11. The History Of The Old Woman
From Candide by Voltaire (1759)

MY eyes have not always been bleared, and bordered with scarlet; my nose has not always touched my chin; nor have I been always a servant. I am the daughter of a king, and the Princess of Palestrina. I was brought up, till I was fourteen, in a palace, to which all the castles of your German barons would not have served for stables, and one of my robes cost more than all the magnificence in Westphalia. I increased in beauty, in charms, and in fine accomplishments, amidst pleasures, homages, and high expectations. I began to captivate every heart. My neck was formed — oh, what a neck! white, firm and shaped like that of the Venus de Medici. And what eyes; what eyelids! what fine black eyebrows! what flames sparkled from my eyeballs; the poets of my country told me they eclipsed the twinkling of the stars! The maids who dressed and undressed me fell into an ecstasy when they viewed me, and all the men would gladly have been in their places.

I was betrothed to a prince, the sovereign of Massa Carara. What a prince! as handsome as myself, all sweetness and charms, of a witty mind, and burning with love. I loved him, as one always loves for the first time, with idolatry, with transport. Preparations were made for our nuptials. The pomp and magnificence were inconceivable; nothing but continual feasts, carousals, and operas; and all Italy made sonnets upon me, of which there was scarce one tolerable. I was just on the point of reaching the summit of happiness, when an old marchioness, who had been mistress to my prince, invited him to drink chocolate at her house. He died there in less than two hours' time in terrible convulsions. But this is only a mere trifle. My mother, in despair, and yet less afflicted than I was, resolved to retreat for some time from so mournful a place. She had a very fine country-seat near Gaeta. We embarked on board a galley of the country, gilt equal to the altar of St. Peter at Rome. We were scarcely at sea, when a corsair of Sallee fell upon and boarded us. Our soldiers defended themselves like true soldiers; they all fell upon their knees, after throwing away their arms, and asked pardon,in articulo mortis, of the corsair.

We were instantly stripped naked as monkeys; my mother, our maids of honour, and myself too, meeting with no better usage. It is a very surprising thing with what expedition these pirate gentry undress people. But what surprised me most was that they should touch us where we women do not ordinarily allow. This ceremony appeared very strange to me; but so we judge of everything that is not done in our own country. I soon learned that the search was to find out whether we had not concealed some of our jewels there. It is a custom established time out of mind among civilized nations that scour the sea. I know that those gentlemen, the pious knights of Malta, never omit to practice it, when they capture Turks of either sex. It is one of the laws of nations, from which they never deviate.

I need not tell you how great a hardship it is for a young princess and her mother to be carried slaves to Morocco. You may easily form a notion of what we underwent on board the vessel of the corsair. My mother was still very handsome, our maids of honour, nay, our plain chambermaids, had more charms than are to be found throughout all Africa. As for myself, I was all attraction, I was all beauty, and all charms; nay, more, I was a virgin. However, I was not one long; for this flower, which had been reserved for the accomplished Prince of Massa Carara, was taken from me by the captain of the corsair. He was an ugly negro, but fancied he did me a great deal of honour. Indeed Her Highness, the Princess of Palestrina, and myself must have been very strong to resist all the violence we met with till our arrival at Morocco. But let me pass over that; these things are so very common that they are hardly worth the mentioning.

Morocco overflowed with blood when we arrived there. Fifty sons of the Emperor Muley Ismael had each their adherents; this produced, in effect, fifty civil wars, of blacks against blacks, of blacks against tawnies, of tawnies against tawnies, and of mulattoes against mulattoes. In a word, there was one continued carnage all over the empire.

No sooner were we landed than the blacks of a party adverse to that of my corsair made an attempt to rob him of his booty. Next to the jewels and the gold, we were the most valuable things he had. I was here witness to such a battle as you never saw in your European climates. The people of the north have not so much fire in their blood, nor have they that raging passion for women that is so common in Africa. One would think that you Europeans had nothing but milk in your veins; but it is vitriol and fire that runs in those of the inhabitants of Mount Atlas and the neighbouring countries. They fought with the fury of lions, tigers, and serpents of the country, to determine who should have us. A Moor seized my mother by the right arm, while my captain's lieutenant held her by the left; a Moorish soldier took hold of her by one leg, and our pirates held her by the other. All our women found themselves almost in a moment seized thus by four soldiers. My captain kept me concealed at his back. He had a scimitar in his hand, and killed every one that opposed his fury. In short, I saw all our Italian women and my mother torn to pieces, hacked and mangled by the brutes that fought for them. My fellow-prisoners, those who had taken them, soldiers, sailors, blacks, whites, mulattoes, and lastly my captain himself, were all killed; and I remained expiring upon a heap of dead bodies. These barbarous scenes extended, as every one knows, over more than three hundred leagues, without the perpetrators ever omitting the five prayers a day ordained by Mahomet.

I disengaged myself with great difficulty from the weight of so many dead, bloody carcasses heaped upon me, and made shift to crawl to a large orange tree on the bank of a neighbouring rivulet, where I sank down oppressed with fear, fatigue, horror, despair, and hunger. Soon after, my senses being over. powered, I fell into a sleep, which resembled a fainting fit rather than sleep. I was in this state of weakness and insensibility, between death and life, when I felt myself pressed by something that moved near my body. I opened my eyes, and saw a white man of a very good mien, who sighed, and muttered between his teeth in my own speech.

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