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Stories of Don Quixote by  James Baldwin


 

 

THE LOST HELMET

[93] DOUBTLESS you have already guessed how the great combat between Don Quixote and the Biscayan ended.

As the knight rushed blindly forward, his enemy's sword descended for the second time. Had it not turned in his hand the story of Don Quixote would be ended here. Luckily, however, it did no further damage than to destroy the knight's helmet and shave off half of his left ear.

Before Don Quixote could return the blow the Biscayan's mule became unmanageable. It leaped suddenly forward and ran with great speed into the open plain. It ran straight for the lady's coach; but in vaulting over a brook it twisted its body so suddenly as to hurl its master to the ground.

The poor Biscayan was stunned by the fall. He lay helpless and senseless in the mud and mire.

Don Quixote was not far behind. He checked his steed when in full gallop, and slipped nimbly [94] from the saddle. He ran to his fallen foe and set the point of his sword against his breast.


[Illustration]

"Now yield thee as a recreant, or thy head shall pay the forfeit!" he cried.

The Biscayan scarcely heard him, but lay speechless at his feet. There is no telling what might have happened had not the lady leaped from the coach and ran to the rescue. With tears she [95] besought Don Quixote to spare the life of her faithful squire.

"Truly, most beautiful lady," said the victorious knight, "I will grant your request. I will spare his life on one condition."

"What is the condition?" asked the lady.

"He must give me his word of honor," answered Don Quixote, "that he will go straightway to Toboso. At Toboso he must present himself, in my name, to the peerless lady Dulcinea. She will dispose of him as she thinks best."

"I promise it for him," said the lady. "He will do all that you require of him."

"Then he may live," said Don Quixote.

He bowed gallantly to the lady. He remounted his steed. He turned himself about with great dignity, and resumed his journey as though nothing had happened.

Sancho Panza was not long in overtaking his master. He rode up to him and seized his hand.

"If it please you, my good Don Quixote," he said, "don't forget to make me governor of the island you have won in this great fight."

"Brother Sancho," answered Don Quixote, "these [96] are not adventures of islands. These are only little skirmishes along the road. We can expect from them nothing more than broken heads and bleeding ears. But have patience, have patience! Perhaps in the next adventure I shall conquer a kingdom."

"How nice that would be!" said Sancho. "But does not your ear give you pain?"

"It is only a trifle," answered Don Quixote. "No true knight ever complains of trifles."

"But he permits his wounds to be dressed. Come! I have some lint and a little white salve in my wallet."

They paused beneath a spreading tree, and while Sancho was binding up the bleeding ear, his master kept on talking.

"Friend Sancho," he asked, "did you ever read in history of any knight who showed more skill, or greater activity than I did in this memorable combat?"

"No, never," answered Sancho. "I can safely say that I never, in any book of history, read of any knight so active as you. For you must know that I never learned to read nor even to write."

"Be very gentle, friend Sancho," said Don Quixote, [97] wincing under his rough surgery. "The boldest knight has feelings after the battle has been won."


[Illustration]

"Never did I serve a bolder knight than you, good master," answered Sancho, "and your ear is now very gently dressed."

Don Quixote put up his hand to touch the injured part, and as he did so he discovered for the first time the loss of his helmet.

[98] "Tell me, Sancho, where is my helmet?" he cried.

"I think you lost it on the field of battle," answered the squire.

Don Quixote forgot the dignity that belongs to knighthood. He could scarcely be made to believe that his helmet was not still on his head. Then he began to rave. You would have thought him stark, staring mad.

But in a few minutes he became more calm. With his right hand on his sword, he lifted his eyes towards the tree tops and made a solemn vow.

"Never, while I live," said he, "will I eat bread on a tablecloth till I have taken revenge on the knight who has done me this injury."

"Dear master," said Sancho, "think on what you are saying. If the fellow who split your helmet has gone on to Toboso, according to promise, to deliver himself to the lady Dulcinea are you not already even with him?"

"It may be as you say," answered Don Quixote. "I will, therefore, change the wording of my vow and declare that never, so long as I live, will I eat bread on a tablecloth till I have captured another helmet as good as the one that I have lost."

[99] "So far, so good," said Sancho. "But suppose we should not for a long time meet any one with a helmet on. Think of the sad case we shall be in. There are few who travel this road except wagoners and mule drivers, and they never wear helmets."

"You are mistaken," answered Don Quixote. "Before we go much farther we shall see more men at arms than you ever dreamed of."

Sancho Panza made no reply. He remounted his donkey, and the two rode onward through the pass of Lapice. As they rode they beguiled the time with much talk concerning knighthood and other matters no less lofty and inspiring.

They journeyed slowly through the hill country beyond the pass. At night they rested in a friendly inn, and the next day and for many days they jogged aimlessly along, ready for any new adventures.

And adventures they had in great plenty—perilous adventures, amusing adventures, chivalrous adventures; but of all the persons whom they met, there was not one who wore a helmet. Don Quixote was therefore obliged to ride bareheaded and to eat bread from uncovered tables.


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