The Salesman and his Mules

Once upon a time, in the days before automobiles, there was a traveling salesman. He traveled the country in his large wagon full of sundries, ointments, elixirs, and trinkets. He was a good salesman, and could talk just about anyone into buying something they didn’t need.

To pull his wagon, the salesman had a team of six mules. He valued his mules immensely and called each of them by name. It was quite a sight to see the salesman high up on the driver’s seat of his wagon, cracking a whip over the mules’ backs and yelling out their names. All day long when they traveled from city to city, the mules would pull and the salesman would drive.

Like people, not all mules are alike, and the salesman’s team of animals naturally fell into one of two groups. There were the three hard-working mules: Leroy, Agnes, and Wencelas. And then there were the three lazy mules: Patches, Ogden, and Princess. The first three pulled and worked and grunted and strained, while the other three strolled along, stopping to nibble grass now and then. Patches, Ogden, and Princess knew just how to walk along so that they kept up with the pull of the three strong mules, while exerting a minimal amount of energy in the process.

The salesman wasn’t blind. He knew that Leroy, Agnes, and Wencelas were the real “workhorses” (no pun intended). So when he was running behind schedule or not going as fast as the salesman wanted, he would crack his whip and yell “Come on Leroy! Harder Agnes! Faster Wencelas!” He coaxed and prodded and yelled and whipped. The three strong mules pulled and strained with all their might, while the lazy three slogged along after them, irritated by the increase in speed.

The salesman knew it was no use whipping the lazy mules, for that would only make them more cantankerous, and they’d do even less work. So he’d call on his hard-working mules whenever he needed them, and that proved to be more and more often as the days went on. The salesman was sure to give Leroy, Agnes, and Wencelas a few extra pats and words of encouragement at the end of the day, to show his appreciation for their hard work.

But all the mules got the same amount of food each night. The lazy ones who’d barely worked at all got just as much as the ones who’d pulled the wagon to get it to town on time. It wasn’t fair, and the mules knew it. One day, the salesman woke up, and Wencelas had run away. The salesman was very angry, and he knew it be difficult to get to the next town on schedule now. After quickly selling a few items, he set out with his team. He coaxed and cajoled his five remaining mules until he had no patience left. Leroy and Agnes were pulling and sweating and straining, while the other three mules were more obstinate than usual, what with all the extra fuss being made.

Finally, the salesman got angry and started yelling and whipping. He yelled till he was hoarse (no pun intended), and he whipped until his hand was sore. Finally, late at night, the team made it into town, and the salesman put his mules into the livery and gave them their food. Leroy and Agnes were so tired, they could barely eat, but Patches, Ogden, and Princess ate happily as usual.

The team continued on this way for several days, barely making it on schedule to each day’s destination. Then one day, the salesman woke up, and Agnes had run away as well. Oh was he mad. The salesman whipped and yelled and screamed and whipped all day long to try to get to his next location on time. By noon, he wasn’t even talking to the three lazy mules anymore, because the more he said to them, the less they worked. So poor Leroy got all the whip lashes and all the angry yells.

Finally, long after sundown, the group made it into town, and the salesman put his mules up and secured his goods in the wagon. He gave each mule its food and stopped for a moment by Leroy to thank the hard-working mule. He noticed the poor mule’s back was bloody and torn from the whip, and he felt badly. “I’m sorry buddy,” he whispered to the mule, “but you’re my worker. You’re the one I depend on.” That night, as the salesman lay down to sleep, he thought he needed to find some way to get the other mules to work, because it just wasn’t fair to Leroy.

The next morning, when the salesman went to the livery to get his mules, Leroy was dead. He’d fallen asleep and never woke up again. Sad and angry, and not knowing what he was going to do, the salesman hitched his three remaining mules—the lazy ones—up to his wagon and set out for home. He didn’t even try to sell any goods, because he knew it would take all day to get back with only the lazy mules to pull.

The salesman was only able to coax the three mules four miles that day, and then they all just stopped. It was still ten miles till the next town, so the salesman had no choice but to walk the four miles back to the previous town. By then it was midnight, and no one was awake in the town. Then next morning, once the salesman was able to rent a horse to ride back out to where he’d left his wagon, it was too late. Someone had come along and stolen all his goods. His business was ruined, and all he had left was an empty wagon and three lazy mules looking at him for food.


(Yes, it's an allegory! Are you a Leroy, a Princess, or a Salesman?)

Back to Hylo's Story Index