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Stories of Don Quixote by  James Baldwin


 

 

THE ENCHANTED BARK

[224] FAIR and softly, and step by step, did Don Quixote and his squire wend their way through field and wood and village and farmland. Many and strange were their adventures—so many and strange, indeed, that I shall not try to relate the half of them.

At length, on a sunny day, they came to the banks of the river Ebro. As the knight sat on Rozinante's back and gazed at the flowing water and at the grass and trees which bordered the banks with living green, he felt very happy. His squire, however, was in no pleasant humor; for the last few days had been days of weary toil.

Presently Don Quixote observed a little boat which was lying in the water near by, being moored by a rope to the trunk of a small tree. It had neither oars nor sail, and for that reason it seemed all the more inviting.

[225] The knight dismounted from his steed, calling at the same time to his squire to do the same.

"Alight, Sancho," he said. "Let us tie our beasts to the branches of this willow."

Sancho obeyed, asking, "Why do we alight here, master?"

"You are to know," answered Don Quixote, "that this boat lies here for us. It invites me to embark in it and hasten to the relief of some knight, or other person of high degree, who is in distress."

"I wonder if that is so," said Sancho.

"Certainly," answered his master. "In all the books that I have read, enchanters are forever doing such things. If a knight happens to be in danger, there is sometimes only one other knight that can rescue him. So a boat is provided for that other knight, and, in the twinkling of an eye, he is whisked away to the scene of trouble, even though it be two or three thousand leagues."

"That is wonderful," said Sancho.

"Most assuredly," answered Don Quixote; "and it is for just such a purpose that this enchanted bark lies here. Therefore let us leave our steeds here in the shade and embark in it."

[226] "Well, well," said Sancho, "since you are the master, I must obey. But I tell you this is no enchanted bark. It is some fisherman's boat."

"They are usually fishermen's boats," said Don Quixote. "So, let us begin our voyage without delay."

He leaped into the little vessel. Sancho followed, and untied the rope. The boat drifted slowly out into the stream.

When Sancho saw that they were out of reach of the shore and had no means of pushing back, he began to quake with fear.

"We shall never see our noble steeds again," he cried. "Hear how the poor donkey brays and moans because we are leaving him. See how Rozinante tugs at his bridle. Oh, my poor, dear friends, good-by!"

Then he began such a moaning and howling that Don Quixote lost all patience with him.

"Coward!" he cried. "What are you afraid of? Who is after you? Who hurts you? Why, we have already floated some seven or eight hundred leagues. If I'm not mistaken, we shall soon pass [227] the equinoctial line which divides the earth into two equal parts."

"And when we come to that line, how far have we gone then?" asked Sancho.

"A mighty way," answered the knight.


[Illustration]

They were now floating down the river with some speed. Below them were two great water mills near the middle of the stream.

"Look! look, my Sancho!" cried Don Quixote. [228] "Do you see yon city or castle? That is where some knight lies in prison, or some princess is detained against her will."

"What do you mean?" asked Sancho. "Don't you see that those are no castles? They are only water mills for grinding corn."

"Peace, Sancho! I know they look like water mills, but that is a trick of the enchanters. Why, those vile fellows can change and overturn everything from its natural form. You know how they transformed my Dulcinea."

The boat was now moving quite rapidly with the current. The people in the mills saw it and came out with long poles to keep it clear of the great water wheels. They were powdered with flour dust, as millers commonly are, and therefore looked quite uncanny.

"Hello, there!" they cried. "Are you mad, in that boat? Push off, or you'll be cut to pieces by the mill wheels."

"Didn't I tell you, Sancho, that this is the place where I must show my strength?" said Don Quixote. "See how those hobgoblins come out against us! But I'll show them what sort of person I am."

[229] Then he stood up in the boat and began to call the millers all sorts of bad names.

"You paltry cowards!" he cried. "Release at once the captive whom you are detaining within your castle. For I am Don Quixote de la Mancha, the Knight of the Lions, whom heaven has sent to set your prisoner free."

He drew his sword and began to thrust the air with it, as though fighting with an invisible enemy. But the millers gave little heed to his actions, and stood ready with their poles to stop the boat.

Sancho threw himself on his knees in the bottom of the boat and began to pray for deliverance. And, indeed, it seemed as though their time had come, for they were drifting straight into the wheel. Quickly the millers bestirred themselves, and thrusting out their poles, they overturned the boat.

Don Quixote and Sancho were, of course, spilled out into the stream. It was lucky that both could swim. The weight of the knight's armor dragged him twice to the bottom and both he and his squire would have been drowned had not two of the millers jumped in and pulled them out by main force.

[230] Hardly had our exhausted heroes recovered their senses when the fisherman who owned the boat came running down to the shore. When he saw that the little craft had been broken to pieces in the mill wheel, he fell upon Sancho and began to beat him unmercifully.


[Illustration]

"You shall pay me for that boat," he cried.

"I am ready to pay for it," said Don Quixote, "provided these people will fairly and immediately [231] surrender the prisoners whom they have unjustly detained in their castle."

"What castle do you mean? and what prisoners?" asked the millers. "Explain yourself, sir. We don't know what you are talking about."

"I might as well talk to a stump as try to persuade you to do a good act," answered Don Quixote. "Now, I see that two rival enchanters have clashed in this adventure. One sent me a boat, the other overwhelmed it in the river. It is very plain that I can do nothing where there is such plotting and counter-plotting."

Then he turned his face toward the mill and raised his eyes to the window above the wheel.

"My friends!" he cried at the top of his voice; "my friends, whoever you are who lie immured in that prison, hear me! Pardon my ill luck, for I cannot set you free. You must needs wait for some other knight to perform that adventure."

Having said this, he ordered Sancho to pay the fisherman fifty reals for the boat.

Sancho obeyed sullenly, for he was very unwilling to part with the money.

[232] "Two voyages like that will sink all our stock," he muttered.

The fisherman and the millers stood with their mouths open, wondering what sort of men these were who had come so strangely into their midst. Then, concluding that they were madmen, they left them, the millers going to their mill, and the fisherman to his hut.

As for Don Quixote and Sancho, they trudged sorrowfully back to their beasts; and thus ended the adventure of the enchanted bark.


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