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Stories of Don Quixote by  James Baldwin


 

 

IN THE BLACK MOUNTAINS

[127] THE darkness of night found our two travelers in the midst of the mountains and far from any friendly inn. The sky was clear, however, and above the tree tops the round, full moon was shining brightly. Both knight and squire were weary from long traveling, and sore from the beating which they had received from the ungrateful thieves.

"Here we are!" at length cried Sancho, pulling up his donkey by the side of a huge rock. "Here we are, master. This is a pleasant, sheltered place. Let us tarry here till morning."

"Truly, I am willing," said Don Quixote.

Both men were so tired that they were loth to get down from their steeds. They sat quietly in their saddles, thinking, thinking; and soon both were fast asleep.

Don Quixote sat upright, bracing himself with [128] the remnant of his oaten lance which he had rescued from the thicket. Sancho doubled himself over upon the pommel of his saddle, and snored as peacefully as though he were on a feather bed. As for Rozinante and patient [129] Dapple, they were no less weary than their masters. They stood motionless in their places, and nothing short of a goad could have caused them to stir.


[Illustration]

It chanced about midnight that the thief, Gines de Passamonte, came to this very spot, seeking the best way to escape from the forest. As he was passing by the great rock, he was astonished to see the two beasts and their riders resting quietly in its shadow. He crept up to them very gently, not wishing to disturb their slumbers.

"Ha!" he whispered to himself, "how soundly they sleep! These two foolish fellows ride safely along the public road, and are afraid of nothing. But I, with all my smartness, am obliged to skulk through the woods and tire myself to death with much walking. I wish I had one of these steeds."

He walked around Rozinante and gently felt of his ribs and stroked his long head. "He is only a frame of bones," he said, "and there's no telling how soon he may fall to pieces. I might manage to ride him, but at the end of the road I could neither sell him nor give him away."

Then he went softly up to the dappled donkey and examined him from his nose to his hoofs.

[130] "This beast could carry me, I know; and I could sell him for a dollar or two anywhere. But how shall I get him?"

He leaned against the rock and thought the matter over, while Sancho Panza made the woods resound with his snoring.

"It would be easy enough to tumble him off and take his steed by main force," said Gines, still talking to himself. "But the poor fellow did me a good turn to-day, and I don't like to disturb his slumbers."

Presently he took his jackknife from his pocket and went stealthily into a grove of small trees by the roadside. There, having found some slender saplings, he cut four strong poles as large as his wrist and as long as his body.

With these in his hands he returned to the donkey and slyly unbuckled the girths of the saddle. Sancho Panza, with his feet firmly in the stirrups and his short body doubled snugly upon the pommel, was not at all disturbed. He snored so loudly that no other sound could possibly be heard.

The cunning Gines smiled at his own ingenuity. [131] He placed one end of each of his four poles under a corner of the saddle, the other end resting firmly upon the ground. Then he carefully and very gradually moved the bottom ends closer and closer to the donkey's feet. This, of course, raised the saddle some inches above the animal's back, while Sancho still slept the sleep of the weary.

Gines tried each pole to see that it stood like a brace, strong and secure. Then he led the donkey out from under, leaving the saddle and Sancho high up in the air.

It was a funny sight, there in the still light of the moon; and Gines de Passamonte looked back and laughed. He then threw himself upon the donkey's bare back and rode joyfully away.

Sancho Panza slept and snored, and stirred not an inch. The hours of the night passed silently by, and the moon and stars journeyed slowly down the western sky. At length the day dawned, and the sunlight began to peep through the trees.

Sancho was at most times an early riser. With the coming of the morning he stopped snoring. Then he slowly opened his eyes, raised his arms, [132] and yawned. The motion of his body caused the supporting poles to twist around and give way; the saddle suddenly turned beneath him, and he fell sprawling to the ground.

The sudden noise awoke Don Quixote.

"Where is thy donkey, friend Sancho?" he asked, looking quickly around.


[Illustration]

"You may well ask where is my donkey," answered the squire, rising from the ground and rubbing his eyes. "My donkey's gone. Some thief has led him away in the night, and left me nothing [133] but four sticks and the saddle which I got in exchange from the barber."

"Thief, indeed!" said Don Quixote. "It was no thief. Those same wicked enchanters have done it. They have changed the poor beast into four sticks; and now you will have to walk until we learn how to remove the enchantment and change the sticks back to a donkey."

Sancho Panza was sorely distressed. He looked at the saddle and at the sticks, and then at the tracks which the donkey had left in the dust of the road. Tears came to his eyes, and he broke out into the saddest and most pitiful lamentation that ever was heard.

"Oh, my Dapple, my donkey! Oh, dear one, born and bred under my own roof! Thou wert the playfellow of my children, the comfort of my wife, the envy of my neighbors. Thou wert the easer of my burdens, the staff and stay of my life. And now, thou art gone, thou art gone. Oh, my Dapple, my donkey! How can I live without thee?"

Don Quixote's kind heart was touched. "Never mind, dear Sancho," he said. "Dry thy tears. I have five donkeys at home, and I will give thee an [134] order on my niece for three of them. I will write it with the first pen and ink we encounter."

This generous offer turned Sancho's grief into joy. It dried his tears; it hushed his cries; it changed his moans to smiles and thanks.

"You were always a good master," he said; "and I would rather meet with that pen and ink than with any number of knights."

Then knight and squire sat down together on the ground and munched some bits of dry bread merely to say they had breakfasted. And after Rozinante had eaten his fill of the sweet grass by the roadside, they resumed their journey through the mountains. Don Quixote rode in advance, and Sancho followed slowly with the donkey's saddle astride of his shoulders.


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