Stories of Don Quixote - James Baldwin

In Search of Dulcinea

Towards evening on the appointed day, the start was made. Don Quixote mounted his Rosinante, and Sancho threw himself astride of his faithful Dapple. The knight carried a new lance and wore a new helmet of brass which his friend Samson had given him; and the squire carried a wallet well filled with provisions, and a purse stuffed with money to defray expenses.

The niece and the housekeeper, having become reconciled to the journey, stood at the door, waving their good-bys; and Sancho's wife, watching from her window, wept her farewells as they passed. Samson Carrasco walked with them to the edge of the village, and there bade them Godspeed on their journey.

And so, knight and squire rode forth with solemn faces and high resolves, ready to encounter whatever fate was in store for them.

"Friend Sancho," said Don Quixote, "our first duty is plain. Before undertaking any feat of arms we must repair to the city of Toboso and there perform those acts of homage which are due to the peerless Lady Dulcinea."

"It is even as you command, Sir Knight," answered Sancho.

Therefore, to Toboso they made their way.

It was late in the afternoon of the second day when they came in sight of that notable and most important place. Since Don Quixote did not know the house in which Dulcinea lived, he thought it best to tarry outside until after nightfall. They therefore spent the evening under some oaks a little way from the road, and did not enter Toboso until about midnight.

As they rode along the grass-grown street, the whole world seemed silent. There was no one stirring in the city. The people were all asleep; there was no light save that of the moon. The heart of Don Quixote was filled with forebodings.

"My dear Sancho," he whispered hoarsely, "show me the way to her palace."

"Palace!" said Sancho. "What palace do you mean? When I saw her, she was living in a small cottage."

Now, in truth, he had never seen her at all; but he wished to make believe that he had done so when his master had sent him with the letter.

They rode slowly along the street until they approached a large building, which loomed tall and dark in the dim moonlight.

"Here it is," said Don Quixote. "Here is my Dulcinea's palace, and it is well worthy of the peerless lady."

But when he rode up closer, he discovered that it was no palace at all, but only the great church of the town.

"We have made a mistake, Sancho," he said. "This is not her dwelling place, and we shall have to look farther."

They rode onward to the end of the street. Then they came back and looked through every by-path and alley, but they could not find anything that looked like a palace.

Presently the night began to wear away. A faint light appeared in the east; it grew larger and brighter; it overspread the sky. The swallows that were nesting under the eaves began to twitter. Morning was nigh at hand.

Here and there a door was heard to open. The sound of voices broke the stillness of the town. The people were beginning to stir.

As knight and squire paused in the street, uncertain what to do, a young countryman came along, driving a pair of mules and singing the song of Roland. "Good morning, honest friend," said Don Quixote. "Pray tell me, where is the palace of the peerless princess, the Lady Dulcinea del Toboso?"

"Sir," answered the young fellow, "I've just lately come to Toboso, and I don't know of any palaces. But the curate of the town lives in this next house. Ask him. He knows all about princesses and palaces."

Having said this, he switched his mules and drove on, singing louder than before. Don Quixote, sitting quietly on the back of Rozinante, gazed at the curate's house, uncertain what to do. Curates were not always favorable to chivalry, and this curate might not sympathize with a wandering knight, however valorous he might be.

It was now broad daylight. The sun was almost above the trees. There would soon be other passers-by in the street. Sancho Panza began to feel uneasy.

"I think, sir," said he, "that it will not be very handsome for us to sit here and be stared at by everybody in the town. We had better slip out to some grove not far away. Then while you lie there hidden, I will come back and search every hole and corner for the Lady Dulcinea. When I find her, I'll talk to her and tell her that you are close by, waiting for her orders. This, of course, will make her all the more ready to receive you."

"Dear Sancho," answered Don Quixote, "you, were always wise. You have said a thousand sentences in a few words, and I will do exactly as you say."

Without further loss of time, therefore, they turned their steeds about and rode out of town to a grove some two miles away. There Don Quixote concealed himself among the trees bidding Sancho Panza return and make haste to discover the whereabouts of the Lady Dulcinea.

"Cheer up, master!" Sancho replied at leaving. "I'll be back here in a trice. The hare leaps out of the bush where we least expect her. Faint heart never won fair lady."

"Sancho," said the knight, "you have a rare talent for quoting proverbs." But the squire was already riding briskly away towards the town.

He did not ride far, however. At the foot of a little hill he paused and looked back. Seeing that he was out of his master's sight, he stopped under a tree by the roadside, and began to talk with himself.

"Friend Sancho, where are you going? Are you hunting for a mule?"

"No; not for any mule."

"What, then, are you doing?"

"I am looking for a princess who is the sum of all beauty."

"Where do you think you will find her?"

"Where? Why, in the great city of Toboso. But it's like looking for a needle in a haystack."

"Why do you undertake such a thing?"

"Why? To please my mad master, of course. But if he is mad enough to mistake windmills for giants, it will not be hard to make him believe that any country girl is the Lady Dulcinea."

"Certainly, it will not."

"Well, that is just what I'll do. It will be the easiest way out of this troublesome business."

So he alighted and sat down under the tree. The shade was pleasant, and he remembered the provisions which he had in his wallet. When he had eaten a hearty breakfast, he lay down and slept until it was far past midday.

At last he awoke feeling rested and contented. "This is better than riding through Toboso, hunting for Dulcinea's palace," he said.

He had just remounted his donkey when, looking down the road, he saw three country girls coming up from the town. They were awkward and red-faced, and were riding slowly along on donkeys.

Sancho did not wait a moment, but turned his steed quickly about and made all haste back to his master.

"Well, my good Sancho, what news?" asked the knight, eagerly. "Are we to mark this day with a white stone or with a black?"

"Mark it with red ocher, sir," answered Sancho. "The Lady Dulcinea with her two maids is coming out to meet you. She is close at hand even now. So, mount Rozinante quickly, and get into the road where you can see her for yourself and greet her in a becoming manner."

"I can hardly believe such news, Sancho," said Don Quixote. "Do not add to my grief by deceiving me."

"Deceive you, sir? Why should I wish to play a trick on you? Come, ride out with me quickly, and you will see the princess coming. She and her damsels are all one sparkle of gold—all pearls, all diamonds, all rubies. There was never so much beauty seen in Spain."

"Let us hasten then, Sancho," said Don Quixote, climbing upon Rozinante with uncommon speed. "And I promise to reward you for your good news. You shall have the best spoils of our next adventure; and if that is not enough, I will give you the three colts I have at home."

"I shall be very glad to get the colts, master, and I thank you," said Sancho; "but as for spoils, they are so small that I'm not particular."

They rode hastily out of the grove and were soon on the highroad at the crest of the hill. Looking down towards the town, they could see no one but the three country lasses approaching slowly on their donkeys.

Don Quixote's face showed his deep disappointment. He paused and looked backward and forward, this way and that.

"I don't see her, Sancho," he said. "Are you sure that she has left the city?"

[Illustration] from Stories of Don Quixote by James Baldwin

"Why, where are your eyes, master?" answered the squire. "Don't you see her right here with her two lovely maidens?"

"I see nothing but three country girls on three very scrawny donkeys."

"Well! well! Is it possible that you mistake the princess for an awkward country girl? Can't you distinguish a beautiful palfrey from a miserable donkey?"

"To tell you the truth, Sancho, I see nothing but three donkeys carrying as many red-faced country girls. They are coming towards us, and I see them quite plainly. But where is the princess?"

"Oh, master, master! How blind you are! There is no country girl in sight. It is the princess whom you see, and she is drawing nearer every moment. Let us hasten and speak to her."

So saying, Sancho spurred his donkey onward, and hurried down the hill to meet the girls. He leaped to the ground in the middle of the road before them. He placed himself in front of the tallest and most ungainly of the three. He lifted his hat and fell upon his knees.

"Queen and princess of beauty, listen to my prayer," he began. "If it please your highness and haughtiness, grant to take into your liking yonder knight who is your humble captive. I am Sancho Panza, his famous squire, and he is the wandering, weather-beaten Don Quixote de la Mancha."

By this time Don Quixote had also dismounted and was kneeling in the middle of the road. It was hard for him to believe that this homely damsel was his queen, the Lady Dulcinea; for she was flat-nosed and blubber-cheeked and coarse in form and manners. Yet he tried to imagine that some enchanter had changed her into this form.

"Get out of our way!" screamed the angry girls. "We're in a hurry to get home."

But Sancho knelt unmoved in the very pathway of their mules. "Oh, universal lady," he said, "does not your heart melt in pity? See there, how the post and pillar of knight-errantry is offering his homage to you."

"Heyday!" cried one of the girls. "Listen to his gibberish!"

"Get out of the way," shouted the tall one.

"Yes, get out of the way, and let us get along!" screamed the third.

With that, they kicked their donkeys in the ribs and crowded past. The next moment they were speeding away in a cloud of dust and were soon at the top of the hill.

[Illustration] from Stories of Don Quixote by James Baldwin

Don Quixote rose from the ground and looked after them. He watched them with sorrowing eyes until a turn in the road hid them from sight. Then he turned to the squire, and said:—

"Sancho, what do you think of this business? Aren't those enchanters the most evil-minded creatures you ever saw? They were not content with turning my Dulcinea into the likeness of a coarse country girl; they went so far as to take from her the sweet perfume of flowers. For didn't you notice that strong whiff of raw onions as she passed us? It almost took my breath away."

"Oh, those enchanters!" cried Sancho. "They don't stop at any kind of wickedness. I wish I could see them all strung on a thread and hung up to dry, like a lot of herrings."

"Ah, well, well!" sighed Don Quixote. "I have said it before, and now I say it a thousand times: I am the most unlucky man in the universe."

Then he remounted Rozinante, and rode on, very sad and silent. He rode on through the town and down the long, dusty highway on the other side, not caring whither he went. And Sancho Panza followed him.