THE HISTORY relates that they took Sancho Panza from the courtroom to a sumptuous palace, where a regal and very clean table was set in a large room. And as soon as Sancho entered the room, the music of chirimías was heard and four pages came out with water to wash his hands, which Sancho received solemnly.
The music stopped and Sancho sat down at the head of the table because there was only that one chair and no other table setting. An individual—who later proved to be a doctor—stood at his side with a little whalebone wand in his hand. They removed a rich white cloth that was covering fruits and a great diversity of dishes of different things to eat. One person who seemed to be a student gave the blessing and a page put a lace-trimmed bib on Sancho, and another who was the chief steward placed a plate of fruit in front of him, but hardly had he eaten a mouthful when the man with the wand touched the plate with it and it was taken away with great speed. The chief steward brought another plate of something else to eat. Sancho was going to try it, but even before it was placed on the table and before Sancho could taste it, the wand had touched it and a page took it away with the same speed as the fruit plate. When Sancho saw all this, he was amazed, and asked if his dinner was going to be all sleight-of-hand.
To which the man with the wand replied: “Only the things, señor governor, that are usually eaten on ínsulas where there are governors will be eaten here. I, señor, am a doctor and I’m salaried on this ínsula to be the personal physician of its governors. I look out for their health more than my own, studying night and day, and examining their constitution so that I can cure them if they become sick. And the main thing I do is to be present at their lunches and dinners and let them eat only what I believe will do them the most good and take away what I think will do them harm and be injurious to their stomach. The reason I had the plate of fruit removed was that it was too moist, and the other plate of food was taken away because it had too many spices, which increase one’s thirst. And he who drinks much kills and consumes the radical humor that life consists of.”
“So, that plate of roasted partridges, in my opinion, well seasoned, won’t do me any harm.”
To which the doctor responded: “The señor governor will not eat that as long as I’m alive.”
“Well, why not?” said Sancho.
And the doctor responded: “Because our master Hippocrates, the north star and shining light of medicine, in one of his maxims says: Omnis saturatio mala, perdices autem pessima. It means: «Any overeating is bad; but of partridges it’s very bad».”
“If that’s so,” said Sancho, “examine all the things to eat on this table and see which one will do me the most good and the least harm, and let me eat it without snatching it away. Because, on the life of the governor—and may God allow me to enjoy being one—I’m dying of hunger, and denying me food, even though it grieves the doctor, and no matter what he tells me, is more taking life away than prolonging it.”
“Your grace is right, señor governor,” responded the doctor, “and so in my opinion, you shouldn’t eat any of those stewed rabbits because it’s a food that is from a fine-haired animal. That veal, if it weren’t marinated and roasted you could have a bit of it; but not that way.”
And Sancho said: “I think that great big steaming plate over there is stew, and given the diversity of ingredients in such stews, I can’t help but run across something that I’ll like and will do me good.”
“Absit,” said the doctor. “May the bad thought of it flee from us. There’s nothing in the world that nourishes worse than a stew. Let the canons, or headmasters of schools eat stew, or save it for rustic weddings, but let’s keep it away from tables of governors, where every kind of delicacy served with care should abound. And the reason is that medicine made of simple ingredients is always more prized everywhere and by everyone than compound ones, because in the simple ones you cannot err and in the compound ones you can, by varying the amounts of the things that go into them. But I know that the señor governor must eat now, and to preserve his health and fortify it I’ll give him a hundred wafers and a few thin slices of quince that will sit lightly in his stomach and be easy to digest.”
When Sancho heard this he leaned back in the chair and looked fixedly at that doctor, and with a serious tone asked him what his name was and where he’d studied.
To which he responded: “My name, señor governor, is doctor Pedro Recio de Agüero and I’m from Tirteafuera, between Caracuel and Almodóvar del Campo, on the right hand side, and I have the degree of doctor from the University of Osuna.”
To which Sancho responded, red with rage: “Well, señor doctor Pedro Recio de Mal Agüero, native of Tirteafuera, a village on the right hand side when you go from Caracuel to Almodóvar del Campo, graduate of Osuna, get out of here. If not, I swear to the sun that I’ll get a bludgeon and, starting with you, clobber all doctors on this ínsula, at least those that I feel are ignorant. The wise, prudent, and intelligent doctors I’ll put on my head and will honor them as I do divine persons. And I repeat that doctor Pedro Recio should go away from here. If not, I’ll take this chair that I’m sitting on, and I’ll smash it over his head, and let them call me to account when I leave office. I’ll clear myself saying that I did a great service to God in killing such a bad doctor, an executioner of the republic. Get me something to eat, or else take back your government. An office that gives its chief nothing to eat isn’t worth two beans.”
The doctor became upset at seeing the governor so angry and was about to take his leave when a post horn sounded in the street and the steward leaned out the window and came back saying: “A messenger is coming from the duke my master. He must have some important dispatch.”
The messenger came in sweating and frightened, and taking a dispatch from his shirt he put it in the hands of the governor, and Sancho put it in the those of the steward whom he asked to read the address, which said: “To don Sancho Panza, governor of the Ínsula Barataria, in his own hands or those of his secretary.”
When Sancho heard this, he said: “Who is my secretary?”
And one of those present answered: “I, señor, because I can read and write, and I’m Basque.”
“With that little addition,” said Sancho, “you can be the secretary to the emperor himself. Open this sheet and see what it says.”
The recently-born secretary opened it and when he read all of what it said, he announced it was some private business. Sancho had the room cleared and the only ones who stayed were the stewards, and the rest— including the doctor—left, then the secretary read the letter that went like this:
Notice has come to me, señor don Sancho Panza, that some enemies of mine who live on that ínsula are going to attack it furiously I don’t know what night. Beware and be alert so that they won’t take you unawares. I also know through spies that four disguised people have gone to that village to kill you because they fear your cleverness. Keep your eyes open and beware of those who come to speak to you, and don’t eat anything they give you. I’ll be sure to rescue you if you get in trouble, and please act as we expect of a person with your intellect. At this village, August 16 at 4:00 A.M.
Sancho was dumbfounded and those around him were equally so. Turning to the steward, he said: “What must be done, and done right now is to put doctor Recio in jail, because if anyone is going to kill me, it’ll be him, and it’ll be a death in small doses and terrible such as death by starvation is.”
“Also,” said the butler, “it seems to me that your grace shouldn’t eat anything in this place because it has been given by some nuns, and, as they say, «behind the cross stands the devil».”
“I don’t deny that,” responded Sancho, “and for the moment, give me a piece of bread and about four pounds of grapes because there can be no poison in them, and in effect, I can’t do without eating, and if we’re supposed to be ready for battles that threaten us, it’ll be necessary to be nourished. Because «your stomach carries your heart and not your heart your stomach». You, secretary, respond to the duke my lord, and tell him that we’ll do exactly what he commands, and kiss my lady the duchess’s hand for me, and beg her not to forget to send a messenger with my letter and package to my wife, Teresa Panza. I’ll really appreciate it, and I’ll take care to serve her with all my power, and on the way you can kiss my master don Quixote de La Mancha’s hand, so that he’ll see that I’m grateful. And you, as a good secretary and as a good Basque, can add anything you’d like and that’s to the point. Take away these cloths and give me something to eat, and once I’ve eaten, I’ll deal with as many spies and murderers and enchanters that come against me and my ínsula.”
At this point a page entered and said: “Here’s a peasant with business to discuss and he wants to talk to your lordship about a matter of great importance.”
“It’s an odd thing with these people with business to discuss,” said Sancho. “Are they so foolish that they don’t know that times like these are not appropriate to come to talk business? By chance, we who govern, we judges, are we not men of flesh and blood? We should be left alone to rest when the need requires; but instead they want us to be made of marble. By God and in my conscience, if this government lasts—and it won’t, the way it looks to me—I’ll give a whipping to more than one of these who come with business to discuss. Now, tell this good man to come in. But first make sure that he isn’t one of the spies or people who have come to kill me.”
“No, señor,” responded the page, “because he seems like a good soul, and either I know little, or he’s as good as gold.”
“There’s nothing to fear,” said the steward, “since we’re all here.”
“Might it be possible,” said Sancho, “steward, now that doctor Pedro Recio isn’t here, for me to eat something substantial, even though it’s only a piece of bread and an onion?”
“Tonight at dinner we’ll make up for the lack of food, and your lordship will be satisfied.”
“May God grant it,” responded Sancho, and just then the peasant came in. He had a nice appearance, and from a thousand leagues one could see he was good and had a good soul.
The first thing he said was: “Who is the governor here?”
“Who else can it be,” said the secretary, “but the one seated in the chair?”
“I humble myself before your presence,” said the peasant. And kneeling down, he asked for his hand to kiss it. Sancho wouldn’t hear of it and told him to stand up and state his business.
The peasant stood up and then said: “I, señor, am a peasant, born in Miguelturra, a village two leagues from Ciudad Real.”
“Here’s another Tirteafuera,” said Sancho. “I can tell you, brother, that I know Miguelturra very well and that it’s not far from my own village. Tell me what’s on your mind.”
“The thing is, señor,’ said the peasant, “I was married in the Holy Roman Catholic Church. I have two children who are students. The younger one is studying for the bachelor’s degree and the older one for the masters degree. I’m a widower because my wife died, or rather because a doctor killed her. He gave her an enema while she was with child. And had God been pleased that a boy had been born, I would have had him study to receive a doctorate so that he wouldn’t envy his brothers, the bachelor and the one with the master’s degree.”
“So,” said Sancho, “if your wife hadn’t died, or if she hadn’t been killed, you wouldn’t now be a widower?”
“No señor, in no way,” said the peasant.
“So far, so good,” said Sancho, “now get on with it. It’s time to have a nap rather than to conduct business.”
“As I was saying, then,” said the peasant, “this son of mine studying for the bachelor’s degree fell in love with a girl of our same village named Carla Perlerina, daughter of Andrés Perlerino, a very rich peasant. And this name of Perlerines doesn’t come from any lineage or any other family line because they’re all paralytics, and to make the name sound better, they call them Perlerines; although to tell the truth, the maiden is like an oriental pearl, and seen from the right-hand side she seems to be a flower in the field; on the left-hand side not so much so, because she lost an eye that came out after she had smallpox. And although the pockmarks of her face are many and large, people who love her say that those aren’t pockmarks at all, but rather graves where her lovers are buried. She’s so clean that, so she won’t get her face dirty, her nose is turned up, looking as though it were trying to flee from her face; Withal she’s quite good-looking because she has a large mouth, and if she weren’t lacking ten or twelve teeth, it could surpass the best-formed mouths around these parts. About her lips I can’t say anything because they’re so thin and delicate that if it were customary to wind lips, you could make a skein of them. But since they’re of a different color than lips typically are, they seem miraculous, because they’re mottle of blue, green, and deep purple. And may the señor pardon me if I’m describing her charms in such detail because she’ll eventually be my daughter. I love her very much and she seems just fine to me.”
“Describe her in any way you wish,” said Sancho, “for I’m enjoying the description, and if I had eaten, there wouldn’t be any better dessert than your portrait.”
“I’m about to serve the dessert,” responded the peasant, “and the time will come when we’ll get to it, if we’re not there already. And I say, señor, that if I could describe her elegance and her height, it would amaze you. But I can’t do this because she’s all bent and hunched over, and her knees are right at her mouth, and with all this, it’s easy to see that if she could stand straight, her head would touch the ceiling, and she would have already given her hand to my son the bachelor, but she can’t extend it, because it’s so withered. Still, her long and grooved fingernails show how fine and well proportioned it is.
“All right,” said Sancho, “now that you’ve described her from head to foot, tell me what you want. Come to the point without beating around the bush, without gaps, bits and pieces, or additions.”
“I would like, señor,” replied the peasant, “for you to write me a letter of recommendation to my son’s future father-in-law asking him if he would sanction this marriage since we’re not unequal in material wealth or blessings of Nature, because, to tell the truth, señor governor, my son is possessed by the devil, and no day goes by but what evil spirits torment him three or four times. And from having once fallen into a fire, his wrinkled face looks like parchment, and his eyes are quite watery and running. But he has the disposition of an angel, and if he didn’t constantly punch himself, he’d pass for a saint.”
“Would you like anything else, my good man?” replied Sancho.
“I would like something else,” said the peasant, “but I don’t dare reveal what it is; but—what the heck!—I won’t let it rot in my chest. Whether it’s appropriate or not, I say, señor, I’d like you to give me three or six hundred ducados to help with my bachelor’s portion of the dowry; that is, to help him set up his household, because, let’s face it, they have to live on their own, without the interference of their parents-in-law.”
“See if there’s anything else,” said Sancho, “and don’t hold back because of shyness or shame.”
“That’s all,” responded the peasant.
And hardly had he said this when the governor stood up and seized the chair he was sitting in and said: “I swear, don rustic and ill-bred hayseed, if you don’t get out of and hide from my presence this second, I’ll break your head open with this chair. You son-of-a-bitch rapscallion, devil’s own mischief maker, you come here right now and expect me to have six hundred ducados? And where would I get them, you foul stench? And why would I give them to you, you scoundrel and idiot? And what do I care about Miguelturra or the whole line of Perlerines? Get out, I say! If not, by the life of the duke my lord, I’ll do what I’ve stated! You must not be from Miguelturra, but rather some jokester sent to me from hell to taunt me. Tell me, you soulless person, I haven’t yet been governor for a day and a half and you think I have six-hundred ducados?”
The butler motioned to the peasant to leave, which he did with bowed head, seemingly fearful that the governor would vent his anger on him. The rascal played his role very well, but let’s leave Sancho, and may peace reign, and let’s go back to don Quixote, whom we left with his face bandaged and treated with medicine from his feline wounds, from which he healed in a week. On one of those days something happened to don Quixote that Cide Hamete promises to relate with his characteristic scrupulousness and truth, no matter how trivial it might be.