A Tale of Trust: A Maid in the Marketplace
The Farmer and the Maid
I have a story to tell.
This a tale that travelers tell at night, around the campfire on the roadside, and that good mothers tell their daughters, and good fathers their sons. It's a story that I carry in my head for times like these. It’s a true story that becomes more charming the more I hear it, and more true the more I see and experience it.
The story begins in a cottage South of the marketplace: I’m sure you’ve seen it, the cottage that lies within eye-shot of one of the busiest paths to the marketplace; it stands out from the other cottages, with a lamp that shines like a lighthouse during the night, with a comforting look that sets it apart from the rest of the village homes.
In this house lived the Farmer and his Wife. The young Farmer and the Maid (I call them Farmer and Maid to hide their names) was a strange pair for the times; the Farmer’s neighbors couldn't understand the relationship between the two, for reasons we'll soon discover.
On this particular day, the Farmer made plans to go to the marketplace to trade two of his finest swine for a horse.
‘Wife,’ he said, ‘I’ve made plans to go to the marketplace to make a trade.’
‘Very well’ she said ‘But who is better at working the field, and guarding our flock from the wolves than you – shouldn’t I go to the marketplace?’
The Farmer happily agreed, and the Maid set off with the swine following behind.
The market square smelled of fresh fruit and vegetables, and fine perfumes swirled in the air. The sun shone and danced off of the gold and fine jewels from the craftsman’s wares, and the striking Moroccan colors of the Dyer’s caught her attention.
‘Halloa there!’ said the Layman, leading his ox into the market.
‘Where is your husband?’
‘He’s working as always, plowing the field and protecting the land. Where is your wife?’
‘He’s sent you in his place to make a trade in the marketplace? And with two of his finest swine!’ The Layman looked on disapprovingly.
‘He’s not worried that you’ll make a bad trade in this den of thieves and swindlers?’
‘I suppose he trusts me.’
‘What about the young men that swagger about the place? How does he know you won’t run off with a more handsome man?’
‘I think he knows better.’
The Layman frowned, and bidding her a hasty goodbye, walked briskly away, leading his ox behind.
Trading in the Marketplace
The Maid smiled as she held up a beautiful scarf. The Dyer looked at the pigs, impressed and hopeful of a trade. The Layman watched her from a distance (hoping to catch her talking with one of the young men).
‘What a lovely scarf! Surely it’s worth two pigs.’
And she traded the pigs, happily twirling her scarf around her neck.
The Layman looked on, a smirk on his face.
The Maid walked through the market happily, stopping from time to time to admire her scarf. When she came to the Painter, she stopped to admire his work.
‘What a beautiful creation! She remarked, applauding a small but vibrant painting displayed toward the back of the arrangement.
'It's humble but unique in value."
And with a confident nod, she exchanged the scarf for the painting.
She carried the painting under her arm, briskly walking through the square.
The Layman hurried to keep up with her, peering from behind the tents and booths as he went. He lost her for a moment, then nearly stumbled over her in his rush to find her.
The Layman cleared his throat and smoothed his coat.
‘I must say young Maid, you must stop this frivolous trading – your husband will scold you when you return!’
‘He will not.’
The Layman frowned.
‘Fine then. Make your trades, and return to your unfortunate husband. I’ll wager he’ll scold you for your behavior, and regret the mistake of sending a woman to the marketplace.’
He turned to leave.
‘You’re wrong – Not only will my husband scold me; he’ll commend me.’
The Layman’s eyes lit up in anger, then he stopped himself, a smile curling on his lips.
‘I will wager my ox that he doesn’t.’
The Maid thought for a moment, then agreed.
‘I’ll take your wager, but I need to make one more trade before I go back.’
And she turned to the man she’d been talking to. He had a burlap sack thrown over his shoulder, which smelled of rotten fruit.
‘I think you’re right!’ she said, ‘A fair trade indeed.’
And she handed him the painting, and took the sack, opening it to reveal a heap of rotten apples.
The Layman’s hands clenched at the Maid’s last trade, but he kept his lips pursed together, relishing the thought of the Farmer’s face when he saw how foolish his wife had been.
The Farmer's Disappointment
When the they returned to the cottage, the Farmer and his faithful hound rushed to meet them. He happily shook the hand of the Layman, and embraced his Wife.
‘What news do you bring from the market?’ he asked.
‘I led the pigs to the Craftsmen, where I found the most richly dyed linen scarf I’d ever seen, and I traded the pigs for it!’ She exclaimed happily.
The Layman leaned forward eagerly, observing the Farmer’s reaction.
‘Wonderful!’ said the Farmer, kissing his Wife, ‘I’ve always loved how you look in linen, and you know how I trust the goods of the Craftsman. A fine exchange indeed!’
‘But then I found the Painter, whose wife loves scarves more than I do, and so I traded the scarf for a small but unique painting.’
The Layman rubbed his hands together, watching the Farmer keenly.
‘Superb! The Painter’s goods are valuable to some, and I’m sure to you – It will be a fine addition to the house.’ And he kissed his Wife again, smiling at her.
‘But the painting, Husband, was not for me; I found a man who carried this sack, and traded the painting for it.’
The Farmer opened the sack and frowned.
The Layman’s eyes widened, and he nearly fell over leaning in to hear the scolding the Farmer was about to give.
The Farmer grew solemn, looking at his Wife with concern on his face.
‘You went to the market with two of the finest swine we’ve raised, and returned with a bag of rotten apples?’
‘Yes’ she smiled happily.
The Farmer sat on the ground for a moment, massaging his temples, then stood up before his wife and the Layman.
The Rotten Apples
‘I'll admit, I don't understand the wisdom of trading the scarf for the pigs, or the scarf for the painting, or the painting for the sack of apples. Your mind works in a way that remains a mystery to me – I don’t like the fine dyes of the Craftsman, or the creative art of the Painter. They're good men, and do quality work, but I don't like or understand it. And a sack of rotten apples, well… it's beyond me…’
Then to the Layman’s dismay, the Farmer smiled.
‘But I know you, and I trust you. A fine trade indeed, this sack for our finest pigs!’ And he kissed her, and returned to his work, patting his loyal hound and whistling as he walked away.
‘Two fine pigs for a sack of rotten fruit! I wouldn’t talk to my wife for weeks if she did such a thing – Of all of the most ridiculous, naïve, preposterous notions…”
His fuming stopped as the events of the day turned in his head.
The Layman’s frown slowly turned into beady eyed suspicion, then the suspicion turned into understanding, and understanding to a smile, as the progression of thoughts turned in his mind. He shook his head in wonder, then reached out his hand to shake the Maid’s.
‘Young Maid, you’ve won the wager – my ox is yours. A fine ox he is, worth two fine horses at that – but I’m not sad to see him go. I would trade this ox again to learn the lessons I’ve learned today. Very fine trades you’ve made today.’
And he gave her the ox, and shook his head smiling as he walked away.
‘A Maid in the marketplace’, he laughed, ‘A woman!’
You see, unlike the Farmer, he did not know the Craftsman or the Painter, and also unlike the Farmer he did know the man with the sack of rotten apples.
The man was a wealthy merchant who owned share in the King’s royal orchard, which produced the most enviable, lush, and delicious apples in the country. His wife was a patron of the arts, who loved the Painter’s work, but could not buy them herself for fear that her reputation as a patron of fine art would be tarnished.
The sack of rotten apples, the Layman now realized, was worth far beyond it’s weight in gold, and the man with the apples was willing to exchange his valuable sack of royal apples in a secret exchange for the humble painting that his wife loved.
So the Maid went to the market with two pigs, and ended up with a strong and healthy ox (which she traded the next day for two fine horses), and a bag of rotten apples.
The Aftermath and the Layman's Sermon
The following spring the Farmer and his Wife admired the saplings of what would become the finest orchard in the country; the seed of royal stock that would yield fruit that would soon become the envy of the marketplace.
And the Layman (who is now a pastor) learned a valuable lesson that he now shares in his sermons about the relationship between a man and his wife. And in his sermons he teaches the lesson better than I do, so I’ll use his words:
‘In the relationship between a husband and a wife, there are two things that are more valuable than silver and the finest gold:
The trust of the Husband, and likewise, the trustworthiness of a strong, faithful, and wise Wife. Young husbands, you may not understand the mind of your wives, because they work in a way different than your own – sow the seed of Trust into your relationship, and if the ground is faithful, it will yield value 100 fold. Let me tell you a story to demonstrate this point…’
Then the Layman tells the Tale of the Maid in the Marketplace, and concludes with this:
‘Men, understand the value of your trust, and never underestimate the power of a strong woman. If your wife wants to go to the market alone, learn from the Maid and the Farmer - trust her judgment – and reap the benefits. ’