Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The Choristers Of St. Gudule

The Choristers Of St. Gudule [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

The Choristers Of St. Gudule [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

The miller of Sandhills had a donkey which had served him well in its time, but was now too old to work. The miller was a careful man, who did not believe in feeding useless mouths, so he decided that he would sell the donkey for the price of its skin. “I do not suppose I shall get very much for the wretched beast,” he said, regarding poor Greyskin as he stood with hanging head in his stall, “but I shall save the cost of his corn anyhow, and that is always something.”

Left alone, Greyskin reflected sadly upon the fate in store for him. “Such is the way of the world,” he thought. “When I was young and hearty nothing was too good for me; now I’m old and useless I am to be cast out. But am I so useless after all? True, I can no longer pull a  cart to market, but I have a magnificent voice still. There must be a place somewhere for one who can sing as beautifully as I. I’ll go to the Cathedral of St. Gudule, in Brussels, and offer myself as a chorister.”

Greyskin lost no time in acting upon his resolve, but left his stable immediately and set out on the road to Brussels. Passing the Burgomaster’s house he saw an old hound sitting disconsolately on the doorstep.

“Hallo, friend!” said he. “What is the matter with you? You seem very sad this morning.”

“The matter is that I am tired of life,” answered the dog. “I’m getting old and stiff and I can no longer hunt hares for my master as I used to do. The result is that I am reckoned good for nothing and they grudge me every morsel of food I put into my mouth.”

“Come, come, cheer up, my friend,” said Greyskin. “Never say die! I am in a similar case to yourself and have just left my master for precisely the same reason. My plan is to go to the Cathedral of St. Gudule and offer my services to the master of the choir. If I may say so without conceit, I have a lovely voice—one must make the most of one’s gifts, you know—and I ought to be able to command good pay.”

“Well, if it comes to that,” said the dog, “I can sing too. I sang a lovely song to the moon last night, and if you’ll believe me, all the people in our street opened their windows to listen. I sang for quite an hour, and I’d have gone on longer if some malicious person, who was no doubt jealous, had not thrown an old boot at my head.”

“Excellent,” said Greyskin. “Come along with me. You shall sing tenor and I’ll sing bass. We’ll make a famous pair.”

So the dog joined company with Greyskin, and they went on together towards Brussels. A little farther down the road they saw a cat sitting on the rubbish-heap outside a miserable hovel. The creature was half blind with age, and had a face as long as a fiddle.

“Why, what is the matter with you?” asked Greyskin, who had a tender heart.

“Matter enough,” said the cat. “I’ve just been turned out of house and home, and all because I took a little piece of bacon from the larder. Upon my honour, it was no bigger than a baby’s fist, but they  made as much fuss as though it had been a whole gammon. I was beaten, and kicked out to starve. If I could catch mice as I used to do, it would not matter so much, but the mice are too quick for me nowadays. They laugh at me. Nothing remains for me but to die, and I hope it may be soon.”

The Choristers Of St. Gudule [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

“Nonsense,” said Greyskin. “You shall live to laugh at all your  troubles. Come along with us and sing in the choir at St. Gudule. Your voice is a little too thin for my own taste, but you’ll make a very good soprano in a trio. What do you say?”

“You give me new hopes,” answered the cat. “Of course I’ll join you,” and so the three went on together.

Towards nightfall they arrived at a farmyard, on the gate of which a cock was crowing lustily.

“Hallo!” said Greyskin. “What’s all this about?”

“I am singing my last song on earth,” said the cock. “An hour ago I sang a song, although it is not my usual custom to crow in the afternoon, and as I ended I heard the farmer’s wife say: ‘Hearken to Chanticleer. He’s crowing for fine weather to-morrow. I wonder if he’d crow so loudly if he knew that we had guests coming, and that he was going into the pot to make their soup!’ She has a horrid laugh, that woman. I have always hated her!”

“And do you mean to tell me,” said Greyskin, “that you are going to stay here quite contentedly till they come to wring your neck?”

“What else can I do?” asked Chanticleer.

“Join us, and turn your talents to account. We are all beautiful singers and we are going to Brussels to offer ourselves as choristers at St. Gudule. We were a trio before. With you we shall be a quartet, and that’s one better!”

Chanticleer was only too glad to find a means of escape, so he willingly joined the party, and they once more took the road. A little while afterwards they came to a thick wood, which was the haunt of a notorious band of robbers. There they decided to rest for the night, so Greyskin and the dog lay down beneath the shelter of a large beech-tree, while the cat climbed on to one of the branches, and Chanticleer perched himself at the very top. From this lofty post he could see over the whole wood, and it was not long before he espied a light twinkling among the trees not far away. 

The Choristers Of St. Gudule [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

The Choristers Of St. Gudule [Folk Tales Of Flanders]


“There must be a house of some sort over there,” he said to his companions. “Shall we go and see? We may find something to eat.”

“Or some straw to lie upon, at any rate,” said Greyskin. “This damp ground gives me rheumatics in my old bones.”

“I was just thinking the same thing,” said the dog. “Let us go.”

So the four choristers, led by the cock, walked in the direction from which the light came, and before long they found themselves in front of a little house, the windows of which were brilliantly lighted. In order to reach to the windows the animals made a tower of their bodies, with Greyskin at the bottom and Chanticleer at the top.

Now this house was the abode of a band of robbers, who, at that very moment, were seated before a table laden with all kinds of food. There they sat and feasted, and poor Chanticleer’s mouth watered as he watched them.

“Is there anybody inside?” asked the dog, who was impatient.

“Hush!” said Chanticleer. “Men! They’re eating their dinner!”

“I wish I was,” said the dog. “What are they eating?”

“All sorts of things—sausage, and fish. …”

“Sausage!” said the dog.

“Fish!” said the cat.

“And ever so many other delicacies,” Chanticleer went on. “Look here, friends. Wouldn’t it be a fine thing if we could get a share of their meal? I confess that my stomach aches with hunger.”

“And mine too,” said the dog. “I’ve never been so hungry in my life. But how are we to get the food?”

“Let us serenade them, and perhaps they’ll throw us something as a reward,” said Greyskin. “Music, you know, has charms to soothe the savage breast.”

This seemed such a good idea that the choristers lost no time in putting it into execution. All four began to sing. The donkey hee-hawed, the dog howled, the cat miaued, and the cock crowed. From the noise they made one would have thought that the heavens were falling.  

The effect of this marvellous quartet upon the robbers was instantaneous. Leaping from their seats, they ran from place to place in mortal terror, tumbling over one another, oversetting chairs and adding to the racket by their shrieks and cries. At that moment the cock fell against the window, breaking the glass to smithereens; the donkey gave the frame a push, and all the four precipitated themselves into the room. This was the last straw; the robbers could stand no more; half mad with fear they rushed to the door and fled into the forest.

The Choristers Of St. Gudule [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

Then our four choristers drew up to the table and set to work upon the food with which it was laden. Their long walk had given them a good appetite, so that there was little left by the time they had finished. Feeling drowsy after their meal, they then settled themselves to sleep. The donkey made himself a bed on a heap of straw in the yard; the dog stretched himself out upon the mat by the house door; the cat lay among the warm cinders on the hearth; and the cock perched upon the roof-top. A few minutes more and they were all fast asleep.

Meanwhile the robbers, who had retreated some distance into the forest, waited anxiously for something dreadful to happen. An hour passed by and there was neither sight nor sound to alarm them, so they began to feel a little ashamed of their cowardice. Creeping stealthily nearer to the cottage, they saw that everything was still, and that no light was showing from the windows.

At last the robber chief sent his lieutenant to spy out the land, and this man, returning to the cottage without mishap, found his way into the kitchen and proceeded to light a candle. He had no matches, but he saw two sparks of fire among the cinders on the hearth, so he went forward to get a light from them.

Now this light came from the cat’s eyes, and as soon as puss felt the robber touch her, she sprang up, snarling and spitting, and scratched his face. With a scream of terror, he dropped his candle and rushed for the door, and as he passed the dog bit him in the leg. By this time the noise had awakened Greyskin, who got upon his feet just as the man ran by, and helped him forward with a mighty kick, which sent him flying out into the roadway. Seeing this, the cock on the housetop spread his wings and crowed in triumph, “Cock-a-doodle-doo!”

I wish you could have seen the way that robber ran! He covered the ground so quickly that he seemed like a flying shadow, and I am perfectly certain that not even a hare could have overtaken him. At last, panting for breath, he rejoined his comrades in the forest, who were eagerly awaiting his return.

“Well,” cried the chief, “is the way clear? Can we go back?”

“Not on any account,” cried the robber. “There’s a horrible witch in the kitchen. Directly I entered she sprang at me and tore my face with her long claws, calling out at the same time to her creatures to come and devour me. As I ran through the door one of them buried his fangs in my leg, and a little farther on, in the yard, a great black monster struck at me with an enormous club, giving me a blow that nearly broke my back-bone. On the roof a little demon with wings and eyes that shone like coals of fire cried, ‘Stop him! Eat him! Stop him! Eat him!’ You may guess that I did not wait for more. It is a miracle that I have escaped with my life!”

When they heard this terrible story the robbers lost no time in decamping, and such was their terror that they deserted the forest altogether and went away to another part of the country. The result was that our four friends were left to dwell in the cottage, where they lived happily for the rest of their lives, and as they had now everything they wanted, they quite gave up their idea of going to St. Gudule.

The Choristers Of St. Gudule [Folk Tales Of Flanders]