NCE upon a time there was a wide river that ran into the ocean, and beside it was a little city. And in that city was a wharf where great ships came from far countries. And a narrow road led down a very steep hill to that wharf, and anybody that wanted to go to the wharf had to go down the steep hill on the narrow road, for there wasn't any other way. And because ships had come there for a great many years, and all the sailors and all the captains and all the men who had business with the ships had to go on that narrow road, the flagstones that made the sidewalks were much worn. That was a great many years ago.
The river and the ocean are there yet, as they always have been and always will be; and the city is there, but it is a different kind of a city from what it used to be. And the wharf is slowly falling down, for it is not used now; and the narrow road down the steep hill is all grown up with weeds and grass.
One day, in the long ago, the brig Industry lay at that wharf and Captain Jonathan and Captain Jacob were in their office. The Industry had just come in, the day before, from her first voyage, and Captain Jacob was telling Captain Jonathan about it. He told what a good seaworthy vessel she was, but he didn't say much about that. Then he told how their affairs were going in that far country where he had been, and where most of the ships of Captain Jonathan and Captain Jacob went. And then he asked Captain Jonathan if he had found a good captain for the Industry, and Captain Jonathan said he hadn't, and he was just as much bothered about that as ever.
"Well," said Captain Jacob, "I recommend the mate." And he told how the mate had got the ship loaded sooner than he had expected, and how he had got all the things to eat, and the water to drink. And Captain Jacob said that he had had his eye on the mate on the way home, and he saw that he was a good sailor and a capable man.
"All right," said Captain Jonathan. "If you're satisfied, I am." For he knew that Captain Jacob expected a good deal, and if any man had done more than Captain Jacob expected him to do, he must be a good man and a smart one.
So they sent for the mate. He was busy in getting ready to unload the ship, and he didn't like to be interrupted. But when the owners send for any man who is employed on the ships, that man has to go. So the mate went.
And he came into the office, which was near.
"Good morning," said Captain Jacob. "We have been looking for a captain for the Industry. We think you will be a good captain. Would you like the place?"
Then Mate Solomon was glad that he had been interrupted, and he said he would like the place, very much.
"Then we make you captain," said Captain Jacob, "and you draw captain's pay from to-day. But you will have to see to the unloading of the Industry and to getting her ready for another voyage."
And Captain Solomon said that he would be glad to see to those things as well as he was able to. And he thanked both Captain Jonathan and Captain Jacob for making him a captain.
And Captain Jonathan smiled and said something nice about his being a good sailor and a capable man, but Captain Jacob didn't say anything nice.
"Good morning," said Captain Jacob, when Captain Jonathan had finished.
"Good morning," said Captain Solomon; and he was just going when Captain Jonathan called him back.
"Captain," said Captain Jonathan, "we should like to have you drink a glass of wine with us before you go; that is, if it pleases you."
And Captain Solomon said that he would feel honored to drink a glass of wine with Captain Jonathan and Captain Jacob, and that he was very much obliged to them.
So Captain Jonathan called a servant and sent him down cellar for a bottle of old wine—their best. And the servant brought it, and wiped the neck of the bottle, for it was all covered with dust and cobwebs. And he drew the cork out, and wiped the mouth of the bottle and set it before Captain Jonathan. And he set three glasses beside it, and went away.
Then Captain Jonathan poured out the three glasses of wine, and he pushed one over to Captain Solomon and one to Captain Jacob. They were little slender glasses, and they had, each of them, cut in the glass, the picture of a leopard's head with what looked like the leg of an eagle above it; and the foot had its talons fixed in the leopard's fur, as if it was holding the head. It probably was not an eagle's leg, but it may have been a griffin's; for the leg of a griffin looks very much like the leg of an eagle, so far as anyone knows.
Captain Solomon took hold of his glass in a gingerly way, as if he was afraid that his great hand would break it. And Captain Jacob took hold of his glass as if it were a glass of water. And Captain Jonathan took hold of his glass as if he had an affection for it; which he may have had, for they were old glasses, and had belonged to his grandfather.
Then Captain Jonathan rose, and Captain Jacob and Captain Solomon rose, too.
"I drink to your very good health, Captain," said Captain Jonathan, when they were all standing. "And may all your voyages prove prosperous and be completed without misadventure."
Then Captain Jonathan bowed toward Captain Solomon and Captain Jacob bowed toward him; and Captain Solomon bowed in acknowledgment of their bows. And they all drank and emptied the glasses.
When the glasses were emptied, Captain Solomon said that he would like to propose a toast. And Captain Jonathan smiled and filled the glasses again. Then Captain Solomon proposed the health of his owners, that were Captain Jonathan and Captain Jacob; and he said that he wished that all captains might have owners that were as nice as they were. And again Captain Jonathan and Captain Jacob bowed toward Captain Solomon, and they all emptied their glasses again.
Then Captain Jonathan smiled once more and asked Captain Solomon if there was not another toast that he would like to propose. And Captain Solomon said that there was, but he had hesitated to propose it. And Captain Jonathan said that Captain Solomon was the only man of those three that were there who could propose it, and he hoped he would. So the glasses were filled again, and Captain Solomon proposed the health of the daughter of Captain Jonathan and the wife of Captain Jacob, Mistress Lois, who had just been on one long voyage in the ship he was to command. And he said some more things, praising Lois.
Captain Jonathan and Captain Jacob both bowed toward Captain Solomon when he had said these things, and they drank their glasses of wine for the third time. But they were very small glasses and they didn't hold much; and it was the custom to drink a good deal of wine and of what is called spirits in those days. So Captain Jonathan and Captain Jacob and Captain Solomon were none the worse for theirs.
Then Captain Jonathan and Captain Jacob shook hands with Captain Solomon, and Captain Solomon went away, to see about the unloading of the Industry. And, as he went down that steep hill on the narrow road, he thought that the sun had never shone so brightly as it did on that day; and, as he looked at the Industry, that lay at the end of the wharf, with the men all busy about her, he thought that never had man commanded a better ship than he commanded.
And that's all.