A TEI Project

Chapter XLVIII

About what happened to don Quixote with doña Rodríguez, the duenna of the duchess, with other events worthy of being written about and deserving of eternal memory.

THE BADLY wounded don Quixote lay suffering and dispirited, his face bandaged and injured, not by the hand of God, but by the claws of a cat, a misfortune associated with knight errantry. He didn’t go out into public for six days, and on one of those nights, when he was wide-awake, thinking about his misfortunes and the persecutions of Altisidora, he heard that someone was opening the door to his room with a key, and he immediately thought that the enamored maiden had come to assail his chastity, reducing him to betrayal of his fidelity to Dulcinea del Toboso.

“The greatest beauty on earth,” he said with a voice that could be heard, believing his thought to be right, “cannot extinguish the adoration that I have engraved and imprinted in the middle of my heart and in the most hidden recesses of my bowels, whether you are, señora mía, transformed into an onion-stuffed peasant, or into a nymph of the golden Tajo River, weaving fabric of twisted silk and gold, or in whatever form Merlin or Montesinos may have you. Wherever you are, you’re mine, and anywhere I am, I’m yours.”

The end of his speech and the opening of the door were at the same instant. He stood up on the bed, covered from top to bottom by a quilt of yellow satin, a cap on his head, and with a bandaged face and mustache—his face was bandaged because of the scratches, and the mustache so it wouldn’t droop and fall; and in that outfit he looked like the most extraordinary phantom that could be dreamed up. He kept his gaze on the door, and when he expected to see the surrendered and love-smitten Altisidora, he saw instead a very reverend duenna wearing a white veil that was so long it covered her from head to foot. Between two fingers of her left hand she carried a lighted candle and shielded her eyes—which were covered by a large pair of glasses—with her right hand. She was treading quietly and moved her feet softly.

Don Quixote looked at her from his vantage point and when he saw the way she was dressed and noted her silence, he thought that some witch or sorceress was coming dressed like that to do him harm, and he began to cross himself repeatedly. The vision drew near and when she arrived in the middle of the room, she raised her eyes and saw how don Quixote was crossing himself; and if he was fearful at seeing such a figure, she was just as startled to see him, because as soon as she saw him so tall and so yellow, with the quilt and bandages which altered his looks, she cried: “Jesus, what am I seeing?”

And being so distressed, the candle fell from her hands, and when she realized she was in complete darkness, she turned around to go away; and in her fear, she stumbled on her train and fell down hard. Don Quixote, who was fearful himself, began saying: “I implore you, phantom, or whatever you are, to tell me who you are and what you want of me. If you’re a soul in torment, tell me. I’ll do everything my strength will allow for you because I’m a Catholic Christian and I always do good to everyone. For this reason I took up the order of knight errantry I profess, the practice of which extends to doing good to souls in purgatory.”

The perplexed duenna, hearing herself thus beseeched, through her own fear could see don Quixote’s, and with a quiet, distressed voice responded to him: “Señor don Quixote—if your grace really is don Quixote—I’m not a phantom, nor a vision, nor a soul in purgatory, as you must have thought, but rather doña Rodríguez, the principal duenna of my lady the duchess, and I have come to your grace with a need of the kind that you customarily remedy.”

“Tell me, señora doña Rodríguez,” said don Quixote, “by chance have you come to be a go-between? Because I’ll have you know that I can’t be of use to anyone owing to the peerless beauty of my lady Dulcinea del Toboso. So I say, señora doña Rodríguez, if your grace makes no mention of love messages, you can go and relight your candle, and come back, and we’ll speak of anything you may ask, or whatever gives you pleasure, except, as I say, any amorous suggestion.”

“Me, with a message from someone?” responded the duenna. “You don’t know me very well. I’m not so old that I need to resort to such childish nonsense, since—God be praised—I’m still vigorous and full of life, I have all my teeth (except for a few I lost because of the catarrh, which is very common in this region of Aragón). But wait a moment for me. I’ll go light my candle and will return in an instant to tell of my afflictions to the one who can alleviate the grief of the world.”

And without waiting for an answer, she left the room, where don Quixote remained, waiting calmly and pensively for her return. But then a thousand thoughts about that new adventure befell him, and the idea seemed not only bad, but also poorly thought out, to put himself in danger of breaking his promised faithfulness to his lady. He said to himself: ”Who knows if the devil, who is subtle and clever, doesn’t want to deceive me now with a duenna, since he never could deceive me with empresses, queens, marquises, or countesses? I’ve heard many times and from many wise people that, if he can, he’ll give you a flat-nosed woman instead of one with a pretty nose. And who knows? Maybe this night, this solitude, this occasion, and this silence will awaken my dormant desires, and will make me fall where I never have before stumbled in all my years. And in similar cases, it’s better to flee than wait for a battle. But I must not be in my right mind to say and think such nonsense. It’s not possible that a duenna who is tall, dressed in white, and bespectacled, can arouse a lascivious thought in the most lustful heart in the world. By chance is there a duenna in the world who has a good body? By chance is there in a duenna the world who isn’t arrogant, wrinkled, and prudish? Out with you, you duennesque mob, useless for any human pleasure! How well that woman did who, they say, kept statues dressed to look like duennas at one end of her drawing-room—looking like they were making lace and wearing eyeglasses—and those statues were as good as real duennas for the dignity of the room!”

And once he’d said this, he leapt up from his bed with the intention of locking the door and not letting doña Rodríguez enter. But just as he went to lock the door, doña Rodríguez returned with a white candle that was burning, and when she saw don Quixote close-up, wrapped in the quilt, with his bandages and cap, she feared once again, backed up a few steps, and said: “Am I safe, señor knight? I don’t think it’s a very wholesome sign that you’re out of your bed.”

“I was going to ask you that, señora,” said don Quixote, “and so I’ll ask if I’m safe from being attacked and ravished.”

“Who are you asking if you’ll be safe, señor knight?” responded the duenna.

“I’m asking you,” replied don Quixote, “because I’m not made of marble nor you of bronze, nor is it ten in the morning, but rather midnight, and even a bit later, I believe; and we’re in a room that is more closed up and secret than the cave where that traitorous and daring Æneas enjoyed the fair and pious Dido. But give me, señora, your hand, for I need no other greater assurance than my restraint and the modesty manifest in your reverend veil.”

And saying this, he kissed his right hand and after she did the same ceremony, he took her hand. Here Cide Hamete makes a parentheses and says that by Muhammad, he would have given the better of his two capes to have seen the two of them walk hand in hand from the door toward the bed. Don Quixote got back into bed, and doña Rodriguez sat in a chair a bit of a distance away, and kept her glasses on and her candle burning. Don Quixote curled up and covered himself completely except for his face and when they were both settled, the first one to break the silence was don Quixote, saying: “You can speak freely now, mi señora, and unburden yourself of what you’ve locked up in your afflicted heart and soul, for it will be heard by my chaste ears and rescued by pious works.”

“I believe you,” responded the duenna, “for from your grace’s noble and amiable presence one couldn’t expect anything except such a Christian response. Well, the thing is, señor don Quixote, that although your grace sees me seated in this chair in the heart of the kingdom of Aragón and in the habit of a humbled and downtrodden duenna, I was born in the Asturias of Oviedo and of a lineage shared by some of the best families in that province.

“But my bad luck, and the carelessness of my parents, led to their untimely economic downfall, and without my knowing how or why, they took me to the Court in Madrid where, for the sake of peace, and to prevent further misfortune, they got me a position as seamstress to a noble lady. And I want your grace to know that in stitching hems and doing back stitches, no one has surpassed me in all my life. My parents left me working there and went back home, and a few years later they must have gone to heaven because they were very good and were Catholic Christians. I was orphaned and dependent on the wretched salary and the dismal favors that they give to such servants in the palace. And at that time, through no fault of my own, a squire of the house, a man already on in years, bearded and good-looking, and above all an hidalgo like the king, because he was from the region around Santander, fell in love with me. Our affair was not so secret that my lady didn’t find out about it, and to avoid gossip, she had us get married with the blessing of the Holy Mother Roman Catholic Church, from which marriage was born a daughter that killed my luck, if I ever had any—not because I died in childbirth, which was safe and on time, but rather because my husband died soon afterwards of a certain fright he had, which if I had time to tell of it, it would amaze you.”

And then she began to cry tenderly, and said: “Pardon me, señor don Quixote. I can’t help it, because every time I think of my ill-fated husband my eyes fill with tears. So help me God, with what dignity he would take my lady on the haunches of a powerful jet-black mule! In those days they didn’t use coaches or litters as they do now, and ladies would ride on the haunches behind their squires. And there’s one incident I have to tell you because it shows the upbringing and diligence of my good husband.

“As one enters Santiago Street in Madrid, which is a bit narrow, a magistrate from court came out with two constables in front of him, and as soon as my good squire saw him, he turned the reins of the mule giving every indication he was going to turn and follow him. My lady, who was on the haunches, with a muted voice said: ‘What are you doing, you fool, don’t you see that I’m here?’ The magistrate, out of pure courtesy, pulled the reins back on his horse, and said to him: ‘Don’t change your route, señor. I should be accompanying my lady doña Casilda,’ for that was the name of my mistress. But my husband still insisted on accompanying the magistrate, cap in hand. When my lady saw this, filled with rage, she took a hatpin, or rather, I think it was an awl, from her needlecase, and stuck it into his lower back, and my husband gave a huge yelp, and twisted his body so much that he knocked his mistress to the ground.

“Two of her grooms ran over to help her up, as did the magistrate and the constables. The Guadalajara Gate was in an uproar—I mean, the idle people who congregate there were in an uproar. My mistress finally stood up and my husband went to the barber-surgeon’s shop saying that his bowels had been pierced all the way through. The courtesy of my husband became so well known that boys in the street ran after him, and because of it, and because he’d been a bit short-sighted, my lady the duchess fired him, and I’m convinced that the grief that it caused was responsible for his death.

“I was left a helpless widow with a daughter to take care of, and she grew in beauty like the foam of the sea. Finally, since I was famous as a great seamstress, my lady the duchess—who had recently married the duke my master—wanted to bring me and my daughter as well to this Kingdom of Aragón, where as days went by she grew up with all the grace in the world. She sings like a lark, does courtly dances well, and popular dances like a woman possessed, she reads and writes like a school teacher, and does math like a miser. Of her cleanliness I’ll say nothing—running water is no cleaner, and she must be now, if memory serves, sixteen years, five months, and three days old, more or less.

“So, to come to the point, the son of a rich farmer who lives in one of my master the duke’s villages not far from here, fell in love with my daughter. In short, I don’t know how, but the two of them made love, and under the promise of being her husband, he deceived my daughter and he doesn’t want to keep his word. My master the duke knows about it because I’ve complained to him, not once but many times, and I’ve asked him to make the farmer marry my daughter. He doesn’t listen, and the reason is that the father of the seducer is so rich, and lends him money, and occasionally bails him out after his mischief, and so he doesn’t want to displease him or give him any grief.

“I would like, then, señor mío, for your grace to take charge of righting this wrong either with words or with arms, since everyone says your grace was born into the world to right wrongs, rectify injuries, and help poor wretches. Consider that my daughter is an orphan, is refined, young, and has all the characteristics I said she has. I swear before God and in my conscience that of all the duennas my mistress has, none of them come up to the sole of her shoe, and the one they call Altisidora— the one they consider to be the most free-and-easy and charming—in comparison with my daughter doesn’t come within two leagues of her. I want your grace to know, señor mío, that «all that glitters isn’t gold», because this Altisidora has more vanity than beauty, and more sauciness than modesty, and addition she’s not very healthy—she has such bad breath you can’t stand to be near her for a second; and even my lady the duchess… I should hush because as they say, «walls have ears».”

“What’s the matter with my lady the duchess, on my life, señora doña Rodríguez?” asked don Quixote.

“With an entreaty like that,” responded the duenna, “I feel I must answer what was asked with the complete truth. Does your grace, señor don Quixote, see the beauty of my mistress the duchess—that complexion of her face resembles a shiny polished sword blade, those two cheeks of milk and scarlet that have the sun on one side and the moon on the other, and that gracefulness with which she walks, as if she scorns the ground, it looks like her health spills over wherever she goes. Well, I want your grace to know she can be thankful for all that first to God and then to two issues that she has in each leg through which are carried off all the bad humors that the doctors say she’s full of.”

“Holy Mary!” said don Quixote. “Is it possible that my lady the duchess has such drains? I wouldn’t have believed it if barefoot friars had told me. But since señora doña Rodríguez says it, it must be that way. But such issues in such places mustn’t discharge humors but rather liquid ambergris. Truly, I can now see that this matter of issues must be an important thing for one’s health.”

Hardly had don Quixote said these words when the doors of his room flew open with a great bang, and with the fright caused by the noise doña Rodríguez dropped her candle and the room turned into the «mouth of the wolf», as the saying goes. Suddenly the duenna felt two hands on her throat clutching so tightly that she couldn’t scream, and she also felt someone else raising her skirt and with what seemed to be a slipper began to spank her so many times it was a pity. Although don Quixote felt compassion, he didn’t stir from his bed, and he didn’t know what was going on so he stayed there still and silent, and even fearing that the next batch of spanks would be for him. And his fear was not in vain because when the silent tyrants left the mauled duenna—who didn’t dare to open her mouth in complaint—they went to don Quixote and, unwrapping his sheet from the quilt, they pinched him so much and with such strength that he was forced to defend himself with punches; and all of this happened in an admirable silence. The battle raged for almost half an hour, then the phantoms left, doña Rodríguez straightened her skirt, and went out through the door as she moaned over her misfortune, but didn’t say a word to don Quixote, who was left alone and in pain, pinched, confused, and deep in thought, where we will leave him desirous to find out who the perverse enchanter was who had placed him in that sorry state. But that will be told in time. Sancho Panza is calling us, and the structure of the history leads us to him.


Date: June 1, 2009
This page is copyrighted Cervantes Project