“Not a thing can I see,” answered Sancho, “but a fellow on just such another ass as mine, with something that glitters on top of his head.”
“Can you not see,” asked Don Quixote, “that it is a helmet? Do you stand back, and let me deal with him. Soon now shall I possess myself of the helmet that I need.”
Now, in those far-away days, when doctors were few, if anybody needed to be bled for a fever or any other illness (for it was then thought that “letting blood” was the cure for most illnesses), it was the custom for the barber to bleed the sick person. For the purpose of catching the blood that ran from a vein when it had been cut, a brass dish was carried, a dish with part of it cut away from one side, so that it might the more easily be held close to the patient’s arm or body. A small dish like this you may sometimes still see hanging as a sign at the end of a pole outside barbers’ shops. Barbers in those days of old were called barber-surgeons, for the reason that they bled people, as well as shaved them or cut their hair.
And the truth of the matter was this, that the man whom Don Quixote now believed to be a knight, wearing a golden helmet, was a barber riding on his ass to bleed a sick man. And because it was raining, he had put his brass dish on his head, in order to keep his new hat from being spoiled.
Don Quixote did not wait to speak to the man, but, couching his lance, galloped at him as hard as “Rozinante” could go, shouting as he rode, “Defend thyself, base wretch!”
The barber no sooner saw this terrible figure charging down on him, than, to save himself from being run through, he flung himself on to the ground, and then jumping to his feet, ran for his life, leaving his ass and the brass basin behind him. Then Don Quixote ordered Sancho to pick up the helmet.
“O’ my word,” said Sancho, as he gave it to his master, “it is a fine basin.”
Don Quixote at once put it on his head, saying, “It is a famous helmet, but the head for which it was made must have been of great size. The worst of it is that at least one-half of it is gone. What is the fool grinning at now?” he cried, as Sancho laughed.
“Why, master,” answered Sancho, “it is a barber’s basin.”
“It has indeed some likeness to a basin,” said Don Quixote, “but I tell you it is an enchanted helmet of pure gold, and for the sake of a little wretched money some one has melted down the half of it. When we come to a town where there is an armorer, I will have it altered to fit my head. Meantime I shall wear it as it is.”
As they rode along one day talking of many things, Don Quixote beheld a cloud of dust rising right before them.
“Seest thou that cloud of dust, Sancho?” he asked. “It is raised by a great army marching this way.”
“Why, master,” said Sancho, “there must be two armies there, for yonder is just such another cloud of dust.”