Quixote and Sancho hear the sound of rushing water, along with a frightening pounding noise. Don Quixote declares his boundless courage in a long and florid speech and decides to go investigate. Sancho points out that they can simply go around the noise and avoid unnecessary danger, begs him to consider his own fate, his wife and family, and tries to convince Quixote at least to wait until morning to go investigating. His master won’t be reasoned with, noting that it’s Sancho’s birthright to be cowardly, while it’s his duty to be brave, so Sancho decides to trick him by tying together Rocinante’s hind legs. Quixote can’t make Rocinante move, try as he may, so after many protests he resigns himself to waiting until morning.
Knights are supposed to be fearless, but they’re also supposed to do good, not harm: these two rules seem to contradict one another quite often in Quixote’s experience. To avoid danger would be cowardly, but to lead a friend with a dependent family into danger is inconsiderate. Quixote tends to focus on courage. Though he said earlier that everyone is equal in the pursuit of knight-errantry, now he claims that he was born to courage and Sancho to cowardice – that they are unequal by nature. Quixote’s ideas are sincere but confused.
To pass the time, Sancho tells a story about a shepherd in love with a shepherdess. She made him so jealous that he left her, and once he left her she fell madly in love with him. The shepherd decided to go to Portugal but the shepherdess followed him there, all the way to the river between the two countries. Eager to get away from the lovesick woman, the shepherd asked a fisherman with a small boat and three hundred goats to transport him across. But the boat could only fit one person and one goat, so the fisherman had to transport each goat first, one by one by one… Here Sancho insists that Quixote keep track of each goat or else the story will end. Quixote is bemused by this request but admires the story’s originality.
Sancho is trying to get his way through trickery: he made up the story to get Quixote to fall asleep counting goats. Quixote is easy to deceive and manipulate because it does not occur to him to suspect people of deceit. His vision of the world is clear and simple, single-layered and orderly. Evil villains may lie, but friends and ordinary citizens tell the truth and make their intentions clear, as Quixote does.
At this point nature calls to Sancho, but he’s too frightened to wander off, so he tries to relieve himself very quietly to avoid disturbing his master. Don Quixote points out the smell, they joke about it, and spend the rest of the night chatting. When morning comes, Sancho quickly unties Rocinante. Don Quixote notices that his horse is moving once again and sets off to investigate the pounding sound. Sancho cries in fear for his master’s life and decides to come with him after all.
People in chivalry books very rarely eat, drink, sleep, or perform any other basic bodily functions. Many people have thought that certain aspects of human life are too dull, repulsive, or animal to include in literature or history. But this novel is famous for helping to create a more inclusive kind of literature.
After walking a little, they see that the sound is coming from some fulling-hammers (machines used in cloth-making). They laugh at their foolishness, though Quixote is also embarrassed and angry. Sancho mocks Quixote’s earlier overblown pronouncements on courage and destiny so much that the knight hits him a few times. He explains that’s his job to be brave, not to distinguish among various sounds. In his anger, he alternates between calling Sancho “a miserable peasant” and very intelligent. He points out that Sancho talks more than any squire in the chivalry books, and asks Sancho to show him more respect.
Sancho’s mocking is rowdy and funny, but you could say that it has philosophical value as well: it shows Quixote the contradictions and absurdities in his claims. Sancho’s mocking implies that Quixote ideals are not always adequate guides to action, that there might be certain grey areas and exceptions Quixote has never considered. But Quixote holds to the idea that, for a knight, action is more important than understanding.