Mule’s Mysterious Illness (A Tale From Spain)
Once upon a time, a mule lived on a farm in Spain. He worked hard in the fields, side by side with the farmer who was a kind man. Every evening, when they had finished the day’s work, the farmer fed the mule a great bucket of oats.
For a long time the mule was happy with his life, but one day the farmer bought a pig, and that pig moved into the barn. The mule noticed that the pig never worked. He lay in the mud, and now and then he grunted and rolled over. Sometimes he strolled outside to sniff around, searching for something to eat. And every evening, after the farmer fed the mule his oats, he fed the pig his own family’s table scraps and enormous buckets brimming with bread and milk.
“This isn’t right,” the mule thought. “I struggle all day long in the fields with my farmer while this pig lazes around. He does nothing at all, and yet my farmer feeds him human food. I wish he would feed me special food.”
“Pig,” the mule said, “why are you treated so well?”
“I deserve it,” the pig replied, and he yawned and rolled over.
Mule frowned. “Certainly I deserve the best treatment,” he said, but the pig was already asleep.
As the weeks passed, the mule began to grumble more and more about his plight, until one day he came up with an idea.
The next morning when the farmer came to fetch him from the barn, the mule was lying on his side, groaning in pain.
The farmer knelt down beside his mule and tried to tug him to his feet, but the mule simply groaned as if in pain. “Ah,” the farmer said, “my mule is ill. We must make him well. He’ll need some special food for that.”
The mule smiled to himself as the farmer walked back to the house. When he returned, he carried a bucket of table scraps, especially for the mule. “Here you go,” the farmer said, feeding the mule a great helping of bread and corn and green vegetable tops. “This will help you recover from your illness.”
The mule nibbled at the food, pretending he was too ill to eat, but as the days passed, he ate more and more. Each day the farmer came to the barn bringing a larger bucket of food.
As summer began to wane, the mule grew fatter and fatter. Still, he moaned each morning, and each morning the farmer brought him fresh food.
One day in late summer, the farmer appeared in the barn with a stranger who carried a great gleaming ax and a knife.
“Who’s this?” the pig asked.
“I’ve no idea,” the mule answered, “but I don’t like the look of that ax.”
“Nor do I,” said the pig, but a moment later, the farmer strode into the pig’s pen and shooed the creature out of his comfortable home. “Come along, pig. You’re fine and fat now, and you’re ready for the butcher’s knife.”
The pig squealed and squealed, and the mule watched in horror as he was led away.
So this was the fate of the pig. He was being fattened up for slaughter, and this stranger was the butcher, come to turn the pig into bacon.
When the butcher and the farmer and the pig were gone, the mule began to worry. “Oh no,” he fretted, “I may be the next one to visit the butcher if I’m not careful. I would rather work hard in the fields every day for the rest of my life than being fattened up during the summer only to become someone else’s supper come autumn.”
A moment later he was on his feet, suddenly cured of his mysterious illness. He ran out of the stable and trotted to the farmer’s side.
“Well, well,” said the farmer, “so my mule is healthy again. We’ll go to work, my friend.”
And the mule trotted happily after the farmer, grateful to be at work once more in his beautiful fields.