THERE was a minstrel who went travelling about the country from time to time singing sweet songs which people loved to hear. His music was not like the music of the Spanish people, for he came from the kingdom of Provence, and every one thronged to hear the strange sweet melody. And when he had passed on, and there was no one left to sing as he sang, people tried to remember his words and his tones, and to sing like him.
At one of the towns where he passed there was a boot-maker, who, as he sat all day alone at his last, diverted himself with singing; and as he had sung a good deal, he thought he could sing very well. He was much delighted with the minstrel's songs, caught up a good many of them, and never tired of singing them--after his fashion. But from being quite ignorant both of music and of the Provençal language, he made, as we should say, a great mess of it. Yet, as the people knew no more about it than himself, they were very well pleased to listen to him.
So, a long time after, when the Provençal minstrel came back that way, they would not admit him, but cried out, "We have one of our own people who sings your songs for us as well as you, and we need no Frenchman here."
Now the minstrel was one greatly devoted to his art, he did not merely sing for sordid gain; so instead of being angry because he was supplanted, he was really pleased to hear that the people in that far-off town had learnt the language and melody of his dear Provence; and he said he would hear the boot-maker himself.
Imagine how great was his annoyance and mortification, when he heard the beautiful ballads lamed and spoilt by the rude, unlearned attempts of the boot-maker!
"Is it possible," he said, "that this man has been deluding all the people into the idea that what he sings is like my songs? And how can I prevent his going on keeping them under this error?" Then he bethought him what to do. He went by night to the boot-maker's workshop, and putting all the wrong pieces of leather together, he sewed them up into all sorts of foolish, useless shapes.
When daylight returned, and the boot-maker came to his work, he was in a great fury at what was done, and began shouting to the neighbours to come and avenge him, for the Frenchman had spoilt all his work. Then they all came running helter-skelter to exercise summary justice on the minstrel.
But the minstrel stood up and confronted them, and said, "Good people! first hear me. This man is a maker of boots and I am a maker of ballads. True I have spoilt his boots, I do not deny it; but he first spoilt my ballads: what I have done is but fair. If you will hear us sing one after the other, you will yourselves give judgment in my favour." So the people told the boot-maker to stand up and sing, which he did in his clumsy droning way, with plenty of false notes and mispronunciations. After him the minstrel stood up and warbled his song in tones so soft and sweet, that the people wondered how they ever could have listened to the other, and with one voice they cried out, "The minstrel is right! The minstrel is right!"
Then the minstrel, who bore no malice, and had only acted out of love for his art, repaid the boot-maker amply for all the damage to his leather, but took a promise of him that he would never sing his songs again.