Gateway to the Classics: The Wonder-Book of Horses by James Baldwin
The Wonder-Book of Horses by  James Baldwin


H E was never very handsome. Ill-shaped, long-haired, short-maned, big-hoofed, knock-kneed, sway-backed, broad-eared, watery-eyed, slow-paced, awkward—he would hardly have found a buyer at any price, if put up at auction. But in the eyes of his master, Don Quixote, he was the handsomest and the wisest steed that had ever lived.

"Talk as you will about Alexander's Bucephalus, or about the Cid's Babieca," said he, "they were but poor jades compared with my gallant charger. Only see, if you will, what a soft coat he has, what a splendid head, what a Roman nose, and what sound teeth, always ready for action. And then he is the gentlest, knowingest beast that ever bore brave knight into the tournament or the battlefield."

He had been only a common farm horse, used for carrying burdens and drawing the plow, and as such he had never had any name of his own. He was called the nag, or the colt, or simply the horse—for there was no other creature of this kind about the place, and hence there was no need of a more distinctive title. But when his master made up his mind to turn knight-errant and roam through the world in quest of adventures, it became necessary to find some name for him that would be worthy of a steed with so noble a destiny.

Don Quixote spent four whole days in thinking about it. He wanted to give him a high-sounding name—one that would fill your mouth when you spoke it, and impress you with some idea of the greatness of his master. It should also be an expressive name—one that had some meaning to it and would give some hint of the horse's former condition, as well as his present station. It was hard to find such a name. Don Quixote made a list of all the names that he had ever heard about, from Pegasus to Bayard, and from Hector's Galathe to Count Raymond's Aquiline, but none of them was suitable to his own horse. At last, however, a bright thought came into his mind.

"Was he not a common horse before, and is he not now before all common horses? Then what better name can be given him than Rozinante, which means common-horse-before? There is nothing in the world so simple or so easily understood."

And so the troublesome matter was settled, and the steed was called Rozinante. Then his master, having donned some rusty old pieces of armor which had not been worn for a hundred years or more, mounted him and rode out in search of knightly adventures. It was no doubt a funny sight to all who saw them—the lean and sorry horse, ill-fed and ill-kept, and his strangely accoutered rider, wandering through the country to protect the innocent, to punish evil-doers, and to perform brave deeds generally. But to Don Quixote it was the most serious thing possible. "When the history of my famous achievements is given to the world," he said to himself, "the learned author will doubtless begin it in this manner:

" 'Scarce had the ruddy-colored Phœbus begun to spread the golden tresses of his hair over the vast surface of the earthly globe, and scarce had those feathered poets of the grove, the pretty painted birds, tuned their little pipes to sing their early welcomes to the beauteous Aurora, when the renowned knight Don Quixote de la Mancha, disdaining soft repose, forsook the sleep-inviting couch, and mounting his famous steed Rozinante, entered the ancient and celebrated plains of Montiel!' "

And then, as he proceeded on his way, he cried out, "O happy age! O fortunate times! decreed to usher into the world my famous achievements! And thou, venerable sage, wise enchanter, whatever be thy name; thou whom fate has ordained to be the compiler of my history, forget not, I beseech thee, my trusty Rozinante, the eternal companion of all my adventures!"

Thus, confident of the greatness of his mission, he rode bravely out into the world, with lance in hand, ready to combat and overthrow evil wherever he found it. He made some ludicrous mistakes now and then; in fact, his whole undertaking was a ludicrous mistake, for the days of knight-errantry had ended long before his time. But he was as earnest about it all as ever was the bravest hero of old; and of course Rozinante could do nothing but serve him faithfully so far as his strength would allow.

Riding one day with his squire Sancho Panza at his side, the would-be knight saw a number of windmills in the fields before them. To his crazed fancy each one of these mills seemed to be a giant stretching his long white arms toward the sky.

"Ah! how lucky!" he cried. "Now we shall have a combat worthy of our steel, and we'll put an end to the whole cursed race of giants."

"I see no giants," said the squire.

"Then you must be blind!" cried his master. "Look at their white arms reaching out toward us and daring us to the combat!"

"Pardon me, sir," said the squire; "but those are windmills."

But Don Quixote had already struck his heels against Rozinante's sides and was speeding down the hill with couched lance to do battle with his long-armed enemies.

"Stand, cowards!" he cried, as he came within speaking distance of the first windmill. "Stand your ground, and fly not basely from a single knight, who comes to meet you all in deadly combat!"

At that moment the wind arose, and the mill sails began to go around quite rapidly, as if daring the mad knight to attack them. Don Quixote became all the braver at this sign of defiance. He covered himself with his shield, and with his lance in position, urged poor Rozinante to his utmost speed. The windmill stood its ground, however, and received the charge with more composure than the knight had reckoned. The lance, sticking fast in the sail, was wrenched out of his hands and broken into shivers; and rider and horse were struck with such force that they were both sent rolling into the sand a good way off. When Don Quixote found his breath again, and was able to rise, he saw the faithful Rozinante standing quietly by him, somewhat the worse for the stroke which had been given him, but ready for any further adventure that his master might wish to undertake.

"I do believe," said the good knight, rubbing his eyes and looking around him, "I do believe that some wizard has transformed all these giants into windmills so as to take away from me the honor of victory."

Then, mounting Rozinante, he rode thoughtfully away.

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