By this time the canon's servants, who had gone to the inn to fetch the sumpter mule, had returned, and making a carpet and the green grass of the meadow serve as a table, they seated themselves in the shade of some trees and made their repast there, that the carter might not be deprived of the advantage of the spot, as has been already said. As they were eating they suddenly heard a loud noise and the sound of a bell that seemed to come from among some brambles and thick bushes that were close by, and the same instant they observed a beautiful goat, spotted all over black, white, and brown, spring out of the thicket with a goatherd after it, calling to it and uttering the usual cries to make it stop or turn back to the fold. The fugitive goat, scared and frightened, ran towards the company as if seeking their protection and then stood still, and the goatherd coming up seized it by the horns and began to talk to it as if it were possessed of reason and understanding: "Ah wanderer, wanderer, Spotty, Spotty; how have you gone limping all this time? What wolves have frightened you, my daughter? Won't you tell me what is the matter, my beauty? But what else can it be except that you are a she, and cannot keep quiet? A plague on your humours and the humours of those you take after! Come back, come back, my darling; and if you will not be so happy, at any rate you will be safe in the fold or with your companions; for if you who ought to keep and lead them, go wandering astray, what will become of them?"
The goatherd's talk amused all who heard it, but especially the canon, who said to him, "As you live, brother, take it easy, and be not in such a hurry to drive this goat back to the fold; for, being a female, as you say, she will follow her natural instinct in spite of all you can do to prevent it. Take this morsel and drink a sup, and that will soothe your irritation, and in the meantime the goat will rest herself," and so saying, he handed him the loins of a cold rabbit on a fork.
The goatherd took it with thanks, and drank and calmed himself, and then said, "I should be sorry if your worships were to take me for a simpleton for having spoken so seriously as I did to this animal; but the truth is there is a certain mystery in the words I used. I am a clown, but not so much of one but that I know how to behave to men and to beasts."
"That I can well believe," said the curate, "for I know already by experience that the woods breed men of learning, and shepherds' harbour philosophers."
"At all events, senor," returned the goatherd, "they shelter men of experience; and that you may see the truth of this and grasp it, though I may seem to put myself forward without being asked, I will, if it will not tire you, gentlemen, and you will give me your attention for a little, tell you a true story which will confirm this gentleman's word (and he pointed to the curate) as well as my own."
To this Don Quixote replied, "Seeing that this affair has a certain colour of chivalry about it, I for my part, brother, will hear you most gladly, and so will all these gentlemen, from the high intelligence they possess and their love of curious novelties that interest, charm, and entertain the mind, as I feel quite sure your story will do. So begin, friend, for we are all prepared to listen."
"I draw my stakes," said Sancho, "and will retreat with this pasty to the brook there, where I mean to victual myself for three days; for I have heard my lord, Don Quixote, say that a knight-errant's squire should eat until he can hold no more, whenever he has the chance, because it often happens them to get by accident into a wood so thick that they cannot find a way out of it for six days; and if the man is not well filled or his alforjas well stored, there he may stay, as very often he does, turned into a dried mummy."
"Thou art in the right of it, Sancho," said Don Quixote; "go where thou wilt and eat all thou canst, for I have had enough, and only want to give my mind its refreshment, as I shall by listening to this good fellow's story."
"It is what we shall all do," said the canon; and then begged the goatherd to begin the promised tale.
The goatherd gave the goat which he held by the horns a couple of slaps on the back, saying, "Lie down here beside me, Spotty, for we have time enough to return to our fold." The goat seemed to understand him, for as her master seated himself, she stretched herself quietly beside him and looked up in his face to show him she was all attention to what he was going to say, and then in these words he began his story.