Don Quixote and his faithful squire Sancho Panza are lost in the middle of nowhere and night has fallen. Not only that, but a strange clanking and pounding noise from somewhere nearby in the darkness has Sancho frightened nearly out of his wits. To keep his master from investigating the mysterious sound, Sancho secretly ties the legs of his horse, Rocinante. Unable to ride off on this new adventure, Don Quixote must submit to Sancho’s offer to tell stories to keep them both entertained (and safe) until morning…
Sancho began: “ … in a village of Extremadura there was a goatherd--that is to say, one who tended goats--which shepherd or goatherd, as my story goes, was called Lope Ruiz, and this Lope Ruiz was in love with a shepherdess called Torralba, and this shepherdess called Torralba was the daughter of a wealthy grazier, and this wealthy grazier--"
"If that is the way you tell your tale, Sancho," said Don Quixote, "repeating everything you say two times, it will take you two days to finish. Just go straight on with it, and tell it like a reasonable man, or else say nothing."
"Tales are always told this way in my village," answered Sancho, "and I can’t tell it in any other way, nor is it right of your worship to ask me to change the way I’ve always done things."
"Tell it however you wish, then," replied Don Quixote. “Fate will have it that I cannot help listening to you, and so go on."
"And so, Señor of my soul," continued Sancho, “as I have said, this shepherd was in love with Torralba the shepherdess, who was a wild buxom lass with something of the look of a man about her, for it’s the truth she had a bit of a moustache. It’s almost as if I can see her now."
"Then you knew her?" said Don Quixote.
"I didn’t know her," said Sancho, "but the one who told me the story said it was so true and correct that when I told it to another I could safely declare and swear I had seen it all myself. And so, as the days went by, the devil, who never sleeps and is always causing trouble, turned the love the shepherd bore the shepherdess into hatred and ill-will, and the reason, the gossips said, was the jealousy she caused him that went too far, into forbidden territory, so that the shepherd hated her from that time forward so much so, that in order to escape from her, he determined to leave that country and go where he should never set eyes on her again. Torralba, when she found herself spurned by Lope, was immediately smitten with love for him, though she had never loved him before."
"That is the way of women," said Don Quixote, "to scorn the one that loves them, and love the one that despises them. But go on, Sancho."
"It came to pass," said Sancho, "that the shepherd carried out his intention, and driving his goats before him took his way across the plains of Extremadura to pass over into the kingdom of Portugal. Well, Torralba found this out and went after him, followed him at a distance, walking barefoot with a pilgrim's staff in her hand and a saddlebag around her neck, in which she carried, so they say, a piece of mirror and a broken comb and a little pot of paint for her face … but whatever she was carrying I am not going to bother about it, so all I will say is that the goatherd, or so I’m told, came with his flock to the river Guadiana, which was at that time swollen and almost overflowing its banks, and at the spot he came to there was no boat or barge or anyone to ferry him or his flock to the other side, at which he was much vexed, for he he had seen Torralba approaching and knew she would annoy him to no end with tears and pleading; so he kept looking around and discovered a fisherman with a boat, a boat so small it could only hold one person and one goat at a time; but even so he spoke to the fisherman, who agreed to carry him and his three hundred goats across. So the fisherman got into the boat and carried one goat over; then he came back and carried another over; then he came back again, and again brought over another … let your worship keep count of the goats the fisherman is taking across, because if we miss one the story will be over and I won’t be able to tell another word of it. But to carry on I must tell you the landing place on the other side was muddy and slippery, and the fisherman took a lot of time going over and back again; yet he returned for another goat, and another, and another--"
"Let us just say he ferried them all over," said Don Quixote, "and don't keep going and coming in this way, Sancho, or it will take you a whole year to get them across."
"How many have gone across so far?" said Sancho.
"How the devil should I know?" replied Don Quixote.
"There it is," said Sancho. “I told your grace to keep careful count. Well then, by God, that’s the end of the story, for there’s no way to go on."
"How can that be?" said Don Quixote. "Is it so essential to the story to know exactly how many goats have crossed over, so that a mistake in the count means you cannot go on with it?"
"No, your worship, I can’t," replied Sancho, "for when I asked your worship to tell me how many goats had crossed and you said you didn’t know, at that very instant I forgot everything I had to tell, and by my faith the rest of it was most entertaining."
"So, then," said Don Quixote, "the story is finished?"
"As finished as my mother," said Sancho.
"In truth," said Don Quixote, "you have told one of the strangest stories, tales, or histories, that anyone in the world could have imagined, and such a way of telling it and ending it was never seen or heard of before; though I expected nothing else from your keen intellect. But I am not surprised, for it may be that endless pounding and clanking has confused your wits."
"Maybe so," replied Sancho, "but I know that for my story, there’s nothing else to say other than it ends there right where your grace lost count of the goats."
"Let it end where it will, then," said Don Quixote, "and now let us see if Rocinante can go," and again he spurred his horse, and again Rocinante made jumps and remained where he was, because Sancho had tied him so well.
From Don Quixote, Chapter XX.