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The Knight Of The Sorrowful Countenance

Everybody knows that in the old times, when Arthur was king or Charles

the Great emperor, no gentleman ever rested content until he had

received the honour of knighthood. When once he was made a knight, he

left his home and the court, and rode off in search of adventures,

seeking to help people in distress who had no one else to help them.

After a while, however, the knights grew selfish and lazy. They liked

better to hunt the deer through the forest than wicked robbers who had

carried off beautiful ladies. 'It was the king's business,' they said,

'to take care of his subjects, not theirs,' so they dwelt in their own

castles, and many of them became great lords almost as powerful as the

king himself.

But though the knights no longer went in search of noble adventures, as

knights of earlier days had been wont to do, there were plenty of books

in which they could read if they chose of the wonderful deeds of their

forefathers. Lancelot and Roland, Bernardo del Carpio, the Cid, Amadis

de Gaule, and many more, were as well known to them as their own

brothers, and if we will only take the trouble they may be known to us


Now, several hundreds of years after Lancelot and Roland and all the

rest had been laid in their graves, a baby belonging to the family of

Quixada was born in that part of Spain called La Mancha. We are not told

anything of his boyhood, or even of his manhood till he reached the age

of fifty, but we know that he was poor; that he lived with a housekeeper

and a niece to take care of him, and that he passed all his days in

company with these old books until the courts and forests which were the

scenes of the adventures of those knights of bygone years were more real

to him than any of his own doings.

'I wish all those books could be burned,' said the noble gentleman's

housekeeper one day to his niece. 'My poor master's wits are surely

going, for he never understands one word you say to him. Indeed, if you

speak, he hardly seems to see you, much less to hear you!'

What the housekeeper said was true. The things that belonged to her

master's every-day life vanished completely bit by bit. If his niece

related to him some scrap of news which a neighbour had run in to tell

her, he would answer her with a story of the giant Morgante, who alone

among his ill-bred race had manners that befitted a Spanish knight. If

the housekeeper lamented that the flour in her storehouse would not last

out the winter, he turned a deaf ear to all her complaints, and declared

that he would give her and his niece into the bargain for the pleasure

of bestowing one kick on Ganelon the traitor.

At last one day things came to a climax. When the hour of dinner came

round, Don Quixada was nowhere to be found. His niece sought him in his

bedroom, in the little tower where his books were kept, and even in the

stable, where lay the old horse who had served him for more years than

one could count. He was in none of these; but just as she was leaving

the stable a strange noise seemed to come from over the girl's head, and

on looking up she beheld her uncle rubbing a rusty sword that had lain

there long before anybody could remember, while by his side were a steel

cap and other pieces of armour.

From that moment Don Quixada became deaf and blind to the things of

this world. He was in despair because the steel cap was not a proper

helmet, but only a morion without a vizor to let down. Perhaps a smith

might have made him what he wanted, but the Don was too proud to ask

him, and, getting some cardboard, cut and painted it like a vizor, and

then fastened it to the morion. Nothing could look--at a little

distance--more like the helmet the Cid might have worn, but Don Quixada

knew well that no knight ever went forth in search of adventures without

first proving the goodness of his armour, so, fixing the helmet against

the wall, he made a slash at it with his sword. He only dealt two

strokes, whereas his enemy might give him twenty, but those two swept

clean through the vizor, and destroyed in three minutes a whole week's

work. So there was nothing for it but to begin over again, and this time

the Don took the precaution of lining the vizor with iron.

'It looks beautiful,' he cried when it was finished; but he took care

not to try his blade upon it.

His next act was to go into the stable and rub down his horse's coat,

and to give it a feed of corn, vainly hoping that in a few days its ribs

might become less plainly visible.

'It is not right,' he said to himself, one morning, as he stood watching

the animal that was greedily eating out of its manger--'it is not right

that a knight's good horse should go forth without a name. Even the

heathen Alexander bestowed a high-sounding title on his own steed; and

so, likewise, did those Christian warriors, Roland and the Cid!' But,

try as he might, no name would come to him except such as were unworthy

of the horse and his rider, and for four nights and days he pondered the


Suddenly, at the moment he had least expected it, when he was eating the

plain broth his housekeeper had set before him, the inspiration came.

'Rozinante!' he cried triumphantly, laying down his spoon--'Rozinante!

Neither the Cid's horse nor Roland's bore a finer name than that!'

* * * * *

This weighty matter being settled, the Don now began to think of

himself, and, not being satisfied with the name his fathers had handed

down to him, resolved to take one that was more noble, and better suited

to a knight who was destined to do deeds that would keep him alive in

the memory of men. For eight days he took heed of nothing save this one

thing, and on the ninth he found what he had sought.

'The world shall know me as Don Quixote,' he said; 'and as the noble

Amadis himself was not content to bear this sole title, but added to it

the name of his own country, so I, in like manner, will add the name of

mine, and henceforth will appear to all, as the good knight Don Quixote

de la Mancha!'

Now Don Quixote de la Mancha had read far too many books about the

customs of chivalry not to be aware that every knight worshipped some

lady of whose beauty he boasted upon all occasions and whose token he

wore upon his helmet in battle. It was not very easy for Don Quixote to

find such a lady, for all his life long, the company which he met in his

books had been dearer to him than that which he could have had outside

his home.

'A knight without a liege lady is a tree without fruit, a body without

soul,' he thought. 'Of what use will it be if I meet with some giant

such as always crosses the path of a wandering knight, and disarm him in

our first encounter, unless I have a lady at whose feet he can kneel?'

So without losing more time he began to search the neighbouring villages

for such a damsel, whose token he might wear, and at length found one

with enough beauty for him to fall in love with, whose humble name of

Aldonza he changed for that of Dulcinea del Toboso.

The sun had hardly risen on the following morning when Don Quixote

laced on his helmet, braced on his shield, took his lance in hand, and

mounted Rozinante.

Never during his fifty years had he felt his heart so light, and he rode

forth into the wide plain, expecting to find a giant or a distressed

lady behind every bush. But his joy was short-lived, for suddenly it

came to his mind that in the days of chivalry it never was known that

any man went in quest of adventures without being first made a knight,

and that no such good fortune had happened to him. This thought was so

terrible that he reeled in his saddle, and was near turning the head of

Rozinante towards his own stable; but Don Quixote was a man of good

courage, and in a short while he remembered on how many knights Sir

Lancelot had conferred the honour of knighthood, and he determined to

claim his spurs from the first that he managed to conquer in fight. Till

then, he must, as soon as might be, make his armour white, in token that

as yet he had had no adventures. In this manner he took heart again.

All that day he rode, without either bite or sup, and, of the two,

Rozinante fared the better, for he at least found a tuft of coarse grass

to eat. At nightfall a light as big as a faint star was seen gleaming in

the distance, and both master and horse plucked up courage once more.

They hastened towards it, and discovered that the light came from a

small inn, which Don Quixote's fancy instantly changed into a castle

with four towers and pinnacles of shining silver, surrounded by a moat.

He paused a moment, expecting a dwarf to appear on the battlements and

announce by the blasts of his trumpet that a knight was approaching,

but, as no dwarf could be seen, he dismounted at the door, where he was

received with courtesy by the landlord or the governor of the castle, as

Don Quixote took him to be.

At the sight of this strange figure, which looked as if it had gone to

sleep a thousand years ago, and had only just woke up again, the

landlord had as much ado to keep from laughter as the muleteers and

some women who were standing before the door. But being a civil man, and

somewhat puzzled, he held the stirrup for Don Quixote to alight,

offering to give him everything that would make him comfortable except a

bed, which was not to be had. The Don made little of this, as became a

good knight, and bade the landlord look well after Rozinante, for no

better horse would ever stand in his stable. The man, who had seen many

beasts in his day, did not rate him quite so highly, but said nothing,

and after placing the horse in the stable returned to the house to see

after the master.

As it happened, it was easier to provide for the wants of Rozinante than

for those of Don Quixote, for the muleteers had eaten up everything in

the kitchen, and nothing was left save a little dried fish and black

bread. Don Quixote, however, was quite content; indeed, he imagined it

the most splendid supper in the world, and when he had finished he fell

on his knees before the landlord.

'Never will I rise again, noble sir,' said he, 'until you grant my

prayer, which shall be an occasion of glory to you and of gain to all


The landlord, not being used to such conduct on the part of his guests,

tried to lift Don Quixote on to his feet, but the knight vowed that he

would not move till his prayer was granted.

'The gift I would ask of you,' continued the Don, now rising to his

feet, 'is that to-night I may watch my arms in the chapel of your

castle, and at sunrise I shall kneel before you to be made a knight.

Then I shall bid you farewell, and set forth on my journey through the

world, righting wrongs and helping the oppressed, after the manner of

the knights of old.'

'I am honoured indeed,' replied the landlord, who by this time saw very

clearly that the poor gentleman was weak in his wits, and had a mind to

divert himself. 'As a youth, I myself wandered through the land, and my

name, the champion of all who needed it, was known to every court in

Spain, till a deadly thrust in my side, from a false knight, forced me

to lay down my arms, and to return to this my castle, giving shelter and

welcome to any knights that ask it. But as to the chapel, it is but a

week since it was made level with the ground, being but a poor place,

and in no way worthy of the service of noble knights; but keep your

watch in the courtyard of my castle, as your books will have told you

that others have done in case of need. Afterwards, I will admit you into

the Order of Chivalry, but before you take up your vigil tell me, I pray

you, what money you have brought with you?'

This question surprised the Don very much.

'I have brought none,' he answered presently, 'for never did I hear that

either Roland or Percival or any of the great knight-errants whose

example I fain would follow, carried any money with them.'

'That is because they thought it no more needful to say that they

carried money or clean shirts than that they carried a sword or a box of

ointment to cure the wounds of themselves or their foes, in case no

maiden or enchanter with a flask of water was on the spot,' replied the

landlord; and he spoke so long and so earnestly on the subject that the

Don promised never again to start on a quest without money and a box of

ointment, besides at least three clean shirts.

It was now high time for his watch to begin, and the landlord led the

way to a great yard at the side of the inn. Here the Don took his arms,

and piled them on a trough of stone that stood near a well. Then bearing

his lance he walked up and down beside his trough.

For an hour or two he paced the yard, watched, though he knew it not, by

many eyes from the inn windows, which, with the aid of a bright moon,

could see all that happened as clearly as if it were day. At length a

muleteer who had a long journey before him drove up his team to the

trough, which was fed by the neighbouring well, and in order to let his

cattle drink, stretched out his arms to remove the sword and helmet

which lay there. The Don perceived his aim, and cried in a voice of


'What man are you, ignorant of the laws of chivalry, who dares to touch

the arms of the bravest knight who ever wore a sword? Take heed lest you

lay a finger upon them, for if you do your life shall pay the forfeit.'

It might have been as well for the muleteer if he had listened, and had

led his cattle to water elsewhere, but, looking at the Don's tall lean

figure and his own stout fists, he only laughed rudely, and, seizing

both sword and helmet, threw them across the yard. The Don paused a

moment, wondering if he saw aright; then raising his eyes to heaven he


'O Lady Dulcinea, peerless in thy beauty, help me to avenge this insult

that has been put upon me'; and, lifting high his lance, he brought it

down with such a force on the head of the man that he fell to the ground

without a word, and the Don began his walk afresh.

He had not been pacing the yard above half an hour when another man, not

knowing what had befallen his friend, drove his beasts up to the trough,

and was stooping to move the Don's arms, so that the cattle could get at

the water, when a mighty blow fell on _his_ head, splitting it nearly

into pieces.

At this noise the people from the inn ran out, and seeing the two

muleteers stretched wounded on the ground picked up stones wherewith to

stone the knight. The Don, however, fronted them with such courage that

they did not dare to venture near him, and the landlord, making use of

their fears, called on them to leave him alone, for that he was a

madman, and the law would not touch him, even though he should kill them

all. Then, wishing to be done with the business and with his guest, he

made excuses for the rude fellows, who had only got what they deserved,

and said that, as there was no chapel to his castle, he could dub him

knight where he stood, for, the watch of arms having been completed, all

that was needful was a slap on the neck with a palm of the hand and the

touch of the sword on the shoulder.

So Don Quixada was turned into Don Quixote de la Mancha, and, mounting

Rozinante, he left the inn, and with a joyful heart started to seek his

first adventure.

Next: The Adventure Of The Two Armies Who Turned Out To Be Flocks Of Sheep

Previous: The Tale Of The Cid

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