Cardenio’s story is interrupted by a sad voice. The priest and the barber follow the voice to find a boy in farmer’s clothes bathing his white feet in a river. They hide behind a rock and see the boy lift up a beautiful face and let down a lot of beautiful golden hair. When the men come out of hiding, the beautiful girl in boy’s clothes begins to run away, but trips and falls. The priest assures her that they won’t do her any harm, and asks her to tell her story.
At this point in the novel, the plot multiplies into several interlacing story lines. Suddenly we are not only following Quixote – we are meeting many new characters who all tell their own individual stories. This narrative device is a way of describing the world as the intersection of countless different perspectives. The interlacing, web-like structure will also become a characteristic of the modern novel.
She tells the men that she is Dorotea, the daughter of a rich farmer in Andalusia. A nobleman named Don Fernando fell in love with her, promised to marry her, seduced her, and abandoned her. Soon he left town, and Dorotea heard word that Fernando married a beautiful noblewoman named Luscinda. She dressed up as a farm boy to go find him and reproach him for his ignoble behavior, with a servant boy for a companion. Cardenio pales when he recognizes these familiar names.
At this period, if a man and a woman agree to marry – even if they’re alone in a dark room – they are from that moment on married in the eyes of god. It was not uncommon to consummate the marriage after the betrothal but before the ceremony. So marrying Luscinda after promising to marry Dorotea would be considered bigamy.
When Dorotea reached Luscinda’s town, a man on the street told her the story of the wedding. Luscinda took her vows and immediately fainted; Don Fernando found a note in her bodice stating that she was already engaged to Cardenio, and that she planned to kill herself after the wedding. He fell into a rage and would have stabbed her, if he hadn’t been stopped. He left town soon afterwards. Luscinda found out that Cardenio had fled also, just after the wedding, and she ran away from home to try to find him. Dorotea decided to keep looking for Don Fernando to make him marry her. But when she reached a secluded part of the woods with her servant boy, he tried to rape her, so she pushed him over a cliff and started working for a herdsman; when the herdsman tried to seduce her, she fled into the wilderness.
Luscinda and Dorotea are beautiful, honorable, and troubled women – perfect candidates for knightly assistance. Both women are assailed by villainous men, who try to steal their innocence and dignity. But neither of them is helpless. Both Luscinda and Dorotea bravely set out on their own to find their lovers and right the wrongs done to them. Their stories both contain gaps that are filled when the stories are combined; without the other, they are incomplete. This structure foreshadows the sprawling social novels of the 19th century.