Early one morning in the hottest part of the summer Don Quixote arose, put on his armor, took his shield and lance and saddled Rocinante. Then, climbing into the saddle as nimbly as his old and rheumatic joints would allow, he rode forth in quest of adventures. After riding all day, he approached an inn that his disordered brain transformed before his eyes into a castle of goodly size, and riding up to the inn door he spoke to two peasant girls who were sitting there, calling them great ladies and saying that he would do all that they should ask of him and protect them with his weapons.
The girls could not understand his talk, and viewing his strange appearance had all that they could do to withhold their laughter, but seeing that he looked tired and worn they asked if he would like something to eat, and on his assenting they took him into the inn and spread supper before him. Don Quixote took off his armor, but he could not get off his helmet which he had tied firmly on his neck with green ribbons, and sooner than cut these he left his helmet on, so that it was necessary for one of the girls to feed him with a spoon, and to give him wine by pouring it into his mouth through a hollow cane that the innkeeper prepared for this strange purpose.
After supper Don Quixote decided that he must mount guard over his suit of armor, spending the small hours in prayer and vigilance, in order to become a knight, and putting it by the well in the courtyard of the inn, he stood beside it, leaning on his sword. This caused great inconvenience to all the guests and servants at the inn, for so fiercely did he guard it that he allowed nobody to draw water from the well and knocked down a peasant who approached with pails, threatening to slay him. Whereupon the peasant's comrades, standing at a safe distance, pelted Don Quixote with stones.
All this did not please the innkeeper, and he thought of some way to quiet the madman. At last he came up to Don Quixote and told him that he would now make him a knight—a ceremony that the poor crazy gentleman believed he must go through before he had any right to wander about the country righting the wrongs of the people. And as Don Quixote took the innkeeper for a great nobleman, he only felt pleased and flattered at the offer and prepared to accept it without delay.
Then the innkeeper took Don Quixote into the barn, a small boy brought a candle and the two girls who had fed Don Quixote came in giggling to see the ceremony. And the innkeeper pretended to read something from his day book, in which he kept accounts of hay and grain; and bidding Don Quixote to kneel struck him a resounding smack with the flat of the sword between the shoulder blades. Then one of the girls, still giggling, tied the sword about Don Quixote's middle, and said to him: "Good sir, may you be a fortunate knight and meet success in all your adventures." And in this way the ceremony of knighting the poor man was concluded.
Nearly bursting with joy Don Quixote rode away from the inn—where he had neglected to pay for his board and lodging. And on his way an actual adventure did befall him for he came upon a sturdy peasant beating a boy who was tied to a tree.
With a loud voice Don Quixote bade him desist at once and on seeing the strange armed figure with sword and lance that threatened him, the man stood gaping with amazement. He explained that he was beating his boy for laziness, but the boy complained that his master had not paid him the wages due him.
"Pay them at once," thundered Don Quixote. "Woe betide the man who does not give heed to my orders." Without further parley he rode off, whereupon the man tied the boy again to the tree and gave him so severe a beating that he left him for dead. And in this way Don Quixote righted the first wrong that he encountered.
Having no money or clean clothes he returned home to get these things, and when he sallied forth a second time he took with him a simple country fellow named Sancho Panza, who was so very stupid that he did not understand his master's madness at all but really believed a number of the wild tales that Don Quixote told him, notably one about an island of which Don Quixote planned to make him governor. And with Sancho following at his heels on a donkey Don Quixote commenced riding up and down the countryside looking for adventures.
In the course of their travels many adventures befell them, for the disordered brain of the old knight errant transformed the happenings of every day life into the scenes that he had read of in his wild romances of chivalry. One day, as he and Sancho Panza were riding along the road, talking of the island that Sancho was to govern when Don Quixote should have won it by the power of his sword, they came upon thirty or forty old-fashioned windmills that were flourishing their sail-clad wooden arms with every breeze that blew.
"By my faith!" exclaimed Don Quixote, "here are a group of giants that I mean to destroy, and with the money we gain from them we will start on our great fortunes, for I certainly shall kill them all and give you some of the gold in payment for your services."
"Where are the giants?" asked the puzzled Sancho Panza in amazement.
"There, straight ahead of us, brandishing their arms in anger," shouted Don Quixote. "Let us attack them instantly."
"But, Master," cried Sancho Panza, "those are not giants but windmills that turn their arms with the breeze. Have a care how you approach them or they will unhorse you."
"They are giants," insisted Don Quixote. "If you are afraid, go home and I will battle with them alone."
And driving home his spurs into the bony flanks of Rocinante he charged the windmills so furiously that his lance was shivered in the arms of the first of them and he and his horse after being hurled in the air were thrown stunned and bruised upon the ground.
Sancho Panza hurried to help the poor mad knight who could not move, so great had been the force with which he had fallen, and coming to himself Don Quixote sat up and seeing the windmills declared that an enchanter had put a spell on the giants and changed them into that form,—but nevertheless, he continued, the enchanter's wiles would prove to be weak against his own stout will and strong right arm and he would triumph over his enemies.
Soon after that they came upon a company consisting of two friars of the order of St. Benedict and a coach and retinue that was taking a lady to the City of Seville, and seeing them Don Quixote declared that the friars were enchanters who were carrying the lady off against her will. Setting his lance in rest he galloped against them with such force that if the one that met his charge had not thrown himself to the ground he would certainly have been killed, while the other, seeing how his companion had fared, took to his heels as fast as possible.
Sancho Panza, when he saw the friar lying on the road, ran up to him and soon would have stripped him of his clothes but some of the servants hastened up and demanded what he was doing.
"These clothes belong to me by right of conquest," said Sancho. "My master has overthrown in fair combat him that owned them."
The servants, knowing nothing of the laws of chivalry, fell on Sancho with their cudgels, belabored him lustily and plucked his beard out in handfuls, leaving the unfortunate fellow lying on the ground in far worse plight than the friar.
In the meantime Don Quixote was talking to the lady in the coach to whom he swore eternal devotion. He told her that since he had rescued her from the enchanters she must return to the town of Toboso and tell the lady Dulcinea what he had done and the glorious feat of arms he had performed in Dulcinea's name. But at this a Biscayan Squire rode up and told Don Quixote to leave at once or he would soon be unable to perform any more glorious feats because he would promptly be slain.
And a combat began between Don Quixote and the Biscayan that nearly ended in the death of the latter, for in spite of the carriage cushion that the squire used as a shield, Don Quixote struck him such a tremendous blow that he fell from his horse and lay as dead on the ground. But the crazy knight had not come unharmed from the fight, for part of his ear was cut away by the sword of the Biscayan. And telling the astonished lady to take the Biscayan with her to Toboso, Don Quixote remounted and rode away with Sancho Panza.
For the cure of his ear Don Quixote had in mind a wonderful balsam made of wine, oil, rosemary and salt, and he talked much with Sancho about the marvelous properties of this nauseous compound. On the way to an inn, however, he had another fight, this time with some carriers he passed in the course of his journey, and both he and Sancho were well beaten again.
As the poor knight could not move after his last battle Sancho threw him across the back of Rocinante and led the horse until they came to an inn, where the innkeeper's wife, being kind hearted, dressed Don Quixote's wounds and put him to bed. And here Don Quixote tried his wonderful balsam and Sancho also, and both of them were made ill by the horrible dose that rudely greeted their stomachs.
When they came to leave the inn they had no money to pay the reckoning. Don Quixote mounted Rocinante and rode away, but Sancho was held by the innkeeper for payment. And calling a number of rude fellows the innkeeper took his revenge upon the crazy knight by the mistreatment of Sancho Panza who was tossed in a blanket until the company could toss him no more for weariness and the laughter that his absurd plight awoke in them.
After this Don Quixote had many ridiculous adventures. Among them was an attack he made upon an inoffensive barber who happened to be carrying a brass basin for his trade that Don Quixote believed to be an enchanted helmet. After capturing the basin Don Quixote proceeded to wear it in place of his steel casque. He called it Mambrino's Helmet, and his appearance in ancient armor with a basin on his head made him appear madder than ever.
One day he chanced to meet a group of Spanish convicts who had been convicted for their crimes and were being taken to the galleys as a punishment. After questioning them and learning that they were being led away against their will Don Quixote fell on the guards who were escorting them and attacked them so fiercely that he put them to flight and set free the convicts. These, however, returned his kindness by a shower of stones. They then fell upon him and stripped him of much of his clothing, leaving, however, the armor which was of no use to them, and so they left him.
Now the curate and the barber of the town where Don Quixote lived were much concerned on account of the madness of their old friend, for they loved Don Quixote for his high spirit and his gentle ways when the most violent fits of madness were not upon him. And so they set forth to try and entice him to return to his home again where they hoped that doctors could cure him of his delusions.
To accomplish their ends they engaged the services of a young lady of great beauty who represented to Don Quixote that she was a princess despoiled of her kingdom, and that he must rescue her lands from the power of a great and sour-faced giant that held them.
The curate and the barber had disguised themselves before they met Don Quixote so that he might not recognize them and guess their design. They found him half stripped of his clothing and doing penance for the beautiful Dulcinea in his shirt and drawers. He was engaged in a useless fast in the wilderness where he cut many ridiculous capers and was almost starved into the bargain. Sancho, he had sent away with a letter to Dulcinea, but Sancho returned with the curate and the barber and the young lady and together they tricked the mad knight into returning in the direction of his native village.
On their way, however, they stopped at an inn where yet another adventure was to befall Don Quixote, for dreaming of the giant from whom he was to rescue the lady's kingdom he attacked with his sword two wine skins that were in his room and flooded his apartment with red wine.
Before he could be taken home, however, his madness broke out on him so violently that still another scheme had to be employed. His friends, disguised, crept into his chamber and tied him hand and foot. Then the poor knight was placed in a wooden cage and borne home behind two oxen.
Of the many adventures that Don Quixote encountered, how he broke away from home once more and how his Squire Sancho actually did become the ruler of an island for a brief period, it is impossible to write here. But the name of Don Quixote, through the marvelous writer who created this character, has become known throughout the world, and stands to-day as the symbol for high ideals and self-sacrifice that are carried to the point of madness and utter folly.
Cervantes had still another design in creating Don Quixote than to make an amusing story, for he intended to bring into ridicule and disrepute the old-fashioned stories of chivalry with which Spain was filled at the time he lived. And he succeeded so well that since his day not another one has been written.