By this time they had cleared the wood, and saw the three village lasses close at hand. Don Quixote looked all along the road to El Toboso, and as he could see nobody except the three peasant girls, he was completely puzzled, and asked Sancho if it was outside the city he had left them.
"How outside the city?" returned Sancho. "Are your worship's eyes in the back of your head, that you can't see that they are these who are coming here, shining like the very sun at noonday?"
"I see nothing, Sancho," said Don Quixote, "but three country girls on three jackasses."
"Now, may God deliver me from the devil!" said Sancho, "and can it be that your worship takes three hackneys — or whatever they're called-as white as the driven snow, for jackasses? By the Lord, I could tear my beard if that was the case!"
"Well, I can only say, Sancho, my friend," said Don Quixote, "that it is as plain they are jackasses — or jennyasses — as that I am Don Quixote, and thou Sancho Panza: at any rate, they seem to me to be so."
"Hush, senor," said Sancho, "don't talk that way, but open your eyes, and come and pay your respects to the lady of your thoughts, who is close upon us now;" and with these words he advanced to receive the three village lasses, and dismounting from Dapple, caught hold of one of the asses of the three country girls by the halter, and dropping on both knees on the ground, he said, "Queen and princess and duchess of beauty, may it please your haughtiness and greatness to receive into your favour and good-will your captive knight who stands there turned into marble stone, and quite stupefied and benumbed at finding himself in your magnificent presence. I am Sancho Panza, his squire, and he the vagabond knight Don Quixote of La Mancha, otherwise called 'The Knight of the Rueful Countenance.'"
Don Quixote had by this time placed himself on his knees beside Sancho, and, with eyes starting out of his head and a puzzled gaze, was regarding her whom Sancho called queen and lady; and as he could see nothing in her except a village lass, and not a very well-favoured one, for she was platter-faced and snub-nosed, he was perplexed and bewildered, and did not venture to open his lips. The country girls, at the same time, were astonished to see these two men, so different in appearance, on their knees, preventing their companion from going on. She, however, who had been stopped, breaking silence, said angrily and testily, "Get out of the way, bad luck to you, and let us pass, for we are in a hurry."
To which Sancho returned, "Oh, princess and universal lady of El Toboso, is not your magnanimous heart softened by seeing the pillar and prop of knight-errantry on his knees before your sublimated presence?"
On hearing this, one of the others exclaimed, "Woa then! why, I'm rubbing thee down, she-ass of my father-in-law! See how the lordlings come to make game of the village girls now, as if we here could not chaff as well as themselves. Go your own way, and let us go ours, and it will be better for you."
"Get up, Sancho," said Don Quixote at this; "I see that fortune, 'with evil done to me unsated still,' has taken possession of all the roads by which any comfort may reach 'this wretched soul' that I carry in my flesh. And thou, highest perfection of excellence that can be desired, utmost limit of grace in human shape, sole relief of this afflicted heart that adores thee, though the malign enchanter that persecutes me has brought clouds and cataracts on my eyes, and to them, and them only, transformed thy unparagoned beauty and changed thy features into those of a poor peasant girl, if so be he has not at the same time changed mine into those of some monster to render them loathsome in thy sight, refuse not to look upon me with tenderness and love; seeing in this submission that I make on my knees to thy transformed beauty the humility with which my soul adores thee."
"Hey-day! My grandfather!" cried the girl, "much I care for your love-making! Get out of the way and let us pass, and we'll thank you."
Sancho stood aside and let her go, very well pleased to have got so well out of the hobble he was in. The instant the village lass who had done duty for Dulcinea found herself free, prodding her "cackney" with a spike she had at the end of a stick, she set off at full speed across the field. The she-ass, however, feeling the point more acutely than usual, began cutting such capers, that it flung the lady Dulcinea to the ground; seeing which, Don Quixote ran to raise her up, and Sancho to fix and girth the pack-saddle, which also had slipped under the ass's belly. The pack-saddle being secured, as Don Quixote was about to lift up his enchanted mistress in his arms and put her upon her beast, the lady, getting up from the ground, saved him the trouble, for, going back a little, she took a short run, and putting both hands on the croup of the ass she dropped into the saddle more lightly than a falcon, and sat astride like a man, whereat Sancho said, "Rogue! but our lady is lighter than a lanner, and might teach the cleverest Cordovan or Mexican how to mount; she cleared the back of the saddle in one jump, and without spurs she is making the hackney go like a zebra; and her damsels are no way behind her, for they all fly like the wind;" which was the truth, for as soon as they saw Dulcinea mounted, they pushed on after her, and sped away without looking back, for more than half a league.
Don Quixote followed them with his eyes, and when they were no longer in sight, he turned to Sancho and said, "How now, Sancho? thou seest how I am hated by enchanters! And see to what a length the malice and spite they bear me go, when they seek to deprive me of the happiness it would give me to see my lady in her own proper form. The fact is I was born to be an example of misfortune, and the target and mark at which the arrows of adversity are aimed and directed. Observe too, Sancho, that these traitors were not content with changing and transforming my Dulcinea, but they transformed and changed her into a shape as mean and ill-favoured as that of the village girl yonder; and at the same time they robbed her of that which is such a peculiar property of ladies of distinction, that is to say, the sweet fragrance that comes of being always among perfumes and flowers. For I must tell thee, Sancho, that when I approached to put Dulcinea upon her hackney (as thou sayest it was, though to me it appeared a she-ass), she gave me a whiff of raw garlic that made my head reel, and poisoned my very heart."
"O scum of the earth!" cried Sancho at this, "O miserable, spiteful enchanters! O that I could see you all strung by the gills, like sardines on a twig! Ye know a great deal, ye can do a great deal, and ye do a great deal more. It ought to have been enough for you, ye scoundrels, to have changed the pearls of my lady's eyes into oak galls, and her hair of purest gold into the bristles of a red ox's tail, and in short, all her features from fair to foul, without meddling with her smell; for by that we might somehow have found out what was hidden underneath that ugly rind; though, to tell the truth, I never perceived her ugliness, but only her beauty, which was raised to the highest pitch of perfection by a mole she had on her right lip, like a moustache, with seven or eight red hairs like threads of gold, and more than a palm long."
"From the correspondence which exists between those of the face and those of the body," said Don Quixote, "Dulcinea must have another mole resembling that on the thick of the thigh on that side on which she has the one on her ace; but hairs of the length thou hast mentioned are very long for moles."
"Well, all I can say is there they were as plain as could be," replied Sancho.
"I believe it, my friend," returned Don Quixote; "for nature bestowed nothing on Dulcinea that was not perfect and well-finished; and so, if she had a hundred moles like the one thou hast described, in her they would not be moles, but moons and shining stars. But tell me, Sancho, that which seemed to me to be a pack-saddle as thou wert fixing it, was it a flat-saddle or a side-saddle?"
"It was neither," replied Sancho, "but a jineta saddle, with a field covering worth half a kingdom, so rich is it."
"And that I could not see all this, Sancho!" said Don Quixote; "once more I say, and will say a thousand times, I am the most unfortunate of men."
Sancho, the rogue, had enough to do to hide his laughter, at hearing the simplicity of the master he had so nicely befooled. At length, after a good deal more conversation had passed between them, they remounted their beasts, and followed the road to Saragossa, which they expected to reach in time to take part in a certain grand festival which is held every year in that illustrious city; but before they got there things happened to them, so many, so important, and so strange, that they deserve to be recorded and read, as will be seen farther on.