A Farmer had an Ass that had been a faithful servant to him a great many years. But the Ass was growing old, and every day was more and more unfit for work.
His master was tired of keeping him, and began to think of putting an end to him. But the Ass saw there was mischief in the wind and took himself off slyly. He set out toward the great city. "There," thought he, "people will like to hear me bray, and I shall earn my living as a musician."
He had traveled a little way when he spied a Dog by the wayside. The Dog was lying down, and panting as if he were very tired.
"What makes you pant so, my friend?" asked the Ass.
"Alas!" said the Dog, "my master was about to knock me on the head. I am old and weak, and can no longer hunt as I used. So I ran away. But how can I earn a living?"
"Hark ye," said the Ass; "I am going to the great city to be a musician; suppose you go with me, and try what you can do in the same way."
"Very well," said the Dog, and they jogged on together.
They had not gone far before they saw a Cat sitting in the middle of the road. The Cat wore a very sad face.
"Pray, my good lady," said the Ass, "what is the matter with you? You look quite out of sorts."
"Ah me!" said the Cat, "well I may. How can I be in good spirits, when I fear for my life? I am beginning to grow old, and I like to lie at my ease by the fire, and not to run about the house after mice. So my mistress laid hold of me, and was about to drown me. I was lucky enough to get away from her. But what am I to live on?"
"Oh!" said the Ass, "come with us to the great city. You are a good night-singer, and may make your fortune as a musician."
"Well said," said the Cat, and she joined the party.
On they went, until they came to a farm-yard. There they saw a Cock perched upon the gate, and the Cock was crowing with all his might and main.
"Bravo!" said the Ass; "upon my word you make a famous noise; pray, what is all this about?"
"Why," said the Cock, "I was just now saying that it was going to be fine weather, when lo! the cook claps her hands to her ears, and says she means to cut my head off, and make broth of me for the guests that are coming to-morrow."
"What a shame!" said the Ass. "But come with us, Master Cock. It will be better than to stay here and have your head cut off. Besides, who knows? If we take care to sing in tune, we may get up some kind of concert; so, come along with us."
"With all my heart," said the Cock; and they all four went on their way.
They could not reach the great city the first day. So, when night came on, they went into the wood to sleep. The Ass and the Dog lay down under a great tree; the Cat climbed up and sat on a branch; the Cock flew up to the top of the tree, for that was a very safe place.
Before he went to sleep, he looked out on all sides to see if the world were quiet. Afar off he saw something bright, and he called out to the others:—
"There must be a house no great way off, for I see a light."
"If that be the case," said the Ass, "let us change our quarters, for our lodging here is not the best in the world."
"So say I," said the Dog. "I should not be the worse for a bone or two, or a bit of meat."
So off they all went to the spot where the Cock had seen the light. As they drew near, it became larger and brighter, till at last they came close to a house in which a gang of robbers lived.
The Ass was the tallest of the company, so he marched up to the window and peeped in.
"Well, Ass," said the Cock, "what do you see?"
"What do I see? Why, I see a table spread with all sorts of good things, and men sitting round it, making merry."
"That would be a fine place for us to live in," said the Cock.
"Yes," said the Ass, "if we only could get in." So they all talked the matter over, and at last hit upon a plan. The Ass stood on his hind-legs, with his fore-feet resting on the window-sill; the Dog got upon his back; the Cat scrambled up to the Dog's shoulders; and the Cock flew up and sat upon the Cat's head.
When all was ready, they began their music. The Ass brayed, the Dog barked, the Cat mewed, and the Cock crowed; and then they all broke through the window at once, and came tumbling into the room. The glass fell with a smash upon the floor, and there was a great clatter.
The robbers started when they heard the music. They were scared out of their wits when the Traveling Musicians came tumbling into the room. So they took to their heels at once.
As soon as they were gone, the Traveling Musicians sat down at the table. They ate all that the robbers had left, and as they were very hungry, they ate very fast.
Then, when they had cleared the table, they put out the lights, and each found a place in which to sleep. The Ass lay upon a heap of straw in the yard; the Dog stretched himself upon a mat behind the door; the Cat rolled herself up on the hearth before the warm ashes; and the Cock perched upon a beam at the top of the house. They were all tired and soon fell asleep.
After some time the robbers, who had not fled far, got over their fright. They saw that the lights were out, and that all was quiet. They began to think they had been frightened at nothing. One, bolder than the rest, crept back to the house. All was still; all was dark.
He made his way into the kitchen, and groped about to find a candle. He found the candle, and then went to the fire, as he thought, to light his candle. But the live coals which he thought he saw were two fiery eyes of the Cat.
He held the candle close, to light it, but the Cat, not liking the joke, sprang at his face, and spit, and scratched him. Away he ran to the door. But there the Dog jumped up and bit him in the leg. As he was crossing the yard, the Ass kicked him, and the Cock, now awake, crowed with all his might.
At this the robber ran back to his comrades, as fast as his legs could carry him. He told them that a horrid witch had got into the house, and had spit at him, and scratched his face with long bony fingers. A man with a knife in his hand hid behind the door, and stabbed him in the leg. A black monster stood in the yard, and struck him with a club. And the judge sat upon the top of the house, and cried out:—
"Throw the rascal up here!"
After this, the robbers never dared to go back to the house. The Traveling Musicians were so pleased with their quarters, that they took up their abode there, and there they are, I dare say, at this very day.