Chapter 9

 

For when man migrates, he carries with him not only his birds, quadrupeds, insects, vegetables and his very sward, but his orchard also.

– Wild Apples, 1862

Capability Roger Leung loved apples. He was fond of the other pomes as well, especially pears and quince. Stone fruits he didn’t much care for, although he tolerated sour cherries in memory of GiGa’s pies. But apples were Cape’s favorite, the ancient fruit of the home world. He claimed that apples graced the tables of all of Earth’s great civilizations: Roman, Islamic, American and Dalamist. Some people in Littleton thought that Spur’s father loved his apple trees more than he loved his family. Probably Spur’s mother, Lucy Bliss Leung, had been one of these. Probably that was why she left him when Spur was three, first to move to Heart’s Wall and then clear across the continent to Providence. Spur never got the chance to ask her because he never saw her again after she moved to Southwest. The citizens of Walden did not travel for mere pleasure.

Spur’s grandparents had arrived on Walden penniless and with only a basic knowledge of farming. Yet hard work and brutal frugality had built their farmstead into a success. However, the price they paid for single-minded dedication to farming was high; of their three children, only Cape chose to stay on the farm as an adult. And even he moved out of Diligence Cottage when he was sixteen and put up a hut for himself at the farthest edge of the Leung property. He was trying to escape their disapproval. Whenever he looked at the tell or visited friends or climbed a tree to read a book, GiGo or GiGa would carp at him for being frivolous or lazy. They couldn’t see the sense of volunteering for the fire department or playing left base for the Littleton Eagles when there were chores to be done. Sometimes weeks might pass without Cape saying an unnecessary word to his parents.

Yet it had been Cape who transformed the family fortunes with his apples. When he was eighteen, he began attending classes at the hortischool extension in Longwalk, very much against GiGo’s wishes. He had paid tuition out of money earned doing odd jobs around the village — another pointless diversion from home chores that irritated his parents. Cape had become interested in fruit trees after brown rot spoiled almost the entire crop of Littleton’s sour cherries the year before. All the farmers in the village raised fruit, but their orchards were usually no more than a dozen trees, all of traditional heirloom varieties. Crops were small, usually just enough for home use because of the ravages of pests and disease. Farmers battled Terran immigrants like tarnished plant bugs, sawflies, wooly aphids, coddling moths, leafrollers, lesser apple worms, and the arch enemy: plum curculio. There were mildews, rusts, rots, cankers, blotches and blights to contend with as well. The long growing season of fruit trees made them vulnerable to successive attacks. Citizens across the Transcendent State debated whether or not Chairman Winter had introduced insect evil and fungal disease into his new Garden of Eden on purpose. The question had never been settled. But at hortischool, Cape learned about neem spray, extracted from the chinaberry tree and the organic insecticide pyrethrum, which was made from dried daisies. And he heard about an amazing cider apple called Huang’s Nectar, a disease-resistant early bloomer, well-suited to the climate of Southeast but not yet proven hardy in the north. As much to spite his father as to test the new variety, he had drained his savings and bought a dozen saplings on w4 semi-dwarfing rootstock. He started his own orchard on land he had cleared near his hut. Two years later, he brought in his first — admittedly light — harvest, which nevertheless yielded the sweetest cider and smoothest applejack anyone in Littleton had ever tasted. Cape purchased a handscrew press in his third year and switched from fermenting his cider in glass carboys to huge oak barrels by his fifth. And he bought more apple trees — he never seemed to have enough: McIntosh, GoRed, Jay’s Pippin, Alumar Gold, Adam and Eve. Soon he began to grow rootstock and sell trees to other farmers. By the time Cape married Spur’s mother, the Leungs were renting land from farmsteads on either side of their original holding. GiGo and GiGa lived long enough to see their son become the most prosperous farmer in Littleton. GiGo, however, never forgave himself for being wrong, or Cape for being right, about the apples.

Cape had given Spur and Comfort his parents’ house as a wedding present; Diligence Cottage had been empty ever since GiGa had died. Cape had long since transformed his own little hut into one of the grandest homes in Littleton. Spur had Sly drop him off just down Jane Powder Street from the cottage, hoping to avoid the big house and the inevitable interrogation by his father for as long as possible. After seeing Sly’s dismay at the news of the High Gregory’s visit, he was thinking he might try to keep the High Gregory’s identity from Cape, if he could.

However, as Spur approached the front door, he spotted Cape’s scooter parked by the barn and then Cape himself reaching from a ladder into the scaffold branches of one of GiGo’s ancient Macoun apples. He was thinning the fruit set. This was twice a surprise: first, because Cape usually avoided the house where he had grown up, and second, because he had been set against trying to rejuvenate the Leungs’ original orchard, arguing that it was a waste of Spur’s time. In fact the peaches and the plum tree had proved beyond saving. However, through drastic pruning, Spur had managed to bring three Macouns and one Sunset apple, and a Northstar cherry back into production again.

DiDa!” Spur called out so that he wouldn’t startle his father. “It’s me.”

Prosper?” Cape did not look down as he twisted an unripe apple free. “You’re here already. Something’s wrong?” He dropped the cull to the pack of gosdogs waiting below. A female leapt and caught the apple in midair in its long beak. It chomped twice and swallowed. Then it chased its scaly tale in delight, while the others hooted at Cape.

Everything’s fine. There was a last minute change and I managed to get a ride home.” Spur doubted his father would be satisfied with this vague explanation, but it was worth a try. “What are you doing up there?” He dropped his kit on the front step of the farmhouse and trudged over to the orchard. “I thought you hated GiGo’s useless old trees.”

Cape sniffed. “Macoun is a decent enough apple; they’re just too damn much work. And since you weren’t around to tend to them — but I should come down. You’re home, Prosper. Wait, I’ll come down.”

No, finish what you’re doing. How are things here?”

It was a dry spring.” He culled another green apple, careful to grasp the fruiting spur with one hand and the fruit with the other. “June was parched too, but the county won’t call it a drought yet.” The gosdogs swirled and tumbled beneath him as he let the apple fall. “The June drop was light, so I’ve had to do a lot of thinning. We had sawfly but the curculio isn’t so bad. They let you out of the hospital so soon, Prosper? Tell me what you’re not telling me.”

I’m fine. Ready to build fence and buck firewood.”

Have you seen Comfort yet?”

No.”

You were supposed to arrive by train.”

I hitched a ride with a friend.”

From Concord?”

I got off the train in Wheelwright.”

Wheelwright.” One of the gosdogs was trying to scrabble up the ladder. “I don’t know where that is exactly. Somewhere in Southeast, I think. Lee County maybe?”

Around there. What’s wrong with Macouns?”

Ah.” He shook his head in disapproval. “A foolish tree that doesn’t know what’s good for it.” He gestured at the immature apples all around him. “Look at the size of this fruit set. Even after the June drop, there are too many apples left on the branches. Grow more than a few of these trees and you’ll spend the summer hand-thinning. Have you seen Comfort yet?”

I already said no.” Spur plucked a low-hanging cherry, which held its green stem, indicating it wasn’t quite ripe; despite this, he popped it into his mouth. “Sour cherries aren’t too far from harvest, I’d say.” He spat the pit at the gosdogs. “They’re pulling the entire regiment back to Cloyce Forest, which is where I’ll catch up with them.”

Civic refreshment — you’ll be busy.” Cape wound up and pitched a cull into the next row of trees. As the pack hurtled after it, he backed down the ladder. “Although I wouldn’t mind some help. You’re home for how long?”

Just the week.”

He hefted the ladder and pivoted it into the next tree. “Not much time.”

No.”

He was about to climb up again when he realized that he had yet to greet his only son. “I’m glad you’re safe, Prosper,” he said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “But I still don’t understand about the train.” He held Spur at arm’s length. “You got off why?”

Spur was desperate to change the subject. “DiDa, I know you don’t want to hear this but Comfort and I are probably going to get divorced.”

Cape grimaced and let go of Spur. “Probably?” He set his foot on the bottom rung.

Yes.” The gosdogs were back already, swarming around the ladder, downy feathers flying. “I’m sorry.” Spur stepped away.

Prosper, you know my feelings about this.” He mounted the ladder. “But then everyone knows I’m a simple fool when it comes to keeping a woman.”

Cape Leung had been saying things like that ever since Spur’s mother left him. On some days he bemoaned the failure of his marriage as a wound that had crippled him for life, on others he preened as if surviving it were his one true distinction. As a young man, Spur had thought these were merely poses and had resented his father for keeping his feelings about Spur’s mother in a tangle. Now, Spur thought maybe he understood.

Comfort was never comfortable here,” Spur said morosely. “I blame myself for that. But I don’t think she was born to be a farmer’s wife. Never was, never will be.”

Are you sure?” Cape sucked air between his teeth as he leaned into the tree. “She’s had a terrible shock, Prosper. Now this?”

It isn’t going to come as a shock,” he said, his voice tight. His father had far too many reasons for wanting Spur to make his marriage work. He had always liked both of the Joerly kids and had loved the way Comfort had remade both Diligence Cottage and his only son. Cape was impatient for grandchildren. And then there was the matter of the land, once agreeably complicated, now horribly simple. Ever since they had been kids, it had been a running joke around the village that someday Spur would marry Comfort and unite the Joerly farmstead with the Leung holdings, immediately adjacent to the east. Of course, everyone knew it wouldn’t happen quite that way, because of Vic. But now Vic was dead.

When will you see her?”

I don’t know,” said Spur. “Soon. Anyway, it’s been a long day for me. I’m going in.”

Come back to the house for supper?” said Cape.

No, I’m too tired. I’ll scrape up something to eat in the cottage.”

You won’t have to look too hard.” He grinned. “Your fans stopped by this morning to open the place up. I’m sure they left some goodies. I’ve been telling the neighbors that you were due home today.” He dropped another cull to the gosdogs. “Now that I think about it, I should probably ride into town to tell folks not to meet your train. I still can’t believe you got a ride all the way from… where did you say it was again?”

What fans?”

I think it must have been Gandy Joy who organized it; at least she was the one who came to the house to ask my permission.” He stepped off the ladder into the tree to reach the highest branches. “But I saw the Velez girls waiting in the van, Peace Toba, Summer Millisap.” He stretched for a particularly dense cluster of apples. “Oh, and after they left, I think Comfort might have stopped by the cottage.”