Apple Blossoms

MARY SHANNON July 15 1927

Apple Blossoms

MARY SHANNON July 15 1927

Apple Blossoms

She believed in a Fairy Prince— and he had come to spoil the innocent of that which they held most dear

MARY SHANNON

AT LAST the close timber trail pointed to a break ahead. Bartram Herald quickened his flagging steps, collected his straying thoughts. Now for business, short, sharp—to oust that fellow whom he had allowed through pure indifference to live all these years on the land, a quick sale of the timber, then the shortest route back to Montreal, to the gang, to Maxine.

Maxine! Through the long miles of travel to the West he had been too passively inert to miss her. But now in this damnable quiet the image of her persisted—her gayety, her vivacity, her dashing dark beauty, sparkling with a reckless buoyancy that ran to laughter and music and the clink of glasses! “We’ll think of you every day, Bart." she had promised. He smiled, a trifle bitterly. Suppose he never went back. For how long would she miss him from the wild whirl? Perhaps not even now, with his fortune gone . , .

He recalled instances of fellows who had dropped out of the gang after their money had dwindled away. One had danced for a living. He had afterxvards married a stout and wealthy widow. Another had turned to cards. He was in Portsmouth now. But there had been still another. He had ‘come back’, from perdition it would seem, in some out of the way country place. It had taken him six months, but he had stuck it out and was back now the night star of one of the big dailies. Bartram had given him the money to go away. Well, that much of his squandered fortune had been put to good use.

He shrugged, hurried on. But he wasn’t going to drop out of the gang. He was going back. The sale of this timber would suffice for a time, another fling on the racetracks, another brief term with Maxine. With her he could forget, could igr.qre the inevitable that waited hollow-eyed at the Cnd of his prodigal trail. And ten years ago, when hè had come into his inheritance, he had decided not to bother about contesting an old title to this British Columbia property". He had discontinued the law-suit begun by his father. Just as well. The land would have gone with the rest.

He stopped, suddenly conscious of sunlight and fragrance and the peaceful drone of bees. The timber had opened to the pearl-pink mist of apple trees in bloom, the wreathed branches dipping into cool, still water. A flood, of course, but the havoc of it was—enchantment! The tops of the trees rounded into great masses of bloom, pale-tinted, floating like fairy isles in the blue and silver water. A soft harmony" breathed in the stillness, dreaming through the golden afternoon.

Under one of the nearer trees drifted a shabby boat. There was someone in it, watching, with face upturued to the pink-petalled blossoms. A girl! The line of the profile was of youth, at the time when youth is freshest and sweetest. She turned her face full upon him; pretty, delicately tinted as the petals flecking her golden hair. He removed his cap.

“Did you come for the honey?” she was asking him.

“Honey,” repeated Bartram.

• 1C-C. I :~`•i~•t-you see, there was someone coming -ah~jut an order" she explained, her eyes Bart~am oh a of interest. He seated himself on a `1 up~so, en, the honey's all sold," he returned idly.

“Oh, no. We’ve lots on hand, and it’s very good honey —white clover and wild flowers. Do you like it in comb or strained?” she went on eagerly.

“Why, I think I should like some of—some of both,” replied Bartram recklessly.

“Oh! We’ve got such a lot of it left. You see, last year was a very poor year somehow. We didn’t sell much. We’re rather out of the way up here,” she added.

“Rather,” agreed Bartram, with a grim memory of the deep trail.

“But it’s an attractive spot.”

“Isn’t it!” she breathed, drawing a fluffy branch close to her cheek.

“We love it! But then—it’s home.

I’ve lived here all my life.”

“A very long time, I take it,” he smiled.

“Yes. Eighteen years,” she returned naively.

Eighteen years in the heart of the timber! Not a line of discontent on the fresh, young face. And how women fought against lines these days! Even himself . . . “Rest up when you’re gone,” Maxine had advised. “You’re looking a bit seedy. Don’t turn lumberman— though you’d make a mighty handsome one! Big and dark, and when you get a touch of color . . . I’ll fall in love with you .

He caught a fluttering glance from the violet eyes. He would loiter a while. This was a pleasant prelude to the disagreeable business before him. Even his business might profit.

“Does John Lane live about here?” he asked.

“Over there.” She waved a small hand toward a spot hidden behind the apple trees. “He’s my father,” she smiled. “I’m Julia Mary Lane. You’re from the city, aren’t you?” she added hesitatingly.

“Yes. Bartram’s my name,” he returned, impulsively withholding his full name.

The daughter of John Lane! He had thought of them as mountaineers. The ruthless eviction he had planned dissolved hopelessly. He would have to think. Something more diplomatic ... He studied the rings of color on the water.

“Father says it’s the first time the creek ever overflowed,” remarked Julia Mary. “Isn’t it lovely! Of course, we may have no apples this fall . . . But if the bees only do well,” she added anxiously.

Bartram glanced about at the blossoms swaying in the clutch of droning bees and smiled:

“They seem to be about the busiest things around here just now,” he observed.

“Oh, everybody’s busy—but me,” she laughed. “Father’s working among the hives, and my brothers— they’re putting in the garden. Mothers’ gone to see a neighbor below here. I’m waiting for her now.”

“So you have a farm,” remarked Bartram.

“Yes, over behind the house. You see, father would never clear the timber land because he knew that some day it would be worth a lot of money—just as it is now.”

A memory of his errand here obtruded disagreeably.

“You own the timber, too?” he asked.

“Yes. All that tract you crossed if you came from the station, is ours. Isn’t it beautiful! So green and deep and cool, and the wind whispering—never still ... I love to walk that way—all alone,” she finished dreamily.

Bartram followed the glance of her eyes and a ray of sunshine seemed to have flooded the shadowy trail. Yes, it would be pleasant walking there, under certain conditions—the walls of trees, the branches meeting overhead, the world shut away. There were fern and wild flowers, too, he remembered. She would loiter and gather some. There were birds’ nests in the trees . . . Abruptly he brought his eyes back to her face.

“Have you had offers for the timber?” he asked.

“Oh, yes, very good ones,” she returned briskly.

So much the better, he decided. With the timber already before the attention of speculators his sale would be easy.

“But we’re not going to sell the way others are selling about here,” stipulated Julia Mary. “I mean we’re only going to sell a bit here and there, where we know there’s a good chance of new growth. It’s dreadful the way some people destroy their timber— just for money!"

Bartram smiled at the scorn of the added phrase. Had she ever known the pinching need of money?

“Perhaps you’re interested in timber?” she broke in suddenly.

“Yes, I am—slightly,” he admitted.

“Oh! Then you want to see father, don’t you?”

“Presently. I’m not in a hurry. Aren’t you afraid to walk in the woods alone? It seemed very lonely,” remarked Bartram.

“No, I’m not afraid. No wild animals—only deer. But there are birds—so many birds, and nests.”

The shadow of a flying robin flitted across the water. From the trees above came a rain of melody, quivering with ecstacy of spring.

“I learned a lot about birds from Ralph, my oldest brother,” resumed Julia Mary, a little hush in her voice. “He used to study and read about them.”

“A naturalist,” added Bartram in the pause that followed.

“Oh, he just—loved it,” she returned. “And after he was gone—I tried to go on by myself, but ... At first I had to go in there sometimes, and have it out all alone —away from mother. ’Twas then I seemed to understand the trees—what they were trying to tell me . .

Bartram stirred uneasily. Shadows and memories were disagreeable things, to be pushed out of life. The appeal of the present moment was charmingly diverting.

“Any fairies in your woods?” he asked.

She dimpled. “Sometimes I think there are. At Christmas when the boughs are all white with snow, and in spring—when life seems to—to leap and sing . .

“You never by any chance met Cupid there?” he persisted.

“The little boy with the bow and arrow and the golden wings?” she laughed shyly.

“Yes, with the Fairy Prince,” he smiled.

“Oh, but there ivas a Fairy Prince once,” she assured him with sweet positiveness.

The confidence disturbed Bartram vaguely. Some young giant of a lumberman, perhaps.

“I never saw him,” she went on. “It was long, long ago. when we thought we were going to have trouble about the timber. But it seems the man died—the man who wanted to get it away from us—and his son stopped the lawyers. Wasn't it lovely of him?”

“Pretty decent,” admitted Bartram.

“Decent!” she rebuked. “It was noble! I’ve dreamed about him all these years! If I could only see him, and thank him!”

The lifted face was all radiant gratitude.

“He probably realized he had no case,” returned Bartram shortly.

“Oh, we knew the land was ours, truly; but he might have made a lot of trouble for us. Lawsuits costs so much money, and sometimes they last and last,” she explained, flushed and earnest. “It was wonderful of him! So, you see, there is a Fairy Prince, and I believe—I believe his spirit is still there—among the trees ...”

She faltered, hands clasped unconsciously. For a moment Bartram saw his act of indolence, of indifference, his relinquishing of his right to the timber, through the glorified eyes of Julia Mary. ‘So some of him lived, but the most of him died’. The quotation recurred from forgotten days. Over there, under the great trees, some of him had lived, exalted, revered, in the idealism of youth and innocence.

No, no, he would not be a hypocrite. He would explain his position now. A glance at the sweet, rapt face and his determination wavered. Perhaps he had better return to the station and leave the matter entirely to his lawyer. Julia Mary need never know that he was the owner of the timber. Yet he lingered, lured by the tranquil beauty of the day.

“Oh, here’s mother!”

Julia Mary’s lilting voice broke the thread of his musings; and he turned to see a small, white-haired woman coming through the wood. It was as though Julia Mary had faded prettily, gown and eyes and the roses in her cheeks. The little lady glanced inquiringly from her daughter to Bartram.

“This is Mr. Bartram, mother,” said Julia Mary. “He wants to--to ...”

“I want to see John Lane,” added Bartram formally.

The spell of the golden afternoon was broken. He would have to get this business over as soon as possible.

“Ah,” returned the mother. “We’ll take you right over.”

'“You must let me row,” insisted Bartram, as he pushed the boat out from shore, and got in.

“It’s so pretty! You mustn’t miss a bit of it,” protested Julia Mary.

But Bartram took the oars from her. It was an enchanted way they went among drowned apple trees, now in sunshine, now in shadow, pale drifts of blossoms brushing the boat, showering them with fragrant petals. A silken breeze touched them like the kiss of elfin lips. Birds called across the distance, bees loitered, darkwinged, against the pale petals. “A page from a fairytale,” thought Bartram, silent under its magic spell.

The boat glided from among the trees. They were before a brown log house, quaintly sturdy in the midst of gay flowers. Bartram walked with Julia Mary along a flagged path, bright with purple pansies and pink daisies. In a grassy yard a white-haired man worked among the bee-hives.

“This is Mr. Bartram, father,” smiled Julia Mary, and with a shy, little nod was gone.

WITH her seemed to go the entran cement that enfolded the place. The desperation of his position sharpened to a crisis within Bartram—the meagre sum of money left him, his feverish longing for the drugged gaiety of the city. He shook hands with John Lane who removed a sun-bleached straw hat, and motioned toward a shady seat. A worn, brown book lay on a bench; Maeterlinck’s ‘Life of the Bee.’ He would not be a formidable opponent, this simple old dreamer.

Bartram listened with a show of attention to a leisurely and detailed dissertation on the bee, while his eyes strayed to the timbered hills, to the stretch of freshploughed land behind the house. He could see two men at work there, and an occasional echo of voices floated across the quiet distance. How remote from worry seemed this lovely spot in the timber! The prospective failure of the apple crop appeared to trouble this serene old farmer but little. He accepted it philosophically, as he did the weather, and the overflow of the creek. It was like him to live on the land year after year without making sure of the title.

At each pause of the tranquil voice Bartram searched

for some method of introducing the subject of timber. He would pay for improvements made on the land, he generously concluded, if the old man would relinquish his claim without the expense of a law-suit. There was no question of his ultimately winning the case, his lawyer had assured him. Presently the silver clamor of a bell startled the silence.

“Ah, supper! You’ll stay and eat with us, Mr. Bartram,” said John Lane cordially.

Supper! With the sun still shining! Bartram murmured some vague excuse, but walked with the old man into the backyard where a mossy trough dripped with running water. He plunged his hands into the limpid coolness, drying them upon a snowy towel which Julia Mary brought from the house. She was prettier, more childlike, than before, in a soft, white gown with a blue ribbon banding her golden hair.

The table was laid under a wide tree in the garden. The two sons joined them, lean young men with the freshness of fields and meadows upon them. One limped badly, and the face of the other, as the glow of exercise faded, assumed a sort of transparent pallor.

Bartram was seated opposite Julia Mary. Pretty! She was lovely, lovely as the wild roses dropping from a glass bowl in the centre of the white cloth. The quaint, thin china, with its raised pattern of leaves across the plates, seemed to belong to an age long past. The food, too—fresh bread broken into portions like drifts of snow, firm pats of golden butter, a covered glass dish, hexagonpatterned, with the amber sweetness of honey, an ome-. lette, fluffy in a garland of green watercress, and a huge pitcher of milk.

The talk rippled on irrelevantly gay, the flood, the prospective swarming of bees, the new calf. Presently the white-haired mother, pouring tea from a squat delft teapot, turned to Bartram. She wanted to hear about the city. Ah, but Montreal now . . . She had always wanted to go there, to visit the museum, the university, the parks. Julia Mary’s wistful eyes quickened Bartram’s blase memories of those almost forgotten places. He * talked, he must have talked well, judging by the light that glowed in the violet eyes. Then, during a little silence, one of the sons remarked that he found Montreal interesting, but somewhat bewildering.

“Our regiment sailed for France from there,” he explained.

The flush of gratification died, and something stirred within Bartram like the recurrence of an old pain. The next moment John Lane was asking him about his regiment.

Continued on page 32

Apple Blossoms

Continued from page 13

“I didn’t get over,” Bartram explained easily.

How he hated himself in the brief silence that followed.

“You were prevented.” It was the mother’s gentle voice that came to his relief.

“Yes,” he hastened to add, “when I voluntaered I was—-declared-—rejected— physical condition-—just then ...”

“How unfortunate!”

There was no mistaking the sincerity of the tone, the sympathy of the faded eyes. It had been rather a joke in Bartram’s own set-—his physical disability. Only he knew the bitterness of disappointment, the hurt his pride had suffered, a numb hurt that flamed at times into acute pain, a vague sense of unfulfillment that lay heavily upon him in quiet moments. It had its beginning, years back, generations back. He remembered-the very day he had first been conscious of it.

Once more he stood a small soldier beside his veteran grandfather, looking up at a row of photographs on the wall. A fine old line, these soldier ancestors some of them United Empire Loyalists. Canada had never had a war from the fall of Quebec in which they had not done their their bit. And he belonged to them! How earnestly that small soldier had drilled in the days that followed. The old grandfather, with the wisdom and patience of age, had counselled ‘It’ll come again. I doubt not you’ll have your chance, my lad. Yes, it’ll come again.”

But the fervor of the small boy had come to naught. The old veteran lay in the country cemetery, and there had been little in the years that followed to keep alive the spirit of the young patriot. The millions made in timber by his. keenminded father padded the way to luxurious indulgence, to cynical indifference.

Even when Canada rose to answer the call of the Great War he had gone his careless way. But there had come that day at Bonita’s, when above the clink of glasses he had heard the peal of martial music. It was the spirit of the small boy that had guided his unsteady steps to the window, where he, the last of a line of veterans, stood looking down upon rows of marching boys in khaki. He had cheered them thickly had toasted those khaki lads again and again, until he had forgotten the small soldier and the old veteran.

Days afterwards, days that were only a hazy memory, his car had been stalled in a crush. Again the inspiring strains of a military band had roused his befuddled sensibilities. A company of raw recruits marched by. In the dust of the street they followed a banner ‘We enlisted to-day!’ Behind these another banner flaunted the challenge: ‘We enlist tomorrow!’ He had dismissed his car and followed the earnest-faced groups. At the recruiting station he had offered himself. Short and sharp had been his rejection.

He had passed the night on a park bench, side by side with a tramp. The mist of a damp morning had found him shivering and cold. Then the long illness that followed! The horror of it-—the darkened room where, with shaking hands and twitching nerves, he had paid the penalty of the reckless years. And when again he would have volunteered-—the Armistice! He had heard in the rejoicing bells the death-knell of the small soldier. But he had celebrated the Armistice! Oh, yes, he had celebrated the Armistice!

The blur of the past faded, broken by a gentle voice: “You must put it right out of your mind. You are letting it make you unhappy . You wanted to go, you tried to go. It was circumstances, don’t you see? There was some reason ...”

No brutal speech could have seared Bartram like the kindness in the sweet, lined face. It had burned itself into his very being, that time. He had had

visions like accusing angels that pointed fingers at him, lashing him with the wasted years. For the moment the stillness and fragrant sunshine were darkened with the ghosts of the past, the sickening, wasted years. With hands clenching the table, he cried b^ck at them, at the small, white-haired lady:

“Yes, I wanted to go! I did want to go! But that didn’t help—it didn’t ... I would rather have died . . . over there for my country!”

“I know.”

There was a quiver in the voice that caught Bartram’s senses sharply. The faded eyes glistened with tears. Blundering fool! What had he done? He glanced at the pale face of the son who from time to time strangled a cough. There was a look of patience in the fine eyes that must stir the mother’s heart with fear. On the face of the other was an expression of weariness; he leaned as though to ease the pain of the battered limb. One could guess how closely they had come to making the supreme sacrifice.

“You make me think of him-—of Ralph,” the mother was saying, “He said •—just those things—you have said—the night before he left us.”

Bartram looked at her questioningly. Ralph! That was the brother, the naturalist Julia Mary had spoken of.

“You make me think of him,” the old lady went on bravely. “He went over with the very first, and—they were wiped out-—his regiment, This was his place-— where you are sitting ...”

With a quick gesture her small hand slipped to the place before Bartram, rested there tremblingly. Bartram caught the hand reverently:

“Dear lady, forgive me, forgive me!” he cried, chokingly, “How I must have hurt you! Believe me, I didn’t know

“Oh, it’s all right,” she returned tremulously. “I-—he was our oldest, and . . .”

Julia Mary, who had slipped from the table, was handling Bartram a framed picture; a soldier, young, earnest, eyes clear as the untainted air. What a compliment she had paid him, Bartram, this simple old lady! What would it have done for him, this uniform of his country? It was challenging him, the spirit of the boy who had given his life, the boy who had not come back. And it was his place he was filling to-night, here at this board, he, Bartram Herald!

A tightness in his throat quivered into unsteady hands: “I would give—give everything—if I could change places with him,” he half whispered.

His inner self had spoken, breaking through the tarnish of bantering cynicism.

“Ah, well, we’re better off than a great many.” John Lane’s voice broke the tension.

“By the way, there’s another inquiry about timber,” put in one of the sons with an effort.

Timber! Bartram's glance leaped to the wooded hills. He had almost forgotten. He would have to—he must . . . The sunlight seemed to fade, the white table with the roses and the old-fashioned china, the kind faces . . . There were lights and music and gayety, the clink of glasses, gleam of diamonds, laughter, dancing feet! One could forget, forget! Like a sick man for his drug, Bartram’s jaded nerves craved the mad hilarity of the gang, of Maxine! Her loud laughter rang mockingly through the quiet. “Too soft-hearted. Bart!”

He must get away, get away before he made a fool of himself. This beauty, this quiet—it hurt, it hurt! He didn’t want to remember, he wanted to forget all that wretched time, to drown memories . . .

Somehow he gave the picture back into Julia Mary’s hands and got to his feet. He made his farewells quietly, steeling himself against the trusting cordiality.

Only when he held the mother’s hand

“If you feel so toward your country,” she was saying, “You—there are great things ahead of you? You are capable of anything!”

He could not trust himself to answer as he bowed over the small hand. Again he was in the boat with Julia Mary, drifting among the billowing trees, and the sunset flung its largesse of rose and gold upon them. He dared not meet the violet eyes. But at the edge of the timber she checked the good-bye he would have spoken:

“You will come back, Mr. Bartram?” she asked, a little catch in her voice.

She looked so young and sweet and wistful! Bartram caught her hands.

“Yes,” he promised with a surge of chivalry, “and I shall never forget to-day, and all this—and you, Julia Mary!”

T-TE STOOD watching until the apple

-Iblossoms hid her from sight. With a last look at the haunting beauty of trees and sky and water he turned and plunged into the deep trail. He would have to hurry. If only he had left the business to his lawyer! Out of the dusky silence questions persisted annoyingly. What would the Lanes do when he turned them out of the place? Even if he paid for improvements . . . And Julia Mary! She would lose faith in her Fairy Prince, her hero. Ah, well, she must learn sometime that life is full of illusions. And the little mother . . . He winced. What fool notion had sent him there anyhow?

He whistled. The jazzy tune jarred. He was out of step with it to-night, upset. If he could join the gang somewhere. His thoughts merged into glancing pictures —the lights on a crowded table at his favorite cabaret, Maxine’s flashing eyes through a cloud of smoke, in an indeterminate mist the gold of Julia Mary’s hair. Oftenest he saw the man who had fought it out, the physical wreck gritting his teeth and sticking to it, yes, and winning out in the end. Bartram was glad he had helped him to do it.

The trail widened to a road, and presently he was out of the wood and hurrying through the straggling lake town. Huge log-booms ribbed the water front. There was a bustle of moving lumber, the beat of hob-nailed boots on rough sidewalks. Two men, emerging from a tar-paper shack, stood talking on the street.

“No, sir! Don’t you tackle that job, Mike,” advised one, “even if it does pay big. It’s mighty dangerous—watchin’ the turn 0’ that log chute. Last fella had it— one 0’ them peeled logs skidded an’ hit him. Never knew what happened. I’ll say that job takes about the best man

Bartram stood still, gripped to attention.

“A great sight she is,” went on the man, “great sight when the logs comes awhizzin’ down that chute, takes a jump and a header into the lake! Water splashes hundreds o’ feet. But you gotta be on the job every minute. Careless, and you’re apt to send the whole yard crew to hell in less time . . . Me—I’d as lief take a gun an’ shoot ’em as kill ’em that way!”

“Guess you’re right,” agreed the other, as he turned slowly back into the shack. “Afraid I’m not quick enough for that job,” Bartram heard him say to the man inside.

On the plank sidewalk Bartram stood staring out over the dim lustre of the lake. He was thrilling to the call of danger, of achievement. The words of the white-haired mother came back to him: “You are capable of anything—

great things ahead of you!” Was there? The ghosts of his wasted years seemed to taunt and mock him. His hands shut. Every fibre of his being steeled itself as against a challenge. He knew that again the call had come. This time he was ready! He wheeled into the tar-paper shack.

“Yes, one job,” returned the busy man at the desk. “It’s way up here. We need a man badly, someone to watch the turn

of ¡1 log chute. It’s risky, mighty exciting. But after all, it’s just a matter of being careful, on the job every minute. You’re young. Ever worked in the woods?”

“No,” returned Bartram, “but I’m anxious to get into the timber business. My father was a lumberman,” he added.

“I see. Well, it doesn’t take so much knowledge—this job. Just a matter of being careful on the job. We’ll give you a try. There’s a tug leaving the wharf down here in a few minutes.”

Bartram swung down the street. He walked erect as though marching to the roll of drums, the dim eyes of the old veteran upon him. No, he would never go on with the suit to prove his title to the land. It would be sacrilege—now! Julia Mary might still dream of her Fairy Prince, and the idyllic flow of life would ripple on as placidly at the quiet farm.

He chose a seat on the tug with his back to the town and eyes on the far ahead shore of the lake. Clear and cool blew the wind from the hills, the reviving breath of pines and snow-capped mountain peaks. It brought to Bartram a memory of the man who had fought his demons for six months to emerge from a wornout body a new man.

“I will, I will,” he whispered, his eyes on the great timbered hills, “if it takes me a year! And then the blossoms’ll be out again back there.”

He smiled tenderly. Already fancy had leaped beyond the grim year ahead. The fragrance of apple blossoms hung in the golden sunshine, and under the drifting petals Julia Mary dreamed her innocent, wistful dreams, all unconscious that through the timbered depths the Fairy Prince was hurrying toward her. Hurrying, hurrying!