Once upon a time there was a rider in a wood. He was a well-dressed man, riding a good pace, but not in a hurry. If you looked at him in profile you would see a gentleman, complete with top hat. He seemed to be of middling years, and had a smug expression on his face.
The smug expression arose from the man’s expectance that he would soon be wed to a woman of good family and great fortune. Already the man’s mind was full of expansive dinners in London, a costly flat, and a full wardrobe. He gave not a thought to his wife, who he intended to leave at home to manage his estate.
Then the man’s horse threw a shoe. For those not aware of how horse’s worked in the old days, they had iron shoes that were nailed into the hooves, which are like the fingernails of a person. The shoes didn’t hurt them and protected their feet from cobblestones. When they threw a shoe, it left them lame, like getting a flat tire.
So the man got off his horse, swore a great deal, tried to put the shoe back on, and got bumped by the horse for his trouble. Then he took off at a walk for the estate.
It was late afternoon, but the man wasn’t worried. He was fuming that he’d miss dinner, but they’d likely send a carriage out to look for him by nightfall. Then he heard rustling in the bushes.
To say that the man was a coward would not have been a stretch. To say he was brave would be to ignore the fact that he immediately hid behind his horse and determined to leave the beast at the first sign of danger. He rightly figured that wolves would prefer a lame horse to a running man, but ignored the reality that no wolves had been seen in that part of the country for perhaps three hundred years.
It wasn’t a wolf, it was an old man dressed in rags. The old man was carrying a half-full burlap sack and humming to himself in a tuneless sort of way.
Once the gentleman had determined that the old man was not armed, he came out from behind the horse.
“Halloo!” said the old man. “What happened?”
“My horse threw a shoe.” Replied the gentleman.
“Terrible, just terrible. A long way to walk.” Said the old man. It put the gentleman at ease and was quite funny as the old man had likely never owned a horse, and was walking himself.
“Yes, well, one does what one must.” Said the gentleman.
They walked together for a time, then the gentleman inquired as to what the old man had in the sack.
“Mushrooms.” cackled the old man, showing a few left-over teeth. “Best thing in the world. My old lady loves them fierce. Gonna make her dance with joy.”
The gentleman had a disturbing image of an old woman cavorting. “How do you prepare them?”
“Put ’em on a stick and roast ’em over the fire.” The old man smacked his lips. “The juices just drip off ’em and sizzle in the fire. Then you pop them in hot and let them crunch and squish in your mouth.”
The gentleman thought momentarily that the mushrooms sounded good. He had a fleeting thought that he’d like to try that.
They crested a long hill and at the bottom viewed the most decrepid of shacks. An old woman chased a goat around the yard. “That’s my castle and my wife.” Cackled the old man. “I love that woman more than spit.
“I hope to be so soon,” replied the gentleman.
“Yes, a fine gentleman like yourself will be married out here, but spend all your time in the city.” The old man smiled his grin. “Never even see your wife.”
“I don’t believe that’s so.” Said the gentleman.
“Oh, I’ve seen it.” Said the old man. “The gentlemen leave and none of the children look anything like them. Then when they die their own wives look happier.”
“I beg your pardon.” Said the gentleman. “Watch your tongue, sir.”
“Begging your pardon,” said the old man. “Best to get down to my wife.”
When the old man and the old woman met it was as if they had not seen each other in days. And the bag of mushrooms was the finest bag of mushrooms in the world.
The gentleman watched the old man’s homecoming and crossed silently on the other side of the road. He felt a pang as he saw the decrepid old couple embracing. Some part of him thought: I want that.
So the next day, after dinner. The gentleman proposed and was accepted. Then he stood and asked the pleasant young woman to walk with him. He told her that there were many reasons that they made a good match, but that he wanted something more. He told her about the old man and said: “I want to have a marriage like that.” And they did.