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CHAPTER XXXVIII

WHEREIN IS TOLD THE DISTRESSED DUENNA'S TALE OF HER MISFORTUNES

Following the melancholy musicians there filed into the garden as
many as twelve duennas, in two lines, all dressed in ample mourning
robes apparently of milled serge, with hoods of fine white gauze so
long that they allowed only the border of the robe to be seen.
Behind them came the Countess Trifaldi, the squire Trifaldin of the
White Beard leading her by the hand, clad in the finest unnapped black
baize, such that, had it a nap, every tuft would have shown as big
as a Martos chickpea; the tail, or skirt, or whatever it might be
called, ended in three points which were borne up by the hands of
three pages, likewise dressed in mourning, forming an elegant
geometrical figure with the three acute angles made by the three
points, from which all who saw the peaked skirt concluded that it must
be because of it the countess was called Trifaldi, as though it were
Countess of the Three Skirts; and Benengeli says it was so, and that
by her right name she was called the Countess Lobuna, because wolves
bred in great numbers in her country; and if, instead of wolves,
they had been foxes, she would have been called the Countess
Zorruna, as it was the custom in those parts for lords to take
distinctive titles from the thing or things most abundant in their
dominions; this countess, however, in honour of the new fashion of her
skirt, dropped Lobuna and took up Trifaldi.

The twelve duennas and the lady came on at procession pace, their
faces being covered with black veils, not transparent ones like
Trifaldin's, but so close that they allowed nothing to be seen through
them. As soon as the band of duennas was fully in sight, the duke, the
duchess, and Don Quixote stood up, as well as all who were watching
the slow-moving procession. The twelve duennas halted and formed a
lane, along which the Distressed One advanced, Trifaldin still holding
her hand. On seeing this the duke, the duchess, and Don Quixote went
some twelve paces forward to meet her. She then, kneeling on the
ground, said in a voice hoarse and rough, rather than fine and
delicate, "May it please your highnesses not to offer such
courtesies to this your servant, I should say to this your handmaid,
for I am in such distress that I shall never be able to make a
proper return, because my strange and unparalleled misfortune has
carried off my wits, and I know not whither; but it must be a long way
off, for the more I look for them the less I find them."

"He would be wanting in wits, senora countess," said the duke,
"who did not perceive your worth by your person, for at a glance it
may be seen it deserves all the cream of courtesy and flower of polite
usage;" and raising her up by the hand he led her to a seat beside the
duchess, who likewise received her with great urbanity. Don Quixote
remained silent, while Sancho was dying to see the features of
Trifaldi and one or two of her many duennas; but there was no
possibility of it until they themselves displayed them of their own
accord and free will.

All kept still, waiting to see who would break silence, which the
Distressed Duenna did in these words: "I am confident, most mighty
lord, most fair lady, and most discreet company, that my most
miserable misery will be accorded a reception no less dispassionate
than generous and condolent in your most valiant bosoms, for it is one
that is enough to melt marble, soften diamonds, and mollify the
steel of the most hardened hearts in the world; but ere it is
proclaimed to your hearing, not to say your ears, I would fain be
enlightened whether there be present in this society, circle, or
company, that knight immaculatissimus, Don Quixote de la
Manchissima, and his squirissimus Panza."

"The Panza is here," said Sancho, before anyone could reply, "and
Don Quixotissimus too; and so, most distressedest Duenissima, you
may say what you willissimus, for we are all readissimus to do you any
servissimus."

On this Don Quixote rose, and addressing the Distressed Duenna,
said, "If your sorrows, afflicted lady, can indulge in any hope of
relief from the valour or might of any knight-errant, here are mine,
which, feeble and limited though they be, shall be entirely devoted to
your service. I am Don Quixote of La Mancha, whose calling it is to
give aid to the needy of all sorts; and that being so, it is not
necessary for you, senora, to make any appeal to benevolence, or
deal in preambles, only to tell your woes plainly and
straightforwardly: for you have hearers that will know how, if not
to remedy them, to sympathise with them."

On hearing this, the Distressed Duenna made as though she would
throw herself at Don Quixote's feet, and actually did fall before them
and said, as she strove to embrace them, "Before these feet and legs I
cast myself, O unconquered knight, as before, what they are, the
foundations and pillars of knight-errantry; these feet I desire to
kiss, for upon their steps hangs and depends the sole remedy for my
misfortune, O valorous errant, whose veritable achievements leave
behind and eclipse the fabulous ones of the Amadises, Esplandians, and
Belianises!" Then turning from Don Quixote to Sancho Panza, and
grasping his hands, she said, "O thou, most loyal squire that ever
served knight-errant in this present age or ages past, whose
goodness is more extensive than the beard of Trifaldin my companion
here of present, well mayest thou boast thyself that, in serving the
great Don Quixote, thou art serving, summed up in one, the whole
host of knights that have ever borne arms in the world. I conjure
thee, by what thou owest to thy most loyal goodness, that thou wilt
become my kind intercessor with thy master, that he speedily give
aid to this most humble and most unfortunate countess."

To this Sancho made answer, "As to my goodness, senora, being as
long and as great as your squire's beard, it matters very little to
me; may I have my soul well bearded and moustached when it comes to
quit this life, that's the point; about beards here below I care
little or nothing; but without all these blandishments and prayers,
I will beg my master (for I know he loves me, and, besides, he has
need of me just now for a certain business) to help and aid your
worship as far as he can; unpack your woes and lay them before us, and
leave us to deal with them, for we'll be all of one mind."

The duke and duchess, as it was they who had made the experiment
of this adventure, were ready to burst with laughter at all this,
and between themselves they commended the clever acting of the
Trifaldi, who, returning to her seat, said, "Queen Dona Maguncia
reigned over the famous kingdom of Kandy, which lies between the great
Trapobana and the Southern Sea, two leagues beyond Cape Comorin. She
was the widow of King Archipiela, her lord and husband, and of their
marriage they had issue the Princess Antonomasia, heiress of the
kingdom; which Princess Antonomasia was reared and brought up under my
care and direction, I being the oldest and highest in rank of her
mother's duennas. Time passed, and the young Antonomasia reached the
age of fourteen, and such a perfection of beauty, that nature could
not raise it higher. Then, it must not be supposed her intelligence
was childish; she was as intelligent as she was fair, and she was
fairer than all the world; and is so still, unless the envious fates
and hard-hearted sisters three have cut for her the thread of life.
But that they have not, for Heaven will not suffer so great a wrong to
Earth, as it would be to pluck unripe the grapes of the fairest
vineyard on its surface. Of this beauty, to which my poor feeble
tongue has failed to do justice, countless princes, not only of that
country, but of others, were enamoured, and among them a private
gentleman, who was at the court, dared to raise his thoughts to the
heaven of so great beauty, trusting to his youth, his gallant bearing,
his numerous accomplishments and graces, and his quickness and
readiness of wit; for I may tell your highnesses, if I am not wearying
you, that he played the guitar so as to make it speak, and he was,
besides, a poet and a great dancer, and he could make birdcages so
well, that by making them alone he might have gained a livelihood, had
he found himself reduced to utter poverty; and gifts and graces of
this kind are enough to bring down a mountain, not to say a tender
young girl. But all his gallantry, wit, and gaiety, all his graces and
accomplishments, would have been of little or no avail towards gaining
the fortress of my pupil, had not the impudent thief taken the
precaution of gaining me over first. First, the villain and
heartless vagabond sought to win my good-will and purchase my
compliance, so as to get me, like a treacherous warder, to deliver
up to him the keys of the fortress I had in charge. In a word, he
gained an influence over my mind, and overcame my resolutions with I
know not what trinkets and jewels he gave me; but it was some verses I
heard him singing one night from a grating that opened on the street
where he lived, that, more than anything else, made me give way and
led to my fall; and if I remember rightly they ran thus:

From that sweet enemy of mine
My bleeding heart hath had its wound;
And to increase the pain I'm bound
To suffer and to make no sign.

The lines seemed pearls to me and his voice sweet as syrup; and
afterwards, I may say ever since then, looking at the misfortune
into which I have fallen, I have thought that poets, as Plato advised,
ought to he banished from all well-ordered States; at least the
amatory ones, for they write verses, not like those of 'The Marquis of
Mantua,' that delight and draw tears from the women and children,
but sharp-pointed conceits that pierce the heart like soft thorns, and
like the lightning strike it, leaving the raiment uninjured. Another
time he sang:

Come Death, so subtly veiled that I
Thy coming know not, how or when,
Lest it should give me life again
To find how sweet it is to die.

-and other verses and burdens of the same sort, such as enchant when
sung and fascinate when written. And then, when they condescend to
compose a sort of verse that was at that time in vogue in Kandy, which
they call seguidillas! Then it is that hearts leap and laughter breaks
forth, and the body grows restless and all the senses turn
quicksilver. And so I say, sirs, that these troubadours richly deserve
to be banished to the isles of the lizards. Though it is not they that
are in fault, but the simpletons that extol them, and the fools that
believe in them; and had I been the faithful duenna I should have
been, his stale conceits would have never moved me, nor should I
have been taken in by such phrases as 'in death I live,' 'in ice I
burn,' 'in flames I shiver,' 'hopeless I hope,' 'I go and stay,' and
paradoxes of that sort which their writings are full of. And then when
they promise the Phoenix of Arabia, the crown of Ariadne, the horses
of the Sun, the pearls of the South, the gold of Tibar, and the balsam
of Panchaia! Then it is they give a loose to their pens, for it
costs them little to make promises they have no intention or power
of fulfilling. But where am I wandering to? Woe is me, unfortunate
being! What madness or folly leads me to speak of the faults of
others, when there is so much to be said about my own? Again, woe is
me, hapless that I am! it was not verses that conquered me, but my own
simplicity; it was not music made me yield, but my own imprudence;
my own great ignorance and little caution opened the way and cleared
the path for Don Clavijo's advances, for that was the name of the
gentleman I have referred to; and so, with my help as go-between, he
found his way many a time into the chamber of the deceived Antonomasia
(deceived not by him but by me) under the title of a lawful husband;
for, sinner though I was, would not have allowed him to approach the
edge of her shoe-sole without being her husband. No, no, not that;
marriage must come first in any business of this sort that I take in
hand. But there was one hitch in this case, which was that of
inequality of rank, Don Clavijo being a private gentleman, and the
Princess Antonomasia, as I said, heiress to the kingdom. The
entanglement remained for some time a secret, kept hidden by my
cunning precautions, until I perceived that a certain expansion of
waist in Antonomasia must before long disclose it, the dread of
which made us all there take counsel together, and it was agreed
that before the mischief came to light, Don Clavijo should demand
Antonomasia as his wife before the Vicar, in virtue of an agreement to
marry him made by the princess, and drafted by my wit in such
binding terms that the might of Samson could not have broken it. The
necessary steps were taken; the Vicar saw the agreement, and took
the lady's confession; she confessed everything in full, and he
ordered her into the custody of a very worthy alguacil of the court."

"Are there alguacils of the court in Kandy, too," said Sancho at
this, "and poets, and seguidillas? I swear I think the world is the
same all over! But make haste, Senora Trifaldi; for it is late, and
I am dying to know the end of this long story."

"I will," replied the countess.




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