Read THE DONKEY THAT LOVED A STAR of Prose Fancies (Second Series), free online book, by Richard Le Gallienne, on

‘That is how the donkey tells his love!’ I said one day, with intent to be funny, as the prolonged love-whoop of a distant donkey was heard in the land.

‘Don’t be too ready to laugh at donkeys,’ said my friend.  ‘For,’ he continued, ’even donkeys have their dreams.  Perhaps, indeed, the most beautiful dreams are dreamed by donkeys.’

‘Indeed,’ I said, ’and now that I think of it, I remember to have said that most dreamers are donkeys, though I never expected so scientific a corroboration of a fleeting jest.’

Now, my friend is an eminent scientist and poet in one, a serious combination; and he took my remarks with seriousness at once scientific and poetic.

‘Yes,’ he went on, ’that is where you clever people make a mistake.  You think that because a donkey has only two vowel-sounds wherewith to express his emotions, he has no emotions to express.  But let me tell you, sir ...’

But here we both burst out laughing ­

‘You Golden Ass!’ I said,’take a munch of these roses; perhaps they will restore you.’

‘No,’ he resumed, ’I am quite serious.  I have for many years past made a study of donkeys ­high-stepping critics call it the study of Human Nature ­however, it’s the same thing ­and I must say that the more I study them the more I love them.  There is nothing so well worth studying as the misunderstood, for the very reason that everybody thinks he understands it.  Now, to take another instance, most people think they have said the last word on a goose when they have called it “a goose"! ­but let me tell you, sir ...’

But here again we burst out laughing ­

‘Dear goose of the golden eggs,’ I said, ’pray leave to discourse on geese to-night ­though lovely and pleasant would the discourse be; ­to-night I am all agog for donkeys.’

‘So be it,’ said my friend,’ and if that be so, I cannot do better than tell you the story of the donkey that loved a star ­keeping for another day the no less fascinating story of the goose that loved an angel.’

By this time I was, appropriately, all ears.

‘Well,’ he once more began, ’there was once a donkey, quite an intimate friend of mine ­and I have no friend of whom I am prouder ­who was unpractically fond of looking up at the stars.  He could go a whole day without thistles, if night would only bring him stars.  Of course he suffered no little from his fellow-donkeys for this curious passion of his.  They said well that it did not become him, for indeed it was no little laughable to see him gazing so sentimentally at the remote and pitiless heavens.  Donkeys who belonged to Shakespeare Societies recalled the fate of Bottom, the donkey who had loved a fairy; but our donkey paid little heed.  There is perhaps only one advantage in being a donkey ­namely, a hide impervious to criticism.  In our donkey’s case it was rather a dream that made him forget his hide ­a dream that drew up all the sensitiveness from every part, from hoof, and hide, and ears, so that all the feeling in his whole body was centred in his eyes and brain, and those, as we have said, were centred on a star.  He took it for granted that his fellows should sneer and kick-out at him ­it was ever so with genius among the donkeys, and he had very soon grown used to these attentions of his brethren, which were powerless to withdraw his gaze from the star he loved.  For though he loved all the stars, as every individual man loves all women, there was one star he loved more than any other; and standing one midnight among his thistles, he prayed a prayer, a prayer that some day it might be granted him to carry that star upon his back ­which, he recalled, had been sanctified by the holy sign ­were it but for ever so short a journey.  Just to carry it a little way, and then to die.  This to him was a dream beyond the dreams of donkeys.

‘Now, one night,’ continued my friend, taking breath for himself and me, ’our poor donkey looked up to the sky, and lo! the star was nowhere to be seen.  He had heard it said that stars sometimes fall.  Evidently his star had fallen.  Fallen! but what if it had fallen upon the earth?  Being a donkey, the wildest dreams seemed possible to him.  And, strange as it may seem, there came a day when a poet came to his master and bought our donkey to carry his little child.  Now, the very first day he had her upon his back, the donkey knew that his prayer had been answered, and that the little swaddled babe he carried was the star he had prayed for.  And, indeed, so it was; for so long as donkeys ask no more than to fetch and carry for their beloved, they may be sure of beauty upon their backs.  Now, so long as this little girl that was a star remained a little girl, our donkey was happy.  For many pretty years she would kiss his ugly muzzle and feed his mouth with sugar ­and thus our donkey’s thoughts sweetened day by day, till from a natural pessimist he blossomed into a perfectly absurd optimist, and dreamed the donkiest of dreams.  But, one day, as he carried the girl who was really a star through the spring lanes, a young man walked beside her, and though our donkey thought very little of his talk ­in fact, felt his plain “hee-haw” to be worth all its smart chirping and twittering ­yet it evidently pleased the maiden.  It included quite a number of vowel-sounds ­though, if the maiden had only known, it didn’t mean half so much as the donkey’s plain monotonous declaration.

’Well, our donkey soon began to realise that his dream was nearing its end; and, indeed, one day his little mistress came bringing him the sweetest of kisses, the very best sugar in the very best shops, but for all that our donkey knew that it meant good-bye.  It is the charming manner of English girls to be at their sweetest when they say good-bye.

’Our dreamer-donkey went into exile as servant to a woodcutter, and his life was lenient if dull, for the woodcutter had no sticks to waste upon his back; and next day his young mistress who was once a star took a pony for her love, whom some time after she discarded for a talented hunter, and, one fine day, like many of her sex, she pitched her affections upon a man ­he too being a talented hunter.  To their wedding came all the countryside.  And with the countryside came the donkey.  He carried a great bundle of firewood for the servants’ hall, and as he waited outside, gazing up at his old loves the stars, while his master drank deeper and deeper within, he revolved many thoughts.  But he is only known to have made one remark ­in the nature, one may think, of a grim jest ­

’"After all!” he was heard to say, “she has married a donkey ­after all!”

’No doubt it was feeble; but then our donkey was growing old and bitter, and hope deferred had made him a cynic.’