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Who do you mean by the townsfolk, my good friend ? asked a voice behind him.
The farmer turned his head sharply, and found himself face to face with his landlord, Mr Ferrers, who had just arrived, and had overheard his remark. He greeted him in rather an awkward manner.
"I did not know you were there, sir,' he said, without answering his question.
• But you were thinking of me—is it not so ?' replied Mr Ferrers smiling ; 'I see you will be always the same, my poor Antony, seeing nothing on the rosebush but its thorns, and nothing in life but its troubles.'
Antony shook his head.
• It is easy for the rich to talk,' he said sullenly; 'you can do what you please.'
• Because it pleases me only to do what I am able,' replied the squire; 'but to be content with that state of life to which you are called is a rule of conduct which seems to have been left out of
catechism.' “A good lease would do me more good,' replied the farmer ; 'we poor people, who have only our wishes, and no means of satisfying them, ought not to be judged too harshly. It seems to me not a very great thing to ask for a roof that would let the water run off it, and not attract all kinds of vermin, like this abominable thatch.'
' That is to say, that you still wish for a slate roof.'
"So much, that if I had the means I would do it at my own expense, and I should be a gainer by it, for my
house would be more healthy, and my wheat better protected.'
"But you, my good friend, would you be more contented ?'
'I would never ask for anything else,' said the farmer. • Then I should have a quiet time of it,' said Mr
Ferrers. Although I look on it as an outlay that will bring little profit to you, and nothing to me, I will see if there is any way of satisfying you. You shall have a slate roof, Master Antony, and when the fine weather returns I will send the workmen.'
Antony, surprised at this unexpected concession, thanked his landlord with much gratitude, and, as soon as he was gone, went to tell his family the good news.
He spent part of the day in examining the consequences of this transformation of the roof. Besides the new appearance it would give to the farmhouse, the improvement of the granaries would be a real advantage ; but Antony soon perceived that by raising the walls a little, they might be made doubly commodious. This discovery completely changed the current of his thoughts. He dreamed of nothing but the profit such an improvement would bring him. Without this, the new roofing was a change of no consequence; things might as well be left as they were !
Here, then, was our farmer fallen back into his dark mood, and bitterly deploring the want of money which always stopped him in carrying out all his plans. As he was obliged to go to Mr Ferrers to pay his rent, the squire observed his anxious mien, and asked the cause. After some hesitation, Antony confessed his new desire.
* It is not that I ask it, sir,' he continued ; 'it is quite enough to have promised me a slate roof; there was no obligation to do even that; poor people have only a right to what is due to them.'
* And that right they have in common with rich people,' said Mr Ferrers ; but I see it is difficult to cure you of your discontent- one desire accomplished
only gives birth to a second. However, I will try to cure you; we will raise the walls of the granary.'
This time the farmer declared his only wish was granted, and returned gaily to his farm.
Some days after, a builder was sent by Mr Ferrers to look at the work to be done. Antony asked him, in the course of conversation, what would be done with the old wood-work.
Nothing, I suppose,' said the builder; 'it is not very strong, and, at most, would only serve for a grange.'
And ours happens to be too small,' said the farmer. • Have you any room for a larger ?'
"Yes, close by the stable-door, by taking a bit off the garden. Come this way I will shew you.'
They went to look at the ground, which the builder found admirably adapted for a new building. He pointed out to Antony all the advantages that would arise if the stables were enlarged, and a tank made for manure. Antony adopted the scheme with enthusiasm; it would be a means of completing the improvements begun, and of making the farm superior to any in the neighbourhood; while, at the same time, the old wood-work would be made use of. Without this additional expense, the improvements · undertaken would not give returns proportioned to the outlay, and Mr Ferrers ought to adopt them for his own sake.
But Antony added that he dared not ask him.
'I should be told that I was never satisfied,' said he e ; it would not be understood that what I ask is as much for the good of the farm as for my own profit. If I had the means I would soon do it, without asking anybody; but poor people must just be content to wish a thing.'
'Don't put yourself about,' said the builder, who
thought it impossible to employ money for any other purpose than building; I will speak to the squire, and he is sure to do it.'
Antony encouraged him, and begged to know the result as soon as possible.
Left alone, he turned over the builder's projects in his own mind, and calculated his own profits. In the end, it was clear to him that all that was proposed was quite indispensable—if he had not asked for it before, it was because he hated to complain; but Mr Ferrers would be both hard and unjust to refuse him.
However, several days passed, and he heard nothing of the builder. The suspense was insufferable. He went to the village, some distance from his farm, in which the builder lived, but he could not find him. He returned still more disquieted. From all appearances, Mr Ferrers had refused ; he could no longer calculate on the enlargement of his premises; he must still make shift, and his chance of wealth was gone for want of a little money his own, or a little good-will on the part of others.
Antony had given himself up to these bitter reflections, when he heard some one calling him. It was the builder, who had just spied him from the top of a scaffolding, where he was overlooking his workmen.
• Well, the business is settled, Master Antony,' he shouted.
• What business ? asked the farmer, who dared not guess. • What business why, the grange and the stable.' • The squire consents ?' • We are to begin it next month.'
• Come and take a glass with me, and tell me all about it,' cried Antony delighted.
The master-builder descended from the scaffolding, and
joined Antony at the inn, where he told him that his landlord had laughed without making any objection, and had asked the builder for a minute estimate of all the changes to be made.
Antony went back to the farm quite reassured. On his arrival, he went once more to visit the spot destined for the new buildings. The former entrance being no longer of use, a way must be made across the garden ; there was a hedge to cut down and a ditch to fill up. He resolved to do it at his own cost, without saying anything to Mr Ferrers. But this arrangement would deprive him of a part of the little garden, already reduced by the construction of the manure-tank; this would be a loss to him, and his landlord could not refuse him some compensation. There was a piece of land unoccupied just across the road ; Antony thought he might lay claim to it as a compensation. He consequently went to Mr Ferrers, under pretence of knowing when the alterations were to be begun.
Well, Master Antony,' said the squire on seeing him, 'I hope you are satisfied ?'
Poor people have no right to complain as long as they have bread to eat,' replied the farmer.
A precept of most Christian resignation,' replied Mr Ferrers. • But it seems to me, my friend, that you have other causes for satisfaction; have I not granted all you have asked, including new farm-buildings?'
"I am much obliged to you, sir,' said the farmer coldly; but you are aware that labourers live by tilling the soil ; and when you deprive them of any portion of it, it is like taking a morsel of their bread !'
"And who is going to deprive you of it l' asked Mr Ferrers.