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CHAPTER VI

OF WHAT TOOK PLACE BETWEEN DON QUIXOTE AND HIS NIECE AND
HOUSEKEEPER; ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT CHAPTERS IN THE WHOLE HISTORY

While Sancho Panza and his wife, Teresa Cascajo, held the above
irrelevant conversation, Don Quixote's niece and housekeeper were
not idle, for by a thousand signs they began to perceive that their
uncle and master meant to give them the slip the third time, and
once more betake himself to his, for them, ill-errant chivalry. They
strove by all the means in their power to divert him from such an
unlucky scheme; but it was all preaching in the desert and hammering
cold iron. Nevertheless, among many other representations made to him,
the housekeeper said to him, "In truth, master, if you do not keep
still and stay quiet at home, and give over roaming mountains and
valleys like a troubled spirit, looking for what they say are called
adventures, but what I call misfortunes, I shall have to make
complaint to God and the king with loud supplication to send some
remedy."

To which Don Quixote replied, "What answer God will give to your
complaints, housekeeper, I know not, nor what his Majesty will
answer either; I only know that if I were king I should decline to
answer the numberless silly petitions they present every day; for
one of the greatest among the many troubles kings have is being
obliged to listen to all and answer all, and therefore I should be
sorry that any affairs of mine should worry him."

Whereupon the housekeeper said, "Tell us, senor, at his Majesty's
court are there no knights?"

"There are," replied Don Quixote, "and plenty of them; and it is
right there should be, to set off the dignity of the prince, and for
the greater glory of the king's majesty."

"Then might not your worship," said she, "be one of those that,
without stirring a step, serve their king and lord in his court?"

"Recollect, my friend," said Don Quixote, "all knights cannot be
courtiers, nor can all courtiers be knights-errant, nor need they
be. There must be all sorts in the world; and though we may be all
knights, there is a great difference between one and another; for
the courtiers, without quitting their chambers, or the threshold of
the court, range the world over by looking at a map, without its
costing them a farthing, and without suffering heat or cold, hunger or
thirst; but we, the true knights-errant, measure the whole earth
with our own feet, exposed to the sun, to the cold, to the air, to the
inclemencies of heaven, by day and night, on foot and on horseback;
nor do we only know enemies in pictures, but in their own real shapes;
and at all risks and on all occasions we attack them, without any
regard to childish points or rules of single combat, whether one has
or has not a shorter lance or sword, whether one carries relics or any
secret contrivance about him, whether or not the sun is to be
divided and portioned out, and other niceties of the sort that are
observed in set combats of man to man, that you know nothing about,
but I do. And you must know besides, that the true knight-errant,
though he may see ten giants, that not only touch the clouds with
their heads but pierce them, and that go, each of them, on two tall
towers by way of legs, and whose arms are like the masts of mighty
ships, and each eye like a great mill-wheel, and glowing brighter than
a glass furnace, must not on any account be dismayed by them. On the
contrary, he must attack and fall upon them with a gallant bearing and
a fearless heart, and, if possible, vanquish and destroy them, even
though they have for armour the shells of a certain fish, that they
say are harder than diamonds, and in place of swords wield trenchant
blades of Damascus steel, or clubs studded with spikes also of
steel, such as I have more than once seen. All this I say,
housekeeper, that you may see the difference there is between the
one sort of knight and the other; and it would be well if there were
no prince who did not set a higher value on this second, or more
properly speaking first, kind of knights-errant; for, as we read in
their histories, there have been some among them who have been the
salvation, not merely of one kingdom, but of many."

"Ah, senor," here exclaimed the niece, "remember that all this you
are saying about knights-errant is fable and fiction; and their
histories, if indeed they were not burned, would deserve, each of
them, to have a sambenito put on it, or some mark by which it might be
known as infamous and a corrupter of good manners."

"By the God that gives me life," said Don Quixote, "if thou wert not
my full niece, being daughter of my own sister, I would inflict a
chastisement upon thee for the blasphemy thou hast uttered that all
the world should ring with. What! can it be that a young hussy that
hardly knows how to handle a dozen lace-bobbins dares to wag her
tongue and criticise the histories of knights-errant? What would Senor
Amadis say if he heard of such a thing? He, however, no doubt would
forgive thee, for he was the most humble-minded and courteous knight
of his time, and moreover a great protector of damsels; but some there
are that might have heard thee, and it would not have been well for
thee in that case; for they are not all courteous or mannerly; some
are ill-conditioned scoundrels; nor is it everyone that calls
himself a gentleman, that is so in all respects; some are gold, others
pinchbeck, and all look like gentlemen, but not all can stand the
touchstone of truth. There are men of low rank who strain themselves
to bursting to pass for gentlemen, and high gentlemen who, one would
fancy, were dying to pass for men of low rank; the former raise
themselves by their ambition or by their virtues, the latter debase
themselves by their lack of spirit or by their vices; and one has need
of experience and discernment to distinguish these two kinds of
gentlemen, so much alike in name and so different in conduct."

"God bless me!" said the niece, "that you should know so much,
uncle- enough, if need be, to get up into a pulpit and go preach in
the streets -and yet that you should fall into a delusion so great and
a folly so manifest as to try to make yourself out vigorous when you
are old, strong when you are sickly, able to put straight what is
crooked when you yourself are bent by age, and, above all, a caballero
when you are not one; for though gentlefolk may he so, poor men are
nothing of the kind!"

"There is a great deal of truth in what you say, niece," returned
Don Quixote, "and I could tell you somewhat about birth that would
astonish you; but, not to mix up things human and divine, I refrain.
Look you, my dears, all the lineages in the world (attend to what I am
saying) can be reduced to four sorts, which are these: those that
had humble beginnings, and went on spreading and extending
themselves until they attained surpassing greatness; those that had
great beginnings and maintained them, and still maintain and uphold
the greatness of their origin; those, again, that from a great
beginning have ended in a point like a pyramid, having reduced and
lessened their original greatness till it has come to nought, like the
point of a pyramid, which, relatively to its base or foundation, is
nothing; and then there are those- and it is they that are the most
numerous- that have had neither an illustrious beginning nor a
remarkable mid-course, and so will have an end without a name, like an
ordinary plebeian line. Of the first, those that had an humble
origin and rose to the greatness they still preserve, the Ottoman
house may serve as an example, which from an humble and lowly
shepherd, its founder, has reached the height at which we now see
it. For examples of the second sort of lineage, that began with
greatness and maintains it still without adding to it, there are the
many princes who have inherited the dignity, and maintain themselves
in their inheritance, without increasing or diminishing it, keeping
peacefully within the limits of their states. Of those that began
great and ended in a point, there are thousands of examples, for all
the Pharaohs and Ptolemies of Egypt, the Caesars of Rome, and the
whole herd (if I may such a word to them) of countless princes,
monarchs, lords, Medes, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, and barbarians,
all these lineages and lordships have ended in a point and come to
nothing, they themselves as well as their founders, for it would be
impossible now to find one of their descendants, and, even should we
find one, it would be in some lowly and humble condition. Of
plebeian lineages I have nothing to say, save that they merely serve
to swell the number of those that live, without any eminence to
entitle them to any fame or praise beyond this. From all I have said I
would have you gather, my poor innocents, that great is the
confusion among lineages, and that only those are seen to be great and
illustrious that show themselves so by the virtue, wealth, and
generosity of their possessors. I have said virtue, wealth, and
generosity, because a great man who is vicious will be a great example
of vice, and a rich man who is not generous will be merely a miserly
beggar; for the possessor of wealth is not made happy by possessing
it, but by spending it, and not by spending as he pleases, but by
knowing how to spend it well. The poor gentleman has no way of showing
that he is a gentleman but by virtue, by being affable, well-bred,
courteous, gentle-mannered, and kindly, not haughty, arrogant, or
censorious, but above all by being charitable; for by two maravedis
given with a cheerful heart to the poor, he will show himself as
generous as he who distributes alms with bell-ringing, and no one that
perceives him to be endowed with the virtues I have named, even though
he know him not, will fail to recognise and set him down as one of
good blood; and it would be strange were it not so; praise has ever
been the reward of virtue, and those who are virtuous cannot fail to
receive commendation. There are two roads, my daughters, by which
men may reach wealth and honours; one is that of letters, the other
that of arms. I have more of arms than of letters in my composition,
and, judging by my inclination to arms, was born under the influence
of the planet Mars. I am, therefore, in a measure constrained to
follow that road, and by it I must travel in spite of all the world,
and it will be labour in vain for you to urge me to resist what heaven
wills, fate ordains, reason requires, and, above all, my own
inclination favours; for knowing as I do the countless toils that
are the accompaniments of knight-errantry, I know, too, the infinite
blessings that are attained by it; I know that the path of virtue is
very narrow, and the road of vice broad and spacious; I know their
ends and goals are different, for the broad and easy road of vice ends
in death, and the narrow and toilsome one of virtue in life, and not
transitory life, but in that which has no end; I know, as our great
Castilian poet says, that-

It is by rugged paths like these they go
That scale the heights of immortality,
Unreached by those that falter here below."


"Woe is me!" exclaimed the niece, "my lord is a poet, too! He
knows everything, and he can do everything; I will bet, if he chose to
turn mason, he could make a house as easily as a cage."

"I can tell you, niece," replied Don Quixote, "if these chivalrous
thoughts did not engage all my faculties, there would be nothing
that I could not do, nor any sort of knickknack that would not come
from my hands, particularly cages and tooth-picks."

At this moment there came a knocking at the door, and when they
asked who was there, Sancho Panza made answer that it was he. The
instant the housekeeper knew who it was, she ran to hide herself so as
not to see him; in such abhorrence did she hold him. The niece let him
in, and his master Don Quixote came forward to receive him with open
arms, and the pair shut themselves up in his room, where they had
another conversation not inferior to the previous one.




Don Quixote by Migeul de Cervantes
Category:
Romance Literature - Spanish
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