THROUGH all that afternoon Don Quixote and his squire jogged slowly along, and neither house nor other friendly shelter did they see. The sun had gone down, and twilight was darkening when they saw near the road a clump of green trees which seemed to offer them a safe resting place.
"Here, Sancho," said the knight, "let us go no farther. Since there is no castle nor even an inn in this barren country we must lodge here in this grove."
They dismounted, and while Sancho was caring for the animals Don Quixote strolled around among the trees.
On an old oak he found a withered branch some ten feet long and quite smooth and straight. With much labor he wrenched it from the tree; he carried it back to his lodging place and began with much patience to remove the twigs from it.
"This will serve me instead of the lance which I lost in my encounter with the windmill," he said. "I have read of knights who used such makeshifts and did wonderful deeds with them."
Night came on. He sat silently upon the bare ground and looked at the stars. His mind was full of the stories he had read of heroes in forests and in deserts keeping guard through the hours of darkness. And so he sat bravely awake until the morning dawned.
As for Sancho Panza, he did not spend the night in that foolish fashion. He sprawled himself upon a bed of leaves, closed his eyes, and made one nap of it. Had not his master wakened him he would have slept till high noon.
They lost no time in breakfasting. To the valorous Don Quixote the day held so many promises that he was unwilling to waste a moment. They saddled their steeds, they mounted, and were away with the rising of the sun.
After many miles of travel they came at length to a more rugged country; and in the afternoon they entered the pass of Lapice where the road runs through a narrow valley between rocky hills.
"Here, Sancho," said Don Quixote, "here is the place where we may have our fill of adventures."
"Do you think that you will find me that island somewhere near?" asked Sancho Panza.
"Indeed, I cannot say," answered his master. "But I wish to caution you on a very particular point. It is I that am to do the fighting. You may see me in great danger and beset by many foes; but you must not offer to fight for me unless you know that those foes are only common scoundrels. The laws of chivalry forbid a squire to encounter a knight."
"I see, I see," said Sancho, "and I shall do as you say. For I was never any great hand at fighting, and I don't get into quarrels with any one if I can help it."
"For a man in your humble station, that is right," said Don Quixote.
"Still, if a knight should set upon me first," said Sancho, "I am not sure but that I would give him a few hard whacks."
"That would be right and I will not forbid it," said Don Quixote. "But as for helping me against any knight or knights, I command you not to do it."
"I'll obey you. I'll obey you, master," said Sancho. "I have no desire to encounter any knight or knights."
While they were thus talking they saw two monks riding leisurely down the pass towards them. The monks were dressed in black robes and mounted on mules so high and stately as to look like travelers on the backs of camels. They wore masks over their faces to keep off the dust; and each held an umbrella above him as a shield from the sun.
A little way behind the monks there came a four-wheeled coach drawn by two small horses. Following this were four or five mounted men and two mule drivers on foot.
Inside of the coach sat a richly dressed lady who was traveling to the nearest city.
"I think we are about to have a famous adventure," said Don Quixote.
"Why so?" asked Sancho.
"Well, I am quite sure that those two persons in black are magicians who are carrying away some princesses in that coach. It is my duty to prevent so wicked an act."
"Ah!" sighed Sancho, "I'm afraid this will be a worse affair than the windmills."
The next moment Don Quixote gave spur to his steed and galloped forward in the middle of the road to meet the approaching monks.
"Halt there, you lawless magicians!" he cried. "I command you to give those high-born princesses their freedom, or else prepare for instant death."
The monks stopped their mules and lifted their masks. They wondered what sort of man this was whom they had met; for indeed he made a strange appearance.
"Sir Knight," they cried, "we are not magicians. We are religious men, going about our own affairs. We know nothing about any princesses."
"You cannot deceive me," answered Don Quixote. "I know you well enough, and none of your enchantments will prevail against me."
Then, without further parley, he couched his lance, set spurs to his steed, and dashed furiously upon the nearest monk.
The monk, taken by surprise, flung himself to the ground on the farther side of his mule. In this way he saved his life; for, had Don Quixote struck him with the rude lance from the oak tree, he would certainly have been killed.
The other monk was badly frightened. He lashed his mule's flanks and fled out of the pass and over the plain as though racing with the wind.
By this time Sancho Panza had come up. He slipped quickly from his donkey's back, and ran up to the first monk, who was still on the ground, and began to strip him of his robe.
"Why do you do that, you robber?" cried the two mule drivers, who were, in fact, the servants of the monks.
"I am not a robber," answered Sancho. "I'm only taking the spoils which my master has lawfully won in battle."
But the rude fellows cared nothing for his words. They fell upon him and beat him without mercy. They threw him into a ditch by the roadside. They stamped upon him, and left him sprawling in the mud without sense or motion.
The monk, seeing that Don Quixote had ridden onward, now climbed upon his mule as quickly as possible. With whip and spur he urged the poor beast forward and went speeding away after his friend. He neither paused nor looked behind until he was safely out of the pass.
In the meanwhile Don Quixote had halted the coach and dismounted beside it. He looked in at the door and began to address the lady.
"Fair Princess," he said, "I am the valorous knight, Don Quixote de la Mancha. I have given battle to your captors and am pleased to say that you are now delivered from their power. I ask no recompense for my valorous deed; but I beg that you go on to Toboso and there tell my Lady Dulcinea of the great service I have rendered to you."
At that moment one of the lady's squires came riding up in haste. He seized the stick which Don Quixote called his lance, and wrenched it from his hands.
"Get gone!" he cried in bad Spanish. "Leave the coach or I'll kill thee as sure as I am a Biscayan."
"Were you a gentleman, as you are not, I would chastise you as you deserve," said Don Quixote.
"What!" cried the Biscayan. "Me no gentleman? I'll show thee that I'm a gentleman—a gentleman by land, a gentleman by sea, a gentleman in spite of everything."
"Then, if you are a gentleman, I will try titles with you," said Don Quixote.
With that he remounted with surprising quickness and, sword in hand, dashed furiously upon the Biscayan.
The fellow was so taken by surprise that, had not his unruly mule reared and leaped to one side, he might have fared badly in the encounter. But, quickly recovering himself, he snatched a cushion from the coach to serve as a shield, and with his other hand drew his sword.
The lady screamed. Her coachman, cracking his whip, drove away at a rattling speed. The road was left clear for the desperate combat.
With swords raised in air, Don Quixote and the Biscayan faced about and glared fiercely at each other. The foot servants and mule drivers, who now came running forward, tried in vain to pacify them. Don Quixote would not so much as look at them.
"O Dulcinea, thou flower of beauty," he cried, "lend help to me, thy champion in this most dangerous encounter."
At the next moment, the Biscayan's sword fell with a mighty blow upon his back. Had not his armor been of such rare good metal, his body would have been cleft in halves. Luckily, however, no harm was done, save to the edge of the Biscayan's weapon.
Don Quixote steadied himself, recovering from the blow. He gripped his sword with a firmer grasp; he raised it high in the air; he gathered all his strength for the final stroke.
The servants and mule drivers who saw him were terrified by his rage. The lady in the coach, who was now looking back from a safe distance, clasped her hands and vowed to the saints to do all sorts of good deeds, if only her squire might escape from his deadly peril.
But why should I prolong this chapter to describe the result of that ever memorable conflict? Here you may see the Biscayan struggling with his unruly mule, covering himself with his cushion, and swinging his battered sword in the air. And here you may behold the valorous Don Quixote de la Mancha, with uplifted blade, urging his steed to the conflict, and—
But let us draw the curtain and end the chapter without another word.