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CHAPTER IV Aunt Grenertsen’s Apples
 THAT apple tree of Aunt Grenertsen’s was too ! Big, beautiful apples hung there day after day, and nobody ever seemed to think of such a thing as taking one off. Aunt Grenertsen might, for instance, so easily say to old Katrina, her housemaid: “Shake down an apple or two for Johnny Blossom”; but no indeed! Far from it. Never in the world had she suggested anything of the kind, although he had been in there every single day since the apples had begun to turn.  
It was a little farther to go home around past Aunt Grenertsen’s, but he didn’t mind that, for it was interesting to watch how the apples grew and to see whether Katrina had gathered any. But day after day everything remained exactly the same. There hung the apples still—the only change being that they grew riper and riper and more . Aunt Grenertsen sat gazing out of her window from behind the plants, and old Katrina, grumpy as ever, stood at the kitchen window peering over the sash curtain, in exactly the same way every day.
He was just sick and tired of seeing those apples in that good-for-nothing garden. Good-for-nothing it certainly was, and very, very old. There was only one apple tree besides the one Johnny was so interested in, but its fruit could scarcely be called apples at all. He would call them croquet balls—such hard green things as they were—hard as rocks. Of course if any of them were on the ground, he bit into them. In fact, he had eaten a good many of them first and last, but they were things, anyway.
The currants in Aunt Grenertsen’s garden were nothing to speak of, either. sour, small pinheads! The raspberries were small, too, but at any rate, they were sweet.
Not another thing was to be found in that garden—not a decent sugar pea nor a carrot even; just some stupid mignonette and violets and other flowers that smelled sweet—as if they were any good! No, truly, Aunt Grenertsen’s garden was not very pleasant.
For that matter, neither was she. She was not really his aunt and he was glad of it; but she was Mother’s aunt, and so all the family called her Aunt Grenertsen, just as Mother did.
Aunt Grenertsen had lived in the little house on King Street for an age, ever since he could remember; and everything she had was very old-fashioned. There was a cuckoo clock, and a blue glass jar with dried rose-leaves in; and on the window sill an old gray cat blinked and purred among the plants.
Aunt Grenertsen was difficult to talk with—so contrary, somehow, even if not really cross, that it was very . She wasn’t the least bit like Uncle Isaac of Kingthorpe, who was always kind and gentle, always pleasant. Oh, dear, no! Aunt Grenertsen wasn’t like Uncle Isaac; far, far from it!
Suppose, for instance, that he went to her house for a little call, as he often did, for Mother liked him to go—and Aunt Grenertsen sometimes had exceedingly good cakes which she called “half moons”; and just now there were these delicious ripe apples. During such calls she could be disagreeable. “What is the weather today?” she would say; and before he could answer, would add “Oh, well! No use asking you. Children never notice the weather.” Or, “What kind of fish is there nowadays at the ?—but you wouldn’t know that.” Or, “Who is to preach tomorrow? Well there! I wonder at my asking you.”
No, she never thought he knew anything about anything, and that was so ! He knew very well what the weather was; he knew all the kinds of fish that were for sale at the wharf every day; and he also knew that the old minister was to preach tomorrow; but do you suppose Aunt Grenertsen would believe a thing he told her? “I can’t depend on that,” she would say.
Aunt Grenertsen certainly was difficult to talk with; and sometimes he did not even get a “half moon.” He believed he wouldn’t go there any more, or try to please either her or old Katrina, who was almost worse than Aunt Grenertsen.
Katrina wanted everything done just so; the garden gate must not only be shut but ; he must walk in the middle of the path, and he must always use the kitchen door. If he went to the other door, he was sure to hear “Dear, dear! How grand he is today! He must come in at the front door and make some one leave her work to let him in.” No, indeed. He would not go all that way around by King Street any more. Their old apples could hang and hang there forever, for all he cared.
For four days Johnny Blossom did not show himself inside of Aunt Grenertsen’s green-painted garden fence; but on the fifth day he thought it would be interesting after all to see whether the apples still hung on the tree. It seemed an age since he had looked at them, and it would be disappointing enough if they had been gathered.
No, luckily, there they hung. And Aunt Grenertsen was gazing out of the window from behind her plants, and Katrina peering over the sash curtains just as usual. Well, he would go in and see how Aunt Grenertsen was today. The front door was unlocked, so he could go in that way without inconveniencing her highness, Katrina.
“Good afternoon, Aunt Grenertsen. How do you do?” He sat down in the chair by the door, where he knew he was expected to sit.
“Good afternoon, Johnny Blossom.”
Dead silence for a long time.
Ugh! he would have to try to talk.
“Mother has gone to a party today.”
“I can well believe it,” said Aunt Grenertsen. “People never stay at home in these days. They are forever flying about.”
“Father was at a meeting last night.”
“I haven’t the least doubt of it.”
Absolute silence again. If only the cuckoo in the clock would come out and call! But it would be almost a quarter of an hour before that would happen. Johnny Blossom racked his brain to think of something to talk about.
“We baked cookies at home yesterday,” he said suddenly.
“Then I presume you ate more of them than was good for you.”
Oh, no, Johnny Blossom had not over-eaten; he could easily eat some today, too; he had had only those that were burnt.
“Burnt, hey? Well, there’s nothing a boy won’t put into his stomach.”
Aunt Grenertsen was unusually disagreeable today. Not a word could he say about the apples, because he had so often before brought up that subject.
“Well, I think I must go now,” he said, rising slowly.
“Yes, you had better,” said Aunt Grenertsen. But when he had gone into the hall she called, “Johnny Blossom!”
He looked in again.
“Why, there are those ripe apples. You might climb up in the tree for them, you are so small and light.”
“Yes, Aunt Grenertsen. I’ll go right up now, this minute.”
“No. Come tomorrow. It is altogether too late this afternoon.”
The next day, at a little past two, Johnny Blossom was again in Aunt Grenertsen’s garden. He had down his dinner at an alarming rate, and then hurried to King Street, stopping on his way to get Tellef; for there must be one person to climb and shake the tree and one to stand below and pick up the apples. However, Tellef must stay outside the garden until Aunt Grenertsen had been informed that Johnny had brought an assistant.
“Good afternoon, Aunt Grenertsen, here I am.
“Well, you are early enough I hope. I want to say this much, Johnny Blossom, that I won’t have it on my conscience that you should eat any half-rotten apples—and there are usually a good many half-rotten of this kind—but those that are cracked or you may have, for they won’t keep anyway.”
“Thank you, Aunt Grenertsen.”
“I suppose you can get along without Katrina’s help.”
“Oh, yes, . For that matter, I have a boy outside there who will be a fine helper. He’s very quick and oh! awfully strong.”
“I hadn’t supposed great strength was necessary to pick a few apples.”
“He’s a very good boy, too, Aunt Grenertsen.”
“Glad to hear it. Well, bring your in and go to work.”
At last Johnny Blossom and Tellef stood under the apple tree with a big basket.
My, oh, my! Just look at all the apples! There must be fully a half bushel—a good many for such a little old tree.
“You go up in the tree and shake it,” said Johnny.
“Here I go,” responded Tellef. He sprang to the tree, gripped the trunk with his knees and was up in a trice. Vigorous shaking. Five big apples to the ground.
“Five big ones and all of them bruised, so they are for us,” shouted Johnny Blossom; and the apples vanished inside his blouse.
“Well, but I want some,” answered Tellef from the tree.
“Of course. I just put them in here to keep.”
Another shaking of the branches. Besides some decayed ones, four good apples fell, hitting the ground with such force that these, too, were crushed or cracked. Tellef was down on the instant. My, oh, my! but they were delicious apples. Neither of the boys had ever tasted any equal to them. A sharp knock sounded on Aunt Grenertsen’s window, and Johnny hurried over there.
“It seems to me you do nothing but eat,” came through the window.
“Oh, no. These are some that got smashed and you said we might eat those.”
“Such rough shaking, I don’t like. You must pick the apples.”
“Yes, Aunt Grenertsen.”
Up the tree went both the boys. They picked six apples, but found it impossible to reach any more. All the others hung upon thin old branches that cracked if you but touched them, and would by no means bear a boy’s weight. The boys tried and tried to get the apples, but the tempting things hung out of reach.
“No use,” said Johnny. “I’ll have to stand under the tree and hold the basket, while you shake the apples into it. Then they won’t on the ground and themselves.”
First, however, the six perfect apples were laid carefully upon the porch steps.
John held the basket under a branch while Tellef shook it. Eight apples bounced and rolled in the garden path, but not one fell into the basket and not one but showed a bruise or a split.
“What a stupid you are to shake them off that way!” exclaimed Johnny.
“Not a bit. It is you who are stupid about holding the basket,” retorted Tellef.
They stole glances at Aunt Grenertsen’s window. Fortunately, she was not looking out and so had not seen the unlucky outcome of this attempt. Hastily thrusting the eight apples into their blouses, they both climbed the tree again and stretched and reached their utmost till one branch broke and the boys nearly tumbled from the tree.
“Well. We’ll just have to shake them off.”
“Yes, we must; but shake gently.” Three much crushed and two that were bruised slightly, with, of course, a number of decayed ones that did not count.
“These two we’ll lay on the steps.”
Strangely enough, there were almost no apples left on the tree now, except those on a very slender branch. They would have to be shaken down, for no person alive could reach them. Violent shaking ensued and apples down in a shower, every one landing with a thud that bruised or it somewhere. The boys gathered them hurriedly and deposited them under a gooseberry bush.
True as you live, there were no more apples on the tree! It was how little time it had taken to strip it. And on the steps lay only eight apples, and two of them were bruised! What would Aunt Grenertsen say at getting so few? Well, he must take them in to her.
“Here are the apples, Aunt Grenertsen. Aren’t they beauties?”
“And where are the rest?”
“Why—these are all.”
“From the whole tree? Eight apples?”
“Well, some were half-rotten, and you said yourself that we might eat”—
“I said no such thing,” interrupted Aunt Grenertsen.
Johnny Blossom blinked his eyes and scarcely knew what to say, but suddenly had an idea. He would begin differently.
“But those that were bruised you said we might eat, and we have done that,” said Johnny Blossom, and .
“Indeed! You have done that, have you? Well—it looks as if they had all got bruised.”
“Oh no, Aunt Grenertsen. Six of them are not bruised at all, and these two only the least bit.”
“Well, well! What’s done is done. I pity your stomachs, that’s all I can say.”
Oh, dear! Aunt Grenertsen wasn’t comfortable to deal with—not a bit easy in fact—and never had been.
Johnny Blossom was glad enough to get out into the garden with Tellef again. The heap of apples under the gooseberry bushes was divided with great exactness. Aunt Grenertsen could not see over there from her window.
The boys walked slowly and lingered much on the way home, apples all the time; and their well-stuffed blouses were noticeably less when the boys finally parted at Johnny Blossom’s gate.
“How did the harvesting of Aunt Grenertsen’s apples go this afternoon?” asked Mother.
“Oh, very well,” answered Johnny.
“Did she have many apples?”
“Why, some were half-rotten or all rotten, and a good many were bruised”—
“But of course you were very careful how you picked them?”
“Yes, very. We shook them into a basket. Those that were bruised, Aunt Grenertsen said we might have.”
“Did she? And how many did Aunt Grenertsen get?”
“Oh”—Further probing on Mother’s part to find out what Aunt Grenertsen’s share of the harvest had amounted to, drew the truth, uttered with a show of enthusiasm.
“She had quite a good many—eight big beautiful apples—and six of them hadn’t the least of a bruise on them anywhere.”
“But poor Auntie! Do you mean to say she had only eight apples for herself? And she so fond of them too! How in the world could that happen when there was so much fruit on the tree?”
“It was queer there weren’t more, but none of the apples would fall in the basket, and they would whack right down on the ground, and so they got bruised—and then we ate them, you see, Mother.”
“Oh! I am really sorry for Aunt Grenertsen,” said Mother. “I must see if I can’t find something good to send her to make up for this. It was not at all nice of you, John—not at all kind. Poor Aunt Grenertsen who is so lonely and has so little of everything!”
Johnny Blossom blinked hard. He began to feel disgusted with himself. Just think of Aunt Grenertsen’s being very fond of apples—and of Mother’s feeling so sorry for her! Suddenly he rushed from the door. Perhaps Tellef had some apples left. Not even a core remained of his own.
Pshaw! At Tellef’s they had eaten all the apples immediately on Tellef’s arrival with them.
How trying it was that Aunt Grenertsen should be so particularly fond of apples! Poor thing! And besides, she was lonely, Mother had said, and had very little money. It was too bad.
If he only had something to give her—he himself. Of course Mother would find something, but he would like to, too. He hadn’t a cent in his bank. What few cents he had saved had all been out long since, and he hadn’t anything else either. Well, yes, he had that fine new cake of India ink Father had just given him; but Aunt Grenertsen surely did not draw with India ink.
There! Now he had an idea. She should have that rare postage stamp from Mozambique, she certainly should! The whole class and some of the big boys envied him his possession of that stamp and had begged and begged for it; but not one of them should get it, no indeed!
He found an old pill box, laid the Mozambique stamp carefully in it, and ran straightway to King Street.
Everything was as usual. He could scarcely bear to look at the tree he had gathered the fruit from, but finding two apples on the ground under the other tree, he picked them up and took them into the house. He certainly wasn’t going to eat any more of Aunt Grenertsen’s apples.
“Good afternoon, Aunt Grenertsen.”
“Oh, is that you, back here already?”
“I found these apples out in the garden.”
Aunt Grenertsen looked at them over her glasses.
“H’m—they are not bruised, these two.”
Johnny Blossom made no answer to this remark, but got up quickly from his chair by the door and went over to the window where Aunt Grenertsen sat.
“I thought you might like to have this.” And Johnny Blossom placed the pill box on the table and gazed expectantly into Aunt Grenertsen’s wrinkled face.
“Pills?” said Aunt Grenertsen. “I have never taken pills in all my long life.”
“It isn’t pills, it isn’t pills!” exclaimed Johnny Blossom, about on one foot with joy, because Aunt Grenertsen would be so pleased when she saw what it was.
“Just look inside! Just look!” he continued.
Aunt Grenertsen opened the box.
“An old postage stamp,” said she.
“Oh, it’s a Mozambique stamp, Aunt Grenertsen,” explained Johnny Blossom earnestly. “It is awfully rare. There isn’t another one in the whole town, Aunt Grenertsen.”
“Indeed?” Aunt Grenertsen looked at the little old stamp , turning it round and round.
“But why do you give it to me, Johnny Blossom?”
“Oh, because—because you only got eight apples, and Mother said”—
“What did Mother say?”
“Mother said that you liked apples so much—and that you were lonely; and, besides, I was ashamed of myself because Tellef and I had eaten so many of your apples.”
“And so you want to give me this stamp?”
“Yes. Isn’t it interesting, Aunt Grenertsen? Isn’t it a beauty?”
He stood behind her chair, looking eagerly over her shoulder at the stamp.
“Aren’t you glad to have it?”
“Yes, indeed; I thank you very much. And I want you to have a half moon today.”
“Oh, no. I don’t want anything.”
“Yes, you surely must have one.”
The “half moon” was brought forthwith and was eaten with great .
Light-hearted now, Johnny Blossom ran through the garden, fastening the gate carefully, while at the window an old face peered out from among the plants, through tear-misted spectacles. Then Aunt Grenertsen took the stamp and pasted it on the window nearest where she sat.
“That is a of you,” she said later to Johnny Blossom. And Johnny was proud to think that the interesting and rare Mozambique stamp should be a reminder of him.
But how queer old people are! thought Johnny Blossom.

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