In the previous episode, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza were the victims of another of the Duke and Duchess’s wicked tricks. After a bit of persuasion, Sancho Panza dressed up as a combination of a man of letters and of arms, and was lectured at length by his master about the duties of a governor. He then went off to a nearby town with his large retinue to exercise his power as its governor. Without his squire, Don Quixote was forlorn. When undressing for bed, he laddered one of his stockings, and couldn’t sleep with the heat. When he opened his window he heard one of the Duchess’s maids confessing to her desire for him, but couldn’t be persuaded from devotion to his Lady Dulcinea, so he slammed his window shut and went back to bed.
While Don Quixote had been missing his squire, Sancho Panza had assumed the governorship of a town of five thousand souls, named for this purpose the Island of Barataria (whose name could be derived from the Spanish for cheap, or be interpreted as meaning hankypanky). When its new governor entered within its walls with his great retinue, its council came out to meet him, and the church bells were rung.
Sancho was taken to the parish church to give thanks and to be ceremonially presented with the keys to the town. He was next taken to its courtroom, where he was told that, in accordance with tradition, he’d be asked a difficult question which he had to answer so that the people could know what sort of governor he would be.
Sancho had seen writing on the far wall, which he asked to be read to him. When told that it recorded his being made their governor, he took exception to be being referred to as Don Sancho Panza. Two men then walked in with a dispute over some hoods made by a tailor for a farmer, which the new governor settled by decreeing that the farmer would forfeit the cloth he provided for the hoods, the tailor would forfeit his fee for making them, and the hoods would be given to the prisoners in jail.
That brought laughter from the onlookers, and another two citizens arrived with the next dispute for his resolution. This centred on an unwitnessed loan which one of the old men claimed hadn’t been repaid to him, but the other swore that he had placed the sum into the hands of the lender. As the debtor said that, he handed his walking cane to the other man to hold, then took it back.
To settle that, the governor took the walking cane from the debtor and handed it to the other man, telling him the debt had been repaid. When that was questioned, the cane was split open and revealed the disputed money inside it, which explained how the debtor was able to claim that he had returned the money, but by taking his cane back each time he had given it to the lender, he had never really parted with the money at all.
This left those present in astonishment at the apparent wisdom of the new governor, who had remembered it from an old story he’d been told by the village priest.
Next before Governor Sancho was a woman dragging a wealthy herdsman. She accused him of taking her virginity, but he claimed to be poor, and that she’d been paid as usual for her service to him before claiming that he’d raped her. The governor asked if the herdsman had any money, which he did, so his purse was given to the woman, who checked the coins were real, thanked the governor profusely, and left in a rush. Sancho told the man to bring her back with the purse.
When the two returned, they were both clutching at the purse, she accusing him of trying to take it off her. But she had fought so strongly that he had been unable to wrest the purse from her grasp.
Sancho took the purse off her and returned it to the herdsman, telling her that if she had defended her virginity as vigorously as the purse she wouldn’t have lost it. He sentenced her to be banished from being within twenty miles of his island on pain of two hundred lashes. He also told the herdsman not to go with women if he wanted to keep his money.
That night was restless for Don Quixote back in the palace, so he was up at dawn to dress, donning boots to cover the ladder in his stocking. When he made his way into the antechamber he found the Duke and Duchess already waiting for him. As they walked along, he approached Altisidora, the maid who had sung to him the previous evening, who swooned at his presence. The knight told her friend Emerencia that he knew what caused those fainting attacks, and that they should have a lute put in his room so that he could console her later.
That day the Duchess sent a page to Sancho’s wife with his letter to her and the bundle of clothes he had gathered together.
Late that night Don Quixote was back in his bedroom, where he first opened the window then picked up the lute and tuned it as well as he could before bursting into song with a ballad he had composed during the day. This was intended to explain the knight’s constancy to his lady Dulcinea, and disinterest in any fleeting relationship with the maid.
The ballad was interrupted when a rope with a hundred goat-bells was lowered from the balcony above Don Quixote’s window. Following that came a sackful of cats with bells tied to their tails, creating such a din that even the Duke and Duchess, who were playing this trick, were taken aback. Some of the cats entered the knight’s room, and their racing around snuffed the candles. With that Don Quixote thrust his sword through the grille by his window, calling for the enchanters who had done this to be gone. When the knight turned on the cats, one leaped at his face, where it clung on with its claws, making him cry out with pain.
The Duke and Duchess rushed to the knight’s room, but he insisted on fighting hand-to-hand with the enchanted cat.
Eventually the Duke prised the cat’s claws from Don Quixote’s face, Altisidora came to bandage him, and took the opportunity to make her love for him explicit. Don Quixote was confined to bed for the next five days to recover from his battle with the cat.
That completes the forty-sixth chapter of the second 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.