In the previous episode, the mission to rescue Don Quixote from the mountains, consisting of Sancho Panza, the priest and the barber, had almost reached him, and met up with Cardenio, the distressed young nobleman. While Sancho went on ahead to find his master, the others came across the young and beautiful Dorotea, who had also fled there. She had been tricked and seduced by the same Fernando who had stolen Cardenio’s true love Luscinda and married her, driving Cardenio to flee. Dorotea dressed as a fictional princess, and persuaded Don Quixote to come to her aid by killing a giant. All six of them left the Sierra, rotating between riding and walking. As they descended, the priest revealed that the barber had been robbed by criminals whom Don Quixote had previously freed from their guards, to which the knight said not a word.
Sancho Panza broke the silence by revealing that it had been his master who had freed those convicts, causing Don Quixote to explode with anger. Dorotea defused the situation by giving an imaginary account of her life as a princess. She unfortunately mentioned that the knight who would rescue her had a mole on his back, which prompted Don Quixote to want to undress to confirm it. His squire confirmed the presence of the mole, though, sparing the party of the sight.
When the conversation turned to Dorotea’s possible marriage to Don Quixote, which the knight firmly rejected, his squire told him in the strongest terms that he should accept the offer. The two men resorted to arguing and insulting one another, bringing in the Lady Dulcinea too, and the knight struck his squire two heavy blows with his pike.
Dorotea again restored peace by getting Sancho to apologise. Just as they were building up to another quarrel, they met the convict from the chain-gang who had stolen Sancho’s donkey, and was still riding it. The moment that Sancho challenged the convict, the thief dismounted and ran off, leaving Sancho embracing and kissing his donkey in happiness at their reunion.
Don Quixote then confirmed that he wouldn’t rescind his warrant for his squire to receive three more donkeys, leading Sancho to confess that he hadn’t taken that warrant with him. His master already knew that, and asked how Sancho could have delivered his letter to Lady Dulcinea. Sancho claimed that he had memorised it, but had since forgotten its words although he insisted that he had delivered it as promised.
This led Don Qixote to quiz his squire in more detail as to that delivery. Sancho was driven to invent an elaborate lie, in which the Lady Dulcinea was sieving buckwheat in her yard, smelled of sweat, and didn’t read his letter at all but tore it into bits. Instead of giving Sancho a jewel in her gratitude, he said that she gave him a hunk of bread and some sheep’s cheese.
The two then resumed their bickering over whether the knight should marry Dorotea, as the Princess Micomicona, or remain true to the Lady Dulcinea. Both remained convinced that the stakes involved a large and rich kingdom, wealth and rank, although in reality it was no more than their elaboration of the deception used to lure Don Quixote from the Sierra.
The party then called a welcome halt to drink at a spring and enjoy a small snack. Sancho in particular was relieved, as despite his vivid description of his meeting with the Lady Dulcinea, he’d never set eyes on her at all.
As they were resting, a young man passed by and recognised Don Quixote. He rushed up to the knight, embraced his legs and burst into tears. The lad explained that it was the knight who had freed him when he had been tied to an oak and flogged by his master. Don Quixote took the opportunity to explain to the others how the lad had been saved as a result of his actions.
However, the young man explained that what happened was the exact opposite. After the knight had left them, his master flogged him with greater delight in the knowledge that he was making a fool of Don Quixote. The servant had been so badly beaten that he had spent all the time since recovering in hospital, from where he’d just been released. Far from helping him, the knight’s intervention had made his suffering far greater.
Don Quixote told Sancho to prepare Rocinante, as he was going to ride off in search of the young man’s former master, but Dorotea reminded him of her priority. The young man pointed out that what he wanted wasn’t vengeance anyway, but something to eat and help him on his way to Seville. Sancho gave him bread and cheese, and the man went on his way, but not before telling Don Quixote never to come to his aid again, leaving the knight embarrassed once more.
That completes the thirty-first chapter of the first book of Don Quixote.
List of characters
English translation by John Ormsby (1885)
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, trans John Rutherford (1604, 2000) Don Quixote, Penguin, ISBN 978 0 140 44909 9.
Roberto González Echevarría (2015) Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Yale UP, ISBN 978 0 300 19864 5.
Roberto González Echevarría (ed) (2005) Cervantes’ Don Quixote, A Casebook, Oxford UP, ISBN 978 0 19 516938 6.