The Four Musicians
T HERE was once a donkey who had worked for his master faithfully many years, but his strength at last began to fail, and every day he became more and more unfit for work. Finally his master concluded it was no longer worth while to keep him and was thinking of putting an end to him. But the donkey saw that mischief was brewing and he ran away. "I will go to the city," said he, "and like enough I can get an engagement there as a musician; for though my body has grown weak, my voice is as strong as ever."
So the donkey hobbled along toward the city, but he had not gone far when he spied a dog lying by the roadside and panting as if he had run a long way. "What makes you pant so, my friend?" asked the donkey.
"Alas!" replied the dog, "my master was going to knock me on the head because I am old and weak and can no longer make myself useful to him in hunting. So I ran away; but how am I to gain a living now, I wonder?"
"Hark ye!" said the donkey. "I am going to the city to be a musician. You may as well keep company with me and try what you can do in the same line."
The dog said he was willing, and they went on together. Pretty soon they came to a cat sitting in the middle of the road and looking as dismal as three wet days. "Pray, my good lady," said the donkey, "what is the matter with you, for you seem quite out of spirits?"
"Ah me!" responded the cat, "how can I be cheerful when my life is in danger? I am getting old, my teeth are blunt, and I like sitting by the fire and purring better than chasing the mice about. So this morning my mistress laid hold of me and was going to drown me. I was lucky enough to get away from her; but I do not know what is to become of me, and I'm likely to starve."
"Come with us to the city," said the donkey, "and be a musician. You understand serenading, and with your talent for that you ought to be able to make a very good living."
The cat was pleased with the idea and went along with the donkey and the dog. Soon afterward, as they were passing a farmyard, a rooster flew up on the gate and screamed out with all his might, "Cock-a-doodle-doo!"
"Bravo!" said the donkey, "upon my word you make a famous noise; what is it all about?"
"Oh," replied the rooster, "I was only foretelling fine weather for our washing-day; and that I do every week. But would you believe it! My mistress doesn't thank me for my pains, and she has told the cook that I must be made into broth for the guests that are coming next Sunday."
"Heaven forbid!" exclaimed the donkey; "come with us, Master Chanticleer. It will be better, at any rate, than staying here to have your head cut off. We are going to the city to be musicians; and—who knows?—perhaps the four of us can get up some kind of a concert. You have a good voice, and if we all make music together, it will be something striking. So come along."
"With all my heart," said the cock; and the four went on together.
The city was, however, too far away for them to reach it on the first day of their travelling, and when, toward night, they came to a thick woods, they decided to turn aside from the highway and pass the night among the trees. So they found a dry, sheltered spot at the foot of a great oak and the donkey and dog lay down on the ground beneath it; but the cat climbed up among the branches, and the rooster, thinking the higher he sat the safer he would be, flew up to the very top. Before he went to sleep the rooster looked around him to the four points of the compass to make sure that everything was all right. In so doing he saw in the distance a little light shining, and he called out to his companions, "There must be a house no great way off, for I can see a light."
"If that be the case," said the donkey, "let us get up and go there. Our lodging here is not what I am used to, and the sooner we change it for better the more pleased I shall be."
"Yes," said the dog, "and perhaps I might be able to get a few bones with a little meat on them at that house."
"And very likely I might get some milk," said the cat.
"And there ought to be some scraps of food for me," said the rooster.
So the cat and the rooster came down out of the tree and they all walked off with Chanticleer in the lead toward the spot where he had seen the light. At length they drew near the house, and the donkey, being the tallest of the company, went up to the lighted window and looked in.
"Well, what do you see?" asked the dog.
"What do I see?" answered the donkey. "I see that this is a robber's house. There are swords and pistols and blunderbusses on the walls, and there are chests of money on the floor, and all sorts of other plunder lying about. The robbers are sitting at a table that is loaded with the best of eatables and drinkables, and they are making themselves very comfortable and merry."
"Those eatables and drinkables would just suit us," declared the rooster.
"Yes, indeed they would," said the donkey, "if we could only get at them; but that will never be, unless we can contrive to drive away the robbers first."
Then they consulted together and at last hit on a plan. The donkey stood on his hind legs with his fore feet on the window-sill, the dog got on the donkey's shoulders, the cat mounted the back of the dog, and the rooster flew up and perched on the back of the cat. When all was ready they began their music.
"Hehaw! hehaw! hehaw!" brayed the donkey.
"Bow-wow! bow-wow!" barked the dog.
"Meow! meow!" said the cat.
"Cock-a-doodle-doo!" crowed the rooster.
Then they all burst through the window into the room, breaking the glass with a frightful clatter. The robbers, not doubting that some hideous hobgoblin was about to devour them, fled to the woods in great terror.
The donkey and his comrades now sat down at the table and made free with the food the robbers had left, and feasted as if they had been hungry for a month. When they had finished they put out the lights and each sought a sleeping-place to his own liking. The donkey laid himself down on some straw in the yard, the dog stretched himself on a mat just inside the door, the cat curled up on the hearth near the warm ashes, and the rooster flew up on the roof and settled himself on the ridge beside the chimney. They were all tired and soon fell fast asleep.
About midnight the robbers came creeping back to the house. They saw that no lights were burning and everything seemed quiet. "Well, well," said the robber captain, "we need not have been so hasty. I think we ran away without reason. But we will be cautious. The rest of you stay here while I go and find out if we are likely to have any more trouble."
So he stepped softly along to the house and entered the kitchen. There he groped about until he found a candle and some matches on the mantel over the fireplace. The cat had now waked up and stood on the hearth watching the robber with shining eyes. He mistook those eyes for two live coals and reached down to get a light by touching a match to them. The cat did not fancy that sort of thing and flew into his face, spitting and scratching. Then he cried out in fright and ran toward the door, and the dog, who was lying there, bit the robber's leg. He managed, however, to get out in the yard, and there the donkey struck out with a hind foot and gave him a kick that knocked him down, and Chanticleer who had been roused by the noise, cried out "Cock-a-doodle-doo! Cock-a-doodle-doo!"
The robber captain had barely strength to crawl away to the other robbers. "We cannot live at that house any more," said he. "In the kitchen is a grewsome witch, and I felt her hot breath and her long nails on my face, and by the door there stood a man who stabbed me in the leg, and in the yard is a black giant who beat me with a club, and on the roof is a little fellow who kept shouting, 'Chuck him up to me! Chuck him up to me!'"
So the robbers went away and never came back, and the four musicians found themselves so well pleased with their new quarters that they did not go to the city, but stayed where they were; and I dare say you would find them there at this very day.