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Carolyn Sherwin Bailey

Apple-Seed John

T HERE was once a farmer who had worked in the fields all his life. Every year he had ploughed and planted and harvested, and no one else had raised such fine crops as he. It seemed as if he needed to only touch the corn to have it yellow and ripen upon the ear, or lay his hand upon the rough bark of a tree to be sure that the blossoms would show and the branches hang low with fruit.

But, after years and years, the farmer grew to be an old man. His hair and beard became as white as the blossoms on the pear trees, and his back was bent and crooked, because he had worked so hard. He could only sit in the sunshine and watch some one else ploughing and planting where he wanted so much to plough and plant. And he felt very unhappy, because he wished to do something great for other people, and he was not able, for he was poor.

But one morning he got down his stout cane from the chimney corner, and he slung an empty bag over his crooked old shoulders, and he started out into the world, because he had thought of a good deed that even an old man could do.

Over the meadows and through the lanes he traveled, stopping to speak to the little wild mice, or the crickets, or the chipmunks, who knew him—all of them—and were never afraid when he went by. At every farmhouse he rested and rapped at the door and asked for—what do you think?—just a few apples! And the farmers had so many apples that they were glad to give some of them away, and the old man's bag was soon full to the very brim.

On and on he went, until he left the houses far behind, and took his way through the deep woods. At night he slept upon a bed of moss out under the stars, with the prairie dogs barking in his ears, and the owls hooting in the tops of the trees; and in the morning he started on his way again.

When he was hungry he ate of the berries that grew in the woods, but not one of his apples—oh, no! Sometimes an Indian met him, and they walked along together; and so, at last, the old man came to a place where there were wide fields, but no one to plant them, for there were no farms.

Then he sat down and took out his jack-knife, and began carefully cutting the core from every apple in his bag. With his stout cane he bored deep holes in the earth, and in every hole he dropped an apple core, to sleep there in the rain and the sun. And when his bag was emptied he hurried on to a town where he could ask for more apples.

Soon the farmers came to know him, and they called him old Apple-seed John. They gave him their very best apples for seed—the Pound Sweets, and the Sheep's Noses, and the Pippins, and the Seek-no-Farthers. They saved clippings from the pear trees, and the plum trees, and the peach trees for him; and they gave him the corner of the settle which was nearest the fire when he stopped with them for a night.

Such wonderful stories as he told the children of the things he had seen in his travels—the Indians with their gay blankets and feathers, the wolves who came out of the wood at night to look at him with their glaring eyes, the deer who ran across his path, and the shy little hares. And no one wished Apple-seed John to travel on the next morning, but he would never stay. With his bag over his shoulder, his clippings under his arm, and his trusty cane in his hand, he hurried on to plant young orchards by every river and in every lonely pasture. And soon the apple seeds that had been asleep when Apple-seed John had dropped them into the earth awoke and arose, and sent out green shoots, and began to be trees. Higher and higher they grew, until, in the wind and the sun, they covered the ground with blossoms, and then with ripe fruit, so that all the empty places in the country were full of orchards.

After a while old Apple-seed John went to live with the angels, but no one ever forgot him; and the children who knew him, when they had grown to be grandfathers themselves, would sit out under the trees, and say to each other: "This orchard was planted by Apple-seed John."

— Adapted from the legends of John Chapman
by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey