As the troops of Don Lope de Figueroa approach the village of Zalamea, old campaigner Rebolledo grumbles in true veteran fashion about the hardships of the march. Quite ready to stop and relax in the village, Rebolledo predicts that the mayor of the village will bribe the officers to march the regiment through and beyond the little community. When he is taken to task by his fellows for this unsoldierly talk, Rebolledo declares that he is mainly concerned for the welfare of his mistress, Chispa, who accompanied the troops. Chispa retorts that, although she is a woman, she can endure the march as well as any man. To cheer up the men, she sings a marching song.
Chispa’s song is barely finished when the column reaches Zalamea. It is announced that the troops will be billeted in the village to await the imminent arrival of their commander, Don Lope. The captain of the column is pleased to learn that he will be billeted in the home of a proud farmer whose daughter is reputed to be the beauty of the neighborhood.
At the same time that the troops enter Zalamea, an impoverished squire, Don Mendo, accompanied by his servant, Nuno—the pair bore a marked resemblance to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza—arrives in the village also. Don Mendo seeks the favors of Isabel, the daughter of the proud farmer, Pedro Crespo. Isabel bangs together the shutters of her window when Don Mendo greets her in foolishly extravagant terms. Crespo and his son Juan find the presence of Don Mendo highly objectionable.
When the sergeant announces to Crespo that the captain, Don Alvaro de Ataide, will be quartered in Crespo’s house, the farmer graciously accepts this imposition; Juan, however, is displeased and suggests to his father that he purchase a patent of gentility so that he might avoid having to billet troops in his home. Crespo declares that as long as he is not of gentle blood he can see no point, even though he is rich, in assuming gentility.
Isabel and her cousin, Inés, having learned of the presence of the troops, go to the attic of the house, where they will remain as long as the soldiers are in the town. On the captain’s arrival, the sergeant searches the house but is unable to find Isabel. He reports, however, that a servant tells him the woman is in the attic and will stay there until the troops depart. The captain plans to win Isabel by any means.
Rebolledo asks the captain for the privilege of officially conducting gambling among the soldiers. The captain grants the privilege in return for Rebolledo’s help in his plan to discover Isabel. The captain and Rebolledo then pretend to fight; Rebolledo, feigning great fright, flees, followed by the captain, up the stairs to the attic. Isabel admits him to her retreat and, in pleading to the captain for his life, she presents such a charming aspect to the young officer that he is completely smitten.
The clamor of the pretend fight draws Crespo home. He and Juan, with swords drawn, race upstairs to the attic. Juan senses the trick and hints as much, but Crespo, impressed by the captain’s courtesy, is duped. Insulted by Juan’s innuendoes, the captain is about to come to blows with Juan when Don Lope, the regimental commander, enters. When he demands an explanation of the scene, the captain says that Rebolledo’s insubordination had been the cause. Rebolledo, in denial, explains that the disturbance was intended to discover Crespo’s daughter. Don Lope orders the captain to change his quarters and the troops to remain in their billets; he himself chooses to stay in Crespo’s house.
Crespo, jealous of his honor, declares that he will give...