ONE day as Don Quixote with his squire was strolling aimlessly through the roughest and wildest part of the mountains, he became suddenly very silent. "Friend Sancho," he said, "as you value your life, I bid you not to speak a word to me until I give you leave."
His mind was filled with queer, unreasoning fancies, and he seemed to be pondering upon some new and weighty subject.
So, all the day, they toiled wearily and slowly along, and neither spoke to the other.
Sancho Panza was very tired. He was almost ready to burst for want of a little chat. Still, with the saddle on his shoulders, he trudged silently at the heels of Rozinante, and kept his thoughts to himself.
At length, however, he could bear it no longer. He quickened his pace till he came alongside of his master. Then he laid his hand on Don Quixote's knee, and spoke:—
"Good sir, give me your blessing and let me go home to my wife and children. There I may talk till I am weary, and nobody can hinder me. I tell you, this tramping over hills and dales, by night and by day, without opening my lips, is killing me. I cannot endure it."
"Friend Sancho, I understand thee," answered Don Quixote, "and I give thee leave to use thy tongue freely so long as we are alone together on this mountain road."
"Then let us make hay while the sun shines," cried Sancho. "I will talk while I can, for who knows what I may do afterward. Every man for himself, and God for us all, say I. Little said is soonest mended. There is no padlocking of men's mouths; for a closed mouth catches no flies."
"Pray have done with your proverbs," said Don Quixote, sternly. "Listen to me, and I will unfold a plan which I have formed for my future course and for yours also, dear Sancho."
Then he explained to the squire that it was his intention to send him forthwith to Toboso to carry a letter to the Lady Dulcinea.
"I desire that you shall start within three days," he said, "and as you are very poor at walking, you may have the use of Rozinante, who will carry you with great safety and speed."
"Very well, master," said Sancho; "but what will you do while I am gone?"
"Do? Do you ask what I will do?" answered the knight. "Why, I have a mind to imitate that famous knight, Orlando, I mean to go mad, just as he did. I will throw away my armor, tear my clothes, pull up trees by the roots, knock my head against rocks, and do a thousand other things of that kind. You must wait and see me in some of my performances, Sancho, and then you must tell the Lady Dulcinea what you have beheld with your own eyes."
"Oh, you need not go to any trouble about it," said Sancho; "for I will tell the lady just the same. I will tell her of your thousand mad tricks, and bring you back her answer all full of sweet words."
"As for those tricks, as you call them," said Don Quixote, "I mean to perform them seriously and solemnly, for
a knight must tell no lies. But I will write the letter immediately, and you shall set out on your journey
"And please, sir," said Sancho, "do not forget to write that order to your niece for those three donkeys which you promised me."
They stopped in the midst of a green thicket of underwoods, and there, after much ado, the letter was written and also the order for the donkeys. These were scrawled with a bit of charcoal in a little notebook which Don Quixote happened to find in his pocket.
"They are not very plainly written, Sancho," he said; "but, in the first village to which you come, it will be easy to have the schoolmaster copy them neatly for you."
Sancho took the notebook and put it carefully in his waistcoat pocket. "Now I am even wild to be gone," he said. "I will mount Rozinante, and be off at once; for a bearer of messages should never delay his starting. Give me your blessing, dear master, and I will not wait to see any of your tricks."
"Nay," said Don Quixote. "Wait a little while, for you should see me practice twenty or thirty mad gambols, such as knocking my head against rocks, and the like. I can finish them in half an hour."
"Say not so," answered Sancho. "It would grieve me to the heart to see you playing the madman. I would cry my eyes out; and I have already blubbered too much since I lost my poor donkey. But I will tell the Lady Dulcinea about your tricks, just the same as though I had seen you do them."
"Then I will give thee my blessing and let thee go," said Don Quixote.
"But tell me, good master," said Sancho, "what will you do for food when I am gone? Will you rob travelers on the highway, and steal your dinner from the shepherds hereabout?"
"Don't worry about that, Sancho," said his master. "I shall feed on the herbs and fruits of the forest, and want nothing more; for it is the duty of a mad knight to half starve himself. But you shall find me in good condition when you return."
"But now another thing comes into my head," said Sancho. "How shall I know this out-of-the-way place when I come back? How shall I find you again in this wilderness?"
"Strew a few green branches in the path, Sancho. Strew them as you ride along till you reach the main highway. They will serve as a clew to show you the way hither, if by chance you should forget the turning place."
"I will go about it at once," said Sancho.
So he went among the trees and cut a bundle of green boughs. Then he came and asked his master's blessing; and after both had wept many tears, he mounted Rozinante.
"Be good to the noble steed, Sancho," said Don Quixote. "Remember to be as kind to him as you have been to his master."
"Indeed, I will not forget," said Sancho; and he rode away, strewing the boughs as he went.
Don Quixote watched him until a turn of the road hid him from sight. Then he wandered into the wildest part of the woods, and was really as mad as the maddest knight he had ever read about.