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A Garden Plot
by [?]

The able-bodied men of the village were at work, the children were at school singing the multiplication-table lullaby, while the wives and mothers at home nursed the baby with one hand and did the housework with the other. At the end of the village an old man past work sat at a rough deal table under the creaking signboard of the Cauliflower, gratefully drinking from a mug of ale supplied by a chance traveller who sat opposite him.

The shade of the elms was pleasant and the ale good. The traveller filled his pipe and, glancing at the dusty hedges and the white road baking in the sun, called for the mugs to be refilled, and pushed his pouch towards his companion. After which he paid a compliment to the appearance of the village.

“It ain’t what it was when I was a boy,” quavered the old man, filling his pipe with trembling fingers. “I mind when the grindstone was stuck just outside the winder o’ the forge instead o’ being one side as it now is; and as for the shop winder–it’s twice the size it was when I was a young ‘un.”

He lit his pipe with the scientific accuracy of a smoker of sixty years’ standing, and shook his head solemnly as he regarded his altered birthplace. Then his colour heightened and his dim eye flashed.

“It’s the people about ‘ere ‘as changed more than the place ‘as,” he said, with sudden fierceness; “there’s a set o’ men about here nowadays as are no good to anybody; reg’lar raskels. And if you’ve the mind to listen I can tell you of one or two as couldn’t be beat in London itself.

“There’s Tom Adams for one. He went and started wot ‘e called a Benevolent Club. Threepence a week each we paid agin sickness or accident, and Tom was secretary. Three weeks arter the club was started he caught a chill and was laid up for a month. He got back to work a week, and then ‘e sprained something in ‘is leg; and arter that was well ‘is inside went wrong. We didn’t think much of it at first, not understanding figures; but at the end o’ six months the club hadn’t got a farthing, and they was in Tom’s debt one pound seventeen-and-six.

“He isn’t the only one o’ that sort in the place, either. There was Herbert Richardson. He went to town, and came back with the idea of a Goose Club for Christmas. We paid twopence a week into that for pretty near ten months, and then Herbert went back to town agin, and all we ‘ear of ‘im, through his sister, is that he’s still there and doing well, and don’t know when he’ll be back.

“But the artfullest and worst man in this place–and that’s saying a good deal, mind you–is Bob Pretty. Deep is no word for ‘im. There’s no way of being up to ‘im. It’s through ‘im that we lost our Flower Show; and, if you’d like to ‘ear the rights o’ that, I don’t suppose there’s anybody in this place as knows as much about it as I do–barring Bob hisself that is, but ‘e wouldn’t tell it to you as plain as I can.

“We’d only ‘ad the Flower Show one year, and little anybody thought that the next one was to be the last. The first year you might smell the place a mile off in the summer, and on the day of the show people came from a long way round, and brought money to spend at the Cauliflower and other places.

“It was started just after we got our new parson, and Mrs. Pawlett, the parson’s wife, ‘is name being Pawlett, thought as she’d encourage men to love their ‘omes and be better ‘usbands by giving a prize every year for the best cottage garden. Three pounds was the prize, and a metal tea-pot with writing on it.