Stories of Don Quixote - James Baldwin

The Library

Early the next morning the curate and the barber came again. Don Quixote was still sleeping. Indeed, he did not awake until the day was more than half gone.

[Illustration] from Stories of Don Quixote by James Baldwin

"We have come to remove the cause of his illness," said the curate; and he asked the niece to give him the key to the room where her uncle kept his books.

"Here it is," she said; "and I hope you will make clean work of it."

They unlocked the door and went in, the housekeeper following them. There, ranged neatly on shelves, they saw a hundred large volumes and a goodly number of smaller ones. The curate began to read the titles.

"Wait! wait!" cried the housekeeper. She ran out and soon came back with a sprinkling can full of water.

"Here, doctor," she said, "take this and sprinkle every nook and corner of the room. Some unseen sorcerer may be lurking among the books, and the water will drive him out."

The curate smiled and did as she desired. Then he asked the barber to hand him the books one by one, while he opened them and examined the title-pages.

"They are not all equally bad," he said. "Perhaps there are some that do not deserve to be burned."

"Oh, no!" cried the niece. "Do not spare any of them. Every one is bad. Every one has helped to undo my uncle."

"Throw them out of the window into the garden," said the housekeeper. "Then we will carry them around into the back yard and burn them where the smoke will not annoy anybody."

[Illustration] from Stories of Don Quixote by James Baldwin

They worked all the morning. Often the curate would find a volume over which he would linger for some time. He would turn the leaves lovingly and look slyly at the pictures.

"It is a great pity to burn that," he would whisper; and then he would lay the book aside for his own reading.

The most of the volumes, however, were romances of knighthood and of really no value. The quick eye of the curate easily detected such trash as these, and they were cast out and doomed to destruction.

Towards noon every one began to tire of the business. "It's no use to examine any more of these volumes," said the curate. "They're all bad. Cast them out! Cast them out!"

The housekeeper was delighted. A bonfire was kindled in the back yard, and, while the curate and the barber were resting themselves, she threw into it not only the books which had been condemned but also the pleasant volumes which the good curate had decided to spare for his own edification.

Thus the good sometimes perish with the bad.

In the afternoon Don Quixote awoke from his long sleep. He was so bruised and so lame, however, that he could not rise. He could only lie in bed and feebly mutter the names of the housekeeper and his niece.

They brought him some food, and when he had eaten it he fell asleep again.

"It is best to let him rest," whispered the curate; and they left him alone.

For two whole days the knight did not go out of his room. But he was well cared for, and though he suffered not a little, he was never heard to complain.

While he thus lay helpless in his bed, the curate and the barber paid frequent visits to the house. They spent much time in stopping up the door of the little room where the knight's library had been. This they did so cunningly that the housekeeper herself could not tell exactly where the door had been.

"If he cannot find the room, he will soon forget about the books," said the curate.

On the fourth day, Don Quixote was able to walk about a little; but he did not seem to feel sure of himself or of any object about him.

The first thing he did was to look for his library.

He went feebly up and down the long hallway, trying to find the door. He felt of the wall. He groped here and there, and stared confusedly around him. At length he gave up the search; but he said not a word to any one.

The next day he spoke to the housekeeper, "I do believe that I have lost the way to the study."

"What study?" asked the woman. "There is no study in this house."

"I feel quite sure that I once had a study with many books in it," said Don Quixote.

"Oh, that was long ago," answered the housekeeper. But during your sickness one of those wicked enchanters, about whom you have read, ran away with it. He took not only the room but all the books that were in it."

Don Quixote groaned.

"Yes, uncle," said the niece, "an enchanter did it. He came one night, riding on a dragon. He alighted and went into your study. In a little while, he flew out through the chimney. He left the house so full of smoke that we could not see our own eyes. We looked everywhere for your library, but could find neither room nor books."

"I think I know who it was," said Don Quixote. "It was that famous enchanter, Freston. He has a spite against me and is my worst enemy."

"You are right, uncle," said the niece. "It was either Freston or Friston. At any rate his name ended with t-o-n."

"He is a bad fellow," answered the knight. "No doubt he will try to do me some other mischief. He knows where I live and will come often. But I am not afraid of him. Some day I will meet him in fair fight and vanquish him."

Then he arose and with his feeble hands took down the sword which had been hanging over the mantelpiece ever since his sad return. He felt of its edge, and murmured,

"Ah, Freston, Freston! Thou shalt yet learn of the prowess of the valorous Don Quixote de la Mancha!"