The Town Musicians of Bremen – Pre-Intermediate Level

There once was an old donkey which had worked hard all its life carrying heavy bags to market. One day, the donkey’s owner saw that it was no longer strong enough to work. The owner bought a new donkey and left the old one to live out its life in a field. There was very little to eat in the field and no where to get away from the wind and rain. The old donkey was unhappy that the owner was not going to take good care of him after all his years of hard work. He ran away and took the road to Bremen. “There,” he thought, “I can become a Town Musician.”

When he had gone a little way, he found a large hunting dog lying on the road . The dog was breathing very heavily, like one who was tired with running. “Hello! What are you breathing like that for, big dog?” asked the donkey.

“Oh!” said the dog, “it is because I am getting old.”

“And why are you lying here, alone on the road?” asked the donkey.

“I am getting weaker every day,” said the dog. “I can no longer keep up with the other dogs on the hunt. When my owner sees that a dog is too old to hunt, he shoots it. So I have left him. But now I can’t catch even the smallest animal to eat. How can I make my living now?”

“I’ll tell you what,” said the donkey. “I am going to Bremen to be a Town Musician. Come with me and we can make music together. I will play the lute, and you shall beat the drum.

The dog liked the idea, and they traveled on. It was not long before they saw a cat sitting by the road, making a face like three rainy days.

“Now then, what is wrong with you old cat?” said the donkey.

“Who can be happy when his life is in danger?” answered the cat. “Because I am old, and my teeth are bad, and I like sitting in front of the fire better than running after mice, my owner wanted to tie a rock around my neck and throw me in the river. I have managed to get away, but now don’t know what to do; tell me where I shall go?”

“Come with us to Bremen; you understand singing; you also can become a Town Musician.”

The cat thought it a very good idea, and went with them. Soon after the three came to a farmhouse, and there sat a rooster on the gate, crowing as loudly as he could.

“You crow loud enough to hurt the ears,” said the donkey; “what is the matter with you?”

“Every morning I get up early and crow to wake the farmer and tell him what the weather will be like.” said the rooster, “Today is Saturday, which is the day his wife usually does the washing, and I crowed that it would be a sunny day because I know that she likes to dry the clothes on the same day. Tomorrow is Sunday, and people are coming to dinner. The farmer’s wife cares nothing for all my years of work helping the farmer and herself, and has told the cook to put me into the soup tomorrow. I am to have my head cut off tonight, so now I am crowing as loudly as I can for as long as I can.”

“Oh you old red head,” said the donkey, “you had better come with us; we are going to Bremen, where you will certainly find something better than having your head cut off. You have a good voice, and if we all make music together, it will be something special.”

The rooster agreed and they went on, all four together.

But they could not reach the city of Bremen in one day, and came in the evening to a forest where they decided to spend the night. The donkey and the dog laid themselves down under a great tree, but the cat and the rooster went higher – the rooster flying up to the very top, where he was safest. Before he went to sleep he looked all around. He thought he saw a light in the distance, and called to his friends that there must be a house not far off. The donkey said, “Then we should get up and go to it, for this will not be a good place to sleep if it rains.” And the dog said, “Yes! A few bones with a little meat on them would do me good.” So they took the road towards where the light was, and soon saw it shine brighter; and it got larger and larger till they came to a brightly lit robber’s house. The donkey, being the biggest, went to the window and looked in.

“What do you see, grey beard?” said the rooster.

“What do I see?” answered the donkey: “a table covered with beautiful food and drink, and robbers are sitting round it and having a good time.”

“That would do nicely for us,” said the rooster.

“Yes, for sure, if we were only there,” answered the donkey.

The animals then talked and came up with a plan to make the robbers go away and never come back. The donkey placed himself with his front feet on the wood at the bottom of the window, the dog climbed on the donkey’s back, the cat climbed on the dog’s back and, at last, the rooster flew up and sat on the cat’s head. When that was done, they began their music all together: the donkey brayed, the dog barked, the cat meowed, and the rooster crowed. Then, with a great noise, they jumped through the window into the room so that the glass broke in many pieces and fell everywhere. The robbers jumped up at this terrible noise, thinking that nothing less than a ghost was coming. They ran away into the forest in a great fright. The four friends then sat down at the table, quite happy with what was left there, and ate as if they may not eat again for month.

When the four musicians had finished, they put out the light, and each one looked out for a place to sleep. The donkey lay down in the stable outside as always did at home. The dog lay down behind the door as he always did at home. The cat lay down in front of the fireplace as he always did at home. And the rooster set himself on a piece of wood high up near the top of the roof. As they were all tired from their long journey, they soon went to sleep.

Soon after midnight, the robbers in the distance could see that no more lights were burning in the house. As all seemed quiet, the leader said, “We should not to have let ourselves be scared so easily,” and sent one of them to see what was happening in the house. The robber found everything quiet, went into the kitchen to light a candle, and, thinking the cat’s shining yellow eyes were small pieces of wood still burning from the evening fire, he held a match to them to light it. But the cat did not understand what was happening and flew into his face, spitting and scratching. Very frightened, the robber ran to the back door; the dog, who was lying there, jumped up and bit him in the leg. He ran outside and, as he ran past the stable, the donkey gave him a good kick with one of his back feet. And then the rooster woke up and, thinking that all the noise meant that morning was coming, crowed in his loudest voice from his place near the top of the roof: “cock-a-doodle-doo!”

The robber ran as hard as he could back to the leader. “Oh, dear!” he said. “In the house sits a terrible old witch. She started spitting at me and then scratched my face with her long fingernails. By the door is a man with a knife, who cut me in the leg. Outside lies a black monster, who hit me with a club. And up on the roof there sits the leader who called out, ‘Bring the robber here’. So I made the best of my way off.”

From that time the robbers never went back to the house. But the four musicians liked it so much that they could not make up their minds to leave it. They lived there happily for the rest of their lives, as the person who told me the story promised to be true.