Tracks of a Rolling Stone

Author: Henry John Coke

Chapter XXXIV

BEFORE setting out from Seville we had had our Foreign Office passports duly VISED. Our profession was given as that of travelling artists, and the VISE included the permission to carry arms. More than once the sight of our pistols caused us to be stopped by the CARABINEROS. On one occasion these road-guards disputed the wording of the VISE. They protested that ’armas’ meant ’escopetas,’ not pistols, which were forbidden. Cayley indignantly retorted, ’Nothing is forbidden to Englishmen. Besides, it is specified in our passports that we are ’personas de toda confianza,’ which checkmated them.

We both sketched, and passed ourselves off as ’retratistas’ (portrait painters), and did a small business in this way - rather in the shape of caricatures, I fear, but which gave much satisfaction. We charged one peseta (seven-pence), or two, a head, according to the means of the sitter. The fiction that we were earning our bread wholesomely tended to moderate the charge for it.

Passing through the land of Don Quixote’s exploits, we reverentially visited any known spot which these had rendered famous. Amongst such was the VENTA of Quesada, from which, or from Quixada, as some conjecture, the knight derived his surname. It was here, attracted by its castellated style, and by two ’ladies of pleasure’ at its door - whose virginity he at once offered to defend, that he spent the night of his first sally. It was here that, in his shirt, he kept guard till morning over the armour he had laid by the well. It was here that, with his spear, he broke the head of the carrier whom he took for another knight bent on the rape of the virgin princesses committed to his charge. Here, too, it was that the host of the VENTA dubbed him with the coveted knighthood which qualified him for his noble deeds.

To Quesada we wended our way. We asked the Senor Huesped whether he knew anything of the history of his VENTA. Was it not very ancient?

’Oh no, it was quite modern. But on the site of it had stood a fine VENTA which was burnt down at the time of the war.’

’An old building?’

’Yes, indeed! A COSA DE SIEMPRE - thing of always. Nothing, was left of it now but that well, and the stone trough.’

These bore marks of antiquity, and were doubtless as the gallant knight had left them. Curiously, too, there were remains of an outhouse with a crenellated parapet, suggestive enough of a castle.

From Quesada we rode to Argamasilla del Alba, where Cervantes was imprisoned, and where the First Part of Don Quixote was written.

In his Life of Cervantes, Don Gregorio Mayano throws some doubt upon this. Speaking of the attacks of his contemporary, the ’Aragonian,’ Don Gregorio writes (I give Ozell’s translation): ’As for this scandalous fellow’s saying that Cervantes wrote his First Part of "Don Quixote" in a prison, and that that might make it so dull and incorrect, Cervantes did not think fit to give any answer concerning his being imprisoned, perhaps to avoid giving offence to the ministers of justice; for certainly his imprisonment must not have been ignominious, since Cervantes himself voluntarily mentions it in his Preface to the First Part of "Don Quixote."’

This reasoning, however, does not seem conclusive; for the only reference to the subject in the preface is as follows: ’What could my sterile and uncultivated genius produce but the history of a child, meagre, adust, and whimsical, full of various wild imaginations never thought of before; like one you may suppose born in a prison, where every inconvenience keeps its residence, and every dismal sound its habitation?’

We took up our quarters in the little town at the ’Posada de la Mina.’ While our OLLA was being prepared; we asked the hostess whether she had ever heard of the celebrated Don Miguel de Cervantes, who had been imprisoned there? (I will quote Cayley).

’No, Senores; I think I have heard of one Cervantes, but he does not live here at present.’

’Do you know anything of Don Quixote?’

’Oh, yes. He was a great CABALLERO, who lived here some years ago. His house is over the way, on the other side of the PLAZA, with the arms over the door. The father of the Alcalde is the oldest man in the PUEBLO; perhaps he may remember him.’

We were amused at his hero’s fame outliving that of the author. But is it not so with others - the writers of the Book of Job, of the Pentateuch, and perhaps, too, of the ’Iliad,’ if not of the ’Odyssey’?

But, to let Cayley speak:

’While we were undressing to go to bed, three gentlemen were announced and shown in. We begged them to be seated. . . . We sat opposite on the ends of our respective beds to hear what they might have to communicate. A venerable old man opened the conference.

’"We have understood, gentlemen, that you have come hither seeking for information respecting the famous Don Quixote, and we have come to give you such information as we may; but, perhaps you will understand me better if I speak in Latin."

’"We have learnt the Latin at our schools, but are more accustomed to converse in Castilian; pray proceed."

’"I am the Medico of the place, an old man, as you see; and what little I know has reached me by tradition. It is reported that Cervantes was paying his addresses to a young lady, whose name was Quijana or Quijada. The Alcalde, disapproving of the suit, put him into a dungeon under his house, and kept him there a year. Once he escaped and fled, but he was taken in Toboso, and brought back. Cervantes wrote ’Don Quixote’ as a satire on the Alcalde, who was a very proud man, full of chivalresque ideas. You can see the dungeon to-morrow; but you should see the BATANES (watermills) of the Guadiana, whose ’golpear’ so terrified Sancho Panza. They are at about three leagues distance."’

The old gentleman added that he was proud to receive strangers who came to do honour to the memory of his illustrious townsman; and hoped we would visit him next day, on our return from the fulling-mills, when he would have the pleasure of conducting us to the house of the Quijanas, in the cellars of which Cervantes was confined.

To the BATANES we went next morning. Their historical importance entitles them to an accurate description. None could be more lucid than that of my companion. ’These clumsy, ancient machines are composed of a couple of huge wooden mallets, slung in a timber framework, which, being pushed out of the perpendicular by knobs on a water-wheel, clash back again alternately in two troughs, pounding severely whatever may be put in between the face of the mallet and the end of the trough into which the water runs.’

It will be remembered that, after a copious meal, Sancho having neglected to replenish the gourd, both he and his master suffered greatly from thirst. It was now ’so dark,’ says the history, ’that they could see nothing; but they had not gone two hundred paces when a great noise of water reached their ears. . . . The sound rejoiced them exceedingly; and, stopping to listen from whence it came, they heard on a sudden another dreadful noise, which abated their pleasure occasioned by that of the water, especially Sancho’s. . . . They heard a dreadful din of irons and chains rattling across one another, and giving mighty strokes in time and measure which, together with the furious noise of the water, would have struck terror into any other heart than that of Don Quixote.’ For him it was but an opportunity for some valorous achievement. So, having braced on his buckler and mounted Rosinante, he brandished his spear, and explained to his trembling squire that by the will of Heaven he was reserved for deeds which would obliterate the memory of the Platirs, Tablantes, the Olivantes, and Belianesas, with the whole tribe of the famous knights-errant of times past.

’Wherefore, straighten Rosinante’s girths a little,’ said he, ’and God be with you. Stay for me here three days, and no more; if I do not return in that time you may go to Toboso, where you shall say to my incomparable Lady Dulcinea that her enthralled knight died in attempting things that might have made him worthy to be styled "hers."’

Sancho, more terrified than ever at the thoughts of being left alone, reminded his master that it was unwise to tempt God by undertaking exploits from which there was no escaping but by a miracle; and, in order to emphasize this very sensible remark, secretly tied Rosinante’s hind legs together with his halter. Seeing the success of his contrivance, he said: ’Ah, sir! behold how Heaven, moved by my tears and prayers, has ordained that Rosinante cannot go,’ and then warned him not to set Providence at defiance. Still Sancho was much too frightened by the infernal clatter to relax his hold of the knight’s saddle. For some time he strove to beguile his own fears with a very long story about the goatherd Lope Ruiz, who was in love with the shepherdess Torralva - ’a jolly, strapping wench, a little scornful, and somewhat masculine.’ Now, whether owing to the cold of the morning, which was at hand, or whether to some lenitive diet on which he had supped, it so befell that Sancho . . . what nobody could do for him. The truth is, the honest fellow was overcome by panic, and under no circumstances would, or did, he for one instant leave his master’s side. Nay, when the knight spurred his steed and found it could not move, Sancho reminded him that the attempt was useless, since Rosinante was restrained by enchantment. This the knight readily admitted, but stoutly protested that he himself was anything but enchanted by the close proximity of his squire.

We all remember the grave admonitions of Don Quixote, and the ingenious endeavours of Sancho to lay the blame upon the knight. But the final words of the Don contain a moral apposite to so many other important situations, that they must not be omitted here. ’Apostare, replico Sancho, que pensa vuestra merced que yo he hecho de mi persona alguna cosa que no deba.’ ’I will lay a wager,’ replied Sancho, ’that your worship thinks that I have &c.’ The brief, but memorable, answer was: ’Peor es meneallo, amigo Sancho,’ which, as no translation could do justice to it, must be left as it stands. QUIETA NON MOVERE.

We were nearly meeting with an adventure here. While I was busy making a careful drawing of the BATANES, Cayley’s pony was as much alarmed by the rushing waters as had been Sancho Panza. In his endeavours to picket the animal, my friend dropped a pistol which I had lent him to practise with, although he carried a revolver of his own. Not till he had tied up the pony at some little distance did he discover the loss. In vain he searched the spot where he knew the pistol must have escaped from his FAJA. Near it, three roughlooking knaves in shaggy goatskin garments, with guns over their shoulders, were watching the progress of my sketch. On his return Cayley asked two of these (the third moved away as he came up) whether they had seen the pistol. They declared they had not; upon which he said he must search them. He was not a man to be trifled with, and although they refused at first, they presently submitted. He then overtook the third, and at once accused him of the theft. The man swore he knew nothing of the lost weapon, and brought his gun to the charge. As he did so, Cayley caught sight of the pistol under the fellow’s sheepskin jacket, and with characteristic promptitude seized it, while he presented a revolver at the thief’s head. All this he told me with great glee a minute or two later.

When we got back to Argamasilla the Medico was already awaiting us. He conducted us to the house of the Quijanas, where an old woman-servant, lamp in hand, showed the way down a flight of steps into the dungeon. It was a low vaulted chamber, eight feet high, ten broad, and twenty-four long, dimly lighted by a lancet window six feet from the ground. She confidently informed us that Cervantes was in the habit of writing at the farthest end, and that he was allowed a lamp for the purpose. We accepted the information with implicit faith; silently picturing on our mental retinas the image of him whose genius had brightened the dark hours of millions for over three hundred years. One could see the spare form of the man of action pacing up and down his cell, unconscious of prison walls, roaming in spirit through the boundless realms of Fancy, his piercing eyes intent upon the conjured visions of his brain. One noted his vast expanse of brow, his short, crisp, curly hair, his high cheek-bones and singularly high-bridged nose, his refined mouth, small projecting chin and pointed beard. One noticed, too, as he turned, the stump of the left wrist clasped by the remaining hand. Who could stand in such a presence and fail to bow with veneration before this insulted greatness! Potentates pass like Ozymandias, but not the men who, through the ages, help to save us from this tread-mill world, and from ourselves.

We visited Cuenca, Segovia, and many an out-of-the-way spot. If it be true, as Don Quixote declares, that ’No hay libro tan malo que no tenga alguna cosa buena’ (’there is no book so worthless that has not some good in it’), still more true is this of a country like Spain. And the pleasantest places are just those which only by-roads lead to. In and near the towns every other man, if not by profession still by practice, is a beggar. From the seedy-looking rascal in the street, of whom you incautiously ask the way, and who piteously whines ’para zapatos’ - for the wear and tear of shoe leather, to the highest official, one and all hold out their hands for the copper CUARTO or the eleemosynary sinecure. As it was then, so is it now; the Government wants support, and it is always to be had, at a price; deputies always want ’places.’ For every duty the functionary performs, or ought to perform, he receives his bribe. The Government is too poor to keep him honest, but his POUR- BOIRES are not measured by his scruples. All is winked at, if the Ministry secures a vote.

Away in the pretty rural districts, in the little villages amid the woods and the mountains, with their score or so of houses and their little chapel with its tinkling old bell and its poverty-stricken curate, the hard-working, simple-minded men are too proud and too honest to ask for more than a pinch of tobacco for the CIGARILLO. The maidens are comely, and as chaste as - can reasonably be expected.

Madrid is worth visiting - not for its bull-fights, which are disgusting proofs of man’s natural brutality, but for its picture gallery. No one knows what Velasquez could do, or has done, till he has seen Madrid; and Charles V. was practically master of Europe when the collection was in his hands. The Escurial’s chief interests are in its associations with Charles V. and Philip II. In the dark and gloomy little bedroom of the latter is a small window opening into the church, so that the King could attend the services in bed if necessary.

It cannot be said of Philip that he was nothing if not religious, for Nero even was not a more indefatigable murderer, nor a more diabolical specimen of cruelty and superstition. The very thought of the wretch tempts one to revolt at human piety, at any rate where priestcraft and its fabrications are at the bottom of it.

When at Madrid we met Mr. Arthur Birch. He had been with Cayley at Eton, as captain of the school. While we were together, he received and accepted the offer of an Eton mastership. We were going by diligence to Toledo, and Birch agreed to go with us. I mention the fact because the place reminds me of a clever play upon its name by the Eton scholar. Cayley bought a Toledo sword-blade, and asked Birch for a motto to engrave upon it. In a minute or two he hit off this: TIMETOLETUM, which reads Time Toletum=Honour Toledo, or Timeto Letum=Fear death. Cayley’s attempts, though not so neat, were not bad. Here are a couple of them:-

Though slight I am, no slight I stand, Saying my master’s sleight of hand.


Come to the point; unless you do, The point will shortly come to you.

Birch got the Latin poem medal at Cambridge the same year that Cayley got the English one.

Before we set forth again upon our gipsy tramp, I received a letter from Mr. Ellice bidding me hasten home to contest the Borough of Cricklade in the General Election of 1852. Under these circumstances we loitered but little on the Northern roads. At the end of May we reached Yrun. Here we sold our ponies - now quite worn out - for twenty-three dollars - about five guineas. So that a thousand miles of locomotion had cost us a little over five guineas apiece. Not counting hotels at Madrid and such smart places, our daily cost for selves and ponies rarely exceeded six pesetas, or three shillings each all told. The best of it was, the trip restored the health of my friend.


Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options

Title: Tracks of a Rolling Stone

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Tracks of a Rolling Stone

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Henry John Coke, "Chapter XXXIV," Tracks of a Rolling Stone in Tracks of a Rolling Stone (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1903), Original Sources, accessed November 29, 2022,

MLA: Coke, Henry John. "Chapter XXXIV." Tracks of a Rolling Stone, in Tracks of a Rolling Stone, New York, Grosset & Dunlap, 1903, Original Sources. 29 Nov. 2022.

Harvard: Coke, HJ, 'Chapter XXXIV' in Tracks of a Rolling Stone. cited in 1903, Tracks of a Rolling Stone, Grosset & Dunlap, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 29 November 2022, from