By John Galsworthy
John Galsworthy (1867-1933), a prominent English novelist, playwright and short-story writer, came from an upper middle-class family. He was educated at Harrow and Oxford and was called to the Bar. His first novel ("From the Four Winds") was published in 1897, but it was "The Man of Property" that won him fame. Among his numerous novels "The Forsyte Saga" and "A Modern Comedy" are the most prominent. They give a truthful picture of English bourgeois society at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. "The Apple Tree" (1917) is one of most popular long short stories written by John Galsworthy.
On the first of May", after their last year together at college, Frank Ashurst and his friend Robert Garton were on a tramp. They had walked that day from Brent, intending to make Chagford 1 but Ashurst's football knee 2 had given out, and according to their map they had still some seven miles to go. They were sitting on a bank beside the road, where a track crossed ^alongside a wood, resting the knee and talking of the universe, as young men will. Both were over six feet, and thin as rails, 3 Ashurst pale, idealistic, full of absence; Garton queer, round-the-cor-ner, 4 knotted, curly, like some primeval beast. Both had a literary bent; neither wore a hat. Ashurst's hair was smooth, pale, wavy; and had a way of rising on either side of his brow, as if always being flung back; Gar-ton's was a kind of dark unfathomed mop. They had not met a soul for miles.
"My dear fellow," Garton was saying, "pity's only an effect of self-consciousness; it's a disease of the last five thousand years. The world was happier without."
Ashurst did not answer; he had plucked a blue floweret, and was twiddling it against the sky. A cuckoo began calling from a thorn tree. The sky, the flowers, the songs of birds! Robert was talking through his hat! 5 And he said:
"Well, let's go on, and find some farm where we can put up." In uttering those words, he was conscious of a girl coming down from the common just above them. She was outlined against the sky, carrying a basket, and you could see that sky through the crook of her arm. And Ashurst, who saw beauty without wondering how it could advantage him, thought: "How pretty!" The wind, blowing her'dark frieze skirt against her legs, lifted her battered peacock tam-o'-shanter; her greyish bloUse was worn and old, her shoes were split, her little hands rough and red, her neck browned. Her dark hair waved Untidy across her broad forehead, her face was short, her upper lip short, showing a glint of teeth, her brows were straight and dark, her lashes long and dark, her nose straight; but her grey eyes were the wonder-dewy as if opened for the first time that day. She looked at Ashurst-perhaps he struck her as strange, limping along without a hat, with his large eyes on her, and his hair flung back; He
could not take off what was not on his head, but put up his hand in a salute, and said:
"Can you tell us if there's a farm near here where we could stay the night? I've gone lame."
"There's only one farm near, sir." She spoke without shyness, in a pretty, soft, crisp voice.
"And where is that?"
"Down here, sir."
"Would you put us up?"
"Oh! I think we would."
"Will you show us the way?"
He limped on, silent, and Garton took up the catechism.6
"Are you a Devonshire girl?"
"Ah! I thought you were a Celt; so it's not your farm?"
"My aunt's, sir."
"And your uncle's?"
"He is dead."
"Who farms it, then?"
"My aunt, and my three cousins."
"But your uncle was a Devonshire man?"
"Have you lived here long?"
"And how d'you like it after Wales?"
"I don't know, sir."
"I suppose you don't remember?"
"Oh, yes! But it is different."
"I believe you!"
Ashurst broke in suddenly:
"How old are you?"
"And what's your name?"
"This is Robert Garton, and I am Frank Ashurst. We wanted to get on to Chagford."
"It is a pity your leg is hurting- you."
Ashurst smiled, and when he smiled his face was rather beautiful.
Descending past the narrow wood, they came on the farm suddenly- a long, low, stone-built dwelling with casement windows, in a farmyard where pigs and fowls and an old mare were straying. A short steep-up grass hill behind was crowned with a few Scotch firs,7 and in front, an old orchard of apple trees, just breaking into flower, stretched down to a stream and a long wild meadow. A little boy with oblique dark eyes was shepherding a pig, and by the house door stood a woman, who came towards them. The girl said:
"It is Mrs. Narracombe, my aunt."
"Mrs: Narracombe, my aunt." had a quick, dark eye, like a mother wild-duck's, and something of the same snaky turn about her neck.
"We met your niece on the road," said Ashurst, "she thought you might perhaps put us up for the night."
Mrs. Narracombe, taking them in from head to heel, answered:
"Well, I can, if you don't mind one room. Megan, get the spare room ready, and a bowl of cream. You'll be wanting tea, I suppose."
Passing through a sort of porch made by two yew trees and some flowering-currant bushes, the girl disappeared into the house, her peacock tam-o’-shanter bright athwart that rosy-pink and the dark green of the yews.
"Will you come into the parlour and rest your leg? You'll be .from college, perhaps?"
"We were, but we've gone down 8 now."
The parlour, brick-floored, with bare table and shiny chairs and sofa stuffed with horsehair, seemed never to have been used, it was so terribly clean. Ashurst sat down at once on the sofa, holding his lame knee between his hands, and Mrs. Narracombe gazed at him ...
"Is there a stream where we could bathe?"
"There's the strame 9 at the bottom of the orchard, but sittin' down you'll not be covered!"
"Well, it is about a foot and a half maybe."
"Oh! That'll do fine. Which way?"
"Down the lane, through the second gate, on the right, an' the pool's by the big apple tree that stands by itself. There's trout there, if you can tickle them!"
"They're more likely to tickle us!"
Mrs. Narracombe smiled. "There'll be the tea ready when you come back."
The pool formed by the damming of a rock, had a sandy bottom; and the big apple tree, lowest in the orchard, grew so close that its boughs almost overhung the water; it was in leaf and all but in flower-its crimson buds just bursting. There was no room for more than one at a time in that narrow bath, and Ashurst waited his turn, rubbing his knee and gazing at the wild meadow, all rocks and thorn trees and field flowers, with a grove of beeches beyond, raised up on a flat mound. Every bough was swinging in the wind, every spring bird calling, and a slanting sunlight dappled the grass. He thought of Theocritus,10 and the river Cherwell, of the moon, and the maiden 12 with dewy eyes; 13 of so many things that he seemed to think of nothing; and he felt absurdly happy.
1. to make Chagford: to reach Chagford-a town in Devonshire
2. Ashurst's football knee: the knee that Ashurst hurt in playing football
3. thin as rails: It is a stable set-expression, somewhat hackneyed and trite. The list of such similes in English is fairly long. They do not create fresh and vivid images, but are frequently used by writers as they are easily understood and grasped by the reader.
4. round-the-corner: absent-minded
5. was talking through one's hat: (slang) was talking nonsense
6. took up the catechism: continued questioning smb. closely
7. Scotch fir: common North European pine
8. we've gone down: (at Oxford and Cambridge) we've left the University
9. strame, sittin', an': dialectical forms in Devonshire and Wales
10. Theocritus [θi:′ാkrətəs]: 270 В.С. Greek pastoral poet
11. the river Cherwell [′∫ə:wəl]: a river in Oxfordshire
12. maiden (chiefly liter.): a girl, a young unmarried woman
13. He thought of Theocritus, and the river Cherwell, of the moon, and the maiden with dewy eyes: This is an enumeration, the members of which belong to different spheres. This stylistic device is used by the writer to reveal the character's feelings and meditations.