Stories of Don Quixote - James Baldwin

The Strolling Players

A few days afterward as Don Quixote was riding onward and still grieving because of his ill luck, he suddenly met a large cart full of strange people.

The driver, who was walking by his horses, was dressed very oddly. His coat and trousers were of scarlet, he had horns on his head, and he wore a long pointed tail.

"He looks like some wicked hobgoblin," whispered Sancho to his master.

Seated in the cart there was a hideous figure of Death. On one side of this figure, an angel was standing with its great white wings folded. On the other side sat an emperor with a golden crown on his head.

Behind these there was a Cupid with bow and arrows, as Cupids always are. And near him was a knight in white armor who wore a soft hat instead of a helmet.

Following the cart on foot, there came a clown with cap and bells; and with him were three or four other persons dressed in strange and brightly colored clothing.

Neither knight nor squire had ever seen so strange a company of travelers, and Don Quixote paused in surprise at meeting them in that lonely place. As for Sancho, he was frightened beyond measure; for he thought that these were the enchanters, of whom his master was always talking, and no mistake.

Soon, however, Don Quixote's face grew brighter, for a brave thought had come to him. He spurred Rozinante forward, saying to Sancho, "Perhaps this will be the rarest of all our adventures."

He planted himself in the middle of the road before the approaching company. Then he shouted, "You carter, coachman, or whatever you be, halt! Halt there, and answer my questions. Who are you? Where have you come from? Whither are you going? What is your business?"

The driver brought the cart to a standstill, and looked up with surprise at the strangely clad horseman who had thus challenged him.

"Sir," he said, "we are a party of players. We have just come from the town on the other side of the mountain, where we have been playing a tragedy called the Dance of Death. This afternoon we are to play it again in the next town. We are traveling in our acting clothes, so as to save the trouble of dressing and undressing ourselves."

"You speak like an honest man," said Don Quixote, "although you look like something quite different."

"Well, I play the part of the devil," answered the driver, "and you know that is the best part of all. The young man in the wagon takes the part of Death, and the person by his side is an angel. Then there is the emperor, and there is the soldier, and behind the wagon you can see all the rest of the company."

"I wish you well, good people," said Don Quixote, moving aside. "Drive on now, and act your play. If I can be of any help to you, I shall be much pleased; for even in my childhood, I loved the player's art."

At this moment the clown came frisking to the front of the wagon to see what was going on. A number of tinkling bells were fastened to his coat; and he had a long stick with three bladders on it, which he flourished back and forth in the air.

[Illustration] from Stories of Don Quixote by James Baldwin

His first act was to bounce the bladders right under poor Rozinante's nose. This so startled the old horse that he sprang forward, and quickly had the better of his rider. He took the bit in his teeth, and ran, with all the speed of a plow horse, across the open field.

Sancho was in great fear lest Don Quixote should be thrown and hurt. He therefore leaped from his donkey and gave chase, hoping to overtake the fleeing steed, or at the worst, to ease his master's fall. But before he had gone a hundred yards, Rozinante stumbled, and horse and rider fell rolling in the dust.

Now the clown, when he saw Sancho dismount, ran hastily to the dappled donkey and leaped upon its back. He rattled the bladders over the poor creature's ears, and so frightened it that it went flying down the road towards the town where the play was to be.

Sancho, seeing this, was uncertain what to do. Should he help his master, or should he run after Dapple and the clown? He turned this way, he turned that; he leaped over the fence, he leaped back; and at last he hurried to the knight and helped him to rise.

"Oh, sir!" he cried, "the evil one has run away with my dear Dapple."

"What evil one?" asked Don Quixote.

"Why, the one with the bladders," answered Sancho.

"Well, don't grieve about that," said Don Quixote, " I'll force him to give the animal up. Follow me, Sancho."

"Oh, master, I'd rather not," said Sancho. "Anyhow, we needn't be in a hurry; for I see that he has now left the donkey and gone his way."

[Illustration] from Stories of Don Quixote by James Baldwin

What he said was true, for the donkey had fallen in the road and thrown its rider. The clown picked himself up, unhurt, and walked on towards the town. The donkey also arose, and after looking around, came slowly back toward its master.

"All this is lucky for you," said Don Quixote, "but it won't hinder me from teaching those people a lesson."

Then, in spite of all that Sancho could do or say, he galloped after the cart, crying, "Hold, hold! Stop there, my pretty sparks. I'll teach you to be a little more civil to strangers when you meet them on the road."

The players stopped. They leaped out of the wagon, and ranged themselves by the side of the road. Each had a stone in his hand ready, in case of need, to let fly at the knight and his squire.

Don Quixote checked his flying steed. He paused for a moment to think of the best way to attack this fearless company. He raised his lance and was just going to charge upon his foes, when Sancho overtook him.

"For goodness' sake, sir," he cried, "are you mad? Leave those fellows alone. They are only players, and there's not a single knight among them."

"There, there!" answered Don Quixote. "You have touched me upon the only point that can move me. For indeed it would never do for me to engage in combat with any but true knights. You are the man, Sancho, to fight with players. It is your business. So, get at them! I will stay here and help you with good advice."

"No, I thank you, sir," said Sancho. "I forgive those people. I like nothing so well as peace and quiet. And, in fact, the donkey has not been hurt at all. So why should we make a fuss about it?"

"Oh, well," answered his master, "if that's the way you feel about it, friend Sancho, we had better leave them alone. Come! Mount your donkey, and let us ride onward in search of more worthy adventures."

So saying he wheeled his steed about, and resumed his journey. And Sancho, well pleased and very meek, mounted Dapple and followed him.