In the previous episode, the group at the inn heard the conclusion of the account by the former captive in Algiers of his escape with the beautiful young Moorish woman Zoraida. Once he’d explained how he still knew nothing of the fates of his father and two brothers, a judge and his young daughter arrived at the inn in a coach. This turned out to be the captive’s younger brother, who was on his way to take up a senior appointment in Mexico. The youngest brother had become very rich through trade, and their father had prospered as a result. The brothers agreed to travel to Seville, for Zoraida to be baptised and married to the former captive. After a short night’s rest, they were awakened by the fine voice of one of the judge’s footmen, singing an enchanting song.
Dorotea woke the judge’s daughter Clara to listen to this song. As she heard it, she shook, and explained that she was in love with the young man, who was far from being a mere footman. By the time his song was finished, Clara was sobbing with grief. She told Dorotea that the footman was the son of an Aragonese noble who lived near the judge in the capital. The young man had somehow fallen in love with her, and when the time came for the judge to leave with his daughter, he ran away and became one of their footmen. Clara was caught between their love, the fact that her father wouldn’t even consider their marriage, and that she wasn’t quite sixteen.
As they all settled back to sleep, the innkeeper’s daughter and her servant played a trick on the ever-vigilant Don Quixote. He was sat astride Rocinante, muttering about his lady Dulcinea and sighing mournfully. The daughter whispered and beckoned him over to what the knight mistook to be a window in the castle. When he reaffirmed his faithfulness to his lady Dulcinea, the servant explained that her mistress only wanted one of his hands. She then ran off and fetched the halter to Sancho’s donkey.
When she returned, Don Quixote was stood on Rocinante’s saddle proferring his hand to the innkeeper’s daughter. The servant deftly slipped a noose on the halter around the knight’s wrist, and tied the other end to the hay-loft door, making Don Quixote captive. The two women then ran off, leaving the knight standing precariously on his saddle, his arm stretched out and fastened to the ceiling of the adjacent room, strung up and unable to move.
As Don Quixote was contemplating his predicament, wondering what new enchantment could have brought it about, four men on horseback arrived and started to hammer on the door of the inn, wanting immediate entry. The knight shouted back, but the men insisted that they wanted to feed their horses quickly before hurrying off on their journey. As one of the horsemen argued with Don Quixote about whether this was a castle, the banging woke the innkeeper up. Just then Rocinante was distracted by one of the other horses and edged away, leaving the knight hanging just above the floor, his whole weight stretching his arm out in great pain, unable to free himself from that torture.
The innkeeper and horsemen gathered around Don Quixote, who hung there bellowing in pain. The servant who had tied him there decided that he’d suffered enough, so untied the rope from the hay-loft door, dropping the knight in a heap in front of the men. He got up, mounted Rocinante and rode away only to canter back challenging anyone to combat if they argued with him.
The horsemen asked the innkeeper whether he’d seen a young man dressed as a footman, but the innkeeper was evasive. When they spotted the judge’s coach, three of the four men positioned themselves to trap the footman and stop him from escaping. The fourth then walked round searching the inn. When he found the lad, he woke him up, and informed him that they were going to return him to his parents.
Another of the footmen told Fernando and the others. Dorotea then explained the situation with Clara to them, prompting Cardenio to assure them that he’d sort this out, allowing the ladies to withdraw while he did that. Luis, the lad, was being told in no uncertain terms that the four horsemen were going to take him back whether he agreed or not, to which he replied that they’d have to kill him first. Cardenio asked the men why they were so determined, and they told him it was to save his father’s life. The judge then got involved, but only reduced young Luis to tears.
In the middle of all this, two strangers who had also stayed the night at the inn tried to walk out without paying, so the innkeeper started to thrash the man, forcing the man’s wife to appeal to Don Quixote to rescue him. This set the knight off on another diversion in which he knelt and begged Dorotea to relinquish him from her service.
Meanwhile Luis was explaining to the judge his love for the judge’s daughter Clara, which left the judge completely bemused.
Another two guests arrived, one of whom was the barber from whom Don Quixote and Sancho Panza had earlier acquired Mambrino’s helmet (actually, the barber’s brass basin), and a pack-saddle which was now on Sancho’s donkey. The barber recognised Sancho immediately, and cried for help to deal with the thief. The squire swiftly punched the barber in the mouth and silenced him as his master was arriving on the scene. Don Quixote put himself between the two and asserted the basin was Mambrino’s helmet, and that the saddle had been duly captured from the vanquished coward. Sancho ran off to fetch the basin, so that the knight could demonstrate to all how it was obviously the helmet in question, and had been duly worn in battle.
That completes the forty-fourth chapter of the first book of Don Quixote.
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.