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Stories of Don Quixote by  James Baldwin


 

 

THE OX-CART JOURNEY

[151] THEY were still far from their home village, and Don Quixote's malady grew worse every day. He gave himself up to so many strange fancies that there was really no getting along with him. At length, when he would ride no farther in the right direction, the curate and the barber were forced to find some other plan by which to carry him home.

Luckily, one day, as they were stopping at an inn, a wagoner with his team of oxen came that way, looking for something to do. He was willing to undertake almost anything, and so the curate soon made a bargain with him.

With much labor and care, a sort of wooden cage was made which could be fastened firmly on the ox-driver's wagon. It was fitted up very comfortably with a stool and a cushion, and it was so high and roomy that a man might sit or lie in it with ease.

Don Quixote knew nothing about the plot which [152] his friends were making against his liberty. While they were busy in the barnyard, he sat in the inn, and talked of knights and knighthood to every one who would listen.


[Illustration]

Late in the evening, as he lay quietly sleeping in his chamber, a number of strangely dressed men made their way softly to his door. They had masks on their faces; they wore long, white robes; and their whole appearance was very frightful indeed. They were the curate and the barber and the other guests of the inn; but they were so disguised that [153] not even Sancho Panza could have guessed who they were.

They opened the chamber door and stole in. Don Quixote awoke with a start. He looked around him in amazement, but not in fear. When he saw the white-robed figures standing by his bedside, he sat up very quietly, and said not a word.

He felt sure that he was now in an enchanted castle, and that these figures were ghosts and hobgoblins which had been called up to frighten him. He knew that it was useless to fight with such creatures; for enchantment could be met only by enchantment. Therefore he quietly gave himself up, and made no resistance.

The hobgoblins lifted him out of bed. They dressed him in his best clothes. Then they carried him out and put him in the wooden cage which stood ready at the door. They shut him safely in, and fastened the bars securely.

The ox cart was waiting in the courtyard of the inn. The men lifted the cage upon it very gently and strapped it fast. Then the wagoner cracked his whip, and the oxen began to move slowly and solemnly towards the great gate.

[154] Don Quixote was not altogether displeased. He spoke to the people, who had come out in the dim moonlight to see him depart.

"In all my books, I never read of a knight-errant being drawn in a slow-moving ox cart," he said. "They used to be whisked along with marvelous speed on winged steeds and other quick-going beasts. But this traveling in an ox cart is not so bad, and I don't object."

Having said this, he became very quiet, and did not speak again for a long time.

It was an odd-looking company that jogged along the road across the great plain the next day. The wagoner led the way with his oxen and his knightly prisoner. On either side of him rode an officer whose acquaintance the curate had made at the inn. Close behind the cart, followed Sancho, riding his dappled donkey and leading Rozinante. Lastly, the curate and the barber, with veiled faces and riding astride of mighty mules, brought up the rear.

Don Quixote sat, most of the time, leaning against the bars of the cage. He was free to move about or to lie down as he chose; but he sat silent and motionless, and seemed more like a lifeless [155] statue than a living man. And thus they journeyed slowly over the long and seldom-traveled road.


[Illustration]

As the day wore on, the heart of Sancho Panza was filled with pain because of his master's grievous plight. He could not bear to think of him thus caged like a wild beast and hauled from place to place against his will. So, while [156] the guards were eating their noonday luncheon, he spent the hour in talking with Don Quixote.

The knight seemed more like himself, and he spoke very cheerfully with his squire.

"Good Sancho," he said, "have courage. I assure you that we shall soon escape from the power of these wicked enchanters."

"Well, master," said Sancho, "I'll tell you the plain truth about this enchantment. Who would you think now are those two fellows that ride behind with their faces covered?"

"Why, they are the enchanters, of course," answered Don Quixote.

"Enchanters never!" said Sancho. "They are only the curate of our village, and the barber. They are in a plot against you; for they fear that your brave deeds will make you more famous than they can ever be. There is no enchantment at all in this business. It's only your senses turned topsy-turvy."

"Friend Sancho," answered Don Quixote, "I tell you, it is enchantment; and the idea that those who guard us are my old friends, the curate and the barber, is a wicked delusion. The power of magic [157] is great; and if these enchanters seem to be clothed in bodies like those of my friends, it proves only their skill and their wonderful ingenuity."

At length, by the curate's permission, Sancho opened the cage and helped his poor master to step out upon the ground.

"Come, sir," he said, "I will set you free from this prison. See now whether you can get on your trusty Rozinante's back. The poor thing jogs on, as drooping and sorrowful as if he too were enchanted."

"I will do as you say, friend Sancho," answered his master. "But I give my word of honor to these gentlemen that I will make no effort to escape. I desire only to ride my steed as becomes a true knight—that is, if I find myself strong enough to do so."

He walked feebly up to Rozinante and lovingly stroked his neck and back.

"Ah, thou flower and glory of horseflesh," he said, "I trust that we shall soon be ourselves again."

But his strength had all left him. Even when he was lifted into the saddle, he was too feeble to sit [158] there. A dizziness came over him, and he remembered with longing his quiet home and his loving neighbors and friends.

"Help me once more into the enchanted car, friend Sancho," he said, "for I am not in a condition to press the back of Rozinante."

"With all my heart," said Sancho. "And let me advise you to go willingly back to our village with these gentlemen. At home we may plan some other journey that will be more profitable and perhaps more pleasant than this has been."

"Your advice is good," answered the knight. "But until this enchantment has been removed, I shall be inactive."

The wagoner threw some new-mown hay into the cage; then they lifted the knight gently and laid him upon this fragrant couch. They fastened no bars, but left the place open, so that he would not feel like a prisoner.

Then the wagoner cracked his whip, and the procession moved on as before. And thus they journeyed slowly along the seldom-traveled road across the hills and the plain.

It was about noon of the sixth day when they [159] at length reached their home village. It was Sunday, and nearly all the people were on the street.

When the ox cart was seen, trundling along with a cage upon it, it was at once surrounded by a crowd of men and boys. All wanted to know what kind of show beast it was that was being thus hauled through the village.

What was their surprise, however, when they saw no beast at all, but only their honored neighbor and friend—the man whom they knew only by the name of Mr. Quixana!

He was lying on the hay and taking but little notice of anything around him. The village seemed strange to him, and the faces of his friends were unknown and unrecognized.

While the villagers were gaping and wondering, a little boy suddenly left the crowd and ran by the shortest way to Don Quixote's dwelling. He rushed into the house and cried out to the niece and housekeeper that their uncle and master was coming home and was almost at the door.

"And oh, he is so lean and pale!" piped the boy, all out of breath. "And he's on a bundle of hay in a [160] big wagon, and the wagon is an ox cart. And you can soon see him for yourselves!"

The two women listened, and then it was piteous to hear their weeping.

"It's all on account of his reading those books," sobbed the niece.

"We ought to have made way with them long before," sighed the housekeeper.

The ox cart, with its honored passenger and faithful guards, moved slowly down the street, while the awed villagers followed silently and with much wonder. Suddenly a woman rushed from one of the cottages and ran out to meet the procession.

"Welcome, Sancho!" she cried. "How is the dear donkey?"

"The donkey has come back in better health than his master," answered the squire.

"How thankful I am for that!" said Juana. "But what have you brought home? Have you brought me a new petticoat, or the children some shoes?"

"In truth, sweet wife," said Sancho, "I have brought none of those things. But the next time [161] we ride out, I shall return right soon, and you will find me the governor of an island. "

"I hope so, with all my heart," answered the good wife; "for surely we need it. But what do you mean by that word island?  I never heard it before. I don't understand what sort of thing it is."


[Illustration]

"All in good time, Juana," said Sancho. "Honey is not made for a donkey's mouth; but you shall see what sort of thing it is. And let me tell you, there [162] is nothing so good for an honest man as to be the squire to a knight that is hunting adventures."

"Well, I'm glad you think so!" said she.

"Oh, I not only think, but I know it," said Sancho. "It's rare sport to climb mountains, to scramble over rocks, to beat through the woods, to visit great castles, and to put up at inns without a penny to pay."

By this time the ox cart, with its company of guards and villagers, had reached the door of Don Quixote's dwelling. The curate and the barber lifted the poor knight from his couch of hay, and carried him tenderly into his own chamber.

He was as helpless as a child, and neither spoke nor attempted to move. The housekeeper and the niece undressed him and put him in his ancient bed. He lay there, looking at them curiously and wondering who they were. Their faces seemed altogether strange to him. He could not imagine where he was.

The curate charged the niece to be very careful and tender of her uncle. "And by all means," he said, "be watchful lest he should try to ride out a third time in quest of adventures."

[163] One by one, the good man's neighbors and friends returned to their homes. Sancho Panza, with his donkey, sought his own dwelling. And Don Quixote once more reposed quietly beneath his own roof.


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