This particular circumstance repeated itself on a number of occasions. The young woman tried carrying several flagons at a time, she tried transporting them in a basket, even once in a wheelbarrow, but always, in one way or another, the wine contrived to spill itself on the ground before she reached the boatman. Usually it was a simple case of the skin splitting (though there is nothing simple in the splitting of four or five seemingly well-made flagons in the course of one journey), but more than once the reason for the spillage was more surprising. For instance, one day a swan flew at her and she dropped her basket, another day she was knocked off her feet by a pack of handsome hounds as a bugle called someway behind, and the day she brought the wheelbarrow it was struck by lightning and escaped her grip, trundling into a fearsome ravine. She felt very unlucky, and exceedingly hard done by.
One constant, and it didn’t escape the young woman’s attention, was that the wine was always spilt nearer to her destination than to her point of departure. She assumed after a while that this was some mean, tantalising trick of fate, as sometimes she could hear the lapping of the river at the shore when the wine was spilt, so close was she to success. She never once made it to the edge of the woods, though, with a drop of wine left in her possession. She always, however, completed her journey and, with less optimism every time, tried to bargain with Jones. She offered many things; yet more money, more jewels, bread and meat, fur and feathers, even herself eventually, but the answer was always the same.
It was on the day that he spurned this last offer that she reached the very end of her tether and, weeping copiously, told Jones the following;
“You know my face well enough by now, and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve asked you for passage. I’ll tell you now what I shouldn’t wonder you have long since guessed, and that is that my true love is on yonder bank, and that I mean to be reunited with him. Since he cannot know he would find me here, I daresay he’s given up hope, but a promise is a promise, and if you refuse to ferry me today, I shall swim, although that the water is wide and I shall certainly drown. I shall leave you my pouch with all of its riches, for better it remain with you, dear boatman, than that it drown with me. For while I lie clay-cold and eaten by fishes, it may yet bring me solace to think that perhaps you have made your way to town to buy wine with that money for the dry mouth that so afflicts you.”
Jones said nothing at first, but gave a wry chuckle. He looked for a moment or so at this young woman, miserably awaiting his response.
“My dear,” he said presently, “I hope you have a good lunch with you, as I would hate to think of you undertaking so arduous a task on an empty stomach.”