Fragrance of Apple Wood by CHARLES HOWARD SHINN


For The Public.

The old man sat by his fireplace in the mountains, watching with joy and remembrance the swift upward leap of the flames through the pitchpine splinters to the dry apple boughs and the great apple-tree back-log from one of the pioneer Baldwins in the "old orchard," as the neighborhood called the few rows of worn-out trees by the creek planted almost a century before by the old man's father. It was a glorious back-log, more than eighteen inches through and four feet long.

He held his hands out to the warmth and watched the .fire biting into the lesser apple boughs; he took the bellows and blew underneath. "Pretty soon the old tree will begin to tell me stories," he said, breathing in the outward swing of the air from the chimney. Suddenly he caught what he was waiting for—that delicious fragrance of old apple wood as it burns and gives forth its last gift to the world of living folk.

"When I rake out the coals in the morning," the old man said to himself, "this whole room will smell of apples—of May times and of Octobers."

One of the boys came in and hastily opened the outside door. "Grandsire," he remarked, "I don't suppose you can help it, but you always get this room full of ashes and smoke." The old man looked at him quizzically and tolerantly.

"Young fellow," he answered, "brace up a minute and tell me if you don't smell the apple-wood burning. Come close and sniff at it."

"Nothing whatever," said the city-bred grandson who was "home" on a visit. "Just wood smoke, and all sorts of wood are alike, on a fire." Then he went out, leaving the cheerful old man alone with his memories and smiling to himself over the joke.

"It certainly pays to arrive at eighty years," he reflected. "That boy of thirty, speaking physically, can see, hear, taste and smell better than I can. Nevertheless he has not yet attained to the full use of any of his senses. It will come in time, of course; some day he'll be able to bring back old sounds, old scenes, old deeds, the rustle of corn blades, the falling leaves, the faint impact of the snow flakes, the roses and lilies in the gardens that are no more in existence here, but which have become immortal."

He sat by his fire, thinking of the old orchard, the row of Baldwins, the two Westfield Seek-noFarther trees, the Boxbury Eussets, the Northern Spy, the Greenings and Sweetings and cider crabs which he used to prune and cultivate sixty years before. He struck into the burning backlog with the old branding iron from a cattle ranch which he liked to use for a poker, and as some coals fell off, they revealed several large, rusty cut nails driven in a circle. He laughed softly. "Guess those are the ones I put into you, old friend Baldwin, when I was about eight years old. Father told me that it hurt the tree and might spoil an axe or saw later." He tapped the coals with gentle insistence; the apple-wood fragrance crept out.

One of the elder women of the family came in —a busy, cheerful housewife and mother. "I declare," she said, "this room seems to smell so pleasantly. What have you been doing to it, Father?"

"It's just the old Baldwin apple tree," he declared. "Sit down here on this low bench; blow the fire a little, and see what you get." She did so, and caught the apple scent from the heart of the log.

"Why," she declared, "it's really so; I've heard that some people save all the apple-tree wood for just this, but I'd thought it nonsense."

"Daughter," he told her, "there's usually something behind the old tales. It isn't merely an old man's notion. No two kinds of wood burn alike. There's days for pine, days for oak, days for alder and ash, days for cones and bark, days for the sweet-smelling oils of cedar and juniper. This is the last of the old apple-tree logs until another orchard is past its bearing seasons. Bring in the children, Margaret; let them get acquainted with the old tree, and hear its history."

They came in, girls and boys, and sat in front of the apple-wood fire, were delighted with its faint spicy breath and listened eagerly to the talk. Said the ancient of days: "Father came into these mountains over a hundred years ago. He planted apple seeds on a little bench land by the creek, and wrote to friends in New England for scions with which to graft his seedlings. There was no nursery then in all these mountains, and few orchards. We children were so proud of our trees as we grew up. Gardens were scarce, and in their season, sister carried apple blossoms to decorate the little log church, and she wore them to school. All those old buildings and our first old log-house home are gone now. Then, you must know, sister passed away—she was but eighteen years old, the best and sweetest girl in America—and the neighbors came for twenty miles to the funeral, bringing flowers from every garden. But on her breast she wore apple-blossoms that I gathered from one of the old Baldwin trees—perhaps from this very one that is on the fire now."

He came back from the land of memories and looked upon their sober faces. "Children," he told them, "that old flat needs to go in clover and be plowed under for a few years. Then you can plant another orchard there, of more modern sorts, and when those young trees are worn out, your children will have apple wood to burn."