VERY early the next morning, the knight and his squire set out on their travels. They stole silently away from the village without bidding good-by to any one; and they made such haste that at sunrise they felt themselves quite safe from pursuit.
Don Quixote, riding in full armor astride of gaunt Rozinante, felt that he was indeed the most valorous knight in the world; and no doubt he was a formidable sight. As for Sancho Panza, he rode like a patriarch, with his knapsack on one side of him and a leather bottle on the other, his feet almost dragging on the ground. His mind was full of thoughts about that island of which he hoped to be the governor.
The sun rose high above the hills. The two travelers jogged onward across the plains of Montiel. Both were silent, for both had high purposes in view.
At length Sancho Panza spoke: "I beseech you, Sir Knight-errant, be sure to remember the island you promised me. I dare say I shall make out to govern it, let it be ever so big."
Don Quixote answered with becoming dignity: "Friend Sancho, you must know that it has always been the custom of knights-errant to conquer islands and put their squires over them as governors. Now it is my intention to keep up that good custom."
"You are indeed a rare master," said Sancho Panza.
"Well, I am thinking I might even improve upon that good custom," said Don Quixote. "What if I should conquer three or four islands and set you up as master of them all?"
"You could do nothing that would please me better," answered Sancho.
While they were thus riding and talking, they came to a place where there were a great many windmills. There seemed to be thirty or forty of them scattered here and there upon the plain; and when the wind blew, their long white arms seemed to wave and beckon in a droll and most threatening manner.
Don Quixote drew rein and paused in the middle of the road.
"There! there!" he cried. "Fortune is with us. Look yonder, Sancho! I see at least thirty huge giants, and I intend to fight all of them. When I have overcome and slain them we will enrich ourselves with their spoils."
"What giants?" asked Sancho Panza.
"Why, those who are standing in the fields just before us," answered the knight. "See their long arms! I have read that some of their race had arms which reached more than two miles."
"Look at them better, master," said Sancho. "Those are not giants; they are windmills. The things which you call arms are sails, and they flap around when the wind blows."
"Friend Sancho," said the knight, very sternly, "it is plain that you are not used to adventures. I tell you those things are giants. If you are afraid, go and hide yourself and say your prayers. I shall attack them at once."
Without another word he spurred Rozinante into a sturdy trot and was soon right in the midst of the windmills.
"Stand, cowards!" he cried. "Stand your ground! Do not fly from a single knight who dares you all to meet him in fair fight."
At that moment the wind began to blow briskly and all the mill sails were set moving. They seemed to be answering his challenge.
He paused a moment. "O my Dulcinea, fairest of ladies," he cried, "help me in this perilous adventure!"
Then he couched his lance; he covered himself with his shield; he rushed with Rozinante's utmost speed upon the nearest windmill.
The long lance struck into one of the whirling sails and was carried upward with such swiftness that it was torn from the knight's firm grasp. It was whirled into the air and broken into shivers. At the same moment the knight and his steed were hurled forward and thrown rolling upon the ground.
Sancho Panza hurried to the place as quickly as his dappled donkey could carry him. His master was lying helpless by the roadside. The helmet had fallen from his head, and the shield had been hurled to the farther side of the hedge.
"Mercy on me, master!" cried the squire. "Didn't I tell you they were windmills?"
"Peace, friend Sancho," answered Don Quixote, rubbing the dust from his eyes. "There is nothing so uncertain as war. That wicked enchanter, Freston, who stole my books has done all this. They were giants, as I told you; but he changed them into windmills so that I should not have the honor of victory. But mind you, Sancho, I will get even with him in the end."
"So be it, say I!" cried Sancho, as he dismounted from his donkey.
He lifted the fallen knight from the ground. He brought his shield and adjusted his helmet. Then he led his unlucky steed to his side and helped him to remount.
The sun was now sloping towards the west, and knight and squire rode thoughtfully onward across the plain of Montiel.