Fiction > Voltaire > Candide, or The Optimist

François Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694–1778).  Candide, or The Optimist.  1884.
Chapter XVII
Candide and his Valet arrive in the Country of El Dorado. What they saw there
WHEN they got to the frontiers of the Oreillons, “You see,” said Cacambo to Candide, “this hemisphere is not better than the other; e’en take my advice, and let us return to Europe by the shortest way possible.” “But how can we get back?” said Candide, “and whither shall we go? To my own country? The Bulgarians and the Abares are laying that waste with fire and sword; or shall we go to Portugal? There I shall be burnt; and if we abide here, we are every moment in danger of being spitted. But how can I bring myself to quit that part of the world where my dear Miss Cunegund has her residence?”  1
  “Let us return towards Cayenne,” said Cacambo; “there we shall meet with some Frenchmen; for you know those gentry ramble all over the world; perhaps they will assist us, and God will look with pity on our distress.”  2
  It was not so easy to get to Cayenne. They knew pretty nearly whereabouts it lay; but the mountains, rivers, precipices, robbers, savages, were dreadful obstacles in the way. Their horses died with fatigue, and their provisions were at an end. They subsisted a whole month upon wild fruit, till at length they came to a little river bordered with cocoa trees, the sight of which at once revived their drooping spirits, and furnished nourishment for their enfeebled bodies.  3
  Cacambo, who was always giving as good advice as the old woman herself, said to Candide: “You see there is no holding out any longer; we have travelled enough on foot. I spy an empty canoe near the river-side; let us fill it with cocoa-nuts, get into it, and go down with the stream: a river always leads to some inhabited place. If we do not meet with agreeable things, we shall at least meet with something new.” “Agreed,” replied Candide; “let us recommend ourselves to Providence.”  4
  They rowed a few leagues down the river, the banks of which were in some places covered with flowers, in others barren; in some parts smooth and level, and in others steep and rugged. The stream widened as they went farther on, till at length it passed under one of the frightful rocks whose summits seemed to reach the clouds. Here our two travellers had the courage to commit themselves to the stream, which, contracting in this part, hurried them along with a dreadful noise and rapidity. At the end of four-and-twenty hours they saw daylight again; but their canoe was dashed to pieces against the rocks. They were obliged to creep along from rock to rock for the space of a league, till at length a spacious plain presented itself to their sight. This place was bounded by a chain of inaccessible mountains. The country appeared cultivated equally for pleasure and to produce the necessaries of life. The useful and agreeable were here equally blended. The roads were covered, or rather adorned, with carriages formed of glittering materials, in which were men and women of a surprising beauty, drawn with great rapidity by red sheep of a very large size, which far surpassed the finest coursers of Andalusia, Tetuan, or Mecquinez.  5
  “Here is a country, however,” said Candide, “preferable to Westphalia.” He and Cacambo landed near the first village they saw, at the entrance of which they perceived some children, covered with tattered garments of the richest brocade, playing at quoits. Our two inhabitants of the other hemisphere amused themselves greatly with what they saw. The quoits were large round pieces, yellow, red, and green, which cast a most glorious lustre. Our travellers picked some of them up, and they proved to be gold, emeralds, rubies, and diamonds, the least of which would have been the greatest ornament to the superb throne of the Great Mogul. “Without doubt,” said Cacambo, “those children must be the king’s sons that are playing at quoits.” As he was uttering these words the schoolmaster of the village appeared, who came to call them to school. “There,” said Candide, “is the preceptor of the royal family.”  6
  The little ragamuffins immediately quitted their diversion, leaving the quoits on the ground with all their other playthings. Candide gathers them up, runs to the schoolmaster, and, with a most respectful bow, presents them to him, giving him to understand by signs, that their royal highnesses had forgot their gold and precious stones. The schoolmaster, with a smile, flung them upon the ground; then examining Candide from head to foot with an air of admiration, he turned his back and went on his way.  7
  Our travellers took care, however, to gather up the gold, the rubies, and the emeralds. “Where are we?” cried Candide: “The king’s children in this country must have an excellent education, since they are taught to show such a contempt for gold and precious stones.” Cacambo was as much surprised as his master. They then drew near the first house in the village, which was built after the manner of an European palace. There was a crowd of people about the door, and a still greater number in the house. The sound of the most delightful instruments of music was heard, and the most agreeable smell came from the kitchen. Cacambo went up to the door, and heard those within talking in the Peruvian language, which was his mother tongue; for every one knows that Cacambo was born in a village of Tucuman, where no other language is spoken. “I will be your interpreter here,” said he to Candide, “let us go in; this is an eating-house.”  8
  Immediately two waiters and two servant-girls, dressed in cloth of gold, and their hair braided with ribbands of tissue, accost the strangers, and invite them to sit down to the ordinary. Their dinner consisted of four dishes of different soups, each garnished with two young paroquets, a large dish of bouillé that weighed two hundredweight, two roasted monkeys of a delicious flavour, three hundred humming-birds in one dish, and six hundred fly-birds in another; some excellent ragouts, delicate tarts, and the whole served up in dishes of rock-crystal. Several sorts of liquors, extracted from the sugar-cane, were handed about by the servants who attended.  9
  Most of the company were chapmen and waggoners, all extremely polite; they asked Cacambo a few questions with the utmost discretion and circumspection; and replied to his in a most obliging and satisfactory manner.  10
  As soon as dinner was over, both Candide and Cacambo thought they should pay very handsomely for their entertainment by laying down two of those large gold pieces which they had picked off the ground; but the landlord and landlady burst into a fit of laughing, and held their sides for some time. When the fit was over: “Gentlemen,” said the landlord, “I plainly perceive you are strangers, and such we are not accustomed to see; pardon us therefore for laughing when you offered us the common pebbles of our highways for payment of your reckoning. To be sure, you have none of the coin of this kingdom; but there is no necessity for having any money at all to dine in this house. All the inns, which are established for the convenience of those who carry on the trade of this nation, are maintained by the government. You have found but very indifferent entertainment here, because this is only a poor village; but in almost every other of these public-houses you will meet with a reception worthy of persons of your merit.” Cacambo explained the whole of this speech of the landlord to Candide, who listened to it with the same astonishment with which his friend communicated it. “What sort of a country is this,” said the one to the other, “that is unknown to all the world, and in which Nature has everywhere so different an appearance to what she has in ours? Possibly this is that part of the globe where everything is right, for there must certainly be some such place. And for all that Master Pangloss could say, I often perceived that things went very ill in Westphalia.”  11

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