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Stories of Don Quixote by  James Baldwin


 

 

THE WOODEN-PEG HORSE

[244] ONE evening the duke and the duchess were amusing themselves by listening to Don Quixote's valorous talk.

"Do you know of any case of injured innocence?" he asked. "I will avenge it. I will go to the ends of the earth to combat error. I am not afraid of giants nor even of enchanters. I will fight them, one and all, in defense of truth."

While he was thus boasting of his valor there was a sound of fifes and drums, and twelve elderly women entered, all clad in the dress of nuns. After them came a noble lady, heavily veiled and wearing a gown with a long trail divided into three parts.

The twelve women ranged themselves in two rows, and thus made a lane for the strange lady to march through as she approached the duke and duchess. Then her squire, who followed her, announced that she was the Countess Trifaldin, [245] otherwise known as the Disconsolate Lady, and that she had come from a distant land to make known her misfortunes.

The duke received her graciously. He took her by the hand and placed her in a chair by the side of the duchess. Don Quixote and Sancho stood anxiously near, both wishing very much to see the veiled lady's face.

After the usual compliments had been passed, the lady suddenly asked, "Is there in this illustrious company a knight called Don Quixote de la Manchissima with his squirissimo Panza?"

"Panza is here," cried Sancho, before anybody else could speak; "and here is Don Quixotissimo also. So you may tell your tale, fair lady, for we are all ready to be your servitorissimos."

Then Don Quixote spoke. "I am the valorous Don Quixote de la Mancha," he said. "My profession is to succor the distressed, and I therefore dedicate my service to you. Tell us of your troubles, madam, and if they do not admit of a cure, we can at least sympathize with you."

The veiled lady, with sighs and sobs and many high-sounding words, at length related her story.

[246] She declared that she had come from the distant kingdom of Candaya, where she had once ranked among the noblest of the land. A giant wizard named Malambruno had bewitched her and placed her under a spell of enchantment. Until that spell could be removed she was doomed to wander over the earth in search of a champion who would restore her to her rightful place and honors.

"Ah, madam!" cried Don Quixote, "behold in me your champion. Point out the way, and I will go to the ends of the earth to serve you."

Then the lady told him that the kingdom of Candaya was thousands of leagues away, and that to travel thither by any ordinary means would require many years.

"But the wizard Malambruno will send you a steed," said she; "he will send you a magic steed that will carry you to Candaya quickly and with the greatest ease. For he has heard of your prowess, and he is anxious to test it by meeting you in mortal combat."

"Pray tell me, of what nature is that steed which he will send for my conveyance?" said Don Quixote.

[247] "It is the steed Clavileño," answered the lady—"the same wooden horse, in fact, which the wizard Merlin lent to his friend Peter of Provence. It is indeed a wondrous steed. It never eats nor sleeps nor needs shoeing. It has no wings, and yet it goes ambling through the air, so smoothly that you may carry a cup of water in your hand and not spill a drop of it. If you are bold enough to ride this horse, and—"

"Bold enough!" interrupted Don Quixote. "Who questions my boldness? Bring the steed to me, and you shall see that I shrink from nothing."

"The steed shall be ready for you in the morning," answered the lady.

Early the next day, therefore, the duke, with his household and guests, went into the garden to see the outcome of this adventure. They were all greatly delighted, for the whole matter had been arranged on purpose for their amusement.

Don Quixote soon arrived. He was clad in his armor, with his sword dangling from his side, and he seemed very impatient of delay. Sancho was close at his heels, but by no means pleased with the undertaking.

[248] About the middle of the forenoon a trumpet sounded and four woodsmen came into the garden. They were dressed in green, with wreaths of ivy about their heads. They carried between them a misshapen, long-legged wooden horse, which they set down upon the ground.

"Here is the famous Clavileño," cried their leader. "There is none like him upon the earth. Now let the man who is not afraid mount him, and away at once for Candaya. And let his squire, if he has one, mount behind him; for the steed flies best when fully weighted."

"But I see no bridle," said Sancho. "How is the noble beast to be guided?"

"Simply by turning this wooden peg which you see in his forehead," answered the woodsman. "It is very easy to direct him either to the right or to the left. But the knight and his squire must both be blindfolded; otherwise they become giddy in their flight through the upper air and tumble headlong to the earth."

Don Quixote did not hesitate a moment. He climbed into the saddle. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and asked one of the ladies [249] to hoodwink him with it. Then he noticed that Sancho hung back and seemed afraid.


[Illustration]

"What! you rascal!" he cried. "Are you afraid to sit where many better than you have sat? Come, suffer yourself to be blindfolded, and let me not hear a word of complaint from you."

Soon both knight and squire were astride of the [250] steed and blindfolded. They were ready to begin their perilous flight.

The duke and the duchess and all their household came around and bade them good-by. Then Don Quixote leaned forward and began to turn the pin in the horse's head. He fancied that he was rising in the air, and that he was sailing right up to the sky.

"Speed you well, brave knight!" cried all the people in the garden. "May Heaven be your guide, bold squire!"

Then they clapped their hands, and shouted: "How high you are! How like a blazing star you shoot through the sky. Hold fast, Sancho! Don't loosen your hold and fall from that giddy height."

"Sir," said Sancho, clinging close to his master "how does it happen that we can hear them so plainly although we are soaring so high above them? One would think that they were standing close beside us."

"It is all very natural," answered Don Quixote; "for in these grand aerial flights you can see and hear things plainly which are a thousand leagues [251] away. But don't hold me so hard; you will make me tumble off."

"I wish only to steady you," said Sancho.

"Well, I wonder what makes you tremble so," said Don Quixote. "As for myself, I never rode easier in my life. The horse goes as if he were not moving at all."

After a few minutes, he said, "I think that we must now be somewhere in the second region of the air, where hail and snow are produced. If we keep on at this rate we shall soon reach the third region, from which the lightnings and the thunderbolts are hurled upon the earth. I hope that we shall not go too near the sun, for in that case we shall surely be scorched."

At that moment one of the duke's men set fire to some flax at the end of a pole and swished it near their faces.

"Well! well!" cried Sancho. "We are in the region of fire already; for the half of my beard is singed off. I have a great mind to peep out under the blindfold and see what sort of country we are coming to."

"Don't do it, for—your life," said Don Quixote. [252] "The whole issue of this adventure depends upon obedience. Be brave, be patient; for we only mount high in order that we may come straight down upon the kingdom of Candaya."

"Shall we be there soon, master?" asked Sancho.

"I know not," was the answer; "but we have certainly already traversed a vast distance."

"Well, I should like it better if I had a softer saddle," said Sancho.

The duke and duchess were mightily pleased at the success of their joke. The question now was how they could put a fitting end to the well-contrived adventure.

One of the servants ran up and set fire to Clavileño's tail. The horse, being filled with fireworks, burst open with a tremendous noise. Don Quixote and his squire were, of course, thrown to the ground. They were scorched a little, but not otherwise hurt.

They scrambled to their feet and pulled the bandages from their eyes. They looked around, and were surprised to find themselves still in the duke's garden, where they had begun their flight. As they recovered from their confusion, they saw a [253] lance sticking in the ground near by, and on the lance was a scroll of white parchment bound around with two green ribbons.

Don Quixote looked at the scroll, and seeing his name upon it, picked it off to read what was written. The inscription was in golden characters, and read as follows:—

"The renowned knight, Don Quixote, has achieved this adventure by honestly trying to perform it. Malambruno is fully satisfied. The enchantment is removed from all who have suffered by it. This is ordered by

"MERLIN,
Prince of enchanters."

"What wonderful fortune is ours!" cried Don Quixote, after reading it. "Let us have courage, for the adventure is finished, and we have accomplished everything without damage to anybody."

And now the duke came forward and greeted him as the bravest knight the world had ever seen. The duchess, her face wreathed with smiles, shook hands with both knight and squire.

"How did you fare on your long and perilous journey?" she asked.

[254] "Very pleasantly, madam," answered Sancho. "I never had so wonderful a view of creation in my life. For, as we were flying through the region of fire, I shoved my handkerchief over a little and peeped down. Ah! it was a sight to gladden the eyes. I spied the earth, far, far below us, and it looked no bigger than a mustard seed."

"Indeed, it must have been very wonderful," said the duchess.

"It was nothing short of wonderful," said Sancho. "Why, I could see the men walking about on the earth, and I declare they looked no bigger than hazelnuts."

The duchess laughed. "Men the size of hazelnuts walking on an earth the size of a mustard seed!" she said. "It must have been very, very, wonderful."

"Truly it was," answered Sancho. "And at one time when I looked between my eyelashes, I saw myself so near to heaven that I could almost reach out and touch it. Then we passed the place where the seven stars are, and I saw seven frisky goats in a great pasture. What did I do but slip off of Clavileño without telling a soul? And there I [255] played and leaped with the goats for fully three quarters of an hour."

"And what became of your master and the horse while you were playing?" asked the duchess.

Sancho scratched his head and was at a loss for an answer.

"Well, madam, I— I—" he stammered. "Well, I—"

"Speak out," said the duke. "Say that the noble steed stirred not a foot, but waited patiently about till the game was over."

"'Truly, he did that very thing," said Sancho.

The duke and his servants laughed heartily, but they were not quite sure whether Sancho was in earnest or otherwise. What if, after all, he had seen through their cunning little play, and was now slyly making game of them?

Don Quixote said but little; and yet he looked and acted as though he were very proud and well satisfied with the result of his achievement.

And so ended the famous adventure with the wooden-peg horse.


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