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The Street Musicians

from The Grey Fairy Book





A man once possessed a donkey which had served him faithfully for
many years, but at last the poor beast grew old and feeble, and
every day his work became more of a burden. As he was no longer
of any use, his master made up his mind to shoot him; but when
the donkey learnt the fate that was in store for him, he
determined not to die, but to run away to the nearest town and
there to become a street musician.

When he had trotted along for some distance he came upon a
greyhound lying on the road, and panting for dear life. ‘Well,
brother,' said the donkey, ‘what's the matter with you? You look
rather tired.'

‘So I am,' replied the dog, ‘but because I am getting old and am
growing weaker every day, and cannot go out hunting any longer,
my master wanted to poison me; and, as life is still sweet, I
have taken leave of him. But how I am to earn my own livelihood I
haven't a notion.'

‘Well,' said the donkey, ‘I am on my way to the nearest big town,
where I mean to become a street musician. Why don't you take up
music as a profession and come along with me? I'll play the flute
and you can play the kettle-drum.'

The greyhound was quite pleased at the idea, and the two set off
together. When they had gone a short distance they met a cat with
a face as long as three rainy days. ‘Now, what has happened to
upset your happiness, friend puss?' inquired the donkey.

‘It's impossible to look cheerful when one feels depressed,'
answered the cat. ‘I am well up in years now, and have lost most
of my teeth; consequently I prefer sitting in front of the fire
to catching mice, and so my old mistress wanted to drown me. I
have no wish to die yet, so I ran away from her; but good advice
is expensive, and I don't know where I am to go to, or what I am
to do.'

‘Come to the nearest big town with us,' said the donkey, ‘and try
your fortune as a street musician. I know what sweet music you
make at night, so you are sure to be a success.'

The cat was delighted with the donkey's proposal, and they all
continued their journey together. In a short time they came to
the courtyard of an inn, where they found a cock crowing lustily.
‘What in the world is the matter with you?' asked the donkey.
‘The noise you are making is enough to break the drums of our
ears.'

‘I am only prophesying good weather,' said the cock; ‘for
to-morrow is a feast day, and just because it is a holiday and a
number of people are expected at the inn, the landlady has given
orders for my neck to be wrung to-night, so that I may be made
into soup for to-morrow's dinner.'

‘I'll tell you what, redcap,' said the donkey; ‘you had much
better come with us to the nearest town. You have got a good
voice, and could join a street band we are getting up.' The cock
was much pleased with the idea, and the party proceeded on their
way.

But the nearest big town was a long way off, and it took them
more than a day to reach it. In the evening they came to a wood,
and they made up their minds to go no further, but to spend the
night there. The donkey and the greyhound lay down under a big
tree, and the cat and the cock got up into the branches, the cock
flying right up to the topmost twig, where he thought he would be
safe from all danger. Before he went to sleep he looked round the
four points of the compass, and saw a little spark burning in the
distance. He called out to his companions that he was sure there
must be a house not far off, for he could see a light shining.

When he heard this, the donkey said at, once: ‘Then we must get
up, and go and look for the house, for this is very poor
shelter.' And the greyhound added: ‘Yes; I feel I'd be all the
better for a few bones and a scrap or two of meat.'

So they set out for the spot where the light was to be seen
shining faintly in the distance, but the nearer they approached
it the brighter it grew, till at last they came to a brilliantly
lighted house. The donkey being the biggest of the party, went to
the window and looked in.

‘Well, greyhead, what do you see?' asked the cock.

‘I see a well-covered table,' replied the donkey, ‘with excellent
food and drink, and several robbers are sitting round it,
enjoying themselves highly.'

‘I wish we were doing the same,' said the cock.

‘So do I,' answered the donkey. ‘Can't we think of some plan for
turning out the robbers, and taking possession of the house
ourselves?'

So they consulted together what they were to do, and at last they
arranged that the donkey should stand at the window with his
fore-feet on the sill, that the greyhound should get on his back,
the cat on the dog's shoulder, and the cock on the cat's head.
When they had grouped themselves in this way, at a given signal,
they all began their different forms of music. The donkey brayed,
the greyhound barked, the cat miawed, and the cock crew. Then
they all scrambled through the window into the room, breaking the
glass into a thousand pieces as they did so.

The robbers were all startled by the dreadful noise, and thinking
that some evil spirits at the least were entering the house, they
rushed out into the wood, their hair standing on end with terror.
The four companions, delighted with the success of their trick,
sat down at the table, and ate and drank all the food and wine
that the robbers had left behind them.

When they had finished their meal they put out the lights, and
each animal chose a suitable sleeping-place. The donkey lay down
in the courtyard outside the house, the dog behind the door, the
cat in front of the fire, and the cock flew up on to a high
shelf, and, as they were all tired after their long day, they
soon went to sleep.

Shortly after midnight, when the robbers saw that no light was
burning in the house and that all seemed quiet, the captain of
the band said: ‘We were fools to let ourselves be so easily
frightened away;' and, turning to one of his men, he ordered him
to go and see if all was safe.

The man found everything in silence and darkness, and going into
the kitchen he thought he had better strike a light. He took a
match, and mistaking the fiery eyes of the cat for two glowing
coals, he tried to light his match with them. But the cat didn't
see the joke, and sprang at his face, spitting and scratching him
in the most vigorous manner. The man was terrified out of his
life, and tried to run out by the back door; but he stumbled over
the greyhound, which bit him in the leg. Yelling with pain he ran
across the courtyard only to receive a kick from the donkey's
hind leg as he passed him. In the meantime the cock had been
roused from his slumbers, and feeling very cheerful he called
out, from the, shelf where he was perched, ‘Kikeriki!'

Then the robber hastened back to his captain and said: ‘Sir,
there is a dreadful witch in the house, who spat at me and
scratched my face with her long fingers; and before the door
there stands a man with a long knife, who cut my leg severely. In
the courtyard outside lies a black monster, who fell upon me with
a huge wooden club; and that is not all, for, sitting on the
roof, is a judge, who called out: "Bring the rascal to me." So I
fled for dear life.'

After this the robbers dared not venture into the house again,
and they abandoned it for ever. But the four street musicians
were so delighted with their lodgings that they determined to
take up their abode in the robbers' house, and, for all I know to
the contrary, they may be living there to this day.





Next: The Twin Brothers

Previous: The Simpleton



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