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THEODORA'S BARREL OF BALDWINS
FARM work, meantime, kept us very busy. There was a plentiful apple crop that season, Baldwins especially; for a fortnight we were gathering apples every day until past the middle of October. Fair weather had held, but now there were signs of a change.
"Just in time, boys, and not an hour to spare," the Old Squire said, when Addison and I drove in from the orchard with the last load of Baldwins. "There's a northeaster coming on; but we have got ahead of it."
All the afternoon the sky had been turning lead-colored; a raw chilliness was in the air; and as night fell, an owl, over in the wood-lot, began hooting — that dismal, low note that so often presages a storm.
Owing to the suddenness with which cold weather sometimes came on, apple-picking was never a matter about which we felt secure. It was sometimes a three weeks' job with us, for we rarely got less than four or five hundred barrels from our trees.
But that year we finished picking just in time, and during the long storm of sleet, wind and rain that followed, we were comfortably packing our crop in the apple-house, with a cheery fire blazing in the fireplace. Addison was culler, and had the culling-rack set breast-high, where he could run the apples one by one down a burlap spout into the barrels. Halstead carried the apples from the bins to the rack in a bushel basket. The Old Squire always packed his apples with great care. Formerly he had done the culling himself, but for two years he had delegated the task to Addison, whose eyes he found were sharper than his to detect worm-holes, or the little dry spots of "bitter-rot" under the skin.
I had been promoted to the post of facer, in which my duties were to select fifty or more fine apples for every barrel, and arrange them, stem ends up, in circles, directly beneath each head.
"But I want every barrel of apples that goes from our farm to be an honest barrel," the Old Squire used to say to us. "Put just as good apples in the middle of the barrel as you do at the heads."
He himself was header. After Addison had culled and filled the barrel, and I had faced it, the Old Squire loosened the top hoops, forced the head down into the groove of the chimes with a clamp and screw, then nailed it in place. The name of the packer, together with the variety and the grade of the fruit, was then stenciled on the head. Then the barrel was ready to go forth into the world's market — over the sea to Liverpool, or west to St. Louis, or even to California.
When the apples were very good, the Old Squire was accustomed to send a number of carefully packed barrels of Baldwins to old friends and acquaintances at a distance. Nearly always he sent one to "Uncle Hannibal" Hamlin, who was then Senator from Maine. Mr. Hamlin's early home was but a few miles from the old farm. He and the Old Squire had been boyhood friends and fellow students at Hebron Academy.
The Senator now lived at Bangor, when he was not at Washington; but he was wont to drive over to call on us whenever he revisited his native county. It was with Uncle Hannibal that we young people partook of the fried pies one day when the Old Squire and Gram were away from home.
I need hardly say that Senator Hamlin's barrel was a particularly good one. As a return courtesy, he used to send us the Congressional Record and all the more interesting government reports.
THAT BARREL OF BALDWINS
From fifty to sixty barrels a day were as many as we could pack. Ellen and Theodora sometimes came out to help cull and face, or put on the stencil. Altogether it was work that we liked, for generally we had a row of apples set to roast at the fireplace. Sometimes, too, Ellen would bring out a pitcher of syrup, and fry buckwheat cakes.
On the second day of the storm the Old Squire put up his friends' barrels, as we called them. Theodora helped him select fine apples for Uncle Hannibal. They put in a few Northern Spys, some Rhode Island Greenings, for mince pies, and half a bushel of large Roxbury Russets at the bottom, for these will keep till spring.
But presently I noticed that Theodora grew silent and thoughtful. At last she said, "Grandfather, would you be willing to let me pack a barrel of our Baldwins to send to that Virginia family, near Chancellorsville, who took my father into their house after the battle, and were so kind to him the day he died?"
This family was named Revell. They had cared for Uncle Robert as if he had been one of their own men. At that time they had no means of communicating with us but after the war, Miss Cecilia Revell wrote to us, and sent Uncle Robert's watch, pocketbook and two ambrotypes of his wife and little daughter Theodora.
"Why, yes," the Old Squire said, after a moment, in answer to Theodora's question. "But do you suppose it would be well received from us? The Revells have suffered from the war, and may not feel kindly toward us."
"Oh, I am sure they would accept it. That was a kind letter that Miss Revell wrote us. Oh, I should so like to send them something, something of the very best we have!"
"You shall, then! You shall!" the Old Squire exclaimed.
That afternoon we helped Theodora pack the barrel of Baldwins to go to Virginia. We put in also a few Northern Spys, Greenings, Sponge Russets, Roxbury Russets, Gilliflowers, Spitzenbergs, and last, but far from least, half a bushel of what we called "Orange-specks" — because, when ripe, they were yellowish in color, with numerous little brown specks under the skin.
We had four Orange-speck trees. The apples were broad and rather flat, with a strong stem, and from sixteen to twenty-four very plump brown seeds. They were mellow and good in December and January, and of all the thirty varieties in the Old Squire's orchard, we deemed those from the Orange-speck tree by the garden wall the best.
The girls carefully wrapped each Orange-speck in light-blue tissue-paper, put them in the middle of the barrel, and among them laid an envelope, with a card on which Theodora had written:
"From the daughter and nephews of the Union soldier whom you so kindly cared for after the dreadful battle of Chancellorsville.
"These apples grew on the farm of his parents, in Maine."
We faced and headed the barrel, and a day or two later drew it to the railway-station, and sent it on its way.
As much as a month passed. Then, on the day before Thanksgiving, a letter came for Theodora, a really beautiful letter. It was from Miss Cecilia Revell. Theodora shed tears over it. She kept it for years, and it would still be treasured but for the fire in 1883, which destroyed the old farmhouse, and with it, a thousand such little keepsakes. Miss Revell wrote in part:
"What we did for your father was only what I am sure you would have done for any Confederate soldier in distress near your home.
"These are delicious apples, particularly those yellow ones with the little specks in them. In Albemarle County there is a fine apple, called the Albemarle Pippin, which is somewhat like them, but yours have the finer flavor. My brother, who deals in fruit at Richmond, is very desirous to know the name of these yellow apples, and if you grow many of them in Maine."
The letter concluded by saying that Miss Revell and her brother were sending us a return offering of something which grew in Virginia.
A few days later we were notified from the railway-station that a barrel had arrived for us. Theodora and Addison hitched up old Sol at once, and drove to get it.
It proved to be a barrel of the finest sweet potatoes we had ever seen. Down in the barrel was a box containing two kinds of queer yellow fruit, new to us young Northerners. Addison and the Old Squire guessed what they were — persimmons and papaws, yellow, soft, and just right for eating.
This pleasant exchange of Maine and Virginia products was continued for a number of years. In 1872 Theodora visited the Revells, and was royally entertained; and the year following, Miss Revell and her sister Arabella spent a month with us, and a delightful visit it proved. It .was from them that we learned how to make two of our now most-prized breakfast dishes, "old Virginia egg pone" and "spider cake."
In the Old Dominion they have plain corn-meal pones and egg pones. When made right and baked right, both are delicious. Of course, much depends on the skill of the maker, and not a little on the corn-meal. But a real yellow-tinted Indian spider cake, with the eggs nicely omeletted, seasoned, and cooked half-way between the upper and under crusts — well, there's nothing like it as a breakfast dish. The young ladies from Virginia taught us the art.
Theodora's barrel of apples was indirectly the cause of a considerable demand from Richmond for our Baldwins. The people there, through Mr. Revell, learned that we shipped good fruit; and one year the Old Squire sent a hundred barrels there.