A little fable of Mabel

Several centuries ago, in England, there lived a hard-working woman named Mabel. Mabel toiled all the livelong day, taking in the rich folk’s clothing for washing and mending. Twice each day she made the long, long journey up the hill to fetch the garments, and the long, long journey down the hill to the river, and the long, long journey back to her home where she plied her needle and thread. She bent her back and roughened her hands with scrubbing, she strained her eyes and pricked her fingers with sewing, and for all this she had little reward. Her husband, Wudd, was a drunkard and a gambler, and he filched all her wages for drink and cards. Each day poor Mabel found a new hiding place for her precious coins, but Wudd always sought them out and spent them while his long-suffering wife trudged up and down the hill.

One spring evening, Mabel was returning down the hill from the noble mansions. The long, long walk felt as though it would never end. The winter had been the hardest one the village had ever known, and though Mabel’s hands cracked and bled from her long hours doing washing in the icy river, Wudd had been as bad as ever. He spent the fuel money on games, and as he slept cozily, warmed by ale, Mabel shivered and coughed, awake with hunger. As she continued her long homeward slog, she raged at the injustice of her situation.

As she made her way closer to the village, she saw a strange man going from door to door. He looked strong and well fed, and far more prosperous than any of her neighbors had been that winter. He looked up when he heard her approach.

“Well then,” she said, “who are ye and what be ye doing here?”

“I captain a ship,” he replied, “to sail to the New World. We be one crew member short. Would ye be knowing any able-bodied man willing to sign on for a year’s journey?”

“Indeed,” Mabel said slowly, “there be my husband, Wudd. He’s a no-good layabout here in the village, but surely ye could make a good sailor of him.”

“Aye then,” said the captain. “If he has two arms and two legs, we can make a sailor of him, sure. Where be he now?”

“Not yet,” said Mabel. “What will you give me in exchange?”

“I’ll not be paid afore I make good in the New World,” said the man. “So I’ve no more gold than yerself, now.”

“That’s no good,” Mabel declared. “Wudd’s a lazy good-for-nothing, but even so, I can’t be letting him go for nothing in return.”

“Well,” said the captain, “this afternoon, as we was loading the ship, there was a couple o’ fowls we couldn’t fit aboard. We was bringing them across for livestock. Would ye take them?”

Mabel had barely eaten in a week, and had not tasted fresh meat in months. At the mention of the chickens, her mouth began to water.

“Sure, I’ll take them,” she said. “Give them to me now, and I’ll send Wudd to ye afore nightfall.”

The captain and Mabel went to his ship, where he handed over the birds in a basket. Mabel took them home and hid them in the yard before going inside.

“Oi, Wudd,” she shouted. “A ship just arrived from Barbados, a-filled with rum. Tavern keeper says he’ll keep a mug for ye if ye fetch a crate for him.” Mabel told Wudd the name of the sea captain’s ship, and sent him off, never to be bothered by him again.

The next day, a neighbor stopped by Mabel’s home, only to find the lady of the house seated at table, feasting on a fine chicken dinner.

“Oi, Mabel!” the woman exclaimed. “How did ye get them chickens? And where be Wudd?”

“I sent him off to the New World,” Mabel said triumphantly. “Traded him for these birds.”

“That’s no way to treat yer husband!” the neighbor said, “even if he was a lazy fool.”

“No,” said Mabel, “I was tired of being hungry and losing my wages to that useless lump.”

“But to trade him for two chickens! It’s not good enough!”

“I’m done thinking that way,” Mabel declared. “I’m well rid of him, and I’m eating better than I have in many a year. At this point…