The Waits Of Bremen

: Folk-lore And Legends: German

An honest farmer had once an ass that had been a faithful hard-working

slave to him for a great many years, but was now growing old, and

every day more and more unfit for work. His master therefore was tired

of keeping him to live at ease like a gentleman, and so began to think

of putting an end to him. The ass, who was a shrewd hand, saw that

some mischief was in the wind, so he took himself slily off, and began

his j
urney towards Bremen.

"There," thought he to himself, "as I have a good voice, I may chance

to be chosen town musician."

After he had travelled a little way, he spied a dog lying by the

roadside, and panting as if very tired.

"What makes you pant so, my friend?" said the ass.

"Alas!" said 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 what can I do to earn my livelihood?"

"Hark ye," said the ass, "I am going to Bremen to turn musician. Come

with me, and try what you can do in the same way."

The dog said he was willing, and on they went.

They had not gone far before they saw a cat sitting in the middle of

the road, with tears in her eyes, and making a most rueful face.

"Pray, my good lady," said the ass, "what's the matter with you? You

look quite out of spirits."

"Ah, me!" said the cat. "How can a body be in good spirits when one's

life is in danger? Because I am beginning to grow old, and had rather

lie at my ease before the fire than run about the house after the

mice, my mistress laid hold of me, and was going to drown me, and

though I have been lucky enough to get away from her, I know not how I

am to live."

"Oh!" said the ass, "by all means go with us to Bremen. You are a good

night-singer, and may make your fortune as one of the waits."

The cat was pleased with the thought, and joined the party. Soon

afterwards, as they were passing by a farmyard, they saw a cock

perched upon a gate, screaming out 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 telling all our neighbours that

we were to have fine weather for our washing-day; and yet my mistress

and the cook don't thank me for my pains, but threaten to cut my head

off to-morrow, and make broth of me for the guests that are coming on


"Heaven forbid!" said the ass. "Come with us. Anything will be better

than staying here. Besides, who knows, if we take care to sing in

tune, we may get up a concert of our own, so come along with us."

"With all my heart," replied the cock; so they all four went on

jollily together towards Bremen.

They could not, however, reach the town the first day, so when night

came on they turned off the high-road into a wood to sleep. The ass

and the dog laid themselves down under a great tree, and the cat

climbed up into the branches; while the cock, thinking that the higher

he sat the safer he should be, flew up to the very top of the tree,

and then, according to his custom, before he sounded his trumpet and

went to sleep, looked out on all sides to see that everything was

well. In doing this he saw afar off something bright, and calling to

his companions, said--

"There must be a house no great way off, for I see a light."

"If that be the case," replied the ass, "we had better change our

quarters, for our lodging here is not the best in the world."

"Besides," said the dog, "I should not be the worse for a bone or


"And may be," remarked the cat, "a stray mouse will be found

somewhere about the premises."

So they walked off together towards the spot where the cock had seen

the light; and as they drew near, it became larger and brighter, till

they came at last to a lonely house, in which was a gang of robbers.

The ass, being the tallest of the company, marched up to the window

and peeped in.

"Well," said the cock, "what do you see?"

"What do I see?" replied the ass. "Why, I see a table spread with all

kinds of good things, and robbers sitting round it making merry."

"That would be a noble lodging for us," said the cock.

"Yes," rejoined the ass, "if we could only get in."

They laid their heads together to see how they could get the robbers

out, and at last they hit upon a plan. The ass set himself upright on

his hind-legs, with his fore-feet resting on the window; 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. When all were ready the cock gave

the signal, and up struck the whole band of music. The ass brayed, the

dog barked, the cat mewed, and the cock crew. Then they all broke

through the window at once, and came tumbling into the room amongst

the broken glass, with a hideous clatter. The robbers, who had been

not a little frightened by the opening concert, had now no doubt that

some frightful hobgoblins had broken in upon them, and scampered away

as fast as they could.

The coast once clear, the travellers soon sat down and despatched what

the robbers had left, with as much eagerness as if they had not hoped

to eat again for a month. As soon as they had had enough they put out

the lights, and each once more sought out a resting-place to his

liking. The donkey laid himself down 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; the cock perched upon

a beam on the top of the house; and as all were rather tired with

their journey, they soon fell fast asleep.

About midnight, however, when the robbers saw from afar that the

lights were out and that all was quiet, they began to think that they

had been in too great a hurry to run away; and one of them, who was

bolder than the rest, went to see what was going on. Finding

everything still, he marched into the kitchen, and groped about till

he found a match in order to light a candle. Espying the glittering

fiery eyes of the cat, he mistook them for live coals, and held the

match to them to light it. The cat, however, not understanding such a

joke, sprang at his face, and spat, and scratched him. This

frightened him dreadfully, and away he ran to the back door, where the

dog jumped up and bit him in the leg. As he was crossing over the yard

the ass kicked him; and the cock, who had been awakened by the noise,

crew with all his might.

At this the robber ran back as fast as he could to his comrades, and

told the captain that a horrid witch had got into the house, and had

scratched his face with her long bony fingers--that a man with a knife

in his hand had hidden himself behind the door, and stabbed him in the

leg--that a black monster stood in the yard and struck him with a

club--and that the devil sat upon the top of the house, and cried


"Throw the rascal up here!"

After this the robbers never dared to go back to the house; but the

musicians were so pleased with their quarters, that they never found

their way to Bremen, but took up their abode in the wood. And there

they live, I dare say, to this very day.