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244

GEORGE BENT AND JOHN CLARKE.

HOW ONE DRAW'D HIS

DIVI."

A CO-OPERATIVE TALE.

Can I draw my dividend to-night, Mr. Catlin ?" said one of the members of the L - Co-operative society to the secretary, as that individual was entering the store one evening just before a meeting of the committee. “I am very poorly off just now, and I want a few shillings to buy some things for myself.”

“I dare say you can, if you wish to do so; but it is very wrong to draw your dividend when you are not paying in any capital. You should allow your profit to remain : the business can't be carried on without capital, and you find none, and then want to take away the profit of the trade. If we had many members like you, we must soon shut up shop."

I will begin to pay in a little weekly, if you will let me have what I want now. I am getting round a bit, and might afford it; and I should have paid some in, but I had a doctor's bill to pay, and that kept me back so long," said Bent:-not that he had ever been troubled about paying anything of the kind, for if any medical man ever did attend a member of Bent's family, he would never have wasted the paper by send. ing him a bill. The look of the place and inmates would have convinced him of the utter hopelessness of ever being paid in anything more substantial than a surly “thank you, sir."

Bent had joined the society under a vague idea that some profit might be made by being a member and from the influence of some of his shopmates, but not with the least intention of paying anything, or any idea of responsibility or principle. A few shillings stood to his credit, and now he would, if possible, get it to spend.

The secretary knew him perfectly, and knew his motives in trying to get his money. They had worked together as shopmates for a long time, and when a sixpence was to be had, Bent must spend it or be miserable. Such men as he are not likely to make members of Co-operative societies. Their prin

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ciples are too low, and nothing but trouble and anxiety can flow from their presence.

“Would it not be better to wait a little time for what you want, and allow your profit to remain ; it would soon grow into a very handsome sum if you did," said Catlin.

To which Bent sullenly replied—“Oh, I want it bad enough and the children have no clogs to their feet."

“But you must have waited till you could buy them from your wages, if you were not a member. Besides, it shows such a want of principle, and such a lack of right feeling, 'to draw out, when you pay nothing in,” again replied the secretary.

“I pay for my things when I get them, don't I ? and I can't see any good in it if a fellow can't get his money when he wants it,” said Bent.

“But you can get it," was the rejoinder. “It is for your own sake that I desire you not to act in such a discreditable manner.”

Observing Bent was still determined to have the money, Catlin told him to call when the committee were sitting, and he would mention the matter to them, when probably they would pay him. The sum standing to his credit in the books was 198. 1}d.,-- 18s. 7?d. of which was profit upon his outlay at the store. The remaining 6d. was all he had paid into the funds of the society.

The sum was very tempting to a man of his habits, and would afford a spree, such as he seldom enjoyed. “How much do you want to draw,” said the secretary.

“Oh, I want the whole of it: it isn't much,” was the reply.

“But you can't draw all without ceasing to be a member. According to the rules you can't draw your capital below one pound, except in case of great distress." “Well, I want it, whether I leave or not.

I'm getting tired of it, and the old woman says she can get things a good sight better at other places."

“Well, attend the committee, and I will tell them what you say. It is likely they will let you go, as we all consider such members as you do more harm than good to the society.”

The secretary then left him, and entered the store to prepare his books and be ready for the meeting of the committee. Bent, knowing that he would not get his money for more than an hour, sauntered back to the “Bird in Hand,” saying to himself as he cast his eye up at the signboard—“Yes, I like that motto. It's a good deal better for a fellow to have his money in his own pocket, than let them coves at the store have it to swagger with. If everybody was of my mind, I'd soon show them a trick that would stop their bounce.” He walked into the tap room, and called for another pot, to get over the time. Bent spent the principal part of his time when not at work, at the “Bird in Hand,” and with others like himself, was very free in his criticism upon the few of their fellowworkmen who had started and were managing the store. Catlin the secretary, and Bent, were employed at the same establishment, and in the receipt of the same amount of wages, with the same number of family to support by it; and yet the state of each was as different as it is possible to imagine. One was comfortable and respectable, lived in a good cottage in a decent neighbourhood, and his children were clean and well-clad, and attended a good school. None seemed to take a greater pride in the appearance of their children, in the neighbourhood in which they lived, than did both Catlin and his wife. The Bents, on the contrary, were always in a state of misery and semi-starvation. The children were generally shoeless and in rags. Both man and wife were slovenly and destitute in appearance; and, no matter what might be his income, would never save a penny, or feel comfortable when they had a shilling unspent. The poor woman did not seem vicious, but her want of energy and force had permitted all the faults of her husband's character to engraft themselves upon her own. During the first year of their wedded life things went on comfortable enough; but after the birth of their first child they had commenced the descent, and were now fast gravitating towards the lowest depth of destitution. At the meeting of the committee, Catlin mentioned that Bout desired to withdraw what he had in the funds of the *Y. Some who had known him long, were anxious to

permit him to leave altogether, and were satisfied he was not the kind of material out of which Co-operators could be made ; and after some discussion it was decided to pay him, and let

him go.

When he made his appearance, the treasurer spoke to him of the folly of his proceeding, and told him of the disheartening effect of such conduct upon men who were striving heart and soul to benefit their fellows, and the disgrace such as he brought upon the working class. He might have spared himself the trouble, for Bent was deficient in the qualities that could be influenced by such an appeal.

He told them they were a set of robbers, for stopping the usual withdrawal fee of 1s.; then walked away to the “Bird in Hand."

Seated in the tap-room of the “Bird in Hand,” along with several others of the frequenters of the place, was a fellow-workman of Bent's, named Clarke, who had not joined the store, though his wife, a very worthy woman, had often tried to induce him to do so. Bent sat down beside him, and called for a pint of beer. He then proceeded to tell of the rating he had given them at the store.

“Why, I had made up my mind to join them,” said Clarke. “My wife has been at me these three months about it, and she makes it out to be a very good concern. She says Catlin's wife has got above £5 out of it." “If you

advice you'll have nothing to do with it," replied Bent."

'I'm glad I got clear of it, and a precious deal of trouble I had to get my money, I can tell you. That old Harpin, the treasurer, tried all he could to gammon me, but I'm not to be caught with that sort of chaff. Catlin and he are making a good thing out of it. I met Catlin last Sunday, and he was dressed like a lord, and his wages are only the same as mine : he don't.cut it so fine for nothing, I know."

Another quiet, dry old man, who sat in the corner by the fire smoking his pipe, said—“Catlin will get wiser in a bit, and see the folly of trying to make the world better, while there are such boys as you in it, Bent. If he spent the same time and energy to benefit himself, as he does in working for that store, he would sooner be out of your shop. Co-operation and all such

take my

schemes are all very well in theory, but they don't fit the people : we're all too selfish, and when we do see a young energetic chap throwing all his powers into a scheme to benefit others, and spending what is given to make his own way good, why, it makes an old fellow sorry for him. Instead of having a chap like you finding fault with him, you ought to be begging a job at his own shop.”

This sally rather checked Bent in that direction, but after a few moments he said...“ Fellows like him know what they're about, and some day the people would find them out; but he didn't care now, he'd got his money."

“How much had you in, Bent?” said Clarke.

“Only about £1, and they stopped Is. out of that: there's another nice game! I suppose old Harpin and Catlin bunce that,” was the reply.

He forgot to tell them he had paid but 6d. of that, and the remainder was profit upon his outlay. Elated with the amount in his possession, he felt quite in the humour for a spree, as he would call it, when disposed that way; so he proposed they should drop talking about the thing, and have a game at “all fours.”

The cards were brought out, and four of those present commenced playing. This lasted until eleven o'clock, when the landlord turned them out, and Bent went home with 7s. of his money gone. His wife was sitting up for him, and seeing the muildled state he was in, comnienced her usual complaint-"as he ought to be ashamed of himself drinking and going on, and she only got a bit of dry bread and coffee, and he must be stuffing himself with ale, and not caring whether she was starving or not.” For this she of course only received abuse in return.

The next morning he gave her 4s. to buy the children clogs, and told her not to go to the store for any more things, as he meant to draw out; "he would not be crowed over by them fellows brow-beaten about not giving them money, besides paying for their things.” The 4s. were all that ever went to buy the things he had talked of.

The same day Clarke told his wife of what Bent had said the night before, of Catlin making a fine thing out of the store. She said “he was a lazy drunken fellow, and she would as

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