"…a moment later the crimson point and half the steel blade
could be seen protruding from his back…"
Don Quixote, a Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes, is universally considered one of the greatest books ever published.
In this chapter, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza go to the wedding of the rich young man Camacho and his soon to be wife Quiteria. Don Quixote and Sancho wonder what the rejected suitor, Basilio, (who is not rich and has quite possibly lost his mind out of grief for losing his love) might do.
When you read this – and you should, because it’s worth it, and because I labored to cut this short chapter down even shorter to a pithy 1,500 words – remember that Cervantes was simultaneously celebrating and making fun of romantic love.
(This edited excerpt, translated by Samuel Putnam, is from the second book, published in 1615.)
…they heard someone behind them shouting in a loud voice, "Wait a moment, you who are as inconsiderate as you are hasty!"
…As he drew nearer they all recognized him as the gallant Basilio and waited anxiously to see what would come of his words and cries, for they feared that some misfortune would result from his appearance there at such a time. He was exhausted and breathless as he arrived; and, taking his staff, which had a steel point on the end of it, he planted it in the ground in front of the betrothed pair. His face was pale and his eyes were fixed on the bride as he addressed her in a hoarse and trembling voice…
"Long live the rich Camacho! May he spend many long and happy years with the heartless Quiteria! As for the poor Basilio, let him die, seeing that his poverty has clipped the wings of his own happiness and has brought him to the grave!"
Saying this, he seized the staff which he had driven into the ground, and they could then see that it served as a sheath to a fairly long rapier that had been hidden in it. With what might be termed the hilt still planted in the earth, he swiftly, coolly, and resolutely threw himself upon it, and a moment later the crimson point and half the steel blade could be seen protruding from his back, as he lay there transfixed by his own weapon and bathed in blood.
His friends at once came running up to aid him, for they were grief-stricken at his sad fate. Dismounting from Rocinante, Don Quixote took him in his arms and found that he had not yet expired. They were about to withdraw the rapier, but the priest who was present was of the opinion that they should not do so until the dying man had confessed, since the removal of the blade would mean his immediate death. At this point Basilio revived somewhat.
"O cruel Quiteria," he said in a weak and sorrowing voice, "if in this last and fatal moment you would but give me your hand in marriage, I then might hope that my rash act would find pardon, since through it I had achieved the blessing of being yours."
Upon hearing this, the priest told Basilio that he should be thinking of the welfare of his soul rather than of his bodily pleasures and should beg God in all earnestness to forgive him his sins and the rash act he had committed. Basilio’s reply was that he would by no manner of means confess himself unless Quiteria first became his bride as only that happiness would give him the will and strength to do it. Don Quixote then took a hand by loudly declaring that the wounded man’s request was only just and reasonable and, moreover, very easy to comply with, and that Senor Camacho would be as much honored by marrying the brave Basilio’s widow as he would be if he were to receive Senora Quiteria directly from her father.
"In this case," he explained, "it is merely a matter of saying ‘yes’ and no consequence will follow, for the marriage bed will be the grave." Camacho was listening to it all and was very much bewildered and confused, not knowing what to say or do; but Basilio’s friends were so insistent that he give his consent for Quiteria to marry his rival, in order that the latter’s soul might not be lost as it quitted this life in desperation, that he was moved and even compelled to say that she might do so if she wished, adding that he would be satisfied since it only meant putting off for a moment the fulfillment of his desires…
Then the fair Quiteria, speechless still but now deeply disturbed and, as it seemed, sad and regretful, came up to where Basilio lay with eyes upturned, his breath coming in short, quick gasps as he muttered his loved one’s name… Kneeling beside him, she indicated by signs, not by words, that she wished to take his hand, and at this Basilio opened his eyes and gazed at her with a fixed stare.
"…I would have you state and confess that it is of your own free will and without coercion that you take me to be your lawful husband; for there is no reason why, at such a time as this, you should trifle with me or lie to one who has always dealt so honestly with you."
As he uttered these words he grew weaker and weaker, and all the bystanders feared that each sinking spell would be his last. Overcome with shame, the modest Quiteria now took his right hand in hers.
"Nothing," she assured him, "could force me to do a thing that was against my will; and so, as freely as possible, I give you my hand as your lawfully wedded wife and take your own in return
"My mind," replied Basilio, "is not deranged, nor is my thinking confused, and so, with that power of lucid reasoning with which Heaven has seen fit to endow me, I do hereby give myself to be your husband."
"And I," said Quiteria, "will be your wife, whether you live many years or they carry you now from my arms to the grave."
"That young fellow," remarked Sancho Panza at this point, "talks a lot to be so badly wounded. They should make him stop this lovemaking and attend to his soul; for so far as I can make out, if it is leaving his body, it has got no farther than his tongue."
As the pair continued to hold hands, the priest, moved to tears, gave them his benediction; and no sooner had he done so than Basilio nimbly leaped to his feet and, with an unheard-of brazenness, drew the rapier from his body which had served as its sheath. The bystanders were dumbfounded, and some of the more simple-minded and less inquisitive among them began shouting at the top of their voices, "A miracle! A miracle!"
"No miracle," said Basilio, "but a trick."
Astounded and bewildered, the priest ran up and, putting out both hands to examine the wound, discovered that the blade had passed, not through Basilio’s flesh and ribs, but through a hollow iron tube filled with blood which he had placed there, the blood, as was afterward learned, having been especially prepared so that it would not congeal.
A stab through the abdomen, from "Magic, Stage
Illusions and Scientific Diversions"
by Hopkins and Evans, 1901.
The short of it was, the priest, Camacho, and all the others found that they had been tricked and made sport of. As for the bride, she did not appear to be resentful. Indeed, when some were heard to say that, having been accomplished through fraud, the marriage would not be valid, she promptly spoke up and stated that she confirmed it anew; from which all present derived the impression that the whole thing had been arranged between the two of them. Camacho and his supporters, on the other hand, were so angry that they proceeded to take vengeance into their own hands…
"Hold, gentlemen, hold!" cried Don Quixote. "It is not reasonable to take vengeance for the wrongs done us by love. Remember that love and war are one and the same thing; and just as in war it is permissible to use wiles and stratagems to overcome the enemy, so in amorous contests those deceptions that are employed in order to attain the desired object are looked upon as proper, providing they are not to the detriment or dishonor of the lady who is sought. Basilio and Quiteria belong to each other by favorable and just decree of Heaven. Camacho is rich and may buy his pleasure when, where, and as it suits him. Basilio has but this ewe lamb, and no one, however powerful he may be, is going to take it away from him. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder; and whoever shall attempt it will first have to pass the point of this lance."
As he said this, he brandished his weapon with such strength and skill as to frighten all those that did not know him. The effect upon Camacho was to fasten his thoughts intently upon the scorn that Quiteria had shown him, and he accordingly determined to efface her at once from his memory and was ready to listen to the persuasions of the priest, who was a prudent, well-meaning individual. The upshot of it all was, Camacho and his followers became calm and peaceful and put their swords back in their scabbards; for all were now inclined to place the blame upon Quiteria’s fickleness rather than Basilio’s wiles, the spurned bridegroom reasoning that if she had loved his rival before marriage, she would go on loving him after she was wed, and he would do better to thank Heaven for having taken her from him than for giving her to him…