WHICH TELLS HOW ADVENTURES CAME CROWDING ON DON QUIXOTE IN SUCH NUMBERS THAT THEY GAVE ONE ANOTHER NO BREATHING-TIME
When Don Quixote saw himself in open country, free, and relieved from the attentions of Altisidora, he felt at his ease, and in fresh spirits to take up the pursuit of chivalry once more; and turning to Sancho he said, "Freedom, Sancho, is one of the most precious gifts that heaven has bestowed upon men; no treasures that the earth holds buried or the sea conceals can compare with it; for freedom, as for honour, life may and should be ventured; and on the other hand, captivity is the greatest evil that can fall to the lot of man. I say this, Sancho, because thou hast seen the good cheer, the abundance we have enjoyed in this castle we are leaving; well then, amid those dainty banquets and snow-cooled beverages I felt as though I were undergoing the straits of hunger, because I did not enjoy them with the same freedom as if they had been mine own; for the sense of being under an obligation to return benefits and favours received is a restraint that checks the independence of the spirit. Happy he, to whom heaven has given a piece of bread for which he is not bound to give thanks to any but heaven itself!"
"For all your worship says," said Sancho, "it is not becoming that there should be no thanks on our part for two hundred gold crowns that the duke's majordomo has given me in a little purse which I carry next my heart, like a warming plaster or comforter, to meet any chance calls; for we shan't always find castles where they'll entertain us; now and then we may light upon roadside inns where they'll cudgel us."
In conversation of this sort the knight and squire errant were pursuing their journey, when, after they had gone a little more than half a league, they perceived some dozen men dressed like labourers stretched upon their cloaks on the grass of a green meadow eating their dinner. They had beside them what seemed to be white sheets concealing some objects under them, standing upright or lying flat, and arranged at intervals. Don Quixote approached the diners, and, saluting them courteously first, he asked them what it was those cloths covered. "Senor," answered one of the party, "under these cloths are some images carved in relief intended for a retablo we are putting up in our village; we carry them covered up that they may not be soiled, and on our shoulders that they may not be broken."
"With your good leave," said Don Quixote, "I should like to see them; for images that are carried so carefully no doubt must be fine ones."
"I should think they were!" said the other; "let the money they cost speak for that; for as a matter of fact there is not one of them that does not stand us in more than fifty ducats; and that your worship may judge; wait a moment, and you shall see with your own eyes;" and getting up from his dinner he went and uncovered the first image, which proved to be one of Saint George on horseback with a serpent writhing at his feet and the lance thrust down its throat with all that fierceness that is usually depicted. The whole group was one blaze of gold, as the saying is. On seeing it Don Quixote said, "That knight was one of the best knights-errant the army of heaven ever owned; he was called Don Saint George, and he was moreover a defender of maidens. Let us see this next one."
The man uncovered it, and it was seen to be that of Saint Martin on his horse, dividing his cloak with the beggar. The instant Don Quixote saw it he said, "This knight too was one of the Christian adventurers, but I believe he was generous rather than valiant, as thou mayest perceive, Sancho, by his dividing his cloak with the beggar and giving him half of it; no doubt it was winter at the time, for otherwise he would have given him the whole of it, so charitable was he."
"It was not that, most likely," said Sancho, "but that he held with the proverb that says, 'For giving and keeping there's need of brains.'"
Don Quixote laughed, and asked them to take off the next cloth, underneath which was seen the image of the patron saint of the Spains seated on horseback, his sword stained with blood, trampling on Moors and treading heads underfoot; and on seeing it Don Quixote exclaimed, "Ay, this is a knight, and of the squadrons of Christ! This one is called Don Saint James the Moorslayer, one of the bravest saints and knights the world ever had or heaven has now."
They then raised another cloth which it appeared covered Saint Paul falling from his horse, with all the details that are usually given in representations of his conversion. When Don Quixote saw it, rendered in such lifelike style that one would have said Christ was speaking and Paul answering, "This," he said, "was in his time the greatest enemy that the Church of God our Lord had, and the greatest champion it will ever have; a knight-errant in life, a steadfast saint in death, an untiring labourer in the Lord's vineyard, a teacher of the Gentiles, whose school was heaven, and whose instructor and master was Jesus Christ himself."
There were no more images, so Don Quixote bade them cover them up again, and said to those who had brought them, "I take it as a happy omen, brothers, to have seen what I have; for these saints and knights were of the same profession as myself, which is the calling of arms; only there is this difference between them and me, that they were saints, and fought with divine weapons, and I am a sinner and fight with human ones. They won heaven by force of arms, for heaven suffereth violence; and I, so far, know not what I have won by dint of my sufferings; but if my Dulcinea del Toboso were to be released from hers, perhaps with mended fortunes and a mind restored to itself I might direct my steps in a better path than I am following at present."
"May God hear and sin be deaf," said Sancho to this.
The men were filled with wonder, as well at the figure as at the words of Don Quixote, though they did not understand one half of what he meant by them. They finished their dinner, took their images on their backs, and bidding farewell to Don Quixote resumed their journey.
Sancho was amazed afresh at the extent of his master's knowledge, as much as if he had never known him, for it seemed to him that there was no story or event in the world that he had not at his fingers' ends and fixed in his memory, and he said to him, "In truth, master mine, if this that has happened to us to-day is to be called an adventure, it has been one of the sweetest and pleasantest that have befallen us in the whole course of our travels; we have come out of it unbelaboured and undismayed, neither have we drawn sword nor have we smitten the earth with our bodies, nor have we been left famishing; blessed be God that he has let me see such a thing with my own eyes!"
"Thou sayest well, Sancho," said Don Quixote, "but remember all times are not alike nor do they always run the same way; and these things the vulgar commonly call omens, which are not based upon any natural reason, will by him who is wise be esteemed and reckoned happy accidents merely. One of these believers in omens will get up of a morning, leave his house, and meet a friar of the order of the blessed Saint Francis, and, as if he had met a griffin, he will turn about and go home. With another Mendoza the salt is spilt on his table, and gloom is spilt over his heart, as if nature was obliged to give warning of coming misfortunes by means of such trivial things as these. The wise man and the Christian should not trifle with what it may please heaven to do. Scipio on coming to Africa stumbled as he leaped on shore; his soldiers took it as a bad omen; but he, clasping the soil with his arms, exclaimed, 'Thou canst not escape me, Africa, for I hold thee tight between my arms.' Thus, Sancho, meeting those images has been to me a most happy occurrence."