At length the damsel with the jug returned and they made an end of washing Don Quixote, and the one who carried the towels very deliberately wiped him and dried him; and all four together making him a profound obeisance and curtsey, they were about to go, when the duke, lest Don Quixote should see through the joke, called out to the one with the basin saying, "Come and wash me, and take care that there is water enough." The girl, sharp-witted and prompt, came and placed the basin for the duke as she had done for Don Quixote, and they soon had him well soaped and washed, and having wiped him dry they made their obeisance and retired. It appeared afterwards that the duke had sworn that if they had not washed him as they had Don Quixote he would have punished them for their impudence, which they adroitly atoned for by soaping him as well.
Sancho observed the ceremony of the washing very attentively, and said to himself, "God bless me, if it were only the custom in this country to wash squires' beards too as well as knights'. For by God and upon my soul I want it badly; and if they gave me a scrape of the razor besides I'd take it as a still greater kindness."
"What are you saying to yourself, Sancho?" asked the duchess.
"I was saying, senora," he replied, "that in the courts of other princes, when the cloth is taken away, I have always heard say they give water for the hands, but not lye for the beard; and that shows it is good to live long that you may see much; to be sure, they say too that he who lives a long life must undergo much evil, though to undergo a washing of that sort is pleasure rather than pain."
"Don't be uneasy, friend Sancho," said the duchess; "I will take care that my damsels wash you, and even put you in the tub if necessary."
"I'll be content with the beard," said Sancho, "at any rate for the present; and as for the future, God has decreed what is to be."
"Attend to worthy Sancho's request, seneschal," said the duchess, "and do exactly what he wishes."
The seneschal replied that Senor Sancho should be obeyed in everything; and with that he went away to dinner and took Sancho along with him, while the duke and duchess and Don Quixote remained at table discussing a great variety of things, but all bearing on the calling of arms and knight-errantry.
The duchess begged Don Quixote, as he seemed to have a retentive memory, to describe and portray to her the beauty and features of the lady Dulcinea del Toboso, for, judging by what fame trumpeted abroad of her beauty, she felt sure she must be the fairest creature in the world, nay, in all La Mancha.
Don Quixote sighed on hearing the duchess's request, and said, "If I could pluck out my heart, and lay it on a plate on this table here before your highness's eyes, it would spare my tongue the pain of telling what can hardly be thought of, for in it your excellence would see her portrayed in full. But why should I attempt to depict and describe in detail, and feature by feature, the beauty of the peerless Dulcinea, the burden being one worthy of other shoulders than mine, an enterprise wherein the pencils of Parrhasius, Timantes, and Apelles, and the graver of Lysippus ought to be employed, to paint it in pictures and carve it in marble and bronze, and Ciceronian and Demosthenian eloquence to sound its praises?"
"What does Demosthenian mean, Senor Don Quixote?" said the duchess; "it is a word I never heard in all my life."
"Demosthenian eloquence," said Don Quixote, "means the eloquence of Demosthenes, as Ciceronian means that of Cicero, who were the two most eloquent orators in the world."
"True," said the duke; "you must have lost your wits to ask such a question. Nevertheless, Senor Don Quixote would greatly gratify us if he would depict her to us; for never fear, even in an outline or sketch she will be something to make the fairest envious."
"I would do so certainly," said Don Quixote, "had she not been blurred to my mind's eye by the misfortune that fell upon her a short time since, one of such a nature that I am more ready to weep over it than to describe it. For your highnesses must know that, going a few days back to kiss her hands and receive her benediction, approbation, and permission for this third sally, I found her altogether a different being from the one I sought; I found her enchanted and changed from a princess into a peasant, from fair to foul, from an angel into a devil, from fragrant to pestiferous, from refined to clownish, from a dignified lady into a jumping tomboy, and, in a word, from Dulcinea del Toboso into a coarse Sayago wench."
"God bless me!" said the duke aloud at this, "who can have done the world such an injury? Who can have robbed it of the beauty that gladdened it, of the grace and gaiety that charmed it, of the modesty that shed a lustre upon it?"
"Who?" replied Don Quixote; "who could it be but some malignant enchanter of the many that persecute me out of envy — that accursed race born into the world to obscure and bring to naught the achievements of the good, and glorify and exalt the deeds of the wicked? Enchanters have persecuted me, enchanters persecute me still, and enchanters will continue to persecute me until they have sunk me and my lofty chivalry in the deep abyss of oblivion; and they injure and wound me where they know I feel it most. For to deprive a knight-errant of his lady is to deprive him of the eyes he sees with, of the sun that gives him light, of the food whereby he lives. Many a time before have I said it, and I say it now once more, a knight-errant without a lady is like a tree without leaves, a building without a foundation, or a shadow without the body that causes it."
"There is no denying it," said the duchess; "but still, if we are to believe the history of Don Quixote that has come out here lately with general applause, it is to be inferred from it, if I mistake not, that you never saw the lady Dulcinea, and that the said lady is nothing in the world but an imaginary lady, one that you yourself begot and gave birth to in your brain, and adorned with whatever charms and perfections you chose."
"There is a good deal to be said on that point," said Don Quixote; "God knows whether there be any Dulcinea or not in the world, or whether she is imaginary or not imaginary; these are things the proof of which must not be pushed to extreme lengths. I have not begotten nor given birth to my lady, though I behold her as she needs must be, a lady who contains in herself all the qualities to make her famous throughout the world, beautiful without blemish, dignified without haughtiness, tender and yet modest, gracious from courtesy and courteous from good breeding, and lastly, of exalted lineage, because beauty shines forth and excels with a higher degree of perfection upon good blood than in the fair of lowly birth."
"That is true," said the duke; "but Senor Don Quixote will give me leave to say what I am constrained to say by the story of his exploits that I have read, from which it is to be inferred that, granting there is a Dulcinea in El Toboso, or out of it, and that she is in the highest degree beautiful as you have described her to us, as regards the loftiness of her lineage she is not on a par with the Orianas, Alastrajareas, Madasimas, or others of that sort, with whom, as you well know, the histories abound."
"To that I may reply," said Don Quixote, "that Dulcinea is the daughter of her own works, and that virtues rectify blood, and that lowly virtue is more to be regarded and esteemed than exalted vice. Dulcinea, besides, has that within her that may raise her to be a crowned and sceptred queen; for the merit of a fair and virtuous woman is capable of performing greater miracles; and virtually, though not formally, she has in herself higher fortunes."
"I protest, Senor Don Quixote," said the duchess, "that in all you say, you go most cautiously and lead in hand, as the saying is; henceforth I will believe myself, and I will take care that everyone in my house believes, even my lord the duke if needs be, that there is a Dulcinea in El Toboso, and that she is living to-day, and that she is beautiful and nobly born and deserves to have such a knight as Senor Don Quixote in her service, and that is the highest praise that it is in my power to give her or that I can think of. But I cannot help entertaining a doubt, and having a certain grudge against Sancho Panza; the doubt is this, that the aforesaid history declares that the said Sancho Panza, when he carried a letter on your worship's behalf to the said lady Dulcinea, found her sifting a sack of wheat; and more by token it says it was red wheat; a thing which makes me doubt the loftiness of her lineage."