Both Rozinante and his master had fared so ill at the hands of the shepherds that they journeyed but slowly, and darkness fell without their having reached an inn, or even caught sight of one. This grieved sorely both knight and squire, for not only did all Don Quixote’s bones ache from the stoning he had undergone, but somehow or other their wallets had been also lost, and it was many hours since they had broken their fast.
In this plight they travelled, man and beast hanging their heads with fatigue, when they saw on the road, coming towards them, a great multitude of lights, bobbing up and down, as if all the stars of heaven were shifting their places. Neither Don Quixote nor Sancho felt much at their ease at this strange spectacle, and both pulled up their beasts, and waited trembling. Even Don Quixote feared he knew not what, and the hair stood up on his head, in spite of his valour, as he said to Sancho:
‘There lies before me, Sancho, a great and perilous adventure, and one in which I must bear a stout heart.’
‘It seems to be an adventure of phantoms,’ whispered Sancho fearfully, ‘which never was to my liking.’
‘Whatever phantoms they be,’ answered the knight, ‘they shall not touch a hair of your head,’ replied Don Quixote soothingly. ‘If they mocked at you in the inn, it was for reason that I could not leap the fence. But here, where the ground is open, I can lay about me as I will.’
‘And what if they bewitch you, as they did that other time?’ asked the squire. ‘How much will the open ground profit you then’?
‘Trust to me,’ replied Don Quixote, ‘for my experience is greater than yours’; and Sancho said no more.
They stood a little on one side watching the lights approaching, and soon they saw a host of men clad in white riding along the road. The squire’s teeth chattered at the sight of them, and his terror increased when he was able to make out that the moving stars were flaming torches which men in white shirts carried in their hands, and that behind them followed a litter draped in black. After the litter came six other men dressed in black and mounted on mules. And Sancho had no doubt that he saw before him shadows from the next world.
Though Don Quixote’s heart quailed for a moment at the strangeness of the vision, he soon recalled his valour. In an instant his fancy had changed the litter into a bier, and the occupant into a knight who had been done to death by foul means, and whom he was bound in honour to avenge. So he moved forward to the middle of the road, and cried in a loud voice:
‘Proud knights, whoever you may be, stand and give me account of yourselves, and tell me who it is that lies in that bier. For either you have done an ill deed to some man, or else a wrong has been done to you.’
This reply only confirmed Don Quixote’s worst suspicions.
‘Stop, or you are a dead man,’ cried he in tones of thunder. ‘Tell me who you are and whither you are going, or else I will fight you all’; and with that he seized the mule by the bridle. The mule, not being used to such rough treatment, reared herself up on her hind legs, so that her rider slipped off her back. At this sight one of the other men ran to his aid, calling the knight all the ill names he could think of, which so inflamed the anger of Don Quixote that he laid about him with his spear on every side. Even Rozinante seemed to have gotten a new spirit as well as a new body, for he turned him about so nimbly that soon the plain was covered with flying white men, still holding the bobbing torches. The mourners who rode behind did not escape so easily, for their long skirts and cloaks hindered them from moving, and Don Quixote struck and beat them just as he would, till they took him to be a giant or enchanter rather than a man.
Sancho, as was his custom, bore no part in the fray, but stood by and said to himself: ‘Had ever any man such a master!’
When Don Quixote’s rage was somewhat abated, he paused and gazed about him. Then, seeing a burning torch lying on the ground, and a figure near it, he went up, and perceived by the light that it was the man whom he had first attacked.
‘Yield, or I will slay you!’ he shouted, and the man answered grimly:
‘I seem to have “yielded” as much as can be required of me, as my leg is broken. If you are indeed a Christian knight, I pray you of your nobility to spare my life, as I am a member of the Holy Church.’
‘Who brought you here, then?’ asked Don Quixote.
‘Who? My ill fortune,’ replied he. ‘I and the eleven priests who have fled with the torches set forth as escort to the body of the gentleman that lies in the litter, bearing it to its tomb in the city of Segovia, where he was born.’
‘And who killed him?’ said Don Quixote, who never imagined that any man could die naturally.
‘He died by reason of a most pestilent fever,’ answered the wounded man.
‘Then,’ replied Don Quixote, ‘I am delivered from the duty of avenging his death, which would otherwise have fallen to me. For in case you are ignorant, I would have you know that I am the knight Don Quixote de la Mancha, and it is my place to wander through the world, helping those that suffer wrongs and punishing those who inflict them.’
‘As to helping those who suffer wrongs,’ replied the churchman, ‘for my part I can see nothing but that it is you and no other who have inflicted the wrong upon me. For whereas I was whole before, you have given me a thrust which has broken my leg, and I shall remain injured for ever.’
‘You and your friends the priests,’ answered Don Quixote, in no wise abashed by this remark, ‘have wrought the evil yourselves by coming in such wise, and by night, that no man could think but that you were ill creatures from another world.’
‘Then, if you repent you of the wrong that you have done me,’ said the man, ‘I pray you, worshipful knight, to deliver my leg from the bondage of this ass, who has my leg fastened between the stirrup and the saddle.’
The kind heart of Don Quixote was shocked at his thoughtlessness, and he answered quickly:
‘You should have told me of your pain before, or I might have talked on till to-morrow’; and he called to Sancho Panza, who was busily robbing the mule that carried the provisions. Hearing his master’s voice, Sancho left off with an ill grace, and, placing the bag of food on his own donkey, went to see what his master wanted.
Between them both they set the mule on its feet, and the man on its saddle. Don Quixote then put the torch in his hand and bade him ride after his companions, and not to forget to ask their pardon in his name for the wrong he had unconsciously done them.
‘And,’ added the squire, ‘if your friends should ask the name of this gentleman, who now craves their forgiveness, tell them that it is the famous Don Quixote, the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance!’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57