ONE day as they passed the crest of a hill, they saw a great cloud of dust rising in the road at some distance below them. Don Quixote's eyes flashed with excitement as he watched it.
"The day has come, Sancho," he cried; "the day has come that shall bring us good fortune and happiness. Now I shall perform an exploit that will be remembered through the ages. See'st thou that cloud of dust, Sancho?"
"I see it, brave master," answered the squire.
"Well, that dust is raised by an army that is marching this way," said Don Quixote. "It is a mighty army made up of many nations."
"If that is the case," said Sancho, "there must be two armies. For, over to the left of us, there is another cloud of dust."
Don Quixote looked, and his heart was filled with joy; for he firmly believed that two vast armies were marching towards each other and about to meet in battle. His mind was so filled with fights, adventures, enchantments, and other wonderful things which he had read about, that his fancy easily changed everything he saw into something that he wished to see.
Even his own eyes could not make him believe that the dust was raised by two large flocks of sheep which were being driven along the road. He was so positive about the two armies that even Sancho soon began to feel that he was right.
"Well, sir, what are we to do now?" asked the squire.
"Our duty is plain," answered the knight. "What ought we to do but aid the weaker and injured side? The army in front of us is commanded by the great Alifanfaron, emperor of the vast island of India. The army on our left is led by his enemy, King Pentapolin of the naked arm."
"Pray tell me, brave master," said Sancho, "what is the cause of the trouble? Why are those two great men going thus together by the ears?"
"It is the old, old story," answered Don Quixote. "Alifanfaron is a Pagan, and he is in love with Pentapolin's daughter, who is a Christian. But he shall not have her unless he becomes converted and gives up his false belief."
"No, never!" cried Sancho. "I will stand by Pentapolin and his daughter, and help them all I can."
"You are right," said Don Quixote. "There is no need of being a knight to fight in such battles. Men of all conditions may take part in this conflict."
Then pointing to the clouds of dust with his long finger, he described the various warriors whom he imagined were marching to the conflict. Sancho Panza listened in silence. He turned his eyes this way and that, trying to see the knights and valiant men whom his master was naming.
At last, growing impatient, he cried, "You might as well tell me it is snowing; for not a man nor knight can I see either in this cloud of dust or that."
"Indeed!" answered Don Quixote, "but don't you hear their horses neigh, their trumpets sound, their drums beat?"
"Not I," said Sancho. "I open my ears very wide, and I hear nothing but the bleating of sheep."
And now the two flocks were drawing very near to them, and the sheep could not only be heard, but plainly seen.
"You are frightened, Sancho," said Don Quixote. "Go hide yourself in some safe place while I alone charge into the ranks of the heathen."
Then he couched his lance, set spurs to Rozinante, and rushed onward like a thunderbolt to meet the nearest flock.
Sancho Panza looked after him in amazement. "Hold, sir!" he cried. "Come back! Are you mad? Those are sheep, and neither pagans nor Christians. Come back, I say."
But Don Quixote did not hear him. He rode forward furiously. "Courage, brave knights!" he shouted. "March up, fall on, the victory is ours! Follow me, and take your revenge!"
He charged into the midst of the flock. He thrust right and left, and began to spear the poor dumb creatures as gallantly as though they were his mortal enemies.
The men who were driving the sheep called out to him, but he would not listen. He rushed madly this way and that. The sheep were routed and trampled upon in a most terrible manner.
"Where is the general of this army?" cried Don Quixote. "Where art thou, proud Alifanfaron? See, here is a single knight who challenges thee to combat, and who will punish thee for this unjust war."
The shepherds were now greatly alarmed. They ran forward and began to throw stones at the knight. Some of these, as big as a man's fist, flew close about his ears; some fell upon his shield; and others belabored the back and sides of unhappy Rozinante. But, paying no attention to this shower of missiles, Don Quixote rode unafraid, shouting as though in the thick of battle, and seeking everywhere for some worthy foe.
"Where art thou, Alifanfaron?" he cried again. But just at that moment a stone struck him in the side with such force as almost to break his ribs.
He reeled in his saddle. He felt sure that he was killed, or at least badly wounded. But he remembered the bottle of healing balsam which the innkeeper had advised him to carry, and he felt in his pocket for it.
He was about to put the bottle to his lips, when—bang! Another stone came whizzing through the air. It broke the bottle; it maimed his hand; it struck him fairly on the mouth.
Such a blow was too much for the valiant knight to withstand. He fell from his horse and lay upon the ground as though dead.
The shepherds got their flocks together and hurried away with all speed. They feared that they had killed the knight and that greater trouble would follow.
Throughout the strange conflict, Sancho sat on his dappled donkey at the top of the hill. He felt ashamed and alarmed at sight of his master's mad doings. He groaned, and tore his beard in vexation and dismay.
But when he saw the knight knocked from his steed and stretched upon the ground, he hastened to his aid.
"Ah, master," he cried, "this comes of not taking my advice. Did I not tell you that it was a flock of sheep and no army?"
Don Quixote groaned and sat up.
"Friend Sancho," he said, "it is an easy matter for enchanters to change the shapes of things as they please. At the very moment that my victory was complete my old enemy changed the routed army into a flock of sheep. It was all done to rob me of the glory that belonged to me."
"Well, I saw nothing but sheep from the first," said Sancho.
Don Quixote, with much ado, arose and stood on his feet. He opened his mouth and felt of the teeth that had been loosened by that last cruel blow.
"Friend Sancho, learn of me," he said. "All these storms are only the signs of calmer days. Better success will soon follow. Neither good luck nor bad luck will last always."
"At any rate," interrupted Sancho, "many words will not fill a bushel. I think you would make a better preacher than knight-errant."
"Knights-errant," answered Don Quixote, "ought to know everything. Some of them have been as good preachers as any who preach in the churches."
"Very well," said Sancho. "You may have it as you will. But let us leave this unlucky place and seek lodgings where we may rest and have a bite of wholesome food."
He helped his master to climb again upon the back of gentle Rozinante, and then he remounted his dappled donkey.
"My trusty Sancho, go thy own pace," said Don Quixote. "I will follow thee."
Sancho obeyed, and led the way, keeping to the road which passed over the hills. Don Quixote followed him, riding slowly and gently; for he had been so bruised and wounded in his encounter with the shepherds, that every movement of his steed gave him pain.