One morning in midsummer, Don Quixote arose very early, long before any one else was awake.
He put on his coat of mail and the old helmet which he had patched with pasteboard and green ribbons.
He took down the short sword that had been his great-grandfather's, and belted it to his side. He grasped his long lance. He swung the leather shield upon his shoulder.
Then he went out very quietly by the back door, lest he should awaken his niece or the housekeeper.
He went softly to the barn and saddled his steed. Then he mounted and rode silently away through the sleeping village and the quiet fields.
He was pleased to think how easily he had managed things. He was glad that he had gotten away from the house and the village without any unpleasant scenes.
"I trust that I shall presently meet with some worthy adventure," he said to himself.
But soon a dreadful thought came into his mind: He was not a knight, for no one had conferred that honor upon him; and the laws of chivalry would not permit him to contend in battle with any one of noble rank until he himself was knighted.
"Whoa, Rozinante!" he said. "I must consider this matter."
He stopped underneath a tree, and thought and thought. Must he give up his enterprise and return home?
"No, that I shall never do!" he cried. "I will ride onward, and the first worthy man that I meet shall make me knight."
So he spoke cheeringly to Rozinante and resumed his journey. He dropped the reins loosely upon the horse's neck, and allowed him to stroll hither and thither as he pleased.
"It is thus," he said, "that knights ride out upon their quests. They go where fortune and their steeds may carry them."
Thus, leisurely, he sat in the saddle, while Rozinante wandered in unfrequented paths, cropped the green herbage by the roadside, or rested himself in the shade of some friendly tree. The hours passed, but neither man nor beast took note of time or distance.
"We shall have an adventure by and by," said Don Quixote softly to himself.
The sun was just sinking in the west when Rozinante, in quest of sweeter grass, carried his master to the summit of a gentle hill. There, in the valley below him, Don Quixote beheld a little inn nestling snugly by the roadside.
"Ha!" he cried. "Did I not say that we should have an adventure?"
He gathered up the reins; he took his long lance in his hand; he struck spurs into his loitering steed, and charged down the hill with the speed of a plow horse.
He imagined that the inn was a great castle with four towers and a deep moat and a drawbridge.
At some distance from the gate he checked his steed and waited. He expected to see a dwarf come out on the wall of the castle and sound a trumpet to give notice of the arrival of a strange knight; for it was always so in the books which he had read.
But nobody came. Don Quixote grew impatient. At length he urged Rozinante forward at a gentle pace, and was soon within hailing distance of the inn. Just then a swineherd, in a field near by, blew his horn to call his pigs together.
"Ah, ha!" cried Don Quixote. "There is the dwarf at last. He is blowing his bugle to tell them that I am coming." And with the greatest joy in the world he rode onward to the door of the inn.
The innkeeper was both fat and jolly; and when he saw Don Quixote riding up, he went out to welcome him. He could not help laughing at the war-like appearance of his visitor—with his long lance, his battered shield, and his ancient coat of mail. But he kept as sober a face as possible and spoke very humbly.
"Sir Knight," he said, "will you honor me by alighting from your steed? I have no bed to offer you, but you shall have every other accommodation that you may ask."
Don Quixote still supposed that the inn was a castle; and he thought that the innkeeper must be the governor. So he answered in pompous tones:—
"Senior Castellano, anything is enough for me. I care for nothing but arms, and no bed is so sweet to me as the field of battle."
The innkeeper was much amused.
"You speak well, Sir Knight," he said. "Since your wants are so few, I can promise that you shall lack nothing. Alight, and enter!" And with that he went and held Don Quixote's stirrup while he dismounted.
The poor old man had eaten nothing all day. His armor was very heavy. He was stiff from riding so long. He could hardly stand on his feet. But with the innkeeper's help he was soon comfortably seated in the kitchen of the inn.
"I pray you, Senior Castellano," he said, "take good care of my steed. There is not a finer horse in the universe."
The innkeeper promised that the horse should lack nothing, and led him away to the stable.
When he returned to the kitchen he found Don Quixote pulling off his armor. He had relieved himself of the greater part of his coat of mail; but the helmet had been tied fast with the green ribbons, as I have told you, and it could not be taken off without cutting them.
"Never shall any one harm those ribbons," cried Don Quixote; and after vainly trying to untie them he was obliged to leave them as they were. It was a funny sight to see him sitting there with his head inclosed in the old patched-up helmet.
"Now, Sir Knight," said the innkeeper, "will you not deign to partake of a little food? It is quite past our supper time, and all our guests have eaten. But perhaps you will not object to taking a little refreshment alone."
"I will, indeed, take some with all my heart," answered Don Quixote. "I think I shall enjoy a few mouthfuls of food more than anything else in the world."
As ill luck would have it, it was Friday, and there was no meat in the house. There were only a few small pieces of salt fish in the pantry, and these had been picked over by the other guests.
"Will you try some of our fresh trout?" asked the landlord. "They are very small, but they are wholesome."
"Well," answered Don Quixote, "if there are, several of the small fry, I shall like them as well as a single large fish. But whatever you have, I pray you bring it quickly; for the heavy armor and the day's travel have given me a good appetite."
So a small table was set close by the door, for the sake of fresh air; and Don Quixote drew his chair up beside it.
Then the innkeeper brought some bits of the fish, ill-dressed and poorly cooked. The bread was as brown and moldy as Don Quixote's armor; and there was nothing to drink but cold water.
It was hard for the poor man to get the food to his mouth, for his helmet was much in his way. By using both hands, however, he managed to help himself. Then you would have laughed to see him eat; for, indeed, he was very hungry.
"No true knight will complain of that which is set before him," he said to himself.
Suddenly, however, the thought again came to him that he was not yet a knight. He stopped eating. The last poor morsel of fish was left untouched on the table before him. His appetite had left him.
"Alas! alas!" he groaned. "I cannot lawfully ride out on any adventure until I have been dubbed a knight. I must see to this business at once."
He arose and beckoned to the innkeeper to follow him to the barn.
"I have something to say to you," he whispered.
"Your steed, Sir Knight," said the innkeeper, "has already had his oats. I assure you he will be well taken care of."
"It is not of the steed that I wish to speak," answered Don Quixote; and he carefully shut the door behind them.
Then falling at the innkeeper's feet, he cried, "Sir, I shall never rise from this place till you have promised to grant the boon which I am about to beg of you."
The innkeeper did not know what to do. He tried to raise the poor man up, but he could not. At last he said, "I promise. Name the boon which you wish, and I will give it to you."
"Oh, noble sir," answered Don Quixote, "I knew you would not refuse me. The boon which I beg is this: Allow me to watch my armor in the chapel of your castle to-night, and then in the morning—oh, in the morning—"
"And what shall I do in the morning?" asked the innkeeper.
"Kind sir," he answered, "do this: Bestow on me the honor of knighthood. For I long to ride through every corner of the earth in quest of adventures; and this I cannot do until after I have been dubbed a knight."
The innkeeper smiled, and his eyes twinkled. For he was a right jolly fellow, and he saw that here was a chance for some merry sport.
"Certainly, certainly," he said, right kindly. "You are well worthy to be a knight, and I honor you for choosing so noble a calling. Arise, and I will do all that you ask of me."
"I thank you," said Don Quixote. "Now lead me to your chapel. I will watch my armor there, as many a true and worthy knight has done in the days of yore."
"I would gladly lead you thither," said the inn-keeper, but at the present time there is no chapel in my castle. It will do just as well, however, to watch your armor in some other convenient place. Many of the greatest knights have done this when there was no chapel to be found."
"Noble sir, I believe you are right," said Don Quixote. "I have read of their doing so. And since you have no chapel, I shall be content with any place."
"Then bring your armor into the courtyard of my castle," said the innkeeper. "Guard it bravely until morning, and at sunrise I will dub you a knight."
"I thank you, noble sir," said Don Quixote. "I will bring the armor at once."
"But stop!" cried the innkeeper. "Have you any money?"
"Not a penny," was the answer. "I have never read of any knight carrying money with him."
"Oh, well, you are mistaken there," said the innkeeper. "The books you have read may not say anything about it. But that is because the authors never thought it worth while to write about such common things as money and clean shirts and the like."
"Have you any proof of that?"
"Most certainly I have. I know quite well that every knight had his purse stuffed full of money. Every one, also, carried some clean shirts and a small box of salve for the healing of wounds."
"It does look reasonable," agreed Don Quixote, "but I never thought of it."
"Then let me advise you as a father advises his son," said the innkeeper. "As soon as you have been made a knight, ride homeward and provide yourself with these necessary articles."
"I will obey you, most noble sir," answered Don Quixote.
He then made haste and got his armor together. He carried it to the barnyard and laid it in a horse trough by the well.
The evening was now well gone, and it was growing dark. Don Quixote took his shield upon his left arm. He grasped his long lance in his right hand. Then he began to pace to and fro across the barnyard. He held his head high, like a soldier on duty; and the old patched helmet, falling down over his face, gave him a droll if not fearful appearance.
The full moon rose, bright and clear. The barnyard was lighted up, almost as by day. The innkeeper and his guests stood at the windows of the inn, and watched to see what would happen.
Presently a mule driver came into the yard to water his mules. He saw something lying in the trough, and was stooping to take it out before drawing water from the well. But at that moment Don Quixote rushed upon him.
"Stop, rash knight!" he cried. "Touch not those arms. They are the arms of the bravest man that ever lived. Touch them not, or instant death shall be your doom."
The mule driver was a dull fellow and very slow. He but dimly understood what was said to him, and so paid no attention to the warning. He laid hold of the coat of mail and threw it upon the ground.
"O my lady Dulcinea! Help me in this first trial of my valor!" cried Don Quixote.
At the same moment he lifted his lance with both hands and gave the mule driver a thrust which laid him flat in the dust of the barnyard.
Another such knock would have put an end to the poor fellow. But Don Quixote was too brave to think of striking a fallen foe.
He picked up the coat of mail and laid it again in the horse trough. Then he went on, walking back and forth as though nothing had happened.
The poor mule driver lay senseless by the side of the trough. The innkeeper and his friends still watched from the inn.
"He is a hard-headed fellow," said one. "He is used to rough knocks, and will soon recover."
In a few minutes a noisy wagoner drove into the barnyard. He drove his team quite close to the trough. Then he began to clear it out in order to give water to his horses.
Don Quixote, however, was ready for him. He said not a word, but lifted his lance and hurled it at the wagoner's head. It is a wonder that the fellow's skull was not broken.
The wagoner fell to the ground, yelling most grievously. The people in the inn were frightened, and all ran quickly to the barnyard to put an end to the rough sport.
When Don Quixote saw them coming, he braced himself on his shield and drew his sword.
"O my Dulcinea, thou queen of beauty!" he cried. "Now give strength to my arm and courage to my beating heart."
He felt brave enough to fight all the wagoners and mule drivers in the world. But just then several of the wagoner's friends came running into the barnyard, and each began to throw stones at Don Quixote.
The stones fell in a shower about his head, and he was forced to shelter himself under his shield. Yet he stood bravely at his post, and nothing could make him abandon his arms.
"Fling on!" he cried. "Do your worst. I dare you to come within my reach."
He spoke with such fierceness that every man shrank back in fear. Some took refuge in the barn, but kept on throwing stones.
"Let him alone," cried the innkeeper. "He is a harmless fellow who wishes to become a knight. He has lost his senses through too much reading. Come away and leave him in peace."
The men stopped throwing stones. Don Quixote put down his shield and began again to pace back and forth between the horse trough and the barn. He allowed the servants to carry away the wounded wagoner and the unconscious mule driver; but he glared at them so fiercely that they were glad to get out of his reach.
The innkeeper began to think that he had carried the sport far enough. He was afraid that more and worse mischief might be done. So he spoke right gently to Don Quixote:—
"Brave sir, you have done nobly. You have guarded your armor with courage. You have shown yourself worthy of knighthood, and I will give you that honor without further delay."
"But it is not yet daybreak," answered Don Quixote. "I must guard my armor till the dawn appears."
"It is not at all necessary," said the innkeeper. "I have read of some very famous knights who stood guard only two hours; and you have watched for more than four hours although beset by many foes."
"Time flies swiftly when one is doing his duty," said Don Quixote. "The brave man is bravest when he curbs his anger; but if I am again attacked, I shall not be able to restrain my fury. Not a man in this castle shall be left alive unless it be to please you."
"You shall not be attacked," said the innkeeper. "You have guarded your armor quite long enough, and I will make you a knight at once, if you are willing."
"Nothing can please me better," answered Don Quixote; and he laid his lance gently down by the side of his armor.
The innkeeper, thereupon, called to his guests and servants to come and see the ceremony. A book was brought to him in which he kept his accounts of hay and straw. He opened it with much dignity while Don Quixote stood with closed eyes beside his armor.
The women of the inn gathered in a circle around them. A boy held a piece of lighted candle, while the innkeeper pretended to read a chapter from the book.
The reading being finished, Don Quixote knelt down in the dust of the barnyard. The innkeeper stood over him and mumbled some words without meaning. He gave him a blow on the neck with his hand. Then he slapped him on the back with the flat of his sword.
"Arise, Sir Knight," he said. "Thou are Don Quixote de la Mancha, the most valorous of men. Be brave, be brave, be always brave."
Don Quixote arose, feeling that he was now in truth a knight and ready to do valorous deeds.
One of the women handed him his sword. "May your worship be a lucky knight," she said.
Another arranged the green ribbons which held his helmet in place. "May you prosper, brave sir, wherever you go," she said.
Don Quixote threw his arms around the inn-keeper's neck and thanked him. He could not rest until he had done some gallant deed. So he sat up all the rest of the night, polishing his armor and thinking impatiently of the morrow.