In ancient times there lived an old gray. haired man by the river's bank where the ferryboats land. He was poor but honest, and being childless, and compelled to earn his own food, he kept a little wine-shop, which, small though it was, possessed quite a local reputation, for the aged proprietor would permit no quarrelling on his premises, and sold only one brand of wine, and this was of really excellent quality. He did not keep a pot of broth simmering over the coals at his door to tempt the passer-by, and thus increase his thirst on leaving. The old man rather preferred the customers who brought their little long-necked bottles, and car ried the drink to their homes. There were some peculiarities - almost mysteries - about this little wine-shop; the old man had apparently always been there, and had never seemed any younger. His wine never gave out, no matter how great might be the local thirst, yet he was 40 never seen to make or take in a new supply; nor had he a great array of vessels in his shop. On the contrary, be always seemed to pour the wine out of the one and same old bottle, the long, slender neck of which was black and shiny from being so often tipped in his old hand while the generous, warming stream gurgled outward to the bowl. This had long ceased to be a matter of inquiry, however, and only upon the advent of a stranger of an inquiring mind would the subject be re-discussed. The neighbors were assured that the old man was thoroughly good, and that his wine was better. Furthermore, he sold it as reasonably as other men sold a much inferior article. And more than this, they did not care to know; or at least if they did once care, they had gotten over it, and were now content to let well enough alone.
I said the old man had no children. That is true, yet he had that which in a slight degree took the place of children, in that they were his daily care, his constant companions, and the partners of his bed and board. These deputy children were none other than a good-natured old dog, with laughing face and eyes, long silken ears that were ever on the alert, yet too soft to stand erect, a chunky neck, and a large round body covered with long soft tan hair and ending in a busby tail. He was the very impersonation of canine wisdom and good-nature, and seldom became ruffled unless be saw bis master worried by the ill behavior of one of his patrons, or when a festive flea persisted in attacking him on all sides at once. His fellow, a cat, would sometimes assist in the onslaught, when the dog was about to be defeated and completely ruffled by his tormentor.
This "Thomas" was also a character in his own way, and though past the days when his chief ambition had been to catch his tail, he bad such a strong vein of humor running through him that age could not subdue bis frivolous propensities. He had been known to drop a dead mouse upon the dog's nose from the counter, while the latter was endeavoring to get a quiet nap; and then he would blow his tail up as a balloon, bump his back, and look utterly shocked at such conduct, as the startled dog nearly jumped out of his skin, and growling horribly, tore around as though he were either in chase of a wild beast or being chased by one.
This happy couple lived in the greatest contentment with the old man. They slept in the little hang room with him at night, and enjoyed the warm stone floor, with its slick oil-paper covering, as much as did their master. When the old man would go out on a mild moonlit night to enjoy a pipe of tobacco and gaze at the stars, his companions would rush out and announce to the world that they were not asleep, but ready to encounter any and every thing that the darkness might bring forth, so long as it did not enter their master's private court, of which they were in possession.
These two were fair-weather companions up to this time. They had not been with the old man when a bowl of rice was a luxury. Their days did not antedate the period of the successful wine-shop history. The old man, however, often recalled those former days with a shudder, and thought with great complacency of the time when he had befriended a divine being, in the form of a weary human traveller, to whom he gave the last drink his jug contained, and how, when the contents of the little jug had gurgled down the stranger's throat in a long unbroken draught, the stranger had given him a trifling little thing that looked like a bit of amber, saying: "Drop this into your jug, old man, and so long as it remains there, you will never want for a drink." He did so; and sure enough the jug was heavy with something, so that he raised it to his lips, and - could he believe it! a most delicious stream of wine poured down his parched throat.
He took the jug down and peered into its black depths; he shook its sides, causing the elf within to dance and laugh aloud; and shutting his eyes, again he took another long draught; then meaning well, he remembered the stranger, and was about to offer him a drink, when he discovered that be was all alone, and began to wonder at the strange circumstance, and to think what he was to do. "I can't sit here and drink all the time, or I will be drunk, and some thief will carry away my jug. I can't live on wine alone, yet I dare not leave this strange thing while I seek for work."
Like many another to whom fortune has just come, he knew not for a time what to do with his good-luck. Finally he hit upon the scheme of keeping a wine-shop, the success of which we have seen, and have perhaps refused the old man credit for the wisdom he displayed in continuing on in a small scale, rather than in exciting unpleasant curiosity and official oppression, by turning up his jug and attempting to produce wine at wholesale. The dog and cat knew the secret, and had ever a watchful eye upon the jug, which was never for a moment out of sight of one of the three pairs of eyes.
As the brightest day must end in gloom, however, so was this pleasant state soon to be marred by a most sad and far-reaching accident.