From the Sussex County Magazine 1936
A Cauliflower Complex
By Florence E White
"Don’t you go cutting that there big corliflower," said old Abraham Gratwich to his wife. "I wants to see ‘ow big she’ll grow."
"No fear I’ll cut the nasty, strong-tasting thing. I likes my corliflowers young and tender."
"Yes, you’re too ready to cut ‘em," he grumbled. "Wasteful, I calls it. You’re the same with the cabbages and the peas. Why can’t you wait till the wegetables get to their praper size?"
"Well, I wish you joy of your old corliflower, though can’t see what good it will do you if it do grow as big as the ‘ouse." And Mrs Gratwich, with unnecassary noise and vigour, continued the washing up of the dinner things.
It was seldom that the old couple argued. Old Abraham was a docile husband and allowed himself to be ruled by his wife. But occasionally an idea penetrated into his slow and dull-witted brain and then, as his wife said, "It was no use trying to talk ‘im out of it; you just ‘ad to wait till ‘e got over it."
Gratwich and his wife were very dissimilar. She was a plump little woman who still retained the rosy cheeks and bright brown eyes of her youth, while he was tall, lanky and big-boned, with vague and now, watery blue eyes. The old man seemed a size too big for the small, ancient, black-timbered cottage that, half covered with climbing roses, snuggled down so cosily in the well-stocked garden. Indoors, his wife still found his long legs in her way as she bustled about, and years of practice had not taught her husband to avoid the oak beams of the low ceilings.
They had been a saving couple and had a nice little sum in the Post Office Savings Bank. All their children, now grown up, were out in the world and doing well. Gratwich had given up his regular work on Mr Gile’s farm and only worked there in the busy times of the hay-cutting or the harvest, and now and then when there happened to be a shortage of labour.
Thus nothing threatened to disturb the serenity of their retirement – unless the cauliflower might be considered "the small cloud no bigger than a man’s hand" that had now appeared on the blue of their horizon.
In truth that vegetable grew apace, not unfortunately upwards to heaven like Jack’s magic beanstalk, but spreading around on the earth and encroaching on the young cabbages that Mrs Gratwich had planted. It soon became the show of the village and one of the chief subjects of conversation. Bets were made by the frequenters of the Red Lion on its exact circumference, and the innocent cauliflower became the excuse for numerous extra pints. Even motorists would pull up and ask to be allowed to photograph it and its proud owner.
As its fame grew so did Mrs Gratwich’s annoyance with the whole business. Mrs Brooker, who lived just across the road, and who was reputed by her neighbours to have her finger in everybody’s pie, was often the sympathetic recipient of Mrs Gratwich’s plaints.
"The way Abram’s going on would try the patience of a saint – can’t get ‘im to do any of ‘is little jobs about the ‘ouse, ‘e’s always gossiping in the garden, or on ‘is knees with some other great silly a-measuring the wretched thing. ‘E’s getting fair chuckle-headed. There ‘e is now," continued Mrs Gratwich, with a scornful gesture in the direction of the garden, "a-peacocking out there with the curate. Mr Simpson ought to ‘ave more sense than to encourage ‘im in ‘is foolery. I specks you saw yesterday that coach-load from Brighton, Mrs Brooker?"
"I saw ‘em and I ‘eard ‘em too. A noisy lot. Don’t do no good to the village, except p’raps to bring a bit of custom to the Red Lion."
"Well, two young women of the party, dressed in them flimsy frocks without sleeves, came poking into the garden and got ‘old of Abram and made ‘im ‘pose,’ as they called it, for snapshots. ‘E never knows what to do with ‘is great ‘ands. One of the girls says, "Just fold your arms like this, and you’ll look like Napoleon." ‘E did as they told ‘im, looking as pleased as Punch and that silly, and the saucy trollops went off giggling. I can’t bear to see my old man made a laughing stock," and a tear trickled down Mts Gratwich’s plump cheek.
The climax came when one morning a smart young man in a smart little car arrived from London to interview Mr Gratwich. He introduced himself as Mr Lionel Robinson, a representative of The Town and Country News Budget.
"Ours, a weekly paper, is designed to appeal to all classes and all tastes. You, Mr Gratwich and your giant cauliflower would brighten up our ‘Rural Page’."
The day he called unluckily was dull and rainy and impossible to take ant photographs. It was therefore arranged that he should motor down, if fine, the following Saturday and be at the cottage about two o’clock.
Now Mrs Gratwich decided it was time to give her husband, who was getting quite out of hand, a lesson. The night before the pressman’s second visit, when her husband was fast asleep and snoring, Mrs Gratwich slipped quietly out of bed, wrapped herself in an old uslter, crept noiselessly down the stairs and groped her way to the toolshed, from which she took a fork. A fine rain was falling and the night was dark, but she could see at the end of the garden a dim white disk, the obnoxious cauliflower!
So firmly was it rooted and the stalks so tough, that she found her task harder than she anticipated. But she worked with a will and by the time she had done with it the poor cauliflower was but a heap of debris scattered on the ground.
Back again in the big bed, too cold and shivery to sleep, she lay pondering how she could delay the discovery of her night’s work until the arrival of the young man from London.
For one thing, she must keep a good look out and see that the cauliflower had no admiring visitors. Fortunately, Abram was booked for half a day’s work at the farm and he would have to leave early and would only get back in time for his dinner. She would make him one of those stews, well flavoured with onions, that he was so partial to. Being a slow eater, that would keep him busy for some time.
The morning, after the rain, dawned bright and sunny and everything went according to plan. Old Gratwich returned for his dinner happy and excited and unusually talkative.
"Well, we shall ‘ave Mister Robinson ‘ere in ‘alf an ‘our. And Bess" – looking at his wife, who was still in her workaday clothes – "you might just tight yourself up a bit. We ought to be smart for the young gent."
To this Mrs Gratwich replied only with a scornful sniff.
"Can’t think why you don’t feel as pleased as I do," he said. "It’ll be a fine thing for your old man’s picter to be in a gran’ Lunnon paper and the fame of that old corliflower to go all over the world. But, there, I never could understand the women folks. But you’ve been a good wife to me," he said as he stuffed the last saviury morsel into his mouth, "and that there stew is one of the best you ever made." (Here Mrs Gratwich’s conscience gave her a twinge)
"Well, I’ll just go oop the garden and see ‘ow things are looking."
"No, don’t ye do that," she blurted out. "Better go and tidy yourself. The young man’ll be ‘ere in no time."
When Mr Lionel Robinson’s car whizzed round the corner, he found the old man, dressed in his Sunday best, his grey hair still wet with his ablutions at the sink, and over the way the ever alert Mrs Brooker could be seen peering over her garden hedge.
"Here we are, Gratwich," he called out cheerfully. "Nice fine day for out photographs. Better start at once. Never know in this changeable climate when clouds may crop up." And soon the two men were walking up the garden path, followed by Mrs Gratwich.
"Great Scott!" exclaimed Mr Robinson, "what has happened to your cauliflower? Seems to have burst itself! Looks like a case of spontaneous combustion."
Poor old Gratwich, open-mouthed and speechless, gazed in consternation at the devastation. A nervous laugh from his wife behind him made him turn. The truth flashed upon him!
"It’s you as done it," he cried and out shot his big bony fist and down went his wife among her cabbage plants.
"God save us!" cried Mrs Brooker, going down on her knees by the prostrate form. "You’ve murdered ‘er. ‘Ere, young man, go into the ‘ouse and get a jug of water."
But alas, the dashing of water was of no avail; with a trickle of blood on her white face, Mrs Gratwich lay limp and lifeless on the ground.
"Go and fetch the doctor, young man, and bring ‘im back with you in the car. You’ll just catch ‘im; ‘e won’t ‘ave gone out again after ‘is lunch. Third turning on the left, second ‘ouse on the right," screamed Mrs Brooker as Mr Robinson started off.
Very soon the doctor arrived and Mrs Gratwich, still unconscious, was carried up the narrow stairs and laid on her bed. When the doctor descended from ministering to the victim, he found the perpetrator of the deed sitting on the bench outside the cottage door, staring blankly in front of him, immersed in gloom. Mr Robinson, cheerfully hopping about among the gooseberry bushes, was busy taking snapshots of the cottage and its now abject owner. He, for one, was thoroughly pleased with the day’s work.
"Splendid copy," he was saying to himself. "Better than I could have anticipated. A story with a smile and a tear in it. That’ll fetch ‘em."
Poor old Gratwich, torn with remorse, was trying to understand what had happened to him. He was picturing to himself – his brain made unusually active by the dreadful events of the morning – what the future might have in store. He, who had never lifted his hand to his wife had perhaps killer her. That erstwhile genial neighbour, the village constable, now appeared to him as a stern official of the law who would shortly arrive and take him, handcuffed, to Lewes jail. The family was disgraced! None of them would be able to lift up their heads again. John, the eldest son, who had lately married and started a promising little grocery business in West Worthing, would be ruined. The Gratwichs had always lived hereabouts and been respected. His grandfather used to tell him they had been great folks in the old days and owned quite a lot of land in Sussex.
If they didn’t hang him, perhaps they’d send him to the crazy house as they did poor silly Tom Holder, who killed his old mother. But, anyhow, it didn’t matter what became of him, a useless old man . . .But poor Bessie and the disgrace!
"Come! Gratwich," said the doctor, slapping him on the shoulder. "Rouse yourself! Your wife has come round."
"Oh doctor! I ain’t murdered ‘er then?"
"No, you’ve not murdered her. In a few days I hope she will be about again. But don’t be so ready in future with that great fist of yours. I hope this will be a lesson to you both."
However, the doctor’s cheerful prognostications did not come true. Though the blow had not done much damage, the wet and chilly excursion of the night had, and Mrs Gratwich was laid up with bronchitus for some weeks.
The old couple during this illness had patched up a peace and, aided by Mrs Brooker, Abraham, in his clumsy way, had done his best to nurse his wife.
One morning, when she was almost convalescent, on returning from work on the farm, he found Mrs Brooker in charge.
"Now, Mr Gratwich, I’ve got a nice little dinner ready, a dish of stew for you and a nice little chop for your wife. I’ve boiled them little corliflowers you brought in. I rather feared as they’d all boil to bits, they’re so young and tender. But they’re all right – see!" and Mrs Brooker lifted the vegetable cover and displayed two little cauliflowers, looking like a couple of overblown white roses surrounded by green leaves.
Abraham beamed on his wife’s favourite vegetable. "I’ll take ‘er dinner oop," said the old man. "No, don’t," remonstrated Mrs Brooker, "you’ll be sure to ‘it your ‘ead and might drop the tray."
"No, I shan’t," obstinately replied the old man. "Let be!" And taking the tray from Mrs Brooker he went slowly and carefully up the steep, narrow stairs. In spite of his head coming in sharp contact with the oak beam over the bedroom door, he placed his wife’s dinner without mishap on the table by the bedside and removed the covers.
"Oh Abram!" exclaimed his wife. "What lovely little corliflowers. Quite a picter, ain’t they?"
"I cut ‘em for you this morning. You shall ‘ave all the little ‘uns and I’ll ‘ave the big ‘uns," he replied with a grin.
So following the eminently sensible domestic arrangement of Mr and Mrs Jack Spratt, the old couple settled down amicably for the remainder of their days.