RAMON was a discontented man. Instead of thanking Providence for all the good gifts of earth, and the promise of the joys of heaven, he was always repining at the hardships of his life, and finding out one thing after another to grumble at. Work he specially objected to. He wanted a cottage, and a pig, and a stock of poultry, and a vine, and a wife, a smoking cazuela , and plenty of tobacco; but when it came to working to pay for them, then it was quite another story. He was an only son; his hard-working parents had spoilt him by letting him have his own way, supplying him with all he wanted out of their own earnings; and so he grew up idle and apathetic, finding fault with fate, instead of putting his shoulder to the wheel: "Estan las cosas en este mundo como cuernos en un costal--todas de punta" was a favourite proverb of his, meaning that the events of this life are like packing horns into a bag, the points of those first put in are always making their way through and obstructing the others. And indeed, if people indulge a discontented disposition, every thing must go wrong with them.
Strange, that any one can find pleasure in such an ugly habit as grumbling. Ramon had been made by nature a good-looking boy; but a sour, gloomy expression soon superseded the engaging smile of youth; and as he had never a pleasant word, his society was gradually shunned by all the village. The last to give him up was Carmen, the bright little playmate of his childhood, but he wore out even her patience, and then, when he was left to himself, he grew more and more sour and morose.
In the meantime, his good old father and mother had died, and for a time he had been living on the savings they had left him; but this was soon at an end, and hunger forced home the reflection, "What was to become of him?" Then every thing seemed gloomier than ever before even--he sat down to think under the old patriarchal vine, which had shaded his father, and his grandfather, and his great-grandfather before him; but the fierce sun came through the withered branches and maddened him. He had neglected to tend it, and it had no shelter for him. Instead of blaming his own neglect, he turned with an imprecation upon the vine, and his ill-humour overflowed on to the old house, against the wall of which he leant and which was also crumbling to decay because he had left it without repair; and upon Carmen, whose patience he had wearied, and upon fortune, whose gifts he had left waste. And in his fury he said that he would die. "Die!" echoed a little leaf of the withered vine, as it fell rustling past him, "You can't die when you will, you must fulfil the work God has set you, whatever it be."
"Work! I will do no work. I will die!" he answered fiercely.
"You cannot die when you will!" whispered another rustling leaf.
"We shall see!" said Ramon; and with that he took up the rope of the well, and, stalking wildly upstairs, he deliberately made a noose, into which he inserted his throat, tied one end over a beam in the loft, and placed himself on an old chest, ready to jump off and so swing tight the fatal knot which was to end his days.
He shut his eyes, and took a desperate leap ... but ... instead of drawing the noose tight, the beam above broke in twain, and the two ends came with him to the ground. He had scarcely recovered from one surprise, when he had to encounter another. On each side of him a stream of golden coins came running through the broken ends of the hollowed beam. What a sight for a lazy, self-indulgent man! Ramon thought no more of hanging now. He untied the knot, gathered up the gold, and secured it in chests and hiding-places, and came down to enjoy himself once more in his old idle way.
He trod on a dry leaf of the old vine, as he passed through the garden, and it whispered,--
"What a chance for you, Ramon! Buy yourself a patch of land, and set to work like a man, and show Carmen you are worthy of her."
"Work! while I have gold enough to last for ever? Not I, indeed!"
"It won't last for ever, Ramon," rustled out another falling leaf.
But Ramon heeded not. Some of his treasure he spent rationally enough, I must say, in having the old cottage repaired, and the old vine tended; but the bulk he squandered in excesses, and in a few years was as badly off as ever.
Want once more stared him in the face, and once more he resolved to put an end to his existence.
"You are not fit to die!" said the patriarchal vine; but Ramon hastened away, he had not the courage to encounter the dreadful thought.
He snatched up a rusty, disused spade--he was out of conceit with hanging. This time he would dig a deep hole in the ground, and thrust himself in head foremost, and stifle himself that way.
Digging was hard work for arms so unused to labour, but he had never thought to find it so hard as it proved. He had not taken out a dozen spadefuls when the spade seemed to refuse to enter the ground any more. Had his arms grown so stiff they could not move? Or was the earth so hard he could not break it?
The evening breeze rustled by, bearing with it some leaves of the old vine; and as they passed they whispered,--
"You can't die when you will, Ramon! Only be content to work as hard as now in a good cause, and you won't want to die till your time comes."
Provoked into energy by what he considered a taunt, instead of being softened by the fatherly counsel, he made one more desperate thrust of the spade into the hole. Instead of entering deeper, its rusty pan broke short off, but with a sound which showed him it had struck against something made of metal; and putting his hand down to the place whence the sound came, he distinctly made out the shape of a copper vessel.
Here was a discovery which gave him a presentiment of another chance of good fortune. Partly with the broken spade and partly with his own hands, he succeeded in tearing up the soil around, and bringing to light a large jar heavy enough to be full of gold; and so it proved.
Thus provided with means, Ramon once more commenced a new lease of his dissipated life.
"Take my advice," said the old vine, "and put your treasure in something that will last, this time."
This was too much trouble for Ramon. He went on in his old reckless way, spending and taking no heed.
But during all the years of neglect, the brambles had overgrown his ground; and his uncultivated place afforded a cover for idlers and vagabonds. So it happened that when he was making one of his nightly visits to his treasure he was overlooked, and, as you may readily imagine, by the next occasion the treasure was gone.
His rage at this discovery was unbounded: he resolved now once for all to have done with life, and let nothing interfere to prevent him.
As he lay in bed that night, he contrived a plan to prevent all possibility of escape, and with the first rays of the morning sun he sallied out fully equipped.
He bore a rope and a blunderbuss, and he bent his steps to a crag which overhung the sea, where he had marked a tree whose branches spread over the briny waves. Tying his cord to a branch, he held his blunderbuss ready to blow out his brains if the noose was too slack, while, if the rope should break, he would at least have a good chance of drowning.
Off he leapt with the rope round his neck; but the noose did not draw itself tight. Faithful to his plan, he pulled the rusty trigger, but, like every thing else belonging to Ramon, the gun was out of order, and didn't go off; but as he hung struggling in the air the old well-rope broke, and down he fell splashing into the sea. There was no easy drowning for him, however; the water was not so deep as he had imagined, and he was left floundering in the waves, and bruised about among the sunken rocks.
Ramon had no fortitude; at each bump he could not restrain an exclamation of pain, and the distressful cries attracted the attention of no less a person than Carmen, who was gathering esparto grass  on the wild coast at no great distance.
All her former womanly compassion returned when she saw her poor Ramon in suffering and distress. Without an instant's hesitation, she caught up a hank of strong esparto rope, which she used to tie up her bundles, and hurried to the water's edge. Making one end of it fast to a rock, with the vigorous exertion of an arm strengthened by labour and directed by intelligence and affection, she contrived to throw the other end within reach of his grasp.
Ramon, who by this time had been long enough within sight of the terrors of death to feel his wish to encounter it considerably cooled, no sooner saw who was steadying the line, than he felt all the love of life which is implanted in the heart of man revive with its full vigour.
He caught the rope and twisted it round his arm, and with its aid breasted the breakers. By the time he reached the shore, however, the exhaustion consequent on so much excitement and exertion overcame him so completely, that every remaining spark of ill-will in Carmen's bosom was extinguished, and her only thought was how to restore him to strength.
Her exertions were blessed with success, and his weakness found scope for all her womanly sympathies, while her tender care roused all the better qualities of his nature into action. Her smile mingled with the visions of his feeble state, and warmed all his prospects of the future.
When he dreamt of the dreary old house and its haunting associations with the guilty past, he fancied he saw the sunny halo of her presence dispelling all its gloomy phantasms, and her playful innocence silencing even the convicting warnings of the stern old vine. Shared with her, even labour seemed to lose its repugnance.
As soon as he was well enough, he opened to her his resolutions full of repentance, which, with a woman's instinct, she was forward to foster.
You will be pleased to hear that after all these lessons, crowned by Carmen's winning confidence in his promised amendment, Ramon set himself seriously to follow a new line of conduct. Carmen showed her faith in his penitence by marrying him, and he took honest care that she should never repent her generosity.
The old cottage once more looked homely and inviting; and in the summer evening, when Ramon and Carmen sat resting beneath the shadow of the old vine, now sturdy and fruitful under the culture it received, and watching the gambols of a troop of chiquillos  whom God had given them, the leaves, as they fell rustling about them, whispered playfully in Ramon's ear, "You don't want to die now?" And Ramon in revenge plucked a bunch of ruddy grapes, and distributed it among the happy party.