In the previous episode, Don Quixote was being held captive in a cage on the back of an ox cart while he was taken back to his village for treatment of his madness. The group accompanying him, now with the addition of the canon of Toledo, had stopped to rest and eat, and Sancho Panza had arranged for his master to be released to attend to a call of nature. As they were eating, a nanny goat appeared from a thicket, and its goatherd came to join them. With his errant goat lying beside him, and Sancho Panza gorging himself down by the stream, the goatherd started telling them a story.
The goatherd, Eugenio, told the group of a nearby village, where there was a rich and good farmer with a beautiful daughter named Leandra. Her fame spread far and wide, and her father was hard put to protect her virtue. Among her many suitors was the goatherd, and Leandra’s father decided to ask his daughter whether she wished to marry him. Eugenio’s main rival was called Anselmo, but instead of getting an answer, all Leandra’s father did was tell Eugenio how decisions should be delayed until they were older.
At that time, Vicente, son of a poor farmer, had just returned from twelve years service in the army. He had taken to wearing cheap tawdry jewellery, which brought the disdain of others in the village. Vicente used to tell locals of his exaggerated exploits while he sat idly in the square, showing them his scars, and singing ballads to his guitar. Leandra used to watch him from a window, from where she fell in love first with his gaudy clothes, then his ballads, and eventually the man himself.
Leandra ran away with Vicente, and wasn’t found for three days. By then she had been abandoned by her lover in a cave in the mountains, all her jewels and most of her clothes stolen.
When she confessed to her father how Vicente had robbed her of everything apart from her honour, he immediately shut her away in a nearby convent in the hope that her reputation would recover with time.
This left her other suitors, Anselmo and Eugenio, without hope. They agreed to leave the village to tend livestock in the pleasant valley where they were all resting at that moment. Leandra’s other suitors had done the same, and there were several living out their sorrows in the same area. The goatherd said that was why he had earlier spoken to his nanny goat in the way that he did, as he no longer had a high opinion of any female following his heartbreak with Leandra. He then invited them to his fold to share his fresh milk, cheese and fruit.
Everyone was delighted by Eugenio and his story, but it prompted Don Quixote to talk chivalry, and explain why he was unable through his enchantment to offer to rescue Leandra from her convent. This surprised the goatherd, who asked the barber who the knight was. When the barber explained, Eugenio said this must either be a joke or Don Quixote was empty-headed.
The knight heard that and first attacked the goatherd verbally before throwing a loaf in his face. The goatherd wasn’t amused, and retaliated by leaping on the knight and trying to strangle him.
Sancho Panza pulled Eugenio from his master, destroying tables and smashing crockery in the process. The three fought one another violently, covering Don Quixote’s face with his own blood. As one of the canon’s servants held Sancho Panza back, the rest of the party roared with laughter and urged the knight and the goatherd on in their punch-up.
This all-in wrestling match was suddenly interrupted when they heard a mournful trumpet call. The goatherd got off Don Quixote, and they all looked in the direction of the sound. They saw many men dressed as penitents who were descending on this small valley, in a procession pleading for an end to the local drought. When Don Quixote noticed the holy image they were carrying, he saw this as an invitation to another knightly quest. He deftly prepared and mounted Rocinante, announced his departure, and drove his mount in a canter at the horde of penitents.
No one could control the knight now, even Sancho Panza shouting for caution couldn’t stop his master from charging at the crowd in his bid to rescue the holy statue they were carrying, as if she were a damsel in distress. The knight brought his horse to a halt just in front of the penitents who were carrying the statue and commanded the men to halt and release the lady they were abducting. When the penitents realised what he had said, they burst into laughter. Don Quixote drew his sword and charged at the statue-bearers, who fended him off with a large wooden prop, which knocked him to the ground.
Sancho Panza rushed up begging the men to stop, but his master didn’t move, and the assailant ran off fearing that he might have killed him. The peace-officers came running with their crossbows, causing the other penitents to gather around the holy statue in its defence. The village priest accompanying Don Quixote recognised one of the priests with the procession, and the situation was quickly defused, leaving Sancho Panza lamenting his master’s death in floods of tears.
Don Quixote then came to, asking his squire to help him onto the back of the ox cart, as his shoulder was smashed and he was unable to ride. As his party regrouped, so the penitents formed into their procession and walked on in search of rain. The goatherd made his farewells, and the officers of the Holy Brotherhood were paid off by the priest and allowed to continue with their duties. The canon and his group got back on their way, leaving just the priest, his friend the barber, Sancho Panza and the carter to continue their way to their village.
Six days later, on a Sunday when all the locals were out in the square, the ox cart bearing Don Quixote entered his village at noon. Don Quixote’s housekeeper and niece were brought to him, and once again cursed his books of chivalry. Sancho Panza’s wife rushed over to greet him, first asking him how his ass was, then how many fine skirts he had brought back for her, and how many pairs of shoes for their children. The couple went away with Sancho extolling the virtues of life as a squire.
Don Quixote was taken home, undressed and put on his bed, bewildered as to where he was. The priest cautioned the women that he’d try to escape again, as he indeed did.
At that point, Cervantes apologises for being unable to provide any more information about the life or death of Don Quixote of la Mancha. He concludes the book by quoting his epitaph, and sonnets in praise of Lady Dulcinea, Rocinante and Sancho Panza, and Lady Dulcinea’s epitaph – and promises to tell of Don Quixote’s next and third sally.
That completes the fifty-second and final 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.