"Well then, the fact is, friend Sancho," said the duke, "that unless you become softer than a ripe fig, you shall not get hold of the government. It would be a nice thing for me to send my islanders a cruel governor with flinty bowels, who won't yield to the tears of afflicted damsels or to the prayers of wise, magisterial, ancient enchanters and sages. In short, Sancho, either you must be whipped by yourself, or they must whip you, or you shan't be governor."
"Senor," said Sancho, "won't two days' grace be given me in which to consider what is best for me?"
"No, certainly not," said Merlin; "here, this minute, and on the spot, the matter must be settled; either Dulcinea will return to the cave of Montesinos and to her former condition of peasant wench, or else in her present form shall be carried to the Elysian fields, where she will remain waiting until the number of stripes is completed."
"Now then, Sancho!" said the duchess, "show courage, and gratitude for your master Don Quixote's bread that you have eaten; we are all bound to oblige and please him for his benevolent disposition and lofty chivalry. Consent to this whipping, my son; to the devil with the devil, and leave fear to milksops, for 'a stout heart breaks bad luck,' as you very well know."
To this Sancho replied with an irrelevant remark, which, addressing Merlin, he made to him, "Will your worship tell me, Senor Merlin — when that courier devil came up he gave my master a message from Senor Montesinos, charging him to wait for him here, as he was coming to arrange how the lady Dona Dulcinea del Toboso was to be disenchanted; but up to the present we have not seen Montesinos, nor anything like him."
To which Merlin made answer, "The devil, Sancho, is a blockhead and a great scoundrel; I sent him to look for your master, but not with a message from Montesinos but from myself; for Montesinos is in his cave expecting, or more properly speaking, waiting for his disenchantment; for there's the tail to be skinned yet for him; if he owes you anything, or you have any business to transact with him, I'll bring him to you and put him where you choose; but for the present make up your mind to consent to this penance, and believe me it will be very good for you, for soul as well for body — for your soul because of the charity with which you perform it, for your body because I know that you are of a sanguine habit and it will do you no harm to draw a little blood."
"There are a great many doctors in the world; even the enchanters are doctors," said Sancho; "however, as everybody tells me the same thing — though I can't see it myself — I say I am willing to give myself the three thousand three hundred lashes, provided I am to lay them on whenever I like, without any fixing of days or times; and I'll try and get out of debt as quickly as I can, that the world may enjoy the beauty of the lady Dulcinea del Toboso; as it seems, contrary to what I thought, that she is beautiful after all. It must be a condition, too, that I am not to be bound to draw blood with the scourge, and that if any of the lashes happen to be fly-flappers they are to count. Item, that, in case I should make any mistake in the reckoning, Senor Merlin, as he knows everything, is to keep count, and let me know how many are still wanting or over the number."
"There will be no need to let you know of any over," said Merlin, "because, when you reach the full number, the lady Dulcinea will at once, and that very instant, be disenchanted, and will come in her gratitude to seek out the worthy Sancho, and thank him, and even reward him for the good work. So you have no cause to be uneasy about stripes too many or too few; heaven forbid I should cheat anyone of even a hair of his head."
"Well then, in God's hands be it," said Sancho; "in the hard case I'm in I give in; I say I accept the penance on the conditions laid down."
The instant Sancho uttered these last words the music of the clarions struck up once more, and again a host of muskets were discharged, and Don Quixote hung on Sancho's neck kissing him again and again on the forehead and cheeks. The duchess and the duke expressed the greatest satisfaction, the car began to move on, and as it passed the fair Dulcinea bowed to the duke and duchess and made a low curtsey to Sancho.
And now bright smiling dawn came on apace; the flowers of the field, revived, raised up their heads, and the crystal waters of the brooks, murmuring over the grey and white pebbles, hastened to pay their tribute to the expectant rivers; the glad earth, the unclouded sky, the fresh breeze, the clear light, each and all showed that the day that came treading on the skirts of morning would be calm and bright. The duke and duchess, pleased with their hunt and at having carried out their plans so cleverly and successfully, returned to their castle resolved to follow up their joke; for to them there was no reality that could afford them more amusement.