Armorial Bearings granted to Robert Lord alias
Laward of London in 1510; College of Arms MS L10 folio 105b;
copyright of the College of Arms, London. Used by permission.

The Bremen Town Musicians

The Bremen Town Musicians.

If you never heard this fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, now is as good a time as any.

Once upon a time a man had an Ass which for many years carried sacks to the mill without tiring. At last however, its strength was worn out; it was no longer of any use for work. Accordingly its master and Owner began to ponder as to how best to cut down its keep; since it no longer had any purpose.

But the Ass, seeing there was mischief in the air, ran away and started on the road to the city of Bremen; there he thought he could become a town-musician.

When the Ass had been travelling a short time, he fell in with a hound, who was lying panting on the road as though he had run himself off his legs.

"Well there, what are you panting for so, Growler?" said the Ass to the hound.

"Ah," said the Hound, "just because I am old, and everyday I get weaker, and also because I can no longer keep up with the pack, my master wanted to kill me, so I took my departure. But now, how am I to earn my bread in order to survive?"

"Do you know what," said the Ass? "I am going to Bremen, and shall there become a town-musician; come with me and take your part in the music. I shall play the lute, and you shall beat the kettle-drum. What do you say?"

The Hound agreed, and they went on.

A short time after they came upon a Cat, sitting in the road, with a face as long as a wet kittens."

"Well, what has been crossing you, Whiskers?" asked the Ass and the hound.

"Who can be cheerful when his out at elbows?" said the Cat. "I am getting on in years, and my teeth are blunted and I prefer to sit by the stove and purr instead of hunting round and round after mice. Just because of this my mistress wanted to drown me and I had to make myself scarce, but now I don't know where to turn or where to live."

"Come with us to Bremen," said the Ass. "You are a great hand at serenading, so you can become one of us, a famous town-musician."

The Cat eagerly consented, and joined them.

Next the fugitives passed by a yard where a barn-door fowl was sitting on the door, crowing with all its might.

"You crow so loud that it pierces one through and through," said the Ass. "What is the matter?"

"Why, oh why, didn't I prophecy fine weather for Lady Day, when Our Lady washes the Christ Child's little garment and wants to dry it? But, notwithstanding this, because Sunday visitors are coming tomorrow, the fine mistress has no pity, and she has ordered the cook to make me into soup, so I shall have my neck wrung tonight. Now I am crowing with all my might while I still have the chance."

"Come along, Red-comb," said the Ass; "you had much better come with us. We are going to Bremen to be where we will become famous, and you will find a much better fate there. You have a good voice and when we make music together, there will be quality in it."

The Cock allowed himself to be persuaded, and they all four went off together.

They could not however, reach the town in one day, and by evening they arrived at a forest where it was decided to spend the night.

The Ass and the Hound lay down under a big tree; the Cat and the Cock settled themselves in the branches, with the Cock flying right up to the top, which was the safest place for him.

Then, before going to sleep he looked round once more in every direction. Suddenly it seemed to him that he saw a light burning in the distance. He called out to his comrades that there must be a house not far off, for he saw a light.

"Very well," said the Ass, "let us set out and make our way to it, since the entertainment here is very bad."

The Hound thought some bones or meat would suit him too, so they set out in the direction of the light, and soon saw it shining more clearly, and getting bigger, bigger, and bigger yet, till they reached a brightly lit robber's den. The thieves were about to eat.

The Ass, being the tallest, approached the window and gracefully peeked inside.

"What do you see, old Jackass?" asked the Cock.

"What do I see?" answered the Ass; "why, a table spread with delicious food and drink, and robbers seated at it enjoying themselves."

"That would just suit us," said the Cock.

"Yes; if we were only in there," answered the Ass.

Then the animals took counsel as to how to set about driving the robbers out.

At last they hit upon a plan.

The Ass was to take up his position with his fore-feet on the window-sill, the Hound was to jump on his back, the Cat then to climb up on to the Hound, and last of all the Cock flew up and perched on the Cat's head.

When they were thus arranged, at a given signal they all began to perform their music; the Ass brayed, and the Hound barked. The Cat mewed, and the Cock crowed; Then they dashed through the window, shivering the panes and making a terrible racket.

The robbers jumped up at the terrible noise; thinking that nothing less than a demon was coming in upon them, and fled into the wood in the greatest alarm.

Then the four animals sat down to table, and helped themselves according to taste, eating as though they had been starving for weeks.

When they had finished they extinguished the light, and looked for sleeping places, each one to suit his nature and individual taste for comfort.

The Ass lay down on the ripe manure heap, the Hound behind the door, the Cat on the hearth near the warm ashes, and the Cock flew way up into the rafters.

As they were tired from the long journey, they soon went to sleep tightly.

When midnight was past, and the robbers saw from a distance that the light was no longer burning, and that all seemed quiet, the chief said: "We ought not to have been scared by a false alarm,"

He ordered one of the robbers to go examine the house. Finding all quiet, the messenger went into the kitchen to kindle a light, and taking the Cat's glowing, fiery eyes for live coals, he held a match close to them to light up.

But the Cat would stand no nonsense; it jumped at his face, spat, hissed, and scratched.

The robber was terribly frightened and ran away. He tried to get out by the back door, but the Hound, who was lying there, jumped up and bit his leg. Then, as he ran across the manure heap in front of the house, the Ass gave him a good sound kick with his hind legs, meanwhile the Cock, who had awoken at the uproar quite fresh and gay, cried out from his perch: "Cock-a-doodle-doo. Cock-a-doodle-doo."

Thereupon the robber ran back as fast as he could to his chief, and said: "There is a gruesome witch in the house, who breathed on me and scratched me with her long fingers. Behind the door there stands a man with a knife who stabbed me. Then, out in the yard lies a black monster, who hit me with a club; and finally, upon the roof the judge is seated. I heard him calling out, 'Bring the rogue here for trial,' so I hurried away as fast as I could."

Thenceforward to this day, the robbers did not venture again to the house which pleased the four Bremen musicians so much that they never wished to leave it again. They had finally found a home.

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