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Stories of Don Quixote by  James Baldwin


 

 

THE DUKE AND THE DUCHESS

[233] ONE fine day, just before sunset, our travelers came suddenly into a broad, green meadow which was bordered on three sides by a wood. In this meadow they saw a company of men and women whom Don Quixote guessed to be fine people out for a hunt. Nor was he at all mistaken.

He stopped and watched them from a distance. The chief person in the company was a lady, dressed in green attire so rich that nothing could be richer. She was riding on a white horse appareled with a silver saddle and trappings of green. On her left wrist sat a hawk; and by this sign Don Quixote knew her to be the mistress of the company.

Presently, he called softly to his squire. "Friend Sancho," he said, "go quickly and tell that lady on the white palfrey that I, the Knight of the Lions, humbly salute her great beauty. But be careful [234] what you say, and don't make a show of yourself by quoting proverbs."

"Your command shall be obeyed," said Sancho; and he at once set forward as fast as his donkey would carry him. As he drew near to the fair huntress he alighted and fell on his knees before her.


[Illustration]

"Fair lady," he said, "yonder knight is called the Knight of the Lions, and he is my master. I am his squire, and my name is Sancho Panza. He has sent me to tell you that he has no mind but to serve your hawking beauty and—and—"

"Pray rise, good squire," said the lady. "I have [235] heard of this Knight of the Lions, and it is not at all fitting that his squire should remain on his knees. Rise, sir, rise."

Sancho got up. He was surprised at the lady's beauty. He was also surprised to learn that she had heard of his master. He stood before her with wide-open mouth, waiting for her further commands.

"Tell me," she said, "is not your master the ingenious gentleman, Don Quixote de la Mancha?"

"The very same, may it please your worship," answered Sancho; "and that squire of his is Sancho Panza by name, my own self."

"I am very glad to hear all this," said the lady. "And I, too," said Sancho.

"Now, go, friend Panza," said the lady, "and tell your master that I am glad to welcome him to my estates. Nothing could give me more happiness."

Sancho was overjoyed. He hastened back to his master and repeated every word that had been said to him.

Don Quixote listened quietly. Then he fixed himself in his saddle, and arranged his armor. He roused up Rozinante, and set off at a good round pace to kiss the hand of the fair huntress.

[236] By this time, the lady, who was indeed a duchess, had been joined by her husband, the duke, and both stood waiting for his coming; for they had heard of his many exploits, and they wished to become acquainted with him.

As Don Quixote rode up and was about to alight, Sancho hastened to be ready to hold his stirrup. But as he was sliding from the donkey's back his foot was caught in the pack saddle, and there he hung by the heel with head on the ground.

It was a funny sight, but everybody was looking at Don Quixote, and Sancho was left to struggle as he might.

Don Quixote, who was used to having his stirrup held, now made bold to alight without his squire's help. He came suddenly down into the stirrup with all his weight; and Rozinante's saddle girth turning, he tumbled upon the ground between the poor horse's feet.

The duke's men ran to help Don Quixote to his feet. He was not hurt much. He brushed the dust from his hands and went limping toward the spot where the duke and duchess were waiting.

The duke met him and embraced him. "I am [237] sorry," he said, "that such a mischance should happen to you here on my territories."


[Illustration]

"Valorous prince," said Don Quixote, "I count it no mischance when I may have the happiness of seeing your grace. My squire is much more apt to let his tongue loose than to tighten my saddle girth. [238] But, whether I be down or up, on horseback or on foot, I am always at your command."

Then he went on to salute the duchess and to pay many a pretty compliment to her beauty and her wisdom.

The end of the whole matter was that the duke invited him to stay for a while at his castle, which was not far away.

"I entreat you, most valorous Knight of the Lions," he said, "to favor us with your company. You shall have such entertainment as is due to a person so justly famous."

Don Quixote thereupon mounted his Rozinante again, the duke got upon his own stately steed, and the duchess riding between them, they moved toward the castle, which was situated among the hills not far away.

The duchess was delighted with Sancho. He was always so ready with an excuse or a proverb that he amused her beyond measure.

"Why not let your squire ride with us?" she presently asked.

Sancho needed no further invitation. He crowded in between the duke and the duchess, and thus [239] made a fourth rider in the notable procession that was ambling toward the duke's castle.

They were yet some little distance from the gates when the duke gave spurs to his steed and galloped on ahead. He hastened homeward to put things in readiness for his guests and to direct his people how to behave themselves toward the valorous knight, Don Quixote.

When at length the party arrived at the gate of the castle, they were met by two of the duke's servants. These servants were dressed in long vests of crimson satin, cut and shaped like nightgowns.

They went directly to Don Quixote. They took him in their arms, and lifted him from the saddle to the ground.

Then they said to him, "Go, great and mighty sir, and help our Lady Duchess down."

Don Quixote hastened to obey, but the lady objected. Many pretty compliments were passed back and forth while the fair duchess sat upon her palfrey.

"I will not alight," she said, "except in my husband's arms."

So the duke came and took her down; and Don [240] Quixote bowed his apologies and walked by her side through the broad gateway. As they entered the courtyard they were met by two beautiful girls who threw a mantle of fine scarlet over Don Quixote's shoulders. Then all the servants of the duke, both men and women, shouted, "Welcome, welcome, flower and cream of knight-errantry!"

All these things pleased Don Quixote amazingly. For this was the first time he had felt that he was really and truly a knight. He now found himself treated just like the famous heroes he had read about, and it did his heart good.

They led him up a stately staircase and into a noble hall, all hung with rich gold brocade. There his armor was taken off by six young ladies, who served him instead of pages.

"This is, indeed, like the glorious days of chivalry," he said to himself.

But what a poor piece of humanity he was when unarmed! Raw-boned and meager, tall and lank, lantern-jawed and toothless, he was indeed an odd-looking figure. The young ladies who waited on him had much ado to stifle their laughter.

With much dignity, however, he retired to his own [241] room, where he dressed himself for dinner. He put on his belt and sword, threw a scarlet cloak over his shoulders, and set a jaunty cap of green velvet upon his head. When he came back into the hall you would not have known him.

Twelve pages at once came forward to lead him to the dinner table. Some walked before, some followed behind, and all waited upon him with the greatest show of respect.


[Illustration]

The table was set for four persons only, and there Don Quixote was received by the duke and the duchess and a priest who was with [242] them. Courtly compliments were passed on all sides, and then they seated themselves, one at each of the four sides of the table.

Now the reason for all the kindness shown to Don Quixote was this: The duke and duchess had nothing to do but to pass away the time, and they had found this to be the very hardest kind of work. They had become tired of hunting, tired of playing chess, tired of watching the servants at work, tired of music, tired of everything.

"Oh, life is so dull and wearisome!" they said to each other. "Can't something be done to make it more enjoyable?"

So, when Don Quixote and his squire happened to come to them, they were overjoyed. "We shall have great sport with this rare couple," said the duke. "We shall have something to laugh at for the rest of our lives."

The duchess agreed to all his plans, and Don Quixote was therefore invited to make his home in the castle. He would give them more amusement than any fool at the king's court. And every day of his stay with them, the duke and the duchess studied how they might invent some new and [243] pleasant joke upon the knight or his squire. Everything was done kindly so as to hurt no one's feelings; and so many tricks were played that it would take more pages than there are in this book to tell about them all.

I will relate only one or two.


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