The Street Musicians

: 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


‘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


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


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.