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THE TASTE OF APPLES



BIHT . of CAUF. . tOS



The
Taste of Apples

By JENNETTE LEE



Author of " Uncle William," " Happy Island," Etc.




With Three Illustrations
By F. WALTER TAYLOR



A. L BURT COMPANY, PUBLISHERS

114420 East Twenty-third Street - - New York

PUBLISHED BY ARRANGEMENT WITH DODD, MEAD & COMPANY



COPTKIGHT, 1918 BY

THE CURTIS PUBLISHING COMPANY,

COPYRIGHT, 1913. BY
DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY,

Published, September, 1913



TO
GrERALD STANLEY LEE



21.31030



THE SHOP WHERE NOTHING COULD HAPPEN

THE light in the little shop was dim. The
shoemaker's fat assistant scowled at it, and got
up and hunted for a match and lighted the gas-
jet on the wall. The light sprang suddenly
out on the littered room, and the three men
across the room, bending close over a checker-
board, looked up and blinked as it flickered
down. One of them put out his hand to the
board, and held it a minute, and drew it back
and stroked a little grey fringe of beard that de-
pended from his chin. The other two men
laughed a little, sitting shrewdly back; then they
bent again to the board. The fat assistant
stitched glumly on.

The room was full of dancing shadows now.
They fell on the scraps of leather on the floor
and on dusty corners and windows and cobwebs,
and they danced a little on the shoemaker's



2 THE TASTE OF APPLES

empty bench, worn black and shiny with the
polish of years, and ran along his hat and coat,
hanging on the peg by the door. The shoe-
maker had left his bench almost guiltily, two
hours ago, and had stolen over to the checker-
board. He had not stirred since, except to
reach out a thin hand to dispose of a doomed
man or to checkmate the little grey beard that
wagged opposite him. The third man, a hand
on either knee, looked down, as Jove may have
looked upon the Trojans and their enemies, and
gave a mighty nod as the battle went either
way.

The fat assistant took up his awl and scowled
at it and stabbed it once or twice in the leather,
and stuck it upright in the bench beside him,
and drew another waxed needleful through the
holes, his mouth growing more and more puck-
ered and screwed-up, with each heavy pull
of the waxed thread through the holes. He
glanced across at the bent heads and got up,
fumbling a little at the strings of his big apron,
and cast it from him, and took down his hat and



NOTHING COULD HAPPEN 3

went darkly out. The three men looked up
blankly as the little whiff of air slammed past
them. Then they returned to the board, and
quiet settled on the room.

The grey beard wagged twice, once in pro-
test and once in resignation; he drew a heavy
sigh. Then he bent to the board, fingering the
pieces a little and shoving them about. "If I'd
'a' moved here, you wouldn't 'a' done it!" he
said triumphantly.

"Huh!" said the large man partly in aston-
ishment, partly incredulous ; he bent ponderously
down to look.

The shoemaker nodded slowly toward the grey
beard that perked out across the board at him.
"I see it, Simon, after I'd moved I see it; yes,
you could 'a' took me if you'd moved that way."
The shoemaker's thin fingers hovered over the
pieces, setting the men back in their rows. "We
might try again, Simon "

Then he looked up. The door had opened
almost timidly. The shoemaker got up and
went forward. The young girl handed him a



4 THE TASTE OF APPLES

hastily-wrapped parcel and stood waiting. The
shoemaker's long fingers pulled at the string and
tore aside the paper a pair of worn, girlish
shoes lay in his hand. He looked at them and
turned them over on the palm of his long, thin
hand and looked at the girl.

"Can they be mended, Mr. Wickham?" she
asked quickly.

The shoemaker stood considering the worn
things. The flickering gaslight, as he bent over
them, fell full on his face. It was a thin face,
with a little lock of hair that was not quite a
curl rising straight up from the forehead and a
faintly-grey moustache shading the quiet lips;
the eyes followed the lines of the shoes and his
fingers touched them here and there then he
looked at the girl with a little smile. "When did
you want them'?" he asked.

Her face lightened. "I'm glad they can
be mended. I thought they might be too
bad "

"Never too late to mend," said the old man
smiling and fingering the shoes almost as if



NOTHING COULD HAPPEN 5

their very frailties pleased him. "We'll put
new soles on them and half -heels, and a little
patch here it will hardly show when it is done.
When do you need them 1 ?" he asked again. He
looked at her over his light glasses.

"Saturday ? Could I have them Satur-
day?'

"Saturday afternoon," he nodded slowly,
"about four o'clock, I should think. Yes, we'll
get them done for you."

He carried them across to his bench and the
girl went out. There was a little lingering
tingle of the bell above the door, but the shoe-
maker did not look up ; his eyes were on the shoes
in his hand, studying their possibilities ... he
was deaf to the world. Across the room a new
game of checkers had begun between the grey
beard and Jove, but the shoemaker did not look
up a kind of gentle light had come into his
face and a little line ran in his forehead, straight
up to the lock of hair; so a poet might scan his
lines, seeking the right word. . . . The shoe-
maker's face held the worn soles and turned



6 THE TASTE OF APPLES

them from him and looked at them and broke
into gentle singing a little gentle humming
beneath his breath. His hand reached out for
a sharp knife, and the sound of softly-cut
stitches followed its sharp edge along the sole.

The assistant put his head in the door and sur-
veyed the silent group and came in his face a
trifle lighter under its grime. He hung up his
hat and crossed the room "Letter for ye," he
said. He threw it down on the bench but the
shoemaker did not look up, and the softly-rip-
ping stitches went swiftly on.

The assistant sat down and drew the iron last
between his knees and took up his hammer;
rat-ty-/<2/ rat-ty-tat-/^/ rat-ty-/#/ and softly
snipping stitches and somewhere on the wall a
clock ticking a little when the hammering was
still.

It was a place where nothing could ever hap-
pen; the letter lay on the shoemaker's bench,
the two men played an eternal game of checkers,
across the room, the assistant made shoes, and
the shoemaker with his face to a pair of shabby



NOTHING COULD HAPPEN 7

soles saw something beautiful beyond them
emerging from the worn shapes something that
should be as good as new . . . rat-ty-tat rat-
ty-tat-te//



II



IT HAPPENS

THE town-clock struck six, and the shoemaker
looked up, and blinked; the assistant with his
hammer half-lifted for another stroke, laid it
down with a little happy thud. The checker-
players stirred vaguely, looked at the clock ab-
sently and, with the round black-and-white spots
before them, went on reaching into blind space.

The shoemaker's eye fell on the letter and he-
took it up.

The assistant's eye followed it "From John,
ain't it?" he asked.

"Yes." The shoemaker moved over to the
gas-jet and adjusted his glasses a little; he could
see to cut the finest stitches in the dark but not
a letter from John.

The assistant lingered a little. He and John
had been schoolboys together. There might be
something interesting. John was getting to be



IT HAPPENS 9

a big man. The assistant was very fat and he
did not understand exactly what it was that
John was doing but at school he had licked
John, easy John was a little fellow those days.
The assistant played with the strings of his
apron.

The shoemaker spelled out the words with
gentle, half-moving lips, and the checker-players
pushed back the board and got up. The big
man straightened himself in sections "Got a
letter?" he asked kindly.

The grey beard moved nimbly. "I beat
him!" he said; "I beat him that time!"

The big man smiled at him tolerantly.

The shoemaker lowered his glasses with his
finger and looked over the top at them. "A let-
ter from John," he said.

"Uh-huh How's John getting on?" The
big man was genial.

But the shoemaker had returned to the letter.
"Well well !" he said softly. "Well well!"

The room quickened a little. The assistant
put down his hat and waited.



10 THE TASTE OF APPLES

The shoemaker took off his glasses and rubbed
them slowly and looked at the other three
with a little quiet smile "John wants me to go
to Europe," he said.

"Go where?" said Simon vaguely. He
rubbed his little beard and gulped.

The shoemaker nodded. "Right off; he says
he's got the passage engaged; he wants us to go
the fifteenth a week from Saturday." His
eye fell on the shoes lying side by side on his
bench and he smiled at them. "I must hurry
my shoes."

"You going*?" asked the big man.

"I think we'll go yes if John wants us to.
I've always thought I'd like to go abroad "

"Well!" said Simon. He sat down a little
quickly. "Kind o' sudden, ain't it your goin'
abroad!"

The assistant scraped a foot along the floor
and the shoemaker looked at him and smiled.
"Do you think you can manage the business,
Samuel for a year or so 1 ?"

"A year!" The assistant gulped, and looked



IT HAPPENS 11

at the row of awls stuck in their leather straps
along the window-ledge. "You goin' to be
gone a year?" he repeated dully. The very
awls looked different, somehow.

"John says a year. Here is what he says."
He read it out slowly

I want you and Mother to stay six months or so
in England. You'll know the language and can get
along all right there ; and then, next summer, I am
to have three months my first vacation in ten years,
you know and I'll come over and join you, and
we'll go to the continent together.

"John can speak several languages," said the
shoemaker, breaking off with gentle pride. "He
learned them at college German and French
and Italian and Spanish. I only know one
language."

"It's enough to say all you can think of,

too " said the big man. He was a little

moved on his base by this sudden irruption of
travel.

The shoemaker looked about him. "I must
go and tell Mother," he said; "she'll want to get



12 THE TASTE OF APPLES

used to it." He nodded kindly to the fat as-
sistant, who was staring at the row of awls, his
thick under-lip moving in and out slowly.
"You think about it, Samuel. It won't be so
bad when you think it over you can do it."

"Oh, yes, you can do it," said the big man re-
assuringly. "I'll look in and advise you about
it, every day or two."

"I beat him, that last game," said Simon hap-
pily. "You see, I "

But the shoemaker had put on his hat and
was gone. The big man was already looming
away down the dusk of the street, and the as-
sistant stood with one hand on the gas-jet, ready
to shut up shop.

Simon skipped out into the dusk. The as-
sistant closed the door and locked it and turned
slowly away. Over the door the faded sign,

ANTHONY WICKHAM

MAKER AND MENDER OF SHOES

looked out faintly on the half-lit street. The
sign had hung there thirty years, worn by



IT HAPPENS 13

wind and rain and pointing the way inside to
the low bench where Anthony Wickham sat
stitching on the worn-out shoes of Bolton
making them "good as new."

The fat assistant wagged his head distrust-
fully and plodded down the street ... his
round, rolling gait bearing him on. "I can't do

it " he mumbled. "I ain't fit! I can't do

fine work like he can."

And overhead the stars twinkled out on the
assistant, and on Simon scurrying home through
the dusk, swelling with happy pride, and on the
big man who did not care that he was beaten,
and on Anthony, maker and mender of shoes,
going slowly under the stars, looking up at them
now and then, and looking around him. Thirty
years he had waited, stitching his vision into
leather and thread and now the great world
door swung softly open before him. . . .



Ill



MOTHER

HE laid the letter on the table and looked at her
with a long, slow, happy smile.

She took it up swiftly "From John!" she
said. She eyed it a minute and laid it down.
"You must have your supper first."

She bustled about, carrying things to the ta-
ble, talking briskly as she moved. She was a
little woman, her head barely reaching the shoe-
maker's shoulder when she stood still beside him
for a minute; but when she moved she seemed
to rise on little springs as if suddenly, all over,
she was set free.

Anthony watched her with his quiet smile as
she came and went in her flittings. "Sit down,
Mother," he said, "you've got everything we
need."

"Yes," a little breathless with achievement,

"it's ready now as soon as I take out my pie !"

14



MOTHER 15

She opened the oven door and looked in cau-
tiously and took out a fragrant pie.

Anthony's eye followed it. "Apple?" he
asked.

She nodded and set it slowly on the table.
"It got done a little mite too much," she said.
She was looking regretfully at the brown, mot-
tled crust.

"Just about right for me," said Anthony.

Her face relaxed. "Men-folks' 11 eat pie
apple-pie no matter how it's done," she said.
She poured out the tea, one eye on the letter be-
side. "What does he say*?" she asked.

"Good news," said Anthony. He sipped his
tea tentatively and watched her, smiling.

She took up the letter and began on it and
laid it down and looked at him. "John's
crazy!" she said. Then, after a minute : 'I
don't want to go!"

"You'll like it," said Anthony.

"To go abroad ! I should hate to go abroad !"
she said swiftly.

"Why, Mother!"



16 THE TASTE OF APPLES

"Don't talk to me, Anthony! I should hate
it. You ready for your pie 1 ?" She cut a gen-
erous piece and put it on his plate and watched
critically as his mouth closed on the first
morsel.

He nodded slowly. "Just right, Mother."

A little smile quivered on her face. "You
know I shouldn't like it, don't you, Anthony
going abroad?"

"It takes time to get used to going abroad."
He was looking wistfully at the letter.

"I shall stay right here " she said, "and save
the money. ... You can go," she added,
looking at him.

He shook his head slowly. "I can't go with-
out you, Mother."

There was silence between them. The canary
under his blue cloth, settled down for the night,
chirped a little; but there was no response.
Anthony waited patiently for the workings of
the feminine mind.

When she had finished the dishes she came
and sat down beside him. A little fire glowed



MOTHER 17

in the grate. . . . She slipped her hand under
the thin one lying along the arm of the chair.

"John will be disappointed," she said softly.

"Yes." He patted the hand a little.

She looked into the fire. "He ought to get
married," she said.

"Give him time," answered the shoemaker.

"He's never saved a cent," she said sternly,
"and now to waste two thousand dollars on
us! I'd rather he'd get married !"

He patted the hand again. "You can't ex-
actly get married like that by handing
around two thousand dollars," he said.

"I know, well enough, what I mean, Anthony,
and you know, too. . . . There must be some
nice girls " She studied the fire.

"Lydia Bacon *?" suggested the shoemaker.

"Anthony Wickham! For John!"

The shoemaker chuckled a quiet little
chuckle, like the coals falling in the grate. "Do
you know anybody that would suit you better
than Lydia*?" he asked respectfully.

She paused. "No-o " she admitted. "But



i8 THE TASTE OF AEPLES

that's no reason you should think of her !" She
sniffed at the glowing coals softly. "We will
write him to-night and tell him to save his money
and get married and take some comfort in
life!" she finished up.

"Very well, Mother. You write him. Tell
him just how you feel about it."

So the letter went, and the answer came
promptly back. The tickets were bought, John
wrote. But if they really did not want them he
would sell them at a sacrifice underlined
and give the money to the Baptist Church.

"To the Baptist Church 4 ?" she quivered with
anxious face. "Doesn't he remember we are
Congregationalists *?"

"He wants us to go," said Anthony. "He
isn't thinking about much else, I guess."

The letter had been addressed to Mr. Anthony
Wickham and had come to the shop. But the
following day a letter came to Mrs. Anthony
Wickham, which the shoemaker did not see.

She read it, standing by the stove in her sunny



MOTHER 19

kitchen, the canary trilling a little among his
geraniums and plants in the window.

"I've been thinking about Father," the letter
read "There was something about him that
last time I was home, something about his face
that set me thinking, Mother. . . ." She had
slipped the bit of paper inside her dress, and
when Anthony came home at night she had gone
up to him and put her hands on his shoulders and
looked up at him a long minute. Then she had
lifted her face to kiss him.

"I don't know where I can buy a good steam-
er-trunk," she said.



IV



GETS READY

THERE was hurry and scurry and debate. The
canary must be boarded out, and the geraniums
and plants taken care of, and the attic and cel-
lar scrubbed from top to toe. Upstairs and
downstairs and in my lady's chamber, there was
bustle and confusion and the clutter of house-
hold gods.

Through it all, Mother her head tied up in
a large towel, a magic broom-wand in her hand
moved serene. Order must be restored by the
fourteenth; and precisely at four o'clock of the
fourteenth the house was ready. It had been
rented to the new milkman who had just moved
to Bolton and had one child and a nice little
wife there were three loaves of bread and a
nice pie in the pantry for the milkman and his
nice wife and baby, a little heap of kindlings in
the shed, and the bed with its starched pillow-

20



GETS READY 21

shams and white spread was made up ready for
them in the chamber overhead.

Once she had surrendered, Mother had taken
entire charge of the campaign; she had made it
her own. Anthony was not allowed to pack his
trunk or to select the clothes he should wear.

"You take care of the shop," she had said,
fairly bustling him out, "I'll see to things
here."

So Anthony had sat quietly stitching away
his new hopes and new plans into the old leather
and soles.

There had been a sudden influx of trade when
the Bolton "Herald" announced that Mr. and
Mrs. Anthony Wickham were sailing on the fif-
teenth. All the old shoes and slippers and boots
in Bolton poured in upon him. They lay
heaped up between him and the fat assistant;
and the assistant scowled at them and drew his
heavy needle in and out.

"You couldn't finish 'em by Christmas not
if you worked nights !" he said, resentfully.

"I'm picking out the worst ones, Samuel,"



22 THE TASTE OF APPLES

said the shoemaker, bending to the pile and se-
lecting, ruefully, a crazy old slipper. "These
slippers of Mrs. Judge Fox's, now I've mended
these twenty years, I should think first tops
and then bottoms and then tops and bottoms
both. ... I tell Mis' Fox, slippers are like
folks wearin' a little here and a little there,
and getting new stuff all the while as they go
along and growing a little bigger, too," he said
softly, smiling down at the queer shapes.

Samuel stared at them gloomily. "You can't
do anything with Mrs. Judge Fox's, ever chuck
'em!"

But the shoemaker smiled at them still, and
ran his fingers along their faults slowly "I
think we can do a little a little something
with them " he said musingly, and the old
leather seemed to respond to the touch and lift
itself a little. "They've lost their shape that's
all, Samuel. Plenty of wear plenty "

He murmured indistinct words and drew out
the insoles and peered at them and breathed a
little breath, and fell to work; his thin fingers



GETS READYf 23

dwelt upon the ugly lines and drew away with
deft touch, and the bulging old slippers caught
the idea, and seemed to forget Mrs. Judge Fox
and her burden of flesh and became, once more,
slippers. The shoemaker laid them down on the
bench beside him with a little, happy gesture,
and glanced across at the assistant.

Samuel gave a grudging look. "Yes
you've done 'em. But if I could do fine work
like you can, I wouldn't waste myself on a pair
of old things like them !"

Now, it happened that Mrs. Judge Fox died
that year, and while she lay dying the slippers
stood by her bed, and her eye fell on them and
she half reached down a hand to them. "They
lasted my time out " she said, half-whispering.
"I'm glad they last " And she forgot to say
good-bye to the old Judge who sat by her cry-
ing his few, hard tears. . . . The dying think
of trivial things.

The fat assistant worked on with stodgy un-
ending patience and gloom, but the pile on the
floor between them did not diminish; it grew



24 THE TASTE OF APPLES

ever larger, and each morning more shoes were
added to it until even Anthony Wickham ac-
knowledged that it would not be possible to
finish them.

And not only shoes took up the time. There
was consultation and advice to be gone through
with also. Anthony came at last to sitting with
the geography open on the bench beside him and
talking with one finger on the page and one on
his last. The checker-board in the comer grew
thick with dust. The big man gave advice,
and Simon questioned it rubbing his little grey
beard; and politics, sociology, race lines, lan-
guage, etiquette, seasickness, foreign money,
feeing, fleas, boarding houses, horse-meat and
snails for food were carefully threshed out and
disposed of.

The big man sat, ponderous and wise, and
gave advice on all. Simon skipped nimbly from
peak to peak of incredulity. And the shoe-
maker lifted his smiling glance or pushed up his
spectacles and wrinkled his brow at the infor-
mation they gave him. "I think Mother will



GETS READY 25

see about that," he would say when the battle
waxed too hot for him.

There were other visitors who came with ad-
vice and shoes.

The Episcopal rector brought a pair of thin,
low ties and seated himself in a casual chair
while Anthony inspected them. He studied
them, and turned them in his hand and looked
up, smiling as if at some pleasant discovery.

"You run them over in the heel," he said,
pointing to the iron nails that protruded at the
back through the low heels, shining and blunt.

"Yes, I walk a great deal," said the Rector.
"I like exercise. Walking is my favourite
method of locomotion. . . . Um you do not
walk much V"

Anthony shook his head. "Home and back
twice a day is my walking," he said.

"Yes yes of course. But I hear you are
going quite a journey quite a journey."

Anthony looked up, pleased and friendly,
and the conversation glided into the well-worn
groove how to travel, where to travel, what to



26 THE TASTE OF APPLES

wear, what to see, the pictures one must not miss,
and the cathedrals. . . .

The fat assistant was having a liberal educa-
tion without stirring from his leather-strewn
bench. In spite of his best intentions, his ears
were filled with Madonnas ant^-tombs and gate*
ways that he could have recited in his dreams if
he had been pressed.

The Rector sent in another pair of shoes and
a list of Madonnas that Mother must be sure to
see; and Mother tucked them away in the little
black reticule that was fast becoming as crowded
as the assistant's head, and went on with her
work. The Baptist minister made out a bicycle
trip in lower Sussex one that he had read in
a book and the pastor of the Presbyterian
Church contributed notes on the orthodox
churches of London.

The shoemaker had become a person of im-
portance. A prospective trip to Europe while
not the same as the ordinary Divinity school
education, was in a way its social equivalent.
A shoemaker who proposed to go abroad or



GETS READY 27

whose son proposed it for him was not the
same as a shoemaker who merely made and
mended shoes; he became an opportunity.

All his life Anthony Wickham had known all
Bolton by its feet there was hardly a man,
woman or child in Bolton whom he would not
have known by their shoes, there was scarcely
one that he would not have known in the dark
by the mere feeling of their feet under the touch
of his thin fingers. Many of them he had fol-
lowed from boyhood to manhood, seeing the
quick, boyish soles broaden and harden and
throw out little callous lumps that must be
reckoned with if one made a shoe that should
fit. He knew them all. Sometimes it seemed
to him that the character of men lies in their feet
rather than in their heads; and he always
looked first, a long slow glance, at a man's shoes
before he lifted his gentle eyes to the face above


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