Stories of Don Quixote - James Baldwin

Getting Ready for Adventures

Many years ago there lived in Spain a very old-fashioned gentleman whom you would have been glad to know. This gentleman had so many odd ways and did so many strange things that he not only amused his neighbors and distressed his friends, but made himself famous throughout the world.

What his real name was, no one outside of his village seemed to know. Some said it was this, some said it was that; but his neighbors called him "the good Mr. Quixana," and no doubt this was correct.

He was gentle and kind, and very brave; and all who knew him loved him. He had neither wife nor child. He lived with his niece in his own farmhouse close by a quiet little village in the province of La Mancha.

His niece was not yet twenty years of age. So the house was kept and managed by an old servant woman who was more wrinkled than wise and more talkative than handsome. A poor man who lived in a cottage near by was employed to do the work on the farm; and he did so well that the master had much leisure time and was troubled but little with the cares of business.

Mr. Quixana was rather odd in his appearance and dress, as all old-fashioned gentlemen are apt to be.

He was more than fifty years of age, and quite tall and slender. His face was thin, his nose was long, his hair was turning gray.

He dressed very plainly. On week days he wore a coarse blouse and blue trousers of homespun stuff. On Sundays, however, he put on a plush coat and short velvet breeches and soft slippers with silver buckles.

In the hallway of his old-fashioned house a short, rusty sword was always hanging; and leaning against the wall were a rusty lance and a big rawhide shield. These weapons had belonged to his great-grandfather, long ago, when men knew but little about guns and gunpowder.

On the kitchen doorstep an old greyhound was always lying. This dog was very lean and slender, and his hunting days had long been past. But all old-fashioned gentlemen kept greyhounds in those days.

[Illustration] from Stories of Don Quixote by James Baldwin

In the barn there was a horse as old and as lean as the greyhound. But of this horse I will tell you much more in the course of my story.

Like many other gentlemen, Mr. Quixana did not work much. He spent almost all his time in reading, reading, reading.

He was seldom seen without a book in his hand. When the weather was fine he would sit in his little library, or under the apple trees in his garden, and read all day.

He often forgot to come to his meals. He was so wrapped up in his books that he forgot his horse, his dog, and even his niece. He forgot his friends; he forgot himself. Sometimes he sat up and read all night.

Now, what kind of books do you suppose he read?

He read no histories nor books of travel. He cared nothing for poetry or philosophy. His whole mind was given to stories—stories of knights and their daring deeds.

He read so many of these stories that he could not think of anything else. His head was full of knights and knightly deeds, of magic and witchcraft, of tournaments and battlefields.

If he had read less, he would have been wiser; for much reading does not always improve the mind.

At length this old-fashioned gentleman said to himself, "Why should I always be a plain farmer and sit here at home? Why may I not become a famous knight?"

The more he thought about this matter the more he wished to be a hero like those of whom he had read in his books.

"Yes, I will be a knight," he said to himself. "My mind is fully made up. I will arm myself in a coat of mail, I will mount my noble steed, I will ride out into the world to seek adventures.

"No danger shall affright me. With my strong arm I will go forth to protect the weak and to befriend the friendless. Yes, I will be a knight, and I will fight against error wherever I find it."

So he began at once to get ready for his great undertaking.

The first thing to be done was to find some suitable armor. For what knight ever rode out into the world without being incased in steel?

In the garret of his house there was an old coat of mail. It had lain there among the dust and cobwebs for a hundred years and more. It was rusted and battered, and some of the parts were missing. It was a poor piece of work at the very best.

But he cleaned it as well as he could, and polished it with great care. He cut some pieces of pasteboard to supply the missing parts, and painted them to look like steel. When they were properly fitted, they answered very well, especially when no fighting was to be done.

With the coat of mail there was an old brass helmet. It, too, was broken, and the straps for holding it on were lost. But Mr. Quixana patched it up and found some green ribbons which served instead of straps. As he held it up and looked at it from every side, he felt very proud to think that his head would be adorned with so rare a piece of workmanship.

And now a steed must be provided; for every knight must needs have a noble horse.

The poor old creature in the barn was gaunt and thin and very bony; but he was just the stuff for a war horse, wiry and very stubborn. As the old-fashioned gentleman looked at him he fancied that no steed had ever been so beautiful or so swift.

"He will carry me most gallantly," he said, "and I shall be proud of him. But what shall I call him? A horse that is ridden by a noble knight must needs have an honorable and high-sounding name."

So he spent four days in studying what he should call his steed.

[Illustration] from Stories of Don Quixote by James Baldwin

At last he said, "I have it. His name shall be Rozinante."

"And why do you give him that strange name?" asked the niece.

"I will tell you," he answered. "The word rozin means 'common horse,' and the word ante is good Latin for 'before' or 'formerly.' Now if I call my gallant steed 'Formerly-a-Common-Horse,' the meaning is plain; for everybody will understand that he is now no longer common, but very uncommon. Do you see? So his name shall be Rozinante."

Then he patted the horse lovingly, and gently repeated, "Rozinante! Rozinante!"

He thought that if he could only find as good a name for himself, he would feel like riding out and beginning his adventures at once. For what more could he need?

"Every knight," he said, "has the right to put Don at the beginning of his name; for that is a title of honor and respect. Now, I shall call myself Don—Don—Don something; but what shall it be?"

He studied this question for eight days. Then a happy thought came into his mind.

"I will call myself Don Quixote," he cried; "and since my home is in the district of La Mancha, I shall be known throughout the world as Don Quixote de la Mancha. What name is more noble than that? What title can be more honorable?"

The name was indeed not very different from his real name. For have we not said that his neighbors called him Quixana?

The good old gentleman had now mended and polished his armor and found new names for himself and his steed. He felt himself well equipped for adventures. But suddenly the thought came to him that still another thing must be settled before he could ride out and do battle as a real and true knight.

In all the stories he had read, every hero who was worthy of knighthood had claims to some fair lady whom he invoked in time of peril, and to whom he brought the prizes which he had won. It was at her feet that the knight must kneel at the end of every quest. It was from her that he must receive the victor's crown. To him, therefore, a lady friend was as necessary as a steed or a suit of armor.

Now Don Quixote was not acquainted with many ladies, but he felt that, as a knight, he must center his thoughts upon some one who would be his guiding star as he went faring through the world.

Who should it be?

This question troubled him more than any other had done. He sat in his house for two whole weeks, and thought of nothing else.

How would his niece do?

Well, she was very young, and he was her uncle. In all the books in his library there was no account of a knight kneeling at the feet of his own niece. She was not to be thought of.

As for his housekeeper, she was too old and homely. He could never think of doing homage to one in her humble station.

At length he remembered a handsome, red-cheeked maiden who lived in or near the village of Toboso. Her name was Adonza Lorenzo, and many years ago she had smiled at him as he was passing her on the road. He had not seen her since she had grown up, but she must now be the most charming of womankind. He fancied that no lady in the world was better fitted to receive his knightly homage.

"Adonza Lorenzo it shall be!" he cried, rubbing his hands together.

But what a name! How would it sound when coupled with that of the valorous Don Quixote de la Mancha? Surely it was too common, and she must have a title more like that of a princess. What should it be?

He studied over this for many days, and at last hit upon a name which pleased him much.

"It shall be Dulcinea," he cried. "It shall be Dulcinea del Toboso. No other name is so sweet, so harmonious, so like the lady herself."

Thus, after weeks of labor and study, Don Quixote de la Mancha at length felt himself prepared to ride forth into the world to seek adventures. He waited only for a suitable opportunity to put his cherished plans into execution.