In the previous episode, Sancho Panza took lunch as governor of the ‘Island’ of Barataria, with his doctor sat beside him. The latter, though, dismissed every dish as being unhealthy for Sancho to eat, driving the starving governor to tell him to leave. As the doctor was going, an urgent message from the Duke was read out, warning the governor of an imminent night attack on the town, and that four assassins were out to kill him. Sancho’s immediate response was to have the doctor thrown into the dungeon. A farmer was granted an audience, in which he even had the gall to ask for money towards his son’s dowry. Back in the Duke’s palace, Don Quixote was recovering from his facial wounds inflicted by a cat, and was visited at night by an old duenna. A wealthy farmer’s son had fallen in love with her daughter, and she wanted someone to put pressure on the young man’s father to get them married. She also told him that the Duchess’s beauty depended on two fountains in her legs letting the poison drain from her body. The knight’s bedroom was plunged into darkness as someone entered, gave the duenna a thorough slippering, then pinched Don Quixote until he was aching all over. The duenna left in silence.
After the reading of the Duke’s letter, Sancho’s court reassembled, including the dreaded doctor, who promised to let him eat some dinner. When the time to eat eventually arrived, Sancho quickly made up for his lost lunch, and told the doctor not to try limiting his diet, as his stomach could cope with anything. The governor told those around him that if they fed him and his donkey well, he’d be generous to them in return.
Night had arrived, and it was time for the governor to do his rounds with the butler, secretary, steward, a chronicler and many others in attendance. They came across a couple of men fighting with knives in the street.
When questioned, one claimed that the other had just won a lot of money in a nearby gaming house, thanks to his support. Instead of rewarding him with some of his winnings, the winner had left with all his money, and refused to give him his due. The man with the money confirmed this account, insisting that the other should have been courteous and accept whatever he was given.
The governor told the winner to give the other man a hundred reals, and another thirty to go to poor prisoners. But that other man, being without a job or income, was to leave his island and remain banished for ten years. Sancho then declared that he would shut all gaming houses down because of their harm. But a clerk told him that he wouldn’t be able to close one of them, which was run by someone very important who was a heavy loser.
Next a constable came up with a youth who had tried to run away from him and resist arrest. The youth claimed that he was a weaver of iron lance-heads, and continued to give cheeky answers to the governor, who told the lad that he’d sleep in prison for that. The youth remained boldly defiant, insisting that no one could make him sleep that night. Sancho finally sent him home, with a caution to show more respect to authority.
Two constables then brought a man they said was a woman in disguise. She turned out to be a beautiful sixteen year-old, who told Sancho that her identity and intentions were secret, that she wasn’t a criminal, but an unfortunate young woman. The governor dismissed his retinue apart from the butler, steward and his secretary, so she could speak in confidence.
The young woman first said that she was the daughter of the man who gathered wool tax, then that she was so flustered that she didn’t know what she was saying. She tried again, this time saying that she was the daughter of a wealthy hidalgo, who the others knew was kept shut away from view. She became tearful as she told her story, of how she’d been shut away for ten years and hadn’t left home. She had persuaded her brother to take her out in the town, but when they came across the governor’s rounds party, he ran away, only to be arrested.
The constables soon appeared with her brother, who was dressed as a woman. Their story was confirmed, and the two were allowed to walk back home. That concluded the rounds, and in just two days Sancho’s governorship was to be ended.
Back in their palace, the Duchess told the Duke that it was she and her maid Altisidora who had burst into Don Quixote’s bedroom, thrashed the old duenna, and pinched the knight, because of the insults made against women’s beauty. Continuing their amusement at the tricks they had played on Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, they pressed on with the next.
The Duchess sent her page to Teresa Panza with letters from the nobles, together with a present of jewellery. The page was welcomed by Sancho’s daughter, who took him straight to her mother. Teresa was in tatty clothing, spinning with her distaff, and was surprised to hear of her husband’s governorship. The page put the necklace on her, presented the letters and read them to her. The Duchess asked for some fine fat acorns, and a letter in response.
Teresa Panza told her daughter to look after the page and his mount, while she put together a gallon of acorns and told their neighbours, the village priest and the barber of her husband’s success. But they wouldn’t believe her until they had read the Duke and Duchess’s letters aloud. They all went to the page, who was busy feeding his horse and about to eat his own lunch. Teresa Panza started to plan getting herself a carriage from Madrid, as is fit for a governor’s wife.
The others still voiced their disbelief, but the page asserted its truth and invited any who doubted to accompany him back to the palace to see for themselves. The priest invited the page to his home, and Teresa got an altar boy to write a reply to her husband, and another to the Duchess.
That completes the fiftieth 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.