"It is an ancient custom in this island, senor
governor, that he who comes to take possession of this famous island is
bound to answer a question which shall be put to him, and which must he
a somewhat knotty and difficult one; and by his answer the people take
the measure of their new governor's wit, and hail with joy or deplore
his arrival accordingly."
While the majordomo was making this speech Sancho was gazing at several large letters inscribed on the wall opposite his seat, and as he could not read he asked what that was that was painted on the wall. The answer was, "Senor, there is written and recorded the day on which your lordship took possession of this island, and the inscription says, 'This day, the so-and-so of such-and-such a month and year, Senor Don Sancho Panza took possession of this island; many years may he enjoy it.'"
"And whom do they call Don Sancho Panza?" asked Sancho.
"Your lordship," replied the majordomo; "for no other Panza but the one who is now seated in that chair has ever entered this island."
"Well then, let me tell you, brother," said Sancho, "I haven't got the 'Don,' nor has any one of my family ever had it; my name is plain Sancho Panza, and Sancho was my father's name, and Sancho was my grandfather's and they were all Panzas, without any Dons or Donas tacked on; I suspect that in this island there are more Dons than stones; but never mind; God knows what I mean, and maybe if my government lasts four days I'll weed out these Dons that no doubt are as great a nuisance as the midges, they're so plenty. Let the majordomo go on with his question, and I'll give the best answer I can, whether the people deplore or not."
At this instant there came into court two old men, one carrying a cane by way of a walking-stick, and the one who had no stick said, "Senor, some time ago I lent this good man ten gold-crowns in gold to gratify him and do him a service, on the condition that he was to return them to me whenever I should ask for them. A long time passed before I asked for them, for I would not put him to any greater straits to return them than he was in when I lent them to him; but thinking he was growing careless about payment I asked for them once and several times; and not only will he not give them back, but he denies that he owes them, and says I never lent him any such crowns; or if I did, that he repaid them; and I have no witnesses either of the loan, or the payment, for he never paid me; I want your worship to put him to his oath, and if he swears he returned them to me I forgive him the debt here and before God."
"What say you to this, good old man, you with the stick?" said Sancho.
To which the old man replied, "I admit, senor, that he lent them to me; but let your worship lower your staff, and as he leaves it to my oath, I'll swear that I gave them back, and paid him really and truly."
The governor lowered the staff, and as he did so the old man who had the stick handed it to the other old man to hold for him while he swore, as if he found it in his way; and then laid his hand on the cross of the staff, saying that it was true the ten crowns that were demanded of him had been lent him; but that he had with his own hand given them back into the hand of the other, and that he, not recollecting it, was always asking for them.
Seeing this the great governor asked the creditor what answer he had to make to what his opponent said. He said that no doubt his debtor had told the truth, for he believed him to be an honest man and a good Christian, and he himself must have forgotten when and how he had given him back the crowns; and that from that time forth he would make no further demand upon him.
The debtor took his stick again, and bowing his head left the court. Observing this, and how, without another word, he made off, and observing too the resignation of the plaintiff, Sancho buried his head in his bosom and remained for a short space in deep thought, with the forefinger of his right hand on his brow and nose; then he raised his head and bade them call back the old man with the stick, for he had already taken his departure. They brought him back, and as soon as Sancho saw him he said, "Honest man, give me that stick, for I want it."
"Willingly," said the old man; "here it is senor," and he put it into his hand.
Sancho took it and, handing it to the other old man, said to him, "Go, and God be with you; for now you are paid."
"I, senor!" returned the old man; "why, is this cane worth ten gold-crowns?"
"Yes," said the governor, "or if not I am the greatest
dolt in the world; now you will see whether I have got the headpiece to
govern a whole kingdom;" and he ordered the cane to be broken in two,
there, in the presence of all. It was done, and in the middle of it
they found ten gold-crowns. All were filled with amazement, and looked
upon their governor as another Solomon. They asked him how he had come
to the conclusion that the ten crowns were in the cane; he replied,
that observing how the old man who swore gave the stick to his opponent
while he was taking the oath, and swore that he had really and truly
given him the crowns, and how as soon as he had done swearing he asked
for the stick again, it came into his head that the sum demanded must
be inside it; and from this he said it might be seen that God sometimes
guides those who govern in their judgments, even though they may be
fools; besides he had himself heard the curate of his village mention
just such another case, and he had so good a memory, that if it was not
that he forgot everything he wished to remember, there would not be
such a memory in all the island. To conclude, the old men went off, one
crestfallen, and the other in high contentment, all who were present
were astonished, and he who was recording the words, deeds, and
movements of Sancho could not make up his mind whether he was to look
upon him and set him down as a fool or as a man of sense.