WHEN DON Quixote saw himself in the open, free and unencumbered from the wooings of Altisidora, it seemed to him that he was in his element once more and that his spirits were strong enough to pursue the business of chivalry again. Turning toward Sancho he said: “Freedom, Sancho, is one of the most precious gifts that heaven ever gave to man. Neither the treasures hidden in the earth nor those the sea covers can equal it. For freedom, as well as for honor, one can and should risk one’s life. And the opposite is also true—captivity is the worst evil that can befall men.
“I say this, Sancho, because you’ve witnessed the entertainment and the abundance that we had in that castle we left. Well, right in the middle of those delicious banquets and beverages made from snow, it seemed to me I’d been placed in the straits of hunger, because I couldn’t enjoy them with the same joy than if they had been my own. The sense of obligation imposed by the benefits and favors received are fetters that prevent one’s free will from flourishing. Fortunate is he whom heaven has given a piece of bread, without his having to thank anyone other than heaven itself!”
“With all that your grace has told me,” said Sancho, “it’d be good to be grateful for these two hundred gold escudos I am carrying over my heart like a plaster and tonic, for any needs that may come up. We won’t always find castles to welcome us, but sometimes we may find inns where we’ll get beaten up.”
In these and other conversations the knight and his squire went along, and after they had gone a little more than a league, they saw about a dozen men dressed as peasants eating lunch on their capes in a little green meadow. Next to them they had what looked like white sheets covering some items spread out here and there, some of which were standing up and others lying on their sides.
Don Quixote went over to those who were eating, and greeting them first of all in a courteous way, he asked them what those items were that the sheets were covering. One of them answered: “Señor, under these sheets are some sculpted statues made of wood for an altarpiece we’re making in our village. We’re carrying them covered so they won’t lose their sheen, and on our shoulders so that they won’t break.”
“If you please,” responded don Quixote, “I’d like to see them since statues that are carried with such care must be good.”
“And are they!” said another one. “If not, let their cost speak for them, for in truth none of them is worth less than fifty ducados, so you can see it’s true. Wait a moment, and you’ll see them with your own eyes.”
He stopped eating and stood up, and went over to take off the covering from the first statue, which proved to be of Saint George on horseback, with a serpent coiled at his feet looking as fierce as one usually sees it represented, and with the saint’s lance stuck in its mouth. The whole statue seemed to be made of shining gold, as they say. When don Quixote saw it, he said: “This knight was one of the best errants that the divine militia possessed. He was called Saint George, and he was, in addition, a great defender of maidens. Let’s see the next one.”
The man uncovered it, and it seemed to be Saint Martin on horseback who was sharing part of his cape with the poor man, and hardly had don Quixote seen it when he said: “This knight also was a Christian adventurer, and I think he was more liberal than brave, as you can see, Sancho, because he’s sharing half his cape with the poor man, and it doubtless was winter then, for if it weren’t, he would have given it all to him, so charitable he was.”
“It probably wasn’t that,” said Sancho, “but rather he must have been thinking of the proverb they say, which is «to give and to retain, one needs a good brain».”
Don Quixote laughed, and asked them to take off the next sheet, under which was seen a statue of the patron saint of Spain on horseback with his bloodied sword, running over Moors and trampling heads, and when he saw it he said: “This certainly is the knight of the squadrons of Christ; this one is called Saint James, Moor slayer, one of the bravest saints and knights the world, and now heaven, ever had.”
Then they took off another sheet that seemed to have covered the fall of Saint Paul from the horse, with all the details typically found in such representations. When he saw it so lifelike, it looked like Christ was talking to him and he was responding. “This man,” said don Quixote, “was the greatest enemy of the Church of Our Lord in his time, and he was also the greatest defender that the Church ever had, a knight errant in life and a steadfast saint in death. A tireless worker in the garden of the Lord, a teacher of the gentiles whose school was heaven, and the professor and master who taught him was Jesus Christ himself.”
There were no more statues, and so don Quixote asked that they be covered again, and said to those who were transporting them: “I consider having seen what I’ve seen to be a good omen, brothers, because these saints and knights professed what I profess, which is the exercise of arms. The only difference between them and me is that they were saints and battled in a heavenly way, whereas I’m a sinner and I battle in a secular way. They conquered heaven by force of arms, because heaven suffers violence, and up until now I don’t know what I’m conquering by dint of my labors. But if my Dulcinea del Toboso is able to be released from her own travails, both my luck and mind will get better, and it may be that my steps will lead me to a better road than the one I’m on.”
“«May God hear it, and sin be deaf»,” said Sancho in response. The men were amazed at the figure and words of don Quixote, without understanding half of what he meant by them. They finished their meal, packed up their statues, bade farewell to don Quixote, and continued their journey.
Sancho, once again, as if he’d never before met his master, marveled at what he knew, seeming to him that there wasn’t a story in the world, nor an event he didn’t have written on his fingernail or nailed into his memory, and he said to him: “In truth, señor master, if what has happened to us can be called an adventure, it has been among the calmest and sweetest ones in the course of our pilgrimage. We have come out with no whacks or suffering of any kind, nor have we taken up our swords, nor have our bodies been tossed to the ground, nor were we left hungry. Blessed be God for having allowed me to witness such a thing with my own eyes!”
“You’re right, Sancho,” said don Quixote, “but you must consider that all times are not one, nor do they all run the same course, and what the public commonly calls good omens, since they aren’t based on natural reason at all, should be considered as fortunate events by the wise. One of these soothsayers leaves his house in the morning, chancing to meet a friar of the blessed order of Saint Francis, and as if he has come up against a griffin, he turns right round and goes back home. Then again a Mendoza spills some salt on the table, and melancholy spills onto his heart, as if nature were obliged to give signs about up-coming misfortunes by means of things of so little importance as the ones I mentioned. The wise person and the Christian shouldn’t go trying to figure out what heaven wants to do. Scipio arrives on African soil, and stumbles and falls to the ground. His soldiers think it’s a bad omen, but he takes the earth in his hands and says: ‘You cannot get away from me, Africa, because I have you clutched in my arms.’ So, Sancho, having found those statues is for me a very fortunate incident.”
“I can believe it,” responded Sancho, “and I’d like your grace to explain to me for what reason Spaniards, when they’re on the point of attacking in battle, invoke that Saint James Moor-slayer by crying «Saint James and close Spain!» Is Spain by chance open, and how can he close it, or what kind of ceremony is it?”
“You’re very simple, Sancho,” responded don Quixote, “and look! God has given to Spain this great knight with the red cross as its patron saint and protector, especially in the rigorous battles the Spaniards have had with the Moors, so they invoke him and call him to be their protector in all battles they engage in, and many times he has been visible during these battles, knocking down, trampling, destroying, and killing the Muhammadan squadrons, and one could relate many examples of this truth from true Spanish histories.”
Sancho changed the subject saying: “I’m amazed, señor about the brazenness of Altisidora, that maiden of the duchess. She must have been cruelly wounded and pierced by Cupid, whom they say is a little blind boy who is a bit bleary-eyed, or better said, completely blind, and if he takes aim on a heart, no matter how small it is, he hits it straight on and splits it in two with his arrows. I’ve heard also that timid and modest girls make the arrows of Cupid blunt. But in the case of Altisidora they seem to be sharper rather than duller.”
“Consider, Sancho,” said don Quixote, “that Cupid knows no respect nor observes any restraints of reason in his doings, and he’s quite like Death in that he goes to castles of kings as well as the humble huts of shepherds, and when he takes entire possession of a soul, the first thing he does is to remove all timidity and shame. So that’s why Altisidora declared her wishes so shamelessly, and they engendered more confusion than compassion in my heart.”
“What shameful cruelty!” said Sancho. “What unheard-of ingratitude! On my part, I know that I’d give in and submit to hear the least mention of love. Son of a bitch! What a heart of marble, what guts of bronze, what a soul of mortar! But I can’t see what is it the maiden saw in you to yield and submit in that way. What grace was it, what dash, what wit, what handsome face—which of these things by itself or all together caused her to fall in love with you? In truth, in truth, many times I stop to look at your grace from the tips of your feet to the last hair on your head, I see more things that cause fright than inspire love. And I’ve also heard that the first and principal thing that arouses love is beauty, and since your grace has none at all, I don’t see what the poor thing fell in love with.”
“Listen, Sancho,” responded don Quixote, “there are two types of beauty—one is of the soul and the other is of the body; the beauty of the soul flourishes and is seen through one’s intellect, in one’s chastity, good behavior, liberality, and good upbringing, and all of these traits can be found in an ugly man; and when one goes to examine this beauty—and not the beauty of the body—love generally is born with great impetus and with superiority. I, Sancho, realize that I’m not handsome, but also I know that I’m not deformed, and it’s enough for a man not to be a monster to be well-loved, as long as he has the qualities of the soul that I’ve mentioned.”
With these words and conversations they began entering into a forest that was off the road, and suddenly, without realizing it, don Quixote found himself entangled in a green net stretched between some trees.
Since he couldn’t figure out what it could be, he said to Sancho: “It seems to me, Sancho, these nets must be announcing one of the rarest adventures that can be imagined. May they kill me if the enchanters who pursue me don’t want to tangle me up in them, and slow my journey, as if to avenge the harshness I showed Altisidora. Well, I guarantee them that if these nets, instead of being made of green cord, were made of hardest diamonds, or even were stronger than the material that the jealous god of blacksmiths used to ensnare Venus and Mars, I would break through them as if they were made of rushes or cotton thread.”
And as he tried to go forward and break through them all, suddenly from among some trees, two very beautiful shepherdesses came out—at least they were dressed up as shepherdesses—but their jackets and skirts were made of fine brocade, and their skirts were made of very elegant golden silk. Their hair was hung loose about their shoulders, and in their blondness could compete with the rays of the sun itself, and was crowned with interwoven garlands of green laurel and red amaranth. Their age appeared to be no less than fifteen nor more than eighteen. This was such a sight that it amazed Sancho, confused don Quixote, and caused the sun to stop in its orbit just to see them, and all of them stood in marvelous silence.
Finally, the first one to speak was one of the country girls who said: “Stop, señor knight, and don’t break our nets—they’re not there to endanger you, but rather are stretched out for our entertainment. And because I know you’re going to ask why we’ve put them there and who we are, I’ll tell you in a few words. In a village about two leagues from here, where there are many rich and important people and many hidalgos, some of our friends and relatives decided—with their children, wives and daughters, neighbors, friends and relatives—to come here and enjoy this site, which is one of the nicest spots in this whole area. We have made a new pastoral Arcadia—the girls dressing up as shepherdesses and the boys as shepherds. We have memorized two eclogues, one by the famous poet Garcilaso, and the other by the very excellent Camões, in his own Portuguese language, but we haven’t recited them yet. We’ve set up some field tents, as they’re called, under these branches, on the banks of a brimming stream that nourishes these meadows. We stretched these nets last night to deceive the simple birds who, frightened by our noise, will get caught in them. If you would like to be our guest, señor, you will be received and treated kindly, liberally, and courteously, because for the time being, no cares or melancholy will enter this place.”
She stopped and said no more. To which don Quixote responded: “Certainly, beautiful señora, Antæon couldn’t have been more amazed when he saw Diana bathe herself than I am astonished to see your beauty. I praise the reason for your entertainment, and am grateful for your offer, and if I can serve you, you can be assured that I’ll obey whatever you might command, because my profession is none other than to show myself grateful and to be kind to all persons, especially those of rank, which you show yourselves to be, and if these nets—instead of covering the small area that they do—covered the entire earth, I would seek new worlds to cross in order to avoid breaking them. And so that you can give some credit to my exaggeration, I want you to know that the one making this promise is none other than don Quixote de La Mancha, if that name has reached your ears.”
“Ay! friend of my soul,” said the other country girl to the first one, “what a great stroke of luck has befallen us! You see this man before us? Well, I want you to know that he’s the most valiant, the most enamored, and the most courteous man in the world, if a history circulating in printed form dealing with his deeds doesn’t lie and deceive us. And I’ll bet that this good man who accompanies him is Sancho Panza, his squire, whose repartees none can rival.”
“That’s the truth,” said Sancho, “because I’m that funny fellow and that squire that your grace has mentioned, and this man is my master, don Quixote de La Mancha himself, who is told about in histories.”
“Ay!”said the other one, “let’s beg him, my friend, to stay. Our parents, brothers, and sisters will be extremely pleased he’s here. I’ve also heard about his bravery and elegance, just as you’ve said, and especially that they say that he’s the most constant and loyal lover known, and his lady is a certain Dulcinea del Toboso, to whom all of Spain concedes the palm of beauty.”
Just then a brother of one of the two shepherdesses came over to the four of them, also dressed as a shepherd, with the richness and elegance that corresponded to the way the country girls were dressed. The girls told him the person with them was the brave don Quixote de La Mancha, and the other was the squire about whom he already knew for having read their history. The gallant shepherd offered his services and asked him to join them in their tents. Don Quixote felt he had to accept, so he went with them.
At this point the beating began in order to frighten the birds, and the nets filled with different ones flying into the danger they thought they were fleeing from, deceived by the color of the nets. More than thirty people gathered at that site, elegantly dressed as shepherds and shepherdesses, and in an instant they all learned who don Quixote and his squire were, which gave them no little pleasure because they had already known about him owing to his history. They went to the tents and found the tables set, well-stocked, and clean. They honored don Quixote by placing him at the head of the table.
Everyone looked at him and were amazed at what they saw. Finally, once the tablecloths were removed, with great calm don Quixote raised his voice and said: “Among the greatest sins that men commit, although some say it’s pride, I say that it’s ingratitude, keeping in line with the proverb: «hell is filled with ungrateful people». Insofar as it has been possible for me, I’ve fled from this sin from the moment I had use of my faculties. And if I cannot repay the kindness that you’re doing for me, I can substitute my desire to do so. And if this isn’t enough, I’ll make these desires known, because he who tells about and makes known the kindnesses he receives, would repay them in kind if he could, since those who receive are generally the inferiors of those who give. Thus God is above everyone because he’s the giver of all things, and the gifts of men are infinitely far from equaling those of God. Yet this poverty and want, in a certain way is made up for by gratitude.
“I, then, being grateful for the favor that has been thus done for me, and not being able to repay it in kind, constrained by the narrow limits of my ability, I offer what I can and what I have available to me. So, with your permission, I’ll proclaim for two whole days, in the middle of the royal highway that leads to Zaragoza, that these two country girls are the most beautiful and most courteous maidens in the world—excepting the peerless Dulcinea del Toboso, the only mistress of my thoughts.”
When Sancho heard this—he’d been listening with great attention—he raised his voice to say: “Is it possible that there are in the world people who dare to say and swear that my master is crazy? Tell me your graces, señores shepherds, is there a village priest, no matter how wise and studious he may be, who can say what my master has just said? Nor is there a knight errant, no matter how famous he is for his valor who can offer what my master has offered?”
Don Quixote turned toward Sancho, his face burning with anger, and said: “Is it possible, Sancho, that there is in the whole world anyone who wouldn’t say that you’re not an ignoramus lined with the same stuff and trimmed with I don’t know what kind of mischievousness and roguery? Who allows you to meddle in my affairs and proclaim if I’m wise or a blockhead? Hush, and don’t reply, but rather saddle Rocinante, if he’s unsaddled. Let’s go to make good my offer. With right on my side, you can consider vanquished anyone who might try to contradict me.”
And with a great fury and show of anger he got up from his chair leaving all those present dumbfounded, and making them wonder if they should take him to be crazy or sane. They tried to persuade him not to take on such a venture because they conceded that his gratitude was above reproach, and that new evidence wasn’t necessary to prove his valorous spirit, since those referred to in the history of his deeds were sufficient; but even so, don Quixote went ahead with his plan, mounted Rocinante, grasped his shield, took his lance, and placed himself in the middle of the royal highway not far from the green meadow. Sancho followed him on his donkey, along with all the people from the pastoral flock, eager to see where his haughty and unheard-of proposition would lead.
Once don Quixote placed himself in the middle of the highway, as I’ve told you, he pierced the air with words like these: “Oh, travelers and passers by, knights, squires, men on foot and on horseback who are traveling or will travel along this road for the next two days, I want you to know that don Quixote de La Mancha, a knight errant, is here to maintain that the nymphs that inhabit these meadows and forests surpass all of the beauty and courtesy in the world, setting aside the mistress of my soul, Dulcinea del Toboso. Anyone who believes differently, come forth. I’m waiting for you!”
He repeated these words twice, and twice they weren’t heard by any adventurer. But luck, which was guiding his affairs better than ever, ordered that in a little while a group of men on horseback could be seen on the highway, many of them with lances in their hands, traveling crowded together and moving very fast. As soon as those who were with don Quixote saw them, they turned around and got far from the highway, because they recognized that if they waited there, something bad might happen to them. Only don Quixote, with intrepid heart, held his ground, and Sancho Panza shielded himself behind Rocinante’s haunches.
The troop of lancers came, and one of them who led the group, began to shout to don Quixote: “Get off the road, you devil, because these bulls will tear you to pieces!” “You rabble,” responded don Quixote, “for me bulls represent nothing, even though they’re fiercer than those raised on the banks of the Jarama! Confess, you brigands, on faith alone, that what I’ve declared here is the truth, or else you’re in battle with me.”
The cowherds couldn’t respond, nor could don Quixote get out of the way, even if he wanted. So the troop of fighting bulls along with the leading oxen, together with the multitude of cowherds and other people taking them to where they would fight the next day, trampled over don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Rocinante, and the grey, knocking them all to the ground, scattering them all over the place. Sancho was beaten up, don Quixote was frightened, Rocinante was pounded, and the grey wasn’t in very good shape. But everyone was finally able to get up, and don Quixote began staggering toward the herd, tripping and falling all the while, and shouting: “Stop and wait, you cursed rabble. Just one knight awaits you, and he isn’t of the kind that believes or says that «if the enemy flees, build a silver bridge for him»!”
But the hurrying crowd didn’t stop on this account, nor did they pay more attention to his threats than to the snows of yesteryear. Don Quixote was too drained to continue; and more angry than avenged, he sat in the middle of the road, waiting for Sancho, Rocinante, and the grey to go over to him. They finally arrived, and master and man mounted again, and without bidding farewell to the pretend or imitation Arcadia, and with more embarrassment than pleasure, went along their way.