The Free Mule
An aging farmer and his wife make their way through a crowd of people to get a fair view of the spectacle that is the livestock auction. Compelled by the urging of his wife, the farmer seeks a mule to take some of the burden off of his daily life, to carry goods, drive his meager plow, and sow his seeds across his farm which seems ever larger by the passing day.
At the center of the commotion lay several beasts, all equal in size and apparent health, each driving a massive wooden arm attached to a stone mill. Dangling before them was a large and juicy carrot, cruelly tied to a string, a promise of the fruit of their labor that is deceptively offered by their master to entice them to his bidding. Their sameness drew attention to the outsider among them. One mule drives his mill without the carrot, with equal zeal and effort as those transfixed by the orange lie. The farmer approached the auctioneer.
“Sir, I have questions for you about these beasts. I have need of an animal to lift my burdens on my farm not far from here, but I have never purchased a mule before. Which do you suggest?”
The auctioneer turned to the man, and smelling a sale made more lucrative by the farmer’s professed ignorance, lent him his full attention. “Why sir, you have come to the right place! You will find any one of these mules fit for the duties of a farm, as you can see. They will all slave away tirelessly, and for the simple cost of seven gold pieces and a small supply of carrots, they could be easing your work by the end of the day!”
The deal seemed quite good, and for that price the farmer reckoned that he could make up for the cost in short time by the corresponding increase in productivity. “But sir,” asked the farmer, “what of the mule at the end? He drives his mill without a carrot. How much for that beast?”
The auctioneer let out a loud laugh. “Well if it’s that mule you have your eye on, I have good news for you! If you’ll take that nag off my hands I’ll give it to you free of charge!”
The farmer staggered back a step. “Free? That mule looks every bit as healthy as the rest, and labors with equal effort. And any man that had that mule in his barn could get the same work done without the added cost of carrots! Please explain yourself, as I admit my ignorance might lead me to a foolhardy decision!”
Well,” said the auctioneer, “you said you needed a beast to do your bidding throughout your farm, to be the master of the animal and set him to the tasks that need doing, yes?”
“Yes, sir.” The farmer replied.
“Well you had best look elsewhere, you foolish old man. Any mule that hasn’t a taste for carrots can’t be made to do any work at all. That mule has no master, and never will!”
The farmer betrayed his thoughts with a look of distrust. “Then how sir, do you explain that the mule drags his mill arm just as do the rest of these animals?”
The auctioneer explained that the only thing that drove the mule to carry the mill arm was it’s own will, and that they had been trying to sell it at auction for the better part of a year now. Sometimes choosing to allow the handlers to harness it, sometimes stubbornly refusing to comply with even the smallest urgings despite great efforts to entice it. Convinced that the beast was worthless to man such as him, the farmer bought one of the other mules. But as he led the newly purchased beast down the beaten road to his home, he couldn’t help but think of the carrot-less mule. And admire it.