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“I am made immortal by apprehending my possession of incorruptible goods.”

I have just had one of the pleasant experiences of life. From time to time, these brisk winter days, I like to walk across the fields to Horace’s farm. I take a new way each time and make nothing of the snow in the fields or the drifts along the fences....

“Why,” asks Harriet, “do you insist on struggling through the snow when there’s a good beaten road around?”

“Harriet,” I said, “why should any one take a beaten road when there are new and adventurous ways to travel?”

When I cross the fields I never know at what moment I may come upon some strange or surprising experience, what new sights I may see, what new sounds I may hear, and I have the further great advantage of appearing unexpectedly at Horace’s farm. Sometimes I enter by the cow lane, sometimes by way of the old road through the wood-lot, or I appear casually, like a gust of wind, around the corner of the barn, or I let Horace discover me leaning with folded arms upon his cattle fence. I have come to love doing this, for unexpectedness in visitors, as in religion and politics, is disturbing to Horace and, as sand-grits in oysters produce pearls, my unexpected appearances have more than once astonished new thoughts in Horace, or yielded pearly bits of native humour.

Ever since I have known him, Horace has been rather high-and-mighty with me; but I know he enjoys my visits, for I give him always, I think, a pleasantly renewed sense of his own superiority. When he sees me his eye lights up with the comfortable knowledge that he can plough so much better than I can, that his corn grows taller than mine, and his hens lay more eggs. He is a wonderfully practical man, is Horace; hard-headed, they call it here. And he never feels so superior, I think, as when he finds me sometimes of a Sunday or an evening walking across the fields where my land joins his, or sitting on a stone fence, or lying on my back in the pasture under a certain friendly thorn-apple tree. This he finds it difficult to understand, and thinks it highly undisciplined, impractical, no doubt reprehensible.

One incident of the sort I shall never forget. It was on a June day only a year or so after I came here, and before Horace knew me as well as he does now. I had climbed the hill to look off across his own high-field pasture, where the white daisies, the purple fleabane, and the buttercups made a wild tangle of beauty among the tall herd’s grass. Light airs moved billowing across the field, bobolinks and meadow larks were singing, and all about were the old fences, each with its wild hedgerow of choke cherry, young elms, and black raspberry bushes, and beyond, across miles and miles of sunny green countryside, the mysterious blue of the ever-changing hills. It was a spot I loved then, and have loved more deeply every year since.

Horace found me sitting on the stone fence which there divides our possessions; I think he had been observing me with amusement for some time before I saw him, for when I looked around his face wore a comfortably superior, half-disdainful smile.

“David,” said he, “what ye doin’ here?”

“Harvesting my crops,” I said.

He looked at me sharply to see if I was joking, but I was perfectly sober.

“Harvestin’ yer crops?”

“Yes,” I said, the fancy growing suddenly upon me, “and just now I’ve been taking a crop from the field you think you own.”

I waved my hand to indicate his high-field pasture.

“Don’t I own it?”

“No, Horace, I’m sorry to say, not all of it. To be frank with you, since I came here, I’ve quietly acquired an undivided interest in that land. I may as well tell you first as last. I’m like you, Horace, I’m reaching out in all directions.”

I spoke in as serious a voice as I could command: the tone I use when I sell potatoes. Horace’s smile wholly disappeared. A city feller like me was capable of anything!

“How’s that?” he exclaimed sharply. “What do you mean? That field came down to me from my grandfather Jamieson.”

I continued to look at Horace with great calmness and gravity.

“Judging from what I now know of your title, Horace,” said I, “neither your grandfather Jamieson nor your father ever owned all of that field. And I’ve now acquired that part of it, in fee simple, that neither they nor you ever really had.”

At this Horace began to look seriously worried. The idea that any one could get away from him anything that he possessed, especially without his knowledge, was terrible to him.

“What do you mean, Mr. Grayson?”

He had been calling me “David,” but he now returned sharply to “Mister.” In our country when we “Mister” a friend something serious is about to happen. It’s the signal for general mobilization.

I continued to look Horace rather coldly and severely in the eye.

“Yes,” said I, “I’ve acquired a share in that field which I shall not soon surrender.”

An unmistakable dogged look came into Horace’s face, the look inherited from generations of land-owning, home-defending, fighting ancestors. Horace is New England of New England.

“Yes,” I said, “I have already had two or three crops from that field.”

“Huh!” said Horace. “I’ve cut the grass and I’ve cut the rowen every year since you bin here. What’s more, I’ve got the money fer it in the bank.”

He tapped his fingers on the top of the wall.

“Nevertheless, Horace,” said I, “I’ve got my crops, also, from that field, and a steady income, too.”

“What crops?”

“Well, Eve just now been gathering in one of them. What do you think of the value of the fleabane, and the daisies, and the yellow five-finger in that field?”

“Huh!” said Horace.

“Well, I’ve just been cropping them. And have you observed the wind in the grass—and those shadows along the southern wall? Aren’t they valuable?”

“Huh!” said Horace.

“I’ve rarely seen anything more beautiful,” I said, “than this field and the view across it— I’m taking that crop now, and later I shall gather in the rowen of goldenrod and aster, and the red and yellow of the maple trees—and store it all away in my bank—to live on next winter.”

It was some time before either of us spoke again, but I could see from the corner of my eye that mighty things were going on inside of Horace; and suddenly he broke out into a big laugh and clapped his knee with his hand in a way he has.

“Is that all!” said Horace.

I think it only confirmed him in the light esteem in which he held me. Though I showed him unmeasured wealth in his own fields, ungathered crops of new enjoyment, he was unwilling to take them, but was content with hay. It is a strange thing to me, and a sad one, how many of our farmers (and be it said in a whisper, other people, too) own their lands without ever really possessing them: and let the most precious crops of the good earth go to waste.

After that, for a long time, Horace loved to joke me about my crops and his. A joke with Horace is a durable possession.

“S’pose you think that’s your field,” he’d say.

“The best part of it,” I’d return, “but you can have all I’ve taken, and there’ll still be enough for both of us.”

“You’re a queer one!” he’d say, and then add sometimes, dryly, “but there’s one crop ye don’t git, David,” and he’d tap his pocket where he carries his fat, worn, leather pocket-book. “And as fer feelin’s, it can’t be beat.”

So many people have the curious idea that the only thing the world desires enough to pay its hard money for is that which can be seen or eaten or worn. But there never was a greater mistake. While men will haggle to the penny over the price of hay, or fight for a cent more to the bushel of oats, they will turn out their very pockets for strange, intangible joys, hopes, thoughts, or for a moment of peace in a feverish world the unknown great possessions.

So it was that one day, some months afterward, when we had been thus bantering each other with great good humour, I said to him:

“Horace, how much did you get for your hay this year?”

“Off that one little piece,” he replied, “I figger fifty-two dollars.”

“Well, Horace,” said I, “I have beaten you. I got more out of it this year than you did.”

“Oh, I know what you mean——”

“No, Horace, you don’t. This time I mean just what you do: money, cash, dollars.”

“How’s that, now?”

“Well, I wrote a little piece about your field, and the wind in the grass, and the hedges along the fences, and the weeds among the timothy, and the fragrance of it all in June and sold it last week——” I leaned over toward Horace and whispered behind my hand—in just the way he tells me the price he gets for his pigs.

“What!” he exclaimed.

Horace had long known that I was “a kind of literary feller,” but his face was now a study in astonishment.


Horace scratched his head, as he is accustomed to do when puzzled, with one finger just under the rim of his hat.

“Well, I vum!” said he.

Here I have been wandering all around Horace’s barn—in the snow—getting at the story I really started to tell, which probably supports Horace’s conviction that I am an impractical and unsubstantial person. If I had the true business spirit I should have gone by the beaten road from my house to Horace’s, borrowed the singletree I went for, and hurried straight home. Life is so short when one is after dollars! I should not have wallowed through the snow, nor stopped at the top of the hill to look for a moment across the beautiful wintry earth—gray sky and bare wild trees and frosted farmsteads with homely smoke rising from the chimneys—I should merely have brought home a singletree—and missed the glory of life! As I reflect upon it now, I believe it took me no longer to go by the fields than by the road; and I’ve got the singletree as securely with me as though I had not looked upon the beauty of the eternal hills, nor reflected, as I tramped, upon the strange ways of man.

Oh, my friend, is it the settled rule of life that we are to accept nothing not expensive? It is not so settled for me; that which is freest, cheapest, seems somehow more valuable than anything I pay for; that which is given better than that which is bought; that which passes between you and me in the glance of an eye, a touch of the hand, is better than minted money!

I found Horace upon the March day I speak of just coming out of his new fruit cellar. Horace is a progressive and energetic man, a leader in this community, and the first to have a modern fruit cellar. By this means he ministers profitably to that appetite of men which craves most sharply that which is hardest to obtain: he supplies the world with apples in March.

It being a mild and sunny day, the door of the fruit cellar was open, and as I came around the corner I had such of whiff of fragrance as I cannot describe. It seemed as though the vials of the earth’s most precious odours had been broken there in Horace’s yard! The smell of ripe apples!

In the dusky depths of the cellar, down three steps, I could see Horace’s ruddy face.

“How are ye, David,” said he. “Will ye have a Good Apple?”

So he gave me a good apple. It was a yellow Bellflower without a blemish, and very large and smooth. The body of it was waxy yellow, but on the side where the sun had touched it, it blushed a delicious deep red. Since October it had been in the dark, cool storage-room, and Horace, like some old monkish connoisseur of wines who knows just when to bring up the bottles of a certain vintage, had chosen the exact moment in all the year when the vintage of the Bellflower was at its best. As he passed it to me I caught, a scent as of old crushed apple blossoms, or fancied I did or it may have been the still finer aroma of friendship which passed at the touching of our fingers.

It was a hand-filling apple and likewise good for tired eyes, an antidote for winter, a remedy for sick souls.

“A wonderful apple!” I said to Horace, holding it off at arm’s length.

“No better grown anywhere,” said he, with scarcely restrained pride.

I took my delight of it more nearly; and the odour was like new-cut clover in an old orchard, or strawberry leaves freshly trod upon, or the smell of peach wood at the summer pruning—how shall one describe it? at least a compound or essence of all the good odours of summer.

“Shall I eat it?” I asked myself, for I thought such a perfection of nature should be preserved for the blessing of mankind. As I hesitated, Horace remarked:

“It was grown to be eaten.”

So I bit into it, a big liberal mouthful, which came away with a rending sound such as one hears sometimes in a winter’s ice-pond. The flesh within, all dewy with moisture, was like new cream, except a rim near the surface where the skin had been broken; here it was of a clear, deep yellow.

New odours came forth and I knew for the first time how perfect in deliciousness such an apple could be. A mild, serene, ripe, rich bouquet, compounded essence of the sunshine from these old Massachusetts hills, of moisture drawn from our grudging soil, of all the peculiar virtues of a land where the summers make up in the passion of growth for the long violence of winter; the compensatory aroma of a life triumphant, though hedged about by severity, was in the bouquet of this perfect Bellflower.

Like some of the finest of wines and the warmest of friends it was of two flavours, and was not to be eaten for mere nourishment, but was to be tasted and enjoyed. The first of the flavours came readily in a sweetness, richness, a slight acidity, that it might not cloy; but the deeper, more delicate flavour came later—if one were not crudely impatient—and was, indeed, the very soul of the fruit. One does not quickly arrive at souls either in apples or in friends. And I said to Horace with solemnity, for this was an occasion not to be lightly treated:

“I have never in my life tasted a fine apple.”

“There is no finer apple,” said Horace with conviction.

With that we fell to discussing the kinds and qualities of all the apples grown this side China, and gave our more or less slighting opinions of Ben Davises and Greenings and Russets, and especially of trivial summer apples of all sorts, and came to the conclusion at last that it must have been just after God created this particular “tree yielding fruit” that he desisted from his day’s work and remarked that what he saw was good. The record is silent upon the point, and Moses is not given to adjectives, but I have often wondered what He would have said if He had not only seen the product of His creation, but tasted it.

I forgot to say that when I would have slurred the excellence of the Baldwin in comparison with the Bellflower, Horace began at once to interpose objections, and defended the excellence and perfection of that variety.

...He has fifty barrels of Baldwins in his cellar.

While we talked with much enjoyment of the lore of apples and apple-growing, I finished the Bellflower to the very core, and said to Horace as I reluctantly tossed aside the stem and three seeds:

“Surely this has been one of the rare moments of life.”


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