rowan tree blossom

 

                      STRAWBERRY FOOL

 

It was the strawberries which were so nearly Arthur's downfall. For two months he had struggled to be a good gardener's boy, desperate to keep the only job he could find. And it wasn't easy. Arthur's heart wasn't in gardening, he'd wanted to stay on at school, but Dad had gone off to the war and Mum needed his help. Arthur sighed and swallowed his misery, he had to be careful. Mr. Stanley, the head gardener, was hard to work for; he
couldn't abide boys and Arthur knew that he had been appointed simply because the previous boys had been sacked.  

     
"Stupid lazy things, I wouldn't employ one only I can't get a good man," Mr. Stanley told Arthur when he'd applied for the job. "This war's taken all the men, it'll be the
ruin of my gardens."

He was fierce, yelled and carried on so and he wouldn't listen. "Do as you're told, Art, if you don't want sacking," were Mr. Stanley's first instructions.   

Arthur hoed carefully around the young carrots and worried his stomach into knots. The discomfort made him lean on his hoe and rub at the pain. "Art! No resting until that row's neatly hoed and weeded." He jerked in surprise and turned to see Mr.
Stanley standing on the path behind him, shaking his head.

"You've got to finish six rows before you can have a breather, boy," he said and trundled the water cart down to his seedling bed.    

Art. He hated being called Art. He snorted and started hoeing the next row. A steady and careful worker, it didn't take him long to finish the carrots. He stepped onto the path and hesitated. Mr. Stanley hadn't told him what to do after hoeing those rows.

"Come here, boy." Mr. Stanley's thin voice carried the length of the walled gardens. He was down by the strawberry beds.

Arthur's breakfast took root in his boots. His boots clung to the earth. It took much effort to walk to where Cook and Mr. Stanley were eyeing the early strawberries. Several cloches had been removed and the compact green plants rose proudly out of their hot bed, a sharp dark contrast to their mulch of golden wheat straw. Arthur
could see that some of the berries were a deep and luscious red. Their scent was strong and heavy and he felt sick.