years old, and I learned of my
late father, who was equerry to the King, the amazing revolutions of
Peru, to which he had been an eyewitness. This kingdom is the
ancient patrimony of the Incas, who very imprudently quitted it to
conquer another part of the world, and were at length conquered and
destroyed themselves by the Spaniards.

“Those princes of their family who remained in their native
country acted more wisely. They ordained, with the consent of their
whole nation, that none of the inhabitants of our little kingdom
should ever quit it; and to this wise ordinance we owe the
preservation of our innocence and happiness. The Spaniards had some
confused notion of this country, to which they gave the name of El
Dorado; and Sir Walter Raleigh, an Englishman, actually came very near
it about three hundred years ago; but the inaccessible rocks and
precipices with which our country is surrounded on all sides, has
hitherto secured us from the rapacious fury of the people of Europe,
who have an unaccountable fondness for the pebbles and dirt of our
land, for the sake of which they would murder us all to the very
last man.”

The conversation lasted some time and turned chiefly on the form
of government, their manners, their women, their public diversions,
and the arts. At length, Candide, who had always had a taste for
metaphysics, asked whether the people of that country had any
religion.

The old man reddened a little at this question.

“Can you doubt it?” said he; “do you take us for wretches lost to
all sense of gratitude?”

Cacambo asked in a respectful manner what was the established
religion of El Dorado. The old man blushed again and said, “Can
there be two religions, then? Ours, I apprehend, is the religion of
the whole world; we worship God from morning till night.”

“Do you worship but one God?” said Cacambo, who still acted as the
interpreter of Candide’s doubts.

“Certainly,” said the old man; “there are not two, nor three, nor
four Gods. I must confess the people of your world ask very
extraordinary questions.”

However, Candide could not refrain from making many more inquiries
of the old man; he wanted to know in what manner they prayed to God in
El Dorado.

“We do not pray to Him at all,” said the reverend sage; “we have
nothing to ask of Him, He has given us all we want, and we give Him
thanks incessantly.”

Candide had a curiosity to see some of their priests, and desired
Cacambo to ask the old man where they were. At which he smiling
said, “My friends, we are all of us priests; the King and all the
heads of families sing solemn hymns of thanksgiving every morning,
accompanied by five or six thousand musicians.”

“What!” said Cacambo, “have you no monks among you to dispute, to
govern, to intrigue, and to burn people who are not of the same
opinion with themselves?”

“Do you take us for fools?” said the old man. “Here we are all of
one opinion, and know not what you mean by your monks.”

During the whole of this discourse Candide was in raptures, and he
said to himself, “What a prodigious difference is there between this
place and Westphalia; and this house and the Baron’s castle. Ah,
Master Pangloss! had you ever seen El Dorado, you would no longer have
maintained that the castle of Thunder-ten-tronckh was the finest of
all possible edifices; there is nothing like seeing the world,
that’s certain.”

This long conversation being ended, the old man ordered six sheep to
be harnessed and put to the coach, and sent twelve of his servants
to escort the travelers to court.

“Excuse me,” said he, “for not waiting on you in person, my age
deprives me of that honor. The King will receive you in such a
manner that you will have no reason to complain; and doubtless you
will make a proper allowance for the customs of the country if they
should not happen altogether to please you.”

Candide and Cacambo got into the coach, the six sheep flew, and,
in less than a quarter of an hour, they arrived at the King’s
palace, which was situated at the further end of the capital. At the
entrance was a portal two hundred and twenty feet high and one hundred
wide; but it is impossible for words to express the materials of which
it was built. The reader, however, will readily conceive that they
must have a prodigious superiority over the pebbles and sand, which we
call gold and precious stones.

Twenty beautiful young virgins in waiting received Candide and
Cacambo on their alighting from the coach, conducted them to the
bath and clad them in robes woven of the down of hummingbirds; after
which they were introduced by the great officers of the crown of
both sexes to the King’s apartment, between two files of musicians,
each file consisting of a thousand, agreeable to the custom of the
country.

When they drew near to the presence-chamber, Cacambo asked one of
the officers in what manner they were to pay their obeisance to His
Majesty; whether it was the custom to fall upon their knees, or to
prostrate themselves upon the ground; whether they were to put their
hands upon their heads, or behind their backs; whether they were to
lick the dust off the floor; in short, what was the ceremony usual
on such occasions.

“The custom,” said the great officer, “is to embrace the King and
kiss him on each cheek.”

Candide and Cacambo accordingly threw their arms round His Majesty’s
neck, who received them in the most gracious manner imaginable, and
very politely asked them to sup with him.

While supper was preparing, orders were given to show them the city,
where they saw public structures that reared their lofty heads to
the clouds; the marketplaces decorated with a thousand columns;
fountains of spring water, besides others of rose water, and of
liquors drawn from the sugarcane, incessantly flowing in the great
squares, which were paved with a kind of precious stones that
emitted an odor like that of cloves and cinnamon.

Candide asked to see the High Court of justice, the Parliament;
but was answered that they had none in that country, being utter
strangers to lawsuits. He then inquired if they had any prisons;
they replied none. But what gave him at once the greatest surprise and
pleasure was the Palace of Sciences, where he saw a gallery two
thousand feet long, filled with the various apparatus in mathematics
and natural philosophy.

After having spent the whole afternoon in seeing only about the
thousandth part of the city, they were brought back to the King’s
palace. Candide sat down at the table with His Majesty, his valet
Cacambo, and several ladies of the court. Never was entertainment more
elegant, nor could any one possibly show more wit than His Majesty
displayed while they were at supper. Cacambo explained all the
King’s bons mots to Candide, and, although they were translated,
they still appeared to be bons mots. Of all the things that
surprised Candide, this was not the least.

They spent a whole month in this hospitable place, during which time
Candide was continually saying to Cacambo, “I own, my friend, once
more, that the castle where I was born is a mere nothing in comparison
to the place where we now are; but still Miss Cunegund is not here,
and you yourself have doubtless some fair one in Europe for whom you
sigh. If we remain here we shall only be as others are; whereas if
we return to our own world with only a dozen of El Dorado sheep,
loaded with the pebbles of this country, we shall be richer than all
the kings in Europe; we shall no longer need to stand in awe of the
Inquisitors; and we may easily recover Miss Cunegund.”

This speech was perfectly agreeable to Cacambo. A fondness for
roving, for making a figure in their own country, and for boasting
of what they had seen in their travels, was so powerful in our two
wanderers that they resolved to be no longer happy; and demanded
permission of the King to quit the country.

“You are about to do a rash and silly action,” said the King. “I
am sensible my kingdom is an inconsiderable spot; but when people
are tolerably at their ease in any place, I should think it would be
to their interest to remain there. Most assuredly, I have no right
to detain you, or any strangers, against your wills; this is an act of
tyranny to which our manners and our laws are equally repugnant. All
men are by nature free; you have therefore an undoubted liberty to
depart whenever you please, but you will have many and great
difficulties to encounter in passing the frontiers. It is impossible
to ascend that rapid river which runs under high and vaulted rocks,
and by which you were conveyed hither by a kind of miracle. The
mountains by which my kingdom are hemmed in on all sides, are ten
thousand feet high, and perfectly perpendicular; they are above ten
leagues across, and the descent from them is one continued precipice.

“However, since you are determined to leave us, I will immediately
give orders to the superintendent of my carriages to cause one to be
made that will convey you very safely. When they have conducted you to
the back of the mountains, nobody can attend you farther; for my
subjects have made a vow never to quit the kingdom, and they are too
prudent to break it. Ask me whatever else you please.”

“All we shall ask of Your Majesty,” said Cacambo, “is only a few
sheep laden with provisions, pebbles, and the clay of your country.”

The King smiled at the request and said, “I cannot imagine what
pleasure you Europeans find in our yellow clay; but take away as
much of it as you will, and much good may it do you.”

He immediately gave orders to his engineers to make a machine to
hoist these two extraordinary men out of the kingdom. Three thousand
good machinists went to work and finished it in about fifteen days,
and it did not cost more than twenty millions sterling of that
country’s money. Candide and Cacambo were placed on this machine,
and they took with them two large red sheep, bridled and saddled, to
ride upon, when they got on the other side of the mountains; twenty
others to serve as sumpters for carrying provisions; thirty laden with
presents of whatever was most curious in the country, and fifty with
gold, diamonds, and other precious stones. The King, at parting with
our two adventurers, embraced them with the greatest cordiality.

It was a curious sight to behold the manner of their setting off,
and the ingenious method by which they and their sheep were hoisted to
the top of the mountains. The machinists and engineers took leave of
them as soon as they had conveyed them to a place of safety, and
Candide was wholly occupied with the thoughts of presenting his
sheep to Miss Cunegund.

“Now,” cried he, “thanks to Heaven, we have more than sufficient
to pay the Governor of Buenos Ayres for Miss Cunegund, if she is
redeemable. Let us make the best of our way to Cayenne, where we
will take shipping and then we may at leisure think of what kingdom we
shall purchase with our riches.”

 

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