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The Broad Highway(Book1,Chapter23)

2006-08-28 22:45

  Book One Chapter XXIII. Concerning Happiness, a Ploughman, and Silver Buttons

  Now as I went, pondering on true happiness, and the nature of it, I beheld a man ploughing in a field hard by, and, as he ploughed, he whistled lustily. And drawing near to the field, I sat down upon a gate and watched, for there are few sights and sounds I am fonder of than the gleam of the ploughshare and the sighing whisper it makes as it turns the fragrant loam.

  "A truly noble occupation!" said I to myself, "dignified by the ages——ay——old, well nigh, as the green earth itself; no man need be ashamed to guide a plough."

  And indeed a fine sight it made, the straining horses, the stalwart figure of the Ploughman, with the blue sky, the long, brown furrows, and, away and beyond, the tender green of leaves; while the jingle of the harness, the clear, merry, whistled notes, and the song of a skylark, high above our heads, all blended into a chorus it was good to hear.

  As he came up to where I sat upon the gate, the Ploughman stopped, and, wiping the glistening moisture from his brow, nodded good-humoredly.

  "A fine morning!" said I.

  "So it be, sir, now you come to mention it, it do be a fine day surely."

  "You, at least seem happy," said I.

  "Happy?" he exclaimed, staring.

  "Yes," said I.

  "Well, I bean't."

  "And why not?" The Ploughman scratched his ear, and carried his glance from my face up to the sky, and down again.

  "I dunno," he answered, "but I bean't."

  "Yet you whistle gayly enough."

  "Why, a man must do summat."

  "Then, you seem strong and healthy."

  "Yes, I do be fine an' hearty."

  "And sleep well?"

  "Like a blessed log."

  "And eat well?"

  "Eat!" he exclaimed, with a mighty laugh. "Lord! I should think so——why, I'm always eatin' or thinkin' of it. Oh, I'm a fine eater, I am——an' I bean't no chicken at drinkin', neither."

  "Then you ought to be happy."

  "Ah!——but I bean't!" he repeated, shaking his head.

  "Have you any troubles?"

  "None as I can think on."

  "You earn good money every week?"

  "Ten shillin'."

  "You are not married?"

  "Not me."

  "Then," said I, "you must be happy." The Ploughman pulled at his ear again, looked slowly all round the field, and, finally, shook his head.

  "Well," said he, "I bean't."

  "But why not?" His eye roved slowly up from my boots to the buttons on my coat.

  "Them be fine buttons!" said he.

  "Do you think so?"

  "Look like silver!"

  "They are silver," said I.

  "Lord!" he exclaimed, "you wouldn't part wi' they buttons, I suppose?"

  "That depends!"

  "On what?"

  "On how much you would give for them." The Ploughman thrust a hand into a deep pocket, and brought up five shillings.

  "I were a-goin' to buy a pair o' boots, on my way 'ome," he explained, "but I'd rayther 'ave they buttons, if five shillin' 'll buy 'em."

  "The boots would be more serviceable," said I.

  "Maybe, sir, but then, everybody wears boots, but there bean't many as can show buttons the like o' them——so if you're willin'——"

  "Lend me your knife," said I. And, forthwith, I sawed off the eight silver buttons and dropped them into his palm, whereupon he handed me the money with great alacrity.

  "And now," said I, "tell me why you are not happy."

  "Well," returned the Ploughman, back at his ear again, "ye see it bein' as you ask so sudden-like, I can't 'zack'ly say, but if you was to pass by in a day or two, why, maybe I could tell ye."

  So, pocketing the buttons, he whooped cheerily to his horses, and plodded off, whistling more merrily than ever.

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